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Mystery, Odilon Redon


Upcoming Conference

Symbolism, the East, and Africa:

Art, Literature, and Music in Symbolism and Decadence

CAA Annual Conference, Thursday, February 14, 2019



Le compositeur dans la littérature: 8 et 9 décembre 2016 Université Paris-Sorbonne

Conference Program [PDF, 1.33MB]

Angst in Symbolist Movement: Its Origins and Its Consequences


June 4 - 6, 2015 | Paris IV-Sorbonne, France

Conference Program [PDF, 600KB]

Angst (Anxiety) could be defined as an indeterminite fear. Sören Kierkegaard in the book The Concept of Anxiety describes it as both a fear of existence and a « vertigo of freedom». Thus, a man who is standing at the top of a rock feels both a fear of falling down as well as a desire to jump down. These two contradictory desires which manifest themselves at the same time are at the origin of both a desire to withdraw from the world and a desire to act, to go toward the world.

The idea of angst finds its place already in Romanticism – for example in works of Goya and Fuseli it is represented as madness and cruelty. It will reach its climax in Expressionism and Existentialism, in Russian literature of the absurd, in the philosophy of Heidegger and in those he influenced (Blanchot, for example). Falling between these extremes of thought, the art, literature and music of the end of the 19th century reinvented the romantic motifs of dread and anxiety and reimagined the notions of the occasions of illuminations and darkness. Symbolist angst, which has not yet been carefully studied, similarly demands reflection about the romantic heritage at the threshold of Modernity, which in its turn is based on the deficiencies of being.

We find representations of existential angst in a variety of forms in Odilon Redons' works, in Bourdelle's drawings, and in the paintings of Gustave Moreau, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, and Mikhail Vrubel'. In literature, we encounter that angst in the works of Stéphane Mallarmé, J.K. Huysmans, Fedor Sologub, Oscar Wilde, Alexandre Blok, and Andrei Bely. In philosophy Leo Shestov explores the relation of the deracination and existential anxiety.

The goal of this conference is to bring to light and examine the creative dimension in art, literature, thought and music of existential unease in the Symbolist movement of the second half of the 19th and of the early 20th centuries and the ways in which it gave birth to new linguistic expressions and a new symbolic language.

College Art Association Conference, February 12-15, 2015

Session: February 14, 2015,
The theme: Symbolist Art and the Unconscious, Sponsored by ALMSD: Art, Literature, Music in Symbolism and Decadence
Chair: Deborah Cibelli

Hilton New York, 1335 Avenue of the Americas, New York City, Bryant Suite, 2nd Floor, Sat, Feb 14, 2015 (12:30 PM - 02:00 PM)

American Comparative Literature Association, March 26-29

Place: the Sheraton Seattle in Seattle, Washington, USA

The theme:
Mental Illnesses in the literature of the Symbolist Movement (Second part of the 19th – beginning of the 20th centuries).

The session is sponsored by sponsored by ALMSD.
Chair and organizer: Rosina Neginsky

Jean-Martin Charcot (1825-1893) was a medical doctor who was especially interested in neurology and made a considerable contribution to this field. Modern psychiatry owes him a great deal. While studying neurology Charcot realized that neurology is closely connected to psychology. He was the one who was the first to state the importance of studying the subconscious. He perceived neurological disorders and mental illness, as a kind of invisible pathologies that inhabit the human unconsciousness and manifest themselves at the time of psychological traumas. Charcot was also a discoverer of hypnosis, which was not used before him as a treatment.

Mental pathologies that lay invisible within the human psyche became the center of attention of Charcot's studies. He was interested in dreams, nightmares, hallucinations, madness and obsessions because he believed they were linked to the secrets of the unconscious and that studying them was a way to unlock it. Freud, who invented the psychoanalysis, the study of the unconscious, was Charcot's student.

Following Charcot's interest in the study of the invisible world of the human psyche, works of art and literature began to search for ways to represent the subconscious. The second part of the 19th beginning of the 20th centuries international and interdisciplinary movement of Symbolism was especially representative of these attempts. The artists, writers and poets who were the part of that movement believed in the idea of suggestion, in the ability not to describe but to evoke. Hence they began to look for ways through language and through artistic representations to evoke the subconscious. Attempting to discover and to understand, and to depict a subconscious was one of the ways to go beyond conscious human experience, which was appealing for Symbolist artists, poets and writers.

Describing in literary works and representing in art different manifestations of mental illnesses or mental disturbances starting with nightmares and dreams and going as far as the manifestations of paranoia and other serious mental troubles was one of the ways to depict the mysterious world of the subconscious. Redon was one of the artists who endeavored to find a pictorial language to represent it. Huysmans in his novel Against Nature created a character, Des Esseintes, an aesthete from aristocratic family in the process of degeneration, who makes all kinds of psychological experimentations first with himself and then with others. Fedor Sologub 's character Peredonov, in his novel the Petit Demon, suffers from paranoia through which we as readers can have a glimpse into his subconscious. It is possible to cite many more literary works and works of art, in which principal characters are victims of various mental disturbances.

In this section we will examine mental disturbances described in literature in the second part of the 19th and early 20th centuries, and we will inquire into the connection between those verbal representations and the Symbolist movement.

Past Conference

The Symbolist Movement: Its Origins and Its Consequences - 2009

The Symbolist Movement: Its Origins and Its Consequences - 2012

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Symbolism, the East, and Africa Art, Literature, and Music in Symbolism and Decadence at the CAA Annual Conference February 14, 2019

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