European Middlebrow Cultures, 1880-1950: Reception, Translation, Circulation
17-18 January 2014, Royal Flemish Academy for the Humanities and Art, Brussels, Belgium
Keynote speakers: Professor Kristin Bluemel, Monmouth University, Professor Christoph Ehland, Universität Paderborn, and Professor Dirk De Geest, Katholiek Universiteit Leuven
This two-day conference intends to extend the well-established study of 20 middlebrow texts and authorship, to investigate how European literary cultures from 1880 may be examined for evidence of middlebrow writing, reading and production. This may be as a borrowed literary phenomenon through translation and assimilation, or as an indigenous pan-European cultural movement that has hitherto been obscured by a focus on modernist cultures.
Since the 1980s, the study of middlebrow literary productions and authors has become a strongly emergent movement in anglophone literary research. ‘Middlebrow’ was first used to describe a particular stream of cultural production in the 1920s, first in British and Irish newspapers, and soon after in critical writing by notable cultural authorities such as Virginia Woolf, Arnold Bennett, and Q D Leavis. ‘Middlebrow’ was always a pejorative term, used to demarcate writing and reading, and initially also musical taste, from, simultaneously, the modernist and the lowbrow. Middlebrow books and authors were rejected by those who required intellectual innovation in their leisure reading, and who privileged challenge and complexity over enjoyment, familiarity and ease in what they read, and wrote. Readers of middlebrow writing had intellectual expectations, but these were moderate rather than extreme. Middlebrow writing was concerned with established literary traditions, and was ‘an imaginative projection of lived experience conducive to a negotiation of identity and emotional “entertainment” in the sense of providing sustenance’ (Habermann 2010, 35). Yet this categorisation was fluid. ‘Middlebrow could be a mode of reading, a stratum of society, a class of book, or a state of mind’ (Macdonald 2011, 11).
The importance of the study of middlebrow is derived from its close relationship, in the British context, with class, and, in the American context, with the rise of twentieth-century consumerism. These socio-historical dimensions offer a rich resource for the scholar in analysing many different aspects of middlebrow cultures, from different perspectives. Examining middlebrow texts will reveal a non-normative and non-restrictive understanding of literary dynamics in terms of how texts were constructed and how they were received.
Most of the recent publications and conferences on middlebrow focus on anglophone texts, authors, publishing and marketing. There has been very little scholarly work published on non-anglophone middlebrow cultures, until the last five years: Van Boven et al (2008 & 2012), Sanders (2008), Van Boven (2009), Provenzano and Sindaco (2009), and Rymenants and Verstraeten (2009 & 2011). However, despite this recent work, without the input of research and scholarly discourse on middlebrow cultures in Europe, in languages other than English, the continuing study of middlebrow is artificially truncated by being limited to only authors working in English, and the interpretation of the anglophone world. An emerging community of researchers on middlebrow in Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland, Italy and France (and undoubtedly in other European countries) need a forum to meet, discover each other’s work and initiate new collaborations.
This call for papers for a conference aims to attract a wide range of international researchers working on questions around middlebrow outside the anglophone sphere. These may include:
- Translation of anglophone middlebrow texts into European languages
- Film adaptations of middlebrow texts
- Book Clubs and other commercially-oriented lists
- The Continental edition and other publishers’ series
- Tauchnitz and anglophone best-sellers
- The middlebrow book review in different media
- The literary critic in different media as mediator and arbiter
- Middlebrow reading and cultural respectability
- Parallel critical reputations
The primary aim of the conference will be to offer a platform for these researchers to present their work and discuss methodologies, and network informally on subjects of mutual interest. Secondary aims will be to discern strands of middlebrow research that make connections across languages, cultures, historical moments, and authors and texts. Publication of a volume of scholarly essays is planned, drawing on papers presented at the forum, and by commissioning essays from specialists.
By offering this contact forum for researchers in European middlebrow cultures, this conference will rebalance the anglophone dominance of the field, and make space to discuss research on European middlebrow cultures in the twentieth century. The conference will be open to papers on either of two strands of investigation: (1) research into European middlebrow cultural productions in languages other than English, and (2) research into the reception of anglophone middlebrow cultures in mainland Europe.
The language of the conference will be English, for practical reasons, but informal translation and interpretation into and out of Dutch, German and French may be possible.
We invite abstracts (of no more than 300 words, in any European language) that describe the background, subject and preliminary findings of your presentation. If you plan to present your paper in a language other than English, please provide an English translation of the abstract as well. Please send these to email@example.com, by 1 September 2013, and include a contact email and postal address. We welcome abstracts from independent scholars as well as those from university researchers. Enquiries can also be sent to the above email address.
Kate Macdonald, Universiteit Gent, Belgium
Koen Rymenant, independent scholar
Mathijs Sanders, Radboud Universiteit Nijmegen, Netherlands
Erica Van Boven, Groningen Universiteit, Netherlands
Pieter Verstraeten, Katholiek Universiteit Leuven, Belgium