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Sibylline Leaves – some (vague) post-conference thoughts

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Last week I was in London for the excellent Sibylline Leaves: Chaos and Compilation in the Romantic Period conference. In this post, I’ll try to cobble together some coherent thoughts generated by the event, particularly in terms of how the ideas raised relate to my own work on collage in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

The conference marks the bicentenary of Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poetry collection Sibylline Leaves, whose title references Virgil’s Cumaean Sibyl, and the ‘fragmentary and widely scattered state’ of her ‘leaves’. Indeed, the entire conference teemed with scattered, flying, volatile and fugitive leaves, and presented a range of approaches and ideas as to their interpretation.

Beginning with Seamus Perry’s keynote on Coleridge’s desultory nature (in terms of both his indolence and his variousness), the conference’s deep consideration of the language we use to discuss this material was incredibly evocative. Various terms were repeatedly mapped out, tested, and explored, but desultory was one to which a number of speakers returned. Likewise, Coleridge’s own play with words was also highlighted, particularly the irony in titling a collection of collected poems ‘Sibylline Leaves’, given that the Sibyll’s own leaves were never collected up again. Here then, the desultory might work as part of a self-conscious, self-reflexive consideration of the fragmented and the various.

Other panels over the two days explicitly engaged with the practices of notebook making and commonplacing, literary processes that my own work on collage also touches upon. Ruth Abbott, for example, presented fascinating work on Wordsworth’s notebooks, stressing the importance of reading such objects as whole, creative documents; whilst stressing the familial and collective nature of their production; and considering transformations of poetry, to prose, and back again.

The conference also had a ‘reading group’ type session in the middle of its first day, where we discussed Michael Gamer’s work on self-collecting in the creation of works like the Sibylline Leaves. Interestingly, Gamer employs frameworks from the history of collecting in his discussion, something I wish to adopt/adapt in my own work on literary self-fashioning and production.

Other papers stressed the materiality of Romantic literary production, from Jeremy Elprin’s wonderfully rich paper on Coleridge’s ‘Sonnet in nubibus’, which highlighted how Coleridge had transcribed the poem on a piece of seaweed, to Deidre Shauna Lynch’s magisterial second-day keynote, ‘Loose Leaves, Floral Slips and the Romantic Book’. Lynch’s keynote was particularly interesting for me as she discussed many of the objects that I have just been looking at at YCBA, and other volumes that I’m intending to see at Manchester, New York, and the Houghton Library in the future. What I was particularly struck by in Lynch’s paper however, was her emphasis on not merely the compilation of such volumes, but their related disentanglement: ranging from the moment of their acquisition (i.e. before their integration within the album/volume/book); ideas surrounding their ‘clippability’; or the potential of these gathered leaves to become loose once more. This was a revolution in my thinking, as my definition for collage in my postdoctoral project has been almost wholly concerned with the coming together of objects to make a new whole; disparate elements, brought together in a new formulation. Yet Lynch’s paper highlighted that these were indeed ‘Sibylline Leaves’, papers that behaved badly, and whose very precarity was actively reflected upon and visually acknowledged by their makers.

I presented my own research on the commonplace books of Ellen Warter at the end of the first day of the conference (my abstract is available here), and received some very provocative and encouraging feedback. I’m excited to use some of the frameworks I encountered at the event in developing this research further, particularly Lynch’s emphasis on the highly self-aware nature of the Romantic album.

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Week in Review – 23 July

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My object of the week is this INCREDIBLE Album of Seaweed Pictures from 1848, now held at the Brooklyn Museum. The album was made as a gift for Augustus Graham, a member of the first board of directors of the Brooklyn Apprentice’s Library, later to become the Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Sciences and the Brooklyn Museum.

I was really sorry to miss the Beyond Between Men symposium, so I hugely enjoyed reading Rachel E. Moss’s round-up blog post about the event. You can read it here.

The BAVS Talks 2017 videos are now all up online. You can take a look here.

CFP: CAA 2018 – Imperial Islands: Vision and Experience in the American Empire after 1898

Although the CFP deadline for the Home Comforts: The physical and emotional meanings of home in Europe, 1650-1900 conference has now passed, I still wanted to bring attention to this fascinating-sounding conference, which intersects interestingly with my current book project.

The edited volume Feminism and Art History Now: Radical Critiques of Theory and Practice, is out now from I B Tauris, and will be an essential resource for anyone using feminist theory in their art historical writing.

NOTCHES is seeking contributions for an upcoming and continuing series on transgender histories. See the CFP for full details, deadline September 15, 2017.

Issue 6 (Summer 2017) of British Art Studies is now live. The special issue focuses on Invention and Imagination in British Art and Architecture, 600–1500, and examines lots of fascinating objects at length and in depth.

Other conferences, CFPs, etc that caught my eye this week included:

  • CONF: Re/presenting the Body (Glasgow, 6-7 Jul 17)
  • CFP: Jewellery Matters (Amsterdam, 16-17 Nov 17)
  • CONF: Film|Bild|Emotion (Regensburg, 20-21 Jul 18)
  • CFP: Collecting Medieval Sculpture (Paris, 23-24 Nov 17)
  • CONF: Nineteenth-Century Art in Islamic Countries (Vienna, 6-9
    Jul 17)
  • CFP: Temporary and Mobile Domesticities, 1600 to the present – 10.10.2017, London
  • CFC: Special Issue of The History of the Family
  • CFP: Issue: Material and Visual Cultures of Religion in the American South