CFP Archive

Grief. Language. Art

Liverpool, 8-10 July 2014

Grief flyer CFP G.L.A.

Today in many societies, grief is considered to be an acceptable emotion. Thanks to developments in many fields, especially in psychology and psychotherapy, there has been a gradual progress in our understanding of the deepest human emotions such as grief.  Manifestations of grief, however, are still often discouraged. On the one hand, two specific areas, continuing to impinge on the ‘suitability’ of grief in expression, are ‘gender’ and ‘geography’. On the other, grief is sometimes associated with the state of one’s emotional or physical health, and often studied in line with concepts such as sorrow, pain, melancholy, and most important of all loss and mourning. Grief is directly addressed by psychologists for occasions of complicated, unresolved, and acute trauma, an emotional state that remains in/consistently prolonged beyond our social and cultural norms. Grief in private and public spheres is another topic addressed in humanities and social sciences. According to Judith Butler (2004), “many people think that grief is privatizing, that it returns us to a solitary situation”, but “it exposes the constitutive sociality of the self, a basis for thinking a political community of a complex order.”

Reading the historical context of human emotions in expression, how do we see authors’ diverse language(s) of grief? How did poets versify grief when they were not quite allowed to break through public norms of emotional and behavioural desirability? How have multilingual writers shaped our understanding of emotions such as grief? Reflect on authors such as Felicia Hemans (1793-1835) and John George Eugène Jolas (1894 – 1952); how did they communicate synonymous concepts with grief?  How can we see relevant emotions through geographies and gender-specific symbolism perfected by painters and sculptors? How do verbal and visual manifestations of grief communicate gender politics and erotic imagery? Discuss literary, linguistic, aesthetic, and theological strategies and rituals that get us through mourning and grieving in the creative process? How do concepts such as ‘guilt’ and ‘shame’ correspond with or translate into grief? Discuss ‘separation distress’ in literature and fine arts. How have writers, philosophers, painters, poets, sculptors, historians, and architects engaged with grief throughout centuries? And what is relevant/reliable today?

We seek papers and panel proposals that address these and other questions, reading through varieties of expressive modes and emotional behaviours, focusing on grief, language, and art. The conference is open to contributions from humanities, social, health, and life sciences.

Abstract Submission

Send us your abstracts (max. 250 words) by 15 April 2014 to

Wasfie Mhabak Memorial Grant

  • 4 full bursaries including accommodation for PhD candidates in English Literature and history.
  • 4 attendance bursaries for PhD candidates in literary studies, philosophy, and psychology.

Scholars wishing to apply for these grants are advised to send their abstracts and CVs by 1 February 2014. You should also attach a research statement (max. 500 words), clearly stating how your research relates to the conference topic and themes.



 Melancholy Minds and Painful Bodies: Genealogy, Geography, Pathogeny

University of Liverpool, 9-11 July 2013



Strange Contraries in thee combine,
Both hell and Heaven in thee meet,
Thou greatest bitter, greatest sweet
No pain is like thy pain, no pleasure too like thine.
                                                            John Norris, 1687

One of the major developments in the study of melancholia over the last thirty years has been the rise to aesthetic and cultural prominence of varieties of negative emotions proposed and discussed as melancholy, including different conceptions, analyses, and portrayals from grief to insanity. Most recently, Lars von Trier’s film Melancholia(2011) happens to be the melodramatic adaptation of the concept fuelled by cinematic symbols. Correspondingly, often observed as ‘a central European discourse’, melancholia has resurfaced to embody complementary or paradoxical notions not merely in the literary analysis of texts and contexts, but it has also emerged to retrieve its historical categorization. The cultural and social history of emotions entwined with modern medical and psychiatric lexicalization has opened new pathways to provide relative definitions of melancholia. However, theories about the choice of analogies for melancholy, whether aesthetic, cinematic, religious, or medical, somehow fail to distinguish the connections between contrary factors involved in melancholia.

It is also noteworthy that theories of characterization, no matter of what kind, tend to reformulate and evaluate contrary factors for the sake of preserving ‘superiority’ according to prevalent taste at each moment in time. In Britain, for example, individual and collective melancholia has been appreciated as a sign of genius and national pride at one time and announced as a national malady at another. Analogous is the contemporary history of behavioural rather than cognitive attributes to grief, e.g. tearfulness. Pain, in comparison, is bodily and often mental distress which in the past was closely perceived in relation to melancholia, but today research on pain is divorced from depression let alone melancholy. Thus, we miss the ‘melancholy-pain bridge’ in contemporary scholarship of mental and physical suffering. On the other hand, while pain is seen through the lens of universality, with management models stretching from Chinese medicine to Latin America, melancholia has rarely been investigated beyond the Western borders with regard to its genealogy, pathology, pathogeny, and management. Whether this geographical focus is a matter of re-establishing pre-eminence or in want of psycholinguistic reference, thereby centred on a gap in universal scientific communication, it invites intriguing and challenging enquiries.

We welcome contributions from different fields in humanities, social and life sciences in the following categories and other relevant areas:

  • Diversity in the geography of melancholia and pain
  • The relationship between Western theories of emotions and Oriental conceptions
  • The European hypothesis of melancholia-pain in non-European cultures
  • Orientalism, grief, and abstinence
  • Emotionality as negativity
  • Gender attributes and tearfulness
  • Art history, muscle tension, and the painful posture
  • Interpretation, assumption, semantic relation
  • Fear, Pain, and melancholy dominance
  • Depression and pain
  • Paranoia, melancholia, and pain
  • Misconceptions; cyclothymia and bipolar disorder
  • Melancholy appropriation, ethnicity, multicultural perspectives
  • Cosmology and elegiac pain management
  • Cinematic symbols
  • Literary emotionality, fictive superiority
  • Embodied cognition
  • Anaesthetics, the relationship between medical management and other models
  • Lyric manifestation of melancholy and pain


Abstracts and panel proposals of up to 300 words per 20-minute papers are welcome plus a short biographical note. If you wish to attend without presenting a paper, please email the organisers with your CV and a statement as to how your research relates to the conference. Postgraduate students can apply for Dr Wasfia Mhabak Memorial Grant by sending your abstract, 1000-word research statement, and CV to the conference board.

A selection of papers expanded and edited after the conference will be considered for publication in the International Journal of Literature and Psychology (issues 2014). Further particulars:

Initial submission deadline of 1 March is now extended until 30 April 2013.

Email your proposal to: