Conference Report - Textual Embodiment: Literature, the Body and Psychoanalysis


Monika Loewy
Goldsmiths, University of London

Keynote Speakers: Professor Naomi Segal and Professor Josh Cohen
Organizer: Monika Loewy

Another successful annual Goldsmiths Literature Seminar Series (GLITS) Conference was held at Goldsmiths, University of London on August 5, 2014. This one day English Literature Conference entitled ‘Textual Embodiment: Literature, the Body and Psychoanalysis’ set out to interrogate how the body is composed as a fiction and through fiction, and how fiction is created as and through the body. The conference explored how individuals are structured both physically and psychically through language and through reading, writing, images, and fiction, in order to raise notions about how reading and writing affect the body and the mind. The papers over the day were diverse and provocative: they developed new and unique ways of looking at the interactions between the soma and the text.

Professor Naomi Segal opened with a paper entitled ‘The Body in the Library: Adventures in Realism’, which focused on two concepts of the material world of realist fiction. She primarily analysed how protagonists and their bodies encounter objects, and secondarily, how the reader engages with bodies in texts; a topic explored through the writings of Sartre, Flaubert, Rilke, Proust, Gide and Macaulay. Her intention was to ask where the body of realism resides, and to demonstrate how the material of a text (its bodies, characters and objects) is silent without a reader’s body. She concluded with the contention that the book’s substance is the reader’s subjectivity and interaction with the text and with others. The paper was followed by a discussion about interiority and exteriority: about how the skin disrupts the binary between the inside and outside of the body, and how this affects the way in which the text might be processed.

The themes brought out in this rich introduction were then expanded through a panel on haunting. Yanbing Er began with a paper on Ali Smith’s Hotel World, which was followed by Christopher Clark’s intriguing discussion of bodily borders in Don DeLillo’s The Body Artist; the panel ended with Faye Keegan’s paper on text and telepathy. This was followed by a panel on self-erasure that opened with Dr. Tiago Gandra’s stimulating analysis of the self-effacing body in Pessoa’s The Book of Disquiet, continued with a discussion of X-rays and textual bodies by James Randall, and closed with a humorous and thought-provoking paper by Dr. Christopher Lloyd on toilets in Kathryn Stockett’s The Help. The final panel covered the concept of language and its affects, beginning with Jacob McGuinn’s talk on disembodied lyric, followed by Helen Tyson’s discussion of temporality in Virginia Woolf, and ending with Niall Gildea’s paper on Heidegger and the body.

The conference came to a close with a captivating keynote given by Professor Josh Cohen entitled, ‘Psychoanalytic Bodies: Psychic and ‘Actual’ Bodies in Literature’. Using a mass of historical and literary detail, the paper explored the concept of bodily meaning in psychoanalysis and literature. Cohen analysed the history of the body’s significance in psychoanalysis, focusing on the differences between the ‘actual’ neuroses and the ‘psychoneuroses’. This led into an investigation of the affinity between psychoanalysis and literature that was further unpacked through the writings of Baudelaire, Benjamin, Poe, and Ben Marcus. Cohen ended with the question as to how the body in literature can incorporate non-meaning, leading the conference to its final discussion, which centred on sexuality and literary negation.

“Textual Embodiment” enabled a robust variety of thinkers, students, and researchers to share their ideas as a part of the GLITS interdisciplinary research conferences. I would like to thank Professors Naomi Segal and Josh Cohen for their fascinating keynote addresses. I would also like to thank Richard Bolley, Jacqueline Rattray, Christopher Lloyd and Lucia Boldrini for their assistance and support in creating such a successful and exciting event.