CFP: Sensualising Deformity; The University of Edinburgh

Posted by Dr Claire McKechnie on September 14, 2011 in News tagged with , , ,

The University of Edinburgh
Sensualising Deformity: Communication and Construction of Monstrous Embodiment
June 15-16, 2012
Confirmed Plenary Speakers:
Prof. Jeffrey Jerome Cohen
George Washington University, Washington, DC, USA
Dr. Peter Hutchings
Northumbria University, Newcastle, UK

“Although he was already repellent enough, there arose from the fungous skin-growth with which he was almost covered a very sickening stench which was hard to tolerate… with the use of the [daily] bath the unpleasant odour… ceased to be noticeable”
~ Sir Frederick Treves
The prominent surgeon Frederic Treves’s description of Joseph Merrick, the Elephant Man, exposes a body which is simultaneously an assault on the senses and one which has traditionally been de-sensualised. Deformity is sanitised and fitted into a structure of normality. The academy tends to obscure the complexity of the sensuous/sensual/sensed body of the deformed subject, and of the questions, anxieties, and denials which surround deformity when it is located within a continuum of sense.
From freak exhibitions and fairs, medical examinations and discoveries to various portrayals in arts and literature, images of deformity (or monstrosity, used separately or interchangeably depending on context) have captivated us for centuries. The result is a significant body of critical and artistic works where these bodies are dissected, politicized, exhibited, objectified or even beatified. Nonetheless, there remains a gap, an unexplored, unspoken or neglected aspect of this complex field of study which needs further consideration. This two-day interdisciplinary conference aims to bring the senses and the sensuous back to the monstrous or deformed body from the early modern period through to the mid-twentieth century, and seeks to explore its implications in diverse academic fields.
We hope to bring together scholars and students from a wide range of disciplines to engage in a constructive dialogue, network, and exchange of ideas and experiences, connecting a community of researchers who share an interest in deformity, monstrosity, and freakery.
• Possible topics may include (but are not limited to):
• Spectacle/fetishisation of monstrosity and deformity; monstrous sexuality/eroticisation
• The monster as a catalyst of progression/ historical perspectives
• Monstrous symbolism, prodigality, or beatification
• The racialised body; exoticising difference
• Monstrosity in medical literature; disability narratives
• Monstrous becoming; the ‘sensed’ body
• Deformed aesthetics; monstrosity in the visual arts
(De) gendering the deformed body; humanisation vs objectificationWe welcome proposals for 20-minute presentations from established scholars, postdoctoral researchers and postgraduate students from various teratological backgrounds, e.g. in literature, history, media and art studies, philosophy, religious studies, history of science,medical humanities, and critical and cultural theory. Proposals should be no more than 300 words, in .doc format, and should include a brief 50-word biography. For more information, visit our blog at
Please send your proposals to by no later than 31 January, 2012.
Dr. Karin Sellberg (The University of Edinburgh)
Ally Crockford (The University of Edinburgh)
Maja Milatovic (The University of Edinburgh)

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