Vitalist Modernism

Session Convenors

Fae Brauer, University of East London Centre for Cultural Studies Research

Serena Keshavjee, University of Winnipeg Cultural Studies Program

Session Abstract

Faced with ‘a queasy sickening feeling that all was not right’, by the fin-de-siècle many Modernists in America, Australia, Britain, Canada and Europe expanded the field of art into raw nature, ethnic communities and tribal cultures as vitalisers of energy that could be emotionally and creatively liberating. Following theories of Vitalism by Henri Bergson, Hans Driesch, Alois Riegl and Friedrich Nietzsche, ‘the vital state’ (‘l’élan vital’) became widely engaged for its conception of life as a constant process of metamorphosis, impelled by the free flow of energies able to generate what Bergson called ‘creative evolution’. Imbricated within Neo-Lamarckian ecological evolutionary theories, Vitalism was also embraced for being anti-rationalist and anti-mechanistic, particularly in its opposition to Thomas Huxley’s conception of plants and animals as machines, and its reconception of them as inspiring organisms within unspoiled nature, perpetually mutating into increasingly complex species and solidarist colonies following the Transformist concept of ‘life-force’.

Pitched against mechanistic productivity and repressive materialism, Vitalism spawned an expanding field of Modernist art in which artists embraced nature, intuition, instinct, spontaneity, chance, intense emotion, memory, unconscious states, uncanny vibrations, and a psychology of time. This pursuit was enhanced by the further expansion of art into Anthroposophy, Organicism, Supernaturalism, Magnetism, Eurhythmics, Freikorperkultur, Heliotherapy, Herbalism, Homeopathy, Naturopathy, Nudism, Theosophy and Vegetarianism, free dance plus regenerative new sports and physical cultures.

Papers are invited that draw upon an artist, theorist or art movement from Art Nouveau to Surrealism that fathomed some of these dimensions in the expanded field of Vitalist Modernism.

To offer a paper
Please email your paper proposal direct to the session convenors, details above.

Provide a title and abstract (250 words maximum) for a 25-minute paper (unless otherwise specified), your name and institutional affiliation (if any).

Please make sure the title is concise and reflects the contents of the paper because it will appear online, in social media and in the printed programme.

You should receive an acknowledgement of receipt of your submission within two weeks from the session convenors.

Deadline for submissions: Monday 5 November 2018

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