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Seduced Heroes, Seduced Readers

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Organizer: Alexandra Schamel

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Leo Tolstoy might have captured some metafictional truth about the profession of literature when he remarked at the beginning of Anna Karenina, “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” The novel that follows is a monumental, but highly sensual, enterprise to trace meticulously the tragedy of three aristocratic families at the end of the Russian Empire. Like Tolstoy we sense that literature and art have an undeniable affinity to the troublesome realities and existential wounds of human life, its moral infirmities and unfulfilled desires. Only the transgression of a valid semantic border makes a story worthy of being told as sujet, as Lotman points out. For the reader it might be difficult to admit, however, that depictions of misfortune often create a moment of seduction when evil seems to be more interesting, colorful, and ingenious than plain goodness. Fictional worlds imply seductive dynamics exerted by the discours. Representing an archetypal human tendency, seduction also figures as a highly popular topos in literature the world over. This central pattern illustrates anthropological discourses and exposes ethical and aesthetic questions. The Christian myth of losing paradise centers around the act of seduction. The legends of Don Juan and Faust depict sensual pleasure and concupiscence for knowledge as transgressions against God. In the eighteenth century, as in Richardson’s Clarissa as well as Laclos’s Les liaisons dangereuses, seduction is closely attached to libertinage to discuss the status of the passions as a counterpart to the supposed invincibility of virtue. In late Romanticism, Kierkegaard exposes the tension between ethics and aesthetics around this concept (Either/Or, The Seducer’s Diary), so that even the reader often must submit to textual manipulation and its “indirect messages”. This semiotic dimension of seduction represents, in fact, a primary interest of theory. So the joyful game with the signifié(s), the integrity of which is eliminated sooner or later, is one of the main strategies of poststrucuralist method, first proposed by Barthes (Le plaisir du texte). Nabokov, for example, exploits this textual potential of seduction in his novel Lolita. The seminar explores such literary performances and structural dynamics of seduction as well as their different contexts. We invite papers presenting a variety of interests and interdisciplinary approaches. Possible topics might include: – seduced innocence and / or seduction and adultery in literature (perspectives on art, film, or other media are also possible) – gender aspects of seduction – seduction as textual strategy to “conquer” the reader and as an analytical method (as in poststructuralism). Please submit your abstract (150-200 words) by September 23 via the ACLA website, inquiries to alexandra@schamel.com.

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