all at once, ironically, horribly, lust would swell again–and 'oh, no,' Lolita would say with a sigh to heaven, and the next moment the tenderness and the azure–all would be shattered. ― Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita
Polymorphous in nature, desire is a fundamental human impulse that infuses many of our interactions, even if subconsciously. Resisting a simple definition or classification, desire is complex and at the core of both human thought and communication. The seemingly most obvious examples of desire are carnal: sexual desire, including illicit and illegal sexual desires and the desire for sustenance. Desire expands though to include yearnings that preoccupy the mind, rather than the flesh: the desire for knowledge and intellect, the desire for power, economic or material desire and narrative desire.
Narratives represent desire in both their form and content. As Peter Brooks argues in Reading for the Plot: Design and Intention in Narrative, ‘[n]arratives both tell of desire — typically present some story of desire — and arouse and make use of desire as dynamic of signification.’ Plot, for Brooks, is a desire that carries us forward, onward, through the text with an inexorable desire for the end. Roland Barthes, in The Pleasure of the Text, establishes a clear correlation between sexual desire and narrative desire: ‘the entire excitation takes refuge in the hope of seeing the sexual organ […] or in knowing the end of the story (novelistic satisfaction)’. Barthes creates a connection between the desire to denude a human body and to possess the knowledge of a narrative, from the origin to its end.
Desire, too, can teeter into obsession, obscene lust and illicit impulses. ‘Light of my fire, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul’: the burning of Humbert Humbert’s illegal and all-consuming desire for Dolores Haze interlaces each page of Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita. The protagonist’s lust moves in tandem with the reader’s desire for the plot: the very intention of narrative language is to stir desire. The narrator of Nabokov’s novel thus embarks on a double seduction: that of Lolita, and that of the reader. This dual-seduction is evident even – or perhaps most so – when the desire is such that it transcends the possibility of language and becomes ineffable.
Such is the difficulty of articulating desire that Lauria and Deonna diagnosed contemporary philosophical criticism with exhibiting a perplexing denial of desire, maintaining in 2017 that ‘no live debate on the nature of desire is currently taking place’. Taking this observation as a starting point, this issue of MHRA Working Papers in the Humanities seeks to contribute to current debates on desire, with reference to a range of artistic media. Contributors may wish to discuss a range of areas, which may include, but are not limited to:
- Sexual Desire
- Narrative Desire & Narrational Authority
- Desire & Ineffability
- Economic & Material Desire
- Form & Content
- Transgression & Taboo(s)
- Religious Desire
- Mysticism & Ecstasy
- Pain & Pleasure
- Personal Identity
- Comparative Literature
- Film Studies
- Gender Studies
- Queer Studies
We invite proposals covering a range of periods (from the medieval and Early Modern to the twenty-first century) and across different national contexts (including English-, French-, Germanic-, Hispanic-, Italian-, Portuguese-, and Slavonic-speaking cultures). We hope to attract scholars working in a variety of fields (Modern Languages, English Studies, Comparative Literature, Cultural History, Film and Media Studies and the Digital Humanities, Art History, Performance and Reception History).
Working Papers in the Humanities is an electronic open-access journal intended to allow researchers to present initial findings or hypotheses that might, at a later stage, be eligible for publication in established scholarly journals. As such it will be of particular interest to postgraduate researchers, although established scholars are also invited to submit papers.
We invite proposals for papers of up to 4000 words in MHRA style, with completed essays to be delivered to the editors by 2nd July 2021. Abstracts of no more than 250 words should be sent, accompanied by a short biographical statement on the same page, to firstname.lastname@example.org by 21st February 2021.
- 1. Peter Brooks, Reading for the Plot: Design and Intention in Narrative (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1992), p. 37.
- 2. Ibid, p. 37; p. 52.
- 3. Roland Barthes, The Pleasure of the Text, trans. by Richard Miller (New York: Hill and Wang, 1975), p. 10.
- 4. Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita (London: Penguin, 2000), p. 9.
- 5. Brooks, p. 52.
- 6. Federico Lauria and Julien A. Deonna, ‘Introduction: Reconsidering Some Dogmas About Desire’, in Federico Lauria and Julien A. Deonna, The Nature of Desire (New York: Oxford University Press, 2017), pp. 1-22, (p. 1).