Beauty is the only thing that time cannot harm. Philosophies fall away like sand, creeds follow one another, but what is beautiful is a joy for all seasons, a possession for all eternity. — Oscar Wilde

Beauty is desired in order to be befouled. Not for its own sake, but for the joy brought by the certainty of profaning it. — Georges Bataille

Beauty has many contradictory associations, from ephemerality to permanence, the natural to the artificial. When we attempt to locate the beautiful, notions of ‘conventional’ beauty often conflict with individual assessments of what is beautiful. We are told that beauty is in the eye of the beholder(s), but is beauty only ever a perception, or can it be an intrinsic quality of objects and people? Is it possible to define the nature of the aesthetic experience? Beauty may trigger philosophical or spiritual contemplation, but it can also evoke possessiveness and lust. Historically, beauty has been admired as virtuous and feared as dangerous. Do judgements about beauty do a disservice to their object, or do they elevate it?

This special issue of MHRA Working Papers in the Humanities aims to consider the wealth of ways in which notions of beauty have been expressed, represented, and critiqued across literatures and cultures. From literary depictions of beauty, to those expressed in philosophy, art, architecture, film, photography, and music, this collection of essays will scrutinise the beautiful in its myriad forms, across geographical and temporal boundaries. Responses to the theme might be theoretical (perhaps considering movements such as New Aestheticism or Cultural Materialism), (inter)artistic, or sociological.

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 French-, Hispanic-, Germanic-, Italian-, Slavonic- and English-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 Digital Humanities, Performance and Reception History, History of the Book and of Print Culture, and others). Interdisciplinary approaches are particularly welcome.

Topics could include, but are not limited to:

  • Art, aesthetics and ekphrasis
  • Gender and sexuality
  • Youth and aging
  • The role of the senses
  • Class, wealth, and prejudice
  • Inner beauty, morality, and religion
  • Adornment, body modification and fashion
  • The natural world
  • The ‘sublime’
  • Measure, the golden ratio, mathematics
  • Beautiful books, treasure bindings, deluxe editions, book fetishism
  • Ugliness, the ‘grotesque’

We invite proposals for papers of up to 4,000 words in MHRA style, with completed essays to be delivered to the editors by 15 September 2017. Abstracts of no more than 250 words should be sent, accompanied by a short biographical statement on the same page, to by 1 June 2017.

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