Call for Papers: Reorienting the Sublime

McGill University
Department of Art History and Communication Studies
Graduate Student Symposium

Deadline for Submissions: December 29, 2023

“The sublime is something added that expands us, overstrains us, and causes us to be both here, as dejects, and there, as others and sparkling. A divergence, an impossible bounding. Everything missed, joy—fascination” — Julia Kristeva, Powers of Horror.

The Department of Art History and Communication Studies at McGill University is pleased to invite submissions for the Annual Graduate Symposium “Reorienting the Sublime,” to be held on Thursday, April 4 and Friday, April 5, 2024.

The sublime has held a steady yet complex position within the discourse of art history and visual culture, and encourages a consideration of its relationship to media and communication studies. Its perhaps best known form can be traced to Edmund Burke in the 18th century, who defined the sublime through a dual emotional quality of attraction and fear, which Immanuel Kant honed to describe a magnitude of unlimited feeling that humans are unable to possess. Jacques Lacan, who follows from a Freudian notion of the sublime as a positivised or aestheticised counterpart to the uncanny, also suggests that the “sublime object” points us towards that which has the power to de-realise and dematerialize, revealing the contradictions at the center of a law.

As such, the sublime has provided a rife affective terrain for artists to draw from that could elicit awe, power, and a certain delight in transgressing limitation. It has also offered a useful framework to think through the meanings and affects circulating new communication technologies, which are often simultaneously feared and viewed as opportunities for human transcendence. At the same time, the sublime has provided the means to bolster colonial understandings of “taming the unknown” and efforts to seek command of that which appears to be out of order. What can be said of the sublime as revelatory, a call to re-translate or re-visit the foundational systems of meaning which structure the world and our place in it? How might we position the sublime in relation to contemporary politics, culture, and technologies? In what ways do awe, terror, beauty, and overwhelm play into our current objects of research, and how might these aspects of sublimity reorient the objects and approaches within our fields of study?

Following this history of contestation, our symposium seeks to consider the state of the sublime today and how its discourse continues to take shape within the interdisciplinary realms of art history and communication studies. We invite papers from all periods of art history, communication studies, and related disciplines to consider these questions, as well as the following topics as prompts for further thought:

  • Beyond the worldly, transcendence, (dis)embodiment
  • Affect, desire, aversion, horror, tragedy
  • Consumption, glut, excess, control
  • Technological sublime
  • Hyperreality, capitalist/cyber/digital sublime
  • Landscape painting, romanticism, colonial origins and post-colonial critiques
  • Gestalt, Gesamtkunstwerk
  • Historical reconfigurations of Kant, Burke, Hegel, Lacan, etc.
  • Incomprehensibility, inspiration, confusion
  • The non-human, anthropocene, pre-linguistic
  • (Against) the uncanny, the beautiful, the harmonious

The Art History and Communication Studies Graduate Symposium committee invites proposals for fifteen-minute-long paper presentations. Current and recently graduated Masters, Doctoral, and Postdoctoral students from various Humanities fields whose research addresses this year’s theme are encouraged to apply. Applicants should submit an abstract of no more than 300 words with the title of the paper, along with a separate document that includes a 250-word bio, to by Friday, December 29, 2023. Please include your full name, affiliation, and contact information in your bio. A blind panel will be reviewing all submissions, so please ensure that your name and other identifying marks do not appear in the abstract document.

While we encourage in-person participation at the symposium, we will have limited spots for presentations over Zoom. If you would like to be considered for a virtual presentation, please indicate so in your abstract, in addition to any other accommodations or considerations you would like the committee to know of.

Sofia Di Gironimo, Marcus Prasad (Co-Chairs), and the AHCS Graduate Symposium Committee
McGill University | Montreal, Quebec


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