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Ecstasy: Art, Literature, Religion, History

Date: Saturday 16 September 2017
Time: 8.30am–1pm
Venue: University of Queensland Art Museum (UQ Art Museum), University Drive, St Lucia.
RSVP: Online here by Wednesday 13 September. All welcome.

The forum will count toward Continuing Professional Development targets for secondary school teachers of Visual Art, English, History and Religion. Certificates of participation will be available.



8:309am: Registration and coffee

9–11am: Session 1

Curator’s talk: Ecstasy: Baroque and Beyond
Andrea Bubenik (The University of Queensland)

In this opening presentation, exhibition curator Dr Andrea Bubenik will share some of the thinking behind Ecstasy: Baroque and Beyond, and discuss some of the highlights of the show.

‘Greeks and the Irrational: The Craving for Ecstasy in the Ancient World’
Alastair Blanshard (The University of Queensland)

We like to think of the Greeks as a profoundly rational people. As founders of the disciplines of philosophy and mathematics, we know that they prized reasoned argument and logical trains of thought. Yet, they were also aware of the limits of rationality. They desired moments when they could slough off their intellect and give way to their appetites. This talk examines moments, especially those associated with the cult of Dionysus, when the rational falls away and the pursuit of raw pleasure becomes paramount. These are moments when the civilised self is displaced in favour of another wilder, dangerous, uncontrolled persona.

‘Ecstatic Celebrities: Saints in Medieval Society’
Kenneth Chong (The University of Queensland)

In the Middle Ages, holy men and women were celebrated for their miraculous feats, special revelations, and works of extreme piety. Widely known, their lives were endlessly recounted and imitated; they were usually the inspiration (if not the literal founders) of new religious groups or orders. Yet it was not always easy being famous: saints were also shunned, harassed, doubted or put on notice by the authorities. In this talk, I’ll single out a few saints ‒ particularly holy women ‒ and consider how their ecstatic visions, far from being merely private, had wider political and social ramifications in late medieval society.

‘Ecstasy and Insight: Notes from the Literary and Philosophical Tradition’
Peter Holbrook (The University of Queensland)

Are there modes of insight available only to those in a state of ecstasy?  Many poets and philosophers have thought so, from classical antiquity to the present day.  But exactly what kinds of understanding might ecstasy provide?  And what moral or political value has been accorded ecstasy?  In this brief talk, I will review some proponents of ecstatic revelation in the literary and philosophic tradition, touching on a range of sages and writers from ancient through to modern times, including Plato, Nietzsche and D. H. Lawrence.

11–11.30am: Morning tea

11.30am–1pm: Session 2

‘Ecstasy and Beyond? Sacrifice, Shakespeare and Rebecca West’
Ewan Fernie (Shakespeare Institute, University of Birmingham)

John Holloway, in the brilliant but forgotten The Story of the Night, suggests that Shakespearean tragedy enacts a kind of human sacrifice.  Rebecca West, in Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, suggests that Christian self-sacrifice is an attempt to short-circuit the straightforward violence of active sacrifice. She sees both forms of sacrifice, active and passive, as perverse ecstasies, and she argues that they have ruined Western culture and Christianity, which is why she wants to move beyond them. She makes her case by showing how Eastern European art and culture particularly resonate with and reveal the culture of the West.  But, like John Holloway, she also associates Shakespeare with the ecstatic culture of sacrifice she passionately argues we need to overcome.

‘The Neo-baroque and Contemporary Culture’
Angela Ndalianis (Swinburne University of Technology)

In his The Life of Forms in Art, Henri Focillon argues that art should be understood in spatial terms: 'everything', he stated, 'is form and life itself is form'. For Focillon, formal patterns in art are in perpetual states of motion, being specific to time but also spanning across it. Can cultures at different points in time create and repeat dominant spatial forms that perceptually, sensorially and cognitively engage their audience in like-minded ways? In this paper I will provide a brief overview of neo-baroque studies. In particular, I will examine how, in the last few decades, a neo-baroque logic has taken deep root across diverse areas of the arts and creative industries, continuing restlessly to move on to new metamorphic states and contexts while being nurtured by a culture that is attracted to the visual and sensorial seductiveness that is integral to baroque form.

Artist’s talk: Demons Land: A Poem Come True
Simon Palfrey (The University of Oxford)

What might it mean for a poem to come true? Demons Land is the story of a rapturous Romantic called The Collector, who in 1798 is transported to an island beneath the known world. He thinks the island savage and formless, and determines to remake it in the image of his favourite poem. That poem is Edmund Spenser’s hallucinogenic epic, The Faerie Queene, a poem equally of militant Protestantism and erotic transport, written in the service of the Elizabethan conquest of Ireland. Like the poem that is its inspiration and antitype, Demons Land offers a shadowy allegory of the dreams and crimes of empire ‒ as a political and racial act, and as an expression of sexual desire and imaginative speculation. This vast, conflicted poem becomes the seminal text of the unfinished modern world.

Excerpts from Demons Land will screen in the lower gallery of the UQ Art Museum from September 16 to November 1 2017.  


Alastair Blanshard is Paul Eliadis Professor of Classics and Ancient History and Head of the School of Historical and Philosophical Inquiry at The University of Queensland. His books include: Hercules: A Heroic Life (Granta, 2005); Sex: Vice and Love from Antiquity to Modernity (Blackwell, 2010)  and, with Kim Shahabudin, Classics on Screen: Ancient Greece and Rome in Film (Bloomsbury, 2011).

Andrea Bubenik is Senior Lecturer in the School of Communication and Arts at The University of Queensland, where her research focuses on Renaissance and Baroque art, the links between art and science in the early modern period, and the historiography of art from antiquity to the present. Her monograph Reframing Albrecht Dürer: The Appropriation of Art, 1528‒1700 appeared in 2012 with Routledge. She is an Associate Investigator with the ARC Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions, and curator of Five Centuries of Melancholia (The University of Queensland, 2014) and Ecstasy: Baroque and Beyond (2017).

Kenneth Chong is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the UQ node of the ARC Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions. He primarily works on medieval literature and philosophy, and is currently completing a book on scholastic and poetic theologies, with an emphasis on fourteenth-century England.

Ewan Fernie is Chair and Professor of Shakespeare Studies at The Shakespeare Institute, Stratford-upon-Avon.  He is author of Shame in Shakespeare (Routledge, 2001), The Demonic: Literature and Experience (Routledge, 2012) and Macbeth, Macbeth (Bloomsbury, 2016, with Simon Palfrey).  His latest book is Shakespeare for Freedom: Why the Plays Matter (Cambridge University Press, 2017). His edited or co-edited books include Spiritual Shakespeares (Routledge, 2005), Reconceiving the Renaissance (Oxford University Press, 2005), Redcrosse: Remaking Religious Poetry for Today's World (Bloomsbury, 2012), Thomas Mann and Shakespeare (Bloomsbury, 2015), and the forthcoming New Places: Shakespeare and Civic Creativity (Bloomsbury, 2018).  He is General Editor (also with Palfrey) of the ‘Shakespeare Now!’ series and is currently working on the creative conjunction of Shakespeare, George Dawson and Birmingham in modern life, both as it happened in the nineteenth century and as it might be recovered as a fresh stimulus to cultural and political creativity today.

Peter Holbrook is Professor of Shakespeare and English Renaissance Literature at The University of Queensland, and Director of the UQ node of the ARC Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions. His publications include English Renaissance Tragedy: Ideas of Freedom (Bloomsbury/Arden Shakespeare, 2015) and Shakespeare’s Individualism (Cambridge University Press, 2010).

Angela Ndalianis is Professor in Media at Swinburne University of Technology. Her research focuses on entertainment media and their histories, and the transhistorical manifestation of the baroque, particularly in relation to neo-baroque studies. Her publications include Neo-Baroque Aesthetics and Contemporary Entertainment (MIT Press, 2004), Science Fiction Experiences (New Academia Publishing, 2010), The Horror Sensorium: Media and the Senses (McFarland, 2012) and the edited books The Contemporary Comic Book Superhero (Routledge, 2009), and Neo-baroques: From Latin America to the Hollywood Blockbuster (Brill, 2016).

Simon Palfrey grew up in Hobart before going to the Australian National University and Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar. He is a founding editor of the Bloomsbury series ‘Shakespeare Now!’ and ‘Beyond Criticism’. His books include Shakespeare in Parts (Oxford University Press, 2007, with Tiffany Stern), Doing Shakespeare (Arden, 2004, 2nd ed. 2011), Shakespeare’s Possible Worlds (Cambridge University Press, 2014) and Poor Tom: Living King Lear (Chicago University Press, 2014). His most recent publication is the novel Macbeth, Macbeth (Bloomsbury, 2016, with Ewan Fernie). He is currently Professor of English Literature at the University of Oxford.

In conjunction with the UQ Art Museum and CHE exhibition ‘Ecstasy: Baroque and Beyond’.

Image: Anastasia Booth, Teresa 2016, copper 200 x 270 x 30 cm. Collection of the artist, Brisbane. Reproduced courtesy of the artist.