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Masters and servants : an ambiguous intimacy

Maîtres, domestiques et serviteurs : une intimité ambigüe

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Published on Tuesday, June 03, 2014 by Rémi Boivin

Summary

This symposium seeks to explore the master-servant relationship at different epochs in time. It will examine artistic representations of intimate relationships between masters and servants in literature, the visual arts, and the cinema. We purport to investigate the ambiguity underlying seemingly intimate relationships or bonds between servants and employers in English-speaking countries. 

Announcement

Argument

Masters and servants: an ambiguous intimacy

March 19-20, 2015

An international conference organized by the Centre Interlangues, Université de Bourgogne (university of Burgundy, Dijon, France)

This symposium is restricted to the English-speaking world but seeks to explore the master-servant relationship at different epochs in time. It will examine artistic representations of intimate relationships between masters and servants in literature, the visual arts, and the cinema. We purport to investigate the ambiguity underlying seemingly intimate relationships or bonds between servants and employers. The intimacy between them may hinge on specific political realities or systems, social conventions or mores, or a moral pact. It may also be a person-to-person relation (a secret or overt, acknowledged or hushed one) subverting norms and disregarding hierarchies. Various expressions and forms of attachment or bondage may co-exist either in the domestic sphere or in public spaces, hence our interest in the ambiguity of the master-servant relationship. It is acted differently on the social stage and backstage, in the secrecy of the home so that the servant is all at once a familiar companion and an inferior being, possibly threatening the order of the domestic world. Even when the servant acts as a close confidant, a friend, or a personal attendant, thereby becoming an eye-witness to private matters, ambiguities as to his status remain.

Proposals focusing on the servant’s own representations (discourse, image, viewpoint) or on the portrayal of servants as “family members” will be particularly welcome if they discuss the authenticity or earnestness of such depictions, considering that the servant’s view is often either transcribed and mediated by the gaze of his superiors or constrained. The image of the servant, as an intimate co-worker or employee, may result from or challenge tacit or explicit hierarchies. However, the stake of the conference is not power-relations but the way they affect the intimate relation between servants or between the master and his servants. The hierarchy between servants, duplicating the hierarchy separating them from the masters, may also shape intimate relations in the domestic sphere, with the behavior and identity of the upper servants being mapped onto their master’s. Examples abound of servants following, imitating, or mimicking their masters for various reasons that the participants to this conference may analyze. Excessive conformism may be humorous (as is the case in The Jeeves) or subversive; it is very often double-edged.  

We also welcome proposals focusing on the spatial inscription of the intimate relationship. The organization of space obviously dictates specific forms and expressions of intimacy. With its invisible corridors and secret doors, domestic architecture made it possible for servants to be at the same time invisible and omnipresent. Analyzing the social segmentation of space in art and literature would shed light on the ambiguities of the master-servant relationship and the constructedness of intimacy. Diachronic approaches may be suggested.

Investigations into gendered representations of servants will reveal more ambiguities. The female servant has often been portrayed by male artists viewing their maid as a muse or a sexual prey or partner. How is this intimate and sexualized relation perceived by the servant? Is subservience challenged or strengthened by physical intimacy? What are the limits of class transgressions as they are depicted in art and literature?

The ambiguities of the master-servant relationship may also be explored in specific geographical or historical contexts –i.e. Great-Britain, the U.S.A., Ireland and colonized countries or the Commonwealth. Distinctive cultural traits may shape intimacy and affect the bond between the master and his/her servant. Given that the servant is often a foreigner, language (dialect, regional accent, social usages) may be used to delineate the contours of separate communities and create a sense of belonging. It may also be used to blur social distinctions. In the same way, religious practices, including syncretism, may reinforce or blur perceptions of sameness and difference. Strategies of differentiation or assimilations are often at work when a sense of intimacy between servants and masters emerges.

In post-colonial representations, the servants or their descendants, may appropriate artistic forms formerly reserved for the masters so that the servant’s point of view eventually emerges unconstrained. We welcome proposals on such re-appropriations strategies.

Different types of servants may be involved in an intimate relation with their masters. Paid or un-paid, free or bonded helps or servants may be the focus of the papers. Science-fiction explores subservience through robot-servants. The conference would welcome papers examining the ambiguity of intimate relations with non-human servants. 

Representations of intimacy may be filtered through genres such as the genre-scene and its intimate atmosphere in painting. They may be tinted with nostalgia. The success of serials or publications foregrounding ideal servants may be due to nostalgia and interpreted in contemporary contexts. Intimacy can ambiguously be reinvented.

Submission guidelines

Proposals should be sent to the following address: maitresetserviteurs@gmail.com

Deadline for proposals is June 30, 2014. An answer will be given by the end of June.

The organizing committee: Sylvie Crinquand, Mélanie Joseph-Vilain, Valérie Morisson

Proposals will be evaluated by the scientific committee :

  • Sylvie Crinquand, Professeur des Universités, angliciste, UFR Langues, Université de Bourgogne
  • Mélanie Joseph-Vilain, Maître de Conférences, angliciste, UFR Langues, Université de Bourgogne
  • Valérie Morisson, Maître de Conférences, angliciste, UFR SHS, Université de Bourgogne

The organizing committee: Sylvie Crinquand, Mélanie Joseph-Vilain, Valérie Morisson

 

Places

  • MSH Université de Bourgogne
    Dijon, France (21)

Date(s)

  • Monday, June 30, 2014

Keywords

  • intime, domestiques, serviteurs, culture anglophone, littérature, arts visuels

Contact(s)

  • Valérie Morisson
    courriel : valeriemorisson [at] gmail [dot] com

Information source

  • Valérie Morisson
    courriel : valeriemorisson [at] gmail [dot] com

To cite this announcement

« Masters and servants : an ambiguous intimacy », Call for papers, Calenda, Published on Tuesday, June 03, 2014, https://calenda.org/287521

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