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Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Interdisciplinary colloquium, Havelock Ellis and Co

This very enjoyable event took place yesterday, brought together and efficiently organised by Jana Funke. It was an intense experience, covering a range of fields to which the neglected figure* of Havelock Ellis contributed.

Interdisciplinarity was at the heart of Ellis's work, although perhaps what became clear in the course of the day was his lack of interest in conventional boundaries and indeed (resonantly) the theme of fluidity (not only in connection with his particular erotic interest). Maybe the reason for the neglect of Ellis was his insidious omnipresence and refusal to be easily contained?

Eleven papers from a variety of disciplinary backgrounds made for a full, but very stimulating day, covering the various sources and influences for Ellis's own intellectual enterprises in criminology and sexology, his relations with and influence upon various individuals in his circles of friendship, his impact on contemporary writers on sexual matters, his relationship to modernism (through friendship with modernists, in his work as a literary critic emphasising the 'New Spirit' in literature, and in his impact upon modernist writers), his vision of transformed relationships and ways of being. Besides the papers and the lively discussion, conversations continued over coffee, lunch, tea and at the post-conference dinner.

There are moves afoot to consolidate the beginnings of yesterday's event in rescuing Ellis from the condescension of history and assumptions that he is of merely antiquarian interest, a curiosity marooned in historical byways, and recuperating him as a figure of significance the extent of which is only just beginning to be recognised.

*Just looking up Wikipedia links I discovered some significant errors in mentions of Ellis - he was never President of the Eugenics Society (I'm not sure he was even a member, not being a great joiner of associations) and he was certainly aware of his urination fetish well before the age of 60!

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