The International Conference “A Hairy Affair: The Material Poetics of Hair” is organized by the Class of Literature of the Graduate School Language & Literature. Confirmed keynote lectures by Professor Emma Tarlo (Goldsmiths University of London) and Assistant Professor Seán Williams (University of Sheffield).
WHEN / WHERE
It will take place July 9–11, 2020 at LMU Munich.
Rapunzel lowers her plaited hair 20 cubits deep, so that her prince can climb into her hermetically sealed tower. Donald Trump’s signature quiff – a piece of interwoven fabric with no evident beginning and end – is treated as a metaphor for his relationship to truth and politics. Samson defeats the Philistines oppressing the Israelites in the Old Testament with his superhuman strength: the origin of his invincibility lies in the vigour of his hair as long as it is not cut. “Don’t touch my hair!”: The Afro is claimed as a symbol of resistance and black pride against the imperative of assimilation to the norm of whiteness. The contemporary hair industry entangles hyper-feminized and neo-imperialist imaginaries with transnational structures of exploitation that range from Chinese hair factories and Hindu temples through Youtube hair tutorials to the multinational company Great Lengths International that sells ‘natural’ hair extensions on the promise of extracting an “ethnic surplus value” (Hage 1998) from the depigmented hairy remains of women from the Global South (Berry 2008).
Hair figures, at once, as the subject of manifold social struggles and the object of multiple forms of exploitation. It holds a ‘defiant’ inclination – it creates op-position –, but it also remains steadily threatened in this potentiality: hair is fundamentally characterized by its precarious and mutinous materiality, which subverts conventionalized dichotomies between the passive and the active. Interweaving a wide-ranging variety of discourses in literature, art and film, hair has imposed itself as an urgent topic in recent academic research and discussion. In African-American Studies the focus rests on hair as a signifier of resistance that promotes the articulation of a politicized black aesthetics and thus defies the global colour-line imposed by white supremacy and colonialism (Hallpike 1972, Caldwell 1991, Kelley 1997, Banks 2000, Byrd/Tharps 2001). Research in Gender Studies, in turn, emphasizes the sexualized codification of head and body hair along the lines of imposed conformity and processes of individuation (Fisher 2010, Roebling 1999/2000, Rycroft 2020, Sagner et al. 2011, Möhrmann/Urbani 2012,
However, hair does not just represent a nodal point of divergent forms of knowledge production. Nor is it a passive projection surface for various practices of symbolic inscription. On the contrary, it serves in its very materiality as a mediator of aesthetic reflection and formalization. Not just since Ludwig Tieck’s “braid novella” or “Zopfnovelle” (Füllmann 2008) Die
‘Hair’ appears as the site of violent narrative cuts, lyrical excess and dramatic knotting, which, in turn, sheds light on the grotesque and uncanny dimensions of hair, that seem intimately tied to its specific materiality. Whether thin, thick, curly or shaved, hair – due to its status as dead matter that reaches beyond the flesh – threatens the integrity of body and text. An accumulated vitality seems
The conference seeks to interrogate the poetics, practices and functions of hair in literature and in other media. The (poetological) usage of hair’s excessive materiality as well as its function as an operator within discourses of resistance and opposition is therefore of particular interest. Contributions to the following (but not exclusively) subject-areas are welcome for the conference:
- aesthetic, narratological, genre-specific and form-related aspects of hair
- mediality of hair
- interdisciplinary and comparative perspectives: staging of hair semantics in film, music and the arts
- cultural practices of forming hair: cutting, washing, smoothing, shaving, waxing …
- practitioners of hair: wig makers, hairdressers and barbers
- locales of hair: hairdressing salons, bathrooms, waxing studios….
- relationship between head and body hair: hairstyle and vagina, etc.
- commercialization of hair: hair as a commodity, hair in global supply-chains and in postcolonial geographies
- splitting hairs: the oppositional or resilient
materiality of hair
- the op-positional materiality (‘
Gegenständlichkeit’) of hair: relationship between material and resistance, op-positional aesthetics, hair as subversion or excess
- discursive-material hair practices and forms of subjectification
Scholars in literary and cultural studies, as well as researchers from various disciplines – such as Art, Media studies, Anthropology and Social sciences – who are interested in the poetics and materiality of hair, are invited to apply to present a paper. Proposals from junior researchers are particularly welcome. A publication of the contributions is planned.
Please send your paper proposals (max. 300 words, talk time: 20 min) in English or German together with your biographical information by February 29, 2020 to: hair.conference@
Conference Organizers: Helen Baur, Elena Casanova, Tamara Fröhler, Lilli Hölzlhammer, Pia Lobodzinski, Chris Reitz, Fabiola Valeri.