Call for Paper - 16 - Literature at Museum


Special issue edited by Marie-Clémence Régnier (Université Paris-Sorbonne)

16 – june 2015

Because of its nature and its customary modes of diffusion, literature has traditionally developed in the margins of museum spaces, which were tied in historical and institutional terms to different practices, artistic (painting, photography) and scientific (history, natural science) ones in particular. Nevertheless, the worlds of literature and the museum have interacted in various ways, be that through the representation of museum space in literary texts or written contributions to artistic life (via criticism and reviewing especially) or, conversely, through the exposition of literary works, spaces and attributes in the museum.
Until now, research devoted to the complex and changing relations between literature and the museum has often focused on the literary side of things. Good examples are the many publications on the art criticism of literary writers, on their participation in exposition catalogues or, of course, on works dealing with specific literary museums (see the Musée du Louvre by Théophile Gautier or the recent novel An Arsonist’s Guide to Writers’ Homes in New England by Brock Clarke). Or think of the many studies on the literary appropriation of the museal gesture of collecting and exposing certain objects (see the special issue of the journal Littérature, « La littérature exposée » from 2010), which often takes place in a semi-private and domestic context (Dominique Pety (2003), Bertrand Bourgeois (2009)).
Less frequently, publications also consider literature itself as a museum object. Yet they often do not deal explicitly with the ways in which literary practice is appropriated by the museum environment. In this respect, the article « Le Musée et le texte » by Philippe Hamon, originally published in 1995, is still being referred to but mainly in related disciplines (Depoux, 2006). Additionally, author homes/museums are studied from a historical and heritage-centered perspective (see Hoover Biggers (2002) and Hendrix (2012), for instance) in a long Anglophone tradition that examines both the musealization of these homes and the publications they inspired.
This issue aims to identify and contextualize the many forms of literature’s musealization more closely. Many examples immediately suggest themselves ; apart from writer homes, think of the Archives et Musée de la littérature in Brussels, of the Deutsches Literaturarchiv Marbach/Schiller-Nationalmuseum established in the native village of Friedrich Schiller, or of the National Museum of Modern Chinese Literature in Beijing. Or think of temporary exhibitions like « Victor Hugo. L’homme-océan » at the Bibliothèque nationale de France (2002) for example, and of the examples where writers felt compelled to participate in curating certain exhibitions or museum spaces (Jean-Philippe Toussaint’s activities for the exposition « Livre/Louvre » in 2012 ; the realization of Orhan Pamuk’s « Museum of Innocence », an element of his fiction turned reality).
Developing such observations, this issue of the journal Interférences littéraires/Literaire interferenties aims to interrogate what happens to literature when it enters the space of the museum. More specifically, the aim is to propose a first map of the issues involved in the musealization of literature in the nineteenth, twentieth and twenty-first centuries, both in terms of discourses and practices. The issue will describe the modalities of a process, understood as an « operation which extracts, physically and conceptually, an object from its natural or cultural context and assigns it a museal status, transforms it in musealium or muséalie, a museum object, and makes it enter the field of the museal » (Desvallées & Mairesse, 2011). Such a process is far from self-evident, as it involves the encounter between two different domains as well as between the agents of these domains, who have their own agendas and inevitably alter, through their activities, the status of literature and our ways of engaging with museum space.
The special issue approaches these themes in an open, pluralist fashion. The goal is not to reduce the subject to a limited set of examples and institutions, nor to particular forms of musealization (temporary/virtual exposition, immersive scenography, traditional displays …) but rather to reflect on the system of practices which are used to integrate literature into the museum space without obliterating its peculiar identity.
Obviously, the figure of the author, qua visible and emblematic incarnation of the literary life, is central to the interactions between literature and the museum. Indeed, in certain cases, she is both the passive objet and active subject of these interactions. In terms of the construction of the authorial persona, prime questions are hence the ways in which life- and work-oriented expositions operate. The exemplary case here is again the writer’s home, which reveals the systematic ‘re-sacralization’ of the writer that often underpins the museal reappropriation of her representations (anthropological value of the cult of her relics, intensification of the work’s biographical dimensions, stress on the singular qualities of the work, reflection on the status of the ‘great writer’). In the case of exhibitions on living authors, or expositions of which the curator is a writer, it is also worth reflecting on the place of these events in the context of their work. How do authors position themselves vis-à-vis these events and which roles do they play (or are they made to play) in their oeuvres ?
The relations between literature and the museum can also consist in the mutual transfer of models. In this respect, an interesting question is to which degree, and with what aim, expositions imitate and appropriate certain techniques from literary discourse (the narrative montage, for instance, which is created by an exposition’s scenography through ‘chapters’ and ‘sections’, the anthological presentation of works …) and, conversely, the adoption of certain museal codes by literature (use of the model of the portrait gallery, for example). Do such borrowings not tend to ‘museify’ our conception of literature, which is to say, to consolidate a particular conception of literature enshrined by scholarly institutions ? In what sense, with its own constraints and media, does the museum present literature ? Which conception of literature can we find in museums, expositions but also, perhaps, in the promotion of exhibitions, whether this promotion originates in museums themselves or passes through other channels of transmission (radio, TV, internet…) ?
In this sense, can the museum be considered a medium or, more broadly, as a space of mediation between literature and the social sphere, as Régis Debray envisages it in a recent article (2013) ? How do these interactions operate between the domains in question and what do they reveal about the way in which literature is seen and constructed ? What happens, moreover, to the practices of reading and interpretation which are traditionally attached to literary practice ; does the exhibition thwart more established ways of interacting with literature through texts and books and, if so, how does that happen and what are its implications? Which elements distinguish the museum from the reading room and the library, which can be seen, after all, as museum-like conservatories of literary collections ? Is the act of exposition the only distinction between museums and libraries ? If so, what happens when the latter stage their own exhibitions  (Pierpont Morgan Library, Bibliothèque nationale de France…)? In terms of readers and visitors, finally, does musealization enhance the visibility and accessibility of literature in the public space and for a larger audience ?
These reflections ultimately lead to the question of the adapation and appropriation of literary codes, which are to a large extent logocentric, by museographic codes, which are more explicitly founded on attention to the material dimension of the objects under consideration. What are the primary forces behind the paradoxical « muséogénie » of literature ? What are the criteria (historical importance, visual spectacle) behind the selection of objects and themes, and how do they impact the representation of the literary fact ? Do certain practices and genres transfer more easily to the museum (fairy tales and historical novels rather than poetry) ? How can we explain such differences ? Does it help if these genres and works were illustrated or adapted in other media, which might be more easily integrated into the museum setting (painting, cinema, theatre) ? Turning to exhibitions about certain movements and literary periods (like the exposition « Bohèmes » at the Grand Palais in 2013 or the house of painter Ary Scheffer, transformed into the « Musée de la vie romantique » in Paris), are specific writers and works seen as better subjects for exhibitions because they are seen as more charismatic, because they also found a visual outlet for their aesthetic and theoretical reflections, because their mode of creation or way of life still speak to the imagination ?
In short, the goal of this special issue is to stimulate reflection on the concepts, the objects, the ends and technical means by which literature is turned into a museum exhibit. In investigating these phenomena, the issue will shed new light on the representation and cultural life of what could be called, in the broadest terms, the ‘literary’.

We are particularly interested in contributions which approach these themes from a pluri- or interdisciplinary perspective and combine sociology, literary history, cultural history, art history and/or museum studies or which compare different national and/or linguistic spaces and contexts. Papers should be between 30,000 and 50,000 signs (including spaces and notes). If you are interested, please send a 300-word abstract as well as a brief bio with your research interests and institutional affiliation to Marie-Clémence Régnier (marieclemenceregnier [at] hotmail [dot] com) and David Martens (david [dot] martens [at] arts [dot] kuleuven [dot] be) before 21 June 2014. Contributors will be contacted on June 30th and final papers should be submitted electronically before 1 November 2014 .

Selective Bibliography

Bourgeois Bertrand, Poétique de la maison-musée dans la seconde moitié du dix-neuvième siècle (1847-1898), Paris, L’Harmattan, 2009.
Braun Peter, Dichterhaüser, Münich, Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag, 2003.
Butor, Michel, Mériel Olivier & Molinari Danielle, Dans l’intimité de Victor Hugo à Hauteville House, Paris, Paris-Musées, 1998.
Clarke Brock, An Arsonist’s Guide to Writers’ Homes in New England : A Novel, New-York, Algonquin Books, 2007.
Davallon Jean, L’exposition à l’œuvre. Stratégies de communication et médiation symbolique, Paris, L’Harmattan, «  Communication et civilisation », 1999.
De Bary Marie-Odile, « Les différentes formes de muséographie : de l’exposition traditionnelle au centre d’interprétation », Manuel de Muséographie, s. dir. Marie-Odile De Bary & Jean-Michel Tobelem, Paris, Seguier, 1998, 195-203.
Depoux Anneliese, « De l’espace littéraire à l’espace muséal : la muséographisation de Joachim du Bellay », Communication et langages, 150, 2006, 93-103.
Desvallées André & Mairesse François, « Muséalisation », dans Dictionnaire encyclopédique de muséologie, Paris, Armand Colin, 2011, 251.
Emery Elizabeth, Photojournalism and the Origins of the French Writer House Museum (1881-1914). Privacy, Publicity, and Personality, Farnham, Ashgate, 2012.
Fabre Daniel, « L’auteur et ses lieux », Le Débat, 115, 2001, 172-177.
Hamon Philippe, Expositions, littérature et architecture au XIXe siècle, Paris, José Corti, 1989.
Id., « Le Musée et le texte », Revue d’histoire littéraire de la France, 95, 1995,  3-12.
Hendrix Harald (dir.), Writers’ Houses and the Making of Memory, Abingdon, Routledge, 2012
Jeanneret Yves, Penser la trivialité. La vie triviale des êtres culturels, Paris, Hermès-Lavoisier, 2008.
Hoover Biggers, Shirley, British Author House Museums and Other Memorials : A Guide to Sites in England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales, Jefferson, Mcfarland & Co Inc Pub, 2002
Kahl Paul & Breuer Constanze, « … ein Tempel der Erinnerung an Deutschlands großen Dichter », dans Das Weimarer Schillerhaus 1847–2007. Gründung und Geschichte des ersten deutschen Literaturmuseums, Iéna,Verlag Vopelius, 2011.
Mairesse François, Le Musée, temple du spectaculaire : pour une histoire du projet muséal, Lyon, Presses universitaires de Lyon, « Muséologies », 2002.
Marsh Kate, Writers and Their Houses : A Guide to the Writers’ Houses of England, Scotland, Ireland, Londres, Hamish Hamilton, 1993.
Martin-Payen Catherine, « Muséographe, quel métier ? », Muséologue, muséographe, expographe, scénographe. Un seul métier à plusieurs ? La Lettre de l’OCIM, 88, 2003.
Pety Dominique, Les Goncourt et la collection. De l’objet d’art à l’art d’écrire, Genève, Droz, « Histoire des idées et critique littéraire », 2003.
Rosenthal Olivia & Ruffel Lionel (dir.), « La littérature exposée », special issue in Littérature, 160, 2010.
Riel Marie-Ève, « La fabrication et la conservation posthumes des figures d’auteurs : le cas des lieux littéraires et des maisons à visiter » dans « Fictions du champ littéraire », dir. GREMLIN, Discours social, vol. XXXIV, 2010, 55-59.
Trubek Anne, A Skeptic’s Guide to Writers’ Houses, Philadelphie, University of Pennsylvania Press, 2010.

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