CFP: A Phone Call with the Dead – Dialogues with/of the Dead and Media in the 20th and 21st Century

German Department of Ghent University (Belgium)
In collaboration with the German Department of the University of Regensburg (Germany)
September 9-11, 2020
Stichtag: 01.02.2020

Communication with the dead and among the dead has always been represented and shaped through technical and personal media. In antiquity we find both the genre of the satiric dialogues of the dead (modeled after Lucian’s nekrikoì diálogoi) and that of the conversation between the living and the dead in the tradition of katabasis (first epic and then Christian, from Homer through Virgil to Dante). Representations of the otherworld, as they are explored by cultural history and by religious studies, as well as different cults of the dead, the belief in ghosts, and different forms of ars moriendi, all affect until today the forms and uses of otherworldly dialogues, and particularly their media techniques (such as ecstasy, dream, or meditation) and their mediating agents (such as seers or priests) (see Hahn & Schüttpelz 2009; Zillinger 2013; Behrend, Dreschke & Zillinger 2015; Kjaersgaard 2017). It is well known how the development of new media in the 19th century, accompanied by new modes of perception, brought about Spiritism and a new wave of communication with the dead (i.e. through spirit photography but also telephone, phonograph, radio, where the voices of the dead can be intercepted and recorded) (see Geeppert & Braidt 2003; Baßler, Gruber & Wagner-Egelhaaf 2005; Pytlik 2005). Despite the wide presence of the phenomenon throughout several media, it is yet to be investigated how new technical media relate to the otherworldly dialogues that have been developing continuously in the course of the 20th and 21st century. Just to name a few examples: Wilder, Our Town (1938, drama); Brecht, The Trial of Lucullus (1939, radio drama); Schmidt, Dichtergespräche im Elysium (1941, dialogue); Sartre, No Exit (1944, drama); Cocteau, Orpheus (1950, film); Frisch, Triptychon (1979, drama and radio drama); Enzensberger, Ein Totengespräch (1999, dialogue); Ball, Six feet under (2001-2005; TV series)). These dialogues of/with the dead shall be understood within the context of communicative experiences and medial practices that are active in different cultural spaces, such as mediumism, divination (Kalvig 2017), trance, possession, and cults of the dead such as the “hungry month” in China or “el día de los muertos” in Mexico.

This conference focuses on dialogues with/of the dead from the 20th and 21st century in different media (literature, radio, drama, opera, film, digital media, etc…) and in different cultural and linguistic spaces. From an interdisciplinary perspective we will investigate the emergence and development of modern dialogues with/of the dead considering their underlying representational conditions, especially those shaped by media. Our purpose is to explore, within a broad range of cultural, historical, anthropological, and inter-medial perspectives, the socio-cultural contexts in which (post-) modern dialogues with/of the dead are produced, and the media techniques and sign systems that generate and shape them. By dialogues with/of the dead we understand entire dialogic works or dialogues/monologues within larger works that are performed as (self-) conversations among/with the dead (for example in the form of ghosts, shadows, or the “spirits” of the dead).

This conference invites contributions from different areas of literary studies, cultural history, media studies, religious studies and anthropology.

Among the questions that we intend to investigate:

  • From a cultural-historical and literary perspective:
    Do these dialogues and the descent to the underworld help establishing discourses of remembrance and the overcoming of oblivion? What is the function of memory and how does it intersect with language and the problem of understanding? How far do the existential experiences of homelessness, placeless-ness and exile provide an occasion for otherworldly dialogues?
  • From a media studies perspective:
    In which way do modern dialogues with/of the dead use or represent technical and digital media as well as media techniques as channels to establish a contact between the dead and the living? How do modern dialogues of the dead relate to the use of “dead” channels, such as radio, telephone, or the Internet? In what way can the dialogues with/of the dead be understood as a form of conversation with oneself and as moments of medial self-reflection?
  •  From an anthropological perspective:
    What is the role of religious-mystical or secular representations of death and that of mourning practices for the production of the dialogues with/of the dead? How do necromantic and thanatology in different cultures affect the forms of communication with the dead?

Keynote speaker: Professor Erhard Schüttpelz (Siegen University)

The conference languages are German and English. A conference fee of 50 Euros will be required. Travel and accommodation costs will be reimbursed. The proceedings of the conference shall be published in an edited volume.
The conference is organized by the German Department of Ghent University (Belgium) in collaboration with the German Department of the University of Regensburg (Germany) by:

  • Dr. Zoë Ghyselinck, Postdoctoral fellow of the “Flanders Research Foundation”, German Department, Ghent University (Belgium).
  • Dr. Elena Fabietti, Postdoctoral fellow, German Department, University of Regensburg (Germany).

Please send abstract of max. 200 words until 1 February 2020 to:


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