The Vanitas Hypothesis

Culture and languages

Guest lecture by Vincent Bruyere (Emory). All interested are welcome!

19 Oct 2023
15:00 - 17:00
Room J335, Humanisten, Renströmsgatan 6

Good to know
Seminar language: English
Department of Languages and Literatures
Vincent Bruyère, guest lecturer
Vincent Bruyère, Emory College of Arts and Sciences

When artists, writers, and scholars in humanistic fields are invited to have a seat at the table where environmental concerns are debated and policed, it is usually on the assumption that they have what it takes, either to amplify calls for action and foster long-term thinking. The Vanitas Hypothesis explores a different scenario. A vanitas image is the pictorial equivalent of an open landfill where heaps of meaningless and yet valuable things are laid to rest along with the worldly values attached to them for everyone to see. It is a mode of depositing value that turns displayed riches into a layer of stuff. Like the Anthropocene hypothesis in that regard, the vanitas tradition threatens the historical and visual record with indifference, but unlike geological projections it is designed to bear witness to quieter forms of erasureThe Vanitas hypothesis is less about vanitas as object of inquiry located in a time and a place than about the feeling for a disappointing relation to images of the world. It is a feeling whose admission to pointlessness constitutes an ecocritical achievement. 


Vincent Bruyere is Associate Professor of French at Emory University. He is the author of Perishability Fatigue: Forays in Environmental Loss and Decay (Columbia UP, 2018).