Back to overview

Interdisciplinary Conrad: Affect, Mimesis, and Theory

Applicant Lawtoo Nidesh
Number 158429
Funding scheme Advanced Postdoc.Mobility
Research institution Johns Hopkins University School of Art and Sciences Humanities Center
Institution of higher education Institution abroad - IACH
Main discipline Other languages and literature
Start/End 01.09.2015 - 31.08.2016
Show all

Keywords (11)

Interdisciplinarity ; Catastrophe; Joseph Conrad; Modernism; Critical Theory; Anthropocene; Mimesis; Neuroplasticity; Chinua Achebe; Postcolonial studies; Francis Ford Coppola

Lay Summary (French)

Joseph Conrad (1857-1924) est un écrivain anglais d’origine polonaise qui occupe un rôle central dans l’émergence du récit moderniste et dont les romans ont été abordés dans des perspectives théoriques variées. Ce projet poursuit une investigation interdisciplinaire dans les études modernistes qui ouvre une nouvelle approche dans les études modernistes, en se concentrant sur le rôle que différentes formes d’imitation (identification, contagion affective, hypnose) jouent dans la constitution de la subjectivité.
Lay summary

Depuis la République de Platon, le concept de « mimésis » occupe une place centrale dans la théorie littéraire; ce concept est généralement traduit par « imitation ». Pourtant, des développements théoriques et philosophiques récent (Girard, Derrida, Lacoue-Labarthe) ont montré que ce concept gagne à être considéré dans une perspective interdisciplinaire, qui inclut des phénomènes affectifs tels que l’enthousiasme, l’identification, et la contagion. En s’appuyant sur ces travaux récents, ce projet considère le rôle que la mimésis occupe dans les textes de Conrad, ainsi que dans ses intertextes littéraires postcoloniaux et cinématographiques.

Dans un premier temps, cette approche pluridisciplinaire nous permettra d’explorer des sujets centraux dans l’émergence de la subjectivité moderne, tels que l’intersubjectivité, l’inconscient, l’hypnose, la transe, et le rapport à l’altérité. Dans un deuxième temps, seront exploré des phénomènes mimétiques plus contemporains, tels que la médiatisation des masses, la globalisation de la violence, le terrorisme, les effets de panique générés par les catastrophes naturelles dans l'époque de l'Anthropocène, aussi que la plasticité du cerveau.

En s’appuyant sur une approche interdisciplinaire, le projet développe des méthodes de lectures attentives à la forme du texte littéraire aussi qu’au contexte historique, psychologique, anthropologique et philosophique avec lequel l’œuvre de Conrad est « toujours déjà » en dialogue.
Direct link to Lay Summary Last update: 14.09.2015

Responsible applicant and co-applicants


Conrad's Neuroplasticity
Lawtoo Nidesh (2016), Conrad's Neuroplasticity, in Modernism/modernity, 23(4), 771-788.
Bataille and the Homology of Heterology
Lawtoo Nidesh, Bataille and the Homology of Heterology, in Theory, Culture and Society, 1-28.
Conrad's Shadow: Catastrophe, Mimesis, Theory
Nidesh Lawtoo, Conrad's Shadow: Catastrophe, Mimesis, Theory, Michigan State University Press, East Lansing MA, USA.
The Dispossession of Character
Lawtoo Nidesh, The Dispossession of Character, in NOVEL: A Forum on Fiction, 49(2), 403-407.

Scientific events

Active participation

Title Type of contribution Title of article or contribution Date Place Persons involved
Poetics and Politics: With Lacoue-Labarthe Talk given at a conference The Plasticity of Mimesis 18.02.2016 Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, United States of America Lawtoo Nidesh;
MLA Annual Conference Talk given at a conference D. H. Lawrence and the Birth of Ritual: Out of Dionysian Theory 07.01.2016 Austin, United States of America Lawtoo Nidesh;
MLA Annual Conference Talk given at a conference Violence and the Unconscious 07.01.2016 Austin, United States of America Lawtoo Nidesh;


Title Date Place
"Poetics and Politics: With Lacoue-Labarthe 18.02.2016 Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, United States of America


Title Year
Trustee for the Joseph Conrad Society of America 2015

Associated projects

Number Title Start Funding scheme
145340 Interdisciplinary Conrad: Affect, Mimesis and Theory 01.09.2013 Fellowships for advanced researchers


Joseph Conrad’s critical fortune and popularity never waned in the twentieth century, and his standing among modernists has continued to increase at the dawn of the twenty-first century. And yet, if Conrad’s importance for the future has been considered “limitless” (Peters, 2013), his concrete relevance for our increasingly dark times still needs to be delineated. The third of a series of books on the contemporary value of modernism, this monograph, not titled "Conrad's Shadow: Catastrophe, Mimesis, Theory" (forthcoming with Michigan State UP) argues that Joseph Conrad’s modernist texts-as well as their postcolonial and cinematic inter-texts-are more forward-oriented than previously realized when considered from the angle of the emerging field of mimetic theory. This book revisits Conrad’s major fictions from an interdisciplinary, transnational perspective not only to shed new light on his literary practice, but also to diagnose the different forms of imitative behavior that contribute to making our present times vulnerable and precarious. Its distinguishing feature is that it brings Conrad and new modernist studies up-to-date with some of the major preoccupations of the twenty-first century. These include, but are not limited to, the escalation of global violence, natural catastrophes, postcolonial revolutions, the Anthropocene, the brain’s neuroplasticity, and the horror of international terrorism. My wager in this book is that Conrad’s diagnostic of different forms of imitative and contagious behavior makes him, more than ever, “one of us.” In his attempt to “make us see” the shadow of mimesis, which has now fallen on our present times, lies perhaps his greatest originality. Drawing on my previous work on the centrality of imitation in Conrad and modernist studies (Lawtoo 2012, 2013), as well as on the growing awareness that mimetic behavior--under the rubric of "identification," "affective contagion," or "mirror neurons"--is central to the foundation of subjectivity, I revisit key Conradian texts, and some of their postcolonial (Chinua Achebe) and cinematic (Francis Ford Coppola) inter-texts, from the so far unexplored angle of mimesis understood in its interdisciplinary (psychological, anthropological, philosophical) manifestations. Conrad’s exploration of mimetic phenomena as diverse as identification, emotional contagion, panic, rivalry, the formation of mass and public opinion, opens up new modernist studies to current concerns with the escalation of violence, catastrophic natural scenarios in the age of the Anthropocene, contagious pandemics, postcolonial counter-narratives, going as far as anticipating recent discoveries in the neurosciences concerning mirror neurons and the plasticity of the human brain. While these lines of investigations are usually split in different areas of disciplinary specialization, they interconnect organically in Conrad’s corpus. My claim is that the heterogeneous problematic of mimetic contagion strings together Conrad’s career-long preoccupations with a type of human subject that is, for better and worse, open to the affective and infective emotions of others. His fictions urge critics to adopt interdisciplinary lenses to peel off the different layers of imitation that inform not only his literary investigations but the contemporary imagination as well.