An Interdisciplinary International Conference, Kings College London, May 18-20, 2017


I. Description

The pairing of desire and knowledge has been a core structuring principle for contemporary theory and literary criticism, from René Girard and Michel Foucault to gender studies, queer studies, and theories of mind. The conference “Desire/Knowledge” has two aims, one diachronic and the other synchronic: first, to consider how this particular pair of ideas has been represented from the classical period to the present day; second, to examine the role this conceptual couple has played in some of the major currents of contemporary thought.

The “Desire/Knowledge” conference will be hosted by the Department of Comparative Literature at King’s with input from a range of related disciplines that are strongly represented at the College, including Classics,  French, English, Art History, and Philosophy. In addition to King’s, participants are drawn from universities in the United States and France. It features two keynote speakers, Vincent Descombes (Professor, Ecole des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, Paris, and Visiting Professor Emeritus of Social Thought, University of Chicago), one of the foremost French philosophers today, and Anne C. Vila, Professor of French, University of Wisconsin-Madison.


The conference is configured as a collaboration between three organizers and their world-leading institutions:

  1. Anne C. Vila, Professor of French, University of Wisconsin-Madison.
  1. Daniel Desormeaux, Professor of French, University of Chicago.
  1. Ziad Elmarsafy, Professor and Head of Comparative Literature at King’s College London


In addition to the keynotes, there will be two days of panels on the following thematic streams:

  1. Desire and Knowledge in the Classical and Medieval Periods
  2. Desire and Knowledge in the Early Modern Period.
  3. Desire and Knowledge in the Modern Period
  4. Desire, Knowledge, and Contemporary Literary Theory: Global Perspectives, Social & Political Theory
  5. Desire, Knowledge, and the Mind: Philosophy and Aesthetics Thus the papers in the first four streams construct a narrative about desire and knowledge that will then inform debates and discussions in the fifth.