Open Lecture: Thoughts on Peace: Modernism and the Pacifist Literary Imagination with Dr. Elsa Högberg

In her essay “Thoughts on Peace in an Air Raid” (1940), Virginia Woolf urges her readers to imagine peace, and the psychosocial conditions that make it sustainable, in the midst of war. This lecture begins with Woolf’s idea of the creative imagination’s performative capacity, by which artistic and literary representation helps bring about lasting peace. It situates her modernist pacifism in relation to the Bloomsbury group’s commitments to social justice, disarmament, peace-building and international cooperation, and reads it as representative of a major strand of modernism dedicated to the care for and maintenance of fragile life worlds. Bloomsbury’s manifestoes and artistic production have come to shape debates, from the interwar years into our present, around the vital and reparative role of art and literature in an increasingly militarised world. This talk attends specifically to definitions of peace as a mental or affective state – from Emmanuel Levinas’s “awakeness to the precariousness of the other” to Melanie Klein’s reparative respite from anxiety and alertness to threat – to illuminate modernist explorations of psychological states that might inspire non-violent ethical positions and political action.

Speaker bio
Elsa Högberg is a Docent in English at Uppsala University specialising in literary modernism. Her published work focuses on intimacy, affect, lyric, social justice, precarity and pacifism as crucial sites where the aesthetics, ethics and politics of modernism converge. She is the author of Virginia Woolf and the Ethics of Intimacy (Bloomsbury Academic, 2020), editor of Modernist Intimacies (Edinburgh University Press, 2021) and co-editor, with Amy Bromley, of Sentencing Orlando: Virginia Woolf and the Morphology of the Modernist Sentence (Edinburgh University Press, 2018).

The lecture is also being hosted via Zoom.