Man's Head (Self Portrait I), 1963; @Lucian Freud Archive

Figurements: A Symposium on Literature and the Face

We’re delighted to announce that Literature & the Face: A Critical History will be hosting a symposium at The University of Melbourne from November 27th-29th, 2024 entitled ‘Figurements: A Symposium on Literature and the Face.’ The symposium brings together researchers from across the world to critically engage with the questions that have been at the heart of our research. Here you will find the prospectus for the symposium, and a place to register.


This symposium will explore the various means by which literary texts represent the human face: its expressiveness, its cultural and semiotic significance, and its affects. The human face is often conceptualised in visual terms, and increasingly so in the context of intensifying regimes of facial surveillance, and digital reproduction and manipulation. This symposium turns resolutely away from visual, technological or cinematic faces, to pay special attention to the history and meaning of rhetorical forms of face-writing in fiction, poetry, and to a lesser extent, in dramatic texts, principally in the traditions of European and Australian writing. 

Over three days we will attend to the singularity of the literary representation of the human face. We will reflect on ways faces are represented in literary and popular writing, on challenging conceptual questions about humanity, animality and faciality, on the influence of generic and rhetorical patterns on the cognitive and emotional act of reading, and the way we understand individual and social identity formation in literature. One of the aims of this symposium is to learn how other scholars think about the literary representation of the human face.

In addition to a keynote address from Anca Parvulescu (Washington University in St Louis), confirmed speakers include:

Andrew Benjamin (Monash University)
Declan Fry (University of Melbourne)
Grace Moore (University of Otago)
Helen Groth (University of New South Wales)
John Frow (University of Sydney)
Katherine Ibbett (University of Oxford)
Lynda Ng (University of Melbourne)
Peggy MacCracken (University of Michigan)
Peter Holbrook (Australian Catholic University)
Peter Otto (University of Melbourne)
Sigi Jottkandt (University of New South Wales)
Tyne Daile Sumner (Australian National University)

We also invite proposals for 5 minute ⚡lightning talks ⚡. Speakers are invited to present ONE powerpoint slide that includes one or more quotations about the face from any literary work. We encourage you to explore any affective, aesthetic, political, or formal issues it raises; and to pose one or two questions for discussion. We hope these will be exploratory presentations that will provoke general discussion. We will spend 5-10 minutes in conversation after each lightning talk. Possible questions include:

  • What forms of rhetoric does this author use to characterise facial expression? What is the language of the face?
  • How does the face contribute to the sense of character and/or narrative action for this particular author?
  • To what extent is the face involved in this author’s interest in or representation of gender, ethnicity, race, or disability? To what extent do these representations reflect–or challenge–historical formations of these social divisions?
  • What is historically singular about these modes of representation? What is generic?

Prior to the symposium, we will make available some of the writing that has already emerged from our project. This is not to direct speakers’ papers or  responses in any way, and we don’t expect you to refer to our work unless it is useful, but we would like to give speakers a sense of how our work and methods have developed. We welcome any responses and feedback.

Abstracts intended for presentations will be expected by May 31st, 2024.

Date: November 27-29, 2024 at the University of Melbourne.

Convenors: Joe Hughes, Stephanie Trigg, Tyne Daile Sumner, and Guy Webster.

Prime Contact: Guy Webster (