Centre for Studies in Literature
Symposium 2018: Death and Celebrity
Wednesday 6th June 2018, University of Portsmouth
- Dr Ruth Penfold-Mounce, University of York
- Dr Samantha Matthews, University of Bristol
‘Fame is no plant that grows on mortal soil’ (John Milton); ‘Fame is a food that dead men eat’ (Henry Austin Dobson)
This one-day symposium will ask how death changes our relationship to famous figures: how are dead celebrities memorialised or forgotten, appropriated or overlooked in the interests of specific historical/cultural values? What kinds of media apparatus are involved in the curation, maintenance and reassessment of posthumous fame? What impact does the celebrity’s death have on the material objects, spaces and places with which s/he is associated?
For the ancients, true fame was necessarily posthumous, but in modernity, too, there remains an enduring fascination with what Andrew Bennett terms ‘the immortality effect’. Following the death of a celebrity, a variety of agents – friends, family, fans, professional associates, arts and heritage bodies – may interact to frame his/her legacy for posterity; moreover, celebrities themselves may take an active role in choreographing their cultural afterlives while still alive. Yet, while cementing, augmenting or rehabilitating the celebrity’s public profile, death can also prompt a reputational re-evaluation, with scandalous or unsavoury posthumous revelations resulting in the desecration, rather than the enhancement, of celebrity identity.