Beyond Words: The Unknowable and the Unutterable in early modernity

Event Date: 
01 Jun 2018


CREMS, University of York


This conference will explore the parameters of the Unknowable and the Unutterable in early modernity. It will range across the theological, the literary and the scientific, to attend to what early modern thinkers deemed beyond what they could find words for. If this apophatic inheritance – the language of what can’t be said - was a theological-mystical mode of thinking, what happened to it in the post-reformation climate of thought? Did natural philosophy understand the knowable limits of nature in the manner of the apophatic? How did emergent science negotiate the edges of what could be thought? What uses did early modern writers find for the apophatic traditions, Dionysius, Cusa, or John Scotus Eriugena? How did early modern poetry attend to the ineffable and that which was beyond words? The conference invites papers on the unknowable, the unutterable, the unthinkable and the unsayable, all broadly considered, in the sixteenth and seventeenth century, whether English or European.


Keynote speaker: William Franke (Vanderbildt)

Author of ‘On What Cannot be Said’ and ‘A Philosophy of the Unsayable’ (among others).


Please send abstracts (c. 250 words) to Kevin Killeen (, by Friday 10th November (or send expressions of interest).


This symposium is part of the lax and diffuse Thomas Browne Seminar series

Submission date for papers: 
10 Nov 2017