Thursday, June 21, 2012, 09:45 PMThis tremendously stimulating and enjoyable colloquium, co-organised by Berit Åström and myself, took place last Saturday at Anglia Ruskin. Although topics ranged from Ovid and Shakespeare to folk concept albums and MPreg fiction, a surprising number of common themes and patterns emerged in the ways we engaged with the processes at work when stories or motifs are ‘recycled’.
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Posted by Administrator
I introduced the colloquium with a paper on ‘the limits of allusion’. I began by sketching a taxonomy of terms used to describe the different kinds of interplay we may identify between texts- echo, allusion, quotation, imitation - before moving on to consider the pleasures of allusive uncertainty – the teasing ambiguity of moments which we want to think are allusions but which retain a degree of ‘plausible deniability’, defying a definite diagnosis. I discussed moments of ambiguous allusivity in the works of Norman Loftis, Derek Walcott and Louise Welsh.
The first panel opened with Rogers Asempesah’s ‘Call and Response: An examination of the summons motif in Everyman, Young Goodman Brown, The Trial and The Last Orders’, an analysis of the way powerful motifs can become vehicles for the circulation of ideas. Rogers described how, if we trace different versions of ‘summoning’, we can identify a shift from an epistemology of faith to one of uncertainty and doubt. Particularly suggestive was the idea that such moments of summoning might serve to summon, not just the main character, but the entire text. I was reminded of the strange way in which Rosencrantz and Guildenstern describe how they were called to adventure by a shadowy (and authorial?) figure in Stoppard’s play.
In ‘In the Cave: Lawrence Norfolk revives Paul Celan’, Alan Robinson gave a fascinating account of the intellectually (and ethically) complex relationship between Norfolk’s novel In The Shape of a Boar and some troubling episodes in the life of poet Paul Celan. In The Shape of a Boar foregrounds the indeterminacy of historical reconstruction, offering different versions of the past. It also, disconcertingly, could be seen to distort the realities of Celan’s life, and this element of the novel prompted an interesting discussion about the ethics of co-opting and adjusting recent traumatic events for artistic purposes. . The novel’s title refers to Norfolk’s use of the myth of the Calydonian boar, transposed onto Nazi occupied Greece and used to replace things which cannot be known or described. This aspect of Alan’s paper reminded me of the unsettling Pan’s Labyrinth, and anxieties over ethics and aesthetics prompted questions similar to those raised by John Adams’ opera The Death of Klinghoffer.
Lykara Ryder tapped into several audience members’ enthusiasm for science fiction in her paper ‘Fiction’s Attraction to the Perfect Language and the Story of Babel’. She charted the progress of ‘created’ languages from the story of the Tower of Babel, via the c.17 travel fantasy The Man in the Moone to more modern science fictional narratives such as C. S. Lewis’s Cosmic Trilogy and Samuel Delany’s Babel 17. The idea that the perfect language might contain some secret power emerged as a motif which mutated through the centuries, beginning with the idea than a perfect correspondence between signifier and signified inhered in the original ‘Adamic’ language, and then inhabiting a more scientific discourse, whereby language can act as a ‘code’ with the power to transform reality – rather as in one of my favourite Dr Who episodes The Shakespeare Code. By suggesting that the idea of a perfect language began as an ideal and mutated into a mechanism of sinister control, Lykara seemed to echo Rogers’ account of changing uses of the summoning motif, which became something to be avoided rather than embraced as it moved through different texts.
In questions the mysterious Voynich Manuscript was touched upon – and I’ll take that as a cue to recommend Dan Simmons’ Voynich inspired sf novels Ilium and Olympus.