Allusions and Echoes (Continued) 
Saturday, June 23, 2012, 06:42 PM
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The next panel opened with Anna-Lena Pihl’s ‘Translating Intertextuality: Poems as Part of Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse’. This thoughtful paper explored the particular problems presented to Woolf’s Swedish translators by the many quotations from well-known English poems in her novel. How can one best replicate the particular effects created by fragments which encourage a well read (English) reader to import a much wider poetic context into his or her reading? Anna convincingly argued that, when faced with lines from Tennyson’s ‘Charge of the Light Brigade’, the translators, IngaLisa Munck and Sonja Bergvall, subtly altered the wording in order to cue, for the Swedish reader, memories of an 1818 Esaias Tegnér poem, dedicated to Swedish war hero, King Charles XII. To create fresh resonances (if not the same ones as those triggered by Tennyson) allows the translation to retain more of the texture of the original. Later someone suggested that a direct, full quotation from a Swedish poem might have been substituted for the Tennyson. But it was felt that such a radical move would be distracting given that the novel’s characters are, even when translated, clearly British.

Everyone was very grateful to Amy Crawford for stepping in at short notice when two speakers had to pull out for unavoidable reasons. She gave a very engaging presentation on the Bluebeard story’s significance for Margaret Atwood. In The Robber Bride the story’s patterns are reversed, for it is a female, Xenia, who plays the role of Bluebeard. A further subtle variation on the theme is played out in the short story ‘Bluebeard’s Egg’ in which only very gradually do we begin to wonder whether the heroine’s husband, although ostensibly mild and harmless, might be a kind of Bluebeard. Unsettlingly his very dullness, his obtuseness, is figured as the wall which hides a hidden chamber, here a mysterious corner of his mind rather than an actual room. Allusive uncertainty was one of several themes running through the day’s papers, and there appeared to be a special power in the story’s refusal to confirm or deny our worries about the heroine’s predicament in this tale. Amy’s final Bluebeard figure was Odysseus in the Penelopiad – this was a totally convincing reading, and I wondered whether the Commander in The Handmaid’s Tale might not represent yet another example of the type, particularly in the light of Offred’s speculations about her predecessor’s fate.

Rob Hancock’s presentation brought together Ovid’s Metamorphoses and Hadestown, a recent folk rock concept album. He posed some fascinating questions about the ways in which different versions of a narrative act on one another. I particularly appreciated a simple but compelling point he made – which was that a text (such as the Metamorphoses) might be just as good a lens through which to view other texts as an ideology. Rob gave a rather rueful account of his brief meeting with the artist behind Hadestown, Anaïs Mitchell, in which it transpired she had never read a word of Ovid. When he jokingly characterised himself as a ‘fanboy’ I started to think about the ways in which there might be something erotic, not just in the relationship between a translator and a translated text, as described by say Steiner, but also in the critic’s quest for allusive certainty, by which I mean the certainty that the allusion you think you have spotted isn’t just a product of your overactive imagination.

By the end of the day I had many items to add to my ever growing to read (and to listen) list, and I am particularly keen to catch up with The Science of Discworld, the focus of Imola Bulgozdi’s entertaining paper, partly because it sounds great fun, partly because I feel annoyed with myself for not identifying it in time to include it an essay I wrote a while back about the relationship between Shakespearean theatre, magic and sf. This book apparently draws on the popular alternate world/history trope, whereby our own reality becomes a subject of scrutiny or conjecture in the fictional world. And, as Imola demonstrates, The Science of Discworld also plays with some fascinating ideas about the relationship between creativity (here represented by Shakespeare) and evolution.

For some in the audience the next paper, from Berit Åström, opened up some surprising new horizons – into the worlds of slash fiction and MPreg. ‘Re-writing the Troubadour Effect?: Male Pregnancy Fan Fiction’ began with a discussion of the proposition that many romance narratives are really about two men, for only a man can be a perfect woman, and went on to explore conflicting responses to slash, seen by some as misogynistic and by others as homophobic. The locus classicus for slash is probably Kirk/Spock, although Blake/Avon is another stalwart of the genre. However Berit turned to the much more recent Supernatural as the subject for her paper. I’m a recent convert to this series which I value for its cleverly self-conscious postmodernism and well written scripts. Although I still don’t quite understand why people want to write stories in which one or both of the brothers falls pregnant, it was certainly interesting to hear about the various weird and wonderful permutations taken by Supernatural MPreg fan fic.

We were all very pleased that Raphael Lyne was able to deliver the keynote paper of the day, 'Yet Once More: Lycidas’. This wove thought-provoking reflections about the earlier papers into a subtle and suggestive presentation about Milton's poem, and returned to some of the questions about the terms we use for describing moments of textual interplay which I touched on in my own paper. Memory is central to Raphael’s recent work, and he explained why he felt that memory, an experience which may manifest itself either as the result of conscious effort or a sudden startling discovery, is a particularly useful way of figuring allusion. He revealed how allusive moments in ‘Lycidas’ open up gaps, pathways to a source, complicating the reader’s experience of the poem. He demonstrated, in a meticulous analysis, the way in which apparently spontaneous ‘memories’ within ‘Lycidas’ start, if pressed, to look more consciously considered. And looking at the relationship between fragments of Milton’s poem and The Winter’s Tale gave one the odd feeling that Milton had written first, an effect which nicely echoed a playful idea to be found in The Science of Discworld, that the contents of books yet unwritten can be deduced from books already in existence. I felt I definitely needed to return – yet once more – to‘Lycidas’.

Thanks to all speakers once again and to Una McCormack and Tanya Horeck for chairing!

I do hope we – and others with similar interests in echoes, allusions and cultural recycling – can continue these conversations in the future.


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