« The Influence of Greek and Latin Antiquity in Contemporary Science-Fiction & Fantasy Works »
June 7 - 9 2012, Rouen & Paris, France
Organizers: Pr Perrine Galand (Full Professor at l’Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes, Sorbonne, Paris), Mélanie Bost-Fievet (Fellow Teacher at the University Paris IV - Sorbonne), David K. Nouvel (Fitzwilliam Institute, London) & Sandra Provini (PhD, Lecturer at the University of Rouen)
In this early XXIst century, when the Greek and Latin studies seem doomed to disappear in a more or less short term, the Graeco-Latin legacy still nurtures the imagination of numerous artists, novelists, and film directors as well. Several theatrical releases in the past years have renewed the genre of the historic or mythological peplum, while the settings in various comic book and video game emulate history or ancient epic. So-called “speculative fiction” also thrives on this legacy, in France as well as in the anglo-saxon world. This may come as a surprise: the Science-Fiction imaginary world is futuristic, the Fantasy one readily medieval; as for the “fantastic” genre, it fits into a contemporary situation. However, we are compelled to notice that the last decade has witnessed a surge in imaginary writings inspired by the Greek or Latin Antiquity. We shall wonder about the reasons behind this revived interest, focusing on the genres of SF, Fantasy and ‘fantastic’, the best-known and most-codified ones in “speculative literature” – even though they do not cover it entirely.
The issue of rewriting the great ancient myths as a starting point to questioning the narrative or poetic categories – e. g. Joyce’s Ulysses – was debated in the ‘Modernités antiques’ seminar, where novels and poetic works from the first half of the XXth century were contemplated. We would like, for our part, to address the bringing-in of the Graeco-Latin culture in a wider sense (its mythology and fictions, its history, its philosophy), in the imaginary production of our postmodernity. Far from being barely an academic, even scholar knowledge, hackneyed, become commonplace or unfamiliar, this culture fuels an original creation, in an artistic field where originality is highly promoted.
We endeavour, first and foremost, to point out how ancient motives are being reinvested in these imaginary works. It may take the form of a rewriting of ancient texts, like in Dan Simmons’ Ilium and Olympos, which follow Homer’s text by transposing characters, plot and even the epic narration of the Iliad in an SF world. Other fictions may rewrite only elements, characters or mythological structures: the feud between the Olympian Gods in the Percy Jackson series, the Argonaut crew in Terry Pratchett’s (The Last Hero), Perseus in the Clash of the Titans, the Fates in La Sève et le Givre by Léa Silhol, the Minotaur in the eponymous trilogy by Thomas Burnett Swann; some historical episodes are similarly treated, like the battle of Thermopylae in the comic book then movie, 300. Other writers settle for simple borrowings of mythological creatures – we meet Centaurs in Harry Potter, Nymphs or Satyrs in the Narnia series by C.S. Lewis – or for recollections (the “House of Atreides” in Dune), which should be delineated and interpreted. For the tribute can be even more discreet: social or civilian structures inherited from Roman or Athenian models in David Eddings’s works, intimacy of the meetings between men and gods in Roland Vartogue’s or Mercedes Lackey’s, rewritings of tragic schemes in the torn-apart family of the Farseers in Robin Hobb’s, or rediscovery of the Greek philosophy in Socrate le demi-chien, the comic by Joann Sfar. How does this accepted or hidden intertextuality with the Antiquity works? How can modernity reclaim these heroes, structures, ancient images?
Furthermore, the relation between the authors themselves and this legacy will be addressed. Do they consciously, wilfully rekindle these ancient representations? For what reason do they choose this source of inspiration? Does it stem from a need to position themselves in their literary field, a search for originality? Following J.R.R. Tolkien, the Fantasy authors have indeed preferred the medieval universe, in the Anglo-Saxon literature especially: the ancient imaginary can offer an alternative, while keeping the tribute to a shared mythology, and at the same time renewing the imaginary universes. In the same way, the Fantasy or SF genres often distance themselves from the tale structure, to get closer to the mythological one. We will also wonder what type of imitation contemporary authors practice, from a skilfully drawn-up contaminatio, based on precise sources, to the simple resumption of cultural elements belonging to the collective – schooldays, perhaps – memory. Does this approach lean upon a historical or truly literary research, like in David Gemmel’s works, or does it feed on recollections and childhood images?
Finally, we will seek to understand the part that these ancient references play in the reader’s interest. The literary theory has offered structuralist, psychoanalytic readings of the ancient myths, suggesting that their resumption in contemporary works answered the deeper structures of the reader’s mind. Yet, the ancient myth is a source not only of structures, but also of images. The Graeco-Latin imagery appears today in works that reactivate it by taking a stance for its originality, by reclaiming its functioning modes: it participates in giving, to the reader’s eyes, a credibility to the imaginary world invented by the author, founded on a shared culture, a sort of connivance. Thus, the shared knowledge between reader and author makes easier the advent of what Tolkien theorized under the name of secondary belief: the familiar element allows the accession to strangeness. Even the language can play this part: the Latinized phrases that J.K. Rowling creates play not only on the use of a known, but distorted, language, but also on the unknown of this language. Finally, the ancient reference can bring to the secondary world of the narrative all the cultural depth which lies within itself.
The conference, held during four half-days, will bring together scholars and young researchers alongside, as well as a round-table conference of French-writing authors who will be invited to think of their writing practices and their connections to the Graeco-Latin Antiquity. It will not be confined to a strictly academic audience, but should be opened also to Classics teachers whose pupils are often eager for this kind of fictional works, as well as readers everywhere.
Propositions for papers must be sent to the organizers before July 1 2011 to
nouveldav @ gmail . com