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Durham University

Department of English Studies

Event Archive

This is an archive of past events within the Department of English Studies. Please see our current events for forthcoming activities.

Some of our public events are recorded and are available as podcasts via our Research English At Durham blog.

Forbidden Fruit

'The Charm of the Unfamiliar': Myth and Alterity in Early Modern Literature

19th June 2015, 09:00 to 17:00, St Mary's College

Proposals are invited for this one-day postgraduate conference, which will examine the idea of the exotic in early-modern literature. Confirmed keynote speakers include Professor Michael Pincombe(Newcastle), Dr Leon Burnett (Essex) andProfessor Andrew Laird (Warwick).

A hint of the far reaching and rich symbolic potential of the word "exotic" resides in one twentieth-century dictionary's definition of the term as "the charm of the unfamiliar". Haunted as it is by the spectre of nineteenth-century Orientalism, this potential has been largely left untapped by twenty first-century scholarship. Yet the word "exotic" was current as early as 1600, and bears significantly upon the genre, or genres, of early modern mythic literature. Returning to this period, this one-day postgraduate conference aims to interrogate the importance of literary exoticism in its loose, "unfamiliar" sense, with a view to rehabilitate the term in light of a modern historical consciousness and ethics.

The focus of this endeavour will be the study of myth through alterity, a term that gestures towards the broader identity politics inseparable from modern ideas of the exotic. Alterity proves fundamental to an era where a humanist renaissance of classical myths, often appropriated by political or "national" narratives, coincided with the philosophical and geographical necessity of negotiating new and old worlds. If for psychologist Jacob Arlow myth "is a particular kind of communal serves to bring the individual into relationship with members of his cultural group on the basis of certain common needs", theorists since Levi-Strauss have shown that this fostering of communality is underpinned by a structure or metaphysics of myth that is primarily oppositional. Inclusion depends on exclusion, self upon other. Such "otherness" takes many forms, and for the purposes of this conference questions of sexual, religious or animal alterity, for example, are of no less importance than those of race or nationality.

Proposals for papers of 20 minutes on any aspect of myth and alterity in the early modern period (c.1500-1700) are warmly invited, to be sent to by 5pm, Friday 1st May. We recognise and wish to foster the interdisciplinary nature of the topic and welcome contributions from areas of philosophy, politics, anthropology and translation as well as English studies. Abstracts should be 300 words and may treat, but are not limited to:

Travel writing and colonial encounters; hermeneutics and mythic exegesis; classics and the bible; ecology and the natural world; gender and hybridity; myth and memory; humanism and science; metaphysical debate; the supernatural; magic and the occult; animality; national borders and transgressions; migration and translation; language and metamorphosis; monstrosity; folklores and fables; intertextuality; culture and history; creation narratives and founding myths; subject and state

All contributors will be invited to submit their paper to be considered for publication in Postgraduate English, an online, peer-reivewed journal sponsored by the English department at the University of Durham.

Conveners: Sharihan Al-Akhras (Durham) and Abigail Richards (Durham).

For more information on this event, or for abstract submission, please contact:

Contact for more information about this event.


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