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Durham University

Institute of Advanced Study

Past Events

Myths of Transformation Workshop

25th September 2008, 09:00 to 27th September 2008, 17:00, Ritson Room, Department of Classics

Myths of transformation - tales, that is, in which ontological boundaries get blurred and human beings turn into gods or animals and plants - have an abiding place in the human imagination, both in Western and non-Western cultures, from the mythology of Amazon tribes to Homer, from Ovid to Science Fiction, from Titian to Kafka and beyond. By focusing on those moments or experiences in which the essential human ceases to exist, they both aid and challenge theorizing on what is distinctive about humanity. In a world where apotheosis or metamorphosis are possibilities, the human being is always already decentred - as an ‘intermediate being' on a sliding scale, with potential for movement both upward and downward, in mind and in body, in both moral and physical terms.

The workshop explores how different authors, periods, and cultures used myths of transformation to conceptualize what it is to be, and to cease to be, human. It brings together scholars from a wide variety of disciplines, and breaks new grounds in two areas especially: the ethnographic comparison of transformative experiences and discourses about transformation, within and across cultures; and the continuing resonance of Greco-Roman myths of transformations for authors from the Renaissance onwards, who have chosen to negotiate modern concerns and experiences in a classicizing idiom. The theme of transformation is also ideally suited to highlight a distinctive feature of the human imagination, i.e. its ability to defy and transcend boundaries.

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