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Durham University

Institute of Advanced Study

Navigating Memory Conference

13 May 2010

(date rescheduled from 7 May)

Durham Castle (Senate Suite)

From classical mythology to modern fiction, water has had a powerful and lasting appeal for the literary imagination. In its metaphorical and symbolic guises, water takes on magical and sacramental properties; in both pagan and Christian cultures, it comes to be associated with rites of passage, and especially with the entry into and out of life. As an archetypal image of memory and time, water evolves into a complex emblem of the mind and its reflective capacities. In Romantic and Victorian literature, rivers and seas carry deeply felt but dimly comprehended yearnings, serving as channels for unfulfilled desire and philosophical uncertainty. A good deal of late nineteenth-century and early twentieth-century fiction asks what reassurance might still be found in Britain's 'island story', prompting a spate of sea-faring narratives, while American literature establishes its own national myths and emblems of the sea.

'Navigating Memory' is a one-day conference at which a series of papers on literature, cultural studies and psychology will explore the symbolic value and appeal of water.  The fundamental aim of the conference is to explore the relations between mind and world in a range of literary works (from the Middle Ages to the present) that employ symbolic uses of water. The discussion will be informed by new scientific findings about how minds navigate spaces, watery and otherwise. The conference is expected to stimulate new research, drawing on the most recent critical work on cultural memory and psycho-geography, and to open up dialogue across disciplines. The conference will take the form of two plenary lectures, six seminar papers, a closing forum discussion, and an evening reading by the former poet laureate, Sir Andrew Motion.

Conference speakers include:

  • Professor Patricia Waugh (Durham, English)
  • Dr Charles Fernyhough (Durham, Psychology)
  • Dr Anthony Macgregor (Durham, Psychology)
  • Dr Gareth Reeves (Durham, English)
  • Dr Jenny Terry (Durham, English)

The conference is free and open to all, but to register and request further information, please contact Professor Stephen Regan or Dr Charles Fernyhough