by Anastasia Bakogianni (Massey University) and Barbara Goff (Reading University)
In Classical Reception we often discuss how best to extend the hand of friendship to other disciplines in order to engage in constructive dialogue with colleagues whose research interests overlap with our own. And there certainly have been a number of networks and projects that successfully foster such cross-disciplinary dialogue. The CRSN itself is one such success story as are the Legacy of Political Thought network based at Reading, the Ancient and Modern Imperialisms Network , and The Ancient World in Cinema project, both based at UCL, to name but a few. But the question of how to successfully reach out to colleagues working in other disciplines, rather than only talking amongst ourselves (i.e. other classicists with reception interests), remains a burning question that we need to address more actively. The difficulties involved in setting up such conversations became starkly highlighted for me when I was soliciting contributions for an edited collection. The difficulties involved in persuading colleagues from other disciplines to participate in the volume demonstrated anew the importance of forming and maintaining strong personal networks. I believe one route towards achieving the goal of meaningful cross-disciplinary dialogue is to gain access to environments that are explicitly designed to promote such interdisciplinary debate.
Having previously attended two meetings of the American Comparative Literature Association (in 2012 and 2014), I knew that the 2017 meeting of the ACLA in Utrecht, the very first time the conference was held in Europe, was the ideal platform for ‘Adapting the Classics’, a panel specifically designed to problematize the concept of Adaptation and its use in Classical Reception. One of the core aims of the panel was to address the question of what other disciplines such as Comparative Literature and Adaptation Studies have contributed to this debate. The ACLA’s submission process ensures that once accepted, a panel is open to everyone interested in attending this large conference and the richness and variety of abstracts received confirmed that. In addition, ACLA panels take a particular form, there are approximately 12 papers spread out over 3 days, with the expectation being that all participants attend the whole seminar. This makes for discussion which can accumulate depth as well as detail, and worked very well for our group. In effect ACLA seminars are like organising a symposium under the umbrella of a larger organisation that takes care of many of the practicalities leaving one free to concentrate on academic debate.
Our panel included people who work in the USA, the UK, Italy, Poland, New Zealand, and Oman, and we took a variety of approaches to our topic. Interested scholars from the fields of Modernism, the Early Modern period, and the Renaissance also joined us at different times over the course of the three days. Clare Foster (UCL) presented the opening paper positing a series of thought-provoking questions about originality, tradition, and adaptation, including comparisons between western notions of authenticity and eastern notions of culture as what is reproduced without recourse to authority. The rest of that day was taken up with investigations of specific adaptations. These included the early twentieth century novels of Naomi Mitchison (Barbara Goff, University of Reading), which combine reference to the classics with progressive politics; the eighteenth-century trial of Warren Hastings (Chiara Rolli, University of Parma), which Edmund Burke re-framed in Ciceronian terms for the prosecution; and the classicising impulses within eighteenth century nation-building in Latin America (Germán Campos-Muñoz, Appalachian State University). All these papers provoked important questions about audience, politics, and the nature of cultural capital in the classics.
The second day was devoted to Greek tragedy, but in very different contexts. The issue of different types of translation was a prominent feature of the discussion. Sophie Mills (University of North Carolina at Asheville) demonstrated both the pitfalls and accidental inspirations of using student translations to stage Greek dramas. Malgorzata Budzowska (University of Lodz) talked about introducing Indonesian dance and masks in Thiasos Theatre’s production of the Bacchae (1998). Two Modern Greek adaptations of tragedy were then compared in terms of their varying claims to ‘authenticity’ or ‘creativity’ (Anastasia Bakogianni, Massey University). Their relation to complex Greek politics, in the wake of the civil war and the movement of refugees, was explored. Finally, Marielle Risse (Dhofar University) who teaches in Oman, discussed the ways in which she can and cannot ‘translate’ ancient Greek drama for Muslim students from backgrounds where tribal affiliations remain central. The questions in this session were quite politicised, and tested the notion of the ‘hybridity’ of classical adaptations.
On the final day, because some colleagues had to withdraw, we only had two papers, with very different takes on the Odyssey. Mathura Umachandran (Princeton University) considered Adorno’s versions of classicism, and of Odysseus in particular, as literary criticism struggled in the wake of the Holocaust. Michelle Zerba (Louisiana State University) considered images of the Odyssey painted on the wedding chests (cassoni) of quattrocento Tuscan nobility, which used the license of the epic to foreground female figures in a context that might otherwise have conduced to their subordination. These adaptations of classical texts very satisfactorily raised more questions than they might have answered. If a tradition could be posited from these examples, it would be one of proliferation and doubt rather than authority and centrality.
Ours was not the only panel at the ACLA to include discussion of classical material; there were several panels, such as on Historiography, or on Translation, where classicists made important contributions. But it would be great to see more classicists taking part in conferences such as the ACLA and actively inviting engagement with colleagues in other disciplines. Especially in the diverse field of classical reception, classicists are ready to reach out to other disciplines, and know they will also learn from them. With a view to the future why don’t we start planning for the 2019 ACLA meeting (7-10 March) to be held at Georgetown University, Washington DC? There is also the International Comparative Literature Association whose next meeting will take place in Shenzhen, China in 2019. And let us not forget the British Comparative Literature Association. And there are many more. The wider we open the door to interdisciplinary dialogue the more informed and exciting the debate as well as the opportunities for truly cross-disciplinary work.
Email your ideas and suggestions to Anastasia: email@example.com