What, when & where
Narrations of Origins in World Cultures and the Arts
European Society of Comparative Literature
University of Torino, 24-27 November 2020
One of the big questions connecting cultures all over the world concerns origins: the origins of the universe, of human beings, and of the divine (see, amongst others, Tonelli 2019; Baggott 2015; Cacciari 1990). Science provided us with the cosmological theory of the Big Bang, positing a long process of cosmic expansion whose very beginning we are unable to identify. However, many centuries ago – or even millennia depending on the chronometrical conventions of different cultures – religions, philosophies and mythologies started telling wonderful stories about the origins, always raising new questions. The Theogony by Hesiod, Plato’s work and the Homeric poems for the Greeks, the Bible, the epic of Gilgamesh and the Enuma Elish for the Mesopotamian culture, the Veda books, the Ramayana and the Mahābhārata for the Hindu, the Edda for the Nordic mythologies, the Popol Vuh for the Maya, the Shānhăi Jīng and the Kojiki for Chinese and Japanese cultures are only the main examples of a world tradition that is extremely rich, and of an infinite narration to which both literature and the arts belong.
In these works, as well as in the oral tradition (which is more difficult to know due to the lack of written documentation), it is possible to analyze archetypes and cultural patterns and their interrelatedness – starting from the first divine strengths or energies, such as Chaos, Earth, Sky, Sun, Ocean, and Eros for the Greeks – in order to attempt to provide innovative scholarly achievements. These archetypal and cultural forms represent, indeed, not only the basis of religious and philosophical studies, but also the gateway to an immense literary and cultural (broadly human) heritage which is necessarily dynamic and fluid. One may think, for example, of the stories about how gods or exceptional heroes took over their predecessors’ power by establishing a link between cosmic and political order, such as Zeus and Kumarpi among the Greeks and Hittites, or the descendants of Kuru and the five sons of Pandu in the Mahābhārata. These myths handed down to posterity feature fundamental archetypes in the representations of power relations too, be they those between fathers and sons, men and women, the elderly and the young; or those more generally focused on power itself, as shown by James George Frazer in The Golden Bough (first ed. 1890) and by Jean-Pierre Vernant in Les origines de la pensée grecque (1962), who argues for the existence of an important link between sovereignty myths and cosmological myths.
From the Medieval Age to the Present, moreover, cosmology, poetry and the arts, theology and science frequently meet in the representation of the world, of the origins and of human destiny: Dante’s Commedia comes to mind, as well as Chaucer’s Dream Poems, the Sistine Chapel frescos by Michelangelo, Pierre de Ronsard’s Amours, Guillaume du Bartas’ Sepmaine, ou creation du monde, Torquato Tasso’s Le sette giornate del mondo creato, John Milton’s Paradise Lost, Leopardi’s Operette morali and Goethe’s Faust, in the music field the oratorios Die Schöpfung by Joseph Haydn and Gott und die Natur by Giacomo Meyerbeer, Darius Milhaud’s ballet La création du monde, up to the modernist use of myths in the works of Woolf, Hardy, Conrad, T.S. Eliot, Valéry, Joyce etc., and to the postmodern and postcolonial reconceptualizing of the pattern of the origin in Borges, Calvino, Queneau, Moresco, Kubrick, Bolaño, Brink etc.
In evoking the story of the universe, then, the poetical act of writing often becomes a symbolic act of recreating reality itself, according to a widespread theoretical reflection implied in ancient texts such as Ramayana, Hesiod’s Theogony and Ovid’s Metamorphoses, and developed through the Renaissance and Baroque aesthetics (see also Ossola 2015 ), to be more explicitly expressed in modern and postmodern rewritings and pastiches. It is like saying at the beginning lies the tale. Without the sing of the Muses, the Universe would not be told and would not even exist.
From a linguistic point of view, the relationship between poetry and scientific thinking is frequently characterized by the analogical and metaphorical method (see G. Beer 1996; 2009). Moreover, envisioning a reflection on a common original language means not only and not necessarily going back to Babel, a place and a myth that has been recently questioned by linguists themselves, but to look for a new word that should be rich both in creative and re-creative energy, and able to foster the development of new artistic and literary genres, forms, and ways of expression, in their perpetual renewal as in the works by, to mention but a few notable examples, Rabelais, Shakespeare, Cervantes, Goethe, up to Joyce, Meneghello, Sanguineti, and beyond.
Last but not least, examining the topic of origins in literatures and arts as well as in science may take us back to an unacknowledged moment, a pre-verbal and pre-representative sign where we may encounter an exceptional symbolic density (as in Picasso and Miro), or reach the sublime (as in Rothko and Kiefer), the latter conceived not only as greatness (Pseudo-Longinus), but also as the ineffable (Lyotard). The origin, therefore, may be considered not only as a narrative, but as any form of representation characterized by a particular energy and density that paradoxically cannot be expressed, an empty or a blank space waiting to be inscribed with meaning (see Boitani 1989).
The international conference Narrations of Origins in World Cultures and the Arts will investigate the relationships between ancient and modern cultures, analyzing the most relevant mythologies, archetypes and narrations of origins according to groundbreaking critical perspectives. It will compare literature, science and any form of artistic representation – including cinema and new media – in order to study the different cosmological patterns from cultural, historical and anthropological frameworks. It will also reflect on the role of narratives of pure invention, including parodic and provoking ones. In general, it will explore how poetic, fictional and artistic experimentations intersect in cross-cultural and interdisciplinary approaches. We therefore encourage members and participants to think about these questions from the greatest range of possible perspectives.
Personal and panel proposals may address issues (clusters and subthemes) like the following:
1. Narrations and representations of origins in world cultures: the archetypes and their developments.
2. The Big Bang and the birth of human beings: science narratives.
3. Cosmology, art and poetry.
4. Imagining the origins, representing the sublime.
5. Origins as textual genesis, in the arts, literature, styles and literary genres.
6. Languages and narratives of origins in the arts of modernism and modernity.
7. A big deception? Fakes, simulations, inventions, and odd hypothesis about origins.
Deadline & how to apply
Proposals should be submitted in English, Italian or French to the e-mail address email@example.com not later than the 31st of January 2020. Proposals should include a title, an abstract (max. 300 words), a short bio-bibliography and an e-mail address. The time of delivery for each paper should be no more than 20 minutes.
Other info, Links & conditions
Registration fee for Participants: 90 euros; Graduate Students and PhDs: 50 euros. The conference languages will be English, French and Italian.