“The Charm of the Unfamiliar”: Myth and Alterity in Early Modern Literature (Conference, 19th June; CFP deadline 1st May)

Forbidden fruit" by Michelangelo Buonarroti - Web Gallery of Art[1]. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Forbidden fruit” by Michelangelo Buonarroti – Web Gallery of Art[1]. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

Proposals are invited for this one-day postgraduate conference, which will examine the idea of the exotic in early-modern literature. The conference will run on 19th June at St Mary’s College; the deadline for abstracts is 1st May. Confirmed keynote speakers include Professor Michael Pincombe (Newcastle), Dr Leon Burnett (Essex) and Professor 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 experience…it 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 myth.alterity.durham@gmail.com 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: myth.alterity.durham@gmail.com


What do you think? Share your thoughts below.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.