Conference Report on "Fear and Fantasy in a Global World"
June 12-18, 2011
A report by Christin Grunert and Gero Guttzeit
> Conference Outline
Opening Session and International SymposiumThe 2011 Hermes Seminar took place in picturesque Cascais, Portugal, near the capital Lisbon, at the Casa de Santa Maria and the Casa das Histórias of the Foundation Paula Rego. Organized by the Centre for Comparative Studies of the Faculty of Letters at the University of Lisbon, it was the fourteenth event of its kind; the European Consortium for Literary and Cultural Studies, Hermes, has been offering doctoral researchers from its partner institutions the chance to present and discuss their own works-in-progress since 1998 (Hermes Website). Since 2004, the seminar has been combined with a scientific symposium featuring senior keynote speakers. The Cascais Symposium on Fear and Fantasy in a Global World included four keynote lectures, and the Seminar offered four days with papers by 33 researchers, dealing with all things fearful and fantastical, from the war against fear in Dante (DANIELA DI PASQUALE) to secular apocalypse (JUHA RAIPOLA), the post-apocalyptic beyond (ANA FILIPA PRATA), and the question 'What would Tom Cruise do?' as an antidote to contemporary male anxiety (DANIEL HOLDER).
The seminar opened with an introduction by coordinating organizer SUSANA ARAÚJO (Lisbon) on "Fear and Fantasy: The Case of 9/11", in which she extended the discussion of the September 11 attacks beyond trauma discourse, using as a counter-point the form of the colonial captivity narrative. Araújo also argued for the utility of the Freudian distinction between fear and anxiety: in several texts, Freud distinguished between fear as being focused on a specific object and anxiety as a state that has no determinate object. Discussions throughout the conference brought out the philosophical forebear in Kierkegaard's notion of anxiety or angst, but also its similarity to Heidegger's conception of Angst as well as related psychoanalytical research. Araújo's introductory paper was followed by an initial discussion in which the notion of trauma was problematized in relation to memory, as it is not the case—in Christopher Bollas' phrase—that you remember trauma, but that trauma remembers you. It was suggested that we should deconstruct the post-9/11 binary opposition between the 'traumatized' on the one hand and the 'celebrators' on the other (perhaps the best example of this being the late Karlheinz Stockhausen's comment on the events as a work of art), since such an opposition leaves no room for political reactions other than these two. This led to agreement on the general importance of the reconstruction of the political implications of narratives, reconstructions of the relation between politics and cultural narratives that were attempted in many of the papers presented at the conference.
The critical impetus was taken up by BOAVENTURA DE SOUSA SANTOS (Coimbra) in his keynote on "The Epistemologies of the South", in which he delved into the ideological implications of Western epistemology and outlined a postcolonial theory of citizenship. Elaborating on the role of fantasy in the political, Sousa Santos explained that it is as difficult to imagine the end of capitalism and colonialism as it is to imagine that they have no end. For him, this also holds true for the very tools which are supposed to work against these oppressive systems, because a vocabulary of, for instance, 'exploitation', the 'subaltern' or 'cosmopolitanism' does not necessarily represent emancipatory language, but rather evinces its hegemonic origins in the global North. To use 'Northern' language for anti-hegemonic purposes one would have to supply it with insights from alternative critical theories and practices, as they appear in the 'Global South'. Sousa Santos proposed the solution of a negative general theory that does not rule out geographically and socially specific practices, so as to eschew traditional Eurocentric universalisms in favour of a "negative universalism". Sousa Santos' delineation of a post-colonial theory of citizenship was based on the diagnosis that the Western tradition envisions citizenship based on a politics of administered fear, since thinking in terms of the social contract posits that it is the citizens' fear of each other which makes the state a necessity. In contrast, Sousa Santos developed a view of citizenship from the perspective of the non-citizen, i.e. from the perspective of non-humans, subhumans, and dysfunctional humans. It becomes clear, Sousa Santos concluded, that the fear at the heart of the problems to which the epistemologies of the South provide a solution is the fear of politics.
In his keynote on "Shaft Which Ran: Chinese Whispers with Auerbach, Buck, Woolf and De Quincey", ORTWIN DE GRAEF (Leuven) traced a complex and subtle textual history, the end of which is the last chapter of Erich Auerbach's classic Mimesis. De Graef contextualized Auerbach's allusion to Chinese peasants from a Pearl S. Buck novel, and compared the portrayal of the Chinese faces to the "troubled focus" on Mrs Ramsay's face in Virginia Woolf's To the Lighthouse that also haunts the last chapter of Auerbach's book. Virginia Woolf herself, de Graef revealed, was considerably influenced by the English romantic Thomas De Quincey at the time of writing the novel, an influence that extended almost exclusively to this period. Fragments and shades of De Quincey's Confessions of an English Opium-Eater in Woolf's novel point towards a "sinophobic fetishism", as de Graef phrased it, such as when De Quincey constructs the Chinese as subhuman and laments "the tyranny of the human face". De Graef revealed the problems underlying this 'tyranny of the face' as the challenge of the origin of human sympathy, a challenge that is both of particular importance in post-Christian societies, where the ideology of Christianity no longer guarantees sympathy among the members of society, and part of the human condition.
SeminarThe 33 papers by doctoral researchers on fear and fantasy in a global world stretched across time periods, from the early Italian renaissance to TV shows as recent as 2010. Papers were twenty minutes each, with a subsequent ten minutes for discussion. While the major part of the presentations followed the general topic closely and focused on the fear-inducing factors of fantasy, some contributions, especially on the first day, also foregrounded the capacity of fictional and non-fictional discourses to shape positive utopias. KATHLEEN CONNOLLY (Wisconsin-Madison), in her talk on the immigration debate in Spain, contrasted the literary and filmic appropriations of the topic, often rather negative portrayals, with a positive imagination of national identity that takes place in internet forums which offer help to people in multicultural relationships. A similar, but fictional counter-discourse can be found in works by Milan Kundera and Bernardo Atxaga, in which dream sequences work as an alternative form of resistance, facing political and social reality despite their fantastic character, as HARRIET HULME (London) argued. That these possibilities are often tenacious was shown by MAY HAWAS (Leuven), who analysed the attempt to make sense of an anxious world by means of the genre of the Bildungsroman in Kundera's Unbearable Lightness of Being (1984) and the Egyptian Waguih Ghali's Beer in the Snooker Club (1964). Some groupings of papers were specifically focused on topics in the realm of literary studies, such as the Tuesday morning session, which dealt with fantasy and fear in poetry from Romanticism to Postmodernity. BRECHT DE GROOTE (Leuven) re-examined Coleridge's distinction between imagination and fancy and its inherent tensions through a reading of his poem "Constancy to an Ideal Object" (1828), and compared it with Thomas De Quincey's Suspiria de Profundis (1845) to illuminate a "rhetoric of fear" as the spectre that haunts the romantic conception of fantasy. Symbolist poetry and poetics were the focus of CAMILLE MURIS-PRIME's (London) talk on "Baudelaire's Spleen", which traced elements of fear and fantasy in Baudelaire's lyrical interactions with Paris within the tensions of emerging modernity. MARGARITA GARCIA CANDEIRA (Santiago de Compostela) combined the two interests in space and the spectral in her paper on "Habitability and Spectres in the House of Language", in which she discussed the Spanish author Luis García Montero's "Casa en ruinas" (Las flores del frio, 1991) as an example of postmodern experiential poetry.
During the last two days the collective scenario of fear of World War II and the horrors of the Holocaust as well as their literary and cultural repercussions were the centre of interest. JARKKO LAURI (Oulu) drew attention to Finnish author Mika Waltari's war novellas and foregrounded elements of fantasy and allegory often in contrast to the writer's better known historical novels such as Sinuhe, the Egyptian (1945). ALEXANDRA HILLS (London) emphasized the unsettling effects of the past as they affect the present, as she interpreted the nightmarish sequences in Ingeborg Bachmann's Malina (1971) and the sadomasochistic relation between a former Nazi officer and a Holocaust survivor in Liliana Cavani's The Night Porter (1974). The possibilities of an ironic way of coping with Holocaust experiences were laid out by MARIJA SRUK (Gießen), who explained how film comedies of the late 1990s such as La vita è bella (1997) shield neither their protagonists nor the audience from the brutality of historical facticity, despite creating a fantastic parallel world. The question of how the post-memory generation deals with cultural memories of earlier generations was addressed by DRAGO MOMCILOVIC (Wisconsin-Madison) in his analysis of Bernhard Schlink's Der Vorleser (1995). RAUL CARSTOCEA (London) dealt with the Romanian fascist movement, "Legion of the Archangel Michael", arguing that their anti-Semitic propaganda represented a strategy for glossing over the actual problems of a rapidly changing Romanian society between 1927 and the outbreak of World War II.
Inter-disciplinary contributions included the relation between literature and the sciences as well as literature and economics. The interplay between scientific discoveries in geology and archaeology and literary discourses was analysed by CHRISTIN GRUNERT (Gießen) in nineteenth-century German and English texts. JAMES DANIEL's (Wisconsin-Madison) paper on "Promise and Control in Free Market Fantasy" examined the repercussions of the global financial crisis in Iceland, adding to the tally of those contemporary events that seem to inspire fear as much as fantasy.
After Fear and FantasyThe 2011 Hermes Seminar and Symposium have proven that the topic of fear and fantasy in a global world stimulates a wide array of broad-ranging and subtle responses. The papers at the conference, of which a selection is to be published, opened up perspectives on fear and fantasy not only in the contemporary, globalized world, but also in earlier periods and epochs. The conference provided an excellent forum for young researchers to receive feedback at different stages during and after the doctoral process. Joining junior and senior researchers in an open and friendly atmosphere, Hermes 2011 in Cascais helped to put individual projects into an international perspective, but above all it provided an encouragement to go on researching beyond fear and with a good dose of fantasy.
Susana Araújo (University of Lisbon): "Introduction to the Seminar. Fear and Fantasy: The Case of 9/11"
First session (Monday, 13 June):
Mark Wiersma (University of Santiago de Compostela): "Fear, Fantasy, and Technological Fetish in the Novels of Don DeLillo"
Hande Gurses (University College London): "The Formation of the Beloved Through the Archive in Orhan Pamuk's The Museum of Innocence"
Daniela Di Pasquale (University of Lisbon): "War on Fear: Reinterpreting Dante's View of the 'Infidel'"
Edith Beltrán (University of Wisconsin-Madison): "Mexico's Fearscapes: Private, Public, and Virtual Spheres"
Kathleen H. Connolly (University of Wisconsin-Madison): "Imagining the New Spain: Spanish Mixed Couples and Their Virtual Communities"
May Hawas (Katholieke Universiteit Leuven): "Bildungsroman in an Anxious World: Rewriting the Nation in Milan Kundera's Unbearable Lightness of Being and Waguih Ghali's Beer in the Snooker Club"
Harriet Hulme (University College London): "A Politics of Form: Fantasy and Storytelling as Modes of Resistance in the Work of Kundera and Atxaga"
Second session (Tuesday, 14 June):
Brecht de Groote (Katholieke Universiteit Leuven): "'A Sight to Dream of, Not to Tell' - Coleridge's and De Quincey's Spectres and the Romantic Fear of Fantasy"
Camille Muris-Prime (University College London): "Baudelaire's Spleen: An Aesthetic of Fantasy and Criticism"
Margarita Garcia Candeira (University of Santiago de Compostela): "Habitability and Spectres in the House of Language: Approaching (Post)modernity in Las flores del frio by Luis García Montero" Antti Ahmala (University of Helsinki): "The Song of the Mad: Symbolist Fantasy in Joel Lehtonen's Mataleena"
Elena Pizzi (Katholieke Universiteit Leuven): "Pain and Disillusionment: Joseph Conrad and Fear"
Juha Raipola (University of Tampere): "Let the World Perish—the Problem of Secular Apocalypse"
Tiago Guerreiro da Silva (University of Lisbon): "Can a Russian Live Outside His Own Country? Writer's Fears and Fantasies in Mikhail Bulgakov's The Master and Margarita"
Ana Filipa Prata (University of Lisbon): "Volodine's Minor Angels: Post-Apocalyptic Narracts"
Aksana Braun (University of Gießen): "Language Policy in Kazakhstan: Regulation of Language(s) Use or a Source of Fears and Hopes?"
Martjin Boven (University of Groningen): "Filling the Gap of Language: Metaphor and the Imagination of Unknown Threats"
Symposium (Wednesday, 15 June):
Christopher Bollas (British Psychoanalytical Society—Institute for Psychoanalytic Training and Research): "The Transmissive Self and Transmissive Objects in the Age of Globalization"
Boaventura de Sousa Santos (Universities of Coimbra/Wisconsin-Madison/Warwick): "The Epistemologies of the South: Opening the Canon of Fear and Fantasy"
Ortwin de Graef (Katholieke Universiteit Leuven): "Shaft Which Ran: Chinese Whispers with Auerbach, Buck, Woolf and De Quincey"
B. Venkat Mani (University of Wisconsin-Madison): "The Nation Undone? Globalization and the Anxiety of the Instead"
Third session (Thursday, 16 June):
Jarkko Lauri (University of Oulu): "From the Soil to Materialism of Masks: Elements of Fantasy and Allegory in Mika Waltari's World War II Novellas"
Alexandra Hills (University College London): "Spectral Past and the Ghostly Presents: The Afterlife of Auschwitz in Liliana Cavani's The Night Porter and Ingeborg Bachmann's Malina"
Raul Carstocea (University College London): "The Role of Anti-Semitism in the Ideology of the 'Legion of the Archangel Michael'—a Psychoanalytic Interpretation"
Erin Saltman (University College London): "The Hungarian Radical Right: Nationalist Culture and the 'Other'"
João Pedro da Costa (Universities of Porto and Aveiro): "The Digital Meta-Dissemination of Fear in Music Videos. A Transdisciplinary Analysis of Two Case-Studies: M.I.A's ‘Born Free’ and Esben & The Witch's ‘Marching Song’"
Joel Kaipainen (University of Wisconsin-Madison): "Globalization and the Zone"
James Daniel (University of Wisconsin-Madison): "Promise and Control in Free Market Fantasy"
William Banks (University of Wisconsin-Madison): "The Poet of the Industrial Breakthrough: Hans Kirk and the Collective Novel"
Drago Momcilovic (University of Wisconsin-Madison): "The Art of Engagement: World Literature, Postmemory and the Portability of Trauma"
Fourth session (Friday, 17 June):
Daniel Holder (University of Gießen): "'What Would Tom Cruise Do?' Deconstructing U.S. Post-Cold War Hegemonic Masculinity in the 'Pick Up Artist Movement' and Neil Strauss' The Game"
Gero Guttzeit (University of Gießen): "The Containment of Fear in the Cinema: Figurations of the Oedipus Myth in Contemporary Detective Films"
Florian Vlad (University of Gießen): "Pestilential Fantasies: Transgressive Aesthetics and Counter-Moralist Narratives in True Blood and The Walking Dead"
David Vichnar (University of Prague): "'Territories of Risk' Within the 'Tropological Space'— From Zero to 2666, and Back"
Marija Sruk (University of Gießen): "Laugh Away the Fear! Analysis of Fantasy Challenging Fear in the Holocaust Film Comedy of the late 1990s" Charlotte Pylyser (Katholieke Universiteit Leuven): "Dangerous Liaisons: Transposing the Villain Concept From Comic Book to Graphic Novel"
Christin Grunert (University of Gießen): "Irritation of the Perception of Time as a Breeding Ground for Collective Insecurity: The Frightening Reality of Scientific Facts and Their Transformation in Literary Fiction"
© bei den AutorInnen und bei KULT_online/ Bilder: Aksana Braun, Marija Sruk und Christin Grunert/ Plakat: OrganisatorInnen des Symposiums