The epic's extension today: between expansion and extinction.

full name / name of organization: 
Vincent Dussol ea 741 Université Paul Valéry Montpellier France

The epic's extension today: between expansion and extinction.
October 21st-23rd 2010, EA 741 with IRIEC's support, Université Paul Valéry, Montpellier, France.
"What has been lost (…) is the epic, or rather, the taste for the poetic continuum such as once informed the epic vein of Romanticism" (C. Doumet). How much of a fact is that?
For, as "a wandering path towards what must be an ancient skill" (S. Bouquet), the epic and the heroic continue to haunt the literary landscape in a wide variety of fashions ranging from the "fictions of globalization" (J. Annesley) to The Lord of the Rings craze to the recent new translations of foundational texts of the genre – Yusef Komunyaka's Gilgamesh (2006) and Ciaran Carson's Inferno (2002) and Táin (2007) among them – as well as the uninterrupted dialogue with heroic gestures being written by contemporary poets.

Martinican writer Edouard Glissant in his Faulkner, Mississippi (1996) may offer a possible gate of entry to the question of the relevance of the epic when he observes that

"Today the only community with a cast entitling it to community-building is the world-as-commune (…). The new epos originates in that community – the world-as-a-whole – which is the only one that does not conceive of itself or feels itself as such. It has been the office of the epic to be entrusted with the expression of all communities. Epics of the ancient world and epics of the nearer past did it through the exclusionary heroic, meant for times when human communities were as much defined by ethnic and even genetic boundaries as by the "universal" dimension each one of them held. Epics for the present and for the world that is to rise might do it through the participative and inclusive heroic which could lead to the world-as-commune, and in which nothing short of the "universal" would be the finite and infinite measure of all cultures and of all human kinds (…). All literatures in the world are in attendance as all of them together are being introduced to this new heroic in such a prodigiously diversified manner– and it is as if the astounded face of the epic was looking at the gathering of all of us again (…). To us, the grandiose heroic of excluding the other is nothing but furbelows (…). The world-as-commune calls for that other epic, which Faulkner adumbrated, the epic of the difficult Relation. "

Participants in the conference are invited to address the question of whether or not the notions of "the exclusionary heroic" and of the "participative and inclusive heroic" are useful starting-points for a renewed reflection on the heroic and the epic. Should one speak of the expansion or even of the distension of the epic instead of the predicted dilution of the heroic?

The epic has always borne some relation to a wish to "say it all", say the "whole" and thereby alter the perception of it by fitting it into a form. It has therefore often been wedded to the political.

Is this still the case? For instance, have works – both long and short – with epic features published since 1989 shown an inclination to challenge globalization or on the contrary have they been subtly accompanying it? Do such texts "think globally," with the Earth or with the economist's or workers' world in mind? Or do they enhance local or minority identity? Or can they do both things at once i.e. promote difference while drawing up a sustainable larger picture? Or is Worstward Ho the main direction pointed to? In short, what road maps have been in the writing – or are there no longer roads for epics to forge?

And whence does Glissant's distinction stem? In some ways, it echoes Simone Weil's famous "The Iliad or the Poem of Force." Does the non-bellicose epic have a future? Has there been any offspring for The Iliad as Weil saw it?

With the United States' influence across the world, American literary production of the past two decades makes a choice field for scrutinizing the treatment of the conflicting priorities within aesthetic forms aiming at the global reorganization outlined above.

However, it is equally obvious that this generic and political reexamination of the relation between the heroic and the building of worlds cannot be confined solely to the field of American literature as this would defeat the purpose of this conference, whose intention it is to consider a more global epic possibility. So both English-language literature specialists and comparatists are welcome to submit: this is primarily an invitation to examine American works with epic features of the past twenty years – in the field of poetry and also of literature as a whole – but this conference also wishes to rekindle "Relation" and be an occasion for taking a retrospective look at older works which may shed light on more recent uses of the heroic and the epic – from Piers Plowman to Claude Simon's novels. The comparative approach is of course irreplaceable to attain even a tentative panoramic view of the genre.

Submissions – 300 words in length – should be sent to Vincent Dussol by November 30th 2009 at
The languages of the conference will be English and French.
A volume of the articles selected by the reading committee will be published.