full name / name of organization:
Center for Interdisciplinary Research and Language Studies (Angers); Suds d’Amériques (St Quentin en Yvelines). Université Catholique (Lille) FRANCE
Call for papers: “Southern Short Fiction: Representation and Rewriting of Myth,”
Université Catholique de Lille, FRANCE June 20-22, 2013 (CRILA, Suds d’Amériques).
Myth is “a soluble fish in the waters of mythology,” according to Marcel Détienne (L’Invention de la mythologie). Indeed, when myth is considered in relation to its essence, it has always provoked polemical debate. It has been referred to as a “language,” “a system of communication which can control and oppress”. For Roland Barthes, it carries pernicious ideological overtones (Mythologies) and evokes “a narrative that lies in a dimension which exists alongside our own dimension”. For Karen Armstrong (A Short History of Myth), it helps man to face his own extinction and overcome it with a certain degree of acceptance. On the other hand, when an attempt is made to break with the essentialist tradition of defining myth for what it is, it becomes possible to understand it in relation to how it functions and, as a result, the conflicting polemical views are transformed and absorbed into a homogeneous vision. Eric Csapo notes that: “Myth might be more usefully defined as a narrative which is considered socially important and is told in such a way as to allow the entire social collective to share a sense of this importance…There can be myths about recent events, contemporary personalities, new inventions. To insist that a myth or legend be a traditional tale is to confuse a symptom of their function of transmitting something of collective importance for part of their essence.” (Theories of Mythology).
These distinctive traits resonate particularly strongly in the South of the United States, a region where storytelling and mythmaking have always been of singular importance. For instance, in the 19th century, William Gilmore Simms was regarded as the arch-defender of the increasingly mythical image of the South. His novels and short stories are based on myths and legend as well as folk tales, which he uses as a means of exploring his region and those who live there. Poe, for whom the short story’s tightly knit structure was its primary asset, viewed Simms as one of the best writers in the genre. Myth and the short story thus draw on similar resources: concision and narrative effect. They are both nourished by oral traditions, which explains why brevity is a key element of their structure: “The initial consideration was that of extent. If any literary work is too long to be read at one sitting, we must be content to dispense with the immensely important effect derivable from unity of impression-for, if two sittings be required, the affairs of the world interfere, and everything like totality is at once destroyed.” (Poe, “The Philosophy of Composition”).
In Southern Aristocracy, Etienne de Planchard has observed that in the South “history and myth are inextricably linked, one being the subjective interpretation of the other.” W. J. Cash proposes a panoply of different critical perspectives in The Mind of the South (1941) and the collective work edited by Charles W. Eagles (1992), The Mind of the South: Fifty Years Later, allows us to identify the distinctive features of the 20th and 21st century South. William Faulkner, Eudora Welty, Tennessee Williams and Elizabeth Spencer, to name only a few Southern short story writers, root their stories in a mythical Southern topos. The ruins of a former civilization and the stories associated with them enable these writers to create a mythical literary space anchored in the History of their land.
In keeping with the image of the deserted garden, Lewis P. Simpson and C. Hugh Holman describe the Old South as a “kind of Eden.” From this perspective, the Civil War is held responsible for having provoked the fall of that unique civilization. As Holman has pointed out, the Civil War “tends to be viewed as the bloody expulsion from that Eden.” In the manifesto I’ll Take My Stand (1930), myth figures as a fundamental source of inspiration for Southern identity. If the description of seasons and landscapes allows for a portrayal of linear time, the cycle of nature itself invites us to reflect on a mythical age in which history is present as a kind of permanent and indelible background. The Agrarians, in their fiction, tend to portray the South in a prelapsarian context, denouncing the North as a contaminated, and in some ways contaminating, region. One of the twelve Agrarians, Stark Young, demonstrated that every civilization is marked by change and movement, but that this is not a reason to wipe out the past altogether: “out of any epoch in civilization there may arise things worthwhile, that are the flowers of it. To abandon these, when another epoch arrives, is only stupid, so long as there is still in them the breath and flux of life.” Numerous writers have integrated mythological figures into their fiction—the phoenix, Penelope, or Medusa—in order to enhance the Southern narrative and imaginative space.
As a result, rereading this literature through the prism of myth will allow us to better understand how Southern writers have integrated myth so as to affirm or negate their cultural heritage in the country, as well as socio-political relationships and gender roles. As Todorov has pointed out, due to its brevity the short story does not represent life in the way a novel does; it thus becomes a fertile space for myth and fable to take root.
As such, the South interacts with myth in order to affirm its specific identity. We should keep in mind Mircea Eliade’s vision of myth as something “inextricably linked to creation, it tells how something came into being, or how a form of behavior, an institution or a way of working started; that is why myths are paradigms of all significant human action”. We can therefore envisage the use of myth as a means of creation, or more precisely as one of the foundations of a group’s identity, which determines its way of acting, its customs and discursive habits, as well as its other sociopolitical relationships. By engaging in the study of the representation and rewriting of myth in short stories from the South, we will endeavor to demonstrate how myth nourishes fiction, how the literary genre may, on account of its brevity, be used for symbolic purposes.
Authors for papers should give a clear analytical framework linked to the topic of the conference, the corpus under investigation and a brief list of references, and indicate whether they will be using audio-visual material. Please send your abstract in the form of attachments (word.doc or PDF). Presentation of papers will be allocated 20 minutes. Please email your abstracts (250 words) by January 30, 2013 to the organizers: Emmanuel Vernadakis , Alice Clark and Gérald Préher Specify subject of the message: CFP June 2012: “Southern Short Fiction: Representation and Rewriting of Myth.” In body of message stipulate: name of author, title of paper, institution.
Scientific committee: Park Bucker (University of South Carolina), Alice Clark (Université de Nantes), Rémi Digonnet (Institut Catholique de Lille), Anne Garrait-Bourrier (Université Blaise Pascal-Clermont II), Cynthia Hamilton (Liverpool Hope University), Jacques Pothier (Université de Versailles-Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines), Marie Liénard-Yeterian (Université de Nice Sophia-Antipolis), Amélie Moisy (UPEC), Gérald Préher (Institut Catholique de Lille), Michelle Ryan-Sautour (Université d’Angers), Frédérique Spill (Université d'Amiens), Emmanuel Vernadakis (Université d’Angers).