(ACLA 2022) Peripeties at Sea
This seminar reevaluates both the Aristotelian notion of peripety and alternative approaches in global literary theory to describe a moment of abrupt change or reversal of action. In doing so, it applies a clearly defined focus on such examples that bring turning points together with an insecure, potentially dangerous medium: water.
Regional waterscapes and their adjacent literary histories – from the Baltic Sea to the archipelagos of the Pacific Ocean – might preconfigure which ‘types’ of peripeties can or have to be told in the first place. The seminar thus invites analyses of genuinely water-based narratives, e.g. in the Island Literatures or travel accounts like Harry Martinson’s “Cape Farewell,” in Kiana Davenport’s “Shark Dialogues” or even Theodor Fontane’s “Wanderungen”. It examines tragedy’s proclivity for the sea (as in Aeschylus’ “Hiketides” or Shakespeare’s “Hamlet,” with its famous “sea-change”) and interconnections between shipwreck and peripety, including attempts to find security at a presumably safe distance, as collected in Hans Blumenberg’s “Shipwreck with Spectator”.
The structural interest of literature in environmental phenomena reaches a peak in stories and travel reports whose protagonists are at sea, exposed to heavy swell, pack ice or sudden shifts of wind. If it needs a protagonist for a peripety to occur, does it need a specific diegetic framework, too? How long, then, does or can a peripety last? Is there, in literary history, a connection between the centering of plot around an unforeseeable event and the contingencies implemented by the immeasurableness of the sea? Could the neologism “tidalectic,” as introduced by Kamau Brathwaite, serve as an alternative way of saying ‘peripety’?
A closer look on conceptual approaches like the "critical moment" might reveal a proclivity for a vocabulary of fluidity striving to come to terms with an otherwise ungraspable rupture or series of ruptures. See, for instance, Walter Benjamin’s account on Bertolt Brecht’s revolutionary theatre: “The renowned peripety is the crest of wave, which, bent forward, keeps rolling towards the end.”
Submit a paper: https://www.acla.org/peripeties-sea
Conference Website: https://www.acla.org/annual-meeting-2022
American Comparative Literature Association 2022 Annual Meeting
National Taiwan Normal University