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The Allure of Enigma in Modern and Postmodern Literature and Cinema

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Organizer: Lily Li

Co-Organizer: Kwok-kan Tam

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Enigma, the cultivation of confusion, contradiction, complication, and paradox, has become a prime element in modern and postmodern narratives, notably in such novels and films as Umberto Eco’s Foucault’s Pendulum and Orhan Pamuk’s The Black Book.  Sometimes the object of enigma is to create a puzzle for the reader, tantalizing and perhaps insoluble until the end, though in other cases open-ended and left to the imagination of the audience as to outcomes and causes.  On the other hand, it may be that for certain authors and producers the enigma is meant to establish an impenetrable condition, situational or psychological, a puzzle that cannot be solved by any means, real or imaginary, as implied in Heinrich Von Kleist’s famous dictum citing “the inherent imperfection in the order of the world.”

        This panel invites analytic interpretations of modern and postmodern works of literature and film that present compellingly enigmatic situations or characters, with attention to the underlying purposes and implications of the unresolved matter at hand.  Moreover, we wish to examine the aesthetics of the enigmatic.  Is there a dimension of charm, wonder or delight or even of beauty in the spectacle or experience of mysterious characters, situations or events?  Finally, does decryption, the rational analysis of an enigma, actually destroy the mystery by solving it, or does it on the contrary illumine the purpose of the enigma by revealing its meaning?  Does enigma imply that the question is somehow greater than the answer?

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