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Anthologies: the making of canons and beyond

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Organizer: Gaultier Roux

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The notion of anthology is little, or even not studied, by literary theory. Largely ignored by researchers in both a theoretical and a comparative perspectives, anthologies are mostly taken in account by science education researchers only, and only in a narrow didactic perspective.

Nonetheless, the notion appears as one of the most stable in the West: from ανθολογία in Greek, most languages created a neologism that mirrors the original notion and facilitate comparison. A wide questioning of the place and role of anthologies in the constitution of literary corpuses or on the impact they have on the constitution of societies through a shared culture, cannot be limited to the Western area. For example, unlike Western poetry, poetry written in Chinese and Japanese has developed within the notion of anthology: their role has been central in the birth of literature.

Taking an historical look on anthologies, we observe that most Roman codices, and then most medieval manuscripts are, strictly speaking, anthologies, as in a single volume they enclose various texts, sometimes very different by length or genre. Actually, the Bible itself can be considered as an anthology: even if the Scriptures are formed of complete texts, these texts were initially part of a broader and abundant corpus that has been considered apocryphal only a posteriori. Differently, but as interestingly, the Koran might be considered as an anthology, as it has been designed to collect the words of a single man though only speaking as a prophet, and not as a mortal man. Certainly, none of these examples are collections, as we restrict the term to refer to pieces collected and arranged by their author, despite the existence of self-made anthologies.

Even though some can consider that anthologies are a mere paraliterature based on the collage, by an editor, of other people’s works, anthologies are to be found in any written tradition and are probably one of the most ancient forms of literary criticism: either texts have been deemed acceptable or representative, and then have entered an anthology; or they failed to do so, their absence meaning their demise. In parallel, anthologies must been seen as one of the starting points of philology. More widely, reaching beyond the literary-scriptural field, anthologies have exercised an instrumental influence on taste, self-identification, community belonging, creation and transmission of representations and values (religious, political or profane), and even language itself.

This seminar will thus foster an interdisciplinary and transcultural reflection on anthologies: who make them? what are their uses or purposes? what are their status in various contexts in time and space? what is their relationship to the constitution of canons, of language or literary norms? what are their structures? what is the extent of the editors’ action on texts? what is the place and functions of the paratext?

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