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Mediterranean Geography, Mediterranean Poetics

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Organizer: Anna Levett

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In Poetics of Relation, Édouard Glissant opposes the Mediterranean Sea to the Caribbean: Whereas the Caribbean is “a sea that explodes” and “a sea that diffracts,” the Mediterranean is “an inner sea surrounded by lands, a sea that concentrates.” By virtue of its fractal landscape, the Caribbean encourages “a poetics of relation”—of creolization, openness, and instability. In contrast, Glissant writes, the geography of the Mediterranean insists on unity; it imposes “the thought of the One.” Scholars of the Mediterranean may find Glissant’s characterization of the sea a bit reductive. Nevertheless, the connection he draws between landscape and aesthetics provokes a question: How does the geography and ecology of the Mediterranean basin inform the region’s literature(s)?

Glissant’s characterization of the Mediterranean conjures a walled-in space of uniformity, a sea of sameness. In fact, a careful consideration of Mediterranean geography reveals the region’s sub-regions to be highly diverse and often quite isolated from one another—the mountains from the port-cities, the islands from the mainland. The historians Peregrine Horden and Nicholas Purcell describe the Mediterranean as a mosaic of “microregions” or “microecologies,” where “every slope or terrace of a valley-side, each hollow, dune and pool of a coastal lowland, may have its own identity.” Even Fernand Braudel—often accused of propagating the notion of “Mediterranean unity”—emphasizes the region’s contradictions. For Braudel, the port cities and the “urbanized villages” that we might first think of upon mention of the Mediterranean are “merely the fringe.” “Close by, looming above them,” he writes, “is the mountain world with its vastnesses, its isolated houses and hamlets, its ‘vertical norths.’” How does this topographical interplay of isolation and connectivity play out in Mediterranean poetics?

This panel invites papers that explore the relationship between Mediterranean geography and ecology on the one hand, and Mediterranean poetics on the other. While ecocriticism has been deployed provocatively in the context of Caribbean literature and in the Pacific Rim, it has been little discussed, at least explicitly, in the context of the Mediterranean. Papers that take up questions having to do with literary or aesthetic form are particularly relevant here. We might think, for example, of Joseph Brodsky’s Watermark (1992), where Venice’s canals and watery pathways correspond with the liquidity of the prose, and a feeling, for the reader, of being submerged.

We welcome research from scholars of all eras—from the Mediterranean of antiquity to the contemporary period. The hope is that a transhistorical and ecocritical examination of Mediterranean poetics will forge new possibilities for conceiving of the region and its literatures. 

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