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Tropes of Adventure

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Organizer: Manuel Mühlbacher

Co-Organizer: Oliver Grill

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In contemporary Western culture, the term ‘adventure’ seems to be applicable to almost everything. While the ‘adventure appeal’ is an advertising strategy that can be projected on even the most ordinary products, politicians regularly use the word in order to distance themselves from unwarranted risk-taking. In literary criticism, which should know better, the picture is as least as blurred: As a matter of fact, a host of heterogeneous texts from the Gilgamesh epic to modern detective stories are commonly said to tell the ‘adventures’ of their respective heroes.


One tried-and-true response to this vagueness would be to develop a more rigorous definition of ‘adventure’ by narrowing the concept to a specific period or genre. This panel, however, will take a different stance. It aims at analysing the creation of new adventure tropes as an essential aspect of the very history of adventure. Its hypothesis is that this history can be described as a series of tropological moves, the first of which might even be the application of the term to the heroic deeds performed by the medieval knight-errant. Don Quixote’s madness, the 18th-century polemics against adventure, and the framing of the outbreak of World War I as an adventure are just some prominent examples of this tropological process, which has by no means come to an end. Despite its problematic ideological underpinnings, this narrative trope still seems to be indispensable for making sense of certain experiences.


We invite papers that address adventure tropes in various periods, languages, genres, and cultures. Possible questions include but are not limited to: What is culturally and politically at stake when an event or an object is called an ‘adventure’? What are the implicit narrative devices that subtend such tropes? What allowed them to survive for hundreds of years despite the disenchanting processes of modernity? And what theoretical concepts (such as Blumenberg’s absolute metaphor, Derrida’s dissemination, or Haydn White’s tropology) can be useful to analyze adventure tropes? We also invite papers that put the concept of adventure in a global context and compare it with analogous semantics in non-European cultures.

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