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Watery Graves: Liquid Remembrances and Antiquity

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Organizer: Tommaso Bernardini

Co-Organizer: L. Deihr

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The flood in Ovid’s Metamorphoses drowns the world; in the Odyssean Charybdis, we find the sea consuming not only men but also itself.  The destructive force of oceanic currents lingers in ancient biographical traditions: the Roman comic playwright Terence is said to have vanished on a sea voyage together with the Greek originals he had set out to retrieve, and Sappho to have leapt to her death into the Ionian Sea. But if water dissolves texts, transforms landscapes, and swallows bodies, it also preserves them—sometimes, it even spits them out: Polydorus’s corpse washes up on the coast of Thrace, and the flooding Tiber delivers Romulus and Remus to the she-wolf. Both inundations body forth evidence; both bring the story to a higher pitch. Amniotic and cloacal at once, water mediates birth and death, waste and retrieval, amnesia and anamnesis; its swell engulfs the repressed as much as it precipitates its traumatic resurgence. 

This seminar reflects on water’s erosive, erasive power alongside its capacity to preserve, fossilize, encrypt. We are interested in oceanic archives and haunted holds, reservoirs of feeling and sluices of the unsaid. We ask, that is, what remembrances the waters of Mediterranean antiquity can enable in text: what graves do they mark, and how do they metabolize memory, directing its ebb and flow? What relations whirl in its eddies, what antagonisms seethe in its spume? And how do its oscillations, roiling rhythms, or marmoreal stillness, enshrined as they are in imagistic and literary form, vex the logic of cause and effect, origin and telos?  


We invite papers concerning literary waters that reveal or contain even as they might obscure or erase the past. Papers might consider:

the poetics or (meta)physics of an aquatic archive (the intersections of water and time; problems of flux versus solidity in the sphere of memory)
water as a formal model (liquid as receptacle or medium, dissolution and saturation as a presence-absence)
aquatic geographies and changing landscapes (shifting shorelines, saturated ground)
maritime or riverine transport of/as commodities (the slave trade, water resources, shipping lanes)
psychic hydraulics; the benthic zone of the unconscious; the oceanic feeling of Romain Rolland and Sigmund Freud
an aquatic encoding of or resistance to extractive empire 


Inspired by Christina Sharpe, Saidiya Hartman, and other scholars whose work explores the fraught relationship between water, trauma, and the Atlantic slave trade, we particularly invite projects which seek to place the insights and guiding questions of black studies and the radical black tradition in conversation with Classical antiquity and the violence underwriting the Classical canon. 

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