Myth(s) & Magic in Pan’s Labyrinth (Part II)

Myth Reading Group

Thursday 9 November

12.00-1.30pm in Room 3.411

We are very pleased to announce that Eirini Apanomeritaki will do a follow-up session of “Pan’s Labyrinth”

Pan's labyrinth

Pan’s Labyrinth poster [El laberinto del fauno, dir. Guillermo del Toro], 2006

In this session, we will have the opportunity to complete our discussion of myths and magic features used in the film.

Set in 1944, five years after the end of the Spanish Civil War, the story of Ofelia and her encounter with a faun continuously straddles the boundaries between magic and reality. Ofelia moves with her mother close to a seemingly enchanted forest where they join her stepfather, Captain Vidal, one of Franco’s officers. The real and the fantastic blend in the movie as Ofelia experiences the horrors of the regime while the faun asks her to carry out a series of tasks that will restore her place as princess Moanna, according to the legend. Ofelia’s tasks, her underground journey to the labyrinth, and the monstrous creatures of the unworldly, mystical realm draw their inspiration from fairy tales and hero quests as much as from classical myths and their imagery (as in Francisco Goya’s Saturn Devouring His Son).

Selected clips from the movie will be shown in the session. See a review of the film by A.O.Scott, “In Gloom of War, a Child’s Paradise”, 29 December 2009, The New York Times, and María Teresa DePaoli’s chapter as additional reading (“Fantasy and Myth in Pan’s Labyrinth: Analysis of Guillermo del Toro´s Symbolic Imagery”, in Scott E. Hendrix and Timothy J. Shannon eds., Magic and the Supernatural. Oxford: Inter-Disciplinary Press, 2012, pp. 49-54).

ALL WELCOME

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Taking Nothing for Granted: The Formless in its many Forms

Myth Reading Group

Thursday 02 November

12.00-1.30pm in Room 3.411

We are very pleased to announce that Dr Leon Burnett, founding and former Director of the Centre for Myth Studies, opens our discussion of The Void with a session on creation & nothingness

Giacometti

Alberto Giacometti, Mains tenant le vide
Hands Holding the Void (Invisible Object), 1934 (cast c. 1954-55)
Museum of Modern Art
Louise Reinhardt Smith Bequest

The texts for this week’s Myth Reading Group bring together Eastern and Western versions of the Void grounded, respectively, in Taoism and Fantasy to underline the pervasiveness of a particular cosmogonic motif, the creation of the world ex nihilo and its return to a state of nothingness.

Passages from the Tao Te Ching [verses 6, 14, 40 & 11] and Richard Berengarten’s Changing [see title page] will be considered alongside an extract from Chapter IX of Michael Ende’s Neverending Story.

Please also see some notes on Giacometti’s Invisible Object, and further information  about primary texts and background reading.

ALL WELCOME

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Eurydice Extra

GhostJam

A new event following our Translating Eurydice conference later this month!

Ghost Jam is a collective of poets and artists who will be bringing Beyond Eurydice to the conference. This work has grown out of the Orpheus Project which delighted and unsettled the Myth Reading Group in 2012.

For full detail of the conference on 27 October, click here.

In the evening after the conference, Ghost Jam will be taking Beyond Orpheus Beyond Eurydice to Hackney for an evening performance.

Using words, film, darkness, movement, and noise, Ghost Jam promise to transcend usual Friday night tedium with their Orphic disorientation.

Friday 27 October 2017, 7:45 pm
Centre 151, 151 Whiston Road, London E2 8GU
Free (voluntary contributions welcome)
http://www.centre151.com/

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Call for Proposals: The Void

Centre for Myth Studies

Myth Reading Group

Call for Proposals: The Void

 

RobertFluddTheGreatDarkness

Robert Fludd, ‘The Great Darkness or Mysterium Magnum’, in History of the Macrocosm and Microcosm (1617), Ritman Library, Pinterest

[…]
Which is the sound of the land
Full of the same wind
That is blowing in the same bare place
 
For the listener, who listens in the snow,
And, nothing himself, beholds
Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.
—Wallace Stevens “The Snow Man”, ll: 10-15.

 

The Myth Reading Group returns this term with the theme of “The Void”.

We invite proposals from anyone who is interested in any aspect of the void and address the theme from a mythological perspective across cultures, periods, and media. For an inspiring introduction to the topic, check out our blog entry “The Void” by Dr Leon Burnett, founding and former director of the Centre for Myth Studies. For a discussion of Robert Fludd’s image above and the question of origins, see Alan Cardew, ‘The Archaic and the Sublimity of Origins’, Paul Bishop (ed.), The Archaic: The Past in the Present (Hove: Routledge, 2012), pp. 93-146.

Please contact us with your suggestions for works or topics to read and discuss in the Autumn  term. Sessions will resume on 2 November, one week after the Translating Eurydice Conference we are co-organising with The University of East London (UEL), and end on 14 December 2017.  We are very pleased to announce that the first session will be led by Dr Leon Burnett. Please email us at mythic@essex.ac.uk with proposals or suggestions.

The Myth Reading Group is open to anyone with an interest in myth. We meet every Thursday in term time, between 12:00 and 1:30 p.m. (Room 3.411) at the University of Essex Colchester Campus. Our sessions include a short presentation, up to 30 minutes, followed by discussion.

 

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The Void

Blog post by Dr Leon Burnett

TheVoidAniaWebster

Black Void © Ania Webster

Poets of all ages have grappled with the idea of the void both as a cosmic phenomenon (or anti-phenomenon) and, in concert with modern philosophers from Søren Kierkegaard to Albert Camus, as a manifestation of a dreadful inner emptiness. The mysterious, inexplicable quality of the void makes it a subject particularly amenable to myth, as does its range of metaphorical and symbolic meanings.

A feeling of metaphysical emptiness lurks in the background of every observation of the natural world and threatens to suppress all delight in the superficial spectacle. Demonstrative of this susceptibility is the state of mind evidenced in Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s nineteenth-century Dejection Ode, in which the romantic poet acknowledged within himself “A Grief without a pang, void, dark, & drear”, while “gazing on the western Sky”: “And still I gaze – & with how blank an eye!”.[1]

Similarly, but with a shift in key to a modernist sensibility, Wallace Stevens wrote in the twentieth century of the “Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is”, which the solitary man in the snow beholds. Readers of his poetry have debated at length the meaning of the closing line of “The Snow Man”, but they have devoted less attention to the assertion preceding it that the man listening to the wind is “nothing himself”.[2]

The prominence——and provenance——of this discordance may ultimately be traced back to the narratives and imagery in myths around the world that engage with origins. The void is the nihil out of which existence and being emerge and often ultimately return. This nihil is quite distinct from any imagined otherworld that accommodates in one form or another, comfortably or uncomfortably, all those who have departed in death.

There is a cosmic void and there is a personal void, the former usually situated before the creation of the cosmos and the latter after the extinction of the individual, whose transitory status on this earth is encapsulated in the designation mortal (from Latin mortalis, “subject to death”).

The cosmic void is encountered in Greek and Norse mythology. Hesiod’s Theogony refers to chaos [Χάος], a chasm but, in the way of the Ancient Greeks, also a goddess, and “Völuspá” in the Poetic Edda to a “yawning gap”: “Earth had not been, | nor heaven above,/ But a yawning gap, | and grass nowhere” [gap var ginnunga, en gras hvergi].[3] It was in the Gunningagap that the frost giant Ymir took shape. From the various parts of his body the earth and the sky came into being.

In the opening verses of the King James Version of the Bible, when “God created the heaven and the earth”, “the earth was without form, and void”. Mary Phil Korsak in her translation of Genesis, has “the earth was tohu-bohu/ darkness on the face of the deep”.[4] Tohu-bohu is normally understood as meaning “formless” and “void”. The same words occur in Isaiah 34:11, where the KJV renders them as “confusion” and “emptiness”.

These accounts of a cosmic void may all be regarded as interstitial, situated in-between earth and sky, in a non-physical gap in the fabric of the universe at a time before time. In this they show an affinity with fundamental concepts in the creation myths of Ancient Egypt. The Ogdoad of Hermopolis has eight divinities to represent the watery void, whereas Theban theology confines itself to one originary god. In the Old Kingdom record, he was Amun, the hidden one, who lived a mythical “negative existence” (Nun) before the creative principle led to the appearance of Shu (male, dryness) and Tefnut (female, moisture), who begat Geb (earth) and Nut (sky).[5]

The idea of nothingness is central to Taoism. The Tao Te Ching refers to the Tao as “Something formless, complete in itself/ There before Heaven and Earth”.[6] Richard Berengarten’s twenty-first-century, poetic homage to the I Ching states that “Endless beginingless/ heaven holds everything/ including astronomical// creation and demise/ of universes into and out/ of nothing”.[7] For him, “This constant flow//between notness/ and isness becomes and is/ all ways key”.[8]

Etymologically, void is related to vacancy, vanity, vastness and waste. All these words share a common Indo-European root and point to a recognition of the indeterminacy and lack of substance that is implicit in the poetic and mythological explorations of the measureless gap anterior to cosmological formation, marked by an absence of time and space, as well as the personal dimension of the nature of the “undiscover’d country, from whose bourn/ No traveller returns”.[9]

In the beginning was the void or, rather, before the beginning was the void. The beginning marks the advent of the word, of the god, of time and space – all abstractions designed to fill the void, as, indeed, mythological accounts of the void are. The various myths of creation ex nihilo propose two processes to account for the transition from void to plenitude: appearance and metamorphosis. The necessary condition for the existence of the material world arises from the appearance of a god or a divine object leading to some kind of transformation before the world can be populated.

The rest is story.

 

[1] Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Poems (London: Dent, 1993), p. 350

[2] Wallace Stevens, The Collected Poems of Wallace Stevens (London: Faber and Faber, 1955), p. 10

[3] http://www.voluspa.org/voluspa1-5.htm

[4] Mary Phil Korsak, At the Start: Genesis Made New (New York: Doubleday, 1992), p. 1

[5] For more on Amun, see http://www.maat.sofiatopia.org/amun.htm

[6] Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching: The Definitive Edition; trans. Jonathan Star (New York: Tarcher/Putnam, 2001), p. 38

[7] Richard Berengarten, Changing (Bristol: Shearsman, 2016), p. 11

[8] Ibid., p. 8

[9] Hamlet, Act III, Scene 1

 

Dr Leon Burnett is the founding and former Director of the Centre for Myth Studies at the University of Essex (2008-2014). His research and publications are mainly in Myth Studies, Literary Translation and Comparative Literature.  He was the main editor of the British Comparative Literature Association’s house journal, New Comparison, for eight years (1992-2000) and, more recently, he has co-edited three books: The Art of Accommodation: Literary Translation in Russia (2013), Myth, Literature, and the Unconscious (2013), and Translating Myth (2016).

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Report: Translating Myth book launch

The summer break gives us a chance to look back at some of the events that slipped by without comment over the past year. Chief among these is the book launch event held for Translating Myth in November. Co-editor Ben Pestell has shared his report of the day.

Translating Myth Book Launch

British Centre for Literary Translation, 16 November 2016

Report by Ben Pestell

Last November, the British Centre for Literary Translation at University of East Anglia hosted a book launch event for Translating Myth (edited by Ben Pestell, Pietra Palazzolo, and Leon Burnett of the University of Essex Centre for Myth Studies). The connection with the BCLT was both practical and aesthetic: its academic director, Duncan Large, chairs the editorial board of Legenda’s Studies in Comparative Literature series, which published Translating Myth; but, moreover, it encouraged us, as editors, to interrogate the limits and success of our interpretation of translation.

Following Duncan’s genial welcome and opening of the event, Pietra and I jointly introduced the book. Pietra outlined the boundaries between literary translation and cultural translation, elaborating a theory proposed by Leon of translation as accommodation. This highlights the role played by the translated text in the broader cultural environment of the new language. Literary translation – rather than envisaged on a trajectory from source to target – is conceived as a dialogue across cultures: translation influencing and transforming the receiving culture.

For my part, I reconsidered the interpretation of the term ‘myth’ in the book. Even within literary studies, the book shows the diverse ways myth can be handled, for example, in Harish Trivedi’s consideration of the distinct historical responses in Europe to Greco-Roman and to Indian myths, the latter exoticised and regarded distastefully.

Giuseppe Sofo, Duncan Large, Leon Burnett, Sharihan Al-Akhras, Ben Pestell, Tom Rutledge

Following our introduction, we heard from Giuseppe Sofo, who wrote the final chapter in Translating Myth. Giuseppe’s chapter concerns the multiple stages of translation involved in taking Derek Walcott’s theatrical version of the Odyssey a step further into Italian. In each stage – Homer’s, Walcott’s English, and the Italian translation – keen attention must be paid to language and dialect. Giuseppe’s deft handling of the multiple voices at play made him an ideal speaker at the BCLT. The topic of his paper was ‘Myth, Translation and the Art of the Impossible’, in which Giuseppe stressed that the reproduction of stories is a survival strategy as vital to humanity as physical reproduction, and reflected on the contradictions of invisibility and exposure in the process of translation.

After a short break, Tom Rutledge of UEA delivered his formal response to the book. Extending the traditional opposition of mythos and logos, he considered history as a dialectical foil to mythos. To illustrate this, he chose some telling examples from the book: the citation of Odysseus’ praise of Demodocus’ ‘accuracy’ in his myth-telling song of Troy; Demeter’s new historical locus in the versions of her myth; Yeats as symbolising the nationalising of mythology and the mythologisation of nationalism; and Heaney as personalising the mythological and mythologising the personal. Tom focused on Christina Dokou’s chapter on Timothy Dwight’s early American epic, The Conquest of Canäan (and chided me a little for under-rating Dwight with my glib ‘epic fail’ gag). Part of Tom’s research is into early modern receptions of Virgil, and he wondered what the inclusion of Virgil’s Aeneid – the great historical epic – could add to Christina’s view. Tom noted the tension between epic and mythology in the idea of historical epic: that is, he perceived Christina’s claim of epic as a language of the powerful to be in tension with the idea of myth which so often, he argued, is the site for representing violence suffered.

Pietra Palazzolo, Leon Burnett, Ben Pestell, Duncan Large, Giuseppe Sofo

The proceedings came to a close with a round-table discussion chaired by Leon. For this we were also joined by Sharihan Al-Akhras who wrote a perceptive chapter in Translating Myth which studies the middle-eastern mythical and religious influences on Milton’s Paradise Lost. In the process, we returned to the vexed nature of translation, and Leon mentioned the three categories of translation formulated by Novalis in the eighteenth century. The categories are grammatical (grammatisch), transformative (verändernd) and mythical (mythisch). Mythical translation is elaborated as a form of imaginative cultural communication from an original which need not exist in reality, is not necessarily verbal, and which enriches the target culture. Mythical translation delivers not the actual work, but the idea of it. This allusion to the non-existent or invisible original aptly summarised the direction of much of the day’s discussion. At this point, the wine was opened, and the event’s chronicles leave the written record and return to the oral tradition.

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Myth(s) and Magic in Pan’s Labyrinth

Myth Reading Group

Thursday 22 June

12.00-1.30pm in Room 5B.330

We are very pleased to announce that Eirini Apanomeritaki concludes our discussion of Myth & Magic with a session on Pan’s Labyrinth

Pan's labyrinth

Pan’s Labyrinth poster [dir. Guillermo del Toro], 2006

In this session, we will explore the ways in which myths, fairy tales, and magic intersect in Guillermo del Toro’s 2006 movie Pan’s Labyrinth (El laberinto del fauno). Set in 1944, five years after the end of the Spanish Civil War, the story of Ofelia and her encounter with a faun continuously straddles the boundaries between magic and reality. Ofelia moves with her mother close to a seemingly enchanted forest where they join her stepfather, Captain Vidal, one of Franco’s officers. The real and the fantastic blend in the movie as Ofelia experiences the horrors of the regime while the faun asks her to carry out a series of tasks that will restore her place as princess Moanna, according to the legend. Ofelia’s tasks, her underground journey to the labyrinth, and the monstrous creatures of the unworldly, mystical realm draw their inspiration from fairy tales and hero quests as much as from classical myths and their imagery (as in Francisco Goya’s Saturn Devouring His Son).

Selected clips from the movie will be shown in the session. See a review of the film by A.O.Scott, “In Gloom of War, a Child’s Paradise”, 29 December 2009, The New York Times, and María Teresa DePaoli’s chapter as additional reading (“Fantasy and Myth in Pan’s Labyrinth: Analysis of Guillermo del Toro´s Symbolic Imagery”, in Scott E. Hendrix and Timothy J. Shannon eds., Magic and the Supernatural. Oxford: Inter-Disciplinary Press, 2012, pp. 49-54).

ALL WELCOME

 

 

 

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