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17th November, 2015

A History of Byzantine Literature

Event Details

17th November, 2015
Anatomy Lecture Theatre (K6.29), King's Building, Strand Campus

Is a history of Byzantine literature possible?: Questions of literary method in a postmodernist world

Textual production in Byzantium has been allotted a peculiar ‘middle state’. On the one hand, it is viewed as a continuation of, or an appendix to Ancient Greek literature, thus being divided into ‘secular’ and ‘religious’, while, on the other, it is divided into ‘learned’ and ‘vernacular’, the latter category having been defined as Modern Greek since the middle of the nineteenth century. This mental and textual hybridity, projected onto Byzantine literature (the result of political-ideological currents within Greek Studies broadly defined), has blocked the way to an approach that would read Byzantine textual production in an integrated manner on its own historical, socio-cultural and aesthetic terms, therefore, as a dynamic system rather than a static condition. At the same time, literary theory has systematically attacked the very notion of literary history, changing to a substantial extent the way in which literary histories are conceived and written today. Specific examples from different times will be used to demonstrate the difficulty of viewing Byzantine literature as being in a ‘middle state’, while also new proposals will be made in order to step out of the scholarly and ideological impasse in which Byzantine Studies have found themselves. Writing a ‘new’ history of Byzantine literature can be viewed as an experiment in proposing a radical paradigm shift, while also overcoming some of our postmodernist anxieties.

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