Catastrophe and Catharsis: Interdisciplinary Perspectives
March 1, 2013- March 3, 2013
Department of German Studies at the University of Cincinnati
Catastrophes and disasters are currently a major concern in journalism, literature and film, in particular in the wake of 9/11, Katrina, and Fukushima, but we observe a parallel trend in academic research across disciplines as well.
Our conference focuses on catastrophe as narration. Catastrophes, we argue, disrupt the existing order and result in a discontinuity of our sense of self. They occur in reality, threatening entire nations or societies, destroying natural spaces as well as individual humans, but they also challenge they ways in which we organize our perception of the world. The reality of a catastrophe, in other words, must be represented, symbolized and processed. Our conference will examine this narrativization process. Given that fiction continues to be linked to national culture, we also ask to what degree such processes are nation or culture specific.
Western societies have developed a dual perspective on catastrophe. On the one hand, there is the pragmatic approach that seeks to define what counts as a catastrophe and to implement guidelines for the proper response. Literature and film, on the other hand, often reflect on the event or actual moment of the catastrophe as a rupture of reality, engaging with catastrophe as a way of questioning technical developments as well as the value systems of human societies. But catastrophes are not merely reflected in works of art, they are embedded in artistic and media representations from the very moment they happen.
Importantly, there exists in the humanities another discourse of catastrophe. In his Poetics Aristotle describes catastrophe as a situation in which the conflict is solved; a catastrophe in that sense is a turning point (a change of fortune) in the plot and a departure from its previous trajectory that involves a recognition (anagnorisis) or reversal of intention (peripeteia). Our conference explores to what degree narratives of catastrophes follow an Aristotelian model in their recovery of meaning.
Papers may address the following and other, related, questions:
• Do “real” catastrophes follow a pattern of reversal and purification?
• What do we as TV-“onlookers,” or vicarious witnesses of worldwide disasters, learn from catastrophes?
• Do literature and film that portray catastrophes indeed trigger purification in the addressees?
• Can a phenomenon such as “disaster tourism” be conceptualized in terms of catharsis?
• Are there distinct ways in which different countries manage, perceive, and narrate catastrophes and, if so, what does that mean in terms of the implied cathartic moment?
Deadline for submission is May 15, 2012. Abstracts should be approximately three hundred words in length. Please send abstracts to both conference organizers
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