Classical Myth and Psychoanalysis

Institute of Advanced Studies, University of London, 3-6 Sept. 2009

Call for Papers

Since Freud published the Interpretation of Dreams in 1900 and utilised Sophocles' Oedipus Rex to work through his developing ideas about the psycho-sexual development of children, it has been virtually impossible to think about psychoanalysis without reference to classical myth. Since that time psychoanalytic theorists of various persuasions have continued to work with myth, viewing it as a resource that is less restrictive than individual literary texts, bound up as they are with issues of authorship and temporality. The mobility of myth offers psychoanalysis an alternative to the culturally specific and provides a framework within which to think through issues such as the redefinition of the personal and the radical alterity at the heart of what is most familiar. This capacity of myth to transcend the context of any particular retelling and to continue to transform the understanding of the present has long been recognised by Classicists for whom it has been a notoriously slippery object of study. Classical myth has more often been interpreted as encoding a loosely conceived ancient mentalité than as evidencing explicitly configured psychological truths, but the tension between its potency in a particular context and its multivalent potential has repeatedly been stressed. And throughout the twentieth century experts on the ancient world have sometimes turned to the insights of psychoanalytic criticism to supplement and inform their readings of classical myth and literature.

Just as psychoanalysis has developed a canon of classical myth (e.g. Oedipus, Narcissus, Prometheus, Antigone, Greek tragedy in general) so Classical Studies has developed its own canon of texts that seem to attract psychoanalytically-informed analysis (e.g. Greek Tragedy, philosophy and Roman poetry in particular). In some cases this seems to be because of a perceived 'fit' or coherence between the literary work and the mode of analysis, for example the fragmented articulation of desire in Catullan verse or the glorification of the irrational in Euripides' Bacchae; in others it is inspired by an influential reading of a classical text by a particular critic - an obvious example here is Lacan's analysis of Sophocles' Antigone in the seminar The Ethics of Psychoanalysis. The aim of this conference is to probe the limits of these mutually influencing canons and to explore the potential of texts so far excluded from them. Why is it, for example, that Greek myth and literature continues to attract more attention in this context than their Roman counterparts? Why have certain forms of psychoanalysis tended to dominate whilst others have been almost completely ignored? What constitutes an authoritative version of a psychoanalytic or a classical myth? Are there new forms of criticism of classical myth and literature which will harmonise with developing forms of psychoanalysis as we move forward in the new millennium?

Suggested topics for panels include:
Foundational narratives Fantasy and the Past
Religion Getting the Myth Wrong
Text and Object 'And'
Group Psychology and the Collective Archetypes
Colonialism Creativity & the Visual Arts

Invited speakers include:
Richard Armstrong (University of Houston, Texas); Page DuBois (University of California, San Diego); Eric Gunderson (University of Toronto); Bruce King (Vassar College); Michaela Janan (Duke University); Jonathan Lear (University of Chicago); Paul Allen Miller (University of South Carolina); Jill Scott (Queens University, Ontario); Robert Segal (University of Aberdeen); Sonu Shamdasani (Wellcome Trust Centre for the History of Medicine, University College London); Victoria Wohl (University of Toronto).

Proposals for panels are welcomed as are papers on relevant psychoanalytic or mythic texts. Please send a title and half-page abstract by 1st September 2008 to Vanda Zajko & Ellen O'Gorman, Department of Classics & Ancient History, University of Bristol, BS8 1TB

v.zajko AT; e.c.ogorman AT

This conference is organised under the aegis of The Bristol Institute for Greece, Rome and the Classical Tradition