Passages, transits: Aspects of literature on the move

Department of Medieval and Modern Greek, University of Thessaloniki, 1-4 March 2017.

Individuals and groups have always moved from one place to another throughout human history.  Not least in recent years, immigration has morphed into a multitude of forms, and is becoming increasingly central to our ever-changing modernity.  Today’s developments in geopolitics make us all witness, and occasionally perhaps participate in, a powerful evolution of the concepts of homeland and national culture, of belongingness, of cultural origins and multiculturalism.  Immigration may have been a staple in history but it is currently experienced and represented as a humanitarian crisis.  And yet, although enforced immigration is a violation of one’s rights, mobility can be a choice, and is quite another matter: it is where “immigration” becomes  “diaspora”.

In Greece, after sever years of a financial and social crisis which shows no signs of abatement, and which has been accepted as way of life by many, resettling emerges as a new norm and a new possibility.  So there starts in Greek history one more period of immigration, the latest in a long string of immigration waves in which Greeks had been either refugees, or exiles, or seeking jobs abroad.  At the same time, because of the political instability in the neighbouring Middle East, Greece has become a transitional space for a large number of immigrants and refugees who hope to make it to Europe.  Hence, the urgent debate on the terms and limits of European immigration policy, on European and national identity, on multiculturalism and social cohesion.

Literature, which to a degree responds to geopolitics and the latter’s impact on people’s lives, can function as a space to rethink and critically contribute to this debate.  Literature may add to the conversation by presenting national and cultural identities as outcomes of constructedness, and by challenging a conception of culture as a uniform phenomenon.  In addition, literature is a repository of older historic or mythological transitions, such as the Exodus from Egypt, Odysseys’ wanderings, the discovery of America as depicted in the narratives by Colombus and Cortés.  These older works are the reference points which shape genealogies, help us appreciate the complexity of the originary sources of our present experience, and provide us with hermeneutical tools to fathom this experience out.

“Passages, transits, literature on the move”, the conference to be held in Thessaloniki, 1-4 March 2017, hopes to initiate discussions on these geographic, symbolic and conceptual transitions by examining their representation in literature.  It should like to keep clear of a static notion of space and culture, and attempt to map out a poetics of transition.

Possible topics and areas of interest include:

  1. The dynamics of cultural mobility and transition in literature which focuses on the uninterrupted connectivity among spaces and times.  The extent to which literature revisits older historic or mythological transitions.
  2. The “immigrant experience” and the profound changes it introduces in the notions of “homeland” and “foreign lands”.  Variations of this line might involve:
    • Alienation from homeland: return to an estranged homeland.
    • Domestication of a foreign land: transition of an adopted country to a new homeland.
    • Refutation of the categories of “homeland” and “foreign land”.
    • Literature on persecution.
  3. Experience of a homeland as a transitional space: for example, Greece as a “transit area”, an immigrant’s crossroads.  Literature which manoeuvres among cultures, which is without 'permanent  residence' and countries producing writing whereby identity and belongingness are constructed.
  4. Interlingual literature: writers who express themselves in a language other than their native, and thematize the relationship between mother tongues and adopted languages.  Writing which focuses on the tension between language and culture, and precipitates the evolution of language by blurring divisions between national and diaspora literature.

Please e-mail your title and 500-word abstract by July 31, 2016 to Professor Ioanna Naoum (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.) in order to participate in the conference organised by the Department of Medieval and Modern Greek at the University of Thessaloniki, 1-4 March 2017.  The abstracts received will be assessed by the Conference Committee by 31 October 2016. 


Research Committee AUTh
School of Philology
Kostas and Eleni Ourani Foundation