Conference “Myth and Science Fiction”
The VI International Conference on Mythcriticism “Myth and Science Fiction” is an initiative of the Aglaya Research Program, funded by the Community of Madrid and the European Social Fund.
Acis, Grupo de Investigación de Mitocrítica, main group of the Aglaya Research Program, counts with the usual collaborations of Asteria, Asociación Internacional de Mitocrítica and Amaltea, Revista de Mitocrítica in order to carry out the Conference, that was held from the 27th to the 30th October 2020.
A platitude: myth and science fiction are bad companions. Like all bold affirmations, it has its objective: to claim its space; likewise, as all bold statements, it should be nuanced. Myth and science fiction seek to explain the world, to answer everlasting questions: the origin of life and cause of death. But explanations are not sufficient for mankind: one wants to make approving or condemning judgements. Myth as well as science fiction project contradictions in unprecedented circumstances with an aim to adhere or condemn. Given the projective capacity of our imagination, we put forward improbable scenarios that allow us to see in a new light the consequences of a future situation.
Similarly to myth, science fiction has incorporated in its thematic list the anxieties of our time. Famous novels and films of the genre have tackled contemporary apprehensions: a nuclear catastrophe of immeasurable consequences (Godzilla), the necessity of emigrate to spatial colonies (Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?), or the fear of the excesses of a questionable use of science (The Island).
Here we find another converging point between myth and science fiction. The mythical stories come up with extreme situations and consequences of these excesses. From the beginning of the industrial revolution these extraordinary scenarios have been represented largely by science fiction. It seems as if the relentless progress of this genre threatened the existence of myth. This attempted usurpation runs in parallel with the exponential progression of the advances of empirical science.
Where does myth start and where does it end? How far does science fiction go? What significance does the crossing between both narratives have? As always, what is crucial and indisputable is to analyse the kind of transcendence in each case, the utmost criterion to identify and distinguish myth and science fiction.
Conference “Myth and Audiovisual Creation”
The V International Conference on Mythcriticism “Myth and Audiovisual Creation” is an initiative of the Acis&Galatea Research Program, funded by the Community of Madrid and the European Social Fund. The Conference will be divided into 4 venues according to its different themes: “Germanic Myths” at the Universidad of Alcalá, “Classical Myths” at the Universidad Autónoma, “Biblical Myths” at the Universidad Francisco de Vitoria and “Modern Myths” at the Universidad Complutense.
Acis, Grupo de Investigación de Mitocrítica, main group of the Acis&Galatea Research Program, collaborates with other participant groups in the conference, and counts with the usual collaborations of Asteria, Asociación Internacional de Mitocrítica and Amaltea, Revista de Mitocrítica in order to carry out the Conference, that was held from the 15th tothe 26th October 2018. In the Conference there were held many parallel activities, such as concerts, projections, film debates and and art exhibition in the room “El Águila”.
Image and sound: two of our five external senses are called into play.
As far as our Conference is concerned, we reduce the immense variety of images to a typology: the more traditional ―the image that represents an expected reality― and the more innovative, the image represented by a series of unforeseen associations with no real previous referent. Both images coexist in our imaginary world, and both can replicate (for example in a drawing, a painting, a sculpture) in the real world. We call it visual creation when, in the latter case, an image is coupled with an artistic dimension.
The same observation can be made about the immeasurable variety of sounds, with the peculiarity that sound only exists in the real world, save a few exceptions (some with a pathological origin). This “lack” of sound is compensated by the richness of the voice and by using utensils –or instruments, in the case of art– to generate noises. As with images, we call it audible creation when the generation of sounds is coupled with an artistic dimension.
As if led by the hand, this preliminary observation brings us to the Aristotelian principle of mimesis, that is, human creations (literature, visual, visual arts, and entertainment) as imitation, even when what is depicted does not seem to resemble the model. To a large extent, audiovisual creation is a re-creation of the world from images and sounds.
Audiovisual creation has undergone a spectacular change since the early 20th century: traditional forms (drawing, painting, sculpture, etc.) are now joined by cinema, whose exponential growth requires no explanation.
However, we have witnessed a new revolution since the turn of the century that entails an even greater change in terms of the standardization of content and the versatility of formats. Before, audiovisual creation had to adapt itself to the format: the drawing or the sound, crafted by hand, were retouched and put together later with digital resources. Since the digital revolution, the format easily adapts to the audiovisual creation: drawing, painting, sculpture, architecture, dance, theater, opera, cinema, video games, performances, installations and other genres are unthinkable without the support of digital resources.
Cinema –the Seventh Art– has always been intimately tied to technological advances. However, the digital revolution carries more weight than the historical incorporation of sound, color, and television, comparable only to the advance from writing on stone to writing on wood, from wood to paper and from the manuscript to the printing press. The obsolescence of traditional media demands a continuous reinvention of classic processes (production, distribution, and exhibition). It is changing the way films are produced, distributed and marketed. This profound transformation is clearly perceptible in the emergence of a new market for the exploitation of audiovisual content (internet and mobile devices), the emergence of a new consumer profile (digital natives), and the democratization of the means of production (cameras, digital editors, post-production software).
Digital technology’s impact on the process of “making” a film is obvious: it has made it possible to expand the boundaries of creativity and verisimilitude. The digitization of image and sound has created virtual characters that look irresistibly and plausibly real (Gollum in Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy, 2001-03; the Na’vi in James Cameron’s Avatar, 2009) on both the big screen and other forms of audiovisual consumption (home TV, smart TV, HD and 3D). These technological advances have also brought forward a paradigm shift in production and distribution: the massive corporations that used to control the entire sector have been forced to make way for the internet, a platform that dissolves boundaries in favor of independent film (Paranormal Activity, Oren Peli, 2007). The versatility of digital media has clearly changed every aspect of audiovisual creation.
This transformation in cinema also affects video games. The reason lies, to a large extent, in the way in which computer communication works. Traditionally, when we produce a text, image or sound we use a traditional alphabetic, iconic or musical code. A second type of codification emerged during industrialization: with the typewriter, we could press a key with a finger to activate a mechanism that pressed a band impregnated with ink on paper. However, the computer age required a third code: the digital system processor (computer, game console, mobile, etc.) translates our keyed or tactile message into a programming language that is subsequently decoded into text, images or sounds. Thus, we use a keyboard or the screen to control the movements of characters in a video game: machine and programs are integrated in a single support. Since these numerical encryption and decryption processes are unperceivable, errors take us by surprise: we confuse the tool (the electronic apparatus) with the transmission of language (the programming code) and mistakenly think that we are the authors of the entire process. Hence the fascination with computing and, consequently, its commercial success. The gamer is part of the “miracle”, until now only imagined, using a simple manual or tactile gesture to intervene in the adventures where until now he was merely a spectator.
Conference “Myth and Emotions”
The IV International Conference of Myth Criticism “Myth and Emotions” was created due to the collaboration of Asteria, Asociación Internacional de Mitocrítica, Amaltea, Revista de Mitocrítica, Acis, Grupo de Investigación de Mitocrítica and the Acis&Galatea Project.
The Organizing Committee invites researchers who can provide―either through theoretical reflection or textual analysis―their methodological principles or practical approaches on the problematic of the combined relationship between myth and the logic of emotions in contemporary literature and art (since 1900).
The International Conference “Myth and emotions” will carry out a profound and contemporary reflection on the relationship between mythology and emotion. For this purpose it will reunite highly respected international researchers and other well-established or trainee researchers to provide―whether through theoretical reflection, textual analysis or the exhibition of artistic expressions―methodological principles and practical approaches aimed to establish criteria of interpretation on the relationship between myth and emotion in contemporary literature and art.
Progress in the knowledge of thought and psychology bring to light dimensions that have remained hidden during centuries. In the contemporary era the most recognized researchers have demonstrated that our behaviour depends less on rational causes than emotional causes. Moreover, one of the most characteristic phenomena at present is the execution of human acts by merely emotional impulses. More than in any other period in history, individuals react as consequences of impulse, most of the time unexpected. Advertisements, which offer promises that are rationally unrelated to the product on sale, unquestionably make profitable the impulsive behaviour converted into a stereotype of the consumer society.
This explains the current strength of disciplines that―like psychobiology or social psychology― investigate the nature of emotions, how they originate, what they mean and how they manage to modify rational logic. Specialists agree on several basic traits of emotions: a) the existence and perception of a previous occurrence; b) intense, fleeting and interconnected psychosomatic experiences; c) a distinction (with either a corresponding attraction or rejection) between agreeable and disagreeable circumstances. Emotion―in its interaction with feelings, moods and affections―largely shapes our response to the world. It conditions our motivations, gives us energy and orders our private and social behaviour.
Myth cannot stay on the sidelines of this reflection. The Conference adopts, as a work hypothesis, the following definition of myth: explanatory, symbolic and dynamic account of one or various personal and extraordinary events with transcendent referent, that lacks in principle of historical testimony; is made up of a series of invariant elements reducible to themes submitted to crisis; that presents a conflictive, emotive and functional character, and always refers to a cosmogony or to an absolute, particular or universal eschatology. The emotive nature of myth lays the foundation of the research proposed for this Conference. This definition will be matched with other less canonical definitions, resulting in the mythification of characters, places and historical events.
Myth criticism should include the description and analysis of the paths whereby the rhetoric of individual and social psychology intersects with the cultural practice of myths. Thus, studies of mythology should include considerations of emotional logic, as well as of the consequences of an empathetic connection with myth (the cathartic dimension). They should also reveal the parallelism between “emotional origins” and “emotional destiny” (the cosmogonic and eschatological dimension). Finally, they should study the relationships between emotion, myth, the sinister, and the fantastic.
Ultimately, this Conference aims to provide a study, as wide and thorough as possible, that brings guidelines and models capable of interpreting the mythical-emotional phenomena. Its implementation will be of great help to understand an important part of the writing and art of modernity and post-modernity, as well as cultures and thought of our current society.
Conference “Myths in Crisis. The Crisis of Myth”
The International Conference “Myths in Crisis. The Crisis of Myth” emerges as the initiative of the National Research Project I+D “New forms of myth: an interdisciplinary methodology”, the Research Group on Myth Criticism ACIS, Amaltea. Journal of Myth Criticism, and Asteria. International Association of Myth Criticism.
The organizing Committee aims to bring together researchers who can provide ―either through theoretical reflection or textual analysis― their methodological principles or practical approaches on the problematic of the crisis of ancient, medieval and modern myths in contemporary literature and arts.
Is it true that myth, as a product of human beings, is born, grows, reproduces, and dies? We could study any one of these stages of development. Myths are undoubtedly born, grow, and reproduce. In this conference, we seek to analyze whether—in our age (the 20th and 21st centuries)—they die or they are adapted. In other words, we want to define the conditions of adapting myths and of their evolution, and to discern whether their crises could bring about their resurgence, or death.
Various circumstances explain how myths enter into a crisis.
Occasionally, a sociocultural environment changes until it demands an adjustment in the overall context of its myths. In this way, the angel, traditional in Western culture, continues to be a messenger and ally of humans, but its Christian qualities are substituted for others more adapted to our age: today’s angels are sexualized beings, in full harmony with the New Age phenomenon, and particularly associated with an aesthetic dimension.
We could say something similar, for instance, of the myth of the Holy Grail, the eucharistic chalice par excellence: when faced with the current crisis of a sacrament giving immortality in the afterlife, the sacred vessel becomes the guarantor of a purely earthly immortality, as a remedy against physical wounds, as an excuse for seeking out a lost father (Steven Spielberg, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, 1989) or even for obtaining the UNESCO Chair of Literary Criticism (David Lodge, Small World: An Academic Romance, 1984).
Myths can also enter into a crisis caused by a substantial change in their historical situation. Take the example of the Comendatore in the Don Juan myth: today, there are no comendatores. Added to this problem is that a moving statue, a prime attraction in the 17th century, would lose credibility today. Max Frisch (Don Juan, oder die Liebe der Geometrie, 1953), Henry de Montherlant (La Mort qui fait le trottoir. Don Juan, 1956), or Heinz Weinmann (Don Juan 2003. Éros et Sida, 1993) resolve, each in his own way, the problem of the Comendatore in 20th-century literature. This myth is, furthermore, eminently dramaturgical; it would be useful to study how it fared in the crisis that theater underwent upon the advent of film.
Crisis could even be an inherent aspect of the system of myth. This is seen in the myth par excellence of human creation, Pygmalion. In Ovid’s Metamorphoses, this sculptor witnesses, astonished, the softening of his statue until it adopts the flexible form of a woman. In Bernard Shaw’s play (Pygmalion, 1913), Professor Higgins does not manage to instruct the flower girl Eliza Doolittle without passing through the crisis of love. The different film versions (Pygmalion, 1938, dir. Anthony Asquith with Leslie Howard; the musical My Fair Lady, 1964, dir. George Cukor, and Simone, 2002, dir. Andrew Niccol) overemphasize the impossibility of this love. To a large extent, Ovid’s myth has been forgotten; the myth has been adapted to a contemporary conceptualization of love.
Another myth closely related to the Pygmalion myth is Frankenstein, the physician who manufactures men. It emerged in literature in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein; or, the Modern Prometheus (1818). In our time, it has undergone dozens of film adaptations, in many of which there is a protagonist who is made prisoner of his destiny: the monster cannot survive his creator (e.g., Frankenstein, 1994, dir. Kenneth Branagh).
Other, more contemporary myths, like cyborgs or androids, face similar paradoxes: their lack of viability makes them enter, sooner or later, into a crisis (e.g. Michael Jackson).
Ultimately, crises can affect a certain group of myths within a certain system of myths. The Germanics did not believe in the eternity of the world nor, in fact, in the immortality of their own gods. Like men, their gods were subject to an endless struggle against astute and envious enemies. The “twilight of the gods” thus assumes a catastrophe that Freyr, Thor, Loki, and Tyr do not escape. Others replace them. In this case, the crisis is not exactly literary; instead, the death and rebirth of the gods create literature, and so are fully literary devices. Nonetheless, this dynamics in Germanic myths brings with it a series of implications about its manifestations in today’s culture, so far-removed from the concept of eternity.
Beyond the issue of myths in crisis, there is another: the crisis of myth. This is particularly noteworthy in the 20th and 21st centuries, when myths no longer provide the primary motives for the plot, as in the classical period, nor their notional equivalents, as in Romanticism. A crowning example: corresponding to Claude Simon’s idea, the Nouveau Roman rejects the mythic dimension in order to destroy the foundations of the traditional novel. Myths, in theory, disappear. It is worth specifying, however, that the Nouveau Roman allows myth simultaneously to reappear as “hidden” and veiled through devices such as geometric forms or the conjunctions of opposites. For confirmation of this, we only have to think about the remaking of the Oedipus myth in Les Gommes by Alain Robbe-Grillet (1953), or of Theseus and the labyrinth in Crete in Michel Butor’s L’Emploi du temps (1956).
These are only some examples of the question concerning “myths in crisis, the crisis of myth.” Each proposal may broach the subject with complete intellectual and methodological freedom. All that is asked is that entries respect the chronological period (20th and 21st centuries), the discipline (literature, visual arts, and performance), and myth as the central theme of each paper.
Conference “Myth and Interdisciplinarity”
The International Conference Myth and Interdisciplinarity arises as a result of the works carried out by the Contemporary Myth Anthropology Research Project, the UCM-CAM Research Group ACIS: Research in Myth Criticism, by Amaltea. Journal of Myth Criticism and the cooperation of the Research Project Cosmogony and Eschatology in Eastern Mediterranean Religions: similarities, differences, processes (MEC – Consolíder Project). The Conference calls on the collaboration of different Faculties (Languages, Science Information, Fine Art, Translation and Interpretation) and on the support of researchers from 18 departments of the UCM. Another entity has also recently joined in Asteria. International Association of Myth Criticism.
The organizing committee of the Conference is aiming to bring together researchers who can provide – either through theoretical reflection, textual analysis or exhibition of artistic expressions – their methodological principles or practical approaches on the existence of ancient, medieval and modern myths in contemporary literature and arts. It will also raise the current problematic of myths transmitted through media and the new information technologies.
Throughout history, myths have been references of great importance in the artistic and cultural expressions of the people. They have evolved alongside intellectual, political and social changes. Indeed myths transform themselves as shown by the evolutionary models and the resurgences of mythical thinking in poetical, ideological and utopian form. As a result of this transformation, we can talk of ancient, medieval, including modern myths, dominant and recessive myths, oral and literary myths, explicit and implicit myths, as well as cultural variations of the periodicity and the actualization of the myths.
Researchers have observed that traditional myths are the irreplaceable trigger of many literary stories and artistic productions. During the 20th century these stories and productions have experienced major transformations compared to their preceding versions, as much from contact with other cultures (the phenomenon of decolonization) as from rewritings characteristic of social evolution. Today we can observe that these transformative phenomena will last: Perceval maintains his quest, not of the Grail but of a young woman (Lodge, Small World, 1984), and vampires are freed of their diabolical associations (Meyer, Twilight, 2007). In the plastic arts, statues of the Cyclops Polyphemus are being erected, but the children can walk safely through their entrails (Jean Tinguely & Saint Phalle, Le Cyclop, 1969-1994). In the realm of photography, sleeping beauties are being reproduced, but they are simulacra of sports celebrities (Sam Taylor- Wood, Beckham, The Sleeping Beauty, 2004). Cinema takes advantage of the historical shortcomings of biographies to increase, reduce or subvert the mythical character of the protagonists (S. Bondarchuk, Waterloo, 1970; O. Hirschbiegel, Downfall, 2004; Z. Snyder, 300, 2007; B. Singer, Valkyrie, 2008).
Up until now, especially during the 20th century, myth criticism in its various methodological currents had led to the identification of myths inside literary and artistic productions of each era or to the exhibition of the resistance of these mythical factors to tendencies of literary and artistic currents. The focus was eminently synchronic or diachronic, and generally limited to a unique method of literary or artistic expression. Myth criticism certainly illustrated the significance of myths based on their function in texts and works of art but did not examine in depth the reasons for the simultaneous use of different media. In our society myths are characterized, in their expression, by the use of a multitude of media each one of which has been traditionally studied from a single discipline. The main objective of this conference is to work out the motives of this versatility of the myth and its interdisciplinary use. The second objective of this conference is to analyze the consequence of the proliferation of new media. At present there does not yet exist in the context of Spanish research a methodical and definitive reflection that combines criteria concerning the interdisciplinary combination and presentation of myths in contemporary culture. What is required is a study that brings concrete steps and models to interpret this phenomenon. Its application will be of great help to students in understanding the manifestations of postmodernism and the culture of our current society.
Conference “Myth and Subversion in the Contemporary Novel”
The “International Conference on Myth and Subversion in the Contemporary Novel” is the result of the works carried out by the Amaltea Journal of Myth Criticism, the Contemporary Myth Anthropology Research Project and the UCM-CAM Research Group ACIS: Research in Myth Criticism. The Conference counts with the collaboration of Facultad de Filología, Ciencias de la Información, Bellas Artes and Traducción e Interpretación of Universidad Complutense de Madrid.
The organising committee aim is to bring together researchers who could contribute methodologies or practical approaches geared toward establishing interpreting criteria of the subversion of myth both in contemporary novels and in contemporary art in relation with the novel. Suitable approaches include theoretical considerations, textual analysis and analysis of artistic expressions.
Either implicitly or explicitly, myths have always played an important role in the novel. Myth criticism attempts to identify them and interpret their function and meaning within text structures. Besides, subversion is a frequent resource for writers across all genres, although the novel’s versatility may account for the fact that this resource seems to have been exploited more often in this genre than in any other.
When myth and subversion are combined in contemporary novels, the result is extraordinarily appealing to university researchers and students. Among other possible reasons for this combination we could mention the predominance of positivist thought over mythical thought, a modified understanding of transcendence or the search for new formal procedures that deviate from those characteristic of mythological discourse. To these scientific, anthropological and linguistic reasons we could then add the contemporary phenomenon of ephemeral mythical inflation: our societies are demonstrating an astounding capacity to create and destroy myths with incredible rapidity (film stars, sportspeople, luxury brands). The invasion of new myths inevitably entails their own subversion. Some paradigmatic examples of this type of subversion include The Penelopiad, by Margaret Atwood; Small World, by David Lodge and The Nonexistent Knight, by Italo Calvino. But beyond simply pointing out these transformations of ancient, medieval and modern myths, Conference delegates are asked to analyse the processes, function and meaning of the subversions, as well as to delve into the malleability of subverted myths and their capacity to regenerate contemporary literature. There is not yet a definite and unified methodology to study and describe the processes of subversion that myths undergo in contemporary culture. An extensive research is still needed to bring concrete solutions to these questions. In practical terms, a definite theoretical framework will be highly useful to understand and interpret a great amount of post-modern writing, as well as the culture of our contemporary society.
The Conference was markedly interdisciplinary, as participants included researchers in other art forms, especially painting, sculpture, drawing, film, music, opera and dance. Their contributions underlined the contemporary novels protean and multiform nature, which is entirely open to all kind of artistic subversion of the myth.
I Seminario Internacional “Narrativas del paisaje (Leer y escribir los espacios)” (Badajoz, Universidad de Extremadura, 1-2/06/17).
- XIX Coloquio de la Asociación de Francesistas de la Universidad Española (Madrid, U. Complutense, 21-23 de abril de 2010).
- Métamorphoses du roman français (Madrid, U. Complutense, 21-23 de abril de 2008).