Absolutely Ancient, Absolutely Modern

Absolutely Ancient, Absolutely Modern: the Modernist Fascination with Minor, Marginalized or Forgotten Ancient Cultures

Martina Piperno (Durham University), Chiara Zampieri (KU Leuven)

It is all too well known that many modernist writers and artists had an outspoken fascination for cultures that are particularly remote in time, space and mentality from the core elements of modernism, but that precisely this outspoken fascination has played a major role in the articulation of many a modernist aesthetic project. In this regard, the modernist investment in so-called “primitive” art, as well as the modernist interpretation of ancient Egyptian or Greco-Roman mythology, or the Bible, have been extensively studied. Much less attention has been paid, though, to modernist authors’ interest in less well-known and minor ancient cultures, which were often marginalized, assimilated or outright destroyed by dominant political and cultural powers, and whose archaeological records have often left few or no written sources, i. e.  the Etruscans, the Phoenicians, the Assyrians, the Gauls, etc.

The panel aims to address the specific ways in which references to similar minor ancient, marginalized or vanished cultures are deployed in modernist aesthetic projects and reinterpreted in sometimes highly creative ways. Evidently, in many cases the processing of a colonial past or resistance to imperial forces are absolutely central to this kind of modernist rewriting of less well-known ancient cultures (also within the European context, for that matter). This panel focuses in particular on the ways in which the ancient of “lost” cultures is engaged in a distinct orientation toward the modern, c.q. alternative aesthetic projects of modernity. We welcome contributions with potential focus on (but not necessarily limited to): the reception of the remote past in modernist art and writing; modernism and the (making of) museums and heritage of ancient and lost cultures; intermedial experiments and performance; the reinvention of urban and suburban space; the ancient Mediterranean as a space of imagination in Modernism.

Interested scholars are invited to send their proposal, including a short bio and 300-word abstract, to modernism@ugent.be by 15 February 2023. The proposal must include the title of both the individual paper and the panel session.