Benjamin Eldon Stevens : Classics and Fantasy/Science fiction

Benjamin Eldon Steven est Visiting Assistant Professor (Classical Studies) à l’Université de Dublin. Pour en savoir plus, consultez sa page académique.

Classical Reception Studies include many topics: what would be your definition of them and can you precise the field of your researches?

To me, the field encompasses any study of how materials later than classical antiquity, or outside the ancient Mediterranean, make use of materials from ancient Greece and Rome. Although it’s difficult to set a sharp start date in those terms, impressionistically I’d say that ‘classical receptions’ in European cultures begin in Late Antiquity, i.e., late enough for members of those cultures to distinguish ‘classical antiquity’ from their own places and times. Similarly, I’d say that ‘classical receptions’ are to be found contemporaneously in other cultures that co-existed with ancient Greece and Rome. Timing aside, I’d say it’s very important that ‘receptions’ are different from the concept of ‘the classical tradition,’ acknowledging plurality and diversity in the transmission and transmutation of ideas about antiquity.

My own research in the field has centered on two main areas. First, science fiction and fantasy, for which I’ve published several co-edited volumes (Classical Traditions in Science Fiction, OUP 2015; and in Modern Fantasy, OUP 2017; and forthcoming Frankenstein and Its Classics, Bloomsbury 2018). I’m also spearheading the creation of a database of classical allusions in science fiction and fantasy, which will be open-source and available for consultation soon. My second main area is in contemporary (post-WWII) literature and film (e.g., essays on novels by Jesmyn Ward and Helen Oyeyemi, and a recent article on the film Call Me by Your Name). Stretching over both areas, I have a special interest in receptions of ancient images of underworlds and other afterlives, and so have written about, e.g., how authors like J. R. R. Tolkien and A. S. Byatt incorporate material from Virgil’s Aeneid book 6.

Why studying Classical Reception Studies nowadays is important for you ?

Building on the distinction between ‘receptions’ and ‘the tradition,’ to me the field matters enormously for its potential to help point to the very high value of diversity, divergent thinking, difference, and representation in receptions of antiquity. The old concept of ‘the classical tradition’ implies, or even states outright, that ownership of antiquity is limited to those who have been taken as representing a main line of unbroken transmission from the ancient world to any given present moment: since those have historically been, e.g., men of upper classes, this has meant a history of privilege and exclusion. By contrast, the study of ‘receptions,’ emphatically plural, acknowledges that transmission is always transmutation, and so opens up as well the possibility of transformation, even of revolution. So to me, the field is important as a way of emphasizing how different are different people’s interpretations of antiquity, and how powerful and affirming those differences can be.

What are the fundamental/influential books you’ve read and made you interested in Classical Reception Studies? (or perhaps inspirational Professor/colleagues)

Like many of us, I imagine, I’ve benefited from theory work by Lorna Hardwick and Charles Martindale in general. Particularly to receptions in popular culture, especially science fiction, fantasy, and related forms like comics, I’ve found very valuable work by Tony Keen and Toph Marshall. On those bases, Brett M. Rogers and I have attempted to lay theory foundations for studying receptions in science fiction and fantasy, and along with Jesse Weiner we’ve attempted similar work for the study of classics in Frankenstein and its traditions in particular. I’m very happy to say that we’ve had the privilege of publishing, in our edited volumes, work that has inspired me and that I often provide as models for students: to name just a couple examples, Jesse’s chapter on Lucretius and Lucan in Frankenstein, and Gregory Bucher’s chapter on the film Forbidden Planet, are models of clear argumentation and judicious interpretation; while Rebecca Raphael’s chapter on Blade Runner, and Sasha-Mae Eccleston’s chapter on Anne Carson’s Plainwater, are a concrete example of how classical receptions studies can, and really should, speak to questions of difference and representation in the materials and in their receptions. It goes without saying that I’ve been inspired by my colleagues Brett and Jesse, especially, as we’ve led panels, hosted annual roundtables, organized international conferences, and produced those edited volumes. The conferences especially are always inspiring, as the range of materials is both daunting and inviting.

What are your current projects (book, seminar, conference, non specialist lectures etc.)?

In the pipeline right now are edited volumes on Frankenstein and Its Classics, forthcoming from Bloomsbury this August 2018 (my own chapter examines Mary Shelley’s use of Apuleius’ story of ‘Cupid and Psyche’); and on the theme of ‘displacement’ in SF&F receptions of Classics (also Bloomsbury, probably December 2017; my chapter examines receptions in Helen Oyeyemi’s novels). I’ve recently published what I believe is the first article on receptions in the film Call Me by Your Name. Coming up are talks, which will lead to papers, on Jo Walton’s ‘Thessaly’ trilogy, Willa Cather, and possibly Patricia Highsmith.

How do you connect your researches with your teaching?

My research and teaching in the field are closely connected. I regularly teach courses on ‘Classical Traditions in Science Fiction’ and ‘Afterlives of Antiquity’, and this semester I’m leading a seminar on ‘Antiquity & Diversity in Contemporary American Literature and Film.’ I run a weekly film series at Trinity focused on classical receptions, always keyed at least partly to a course: this semester it’s keyed to Antiquity & Diversity, while previous schedules have echoed first-year humanities seminars, Roman History, science fiction, and Classical Myth. This is a way in which studying receptions has the fun and immediate benefit of interesting other people, including students who might not otherwise have thought that they were interested in Classics.

Thanks a lot for your answers Ben!

Catherine Psilakis, "Benjamin Eldon Stevens : Classics and Fantasy/Science fiction," in Réception, 22/01/2019, https://reception.hypotheses.org/31.


Cette entrée a été publiée dans Interviews le par .

À propos Catherine Psilakis

Agrégée de lettres classiques, docteure en langue et littérature grecques en poste à l'université Lyon, enseigne la Culture et Communication en DUT. Associée au Centre Jean Pépin (http://umr8230.vjf.cnrs.fr/spip.php?article195), poursuit ses recherches sur les anciens législateurs (projet du GIS Humanités) et leur réception contemporaine.

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