‘Re-/Un-working Tragedy: Perspectives from the Global South’: Ekin Bodur on her upcoming Re- Network conference

A CRASSH conference at the University of Cambridge, December 6th and 7th, 2019. For the full programme, and to register, go to: http://www.crassh.cam.ac.uk/events/28574

“How do people in various zones of crisis embrace, interpret and adapt canonical tragedies to make sense of their suffering and express their resistance?”

This question was first formed few years ago in the crucible of Middle Eastern politics in Turkey. I was thinking heavily about Sophocles’ Antigone when bodies were denied burial during “the state of emergency” in 2015.

Taybet Inan, mother of 11, aged 57 was shot by the Turkish military when returning home from a visit to her neighbours and her body laid in the street for seven days because the military would not let anyone come close. Her children watched the body as it became prey to birds and dogs and tried to keep them away by throwing stones. Aziz Guler, a Turkish youth who joined the Kurdish resistance against ISIS in Syria and lost his life there was refused repatriation and his body had to wait for 59 days in the Turkish-Syrian border zone. These images reminded me of Sophocles’ Antigone. Reading Turkish politics though a Greek tragedy felt powerful. It meant aligning oneself with a 2500-year-old resistance which originated more or less around the same geography. It meant seeking a coherent narrative and legitimation in a canonical tradition. Being so removed in time, it also helped defamiliarize the immediacy of the heat of current politics. In my quest to make sense of the “tragedy” we were all thrown in, obviously, I was not alone. This conference is therefore an effort to understand how people make sense of their suffering and express their resistance in moments and zones of crisis by engaging with canonical ‘tragedies’. Antigone is one of our examples. We aim to explore canonical traditions of tragedy from the perspective of the Global South and in the process, raise questions about the problems of both these categories.

In addressing the Global South, we do not refer to the concept as a geographical designation, but rather as a critical concept in reference to the peoples and zones experiencing most acutely the negative impact of global capitalism in the long term. This, of course, brings with it a sense of deterritorialization, as there are Global Souths in the North and vice versa. To give an example, the immediate refugee presence in Europe is one instance when spatial differences collapse. Or thinking about Irish adaptations of ancient Greek tragedies from a postcolonial perspective makes locating Global South in the geographical south problematic.

…we can see the work of canonical tragedy as that which opens itself to re-invention and becomes self-consciously meaningful in the moment of its re-presentation.

Taking our cue from some of the Re- Network’s recent discussions, we want to think again about exactly what we are doing when we engage with canonical texts. We often employ the prefix ‘Re-’, as in ‘re-working’, ‘re-writing’, ‘re-thinking’, ‘re-imagining’, ‘re-appropriating’, or ‘re-presenting’ as if situating the modern work in a historical line, or dialectical movement, of repetitions. The creation of the new cannot but come with reference to the prior. But how does recognisable repetition operate as a unique kind of site for invention, and for speech? Besides, how might we rethink the tragic canon as a destabilizing gesture – an un-working, rather than re-working, when exploring perspectives from the Global South? In reference to ‘unworking’, or désoevrement as a concept that interrupts, suspends, and counteracts the work in the moment of its unfolding, the conference will look for ways to put the authoritative position of the ‘original work’ at stake. Unworking this notion of ‘the original’ reveals the work of tragedy to be that which opens itself to reinvention and becomes self-consciously meaningful in the moment of its re-presentation.

A series of roundtable discussions, panels, conversations with artists and workshops over two days at CRASSH will bring together theatre practitioners, artists and authors who adapt classical or canonical tragedies with academics from various backgrounds and disciplines. This might result in some ‘uncomfortable conversations’, but this is exactly what this conference is for: to make vulnerable established positions, get out of comfort zones, and decolonize the tragedy curriculum.

Conference speakers and artists include Professor Freddie Rokem (Tel Aviv/Chicago University) Omar Abusaada (Syrian playwright and theatre director) Mohammad al Attar (Syrian dramaturge and playwright), Andrés Henao Castro (University of Massachusetts, Boston),  Katherine Fleming (English and Drama, Queen Mary University of London), Kristina Hagström-Ståhl (Performative Arts, University of Gothenburg), Barbara Goff (Classics, University of Reading) Sola Adeyemi (Theatre and Performance, Goldsmiths University of London), Ramona Mosse (Freie Universitat, Berlin), Miriam Leonard (Classics, University College London), Tina Chanter (Philosophy, Newcastle University) theatremakers Mark Maughan & Tim Cowbury (The Claim, Shoreditch Town Hall and world tour), Sami Everett (Religious Diversity and the University, CRASSH), Astrid Van Weyenberg (Film and Literary Studies, Leiden University), Anna Frieda Kuhn (Comparative Literature, University of Würzburg), Eylem Ejder (Theatre Studies, Ankara University),  Jane Montgomery Griffiths (Theatre and Performance, Monash University), Rosa Andujar (Liberal Arts and Classics, King’s College London), Zoe Svendsen (English, Cambridge University, Theatre Director), Simon Goldhill (Classics, Cambridge University), Jennifer Wallace (English, Cambridge University), Chana Morgenstern (English, Cambridge University), Murat Daltaban and Ozlem Daltaban (Meet Me at Dawn, a version of Orpheus and Eurydice by Zinnie Harris, 2019, Arcola Theatre, London), and Ankhi Mukherjee (Professor of English and World Literatures, Wadham College, Oxford).

Convened by Ekin Bodur, with Clare L. E. Foster and the Re- Network; sponsored by CRASSH and the Judith E Wilson Fund, Faculty of English, Cambridge.


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