Anachronism and Antiquity: Trinity Term 2019 seminar series

View of Oxford's High Street in 1810 by Turner
View of the High Street, Oxford, JMW Turner, 1810. Ashmolean Museum, Oxford WA2016.48.

Convenors: Dr Carol Atack, Dr Mathura Umachandran.
Venue: First Floor Seminar Room, Ioannou Centre, 66 St Giles’.
Time: Mondays,  14.00–15.30.

Week 1 (April 29)

Tim Rood, University of Oxford: ‘Anachronism and Antiquity’
Carol Atack, University of Oxford: ‘Writing Plato’s Republic in the twenty-first century: Jo Walton’s The Just Cityand Rebecca Newberger Goldstein’s Plato at the Googleplex’.

Week 2 (May 6)      

NO SEMINAR (faculty meeting)

Week 3 (May 13)

Miriam Leonard, UCL: ‘Time and Revolution’.

Week 4 (May 20)

Tom Phillips, University of Manchester:  ‘Shelley’s Antiquities’.

Week 5 (May 27)

Mathura Umachandran, University of Oxford: ‘Theorising Anachronism with Theodor Adorno and Erich Auerbach: “Late Style” and “Figura”’.

Week 6 (June 3)

NO SEMINAR (Faculty meeting)

Week 7 (June 10)

Catherine Darbo, CNRS Paris/Maison Française d’Oxford: ‘Anachronism in Ancient History of Greek medicine. Galen’s claim to be Hippocrates’ and Plato’s direct disciple’.

Week 8 (June 17)

John Marincola, Florida State University:
‘Polybian Temporalities’

Down with anachronism: March 29, 2019

The good news: Team Anachronism aka RAP aka Tim Rood, Carol Atack, Tom Phillips (with much help from fellow member MU aka Mathura Umachandran) has today submitted a full draft of Anachronism and Antiquity to Bloomsbury Academic: on time in our internal chronology (mental deadline: March 2019); four weeks late had we read the small print in our contract. Call it timely or untimely, the book will be published next year.

One indication of the topic’s timeliness might be thought to lie in two uses of the word ‘anachronism’ in the New York Review of Books in the month in which our project began. The Irish novelist John Banville wrote that the character of Raymond Chandler’s Los Angeles-based private detective Philip Marlowe ‘appears to us now an anachronism’, owing to his ‘unflagging decency’ as well as ‘the insouciance with which he shows off his chauvinism, his racism, his contempt for “fairies”, and of course his misogyny’. In branding Marlowe an ‘anachronism’ for displaying what are in fact generally seen as the dominant masculine attitudes of the time of his creation, Banville uses the word in a way which (though not uncommon) extends conventional dictionary definitions of the word. The language of anachronism is most commonly applied to people who cling to attitudes and practices that have gone out of fashion, or to those attitudes and practices themselves. Applied to works of fiction, it is still generally used with a historicizing sensitivity, in relation to the period described within the fiction. Since John Banville wrote that review, however, revelations of the mores of contemporary Hollywood have raised the question of just how much of an anachronism Marlowe is.

Humphrey Bogart (as Philip Marlowe) and Lauren Bacall (as Vivian Sternwood Rutledge) in The Big Sleep, 1946.
Humphrey Bogart (as Philip Marlowe) and Lauren Bacall (as Vivian Sternwood Rutledge) in The Big Sleep, 1946.

In whatever domain it is applied, ‘anachronism’ implies a judgement on the direction of history. The politics of anachronism are laid bare with particular clarity when, in the same issue of the NYRB, the historian Keith Thomas observes that subscribers to the ‘resurgent nationalism’ that lay behind the Brexit vote ‘seemed not to appreciate that the idea of an absolutely sovereign nation-state is an anachronism’. Subscribers to that nationalism have clung to their delusion with such insistence that Keith Thomas’ judgement on the course of history itself might seem anachronistic (witness the cover pages of today’s UK tabloids). And in the meantime the period of our project has seen an upsurge of the sort of appeal to ancient exemplarity that some philosophers of history regard as an anachronism in the age of historicism: Thucydides is drawn on for insights as Britain sets out on its Sicilian Expedition, as the chances of staging another vote à la Mytilene Debate are discussed, and as patriots are called traitors.

There is a wood-panelled pub near Anachronism Headquarters which prides itself on a rather old-fashioned ambience: it is not unknown for customers to be told the price of their pint in guineas and shillings. It has a small but pleasant and leafy outdoor area at the back, a pleasant place to meet for a drink (especially on balmy days such as today). Two or three days before 23 June 2016, I met a MSt student there to celebrate his result. Someone at the bar asked the landlord how he was going to vote in the coming referendum. “OUT” was the loud reply.

50 'Brexit' coin
Proposed 50p coin to mark 29 March 2019.

I will not be going to this pub to celebrate the submission of the book manuscript (the term ‘manuscript’ thankfully being an anachronistic survival); indeed I have not set foot in the pub since that day. The features that seemed quaint now seem grotesque, smacking of the worst sort of nostalgia. So on this of all days ‒ b******s to Brexit, down with anachronism, long live Anachronism and Antiquity.

References

  • Banville, ‘Philip Marlowe’s revolution’, New York Review of Books, 27 October 2016, 38-9 at 39.
  • K. Thomas, ‘Will they really leave, and how?’, New York Review of Books, 27 October 2016, 40-1 at 41.
  • 50p Brexit coin from the Royal Mint‘, Numismag, 30 October 2018.
  • Royal Mint Brexit coin page.

Project news – Dr Mathura Umachandran

We start the new academic year with an addition to the Anachronism and Antiquity team. We’re very pleased to welcome Dr Mathura Umachandran as a postdoctoral research associate. We also send congratulations to our colleague Dr Tom Phillips, who has joined the Department of Classics and Ancient History at the University of Manchester as a lecturer in Classics.

Mathura Umachandran received her PhD from the Department of Classics at Princeton University in March 2018. Her dissertation, ‘Antiquity in Dark Times: Classical Reception in the Thought of Theodor Adorno and Erich Auerbach’, explored how both men developed positions and methods in articulating their alienation from the particular forms of philhellenism that had anchored German philology and philosophy. As a postdoctoral researcher for ‘Anachronism and Antiquity’, Mathura will continue to develop her interests in this particularly urgent moment of classical reception in the history of German thought. She will also contribute to the project’s activities for 2018-19, its final year, including a seminar series to be held in Oxford during Trinity Term 2019.

Dr Mathura Umachandran

Mathura will investigate how Auerbach’s re-tooling of the concept Weltliteratur (World literature), as it was derived in the German Romantic tradition, is a complex attempt to develop a hermeneutic model for literature that was committed to historical difference without rendering Greek antiquity an aesthetic example. She will also continue her research on Adorno this year, laying the foundations for a monograph on the reception of antiquity in the thought of the first generation of the Frankfurt School. She will investigate whether Adorno’s most radical conceptual intervention into the philosophy of history, ‘negative dialectics’, can properly describe the place of antiquity in his thought, from which it would be possible to generate a new theoretical model of classical reception.

Mathura’s other academic interests include thinking about race at the interstices of the antiquity and the academy, classical reception in contemporary art, poetry and political discourse, and issues around social justice in education at all levels and venues.

 

Job opportunity: postdoctoral research assistant

UPDATE: the deadline for applications for this post was August 6th, 2018.

Come and work with us! One of our postdoctoral research assistants is leaving the project to take up a permanent academic post, and so we have an opportunity for another postdoctoral scholar to join us for the final part of our project.

Research Assistant (Anachronism and Antiquity)

  • Faculty of Classics, Ioannou Centre for Classical and Byzantine Studies, 66 St Giles’, Oxford
  • Grade 7: £31,604 – £38,833 pro rata per annum

The Faculty of Classics invites applications for a temporary Research Assistant to join an existing research team led by Professor Tim Rood on the Leverhulme-funded project Anachronism and Antiquity. The position is for 13 months (1 September 2018-30 September 2019).

Reporting to the Principal Investigator, Professor Rood, the appointee will research and write two articles for submission to peer-reviewed journals on topics relating to anachronism. Additional duties are detailed in the further particulars.

The successful candidate will have a relevant first degree and a doctorate, or equivalent research experience, in a relevant discipline; degree-level knowledge of Ancient Greek and Latin and good knowledge of relevant modern languages; the ability to manage their own research and administrative activities; and the ability to work well in a team and collaborate with co-editors and colleagues.

The closing date for applications was 12.00 noon on Monday 6th August 2018.