An attitude to theoryI’m a lot less suspicious of theoretical approaches than I used to be. There was a time when I shared what remains outside academic circles (and quite often inside) a common suspicion of theory, ready to write it off as pretentious rubbish. I now recognize that theory can be a useful tool. It doesn’t necessarily lead me to say things that I otherwise wouldn’t say, but it does help me to say them more effectively.
Reception theory in Classics and elsewhereNick Lowe has on a number of recent occasions (most notably at a one-day seminar on Teaching Reception Studies in the Institute for Classical Studies in November 2007) said that Classicists don’t use ‘reception’ in the same way as other academic fields. I felt I ought to check this out, and I did, focussing on film studies, solely because, since I am about embark on a film history course, I have quite a few theoretical works lying about (I consulted in particular Maltby, pp. 549-53, and King). I did also look up ‘reception theory’ in The Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms, pp. 282-3.
Martindale’s theory of receptionAs I said earlier, Charles Martindale set the terms for reception theory about a decade before reception became all the rage in Classical Studies. And though most people don’t do reception in the way Martindale recommends, there isn’t really a counter-theory other there (I’m channelling Nick Lowe again here). I therefore need to engage with Martindale’s works. This is not easy. I have read most of the Martindale pieces listed in ‘Works cited’ below (with the exception of the Arion article); a number of them I have read repeatedly. And I’m still not sure if I understand the argument fully.
The traditional approach to study of Classical texts aims to approach the text in its original context, and establish its meaning. This cannot be done. It is impossible to read any ancient text devoid of the cultural associations built up around it since it was created, no matter how hard we try. The traditional approach is excessively positivist. We should reject this, and instead of ignoring later receptions of the texts in which we are interested, use them to formulate new approaches to the texts.
Introspection in receptionOne thing I have noticed of late is a tendency for reception studies to get quite reflexive. Lorna Hardwick rightly identifies redirecting our attention back on the original source as a key element of reception studies (Reception Studies, p. 4). I agree that a reading of a receiving text can certainly bring new insights to the originary text, though one must be careful not to give way to anachronism. When one says, e.g., that T.S. Eliot reconfigures Virgil, one must be clear what that means. We must always remember that, whilst Eliot read Virgil, Virgil never read Eliot.
An élitist approach?Another problem, particularly with the sort of reception I do, is that it can fall foul of an élitist agenda. It’s very easy to dismiss study of popular culture as not really being serious scholarship, and from there it’s a short step to tarring all or reception studies with the same brush. One reaction to this is to concentrate upon ‘high culture’ receptions. In the introduction to Classics and the Uses of Reception (p. 11), Martindale writes:
My kind of receptionThis is the point where I get solipsistic. But there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with the personal voice where appropriate. So, where do I see my own research fitting within this theoretical framework? I addressed this in a paper given at the Classical Association Conference in
The sort of reception works I am interested in are those that are as useful for those concerned with the receiving text as with the received. I point to works like Maria Wyke’s Projecting the Past, or Gideon Nisbet’s Ancient Greece in Film and Popular Culture (I focus on popular culture only because that’s what I know—similar pieces on opera, or painting, or whatever, can be found in the Blackwell Companion, or even in the Martindale/Thomas collection). Significantly, both authors have backgrounds that take them outside a pure classics approach—Wyke has an M.A. in Film and Television Studies as well as her Classics Ph.D., and Nisbet is a long-standing comics and sf fan who I first met at an Eastercon (British National SF Convention). I haven’t read Edith Hall’s The Return of Ulysses fully yet, but from what I’ve skimmed it looks to be another example of the sort of treatment I like; it’s worth noting that the publisher has a long background in cultural studies, and is not a traditional Classical studies publisher. The sort of conferences I enjoy are the likes of Classics Hell: Re-Presenting Antiquity in Mass Cultural Media, which took place in Reading in April 2007 (the proceedings will soon be published), or the schools conference in Oxford last November, with many of the same speakers, and at which I was invited to speak.
Works citedBaldick, Chris (2008) The Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms, 3rd edn.,
Beard, Mary, and
Goldhill, Simon (2004) Love, Sex & Tragedy: How the Ancient World Shapes our Lives,
Hall, Edith (2008) The Return of Ulysses: A Cultural History of Homer’s Odyssey,
Hall, Edith (2008) ‘Putting the class into Classical reception’, in Hardwick, Lorna, and Stray, Christopher (eds.), A Companion to Classical Receptions (Blackwell Companions to the Ancient World), Oxford, Blackwell Publishing, pp. 386-97. [Online] Available from http://www.rhul.ac.uk/Research/CRGR/files/Classics_and_Class.pdf (Accessed 12 January 2009).
Hallett, Judith P., and Van Nortwick, Thomas (eds.) (1997) Compromising Traditions: The Personal Voice in Classical Scholarship,
Hardwick, Lorna (2003) Reception Studies (
Hardwick, Lorna (2004) Translating Worlds, Translating Cultures,
Hardwick, Lorna, and Stray, Christopher (eds.) (2008) A Companion to Classical Receptions (Blackwell Companions to the Ancient World),
Hardwick, Lorna, and Stray, Christopher (2008) ‘Introduction: making connections’, in Hardwick, Lorna, and Stray, Christopher (eds.), A Companion to Classical Receptions (Blackwell Companions to the Ancient World), Oxford, Blackwell Publishing, pp. 1-9.
Henderson, John (2008), review of Lorna Hardwick, Christopher Stray (ed.), A Companion to Classical Receptions, Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2008.08.38 [Online]. Available from http://ccat.sas.upenn.edu/bmcr/2008/2008-08-38.html (Accessed 6 January 2009).
James, Paula (2007) ‘Delapsa per Auras or Bat out of Hell?—comparing and contrasting Glorificus (Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season Five) with gods of the Greco-Roman pantheon’,
Jauss, Hans Robert (1970) ‘Literary history as a challenge to literary theory’, New Literary History 2.1, pp. 7-37 (translated by Elizabeth Benzinger).
Keen, Antony G. (2007) ‘A Flash of Quicksilver: mythology and anti-Nazism in Jack Kirby’s Mercury’,
King, Noel (1998) ‘Hermeneutics, reception aesthetics, and film interpretation’, in Hill, John, and Gibson, Pamela Church (eds.), The Oxford Guide to Film Studies,
Lowe, Nick (2007) ‘What Classicists do when they do reception’, Teaching Reception Studies,
Maltby, Richard (2003) Hollywood Cinema: An Introduction, 2nd edn.,
Martindale, Charles Anthony (1992) ‘Redeeming the text: the validity of comparisons of Classical and post-Classical literature. A view from
Martindale, Charles Anthony (1993) Redeeming the Text: Latin Poetry and the Hermeneutics of Reception,
Martindale, Charles Anthony (2003) ‘Reception’, in Hornblower, Simon, and Spawforth, Anthony (eds.), The Oxford Classical Dictionary, 3rd edn.,
Martindale, Charles Anthony (2005) ‘Reception and the Classics of the future’, Council of University Classics Departments Bulletin 34 [Online]. Available from http://www.rhul.ac.uk/classics/cucd/martindale05.html (Accessed 11 January 2009).
Martindale, Charles Anthony (2006) ‘Introduction: thinking through reception’, in Martindale, Charles Anthony, and Thomas, Richard F. (eds.) (2006) Classics and the uses of reception,
Martindale, Charles Anthony (2006) ‘Reception’, in Kallendorf, Craig W. (ed.) A Companion to the Classical Tradition (Blackwell Companions to the Ancient World), Oxford, Blackwell Publishing, pp. 297-311.
Martindale, Charles Anthony, and Thomas, Richard F. (eds.) (2006) Classics and the uses of reception,
McElduff, Siobhán (2006) ‘Fractured understandings: towards a history of Classical reception among non-elite groups’, in Martindale, Charles Anthony, and Thomas, Richard F. (eds.) (2006) Classics and the uses of reception, Oxford, Blackwell Publishing, pp. 180-91.
Murnaghan, Sheila (2007), review of Charles Martindale, Richard F. Thomas, Classics and the Uses of Reception, Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2007.07.19 [Online]. Available from http://ccat.sas.upenn.edu/bmcr/2007/2007-07-19.html (Accessed 6 January 2009).
Nisbet, Gideon (2005) ‘
Nisbet, Gideon (2008) Ancient
Paul, Joanna (2007) ‘
Paul, Joanna (2008) ‘Working with film: theories and methodologies’, in Hardwick, Lorna, and Stray, Christopher (eds.), A Companion to Classical Receptions, Blackwell Companions to the Ancient World, Oxford, Blackwell Publishing, pp. 303-14.
Rowe, Christopher (2005) ‘Reply to Charles Martindale’, Council of University Classics Departments Bulletin 34 [Online]. Available from http://www.rhul.ac.uk/classics/cucd/rowe05.html (Accessed 11 January 2009).
Wiseman, Peter, Bulley, Michael, and Miller, David (2006) ‘
Wyke, Maria (1997) Projecting the Past: Ancient