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CFP: Ancient Nonsense. Did the Greeks have their own ‘Jabberwockies’?

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University of Exeter, 22-24 July 2014

Can the category of ‘nonsense’, either in its logical, literary or linguistic usage, be found in, or applied to, the ancient world?

What types of ancient cultural phenomena do we classify as ‘nonsense’ and with what extent of pertinence?

These are the key questions addressed by the Ancient Nonsense conference, which gathers several scholars from different fields of expertise (ancient philosophy, linguistics, literary studies) in order to encourage an interdisciplinary debate.

Although it seems natural that certain utterances partake in a linguistic entity called ‘sense’ and others do not, this assumption is fairly recent. Ancient Greek had no exact equivalents for sense and nonsense, and the word ‘nonsense’ is of comparatively recent coinage. But ancient languages had words for illogical arguments, silly talk and the incoherent babble of the mentally ill, often translated with ‘nonsense’. Such Greek words might not be exactly equivalent to ‘nonsense’, but at least indicate awareness of the distinction between language and its meaning.

Whether referring to some expressions in Aristophanes’ comedies, some Aristotelian passages about logic or rhetoric, or some peculiar phenomena, like the so called ‘nonsense’ inscriptions on Greek vase painting, the label ‘nonsense’ has often been adopted by scholars without reflecting on the implications of this term, especially on account of its value in modern literary criticism and philosophy.

Hence, the conference aims at investigating the features of ‘nonsense’ in the ancient thought from both a phenomenological and a theoretical perspective.

The confirmed speakers are: Sara Chiarini (University of Exeter), Steven Colvin (University College London), Paolo Fait (University of Padova, Oxford University), Pieter Sjoerd Hasper (University of Indiana), Stephen Kidd (Brown University), Colin King (Humboldt University, Berlin), Rebecca Lämmle (University of Basel), Ralph Rosen (University of Pennsylvania), Ian Ruffell (University of Glasgow) and John Wilkins (University of Exeter).

There is still some space available for a couple of additional papers in the conference schedule, therefore proposals for 30-minute papers are welcome. Please send your title and a 300-word abstract to S.Chiarini@exeter.ac.uk by Friday, 14 March 2014. The publication of the conference proceedings is already planned.