At-Large Panel, Society for Classical Studies: Response and Responsibility in a Postclassical World

  • January 7-9, 2016
  • Society for Classical Studies 147th Annual Meeting, San Francisco, Ca.

What does it mean to respond to Greco-Roman antiquity? What forms of responsibility does a responsive relationship to the past entail? Are orientations of responsibility towards the otherness and difference of the past necessarily in tension with orientations of responsibility towards the “now” of the present, or do they inform one another in productive ways, and how? What does it mean to be responsible to long-dead cultures or one’s own time? Or is response as responsibility better understood in terms of responsibility to specific others, or to oneself?

The term “reception” is often criticized for casting relationality to the past as inherently passive. It is possible that “response” simply inverts the hierarchy in reallocating agency to the reader (as in an overly reductive notion of “reader response” theory). We propose to use the term “response” to probe the implications of reframing reception as a particular kind of embedded act, and one in which we are ourselves implicated. Even if we suspend the idea that antiquity speaks back to those who follow, response still implies a mode of attention formed by the belief that one is being addressed, such that the question of what the Other wants from me is never far away (and of course may be front and center). Framed in this way, response raises questions both about the claims the past makes on us and other claims that the call of the past heightens or diminishes. These claims can also be understood as invitations to reimagine the future, insofar as responsibility to oneself or another is also an open-ended call to grow into and through a new or renewed relation. Here again we can ask what is at stake in framing responsibility in terms of obligation or invitation, and whether these terms exist in tension. Finally, it is worth probing how the concepts of responsibility and response are inflected differently within different disciplinary traditions, including philosophy, political theory, literary studies, anthropology, religion, and history, in addition to classics.


Introduction (10 mins.)
Constanze Güthenke, University of Oxford

1. James I Porter, University of California, Berkley
“Towards an Irresponsible Classics” (20 mins.)

2. Phiroze Vasunia, University College London
“Socrates, Gandhi, Derrida” (20 mins.)

3. Brooke Holmes, Princeton University
“Situated Knowledges and the Dynamics of the Field” (20 mins.)

Alastair Blanshard, University of Queensland (15 mins.)

General Discussion (45 mins.)

Organized by James I Porter (Berkeley) and Constanze Güthenke (Oxford)