Classical Reception Studies: Reconceptualizing the Study of the Classical Tradition

By Maarten De Pourcq.

Published by The Humanities Collection

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The heritage of Greco-Roman antiquity is still deemed among the most powerful transcultural and transhistorical archives of the contemporary world. The various meanings which this ancient material has taken on in later contexts, both ancient and modern, is central to a research field that is nowadays called ‘classical reception studies’.

My paper examines the genealogy of this name by focussing on its different components: ‘classical’, ‘reception’ and ‘studies’. I will argue that they are all attempts to revise the agenda of its ancestor named ‘the classical tradition’. The latter mainly tried to reassert the enduring value of antiquity throughout Western history. Ever since the 1960s, the term ‘reception’ has become an important shorthand for the resistance within literary studies against such affirmative notions of tradition. Literary works are no longer seen to have an immanent value, but are time and again ‘received’ and ‘(re)appropriated’ by new cultural communities. That is why the name ‘classical receptions’ was coined at the end of the 1990s, even though it was rashly criticized for overemphasizing the act of receiving and neglecting the appeal or lure of the ancient repertoire.

This paper will argue that we can also look upon the term reception as a ‘travelling concept’ (Mieke Bal), a name that primordially seeks to institutionalize a new pedagogical community within and beyond classical studies. Its aim is to reorganize and refresh the study of ‘the classical tradition’ by adopting new methodological values that will also realign classical studies with the contemporary humanities. This perspective enables us to work towards a reappraisal of the notion of ‘classical tradition’, as the latter may come to epitomize the way in which certain cultural communities understand their indebtedness to the classical past.

Keywords: Classics, The Classical, Reception, Theory, Cultural Studies

International Journal of the Humanities, Volume 9, Issue 4, pp.219-226. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 747.614KB).

Dr. Maarten De Pourcq

Postdoctoral Researcher N.W.O., Greek and Latin Language and Culture, Institute of Literary, Cultural and Historical Studies, Faculty of Arts, Radboud Universiteit Nijmegen - Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research, Nijmegen, Netherlands

After completing his dissertation entitled ‘Roland Barthes and the Greek Desire: Tragedy, Philosophy, Writing” (University of Leuven, Belgium, 2008) De Pourcq joined the departments of Classics and Cultural Studies at the Radboud University Nijmegen, where he became a postdoctoral researcher for the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (N.W.O.). His research explores the various receptions of the ancient Greek and Roman past in mainly twentieth-century and contemporary theory, theatre, film and literature.


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