At the end of September, I was fortunate to be invited as a keynote speaker to EUROFAN conference in Salzburg, Austria. The subtitle for EUROFAN was “New Directions for the European Fantastic After the Cold War”, which pretty much sets its focus and agenda, search for European developments in fantasy and science fiction in recent decades.
I was able to participate only to the first conference day (need to spend some time also home, a bit too much travel recently), so I cannot comment on the paper sessions of Saturday, but the program sure looked fascinating enough (you can download it from the conference web page at: www.uni-salzburg.at/eurofan ).
The keynotes provided mutually complementary views on the expansive landscape of fantastic arts in the Europe:
– Firstly, the conference chair, professor Sabine Coelsch-Foisner mentioned few words about the background of the conference, about the need for increasing European collaboration in this research area, and about some attempts to gain EU funding for a research network (not successful so far, but maybe in the future). She also shared some images from Spain, about the works of Gaudi and Dali, setting the tone of the conference.
|Sabine Coelsch-Foisner (right)|
– The first keynote, Roger Luckhurst, who is the Professor in Modern and Contemporary Literature in Birbeck College, University of London, had his title as “The Weird Rewired”. He talked about the history of “Weird” fiction, and how the “New Weird” actually involves certain kind of return to its origins as “Aristotelian bio-horror”, or as attempts to think about the “limits of anthropocentric thought” (as in the troubled writings of H. P. Lovecraft). He concluded his talk with a reading of “Regicide”, a new ‘noir fantasy’ novel by Nicholas Royle.
– The second keynote took us through bewildering journey of new, fantastic European cinema. Dr Mark Bould, Reader in Film and Literature Studies in Bristol, University of West England, and also the founding co-editor of the Science Fiction Film and Television Journal, talked with the title “Spectres Are Haunting Europe” (with an opening slide covered in Pac-Man ghosts, while the subtext leads us to Marx – a nice touch). The talk and the accompanying PowerPoint presentation were an actual fireworks of interestingly ironical (self-consciously or not), multicultural and/or borderline-problematizing works of fantastic cinema from all over the Europe, Russia and Finland included (even the forthcoming Iron Sky Sci-Fi Nazi parody was featured).
– Third keynote, Professor Edward James from University College Dublin’s School of History and Archives, is a scholar of medieval history by training, but has focused on the history of science fiction and fantasy for numerous years. His talk, titled “The New Space Opera, 1991-2011: The European Contribution” was actually almost entirely about “British contribution”, as he readily confessed, and constituted an illuminating and inspiring discussion of what we should consider a ‘space opera’ to start with, and how ‘new space opera’ is subtly modifying this original “human interests in space” genre into something a bit more self-conscious, ironic, or something that handles the space opera tropes and themes with an “outsider” mindset. My favourite author, Scottish Iain M. Banks, is clearly a representative of new space opera.
– My own attempt at a keynote was titled “The Global and Local in Fantastic New Media: The Case of Finland” and without going to details, I can only wonder if there is some kind of “outsider sensibility” that relatively marginal cultural or geographical positions may grant you, when you are producing and participating in culture. It is unclear whether there is any true “centre” any more, anywhere, or is everyone living in the margins, but still the position of a Scottish science fiction author is different from that of a New Yorker one, for example, and equally a game developer or gamer coming from Finland must adopt slightly different strategies while engaged with fantasy gaming than their Anglo-American counterparts, simply by their cultural context, history and social situation.
Once again, many thanks to Sabine, Sarah and Markus and all the other organisers for an interesting, great event!