Call for Papers: ‘Banville and his Precursors’


Call for Papers: ‘Banville and his Precursors’, a two-day conference to be held at the University of York on the 9th and 10th November 2013

‘the fact is that each writer creates his own precursors’ – Jorge Luis Borges

John Banville’s work, with its extensive and searching engagement with literary, aesthetic, philosophical and scientific traditions, is exemplary of Borges’ understanding of the writer’s relation to his or her precursors.

In critical vocabulary, the word precursor is indispensable, but one should attempt to purify it of all connotation of polemic or rivalry. The fact is that each writer creates his precursors. His labour modifies our conception of the past, as it has to modify the future.

In much of Banville’s writing, engagement with the thought and legacy of a given precursor is accorded central importance. The close scrutiny the science tetralogy brings to bear on the epistemological foundations of Modernity as embodied in figures such as Copernicus is an especially apt example of this, as, in a closely related vein, is the author’s persistent interest in and use of Wallace Stevens and the legacy of Romantic thinking on the aesthetic and the imagination more generally. A recurrent characteristic of Banville’s work is the delineation of connections between preceding intellectual and artistic models and contemporary cultural forms and norms, well evidenced by the thematic prominence of epistemological and ethical concerns and the relation of these to the realms of the aesthetic and the literary. No less compelling is the question of the author’s relation to specifically Irish traditions and precursors, and the light this may cast on important debates in the field.

With an already substantial and still growing oeuvre, and a burgeoning field of scholarship much of which explores such relations and interactions, ‘Banville and His Precursors’ aims to prompt discussion of the author’s work through an exploration of his engagement with his precursors, literary and otherwise. This strikes us as being a good way of furthering and enhancing current debates in the scholarship, as well as for promoting a development into as yet uncharted areas. We are delighted to confirm Dr. Elke D’Hoker (Katholieke Universiteit Leuven) and Dr. Derek Hand (St. Patrick’s College Drumcondra) as plenary speakers. Papers are invited on any topic relating to Banville’s relation to or interaction with intellectual, aesthetic, cultural or literary traditions, or exemplary figures within these.

Each day will begin with a plenary address. The conference will then bifurcate in the following way:

The first day will be dedicated to three successive panels of three papers each.

The second day will be dedicated to discussion groups, led by a speaker and dedicated to discussing the role of a particular precursor or issue of precursorship in Banville’s work. Each speaker will be asked to prepare a 5-10 minute presentation, abstracts of which will be distributed among delegates prior to the conference. The delegates can then respond to the speakers’ points, drawing on their own work and range of creative and critical sources. Delegates will not be required to submit paper abstracts or deliver papers. Rather, delegates will be expected to respond to the presentations as opportunities to generate truly collaborative knowledge, generated itself in the dialogue of different minds thinking to a single purpose. Moving away from the traditional speaker-centred approach for the second day, we envisage a polyphonic delegate-driven engagement with the specific ideas generated by the speaker.

Proposals for either papers or round table discussions, of a maximum of 250 words, should be sent to by the 31st of May.