From May 23-26, 2017, the Princeton University Athens Center for Research and Hellenic Studies hosted a three-day retreat of the International Network for the Comparative Humanities (INCH), a consortium that promotes interdisciplinary exchange between Princeton faculty and graduate students from English and Comparative Literature with their counterparts overseas.
“The Center proved an ideal place for our retreat; its scale and layout make it a haven for humanist inquiry and conversation,” said retreat co-director Maria DiBattista, professor of English. “With small seminar rooms that encourage lively discussion, a larger area for screening films or hosting a guest lecture, and a lovely garden to relax over coffee or sit in silent contemplation, the Center invites you in and makes you feel at home, but is also close to the heart of things.” For one special evening on the Center’s rooftop terrace, retreat attendees enjoyed a dinner catered by refugees and immigrants who had worked in the food industry in their home country.
The major theme explored at this year’s INCH retreat was “Social Transformation.” The preassigned texts and films on this theme were selected to reflect the literature and traditions of the retreat’s host country. For this meeting, chosen texts included Aeschylus’s Oresteia, poems by Cavafy, Lampedusa’s Il Gattopardo (The Leopard) and Renoir’s The Rules of the Game, works that dramatize change, including descents into barbarism, as well as restorations of order.
“The texts were fantastic,” one participant remarked. “I especially appreciated the chance to bring together works from different national contexts that aren’t necessarily French and American or English.” Participants felt the variety of genres helped make texts like Oresteia available to those lacking a rich background in Classics.
For many attendees, the highlight of the retreat was a reading by Edmund (Mike) Keeley, professor emeritus of English and Creative Writing, and preeminent translator and scholar of modern Greek literature. Keeley read from his own translations of poems by Cavafy and Seferis.
“The inclusion of Mike Keeley as a reader—with a bonus mini-lecture! — brought the poetry of Cavafy into our meeting to an unprecedented degree,” one participant said.
Keeley’s remarks on the cultural and personal contexts that informed his own translations encouraged and informed many in the group who aspire to become translators themselves.
Attendees also appreciated the diversity of the retreat’s participants and the lively discussions that followed. “The internationality and variety among participants cultivated an incredible intellectual experience,” an attendee remarked.
“The INCH retreat exemplifies both the interdisciplinary and international nature of the Center,” said Dimitri Gondicas ’78, founding director of the Seeger Center for Hellenic Studies. “We anticipate the Princeton Athens Center will continue cultivating a dynamic community of Princetonians and scholars abroad by expanding its existing programs and adding several new ones in the near future. We also aim to facilitate synergies and encourage collaborations with Greek scholars and institutions.”
This year’s INCH retreat was made possible with help from a substantial grant from the David A. Gardner ’69 Magic Project in the Council of the Humanities.