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The return: spaces, fractures and transitions

Le retour : espaces, fractures, transitions

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Published on Wednesday, September 10, 2014 by Céline Guilleux


Dans le thème du retour, ce qui semble à première vue en jeu, ce sont les questions de l'identité et de ses transformations, celle du parcours initiatique. Le retour peut aussi être un retour sur soi, un retour à une tradition le plus souvent réinventée. Générateur d’un « tiers-espace » (H.Bhabba), le retour est une traversée du temps qui brouille et renouvelle les frontières humaines, culturelles ou politiques. Le retour, c'est alors l'occasion d'analyser, en quelque sorte à rebours, la rupture réelle ou symbolique d'un ordre familial, social ou même économique « naturel ». S’il peut paraître comme une tentative de réparation d’un désordre de nature variable, s’il peut être une forme de célébration ou d’accomplissement de soi, il peut aussi être une manière de se perdre et générer des désordres multiples. On peut donc également analyser les effets des retours dans les sociétés quittées : ceux qui reviennent apportent de nouvelles manières de voir et de faire propices aux hybridations et métissages multiples. En fin de compte, questionner le retour, c'est ici l’occasion de réfléchir collectivement sur le temps, son étirement, ses cycles, ses effets différenciés sur ceux qui partent et ceux qui restent.



The theme of returning is a central theme in most civilisations and societies. A parable in the Bible (the parable of the prodigal son), a fundamental matrix in literature (Ulysses’ homecoming brings the Odyssey to an end) as well as in religion (the cult of the Messiah, the myth of the eternal return), a military ritual (the return of triumphant or defeated armies), a distant dream for so many exiles and migrants (returning to the homeland, whether actually achieved or indefinitely postponed), a major source of drama in the cinema (Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave or Pawel Pawlikowski’s Ida, to mention just two recent films), the idea of returning is a very multi-facetted theme both in the different forms it takes and in its numerous different meanings.

So what is there in common between Ulysses’ homecoming, the return of the prodigal son, the return of Martin Guerre, of migrants and exiles or soldiers coming back home from the battlefield? Is it possible to understand in the same way what happened when several hundred rebels from the Commune of Paris returned home after their amnesty, when soldiers returned from the trenches or when prisoners of war or the survivors of extermination camps came back? What questions are raised by these different forms of homecoming? Is it ever really possible to “return to normal”? How is the notion of coming back after a separation imagined? Is coming back or coming home the same as returning? There is, in the idea of returning, the idea of a journey which leads the traveller back to a place which one cannot simply come back to as if nothing had changed in the meantime.

At first sight the issue appears to be something which the Humanities are well equipped to examine: questions of identity and its transformations (Ulysses returns in disguise, Martin Guerre is a usurper…), of rites of passage (journeying through the wilderness, war and exile) and territorial issues (Ulysses’ voyages define a political and anthropological space). There may also be instances where individuals make a personal journey back to something (back to their “roots”, thereby accomplishing a personal destiny, returning to their homeland or going back to their family) and returning to a tradition which most often has been reinvented. Returning, which generates a “third space” (H.Bhabba), is a journey through time which blurs and reinvents human, cultural or political frontiers.

Returning, or “coming home”, is also an opportunity to look back over the real or symbolical breakdown of a “natural” order in the family, in society or even in the economy. It may seem to be an attempt to repair various kinds of disorder, or be a form of personal celebration or accomplishment (a way of finding oneself again), but it can also be a way of losing everything (the killer returning to the scene of the crime and giving himself away) or cause people to turn away in horror (the hideously wounded men of the First World War) and generate a variety of disorders. In the end, thinking about the meaning of the homecoming and the return is an opportunity to think collectively about time, the way it waxes and wanes, its cycles, and the way it affects differently those who leave and those who stay.

Returning is always complex. The outlaws of the Second Empire and the exiled rebels of the Commune, who were often one and the same, experienced this in ways which were often harsh. After the Second World War, Thomas Mann, whose anti-fascist stance had been exemplary, was greeted with an uncompromising attack on his reputation and ended up settling in Zurich. In the late 1980s and beyond, Chilean exiles began returning home in great numbers, but these retornados, despite the fact that they sometimes enjoyed privileged financial support, found it very difficult to pick up the pieces of a shattered past and often had to face the hostility of those who had stayed behind. The theme of returning is interesting because it also means one can look differently at the disruption of leaving because, as the historian Dominique Fouchard wrote about the soldiers of 1914-18, “thinking about returning makes it possible to leave”.

A certain number of themes for research can be suggested, though this is in now way exhaustive:

Political and social trajectories: returning from exile, returning migrations (whether final or simply seasonal), the right to return (in Spain, the decision to grant Spanish nationality to the descendants of exiles), cultural transfers, the return to democracy…

Returning as a crystallization of collective emotions: returning armies (celebrating victory or lamenting defeat); the return of hostages or prisoners, the return of the providential statesman…

The “return to normal”: after an armed conflict, what are the forms and effects of demobilization, not only in the economic, political and social arena but also in the private, domestic sphere? What lurks behind the illusion of a “return to normal” after an economic crisis? What is meant by “re-establishing order”?

The theme of the return in literature or the arts: morphology, dynamics, functions. “Neo-” and “revival”. The iconography of the return…

Guidelines submission

This conference, which will form the basis of a publication, is resolutely open to all periods and to all the humanities in the broadest sense of the term. Paper will be given in French, English and Spanish. Proposals ((maximum 2,500 characters) must be sent to colloqueleretour@gmail.com

by 31 October 2014.

The Scientific Committee will announce its decisions on or around 15 January 2015.

The International conference will take place 27-28-29 May 2015

The conference is organized under the ægis of the Research Federation on Spaces, Frontiers and Hybridity (Fédération de Recherche Espaces-Frontières-Métissage), with the support of the Ancient Architecture Research Institute (Institut de Recherche sur l’Architecture Antique (IRAA)), the “Identities, Territories, Expressions, Mobilities” research centre (Identités-Territoires-Expression-Mobilités (ITEM)), the Poetry, Literary History and Linguistics research centre (Centre de Recherche en Poétique, Histoire Littéraire et Linguistique (CRPHLL)) and the Languages, Literatures and Civilisations of the Atlantic Arc research centre (Langues, Littératures et Civilisations de l’Arc Atlantique (LLCAA)).

Organizing committee

  • Jean-Yves Casanova,
  • Laurent Dornel,
  • Michael Parsons,
  • François Quantin

Scientific committee

  • Laurence Campa (Professeur de Littérature, Univ. Paris Ouest Nanterre), 
  • Jean-Claude Caron (Professeur d’Histoire contemporaine, Univ.Blaise Pascal Clermont-Ferrand, IUF),
  • Sabine Forero-Mendoza (Professeur d’Histoire de l’Art contemporain, UPPA), 
  • Dirk Hoerder (Professeur émérite d’Histoire, Arizona State Univ.), 
  • Ana Iriarte Goñi (Professeur d’Histoire grecque, Univ. Pays Basque, Vitoria), 
  • Jean-Jacques Lecercle (Professeur émérite, Linguistique et Littérature anglaises, Univ. Paris Ouest Nanterre),
  • Loïc Vadelorge (professeur d'Histoire contemporaine, Univ. Paris Est Marne-la-Vallée). 


  • Université de Pau et des Pays de l'Adour, amphithéâtre de la Présidence. - Avenue de l'Université
    Pau, France (64)


  • Friday, October 31, 2014

Attached files


  • Laurent Dornel
    courriel : laurent [dot] dornel [at] univ-pau [dot] fr

Information source

  • Laurent Dornel
    courriel : laurent [dot] dornel [at] univ-pau [dot] fr

To cite this announcement

« The return: spaces, fractures and transitions », Call for papers, Calenda, Published on Wednesday, September 10, 2014, https://calenda.org/293896

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