- 'Byron, Time and Space' 43rd International Byron Conference, Yerevan 29 June–1 July 2017 [2–4 July: excursions]
Not the least of the many attractions of the conferences held under the auspices of the International Association of Byron Societies (IABS) is their general openness. They are held in places intimately associated with Byron, like the 35th conference in Messolonghi and Athens (2009), and in places with no Byronic connections at all, like the 36th conference in Boston, MA (2010). The aim is always straightforward: to provide a platform for Byron scholars, most obviously, but also a space for anyone, whatever their provenance, who is committed enough to make the journey and to share their thoughts. The Society has never sought to flourish through exclusion or the veneer of exclusivity. Where the Prime Minister of the UK recently sought to tap into a perceived public mood, with her declaration in 2016 that 'If you believe you are a citizen of the world, you're a citizen of nowhere', the IABS conferences, in their own quiet way, stand as a rebuke and a reaffirmation of the cosmopolitanism that is one of the most important legacies of Byron, a legacy reflected so concretely in the Garden of the Heroes in Messolonghi.
This year was no exception to the general approach that characterises the IABS conferences. It was held at the Yerevan State University, and marked the first time the conference has come to Armenia, a place Byron never visited but in which he had, for a time, a great interest. Writing to his publisher, John Murray, from Venice on 4 December 1816, Byron noted that 'I had begun & am proceeding in a study of the Armenian language—which I acquire as well as I can […] I find the language […] difficult but not invincible (at least I hope not)'. He told Thomas Moore (letter from Venice of 17 November 1816) that he was studying daily, at the Armenian monastery on the Island of San Lazzaro near the Lido, and that he had taken up the Armenian language because 'I found that my mind wanted something craggy to break upon'.
There was plenty for the mind to break upon at this year's conference. The conference theme ('Byron, Time and Space') was an invitation for participants to cast their net very wide indeed. Spencer Wilson (Imperial College, London) argued ('Byron's Entropy: The Chaos of Hard Clay') that Byron's thought displays 'a strikingly bidirectional correspondence' with precursors of modern thermodynamics, like Amedeo Avogadro and Georges Cuvier. While at the other end of the cosmic spectrum, Ofelya Poghosyan (Yerevan State) offered a paper 'On the Properties of "Byronic" Phraseological Units and their Reflection in the Armenian Translations', concerned with problems at the micro-level of 'translatability' in Armenian versions of Childe Harold. [End Page 177]
It was refreshing to hear a relatively large number of papers by contributors from Armenia, further witness to the values of inclusivity of the IABS conferences. Varduhi Ghumashyan (Yerevan State) talked of 'Metaphor in Byron's Childe Harold's Pilgrimage', a paper concerned both with theoretical issues surrounding metaphor and with Byron's use of metaphor as a tool of indirection in his poetry. Tatevik Movsisyan (Yerevan State) was interested in the Eastern Tales ('Time and Space in the Giaour'): this was another paper that sought to marry a theoretical approach with concrete close readings.
Anahit Bekaryan (National Academy of Sciences, Armenia) spoke on 'Byron and Toumanian'. Hovhannes Tumanyan (1869–1923) is widely considered Armenia's national poet and was the translator into Armenian of Byron, Goethe, and Pushkin. The paper offered a context for an understanding of the importance of Byron in late nineteenth-century Armenia, in the wake of the Hamidian massacres of Armenians in 1894–96. These massacres, the product of the increasingly difficult position in which the Ottoman Empire found itself, coupled with the rise of self-determination movements within the Empire, were a forerunner of the so-called Armenian Holocaust (or Armenian genocide) of 1915–17. The Armenian Holocaust, which was subsequently prolonged into the period 1920–23, is now widely regarded, except within Turkey, as a state-orchestrated policy of...