Reading and Pleasure in Istanbul

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The Summer school “Reading Pleasure – Pleasure Reading: Medieval Approaches to Reading” took place at the Swedish Research Institute in Istanbul, 23-28 May, and was organized by Christian Høgel and Ingela Nilsson. This was a professionally rewarding experience for all those who took part in it, contributing to launch a new interdisciplinary debate on the concepts of reading and of pleasure and their possible interactions.

In an environment which mixed a friendly atmosphere with academic rigor, the participants – PhD students from various disciplines and various places – attended four plenary lectures in the auditorium of the Swedish Institute and had the opportunity to explore several topics: the world of the Persian novels (Bo Utas), the use of therapeutic and preventive reading in English physiologic works (Virginia Langum), the classic Arabic erotic literature (Pernilla Myrne) and the different reading practices in Byzantium (Stratis Papaioannou). Moreover, plenty of time was given for asking questions and different points of view were offered by the audience.

In the morning sessions, which took place on different locations depending on the research theme of the day (the “little Hagia sophia” with Ingela Nilsson, the Galata tower with AnnaLinden Weller, the Chora Museum with Christian Høgel and the Grand Hotel de Londres’ lobby with David Wallace), small groups of 4-5 students were guided by their respective tutor through an analysis of the previously assigned readings and were requested to critically engage with the texts and propose new interpretations of the most intriguing passages.

In the afternoons, after the lectures, differently composed groups met again at the Swedish Institute: at this occasion each PhD student, in turn, presented their own research project, continuing the discussion already started during the poster presentation session on the first day. The participants – both professors and PhD students – were identifying the strengths and the weaknesses of the given papers and responded to them from their own perspective and knowledge, providing fresh insights and animating the debate. By doing so, they paved the way for a vivid discussion and analysis; by bringing together their perspectives and the ones of the speakers, new ‘knowledge products’ were being created. The result was that the collaboration across disciplines was one of the biggest strengths of the summer school and turned out to be extremely helpful for re-thinking and enlarging the research paradigms.

In this respect, the wonderful boat trip across the Bosphorus and the visit at the Byzantine-Genoese-Ottoman fortress of Anadolu Kavaği, on 26 May, was a beautiful way of engaging with historical and theoretical questions, which was particularly useful for those participants coming from the field of Byzantine and Ottoman studies.

A special mention needs to be made on the excellent organization of the summer school. Despite the strict schedule and the number of academic activities, the participants had enough time to socialize and discuss their work informally. In fact, this was very useful for gaining a strong feeling of belonging, a sense of a meaningful and active participation in the vibrant ‘life’ of the summer school.

On the way back home from Istanbul, most of the students expressed the satisfaction of having taken part of this event and demonstrated enthusiasm for having met new colleagues. In sum, the lively debates during the summer school will contribute significantly to generating a renewed focus and motivation for the completion of the PhD students’ research tasks.

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In the Büyük Londra lobby

Lorenzo Ciolfi, Paris / Bukarest

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