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On the Cusp of Modernity: Byzantium, America, and the Trauma of the Conquest

Eleni Kefala, University of St Andrews, Fellow 2016–2017

My work is a decided attempt to turn the “improbable marriage” of Byzantine and Pre-Columbian studies into a meaningful partnership. It rehistoricizes the conquests of Byzantium and America “on the cusp of modernity” and their role in modernity’s self-imagining with a view to explaining the rationale of the comparison. It then probes issues of collective memory and cultural trauma in threnoi (laments) and icnocuícatl (songs of sorrow) for the fall of Constantinople and Tenochtitlan. Composed soon after the conquest of the Byzantine and Mexica Empires in 1453 and 1521, respectively, these texts impart the trauma of the fall of the imperial cities from the viewpoint of the defeated. I have also finalized the manuscript of a project on which the Dumbarton Oaks study builds. Among others, The Ideolepsy of the Modern examines modernity’s discursive construction of Byzantium and Amerindian America to cast new light on their epistemic and cultural subalternization during modernity.