Conference Report: EASA 13 Conference, Veszprém, Hungary

EASA 13 Conference: Australia as Topos – The Transformation of Australian Studies

University of Pannonia, Veszprém, Hungary


University of Pannonia, Veszprém, Hungary EASA13 Conference

The town of Veszprém in Hungary has in many ways been at the cusp of history throughout its 7,000 years of known existence. The surrounding hills witnessed the decisive battles fought in the region more than 1,000 years ago. In several ways Veszprém is also a cultural capital: it was the first Hungarian city to have a university level educational institution in the 13th century. We are delighted to announce that the University of Pannonia (Veszprém, Hungary), in cooperation with Topos – Bilingual Journal of Space and Humanities and the Veszprém Regional Branch of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences successfully hosted the 13th biannual international conference of the European Association for Studies on Australia (EASA) between 30 September and 3 October 2015. The conference provided an ideal venue for exploring Australia as a ‘topos’ in the academy and beyond, in ways that will seek to mobilize the manifold meanings of ‘topos’ as place, common place, and commonplace. The conference was a cross-disciplinary event considering papers on topics relating to any branch of ‘Australian studies’, including history, literature, culture, film studies, cultural anthropology, media studies, architecture, geography, spatial studies, environment, political science, indigenous studies, gender studies, linguistics, translation studies, education, sociology, art history, religion, philosophy, music — or indeed papers inscribed at any fertile crossroads between the aforementioned categories.

It is essential evidence that humans are embedded into both nature and society, which involves duality and unity at the same time. Humans would like to understand the world, that is the reason why we need natural and social sciences. Natural and social aspects are important issues for any scientific debate or discussion. In order to get a clearer picture of the human world, a holistic approach is necessary. The conference entitled “Australia as Topos” intended to represent this approach and papers very well supported the basic concept. Not only was the conference characterized by this holistic sign but also each lecture carried in itself the message. Consequently, the conference papers focused on how Australian studies can be transformed to reflect this duality.

As the contemporary Australian philosopher Chalmers paraphrases Russell, philosophy is the art of moving from obvious premises to interesting conclusions, which may be true for all the sciences. The starting point is a narrower set of knowledge and the goal is to achieve new cognitive elements, which can be unexpected. Undoubtedly, the best scientist knows the world at their best. From this viewpoint, Laplace’s scientist is the perfect scientist: “An intellect which at a certain moment would know all forces that set nature in motion, and all positions of all items of which nature is composed, if this intellect were also vast enough to submit these data to analysis, it would embrace in a single formula the movements of the greatest bodies of the universe and those of the tiniest atom; for such an intellect nothing would be uncertain and the future just like the past would be present before its eyes.” (Pierre Simon Laplace, A Philosophical Essay on Probabilities, 1814) This formulates the question: is it possible? At first glance doubts arise from various aspects. Modern sciences seem to contradict this thesis. Laplace’s knowledge is based on the premise of reversibility and determinacy, but numerous scientific laws express irreversibility and indeterminacy. Laplace’s concept is incompatible with mainstream interpretations of Quantum Theory and Thermodynamic Irreversibility. Furthermore, Chaos theory is regarded as a contradiction to Laplace’s thesis. This describes how a deterministic system can exhibit behaviour that is impossible to forebode, which is the same as the butterfly effect. According to the Laplacean thesis, although all the final details are known – to infinite precision – nevertheless variations in the starting conditions are not available.

The first plenary speaker of the conference, Eva Papp (member of the Emeritus Faculty at the Australian National University, also an Academic Visitor at the Research School of Earth Sciences) explained that the Australian Aboriginal notions of “place” and “Dreamtime” are examined in the context of the quantum physical “space-time” and contrasted against concepts of classical physics’s “space” and “time”. In her talk, the usual meaning of “Topos”, as has been referred to in various disciplines of the Humanities, was extended to include “space-time”. She argued that as Dreamtime is probably the oldest conceptual framework we can access today, and Dreamtime has quantum-physical properties, the modern myth that quantum physics is the latest and most difficult-to-grasp conceptual framework, is challenged.

Plenary speaker Anthony Gall (lecturer in design at Szent István University; as an architect he designed several award winning projects in Hungary, including the Multifunctional Centre in Veszprém) mentioned that there are currently nineteen properties or sites in Australia listed as UNESCO World Heritage. Three of them are listed solely for their cultural value, twelve sites for their natural value, and four sites are listed for their combination of cultural and natural significance. His paper presented a selection of four World Heritage Sites which have been listed entirely or partially for their cultural significance: Convict Sites (2010), Sydney Opera House (2007), Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park (1987) and Kakadu National Park (1981).

According to the third plenary speaker, Nathanael O’Reilly (faculty member at the Department of English at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, Texas) Australia’s most important national narratives are the outback and overseas. He emphasised that although Australia has been one of the most suburban societies on earth – since the mid-nineteenth century, decades before the six British colonies on the Australian continent and the island of Tasmania federated to become a nation in 1901, and despite the fact that the vast majority of Australians live in suburbia – Australian literature rarely engages with the suburbs. He highlighted that when Australian writers have set their works in suburbia, the majority have depicted the space/place negatively due to the powerful influence of the anti-suburban intellectual tradition. O’Reilly’s lecture covered a brief history of Australian suburbia and the development of the anti-suburban tradition in Australian culture, literature and literary criticism.

The last plenary lecturer was Inez Baranay (author), who stated that it is a complex fate to be an Australian. She described herself as an English-language writer of Australian citizenship, immigrant background, transnational culture and cosmopolitan temperament. She explored these components of a personal identity vis-a-vis the central question of identity, which is an inevitable topic in discussions of Australia as a nation, as a source or subject of literature and film.

Numerous faculty members of the host university also portrayed the holistic approach to Australian from a European prospective. László Kocsis shed light on the different approaches to grape phylloxera management in Australia and Europe. János Kristóf introduced the Australian-Hungarian approach to clay-based nanocomposites. Norbert Miskolczi referred to the challenges of waste management focusing on the recycling of different wastes into valuable products. Ildikó Hortobágyi discussed multicultural Australia on the screen. Ágnes Pokol-Hayhurst examined a 19th century and a contemporary portrait of Australia. In her paper, Andrea Szabó F. focused on the gothic technology of ghosting and postcolonial theories of appropriation when discussing a contemporary novel. Ferenc András investigated the role of the Laplacian-Chalmersian intellect in the antisceptical intellect. Éva Forintos gave an account of parallel processes in Australian-Hungarian language contact situation.

In addition to the scholarly aspect of the conference, the participants had a short insight into local and regional natural and cultural patrimony. The historical heritage of the town was coupled with an optional trip to Lake Balaton (Balatonfüred and Tihany) on Friday afternoon with wine-tasting and dinner accompanied by a folk music and dance program.

The EASA General Meeting convened to assess their activity and announced the venue of the next conference, which will be held in Barcelona in 2017.