An article by Assistant Professor of Classics Jesse Weiner was recently published as a chapter in Once and Future Antiquities in Science Fiction and Fantasy from Bloomsbury Academic.
“Saxa loquuntur?: Archaeological Fantasies in Wilhelm Jensen’s Gradiva” appears in a section titled “Displacing Points of Origin.” The essay examines tensions between “scientific” archaeology and fantasy in Wilhelm Jensen’s Gradiva: A Pompeian Fantasy (1903).
In Gradiva, a dreamlike psychological novella inspired by and set among the ruins of Pompeii, protagonist and classical archaeologist Norbert Hanold wanders the excavated city in a hallucinatory haze, obsessed with a woman from an ancient bas-relief whom he names Gradiva. He struggles to separate imagination from reality and to distinguish figures from the Roman past from his own.
In his essay, Weiner suggests that Gradiva invites us to meditate on archaeology itself as fantasy (at least in part) and to view our most scientific attempts to reconstruct antiquity from ruins as inherently imaginative and creative. He asks, “Can archaeology help but be informed by our own desires and biases? Should it?”
He noted that Gradiva, which he teaches in his Pompeii course, influenced the work of Sigmund Freud, as well as Surrealist art. He said that for Freud, the fantasy of archaeology is that stones might speak (saxa loquuntur). However, Weiner said, Norbert’s discursive strategies and hallucinations in Jensen’s Gradiva suggest the opposite — that classicists inscribe their own desires and fantasies onto antiquity.
Once and Future Antiquities in Science Fiction and Fantasy is part of the Bloomsbury Studies in Classical Reception series. The book was edited by Weiner’s longtime collaborators Brett M. Rogers of the University of Puget Sound and Benjamin Eldon Stevens of Trinity University.