Metamorphosis

TCS Talk | The Case of the Water-Woman | 29th November 2019

G.01, 50 George Square, Edinburgh |  17:00-19:00 (roughly)
Friday 29th November

Louise_MILNEFor our third talk of the season, the Traditional Cosmology Society presents a lecture by our own Louise Shona Milne, entitled Metamorphosis, Myth, Dream-cultures and Desire: The case of the Water-woman.

In addition to her current position as President of the Traditional Cosmology Society, Dr Milne is Lecturer in Visual Culture at the Edinburgh School Art and Associate Professor of Film at Edinburgh Napier University. She is also a writer, critic, film-maker and visual anthropologist, and a leading scholar in the history of dreams and nightmares. She is currently working on an experimental film trilogy shot on Super 8 film, as well as on a number of documentary projects including, most recently, Tarkovsky’s Andrei Rublev: A Journey (2018).

In her TCS lecture, Dr Milne will address the imagery and mythos of the water-woman, a dense figure in dream-culture across different traditions, and one marked by the transformative power of desire (love, lust, fear, grief, hatred, vengeance). The basic image of a female spirit attached to a place of water has endured for millennia in Western literature, legend and the visual arts, but this image can and has taken an enormous variety of forms, from ideal female nudes to monstrous hybrids. Supernatural water-women in myth and folk culture –the mermaids, nymphs and nereids of river, spring and cave –are marked as daimonic by their double nature: they shift from one form to another. Mortal women in extremity may also undergo transformation into watery forms, as punishment or reward; when their situation matches certain conditions, metamorphosis is the mythic substitute for death.

Dr Milne argues that traditions concerning metamorphic water-women are mobilized, historically, to express changing cultural protocols about how desire works and how it should be harnessed. As the latter are redrawn and over time –notably under pressure from Christian authorities –people can be seen to adapt and alter water nymph visualization, as well as visualization of desire-driven metamorphosis in general: a process which we can follow in dreams, texts and art. The inexhaustible potential of the water-woman for every kind of metamorphosis propels an evolving repertoire of forms in art and literature. Arguably, moments of concentrated collective attention to this figure (e.g. in the permanent artistic media) signal that changes in the protocols of desire are underway.

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