Terra Incognita: A Literary Gathering and Workshop

Location: University of Pittsburgh - Cathedral of Learning.

Dates: Nov 9-11

There is a point of arrival but no way - Franz Kafka

It is undeniable that there is an “unknown” (the geographers of ancient times traced the outline of what amounts to an analogue of this unknown with the famous expression terra incognita that marked the edge of their great sheet - along the margins of the sheet they wrote terra incognita, “unknown land”). At the edge of reality that the eye embraces, the heart feels, and the mind imagines, there is an unknown. Everyone feels it. Everyone has always felt it. Throughout the ages, humans have felt it so strongly that they have also imagined it. In every age humans have sought, through their ponderings or fantasies, to imagine, to fix the face of this unknown. In his Germania, Tacitus described the religious feeling that distinguished the ancient Teutons thus: secretum illud quod sola reverentia vident, hoc deum appellant” (that mysterious thing which they intuited with fear and trembling, this they called God). - Luigi Giussani

To explore the unknown is to encounter monsters, to be afraid, to be lost, to be heartbroken. It can mean a shattering of everything one had held dear. But it can also be revelation, the epiphany of being, the encounter with that which pulls everything else together and makes sense of it.

In “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” the strange old man is compelled to tell his story, his account of the visions and tribulations on a “wild, wild sea.” He has to find a listener, so he stops the wedding guest on the way to the feast, and the listener in turn is compelled to hear. This is the power of the stories from the unknown. They must be told. We must listen. So artists and storytellers are forever inconveniencing us, breaking in on our ordinary lives, telling stories that shake our foundations.

Our literary gathering is dedicated to exploring this terrain of the unknown, as it has been indicated and mapped out through literature and the arts, with a particular focus on “that mysterious thing.” The presence of the divine in the undiscovered countries, the terra incognita, will rarely be what one expected to find, or where one hoped to find it. The word one hears may not be what one planned to hear, or was prepared to hear, yet in some way it must have been what you were longing to hear. Otherwise, you could not have heard it.

We will gather as writers, scholars, and readers to discuss the ways in which art has approached the unknown lands, and brought back word of the “mysterious thing.” This means we will focus especially on works of fantasy, the surreal, magical realism, science fiction, the gothic, and the mystical, but there is no restriction on genre, because every artist is grasping for this unknown.

We welcome proposals for individual papers and panel presentations on the topic of “Terra Incognita.” All proposals should state the central theme to be addressed, important subpoints, and reasons why the proposed subject would be a good topic for our gathering. If submitting a panel proposal, clarify briefly which topics each panel presenter intends to cover.

Both individual papers and panel proposals should include short biographical statements on each person involved. Proposals should be approximately a paragraph in length, and sent in Word documents, in Times New Roman 12 point font, to

Deadline for proposals is June 30


Sponsored by Revolution of Tenderness and Pittsburgh Christian Studies