- The Year in Conferences—2015
The “Year in Conferences” (YiC) accelerates the circulation of ideas between and among scholars by covering the field’s major conferences. Graduate students from across the country collaboratively author an article that appears annually in ESQ’s first issue. Now in its seventh year, this report includes MLA, ALA, ASLE, and SSAWW.
- MLA, January 8-11, 2015, Vancouver, B.C.
MLA officials acknowledged in their invitation that the phrase “sites of memory,” central to this year’s gathering in Vancouver, bears many possible meanings, meanings which easily escape translation. This elusive, polysemic object of study pervaded sessions devoted to probe what, how, and why our literary and cultural histories remember. Remembering sites of cultural and political struggle too often unveils a struggle between different ways of remembering. The growing interest in digital humanities methodologies and new archives only adds to this fertile panorama (with the inclusion, for example, of sounds and soundscapes from the past). Thus, this year’s convention [End Page 129] featured prolific explorations of the afterlives of nineteenth-century authors, the transnational routes memory often takes, and the reenacted clashes between colonial and indigenous subjects to preserve and suppress memory.
Program link: https://www.mla.org/conv_past
sites of memory, violence, and recovery
Discussions in the roundtable “Geographies of Memory in Nineteenth-Century America” ranged from close readings of minor localities to statistical meditations on national and transnational literatures. Jillian Spivey Caddell examined two locally memorialized residents of Elmira, New York: Mark Twain and runaway slave-cum-Underground Railroad conductor John W. Jones. The small town’s sentimental remembrance of Jones’ care for deceased Confederates elided his financial success as a funerary capitalist and the questions about race and resistance raised by his proximity to Twain. Melissa Gniadek provoked questions about local-global relations and temporalities in her examination of the pamphlet Wonderful Discovery! (1839), which appropriated geological and exploratory tropes from Symzonia (1820) and The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket (1838). Gretchen Woertendyke paired the work of Bruno Latour and Édouard Glissant in order to analyze the intricacies of U.S.-Cuban national relations beyond mere spatial juxtaposition and to conceive the oceanic as a nonhuman agent. Plotting data from a wide swath of references to place in U.S. fiction from 1850 to 1875, Matthew Wilkens concluded that the population of a place strongly predicts the frequency of its literary representation and that the spatial experiences of writers’ formative years affected their literary production more than the national historical imagination. [End Page 130]
The panel “Negotiating Memory in James Fenimore Cooper’s Leatherstocking Tales” looked toward Cooper as both a memorialist of the American colonial past and toward memories, re-situations, and appropriations of Cooper’s own legacy in American literary history. Interrogating the function of memory in The Last of the Mohicans (1826), Leonard Tennenhouse suggested that Cooper rethinks war between European powers in terms of sentimental marriage relations. By differentiating American domestic relations from British models of blood-based land ownership, Cooper’s novel illustrates how the plasticity and mobility of the American household ushers the new nation into history. Wayne Franklin explored how writers have appropriated Cooper’s characters and plots in the service of political ideologies to which Cooper objected—in particular, for celebrating white triumph over Native Americans. Cooper responded to such misappropriations with The Deerslayer (1841), seeking not only to remember and to resurrect, but also to refurbish, Natty Bumppo. Sandra M. Gustafson built upon the issue of Cooper’s contested legacy in her examination of D.H. Lawrence’s shifting interpretation of Cooper during his tenure in Taos, New Mexico. Using two versions of Lawrence’s essay on The Leatherstocking Tales, Gustafson revealed his mounting skepticism about democratic republicanism as he grappled with the American legacy of racialized violence.
The panel “Transcendentalism and Temporality” offered three examinations of Thoreau’s investigations of time and space. Joshua Kotin compared the relation of authorial time scripted in Walden (1854) to the narrative timeline Thoreau conjures throughout the text, theorizing that the imaginative timeline “exploit[s] independence...