- The Year in Conferences—2017
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 ninth year, this report includes MLA, ALA, and ASLE.
mla, january 5-8, 2017, philadelphia, pennsylvania
written by jada ach, susanna compton underland, marlee fuhrmann, patrick thomas morgan, and christofer rodelo senior advisor: alexandra reznik
The Modern Language Association (MLA) held its annual convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in January 2017. In his presidential address, "Boundaries of Culture," Kwame Anthony Appiah gestured to the "two customary candidates for Great American novel" most pertinent to nineteenth-century Americanists: Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884) and Herman Melville's Moby-Dick (1851). Appiah reminded us that Twain's novel takes place predominantly on a vehicle that expresses liminality—the raft—while Moby-Dick takes place largely outside US national boundaries. Highlighting literature's potential to blur borders, Appiah called on scholars to recognize the "extraterritoriality" of literary texts and scholarly criticism. In this year's nineteenth-century Americanist panels, presenters explored a range of ways to engage with national, racial, gender, [End Page 133] religious, archival, and geographic boundaries. Mapping, crossing, and reconsidering existing and new boundaries expands the potential for nineteenth-century Americanist scholarship. Appiah's call to action reminds us that today is an exciting and urgent time to engage with nineteenth-century cultural texts while recognizing boundaries we can challenge and renegotiate.
Archived program listings: https://apps.mla.org/conv_listings?msg=pcl
racial communities and slavery's afterlives
"Melville and Black Lives Matter" considered our current political climate in nineteenth-century contexts. First, Gary Vaughn Rasberry read C. L. R. James' Mariners, Renegades and Castaways (1953), which he called a highly stylized interpretation of Moby-Dick (1851), as antitotalitarian. Rasberry notes that in James' view, Starbuck's failure to challenge Ahab symbolizes liberalism's paralyzed response to totalitarianism. In this way, according to Rasberry, James sees Melville's singular achievement as the distillation of conditions defining the nineteenth century, a distillation that renders totalitarianism comprehensible today. Christine Ann Wooley asked how we can expand love for black Americans and make demands for real freedom and economic justice. She argued that Moby-Dick, like the Black Lives Matter movement, prioritizes legibility, identification, commitment, and recognition. Brenna Casey considered the saya-y-manta (a Peruvian style of dress purposefully meant to obscure the female body) as an essential emblem in Melville's "Benito Cereno" (1855). Under the saya-y-manta, Casey contended, a woman is unrecognizable and therefore becomes free from cultural restraints. Melville's employment of this [End Page 134] emblem, Casey argued, suggests that Melville recognizes the subversive potential of women who wear the saya-y-manta.
Panelists in "Periodicals, Editorship, Race, and Ethnicity" presented case studies of periodicals that contributed to discussions of editorship and multiethnic imagined communities. Janet Galligani Casey discussed the "A Bundle of Letters" advice column from Abraham Cahan's Jewish Daily Forward, a turn-of-the-century New York City Yiddish newsletter. According to Galligani Casey, the newsletter conveyed Cahan's status as cultural ambassador, as he advised letter writers on issues like assimilation. In this genre, Galligani Casey contended, editor and letter writer exist as active collaborators. Jim Casey considered the meaning of editor in his discussion of Alien American, an 1850s newspaper with only one surviving copy. Rather than view editors as failed writers, Casey defined them as brokers of a social enterprise. Further contemplating the role of editor, Kelley Kreitz examined La Revista Ilustrada de Nueva York, a literary magazine whose longest lead editor was a Venezuelan exile, Nicanor Bolet Peraza. Kreitz argued that editors facilitate social...