Monday, February 21, 2011

AAALS conference report


The 2011 conference of the AAALS was enjoyable, edifying, and consequential. I arrived there about 7:30, chugging in from the Dallas-Fort Worth airport via two shuttle buses and the Trinity Railway Express, determined to avid paying taxi fare if possible. Though this meant I misses most of the opening reception, there were still some wan-looking pigs-in-a-blanket and cookies which I hurriedly consumed as I said hello to most of the longtime members of the organization. As has been the custom recently, the AAALS conference was held concurrently with the ANSZANA conference, sponsored by the organization covering social-science developments in the same part of the world as we do literary ones.

The sessions started the next morning. The first panel was on neglected writers. Nicholas Jose, visiting professor at Harvard, discussed the work of Randolph Stow, who died last year. Though Stow was heralded when young and although some of his books became set texts on Australian syllabi, he had not published fiction for many years and was beginning to be underrated. Jose discussed Stow's novel The Visitants, and its interrogation of the tragedies s\of the colonial mentality. Jose remarked that Stow, by the time he wrote the novel, had moved ot England, where he returned to a village where his distant ancestors had lived--in a sense argued Jose, the ultimate post-colonial move, seeing Australia as a failed project. Brian Dibble of Curtin University than spoke on the poetry of William Hart-Smith, discussing the achievement of his work, which maintained a resolute independence from the often-messy particularities of his life. Dibble remarked on the role played by the poet Vivian Smith, a writer of a very different demeanor, in appreciating Hart-Smtih's lyric gifts.

In the next session, Jannali Jones, a graduate student from New South Wales, discussed 'post-determination' Indigenous literature, literature written by writers such as Terri Janke and Anita Heiss whose work did not explicitly take up the struggle for rights and recognition but articulated an Aboriginal identity within the mesh of contemporary life. Jones did not denounce determination literature, realizing that older Indigenous writes and those dined access to literacy still felt a need to demand basic dignity and justice. Megan Terry of the University of Texas, Tyler, discussed representations of indigeneity in David Malouf and Kate Grenville, while Brenda Machofsky of the university of Hawaiʻi, West Oahu, spoke of Kim Scott's True Country as an Aboriginal Bildungsroman

Our lunchtime speaker was Gerard Kyle, of Texas A and M University, who gave a sprightly talk on the use and images of landscape. I had to explain what an "Aggie" was to bemused Australians. We then had two papers on film, by Ted Sheckels of Randolph-Macon College  and Eva Rueschmann of Hampshire College; as always, I learned of a great many Australian films I had not encountered before. Peter Mathews, of Hanyang University,  and I then spoke on Peter Carey's latest novel, Parrot and Olivier in America, discussing its relation to neoliberalism and its perspectives on the possibilities for democracy; Carolyn Bliss of Utah gave a valuable response. 

At dinner, Australian ambassador to the US Kim Beazley gave a very detailed and frank talk, touching on the shared values of the US and Australia and showing a proper sense of the merits of the US role in the world. His point that Australia had gained greater global visibility second he Cold War corroborated the argument I had made in my essay for Reading Across The Pacific. Beazley was eloquent, erudite, and nimble, and I was pleased to see him in person after hearing about him for so many years. 

The next morning saw an entertaining Unibersity of Texas husband-and-wife duo speak, as Don Graham discussed Michael Wilding and his early publication in girlie magazines while Betsy Berry discussed the poetic techniques and artful self-representation of Kate Jennings in her novel Snake. Nathanael O'Reilly, who organized and chaired the conference with great flair and aplomb, then spoke on the suburban novels of Steven Carroll--the paper was an abridged version of a chapter in O'Reilly forthcoming book on representations of suburbia in Australian literature. Amber Powell of Texas/Tyler spoke of intersections of class and race in Grenville’s The Secret River, while John Scheckter of Long Island University, continued his project on Antarctica, discussing New Zealand’s Antarctic Arts Project. Paul Kane of Vassar spoke of Asian influences on both Australian and america poetry from Francis Adams and Emerson till today. 

Jose spoke at lunch, giving a sophisticated and humorous accent of China
s cultural relationship with Australia and New Zealand. Dibble than gave a long talk about Elizabeth Joelle’s life and work and the subtleties of their interrelation, while O’Reilly gave a casual talk on his recent edited  anthology on Australian literature seen in a postcolonial context.

The conference concluded with the business meeting where we decided to change the dimensions of the journal so it could be more easily mailed and stored, as well as displayed in bookstores--the new dimensions will be 6 by 9 and will commence with the 2012 issue. This will be a double issue (more on that later). We also agreed to widen the scope of the annual bibliography to include works published outside North America (though still excluding Australia and New Zealand themselves) and to launch this blog. We also resolved to launch a new membership drive.

Afterwards so me of us went to the Fort Worth stockyards and had enchiladas and fajitas, capped off by beers at the internal bar of a cowboy apparel store. The specter of three intellectuals discussing Baudrillard at her bar did not faze the bartender, who acted as if it was a routine Saturday night occurrence. This is just the sort of disjunction the worldwide study of Australian literature should bring about! 

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