By Stephanie Edwards
Throughout the weekend, we will be having some guest bloggers share their experiences at NASSR’s 2018 conference. Today, Alicia McCartney takes us through a wide array of panels in her recap of day one of the conference!
If you are at #NASSR18 and would like to contribute a post, please get in touch with Stephanie Edwards, our Managing Editor, at email@example.com
My NASSR2018 experience began, perhaps aptly, with discussions about the end of the world. The first panel of the day, “Mary Shelley’s Ends,” featured Jennifer Hargrave, Jamison Kantor, and Chris Washington discussing Shelley’s The Last Man and Frankenstein. Pathology, quantum physics, apocalypse, and critique of empire all played a large role in this conversation, and Hargrave in particular observed that The Last Man demonstrates a complex critique of the imperialist/colonial shift.
Next, “Wordsworthian Bicentennials” offered the opportunity to learn about Dorothy’s pioneering ascent up Scafell Pike, the highest mountain in England, in October 1818, and the scheduled commemorative reenactment of her walk being coordinated this autumn. Paul Westover noted that Dorothy, at age 46 (only a few years before she began to suffer serious health issues) hadn’t planned to make the summit, but she felt strong and kept going. The trail she described was reproduced in multiple nineteenth-century tourist guidebooks, and Dorothy is largely the reason that path turned from a traditional shepherds’ route to a popular fell walk.
Peter Manning discussed Wordsworth’s self-fashioning in Miscellaneous Poems (1820), demonstrating how the poet anthologized his earlier, more radical work. Wordsworth contextualized this “juvenile” work in an attempt to project continuity with his turn to more conservative poetic and political forms, depicting himself as a “locally rooted patriot” and a “responsible steward of the poetic tradition,” and even as a “new Milton.” This self-fashioning nevertheless was incomplete and opened him up for critiques from the second generation of Romantics.
Finally, Jeff Cowton, curator of the Wordsworth Trust, discussed both #Wordsworth250 and the #ReimaginingWordsworth projects. Cowton encouraged us to think through the ways that Wordsworth’s poetry is still relevant, and the ways that audiences from people with MS to refugee groups have interacted with Wordsworth’s poetry to contemplate, access, refract, and express their own experiences in place. I’m not doing this project justice, but it’s worth exploring the exciting developments happening in Grasmere.
After lunch, “Black and Brown Romanticisms” offered the opportunity to revisit Mary Shelley, as Deanna Koretsky provided an analysis of Shelley’s Mathilda and interracialism. Doris Smith’s paper on the reception history of Phillis Wheatley challenged the ways Wheatley has been read as a fragment herself, rather than as a poet in her own right and a theorist of the fragmentary. What if we approached Wheatley through the lens of Romantic poetic genius? How would that transform both our understanding of her work and our pedagogy? Lastly, Lubabbah Chowdhury presented on anti-blackness in Indo-Caribbean writer V.S. Naipaul, pointing out that his interest in history rather than politics is political.
The final panel I attended was “Thinking Through Austen.” Magdalena Ostas, Benjamin Parker, and Yasmin Solomonescu all gave thought-provoking papers, but it was in the Q&A most of all that their observations about free indirect discourse both diverged and coalesced. Ostas’s paper in particular modeled a pedagogy that challenges students to see the multiple perspectives inherent in an apparently simple sentence in Persuasion — “She was only Anne Elliot” —which could be attributed to up to eight characters in the novel, and which changes meaning depending on whose consciousness the narrator is channeling. “This panel has made me a better reader of Austen,” remarked a colleague afterwards, and I have to agree.
This is why I go to conferences: the wonder of hearing the questions others ask— questions I wouldn’t have thought of, questions that challenge me to approach a text in a new way, questions that make me realize and articulate my existing interpretive frameworks. And, sometimes, these questions are strikingly like my own, leading to that wonderful moment of scholarly resonance (“What? You care about this stuff, too?”).
The plenary lecture by William Keach, “Romantic Writing and the Determinations of Cultural Property,” entailed another moment of recognition, as he contextualized places in Rome I’d visited as an undergraduate within the experiences of Shelley and Byron, discussing the poets’ respective interactions with, and avoidance of, the multi-layered cultural history and ownership of Roman “ruins.” I recognized that I’d experienced these same ruins without realizing the layers of literary history that now overlays them, as well.
And, at the end of a long day, the opening night reception, generously sponsored by SEL, did not disappoint. The hors d’oeuvres were good, the conversation was better, and I’m pleased to call day one a success.