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45th Annual CompLit Conference Runs March 4-6 on Campus

Published: March 1, 2010

“Visual Culture and Global Practices” is the theme for this year’s 45th annual Comparative World Literature and Classics’ conference that runs March 4-6.

This year’s plenary speaker is the University of Chicago’s W.J.T. Mitchell who will address the conference on “World Pictures: Globalization and Visual Culture” on Friday, March 5, at 11 am. Admission is free.

“W.J.T. Mitchell is a renowned scholar on visual culture and the author of such landmark books as What Do Pictures Want?: The Lives and Loves of Images in 2006 and Picture Theory: Essays on Verbal and Visual Representation in 1995,” said conference organizer Nhora Serrano, a member of the department since 2006. “It is important for any conference to have a plenary speaker who is a scholar and works in the field. I think his participation is a big reason why the conference has drawn such a strong response from potential speakers who are coming from everywhere from Canada to Brazil.”

Visual culture means more than a literary perspective, Serrano believes. “Presentations will deal with everything from movies (New York University’s Hilary Ashton on “The Othered Vocabulary of Zombies and Psychos: Genette’s Paratext in Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez’ `Grindhouse’”) to postcards (Southwestern University’s Kimberly Smith speaks on `Constructing Thebes: Text and Image in Franz Marc’s Postcards for Else Lasker-Schuler.’ Visual culture covers all that.”

The contemporary situation in humanities and social sciences is often characterized by the so-called “visual turn,” or the increasing emphasis of theory on the power and scope of the visual in everyday life, science, literature, media and the arts, Serrano explained. Visual culture as well as the formation of the field of visual studies stems from this renewed focus upon pictorality, the power of the image and its expression through various linguistic, visual and media forms. “Visual Culture and Global Practices” seeks to examine literature (across time periods and languages), images, visual objects and mechanisms, and events from diverse cultures, across national boundaries, and within global contexts, Serrano believes.

CSULB participants include student Scott Kulek, who appears as part of the March 4 panel on “19th Century Images and Interrogations,” where he will present on “Negotiating Images in Henry James and Oscar Wilde.” Also on the first day will be Comparative Literature’s Pravina Cooper in a panel on “Consumer Culture,” speaking on the topic “TV’s `Mad Men’ and Why We Love Them.”

A March 4 panel on “Word and Illustration in Didierot and D’Alembert’s ‘Encyclopédie I'” will be moderated by Romance/German/Russian Languages and Literature’s Clorinda Donato and features CSULB student Nicolas Bordage on “Text and Image in Diderot’s `La Religieuse (The Nun)’ and in the Encyclopédie as Reenactment of the Cinderella Tale,’” CSULB student Philana Rustin on “From the Philosophes to Rousseau: The Theatrical Debate in the Text and Plates of the Encyclopédie” and CSULB student Kelly Burkhard on “The Hand in Diderot’s Encyclopédie and in Gray’s ‘Anatomy.’” Donato also hosts a second Encyclopédie panel featuring CSULB students Flora Guevara on “Image and Article in the Representation of Latin America in the Encyclopédie” and Kristin Whitfield on “Machine Mind and Humanity in the Anatomical Plates and Texts in Diderot’s and D’Alembert’s Encyclopédie.”

On the conference’s second day, Friday, March 5, the opening panel on “Pedagogy and Visual Culture” will include presentations by English’s Boak Ferris on “50 Images of Prometheus Crucified” and History’s Linda Alkana on “Visual Culture and Safety: From Comic Books to Visual Consent Forms.”

Also due on March 5 is a panel on “Italian Visualities” including a presentation by RGRLL’s Enrico Vettore on “The Search for the Essential Image: The Paradoxical Case of Roberto Rossellini.” A panel on “Popular Sightings” will feature Linguistics’ Alexandra Jaffe on “Image and Text, Material and Virtual: Textual Trajectories, Stance, Genre and Medium in the Post-Secret ‘Virtual Community.’” A third panel on “German Aesthetics” will feature CSULB student Megan Hoetger on “Re-Presentations: The Filmic Image in the Postwar Vienna.”

On the conference’s third day, March 6, a panel on “Empire and Ethnography: Cultural Representations” will feature History’s Emily Berquist on the topic “The Science of Empire: Envisioning a Bishop’s Utopia in Colonial Peru.”

Serrano applauds the Comparative World Literature and Classics Department for its continued commitment to the conferences. “Even in times of crisis, conferences like these prove the university is still thinking and educating,” she said. “We haven’t lost our passion for our fields. We are still a viable university with exciting, innovative things going on.”

Current economic woes have pulled the department together. “The 45th year of a conference says a lot about how supportive and encouraging a place this department can be,” she said. “It speaks to how the department bands together like a family. It speaks to the department’s dedication to a long-standing tradition and to each other. It speaks to the discipline of Comparative World Literature and Classics as well as its vitality and importance in this day and age.”

Serrano encourages the university to take a look at the conference. “Potential audiences ought to check out the conferences web page to see what interests them,” she said. “The big draw this year is W.J.T. Mitchell who is charming, intelligent and approachable. He is truly a unique scholar.”

For more information, please check the conference Web site.

–Richard Manly