California State University, Long Beach
Inside CSULB Logo

47th Annual CompLit Conference Underway, Focus On Censorship

Published: March 1, 2012

Continuing the longest-running event on campus, the 47th Annual Comparative Literature Conference hosted by the Department of Comparative World Literature and Classics returns to the Karl Anatol Center March 1-3 with the topic “Drawing the Line(s): Censorship and Cultural Practices.”

The conference’s plenary speaker arrives on Friday, March 2 when Ilan Stavans, Lewis-Sebring Professor in Latin American and Latino Culture from Amherst College, speaks on “In Praise of Censorship.” The conference is co-sponsored by the Associated Students Inc., the B-Word Project, the Departments of Art and Romance/German/Russian Languages and Literatures, Chicano and Latino Studies and the Jewish Studies Program. Admission is free.

“The conference represents an interdisciplinary gathering of scholars, artists and practitioners from all walks of the arts and the academy that aims to consider censorship in a broad scale across time periods, disciplines and languages,” said Nhora Serrano, a member of the Comparative World Literature and Classics Department and this year’s co-organizer with Art’s Nizan Shaked. “The conference seeks to examine literature, images, visual objects and mechanisms, the political and social events from diverse cultures, across national boundaries, and within global contexts.”

Panels begin on Thursday, March 1 and continue through Saturday, March 3 with such topics as “Contemporary Displays and Containments,” “Religious (Im) proprieties” and “Inquisitorial Censorships.” Several panels are comprised of CSULB students or led by CSULB faculty members.

“This conference represents the first opportunity to co-organize with the department of Art,” said Serrano. “A Provost Multi-Interdisciplinary Award in 2011 from the Chancellor’s Office went toward organizing this conference and sponsoring a collaborative course between Art History and Comparative Literature on censorship that is tied directly to the conference.”

CSULB faculty members and students will participate throughout the conference including:

“Theoretical Concerns and Praxis of Censorship” will hear Communication Studies’ Jose Rodriguez on “Censorship of Authenticity and the Cultural Practice of Hypocrisy in Academia”;

“Religious (Im) proprieties” featuring CSULB’s Mary Coyne on “A Roman Orgy: The Censorship of Marcantonio Raimondi’s `I Modi’”;

“Censorship in the Creative Marketplace” featuring participation by English’s Tyler Dilts;

“From Canon to Cannons: Censorship in the Ancient World” features an all-CSULB cast including moderation by Comparative World Literature and Classics’ Kathryn Chew, and Sarah McGinnis on “In or Out? Banned Books from the Bible,” Samantha Rosso on “Keeping It PG: Making Myths More Appropriate,” Erin Yarborough on “No Ifs, Ands or Butts: Banned Poems in the Editions of Catullus and Andy Hogan on “Man [etho] vs. Food time: The De Facto Censorship of Ptolemaic History as seen in the Epitome of Manethol”;

Another all-CSULB panel will be “Fun with Phalluses and Philosophy: More Censorship in the Ancient World” moderated by Chew, and featuring Elena Harris on “Up in Smoke: the Burning of Gnostic texts by the Roman Empire,” Stefanie Trutanic on “Hard Times: Women in Greek Pub(l)ic Art,” Lannibeth Monharas on “Sappho Schoolmistress: Censorship and Sex Ed in Antiquity,” Melissa Sanchez on “Singing the Blues: Women, Stockings and Censorship in the 18th and 19th Centuries” and Heather Blanchard on “No Girls Allowed! Gender Discrimination and the Erotic Exhibits of Pompeii”;

“Censorship of Sexual Practices: Gays in American Culture” is another all-CSULB production featuring moderation by Comparative World Literature and Classics’ Vlatka Velcic and papers on “Illuminated Darkness: Allen Ginsberg’s `Howl’ and “The Question of Obscenity in the 1950s” by Erica Medrano, Declan Murphy on “Men in Chains: Robert Mapplethorpe’s Homosexual S&M Photos Entering the Public Sphere” and Kim Galarpe on “Self-Censorship as Self Preservation: Homosexuality in Transition in Contemporary American Society”;

Another all-CSULB production addresses the topic of “From Mind Control to the Internet: Censorship in Contemporary Global Culture” in a panel moderated by Velcic and featuring CSULB’s Levon Parseghian on “Filtration as Censorship: Is the News Media Censoring the Newsreader or Is the Newsreader Censoring the News Media?”, Christine Rivera on “Language Controls Thought: An Analysis of Orwell’s `1984’ and Contemporary Culture,” Matthew Gonzalez on “Book Burning as a Gesture: An Analysis of Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451” and Amanda Sarmiento on “Cleaning Cartoons: Where Do We Draw the Line in Animation?”;

For the panel “Arresting Art, Striking Expressions” moderated by CSULB’s Joe Capezzuto, CSULB’s James Eastman will speak on “Censorship as Medium: the World of Edward Kienholz” while CSULB’s May Ketpongsuda will address “Exploring the Semiotics of Propaganda: Posters from the Chinese Cultural Revolution and National Socialist Party”;

47th Annual CompLit Conference

“Dialogues, Storytelling and Narratives” is moderated by CSULB’s Kari Duffield and features CSULB’s Omar Zahzah on “Mise en Silence: The Double Role of Silence in Wajdi Mouawad’s `Incendies’”;

The panels conclude with “¡México!” narrative by CSULB’s Michael Wilde and featuring CSULB’s Magdalena Cervantes on “Anti-Mexican Sentiment during the Great Depression: The Censorship of `America Tropical’” as well as CSULB’s Angelica Becerra on “Solo con la Censura: A Portrait of Cultural Sabotage in 1990s Mexico.”

This year’s conference is unique, Serrano explained. “There is a special museum exhibit tied to the conference titled `Writing Resistance in Crisis and Collaboration’ running through March 12 in FA4,” said Serrano. “It examines censorship from Chilean women’s perspective under the 1980s Pinochet dictatorship. The traveling exhibition consists of `book-objects’ in Spanish by publishing collective Ergo Sum as well as visual and literary productions made by feminist Chileans under the Pinochet dictatorship.”

The conference’s other special event is the appearance of the author of Reading Lolita in Tehran, Azar Nafisi, on March 3 at the Carpenter Arts Center as part of the campus-wide B-Word Project. Conference participants have the chance to attend Nafisi’s public lecture as part of the conference experience but CSULB students can look forward to something extra. “Our students will have the rare opportunity before the public lecture of meeting as a group with the author in a private setting,” said Serrano.

There also will be a screening on the conference’s first day of “Censorious,” a feminist view of the culture wars from the 1970s to the present followed by a roundtable discussion led by CSULB’s Mary Coyne.

Serrano believes one reason for the conference’s continued success is the commitment to outreach by the Department of Comparative World Literature and Classics.

“This conference gives the department a chance to go beyond its own boundaries to reach other departments,” she said. “Plus, the commitment this year from our students is extraordinary. Art History graduate students serve as moderators while CompLit students raise funding and run the show behind the scenes. This conference will show the students that what the faculty members do on a scholarly level begins at their level.”

Serrano was quick to credit the contributions of CSULB students Mary Sotnick and Hillary Morimoto who served as conference assistants to her and Shaked.

“The Art Department’s participation will include many students including me,” said Morimoto, a Long Beach native and Wilson High graduate on her way to a Master of Arts in Art History in 2013. “This conference is a wonderful thing for the Art Department to co-organize. It helps to open up dialogue between all the disciplines. It is easy to stay in our own little departmental worlds. This helps to bridge that isolation.”

Morimoto encouraged the campus and local community to attend the conference. “It’s free, on campus and offers an opportunity to hear many different aspects of intellectual achievement,” she said. “The topics have been brought here for discussion from all over the world.

Serrano also beckoned the community to visit. “There are panels of interest from `Musical and Lyrical Censorships’ to `Movies on Demand,’” she said. “Even those not interested in art history or comparative literature will find something worth hearing. There is something for everyone.”

–Richard Manly