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Chute’s Plenary Talk To Highlight April 25-26 CompLit Conference

Published: April 15, 2013

Continuing the longest-running event on campus, the 48th Annual Comparative Literature Conference hosted by the Department of Comparative World Literature and Classics returns to the Karl Anatol Center Thursday and Friday, April 25-26, on the topic “Popular Culture(s).”

The conference’s plenary speaker arrives on Friday, April 26, at 2 p.m. in the Anatol Center when Hillary Chute, the Neubauer Family Assistant Professor of English at the University of Chicago, will speak on “Literacy, Democracy, Comics.” The conference is co-sponsored by Associated Students Inc., the Associated Students of Comparative Literature and the Departments of English, Romance/German/Russian Languages and Literatures (RGRLL), and Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies.

One of the keys to a successful conference is the speaker, said organizer Nhora Serrano, a member of Comparative World Literature and Classics since 2006. “The speaker must appeal to faculty members and students,” she said. “The speaker must engage, must be fun and must be 10 things at once. That’s why I’m so glad we were able to attract Hilary Chute.”

Chute is a widely published author on graphic narratives whose most recent book, Graphic Women: Life Narrative and Contemporary Comics, arrived from Columbia University Press in 2010. She is also the associate editor of MetaMaus (Pantheon, 2011), a book by Art Spiegelman that examines the making of his terrain-shifting graphic narrative “Maus.”

The goal of the conference is to be an interdisciplinary gathering of scholars, artists and practitioners from all walks of popular culture, the arts and the academy. The aim, according to Serrano, is to consider the topic of popular culture across time, disciplines and languages.

“It seeks to examine literature, images, visual objects and mechanisms, the political and social events from diverse cultures, across national boundaries and within global contexts,” Serrano said.

Serrano was pleased by the quality of participant responses. “I was impressed in light of national and worldwide budget crises across academia. There are more than 50 participants taking part over two days. To see that level of participation during an economic downturn is especially satisfying,” she said. “Student participation reflects on the faculty members who are committed to the extra time it takes to prepare them. Their participation speaks to how much students and scholars love this conference.”

Presentations will feature both CSULB faculty members and students. Serrano pointed to the panel “From Tattooed Faces to Airbrushed Abs: Ancient Culture in the Modern World” on the conference’s opening day, April 25, at 9:30 a.m. and moderated by Comparative World Classics’ Kathryn Chew. Featured speakers include CSULB students Heather Blanchard, Jeffrey Chu and Angela Robinson.

Later that day, the “Medicine, Health and the Popular Body” panel will touch on the anorexic narrative of “The Hunger Games” and the potential for the misuse of empathy on reality TV. Serrano tipped her hat to the panel “Mexican and Mexican-American Impressions and Repressions” featuring a paper from UC Berkeley’s Dexter Hough-Snee titled “’Enjoy the Locals’: Imperial Rhetoric and Colonial Visions of Mexico in Contemporary Surf Film.”

“This is where the topic lends itself to interdisciplinary pursuits,” said Serrano. “This is an eclectic yet deeply serious series of topics.”

Hillary Chute

“Disability As Villainy in American Popular Media” is moderated by English’s Ilan Mitchell-Smith with an all-CSULB panel including Amanda Pisarski on “Uncovering Batman’s Arch Enemy: An Examination of the Use of Mental Illness in the Dark Knight Trilogy”, Kathryn Healy on “The Nameless Monster: Analysis of Antagonists with Albinism in ‘The Da Vinci Code’ and ‘The Princess Bride,’ and Sierra Patheal on “Voices and Names: Disability as Self and Other in George RR Martin’s ‘A Song of Ice and Fire.’”

“Here and There and Everywhere: Memes!” will feature CSULB’s Lisa Brown on “Agamben’s Whatever Being and Mustachioed Memes” and Comparative World Literature and Classics’ Mark Sugars on “Myths, Memes and Memory.”

“Blockbusters” will be hosted by CSULB’s Comparative World Literature and Classics’ Jordan Smith and will feature a presentation by RGRLL’s Jeffrey High on “From Wars of Liberation to `Star Wars’: Friedrich Schiller’s Pop Culture Legacy.” In a panel on “Non-Western Performances,” linguistics’ Amir Sharifi will speak on “The Oral Tradition of Degbeji, a Kurdish Genre of Verbal Art.” English’s Tim Caron will moderate a panel on “Comics and Super Identities.” Finally, a roundtable on “Popular Culture in the Creative Marketplace” will include English’s Tyler Dilts and recent CSULB MFA English creative writers.

Serrano is pleased by the opportunity offered by the conference for student growth. “Not only are students helping me to organize the conference, it is an opportunity to train them in the world of scholarship,” she said. “Plus, they have fun.”

The long-running conference represents a chance for Comparative World Literature and Classics students to build a community. “They work together beforehand, help to prepare materials and communicate with conference participants. It is a training opportunity they both want and relish,” she said. “This kind of community-building opportunity is especially important for a commuter campus like CSULB. This is how students become friends.”

Serrano encourages the campus and community to attend.

“With Hillary Chute’s plenary talk topic ‘Literacy, Democracy, Comics,’ you have the chance to mix the business of scholarship with a popular culture medium like comics, a fun topic,” she said. “This is an opportunity to hear students, faculty and other scholars. There’s something for everybody.”

–Richard Manly