Report on the NASSR 1996 Conference

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for NASSR 96 "Romantic Crossings" Conference

Conference Directors: Elizabeth Fay and Alan Richardson

Conference Committee: Sonia Hofkosh, Charles Rzepka, Alison Hickey, Stuart Peterfreund, Irene Tayler, and Leo Damrosch.

On a very cold weekend in November over 280 Romanticists gathered at the Sheraton Tara in Newton to pursue, not furiously but rather gleefully, the newest ideas, directions, crossings-over, borrowings, transpositions, globalisms, hotmetal and cold water. Spirits were unusually high from the start, and the unseasonal cold served, it seemed, only to intens ify participation and fervor.


With papers of such high quality that the main complaint appears to have been the inability to attend more than one concurrent session, it is clear that the success of the conference is due to the extremely high quality of the talks given, and the seriousness with which NASSR members take this conference. The almost negligible attrition of participants even during the last hours of the conference also attests to the stamina of NASSR members, whose attentive and energetic engagement with issues, interpretations, and each other was what really made the conference work. In addition, the enthusiasm attendant on both the reception at The Castle sponsored by Boston University and the Keynote Lecture given by Peter Manning attested to, or perhaps helped seal, the sense of collective identity that we, as a group, have been moving toward for some time and that began finally to flower at the '96 conference. Much of the conference proceedings seems to have been an expression of, or a response to, this exuberant confidence.


Peter Mannings' keynote, " 'A Crisis in My Mental History': Mill, Wordsworth, and the Question of Borders" engaged the conference theme of "crossings" or borders through a kind of Wordsworthian meditative ramble through the disquietudes that arise as intellectualisms--or, the mentality peculiar to a moment and an individual's artistry--cross over and become transformed in the vision and need of another's artistry and another's time. More specifically, "'A Crisis'" examines Mill's reception of Wordsworth as a kind of agent through which a variety of problems could be resolved; and suggesting, thereby, something about our own receptions, conversions, appropriations, and crossing-overs. Manning's thoughtful reassessment of an intellectual "crisis" of the 19th-century implicitly targets our own intellectual and translative endeavors, and works as a counter to the overly facile bordering or border-hopping that is the hazard of contemporary theoretical applications.

This theme was taken up again in the closing plenary session, "Romantic Hybridity: Theoretical Crossings Then and Now," given by panelists Stuart Curran, Theresa Kelley, Jon Klancher, Tilottama Rajan, and moderated by William Keach. As if in direct response to the themes articulated by Peter Manning, the four panelists presented in this closing commentary, which ranged from the speculative to the admonitory, an array of readings on the congruence of the cultural present, the state of theory, and the discipline of Romantic Studies. The result, with its apposition of expansion and borderings, dialectic and contraction, was at the same time provocative and shocking, an oddly appropriate end note.


There were so many outstanding sessions in between these two larger events that it becomes difficult to single out even a few to report on, but the double panels organized by Anne Mellor on "Romanticism, Gender, and the Anxieties of Empire", by Susan Wolfson on "Aesthetics and Ideology" and "Aesthetic Value" , and by Jim McKusick on "Hybrids and Native Grounds: Romantic Ecologies" are particularly worth comment as they demark the two directions noted above largely issuing from the conference. On the one hand, the field is burgeoning with research into the "transglobal," the "middle passage," empirical anxiety, and the habitation of border spaces; on the other hand, there is an intentional return to "aesthetics," "value," and formal concerns over appropriate textual objects.


Several panels worked the intersections between these two directions, such as Julie Carlson's wonderfully inventive panel of doubled talks, "Transmutations of Romantic Medievalism", with six scholars giving three papers, and a seventh as respondent. This plethora of scholarly riches and inventive interplay-a flowering in its own right--took the historical, the theoretical, the dramatic, and the formal, and made their line of engagement the border crossing itself.


A fuller report will appear in the Spring NASSR Newsletter, and anyone wishing to contribute comments and observations on the conference should direct them to efay@umbsky.cc.umb.edu or richardson-en@hermes.bc.edu.


Published @ RC

November 1996