Next up in today’s blog catch-up, I’m delighted to have our first post by Hannah Grayson who joined us as a Lecturer in French at the start of this year, focusing on her research trip to the States earlier this semester:
‘Back in March I was lucky enough to be in the USA for two academic conferences. My first stop was Washington, DC, where the American Comparative Literature Association was hosting its annual meeting at Georgetown University.
Unlike a lot of conferences, the ACLA has a distinctive structure where seminar groups of 10-12 people meet for two hours each day over three days in order to foster extended discussion. I would definitely choose to participate in this kind of structure again, as it allowed us lots of time to develop our conversations and draw links between papers. Our seminar stream, organised my colleague Eloise Brezault from St Lawrence University and myself, was titled ‘Responding to Violence: Hierarchies of Memorialization in Postcolonial Africa’. Our aim was to explore why certain instances of violence take precedence over others in terms of historicization, and how literary/cultural texts can both reorient historiographical trends and provide new lenses for revisiting historical moments. Among other things, we discussed the use of digital technology to tell stories in new ways, and different forms of responding to the silencing of history.
Our Stirling colleague Fiona Barclay presented research on the contested memorialisation of the massacre that took place on 26th March 1962 in Algiers from her current project. My own paper ‘Responding to Ebola’ was on En compagnie des hommes, a recent novel by Véronique Tadjo who is one of the authors studied at Stirling in the option module French and Francophone Cultures of Travel. I discussed Tadjo’s itinerant writing, and her critique of political responses to the 2014-16 Ebola epidemic. There was also plenty of time to attend other sessions, and I followed a fascinating seminar stream on injustice and witnessing. On the final evening, the keynote address was given by prize-winning author, Amitav Ghosh, who spoke to us about the challenges of representing polyglot societies in what he described as the essentially monolingual form of the novel.
With a few days to spare I took the opportunity to visit the Library of Congress, which is the largest library in the world. Though I was mainly marking first-year commentaries, it was also a great opportunity to read some new material on Tierno Monénembo, a francophone Guinean author whose writing was at the heart of my doctoral research. I also got to see the Lincoln Memorial and the White House, but will have to plan a return trip to make the most of Washington’s amazing collection of museums.
The next stop was Oklahoma City: a place, according to those I asked in DC, known for being totally flat, extremely windy, and not much else! Oklahoma City certainly isn’t known for being a centre of interest for scholars of French and Francophone literature, but it is there that we gathered for the annual 20th and 21st Century French and Francophone Colloquium. I presented on Tadjo again, but this time on a panel about the suffering body: ‘Corps en souffrance: s’adapter et survivre face à la maladie’. It was great to discuss the place of illness and mourning, and the position of the patient, in literary texts by René Allendry, Maëlys de Kerangal and Emmanuèle Bernheim.
The theme of the conference, ‘Catastrophes, Cataclysms, Adaptation & Survival’, had caught my eye because of my research interest in fictional representations of crisis in sub-Saharan Africa. Where the majority of papers were based on texts from metropolitan France, those from the wider francophone world particularly interested me and I’ve now added Edgar Sekloka’s Coffee and Failles by Yannick Lahens to my to-read list for this summer. Stirling students who take the French Atlantic Slave Trade module would have especially enjoyed Fabienne Kanor’s presentation on the process of writing her novel Humus, which tells the stories of 14 female slaves who in 1774 chose suicide in the Atlantic rather than a life of slavery. She spoke about the journeys she made from archives in Nantes to Badagry, Nigeria, and her process of writing those 14 voices, always keeping the sounds of the sea present in the text, and asking herself, “comment témoigner à leur place de cette catastrophe?”
On the final day of the conference I made my way through a huge St Patrick’s Day parade to the Oklahoma City national memorial and museum. Having discussed the filmic and literary representations of so many episodes of violence in the two conferences, it was very moving to walk around the monument to the 168 lives lost in the domestic terror attack of April 1995. I spoke with staff there about the process of designing the memorial, the decision to have an empty chair for each of the lives lost, and the presence of an elm tree which remarkably survived the blast and all the destruction that followed. I was also reminded of research I’ve done in Rwanda around how museums, monuments, fiction and testimony all contribute to building a memory landscape in the wake of the Genocide against the Tutsi of 1994. But perhaps that’s something for a future blogpost!
All in all it was a great trip, and I came back to Scotland with a huge to-read list, and lots of ideas to follow up.’
Many, many thanks to Hannah for this article and we’ve taken careful (and grateful!) note of the promise of future ones!