ACLA 2012

by ninashiel

I returned from the 2012 ACLA meeting in the United States on Good Friday, having briefly visited a good friend in New York following the end of the conference.  Although I had expected the event to be large, its sheer vastness took me by surprise. Numbers of over 2000 attendees were mentioned, and, if the thickness of the programme was anything to go by, also fairly accurate. This, unfortunately, meant that meeting new people, outside your own seminar, was very difficult. I made some new contacts through my supervisor and by attending other sessions, although even this was made more challenging by the fact that a lot of related sessions seemed to overlap. Nonetheless, it was very good to meet even the people attending the same seminar, and to discover that yes, there are in fact people out there who work on areas related to mine. I work with literature and tech, and in ordinary circumstances my circles tend to consist of people who work with one or the other. Here, I was fully able to share views and insights on both.

My paper itself went reasonably well, although I was nearly thwarted by my first time of using a mac to display my powerpoint presentation. In Ireland we usually bring our presentations on a USB stick and use them on a common computer, but here we used our own machines. I learned a lesson of making sure I know what’s happening even on the actual technological end of things before attempting to present something! I was able to stick to the very strict time limit and we had some very interesting discussion afterward. I was particularly pleased that a couple of people came to tell me afterward that they had found the paper very interesting. In the paper, I looked at how literature and actual technology have related to each other over the past three decades, and how, in literature, virtual worlds have transformed from metaphysical to wholly ordinary to the point of insignificance.

Another definite point of interest was seeing the North American perspective on Comparative Literature. I was somewhat comforted – unlike my supervisor – by the fact that many departments seemed to be suffering from exactly the same kind of problems as we are: underfunding, lack of numbers, lack of identity, lack of recognition. At the other end, there were insitutions like Brown who said that their Comp Lit is thriving. Many said that cooperation with other departments seemed to be a very useful strategy. I also got the impression that American Comp Lit is far more concerned on what it should be  (although it was not specified who’s laying down the rules) than its European versions. Buzzwords seemed to include translation and world literature, although opinions on these varied. This is, I suppose, to do with the question of identity: how do we “sell” Comp Lit if we don’t ourselves know what it is? I myself would define it as “study of texts not in isolation, but in relationship with each other and with other fields, with a strong background of theory” but that is, admittedly, a little too long and convoluted to put in a marketing poster.