Adriana Cavarero on acoustics and horrorism in Heart of Darkness

Adriana Cavarero, the prominent Italian philosopher, delivered the conference’s opening keynote lecture on Thursday, June 1. Her lecture, “Soundscapes of Darkness,” discussed the acoustic elements of Conrad’s Heart of Darkness in relation to its horrorism, or extreme violence against defenseless people.

Cavarero attended to the presence of the voices, uproars, screams, and silences depicted in the story, as brought home to Europe by Marlow. In addressing these acoustic elements, Cavarero drew on the work of Hannah Arendt. Arendt, meditating on the horrors of the Holocaust, had herself reflected on the horrific colonialism as depicted in the novel.

According to Cavarero, Conrad’s text, in all of its explorations of horror, “vibrates and hangs on the reader’s doors of perception.”

As one example of such lingering acoustics, Cavarero focused on the connection between the speech of Kurtz and the noise of the natives. Cavarero argued that, within the racialized soundscape, Marlow can determine the emotional value of the natives’ utterances. Cavarero also analyzed the dissolution of the oratorical into the solo performance of Kurtz’s voice. She asserted that, if others follow Kurtz’s propensity for extermination, his voice ultimately “will be the only one left on stage.”

Cavarero, noting the reverberations of the text’s horrors throughout history, discussed the manipulative and violent Kurtz as a premonition of fascist leaders to come. She noted how Kurtz’s chilling call to “Exterminate the brutes” – not spoken but written by him – is inscribed as a memory for future European generations.

By the end of the novel, according to Cavarero, readers are left with the question of whether the horror will repeat in the heart of Europe.

“The sinister vibration,” said Cavarero, “does continue to growl on the ear of the reader after its last note has been strung.”



Margaret Cezair-Thompson discusses Conrad and her own work

Margaret Cezair-Thompson, author of The True History of Paradise and The Pirate’s Daughter and a professor of literature and creative writing at Wellesley College, delivered the conference’s concluding keynote on Saturday evening. In the keynote, “The Blank Spaces in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness,” Cezair-Thompson discussed the challenges of teaching Conrad’s work, the trauma it depicts, and its inspiration for her upcoming novel.

Filled with incendiary content involving race and trauma, Heart of Darkness causes conflict within classrooms. “This is precisely why I teach it,” Cezair-Thompson said.

She stated that the novel teaches students how to read closely, and how to find what is left out of a text. Students learn to attend to the moments of darkness and blankness that Conrad has carefully crafted, and through such engagement, to grapple with the trauma that the novel both reveals and suppresses.

How can any work represent the traumatic history of a people? Cezair-Thompson asked. Is there a rhetoric of the unspeakable?

Cezair-Thompson stressed how fiction can do what history books cannot. “The novel only asks that we imagine,” she stated. “The everyday details place us in the reality of the trauma.”

She also acknowledged Conrad’s courage for taking on the nearly impossible task of representing such trauma, told from the point-of-view of Marlow’s “profound isolation.”

Cezair-Thompson also remarked on the novel’s inconclusiveness, expressing her interest in the end scene between Marlow and the Intended.

It is this end where her own third novel will begin. In the forthcoming novel, she seeks to answer the questions, What if the Intended knew the truth about Kurtz? What would she do? What could she do? In the novel, Cezair-Thompson seeks to write the Intended a life; to deliver her from her trap of blankness and unknowing.

Named Esther in the novel, the Intended will make her own voyage to Africa, where the horrors she witnesses will irrevocably change her. The novel will be written in three parts, and that it will revolve around Esther’s will and journal.

For the rest of the details, one will have to await the novel’s release.

Luckily, conference participants received complimentary copies of The Pirate’s Daughter to satisfy themselves in the meantime.

J. Hillis Miller discusses books’ kinetic effects

What happens to one’s mind, body, and soul when one reads a book? J. Hillis Miller, the Ian P. Watt prize-winner for 2015, raised this question during his pre-recorded address, which conference participants watched Saturday afternoon.

Reflecting that the experience of reading is unique for each text, Miller asserted that reading inspires movement within oneself.

“Reading a novel or poem makes kinesis happen in my body and mind,” he said.

For Miller, not only in fiction but also in philosophical and theoretical texts, an “internal theater” opens in his mind, evoking all of the physical senses.

Readers of Conrad are certainly familiar with this experience.

When Miller first discovered Conrad as a teenager – in Typhoon – he felt himself a part of the great storm. Miller had found the novella as an anomaly on his father’s bookshelf and decided to borrow it. Captivated immediately, he soon realized that all of Conrad’s works bear the capacity to hypnotize their readers from their first pages onward.

Miller never found out why his father kept Conrad’s novella among his other books, but he did learn of Conrad’s ceaseless capacity to stir his readers to wonderment and reflection.

Conrad’s work, he said, “transformed my inner life for good.”


Day 3 – the conference’s conclusion

The conference returned to Fordham Lincoln Center for its third and final day.

The day commenced with the panel “Communities.” The panel, chaired by John G. Peters, featured talks by An Ning, Melanie Ross, Andrea White, and Yao Xiaoling.

Presenting papers on the next panel, “Crossing the Color Line,” were Pei-Wen Clio Kao, John Miele, Lindsey Pelucacci, and Merry Pawlowski. The panel was chaired by Ellen Burton Harrington.

After lunch, Hugh Epstein, Brendan Kavanagh, Nidesh Lawtoo, and Yael Levin spoke on the panel “Reading across the Sciences.” The panel was chaired by Laurence Davies.

Conference members then watched a pre-recorded address by J. Hillis Miller, the Ian P. Watt prize-winner for 2015. Reflecting on the transformative experience of reading books, Hillis Miller shared the story of his first encounter with Conrad’s “Typhoon,” which, as a teenager, he picked up arbitrarily from his father’s bookshelf.

Finally, author Margaret Cezair-Thompson delivered the concluding keynote. Along with discussing moments of blankness, darkness, and trauma in Heart of Darkness, she shared the challenges and benefits of teaching the text to college students. She also offered previews of her forthcoming novel, which writes a life for Kurtz’s Intended.

After the day’s events, conference participants ventured downstairs to the campus’s Atrium, where they enjoyed dinner and drinks, and where several members offered congratulatory speeches. Over twenty Conrad-related books were raffled off to participants.

Congratulations to all!

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Day 2 at the Kosciuszko Foundation

Conference participants met for the second day at the Kosciuszko Foundation.

The day began with the panel “Media Crosscurrents.” Chaired by Seamus O’Malley, the panel featured papers by Mark Bourdeau, Chris GoGwilt & Holt V. Meyer, Wieslaw Krajka, and Julie Beth Napolin.

A mini-keynote address by James Clifford followed the panel. The address, “Conrad in Trump Country,” discussed Heart of Darkness in relation to the stormy present-day circumstances in American society, arguing that we should not explain away violence and myth, and rather that we should listen to people with views contrary to our own.

Then came the panel “Narrative Crosscurrents,” chaired by Brian Richardson. Panel participants included Ryan Gilligan, Deborah Kachel, Anne Luyat, and John G. Peters.

After a generous lunch in the dining hall, participants met for the final two panels. “Intertextual Crosscurrents (part 1),” chaired by Andrea White, featured talks by William Atkinson, Catherine Delesalle, Michael DiSanto, and Robert Hampson. “Intertextual Crosscurrents (part 2),” chaired by Robert Hampson, included presentations by Ellen Burton Harrington, Kyle McAuley, Brygida Pudelko, and Brian Richardson.

After these events, a group of conference participants journeyed to the New York Public Library to view to Henry W. and Albert A. Berg Collection of English and American Literature.

Detailed accounts of the events will soon follow.

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The voyage has begun

The 2017 Conrad Conference has officially begun!

After registration, participants kicked off the conference with the panel “Nostromo‘s Crosscurrents.” Chaired by Chris GoGwilt, the panel featured talks by Laurence Davies, Daphna Erdinast-Vulcan, Jean Szczypien, and Mark Wollaeger.

Following a break filled with coffee and sweets, Adriana Cavarero presented the opening keynote lecture, “Soundscapes of Darkness,” in which she discussed the dynamics of sounds and silences in Heart of Darkness. Drawing on Hannah Arendt’s work, Cavarero discussed the text as premonitory of the rise of fascist leaders.

After breaking for dinner, the conference members reconvened at the beautiful Consulate General of the Republic of Poland. Grazyna Branny, Lilia Omelan, and Joanna Skolik presented papers of Polish scholarship on Conrad. A reception in the Consulate followed, complete with hors d’oeuvres, drinks, and desserts.

Check back soon for detailed accounts of these presenters’ talks!

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Looking for a bite to eat?

Looking for a bite to eat?
Food and refreshments aren’t hard to find in New York, but if you find yourself with some free time between panels, these restaurants and coffee shops might do the trick for you.
Near Fordham:
Island Burgers and Shakes: 766 9th Ave.
Rosa Mexicano – 61 Columbus Ave.
‘Wichcraft – 61 W 62nd St.
Terakawa Ramen – 885 9th Ave.
Olympic Flame Diner – 200 W 60th St.
P.J. Clarke’s – 44 W 63rd St.
Epicerie Boulud – 1900 Broadway
The Smith – 1900 Broadway
Starbucks – 1889 Broadway

Near the Consulate General of the Republic of Poland:

Piccolo Cafe – 238 Madison Ave.
Cafe China – 13 E 37th St.
Slattery’s Midtown Pub – 8 E 36th St.
Park Avenue Tavern – 99 Park Ave.
El Rio Grande – 160 E 38th St.
Brother Jimmy’s BBQ – 416 8th Ave.
Panera Bread – 330 7th Ave.
Chipotle Mexican Grill – 274 Madison Ave.
Shake Shack – Madison Square Park
Starbucks – 295 Madison Ave.

Near the Kościuszko Foundation:

Altesi Ristorante – 20 E 64th St.
Arabelle – 37 E 64th St.
Match Brasserie – 29 E 65th St.
Pastafina Pizza – 876 Lexington Ave.
Sel et Poivre – 853 Lexington Ave.
Donohue’s Steak House – 845 Lexington Ave.
Barbaresco – 843 Lexington Ave.
Alice’s Tea Cup – 156 E 64th St.
Starbucks – 695 Park Ave.
Nespresso – 761 Madison Ave.
Gregory’s Coffee – 878 Lexington Ave.
Dunkin’ Donuts – 882 Lexington Ave.