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Vol 57 No. 3 | Feb. 2005
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Books40th Annual CompLit Conference Returns to
CSULB Feb. 18-19

Presented in conjunction with the regional Western Society for 18th Century Studies, the conference is the longest-running event on campus.

“The Global 18th Century” will arrive with the help of 64 presenters, organized in 20 panels, who will discuss topics as varied as the Enlightenment concepts found in Mozart's “Magic Flute” and gender identity and sexual politics in the period. The University of Connecticut's Margaret Higonnet, president of the American Comparative Literature Association, will serve as plenary speaker.  

“The conference is multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary,” said Carl Fisher, a member of the Comparative World Literature and Classics Department since 2000. “The disciplinary range includes history, music, political science and philosophy as well as topics characteristic of traditional literary study. There will be papers on French, German, English, Russian and Italian literatures and panels on postmodern and postcolonial views of the 18th century.”  

CSULB will provide a number of its faculty and graduate students to serve as presenters. “The rest come from a wide range of institutions from England, Canada, France and throughout the U.S.,” said Fisher, a Pasadena resident. “There will be representatives from the UC system as well as CSU Dominguez Hills and San Bernardino.”

Between 150 and 200 CSULB students attended last year's conference on “Film, Ideology and Culture.”

“It gives students an opportunity to see how the profession functions and the kinds of research we do,” he explained. “They learn how an academic conference is created and how it functions. The conference offers an interesting adjunct experience to the classroom.”

The annual meeting is a big reason CSULB enjoys the national reputation it does. “This is a cutting-edge conference,” he said. “Year after year, comparative literature strives to redefine itself as it looks for what will be the next important field of study. We really have the best of both worlds. We cover traditional areas of Western literature, while, at the same time, we teach Asian, Middle Eastern and Eastern European literatures.”

While the 18th century may be a haze of powdered wigs and quill pens to some, it is a source of cultural riches to others. “Dickens put it best about the 18th century in A Tale of Two Cities when he said ‘it was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” Fisher said. “It is a fascinating period because we see the beginning of modern political and social institutions. The 18th century was on the brink of modernity while, at the same time, it was a world of incredible extremes, from great wealth to abject poverty. It was a vibrant world we can still recognize today.”

Fisher hopes participants will come away with the feeling they've been part of something special.

“From the number of papers and their quality, I think this conference will be as well attended as it will be interesting,” he said. “I hope those who come will feel they've participated in an academic community where ideas are paramount.”

Conference Draws
Famous Guests

As the longest-running event on campus, the annual Comparative Literature Conference (in 2005, titled “The Global 18th Century”) has drawn many figures of note to CSULB.

Besides this year's speaker, Margaret Higonnet from the University of Connecticut, past plenary speakers for the conference include director Francis Ford Coppola in 1967 (five years before helming “The Godfather”) with movie critic Arthur Knight on “Folklore and Films.”

The show business connection continued in 1973 when Liv Ullman, star of such classic Ingmar Bergman films as “Persona” and “Scenes from a Marriage,” arrived on campus to speak on “Language: Symbols and Reaction” with poet, translator and critic John Ciardi. Film pioneer Hal Roach (Laurel and Hardy's “Way Out West” and creator of “The Little Rascals”) spoke with novelist Max Apple on “The Comic Spirit” in 1983.       

There have been novelists aplenty such as Irving Stone (The Agony and the Ecstasy) in 1975 to address “Michelangelo's Birthday,” Ishmael Reed (Yellow Back Radio Broke Down) in 1994 on “Transmission of Culture: Literature and the Liberal Arts” and Maryse Condé (I, Tituba, Black Witch of Salem) in 1989 speaking on “Eroticism and Censorship in Literature and Film” with Françoise Pfaff.  

Mythologist/folklorist Joseph Campbell was a three-time guest of the conference, addressing “The Day for Mythology” in 1974, “Psyche and Symbol” five years later and “Mythology and Creativity” in 1985.  

Literary critics have been well represented by Leslie Fiedler in 1984 on “The Fantastic: Celebrating the Imagination,” Sandra Gilbert in 1996 on “Love and Politics in Literary Perspective” and Trinh Minh Ha in 2001 on “Dislocation of Culture: Postcolonial Literature and Cultural Theory.”

Poets have also participated, with visits from Gwendolyn Brooks in 1977 on “Literature and Politics: Voices of the Third World,” and Allen Ginsberg and Denise Levertov in 1982 on “Visions of Peace: Peace and the Creative Arts.”  

“The caliber of speakers has been very high throughout the years of the conference,” according to comparative literature's Carl Fisher, “which is a testament to the topicality and popularity of the conference and the campus, and which has offered a wonderful opportunity for the CSULB community to interact with the broader world of ideas.”

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