February 29, 2012
I’ve always loved the big white buildings of Berkeley, but the brick buildings of UCLA (russet and ochre, so different from the plain red of the east coast) must be more habitable? Royce Hall, with its twin towers, eucalyptus trees and fig trees in front, and the rotunda of Powell Library at the back, is definitely in a league by itself.
And the conference: papers on the globalized economy of the novel; its generic limits; the temporal dislocations of Hong Kong and Baghdad; an updated Aldo Leopold; and the unplanned but nontrivial convergence of W. B. Yeats and Cesar Vallerjo. Enough to keep our collective heads buzzing for a while.
The tradition here is that conference organizers don’t give papers. So the team of seven this year – Malik Chaudhary, Tom Chen, Jennie Scholick, Adrienne Posner, Yuting Huang, Nasia Anam, and Duncan Yoon – did all the legwork, but what would they have been saying if they had been presenting?
Luckily Duncan Yoon came to pick me up at the airport, so at least I had a chance to grill him. And he rewards the grilling. Duncan must be one of the few people doing field work in Africa, with an analytic axis going east rather than west. In the 1950s and 60s, Frantz Fanon, Patrice Lumumba, Kwame Nkrumah, and Ahmed Sékou Touré were looking to China as a blueprint for grassroots action. The Bandung conference, a meeting of Asian and African nations held in April 1955 – representing more than half the world’s population, and photographed by Richard Wright – was a peripheral network. No question about that. It didn’t have the clout of the metropolitan circuits. Still, it bookmarked an important moment in history, and in the twenty-first century, as a Sino-African alliance becomes a new geopolitical fact, that prior moment suddenly has a new meaning.
Duncan Yoon was thinking about all of this while chauffeuring me from LAX to Royce Hall. If this is what happens under the auspices of “World, Globe, Planet,” I’m signing on.