April 12, 2014
All these things that I didn’t know before the conference: Daniel Venegas’ Don Chiopote, the Creole folklore collected in Louisiana by the Federal Writers’ Project, and (I’m ashamed to say) Kiran Desai’s The Inheritance of Loss, writing the story of the Indian diaspora through what Arjun Appadurai calls a “gastro-politics” — tastes, textures, and smells circulating across the Indian Ocean, across the Atlantic.
I guess this is the bare minimum we have a right to expect from every conference: a not unhealthy embarrassment, if not outright shame, from not knowing these things.
In this case, though, just looking up this material isn’t going to be enough, and spending hours and hours on them won’t be enough either. In fact, probably no amount of time I can spend at this point would make me competent in Creole, or fluent enough in Spanish to get all the jokes in Don Chipote.
So maybe this is the other bare minimum that we also have a right to expect from every conference, especially one that calls itself “American Literature in the World”: a not unhealthy sense that we’re not up to lots of things, that we’ll never be up to them on our own. Collaboration has long been a norm among scientists, why not among humanists?