The Exceptional Eighth International Melville Conference
Article first published online: 27 MAR 2012
© 2012 The Melville Society and Wiley Periodicals, Inc.
Volume 14, Issue 1, pages 101–104, March 2012
How to Cite
SCHULTZ, E. (2012), The Exceptional Eighth International Melville Conference. Leviathan, 14: 101–104. doi: 10.1111/j.1750-1849.2011.01521.x
- Issue published online: 27 MAR 2012
- Article first published online: 27 MAR 2012
In his keynote lecture for the Eighth International Melville Conference, “Exceptional Rome,” Dennis Berthold suggested that the founders of many small American towns expressed their yearning to identify with Rome's grandeur and glory in naming themselves after the imperial city. As his lecture developed, Dennis noted, however, exceptionalism's limitations because of its association with ideas of exclusivity and argued that, throughout his writings, Melville himself connected the exceptional with the possibilities for realizing diverse relationships. In terms of discovering and expanding relationships, the Eighth International Melville Conference reflected Melville's vision.
Our eighth Melville conference was in the making since 2003 when John Bryant, attending a conference in Rome on Emerson, proposed a Roman conference on Melville to Giorgio Mariani. The success of this conference is due to the dedicated work of the triumvirate of John, representing the Melville Society Executive Board; Giorgio, organizing on the ground, day in and day out, from his position at the Università di Roma–Sapienza; and Gordon Poole, maestro of all matters Melvillean in Italy. In the course of the conference, Giorgio and the participants also repeatedly gave thanks for the assistance of the hard-working, patient, ingenious, and cheerful group of Sapienza students who helped us by dealing with accommodation and technological logistics, directing us to various events, organizing a grand walking tour of Melville's Rome, and serving delicious snacks and drinks, including fresh cherries and prosecco to conclude the conference.
Perhaps the largest of the Melville Society's international conferences, the Rome meeting brought together Europeans, North Americans, Middle Easterners, and Asians. We were a global gathering, an Anacharsis Clootz deputation. Many of us were old-time Melvilleans who had attended several of the previous international conferences, while others were on hand for their first Melville conference. Large numbers of young scholars delivered provocative papers and gathered between sessions and long into the night at Rome's countless outdoor cafes. Perhaps the youngest Melvillean was seventeen-year old Luisa Barbano from Rochester, New York, a Moby-Dick enthusiast since she first read the novel when she was eight years old. Participants flowed convivially together, from the conference's first day, held in the Centro Studi Americani located in the elegant, seventeenth-century Palazzo Mattei di Giove Antici with its arched courtyards, imposing statues and busts, book-lined rooms, and frescoed ceilings, through the following days at a contemporary, technologically sophisticated building at the Università di Roma–Sapienza. Between sessions, new and old Melville friends gathered for ongoing conversation and coffee, and during the lunch break and in the evenings, we continued talking over pizza or pasta in the restaurants available in the university district where most of us were staying.
The beating heart of the conference was Melville and his relationship to Rome, in particular, and Italy, in general. Participants approached Melville's Italian relationship through his correspondence, his travel journals, his lectures (“Statues in Rome” received repeated attention), his collection of prints, as well as through his fiction. Thus, papers not only referenced Greek and Roman classical arts and writers but also focused on Melville in Rome in his own time. They considered, for example, other Americans visiting Italy during the nineteenth century, among them James Fenimore Cooper, Margaret Fuller, and Harriet Hosmer. The conference's capacious subtitle—“Empire, Democracy, Belief, Art”—provided catalysts for numerous presentations on Melville's concern for politics and religion, with art interpreted broadly to include the visual arts, prosody, music, and aesthetics, often as these subjects related especially to Italian creators and thinkers. In discussing their own Moby-Dick-inspired works, two outstanding artists—Claire Illouz from France and Tony de los Reyes from California—epitomized the possibilities of interpreting Melville visually. Papers examined adaptations of Melville's works in global and Italian popular culture—including not only Moby-Dick but also “Benito Cereno” and The Confidence-Man—as well as interpretations of his works using new technologies.
In addition, the conference was enriched by sessions devoted to Melville in relation to racism (memorably, Yukiko Oshima taught us a new term: “Typeequod”), trauma, paleontology, sexuality, teaching, translating, theory, hybridity, and concepts of time. Underscoring the international nature of the eighth conference, presenters related Melville's works to diverse cultures and literary traditions, including Islam, Haiti, Russia, and Latin America. With the exceptions of Omoo, Mardi, and some short prose works, most of Melville's writings received attention in the course of the conference, with presentations on Clarel appearing to outnumber those on Moby-Dick. Papers connecting Melville to concerns regarding the environment, industrialization, and capitalism, however, seemed to be missing.
Several special events contributed to the energetic flow of conversation at the conference. Milton Reigelman and Pawel Jedrzejko launched two collections of “ground-breaking” essays, both emanating from the Sixth International Melville Conference, held in Poland and linking Melville and Conrad. In doing so, they inaugurated the “Melville Studies Series,” whose purpose is “to foster Melville scholarship around the world.” The plenary talks by Dennis Berthold, Leslie Marmon Silko, and Gordon Poole enlivened discussion. In her presentation, titled “Indian Haters, Indian Fighters, Indian Killers: Melville's Indictment of the ‘New Nation’ and the ‘New World,’” Silko expressed her gratitude to Melville, arguing that her own writing had been deeply influenced by Melville's courage in exposing the horror of Andrew Jackson's Indian policies through his characterization of the Indian-hater in The Confidence-Man. In “‘Chafing Against the Metric Bound’: Melville the Poet,” Poole, reflecting on the challenges of translating “Naples in the Time of Bomba” and “The Pleasure Party,” gracefully proposed that the translator, like the poet himself, must listen to a poem's metrics as well as the nuances of each word.
With adaptations of Melville's works a topic for discussion in several sessions during the conference, the theatrical production of ACHABlues by Sapienza students provided an exemplary model of the provocative ways in which Moby-Dick has been translated into multiple genres world-wide. With an innovative script and a cast of five talented actors, each taking several roles from the novel, ACHABlues created a dynamic and memorable experience for conference-goers. Because of their professionalism, despite our inability to understand Italian, we nonetheless could follow the play's wild and exuberant comedy and were swept into its metaphysical and lyrical vision of chaos. Sapienza students were also responsible for the Sunday walking tour of Melville's Rome. Beginning at the Grand Hotel de La Minerve in the Piazza della Minerva, where Melville himself stayed on his 1857 trip to Rome, the students guided us to the ancient sites which Melville himself saw: the Pantheon, the Colosseum, the Forum, and the Capitoline Museum. Lectures by three of the students led us through ancient time, Melville's time, and into our own.
The formal conference concluded by our moving out of Rome and into the future, in anticipation of our next international conferences. Chris Sten spelled out plans for our ninth international conference in 2013 in Washington, D.C., where Melville will be linked with Whitman, and the Civil War will be a major focus, and Sam Otter revealed that our tenth international conference in 2015 will be in Tokyo. This decision was made possible by the presence in Rome of a committed cadre of Japanese Melville scholars, including Arimichi Makino and Takayuki Tatsumi, both of whom agreed, along with Otter, to organize the 2015 conference. Plans for these forthcoming conferences reflect the commitment and dedication of an active scholarly community to understanding Melville's works, which made the eighth and all of our previous international Melville conferences exceptional.