“Melville and Rome” That I Know

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The Melville Society's Eighth International Conference, “Melville and Rome: Empire—Democracy—Belief—Art,” was my fifth encounter with the Melville Society, of which I have been a member since 1997, when I presented a paper on “Teaching Herman Melville in China” at the Society's first international gathering in Volos, Greece. Looking back at these years of my academic career, I feel greatly indebted to the Melville Society and its helpful and warm-hearted members. I have received from them not only many kinds of scholarly advice but also friendship and academic support as well.

The 2011 conference, sponsored by the Melville Society and the Università di Roma–Sapienza, was held at the famed University and the renowned Centro Studi Americani, bringing together a global audience of over one hundred scholars from the United States, Italy, and over a dozen other nations. The core issues of the conference, signaled in its keywords, were addressed from a wide range of perspectives. As remarkable as the rich topics covered in the sessions were the varied backgrounds and national identities of the conference participants.

The first day of the conference started with warm greetings by Giorgio Mariani on behalf of the Organizing Committee; Karim Mezran, representative of the Centro Studi Americani; and Andrea Mariani, President of the Italian American Studies Association; followed by Dennis Berthold's keynote address “Exceptional Rome,” which drew our attention to a transnational perspective on the city. Berthold alluded profusely to American projections of Rome and its varied geographical significances and explored them from manifold cultural perspectives.

Over the course of four days, participants attended 34 panels at which more than 100 papers were given, in addition to the plenary presentations, on a wide scope of topics. There were panels on translations and transformations of Melville's works; Melville's poetics, highlighting not only history and form but also his artistic vision as expressed through vocal sounds and music; sexuality, gender, and time; postcolonial readings of Typee and Moby-Dick; and Melville's works in transnational contexts of science, technology, and culture. Several panels treated Melville from a comparative approach, exhibiting his various connections with other authors as well as the Italian concerns in his writing. In all, these sessions were marked by a marvelously rich exchange of ideas, interpretive frameworks, and scholarly viewpoints.

Noted contemporary American writer Leslie Marmon Silko delivered the second plenary address “Indian Haters, Indian Fighters, Indian Killers: Melville's Indictment of the ‘New Nation’ and the ‘New World.’” Gordon Poole delivered the third and final plenary, “‘Chafing Against the Metric Bound’: Melville the Poet.”

Pawel Jedrzejko and Milton Reigelman launched their Melville Book Series with two edited volumes, Hearts of Darkness: Melville, Conrad and Narratives of Oppression and Secret Sharers: Melville, Conrad and Narratives of the Real, both containing ground-breaking essays by leading scholars from twelve different nations, a fine example of fostering Melville scholarship around the world. Students in the Sapienza doctoral program in English Language and Literatures organized and led a fascinating walking tour of Melville's Rome, allowing the participants to enjoy a panoramic view of the city's historic places and cultural relics. A day-trip to Naples, guided by noted Neapolitan Melvillean Gordon Poole, was heightened by Neapolitan singers (including Gordon) who performed songs that Melville might have heard while he was staying in Naples.

The Eighth International Conference highlighted the Melville Society's powerful tradition of intellectual exchange, cross-cultural friendship, and support for young scholars. I would like to thank everyone who attended for giving so freely of themselves and making the conference so memorable and successful. It is beyond words to describe what I have achieved from the conference.

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