CEA 2016, March 31st—April 2nd, 2016, was held at one the most beautiful of all possible conference venues, at the Grand Hyatt in downtown Denver, Colorado. Presenting before a panoramic view of the Rocky Mountains from the 38th floor of the hotel lent a certain grandeur even to a paper about ePortfolios! The slow time of the mountains seemed to offer a silent commentary upon trending practices in college English education and fresh perspectives on literature old and new.
This year’s theme, “Creation,” lent itself nicely to topics ranging from racial, gender, and cultural constructions; narrative theory; genre-making; literacies; classroom innovations; linguistic and discourse theory; and of course a return to myth and Creation stories proper. Apart from my own panel, “Creative Approaches to Assessment of Student Learning,” I followed a literature track through the conference. The panel I found most thought-provoking was “Tribes, Cultures, and Lost Identities,” because of its immediate relevance to the contemporary political challenges of shifting borders and massive migrations of refugee populations. Kittiphong Praphan (Mahasarakham University) addressed the effects of neo-colonial capitalism upon India’s tribals (“Recreation of Tribals: Debt, Bonded Slavery, and Bonded Prostitution in Mahasweta Devi’s Imaginary Maps”). His paper elucidated not only the dehumanizing force of a “globalized ruling class” that manipulates local economies from afar, but also the way that subjugation by money rather than direct colonial occupation “uncouples” the economic ruling class from the responsibility to offer protection for the tribal laborers. Instead, India’s tribals are instrumentalized in the building of dams that flood their tribal lands, their sufferings subsumed under Western “development” ideology that propagates the myth of a poor country in need of industrial advancement. The stories in Mahasweta Devi’s Imaginary Maps reveal the exploitative cycle of bonded laborers facing a life of insurmountable debt to money lenders, resulting in a form of “bonded slavery” whose debts carry on to the next generation. For the first time, thanks to Kittiphong’s paper, I realized the difference between “post-colonial” and “neo-colonial,” and ways that the former implies a liberation from foreign rule that is misleading. As long as global corporate giants are “uncoupled” from responsibility to protect tribal workers from economic exploitation, the global map is still divided by colonial rule of a different kind—one that is less accountable for its actions than ever before.
In the same panel, Carolyn Marcille (Buffalo State College) presented as “Dr. Marcille” for the first time, having recently defended her dissertation. (I have to admit that had she not been on the panel, I might have attended the Shakespeare papers instead. But Buff State and UB are neighbors. Naturally I had to cheer on a fellow Buffalonian!) Her paper, “Postcolonialism, Transcorporeality and the Bordered Body,” did a fantastic job illustrating the ways that the human body is not safely bordered from the environment, but rather is increasingly “unbordered.” In the follow-up Q&A, we remarked how the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, perfectly illustrates her thesis. Similar to Kittiphong’s presentation, Carolyn’s also argued that certain bodies are more “bordered” than others, and that the bodies given least protection from environmental disaster are marked along racial and economic divides.
It was my pleasure to highlight what I thought were two outstanding presentations at CEA 2016, but I could easily go on. I attended panels on American 20th Century Novelists; American Gender and Narrative; Creating the Modern; Reaching the 21st Century; Prisons & Police; and Language & Gender Roles. Since this was my first visit to the CEA, I didn’t notice that all events beyond the panel sessions required pre-registration. Unfortunately, I’m unable to report on the luncheon speakers, but thanks to Scott’s coaching before the conference, knew to prepare myself for the annual book grab on Saturday! Like the CEA veterans, I scouted the book exhibit in advance. As luck would have it, my name was the 3rd drawn and I snagged my first choice, a new English translation of Mo Yan’s Frog, which chronicles the story of a Chinese midwife whose standing in the village falls when the woman who once delivered infants becomes the local enforcer of the new One Child law.
I crossed paths with many presenters from New York, but as a newcomer to the NYCEA, none that I recognized from our October conference at Hilliard College. For future national conferences, perhaps we could find each other in advance or even collaborate on moderating a panel. Looking forward to next year!
Our first NYCEA blog entry will be arriving soon. NYCEA member and 2015 Graduate Prize winner Cheryl Emerson (SUNY Buffalo) will be providing an entry about her experiences at the 2016 national CEA conference in Denver, Colorado!
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