A-conferencing we… went?

Well, my cunning plan to offer a live blog, twitter-feed, radio broadcast, and 3D-film of the conference was something less than a stunning success.  I blame it on all of the fascinating papers, the stimulating plenaries … and the dance party.  So, I thought I would blog a quick post-conference note to make up for it.   I saw too many wonderful papers to blog about, so I’m going to focus on the plenaries.  But, feel free to add in the comments section some discussion of the great papers you heard.

All of our plenaries were “named” or sponsored plenaries this year, in keeping with CAAS’s decision in 2007 to start celebrating our 40+-year history (this celebration includes the creation of the Robert K. Martin book prize and the Ernest Redekop essay prize).  The first plenary in Ottawa was sponsored by the Canadian Review for American Studies, and delivered by Tom Perlmutter, Government Film Commissioner and Chairperson of the National Film Board (NFB).  His talk, “Against Culture or La Trahison des Clercs Redux,” offered a fascinating overview of the new forms of visual narrative made possible by digital technologies and interactivity.  These included such works as Soldier Brother (which I found particularly moving), and the incredibly impressive and ambitious Highrise project.  You can see more of the interactive media projects from the NFB here.  Of course, being who I am–at least when I’m not at conferences–I liked this clip, featuring an iconic Canadian actor, the most (“What are you doing?”).

The second plenary was the Virginia Rock plenary, delivered by Linda Hutcheon and Michael Hutcheon.  Virginia Rock, for whom the plenary is named, is one of CAAS’s founders, and the organizer of the first CAAS conference in 1965.  Continuing our multi-media extravaganza (and with the conference theme, in which the past and present are renewed through aesthetic interpretation), their talk, “The Inward Turn: American Opera Revisits America’s Past,” looked to the ways in which American operas often restage particular historical events and personages, as in John Adams and Peter Sellars’ Doctor Atomic (unfortunately I can’t find an online copy of the exact clip that was shown… little help, internets?).

Media reinterpretation–and the violence it is capable of–was also the subject of Anthony Stewart‘s plenary, “‘We are not only who you think we are’: What Colson Whitehead and Fishbone Can Teach Us About Producing New Blacknesses in America.”  Examining the ways in which mass media’s stereotyped representations of black people can suppress other identities that are less easily co-opted by the “national narrative” of blackness in America, the talk ranged from literature, to visual representations, to music–and hey, The Smiths!

This plenary was named for Robert L. White, the first editor of the Canadian Review of American Studies.  When the journal was launched, he wrote that it would be a site for the analysis of “American society, culture, art, literature, [and] intellectual history,” and would publish “articles by scholars in several disciplines, articles that will frequently demonstrate an interdisciplinary approach.” I think all of the plenaries, and the whole conference, continued in this tradition in fine fashion.

(Unfortunately I had to miss the reading by Armand Ruffo because of the executive meeting, but it would be great if someone could fill in with their impressions.)

What about you?  What were your favourite conference moments?


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