Joseph Conrad

1997 MLA Convention,
Report 2
Peter Mallios, Stanford University

Following an intensely provocative panel on teaching "The Secret Sharer" earlier in the day, Monday December 29 saw over fifteen Conradians gathering in the evening for an elegant repast of steak, chicken, salmon, and many bottles of red-wine at the restaurant Matisse. All who were there on this delightful evening expressed tremendous thanks to Mary Morzinski, organizer of the dinner as well as its many surprises, which continued on well beyond the time the restaurant itself closed. The coveted prize of the evening was the present five-volume set of Conrad's Collected Letters (Cambridge). Jean Szczypien, Vice-President of the Joseph Conrad Society of America and winner of the raffle, generously donated her prize to the care of Director Jan Pirozynski of Jagiellonian University Library in Krakow, where Conrad himself, in 1914, had been surprised to find his father's papers intact and unburned. Jack Peters was also the winner of an only slightly less illustrious prize-a Joseph Conrad Society pen-for having proven victorious in President Bruce Harkness' annual-and consistently impossible-Joseph Conrad Quiz. (Who, indeed, is the most famous sandwich man in Conrad??) And all those present received a warm Christmas card greeting from Adam Gillon, past President of the Society. The following afternoon witnessed a stirring engagement at the Toronto Convention Centre with "Joseph Conrad's Nonfiction": a panel of three speakers and two respondents that was particularly well-attended, despite the fact that it was scheduled in the final time slot of the MLA's final day. The session began with Mary Morzinski, who not only presided over but also organized the panel, introducing the speakers. Bruce Harkness then offered a personal welcome to the attendees. The first paper was given by Sandra Dodson, an exploration of the political interrelation between Conrad and controversial Irish nationalist Roger Casement, a figure whose recurrence throughout Conrad's adult life, Dodson argued, elicited many an unsettling and self-contradictory response from Conrad, itself indicative of a greater project of identity-erasure and political elusiveness critically at work in Conrad's writing. In the second paper, A. James M. Johnson drew upon the methodology of Mary Louise Pratt to scrutinize the shaping gaze of "imperial eyes" at work in Conrad's 1898 review and presentation of Hugh Clifford's Studies in Brown Humanity: how, Johnson asked, might Conrad's presentation of Clifford contribute to and enhance the already disturbing political features of Clifford's text? In the third paper, Debra E. Romanick, in dialogue with Christopher GoGwilt's landmark Invention of the West (1995), explored how Conrad invokes and adopts dichotomies of East and West only to profoundly subvert and resist them, presenting, in the process, a telling narrative of the conceptual confusion and deformation consequent to an ideological investment in unstable ethical binaries. Peter Mallios then responded to Dodson's paper by suggesting that the contradictions in Conrad's pronouncements upon Casement owe much to the conflict between Polish Romanticism and Polish Rationalism in Conrad's own cultural and familial heritage; and Rebecca Walkowitz responded to Johnson by asking how the work of James Clifford might help us further interrogate the political contradictions at stake in Conrad's presentation of Hugh Clifford. In spirited fashion, Wieslaw Krajka commenced the lively series of questions that followed.

as reported in
Joseph Conrad Today,
Volume XXIII, Nos. 1-2,
Publication of the Joseph Conrad Society of America, 1998

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