Earlier this week, I went down to London to attend the biannual Postcolonial Studies Association Convention, 2017. The theme for this year’s convention was ‘Globalisation’. Given that Sharae Deckard was the keynote speaker, I was hardly surprised when most speakers at the panels I attended interpreted globalisation through the Warwick Research Collective’s framework of combined and uneven development of a capitalist world-system. I was presenting a paper, an excerpt from the second chapter of my doctoral thesis, on the way in which the form of Nadine Gordimer’s late short story collections makes them more adept at registering and critiquing these structures of combined and uneven development. And because of how preoccupied I was getting my own act together, I hadn’t quite read through the programme and abstracts of other papers I’d be interested in hearing until the day the conference began.
Despite all my planning, finishing my paper came down to the wire as I was designing the PowerPoint and rehearsing for time till midnight the night before I was catching the train down. I didn’t have the luxury of tinkering with it on the train down or during the Convention as I had resolved not to take my computer with me: I’d be too tempted to fiddle with my paper till the last minute, and I’d rather spend the time listening to other people’s presentations. It was only when I got to the venue, Senate House at the School of Advanced Study, that I noticed there was another paper on the programme about Gordimer by David Firth, and another on the postcolonial short story in Mozambique by Antonia Ruspolini. (As luck would have it, both these papers were on clashing panels.) I was on the first round of panels, speaking straight after Deckard’s keynote, which was a mixed blessing: it saved me the trouble of having to introduce her work in my paper, but then again she was a really hard act to follow. At any rate, it was good to have my paper out of the way early so I could kick back and enjoy the rest of the Convention.
I am not even going to attempt to summarise all the discussions from the conference: I have over fifty pages of notes, and there is just too much for me to navigate and digest. I live-Tweeted the convention, so some of my real-time responses are on my Twitter feed. But if I focus strictly on the highlights that were most relevant to my research, then I was urged by Sorcha Gunn and Kate Houlden to consider the gendering of the short story form, and subsequently by Eli Park Sorensen to think about the political and epistemic dimensions to realism and how Gordimer’s relationship with it might recuperate material specificities of the inequalities of class and race that might otherwise be obscured by metafictional or allegorical modes. Deckard’s keynote was particularly helpful in planning my subsequent chapters of my thesis, especially since I am going to consider Gordimer’s critique of neoliberal capitalism, resource extractivism and the slow violence of nuclear technology in her novel Get a Life. But besides discussions that pertain strictly to my research, I found really compelling the other conversations that were grounded in contemporary politics: caste and religious oppression in Indian academia and society, the forms of structural violence in Britain today like Grenfell Tower and how that resonates with apartheid, and Anna Bernard’s keynote that complicated the notion of what it meant to be in solidarity.
Being at such an erudite gathering of postcolonial scholars at the Convention was inspiring. It was also nice to get away from Edinburgh for a few days and carry on with my research in a way that involved a lot more social contact and seemed to have immediate rewards. This was the first time I presented at a conference, and my only recollection of how it went is the embarrassment of forgetting Katherine Mansfield’s name while answering a question about the gendering of the short story form. Still, the PSA was a great crowd to be presenting at, and everyone was kind, supportive and generous. The only measure I have of how my paper went is the feedback I got from others, most of which was positive. All of this bodes well, but I dislike these good omens as it only raises the expectations that I have to live up to. I have a lot to work with now, and my work cut out for me, not in the least because, while I was at the first conference where I was presenting a paper, I was accepted into a second conference in November at Edinburgh, where I will be presenting on work I did for my Masters dissertation on W.H. Auden, music and the divine.
Acknowledgements: My sincerest thanks to all fellow participants at the PSA Convention, both those named above and those not, and particularly to the organisers of the convention for the opportunity to be there. I would like emphasise particularly my thanks to the many colleagues who gave me invaluable advice and suggestions for my own research: I really value their input, and I have not been able to note all of them above for limitations of space and time. And above all, I would like to thank the wider community of the PSA and the people who made me feel welcome: as much as I value the new colleagues in the field, I am equally delighted to make new friends in the discipline.