From the 6-7th of December 2018, the University of Bologna held an international conference entitled ‘Global F(r)ictions’ in the beautiful Aula Prodi of the San Giovanni in Monte building. The conference was born from conversations that have taken place as part of the Millennium Novels research group and the Academy of Global Humanities and Critical Theory’s various projects and summer schools. It was organised by Rita Monticelli, Maurizio Ascari, Giuliana Benvenuti, Francesco Cattani, and Cristina Gamberi in partnership with the Centro di ricerca sull’Utopia at the Department of Modern Languages, Literatures and Cultures. The conference asked: What is global literature, and what does it mean for us today? Responses explored global cultural ecology, concepts of the posthuman from a global perspective, global narratives and counter-narratives, the global as a gendered phenomenon, and the role of fiction in elucidating and critiquing notions of the global.
The panels were successfully assembled, with points of contact emerging regularly between consecutive papers. A particularly strong response to the questions posed by the conference came from a panel by Federica Muzzarelli, Cristina Demaria, and Paola Scrolavezza, which discussed, among other themes, depictions of global precarity in contemporary Japanese literature and the global in relation to the photography of Claude Cahun and Anne Brigman. Other persuasive panels included Patrizia Caraffi, Serena Baiesi, and Lilla Maria Crisafulli’s depictions of three icons in global literature: Christine de Pizan, Jane Austen, and Mary Shelley respectively. Vita Fortunati, Patrizia Violi, and Antonella Ceccagno’s panel fruitfully explored notions of cosmopolitanism (Fortunati) and its many languages, grammars, and (local) traditions; memorisation frames in the context of globalisation and the models that regulate the selection of memories (Violi); and depictions of Chinese migration to Italy in the context of Edoardo Nesi’s novel Storia della mia gente, which decries the consequences of the free trade regime on Prato’s textile industry.
Keynotes were given by Nancy Armstrong of Duke University, Paulo de Medeiros of the University of Warwick and Tim Parks of the Università di Lingue e Scienze della Comunicazione in Milan. Armstrong contributed a beautiful and haunting analysis of J. M. Coetzee’s Life & Times of Michael K and Colson Whitehead’s Zone One, stripping Western conceptualisations of development to their bare bones and dismissing the individual’s status as a viable self-standing social unit. Armstrong asked her audience to consider the way in which literature explores the (failure of) Western instruments that attempt to deal with migration and how, for the migrant, the promise of the household often becomes the reality of the camp. The following day, Parks asked in his presentation what, in the context of translation, makes a novel ‘global’: is an international readership now the marker of success in the contemporary literary scene? Paolo de Medeiros’s keynote ‘Four Questions Concerning World-Literature Now’ took a similar line of enquiry in its interrogation of how contemporary modes of reshaping ‘World Literature’ – particularly the comparative and theoretical perspectives arising from disciplines such as postcolonial studies – complicate Goethe’s notion of an idealised Weltliteratur.
GRACE researcher Eleanor Drage presented the paper ‘Science Fictional “Planetarity” as a Critique of the Global’, which argued that science fictional worldbuilding elucidates notions of ‘planetarity’ emerging in contemporary philosophy that urge for the globe to be seen again, and seen differently by casting the planet into radical alterity: that is, by approaching the Earth outside of the frame of the ‘global’ as a ‘planetary’ space. This analysis of science fiction’s critique of the ‘global’ as not only a rhetorical phenomenon, but as a cultural, ontological and performative gesture, demonstrated the importance of the way that we talk about, reflect on, and engage with our Earth. The paper, which also explored science fictional depictions of a dynamic planetary ‘simultaneity’, as per Spivak’s notion of “an uneven and violent global simultaneity: a dystopian existing together”, found multiple correspondences with fellow panelist Francesco Cattani’s paper ‘Black British: Global British’, which suggestively explored detachment, reattachment, creolisation, interdependence, and re-appropriation in the context of depictions of diasporic culture in contemporary collage art by, for example, British Nigerian artist Yinka Shonibare.
Many thanks to the University of Bologna for a successful and impactful conference which was most appreciated by all.