As part of what I hope will be a growing series on conferences, this weekend I got to attend the second half of the Forgotten Geographies conference at Birkbeck.
There were a wide range of panels across both days, exploring Scandanavia, Anglo-Indian relations, Scottish New-Zealanders, Eastern European literature, as well as imaginary geographies.
Day 2 opened with Stefano Evangelista talking about fin-de-siècle Japan and Lafcadio Hearn‘s writings from and about that country. It was interesting to hear how writings that could be read from a twenty-first century British perspective as exoticising or othering—even despite Hearn’s love of Japan—are not necessarily read in the same way in Japan. Hearn’s house in Kumamoto remains a museum, and the 110th anniversary of his death prompted an article in Japan Times.
The panel on Global Emblems of Decadence focused on three fascinating individuals: Forrest Reid, in a paper by Alex Murray (@alexwmurray); Napoleon Lapathiotis, in a paper by Kostas Boyiopoulos; and Ronald Firbank, in a paper by Peter A. Bailey about the presence—or absence—of decadence amongst fin-de-siècle West Indian writers. This panel established a tension between geographical distance, be it Reid in Ulster refusing to move to London, or West Indian writers consuming British Victorian literature, and cosmopolitanism.
The panel on Queer Cosmopolitanism approached a variety of different forms of writing: botanical literature by Reginald Farrer, in a talk by Dominic Janes; correspondence between Carl Van Vechten and Firbank, in a talk by Kate Hext (@kate_hext); and the little magazine form, in Richard A. Kaye‘s paper on Akademos. All three were thinking about geography in different ways. Janes, in exploring Farrer’s non-fiction writings, turned explciitly to topography and the shape and feel of natural landscapes. Hext asked questions about where Van Vechten and Firbank could have met if not in the imaginary space opened up by their correspondence—the likely answer being nowhere—and about how shared imaginary landscapes might be constructed from specific uses of allusive language, such as “camp” and “camping”. Meanwhile, Kaye examined how the little magazine might create political as well as aesthetic agendas.
The final panel of the day that I went to was on Scandinavia and Cultural Transnationalism. As in the Global Emblems of Decadence panel, this panel invited a specific focus on geographical tension. In opening her paper on Knut Hamsun‘s Sult (Hunger), Eveliina Pulkki noted how Norwegian can still be treated as a humourously ‘other’ language and how Norway was often portrayed in auto-exotic terms by its authors. Rebecka Klette (@RebeckaKlette) expanded on how degeneration theory manifested itself particularly in Sweden, while Peter K. Andersson looked at how dandyism manifested in Stockholm, in particular amongst lower class men.
The whole conference was brought to a close by the premiere of a lost Ukrainian silent film, The Lie (1918), recovered from a film archive by Olga Kyrylova and based on the play of the same name by Volodymyr Vynnychenko. This closing keynote was a wonderful reminder of the value of archival research in turning up new material that can enhance our understanding of the periods that we study and open up fresh avenues that might never have been imagined.