Conference Report

The eighth International Conference of the Forum was held in Mangalore, India, from 14 to 17 December, 2005 in association with the Department of English, Mangalore University. The theme of the conference, “The Art and Politics of Subversion: Theory in a Counter Mode,” was as interesting as it was intriguing, and attracted participants from all over India and beyond, with plenary sessions and papers being presented on a wide variety of subjects, within the parameters of the topic.

Kishori Nayak, Head, Department of English, Mangalore University, in her welcome address, briefly outlined the establishment and growth of the English Department of the Mangalore University, and highlighted the many charms of the host city, and extended a warm welcome to the participants. P.C. Kar, Convener of the Forum, speaking of the joy that intellectual serendipity provides during such gatherings, said that one of the great sources of happiness on such occasions is to hear each other speak. V.V. Modi, Trustee of the Forum, drew attention to the inter-disciplinary scope of the Conference.

Girish Karnad inaugurated the event and gave an illuminating talk on trends and landmarks in Indian theatre. This year’s special session was centered on his play Talé Danda, about the revolutionary poet-saint of Karnataka. It added a touch of local flavor, as Karnad, the well-known playwright and theatre personality, hails from Karnataka, and writes in Kannada as well as in English. The plenary session on Talé Danda, which followed, saw C.N. Ramachandran, Nagesh Rao and TRS Sharma analyzing the play from three different perspectives. Catherine Gallagher, the well-known new historicist critic from the University of California at Berkeley, while releasing the Seventh Conference Volume, Dialogics of Cultural Encounters: Nations and Nationalities in Periods of Conflict, remarked about the amazing theoretical variety offered by the volume. This fact was borne out by the volume editor, Sura P. Rath’s elucidation that the volume was the result of a conscious attempt to create a truly global perspective. B. Thimme Gowda, Acting Vice Chancellor, Mangalore University, presided over the function. Martin Jay, the distinguished cultural historian from the University of California at Berkeley, in his keynote address, “Taking on the Stigma of Inauthenticity: Adorno’s Critique of Genuineness,” explored the search for authenticity in a society bereft of divine sanction. This was followed by a lively discussion. The question, what, indeed, constitutes authenticity, especially, in the light of the predominantly Christian, Western view of authenticity as opposed to the tenets of Oriental philosophy, vis-à-vis the concept of Maya, was addressed. The high point of the day was the performance of Talé Danda by the inmates of the Mysore Jail. The play, directed by Guligappa Kattimani, and presented under the auspices of ‘Sankalpa’, held the audience spellbound. The following two days of the conference witnessed eight plenary sessions and 51 papers being presented. Catherine Gallagher, in her paper: “World War II as Seen from Other Worlds,” gave an insight into the tradition of writing ‘What if....?’ histories. The plenary session on “The State of the Disciplines in the Humanities and Social Sciences,” with presentations by Jasbir Jain, Parul Dave Mukherji, Prakash C. Sarangi and B. Surendra Rao, gave valuable insights into developments in other disciplines. R. Radhakrishnan, in his paper, “History, the Human Subject and the World Between,” analyzed the conflict between eurocentric historicity and the national perspective, informed by Tagore, and looked at the issue of conceptualizing historicality differently.

The papers in the general sessions were divided under the following heads: “Carnival and Play,” “Narrative Subversion,” “Counter Theory and Women,” “Postcolonial Counter Discourse,” “Popular Culture as Subversion,” “Philosophical Subversions,” “Politics of  Identity,” “Reflections on Counter Theory,” “Theory of Culture and Ethics,” “Dialogics of Encounters,” “Subversions in Talé Danda”  and “Assorted Subversions.” The papers were wide-ranging in variety and scope, and raised many questions and elicited stimulating responses.

During the open session and valedictory function on the final day, everyone agreed that the conference had succeeded in providing intellectual stimulus and sustenance, though the plenary sessions could be reduced so that we could hear less and listen and absorb more.

The poser, “why do we turn westwards for theoretical models and critical thought?” resulted in some serious soul-searching, and the answer was a counter-question “is it because Indian critical and literary theory has become stagnant, and has lost its relevance today? It was decided that the best way to seek answers to this would be to have an India-centric conference; hence the focus of the next conference will be on India.

 Pratibha Umashankar                                               Khaleej Times, Dubai

 

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