ICLA 2016: THE WORLD CONGRESS OF THE INTERNATIONAL COMPARATIVE LITERATURE ASSOCIATION
I did everything wrong in this congress. I was wandering among the sessions, instead of sticking to the main panels and keynotes. And what's more, I tried to catch the most exotic ones, instead of staying close to the major literatures and major affiliations. Because unfortunately, in the current state of the world comparative literature, it's still either - or. Either you stick to the same medieval French literature, and you hear smooth, perfectly professional presentation in elegant English, or you wander in search of Gitagovinda, or mysticism, or any other exotic topic of the kind, and you hear not more than mumbling, degenerating in some moments into sheer drivel. The session on mysticism, on the last day, culminated into a detailed reading of Derrida's and Spivak's writings in terms of mystical utterances (sic!). Haven't you ever wonder why you cant understand a word of them? Because they are mystics, that's what it is!
There was a substantial Polish representation in this congress. Finally we have our own national association of comparative literature. The event provokes an answer to the eternal question concerning our place in the world humanities. Well, the level of the world is variable; you find such an enormous scale of competence, going from zero to... close to infinity? I don't think so. Overall I found relatively few brilliant and innovative ideas in this congress, in any case less than expected (David Damrosch's brilliant analysis of... the latest books' covers was symptomatic). Anyway we, Poles are somewhere in the middle, between nothing and... something of everything. The wisdom that comes to me is rather to accept stoically our own fate of insufficiency. All ignorance is justified. The clumsiness of those who tried to speak about their recitations, those at home in Kerala, as well as the learned presumption of those who could speak pertinently about the same French literature of all times, never attempting to break through their own cultural horizon.
But the Polish case, again... The coordinator of my session, a very nice German lady, commented at the end that she had been so surprised reading my abstract, it seemed so exotic to her, she said, that someone in Poland studied the literature of Angola and Mozambique... I see the reason of her surprise. I know what kind of presentations the Polish colleagues used to propose... "Polish reception of this and that" and "This and that in Poland". And strangely, I didn't say a word about Ondjaki in Poland...
Overall, I'm planning to come back for the next world congress. But in the meanwhile, I've scheduled my participation in an Orientalistentag organised by the Deutsche Morgenländische Gesellschaft, a respectful, 19th.-century association that hopefully might provide me with all what I wish to know about Gitagovindas of the world. In other words, I hope that specialised conferences may offer me what I've been missing at the great comparativist congress.
I might regret I didn't stick to the leading scholars, I didn't pay sufficient attention to affiliations, and I lost my time exploring the margins. But after all, such events are not really to gather knowledge. Their aim is to offer an insight into the global situation, to see people, not ideas. Even if, at the end, you are left alone with just yourself... David Damrosch's book, Meetings of the Mind, came back in more than one conversation. Its final lesson, after all: the whole panel of scholars is just you. I prefer another reference. The note of young Eliade in the Tivoli gardens, alone, dreaming about the crowd of discussing scholars...
The world congress with a thousand participants is perhaps an opportunity to be alone, bringing forth the essential loneliness of the scholar, helping to find one's own place in the middle of all the mess.