Intrigued by the number of times the name of Bruno Latour came up in conversations at the ASLE conference, I counted the mentions of different theorists and philosophers (i.e., not literary writers, artists, et al.) in the titles of conference papers and presentations. (Unfortunately, neither the program nor the conference website provides full abstracts. Note to conference organizers: these are useful to conference attendees and for reference purposes like this one.) Based on titles alone, by my count Latour and Maurice Merleau-Ponty had the highest number of mentions, with full sessions dedicated to them. Mentioned as well, but less frquently, were Agamben, Deleuze & Guattari, Derrida, Dewey, Appadurai, and Haraway, with an implicit nod or two to Heidegger.
But titles alone show a much greater focus on creative writers, which is what I would expect at a literature and environment conference. From just a very quick scan of paper and session titles, those receiving the most mentions were Wordsworth, Thoreau, Melville, Linda Hogan, Shakespeare, Gary Snyder, Leslie Marmon Silko, and Kim Stanley Robinson — which tells us that the same old sources (and a few younger ones, like Robinson’s) are continuing to generate productive scholarly conversations. That said, I would guess that the number of new writers, young writers, and non-North American and non-white writers continues to increase in proportion to the overall mix.
The most commonly focused-on topics included eco-poetics, animal studies, globalization, climate, area/regional themes (of various kinds), urban ecologies, film, islands (both because the conference was held on an island and because this was prominent in the call for papers), toxicity, environmental justice, rhetoric, and science. Most of these were mentioned in the call for papers, so none are particularly surprising, though the themes of animals/animality, film, and toxicity did impressively better than a glance at the CFP would have predicted. (I’ll have more to say on film in an upcoming post.) Longitudinal data spanning several conferences could give us a much more complete picture of the evolution of ASLE and of ecocriticism — which should be of interest to anyone thinking about the future of the latter (and a few responses to my previous blog on this topic, including from both of the plenarists discussed there, convince me that that is a topic of interest).
All in all, the conference was rich in words, readings, meetings, conversations, book exhibits, and presentations, all punctuated with wanders through the most beautiful ravine bordering a university campus I’ve ever encountered or even imagined possible (to which photos just don’t do justice).