CALLIOPE on the road: MLA International Symposium

The 2019 Modern Language Association (MLA) International Symposium was held at Universidade Católica Portuguesa in Lisbon, Portugal on 23-25 July. The theme of the symposium was 'Remembering Voices Lost'.

CALLIOPE was present at the symposium via post-doctoral researcher Esha Sil and her paper 'Re-membering the Bengal Partition: The ‘Upside-Down House’ Story and a Rhetorical Poetics of Adda'. The abstract of her paper is as follows:

My paper examined the traumatic memorial legacy of the 1947 Bengal Partition via the leisurely verbal transactions of adda, a popular talking practice, interspersing intellectual discussion and debate with gossip and rumor. It drew upon James Phelan’s rhetorical axis of ‘unreliable narration’ to demonstrate how this quintessential Bengali pastime projects the socio-cultural complications of representing the ‘marginalized’ East Bengali voice. I accordingly reevaluated Phelan’s narrative schema to explore adda’s rhetorical strategies, as they unravel the discursive complexities of re-membering a partitioned Bengali modernity through what I have conceptualized, with reference to Homi Bhabha’s phraseology, as the ‘disjunctive temporality’ of the East Bengali story-space. For this purpose, I employed Amitav Ghosh’s 1988 novel, The Shadow Lines, as my key primary text. The rhetorical retelling of the Partition and its cryptically perpetuated topographies of displacement and nostalgia, were scrutinized in the context of the grandmother’s, aka Tha’mma’s, bedtime addas with the narrator of The Shadow Lines, on her phantasmic ‘upside-down house’ in erstwhile East Bengal, in order to delineate how both the ‘estranging’ and ‘bonding’ effects of ‘unreliability’, in Phelan’s terms, inflect the memorial politics of re-narrativizing the non-linear historicity of 1947. My paper mobilized Phelan’s foregoing theoretical paradigms to tease out the ludic linguistic maneuvers of Tha’mma’s addas, depicting how her ‘upside-down house’ story mutates into a succession of belated reiterations to betray the schizophrenic rift between her ‘East’ and ‘West’ Bengali affect-worlds. Thus the rhetorical poetics of Tha’mma’s addas, I argue, scrambles unwittingly, the temporal horizons of her respective Bengali self-determinations ‘before’ and ‘after’ ’47, to predicate the very realism of her ‘upside-down house’ story upon the sensuous, self-reflexive corporeality of Partition as a ‘looking-glass border’, severing and entwining the mnemonic remainders of a fragmented Bengali body-politic in an ‘irreversible symmetry’ of likeness and difference.

Esha Sil and Wilma Andersson, both from the University of Helsinki, met professor Homi Bhabha, the Anne F. Rothenberg Professor of English and American Literature and Language at Harvard University. Professor Bhabha gave the opening keynote lecture 'Human Rights and Human Deaths: On Migration and Dignity' at the MLA Symposium.