The Ambassadorship of Literature, a symposium at New York University, November 2-3, 2012
The figure of the diplomat has received relatively little consideration in the study of transnational literature. We are organizing a symposium on diplomacy and literature that will bring together scholars and practitioners to address the relationship between embodied statecraft and the literary voice in realms of extraterritorial jurisdiction. As agents of mediation, alert to linguistic ambivalence, the ambassador and the author alike fulfill a privileged role of joining and compromise, of mediation and experimentation at the points where cultures and languages meet.
As Timothy Hampton writes in his path-breaking study of Renaissance humanism and the invention of diplomatic rhetoric, Fictions of Embassy (2009), "By considering the intersection of literature and diplomacy we locate the study of literary form in a dynamic context where the terms of political culture are shaped through practices of interpretation and linguistic exchange. For diplomacy is the symbolic political act par excellence…[entailing] the investment of language with multiplicities of nuance, densities of sense, 'a whole world.'"
We invite considerations of writer-diplomats such as Pablo Neruda and George Seferis, of theorists of diplomacy from Montaigne to Isabelle Stengers, and of fictions about ambassadors from Proust's fastidious M. de Norpois to the sci-fi Babel of China Miéville's Embassytown. We welcome talks spanning across genres, from poetry to fiction to letters and official documents. While we seek the figure of the envoy across historical periods, our primary focus will be on the development of modern and contemporary ambassadorial practice and its languages.
We are pleased to feature a keynote address, "The Ambassadorship of Poetry," by Philip McDonagh, the current Irish ambassador to Russia and the author of three books of poetry, Carraroe in Saxony (2003), Memories of an Ionian Diplomat (2004) and The Song the Oriole Sang (2010).
Among the questions we hope to consider:
• How have writers negotiated their day-jobs as diplomats, or diplomats taken up the task of creative writing?
• What are aesthetic and formal implications of the public role of the envoy?
• How are the global aspirations of modernism recast when the state acts as cultural arbiter?
• What is the continuing role of state patronage in artistic production?
• What part have ambassadors played in the dissemination of artworks across national and geopolitical boundaries?
• What is the role of cultural diplomacy today in national and international relations?
• How have writers depicted the space of the embassy?
• Discipline, style, tact, discretion – what are the techniques of diplomatic conduct, in person or on the page?
• How have writers helped shape the diplomatic protocols in decolonizing and postcolonial states?