What is culture? We see it depicted in a plethora of different ways: National Geographic is “culture”, all saris and exotic dance and painted faces from mountains obscured in mist and canopy. Or the chaotic “culture” blur of The City, angles of glass and steel, pulsating bodies in a myriad of skin tones and tongues, music and noise and concrete life in a heated, compact swirl. And still more, perhaps “culture” is The Professor of elbow pads and Harris Tweed, a distinguished gray of Masterpiece Theatre pipes and handkerchiefs tucked neatly in the breast pocket, fountain pen poised for greatness over mahogany writing desk. The list of cultural stereotypes and image association could stretch for miles in a long line of ideals and endless commercials. Needless to say, Culture is a topic worth pondering in all its faceted mystery, and whereas two heads are better than one, how great a thought bubble could 600 minds create on the subject?
It’s think tank time. The University of Louisville will kick off the 40th anniversary of the Louisville Conference on Literature and Culture Since 1900 this weekend featuring a deluge of thinkers and doers 600 heads strong. The conference begins tomorrow, Thursday, February 23rd, and runs through Saturday the 25th. With a gamut of topics spanning everything from today’s political climate and the environment, to the familiar liberal art’s family of poetry and film – and as far reaching as geography the mathematics of music, the Louisville Conference of Literature and Culture takes the idea of the symposium into the modern forum. Held annually during the month of February, UofL’s English and Classical and Modern Languages departments are co-sponsoring the three day event. And while many of the seminars and sessions are geared specifically for attendees, several of the visiting scholars will offer free keynote addresses that are happily held wide open to the public.
The speaking forums will begin on Thursday, kicking off with Literature professor and Creative Writing program co-director for the University of California-Santa Cruz, Karen Tei Yamashita. Starting at 11:30am, Yamashita will be discussing her award-winning novel I Hotel and the role of civil rights and freedom within the book. Catch her on campus in the Chao Auditorium at Ekstrom Library. Thursday’s itinerary will round out the evening showcasing Simon Critchley, Philosophy professor and Chair for the New School of Social Research at 5pm. Also presenting in Ekstrom’s Chao Auditorium, Critchley will speak on The Hamlet Doctrine.
Friday’s line-up starts with a poetic punch featuring Ecuadorian poet, Natasha Salguero. Addressing her audience in Spanish, Salguero’s keynote address begins at 3:15pm and is – you guessed it – scheduled to be held in Ekstrom’s Chao Auditorium. The day ends in English again with British novelist and artist, Tom McCarthy. A regular contributor for publications such as The New York Times and The London Review of Books, McCarthy will make his presentation, “Transmission and the Individual Remix: How Literature Works”, at 5pm in Room 101 in the Strickler Hall Building (not the library!).
The conference closes on Saturday with final speaker Adalaide Morris, English professor for the University of Iowa and writer of poetry and new media. With a literary repertoire including the essay collection Sound States: Innovative Poetics and Acoustical Technology, as well as the poetry study How to Live/What to Do: H.D’s Cultural Poetics, Morris will polish off the weekend with her address at 4:30pm. Morris’ talk, “That’s Not Poetry: Composition in an Age of Information”, will return to Ekstrom Library’s Chao Auditorium.
So, again, what is culture? The ideals that ink the pages from their high-resolution lens do indeed capture a certain kind of crucial global culture, but the definition is as broad as it is deeply important. While the real answer may forever be more than subjective, UofL’s 600-strong band of merry scholars just might have some insights. Whatever your personal opinions on the subject, head out to the Belknap Campus this weekend for the Louisville Conference on Literature and Culture Since 1900 and take a stab at life’s cultural mysteries with some top participating minds featured in these free keynote addresses. Culture will always wear many masks, but the Louisville Conference on Literature and Culture Since 1900 embodies my personal favorite epitaph; “Books are culture”. And that, my friends, is good enough for me.
The University of Louisville’s Belknap Campus is located at 2301 South Third Street in Old Louisville
Photo:Courtesy of the Louisville Conference on Literature and Culture Since 1900 website www.thelouisvilleconference.com