In early January 2023, we gathered in San Francisco for the MLA convention where the Margaret Fuller Society sponsored a panel on Conditions of Exile in the Nineteenth-Century and Beyond. (Read the original call for papers here.)
Dr. Christina Katopodis presided the panel, which included papers by Marlas Yvonne Whitley, who is a graduate student at North Carolina State University; Sabrina Evans is an ABD PhD candidate in the English and African American and Diaspora Studies Dual-Title Program at Penn State University; Thomas W. Howard, who is a Ph.D. candidate in English and American Literature at Washington University in St. Louis; and Dr. Stephanie Peebles Tavera, who is Assistant Professor of English at Texas A&M University–Central Texas.
In her presentation on “Trying to Transcend: Black Escape and Transnation from The Colored Conventions to the Harlem Renaissance,” Whitley worked toward a rhetorical and aesthetic genealogy of Black transcendence of racism and white supremacy, and what it means to theorize such a concept as we continue necessary conversations on racism and anti-Blackness in the U.S. (Read the full paper abstract here.)
Evans, focusing primarily on Mary Church Terrell and Ida B. Wells in “Exile and the Perils of Travel: The Challenges Behind Nineteenth-Century Black Women Organizers’ Fight for Dignity,” argued that in exploring the tensions between their public activism, the perils of travel, and exile within their published and private writings, Black women organizers challenged and redefined what dignity meant for Black women. (Read the full abstract here.)
In “Du Bois in Berlin, Du Bois in Atlanta: The Affect of Exile in The Souls of Black Folk,” Howard examined Du Bois’s later writings and influences from Germany and Ghana, showing that Du Bois does not simply reveal international influences, but rather he writes from within the tradition of the
German aphorism (Aphorismus), especially within his passage on “double-consciousness.” His
unique vision as an African American returning from Germany thus allows him to see how
African spiritual traditions co-create “American culture” alongside the white “other world.” (Read the full abstract here.)
Dr. Tavera in “Exile’s Persistence: Margaret Fuller and the Public Trauma Culture of Expat Paris” located the evolution of a public trauma culture in the traditions of women’s travel writings, especially those of Margaret Fuller who served as a foreign correspondent and hospital volunteer during the Risorgimento (circa 1847-49). Dr. Tavera showed that just as Fuller re-formed American audiences’ perceptions of Italy from an arcadian landscape to a site of Republican values using wartime trauma as an opportunity for grieving, women writers of high modernism re-formed audiences’ perceptions of Paris as the site of a decade-long soiree where anything goes in the wake of a grieving postwar generation. Women writers of high modernism capitalized on the transatlantic tradition of turning grief into grievance against a culture that refused to reconcile with difference. (Read the full abstract here.)
The papers encouraged us to see the self-determination and individualism in American Transcendentalism(s) as reliant on collectivity, collaboration, and friendship, being in conversation. Discussion included parallels drawn between the AME church and Unitarian communities; exile as relief and as a self-constructed place or self-determined location; the environment as an internal reality (James Baldwin); William Jamesian stream of consciousness as a movement between individual thought to collective thinking and back; and tenderness with ourselves and with others in public trauma narratives.