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CFP – Pacific Paratexts

An interdisciplinary symposium exploring paratexts in writing from and about the Pacific

Plenary lectures: Rod Edmond (University of Kent); Anna Johnston (University of Queensland)

Meiji University, Tokyo, Japan, November 7-8 2020

This two-day interdisciplinary symposium investigates the role and status of paratexts in the mediation and representation of Pacific cultures, geography and history. “Paratext” is the label coined by theorist Gerald Genette to describe those threshold devices that help shape a text’s reception, including annotations, blurbs, cover design, epigraphs, fonts, format, front and back covers, glossaries, illustrations, indices, introductions, maps, prologues and epilogues and titles.

Paratexts have been a frequent presence in Western literary representations of the Pacific. Consider, for example, the “Preface”, annotations and glossary that accompanies Louis Antione de Bougainville’s Voyage Autour du Monde (1771); John Hawkesworth’s paratexts for his edition of Captain Cook’s An Account of the Voyages (1773); the famous marginal gloss that accompanies Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s 1817 version of “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”; Edgar Allan Poe’s deconstructive “Preface” and footnotes for The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket (1838); Pierre Loti’s epigraphs, notes and parallel transcriptions of Tahitian and French for The Marriage of Loti (1880); and Robert Louis Stevenson’s ethnographic annotations for his Polynesian Ballads (1890). In
translations, travel writings, missionary accounts and ethnographic studies, paratexts have provided a crucial site for the mediation of Pacific cultures and the establishment of scholarly authority. Pacific writers such as José García Villa and Albert Wendt have used paratexts to create a space for their voice and assert their identities in conditions that suppress and exclude indigenous and hybridic voices. On the other hand, Patricia Grace has argued that writers from “small population cultures” should not have to “other” their languages and cultures by providing glossaries and other explanatory information in footnotes for readers.

This symposium will explore how paratexts facilitate the juxtaposition of different writings, the crossing of generic and cultural boundaries, the collision of different languages and intersections between the factual and the fictional, the creative and the imaginary and the historical and ethnographic. These devices can operate legalistically to provide documentary evidence of economic, historical, legal and political claims asserted in the core text. They can be deployed to make manageable the foreignness of a text by either domesticating it or intensifying those aspects that are considered foreign via exoticization. In some cases, paratexts are utilized to assert dominant racist paradigms and contain indigenous voices within boundaries considered acceptable. In others, they provide a surreptitious means of authenticating and archiving indigenous perspectives. Multiple paratexts also offer a means of staging contestatory and contradictory views of the Pacific and the position of the speaker in relation to it.

This symposium examines the various ways in which paratexts are used to mediate the Pacific in literary and non-literary writing in different languages. Questions for exploration include:

  • How do writers use paratexts to construct authorial identities? Why use paratexts for this purpose?
  • Are paratexts a generic expectation? If so, how did they become so? How do paratexts enable writers to place their writings in relation to other forms of writing—anthropology, ethnography, history, literature and so on?
  • How have paratexts affirmed and undermined the distinction between factual and fictional representations of the Pacific? What does it mean to assert the factual status of a cultural artefact?
  • How do paratexts differ in versions of the same text produced for different audiences?
  • What kind of threshold does the paratext offer for agents, creative and scholarly collaborators, editors, participant-observers, publishers and translators?
  • What do shifts in paratextual practices show us about changing cultural and political ideologies?
  • How are paratexts utilized to support and contest Eurocentricism and the flow of knowledge from Pacific to Western metropolitan centres?
  • How are paratexts used to create audiences for indigenous voices? When does mediation become appropriation? What hidden contributors do paratexts reveal and efface? How do cultural differences shape paratextual practice? Does it make sense to use the term “paratext” in a non-Western context? What other terms might be more useful (for instance from parergon or frame theory)?
  • Epeli Hau’ofa asserted that “our histories are essentially narratives, told in the footnotes of the histories of empires”.2 Likewise, Stevenson famously entitled his polemic against American, British and German involvement in the First Samoan Civil War (1886–94) A Footnote to History (1892). What does it mean to use paratexts as metaphors for the historical situation of the Pacific? How do paratexts situate the Pacific in relation to ideas of World geography, World history and World literature?
  • When does extratextual material—letters, interviews, book reviews, commentary on the text—fulfill a paratextual function, and how does this complicate Genette’s model? To what extent can non-written material such as conversations, correspondence, records, journals and interviews be considered paratextual?
  • How do paratexts operate in non-literary texts: comics and manga? ethnographic literature? the frame of the picture and the title of the art-work? music? News, translation and subtitles? Philosophy? Political writing? Religious texts? Travel writing? How does the shift to digital, transmedia storytelling and e-reading devices complicate our understanding of the paratext in the Pacific context?

Research that is still speculative is welcome alongside completed pieces. Please include five keywords in all proposals. The deadline for all proposals is 1 May 2020 with decisions on submissions to be circulated by 30 May 2020. Please send all submissions and queries to pacificparatexts@gmail.com.

Meiji University is located in central Tokyo, with easy access to Tokyo Haneda and Tokyo Narita airport. A list of recommended hotels of different price ranges will be provided nearer the time.