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Responses to OASIS

Responses to OASIS

You know the family is very important to me, I’ve left mine in Algeria but I ’ve found another one in Procida. Thanks to the OASIS’ efforts (the directors, the staff, the scholars …) we enjoyed our stay in Procida, we learnt more about “American studies” which is still in its embryonic phase in Algeria. Also, we’ve become acquainted with areas like fiction, visual arts, …which are not fully covered by our Algerian universities. Most important of all and thanks to your generosity (you and the scholars too) you spontaneously fostered cultural and human exchange which were easily accessed through scientific exchange (during the plenary sessions and the seminars), cultural and human exchanges (during lunch times and extra meetings on the residence terrace or in cafés), and although the participants came from different geographical and cultural backgrounds we could feel no clash of civilizations, on the contrary, very soon we tried to know each other and we soon became friends.

Faiza Meberbeche, OASIS 2012 participant

 

The formal notice announcing its inauguration describes OASIS-Orientale American Studies International School -- as “a project inspired by the Futures of American Studies Institute at Dartmouth College, and aiming to create a similarly vibrant and generative institutional venue for the younger generations of American Studies students and scholars.” The remarkable event that took place at the Università Orientale’s conference center on the island of Procida May 21-May 27 certainly achieved the foundational aim of its directors, Donatella Izzo and Giorgio Mariani. The week-long line-up of plenary speakers and seminar participants at various stages of their careers and animated by diverse research interests created vital occasions for robust exchanges across disciplinary and generational boundaries. But Orientale American Studies International School also differed from the Dartmouth Institute in several crucial aspects -- its location, its demographics, its mood, and its program.

In bringing American Studies scholars and students from the United States and Western Europe into lecture halls, supper rooms, and seminar tables alongside Americanist academics from Arabic countries of North Africa and the Middle East, the directors of OASIS created the conditions for authentically global dialogues about the most urgent issues in American Studies.The island off the coast of Naples in which the week-long institute in American Studies took place is itself a border in between Europe and the Middle East. Founded long before the “discovery” of America, the psycho-geography of Procida made the participants feel liberated from the grip of US americanist models. The leisurely coffee breaks, and the delicious catered lunches fostered an atmosphere of collegiality unfamiliar to academic settings. This convivial mood turned the conversations that took place in between talks and seminars into opportunities for comparable instruction.

I am uncertain whether to attribute this outcome to the Mediterranean surroundings, to the intellectual generosity of OASIS’S founding directors, or to the participants’ benevolent skepticism of US Americanists’ interpretive frames, but I came away from the week-long instruction with different perspectives on the US canon, the American enlightenment, and the hegemonic understanding of U.S. orientalism, as well as the dominant ways of framing the transnational turn in American Studies. For me, the most memorable of OASIS venues were the discussions of the participants’ projects in the daily seminars I directed. The “unlearning” and “re-learning” that took place in these truly cross-cultural scholarly projects renewed my belief in American Studies like no place else.

OASIS may have modeled itself after the Dartmouth Institute. But after my week in OASIS, I returned at once challenged yet renewed by what I consider the Founding Directors’ restorative model for Transnational American Studies. 

Donald E. Pease, OASIS 2012 speaker

 

At a time when transnational American Studies sounds like a big buzzword (and it should for all the walls and barriers that it is able to break down), attending the OASIS Orientale American Studies International School in Procida in 2014 was an important mind-opener for me. Hearing stories from a fellow participant about her protests on Tahrir Square, while discussing her research on war poetry, has left a deep emotional and intellectual impact on my understanding of the world and the academic discipline that I have pursued since the mid 1990s. The humanities may be at a tipping point, but at the same time American Studies, as has so passionately come to surface in Procida, has entered a new phase of cultural criticism that finally lives up to the challenges of the 21st century. For one week, seminar leaders, speakers and participants at OASIS most energetically shared their current research and learned from each other in the most inspiring and productive way. Now add the scenic island to all of this! What became evident in just a short time is that American
Studies is, internationally, devoted to a world in-the-making. Thanks to the brilliant organization of Donatella Izzo, Giorgio Mariani, Gianna Fusco and Vincenzo Bavaro, OASIS has given new hope to all of us who deeply care about the meaningfulness of their work-in-progress in a humanist context.

Martina Pfeiler, OASIS 2014 participant
 

 

Here’s one 2014 participant’s creative rendering of the intense week we shared in Procida, in a hilarious mix-and-match of all the topics covered by the plenary lectures: thank you, Katia Rostetter, for your wonderful humor!

As for the question regarding how this week at OASIS has helped me focus my project, I think it was the whale, the big white whale. No, I’m sure it was the whale. It was the mutinous white – no sorry, white is crossed out and black is written over it – whale that was later killed by John Marr and other sailors due to his terrible rendition of African American spirituals. As sad as his death is, on a positive note, due to his death, the sales-figures of his madness memoir entitled ‘Moby Dick: A Confession’ went through the roof, making it a likely candidate for the label “The Great American novel," not the least because he argues in it that his madness is an eternal recurrence, that is, it resurfaces every time someone tries to interpret his life in a way that empathizes with him as victor in the war he wages against the war Ahab wages against him, while ignoring his role as victim in other cases, thus reaffirming a hegemonic concept of history.

Katia Rostetter, OASIS 2014 participant

Image on the web page: courtesy of Susan Balée, OASIS 2014 speaker
 

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