The International Shalamov Conference – «Закон сопротивления распаду» – took place in Prague September 17-19 2013.
When I arrived in the airport of Prague on Monday September 16 I was met by a great friend of mine and the material evidence from the last International Shalamov Conference in Moscow in June 2011: the published collection of all the papers presented at that conference, including my own. For about two years I suspected it was not a very good article; upon rereading it in print I realized that it is not bad at all. I never reread my own work [an unhealthy habit which started several years ago], but this one I must say I like. I have so many fond memories of those days in Moscow and Vologda that summer – it was the first time I met many wonderful Shalamov scholars whose important works I had read before seeing them in person. It was in many times the conference when I came of age: for the first time I was presenting my research in its direct context and in front of people who know much more than I do – and both I and my work was accepted! It was an almost magical time… There I became personally acquainted with Laura – our correspondence continued afterwards for months that turned into years and together we organized two panels on Shalamov in Boston in January this year. During these four days in Prague we spent several hours talking about literature and life on walks through the city and over dinner or hot tea and when we said goodbye at the airport yesterday I realized that she had taught me more about what it means to be a scholar and teacher during those four days than I learned from people at Berkeley during three years. For such a long time I was sad that I had not encountered an academic mentor in grad school who would mean as much to me as professor M. at Gothenburg University meant for me while I was an undergraduate – and during all this time I totally forgot about Laura and all the ways in which she helped and encouraged me. She was the one who edited my statement for my qualifying exams until it reached such a crisp state that it was accepted by my department as soon as I turned it in a few weeks ago. She has always been there for me and ready to answer all of my questions via mail since we first met in Moscow in June 2011. I guess I just assumed that my academic mentor would be working at the same university where I would complete my PhD, but it turns out that is not the case. In many ways this is a blessing because we do not have to deal with any of the formalities of graduate education: no grades, just intellectual growth and almost a kind of academic friendship. During these four days I understood how much I can learn from not only Laura but also other scholars, and how many interesting talks I can have with different people when we share a common interest and love for Shalamov. I think I’m seeing the conference in Prague in 2013 very much in comparison with the conference in Moscow in 2011 and maybe that is the correct way to do it, at least for me who has only had two similar experiences. We had three days of interesting talks, a total of 34 Shalamov scholars presented their work at the conference – and yes, at the end of each day we were all a little bit tired from all the enlightened discussion taking place for several hours… Several talks were excellent, some talks were less so; some scholars opened up new perspectives [especially the talks devoted to the poetry of Shalamov which has not been properly studied yet] and some scholars spoke in such a way that it was a pure pleasure to listen to them. Many of them I knew from Moscow, but a few I met for the first time in Prague. I gave my paper on the third day of the conference, but I think that for me personally the second day was the most exciting. It was the day when my own work was cited twice by two different scholars. The first citation contained a challenge to a statement from my article about the 2011 conference which I published in the journal Baltic Worlds. We discussed both our points of view afterwards but reached no consensus: I still think I’m right and the other scholar still thinks he is right. In general in Shalamov scholarship, though, that kind of disagreement is rare – it became obvious through the overall kind and friendly atmosphere of the conference that we agree with each other on almost everything. One translator noted in a conversation over lunch on Friday: «Нет другого мнения» – this seems to me to best way to summarize the collective spirit of current Shalamov scholarship. The second citation came from my paper from the conference in 2011 and was a positive reflection upon my argument and also building on ideas I had expressed. After that kind of attention I was a little bit taken aback as I had not expected my work to be mentioned twice in one day. It was only two citations of my work during the entire conference but for me they both meant the world – I appreciated the negative as much as the positive comment – and in a way showed me that I might actually become someone who can produce important scholarship in the future. On the third day I presented my paper on Shalamov’s play. During the course of the conference several of the points I wanted to make and texts that I cited were already discussed and so I managed to cut my paper short by a few paragraphs the night before. The reception of my paper this time differed from my paper in 2011: whereas the older scholars almost patted me on the back and congratulated me on an excellent paper two years ago, this time nobody felt they needed to give me the seal of approval, so to speak. Instead I was approached as a fully formed scholar and given the opportunity to present my ideas as an equal, which was scary but ultimately a good experience. Since I haven’t finished my dissertation yet I was sort of waiting for someone else to approve of me this time as they had in 2011. The reward was different this time – one of the scholars whom I respect and admire the most asked me to be with her «на ты» after my talk and I really think that is the greatest reward anyone could have given me. All in all, I feel so refreshed after this week in Prague – mentally as well as spiritually. I don’t think I could have asked for a better conference. And I think even Shalamov himself would have been proud of our event in his honor.