Friday, May 31, 2002–Saturday, June 1, 2002
William Andrews Clark Memorial Library
2520 Cimarron Street
—a conference organized by Helen Deutsch, University of California, Los Angeles; Carl Fisher, California State University, Long Beach; Jayne E. Lewis, University of California, Los Angeles; Robert M. Maniquis, University of California, Los Angeles; Anne K. Mellor, University of California, Los Angeles; and Felicity Nussbaum, University of California, Los Angeles
Robinson Crusoe, startled by the sight of a human footprint, embodied a new homo economics—overcoming his fear in order to instill fear, threatened by God, nature, and other human beings yet shaping, even in disaster, what seems to be the whole universe to his ends. Defoe’s stories may be about a man surviving on an island or a woman surviving in the city; they may bristle with whole populations fleeing disease or accumulating fortunes; they may turn upon common human pettiness or grand imperial ideas. But whatever his topics, Defoe puts into brilliant imaginative form an extraordinary number of what we know are still our social contradictions. Whether we consider his portrayals of the commodification of the imagination, the isolated self, sexual power, the knotting together of religion and capitalism, the family, science, economics, technology, or racial ideas—these and many other topics make talking about Defoe interesting at any time and any place.
But on this occasion to discuss Defoe we at the same time celebrate the career of Professor Maximillian E. Novak. The new homo economics in Defoe’s works found one of its most important contemporary interpreters in Max Novak. From his first monographs on Defoe to his recent biography, Professor Novak has continually shaped and enlivened our understanding of one of the greatest of European novelists.
The conference also coincides with the publication of Teaching Robinson Crusoe, a volume edited by Maximillian Novak and Carl Fisher. One conference session is devoted to that novel: talks on Robinson Crusoe are followed by a panel in which several contributors to the Novak and Fisher volume join to consider issues involved in teaching the work.