Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Switzerland Diary 3: A Weekend of Stealing Ideas

What I like best about the International Conference on the Book, apart from the fact that they give me awards and take place in interesting places, some of which I can stay in for free (Ray’s apartment in Edinburgh, one of my many expat friends in Toronto next year), is that it’s an interdisciplinary conference that perfectly matches my career. It’s a venue where I can present and discuss my ideas that fall into the category of meta-philosophy, and there are enough people there talking about the publishing industry that I can brainstorm techniques for Crackjaw. Step one of being a web-based publisher: have a functioning website. I’ll get right on that, business seminar leader.

My own presentation impressed everyone who was there to see it, and because I was the award winner for my essay from the Edinburgh conference last year, I had a packed room in the first speaking session that morning. No one could really think of any questions for me at the end, though. I was told it was pretty dense. But later that day, after they had time to think about it, people from my audience came up to me and had some really interesting discussions about how fields of study can become insular and moribund through the processes like peer review and argument that we often think revitalizes us.

I felt a little bad that I was scheduled opposite my new friend Liz, who I’ve referred to in previous entries as the couch surfer. But there just wasn’t enough audience to go around on a Sunday morning. An art historian presenting on genital lack in statuary should at least be solid academic entertainment and a genuinely intriguing essay. However, I will admit that I'm not a fan of Freudian models of desire as lack. But I couldn't actually make her presentation. Christina, a film theory grad student from University of Iowa, presented an intriguing study of Hmong-American literature. It was interesting to see the reactive generation writing about their experiences breaking away from the conservative culture of their immigrant parents. But for me, the really interesting stuff will come from the generation in the Hmong community after this one: right now, their authors are too polarized between being purely American or purely Hmong. It’ll be another couple of decades before there are young authors capable of genuine play.

Corrine, my friend that I met at last year’s Book Conference, presented an ancient (for us, anyway; it was three years old) paper about Charlotte Brontë’s use of writing in her work as a sign of freedom from gender constraint. For me, secret megalomaniac that I am, the best part about her presentation was a single line, which I think she improvised and that I can’t even remember, that spurred me to an idea for a chapter in my planned book about philosophical ethics written through dialogue with Herzog movies. I figured out how to structure a chapter that explained how Herzog crafted his duty to New German Cinema, and through that his duty to rebuild Germany itself as a civilized country, and explained the ethical power of the duties that he demanded of himself and the world. It included his relation to the Silent Expressionists, Lotte Eisner the film critic, his strangely totemic walk from Munich to Paris in the dead of winter, and thematic analyses of Fata Morgana, Heart of Glass, and Nosferatu 1978. So thank you, Corrine, for the inspiration, even if it was utterly unintentional on both our parts.

Mathilde is a very short scholar of ancient Greek philosophy doing a PhD at UQAM, who presented a fascinating essay about the mythologization of Aristotle’s library in ancient Greece, examining different ways to relate to books as physical and mythical objects because of the different ways that books are produced and passed on in that civilization. If I can steal another Herzog phrase, it was about the ecstatic truth of Aristotle’s library rather than the actual facts of the case, which didn’t really matter to her point. The idea is to see what kind of philosophical insights we can take from the historical narrative – the facts of that historical narrative are only incidental, and should serve the philosophy without restraining it from undue fidelity to facts.

Liz, Corrine, Christina, and Mathilde were the other graduate students at the conference who I spent the most time with, and I'm very glad I did. That's all.

No comments: