Friday, September 26, 2003

The Drugged Balloonist

I don't know why this vast quantity of white space is appearing above my posts. But it fits nicely with the first plenary lecture of the conference last evening, "Modernism in Midair." Steven Connor made lots of interesting points about the treatment of air by various canonical modernists (Lewis, Woolf, H.D., and Eliot) as something that can be shaped and sculpted yet is often ignored in its omnipresence. I could tell you more but I seem to have mislaid my notebook; I'm hoping it's back at the B&B I'm staying at, which has tiny but comfortable rooms. It's a fair distance from the city center, so that and jet lag means I've missed the first two panels of the day, and now it's already lunchtime. When I come back I think I'll go to a panel called "Modernism, Beasts and Bestiality" which offers the first of several papers being delivered on Lawrence: "Becoming Fox, Becoming-Fascist: D.H. Lawrence and the Great War." Lawrence's critical stock may be on the rebound; this paper is by a fellow from the University of Iowa, and at the reception last night I met a Japanese scholar who has some interesting things to say about radio and cinema as they are featured in Lady Chatterley's Lover.

I don't feel entirely at home at this conference. Partly that's because it already seems to have broken up into groups that know each other from previous such events; but mostly it's because I'm still not wholly comfortable in my scholarly skin. I was much more relaxed at AWP as a poet among poets. Then again, I also knew lots of people there. So perhaps my anxiety is purely social. I kind of wish I were delivering my own paper a bit sooner because then I might feel that my credentials had been established. Then again, I've been realizing lately that so much of the power that we might attribute to "credentials"--publications, a job title, or anything else associated with an impressive c.v.--is literally so much air. The people who speak with confidence about what interests them are always the most impressive, and that confidence doesn't necessarily have anything to do with how established or powerful they are or are perceived to be. Of course establishment helps, as does the attitude of sparse, sincere rebellion that I've observed from some graduate students. In neither camp as usual I float along, like the drugged balloonist, amnesiac but with his reasoning powers intact, that Bertrand Russell used as an example of someone who, deprived of preconceptions, would be better able to understand Einstein's theories than an ordinary person. Conroy began his lecture with this, but right now I feel it's something I'm living, though my preconceptions aren't gone so much as getting further and further away in this strange place of sleep deprivation.

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