Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Monday, 17 August 2009

I should totally read this giant zine about what causes fic at some point. (Tony, one for you too, I think, in relation to the idea of a geek aesthetic?)

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

Towards an Erotics of Reception

So for a long time me and my esteemed colleague at the University of Toronto, Anna Wilson, have been putting together a call for papers for a conference next July, which is going to be about loving texts.

From my point of view, the conference comes partly out of my interest in the relationship between sex and language. They're intimately related, of course, in that language can be highly eroticized, and in that our language has some effect on (if it doesn't determine) the way we think about and experience our bodies and our sexualities. But at the same time sex and language can be understood to be completely different: language as cerebral, virtual, unreal, representative, sex as bodily, real, true, authentic, nonrepresentational: sex as an 'outside' to language and power, or sex as the site where we are most intimately engaged with language and power. That's something that's gone on intriguing me for more than a decade, and which partly explains my interest in writing about sex. (I'm also interested, as several years of my students have been mildly-to-profoundly shocked to discover, in sex as a metaphor for writing, as in Calvin Thomas's wonderful essay Must Desire Be Taken Literally? on Helene Cixous, writing, and anal sex.)

I'm also someone who loves books, writing, language, someone who writes fanfiction, someone who gets crushes on books and authors and characters, and someone who teaches literature: so I'm also interested in the way that whole messy range of responses to texts and writings gets cut up and organized institutionally. Me, I feel like writing within a fictional universe and writing an analytic essay about a book are both ways of loving texts, but I know lots of people think that analysis and love are opposed (cf this really beautiful poem by U A Fanthorpe), and that intrigues me too, not only for what it says about literature but for what it says about love.

So I'm really excited to be organizing this conference: not only will I get a chance to talk for a whole day to other people from around the world who are interested in love and desire as modes of making textual connections, but it's going to be the basis for an application for a Research Network grant, so hopefully there will be a whole series of research events on this theme. In the short term, though, I'm particularly delighted that Carolyn Dinshaw (whose book I blogged about here) has agreed to be our keynote speaker. I'm excited to meet her, and to start what I hope will be an ongoing conversation with her and with everyone else who participates!

Here's the Call for Papers. There'll be an official web page for the conference at the University of Bristol website soon, and I'll let you have that link as soon as I can, but in the meantime, please pass on the news to anyone who might be interested, and feel free to link to this post!


A one-day conference co-organized by

The Bristol Institute of Greece, Rome and the Classical Tradition & the Centre for Medieval Studies, University of Toronto

University of Bristol, 10 July 2010

Keynote Speaker: Professor Carolyn Dinshaw, NYU


In reading Cicero's letters I felt charmed and offended in equal measure. Indeed, beside myself, in a fit of anger I wrote to him as if he were a friend and contemporary of mine, forgetting, as it were, the gap of time, with a familiarity appropriate to my intimate acquaintance with his thought; and I pointed out those things he had written that had offended me. (Petrarch, Rerum Familiarum Liber I.1.42)

Love, desire, fannish obsession and emotional identification as modes of engaging with texts, characters and authors are often framed as illegitimate and transgressive: excessive, subjective, lacking in scholarly rigour. Yet such modes of relating to texts and pasts persist, across widely different historical periods and cultural contexts. Many classical and medieval authors recount embodied and highly emotional encounters with religious, fictional or historical characters, while modern and postmodern practices of reception and reading - from high art to the subcultural practices of media fandom - are characterized by desire in all its ambivalent complexity. Theories of readership and reception, however, sometimes seem unable to move beyond an antagonistic model: cultural studies sees resistant audiences struggling to gain control of or to overwrite an ideologically loaded text, while literary models of reception have young poets fighting to assert their poetic autonomy vis-a-vis the paternal authority of their literary ancestors.

This conference aims, by contrast, to begin to elaborate a theory of the erotics of reception. It will bring together scholars working in and across various disciplines to share research into reading, writing and viewing practices characterized by love, identification, and desire: we hope that it will lead to the establishment of an international research network and the formulation of some long-term research projects. In order to facilitate discussion at the conference, we will ask participants to circulate full papers (around 5,000 words) in May 2010.

We now invite abstracts of 300 words, to be submitted by email by 30 November 2009. Abstracts will be assessed on the basis of their theoretical and interdisciplinary interest. We particularly welcome contributions from scholars working on literary, visual and performance texts in the fields of: history, reception studies, mediaeval studies, fan studies, cultural studies, theology, and literary/critical theory.

Some ideas which might be addressed include, but are not limited to:

* Writing oneself into the text: self-insertion and empathetic identification
* Historical desire: does the historian desire the past?
* Hermeneutics and erotics
* Pleasures of the text, pleasures of the body: (how) are embodied responses to the text gendered?
* Anachronistic reading: does desire disturb chronology?
* Erotics and/or eristics: love-hate relationships with texts

This conference is part of the 'Thinking Reciprocity' series and will follow directly from the conference 'Reception and the Gift of Beauty' (Bristol, 8-9 July 2010). Reduced fees will be offered to people attending both conferences.
If you have any queries, or to submit an abstract, please contact one of the conference organizers:

Dr Ika Willis (Ika.Willis@bristol.ac.uk)
Anna Wilson (anna.wilson@utoronto.ca)

Monday, 10 August 2009

No I Am Not On Facebook

Can someone who is on Facebook check this out? I have never joined Facebook, and I know full well there isn't anyone else called Ika Willis, but on the other hand I am clearly not important enough for anyone to join Facebook pretending to be me, so I am flummoxed. (And secretly hoping that I am important enough to have someone impersonating me, obviously.) But presumably Facebook has just harvested my name from, I don't know, staff web pages or Google blogs or something, and set this up without telling me? Or maybe they did tell me and I ignored them, because I ignore all Facebook-related email. Whatever, I am mildly irritated, because I want not only not to be on Facebook but actively to be a person without a Facebook page.)

Monday, 3 August 2009

Letter to WisCon

You know, one thing I feel kind of embarrassed about is that I don't actually know what WisCon is. 'Some kind of awesome fat-positive feminist trans-friendly queer anti-racist SF convention' is how I think of it in my head, although I'm also aware that it doesn't live up to that tag. Anyway.

But this letter! This letter is lovely.

Talking about issues of race and access makes everyone uncomfortable. There’s a particular expression of that discomfort in the sf community, where we have the hope that race is one of the differences between humans that will cease to matter in our brave new future, and that the best way to hasten that future is to act as though we don’t ‘see’ race [see note]. But, as Chip Delany has said, someone who can’t see something that threatens his life is not going to be his best ally...

This high level of discomfort squashes dialogue and leaves people feeling that race is still an issue, but it’s somehow shameful to even speak about it. As feminists we’ve had a parallel experience in trying to raise awareness and organize around issues of feminism. Feminism has developed a time-tested way of dealing with such silencing, which is to first take a little private time and discuss the issues amongst ourselves, without the need for constantly allaying the dominant group’s anxiety at every step.

Anyway. This is mostly for my own reference, so I can model my own teaching and talking practice on this kind of sweet, straightforward tone, wherever possible. (Not that I am going to give up ranting, don't worry--)

And yeah! I'm in Melbourne. I've been to two conferences in July, I haven't blogged about either of them, or about Australia, at all. I feel a bit hampered by the fact that I brought the wrong camera lead so I can't upload photos--