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Category Archives: conferences
If you know of pop culture texts, especially Canadian works, that refer to the oil industry – especially the oil sands – please leave a comment here (or e-mail me).
I’d be particularly grateful for references to pop music, theatre, TV, and science fiction works.
The research in progress is tentatively titled “Monster mines and pipelines: Frankenstein figures of fossil fuel technology,” and will be presented on March 4 at #AthaU’s inaugural Alberta Studies symposium, and again in June at Congress.
This year my Congress itinerary started with a side trip: on landing in Toronto, I stopped by the Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives in Toronto, to meet the people who run it and my research assistant, an Athabasca MA student who’s working on a research project there. Everyone was fabulous and the archive is like an impossible and imperative project: a collection of queer Canada’s vital cultural and historical documents, housed in a Victorian three-storey house (not, I suspect, originally designed for this purpose); and a project whose private funding means independence from – but also inaccessibility to – public funding sources. Given the recent budget’s libary and archive cuts, the CLGA’s support system seems a mix of boon and bane.
Next stop was with family north of Toronto; they drove me to Waterloo on Sunday, where we met the family friends, a couple, who’d agreed to host me while I was in town for Congress. One of my hosts actually works at WLU’s communications office, so I was privy to interesting non-academic perspectives on Congress and media.
The first session I attended, hosted by ACCUTE, concerned critical theory in relation to current social questions of marginalization and gentrification; it also provided the first of numerous instances of delegates wearing red square fabric patches to express solidarity with the Quebec student movement. (My host and some delegates wondered aloud whether Congress might host a protest or march (between the manifencours and the spectre of censure hanging over WLU and Waterloo for their new corporate-funded research centre. I never saw any protest manifest, but then again I might have just missed it entirely based on my own schedule.)
After that session was the president’s reception, the big freeform meet-n-greet. Ran into a few people I know from Western and Guelph, including the indomitable Smaro Kamboureli, to whom I showed iPad-stored family photos in between the mobile calls she had to take, in our wave new world of augmented socializing. I introduced my RA to lots of people, but I think she found the scene something of a sensory overload. Every association gets invited to one of these receptions, and they tend to group like fields and interests, but not necessarily every association with people you know goes to the same reception you do. (Congress vets will advise newcomers, grads in particular, to go to every reception just to grab a good free meal. They’re not exactly regulated by bouncers and velvet rope.)
For the second consecutive night of the trip I endured the dim infinitude of insomnia, taking shape between the second night in a strange bed and nerves about the busy Monday ahead. Not an auspicious start to that day’s full program. Propped up by coffee, I presented a talk on Frankenstein in pop music for an ACCUTE session on New Directions in Adaptation Studies. The venue’s AV system played wonderfully well with the iPad, and played back the music samples I’d prepared at satisfyingly high volume and definition. This year the schedule of proceedings made much more breathing room for Q & A after the papers: a welcome change, making each session more productive and interesting for those party to it. In this case, I fielded some solid primary text suggestions and theoretical questions (such as one about how to distinguish adaptation from intertextuality).
In the session right after that, I joined a special “professional concerns” panel on cynicism in academia. While my previous talk had drawn several solid comments and questions from its relatively small but focused audience, this second session was provocative, feisty even – presenters and audience alike. Although some complained it was more familiar complaining, and floated some suggestions for action against sources of academic cynicism: workforce casualization, university corporatization -the now all-too-usual suspects. One excellent but then-undeliverable suggestion was for a panel on cynicism to include a higher-up university administrator. One of my co-panelists had maybe the best ever conference paper title for his talk – complete with a corresponding Venn diagram – but I’m not stealing that thunder here since the organizer has designs on getting the panel proceedings into print (more on that as it happens). For my part, I was pleased to be able to work into my presentation a shot of Margaret Sutherland’s painting of Canada’s ruling cynic, Emperor Haute Couture.
I represented AU at the association’s lunch for campus representatives, a yearly chance to give feedback on the conference, communications, and membership matters. Just before lunch I ran into a family friend who’s a philosopher, to find out he’d published a book and had recently been offered tenure-track work. Good to know some such offers still stand. Would there were more, for all the eminently deserving people you meet at things like this.
After that lunch, I played hooky for the afternoon, retreating to my hosts’ house in the suburb across the parkway for a leisurely run in the 35 degree late May heat. (Yeah, that’s real normal weather.) My host had recommended a nearby woodlot, on account of the shade, but I must have taken a wrong turn, and found myself jogging down an ever-narrowing dirt track. I turned back and sought civilization on encountering a patch of big ugly weeds spray-painted orange…and recalling that Waterloo was where the invasive and toxic giant hogweed had first been discovered a couple years earlier. Retreat!
Monday evening was time for the ACCUTE-hosted and strangely misnamed “wine and cheese,” preceded by drinks with the research team at the U of Manitoba’s Sex Worker and Missing Women archive, a team my RA introduced me to. This team’s work, like the CLGA’s, struck me as similarly imperative and impossible, possibly moreso, given the traumatic subject matter of and public recoil from their work. So maybe I didn’t meet everybody I’d been hoping to at the prior night’s reception; here was a welcome chance, instead, to make some new scholarly acquaintances.
I’m not sure what my RA was expecting of the ACCUTE “wine and cheese” but I guess it wasn’t a club with a dark dance floor full of English and Cultural Studies students and scholars getting down to the eclectic, request-friendly playlist being thrown down by ACCUTE’s resident DJ. The ACCUTE party is always a Congress highlight, and this year’s may have been the best yet: the sound system was massive, the tracks were way more hit than miss, and the floor was constantly full. Also, there was a dry ice machine, which got put to good use. Standout selections included “Born this way” (I hadn’t heard it before on a proper system, which opened it to new levels of textured and tactile appreciation), “Blue Monday” (which I dug on with a verve that felt retrieved from high school days), and “Vogue” – mostly for the opportunity it afforded a few of the delegates who’d been there back in the day to actually vogue – an extraordinary dancefloor drama. Sadly, I had to quit the scene all too early, gently ridiculed for doing so by partygoers taking a break from the move-busting for sidewalk cigarazzi duty.
The early but not-quite-Cinderella-grade bail was necessitated by next morning’s 9 am session on the copyfight, which I had convened and was chairing. (At least all the exercise Monday killed the insomnia, finally.) The copyfight panel was a fantastic line-up for a respectable turnout (not massive, but respectable given it was going down first thing after ACCUTE party night), with delegates from both ACCUTE and SDH, which co-sponsored it. The speakers included a law-trained member of Western’s copyright advisory group speaking on Access Copyright, my RA on copyright and digital porn, and Digital Prohibition author Carolyn Guertin on the modes and meanings of digital remix practice. Understandably, many audience members were very concerned about the Access Copyright situation, on which much discussion ensued in particular – and in which developments keep coming fast and furiously, making it hard to keep one’s work timely. This challenge to stay abreast of the latest regulatory decisions and manoeuvres is a common caveat issued by researchers presenting work on copyright; it’s a sign not just of the subject’s currency, but also of its inordinate command of policy-making resource, its monopolization of political will.
Following some sightseeing downtime (sights including RIM hq, the llamas of Eby Farms, and Mennonites), I randomly encountered some #AthaU colleagues whilst grabbing a coffee, and we compared notes on sessions and associations. There are so many even for a more discipline-dedicated than interdisciplinary researcher to choose from. I’ve previously attended CATR, CCA, and SSS conferences; and even in just Anglophone literary studies I could also join at least two other associations beside ACCUTE: namely, ACQL and CACLALS.
Tuesday afternoon, then, I attended an SDH session on the politics of cyberculture. Antiquated as anything “cyber-” sounds, the session presented up-to-the-minute investigations of digital graffiti, remix culture in China, and interactive art installations. The SDH proceedings also afforded a chance to catch up with familiar acquaintances and make some new ones.
The experience of attending Congress as something of a tour guide – i.e. introducing my RA, an AU Masters student, to the megaconference – made for a somewhat different Congress itinerary than the solo kind I’d pursued in prior years. One obvious difference was that it made the event more about mentorship, from overall orientation to details of conference presentation. The mentorship approach got me reflecting on my own independent introduction to Congress as a gad student, and how disorienting and trial-and-error that autodidactic exercise had been. It also meant making new contacts, as I got introduced to members of my RA’s own growing research network: the U Manitoba archive team; Brock U’s Margot Francis, author of Creative Subversions, a new book about Canada’s racialized, colonial imaginary. It also got me noticing how widespread this kind of mentorship is, observing other scholars leading students on a kind of conference Grand Tour, and, moreover, how much more taken for granted (and, arguably, easy to organize) this kind of mentorship is at traditional, face-to-face universities.
The other novel dimension of Congress this year was staying with friends, one of whom works for the host institution but not as an academic, and the other in the private sector. They were very curious about what Congress is about in the big-picture way, and about what I was doing there in particular. On my last evening in Waterloo I treated them to a thankyou dinner at a hip little resto they’d raved about, a spot clearly staggering under the influx of hungry academic traffic; then we met a friend of theirs and, on a whim, went to take in a special concert led by Canada’s Polka King himself, Walter Ostanek.
Over pints and between rounds of the chicken dance (which got played more often that night than Lady GaGa had been the night before), my hosts asked me about my work; it’s a sometimes difficult but always useful exercise to describe one’s research in plain-speaking cocktail-party talk. In turn, my host shared a sense of what such an event looks like from the not-quite-outside perspective of the university communications office, its media wing, which represents the university to the media, the government, the public. She said that she’d spent most of Tuesday in the Congress media office, and that it was “dead.” I wondered aloud about the media office, how some years it contacts you if it thinks your work will interest the media: this and previous years, I’d filled out and sent in the media form, but to no apparent end – no press of mics and cameras waiting outside the classroom doors. “Bring it to the media office,” my friend said. That is: Don’t wait for the media to come to you, if you think your work is a story – take it to the media. Given recent, disturbing developments in Canada’s public intellectual culture – from the government’s muzzling of climate change scientists to the Canadian Library Association’s suppression of its own members’ activism – this strikes me as a particularly important take-away point. Canada’s public intellectual culture – even the idea of the public itself – is only as strong as those willing to stand up for it, though we do so in the face of the public interest’s active destruction by a regime beholden only to the narrowest of private interests. On this front, Congress could stand to learn much from CLASSE and the students in Quebec, in solidarity with whom so many delegates wore safety-pinned red squares … more visible to sympathetic eyes than to those who really need to see them.
I normally pack a laptop for conference-going, but for this year’s Congress I’m planning to take the tablet. This plan has required some thought and strategy. It will also require packing some peripherals, but I still expect my luggage to incur a significant net weight loss. Here’s a “Before & After” pic of conference tech luggage: what I used to lug at left, what I plan to at right.
The portability and versatility of the tablet (yes, that one, but I don’t need to do the fruitfully named firm’s own advertising for it) mean that it can take on the following functions and make the following gear replacements:
- travel reading – tablet replaces print book with digital library
- movie viewing – tablet provides more personalized in-flight entertainment than what the back of the seat in front of you is pushing (just hope the passenger next to you doesn’t mind the occasional eyeful of that ultraviolent horror film you’re enjoying);
- music playback – tablet replaces
- communication device (not as just-in-time as a phone, but people seem to check their e-mail and Twitter pretty fast these days)
- notepad – tablet replaces paper notepad
- presentation station – the main reason for you used to lug the laptop
- camera and camcorder – tablet replaces both (granted, the pics aren’t as high-quality)
- turntables and tunes (hey, you’d be surprised how dance-friendly some learned associations are) – tablet replaces two turntables and a milk crate of vinyl records
On that account, the tablet totally makes me feel like I’m living in the future. And its tolerable substitutability for (if not exact interchangeability with) all the other gear listed above stands to cut a lot of luggage weight. Okay, that last item on the list isn’t exactly standard conference luggage – it’s not like I pack DJ gear for every research travel trip. I have done so on occasion, though.
Some peripherals are constant: headphones and the power cord. Other items I have normally packed for conferences, and don’t plan to drop, include:
- a thumb drive with critical document backups (yes, I know about Dropbox – but I still believe in offline storage);
- audio cord: an 1/8″ jack-to-male-RCA cord connected to a female-RCA-to-1/8″ adapter – this way your device can patch to either a headphone jack or an RCA jack;
- a paper notepad (it’s for good reason this ancient tech remains robust – for one thing, no batteries required)
There are three things I’ll be packing that are new, and two are specific to the tablet. One is non-negotiable: the adapter cable for VGA projectors. The second is not strictly necessary, but a great convenience: a bluetooth keyboard. (If I get some downtime for catching up on work, having an actual keyboard, not a touchpad, will seriously boost productivity.) The third is a new addition I’ve been meaning to add for a while – it has nothing to do with laptop versus tablet functions, and everything to do instead with the weirdly visual-centric culture of research in general: a portable loudspeaker. My conference talks tend to be heavy on audio samples, but often I show up at go-time to find the room not equipped for sound…leaving me to play painstakingly optimized sound from invariably shitty laptop speakers at a volume they’re not designed to support. Not this time: if the PA system is AWOL, my Plan B is a wireless boom box. (I wasn’t expecting to buy this brand, but the sound is unexpectedly full and rich, and the price is right for a Plan B purchase.)
The institutional inattention to sound in presentations extends to the tablet’s own presentation app. I spent the better part of Saturday evening trying to figure out how to get Keynote to embed and play back audio samples. I did finally get it to work, thanks to Post #5 in this forum. (The irony is that this solution requires the use of an additional audio-visual app, and the ironic bonus is that this specific solution also adds a modest visual interest to the presentation.)
Otherwise I don’t think much need be said about the constellation of apps both generalist and specialized that make the tablet such a digital Swiss Army Knife. I will be following up this discussion of the plan with posts from the field to report back on how it plays out in practice. In the meantime, of course, all the planning and strategy around minimizing the luggage and tech requirements for conference-going broach a couple of bigger questions.
First, the tech for which the tablet can substitute is not, itself, really all that old at all. There’s an important question here about not just the pace of technological change but its calculated disposability – its planned obsolescence.
Second, there’s the big question about the conference itself as a face-to-face event: how long before that technology is rendered obsolete by the ascendance of webinars and other virtual events? It’s hard to argue with how their carbon footprints compare (although let’s not fool ourselves that computing is anything close to carbon neutral).
Lastly, I shouldn’t forget about all the other obligatory gear I have to pack for a successful conference trip. Conveniently, there’s an easy-to-remember list:
Critical scholarship is urgently needed to intervene on the question of copyright: once a staple stimulus for literary and cultural production that now tends more to stifle it. … This session invites papers on the relationship between literature, copyright, and the copyfight.
[Instead of posting the complete call for papers here, I'm practicing not duplicating content.]
I’m a million different people from one day to the next. –The Verve, “Bittersweet Symphony”
Between drafting a paper for Congress and giving one, last Friday, to a remote audience in Marburg, I’ve been reflecting on the different voices I adopt in different media and genres (to say nothing of the million different performative personae that “I” go through on any given day).
As genres, the conference paper and research essay demand different kinds of tone, rhythm, and vocabulary. These basically boil down to keeping things simpler, more direct, and more repetitive (as well as much more concise) in a conference paper, to help a listening audience follow along. I’ve tried drafting conference papers with speaking in mind, but every time I read or speak draft work back to myself, it always needs more paring down and smoothing out.
Which got me thinking about blogging: what kind of voice do I take on in blogging? Is there even any single voice that emerges among posts — or do different posts themselves speak in different tones? My general sense is that the tone of most of my posts tends to be less formal and more conversational than that of either a conference paper or an essay.
Anyway, the upshot is that it might be worth trying to compose conference papers not as simplified research essays, as I’ve been doing, but rather as extended blog posts. It might be worth the thought experiment, if only to find out whether the paper would need fewer re-writes afterward.
Say goodbye to a self crystallized around a matrix of consistency. – Christine Tamblyn (150)
Further to the development of different voices in different apps, I don’t think there’s any point trying to discern any consistent tone for someone’s Twitter messages. The extreme brevity of the form, its preponderance of links, and its compulsive re-tweets all seem to work against establishing any consistent voice. It might be more accurate to think in terms of brand, not voice, for Twitter — with all the commodity fetishism that entails. But I think there is something to identifying one’s Facebook voice. It might be the parallax produced by me in my circle of “friends,” but Facebook seems to be where facetiousness and sarcasm reign; anytime anyone posts something serious, heartfelt, or otherwise real, it always seems jarring and inappropriate to me.
In admitting this, I think I’m admitting to a symptom of what Tobias van Veen calls “the cryptofascism of corporate perception”; in other words, the modes of communication that are structured and limited by corporate social media (to which the Elgg that supports the Landing is, I think, a notable open-source exception): “the technics of perception in which uncitizens engage with the social network aligns desire with socially networked consumerism. Desire is directed toward a ceaseless flow of objects and data (either LIKED or absented in response).” In other words, you can’t “dislike” something on Facebook; you can only disappear it by refraining to like or comment on it. On the implications of “corporate perception” like this for “the youth vote” in the recent federal election, van Veen writes:
There is no rebellion not because youth don’t care; there is no rebellion because youth live in a world created and catered through info-filtering mechanisms tailored so precisely to predict and provide for their consumer and erotic impulses that the practice of democratic choice has no place within it. One can LIKE but one cannot not like; there is no choice per se, only the metrics of one-way desire. [...] Youth—a category no longer of age but of consumer uncitizenry, which is to say, humans who only participate in collective processes through consumption and discourse with corporatized social networks—feel that with social networks and mobile communications that they, each and every one, are the centre of all attention. Uncitizens command and demand—not from their nation-states, but from their corporations, and what they demand is the short-term satisfaction of their pleasures.
van Veen’s point is that social networks erase the nation-state and thus cripple democratic participation in it: since, in social networks, the nation-state “does not exist as such—which is to say as a metric of consumer desire,” its virtual nonexistence helps expedite its material dismantling by the right-wing powers that be. (BTW, van Veen’s blog exemplifies a very different tone for scholarly blogging.)
I’m likewise preoccupied by the message of social media, as McLuhan might say: how social network technologies make specific kinds of environments, how they allow only certain, limited kinds of discourse and communication. And, in the process, how they privilege certain kinds of voices, and construct certain kinds of subjects.
Tamblyn, Christine. “Grafting Tentacles on the Octopussy.” Vulvamorphia: Lusitania 6 (1994): 147-52.
van Veen, Tobias. “Technics and Decrepit Democracy.” Fugitive Philosophy [blog]. 3 May 2011 http://fugitive.quadrantcrossing.org/2011/05/technics-decrepit-democracy/
The Verve. “Bittersweet Symphony.” Urban Hymns. Hut, 1997.
Cross-blogged from the Athabasca U Landing
This workshop will explore the use of science fiction as a means to motivate and direct research into new technologies and consumer products. It does this by creating science fiction stories grounded in current science and engineering research that are written for the explicit purpose of acting as prototypes for people to explore a wide variety of futures. [...] In this way fictional prototypes provide a powerful interdisciplinary tool to enhance the traditional practices of research, design and market research.
The relationship between fiction and fact here is familiar enough to science fiction. In popular and fan discourses, this relationship tends to be mystified in terms of “uncanny prediction”: recent popular magazine articles detail “6 eerily specific inventions predicted by science fiction” and “11 astounding sci-fi predictions that came true.” In criticism and research, we find demystifications that investigate the material conditions linking science fiction to fact, extrapolation to production. Mark Fisher has helpfully coined the term “SF capital” to describe how science fiction works as a literary laboratory for real-world R&D, a resource for what Henry Jenkins calls “the military-entertainment complex” (75). A generation before Fisher, Marshall McLuhan — who was ambivalent about science fiction, and sometimes criticized for writing it -– had a firm, proleptic grasp on the idea of SF capital, which he well understood in his dual capacities as maverick scholar and corporate consultant:
Big Business has learned to tap the s-f writer. (124)
What’s striking in the CSF is perhaps the boldness of business’ courtship of SF: how frankly SF capital is being recognized and instituted, in a peculiarly Utilitarian program to enlist SF production specifically for “consumer products” and “market research.” The CSF is, in a way, simply spelling out the terms of a long-standing if somewhat asymmetrical partnership. SF’s command of both a popular market and a certain counter-cultural cachet has positioned it, since its inception (in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein), as more commodity than culture, hence its exile to the peripheries of legitimate “Literature,” according to a cultural-economic history provocatively explained by Samuel R. Delany (195). But is its future to be increasingly channeled into and defined by the speculations and futures we associate more with high finance and global capital than with cultural commentary and social progress?
Putting the question this way, of course, oversimplifies the numerous trajectories, formations, allegiances, and even definitions of science fiction; this is perhaps more an issue of science fiction studies, of the genre’s role in and relation to research: will a program like that of the CSF represent a route for delivering SF out of its encampment on the fringes of literary studies, towards more interdisciplinary and more broad-based social engagements, or will it merely transport it from one camp to another?
Creative Science Foundation. Intel Labs, Hillsboro, 2011.
Delany, Samuel R. and Carl Freedman. “A Conversation with Samuel R. Delany about Sex, Gender, Race, Writing — and Science Fiction.” Afro-Future Females: Black Writers Chart Science Fiction’s Newest New-Wave Trajectory. Ed. Marleen S. Barr. Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 2008. 191-235.
Fisher, Mark. “SF Capital.” Transmat: Resources in Transcendent Materialism (2001).
Jenkins, Henry. Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide. New York: New York UP, 2006.
Kessler, Sarah. “11 Astounding Sci-Fi Predictions That Came True.” Mashable 25 Sept. 2011.
McLuhan, Marshall. The Medium is the Massage: An Inventory of Effects. New York: Bantam, 1967.
Murdock, Colin. “6 eerily specific inventions predicted by science fiction.” Cracked 19 Nov. 2010.
As advertised at the ACCUTE website (scroll down, scroll way way down), I’m organizing a special session for next year’s ACCUTE conference, during Congress at the U of New Brunswick.
The Copyfight: The Politics of Intellectual Property and Literary Production
Conceived as a critical public intervention in the fast- changing regimes of intellectual property (IP) regulation, this session seeks to bring questions of copyright and its regulation to bear on contemporary literary and cultural studies. The “copyfight” over digital intellectual property regulation, in particular, pits states and corporations against citizens, who are criminalized en masse as ever-stricter IP regulations (such as Bill C-32 and ACTA) that purport to control digital consumption also increasingly control the modes of cultural production. Between enclosures of the “cultural commons” and resistances to these enclosures, literary and cultural production has become politicized in its very forms. Possible topics for this session include:
- Representations and critiques of intellectual property in literature
- Case studies of IP regulation and/or litigation by literary properties or estates
- Analyses of appropriation-based literary and cultural modes, forms, and texts
- Histories of copyright and IP regulation: its definitions, institutions, transformations
- IP issues in the university: e.g. Access Copyright, e-readers, DRM, Open Access, plagiarism
- The political economy of adaptation: fan fiction, parodic use, commentary
- Whither creative license? Copyright’s controls, confiscations, and censorships of cultural production
Following the instructions on this website for member-organized sessions, send your 700 word proposal (or 8-10 page double-spaced paper), a 100 word abstract, a 50 word biographical statement, and the submitter information form, to mccutcheon[at]athabascau[dot]ca by 15 November 2010.
Note: You must be a current ACCUTE member to submit to this session.