While it may have been a minor event in the grand scheme of things, for me at least, the 2017 Textualities conference on 10th March was an intense yet rewarding undertaking. Twenty-three speakers, all using the Petcha Kutcha presentation style meant eight hours of 2.5 words per second, with intermittent breaks for coffee, chitchat, and hyperventilating in alcoves of the North Wing corridor. The tenor of the conversations I had had with my peers in the days leading up to the conference was one approaching blind panic, but on the day everyone came together and pulled off their presentations with style and grace.
I presented on Flannery O’Connor and the New Critics, and was fairly happy with how it went. It’s an odd thing, having to put together a visual accompaniment to a presentation on literature and theory that doesn’t rely on text. Presenting on the New critics, this problem made me think of one of the academic schools they were reacting against, people like Arthur Quiller-Couch, who would simply stand in a lecture hall and evoke the great works of literature they were teaching, through a kind of performative reading. Yet how can we evoke a text without reference to it? I tried to find visuals that suggested the link between the transcendent and the material that’s so central to O’Connor’s work, and mix this with diagrams that might somehow evoke the systemisation of art at work in New Critical thought, thereby creating a sort of miniature model of my own approach to O’Connor. It didn’t hurt that O’Connor was a woman not without a certain air of mystery herself.
Somewhere between presenting my own research, liveblogging one panel and chairing another, livetweeting, having discussions with other MAs, PhD students, and lecturers about my research and theirs, I began to feel simultaneously tied to the reception and creation of something far beyond each of us as individuals. For just a moment we were no longer mere windstrewn motes of the academy, but, instead, an assemblage giving voice to a sonorous heteroglossia, with a clear view of the immanence driving ourselves into becoming.
Pound said of the vorticist, “you may think of man as that toward which perception moves. You may think of him as the toy of circumstance, as the plastic substance receiving impressions. Or you may think of him as directing a certain fluid force against circumstance, as conceiving instead of merely observing and reflecting” (97), and, in that moment, I found myself in a room full of just such magicians.
The panel I chaired was the last of the evening, and I pitied my presenters their torturous wait. One panellist suggested that Petcha Kutcha might somehow be an offshoot of the peculiar kind of ritualised public ridicule so ubiquitous in Japanese gameshows. I could see her point. The cold mathematical logistics of the thing hack away at the perhaps and maybes of your nascent thoughts until all ephemerality is shorn. What’s left is a lustrous core, nude and shimmering in the fading evening light.
Pound, Erza. “Vortex. Pound.” Modernism: An Anthology ed. Lawrence Rainey. pp.97-99. Blackwell Publishing. 2005.
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