Tuesday, October 5, 2010

the problem of voice

Today I finally made a post about my experiences at the "Desiring the Text, Touching the Past" conference in July, which also goes some way to explaining why I haven't posted on this journal for such a long time. I think this blog is probably officially on hiatus from this point on, unless I find something else to do with it; I'm working towards my major field exams and blogging about my reading in an informal, fannish way elsewhere, under an ID I'd rather keep quiet for now (but if you're interested, email me); and I'll be posting hopefully again at The Friends of the Text, the Wordpress we set up after the conference.

Come over; there's some great posts there coming out of the conference and moving on to further projects. It's open to everyone, we'd love to hear from you.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Desiring the Text

Very excited about Desiring the Text, Touching the Past: Towards an Erotics of Reception, the conference I'm co-organizing and will be soon attending. Carolyn Dinshaw is the keynote speaker, and we've got papers on love of Plato in 19th century German historiography, portrayal of/engagement with fans in Supernatural, Dr. Who and Merlin, Petrarch's fannishness (that one's mine), Dante's fannishness, Dante and temporality, race and fan empathy, St. Augustine's reading of the gospels, and more.

I've been reading the precirculated papers, and I'm so excited about the discussion they're going to generate. I'm also hoping that I'll resurrect this blog after it! I've just finished the last precirculated paper, and the standard is really high - they're awesome.

The conference is on July 10th; register beforehand for the pre-circulated papers!

Monday, December 7, 2009

thanks, Cicero

Today in 43 BCE, Marcus Tullius Cicero's luck ran out, and he was caught fleeing down the Italian coast by Octavian's soldiers, and killed.

Cicero is one of my favourite historical figures. I was trying to decide what I should post in memory of him, and I couldn't choose. There's the hilarious speech for the defence of a guy called Caelius, which totally ignored the actual charge against him and instead committed wholesale character assassination of the sister of the guy bringing the charge, who was alleged to be behind it because she was his jilted mistress, and with whom Cicero had a long-standing feud; the story is that it was a feast day, and none of the jurors wanted to be there, but had been dragged in by the insistence of the prosecutor, so Cicero repeated totally salacious gossip about the sister's beach villa toyboy lifestyle and her alleged sexual relationship with her brother until they could all go home.

There's also the brilliantly cranky letter to a friend of Cicero's who was running for office, who wrote to Cicero while he was a provincial governor out in the godforsaken deserts of Bithynia, asking if he could send him some panthers for some games he was putting on. Cicero, basically, tells him he's got better fucking things to do than find him panthers. Then there's the letter where Cicero writes about how bizarre Latin swear-words are, and how annoying is that everyone giggles when you say 'witnesses' (testes) or 'when we...' ('cum nos', which sounds like 'cunnos', which means, uh, guess), on and on through several paragraphs. It is because of Cicero that we know what a number of swear words mean, and that they are swear words. Thank you, Cicero. Or there are the heartbreaking letters he writes after the death of his daughter, and his obsession, that lasts for several months, with building a huge memorial for her, and getting the right kind of marble; there are the perfectly constructed, scathingly acerbic speeches against Mark Antony while he was off having a civil war, and the fantastically understated letter about having dinner with Julius Caesar when he used Cicero's villa as an overnight stop while marching into Rome with his army.

I love Cicero because he was neurotic, ambitious, brilliant, witty and acutely sensitive; he was too clever, maybe, in the end, to win. He could see both sides of the argument too well, and wanted to keep friends too much. He was very proud, prone to depression when he wasn't working 18 hours a day, he hated getting sick. He loved writing, but he also loved people. He was cranky and impatient and arrogant, sometimes, but he wasn't cruel. He loved his family and his friends and his home, even when they betrayed each other.

I also love him because he was there, right there in the middle of it all as one of the most important political and geographical structures in the world was reforged into an entity that would shape Europe into what it is today, and we know about it in literally day-to-day detail because of his letters.

Spare a moment today to think of Cicero, on the Italian coast, on his cart in the rain. He'd been the most powerful man in the Roman Republic, at one point - arguably one of the most powerful men in the world. He survived one power changeover by the skin of his teeth, but he couldn't get through two. He was in his sixties, divorced, his daughter was dead, and he probably knew he'd left it too late to run. RIP, Cicero.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

this blew my *mind*

I love talking to people who come at my subject from a different angle completely to me; war gamers, collectors, blacksmiths, costumers, replicators. People who use google maps and an algorithm to work out whether the Persian army could have covered x distance in y days. People who run down beaches naked and then wearing armour to see how fast they can go. People who build swords, who run campaigns in scale, who cook pies. I don't understand objects or things, I like stories. But I've never seen anyone explain to me so clearly how an object can /be/ a story, how one can re-tell an object the same way one can re-tell a story. I have a feeling I'm going to be thinking about this video for a while.

Adam Savage (of Mythbusters) on his obsession with the Maltese Falcon -


Monday, October 26, 2009


Glossa - new online Latin dictionary, with extended definitions, related words, usage. Oh, it's so SHINY.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Ian Thompson

Woke up this morning to this.

I'm very shocked and saddened. I often attended services at Kings College Chapel while I was there, although I was not a believer; the unquestioning, undemanding support I received from the people there, including Ian Thompson, is one of my happier memories of Cambridge. He was always kind to me. I don't know anything about the allegations, but, based on what I knew of the man, I'm sorry that this is the epitaph he receives.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Towards an Erotics of Reception: CFP

I am co-running this conference with an awesome colleague at Bristol, and I am VERY EXCITED ABOUT IT. Do not be fooled by my location in Toronto - the conference will be in Bristol, in the UK, next summer.


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)