Sitting in a Windowless Room, Talking About Books

That’s how I will sum up the past two days. A few friends and acquaintances organized an annual conference this year. The topic was broad and it took me some time to figure out what the thesis of it all was but for the most part, the papers presented and the panels held were interesting. The participants consisted of PhD students from the US and Europe.

DAY 1

Of course, when you’re in a room of academics, you’re mostly thinking about how obvious your seat-squirming is and when will they be done talking so you can head over to the coffee and cookie spread. This did happen the first day, however, there was some fascinating papers presented. The one that stood out to me was about Gerard Manley Hopkins. The speaker was clear and concise, and was clearly passionate about his topic and engaged with the audience. He discussed how a writer becomes popular and/or canonical. He stated that Manley Hopkins was not popular in his own lifetime for various reasons, 1) he only sent his poems to Catholic publications, 2) his publisher barely publicized the book, 3) the book was printed by a private printer which made the book look archaic and was not able to be marketed to a larger audience because of the price tag. Thus, resulting in a lack of awareness by critics and readers. It wasn’t until the first half of the Twentieth century when the poet entered into the public conscious. A second printing in 1930 resulted in 2000+ sales of his book over the following few months.

DAY 2

I didn’t attend much of day 2, only making it to the final presentation/panel (my mind was definitely tired and needed to rejuvenate by watching hulu and eating tacos). The non-native English speakers were a bit hard to follow but a graduate student from Vanderbilt presented a paper on the notebooks of Nietzsche and Brecht. She touched upon the actual entries of the notebooks but focused more on the work as a physical entity. A back-and-forth broke out in the audience during the panel Q&A about whether books should be preserved only in archives or facsimiles should be available to the public even though they are pale omparisons to the original text. That was finally squashed and then it was onto the chitting and chatting.

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