March 28, 2012
I missed a whole day of the conference (had to teach, there was no getting around it). What did Paul Saint Amour say about slowness; Maud Ellmann about bi-location; Enda Duffy about high energy modernism; Ato Quayson about Soyinka’s Beckett; Julian Murphet about a desire named streetcar?
Oxford somehow seemed right for all of these. We were put up at New College, one of the oldest at Oxford. The ancient city wall doubles as the garden wall, and probably hasn’t changed much since 1379, when the college was founded. It seemed paradoxically fitting to talk about modernisms – in the plural — in a place like this. There was an Eastern European contingent here; locations like Nigeria and Morocco made more than a casual appearance. And in general there was a lot of talk about speeds and rhythms; shifting time frames and emerging landscapes; utopian spaces that might or might not be habitable.
Other papers were even more ingenious in their spin on the theme of the conference. I was especially struck by Jean-Michel Rabaté’s account of why Kafka’s aphorism – “a cage in search of a bird” – has left such an impression on so many of us. (Among other things, it has inspired a CD by Tangerine Dream and an episode in the TV series, “Route 66.”) Yes, modernisms are definitely “moving”; always have been. Laymen use that word all the time. Not academics, though — the word seems musty, not technical enough, not rigorous. But, with emotional intelligence now getting the attention of cognitive scientists, maybe what seems old-fashioned in one sense might actually be cutting-edge in another?