Saturday, May 10, 2014

What a (virtual) World!

I just made my first virtual appearance at a conference, and was so grateful to have been able to listen in on the session I organized for this year's Kalamazoo. Having just given birth a few weeks ago, there was no way to make my annual pilgrimage this year, so I decided to take a note from Petrarch and attend virtually!

I posted the description of the session a while back, and it was such a delight to see how well all of the speakers' papers intersected with one another. Due to connection issues, I missed a portion of the session but -- thanks to Jeffrey Jerome Cohen and the wonders of live-tweeting -- was able to get brought back into the room! The connection issues made my ability to comment somewhat limited during the QA, but I greatly enjoyed getting to listen to all of the questions and comments that cropped up during the discussion. I was struck in particular by a question about how we might define "world" and "earth" against/alongside one another in light of the papers presented today, and I think that this session raised some compelling ideas about such definitions. The papers tended to emphasize how world-building is born out of various kinds of desires/impulses and, with that in mind, perhaps we could say that in contrast with "earth" (which could suggest concreteness, reality, etc.), "worlds" and "world-building" encompass a vast -- even infinite -- array of imaginary realms born out of desired alternatives. As Asa said at the beginning of his talk, for instance, Christendom itself is a deeply imagined, and deeply desired, world, but it is hardly real. And so, perhaps one of the main questions both raised and addressed by the session is how and why worlds are created in medieval literature. Moreover, what kinds of new understandings can we reach about medieval literature by considering the engendered worlds that appear within them, most of which are so very different from the earthly cultures that produce the texts in question?

This is a discussion I hope to see continue in the near future (more on that later!).

But for now, I'll simply express my gratitude for having been able to transport myself (however briefly) to Kalamazoo in order to see this session (engendered over pints at Bell's Brewery last year) come to fruition.

Thanks to Edith Burney Donnell for the photo! 

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