I’ve been to a conference – I must be a real researcher now!

Yes indeed, I attended the UCL English Graduate Society conference on Mess yesterday (http://www.ucl.ac.uk/english/about/mess.htm).  While part of me would like to present myself as a dignified intellectual who takes this completely in her stride, that would be a grave misrepresentation of myself.   I was terribly excited and rather anxious about taking myself off to London to mingle with other graduate students and try to pretend that I could understand what they were on about and myself knew something vaguely relevant.

I am so very glad that I went, it was fantastic.  I had lots of interesting ideas thrown at me, I learned a lot, thought a lot, encountered subjects approached from perspectives that ranged from comfortingly familiar to incomprehensibly alien and I got to talk to some interesting and highly articulate people on a diverse range of subjects.  I was exhausted by the end of the day and I suspect I had the glazed expression of someone who just can’t take any more in, becuase that is exactly how I felt.

Obviously some of the speakers interested  me more than others, though I think they were all very good.  The keynote speech at the beginning utterly captivated me.  Mina Gorji talked about mess in the context of the poetry of John Clare.  I have never come across Clare, though I think I will have to read some of his work now.  The thing I found most interesting about this first talk was the focus on mess (in the poetry) as creating a space for and celebrating accident and contingency.  I saw links between that and my current research on my next written assignment (which is a pressing concern of mine at the moment and it will occupy its own blog post(s) shortly), which guaranteed my attention.  Gorji argued that there is disorder in the content and the structure of Clare’s poetry which resists subsumption under a unifying or ordering principle.  This allows a kind of freedom that is expressed in the accidental nature of the observations Clare makes in his poetry.  It is also expressed in the transgressions against poetic syntax and structure that can be found within Clare’s poetry, some examples of which Gorji pointed out.

I was thinking about this very specifically as a freedom from the unrelenting drive to rationalise and categorise that dominates much of industrialised culture.  I also learned from the talk that the concept of mess as untidyness and disorder is a relatively recent development that came in to usage during the 19th century.  I find myself wondering how closely this is related to the Enlightenment and the rise of the rationalism of science.  This lead me on to wondering about Clare’s poetry as a form of resistance against rationality, which again is a strong theme in the work I am doing at the moment.

Gorji’s suggestion that Clare’s work expresses spontenaity and sincerity resonated with my conception of my own writing.  When I write I strongly value a sense of spontenaity and sincerity and find that these are bound up with my notion of the truth claim of my more creative and personal writing.  Somehow my writing is less valuable if it loses the spontenaity of my experience, if it becomes too formal.  Like the essense and intention of it is harmfully diluted somehow by too much processing.  And this applies, to a lesser extent to my academic writing.  In my efforts to find my own voice and to communicate in a way I am comfortable with, I have found myself thinking about personalising my academic writing in some ways.  Again, this will probably be a subject for another blog post.

Another really interesting idea that I took away from Gorji’s talk was the tension in Clare’s work between precision/delicacy and informality/mess.  As a big fan of Adorno, I mentally grasped on to the articulation of this tension with unbounded glee.  Gorji clearly explained how this tension operates on a number of levels, and I was particularly interested in the idea of how this operated between the sound of the words as they are read and their content or meaning.

I was reminded of encountering Simon Jarvis (‘Prosody as Cognition’) last term, whose work I found rather overwhelming but definitely something that merited further investigation.  I noted Jarvis as someone to come back to and simply haven’t had time yet.  Reading and discussing that particular article by Jarvis quite literally struck a spark inside my mind that enticingly half illuminated a number of questions and ill formed insights.  Mind you, that is how I felt about much of what I encountered yesterday at the conference, not to mention the added confusion and multiplicity of the links between different speakers and their different approaches to their particular subjects. My to do/further exploration list is spiralling exponentially out of control and the conference has not helped me reign it in one bit!

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