My conferences over the past week have been all about the weather.
Friday, 4/7, I “present” my second conference paper in the span of one week.
I go to conferences for two reasons: to try out and learn about new ways of reading literature, and to hang out with other academics who are also managing responsibilities like teaching, scholarship, college service, home life, maybe partnership or marriage, maybe kids, or pets, or plants (you know, tending the garden), inner work, physical health, community work, civic engagement.
Well, anyway, first, what I tried out at those two conferences.
Last week I presented at the Renaissance Society of America’s conference in Chicago: to about a dozen or so people, I read my paper on the early modern bible, the problem of Christian rule, and the weak, dithering Henry VI in Shakespeare and company’s Henry VI, Part 2. This week, I participated in a seminar called “Terrestrial Shakespeare” at the Shakespeare Association of America’s conference in Atlanta, with a paper on ecological fantasies in Henry V.
In each essay, I investigate early modern fantasies that in some curious, frightening ways might broadly parallel our own. The first is the fantasy that a truly religious person—in Henry VI’s case, a devout Christian—could uphold central tenets of their faith even as they assert and maintain political power over their subjects. The second is the fantasy that humans can invade territory in war or can penetrate the earth for sustenance and economic benefit without harming themselves in the process.
I like to ask, how can Shakespeare and his contemporaries deepen our concern over current issues? What does it mean to read a play in a way that draws our attention to some of the political, social, economic, and ecological crises of our day? At the same time, I do not want to fall into the trap of superimposing current concerns onto literary texts written at a distant time in a distant place for a distant group of people. So, I try to root my close reading of texts within a well researched historical context. But whenever I notice concerns similar to our own, I feel like my work is helping me process my own anxieties and frustrations over the issues of our moment, and I hope that by sharing my work with others that they too can deepen their engagements with those issues.
Second, I go to conferences to socialize, have fun, hang out with people I only get to see face-to-face once a year, because socializing online doesn’t get me much, I’m afraid. I still post and tweet to colleagues and fellow academics, but what’s really beneficial about conferencing—heck, about any personal interaction in my mind—is the kind of shared feeling found in face-to-face interactions, a feeling that can be shared in an instant with a look, a gesture, a hug, a frown, a laugh. When posting something on Twitter or Facebook, I wait for a future acknowledgment: a response, a like or something. When I interact with someone face-to-face, I can feel the future in an instant.