The Space Between Society Conference (Day One)

Yesterday, South Dakota State University hosted “Day One” of The Space Between Society’s annual conference. The theme this year is “Staging the Space Between” (organized by Nicole Flynn).

The first three sessions / ten presentations covered a wide range of research areas and topics: from a popular French television drama (Un village français) to the ethnographic (covertly / subversively signifying) stagings of der Nister to “A Brief History of Invisible Ventriloquism” to Kazimir Malevich’s antedated paintings to the 1938 landmark abortion rights case Rex v. Bourne to Priestley’s Time and the Conways (1937), Marion Craig Wentworth’s War Brides (1915), Rebecca West’s The Return of the Soldier (1918), T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land (1922), and Willa Cather’s My Àntonia (1918).

Amazing presentations. All of them.

Excepting the final three texts listed here (by West, Eliot, and Cather), almost all of this material was new to me, and I came away not only learning a whole bunch but feeling like I needed to spend the next morning looking back over my notes in order to formulate (even if just for myself) a few questions. These questions tend to respond to patterns I drew among the presentations, so they may not be terribly pressing to the individual researchers. But I record them here as a way, at the very least, to create some kind of artifact of their collective thinking.

Questions / Comments

  1. How do appeals to accuracy / authenticity work? Are they useful frameworks for staging the hostility and/or collaboration between realism and modernism (both of which claim, in a sense, to be more accurate or more authentic than the other)?

    What are we (or others) asking or looking for when we (or they) want a story of a life (or lives) to fit these categories or criteria (i.e., accurate or authentic or [sur]real)?
  2. Related Comment / Question: Across several of these presentations, the “ruse” or “charade” intersected with (or quite literally became) a strategy of refusal or survival (or play). These strategies also entailed various degrees of risk or reward (even entertainment). Can we say, then, in response to modernists who critiqued realist drama for its purported fakery: yes, that’s sometimes the point?

    And can we say the same thing in response to those who criticize modernists for distorting reality? Where, then, does that leave us re: the opposition / dialectic between realism and modernism?
  3. Layne Parish Craig gave a compelling presentation on Wentworth’s War Brides, challenging us to see it and the discourse around its performances as a way to think more sympathetically (not the right word) about withholding sex from men as a (feminist) political tool or strategy. Indeed, in the course of her talk, withholding sex from men also fit in a larger framework of feminist political strategies:

    a. refusals to take back husbands who had fought in war (killing other husbands / sons)
    b. refusals to open drawing rooms to returning soldiers
    c. refusals to bear sons (who would potentially be drafted into future war efforts)

    I forget the context in which Craig presented us with these three strategies (only three among many), but I’m drawn to them because they present us with a sociopolitical framework seems to me more radical than a sex strike. Indeed, to refuse to take back husbands seems to entail the refusal of a form of heteronormative conviviality or a form of flourishing that is toxically complicit in the impulse to war. The refusal to open a drawing room dovetails with Woolf’s tale of killing the Angel in the House in “Professions for Women” (a cluster of domestic norms and duties, asymmetrical moral obligations and attentions, etc.). The refusal of sex (and thus reproduction) then fits into a broad activist threat to several normative futures: the future of war, of family, of public/private organization, etc., etc., etc.

    Can we say, then, that there’s something queer (in the broad sense of refusing normative forms reproduction and family life) in this radical feminist strategy? If so, how do we think about it in relation to Aimee Wilson’s work on “Queer Pregnancy” in Cather’s novel—on the particular intersection of masculinity and pregnancy (which seem to cut against the Edelmanian refusal of reproductive futures)?
  4. Neither a question or comment, but an imperative: check out Lesley Hall’s incredible resource, Literary Abortion.

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