Thursday, June 26, 2008

Laundry Day & Reparations (sort of)

Today is our official laundry day. With any multi-week vacation, we try to plan at least one day a week to do laundry and not much else. That way we can recover from info-overload, rest our feet, and have clean clothes. Priority #1 has been accomplished: our clothes are now clean.

Yesterday's tour was very good. The bus was tolerable, and while I don't love being rushed, it was a great way to scout out things I'd like to see more of. Another day at Leeds Castle would be lovely, whereas we could easily spend 2-3 days in Cantebury (and there's a B&B right next to the old medieval wall, I saw). The cathedral is absolutely stunning, and I hope to get back there to be able to really soak it in. Dover was quite lovely, but how come I had never known that at the top of the famous White Cliffs is a big honkin' gorgeous castle!?! We'd love to go back and explore that.

The tour ended with a river trip from Greenwich back to central London, so we hit the tube and did manage to get to the BASFA thing. It was great. Terrence Dicks is a lovely story teller who knows his audience. I got to have a few last words and "I'll see you in Denver's" with various people. Also, Curts & I spent the last bit of the evening having drinks with Duncan Lawie and an aspiring writer named Nick (who, if he sees this, should definitely drop 'round and remind me of his last name, so I can keep an eye out for him in the future).

One thing that Duncan & I were chewing over was a concept that Wendy Pearson introduced: Reparative readings. The idea is that you read a text counter to the prevailing reading. All of the examples of this involved producing a new text with a more empowering narrative; i.e. after all the victimization of gays over the AIDS epidemic, a comic imagining some gay activists inventing a time machine and putting condoms on all their friends in the late 60's, early 70's, thus preventing the sweeping epidemic in the gay community. It's funny and empowering.

It's a bit hard to see how you could do a reparative reading without producing a new text, though. Presumably a piece of criticism is a next text, so should be sufficient, but it doesn't feel that way. Likewise, Duncan came up with an interesting example: there's a version of the London Underground map where people have put in literary genres/authors/works and then mapped connections between, say, the "Works of W.H. Auden" line and the "Shakespearean Sonnets" line as a train connection. It's pretty cool; is that a reparative reading in a different way?

Continuing to have lots to ponder. I think next time (even if that may not be until 2011 or 2012, I really would like to do this again) I'll put the Masterclass towards the end of the vacation. That way I'll go straight home to do more proper writing, which should help me process through what I've learned more systematically. Blogging between sightseeing isn't terribly optimal for that sort of thing.


Jonathan M said...

Hi Karen,

I'd forgotten about the reparative reading stuff but I must admit that it didn't really sit that well with me.

I think there's something slightly depressing about going back over old texts that aren't about you in order to re-interpret it as "empowering". It has a whiff of wanting to listen to sad songs on the radio when you're feeling down and wanting to believe that they're all about you.

Karen Burnham said...

Jonathan - I can see your point. However, I think it can be a more useful tool than that, especially if you think about it from a community standpoint, like the AIDS example.

At least it gives a place to humor and sarcasm in readings, instead of having to be all deadly serious (and boring) like some theory pieces are. I'm just not quite sure what a reparative critical reading essay would look like. It wasn't a central topic in Wendy's class, but it was an interesting side bit.

Maureen Kincaid Speller said...

I share Jonathan's ambivalence over the idea of 'reparative reading'. I am still trying to figure out how it might usefully work in terms of critical writing. possibly, the clue comes in the 'reading', but even then I wonder how far it is possible, reasonable even, to stray from the text under consideration without creating a reading so self-indulgent or contrary it becomes almost perverse. I'm really not sure this is what Barthes had in mind when he talked about 'the death of the author'.


Karen Burnham said...

MKS - I'm with you on that. When is it OK to put your own spin on a text, and when does it become egregiously ridiculous? I guess everyone has to make that determination for themselves.

Possibly the creation of a new creative text, as in Wendy's example, gives you much more leeway that simply writing an analytical essay, which is what we tend to do. That form is by nature conservative, I guess.

Unknown said...

Hi Karen,

Really enjoyed talking to you and Curtis in the pub the other night.

I've just dropped you an email containing my details. It may get lumped in with your spam (for some reason this seems to happen a lot these days), so if it's not in your inbox, you'll know where to find it. I really should stop asking people to smuggle banknotes out of Nigeria...

Anyway, glad you enjoyed the BASFA. Hope the rest of the trip went well.

Karen Burnham said...

Nick - glad to see you here! It was good to meet you. I've been amazed at how many wonderful people we met while we were in London. Good luck with your writing!