Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Best. Compliment. Ever.

We made our annual pilgrimage to the Popular Culture Association Conference last weekend. This year it was in San Diego, sometimes mistaken for a suburb of Los Angeles; but after Houston's first stifling signs of spring, it proved a welcome respite. Of course the best part of PCA is seeing lots of friends and we spent a lot of time talking, arguing and chasing flights of imagination in or around DW's Pub. I gave a paper this year in the comics area (yeah, even though I chair the medieval area--call me perverse). Well, not so much a paper, as a performance; I had said last year, when some one suggested an Alan Moore panel, that I would give a ritual performance in the style of Moore's workings. People thought I was kidding. I never kid (it's like that Somerset Maugham story where a woman is known as a great wit, simply because she always tells the truth, but I digress).

So I gave my presentation, "The City as the Body of the Poet: William Blake's London in Alan Moore & Tim Perkins' Angel Passage." I worked on the text, to get the rhythm right, not only of the words but of the PP slides with images of arcane diagrams, an unexpected non sequitur, and of course Blake's art. It was about ritual (one of my obsessions) but it also was ritual. I had said I would invoke the spirit of Moore and of course, eveyone thought I was joking. I wasn't. I savor the picture of Moore's body slumped in a chair somewhere in Northampton Friday afternoon.

I was a bit nervous that day. Not only was I trying something new, something the audience at an academic conference might be resistant to experiencing; but I was also on the panel with our VIP guest, Danny Fingeroth, author of Superman on the Couch and I had to go first.

I plunged into the piece, catching the rhythm and finding the right voice. People laughed in the right places, looked puzzled at the right times, and the room seemed to hum with electricity--or maybe it was just me. The last half of the performance was half Moore and half me, and I felt I had matched his eloquence reasonably well and more importantly, that the piece was rising to its climax, the final words of Moore's narration, "William Blake, amazed and unafraid." For that moment, I felt akin to the image flashed up on the screen, Blake's Red Dragon, wings spread, shoulders thrown back as he towers over the woman clothed in sun. The audience seemed to share the feeling and their applause seemed genuine. I felt the glow of success, raising an academic paper from a piacular rite to -- dare I say it -- art.

You don't get that kind of feedback writing prose alone in the wee hours, or even from one careful reader. It's the spectacle, the crowd, the feeling of response, give and take: performance, drama, ritual. And then it got even better: We turned to Danny who said (and this is burned on my brain) "it's going to be like following Frank Sinatra with 'Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.'" :-) What can I say? I was lifted far above the fourth floor and had to wait for my feet to again touch solid ground sometime later.

Thanks, Danny (who turns out to be the kind of guy who shares his fries, so you know he's all right).


The Queen said...

Wonderful, Kate! Your ritual was felt in CT- the same day, a student showed me the Blake red dragon....during a conversation regarding comics!

C. Margery Kempe said...

Magnifique! I was tapping into the grid that day. Conversations with students about art and comics?! Must be one of the perks of working at an art school.

Stephanie said...

Actually, it is easier to find faculty that know about, write about and have worked with comics than students....but we're working on improving the students' perceptions of comics...