Sunday, October 12, 2008

Albacon Wrap-up

A busy day to finish up the con: yesterday was more leisurely, lunching with Maryann and Mick and giggling at the back of panels, then doing a little work -- I chaired a panel on "Why Write?" which, perversely as ever, I never asked the panelists to answer. Nonetheless, we all had much to say about the subject, about our very different styles and techniques for writing, and about our widely varying levels of self-satisfaction when it came to our own writing. It was a lively panel with plenty of input from the audience, which is what one always hopes to achieve. Afterward we went to the Fountain with Maryann and Mick, and laughs a-plenty followed.

This morning I was on the "creating your own language" panel; yes, another opportunity to trot out the list of languages I had to learn for my doctoral program. It all got silly right away because I emphasized the importance of colloquialisms, using as an example the Finnish swears that use "vittu" (a rather rude word roughly equivalent to "vagina"). I prefer to think of it as a teaching moment and not just a chance to be off-color. Of course, after all the tea I drank to wake myself up this morning, I had to run off in the middle of the panel, but I don't think they missed me much.

We grabbed a quick lunch in the bar (yum, salmon wrap!) then headed up to the "is academia destroying genre literature?" panel in time to argue "No!" All right, oversimplification, but the panel organizer had clearly had some unfortunate personal experiences that influenced his negative stance. I think that by the end of the session Gene and I both had convinced people that while, yes, there are terrible and incompetent instructors (as in any field), academia is not your enemy, reader!

While I lingered chatting with people after the panel, Gene hurried off for the manga panel. The day ended with the British tv program panel, which soon digressed hopelessly into beefs and raptures (as those last panels of the con tend to do). Not enough Torchwood dishing for me.

Got lots of compliments on my new purple locks :-) and best of all, tomorrow's a holiday -- whoo hoo! A chance to catch up...


Sharon Lee said...

The older I get and the more I have to do with academicians, the more I agree that academia is the enemy. Not, mind you, through any willful doing of evil, but through an insistence that everything must be studied. I lay the blame for the large number of college-educated people who never read for pleasure at the feet of English lit courses, where one is taught to examine the work at the expense of simply enjoying the story.

Since I sorta make my living from people reading stories for pleasure, this is... worrisome.

This goes beyond "bad teachers," though I grant that there are bad teachers, just as much as there are good teachers. The fault lies with this notion of constant analysis, which good teachers and bad seem to accept without question.

And -- full disclosure -- the moderator of that panel, Steve Miller, is my husband and co-author. I don't know what he may have said on the panel, since I was elsewhere at the time. However, I can't think that -- on a panel about academia -- he would have forgotten to mention that he's taught science fiction at the college level and was Curator at the University of Maryland's Kuhn Library Science Fiction Research Collection. So, whatever he said, he did say as an insider.

Sharon Lee

C. Margery Kempe said...

I understand your point of view, but I have to say I completely disagree. I'm one of those people who believe that the unexamined life is not worth living.

Yes, clearly your husband had some bad experiences which soured him on academia. But I see this as analogous to refusing to eat out ever again because you've had bad service. It happens -- why throw the baby out with the bathwater?

I've had plenty of bad teachers. I mentioned on the panel my favorite quote from Richard Brautigan, who said, "My teachers could have ridden with Jesse James for all the time they stole from me." There are few things as soul-sucking as a bad teacher.

But there are few things as life-renewing as a good one. I see the students in my class who through study come to appreciate the hidden complexities of works they enjoyed but didn't know why. I see them take these tools of analysis and open up the world before them with new appreciation for the hard work of writing, finding the treasures, understanding better than ever that we all stand on the shoulders of giants.

The suggestion that we "simply enjoy the story" suggests that shutting of the brain is necessary to enjoyment, that books are mere trifles to be digested without thought. The books we love -- we truly love -- are deep oceans of thought shared across the pages, across even centuries at time, that reward closer looks.

It's the difference between chitchat and a deep heart-to-heart conversation. Sometimes you're just in the mood for light conversation, but what we treasure most are those whose hearts we can share deeply even as we change over the years.

What would Tolkien be without his studies? Or Asimov? I guess I ingested Blake at an influential moment: "You can never know enough without knowing more than enough."

I always want to know more.

Anonymous said...

I never felt a need to study Asimov. His works stand up as *reading* experience, and do not need to be dissected to be enjoyed.

Funny thing I've found-- when you cut the living dog into pieces, it never acts the same afterwards, even if you put the pieces back where you found them.

C. Margery Kempe said...

Hate to break it to you, but reading is "studying" -- unless you forget each word as you read the next. Your comparison to butchering a dog is a false analogy -- you're comparing apples and oranges.

But I'll save my breath. Clearly your mind is closed on the subject.

Gene Kannenberg, Jr. said...

To Anonymous: You say that Asimov's works "do not need to be dissected to be enjoyed." I agree whole-heartedly - and I bet Kate might, too. However, no one - certainly not Kate - has said that you can only enjoy a work if you study it. Your argument is based on a false either/or proposition. I have loved books, studied then, and continued to love them - sometimes more. But I also have loved lots of books that I didn't study. As a rule, I don't love one type of book over the other.

Funny thing I've found--after I've studied a book, it's still all in one piece, the same as before.

Anonymous said...

Exactly. I don't think academia is saying that anything "must" be studied. It is saying -and it should be saying- that anything can be studied, that we're allowed to study anything. Just like we can and have the right to experience things without analyzing them in the slightest. I'm not comfortable with the suggestion that analysis can be intrinsically bad.