Thoughts on this year’s ICFA, pt. 2.

(And still, the weird problem remains with using “from” too many times. I swear, the blog refuses to post unless I change some of the “from”s to “frm”. It must be some kind of bug in the module that tries to detect SQL injections, is the best I can figure.)

Yesterday I posted some of my thoughts on the ICFA after having just returned from it. I left out a lot. I’ll try to go vaguely chronologically and hit highlights.

OK, Wednesday:
I hate flying. But the flight down was fine.
The car rental place had no VW Bugs and I so wanted one! *sigh-pout*
I got a little lost trying to find my hotel, decided to give that up and go right to the conference, and made it to the opening panel at exactly one minute before it began!
Don’t recall much about the opening panel…except Brian Aldiss read an interesting poem of his that seemed to exemplify the idea of “sublime” (the theme for this year’s conference.

Brian Aldiss is an interesting fellow. Long time, well awarded, knighted, writer primarily in science fiction. Wrote the short story that inspired the film A.I.. (I’m sorry, but I absolutely loved that movie! Speaking of Aldiss and the movie, there was a session that included a paper by Andrew M. Gordon, author of (among other books) Empire of Dreams: The Science Fiction and Fantasy Films of Steven Spielberg, in which he defended the ending of the movie. Thank the gods! I’m one of the only persons I know who loved the ending because I see it completely differently than most people, and Mr. Gordon defended it succinctly and effectively: Most people see the ending as a sappy, Spielberg ending, and creepy because of the apparent Oedipal evocation. But that mistaken apprehension of the ending is what makes the ending all the more tragic and sad! It’s a very, ironically, tragic ending in which a fake boy programmed for obsession has his “perfect day” with a fake mommy in a staged environment set up by fake lifeforms who worship the missing human race and believe they will come closer to knowing humanity through this simulacra. And Spielberg intentionally and skillfully crafted this treacherously misleading ending. God, just writing this makes me sad. Gordon of course went into these issues at great length with superb presentation, and I believed he took a room full of people who dismissed A.I. out of scoffing hand, and may have changed some minds, or at least got people thinking. Brava!)

(more after the “fold”…)

Oh yeah, Mr. Aldiss. Being the writer of the initial story, he came to the session and spoke for about 10 minutes on A.I., the story, and Stanley Kubrick (who spent years planning and developing the movie, and the script and art design that Spielberg actually followed pretty closely). He told some great stories about Kubrick and the film’s development. Later in the week he spent some of his own time talking to N. when she asked him to sign a couple of books for her and P. He’s just a nice fellow!

OK, without my conference program or notes, I can’t recall many of the sessions I saw. There was a vaguely interesting one on the imagery of the Silent Hill games. (Love those games!) Funny: the Dutch woman who I mentioned in my ICFA summary from last year, who was the most critical but also thankful for my paper last year, was in the audience with me for this session, and she made the comment that Silent Hill’s imagery shares much with David Lynch and Cronenberg films. I agreed, and I spoke up about how I feel all this visually surreal and horrifyingly emotional imagery was a descendant of “theatre of cruelty” (which I chose to focus on toward the end of my Theatre BA education). The Dutch woman (who I really must learn her name!) thanked me for my comment at the banquet later in the week. Seemed an odd thing to thank me about; I complimented her on her corset she was wearing.

On Thursday, I gave my paper. Again, went very well. Had a great conversation with one of the other presenters on our disagreements regarding Fukuyama and his Our Posthuman Future. I agree that Fukuyama’s work was a perfect source for analyzing the novel he chose to apply it to–I just happen to completely disagree with Fukuyama’s assessment of what it means to be posthuman and its “moral” implications. Fukuyama takes the stance that any attempt to change what we think of as being “human” is to violate some kind of universal and empirical “natural truth” and is inherently evil. Silly liberal humanists. *grin* But it sparked some good, intellectual debate. *sigh* I so love intellectual debate! When you can spar and exchange ideas with other people who don’t get personally offended at the exchange. Where we can challenge ideas, sometimes give the other person something to reconsider, sometimes accept we need to reconsider something we thought, and all the participants (and observers) can leave having possibly learned something. Maybe an argument strengthened, maybe a mind changed, but certainly intellectual growth.

I know for me, personally, had had several instances over the week when I thought “Oh wow, I never thought of it that way!” or “Oh man, that really changes what I thought I knew.” Fortunately, I’m so new in the world of cultural criticism and philosophy that I’m simply absorbing and learning as much as I can. I’m starting out 10 years behind! But I hope I’m learning fast. I’m 37, been a graduate student for only a year and a half, never even heard of Derrida or Adorno or Saussure or Levi-Strauss or Lacan or Marxist theory or postmodern (in anything other than a generic art term) or Baudrillard before a year and a half ago. I so hope to one day be as proficient and thoughtful and skilled and educated and knowledgeable and succinct as most of the people I encounter at the conferences. I’m starting late in my life, but I hope I still have time.

The sad and inspiring thing, is I will sit in awe at what people like Datlow and Kessel and Kelly (see yesterday’s posting) can discuss as free and easy and naturally as you can imagine, discussing artistic movements and events in literary evolution and cultural developments and critics, and I think “Oh my gawd! These people aren’t but a few years older than me! I’m so behind! I’ll never be a scholar until I’m 70!” (I swear, all three of those people I mentioned I’d have thought were in their mid-40’s. Then I take a look at bios and find out they’re in their late 50’s, and I get a reality check. I remember reading things by Ellen Datlow in Omni magazine when I was in jr. high. These people have been living literature and cultural development and criticism since I was a kid. I may be starting late in my life to finally do what I’m impassioned to be doing–but so long as nothing tragic happens to me (I have to lay off watching House), I’ll get there. It won’t be any time soon, but one day, when I’m in my 50’s, I hope to able to sit on a panel and be considered a scholar and an expert in my field, and be able to exchange in intellectual trade at that level. I like to think, that even though I’ve been on literary hiatus for the last ten years, the fact that I was reading Omni in jr. high and remembering names of essayists at 13 years old, the future scholar is in there, in me, somewhere.

On Thursday was the Guest Artist’s lunch. Vernor Vinge was the guest and he gave a speech as we sat digesting. He’s an interesting fellow. I really enjoy his fiction (I started reading his latest, Rainbows End, before the conference. Little did I know we’d all be getting a hardback copy of it at the lunch!) and his non-fiction writing is fascinating! His work on his theory of the Singularity is very thought-provoking. (I overheard someone in a hallway trying to explain to someone, dismissively, what this “silly idea” was and was totally mangling it. I wanted to dope-slap them and clue them in–but I thought that’d be rude.) His talk was interesting and filled with poignancy, but, sadly, it was work listening to him. His manner of speaking is halting, and deadpan, and stuttering, and fractured. A lot like mine. And I thought to myself, that may be me one day. If I’m lucky, I may have interesting things to say, but I can’t speak worth a damn. Made me me sad.

By contrast, Friday.
At the Guest Scholar Lunch on Friday, Roger Luckhurst gave a presentation of science fiction photography. Found images that evoke the sense of cognitive estrangement that we associate with scifi. Not only was his material absolutely amazing, but he was an incredible speaker. Funny, self-effacing, witty, colorful, and British. Which seems to never hurt. *grin*

(Oh, back to Thursday for a moment…)
The Student Caucus Movie Night featured Andrei Tarkovsky’s 1979 film, Stalker. Hoo-boy, what to say about this film. I loved it, and I despised it. It’s 160 minutes long, and pretty much nothing happens. But a lot happens. *sigh* Basically, in an undetermined future, in an undetermined dystopian decay, a man can lead individuals to a room in a walled off wasteland called the Zone, where their wish will come true. He, known only as a Stalker leads two men, a Writer and a Scientist, to the room. Along the way they discuss philosophy, epistemology and religion. Then some crisis happens I won’t ruin for you, and then a reveal at the very end. I loved the filming of the movie. The decay and despair. The acting was superb, if spare. Even the plot, such as it was, was intriguing. The length of the movie, made so because of looong, slow, languorous shots of expressions and movement and scenery, was a mixed bag for me. I’m conditioned enough by American movies to feel annoyed by languidness and long examinations of an image. I get antsy. But, on the other hand, enough of my brain still works that I can appreciate those moments even so. I enjoyed the long examinations; they force you to absorb and consider. I think what made me really dislike what I disliked about the film, was the writing. I swear to god, I could probably open up Sartre’s No Exit to any page, plop a finger down, and find that selected line in the movie. (I’m exaggerating, of course, but the point is valid.) Three stereotypical character who are identified only by their occupations: an emotional artist, a rational scientist, and an angst ridden searcher. Each representing some class of humanity, and each discussing existentialism in such circular and convolutely simple ways that rivals Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. All I could think of was “Tarkovsky, get over yourself!” But to be fair, it could have partly been the translation. It was subtitled in English frm Russian, and there were mistakes in the subtitles. Bad phrasing, incorrect grammar. I can possibly blame some of the riddle-like dialogue that seemed to be unintelligible for its own, absurdist sake, on bad translation. I want to fully like the movie, but the Sartre/Becket issue prevents me. Hmm, if I had watched it with no subtitles, still in Russian, perhaps….

I finally got a chance to say hello to Sherryl Vint. She wrote Bodies of Tomorrow (among other things) and has been working with my…mentor Dr. Burling (he’s not my “mentor” per se, it’s just that I’ve had three grad level courses under him, and he’s taught me not only an amazing wealth of information–but also how to look at culture critically), on at least a couple of projects. Dr. Burling said I should get in touch with her at the conference. Unfortunately, I did late and only for a moment. =/ I’d love to discuss with her some of her concepts regarding posthuman fiction–but chances are I’d probably just babble incoherently.

It amazes me, at these conferences, the amount of…meeting as equals, there is. If I wanted to, and had something vaguely intelligible to say, I could walk up to someone who has published five books, scads of journal articles, is invited to scholarly panels, is an editor on a journal, and talk with them as an equal. (Well, sort of, but you get my point.) I mean, I can’t, as yet. I still suffer frm fan-boy-itis. If I’m face-to-face with someone I even vaguely respect or admire or think is deserving of respect or admiration, even if it’s not my own, I become an idiot. Well, hopefully, the more I feel confident about what I think and have to say, the more I can actually talk to someone who has earned status without sounding like an otaku meeting their j-pop star of their dreams.

The banquet Saturday night was tasty, but annoying. Despite the incredible hotel service and quality, the buffet style banquet was tedious. But the shrimp risotto was mmm-MM! For the second year, the winner of the Grad Student paper award was sitting with us (me, N. and P.). Loved his acceptance speech. 🙂

Afterward, N. crashed in her room, P. and Mr. D. and I stayed up and with Ms. E. and Ms. B (who was my session organizer last year, and I’ve had the opportunity to have nice conversations with), examining these very interesting scented oils and perfumes one person brought. She makes and sells them, with wonderful names like “Poisoned Teacup” and “Scurvy Lady” and “Dracula’s Brides”. I need to find her Web site….

Then Sunday,
I sold my ticket to Universal Studios to D. (eh, I was kinda interested in going, but not as much as I was saving some money and just relaxing for a day after a LONG week). So N. and I hung out by the pool, read, gabbed, drank drinks with fruit in them, swam, gabbed, read. It was a very nice day. Then the Universal people came back, and N., P., Mr. C., and… oh dear…two fellows who I’ve forgotten their names! Dangit, I hate that. We got on well, would love to talk with them more, hope to get a chance to talk with them next year, and I can’t remember their names. =/
Well, we went on a magical car ride across the freakin state (magic in the sense no one died, and OK, it was just across Orlando) to go see Doomsday. Hmm, what to say about that movie. Well, it was basically a remake of “Escape frm New York” and “Road Warrior” with some “28 Days Later” thrown in. With a female anti-hero protagonist. Good effects, lots of explodey bits, and a completely impossible to believe story. Oh, the setup is believable enough, and quite scary. In fact, the most horrifying part of the movie is the opening exposition where the events that cause Scotland to be quarantined and completely walled off is believable and frightening. Epidemic and panic and government need to maintain order and protect as many people as possible frm certain death. But then, the actual story, what happens, goofy and silly…and explodey. And loud! I probably would have actually enjoyed the movie as a mindless action flick (with, believe it or not, an interesting comment regarding urbanization and technical development versus agrarian life, as well as anarchy versus fascism), if it wasn’t so darn loud. Painfully loud. We thought it was just the theater, but I see on IMDB other people making the comment, so the film must be mixed loud and multiplexes not caring enough to adjust the decibel level.

Then, I said goodbye to my friends as I drove off into the glow of the streetlamps to get three hours of sleep before my flight home on Monday morning (which SUCKED!) and half day at work.

That’s about it. I took a ton of notes at a couple of sessions and panels, I may post summaries of those over on my “scholarly” blog (it’s hard to say that with a straight face), GrogMonkey. And now the waiting begins for next year. Oh! I do need to work on my paper for next year early enough to submit it for the Graduate Paper award. How cool would that be?!