1) I think that one of the jobs that faculty in graduate programs really, really need to figure out how to do for their students is this: how to present a paper without just sitting/standing there and reading it.
This is also something we need to learn for ourselves — graduate students are not the only offenders.
I say “offenders,” but that really isn’t fair. There are often good reasons to read a paper, especially when the subject matter is particularly complex and the argument requires careful attention to detail. In philosophy, where the sharks are always ready to jump on errors, it often seems essential to be absolutely, perfectly, completely careful, and reading is one way to do that. The only people who get to be sloppy are the elders of the discipline, most of whom have mastered what I like to call The Avuncular Uncle Presentation Style (philosophers will know what I mean if they’ve ever heard any of the Big Names speak). Even then, the Avuncular Uncles must still be prepared to defend themselves — it’s just that their game is usually so high up there that they can play a bit loose and still come out fine. Grad students and junior scholars (and often women of all ranks) don’t have that luxury (or get the benefit of the doubt from an audience in the same way as their elders sometimes do).
Yet being able to extemporize on a complicated and subtle argument seems to me to be an important skill, especially if it is done in a really engaging way. How do we teach that, especially when so few of us model it? Puzzling, to be sure. Worth a good think, though.
Props to all of the grad students I’ve heard and met this week. It can’t be easy, sometimes. Good on you all!
2) Every time I end up hanging out with fan communities, I find myself alternately drawn and repulsed. I am fully capable of deep enthusiasm (and even obsession) with a story or a show or a character. I am not, however, any good at *gushing*, and I find that behavior a bit disturbing. I have always preferred to hoard my enthusiasms, so it seems profligate for others to give theirs away so freely, I guess.
The problem with my disturbance, though, is that it verges (in some fan communities in SF/F) on being sexist, and that creeps me out. At a Doctor Who panel I attended, one of the few men in the room made a point of discussing (1) how woman-dominated the recent Who fandom is, and (2) that it all seems to revolve around how hot they think their preferred Doctor is (the going dispute is between 11 and 12 in the reboot; it tells you something about me, I guess, that I remain stubbornly more interested in 8, whose presence in Who-dom consists of one very poor television movie and a LOT of really good audiobooks). Another man in the crowd agreed with Guy #1; a woman in the room had to point out that while the fandom may include an interest in The Hawtness, that isn’t in itself the only or even the most important thing that draws so many women to the fandom — it’s the *stories*. Yet, as I overheard some of the conversations among other women at the evening’s screening of “Day of the Doctor,” I started wondering what the hell was up with the gushing again, and I felt a bit ashamed of my failure of sisterhood because it made me want to agree with that dude a little (which I don’t). I resent the Squeeing Fangirl stereotype as it is applied to all women who belong to assorted fandoms — it trivializes fandoms in a way that is sexist and stupid (and completely misses layers of complexity and difference in fan communities that are vitally important to them). Yet…I get creeped out by the occasional Squee, and frustrated by the way in which my being so creeped out can also be taken as a measure of the inauthenticity of my membership in a given fandom. I am such a fucking FanSter (a sort of Fan Hipster) sometimes that it bugs the hell out of me.
/end navel-gazing nonsense. tl;dr I am a WASP who doesn’t cope well with emotional expressions in public spaces, even when I agree with them wholeheartedly. It’s just NOT DONE. My reticence should not be read as a judgment on the enthusiastic expressions of others.
3) Philosophy, as a discipline, is overwhelmingly white and male. Usually, philosophy conferences feature lots of white guys and a tiny handful of women and people who aren’t white. Interdisciplinary conferences about pop culture are a TOTALLY different animal.
Illustration: the ONLY time this entire week when I was the only woman around (other than venue employees) was when I stopped at a sort of Hootersy bar for a meal. The food was great, the beer was cold, the music was classic rock, and the skirts on the quite professional, efficient, and friendly wait staff were VERY VERY (vanishingly) short. This is how I feel sometimes at philosophy conferences. My (intellectual) hunger is well eased, but I cannot fail to be acutely aware of Certain Things about the crowd and the attitudes of the people around me.
It is SO going to suck going back to the cold now.