Writing this blog makes me wish that I were more experienced with the sort of “intergenre” modes exhibited by the panelists, so that I could use more than words in describing my experience and its implications. The first thing that I noticed, upon entering Public Space One, was how different that location felt from the earlier panels. In the basement of a church, the art gallery and stage seemed almost insular, hidden from the harsher version of “public” in academic classrooms and auditoriums. The art installations set up along the walls, in fact, added up to something less like an art gallery and more like a domestic space…they didn’t call attention to themselves as “art” so much as they were integral with a multipurpose room, more casual and yet somehow more public, in the sense of being intimately shared. The conversations that took place there seemed more casual, as well—less anxious about scholarly image.
I say that the atmosphere was the “first thing I noticed,” but the above observations were not formulations in my mind so much as vague sensations (affects). It is only after considering the discussions opened up by this panel on the possible restrictions of institutional spaces/genres that I realized the force I felt had to do with an opening up of affects that are usually held inside when sitting or speaking in classrooms.
The panel began with an explanation of “intergenre,” a combination of scholarly research and presentation with creative modes usually kept separate. Each panelist gave a performance that demonstrated the potential of crossing genres in the project of generating knowledge. In the first piece, an improvisational performance narrating the overlap between Kim Marra’s personal history and her archiving of women and horses in the nineteenth century, it was difficult to remain neutral, given the depth of emotion in the speaker’s voice. The most surprising aspect might have been hearing scholarly language spoken with the sort of embodied emotion that is usually absent, as the speaker launched into a brief, self-accusatory rant concerning her complicity in the historical exploitation of horses. What might seem to be scholarly jargon on the page was revitalized as meaningful, being reconnected with emotion.
The other three performances also contributed to a sense of the potential, even the necessity, of enacting scholarship using genres usually associated with creative work, whether through incorporating personal memoir with historicism, a ‘National Toxicity’ awareness tour, or even a full-fledged carnaval in Iowa City. In different ways, each performance reinforced the sense of scholarship opened-up, of becoming more than discourse or words on a page. In particular, Loyce Arthur and Sarah Kanouse’s works went beyond the individual project or performance to bring scholarship and artwork to a larger public, creating intergenre routes, monuments, and events. The artwork at the entrance also allowed for and thematized public interaction, whether through the internet or through posters and fliers.
The theme of interaction continued in the “charrette” following the performances, which included discussions as a whole group and in smaller sections. To the whole group, Naomi Greyser posed the question: “Where is knowledge being made and what does it feel like?” Historicist Lisa Heineman noted that, at least in the domain of history, knowledge is not usually produced using first-person narrative. There did not seem to be a consensus about knowledge-production in the academy as a whole, except to emphasize that anything which doesn’t feel like “work” is suspect. Further, while each department has its own quirks about what is considered “scholarly” and what ought to remain individual or personal, the project of intergenre research holds out the promise of producing more knowledge by overcoming the limitations of scholarly practice, filling in the blind spots left by practices designed to keep the body/emotions of the scholar out of scholarship.
One idea seemed to resonate for me in both the larger group and in the smaller groups that completed the charrette, which allowed for participation in more intimate discussions between departments/positions in academia. In considering comfort-levels with different types of work, Naomi Greyser suggested that perhaps “normative modes of scholarship” are just as uncomfortable, if not more so, than intergenre modes which might seem uncomfortable at first because they are unfamiliar. I liked this point because it calls attention to the violence that we do to ourselves without being aware of it, bringing ourselves in line with expectations that are either real or imagined. While it might be scary and momentous to perform creatively in front of people, it is the everyday discomfort that we hardly notice which seems to need more attention.
Each group created a list of what seemed the most fruitful ideas, and these large sheets were posted on the wall. Placing the productions of scholarly conversations in the same room with artwork added to my initial sense of the room as somehow more open and hybrid than other spaces. In short, the panel seemed a particularly effective way of including multiple voices without playing down the differences that arose—as those differences were so much more visible in a less uniform space.
My impression of the conference as a whole coincided with many of these ideas, the chief among which was embodying knowledge. I am convinced, even more than before, that thoughts themselves are affects, physical phenomena that have physical impacts. Everyone might not agree—I have also noticed, throughout the symposium and the conference, that the idea that thoughts might also be affects, or at least integrally connected with affect, still seems to have only partial acceptance. In other words, we often slip into the tendency to use the terms “emotion” and “affect” interchangeably, while holding thought/intellect in a realm apart. Breaking such habits is difficult, but important: Bringing knowledge and feelings together might be another way to describe the exigency of affect theory writ large. Somehow physical encounters and discussion seem even more important when working with affect—which is my roundabout way of thanking the organizers for this opportunity.