Monday, September 26, 2011

A FEAST Indeed

I'm home from the Feminist Ethics and Social Theory (FEAST) conference. It was wonderful, despite the conference center "resort" itself proving a disappointment: closed pool, closed trails, meeting rooms with paper-thin walls, late-night revelry from the endless weddings going on simultaneously with our conference. But the conference itself was a banquet for the mind and spirit.

Often when I attend conferences, I deliver my own paper, go to a few sessions where friends of mine are giving papers, and then spend the rest of the time reading, writing, and sipping pomegranate martinis in the hotel bar. This time, because I wasn't giving a paper but was just going to to the conference in order to go to the conference, I actually WENT to the conference. I attended almost every single session, scribbling notes frantically in my DePauw University notebook - seventeen pages of them. In addition I scribbled down names of books I want to read, books I want to teach, ideas for future articles.

In the evenings I did curl up in my room and read a riveting biography of Emily Dickinson, Lives Like Loaded Guns, by Lyndall Gordon. The title is from a poem by Emily: "My Life had stood - a Loaded Gun. . . ." I started reading the book simply because I've long wanted to read a biography of Emily Dickinson; I had no idea how much the book would bear on my current interest in the ethics of life writing. It turns out that everything written about Emily Dickinson for decades - including much that is still written about her - has been shaped by an intense family feud, triggered by the torrid adultery of Emily's brother, Austin Dickinson, that split the family into two warring camps, each with their own interest in "owning" Emily's poetry - and shaping the mythology that came to surround her.

So by day I feasted on papers with titles like "Queering Reproductive Ethics," "Gender and the Politics of Invisible Disability," "The Epistemic Function of Narrative and the Globalization of Mental Disorders," "Muslim Women and the Many Faces of Patriarchy," "The Weird Adventures of Western Aid," and "On Having a Bottomless Source of Moral Failure." By night I feasted on Emily's poems and the life that inspired them.

And I even lost a pound in the process!

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