We now return to our blog-in-progress covering recent adventures at the Popular Culture/American Culture Association national conference in San Antonio, Texas:
Friday was a short day for me, conference-wise. As usual, I was up and ready to face the world by 11:30 with the Life and Works of Jack London panel. Here George Adams took us into the deep end immediately with a look at what London concealed and revealed in his John Barleycorn. I have to admit to being a bit snowed under by specialized vocabulary with this one, but the gist I got from Adams was really good. He posits that London practiced the fine art of avoidance in his “Alcoholic Memoir,” rather than simple deception or denial. Thus in reading this and similar autobiographical works, the reader must pay close attention to what is mentioned in order to note what is carefully being not mentioned. Next up was Michael Martin, who gave a thoroughly enlightening and enjoyable paper on Jack London as the premiere, and usually uncredited, American road novelist, drawing on The Cruise of the Snark and The Road to demonstrate London’s mastery of this perhaps quintessentially American form, and even giving us Ernest Darling as a kind of early 20th century Dean Moriarty/Neal Cassady. Great work there, and a lot of fun. The next presenter, and Jack London Area Chair Jay Williams, examined London’s young adult fiction published in the magazine Youth’s Companion from June of 1899 to February of 1903. The magazine was chartered as a vehicle to encourage and help instill “industry, thrift, and upright Christian living and family,” and Williams posits that London’s sea stories unintentionally subverted the magazine’s mission statement by extolling travel, adventure, and a life apart from the traditional family structure. He also points out that the youth market was important for allowing London to experiment generically during this early part of his career, giving him the opportunity to stretch as a writer. I really loved this panel. It was somehow exciting and comforting to be among a group of scholars who are so passionate about London and his works. He is an author too often ignored, to our detriment.
I skipped the 1:15 panels in order to grab some lunch and take care of another important piece of conference business: buying books. Various academic publishers always show up at conferences, setting up tables of their books and usually offering pretty generous discounts, which is great because even the cross-over presses (i.e. presses which sell to a wider market than just schools and libraries, i.e. most of them these days) do limited runs, making a trade-paperback size book run anywhere from $25 - $40, and the hard covers even more. So I always try and pick up a pile of books when I’m at a conference. Okay, so this is a lie. I’m a bibliophile, so I always try to pick up a pile of books. Period. End of statement. True to form I found some great titles, and had a thoroughly good time doing so and chatting with the various reps from the publishers. I don’t have the books here in front of me however, having sent them back to the house with Mockingbird after we got home so as not to be distracted during this last week of school and exams. But fear not, Readers Mine, you’ll be seeing them in one or another o my regular my regular reading posts here as I crack them one by one.
Refreshed and gloating over my new acquisitions, I headed to the 3:00 panel on H. P. Lovecraft: New Perspectives. Great panel. The session began with a look at arctic places as liminal spaces by Jasie Stokes, who traced the use of such places through Mary Shelly, Edgar Allen Poe, and of course, Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness. Stokes theorizes that each author’s treatment of the arctic and Antarctic reflects how they and their society viewed science. For Shelly, science would undoubtedly take us in new directions and change the world, but how and to what ends? Hers was a largely pro-scientific view, but also advocated for restraining scientific investigation and exploration to safe areas. Poe, on the other hand encourages bolder exploration of unknown spaces, in spite of – or perhaps because of – the fear such unknown places evokes in us. Finally Lovecraft, though a life-long admirer and proponent of science and scientific endeavor, has the most profoundly anti-science stance of them all, the horrors of the Antarctic mountains being so terrible as to drive his protagonist, an explorer extraordinaire, to devote himself to putting an absolute end to all further exploration of the continent. There was a lot in this paper and Stokes got the audience churning with all of the possibilities in her approach. Next Connie Lippert took a deep dive into intertextuality in Lovecraft’s Necronomicon, a fictional tome containing forbidden knowledge that even reading it is an invitation to madness. Lovecraft encouraged the sharing of his work and his worlds, and the phenomena of the Necronomicon has continued to grow not merely in works of fiction (think the Evil Dead trilogy, among others), but to manifest itself in several versions and editions purporting to be the true lost grimoire, at least one of which is actually used as a book of spells and rituals by groups practicing “chaos magic” in the real world. (Or at least in the physical world. How real these folks’ worlds are remains open to debate.) Brilliant paper that is almost infinitely expandable. Lovecraft is intertextuality writ large, crossing from horror to fantasy to science fiction to mystery to film to television, and back and forth from all of them again. Finally, Carl Sederholm called for a wider scholarship on Lovecraft, beyond biography and examinations of single works, to an approach to Lovecraft’s body of work as a whole, and used an examination of Lovecraft’s views on sex to demonstrate. See, Lovecraft doesn’t do sex, except in the most negative way (“pulsing, dripping monstrosities”). He seems to have had a philosophical objection to it as something bestial, and beneath the notice of true human beings. Sederholm just gave a brief glimpse of the possibilities inherent in this subject, and I hope that others will follow and take up his call for a wider scholarship.
After this panel broke, up it was time for a late lunch/early dinner with a whole passel of friends, when some 25 of us descended en masse upon a nearby Italian restaurant and gave the staff something to do during the afternoon lull. The meal was good, and the company better as Mockingbird and I met and got acquainted with a couple of new friends, Dominick Grace and Lisa Macklem who had presented on Steven King and Supernatural, respectively. Unfortunately, I didn't get to see either presentation, but after meeting them, I certainly wish I had, and will certainly be looking out for future opportunities to hear them both. A good time and lots of carbs were had by all. Then Readers Mine, I was forced to retreat to the hotel room where I spent the next four hours grudgingly working away on an historiographical essay for my Russian history class. It was the biggest assignment for that class this semester, and with the conference falling at the end of the term, I knew I’d have to buckle down and bust it out eventually, which I did, pouting all the while because I was missing the showing and sing-along of Joss Whedon’s Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog. I was cruelly separated from my people by the tyrannical demands of higher education!!! Woe! WOE, I SAY!!
Oh well. “A man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do” after all.