Saturday, March 17, 2018

Day 2: ICFA 2018 . . . and terror.


Day 2 was a little more eventful than Day 1. The first panel had two papers on George R. R. Martin, which was nice, and my second panel was chaired by yours truly. All three presenters were doctoral students who did a fantastic job offering feminist readings of fantasy texts. One of the books discussed was actually Jean Rhys's Wide Saragossa Sea, which isn't really a fantasy novel except that it talks about zombieism, and the other two books were Lois McMaster Bujold's Paladin of Souls and Marie Brennan's A Natural History of Dragons. I had high hopes of reading all three novels before ICFA began but, alas, only managed to get 80% of the way through Paladin of Souls. Still, the post-presentation discussion went great. Huzzah!

And then . . . 

And then -- then came my presentation on Stephen R. Donaldson's "Reave the Just." For months, a looming terror has filled my gut that SRD himself would actually appear, since I know he tends to be an ICFA regular . . . and, sure enough, he did. Honestly, I've given dozens of presentations, but never was I so nervous. As Bill Senior was giving his paper, my heart must've been going 110 bpm as I awaited my turn.

My paper was well-received, I think. There were several very complimentary remarks on Donaldson's (I am a fan, after all), and I didn't get too much push-back from my critiques of "Reave the Just."*** Mostly, the comments centered on a few helpful close-reading points that could have been additionally brought to bear -- nothing, intriguingly enough, on the larger idea of gender violence which was my presentation's subject. Overall, Martina assured me that I didn't embarrass myself.

Afterward, SRD himself spoke with me, and I must confess that that terrified me as well. Seriously, I haven't felt like such a 12-year-old since I actually was twelve. But Donaldson thanked me for discussing the feminism in his work, which has been a much neglected aspect in the secondary literature. He even gave me his business card (!) in case I continued working along these lines. Martina, who's also spent most of her life in academia, says I absolutely should contact him, but it seems so odd to me, writers and literary critics mixing.

Incidentally, the Great Author Himself wasn't the only terrifying personage present. Bill Senior is responsible for the best monograph on Donaldson to date, the first academic book I ever read for fun (back when I was an undergraduate at Kent State), and Senior's resume is further rounded out by stints as editor in chief of Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts and president of IAFA. Now, as you might imagine, I'm not a shrinking violet when it comes to academics, but my immediate impression of Dr. Senior was of an eagle-eyed close reader with extraordinarily high expectations. The first words I heard him speak were a remark to a colleague who'd asked about someone's paper. Said Senior, "She needed to cut out the first three pages. But the rest of the paper was fine. Donna Haraway did the same thing a few years ago -- a fantastic presentation preceded by an absolutely useless 15-minute review of the secondary literature." Daaamn. I also recognized C. W. Sullivan as present.

After that, as you might imagine, I was absolutely knackered. Martina and I went out to dinner -- I even waved to SRD as we were leaving the hotel. But then a further moment of terror transpired as, on our way to one of the local restaurants, we saw SRD and a group of scholars heading into the same general direction; they must have taken a short cut. I hope no one blames me if I describe how Martina and I immediately turned around and went the opposite direction -- it would have been just too awkward to wind up eating in the same place!

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*** From interviews and previous commentary on the interwebz, I've gotten the impression that SRD is one of those ideals writers who, while highly interested the criticism produced on his work, nonetheless is quite willing to let all readers, critics and non-critics alike, interpret as they please.

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