I woke up bright and early today for my 8:30am panel at the International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts on “Narrative Aesthetics and Fractured Selves” chaired by Robert von der Osten. My fellow panelists were Albert Wendland of Seton Hill University who read his paper titled, “Description in Andre Norton, or a Touch of the Sublime,” and Darja Malcolm-Clarke of Indiana University who read her essay titled, “The Postmodern Freak and L’Ecriture Feminine in Shelley Jackson’s Half Life.” Albert has an impeccable radio drama-like delivery that is a rare gift among academic presenters. His paper on the relationship between the self and the Romanticized sublime in the SF of Andre Norton convinced me that I have to read more of her work. Darja’s engagement of Hélène Cixous’s theory of writing female bodies and subjectivity in connection with the postmodern females in Jackson’s novel was simultaneously enlightening and fascinating.
My paper, originally titled “Time Enough for Twitter: Postmodern Science Fiction and Online Personas,” but changed to “Literary Characters, Online Persona, and Science Fiction Scholars: A Polemic,” was the last essay to be read during our panel, and it generated the most discussion among the daring early morning audience at our panel. My essay critiqued the behavior of SF list participants, myself included, as either unwilling or incapable of engaging the alien Othered instigator of a flame war on the list by a sock puppet operator (read more about what inspired my research on this subject here). Luckily, the frank comments and questions by Dewitt, David, and Anna were the right chord for my presentation. I was called out on my leaving out the content of the email sock puppet instigator, but my purpose was to call attention to the end effects of parody rather than the substantive content of that parody–I was most interested in the instigator’s desire to shake things up and try something new. The idea of reflectively reconsidering our real-life manners and norms that have been shoehorned into Internet and New Media communicative technologies is an important project for everyone, including SF scholars who regularly use email discussion lists as a means for discussion. I found the questions and comments on my paper particularly useful for the next iteration of my paper, which I do want to send out for publication. I believe that it is a compelling subject for more than its theoretical or literary connections–it has so much to offer our conceptions of how we work together as academic professionals, and it is bound to generate more conversation, which is the point of our discursively-oriented work within a community of scholars.