A blog about life, language, writing, and other trivia.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

4C's, NY Style; And My Two Cents on Reading vs. Speaking

Think you know what CCCC stood for this year? Think again.

1. Collateral. As in, what you need to put up to get a room service hamburger at the Hilton NY.
2. Cash. And a lot of it.
3. Credit. For when the cash runs out.
4. Chapter 11. The only option left for most people after a conference in New York.

Those things aside, I enjoyed the conference. I was especially impressed by the U of Wisconsin-Madison grad student presenations I saw; they seem to be doing some really smart, interesting things. (Others are too, I'm sure, but I just happened to find myslef at a disproportinately high number of their talks.)

I had a great time catching up with old friends and mentors at the U of Illinois party and elsewhere (at the same time I was able to catch up on my sadly lagging Guinness quota). I also really enjoyed meeting Jeff, Lanette, and Scot. I hope to meet still more of you soon. It was also nice to catch up with Andy.

Finally, let me just say a few words about the read vs. talk debate (which rages, predictably, every year just after C's ends). In a nutshell: people just need to relax. We rightly hope for generous presenters--presenters who keep our needs and wants as audience members in mind. But that generosity needs to flow both ways. I wouldn't presume to know why somebody chooses to read a dense paper quickly or why somebody else chooses to give an unscripted narrative-based talk. So I get what I can from a talk [edited to add: I try to contribute during discussion when I can, too] and move on--sometimes disappointed, but always trying not to be judgmental.

For example, this year I heard two papers on Žižek that were almost unintelligible for their density and speed of delivery, and at first I was kind of pissed (the panel gave no indication that he would be a central focus). But then I forced myself to be a generous hearer: maybe these guys were nervous and needed the security of the text. Maybe they were still learning the presentation ropes. Maybe they felt so utterly compelled by their material that they could conceive of nothing to cut, no way to slow down. Maybe they really didn't give a shit whether I could follow or not. Maybe a hundered other things I can't think of right now. We can't know, and we shouldn't presume we can. Our only recourse, then, is to give the speaker/readers the benefit of the doubt.

For me, it boils down to these simple truths: You're going to be dazzled by a presentation or two. You're going to at least be engaged by some. And, inevitably, you're going to be disappointed by a few. But you're in a cool city. You're eating good food. You're with friends. Relax.

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At 12:04 AM, Blogger k8 said...

I wasn't able to attend the Cs (see your list of Cs for the reason), but thanks for the UW-Madison compliment! It is great to hear good things about "my people" and their presentations. :-) When I hear all of these great stories floating around, I still sorta wish I had attended and presented my paper. Of course, then I start thinking about the financial aspects of that decision and I am a little happier about my choice.

Thanks for supporting my fellow Badgers!

At 8:09 AM, Anonymous Scot said...

Ditto on the Badgers. And ditto as well on your very tempered and (if I may say) mature take on the reading vs. speaking debate. Adam and I read, obviously. And we did so for a number of reasons--many suggested in your post (nerves, uncertainties, a sense that "theory talk" works best when it's read). That said, we didn't just default to reading. We made a choice after considering the pros and cons of both styles (including whether or not our audience would be able to follow our argument). This debate, in my view, seems to imply that those who read conference papers never consider other modes of delivery. Maybe some don't...But we certainly did.

For the record, I don't mind listening to someon read a paper as long as the reader varies his or her intonation, pace, and inflection. Fast, monotone reading is, for me, tiresome and hard to follow. Though, I'll add as well, I won't immediately write off that person's ideas simply because of my own listening preferences...

At 8:47 AM, Blogger Lance said...

Yes, the Badgers represented well. (Of course, I think my U of Illinois folks are pretty amazing, too.)

Sorry you couldn't make it, k8--I would have enjoyed meeting you. But you certainly made the right financial choice.

Scot: Amen. We shouldn't be in the business of writing people off. When we start getting superior, we cut ourselves off from potentially exciting ideas. We wear an intellectual rut that can be hard to get out of. But even now, I feel obligated to be generous: people who seem self-righteous or superior (and I am sometimes one of them) tend to be so because on some deeper level they feel insecure. So I try to cut them (myself, too) a break as well.

At 10:04 AM, Blogger k8 said...

I agree with the reading/writing issue, too. Some people do one very well, and some are great at the other.

I've been known to do a combination. I think that sometimes I get bored with my own writing after looking at it so many times, so I'll read portions (specifically the one's that need tight focus or involve quotations), but then I'll talk 'about' other parts of the paper rather than reading it straight off the page. For me, this let's me give a structured presentation, but also leaves room for times to look at the audience and engage with it directly as I talk. It also moves me away from super-academic voice, which I hope provides a break for the audience. And I do like to make a handout with a brief summary of my argument(s) and possibly a passage or two that I am working with so that others can follow along as I'm working through it.

But that's just me. I've seen the worst and best of other methods, too. I'm sure we all have.

At 7:16 PM, Anonymous kg said...

It was good to see you at Cs Lance! AMEN on your 4 Cs though--I stayed at a youth hostel and still had pockets to let after the conference. I think NYC is a really grad student unfriendly place to hold a conference.

On the talk vs. read debate I think it's such a personal thing--I talk more than read but write my talk out first so that I can refer to it if I get stuck or lost. I usually end up doing something like k8 where I read the important quotes or points but talk between those points. However, I do know people who get so flustered talking in front of people that they have to have a formal paper to read from or they wouldn't make any sense. Personally, I'd like to see less presentation--whether you read or talk--and more discussion.

At 4:29 PM, Blogger Lance said...

Great to see you, too, Kathie. And congrats again on the new job!

I'm kind of like you and k8 in that I like to do a hybrid of reading and talking. I usually have some bits that need to be just so, and I read those (I tend to read intros, for example, which may seem odd, but which has worked well). The times when I just talk are usually when I'm elaborating or explaining the ideas that hang from the small hooks of written text that I string throughout a presentation.


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