Friday, May 13, 2016

Reporting to the Fairytale Academy

"Is this real?"

When I asked that question to a friend, as we strode through the neat Peter Rabbit-esque meadows of Canterbury and turned down Crab-and-Winkle Way, I didn't fully understand what I meant. I think it’s because of the imagery appering in various stories from my childhood filled with British propaganda – the picket fences, the empty meadows, the friendly good mornings - and the split with the reality outside my window which was full of squawking cockatoos and agressive spiders, creating a kind of cognitive dissonance. Or maybe it is the existence of global poverty, imminently connected with such a display, sitting underneath it like a colonial scar. It’s not so much that I don’t think it’s real, I just don’t believe in its reality. It is, in a very specific way, a fairytale.

Thankfully I managed to overcome this mendacity - over the course of my visit to the University of Kent to deliver two conference papers - through some very authentic suffering and labour, as well as managing to avoid most of the known sights in Canterbury, which apparently include various references to Marlowe and Chaucer, and some kind of cathedral. Do such things even exist now? Did they ever exist? One might ask the same of academia, I thought as I trudged up the hill each morning to the picturesque institution, slightly blotted these days by its various banners replete with neo-buddhist slogans screaming at the international students whose fees the university survives on that 'with belief they can reach their potential' and so on. (Reaching the top of the hill was the absolute summit of my potential).

The general standard of academia was high but thankfully not completely inaccessible to me. In some cases the two conferences Comedy and Critical Thought: Laughter as Resistence and Beckett and World Literature were complete opposites, one speaking about the contradictions between two general, almost universally-understood ideas of humour, the other from what is in perhaps always a closed perspective – that of a single writer.

I presented two papers, the first on a clown anti-performance for Melbourne International Comedy Festival 2012 which never occurred entitiled The Tragedy of 'Dave will make you laugh', the second on Beckett, Orwell, and arts activism. 

Listen to the Beckett paper, titled Anti-Human and Reactionary: Reading Beckett with Orwell, co-authored with Melbourne Researcher Andrew Fuhrmann, below.


Some key questions to emerge from the conferences:
  • Can critical thought be compatible with comedy?
  • What are the links between economic conditions and 'the comic'?
  • Is a purely aesthetic approach to Beckett valid?
  • Why are some contemporary clowns entering politics? And what about the politician who becomes clown through circumstance (Varoufakis?)
  • Beckett might be read as a history of technology and the human being
  • To what extent is Beckett's writing Universal? To what extent is it not universal?
  • How has oration changed with the coming of new satirical videos, in which the political and entertainment collide? And how might this be a legitimate tool for communication to those outside the addressed public - to whom the speech is critical?
  • How has humour changed in the absence of authority which defines the 'no-worries capitalism'  of start-ups and hipster culture?
I acknowledge the conference organisers for their hard work in organising the conference, and those who could not attend the conference because of their financial circumstances or because of political restrictions. Hopefully your voice was present, somehow.

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