Penn State, Day 1

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I drove down to State College, PA, on Saturday, met up with Jeff and Jenny, got a subpar night of sleep (see above), and on Sunday, the conference began. We got there earlier than we needed to be, so we registered, and bounced down to the retail/restaurant stretch bordering the Penn State campus.

A fair portion of the conference took place in the Nittany Lion Inn, which was really a pretty nice facility. Good spaces, good food. But no wireless, which was really quite strange. And by strange I mean inconvenient in various ways, not the least of which was the complete pointlessness of lugging my laptop to the first day of the conference. But oh well. Good cheesecake.

Leading off the conference were a couple of keynotes: Debbie Hawhee's "At the Edges of Language: Burke and the Mystical Moderns" and Robert Wess's "Burke's McKeon Side: Burke's Pentad and McKeon's Quartet." Really, the only thing I remember from either talk, though, was this line from a newspaper review imploring us to

let a dozen lovely young girls devote their entire day to modulations of body, until they become miracles of gracefulness

I do remember a little more than that. Debbie's focus was on Burke's theories of the body, and she presented some archival work connecting Burke to 1930's mystics, including Gurdjieff, he of the whirling dervishes. If my notes are right, I think that Burke was interested in an embodied mysticism, one foregrounding transformation, communication, vitality, et al. I have to admit that I didn't track Robert Wess as closely, partly because I was still pretty concerned about getting my own paper done, and partly because I simply don't know McKeon that well. What notes I have suggest that Wess was interested in rescuing Burke from contemporary appropriations of his work on behalf of relativism or constructivism, particularly when it comes to Burke's terministic screens.

Anyhow, after the keynotes were the first round of concurrent sessions, and Jenny and Jeff were tag-teaming their talk during onesuch, so that's where I went. And this was probably my first taste of what was different about this particular conference. It was my first trip to a Penn State Conference (which meets every other year), and my first to a Burke conference (which meets every 3 years), and while there's plenty of overlap in the audience for the two conferences, it's not what I would call a total overlap. My sense was that maybe 3/4 of us were there for Burke, and the remaining quarter for Penn State.

So anyway, Jeff and Jenny did an alternating presentation where they reinvented the idea of the Dictionary of Pivotal Terms. They made the argument that they took from Burke his attitudes toward production rather than technology. A couple of highlights from my notes:

  • Jenny: recreation/re-creation--this part would have been better projected, but the Flickr flip, from documenting spaces to producing them, is going to make a great essay in the next year or so for Jenny
  • Jeff: the lightness of linking--purpose makes rhetoric heavy and heavy-handed. he linked this up with KB's bureaucratization of the imaginative, and I was interested in the degree to which bureaucracy is a technology of purpose. (I should write more about this.)
  • Jenny: conjecture--the choice is no longer between production and nonproduction, but among the ways we produce
  • Jeff: folksonomy (or folksono-ME)--tagging not as a part of literacy, but literacy as just another tag (wayyy cool, this idea). I was also grooving on the connections between folksonomy and Camera Lucida

The other two papers were both applications of Burke's pentad to online "cases," IM tutorials in one, and the process of developing online educational tools on the other. Not a lot more about them to say.

One thing worth mention is that during Q&A--the singularly unbearable part of almost every session I ever go to--one of the Burke purists asked, in what would come to be something of a theme of our conversations, how Jenny and Jeff would use Counter-Statement (one of Burke's earliest books). Or maybe he "asked" that they should go back and read it, I don't know. Let's just say that there were cross-purposes at work. One sign of this? The dinner session (which we chose not to attend) featured a keynote session called, literally, "We Knew Kenneth Burke." Umm. Okay. The counter-session, called, literally, "We Didn't Know Kenneth Burke," was held in the basement pool hall of Champs until about 1 in the morning, and featured the emergence of a new game called Muckelball. But I'll save that for later...

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This page contains a single entry by cgbrooke published on July 10, 2005 12:51 PM.

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