I write in praise of going to conferences that aren’t really to do with what you study. Much like attending conferences when you are not giving a paper, you are giving a little more leeway to enjoy the other speakers. As luck would have it I gave my paper, ‘Howling at the Moon, or, How the Werewolf got his Voice’, for the ‘SF/ Fantasy Now’ conference in the first session of the first day so I could enjoy learning about a new field of studies without any ongoing nervousness. I was pleased to see that my panel was really well chosen: the papers led on from one another and there was a good balance of theory and close-reading in all the papers. Rather than the panel staying at the front once the paper was given, the layout of the room meant that we sat within the audience. This actually helped to break down conversation barriers and set things up for more of a discussion than a formal question and answer. This worked well given that what often happens at conferences is that ‘questions’ dissolve into ‘statements of interest’ which are generally more suited to discussions. I noted that in this particular room (which was named the ‘experimental’ teaching space), this regularly happened and it was something I enjoyed given that the audience numbers were rarely more than 10 people.
Another change to the normal conference protocol were the workshop sessions. This did involve some preparation reading which can be off-putting. Again, though, I found this a useful exercise that challenged my field of studies and which theorists can be of use to me. Whilst this approach wasn’t quite interdisciplinary – this was a mainly literary conference – it was intergenre and drew attention to the way that certain areas of study recycle ideas beyond their usefulness. Helping matters was the fact that most of the selections to be accessible and not too long. The workshops started with two papers – so if you hadn’t done the reading, you still had something to talk about – before the audience split into tables to talk about what they had seen and then create a question to pose to the speakers. This approach continued to promote discussions and it meant that people built upon these workshops in the panels thus the audience had shared reference points. It was also interesting to note that themes from the previous conference I attended, ‘Reading Animals’ recurred here. The environment, animals, science, and the post-human were all discussed in the workshops – of particular interest was the way in which the speakers during the workshops saw literature as pivotal in fleshing out the theory.
A conference on SF and Fantasy was never going to speak directly to my studies. However, by being able to engage in these debates with an open mind, this conference gave me fresh material to take back to my area of research. It cleared a space for me to think originally and, by adapting and utilising other fields of study, gave me new frameworks to shape my thesis.