March 23, 2017

#Narrative2017 Day One Highlights

Let's jump right in with both feet, just like I did today.

The first session today was Contemporary Narrative Theory, two hours before any other session began. It started promptly at 8:20 am and I'd estimate 150 - 200 people were there. We heard two fifteen minute papers, followed by discussion until 10:00, and I didn't hear a single bad question, or any pontificating non-questions either. The conversation was wonderful. I got to ask Karin Kukkonen from Oslo about whether her model presented for "Self-Organizing Plots" could be applied to historical emplotment, or even perhaps to biography, which seemed to spark two or three others who followed up on those and similar topics. Kukkonen's paper itself was fantastic, and had to do with using probability (not just causality) to predict and to construct the chronological fabula while engaging with the discourse. If you put that same thinking after the fact - remembering the fabula long after receiving a discourse - then it's fairly complimentary with my Time in Memory project, so that was very encouraging! I've already ordered one book from Kukkonen's bibliography and put the rest on my library get list.

I very much enjoyed Emma Kafalenos' paper about Chris Ware's Building Stories. I'd heard a bit about this Graphic Novel, which is actually a boxed collection of 14 documents, so Kafalenos' analysis was fascinating. Most satisfying, for me, was that her analysis of the variations in reader experience not only centered on the process of fabula construction but completely assumed that this was the central question. Indeed, the whole point of Ware's project was to experiment with the two levels of story and discourse. For the record, Kafalenos said she's observed her students forming different judgments, perhaps based on their different first impressions (depending on which of the 14 pieces they read first), but (to the point) she has observed no differences in fabula construction. Despite the 87 billion ("fourteen factorial") possible sequences for receiving the discourse, all thorough readers get exposed to the same information, and eventually they all construct the same chronological story. Just to make sure we're clear, all my Biblical Studies friends, I believe you should think that's a beautiful thing. Be. You. T. Full.

Some papers on my wish list didn't turn out to be quite what I'd hoped for, even when they were great examples of what they actually were. It really helps to plan my conference time when SBL includes the full abstracts in advance. I guess I remember doing it that way at SBL in 2009 and 2010. Apparently, the conference apps have spoiled me. Anyway, I sat through a few papers that didn't serve up my target knowledge, but they taught me interesting things. Personally, however, I think I'm done paying attention to "Unnatural Narratology" or "Metafiction" - and my jury is teetering about "Metalepsis". Despite that, all three of today's papers on "Fictionality" were challenging and intriguing - especially those by Richard Walsh and Simona Zetterberg Gjerlevsen, who've also posted some papers about this topic online. My Academia.edu cup runneth over.

By the way, with nine late-afternoon sessions to choose from, and lots of blue welcome folders still boxed at the registration desk, this first of three sessions on Fictionality had around 80 people in it.

Aside from "cognitive stuff" (TM) this may be the hot ticket right now. Fictionality. Say it again.

All in all, I was happy to make a few connections today and I had several enjoyable conversations. At my first SBL I already knew dozens of bibliobloggers but today I showed up with zero personal contacts, and I only knew the famous names and faces of the most senior scholars, whom I do not (yet) plan to pester. I must say it's a bit odd to find this is almost entirely 20th century networking. There's no facebook group, a handful of tweeters, and apparently no active bloggers. On the bright side, however, I was thrilled to learn they've maintained an active "List Serve" group - which is all kinds of awesome, and then some.

Everyone has been friendly and welcoming. The admin desk says we're expecting 450 people in total, and the list of presenters looks almost 400 names long. Despite that, there seems to be a strong core of regulars and/or semi-regulars in the more popular sessions. All but one of the meeting rooms are clustered around the same atrium, which is typically filled in-between sessions with all kinds of group conversations. It's very different from passing a few thousand people and perusing their hundreds of specialties at SBL & AAR. More than once, I passed Gerald Prince just hanging out with some of the younger folks here. He could easily demand a VIP lounge. Point: there's a good vibe going on. I'm glad to be sharing their oxygen for a few days.

Before I sign off, here's a fun thing that happened, that my friends in Gospel Studies will enjoy. At one point, while talking to a well established narratologist, I was trying to describe the gradual shift taking place which was first introduced by Richard Bauckham's "John for Readers of Mark" and my new friend exclaimed, "Oh, it's intertextuality!" Well, duh. Of course it is. Then I totally blamed earlier NT scholarship for putting that term in a different file in my brain. Then he laughed, perhaps knowingly. Mission accomplished.

I'm glad the Gospels are increasingly allowed to communicate with each other. I hope to see (and do) a lot more work about how John's readers incorporated their memories about Mark (and about oral tradition) when constructing their fabula of the fourth Gospel's representational storyworld.

We have so much more work to do. I'm enjoying this conference a lot. I'll blog again when I can.

Anon, my friends...

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