Sunday, February 22, 2015

Lesbian Lives conference

seagulls; photo by Val Phoenix
I spent a well-earned day out in sunny Brighton yesterday checking out the second day of the Lesbian Lives conference. Somehow this conference had never come to my attention before, but since I have become somewhat immersed in academia, I hear much more about such things, though this is the first gathering I have attended outside of London.

Coming to the conference on the second day meant I missed a few discussions that had clearly started the day before, or even further back. I was curious to see if there would be any points of disagreement or tension, as the build-up to the conference saw some high-profile debates over freedom of speech and inclusion of trans women at queer and feminist events. None of this was apparent at the conference, as the day passed quite uneventfully. A far cry from my last lesbian conference in 1991, when disagreements were played out on-stage and in the corridors, voices raised and positions hardened.

Aside from two keynotes, I attended two panel discussions, one on archives and the other on French feminism. It has recently come to my attention that I am woefully ignorant of the French philosophical strand of feminism represented by such thinkers as Irigaray, Kristeva, Cixous and so forth. The panel I attended attempted to make connections between the writings of Monique Wittig and English-language writers, making it a bit less daunting for me. I was very pleased to hear one of the panellists making comparisons between Wittig's writing and that of Virgina Woolf's Orlando, which I have read. The funny thing is I took a class with Wittig back in 1989 when she was a visiting lecturer at my college. But, I cannot remember a thing about what she taught, just that I had one very intimidating tutorial with her, and she fixed me with a rather disdainful gaze as I attempted to ask a timidly framed question. Not a woman to be trifled with. It seems her reputation as a visionary thinker is being redeemed by the current crop of queer theorists.

The other panel was about making use of the past, which has direct relevance to my research, as I prepare to move on to the next phase and decide how and why I shall make use of institutional archives. One speaker made a distinction between how the words lesbian and queer are received in non-Western cultures, which I found interesting, as both are Western terms. Apparently, lesbian is seen as having activist associations whereas queer is not, much to my bemusement: in my experience both have activist associations. Anyway, it's interesting to hear these points when one attends conferences. I have yet to get an explanation as to why identity politics is seen as outdated, however.

Once the conference disbanded just before 5pm I took advantage of the gap before my train left to hightail it to the seaside where I drank in the sea air, watched a glorious sunset and dodged a violent hailstorm before heading back to chilly London.

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