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It’s Official. I am a Bigwig. ISECS, Rotterdam, 2015

July 29, 2015

bigwigs

Finally I can say it. Yes, I am a bigwig.

That is to say I have been elected an executive member of the International Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies.  Like I say – a bigwig.

Yes, I’m one of the Masters of the Universe.  The eighteenth-century studies bits of the universe anyhow.  If there are other parts of the universe – I care little for them.

But a bunch of other stuff happened yesterday as well.  The blustery and wet day began with a panel on Richardson, Hayward and Cowper and involved a wide ranging discussion of the relationship between print literature and forms of orality.  What’s the implications of typography and punctuation in the real and anticipated context of reading stuff out loud? How did people like Fielding and Haywood make the transition from theatre to prose fiction and what how were the allegorical assumptions of practices of stage satire preserved and adapted in a new medium.  When Cowper was writing slave ballads, who is the “I” who is speaking in the poem.  Who is being ventriloquised?  Whose voice is being focused and privileged?

I then ascended two stories to chair a panel on childhood in the eighteenth century.  Childhood becomes for the first time central to philosophical inquiry in the eighteenth-century thanks to Locke and later Rousseau.  If children are not “Limbs of Satan” – marked from birth with the stain of Adam and Eve – but are instead blank canvases – then education education education is all.  We learned about the creepy yet sincere attempts at pedagogic ethnocide in Ireland in Ireland under the Penal Laws.  We learned of children’s travel diaries (fresh impressions or attempt to impress the parents?) and we learned of the eighteenth-century Dutch discussion of whether children are to be given freedom or guidance?  This Rousseauian debate is ongoing?  Will children always make wrong choices?  Will holding them too closely restrict their capacity to make choices?

The next panel was on drink and I was in it.  Speaking.  Familiar stuff about eighteenth-century pub debates from me but interesting stuff from others about political toasting.  Who gets toasted in pubs?  Who decides and prints the list of things to be toasted?  Is the King above the Law?  This constitutional issue is literally presented and symbolically staged by the formal list of (dis)loyal and patriotic toasts that might serve your political club?  I also learned about how in the Netherlands, glass engravers devised elaborate trick glasses that were meant to demonstrate various forms of convivial affiliation and disaffiliation.   We were shown a picture of a glass with a bell at the bottom.  You toast, drink and then ring the bell when you’re done.  It’s perfect for ritual eighteenth-century drinking games.
I want one.

The next thing I remember we were at the general meeting of ISECS.  Along with the election of the executive, the 2019 meeting was confirmed for Edinburgh.  Yes, in just four little years time, we’ll all be in Edinburgh, an “Enlightenment City” if ever there was one (whatever “The Enlightenment” or “The Enlightenments” may or may not have been).  Ah, to be looking forward to a great conference while still at one – is a rare joy that confounds tenses.

And now, I have my first morning waking up as a bigwig.  Will the responsibility, the metaphorical wig, weigh heavy on me?  Time will tell.

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