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BSECS 2016, Day One. Highlights.

January 7, 2016


Settling in to my twenty-first consecutive BSECS conference, I grabbed myself my preferred type of aisle seat for the first plenary.  James Raven no less, discussing lotteries in eighteenth-century Europe.  And learned a great deal.

The questions provoked by this paper could have gone on indefinitely.  How can the state control lotteries?  What happens when the ceremony and the excitement of lottery drawing becomes destabilising?  When and how did it stop being preferable to taxation as a funding mechanism?  How close was (or is) the lottery to a species of gambling?  Who can be trusted to manage their own risk taking in a class conscious but less hierarchically confident society?  All of these questions were answered in part – but will need far more time and space to unfold.  It was the perfect plenary, because there was virtually no aspect of eighteenth-century life it didn’t touch – or at least stroke.

Then off to a fine and justly crowded panel on naming in (mainly) women’s fiction – on anonymity and pseudonymity.  By the end of the hour and a half, the concept of being “really” anonymous had undergone something of a battering.    The marketing of some sort of “name” – whether than name was a blessing, a boon or a burden – appeared very central and important.

Ran to find the family and found them back from the Pitt-Rivers museum, tired and happy – and having purchased a present for me – a tie with dodos on it which I will wear tomorrow.

Ran back to the conference and into the arms of another fiction panel on Haywood, Swift and Richardson.  Much to learn here, about the idea of villainous sentimentalism and the nature of identification with suffering, about the role theatre politics in focusing what can and can’t be said on stage as opposed to in a novel, and about the mysterious theology of Gullivers Travels.  Not sure yet how I feel about the Doctrine of Incarnation’s relation to beings who may be called “Who In Him?”s – but I know I have to do a deal of thinking about it.

Strolling to the Annual General Meeting, I was surprised to find that we were packed to the gills this year.   Our important deliberations were therefore as quorate as quorate can be and will therefore resonate with greater authority than ever before.

Subsequent jolification was somewhat truncated for me – as I had to go and make some final changes to my paper for the next morning – my paper on Ned Ward’s philosophers’ drinking song.  It is hard to watch others drink while abstaining because you have to write about drinking.  I did however make it to the Rose and Crown for a couple of belated pints.

Nothing wrong with that first day.  Nothing wrong at all.  My ludicrously intense relationship with this conference remains pristine and fresh-faced.  Almost pubescent in its big-eyed solemnity.


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