Re: to read or not to read...

Jeanne H. Simpson (
Mon, 24 Mar 1997 10:48:29 -0600

I think Cynthia's comments about the size of the conference are worth
considering more closely. 4C's is huge. And the emphasis on the
commonality of interest sometimesobscures the diversity of interests that also
exists. And even more significantly, the diversity of experience: at
4C's we have graduate students and very senior faculty; we have people
from small liberal arts colleges, community colleges, and major research
universities, from rural residential schools and urban commuter schools.
Often we assume more homogeneity in our audiences than may actually exist.

I believe there is a randomness to the experiences of 4C's sessions that
needs to be acknowledged--we cannot predict what sort of mix may exist in
a given session, and if we removed one person and put in another, either
in the audience or among the presenters, who knows how much the dynamics
might be changed. We can't account for the effects of hangovers,
impending comprehensive exams, over extended credit cards, missing
luggage, marital discord, misdirected job searches, menopausal hot
flashes, conference-based sexual adventures, battered egos. We can't
plan for burgeoning theories encountering jaded cynicism. We can't design
a session that predicts who is a comp groupie, who is a desperate new hire
looking for ideas, who is a first timer and who is there saying "been
there, done that" to everything.

One problem I have with much of the theory I encounter is that it does not
include doesn't account for chaos. The desire is to find
a theory that accounts for everything, that imposes an ultimate order and
explanation. But if that kind of theory blinds us to the effects of
randomness, to chaos, then it isn't good theory. And a theory of what
should happen in a conference session is an excellent example of what I am
talking about here. No matter how carefully I plan a presentation, I
cannot plan on who will be there to hear it, not completely. And the
reason a single person who objects to it noisily happens to be in my
session and not in yours is not anything I can anticipate.

I can try to be consistent, to consider my rhetorical options carefully
and then to implement them. Beyond that.... If you were asked, what
sort of person goes to 4C's sessions, what would your answer be?

Jeanne Simpson



The Margin: