Monday, July 27, 2015

Romance: Reflecting, and Reflecting on, Society

Scott McCracken has observed that
To study popular fiction [...] is to study only a small part of popular culture. Nonetheless, written popular narratives can tell us much about who we are and about the society in which we live. [...] Popular fiction is both created by and a participant in social conflict. (1-2)
Support for his view can be found in a variety of reports from the 2015 Romance Writers of America conference. Suleikha Snyder, for instance, found the conference a source of enjoyment and comradeship but also felt there was what could almost be considered a parallel RWA conference,
The one where publishers still don't quite know what to do with multicultural and queer romance. [...]
The one where you feel as though your presence is just barely being tolerated, and these other women are indulging you as long as you stay quiet and don't draw too much attention.
This other conference was a convergence of microaggressions. From being side-eyed in elevators to having us confused for each other — Falguni Kothari and Alisha Rai are not the same person, FYI — to being told that diverse books were not a priority for Pocket/Gallery...there was a thread of something that was almost like resentment. “Why do we have to talk about diversity?” “Why are there so many of you here?” “My God, can't you all be quiet and go away, so we can go back to the way it was before?”
Here are a few of Rebekah Weatherspoon's comments in a similar vein:

A collection of tweets from the RWA panel on "Diversity in Romance: Why it Matters", at which Weatherspoon was one of the panellists, has been compiled by Alisha Rai and the handout from Alyssa Cole, Lena Hart, K. M. Jackson and Falguni Kothari's workshop on "Multicultural Romance: When Keeping it Real Goes Wrong - and How to Make it Right" is now online too.

From an academic point of view, all of this reinforced for me a number of points most/all romance scholars are aware of:

* Romance, like all popular culture, reflects (and sometimes explicitly reflects on) the social/cultural/economic context from which it emerges and that context is not solely the context of white, middle-aged, cis-sexual, heterosexual women of the kind studied by Janice Radway. It never was, of course, and it certainly isn't now.

* This means that while it may be tempting to claim romance as a bastion of one particular point of view and/or make generalisations about romance (e.g. "romance is feminist!", "romance authors are supportive of one another!") such claims need to be qualified.

* If our collective body of work (both written and pedagogical) is not to present a misleading and/or incomplete picture of popular romance fiction we must make romance fiction's diversity apparent to our readers/students.

Any other conclusions romance scholars could benefit from bearing in mind?

[Edited to add: Jessica Miller's reflections on the conference focus on
socioeconomic class issues. Here are a few random examples:

1. Meetings at the Broadway Lounge in the conference hotel. So many meetings happened there, both scheduled and informal. A drink at the lounge will set you back $10-15 plus tip.

2. Dressing for the conference and the RITAs. There’s a lot we can say about the gendered nature of the term “business casual”, (does it ever apply to men?), the beauty norms, etc. But I’m thinking about the cost of showing up for the meetings, the cocktail parties, and the RITAs. And the issue isn’t even just having to dress up. I think a middle class woman can show up in casual clothes and not feel bad about it. Someone in a different situation might find it important to dress to hide her economic status (“Dress for success!” “Dress for the position you want, not the one you have!” etc.).
It barely needs saying given the number of romance protagonists who are billionaires/tycoons/rich aristocrats, but issues of socioeconomic class are also present in romance fiction itself.]

McCracken, Scott. Pulp: Reading Popular Fiction. Manchester: Manchester UP, 1998.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Romance Academics at the RWA

As usual, I wasn't at the conference but I read quite a lot of tweets and blog posts about it. One exchange of tweets related to the panel on:
Why Professors Love to Study Romance: The 10 Year Anniversary of RWA’s Academic Grant (SPECIAL)

Speakers: Conseula Francis, Joanna Gregson, Stacy Holden, Madeline Hunter, Jayashree Kamble, Jen Lois, Sarah Frantz Lyons, and Catherine Roach

At the ten-year anniversary of RWA’s Academic Research Grant program, a select panel of award winners will discuss how the grants have supported a wide range of projects that raise the profile of the genre and bring attention to the craft, values, and unique voices of romance writers. Attendees will learn what this particular group of scholar-readers finds interesting, challenging, and compelling about romance fiction.
Here's the exchange:

If an author asked me what they could do to support my research, I'd be very tempted to suggest that they go and read Jennifer Crusie's handout (also from the conference) on motif and metaphor, with the caveats that, obviously, the author doesn't have to act on my or Crusie's suggestion and also that this may not necessarily help other researchers. I do like a juicy motif/metaphor, though and what Crusie says makes it clear that what she's arguing for is not the imposition of extraneous metaphors just for their own sake, but the discovery of motifs and metaphors which are already
personal to your story. The metaphors that you choose, consciously or subconsciously, are part of its deeper meaning; they grow organically from the story you're telling. That's why it's best to find the metaphors already present in your text after your first draft, rather than superimposing a literary idea on it.
Since they're already in the text, romance scholars may find them anyway, without additional help from the author. But if working on them a little in the way Crusie suggests can make them clearer to us and enhance other readers' experience of a text (which is what Crusie suggests they'll do), then it seems like a not too onerous suggestion to make to authors.

If anyone can point me in the direction of more tweets or blog posts related to that panel, please let me know and I'll try to add links here.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Theory in Love: International Comparative Literature Association, 2016

Organisers: Brendon Wocke (Université de Perpignan), Francesca Manzari (Université d’Aix-Marseille), Apostolos Lampropoulos (Université de Bordeaux III)
International Comparative Literature Association
XXIst Congress: “The Many Languages of Comparative Literature” July 21 – July 27, 2016,
University of Vienna, Austria

This panel concerns theory speaking in terms of love, seeking to establish the relationship between “l’amour” and theory.
In The Politics of Friendship Derrida reflects on the question of the indecidable possibility, the “peut-être,” of love, of friendship, and of desire: “‘Je t'aime entends- tu?’; cette déclaration d'aimance hyperbolique ne pourrait donner sa chance à une politique de l'amitié que soumise à l'épreuve du peut-être, de l'indécidable” How then can we express a refusal, a no, without listening, without hearing? How can one express the divergent and differential possibilities opened by this phrase? And yet Derrida already has, in Envois, where he explores, theorizes and dramatizes a love affair, tracing the course of its refusal in the various postcards and letters which remain unsent, forever awaiting their destination.
What Derrida performs in Envois is effectively echoed by Lacan who, in Seminar XX, says: “people have done nothing but speak of love in analytic discourse. [...] What analytic discourse contributes - and perhaps that is, after all, the reason for its emergence at a certain point in scientific discourse - is that to speak of love is in itself a jouissance.”
If, as Lacan says, the troubadours understood that love is nothing other than form, we could perhaps establish a relationship between love’s discourse and theoretical discourse as bridging the gap between philosophy and literature.
Does love function as a theoretical paradigm? Or should we think of theory as an act of love? Or even as born out of love? Can one think of a polyamorous theory? And what would such a theory consist of, in the writhing phrases which intertwine like the honeysuckle of Tristan and Iseult.
We welcome contributions on the subject of love and its relation to theoretical writing.
Please submit your abstract online by August 31, 2015 via the conference website
You will need to create an account with the website and enter the seminar number 17327 into the “topic” field on the “add abstract” screen. The participants will be informed of their inclusion no later than December 31, 2015.
For further information contact 
Papers in either English or French will be accepted. 

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

StoryTelling: A Critical Journal of Popular Narrative

I recently spotted a call for papers from:

StoryTelling: A Critical Journal of Popular Narrative

StoryTelling is dedicated to analyses of popular narrative in the widest sense of the phrase and as evidenced in the media and all aspects of culture.  Manuscripts should: see the narrative as a reflection of culture; use theory to analyze the work, not work to illustrate theory; employ scholarship; and be written for the general audience.  The editors are especially interested in visual accompaniments, bibliographies, and interviews with creators of popular narratives.  No limits on period or country covered.  No creative writing.
More details here.