BILETA2014 reflections

by Paul Maharg on 17/04/2014

Karen McCullagh was this year’s BILETA organiser at UEA — she was great, and this year’s conference was wonderful.  Our Chair, Gavin Sutter, introduced, segued, announced; sessions ran smoothly, accommodation was good, dinner was hosted at Norwich Football Club,  and I didn’t get the connection between  the place & food until I saw the name of the restaurant, Delia’s.  I watched the Norwich-Fulham match on the TV last week (just to get a feel for the local culture, you understand), and really felt for the canaries — looks like they’re going down, alas.  Good conference dinner though, and so reminded me of Delia’s three volume cookery set…  Was it just me, though, or were the numbers down at the conference this year?  At any rate, the quality of the papers was still as high as ever; and the discussions afterwards just as stimulating.  If I didn’t managed to liveblog every session it was because I was so busy talking to publishers, making plans, etc. — which is also what conferences are for.

I’ve just checked on the main BILETA website — my first bileta conference was back in 1993, at Liverpool John Moore’s, bileta’s eighth annual conference.  So this was my twenty first year of attendance.  Not continuous of course.  I gave my first paper in 1995, a total of 15 over the years, I think.  It’s odd, but this time I feel as if it’s a new beginning, I feel like it’s the early days of bileta again.  Not sure why I should feel that — maybe it’s just the northern spring days affecting me.  Maybe also appreciating bileta as a community, too.  It’s one of the privileges of being an academic that you can belong to a scholarly body, and see it and its membership and their work develop slowly over time.  The original model is of course the Royal Society, and just as that association was pioneering in its day, so too, in its own much smaller way, is bileta.  The sense of intellectual closeness and fellowship is so important, for it brings together the disparate communities and is the glue of the association.  And as important is the apprenticeship in scholarship that the association offers to new members, as it did for me back in 1995.  Kenneth Burke expressed it well:

Imagine that you enter a parlour.  You come late.  When you arrive, others have long preceded you, and they are engaged in a heated discussion, a discussion too heated for them to pause and tell you exactly what it is about.  In fact, the discussion has already begun long before any of them got there, so that no one present is qualified to retrace for you all the steps that had gone before.  You listen for a while, until you decide you have caught the tenor of the argument; then you put in your oar.  Someone answers; you answer him; another comes to your defense; another aligns himself against you, to either the embarrassment or gratification of your opponent, depending upon the quality of your ally’s assistance.  However, the discussion is interminable.  The hour grows late.  You must depart.  And you do depart, with the discussion still vigorously in progress.[1]

Next year, Bristol.  I’ll be there, and am looking forward to seeing all us biletians there too.  And if you’ve never been, and you’re at all interested in law, technology and education, get yourselves down there.

  1. [1]Kenneth Burke, ‘The Philosophy of Literary Form’, quoted as epigraph to Graham Allen, Harold Bloom: A Poetics of Conflict (Harvester Wheatsheaf 1994)

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