“Upsurges of the Real” for a general audience

watershed porte parole cropped

This month I’ve had two (and a half) opportunities to write and speak about theatres of the real for general audience. In early January, I had a piece published in The Conversation: Canada. The Conversation is an online magazine where academics connect their research to current events and popular topics. The subtitle is: “Academic rigour; journalistic flair.” Writing for them was a fascinating experience, trying to maintain academic rigour while polishing up some journalistic flair. It was a challenge for sure. I was well-supported by their Arts and Culture editor who vigorously sorted out my prose to make the sentences short (very short), free from jargon, and the argument brisk and accessible. I thought that I was already a brisk and accessible writer… well, not brisk and accessible enough, as I learned through multiple drafts and some very sharp editing. I’m ambivalent about the result to be honest. I love the idea of participating in a larger conversation and reaching people beyond my usual scope. But I also feel a bit dishonest putting out these ideas without extensive footnotes and attribution. Also the briskness of the writing makes the argument feel at times superficial. Poststructuralism, Derrida, Butler, next, next, bang, bang. The other new experience for me was with a couple of commenters who were very unhappy to be told that truth isn’t truth. (Well, that’s not quite what I said, but that seems to be the way they took it.) So ouch! That was bruising and I learned that social media writing requires a thick skin.

That public exposure spawned two other presentations of my work in unexpected venues. First, the student newspaper at Queen’s wanted to talk to me and ask some questions. I was flattered. The writer wanted to meet, but her deadline was in a few short hours and my schedule was full. I offered to answer questions by email, but in the end we didn’t connect. The resulting article, which I naively assumed would be a Feature, turned out to be an Opinion. The subtitle of the article is: “Strong arguments aside, we should return to harder truths.” The writer was put out by my depiction of multiple realities and was quite resistant to the suggestion that embracing doubt and insecurity is a viable response to a post-truth world. In the end, she notes that I am “throwing more fuel on the fire.” More ouch! (I am not even going to link to it here, which certainly says something about how I’m feeling about it.)

The other outcome of the article in The Conversation was an invitation from Ben Charland, who hosts a podcast called “What on Earth is Going on?” for campus radio, CFRC, to spend some time and record a chat with him. And so I did. Ben is a wonderful host. I found him well-read and thoughtful. I certainly enjoyed our hour of rambling conversation. The lesson learned here, which must be a perennial lesson for all speakers, is that there is so much more that I want to say. So many thoughts that occurred after the fact. So many threads and avenues of thinking not pursued or not fully fleshed out when talking on the fly. I can’t fault either myself or the medium — it is what it is. Click here to listen. 

From this experience, I can’t say that I am rushing to embrace social media as a vehicle for communicating scholarly ideas. But at the same time, I do believe that as scholars and thinkers we do need to participate in these forums or else that void will be filled by other voices. So I guess we need to get better (I need to get better) at saying what we mean as plainly and directly as possible, and taking our lumps when people don’t agree and/or don’t understand us.

Finally a shout out to my Dan School colleagues—Colleen Renihan, Craig Walker, and Michael Wheeler— who are the panellists for a live recording of a forthcoming episode of the What on Earth is Going On? podcast. Their topic is “Live Performance in the Digital Age.” If you are in Kingston, the event is Tuesday 29 January at 7pm in the Rotunda Theatre. If you are not in Kingston, look for it when Ben posts the podcast to his channel. (www.woegoshow.com)



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