‘Buzz, buzz’ goes Hamlet in Act 2, and ‘buzz, buzz’ went the corridors of the Cambridge Faculty of English for two days this weekend whilst it became a hive of scholarly activity and exchange. Candidates from five different MPhil strands had collaborated for over six months to prepare and launch two distinct day-long conferences on literature ranging from the twelfth-century Orrmulum to Nabokov’s Pale Fire.
On Friday, ‘Attention & Distraction’ honed in on the virtues and vicissitudes of attentiveness before 1750. With three panels (with Cambridge faculty chairs) and a final plenary address about flow in the writing process given by Professor Diane Purkiss, the conference moved gracefully through time and space, covering everything from Elephant Hawk moths that function as symbols for ammonium salts to the material conditions and cultural meanings of blankness in early modern notebooks. For all the members of the graduate student committee which organized the conference (organizing finance, publicity, logistics and schedules), it was a satisfying afternoon.
On Saturday, ‘Discourses and Dialogues’ investigated diverse interdisciplinary topics that inform literary criticism with three panels (with student chairs) and a final poetry reading. The conference took a more expansive, informal shape as the conveners wished to prioritize opportunity for conversations between speakers and delegates. Questions generated and germinated were wide-ranging, touching upon the anthropological in the writings of Virginia Woolf, the humble and humorous in the writings of T. S. Eliot, and the altogether silent in the writings of Margaret Atwood. All the speakers, myself included, had the opportunity to share current research in a formal setting, and connect dots between our current research and larger debates in science, art, and history.
On Thursday, May 10, the Faculty of English will play host to a Graduate Symposium in American Literature, with papers from Cambridge MPhil and PhD students studying American Literature, so the ‘buzz, buzz’ continues, ever and anon.
Clare Jones, Eighteenth-Century and Romantic Studies M.Phil.