The day after arriving back in Brisbane from MIT5 I hopped a plane to Adelaide for the CRN masterclass with John Urry on complexity theory and mobilities. As an ‘event’ it wasn’t exactly buzzing with dynamic engagement, but of course it improved once we got to dinner, and it was great to meet John in persona and discuss some of my ideas about complexity and cultural studies. If nothing else it forced me to dive into some of the theory I’m trying to get across for my postdoctoral research on YouTube and media change. Anyway, there was a significant pile of Urry readings we had to do in preparation – Glen has already blogged notes on them here and here while he was preparing for the Sydney masterclass, if anyone’s interested. I just wanted to share a little moment I had while doing these readings on the plane to Adelaide, feeling very much in between places and states of mind.
In Social Networks, Travel and Talk, Urry discusses the way that David Lodge’s novel Small World ‘reveals the complex, multi-layered and richly gossipy nature of conferences’ and especially the special qualities of what Urry calls ‘meetingness’ – where ‘meetingness’ is constituted by virtue of the need to travel to the conference, making it a somewhat extraordinary ‘occasion’.
Lodge describes the conference experience like this:
You journey to new and interesting places, meet new and interesting people, and form new and interesting relationships with them; exchange gossip and confidences…, eat, drink and make merry in their company every evening; and yet…return home with an enhanced seriousness of mind.
That’s always exactly how I feel, unless the conference was crap, but I’d never heard it put quite that well before. Of course, the irony of having this epiphany while being stuck in my seat on the plane with a sore back and a developing cold, burning human and mineral energy (not to mention cash) to engage in co-present talk on the topic of mobilities, co-presence, travel and talk didn’t escape me.