Friday, June 13, 2008

Slayage Conference: Day Three

Mmm... Wesley.

Sorry, where was I?

Day Three. I've already given you the opening of it, with Jeanine Basinger's fantastic talk. From her keynote we went to see Stacey Abbott, who was a featured speaker and author of several Buffy-related tomes, including Reading Angel (long discussion on how it was supposed to be Investigating Angel, but her publishers wanted to attach it to their "Reading..." series). Her paper:

"'I don't know what kind of man I am anymore': The Damaged Man in Angel and post-Angel Cult Television"

Her talk was about an hour long (and she was the master of power-point and audio-visual clips) and she focused on Wesley and Gunn as examples of damaged men in Angel. She had the honour of having Jeanine Basinger in her audience, which was the only session where I saw her (which must have been daunting, but Stacey certainly didn't act like it was), and it was a fantastic paper. And, for me, depressing. Matthew Pateman, in his keynote, mentioned that Wesley is his favourite character of either show, and he got a smattering of applause and cheers for saying that. One of the applauders was me. I heart Willow more than words could say, but Wesley was the richest character, and one of the most remarkable examples of character development I've ever encountered (and I'm counting books, TV, and movies in there). He begins as a sputtering Hugh Grant-type with the hots for Cordelia, and you roll your eyes and hope he lasts a couple of episodes before being eviscerated. I'll admit when he showed up in episode 10 of Angel after Doyle had died, I just stared at my television in horror thinking, "You're going to replace Doyle with HIM?!" Yet by the end of season 1, he was already intriguing. By the end of season 2, I loved him. And by season 3, he was the main reason I was glued to my set week after week. Never has a character been more put upon (Erica Kane? Puh-leeze... Wesley WISHES her life were as easy as hers!) and as such, become dark. Wesley changed SO much throughout the development of his character, and just when you thought maybe, just maybe, he might be happy, something else happened. (SPOILER ALERT for season 5): When he dies in the final episode, I was bawling my head off, and it took days for me to recover my senses, and yet, at the same time, his death was a welcome one, as if only in death might Wesley find just a small bit of peace.

So when Stacey began talking about Wesley as a damaged man, showing clips of some of his darker moments, I felt a lump rising in my throat. The clips were painful to watch (and I mean that as a compliment), and while other papers made me want to explore a few episodes, Stacey's made me want to watch the series in its entirety once again... or maybe just seasons 2-5 (skipping part of 4) and focusing on Wesley. She showed that incredible scene (filmed by Whedon, of course) of Gunn and Wesley squaring off in "Spin the Bottle," where Gunn looks at him squarely after Wesley shows very little emotion or remorse for anything, and says, "What happened to you, man?" And Wesley, in a moment so perfectly delivered by Alexis Denisof, says, emotionless, "I had my throat cut and all my friends abandoned me."

Talk about the line that can stop a conversation.

It's one of my favourite moments in the series, and I was thrilled she showed it. Even if it made me want to crawl into a fetal position and not move for a couple of days.

She also talked about Gunn, but even his damaged self usually feeds back to Wesley. When Gunn makes the pact that eventually kills Fred, it's Wesley who must face Illyria and force himself to become her Watcher, so to speak. When I was working on my Once Bitten book and interviewed Alexis Denisof, I was very lucky in that he was gracious enough -- and eloquent enough -- to give me as long as I wanted, and he eagerly went through Wesley's entire character development with me, helping me map it out and giving me his thoughts along the way. It's the reason why, out of all the actor interviews I did for the book, his is the only one that I just ran verbatim as its own chapter. I hope at the next Slayage conference there's a panel devoted to Wesley. Or how about a day? A weekend? I'll be there. :)

Just as a side note, Stacey also mentioned other damaged men in genre television, and noticed the prevalence of damaged men named Jack: Jack Bristow (Alias), Jack Shephard (Lost), Jack Bauer (24), Captain Jack Harkness (Torchwood)... as well as the Pie Maker (Pushing Daisies) and Logan Echols (Veronica Mars).

After Stacey it was lunch time. Sue and I wanted to take pics with Ian and Ryan, our two lovely friends, and we pulled someone out of the lineup for shuttles so she could take our pictures (staking each other with the Slayage Registration sign) and then when we turned, the shuttles were gone. D'oh. Luckily we found one more and we all went to Subway. After that we headed over to the B&B to sit on the veranda (during the day = less bugness) and chat about what we'd seen so far and what we'd missed. One of the scholars, David Kociemba, had been in a few sessions and he always had some of the most insightful comments (he was the one who suggested Willow's addiction is more like Overeaters Anonymous and not Narcotics -- at that same panel, when someone commented that Nikki Wood was a bad mother because she took her son Robin slaying with her at night, David retorted, "Hey, good daycare is hard to find!" hahahahahahaha!!). I'd missed his paper on "The Spoiler Virgin Project," but it sounds fascinating. I've asked him to email it to me and I can't wait to read it! Basically, he teaches an entire course on Buffy (how much do I wish I was in his class?!) and he said he's got three different kinds of students: those who haven't seen Buffy and think it's an easy course, those who have seen it all and are well-versed in it, and those who say they haven't watched it, but it turns out they have. So his big conundrum has been spoilers: How do you teach a class on seasons one and two without giving anything away, especially if you assign reading and the paper you assign them to read refers to events a few seasons away? So he started the spoiler virgin project, where he has gone through all the academic papers and worked out which ones are safe for what episode. As someone who DESPISES spoilers, I loved it. This is a man after my own spoiler-free heart. So that began a long discussion on spoilers and non-spoilers and why people want them, etc.

The next panel was a "Dynamic Duo" session, where two key speakers who have made names for themselves in the academic Buffyverse give papers. The first was Janet Halfyard, whose paper, "Hero's Journey, Heroine's Return: Buffy, Eurydice, and the Orpheus Myth" was another one of my favourites. In fact, when I had to vote for my fave paper for the Mr. Pointy Award (more on that later), I was torn between this one and Rhonda's. The genesis of Halfyard's paper was an intereseting one: at a 400th anniversary session of Monteverdi's Orfeo, she was called up and asked if the Orpheus myth plays any role in Buffy, and if so, could she talk about it. She thought about it, and decided yes, she could. So she used clips from Prophecy Girl, for example, to show how Buffy plays the role of Orpheus, descending into the underworld of the Master's domain with her black leather jacket over her prom dress, holding her crossbow like the lute that Orpheus is usually depicted holding, and as such she becomes the hero. But when she is overcome by the Master, he removes the black jacket, and she is now the damsel, or heroine, as Halfyard contended, and she becomes Eurydice, held forever in the underworld. As such, she becomes both the hero, and the girl the hero is trying to save.

She next talked about Angel's return, and that Buffy is able to bring him back from the underworld by doing the very thing Orpheus couldn't do -- she lays the ring on the ground, and walks away, and does NOT look back. And that's how Angel returns. Brilliant!! She pulled up a clip from Once More With Feeling where Buffy casts herself as Orpheus, descending into Sweet's underworld to save Eurydice (Dawn). The scenery is very much like the original production of Monteverdi's Orfeo (Halfyard pronounced this with absolute delight, which I loved), and when she begins to dance herself to death, Spike becomes her anti-Orpheus, saving her (she played the clip up to the point where Spike sings, "So one of us is living" and then stopped it, saying, "I can't bear to listen to Dawn's terrible line there" Hahahahahahaha!) And she said ultimately, Spike, the anti-Orpheus is the one left behind in hell in Chosen.

What a paper!

Next up was Dale Koontz, whose paper was entitled, "The One That Almost Got Away: Doyle and the Fish Story." Koontz's book is about issues of faith in the Whedonverse, and in her terrific paper, delivered in her exquisite southern accent (I could have listened to her talk all day), she talked about Doyle's short journey, and compared it to various biblical stories, particularly the story of Jonah. She said the name Doyle translates to "Dark foreigner" and that his visions, where he says he feels like his skull is on fire, are like Moses talking to God in the form of a burning bush. In "Hero," where Doyle sacrifices himself to save the group, it's like Jonah jumping off the side of the boat and being swallowed by a giant fish. It was nice to see someone bringing in faith issues in an academic paper, which is usually more of a secular realm, and I loved her analogies. (And the fact it was another paper on Angel!)

And now we were down to the penultimate session... over so soon? I wish this conference had gone on for weeks. Well, okay, I was missing my children terribly, and the few conversations I'd had with my 3-year-old on the phone, where she began crying in one and begging me to either come home or let her come and be with me where I was, were heartbreaking... but if this conference could just come my way at some point so I can see the kids every day, I'd be in heaven.

The final paper of the day for me was "Myth, Metaphor, Morality and Monsters: How BtVS and Other Works by Joss Whedon Changed Ethical Thought Forever." It was written by J. Michael Richardson and J. Douglas Rabb. Rabb couldn't be there, so another person helped deliver the paper with Richardson. The profs were from Lakehead University in Thunder Bay (more Canucks!) I was very intrigued by the title, and unfortunately I arrived a few moments into the paper (it was the only one I was late to) so I missed the opening. I'm thinking that's what went wrong for me -- I didn't hear the thesis, so when the paper moved into a hour-long discussion on biomedical ethics, I was lost. And not in a good way, on a desert island with Sawyer and Desmond and..... okay, I'm back. There were very few moments where it was brought back to Whedon's work, so it was difficult for me to ground it in something tangible for my mind. I'm sure the paper was absolutely brilliant, but biomedical ethics are way beyond my realm of understanding, so it was tough for me. He was speaking English, but no matter how many times I tried my hardest to focus, I just couldn't. I really wanted to be able to report back to y'all on this one, but I can't. There was one point they made that I grasped onto and it made sense (because it was brought back to Whedon) where they talked about Sartres' Jean Genet, and the idea of Bad Faith: Like Jean Genet, Faith becomes bad because that's the label that's been put on her. She became the object of another person's narrative, and lost her own. What that had to do with the rest of the paper, I couldn't tell ya, but it was a wonderful concept.

If someone else reading this right now was at that paper and made sense of it, please post and let me (and my readers) know what it was about, so I can do some justice to the paper. I can say it was presented with enthusiasm and charisma, and the presenters really enjoyed their topic.

The final final session of the day was called "Buffy Bookers" and it was a collection of everyone who's written a book on Buffy. I saw my name on the list and worried momentarily... like I had just run a marathon and was suddenly told, "You do remember the swimming leg of the race, right?" Uh... I'm sorry, what? But David quickly reassured me that it's really not much more than sitting there and talking about how we got published and what our books are about and sharing experiences -- good and bad -- about the publishing experience. Because I work on both sides -- I'm a writer, but also an editor and I acquire books -- I could provide some extra insight for the listeners, but I also was fascinated by some of the stories on the panel. Not being paid anything for the books? Having to pay your publisher to publish the book?! Not being edited at all when you hand it in?? The wrong version of the book going to press? Wow. I was stunned by some of the stories. As I told the people in the room, I'm interested in publishing academic pop culture volumes along the lines of what people in the room have done, but what I failed to mention was that in trade publishing, the bottom line is the sales. So if they can show me how there might be a chance for sales -- and I could convince the publisher to expect lower sales on these ones -- we might have a chance to start such a thing!

I got two pitches right after the panel. :)

At the panel, by the way, they presented the Mr. Pointy Award for best paper to Cynthea Masson, who'd delivered a paper I sadly missed on the Angel episode "The Girl in Question." Here's a photo of Mary Alice Money and Rhonda Wilcox holding a previous incarnation of the handmade award. We all joked about how much fun she'd have bringing that one onto the plane.

It was now off to dinner, and about 25 of us piled into several shuttles to head off to the Hamburger Barn (we were raving about its poshness) but when we got there? Closed. Apparently some things actually close on Sundays in Arkadelphia. Luckily, in that same parking lot was a pizza restaurant. So we piled in there instead (you should have seen the looks of horror on the faces of the one waitress and couple of guys making pizzas who had assumed it would be a slow night... Joss could have filmed it for a reaction shot) and had to wait for the buffet to be replenished a bit. Sue and I sat with Ian and Ryan and they regaled us with stories and we were in stitches for most of the dinner. I love those guys. I miss them already.

And then it was a sad goodbye, and back to the B&B where Matthew drove us (after I reminded him to stay on the right side of the road... and then admitted to taking a roundabout THE WRONG WAY AROUND once when I was in England. Gulp). Sue and I turned on our television (I mean, come on, we have our priorities) and it was a heavily censored version of Pulp Fiction, which I posted about because I was so shocked to see it. We watched as Marcellus Wallace called Butch a "cod jam mother-father" when there was a knock on the door and it was Rhonda inviting us out onto the veranda for round two of our discussions, and it was just as much fun as the first night.

I loved the Slayage Conference (can't you tell??) and I'm in full-on withdrawal now. I know I've missed a bunch of stuff (how is that possible?! you may be asking yourself, considering the length of these posts...) so I'll write up a separate post tomorrow morning on the last little bits I might have forgotten about.

Mainly I just wanted to say that this is an amazing group of people, and with about 150 people in attendance, give or take, I know I was meeting only a small number of Buffy academics. I've never felt so at home with a group of Buffy fans, and while I was worried I would be seen as an interloper who doesn't write about Buffy academically, no one ever made me feel that way while I was there. It was brilliant.

Jeanine Basinger said she was going to get Joss to come to the next Slayage conference (big cheer from the crowd, and she stepped out from behind her podium to do a little curtsey, which was hilarious). And while I'd be lying if I didn't say that was exciting, I'm looking forward to it more just to see all these people again.

If this is what academia could be, I'm starting to wish I'd taken my PhD after all.


matthew pateman said...

Hey - the conference loved you too! While many papers did many good things, yours was the one that galvanised and unified the party on the Friday night, and it remains the best single banquet speech (or equivalent) I have ever had the pleasure to witness. Its comments on the first three seasons are also among the most pithily described, thematically coherent and intellectually focussed I have come across too. You'd have breezed the PhD - but then we'd all have missed the wonderful work you've done at ECW... Look forward to seeing you in two years, if not before!

Nikki Stafford said...

Aw, you are too kind. Seriously, the kindness of everyone there made the entire weekend so fantastic for me, and I feel like I've made some great new friends. Including you, of course! :)

Haunt said...

Stacey Abbott has always been something of a hero of mine at these conferences because she (along with Lorna and Bronwen) so passionately espouses the virtues of Angel as a series and Wesley as a character. I've been somewhat frustrated in the past that these things are always referred to as "Buffy" studies, which seems to me sort of dismissive of Joss' other works. Even this time around I heard FAR more reference to Buffy and Firefly than I did to Angel. So Stacey earns a very special place in my heart for waving the Angel/Wesley flag so proudly.

Her "damaged man" paper was probably my favorite presentation this year. I apologize for not even realizing you were in the audience. Had I known you were such a big Wesley fan I absolutely would have overcome my shy and somewhat antisocial nature to come introduce myself.

Cedar said...

Is it my imagination or has Mr. Pointy become bigger over the years? In that picture you've posted with Rhonda and Mary Alice, Mr. P. seems, well, not fully developed. Perhaps Matthew could shed some light on this subject.

I'm truly enjoying reading these posts and the comments! As to Haunt's comment on Buffy Studies--I think Whedon Studies is gradually becoming the accepted name for the field. It's just that Buffy started it all. I agree with Haunt's comments on Stacey's passion for Angel--she has blazed the trail in Angel scholarship. My paper was on Angel this time (mainly because Stacey asked for more Angel papers last time!); however, when I entered the field (back in 2005), I would never have imagined writing on Angel! Let's see where Dollhouse takes us all.

Haunt said...

Cedar, what was your paper? Mrs. Haunt and I made an effort to see every Angel presentation.

Cedar said...

Haunt, what the hell? How am I to remain anonymous? LOL. I think you came up to talk to me afterward and said that I'd convinced you to rewatch the episode.

Haunt said...

Ah yes. Great paper indeed.

(And your secret is safe with me.)

Cedar said...

Haunt, You seem like yet another amazing person of the Slayage community. See you next time. And I look forward to reading your posts on this blog and others in the meantime.

Ronald Helfrich Jnr. said... has just put season one of Angel up...

Ronald Helfrich Jnr. said...
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Ronald Helfrich Jnr. said...
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Ronald Helfrich Jnr. said...

My problem with Stacey Abbott's paper on the damaged man motif in Angel had to do with the papers limited exploration of the historical background of this theme.

The damaged man motif in literature certainly can be taken back to the work of the Bronte's and Austen. Perhaps we can take it back even further: is Homer a damaged man? Jacob? Lancelot?

In film you can find damaged men in some of the UFA films of the 1920s (M) and in Carne and Prevert's "poetic realist" "Quai des brumes". Damaged men, of course, continue to show up in the work of Clouzot in the forties and fifties and in Godard later in the sixties

These noir themes made their way to the US thanks in part to the Nazis. Think of all those immigrants from Wilder to Siodmak to Lang who came to Hollywood to escape Hitler. UFA style and themes would also, of course, impact Alfred Hitchcock's work.

As for direct influences on Whedon's damaged men I suspect that Anthony Mann's films with their intense and vengeful damaged men (Jimmy Stewart in Winchester 73, Bend of the River, The Far Country,The Man from Laramie--my favourite--and Gary Cooper in Man of the West) were a major influence on Whedon's work.

By the way, the other director who would well utilise Stewart's intense and manic acting side was Hitchcock (Vertigo, Rope).

Cedar said...
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Cedar said...


I think you make good points regarding the history of the damaged man. The problem with conference papers, of course, is the limited timeframe (despite the featured speaker length). This, too, can be a problem even with published articles. I recently had an article published that had to be reduced from its original 6500 words to 5000 words--as did all the articles in the book because of demands from the publisher. So, inevitably, there's always something else that could have been said if length restrictions were not an issue. I thought that Abbott adequately contextualized the concept of damaged man in the introductory segment of her paper. A longer segment on the history of the concept as represented in other works would not have been practical in the context of a Slayage conference paper. Therefore, I agree that the history of the damaged man would make an interesting topic and context for Abbott's argument; however, I do not agree that the absence of detailed examples outside Angel is problematic in Abbott's paper. Maybe she'll write a book on the subject!

Ronald Helfrich Jnr. said...

Do you think there is a kind of historical amnesia gripping many current film and TV analysts? If so do you think it is related to the fact that so many critics (particularly in English, Film, and Cultural Studies) focus almost exclusively on the text.

wow it is fun to write posts when you are listening to the B-52s 6060-842...

Cedar said...

Interesting observation, Helfron. I, myself, focus primarily on text (or comparison of Whedonverse texts with other texts)--indeed, this is one way in which I am able to defend my publications as appropriate to my general discipline (i.e. English). I think the benefit of interdisciplinary conferences such as Slayage is the variety of approaches used. I might focus on a rhetorical issue, while someone else focuses on historical context (for example). The other aspect to consider is the relative youth of Whedon Studies. Perhaps an area for further exploration as the field develops is historical context. In that case, I would not blame the current scholars for neglecting historical context, but instead recognize that a door is open for historians to explore the field. Indeed, I just read an article by a historian that explored the representation of menopause throughout decades of television ("'Gladys, Take Your Medicine!' Medicine in North American Popular Culture since 1800," by Cheryl Warsh). Though not on Whedon, the article illustrates a historical approach to television studies. I am, however, not a television analyst beyond the Whedonverses, and it was the language of the Whedonverses that made me want to write on the shows. So, historical context is not as important to me personally as it might be to other scholars.

Ronald Helfrich Jnr. said...

I would argue for a model of criticism that starts with exegesis (the production contexts) and then moves on to hermeneutics, homiletics (or polemics), and audience analysis (not academic presumptions about how audiences read text but actual audience analysis based on questionnaires and ethnographic research on "real" readers"). I would suggest that a "crystal ball" criticism, a criticism grounded in nothing but the text and only the text is fatally flawed.

As fatally flawed as religious fundamentalist criticism which asserts that the only thing one needs to grasp is the meaning (god's meaning) of the text or a scientific biblical criticism which finds documents (J, E, P, D, Q) in the biblical text but nowhere else.

I would argue that academic criticism because it is so textual and acontextual (ignoring primary source material for the most part) is nothing more than a form of reader response(it arises in specific institutional and ideological contexts that have developed over time).

By the way, if you have not read Bordwell's analysis of film criticism check it out. I really enjoyed it.

Cedar said...

Can you give me an example of a paper from the Slayage conference (or in Whedon scholarship in general) that accomplishes the model of criticism of which you speak? Reading an example of such a paper would help me to understand your points. Or, if you feel comfortable doing so, perhaps you could direct me to one of your own papers in the field. Thanks.

Nikki Stafford said...

Cedar and helfron: Great conversation you two are having! I'm wondering if the model of criticism you are proposing, helfron, is simply one way of dealing with it. I believe you can evaluate the text for its own merit, and it doesn't necessarily have to be grounded in history. To do so is simply one way of handling the subject matter (i.e. today I will talk about the development of new language on television from Monty Python to Buffy) but it's not necessary. I don't see the problem with talking about Buffy as its own text, either within the Whedonverse or simply episodes within the series itself.

Ronald Helfrich Jnr. said...
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Ronald Helfrich Jnr. said...

Nikki and Cedar,

I am enjoying our discussion...

I don't have a problem with text only analysis particularly when you are doing comparisons like you want to do. I think, for exmaple, that it is useful to compare the damaged man motif across textual time and space.

In fact, I am a a big fan of the Movie style of textual analysis (Bordwell calls it textual explication as opposed to symptomatic textualism). I appreciate the work of Robin Wood, Ian Cameron, V.F. Perkins, Andrew Britton and such neo-Movieites like Deborah Thomas (whose "Reading Buffy" I regard as one of the best textual analyses of BtVS), John Gibbs, and Andrew Kleven.

What I would caution on is drawing historical conclusions exclusively from the text without any exploration of how that text is actually produced. An example: The notion, solely derived from textual inferences, that the Torah/Five Books of Moses is made up of a number of "documents" (J,E,P,D) is interesting and does make some textual "sense". The problem with this hypothesis is that there is no extra-textual empirical evidence to back up the assertion. One could argue equally well that the Torah is made up of a variety of oral traditions drawn from sacred hero sites (we could use what we have surmise about the composition of the Iliad and the Odyssey to back up this assertion). Again, however, we have limited extra-textual evidence for this assertion. These claims thus remain to me at best interesting unproved and unfalsified hypothesis and at worst the ideologically driven readings of academics.

With the work of Joss Whedon there is a treasure trove of extra-textual materials that can be drawn on to prove or falsify hypothesis. I find it sad that more scholars don't make use of this material.

This is not to say that there aren't the beginnings of a historically sensitive critisism out there. The introduction to the French Cinema Book lays out some of the theoretical issues (Michael Temple and Michael Witt (eds.: The French Cinema Book, London: BFI, 2004). There is some decent stuff on the economic and political contexts of Hollywood (Douglas Gomery). Michelle Hilmes's work on the history of broadcasting and NBC is helpful though again it doesn't do much in the way of historically sensitive textual analysis. In Whedon Studies think of how powerful Pateman's analysis of Jane Espenson's scripts and Lavery's exploration of Whedon is because of the extra-textual materials) they utilise along with textual analysis.

An example of my problem with crystal ball textualism: In her book Sex and the Slayer: A Gender Studies Primer for the Buffy Fan (Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2005) Lorna Jewett writes on page 37 that Anya’s death is due to the fact that she is a “minor” (disposable) female character” and hence "powerless". In his commentary on Chosen, however, Joss Whedon (Commentary: “Chosen” (722), Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Complete Seventh Season on DVD) claims that he killed Anya for narrative reasons (someone had to die) and that he chose Anya because Emma Caulfield had decided that five years of playing Anya was enough. It seems to me that anyone analysing the Buffy text should pay attention to this exra-textual information.

Granted, as cultural anthropologists doing ethnography and historians working with sometimes contradictory primary source material have learned we must be cautious and sometimes skeptical when doing production research. Still, or so I would argue, it is important to explore this material, deal with it, and confront it. In my mind, "crystal ball" textual criticism doesn't generally take this material seriously because of the ideology that you can find it all in the text (hence the crystal ball metaphor I am using and which I stole from Jonathan Nash). I don't find this approach a particularly compelling one.

Ronald Helfrich Jnr. said...

I am perhaps being too coy here. When I was a student the whole panoply of theoretical approaches that would transform film studies from a textual explication industry to a symptomatic textual industry was underway. I was caught up in many of these. I liked and still like early semiological approaches. I like and still like aspects of the early postmodernist critques (particularly those of the early Baudrillard). I can't say that I find psychoanalytic approaches in all their variations that compelling, however.

It is this symptomatic textual criticism that I have problems with. And though symptomatic textualists accused explicatory textualists (who were often, particularly in the early and mid-sixties auteurists) of being romantic ahistoricists, I don't think that symptomatic critics are any less romantic or ahistorical in their own way.

I like textual explication but I think it to needs to be more historical as well. The first two editions of Toronto's own Robin Wood's Hitchcock's Films is brilliant and incisive textual analysis. It was Wood, in fact, who made me realise just what a brilliant film Marnie is (shouldn't all good explicatory textualism be polemical on some level?). I think Wood's work would be even more powerful if he did some archival research. We, of course, have some great Hitchcock interviews, the one between Truffaut and Hitch probably the best known.

What I mean by historically sensitive film and TV studies is a criticism that is sensitive to historical context, to production, to institutional structures, to social, economic, and political contexts. I don't mean a criticism that is text centred and grounded in a psychoanalytic approach that is about as far removed from empirical evidence as all types of literal fundamentalism.

Ah, the polemics. Sorry for the jargon (anytime you have a division of labour, anytime you have specialisation in any institution or cultural formation, you are going to get specialist discourses...)

Cedar said...

Though I certainly agree that Pateman's lecture was brilliant, I have to return again to my points on practicality and diversity. Pateman had access to personal e-mail correspondence with Espenson herself; she provided him with scripts that are not publicly available. So while I applaud Pateman's work and ability to attain this material (indeed, the audience audibly gasped when he explained his approach), I also acknowledge that gaining access to such rare extra-textual material is not practical for the average Whedon scholar. I would also point out that Pateman used close readings of the texts themselves to illustrate a progression of ideas. Equally impressive to me was Rhonda Wilcox's close reading / textual analysis of the lyrics of "Blue" in relation to "Conversations With Dead People." This paper contained little extra-textual material, yet provided me (and, presumably others) with a new and interesting understanding of the episode. For me, academia can remain relevant only when a plurality of approaches is available and valued. Valuing a plurality and respecting diversity within scholarship allows for healthy academic disagreement and counter arguments. As to Jowett's book, I think Jowett provides, through her detailed discussion of gender and culture, powerful and relevant extra-textual material. After all, authorial intention does not exist in a genderless cultural vacuum. And neither does the image of crystal ball gazing.

On your recommendation, Helfron, I've ordered two of David Bordwell's books and also the Close-Up text containing Deborah Thomas's "Reading Buffy." I look forward to expanding my knowledge of the field, and I thank you for leading me in new directions.

Ronald Helfrich Jnr. said...

1."gaining access to such rare extra-textual material is not practical for the average Whedon scholar". True but that doesn't excuse the lack of primary source research in English, Film, and Cultural Studies faculties and department. It is always, as historians know, a hard slog finding relevant documentary material. Granted, given the paranoia and secrecy of the film and TV industries it is very difficult in this case. This is likely to change in the future, however. Film sources became available in the sixties and seventies, for instance, and there is some great stuff housed at UCLA, UW--Madison, Indiana--Bloomington (the Welles and Ford papers), BYU.

2. "authorial intention does not exist in a genderless cultural vacuum." Precisely my point. that is why one has to go beyond the text to explore this issue. To explore gender in Buffy requires an engagement with institutional documents (Mutant Enemy, WB, Fox). Textual criticism should not take place in an ideologically driven vacuum either.

3. My problem with Jowett is that she spends a significant part of the book pooh pahing manichean dualisms and then she brings them back in in order to analyse a show that seems to me to explode gender dualities. I find far too many academics ideologically imprisoned within their own culturally constructed prison houses of ideology.

As to Jowett's "reading" of Anya's death I find it without merit and likely a product of her ideological prison house. A bit of primary source research can and should help bring many of these issues into clear focus.

4. I have no problem with a historically sensitive textual analysis (textual explication sensitive to primary source materials). I have a problem with ideologically driven and academically constructed symptomatic textual criticism.

5.Are academics and intellectuals the only ones obsessed with Freud, Lacan, the male gaze, the mirror stage, oedipal complexes, and all that jazz. Why is it that these cultural constructs have become so important in the life of certain parts of the academy? Prison houses of academic and intellectual ideologies?

6. Actual audience research is also difficult but essential if we are to understand how real people read texts. Such analysis requires the utilisation of interview techniques, ethnographic practises, surveys. Simply staring into the text as if it were a magical crystal ball or some Du Lac Cross of textual analysis and saying that this is how a text should be read doesn't get at the various ways readers read. It simply gives us a glimpse into the processes by which some academics read texts. And I am not sure that such readings are generalisable.


Nikki Stafford said...

Cedar: I agree completely with what you're saying about a plurality of approaches. It was what I was trying to say, only you said it far better and more eloquently. :) I think your approach, helfron, is indeed a good one, but it's just one of many, as I see it.

About Matthew Pateman's way of collecting research, however... I'm not sure how he tracked down Jane Espenson -- you'd have to ask him that -- but when I tracked her down it was easy peasy. I don't have any insider track on Hollywood at all. I'm not in with the studios or the cast and crew or anything like that, yet I interviewed David Fury, Espenson, Alexis Denisof, J. August Richards, Amy Acker, and probably 10 more along the way, and it didn't take much at all to track them down. I simply did some quick searches online and the next thing you know, I'm on the phone to their agents or publicists or managers.

So if you want access to these people to help out with your papers, it's there. You just have to seek it out. Generally, I write my books from the fan perspective, so I'm not actively seeking to talk to anyone from Lost, for example. However, I could probably do so if I pursued it.

Of course, to go back to helfron's discussion about film studies, if you wanted to talk to the source when doing a paper on Hitchcock films, things might get a little more difficult. :)

Ronald Helfrich Jnr. said...

taking to the source...

We do have some wonderful interviews with those who worked with Hitch on the DVD's. Universal and the WB have done a wonderful job filling the discs with extras including things like the storyboards for the original ending of the Birds, letters, etc.

Ronald Helfrich Jnr. said...

Given that the Slayage Conference recently ended and that Jeannine Basinger of Wesleyan gave a speech there I feel rather guilty for not mentioning Wesleyan's fine film archive. Doe anyone else other than me have a sneaking suspicion that Joss Whedon's papers will end up at Wesleyan?