Saturday, April 28, 2012


So why does one take notes on papers at conferences?  I could just sitting there looking rapt and intelligent, and project the illusion that I have a powerful memory.  But then, one would run the risk of appearing to be in a mindless trance.  Those last two sentences, admittedly, give something away from the start - that there's something performative about the activity.  Over and beyond that, though, it's an interesting activity to scrutinize.  Yes, I take notes of books and articles and authors that I have never heard of - but feel that I should have done.  If they are particularly interesting, there'll be a little star by them.  And there may be a star, too, round an especially thought provoking point - one that I think that I might want to go back to, and hi-jack when it comes to thinking about some of my own current research.  Here, though, is the relevance of keeping notes in a notebook (and no, it's not a Moleskine, but a Leuchtturm - more or less the same shape, but slightly smoother paper, and with numbered pages.  The numbers do it for me - one can then index one's entries more easily.  Because if something is especially useful to current research, then it goes on a different page, somewhere out of the chronology of the conference - one that says Flash! or Art and Internationalism, or whatever.  And (one of the whole points of coming to conferences), one can never tell what will, serendipitously, spark off some train of thought.

Over and beyond that - there are the papers one sometimes goes to because one might be teaching a text in the near future, or where a graduate one's supervising is giving a paper and one wants to give feedback.  Or one might just be staying focused - because how often does one, in fact, go back to one's notes?  I think that they would provide a significant intellectual archive, if only I had notebooks going back to my first History Workshop and Literature Teaching Politics conferences in the early 80s - not so much of what was said, as of what I might once have found worth noting down.  But what will I make, in - say - ten years time - of my evident need to record "obligations of an object" or "power of will" or "construction of realism."  They record presence, to be sure - so does my handwriting, so do my arrows and underlining and route maps - but all in all, I find it hard to be completely clear about what drives my decades' worth of this carefully practiced ritual.

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