As a blossoming researcher occupying the void between MA graduation and the beginnings of a PhD, I was particularly grateful to be the recipient of this year’s IAAS Conference Bursary, which allowed me to present my research at the 2017 IAAS Postgraduate Symposium, held in the Trinity Long Room Hub Arts and Humanities Research Institute on 25th November. I would like to extend my thanks to the Prizes Sub-Committee for awarding me this bursary of €50 towards my travel costs.
Bright and early on the cold morning of Saturday 25th November, choice of caffeine in hand, the Early Career Researchers and Postgraduates attending this year’s Symposium, “A More Perfect Union?” convened. After some opening remarks from the organising committee, the first panel, “The Public Life of Post-Truth” got underway with an opening paper from Sarah McCreedy (UCC) discussing naturalistic false consciousness in Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. With The Road bringing back fond memories of my undergraduate degree at QUB, I was fascinated to hear Sarah’s new, exciting take on what is arguably McCarthy’s most recognisable – if not quotable – novel. Okay? Okay.
The morning’s second panel, chaired by Jennifer Daly, examined the state of health in the union, with Matthew O’Brien (UCD) and James Doran (UCD Clinton Institute) both forwarding new frameworks within which to understand the muddied waters of healthcare in the USA, the former examining the Chicago Black Panther Party and Health Care and the latter exploring presidents, their rhetoric, and health care policy. Particularly interesting was Matthew’s claim that the mistreatment of poor, black patients indicated that medical attention was for “wealth not health”– a mantra which sounds frustratingly familiar in Trump’s America.
Rounding off the morning’s panels was “Imperfect Union in Postmodern Society,” with Rebecca Murray (UCC), Anne Mahler (UCC), and Eva Burke (TCD) all presenting papers. A personal highlight of this panel was Anne’s paper, which focused on the Columbine Perpetrators and literary constructions of the hypermasculine school shooter. Taking Todd Strasser’s Young Adult novel Give a Boy a Gun (2002) as a starting point, Anne read this epistolary tale through the lens of R.W. Connell’s theories on hegemonic masculinity to put forward the idea that, in the high school setting, the masculinity celebrated is that of physical dominance. She also noted the fusion of hypermasculine entities through co-operative nature of the planned Columbine shooting – a fragile union. With my primary research interests lying in contemporary American YA fiction, as well as the representation of gender, masculinity, and femininity in those texts, Anne’s paper sparked new ways of thinking about my own work – thank you!
After a leisurely lunch, kindly provided by the committee, came my own panel, “Trauma on Screen,” chaired by Dara Downey. Here I presented alongside two UCC scholars: Sean Travers and Caroline Schroeter. Sean, whose work I always look forward to hearing, gave a paper entitled “’You’re not alone’: Trauma, Communal Healing and America in Contemporary Science Fiction,” focusing on the notions of metanarrative and the ‘flashes between’ two narratives in Netflix series Sense8. Caroline’s interesting paper on representing African Americans in cinematic slave narratives gave particular precedence to the ways in which trauma often confounds these kinds of narratives.
Finally, as the nerves almost became too much, it was time for my own paper. Entitled “’Welcome to your tape’: Union and Disunion in Jay Asher’s Thirteen Reasons Why,” this paper used the work of scholars such as Jason Mittell and Roberta Seelinger Trites to explore the various strands of union and disunion woven throughout Thirteen Reasons Why, both in its literary and televisual forms. In particular, I addressed the united front formed by the other recipients of Hannah Baker’s tapes. All the while, protagonist Clay actively resists this union, instead forming a complex, problematic one with Hannah. My paper examined the ways in which these unions highlight and intersect with issues of power, and also considered the role that the blurring of temporality and perspective plays. Finally, I asked how we can situate Thirteen Reasons culturally, particularly in the wake of its mixed critical and online receptions. The Q&A session after the panel was particularly helpful, allowing me to draw interesting parallels between the other two panellist’s work and my own, particularly in regard to the notion of duality upon which all three papers seemed to draw.
The last panel of the day, “Man on Stage: Masculinity and Performance,” was also of great interest (and help!) to my own research. Ciaran Leinster (University of Seville), Natalia Kovalyova (UCD Clinton Institute), and Catherine Casey (UCD) all provided interesting means of reading and understanding (hyper)masculinity in America, with Catherine’s paper offering readings of Trump through traditional theories of (American) masculinity, from the ‘self-made man’, to the ‘man’s man’, and beyond.
And with that, equally excited, inspired, and depressed, the symposium came to a close. We then retired to the upper level of the Long Room Hub for the presentation of the WTM Riches Essay Prize, some conference bursaries, and some well-earned drinks and nibbles.
I would once again like to extend my thanks to the IAAS for awarding me this bursary, as well as to Sarah Cullen and James Hussey for organising such a wonderfully successful symposium.