Guest blogger Liz Sage, doctoral researcher in the school of English and senior founding editor of Excursions, was selected as one of just fifteen PhD students from across the world to spend a week studying with the feminist theorist, Luce Irigaray. In Adventures with Irigaray Part 1: Long Shot, Short Deadline, Liz talked about how the opportunity came about. In this post, Liz talks about her experiences :
It’s Academia, But Not As We Know It . . .
Six weeks ago, me, my laptop and a suitcase full of books set out from London , little knowing what the next week would hold. My destination was the University of Bristol. My mission? To make the most of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I’d been selected as a participant for Luce Irigaray’s International Seminar, an annual week-long event, in which the radical philosopher and theorist Luce Irigaray invites postgraduates from across the globe to work and study with her. This year, it was my turn.
Although Irigaray has held a number of these seminar in recent years, details of precisely what goes on in these intensive week-long sessions are relatively scarce. So, I wasn’t the only one who arrived on that Monday morning, clutching my presentation and not having a clue what to expect. A quick discussion before Irigaray arrived revealed that all of us felt a little in the dark, as no programme had been sent round, and only one of us had met our famous mentor before.
That brief conversation also revealed how truly international this seminar was. Only three of us were from the UK. Other attendees came from the USA, Chile, Japan, Germany, and perhaps most touchingly, two of the participants had battled with stringent visa restraints in China and Iran to be able to attend. Having said that, as the week progressed, it became apparent that the diversity of nationalities was outstripped by the array of disciplines and subject areas that the group engaged with.
Motherhood and law. Criminality and children’s spatial awareness. Women, terrorism and violence. Performance and post-traumatic stress disorder. Love and pedagogical power relations. Mimicry, femininity and theatre. Heidegger, poetry and representing trauma in art. Literature and the possibilities for a feminine imaginary. Confucius, Chinese characters and rethinking Western philosophical traditions. And this barely scratches the surface.
How do you run a week-long seminar with such an unruly list of subject areas? Lucy Irigaray made it look easy. From the very beginning, it was clear that we weren’t just faceless postgraduates in the presence of a great thinker. Irigaray had obviously read each student’s work in detail, and thus had carefully selected our presentations to feed into the seminar as a whole. Such effort and forethought paid off – our disparate work seemed to come together seamlessly.
The attention to each individual’s projects didn’t end there. Somewhere along the line, we’ve gotten used to the idea that the big names in academia won’t really have time for those of us just setting out on the bumpy road of PG research. Not so with Luce Irigaray. There were no other members of academic staff in the seminar sessions. There were no ever-present assistants to ensure students stayed at a safe distance. There was no brushing over our individual projects in order to focus solely on her achievements. It was just eleven students and Luce Irigaray in a room, for six days of intense, insightful, inspiring work.
Each of us had half a day dedicated to our presentations and the questions that grew out of them. After we had presented an analysis of how our research engaged with Irigaray’s thought, we opened to the floor to questions for the presenter and for Irigaray. It was these discussions, rather than from pre-prepared notes, that Irigaray developed into teaching sessions – meaning we had one of the greatest minds at work today responding directly to our queries and needs. I know I’m not alone in saying that her comments on my presentation and the ensuing Q&A session have already been invaluable for my thesis.
The final day consisted of one-to-one meetings with the philosopher who had brought us all there. What we talked about will stay mainly between ourselves and Irigaray, but she bade us all farewell with a hug, a kiss and an open invite for a coffee in Paris. And that’s perhaps the gesture that best captures this remarkable, singular thinker – so extraordinary and so human in the same instant. Which also captures something of the seminar too. Forget dry, stuffy academic showmanship – this week was intellectually rigorous yet absolutely alive, a reminder that most of us live and breathe our work, and that we do what we do for a reason.
I left Bristol with my laptop, a suitcase full of books, a notebook overflowing with precious notes, and a cluster of newly-found friends. Most important of all though, I came away with my passion for my research reignited. Now, if I could just get this pesky thesis out of the way . . .
Liz Sage, Doctoral Candidate, 3rd year, AHRC funded, School of English, University of Sussex.
Senior Founding Editor for Excursions, The Postgraduate Journal for Interdisciplinary Research.
Liz Sage’s research examines the representation of terrorism in post-1980s literary fiction, using the work of Luce Irigaray and other feminist thinkers to explore the ways in which the concept of terrorism is bound up with contemporary models of masculinity.