I just finished a four-day stint at the biennial conference of the Reception Study Society, where I gave a keynote talk on the need for a more precisely comparative account of enthusiastic audiences in history. I argued that new research on pre-1900 fan-like subcultures (from kranks to matinee girls), as well as on the wider discourses of monomania, enthusiasm, and agency in the mid- to late-19th century, will help scholars to better understand how exactly fandom became a explanatory discourse for certain kinds of audiencing in modern society.
I saw lots of great presentations, from Emily Satterwhite’s discussion of fan mail about Christy (based on research from her new book) and Gillian Silverman’s analysis of 19th century reading as a “technology of intimacy” to Melissa Click’s study of adult and teen Twilight fans and Pedro Curi’s outline of the various ways in which Brazilian fans ‘Brazilianize’ American TV shows they see on the internet. Jonathan Gray also gave an amusing and provocative overview of this theory of “paratexts,” arguing that packaging, marketing, merchandising, and spinoffs of books and television shows must always be part of the “texts” that we study, since, for some people, paratexts are the texts with which they engage most. In all, a very satisfying weekend, sharing ideas with people who think similarly about culture and its meaning.
Next up: the fall semester.