SFF/Classics Conference, Liverpool, Part XI of Many

Part I.
Part II.
Part III.
Part IV.
Part V.
Part VI.
Part VII.
Part VIII.
Part IX.
Part X.

Or click on the SFF/Classics Conference 2013 tag.


This is the eleventh part of a multi-part conference write-up.

And I am running out of enthusiasm for writing this. Ouch, my wrists. Still, there is an oncoming train at the end of the tunnel – or is it light?


“Reusing Mythological Figures” was chaired by Tony Keen (Open University) and featured papers by Elke Steinmeyer (University of KwaZulu Natal), Pascal Lemaire (Independent Scholar) and Jessica Yates (Independent Scholar).

We begin with Elke Steinmeyer, a woman with a strong, hard to follow German accent, and her paper, “The Reception of the Figure of Cassandra in Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Fantasy Novel The Firebrand (1987).”

And this, dear friends, is where I depart from reportage to indulge in straight-up commentary, because I exchanged a whole lot of what? glances with Daniel Franklin (who occupied a seat in the row across from me) during this paper.

For Steinmeyer makes it clear – and reiterated during the Q&A – that she sees a very strong, nay unbridgeable, gender binary between the male and the female, with the result that men, now or in the past, cannot possibly write fully human female characters. At first, naturally enough, I wasn’t sure whether the gender-binary thinking in force was Steinmeyer’s view of gender in antiquity or if she extended it up to the modern day… but the Q&A rather put paid to my doubts.

Furthermore, in her discussion of Cassandra and Marion Zimmer Bradley’s engagement with the Gravesian notion of prehistoric matriarchies being swept away by (much less pleasant, of course) patriarchal social order, Steinmeyer neglected to contextualise the historicity of the matriarchy hypothesis – that, inter alia, whether prehistory had matriarchal or patriarchal societies isn’t a question that can definitively be answered, that all claims about social order and social power in prehistory are contingent ones – and left one rather with the impression that she felt prehistoric matriarchy was a Real Thing with Real Evidence supporting it.

My notes on the paper, basically, boil down to “does Steinmeyer think MZB’s fantasy history is historically supported?” “What is up with ‘lost female truths’ and building ‘a world better than Troy’?” And “‘revisionist mythography’ is all very well and good but CONTEXT PLEASE.”

I may have got a bit cranky after the gender binary thing. Maybe. Just a little.


This, I fear, did not put me in the best frame of mind for the next paper, Pascal Lemaire’s “Arthur in Atlantis: A vessel for the myths.”

(Pascal, if you’re reading, I’m going to tear your Powerpoint apart.)

It might’ve been a good paper. It referenced Marion Zimmer Bradley, Stargate Atlantis, and Andy McDermott, and different treatments/combinations of Arthur and Atlantis. But I couldn’t tell if it was a good paper, because it was a terrible presentation.

No, seriously. Death by Powerpoint. Black text on white (which is admittedly better than white on black) with very little imagery, and the text repeated what Lemaire was saying out loud, pretty much. Which, no. You don’t do that, if you want to keep your audience. You put up pictures. Quotes, if you’re quoting from something. Bullet-points sometimes if you want to either separate ideas or sum up.

Not the text of what you’re saying. That leads to zombification and resentment. My notes, which started out intelligible, devolved in short order to WHY IS THIS IMPORTANT GODS SOMEBODY SAVE ME FROM THE BULLETPOINTS.

AND STILL MORE BULLETPOINTS.

MORE EVIL POWERPOINT BULLETS.

SAVE ME I’M DYING.

…no, I’m not joking. This is about a page of my notes in between scribbled things like Grail! Reincarnation? Ancestry/genetics?


So that happened.

Those two presentations together failed to leave me in a very receptive frame of mind for “The Fate of Astyanax,” a paper given by Jessica Yates, a retired librarian and Tolkien scholar. It is official. All Tolkien scholars seem to think everyone else has memorised the Silmarilion.

No powerpoint, but she offered a handout. Once it became apparent that we were going to race from the Fall of Gondolin (CONTEXT PLEASE) through ALL OF FANTASY LITERATURE, I had to go and get some air.

Lots and lots of air. And caffeine.


That brings us up to Monday lunchtime.

This account will resume – hopefully in a more professional manner – at some point in the next forty-eight hours.

Excavations Reveal Ancient Mosaics At Amasya on the Black Sea.

9 thoughts on “SFF/Classics Conference, Liverpool, Part XI of Many

  1. Oh dear. Powerpoint is a skill, and many people have not put all that many points into it before deploying it against others.

    (I will froth along with you at the gender binary, too. Froth! Froth! Froth! Remind me to tell you some time about my serious gripe regarding my Penguin translation of Herodotus, which is otherwise excellent.)

  2. Yes. I think some people only invest one point in “Use Powerpoint” when really, you need about five.

    …We are talking about the Classics. How is this not an appropriate time for discussions of translations? *g*

  3. “… the text repeated what Lemaire was saying out loud, pretty much. Which, no. You don’t do that…”

    Again, some sort of t-shirt is in order here as well, I feel.

    I used to say I hated powerpoint, but that’s not fair. It’s a decent enough tool, I just hate the way most people use it. If you’re just going to stand there reading out the slides, just give me the damn notes and I’ll read it myself because the voices in my head are way more entertaining.

    On the upside it sounds like the rest of your notes on that presentation could serve as a pitch for the next Indiana Jones sequel.

  4. Oh, well. My objection to the Penguin translation of Herodotus is that at one point Herodotus is describing a particular city which has been cursed because of (insert story I have forgotten here) such that an unusually large number of the men are born also having female genitals. Herodotus helpfully goes on to talk about the cultural results of what is, in every word he uses to describe it, clearly an example of a population whose local genetics are making for a lot of intersexed infants being born.

    The editor helpfully footnotes that Herodotus is referring to eunuchs, here. Even though Herodotus has noted eunuchs in many other places, and does not seem in the slightest bit confused as to what a eunuch is or how one is produced. (Hint: usually not by being born that way!) It is a bizarre instance of someone taking what is amazingly clear as it’s written and jumping through hoops to go GENDER BINARY instead for something we have plenty of documented evidence of in the modern day as well.

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