Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Idolatry at WisCon

As a preface to my forthcoming account of the "Narrative and Politics" panel, I wunna say something about Spontaneous Reverence Syndrome.

As Friday's "It's Not About Identity" panel ended and I made my way up to the front of the room to ask questions of Haran and Lacey, I blurted out, as one sometimes does, “SUZY MCKEE CHARNAS!” “Yes?” that worthy said. “I’m sorry: it’s my first time at a science fiction convention, and one does occasionally get awestruck.” “Oh,” she said, not ungently, and proceeded on her way. I did a little better with Carol Emshwiller the following day, first praising a 1961 feminist story of hers that had moved me but that I didn't remember the name of ("I hope you don't expect me to," she cautioned; turned out when I came home and looked it up that it's called "Adapted." Liz Henry too had forgotten the writing that I sought to praise her for) and then engaging her questions about what I do: we had more time together, and Emshwiller's the most patient and approachable of people one could meet. Also humble: "I feel like a little kid among the grownups," she said at one panel.

With Karen Joy Fowler (pictured behind Carol and to her right, above, and to Maureen's left, below), I was a little less successful; I had to bore her with encomia to her prose style before settling down to more substantive conversation with her about reviewers and authors. Jeanne Gomoll I didn't even try to talk with; in the case of Eleanor Arnason, my general ignorance of her achievements made her presence less imposing than it shoulda been. But it was still a big challenge to be surrounded by so many of my literary icons: as late as Monday morning, I was still saying things like "KELLY LINK!" "Um," she replied, gesturing ahead of her, "I'm going in there."

Awe, as the poet once wrote, is stultifying; and the symbolic capital with which our society endows its "celebrities" is not terribly helpful to the discourse. It's great and uplifting to compliment authors on the specifics of their work (I've done as much in the four or five fan letters I've written), but there's a great risk in being dazzled by the aura of their names. More on that anon.

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