>I’m in the process of trying to write something for a talk to a general-but-educated audience on Sunday. The audience will be non-academic, but the kind of people who go to hear academics talk. It’s the first time I’ve done such a thing and I’m having a difficult time ‘translating’ parts of my work. But it’s a good and important difficult, I think. It’s good for my writing process — getting me out of knee-jerk habits, finding new turns of phrase — and it’s good in the sense that my obscure work on sometimes obscure texts and manuscripts (not the book project, for those who know me — new stuff) is getting a hearing before a non-academic audience, because it gives me a chance to talk about why it matters.
I’m lifting part of my talk from my “Speaking for the Dead” post, but since the substance of my talk is about the meaning (and meaningfulness) of an ownership inscription in a manuscript of literary texts (and not really about the texts themselves, though it’s a little bit about them in relation to their readers) I’m starting the whole thing with a couple of childhood books with inscriptions from my mother in them and talking about what book historians and literary/cultural critics of the future might say about them. It’s a little corny, but I think it will cement the connection between the here and now, and the then and there, and the importance of speaking for the dead.
I’m worried both about the general framing move taking over the substance of the talk (it’s about 1/2 frame and 1/2 substance!) and also about the substantive part going over the audience’s head. But as Bullock just said to me, “Won’t they expect you to go over their heads a little bit?” Otherwise, he suggested, they might think I’m a “fraud” of an academic. Hmm. But I don’t want them to walk away saying “Typical academics — don’t know how to talk to ‘normal’ people.” I want them to feel that there’s something at stake in the humanities, even in the work done on long dead people, writers, and their texts. I want them to walk away saying, “That was fascinating — more people should care about this.” And then I want them to go read the texts I’m talking about (some of which are available in student friendly editions) and assign them to their book clubs, and then think about why they read what they read. And I want them to write to their representatives and senators and say, “It’s really important to fund the humanities, because this is what it means to be human — to read and to remember and to memorialize the dead and the past.” Are my goals too lofty? Yeah, probably. I’ll be happy if I don’t hear crickets chirping after my talk.
Argh. This is hard.