Playwright and novelist Michael Frayn reminds us the world is irregular and confused [and] understanding this is where any inquiry into the nature of things has to begin’ (2006: 37). A conference panel, such as the one that we (the authors) arranged ourselves into in late 2015, would appear to resist such irregularity and confusion. Presenters speak (as we did) in a predetermined order, observing a time limit and, where possible, aiming for coherence in theme, content or field. As creative practice researchers, knee-deep in our doctoral projects, each of us spoke of our recent experiences in different immersive writing environments – residencies, labs and boot camps – proposing there might be such a thing as ‘living in the research project’. Our session was lively and well received. Within our different approaches was room for playfulness and spontaneity. These spilled out into the presentation as a whole: with no prior consultation, we were surprised and delighted by unexpected connections. The residency, lab and, yes, even ‘thesis boot camp’ had playful elements in and of themselves, and perhaps these were the uniting factor. We were encouraged to publish together, expand on the ideas discussed. But, as Francesca Rendle-Short has written, We are too often obsessed with content, the “what” [rather than the “how”]’ (2014: 92). We wondered if there was something further to mine. Had the panel itself become its own playroom? Three HDR candidates decided to assume the role of ‘panel beaters’, slip on some overalls, and find out.
Keywords: Creative writing—Creative Practice Research—Process Philosophy—Queer Theory—Interdisciplinary Collaboration
Act One: Panel-beaters bump skulls, playfully
Those who say ‘Yes’ are rewarded by the adventures they have, and those who say ‘No’ are rewarded by the safety they attain (Johnstone 1981: 92).
Play and the academy are no strangers to one another. Here in Australia, within our particular field of creative practice research, a raft of scholars and researchers have examined play as a discipline-specific mechanism (van Loon 2014); as the engine of all research (Opie 2007); as an invigorating approach to considerations of structure (Rendle-Short 2014); and as a vital force within the intimate space of the candidate-supervisor relationship (Berry & Batty 2016). Attention has also been paid to an abundance of fictively playful new forms of the doctoral dissertation, or exegesis (Booth & Martin 2006; Krauth 2011; Williams 2016). But to our knowledge, no one has, as yet, until now, given any attention to the conference panel as a site of playfulness.
This paper explores Thomas Henricks’ contention that ‘play is the laboratory of the possible’ (2006: 1) and it does so in the context of panel presentation(s) that the participants ‘staged’ at a ‘conference’ in the School of Media and Communication at RMIT University in 2015. These words are ‘ironicised’ to a purpose. Our Graduate Research Conference is a kind of a Clayton’s[i] conference, that is a-conference-you-have-when-you-are-not-having-a-conference. It is an in-house affair, curated by HDR candidates for HDR candidates as a kind of hypothetical or mock court. The aims of this conference, held twice annually for the past several years, have been firstly to provide a platform for the staging of mandatory milestones on the postgraduate highway—formerly called confirmation, mid-candidature and completion (these have since been more prosaically named, Milestone 1, 2 and 3)—and secondly as means to showcase research to build a more dynamic and collegial culture in our school. All HDR candidates are pressed to present, and studio or research group-specific sessions are common, uniting students with shared interests, fields of practice, or particular methodologies. To facilitate these presentations, while also inducting trainee researchers into the protocols and procedures of conference curation, students are encouraged to create or to be co-opted onto appropriately themed panels. These panels usually run for an hour, allowing space for three presenters, and for moderation and Q&A conducted by a fourth student, who gains on-the-job training in the experience of the duties of preparation, introduction, time-keeping, pot-stirring and debate-management generally required of a well-oiled chair.
It was in the spirit of all of the above that the authors of this paper came together, and were subsequently empaneled for the first time. We were all creative writers: one a screenwriter, one a lyric essayist, and the third, an escapee playwright fleeing the theatre for the field of creative nonfiction. All were latecomers to the academy, all femmes d’un certain age, but in disciplinary focus there was little overlap, or so it seemed at that time. What did connect us, however, or at least appeared to afford some common ground, was the fact that we had each had a recent encounter with what one might call the intensive-immersive; by this we are speaking of the experience of taking one’s research away from its everyday locus of practice and dropping it into a space that is not one’s usual workplace, so as to conduct and reside with it there through prolonged periods of intensely focused and uninterrupted engagement.
This synchronicity interested us. Why had we sought out these intensive-immersive experiences as part of our respective candidatures and had we found what we were looking for within them? Did experiences of going away from the familiar and setting up camp in the strange serve as an accelerant, a crucible, a method? What happened when one set out to inhabit more fully one’s research process? It seemed to us that here was a panel-in-waiting, and so we cobbled together a proposal that would allow us to set our experiences side by side. As case studies our foci would be Stayci Taylor’s weekend at Thesis Bootcamp, Mattie Sempert’s immersion in the Montreal-based SenseLab, and Peta Murray’s extended artist-in-residency at Footscray Community Arts Centre. Our panel would compare and contrast these models of intensive-immersion and consider their value to the trainee creative practice researcher. Perhaps each would prove to have invited that fresh apprehension of the world that Tim Ingold argues is, anthropologically-speaking, ‘not a matter of construction but of engagement, not of building but of dwelling, not of making a view of the world but of taking up a view in it’ (2000: 41).
In due course our panel was presented, as described, with three papers delivered and time for discussion at the end. Few surprises there, but what did surprise was a certain abandon on the panel floor, a genuine sense of ideas ‘in play’ and, more than this, of something new arising in the inter-lands between and around our discrete contributions. Why was it so? Later, reflecting upon this experience, we wondered if it may have been attributable to what cultural geographer Doreen Massey would term the ‘throwntogetherness’ of our panel (2005: 149). If so, was there more to it? Was the materiality that is panel space a miniature of the intensive-immersive, another playful instance of ‘a laboratory of the possible’, wherein new knowledges might arise? Moreover, cued by Rendle-Short’s suggestion for creative writing scholars, we wanted ‘To take our thinking a step further to not think only about what it is we are saying but how we are saying what we are saying in terms of design and form and experiment to underscore our thinking’ (2014: 93). Therein, within this new world (for us) of academic conferences—a culture often seemingly resigned to papers with only a passing nod to the conference theme, hastily written on planes and delivered to barely-listening peers who are busy checking email or Facebook or editing their own slides—we wonder if it is possible to expand the parameters of the panel, to rethink or reimagine its boundaries? Can a panel, like the notion of play itself, be its own laboratory of possibilities—just as the immersive environments we discussed had been?
Massey writes of ‘the business of walking around a corner and bumping into alterity, of having (somehow, and well or badly) to get on with neighbours who have got ‘here’ … by different routes from you’ (2005: 94). Typically, a panel is a kind of expo of ideas, a place to exhibit one’s academic wares. But what if we reconsider our approach to panels, so that they are less of a platform, and more of a playroom for ideas-in-process and for bumping into otherness? Considering the ‘thirdspace’, or ‘third place’, variously defined by Oldenburg (2000), Babha (1994), Habermas (1984) and Whitchurch (2008) as a place both public and private, a neutral ground for dynamic interaction, could the panel then, playfully, usefully open up a ‘thirdspace’ for new approaches to scholarship? Interrogating ideas of ‘play’, of ‘room’ and of ‘panel’, as well as drawing on a broad range of scholarship around research and play, we set upon the task of co-writing ‘playfully’ as we brought together our insights and hunches pertaining to, and arising from, the panel presentation. Included, usefully and/or provocatively (we hope), is text that breaks away from the traditional structures of scholarly writing, in the form of lists, transcriptions and—inspired in part by Watkins and Krauth (2016)—correspondence. Ultimately, through the collaborative ‘skull bumping’ that follows, we invite readers to ponder the suggestion that a panel is not so much a playroom as a playpen within which, by definition, one is left to play without supervision—or, in the spirit of the ‘thirdspace’, privately, in public.
Act Two: Play leashed and unleashed
[A] degree of play creates the potential for the emergence of the new, not in frontal assault against structure but at the edges and in its pores (Manning & Massumi 2014: 99).
‘Play’ as a guerrilla tactic for research requires, as process philosophers (and founders of the Montreal-based SenseLab) Erin Manning and Brian Massumi seem to suggest above, use of the full flexible scope of the word’s implication to carry the creative momentum: how a degree of play can result in a stretch, creating more room to give; or how play engages thinking, creates movement, and potentiates messy tangles of thought. Tangles of thought create possible openings, and invent ways to fray the closed seams of over-worn methodologies. That is, those tired and stiff methods that do not reciprocate and encourage play.
On Australian arts-practice research shores and hinterlands, airborne seeds are germinating fresh methodologies that share a germ-line with the Canadian version, Research-Creation. Australian arts researchers Estelle Barrett and Barbara Bolt repeatedly demonstrate that ‘practice-led research’ is a ‘new species’ of discipline that draws on ‘emergent methodologies that have the potential to extend the frontiers of research’ (Barrett 2009: 1). They share tactics with their Canadian academic playmates Manning and Massumi, primarily through their proposition that arts practice be viewed as ‘the production of knowledge or philosophy in action’ (Barrett 2009: 1) (emphasis added). That is, knowledge is made on the fly, by the seat of the arts researcher’s pants (including situated and tacit knowledge), as thinking and making co-penetrate, in the act.
The lure to the panel began as an ineffable tug from invisible forces: a twinkle, a dare - inspired by the contagion of fun, and the possibility of an adventure off the beaten path of convention. Retrospectively, it was the possibility of play—and the possibility of doing a panel differently—that led our collective step onto porous and uncertain edges.
Play on words
Play in five words; or: five ways of thinking about the residency (and about the panel-about-the-residency) as play.
Skullsbump#1: Panel play
When skulls bump, the resulting brain-wave interference pattern can be a revelation to both (Manning & Massumi 2014: viii).
When reckless abandonment takes over during play, it is not uncommon for heads to bump. As close collaborators, Manning and Massumi often deliberately bump skulls. For them, skull bumping is necessary for the invention of new philosophical concepts. In the operative tradition of process philosophy, concepts are only as good as their usefulness and can only be invented in the act of collaboration, thus contributing ‘to a continuous collective culture dedicated to an ethics of engagement’ (Manning & Massumi 2014: 106).
For our panel, there were no rules for engagement other than the ten-minute time constraint allowed for presenting. Our Clayton’s conference—that conference-you-have-when-you-are-not-having-a-conference—already initiated a disruption from convention and the pressure to conform, whereby edges were loosened before we started. Also, in hindsight, what engaged us from the start was our eagerness to share our respective intensive-immersive experiences with our cohort, as well as our willingness to risk bumping skulls. As observed by each other:
> (playwright) Peta’s meta-improvisational approach (improvising about improvisation as a way to reflect on her residential in-house performance essays); her self-effacing silliness; the props to prop up; the hidden mastery of her pretence of the precarity of performance.
> (screenwriter) Stayci’s comedic rapid-fire delivery condensed the Boot Camp experience into a loosely scripted sit-com; the dead-pan Kiwi accent and captivating ‘umm’ hair/head flicks.
> (lyric essayist) Mattie’s knee-jerk tendency to make wild associations—image of a narwhal tooth, pink wigs, and double-dutch skip roping—to convey her SenseLab experience as intense fun.
Also, in hindsight, during the panel-play a creative contagion seeped across the porous boundaries of our presentations, making frayed edges irresistible. Later, as we engaged in writing-play, the contagion seeped into each of our creative practices during our collective engagement. As our skulls continued to bump, play and its accelerant—fun—created possibilities for moving away from the fixed conventions of the predictable.
Fun subverts. And, as the skull bumping increased: more laughter.
The idiom of play
Loose, improvised movement trumps rigid predictable plans. When open to surprise, even accidental skull bumps that might hurt for a bit are better than passively waiting to have fun.
play it cool
play it out
play the field
play on words
play musical chairs
Skullsbump#2: Writing play/play writing
We asked ourselves—as each of us brought our reflections on the panel/playpen to the writing table—if we could suspend protective gestures, suspend the urge to avoid skull bumps and instead allow for accidents that can result from the movement of spontaneous free-play. How to resist a hasty retreat into isolation for fear of collisions on the play field? As we engaged in our collective play, Manning and Massumi hovered in the wings and cheered us on as thinking-coaches, insisting on rigour, and offering ice packs when the bumps become too robust.
In other words, as we stepped into our collective writing event, we followed Manning and Massumi’s lead: ‘In our own acts of writing together, we have had to learn how to ripple the difference between [three] stone-hard heads’ (2014: viii). Can the potential of new knowledge making—of seeding fresh methodologies for creative research practice—be carried by the kinetics of our skull bumping? Can the notion of agency be re-configured as arising out of our collective engagement, rather than the usual hands-off isolation of solo intellectual effort?
Our skulls bump, our adrenalin pumps as we learn how to ripple the differences.
Post-Panel Q and A
PM: I wanted more of the residency time and less of my own life. Because I had to keep my other work and commitments ticking along in a parallel universe. If I had had my way I would have picked up the Footscray Community Arts Centre and put it on the other side of the world and done the whole thing there. Full immersion and none of the other hats that I have to wear. I think there’s something about taking them all off, and saying: ‘I’m just this one thing for just this period of time.’
MS: I think being in another hemisphere in another season and going into this I had no idea what was going to happen. So. An absolute immersive experience. (To ST) Was there a moment when… I mean I’m hanging out for that moment when… Was there a shift in your thinking? Putting yourself in that environment? Was there a moment?
ST: I had a couple of those. And I really didn’t expect that. I’d thought it would simply be a word-factory. And that it would at least get me further than I am now. But yes, I had a couple of kind of… (gestures)… I just made this connection of ideas. In terms of the practice though—I didn’t turn into a non-editing writer overnight. That’s still coming. But I know now when I’m trapped in the vortex of the perfect sentence. At least I know that’s what I’m doing.
A blank look. A blank wall. Blank stupidity.
The word ‘blank’ comes from Middle English and is connected to the idea of ‘blanc’—therefore white, colourless. As Peta typed up the transcript of our panel presentation, she noted how often the word was used, how many times it was spoken out loud in the presentations. This word: blank. Peta used it to describe the gallery-space, the white-walled cube in which she was housed as one of the artists-in-residence, there to make an exhibition of herself. She spoke of the furniture imported as being blank… and it was. It was nude cardboard shelving and desks. Something about the blank space, the blank canvas, the blank page of course, is how it invites. The blankness makes you itch. It invites inscription, it invites assault. It invites a defacing of its blankness, the application of colour to its colourlessness, an application of visual ‘noise’ to its stark silence. Blankness is a kind of space.
Like play, it is a space of possibility, a space of potentiality, an emptiness.
We chose to proceed by embracing ‘the happenstance juxtaposition of previously unrelated trajectories’ whereby, as Massey suggests, ‘your being here together is, in that sense, quite uncoordinated. This is an aspect of the productiveness of spatiality which may enable “something new” to happen’ (2005: 94). We improvised, actively resisting the pull towards the usual scholarly coherence, believing an experiment in ‘play’ should not immediately conform to a paradigm whereby ‘[n]ormative journal articles are linear arrangements’ (Watkins & Krauth 2016). Instead, we took inspiration from the fact (as Watkins and Krauth continue) that, despite these articles’ linearity, ‘our reading of them is commonly non-linear; that is, we read intertextually, connecting concepts and arguments via internal and/or external knowledge schemata’ (2016).
How do you define sport and how does it differ from play? What is a sportive manner? Perhaps it is practised in the panel as playpen.
We are displaying (disporting) ourselves on the page.
Can a panel be a playroom?
Katharine Coles suggests ‘Research is what we do to court intuition and to make ourselves ready for it when it comes’ (2013: 158). As creative practice researchers-in-training we are developing methods involving following hunches and testing propositions. Our PhDs are predicated on meticulously composed and hard won research questions. Perhaps it is liberating to make a research question out of something ludicrous. Like this question, posed to Alice by the Mad Hatter in Alice in Wonderland: ‘Why is a raven like a writing desk?’ (Carroll 1865).
Can a panel be a playroom? This endeavour requires abilities of persuasion toward a suspension of logic – a conference panel is not a room, it is the temporary assemblage of people within one. But if ‘play’ has the potential to subvert and disrupt, then the enquiry is already playful in itself. Eminent authority on theatrical improvisation, Keith Johnstone, remembers as a child ‘reversing every statement to see if the opposite was also true’, suggesting that, ‘as soon as you put a “not” into an assertion, a whole range of other possibilities opens out’ (1981: 14). What happens if we negate the assertion that a panel is not a room? After all, as Massey reminds us, space is ‘always under construction’ (2005: 9).
We might begin to think about all the possible meanings of ‘room’. ‘Room’ suggests four walls and a ceiling, a defined (or confined) space. It also evokes the opposite, when considered within phrases such as ‘room to move’. One dictionary definition makes stark this conflict: ‘enclosed area in a building; scope or opportunity’ (Collins Gem English Dictionary Gift Edition 2010: 505). What scope or opportunity is possible if the panel is its own play/room?
Manning and Massumi, still hovering on the sidelines of the play field, remind us that ‘techniques are not descriptive devices—they are springboards. They are not framing devices—they activate a practice from within. They set in motion’ (2014: ix).
Techniques to spring our collective practices into motion. Skullbumping towards something new in unexpected ways.
Whatever happened in that first panel delivered us somewhere else. In hindsight, we would argue that the magic happened in two streams. The first of these was in the panel’s provision of something, perhaps close to Émile Durkheim’s notion of a ‘collective effervescence’ (1912), that grew naturally from our initial theme. We were speaking to liminality and to place, to the translocation of thought, and to ‘the transactions that occur within that position of being “neither here nor there”’ (Turner 1969: 104). Having tried to describe what each of us had experienced in our solitary inhabitations (residency, lab, bootcamp) the panel extended upon these notions, affording us now a space of cohabitation, and ‘alongsideness’. The panel became a space to extend upon already lived experience, along the lines expounded by Greg Dening when he writes ‘we never learn the truth by being told it. We need to experience it in some way’ (1996: 316). This sense of the experiential, especially in regards to playful collaboration, might suggest the panel opened up for us a version of the aforementioned ‘thirdspace’ environment.
This notion perhaps recalls Ross Gibson’s ideas of the capacities of the creative practice researcher to oscillate, to be both inside and outside the making process (2010), and ideas of habitation and orientation. A thirdspace might be an ideal vessel for this kind of research. Alongsideness, of course, invites—indeed, risks—play.
Skullsbump#3: Play writing-mash
ST: Once you've both had a chance to read the whole thing, you'll see what I mean by how it becomes less of an article and more of a series of notes as it goes along, structured first with bridging sentences and paragraphs, then only mashed together according to my whimsy. Please feel free to mess about.
MS to PM: I’m wondering if your Act 3 could be spun into your conclusion, i.e. the recent GRC as it seemed to expand on our play laboratory—‘a new culture of conference play-lab possibilities?’…
PM: I’m still sketching some inconclusive remarks along the lines you’ve suggested, Mattie. Will share when ready… the in/conclusion is starting to come together. I am hoping to complete a rough cut this afternoon.
MS: Also, I’m wondering if the ‘thirdspace’ thingie is all very much tied with invention-play-ambiguity of practice-based research… and allowing the unpredictable to influence what is found. And I’m wondering if what we’re proposing - in the process of doing and on reflection - is that the panel IS indeed a playroom, not just like one? And possibly that we’re generating a playful but rigorous paper using that proposition? Our method is the methodology?
PM: yes I think we are onto something… and here’s a para from my in/conclusion:
Mix the word panel with play [and] You are now in a playpen…
ST: Jaysus, PM, that's genius!!!
Indeed, this whole thread is very inspiring.
I also believe we're onto something.
Am I getting one document or two when it all comes back to me?
PM: It’s funny to be writing this conclusion before I’ve seen the whole thing, but it kind of works anyway, to be writing it out of sync...
Yes, I’ve been having great fun playing with the anagrams of panel. Here’s another line-in-prog you may like:
A simple inversion of vowels turns the word panel into the word penal, reminding us that the conventional p-word is often a constrained and airless affair, a place of posturing, and of knowledge—ossified and labelled—yoked to the trope of the thinker-as-solitary-intellectual.
Peta Murray, I do believe you've found your mojo.
Or, as they say on the reality shows - peaking at just the right time!
MS: … (those naughty girls at the back of the classroom)...
ACT Three: Inconclusion
Play as an intrinsic reward and its link with creative process. Play as a pathway to innovation. Play as subversion and disruption (Axon Call for Papers, 2016).
Skullsbump#4: Playwriting-writing mash
MS: My dear Panel Buttresses!
MS did a MAJOR reconstructive surgical CUT and PASTE and jostle of headings… (AND she needs to do WAY more MAJOR re-writing of critical bits esp in the Middle section).
ST: I've resisted adding to the doc itself (even where there are some easy housekeeping fixes) because I'm conscious there are already two on the go—which is fabulous having the two of you getting messy with the clay but in the interests of meeting the July 29 deadline I'll show some restraint until both globs are chucked back together on the wheel.
Hashtag awkward pottery analogy...
Ew, I hope I'm not starting to unconsciously perform my emails in case they get repurposed for potential public consumption...
PM: ‘morning, Panelists
Mattie, I think you have performed some kind of a miracle, here. At a first glance, anyway, I think it has a clear structure that kind of holds. Having said that, I’m not going to look too closely yet, especially while you are still doing lots o’ tinkering with the middle bits.
I too, like the end of act two. (I also love Stayci’s hashtag awkward pottery analogy and self-reflexive double reflexive comment about the performance of emails below.)
What I’m going to do today is bash the in/conclusion onto the end of this draft you’ve circulated as 18 July, re-name it 19 July, and see what that does.
Post-Panel Q and A #2
ST: I’m in a phase at the moment that’s opposite. Where I’m finding that the differences are increasingly blurring. But I write in a medium that’s got very strict formats anyway, unless you’re challenging those. I did a presentation over the weekend at AAWP and then this one… I’m just finding that more and more they’re part of the same lump of clay.
(Hashtag awkward pottery analogy premonition?)
MS: I suppose my practice… I’m an acupuncturist and a creative writer. I do find myself discretely scribbling down ideas while I’m needling people. (ST: You wouldn’t want to get your hand mixed up.) And suggesting Double Dutch as a therapeutic option. My poor clients…
PM: Come out with writing on them? ‘Note to self! Oh, sorry.’
Q: I was just thinking about these residencies, workshops… and wondering if they’re really informing, or not, your methodology. Mattie, clearly this whole business of process philosophy is part of your methodology. Peta, if yours had been a year earlier…?
PM: I don’t think I would have been able to make the most of it. There was something about the thinking I had done as a preparation that I needed to do before I was in this space. But I’m glad you said that, as it’s something I meant to say as part of this presentation. And that’s that I think that ‘residency as method’ is a really interesting proposition. And I’m really keen to try to tease out that idea a little bit more.
Epilogue: Un-panel play’s inconclusion
My idea for a class is that you just sit in the classroom and read aloud until everyone is smiling, and then you look around, and if someone is not smiling you ask them why, and then you keep reading—it may take many different books—until they start smiling, too (Ruefle 2012: 255).
In her book The Queer Art of Failure, Judith Halberstam signposts the words ‘serious’ and ‘rigorous’ as red flags, arguing that they are ‘code words for disciplinary correctness in the academic world; they signal a form of training and learning that confirms what is already known according to approved methods of knowing, but they do not allow for visionary insights of flight or fancy’ (2011: 6) (emphases added). Instead, among other exhortations, she entreats us to ‘First, Resist Mastery’ (2011: 11) (emphases added). Noam Chomsky, too, in his work on the human capacity to learn and the potential roles of scholarship, reminds us that it is subversion that is fundamental to the formation of fresh ideas and innovative worldviews (2003). To subvert is, of course, to overturn, something that is far more likely to happen to ideas in the rough-and-tumble of play, than in the polite deference of remember-to-share and take-it-in-turns, under the watchful eye of the panel police.
On which theme, a simple, but subversive vowel swap turns panel into penal, reminding us that the conventional p-word is too often a constrained and airless affair, a place of posturing, and of knowledge—ossified and labeled—yoked to the trope of the thinker-as-solitary-intellectual. It is no great distance from here to an evocation of the university as what Judith Halberstam, interpreting Harney and Moten (2013), describes as a ‘site of incarcerated knowledge’ (2011: 15).
Mix the word panel with play, however and a new anagram presents itself (not to mention a spare ‘la’ in case you feel a song coming on). You are now in a playpen which, as the dictionary reminds us, is ‘a small enclosure, usually portable, in which a young child [or putative researcher?] may play safely without constant supervision’[ii] (emphasis added). In other words, an incubator rife for creative and intellectual risk.
Our first panel was, by sheer happenstance, play-full, and we took pleasure in it. As HDR candidates we are, happily, no experts, nor are we (yet) jaded by conference-fatigue or fully versed in the approved modes of trundling our ideas into the public domain. This sense of fun led us to schedule further play-dates in which we entertained other methods whereby we might bump skulls, without (parental, supervisory or disciplinary) supervision. Tag-team writing; dis-ordered, out-of-sync writing; list-making; punning and riffing; kooky-captioning, metaphor-mixing, blackboard brainstorms, failures to stay ‘on task’, bizarre email exchanges and shared transcripts of audio recordings of our banter have all been grist to our mill. Over time this essay began to find its shape via a range of spontaneous turns and unplanned moves, characterised by frivolity and freedom, by refusals and failures, and by the release that comes with not having to own or fully ‘shape’ an idea by oneself. In short, by a kind of creative contagion.
When a panel becomes a playpen, helmets and kneepads may be necessary. Play is invigorating, if bruising, work. A degree of risk is called for, as well as the capacity to use academic space in imaginative and undisciplined—safely unsafe—ways. We are not alone in having an appetite for this venture. In scouting for other panel-beaters we found an array of disruptive gestures in the academy of recent times, the work of rogues and mavericks, those Harney and Moten call ‘fugitive knowers’ (cited in Halberstam 2011: 8). Instances include: an experiment in the form of a declaration to refuse to cite white male authors (Sara Ahmed, 2016, does ‘blank’); collective direct action via multiple authorship—eleven writers on one paper—in the name of a feminist practice of slow scholarship (Alison Mountz et al 2015, do ‘mock’); a professor of Women’s Studies and Humanities from the University of Delaware, who wears Playboy bunny ears to give lectures (Professor Margaret D. Stetz does ‘disport’, cited in Spivack 2014); and the amalgam of high and low theory that Halberstam (2011) models for us (more MOCK) alongside Harney and Moten’s calls for ‘theft’ and subversion in the undercommons (2013).
We offer our own mixed methodology as a good fit with Halberstam’s next entreaty: ‘Second, privilege the naïve or nonsensical (stupidity)’ (2011: 12) (emphases in original). And so we have naïvely, nonsensically, continued our explorations un/conferenced, unraveling the word panel itself, again and again, until it delivered a further plane of possibility, from which we might leap—connected etymologically, as Rendle-Short explains, to ‘the verb to play [which] comes from Middle Dutch pleien to leap for joy, to dance, rejoice, and to be glad’ (2014: 92)—towards our latest GRC offering (again ‘staged’ at our Claytons Conference), this time under the banner of an un/panel. Here we declared a bid ‘towards an experimental de-paneling that strives to fail to be a panel in any conventional sense of the word. Presented by a punnet of playful mavericks who aim to resist disciplinary coherence and may only ever make a difference by, in Halberstam’s words, ‘thinking little thoughts and sharing them widely’ (2011: 21).
Might these playful moves, this spirited undisciplinarity, afford an alternative framework for thinking about the sharing of research, one that poses more questions than answers, one that privileges our capacity to wonder over our need to know? Is it possible, that, as Halberstam contends: ‘knowledge practices that refuse both the form and the content of traditional canons may lead to unbounded forms of speculation, modes of thinking that ally not with rigor but with inspiration and with unpredictability’ (2011: 10)?
This is our inconclusion, a little thought or inkling that the best played panels of mice and women have the capacity to provoke a kind of creative fever, inciting us to ‘catch’ others’ little thoughts on the fly in a spirit that sparks ideas and refreshes our practice, while also affording us a thirdspace in which we may transmit ideas contagiously towards something unexpected and new.
[i] A really rather good explanation of how Claytons (‘the drink you have when you’re not having a drink’) entered the Australian and New Zealand vernacular is available on Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Claytons. Although the iconic 1980s television commercial, starring Jack Thompson, is sadly unavailable online, the reader is encouraged to enjoy this playful alternative, starring an unknown mime: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ylH43Tcaj60
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