Giving Thanks, Giving Space

I would first like to thank everyone who was involved with “To Receive is Never Neutral: towards an ethics of reception” which took place in the Classics Department of the
University of Bristol 7-8th September 2011.  A thanks and an excitement about where all
the talks and thoughts are going next (particularly developing links and sharing ideas with research already underway around the Erotics of Reception!) [more of which to
follow in the future].

This, however, is my (tentative) expression of what I will take away, or seize, or cling on desperately to, from the workshop discussions (I think I only know how to cling on desperately). This is also a response  to Ika Willis’s wonderfully stimulating keynote and responses, but, this remains what it is: a messy and fragile acknowledge of myself.

The whole project began through a not knowing, a not knowing of terms, not being clear of the meaning of the words: ethics, reception and how should they be placed alongside each other– ethics of/and/with/in/etc reception. So it began out of my desire for clarification of the terms I use to orientate my relationship with words, times, places, people, bodies, and other etcs.

A lot of the papers expressed concerns with a certain dis-orientation; of negotiating traumas and fraught positions—whether the disorienting trauma of a lightning bolt on a location shoot, writing the traumas of martyrdom, Greg Garrard’s keynote focusing on disgust, nausea, abjection and the space between animal/human and others,  or the fraught traumas of just recognising your position in relation to another.

in disorientation the space of ethics (and reception?). I remain unsure (because disorientation makes my nauseous, and hurts…), but something about that space—an openness of disorientation, of not knowing, that thinking, the space to think again, otherwise, again, the finding of compass points, steadiness, emerges: I need messy disorientation to give space for some sort of nourishment,  like touch, or theory, or poetry (bell hooks, Gloria Anzaldua, Lucretius… know this well, perhaps).

What  Ika brings out, alongside Sarah Wood’s fantastic opening keynote (and not just because it was all birds, and play, and Phaedrus), for me at least, is that giving-ness of dis-orientation: a not-being-clear as a site that gives the reader a position to speak and love, and read,  her own space, with you.

But the desire for clarity: for being clear with what I mean I still cling to. And I think of some of the clearest things that I’ve been faced with: the clarity of hospitals, of diagnosis: when it is in the clear words of medical-speak (all numbers, time-frames, codes, short sentences (no adjectives, brackets, smiles), and where long words, even if you don’t know what they mean, are all too clear). And in that place of clarity any action becomes removed from interaction, from thoughts of something or someone else, from doing or being (with) anything else: I move around unthinking down one corridor,  one road,  one decision. The clarity of the sanitary, the clean. Spaces to think are closed off, and it is an open door, a window, a fresh-air-desire to not-know clearly, to think otherwise about something, anything, else, that I now want to cling to (and can’t).

And all this, all this un-thought-thinking, reminds me of something that I had forgotten through all the time and planning and energy of it all: the words of the poet of reception who told me to let go and remember that I didn’t fall in love “just to hang on to life so you have to take your chances and try to avoid being logical. Pain always produces logic, which is very bad for you” [Personism: a manifesto]:

                         Frank O’Hara.

In typing those words (that name) that I do know by my heart (my head forgot them—not enough space!), my need to cling on desperately loosens, a space emerges between my sore and bleeding fingers, I feel them move again, as they let go.

And it is that giving space between my fingers and the words, the air and resistance, time and space breathing, together, and the words ethics/reception (their contact, resistance, breath) emerge at this point of openness, and non-de-finition: I go with what I have left open and fragile, and giving:

        My Heart:

I’m not going to cry all the time
nor shall I laugh all the time,
I don’t prefer one “strain” to another.
I’d have the immediacy of a bad movie,
not just a sleeper, but also the big,
overproduced first-run kind. I want to be
at least as alive as the vulgar. And if
some aficionado of my mess says “That’s
not like Frank!”, all to the good! I
don’t wear brown and grey suits all the time,
do I? No. I wear workshirts to the opera,
often. I want my feet to be bare,
I want my face to be shaven, and my heart–
you can’t plan on the heart, but
the better part of it, my poetry, is open.

Frank O’Hara

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Timetable Changes, Other Info

17th August: a few little changes more… 

An updated timetable can be accessed here:Timetable



For a more detailed look at the workshop download the Programme

The workshop seems to be slowly coming together (breath of fresh air), so if anyone hasn’t got the papers or wants other information about the practicalities of the day/s please email

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Antigone– the body of ethics?

Anouilh, Butler, Ettinger, Gambaro, Hegel, Heidegger, Irigaray, Lacan, Wollstonecraft, Žižek,… Antigone is repeatedly the site, the body…for debate, critique, and fight over issues of ethics.  The unloved, unwept, unfriended woman names ethics somehow. Eugene O’Brien has emphasized how the play, the name, the body, the idea….give a certain (and necessary) responsibility of ethics. Because she is a contradiction, ethics needs to be continually reinvented with her body and her name: she gives the necessity for responsibility over actions, legacies, words… By being-contradictory, Antigone gives “us” responsibility, gives ethics?  [(2010) “The Body Politic: The Ethics of Responsibility and the Responsibility of Ethics” in S. E. Wilmer and Audrone Žukauskaitė [eds] Interrogating Antigone in Postmodern Philosophy and Criticism: Oxford].

Without anyone’s
Weeping, without friends,
Without a marriage-
Song, I in my
Misery am
Led to the road
Prepared for me,
No longer am
I allowed to
See this firey
Eye of heaven. For
My Fate, there are
No tears or cries from any
Beloved Friend

ἄκλαυτος, ἄφιλος, ἀνυμέναιος ταλαίφρων ἄγομαι
τὰν πυμάταν ὁδόν. οὐκέτι μοι τόδε
λαμπάδος ἱερὸν ὄμμα
θέμις ὁρᾶν ταλαίνᾳ.
τὸν δ᾽ ἐμὸν πότμον ἀδάκρυτον
οὐδεὶς φίλων στενάζει.

[876-882 Gibbons and Segal (2002) translation: Oxford]

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Celebrating Classics, Debating Value… 16th September

To celebrate the long history of RHUL there is an event in London to discuss the planned “alterations” to the Classics and Philosophy Department:

For more information about attendance look at the Facebook page:

‎16th SEPTEMBER EVENT NEWS. Friends’ Meeting House, Euston Road, Opposite Euston Station, London. 1330-2130. Speakers will debate the value of Classics and celebrate its 162-year history at Royal Holloway and Bedford.

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Classics in theory, (is) ethics?

On Saturday Miriam Leonard and Tim Whitmarsh held a thought-provoking day in Oxford that was all about re-thinking relationships between Classics and Theory, to rejuvenate  positions, textures, relationships…with/in both (a good and timely thing!)

One of the things that kept coming up in the discussions, was the word ethics: a question, a desire, a necessity… for Classics to re-engage (with) itself ethically somehow. And that ethics seemed a desire for political engagement and radical impact and transformations.

(really rough un-thoughts):

 (for me at least) it is like creating space for theory  (a word which I struggle with its meaning even more than the word Classics) seems to create a space for ethics. Like Theory gives permission for the opening up of an ethically engaged (Classical) scholarship. Because theory is an encounter of difference, a different encounter, or something (else) like that?      

(for me at least) it made me think of Rachel Wiegman (2003:  “Feminism’s Broken English”) talking about the need for a theoretical humanities as a political act for Feminism within the Academy– that it is through re-cognising theoretical relationships that a political place can be continually developed, nuanced, transformed.

But more than all of this (for me at least) I keep coming to the what I can never really think (theorise?): a kind of un-thinking position that comes from my gut: that whatever ethics is (I do not know) it is something to do with being with/sharing with others and acknowledging that. And whatever theory is it is something about seeing that sharing, writing with it. And I keep coming back to my desires for reception to re-conceive its place to become something like Bracha Ettinger’s “matrixial borderspace” where any knowledge is because of a sharing, co-emergent making-together/ play, generous, re-membering its/my pain of not-knowing, and making it new (together).

“The knowledge of transformation-by-borderlinking is not cognitive; it is accessed by aesthetical and ethical joining-indifferentiating and working-through. Matrixial differentiating creates an invisible aesthetical ‘screen’ on the border of the ethical, a screen which by art and in the psychoanalytical ongoing continual encounter becomes accessible. It becomes that which is woven and touches me behind the visible and the audible on the borders of the thinkable, a knowledge with the other and in the other, and the other’s knowledge with-in me, which can only be reached by some kind of non-defensive self-relinquishment …by compassionate hospitality or generosity…” [Bracha Ettinger (2006: “Matrixial Trans-Subjectivity”: 222)]

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Adriana Cavarero- Relating Narratives/Tu che mi guardi, tu che mi racconti

Facing a text of Cavarero is to be told that the text, as such, is inessential, because what matters is the relationship between a unique self and the narration of a her lifestory. Philosophy has failed humanity because the question of the “who” exceeds the tried and tested concerns for “what” something is (what is reception?). What matters, and all that can be received, is you and me. Our narratives relating to each other/s.  According to Cavarero “we” (as unique beings) all have a desire for narration, we desire to be told our life, and so we are exposed to another; we are (as) narratable only by another (unique and narratable, and exposed self).

Within Cavarero’s work, so bound up with receptions, and reconceptions of Classical texts (Oedipus, Plato, Eurydice Jacob, Ulysses, Echo…), texts, pasts, and processes of reception, re-reading and analysis, converge, meet and re-touch in a unique relationship between two (unique) selfs: you look at me, you tell me/stories/histories, reciprocally we make the narrative appear, together:

“Precisely because of this irremediable exposure to others, uniqueness–although it speaks the desiring language of the one—rejects, at the root, the synthesis of the all…. Fragile and exposed, the existent belongs to a world-scene where interaction with other existents is unforeseeable and potentially infinite. As in The Arabian Nights, the stories intersect with each other. Never isolated in the chimerical, total completion of its sense, one cannot be there without the other ” [Relating Narratives: 87]

Maybe Cavarero offers an approach towards a “reception” emerging as fragile, infinite, unforeseeable, and always re-making inter-actions with others; a process of relating to/with texts which gives space for uniqueness on both sides that does not deny differences, reception that re-cognises you and me…


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Call For Participants

We have made a “Call For Participants” to stimulate “little grey cells” into Action– so please disseminate widely:

Call For Participants

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