Unstrung Letters: A short reflection on our first year
With Unstrung Letters, there were no defined goals. There were no institutions, no doctorates, no relevant credentials. So the talks were messier, less focused than professional academic conferences. More like conversation, I guess. There were word-plays, inside jokes, over-eager, ill-informed posturing and two mice. There were things said that were deeply moving and and things that were deeply stupid. These are the moments of spontaneous hilarity and profundity that come from the best kind of conversation. They were made possible by the unrehearsed and candid words of our 10 or so speakers.
There was always a real sense of speaking without authority–What right have I to tell people what to think? Because when you take critical discussion out of the hands of professionals–researchers, economists, critics, pundits–and put it in the hands of amateurs, we are left with only ourselves and our personalities. It feels a little naked. We are in a room. There is just me. There is just you. We’re trying to have a conversation and we’re not sure where it’s going.
Here you’ll find, in the spirit of transparency and sharing, the recordings of Unstrung Letters’ first seasonThe whole point of Unstrung Letters is to share ideas in person in a thoughtful, informed and, above all, a human way. It’s not a blog. It’s not a youtube video. It’s human contact in real time.
Recording something is easy. You press a button. But just because you can record and share something with the world, doesn’t mean you should. I recoil at the idea of my “um”’s and my confused sentences being immortalized. I don’t want to add to the intellectual garbage on the internet.
But these recordings aren’t garbage any more than any first draft is. Mistakes and false starts are part of any artistic process. And there’s an element in these recordings of trying to get It all out there–whatever It is. Like an author who is trying to figure out what he or she really wants to say and how. There are bits you want to cut. But there are other bits where form and meaning come together, seemingly spontaneously, and the piece flies. Seeing that process happen can be useful and inspiring. After all, our goal, in the broadest sense, is to get people talking. So I hope that listening to these recordings dispels fears of sounding stupid–since we frequently did–and inspire you to go deeper into your interests.
In these recordings you’ll find the sloppy, unprofessional beauty that happens when a bunch of people get together with big ideas and unclear notions about how and why to share them. You say “clitoris” when you mean “clinical.” And all the while you’re just trying to say that Larkin’s “High Windows” might mean eternal possibility and might mean eternal damnation. The beauty of a poem is that both are possible. The beauty of Unstrung Letters was that we got to all talk about it.
– Georgina Emerson