2018 Edinburgh University Literature Conference

28944347_1769269703125985_720257186_o (1)Earlier this year, I received the great news from the Edinburgh University School of Literatures, Languages and Cultures that my essay, Moral Dichotomy and Self-Discovery, has been approved for presentation at the university’s Literature Conference. I already experienced presenting a research paper in an international colloquium, but being recognised by one of the distinguished institutions in the UK, let alone the sixth oldest university in the English-speaking world, is a unique privilege altogether. However, the obvious challenge I had was getting to the venue, which is no less than 6,000 miles away from my home in Manila.

DICHOTOMIES AND DUALITIES

The Edinburgh University Literature Conference is a unique event because it is the only conference of its kind resident at a university for scholars in literary studies from around the world, who come together at the conference to present their original research and/or essays. The purpose of the Conference is to serve as a platform for scholarly research, encouraging independent inquiry amongst academicians, recognising the best and brightest writers from around the world, and also giving scholars, who may be aspiring for careers in postgraduate study and academia, the experience of presenting research in a rigorous conference setting.

Dichotomies and Dualities is the theme for this year’s conference. It attempts to interpret literary works according to the ways in which literature and the arts explore and/or subvert bodily binaries. The theme also covers linguistic dichotomies and dualities in literary modes and aesthetic categories and forms.

REMOTE PARTICIPATION

I sought assistance from the University, saying my capacity as an independent writer from the Philippines deprives me the ability to take a transatlantic trip. As much as I really want to have my first European holiday, I was informed by the organisers that they cannot grant financial assistance this year due to cut in funding. They, however, gave me an option to send a pre-recorded footage of my presentation so they can play it at the event.

Equipped with nothing but my iPhone 5S and a faulty selfie stick (I don’t even own a decent camera or a tripod), I mustered everything I learned from my video techniques class in college and started filming myself. It spelt disaster for me as I struggled to deliver a good presentation, adjust the camera, and control the slides all at the same time. Since my knowledge in video editing is next to nothing, I had to make a fluid shot of the presentation which basically means that if I commit any mistake in the middle of the speech, the only option is to do it all over again. It took me several attempts before finally getting the desired output. I was fully aware of the fact that the people who will watch my lecture are some of the brightest minds in the UK. And so if better is possible, good is never enough.

My essay Moral Dichotomy and Self-Discovery is my first venture in the great world of literary criticism. The piece is inspired by Tolstoy’s novel Anna Karenina, which has been influential in my appetite for books. I wrote the piece with the principal aim of exploring the juxtaposed lives of the characters and how their moral struggles are perpetuated by the rigid demands of the society.

Since finishing the book, the story of Anna has impacted my personal views on morality in a way similar to how the Bible turned many unbelievers into men of faith. The Christian message stitched in the fabric of Anna’s tragedy is a talented reminder of why our actions should be administered in harmony with our heart and sensitivity.

Due to certain restrictions, I cannot publish the whole essay here on my blog but below is an excerpt which discusses the thesis of my piece:

“Parallelism is a theme extensively present in Tolstoy’s novel, Anna Karenina. On one hand, the character of Anna portrayed the image of a Christian woman who had fallen into the pit of sin due to the failure of satisfying moral obligations. On the other hand, Konstantin Levin is an image of a man who began as a sceptic person but was able to navigate his way through the complex route towards spiritual belief. Anna and Levin’s lives were juxtaposed throughout the story, creating a dichotomous image of human morality. Both characters have undergone the process of self-discovery which resulted in opposing outcomes. There is no division, however, that separates Anna’s life from Levin’s. They are both present in the same dimension with similar societal structure. Tolstoy suggests that defining morality is not as easy as choosing between good or bad.  The two main characters showed how each person has the capacity to become righteous and immoral depending on the situations present in his life…

…Tolstoy’s accomplishment in the novel is being able to make the sinner innocent and the unbeliever divine. In Anna Karenina, he was successful in dissecting the anatomy of human morality and female sensitivity. He did not only throw an important philosophical question about who is responsible for a person’s moral fall but also offered a way to understand the abstract concept of faith. It is not possible for faith and disbelief to exist at the same time, and Tolstoy used an entirely moving novel to tell us which one should be excluded.”

After submitting my pre-recorded presentation, the organisers sent me a set of questions to further substantiate the arguments I made in the essay. Below is the transcription of the questions they sent me and the answers I provided:

1) Do you not think it is not a dichotomy that Anna commits suicide (something you say is the biggest sin) but also asks for forgiveness for this sin? Does it represent a conflicted soul?

Anna’s plea for forgiveness is Tolstoy’s way of showing that her heroine is a believer of God. Her decision to commit suicide is not a representation of a dysfunctional faith but a picture of a condemnatory society. It is no longer a question of whether Anna’s soul is a conflicted one because this has already been highlighted the moment she engaged in an extramarital affair. The important narrative to look at is the role of the society in creating the cloud inside Anna’s being which resulted to her tragic end. 

 

2) Does the society of man corrupt any of the protagonists?

 

The society is a key player in formulating the values and fate of both Levin and Anna, but the latter has suffered more from social judgment. She was corrupted by the ungenuine values of the social sphere she lived in. I say ungenuine because no matter how conservative the society claims it to be, it still has the tendency to contradict its own standards because it is founded by human norms. Like what I have explained, these norms are both inconsistent and frail because they are nothing but a collective hunch. Hence, human (or social) norms can never constitute moral ascendancy. 

 

The entire experience had definitely been worthwhile. The written feedback I received from the University will help me improve my academic writing skills, especially since I am planning  to attend grad school in the future!
 
(Here is the actual footage of my presentation during the conference. Apparently, the organisers encountered some technical issues with my video which is why it appeared upside-down. But my voice was pretty clear naman)

 

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