Friday, April 1, 2011

The Fall of Nations

So, I was one of the keynote speakers recently at a symposium held at the University of Bologna, which is in Bologna, Italy, in case you were wondering, and which also was the first university ever, anywhere, older even than the University of Paris, which is pretty cool.  

The conference was in celebration of the centenary of Marshall McLuhan's birth, and in fact was the first European event of a series scheduled for this year (McLuhan having been born in 1911).  And the event also was associated with the 150th anniversary of the founding of Italy as a nation-state, a celebration of 150 years of Italian unity as they put it (though some over there would beg to differ on the subject of unity).  

Elena Lamberti, a professor of American literature at the University of Bologna, and the organizer of the conference, brought the two anniversaries together by giving the conference the theme of La comunicazione costruisce la nazione which translates as Communication makes the nation in case your Italian has gotten a little rusty.  Here's the web page for their McLuhan Centenary events:, and for the symposium:

They used a pretty cool image as the symbol of this symposium, actually one with North American origins, and it's worth including here in Blog Time Passing:

She's lovely, but seems a little wired, don't you think?  Sorry, couldn't resist.

Anyway, they had live video streaming of the talks, which was pretty appropriate given the theme, and it led to an interesting exchange at the beginning of the symposium, as Eric McLuhan was giving his lead off plenary address.  Bob Blechman was watching back in New York, and through Twitter alerted me to the fact that the video was too far away from the speaker, so I relayed this information to the folks from Bologna, and they were able to make adjustments during his talk.

All of the videos have been archived, and you can watch them here:  Not surprisingly, much of the conference was in Italian, and they were nice enough to provide English translation for the attendees, but online I'm afraid folks aren't so lucky.  But there are several presentations in English, or in what passes for English up in Canada (just kidding friends), including Eric McLuhan's keynote, and papers delivered by my friend B. W. Powe, and new friends Dominique Sheffel-Dunand, the new head of the McLuhan Program at the University of Toronto), Seth Feldman of York University, and Edward Slopek of Ryerson University.  Alexander Stille of Columbia University also participated, but he spoke in Italian (show-off!).

I was the only English-speaking American, actually, and you might ask if I would be so kind as to embed the video of my talk right here for your convenience, and yes, of course, I'd be happy to:

Actually, it's pretty cool that they gave us the embed codes, gotta love that.  Anyway, I'm introduced in Italian, but of course my talk is in English.  There was no alternative to sitting, no podium or microphone stand, so it was not an optimal speaking situation, as I find that energy is lower when sitting than when standing (not to mention the fact that I was feeling very worn out at this point).  Also, I did not have the chance to properly time or cut down my talk, and it turned out to be way too long, so if you watch this through to the end, you'll see me skipping over pages in the last part of the talk.  Even so, I think it went well, and was well received.  

We didn't have a question and answer session until after three other shorter presentations were made, but then we had some lively discussion that I was very happy with.   All in all, it was a great event, wonderful to get together and get to know a fine group of scholars, and to get to revisit some ideas about nationalism that I had worked on while I was still completing my dissertation back in the good old days of the good old media ecology program.  

And that about sums it up, think I'll go have an espresso now, might as well make it a double...

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