|David Jones "Mother of the West" 1942 Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle Upon Tyne|
used as logo for the conference
Images and moments that are staying with me from the York conference remind me how in the true spirit of an incarnational aesthetic we were engaged with all our senses, beginning with the great intellectual stimulation all around, but also with feasting for the eyes, the tongue, the ear, and the appreciation, always deepened when we engage with Jones, of what Paul Hills called "the good bodily image" (quoting from Jones).
Despite Jones's strongly anti-technological bent it was quite wonderful to see, at this conference, what technology permitted: starting with the welcome from William Blissett, the "don" of David Jones studies at age 94, and receiving his avuncular advice about Jones studies and Jones conferences – it was just right to have his voice and image to gather us since he couldn’t be there in the flesh. It was great to have the right equipment to look together at Jones’s art work and linger over thorough readings – notably of course in Paul Hills’s keynote on “the good bodily image” and his invitation to look at Jones’s work alongside Italian Renascence images that he knew and loved in the National Gallery. And there was Rose Lavan’s attentive reading of Jones’s “Female Warden” and Hilary Davies’s and others’ images from Stanley Spencer and reflections from artists present among us, who could talk about their work in the context of David Jones. We encountered “The Dream of the Rood” in a variety of ways – in papers and also in Rahul Gupta’s riveting performance of Anglo Saxon text and his translation at the conference dinner. And trees – everywhere – it kept coming up. The destruction of trees at Mametz at the heart of it all – but The Dream of the Rood and the Vexilla Regis and the Tree of the Cross and actual, green, bodily trees. It stays with me as an image. There were challenges and new insights to reflect on – Tom Dilworth’s addition to psychological reflection on Jones’s life and work, Fr. John David Ramsey and others directing our attention the gestures and movements in the Tridentine mass and how they help us see more in Jones. And good, engaged, reflective conversations – I could cite many but remembering, for example, wide ranging discussion on the relationship between “sacrament” and “forgiveness,” and the feminist thing (if it’s a thing in Jones - I think it is) and the Anglo-Saxon thing and of course the Roman thing -- lots of food for futrher thought, and the thrill of seeing good work well done and well presented. And Adam Schwartz’s closing keynote, which kept the energy up through the very end of a rich and stimulating conference, and his intriguing suggestion, with a quote from Siegried Sassoon, that perhaps we have in In Parenthesis the epic of the Great War that would be appreciated "in 100 years time" - this of course particularly relevant on this 100th anniversary year of the Battle of Mametz Wood.
As I said in the closing, it was wonderful to witness conversations “in the flesh” between people who knew each other from reading their work but had never met! And to be in these conversations myself – meeting, for the first time, Christine Pagnouille, Luke Thurston, Adam Schwartz, among others. And most of all to have so many young scholars with truly fresh approaches joining and really leading the conversation.
But to the bodied experience, and all the senses. I loved beginning my own time at the conference by hearing early mass at St. Wilfrid’s, with Fr. John David Ramsey presiding, And then I made a solitary visit to the Minster, and knelt and sat and walked in its vast, illuminated spaciousness, and took in the layers and layers of history there, and lit a candle for absent friend Tom Goldpaugh.
At St. Wilfred’s on Friday, the ineffable beauty and rightness and depth of Opus Anglicanum’s performance based on In parenthesis, with the added richness of hearing it in company with this particular audience. And then the feasting afterwards: good food, good conversation, good poetry to hear. Feasting also went on after the conference events on other nights, at the Dunmore Arms, moving between tables and having conversations and deepening and renewing old friendships. It was lovely how generously the wine flowed at several conference events, enhancing conversations.
And at the heart of all of it – a true gift, made possible by attentive scholarship and and new technology, the showing of clips from the Mabon Studios tapes of David Jones, painstakingly edited by Jasmine Hunter-Evans and Anne Price-Owen. We shall all retain that full screen image of David Jones's mobile face, with its puckish smile, as he listened to the interviewer’s question, and then, in a strong voice, and countenance fully alive, reading from the opening lines of “The Tutelar of the Place” and the closing pages of The Anathemata.
At which, I was undone.
I shall remain deeply grateful and delighted by the fine work of the conference organizers, Anna Svendson and Jasmine Hunter-Evans and the presence of all who participated. What a feast these last few days have been!!