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Oops! ... He'll do it again

Barry McNamara
05/04/2011
Here’s a sentence you don’t read every day:

Monmouth College English professor Mark Willhardt will travel to Wales to talk about Britney Spears.

Willhardt elaborated on what at first glance appears to be a typographical error.

“Through a Monmouth College connection, I will be presenting a plenary talk at a conference hosted by Aberystwyth University,” he explained. “One of my former students, Keegan Lannon, is doing his Ph.D. work there, and he’s one of the organizers of the conference.”

Titled “New Horizons: Crossing the Borderlands of the Humanities,” the English and creative writing postgraduate conference will be held May 11-13 at the National Library of Wales in Aberystwyth. With the rise of interdisciplinary criticisms, “new and exciting light” has been shed on the humanities, according to the event’s organizers. The papers presented at the conference will discuss “various ways that the humanities might approach this new and open territory.”

Willhardt will be one of four plenary speakers at the conference. Others include a poet, a science-fiction writer and a literary theorist. Willhardt will reprise a post-sabbatical presentation he made on campus recently about pop music, primarily “cover” versions. His talk is titled “Covering Authenticity: A Few Words on Pop Music and Morality, in Three Movements and a False Start.”

To make his larger point, Willhardt will use the pop music hit “Oops! … I Did It Again” by Britney Spears, as well as a “stripped down” cover of the song by British folk musician Richard Thompson.

“I discuss four types of authenticity, especially ‘authenticity of contestation’ – how it forces us as listeners to attend to what the musician is doing with it and how it makes us act,” said Willhardt. “What I argue is that it’s not only possible to parse authenticity itself but that doing so is a way, perhaps, to reassert an ethical center to cultural critique. … I explore what it might mean to understand authenticity as more than an excuse for toe-to-toe tussels.”