Last Thursday evening, on September 20, English majors and literature enthusiasts alike convened in the Greywood Lounge for the first edition of Table Talk, a new offering from the students and faculty of the English Department aimed at fostering the discussion of select stories and literary criticism in an informal, low-stakes environment.
The idea for Table Talk developed from the interests of students in English and literature courses at Reed to bridge the gap between broadly recognized literature covered in classes and fiction or theory absent from the Reed curriculum. Junior English major Natasha Perrino, one of the organizers of Table Talk, describes the meetings as opportunities “to make seemingly intimidating texts and ideas approachable for the community” while also “creating a space for English students of all years to connect with one another outside the classroom.”
The readings curated for the inaugural gathering of Table Talk included the short story “Winky” by George Saunders from his 2000 collection Pastoralia, and the accompanying criticism “Affective Fictions: George Saunders and the Wonderful-Sounding Words of Neoliberalism” by Alex Millen. Each piece seemed to evoke a range of emotions and insights from students that broadened the group’s collective interpretations of the readings. Dialogue concerning the themes and narratives of the texts was both amusing and trenchant, as participants exchanged their perspectives of the absurd and humorous stylings of “Winky,” while also providing analysis of the story’s postmodern themes.
Topics of discussion ranged from the consequences of the Protestant spirit of capitalism on the American collective unconscious, to the commodification of time and personhood in the U.S. economy. As a result of certain talking points, discussion turned towards whether or not the slogan “Love Reed” is a glaring example of the exploit of personal values for the gain of private businesses, and whether or not neoliberal discourse obscures the ability to recognize corporate greed.
Over the course of the evening, opinions on much more than just literature were shared as students laughed together and increased the sense of community in the room. As conversation eventually waned, the unspoken consensus of those around the table was that good food and quality writing is the perfect formula for deeply engaging with literature outside of class in a way that creates empathy, whether between the reader and the page, or friends and one another. The next meeting of Table Talk takes place on Thursday, October 4 at 5:00 p.m. in Greywood Lounge, and the readings for that meeting are available from Jolie Griffin at firstname.lastname@example.org.