Monday, February 28, 2011


A miscellany tonight, as all too often. A week or two ago, enthralled with the density and productive rhythm of Johnson's Rambler essays – he turned those things out at the rate of 2 a week for about 2 solid years, you know – I floated the idea of retooling Culture Industry into a series of Rambler-like essay-lets. Well, that's not happening anytime soon, I fear. After all, writing Ramblers was Johnson's full-time job at the time; he didn't have to prepare talking points on the Odyssey and Carlyle and Macaulay, or do the cooking, or feebly attempt to pitch in on the raising of the kids.

More importantly, there's a kind of wonderful observational (& for that matter moral) intensity to Johnson's essays that I find myself having trouble mustering. It's true, at the best of times I'm terribly scattered, my mind and sensibility on a dozen different texts, things, issues. And my habitual, engrained diffidence makes it difficult for me to issue pronouncements in the Johnsonian manner, or even to try patiently explaining things – things always seem, in the next layer of analysis, far more complex than my explanation would indicate.
Perhaps the most uncomfortable series of moments at the otherwise fabulous Louisville conference this weekend were those numerous times when folks asked me "What's your next project?" & I found myself answering, "well, I'd like to write brief book A, or maybe brief book B, and somewhere down the line is big book C." And where does the paper you just gave fit in with A, B, or C? Er -- nowhere, actually; it's just something that's been obsessing me for a while. I'm sure Jonathan Mayhew would have pointed things to say about directing one's energies, but keeping on task has never been my strong point.

At any rate, the conference was a great time, as conferences tend to be – yes, there were some excellent panels, including in-depth treatments of Michael Heller & Lorenzo Thomas, and a fine reading by Rae Armantrout, but as usual the selling point of these gatherings is the chance to get together with one's academic friends whom one only sees at conferences. "Get together" in the sense of "going out to excellent exotic restaurants and going out on extended drinking binges." The sort of thing, I guess, that my undergraduates do every weekend – or at least the binging part.

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