Sunday, March 04, 2012


My resolution to jump right back blogging seems to have gone awry. Any way –

No, I didn't go to AWP this year. I know I should've gone. All the cool kids went, and after all I've got two newish books I ought to be flogging more assiduously. Sometime I'll go, I think, but till then I'll forgo writing about it from the outside. I'm not sure I could handle all that many poets in one place at one time.

Where I did go (last weekend) was the Louisville Conference, of which Bob Archambeau gives a pretty decent précis here. I had a good time, saw some friends, ate some good food, bought a few books. More importantly, it gave my thinking life a shot of monkey glands like I hadn't had in ages.

That is to say, this has so far – and it's over half done – a particularly gnarly semester. The administrative position, combined with an uncongenial teaching schedule, has left me months and months behind on all sorts of writing obligations. And along with that, the planning & blocking out of the new "big" project has gotten entirely sidelined. But I was on a panel with Bob – whose own "big" project I've been watching take shape for a couple years now – and Vince Sherry, one of the people I consider among the true shining lights of modernist scholarship, and the mere proximity to those folks, not to mention hearing their work-in-progress, got me back to thinking about Ruskin. Not just Ruskin – because not an hour goes by in which I don't think about Ruskin (call me obsessed) – but Ruskin in larger contexts, Ruskin as proto-modern, Ruskin as a vast unacknowledged influence on the century that follows him.

The problem of writing & arguing this, of course, in much larger than that of being able to spin it out in cocktail conversation. I find myself with at least three directions to pursue, three "leads" to follow in linking JR to the "high" modernist conversation. None of them amounts to a kind of "field theory" of Ruskinian modernism, but taken together, they make a compelling if disjointed argument. Right now what I'm trying to untangle is precisely what is Ruskin & what is Ruskin & a bunch of other guys (Carlyle, Pugin, etc.). That is, I'm trying to separate out the specifically Ruskinian from a whole phalanx of aesthetic and social theory. It means reading a lot of stuff on the Victorians (as I've already been doing), & thinking a good deal about the social situation of what John Holloway called the "Victorian Sage" (and what Stefan Collini calls the "public moralist").

Today however has been mostly a non-work day. A few hours at the Florida Renaissance Festival (after Thursday's mind-bending gumbo and last night's Thai, I had my doubts as to whether my kilt would still fit), then a lazy afternoon of tinkering at my latest infantile time-waster: model ships. It's all new to me; I built tons of plastic models as a kid, but it never occurred to me to actually paint them. Now I realize, surfing around the web and being astonished at the jobs various folks have done on models I own, that the finish is really the heart of the enterprise.

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