Wednesday, February 20, 2008


Leaving at the crack of dawn for the Louisville Conference on Literature and Culture Since 1900 – a mouthful that; a mark of my own age that I remember when it was merely the "Twentieth-Century Literature Conference" – to talk about Ronald Johnson and anagrams, & to spend some time in deep discussion with old friends & new. I quite frankly love conferences (except for MLA – everybody hates MLA): staying in a posh hotel, eating foods one wouldn't normally allow oneself, drinking & smoking way too much.

Best of all is the sense one sometimes gets of a kind of concentrated attention being paid to the things one cares about, one's "discipline." It happens in flashes in the department halls of Our Fair University, but all too rarely. Sadly enough, one finds one shifting from graduate school – a non-stop carnival of intellectual stimulation, of new books & ideas & movies & so forth (along with a great deal of angst, of course) – to a situation in which talking about poetry has become a job, & conversations with your colleagues seem to be about 50% bourgeoise housekeeping (the state of one's home, the progress of one's kids, which restaurants one should visit), 20% teaching "shop talk," 20% full-bore office politics & administrative kvetching, & a bare 10% ideas. At the best conferences, it's ideas most of the time.

"I say, beware of all enterprises that require new clothes, and not rather a new wearer of clothes," said Thoreau. But I've disregarded Walden & togged myself out in some new pants & couple of new sweaters, in eager anticipation of the sub-freezing weather predicted for points north. (My Chicago friends will snort derisively to learn that our current "cold front" has temperatures down to 66 at night.)

So here's to getting airborne!


Sisyphus said...

Good luck and have fun!

And if me and my fellow grads are at 50% bourgeois housekeeping now (75 if you count nervous worry about where your next TAship is coming from), I wonder what will happen when we get to doing this stuff as a job?

Anonymous said...

Louisville is wonderful, especially for the integration of tenure-types and gradskoolers. But Sisyphus, I wouldn't worry. The way things are going in the profession, you're likely to spend 50% of your time looking for some pay to round out the wages of "contingent" faculty. (All in the interest of making way for ideas, of course...)

E. M. Selinger said...

Hi, Mark! How was your trip home? You looked mighty dapper in the new duds, but I fear we gave you more household chat than intellectual meat to chew on. Was it you or Peter I was going to turn on to Flight of the Conchords? Let me know and I'll throw a few vids up on my blog.

Love to all!