(I didn't intend to post this yet, but I have little choice: I'm still forced to copy-and-paste the letter "t," and after half a sentence all that Ctrl-v'ing chafes the soul.)
In an effort to create a tradition someone will one day pay me to uphold, I present to you the first of three posts documenting the panels I'll be attending at the 2006 MLA convention in Philadelphia. Unlike last year, this time I'll linger a moment and describe the reason I want to attend these panels particular panels (and mourn the fact that I cannot be in two places simultaneously).
That said, I'm on the fence about a number of them. If you know some compelling reason I should attend another one—or if I overlooked one you think I'd fancy—state your case in outrageously laudatory prose. (Being that this is the MLA, I would be remiss if I failed to provide loyal readers the opportunity to practice trumpeting the importance of their soon-to-be-called seminal work.) To the itinerary!
Wednesday, 27 December
5:15 p.m.: What Form Means Now to Postcolonial Literature (Deepika Bahri, Weihsin Gui, Indira Karamcheti, John Marx)
As most of you know, I'm interested in the intersection of non-literary "theory" with notions of a uniquely literary aesthetic. Bahri's "New Aestheticism: How to Read the Postcolonial Novel as Literature" looks particularly interesting. Attending this panel means skipping Alexander Gelley's Modernist Wisdom, but I've taken a seminar with Gelley in which Benjamin and Kafka—the subjects of his talk—were discussed in great detail.
7:00 p.m.: What is Comparative about Medieval Literary Studies? (Seth Lerer, Cary Howie, Rita Copeland, Sara Suzanne Poor)
I live with the Little Womedievalist and one of my closest friends is a medievalist, so I think and talk about the contours of medieval studies more frequently than your average Americanist. Given her infuriating ear for language and his professed difficulties with learning foreign ones, the extent to which medieval studies is or should be a comparative discipline regularly interrupts meaningful arguments about, say, whether My Chemical Romance's embrace of Queen's sound and sense of theatricality on The Black Parade contributes to or celebrates the vast homosexual conspiracy's victory over traditional American values. (Liza Minelli ever appears on one track. How is that not gloating?) I've been mentally drafting a post about The Black Parade for the better part of two weeks now, but writing it would require a more robust defense of cultural studies than I can currently muster. Why? Because academic blogging will only acquire a hyphen (academic-blogging!) or be neologized awkwardly (acablog! academog!) when it describes more than the mundane act of academics blogging. Anyone can write about popular music, but only a unique breed of bore can imbricate it in a discourse defined by its word-fervor for the verb "imbricate" and its cognates.
My other reason for wanting to attend is the reverence heard in the Little Womedievalist's voice when she mentions Rita Copeland. She once referred to Copeland as "beyond intimidating," a phrase whose hilarity a couple of wet-blankets would've spent the rest of the evening parsing, but which we let an uncomfortable silence kill. Speaking of intimidation, another panel I considered attending was Philosophy and Culture 1: Theory and Its Discontents (David L. Clark, Tilottama Rajan, Thomas Pfau, Orrin Nan Chung Wang). However, I fear that after spending some sixteen hours traveling, my response to it would be no more serious than this.
Jeffrey Allen Tucker's talk on "Racial Science Fictions: Octavia Butler's 'Bloodchild' and Samuel R. Delany's 'Time Considered as a Helix of Semi-Precious Stones" sounds fascinating, as it's part of the panel on Reading and Writing Against the Grain: African American Literature beyond Race (Amritjit Singh, Gene Andrew Jarrett, Carla L. Peterson, Jeffrey Allen Tucker). I know (and respect) Kevin's opinion on the anti-identitarian work of Paul Gilroy and Ken Warren, but I find academic work outside the activist mold more interesting than work within it. (More on this front later.)
Having written all that, it has come to my attention that I desperately need to sharpen my skimming skills. For all the obvious reasons, I'll be attending American Literary Historiography, Then and Now (Morris Dickstein, Robert A. Ferguson, Gerald Graff, Walter Benn Michaels, Shira Wolosky, Rafia Zafar).
8:45 p.m.: Academic Fashions (Jane Gallop, Joanna Stalnaker, Joseph P. Valente, Paul Alexander Morrison, Elisabeth Akhimoff Ladenson)
Someone will need to respond to the inevitable outcry Morrison's "Is the Rectum a Text?" will occasion. Why shouldn't it be me? This panel could also rekindle my passing interest in meta-theoretical debates about the place of theory in literary studies. Were it not for my abiding interest in meta-theory, I would likely be found at Who Was the First African American Woman Novelist? (William Leake Andrews, Frances Smith Foster, P. Gabrielle Foreman, Joycelyn K. Moody, Doveanna Sherie Fulton). I've always been interested in African-American fiction, and back in those cold days when I majored in Being an Orphan, Robin Roberts' American Literature survey kept me sane. She taught Butler's Kindred alongside Wilson's Our Nig and lifted my intellectually orphaned spirits. Not that having a soft-spot for slave narratives is necessarily admirable—only that I associate "serious" literary scholarship with the sort of textual explication she performed in that dank basement.
Thursday, 28 December
8:30 a.m.: Everquesting: Digital Learning in the Humanities (Priscilla Wald, Anne Balsamo, Cathy Davidson, Ana Everett, Douglas Thomas)
It may surprise some of the reader's of this academic blog to know that I'm interested in the intersection of academia and evolving technology. Also, Cathy Davidson's Revolution and the Word and Priscilla Wald's Constituting Americans are books whose brilliance and clarity offend the standard of muddleheaded mediocrity I uphold in my work. Granted, I doubt their talks will have much to do with their disciplinary expertise, but if they both agreed to participate, it must be stunning...
...and better be, as I'm skipping Resisting Texts: Teaching the Unteachable Text (James Phelan, Tita Chico, Michael J. Collins, Laurie A McMillan, John Paul Riquelme, Gillian D. Steinberg). Phelan and Riquelme are both worth the price of admission, but after months and months of marching to the conventional beat of a traditional drummer, the very idea of literary complexity flummoxes me.
10:15 a.m.: Thinking Through Genre (Eliza Richards, Michael Cohen, Jennifer Stoever, Ivonne Garcia, Michael A. Elliott)
This session is arranged by the Division on Nineteenth Century American Literature. I hope it surprises no one that I'm interested in my period. Were I less responsible, I'd attend Jewtastic! Marketing Jewish Culture (Alisa Braun, Ketri Steinberg, Marc Caplan, Jennifer Glaser, Jeffrey A. Sandler). Glaser's "Heeb-ing the Jewish Body: Heeb Magazine and the Marketing of the Jewish Body," and Steinberg's "Man, Oh Manischewitz: The Packaging and Branding of the Modern American Jew" strike this Southern Jew as counterintuitive unto nonsensical, but Google reveals them both to be respectable scholars. Minorities and Their Relation to Secularism (Hena Ahmad, Ketu Katrak, Amitava Kumar, Aamir R. Mufti, Rajagopalan Radhakrishnan, Rajeswari Snder Rajan) also intrigues me, as I think the conflicts between racial and religious ideas of ethnicity have yet to be satisfactorily theorized.
12:00 p.m.: Literary Studies in the Public Sphere (Jeffrey Williams, Amardeep Singh, Rita Felski, Michael Bérubé)
1:45 p.m.: Darwin Revisited (Vincent Pecora, Valerie Rohy, Kathleen Robin Hart, Lisa Zunshire)
7:00 p.m.: Literature and Political Theory (Gordon Bigelow, Kathy Alexis Psomiades, Lauren M.E. Goodlad, Robert Lawrence Caserio, Amanda S. Anderson)