|I'm inspired by Hieronimo to propose another picture of another city that isn't Dallas, but pretty much could be -- and another place that, without oil, would probably barely be inhabited. Already before my plane landed, when it was skimming along above endless miles of the worst, most densely-packed and depressing tract housing I've ever seen, I thought we might be in trouble in this place. This sense was only increased during a $500 cab ride from the airport to the hotel, past endless dismal corporate parks and "President George Bush Turnpike" -- a drive solely enlivened by the pleasure of noticing "Hasty Beverages" en route. Then there was the view from my room, a landscape of about a million brutalist skyscrapers, seventy-five parking lots, fifty-three lanes of freeways, a few construction cranes, and something called "Donut Chinese Take Away." Like Hieronimo, I went there with an open mind, hoping for good BBQ and Tex-Mex; he can confirm that one of the first things I did when I got there was to call him to say that I suspected Dallas to be the worst place in the world. It has that postapocalyptic, the-people-are-dead-but-there-might-be-zombies kind of feel. Not that there's anything wrong with that, mind you. Who doesn't like zombies? I just wish there had been a few decent restaurants as well. Can't eat brains every day.|
Speaking of eating brains (heh heh heh) ... there was the conference itself, which was, as always, a lot of fun. Actually maybe more fun than last year, despite the absence of the schooner bar, the howling wilderness outside the hotel, the zombies clawing at the door, and (after mad dashes past zombies, and after negotiating the preposterously high "extras" charged by clearly zombified Dallas cabdrivers) the pretty mediocre meals. Though I started to get sick on the second day, which robbed me of energy and definitely inhibited my drinking.
I found myself going to a lot more sessions this year, for one reason or another. Sometimes this was a mistake. Is there really ever a point in auditing a seminar? I mean, really? Other than to watch your friends discuss papers you haven't read? That is, unless you're going there with the specific intention of being that person who asks the crazy question, once the seminarians open up their discussion to everybody, and thereby makes all the other people in the room become suddenly fascinated with their shoes or with some tiny square section of the table in front of them. But mostly it was cool. If you're just participating in a seminar, there's an unbelievably small amount of work or worrying about work to do at SAA, which means you can spend more time surfing sessions and seeing what other people are up to. Or, better yet, getting down to the truly important business of eating and drinking.
The theme, I guess, was boredom with facts and things -- "facts" and "things" being oddly conflated, I thought, in the plenary talk that everybody was talking about, which appeared to me to assume that, in general, materialist scholarship and meticulous scholarship are more or less the same, unimaginative thing, and we should stop doing both of them and just be cool. I frankly didn't get the distinction that was being made there, I think between good historicism and bad historicism. Maybe I'm being obtuse, but aren't we always trying to use historical scholarship to imagine other ways of thinking and being? Of course there's a huge amount of terrible, boring, dreary, soul-crushing, eyeball-glazing work out there -- clearly being produced by zombies -- but I'm not sure that the difference between that and the good work can be described in terms of method. Nor do I think it has much to do with whether one claims to follow or to repudiate New Historicism. That whole line of thought seemed to me oddly to accept the olde, circa-1990 critique of NH, which said, roughly, that either it's not new, or, if it is new, it's wrong; the new spin was just that wrong is more exciting. (And yet the point was also that Mulaney wasn't actually wrong, when you look at how people thought about the liberties ...)
So, it was a great performance, but I'm not sure I got it.
I heard some other cool stuff, saw friends, and generally had a good time, despite the zombification.
Where are we going next year? Do I hear SAA Kamchatka? Novosibirsk? Fargo?
Oh, as always, I of course issue my general apology. Dear all: yeah ... uh ... sorry about that.