A Acacia Fierceness Yeti Morons
|Which is, of course, an anagram of Renaissance Society of America. Will anyone stand up for our Yeti friends? I don’t think I can. The final evening reception was magnificent, in the sense that there were mountains of food and free-flowing drinks, guzzled down in a room the size of an aircraft hanger. But this, clearly, is where the bulk of the large registration fee goes: and it seems insane that the conference priorities should be a Henrician feast, esp. when lots of people (mainly cash-strapped junior faculty and grad students) have left by Saturday night. But the whole RSA has a sense of operating in another era. Even its web-page feels … well, Renaissancey.|
Of course one of the problems is the ridiculously atomized structure of RSA which makes the normally happy conference pursuit of identifying intellectual refrains difficult. It fact it feels like the organizers actively want to discourage connections and broader narratives, in some bizarre bureaucratic equivalent of revisionist history. But I did hear two excellent panels. One on food: Wendy Wall on distillation, and Diane Purkiss on bread. Purkiss made claims for a great and sudden taste shift in the late c16, from darker, richer flavors like venison (which she mapped on to a masculine, land-owning, gentry culture) to a dairy-based palate (which she linked with a feminine, urban, civilizing culture). Momentum really does seem to be building up around the recipe book: in recent weeks I’ve heard it discussed in terms of women’s autobiography, textual transmission, early c17 experimental science, rhetoric, and Shakespearean drama. There was a great session on the sonnet: esp. Ramie Targoff on Thomas Watson’s Hekatompathia (1582), and the sea of notes which framed each sonnet with an artfulness at odds with Sidney’s sequence nine years later. Watson’s sonnet collection, with its display of sources, methods, borrowings, craft, represents an alternative direction the English sonnet could have taken. Bradin Cormack’s use of land law to read Shakespeare’s Sonnet 87 – linking the difficulty the sonnet speaker has in possessing his beloved with the impossibility of certain kinds of (non-familial) relationship generating any legal efficacy - was the first genuniely riveting paper I’ve heard in an age. You could cut the atmosphere with a knife. But scattered between these high points, there were countless sessions with tiny audiences; many that began with apologies for speakers or chairs who hadn’t made it (presumably because you have to commit so ridiculously far in advance); an incredibly high level of IT breakdowns (at least two sessions I saw had to resort to passing round transparencies). And then, popping up at various points, the phenomenon that is the young man in bowtie. What is that all about?