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Monday, April 09, 2007

SAA: Really quite a nice conference

I was unable to bring my computer to SAA, so my conference blogging will lack that special you-are-there immediacy. After all the bitterness of our RSA posts, I'm pleased to be able to report that SAA was great. Even though our hotel was a bit isolated, as it was in Miami, at least here we were isolated in a nice hotel with working elevators, nice conference rooms, and a great waterfront view. Oh, and there were significantly fewer hormone-addled youths running around making us feel old. In fact, there were a significant number of just plain addled elders shuffling around (with canes) making us feel young.

I sat in on two seminars, as well as attending the one I was in (because I'm professional like that), and all three had some interesting papers, and some good conversation. One of the sessions I audited only had 8 or 9 members, and it seemed like it worked really well at that size, which bodes well for next year's experimental plan to add more seminars and keep them smaller. What worked in the seminars I saw was moving the discussion forward from the papers, with pointed questions (from groups or from leaders) beginning with the papers but then pushing elsewhere. What didn't work was having each person give a brief (ie, none-too-brief) precis of his or her paper, which usually just stalled the discussion and turned it into a series of one-on-one exchanges between a seminar leader and a seminar member. But I got a lot out of all three seminars, which is a personal record for me at SAA. There are only 3 slots for seminar attendance--which is one of the things I love about SAA--but each of the previous years I've gone, one of the three has been a complete waste of time for me, or else I've skipped one slot entirely.

I agree with Truewit about the presidential address. It did save itself with email humor, but it also wallowed far too long in romanticized visions of Others, be they learning to read, teaching their teachers about the true meaning of Shakespeare, or getting blown up by an IED--all of which somehow might be averted if we heed the lessons of Shakespeare more successfully, or teach Shakespeare more sensitively, or stock Iraqi bookstores with more copies of Shakespeare, or something .... In all seriousness, I know what our president was trying to say, and there were things I might actually agree with there, but man, did it come out all wrong or what?

Other highlights:
  • we seem to have been sharing a hotel with a convention of plastic surgeons, and on one of the conference room placards I saw the sign "Implant Removal." I wonder if there are plastic surgeon bloggers posting right now about the weird sign for "Locating Performance." Why are all these college professors unable to find the theater they're supposed to be attending?
  • the nautical-themed bar, which featured two carved figureheads apparently from ships--both of them were of the "lawn jockey" (sea jockey?) variety and made one wonder why this bar would mount them on the wall. Despite the slightly racist decor, the bar was open late, had pool tables, and served surprisingly good food;
  • I had a good meeting with an editor at a press, which might result in something;
  • Met someone on the plane ride out who I had wanted to meet for a while, and whose book I own and like, and who turned out to be nice;
  • Met someone else who I've been wanting to meet since we almost met at MLA but failed to really meet, and who is very cool and fun;
  • Saw plenty of old friends, and met some new ones, in the bar--contrast this with Miami, where I was banished to the Loser hotel at the end of every evening, the bar of which closed at 10:30;
  • Richard Dutton strolling around in a t-shirt and shorts, and wearing a new t-shirt/shorts combo each day of the conference;
  • Eggs, sausage, and home fries delivered to my room;
  • Incredible sushi.
Some lowlights:
  • $25 for eggs, sausage, and home fries delivered to my room;
  • Forgetting that the book exhibit ends at 12:30 on the last day, and thus failing to do some book-buying I had planned to do;
  • Missing the apparently explosive seminar on "Performance Criticism: The State of the Art," which, rumor has it, featured Reg Foakes wagging his finger (Lewinsky-style) at Ayanna Thompson for daring--gasp!--to use the term "blackface" to discuss performances of Othello--because that word was not used in the Renaissance. Then again, probably half the words in most of the papers were not used in the Renaissance, but somehow "blackface" is the one that bothered him. Anyone who was there, please let us know about it in comments: did you storm out in a huff? did you marvel at the sparks that can still fly at academic conferences? can you guess Reg Foakes's age?

  • At 4/09/2007 11:34:00 AM, Blogger Simplicius wrote…

    One other thing that struck me about the seminars: the seminars privilege questions, both in the period leading up to them and in the seminar discussions themselves: "Your paper and her paper raised questions for me about X and Y." But too infrequently do the questions result in real answers, sometimes because the questions are unanswerable but also because the seminars don't emphasize answering questions and trying to make strong arguments. I may be wrong about this, but it does seem to be a tic in the seminar format. And I think I like best those moments when people take a stand and make big claims. My thoughts here are still kind of hazy, but if I attend a seminar on "Performance Criticism," which I didn't, I'd like to come away with some big new arguments about "performance criticism," and I almost know I wouldn't because the seminar format isn't geared toward that type of conclusion. Maybe a way around this would be to make more central questions about the state of the particular subfield (i.e., performance criticism, gender and sexuality, book history, genre and tragedy, drama in the 1590s, etc.)--i.e., what's missing, what's wrong--and then to ask people to make more explicit claims about how their papers are intended to address those lacunae and erroneousies. Ideally, this would result in three or four statements about where the field is headed and/or should be headed in the opinion of the seminar participants, perhaps giving the seminars more a purpose than they now sometimes seem to have after all the email exchanges before they meet.

    Then again, maybe this would only produce more craziness and more older scholars jabbing their fingers in the direction of the younger ones.


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