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Tuesday, April 08, 2008

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?

  • At 4/08/2008 02:47:00 PM, Blogger Simplicius wrote…

    Yes, what is that bowtied man about?

    I assume it wasn't our man, Malcolm Kline.


  • At 4/08/2008 08:13:00 PM, Blogger Calantha wrote…

    One can only presume that that young bowtied man wants to emphasize his academic seriousness by following in the footsteps of famous bow tie wearers such as Le Corbusier, C. Everett Koop, Krusty the Klown, Triumph the Insult Comic Dog, and Count Duckula.

    (I do love Wikipedia. How did we all survive for so many years without an easily-accessible and -updatable list of famous bow tie wearers?)


  • At 4/08/2008 08:22:00 PM, Blogger Simplicius wrote…

    Ha--I love that list.

    I always associate bow tie wearers with conservatives (see Tucker Carlson; George Will), but clearly I was erroneously reducing the rich cultural history of the bow tie.


  • At 4/08/2008 10:26:00 PM, Blogger Flavia wrote…

    Oh, dear. I too mock the young man in the bowtie. . . but with the shameful knowledge that in college I was (a) madly in love with one such bowtied young man, and (b) dated another.

    Perhaps there's a reason I've never been able to bring myself to attend RSA.


  • At 4/09/2008 03:11:00 AM, Blogger Renaissance Girl wrote…

    That sonnet session was pretty great, wasn't it? It was lovely to hear, among other things, such evident pleasure in the word. I wanted to see the cooking one, but didn't make it. Glad for your summary. Thanks!

    As for the bow-tie....doesn't it fit with the whole self-important RSA vibe?


  • At 4/09/2008 12:48:00 PM, Blogger scrivener wrote…

    surely nothing beats the decadence of the breakfast trifle - a mere snip at seven bucks! I ordered 13 of them.


  • At 4/09/2008 12:51:00 PM, Blogger scrivener wrote…

    as for our bow-tied friend, I think I have located him at the following URL under the name of Professor Yaffle:


    Apparently, and I quote, 'Despite being a bit aloof, Yaffle can be touched by beauty'. Go figure...


  • At 4/10/2008 01:04:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous wrote…

    Alas, I was in the unenviable position of competing with Targoff et al. (I'm glad the RSA was gargantuan enough that I can say this without compromising my anonymity too much.) I was relieved to see that my panel did draw an audience.

    I agree with your assessment of RSA's structural flaws, but I did enjoy myself (although perhaps that has to do more with the time I spent at hotel bars trying to get my money's worth by eating bowl after bowl of bar snacks).

    I've never rocked the bowtie myself, but I think it's a good look for some. I think the real wtf is the quality of restaurants in downtown Chicago.


  • At 4/11/2008 12:47:00 AM, Blogger Inkhorn wrote…

    There are actually some fantastic restaurants in downtown Chicago, if you know where to find them -- though perhaps not near the RSA hotel, wherever that was. Last time I went to an RSA in Chicago (late '90s?), they had the conference in a hotel that was clearly in the process of being knocked down, and was in the middle of the financial district, miles away from anything. Except for jackhammers. There were a lot of those readily available. I think that's one of the things the RSA planners look for, when picking a conference hotel: something nice and semi-destroyed. That's what we pay the big bucks for.


  • At 4/11/2008 01:27:00 AM, Blogger Renaissance Girl wrote…

    inkhorn, i was just about to say the same thing about food in chicago. i had two fabulous meals, and one spectacular one, but they weren't in the immediate vicinity of the hotel. and not a bow-tie in the place.


  • At 4/11/2008 01:35:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous wrote…

    Sounds a bit like Purkiss is following her "genius" son's interest in becoming a chef a bit too closely . . .


  • At 4/11/2008 01:43:00 AM, Blogger Pamphilia wrote…

    Yes, Chicago is a great restaurant town! Especially Lincoln Park, not far from downtown- Emilio's Tapas Bar comes to mind. And there are some great places even within walking distance of the Newberry, I seem to recall. I'd take Chicago over Dallas any time, culinarily speaking. I wonder where Purkiss ate. Did she bring her son with her like last time?


  • At 4/11/2008 09:38:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous wrote…

    Ahh, I never meant to cast aspersions on the dining scene in Chicago--just the downtown area where the RSA was being held. It was really tough finding a lunch spot that wasn't a bland tourist trap or a watering hole for corporate types.

    When I was in town for the MLA, I made it out to Frontera Grill. It wasn't mind-blowing or anything, but I did spot Rick Bayless in all his botoxed glory.


  • At 4/14/2008 01:29:00 PM, Blogger scrivener wrote…

    Has anyone noticed that Purkiss's genius child has his own wikipedia entry? More than I can say for myself.


  • At 4/15/2008 07:17:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous wrote…

    Yes, and Bryan Reynolds' wikipedia entry is back up again too, despite all its former controversy.


  • At 4/30/2008 07:31:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous wrote…

    Hey, I've been wearing bow ties to RSA and SAA for years and have never been mentioned in a blog (so far as I know). I miss one RSA and some Johannes-come-lately gets all the attention!
    Ahem. Apologies.


  • At 7/15/2008 10:16:00 AM, Blogger ThePhDLitChick wrote…

    Yes...I'm with you all on the food situation. You had to make a fair trek to find anything decent. We found a cool Cuban place (with the best cocktail I've ever had) and also a nice French place...but they were both off the main drag of downtown Chicago.


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