I've got on my patented, many-muscle, 'hush mother, this next part is very difficult for Johann' rictus - my smile - which I use for all digital auto-portraiture. (You must imagine my left arm looping, Reed Richards-like, outside the frame.) Timothy Burke appears relaxed, just along for the ride. What the Holbo-Burke historic, blogospheric '04 summit teaches is that great minds grow goatees and short-on-top alike.
Tim and I did what the city expects of our kind. We ate po-boys and wandered up and down Bourbon and Rue Royal, unsure what was expected of us by the city. We chatted sagely and wisely on any number of worthy topics. Mostly on the vanity of academic life and how great superhero comics are. Damn was I glad for this flukey chance to meet Tim!
I've had a good conference at the ALSC, mostly due to good talks with people I came all this way to see, and others I happened to meet. I had dinner with Mark Bauerlein. I admire his stuff, have gotten to know him through email, was very glad to meet him. I should have introduced Tim, because - I only figured this out later - he had been discussing Bauerlein's latest Chron piece in a thread over at Critical Mass. Small world. Mark introduced me to Morris Dickstein, who has been writing literary journalism since before I was born. A very grand old man. I liked Leopards in the Temple a lot. And I picked up a promising item at the book table, Give Our Regards To the Atomsmashers! It contains an essay by Jonathan Lethem on Jack Kirby. I will report back later with more happy details.
My session went fine. It had a risky format and topic, "Adaptation". 15 people round a table, all having written a short paper (5 pages), all having read everyone else's. Enough people seemed to have done their homework so that discussion was productive rather than pointless in any of the many ways it might have been. Really short papers are good for conferences, don't you think? And don't even read them, just cut straight to discussion. Sound procedure. Today, one more session, then the tourist stuff in earnest.
I just joined the ALSC this year. If you don't know, it got started 10 years ago, sort of as the anti-MLA, which seems like a solid enough foundation for a launch. But I guess it's been on life-support for several years. The ALSC President joked in his opening address that one of the biggest problems is the membership dying of old age faster than young people get signed up, which says something. There is so much dissatisfaction with the MLA, and not just among sullen codgers, that I'm honestly not sure why the ALSC hasn't done better for itself. I don't just mean that all MLA bashers should naturally congregate to scowl and read The New Criterion and quote Evelyn Waugh and say how Orwell would have hated everyone but themselves and suck on werthers originals while shuffling around in old man sweaters with Patrick O'Brien novels tucked in the pockets. (Let's be honest: Orwell wouldn't have liked any of us.) I just mean that lots of people think the MLA has problems, so there ought to be a natural migration to any viable alternative that presents itself, if only on an experimental 'maybe this will be better' basis. I must confess that the ALSC's journal, "Literary Imagination", hasn't exactly set my pants on fire with joy. I haven't read a valid sample of issues, but it has generally struck me as dusted-off old timey New Critical close readings and rather staid interpretation pieces about classic works. Nothing to cause me to throw the thing against the wall, as I am compelled to habitually treat the latest issue of PMLA or "Critical Inquiry". Nothing really wrong with it. Nothing that looks to me like the way forward for literary studies. It needs spring in its heel and twinkle in its eye. "The Believer" with intellectual ballast. Would that really kill us to try? Young folks gathered together because they really like James Wood and want to talk about it seriously and well.
I've said all this stuff before, yeah yeah.
I'm sure if I could convince the ALSC to start a really good group blog, that would solve everything and usher in a new Golden Age for literary studies. I mean, nothing interesting has really happened since theory went belly up round about 1985. How is that possible? (As Nietzsche said, in profoundest exaspiration: 20 years and no new God.)