Sunday, March 16, 2008

SAA 2008: What I learned

Sometimes it is impossible to learn anything from a conference. Generally all I do is agree, disagree or let my mind wander. Usually my best conference experiences are food-related. But thankfully I actually did learn some things about (gasp!) the early modern period, among others at this conference. In no apparent order they are:

1. We need to use our imaginations more, but this doesn't necessarily mean that we have to stop talking about real material things, just that we have to stop thinking about trying to find them and then find them again (I think).
-Mary Bly's delightful and provocative plenary talk.

2. Descartes may have traveled around Europe with a life-size automaton made to resemble his dead daughter, Francine.
-Wendy Hyman's talk for the brilliant "Shakespeare and Technology" roundtable panel, the sleeper hit of the whole conference.

3. Waterwheels shaped the way early modern London sounded and felt.
-Jonathan Sawday's talk for the same panel.

4. "Petard" was not simply an early modern bomb (see fig. 1 above), it also meant a fart.
-Ibid.

5. If Ania Loomba is right (and she frequently is), we still haven't connected colonialism, the mercantile economy, race studies and East and West enough. I keep finding this difficult to believe though, especially because I thought Amanda Bailey's careful and elegant plenary paper did just that. Also: why isn't anyone writing about the sugar trade in Cyprus?

6. People ate mummies (which technically I knew already from David Read's seminar work at last year's SAA but had conveniently forgotten only to be surprised by it again).

7. Stanley Kubrick's first film Fear and Desire appears to brilliantly rework bits of The Tempest, but since it is nearly impossible to see one of the two remaining copies we just had to take Richard Rambuss' word for it.

8. Early modern publics are small, numerous, material and virtual. They self-destruct when they start kicking people out. They can also be eloquently described with Venn diagrams. This lead me to hypothesize that every time an early modern public spontaneously combusts, five others are born. Clap your hands if you believe in early modern publics! (I know I do).
-Steven Mulaney, Paul Yachnin and Katherine McKluskie's "Making Publics" panel

9. A large number of Dallas women may indeed be living proof of the third (or fourth) sex.

10. It is possible to fuse texan with japanese cuisine and produce delicious results, but only at considerable cost. On the other hand, Salvadoran cuisine fused with texmex is yummy and cheap. And apparently texmex itself is very, very cheesy.

11. Everyone has a Shakespeare Quarterly Revise-Resubmit-Reject sob story.

12. Downtown Dallas has a free vintage streetcar system and a gorgeous triplex of art museums yet remains strangely devoid of people. How can this be???

13. If you've blogged about something really cool but want it to remain anonymous, just say it was an MLA paper you gave- that conference is so huge that no one will know the difference. I thought this was a brilliant idea and am taking this to heart.

14. GEMCS is back!

8 comments:

Jonathan said...

1. Please post more information about the eating of mummies. Thank you. The whole gustatory dimension of early modern knowledge is, well, hilarious.

2. I'm not sure the automaton was Descartes' daughter. It's been awhile but the accounts I've read suggest is might have been a more, well, heterosexual relationship. Or there's an incest story to go with everything else on Descartes.

muse said...

Great to (virtually) see you again!

Gustatory seems to be a hit with the early modernerists this season- take a look at the GEMCS conference (Group for Early Modern Studies) "theme" on their website:
http://www.english.fsu.edu/gemcs/

Also, the incest story is exactly what Hyman was going for in her paper, which mentioned Descartes only in order to compare him with Ovid's Pygmalion which she took as one part of an elaborate Ovidian incestuous genealogy. It was pretty damn brilliant.

hd said...

Oh, man! I can't believe I missed Sawday's petard point. I was at the Kimball Art Museum, looking at the lovely La Tour on your blog banner.

This is a splendid summary, Muse.

muse said...

Oh man, I can't believe I didn't know my La Tour was in Dallas!

Liza said...

I remember reading, in a surgery manual, a long and impassioned chapter against the consuming of fake mummy, evidently manufactured out of dead bodies because the popularity for "real" mummies was so high in the Renaissance. I believe it was Ambroise Pare, but I couldn't quote you chapter and verse.

Thanks for the summary!

Emily said...

I was surprised by what Ani Loomba was saying too -- but I thought part of her point was that those of us in literature are actually the only ones making those complex connections. I recall her suggesting that we're rather avant-garde in that way -- historians and other scholars aren't making the connections. What I thought was most striking about her commentary was that many scholars really are still only seeing race as a dichotomy -- and ignoring the fact that race relations in the period were about much more than Europe and Africa.

(I have to admit that I may have missed part of what she said, since that was on Saturday and I was listening to the panel and grading comp papers. I am always grading.)

muse said...

Hmm, I think you're right in part Emily- that is, I thought she was saying that we are more poised to make those connections since we work with literature and "the imagination" (as one of my friends quipped, "They keep saying that word. I do not think it means what they think it means.") But I thought she was calling for change and saying that much more needed to be done. I do buy the bit about transatlanticists needing to speak to Orientalists and vice versa.

Jonathan said...

"I was surprised by what Ani Loomba was saying too -- but I thought part of her point was that those of us in literature are actually the only ones making those complex connections. I recall her suggesting that we're rather avant-garde in that way -- historians and other scholars aren't making the connections. What I thought was most striking about her commentary was that many scholars really are still only seeing race as a dichotomy -- and ignoring the fact that race relations in the period were about much more than Europe and Africa"

I'm arguing with someone's recall of another paper here, so we may be at too far of a remove for meaningful commentary, but it sounds like the original speaker needs to do a lot more homework if she thinks that scholars in most fields still think race is a dichotomy.