"St. Erkenwald is so hot right now": A SEMA Report
Well, I'm back from SEMA, and I had a pretty good time. There was a little mix-up about registration, which turned out to have been on the University end and not the conference end, and as a result, CEH and I get to have a nice chat with C-- A-- tomorrow or Tuesday about accounting for my presence at the conference. My paper went well, I think, although there was a bit of a debate with sharp-minded older gentleman who caught me out (rightly) in a bit of bad logic, which will be fixed in later versions of the paper; he also suggested another "economic debate" poem, which I'm hoping will turn out to be something really worth contrasting with W&W—i.e. it's too French, too late, too socioeconormative (who says late poststructuralist neologisms are dead?), etc.
Jeffrey's plenary was interesting, though I'll admit I didn't take that many notes; it was mostly cool just to see and hear him speak. He didn't sound quite like I'd imagined him when reading his work, but his voice does fit now: steady and quiet, yet persistent, and delighting in the wonder of discovering with you the awesomeness of the past.
Steven Kruger's plenary was more directly useful to me, though, because he talked about St. Erkenwald, a poem I'd been meditating on since I'd heard an interesting paper investigating its concerns with fame (and House of Fame) the day before. Steven also discussed different forms of conversion, and ways of reading "majoritarian" conversion (i.e. moving from a more secular to a more religious life within one's own faith community) as both like and unlike "minoritarian" conversion (e.g. of the Jews/Muslims/Mongols/Pagans/Heretics).
One curious thread uniting both these plenaries came not from their content but from Eileen's introduction of them. She described the work (and by implication, the lives) of both men as being "obsessed" with things: bodies (Jeffrey), queerness (Steven), time (both). Her use of "obsess," though, worries me, in part because obsession recalls to me compulsion as well, and with it the figure of not only, say, an Amadeus, but also a crazed, hoarding, untrustworthy person. Are we academics so far gone into our specialist cubbyholes that we can unselfconscioiusly refer to the work that we do as obsessing us, possessing us, causing us to give up our reason? I wholly doubt Eileen meant this, implying rather that both men find their own "red threads" that are persistent and fulfilling to discover, and perhaps, ironically, I have myself obsessed about obsession. Even so, it seemed slightly unheimlich at the time.
Other sessions were equally good: the session on Multimodal Teaching; the session in which CEH showed herself once more to be a fine scholar, and in which Lorraine Stock gave a cool paper on the afterlife of Geoffrey's Gomagog; the Chaucer panel in which I was forced to reconsider aesthetics, Sir Thopas, the role of Petrus Alfonsi in Chaucer, and my previous estimation of Carl Franks' work with Thomas Aquinas. Although I didn't get to hang out as much as I would have liked, it was nice to see people again, and to finally meet not only Steven Kruger and Jeffrey Cohen, but fellow blogger Karma, who actually made my afternoon by introducing herself to me.
I also got a mini walking tour of the surrounding area from St. Louis local and fellow SEMA-ite Lloyd (whose last name escapes me). I took lots of architecture pictures, many of which came out well and will soon be in their own album on my Facebook account.
For now, I'm tired, I have groceries to buy, books to read, papers to grade, and television to watch, probably in that order though no guarantees are made. For added fun, I'm coordinating the scoring of the Advanced Comp Exemption Exam this week, which means picking up the 400+ exams from the other end of campus, as well as spending three nights at campus until eight.