The short version: I will be at UCLA this fall.
The long version:
I left Amherst on Thursday for New Orleans. As I wrote in the snapshots of the conference that I posted, the conference was terrific. I love conferences. I know that this love is not universally shared, but honestly, when I go I always come away so invigorated about my work, with new perspectives, a thousand new ideas, a brand new reading list, and of course new and wonderful connections. I went to some panels by some superstars and made some great connections. But I also went to some great panels with graduate students who I think are bound to become superstars. That was great to see. It is like getting a glimpse of the future of the discipline.
I connected with old friends, and made new connections. I absolutely loved moderating the panel. It went off almost without a hitch (minus the one day that we ran totally over time because of snowflake panelist, who demanded to present on a certain day that she was not schedule to present, thus requiring us to accommodate 5 presentations in a time slot only really scheduled for 4 at the most. She ran overtime, I had to cut her off, and we ran out of time and had to cut the discussion very short. Not impressed).
I will say that I had one significant disappointment: The conference was scheduled to take place in New Orleans. Now given the value and direction of literary studies, and the preoccupation of the discipline with issues of representation, it was striking to me to find that the issue of representation IN/ in response to the situation of New Orleans was absent from the discourse. I mean, it was uncannily absent. A secret entirely manifest, if you will. For me, it lurked just under the surface of every discussion, beneath every literary investigation that I took in. Certainly, my panel "Righting and Rewriting Wrongs," which sought to investigate how we may "right"--rehabilitate--the past, a history of violence, by "rewriting" it--taking that which lurks in the margins back within the body of the canon, seemed directly linked to the discourse of New Orleans.
On the last meeting of the panel, we had a fairly good turnout, a really thoughtful audience and we had bonded as a panel. Since snowflake panelist was absent, we had some extra time and I gave some closing remarks off the cuff. I rarely speak entirely impromptu, but it came naturally, and I am really happy. I have gotten a great response and some very nice emails asking me for my notes (which I don't have given it was impromptu) so I think it was successful. I think I will take up this issue and I definitely want to think about it further.
I talked about the need for literary studies to connect what we think with what we do, and how I felt that disconnect in New Orleans, how that connection felt spectral and that perhaps our task was to bring it to light. When we think about righting and rewriting wrongs as our panel had done, how contemporary literature seeks to amend (right) the past by rewriting it, producing new narratives and revising old ones, we might also think about how the past of New Orleans is right now being written, documented, and how the narrative we tell of it reflects and will also determine the way in which both that trauma is understood, and the way it is handled. How will we settle our debt to the past? How will New Orleans settle the material debt it has incurred? How will the nation settle its moral debt to New Orleans? Will we remember this trauma or will we willfully forget it? How will we convert it into the symbolic order? How will we represent it, and will we represent it? By writing of New Orleans, can we right it? And if we do, to what ends, and with what effect?
Anyway, lots of thoughts going through my mind. Sadly, I spent so much time making sure that which was going on inside the hotel went off without a hitch that I didn't really get to explore New Orleans. Yes, I realize the irony given what I just wrote. I did have time to walk around the French Quarter, and to get the sense that I was in a place with a tremendous energy, a space of intensely organic frenzy. One that seemed to recall an entirely non-American space/ environment. One that seemed to belong somewhere other than where it was. What I wanted to see was that which lurked outside the boundaries of the French Quarter. I got the sense that that which lurked outside was pressing on those boundaries, again, something urgently outside hanging over the confined within. I got a sense of spectrality, and I wanted to see the ghost towns. In my mind, I am always thinking of the uncanny. I cannot think of a space that evokes such a sense of the uncanny other than the perimeters of New Orleans. Except, perhaps, the terrain of Berlin.
On Sunday afternoon, I took off for LA.
In short, LA was phenomenal. Yes, as transfergrad and others have commented, the meeting between the potential cohort was satisfyingly awkward. Everyone was trying to gauge who was likely to accept, who had what other offers, etc. Everyone trying to impress one another. I hit it off right away with some faculty. Elizabeth DeLoughrey is magnificent. Although I think I can tell that she wouldn't be my advisor--now that I look at it closely and after I spoke to her about her current projects, it is apparent that we are after quite different things--she was incredibly warm. UCLA's campus is breathtaking. I hit it off with at least one current student.
I had some great meetings, and was very impressed with the department's organization. Coming from where I am coming from, I would have taken "not entirely dysfunctional" and run with it. But--surprise--the department seemed not only NOT dysfunctional but actually well run! People seemed genuinely happy! Like they wanted to talk to me!
Ken Reinhard and I talked up a storm and he ended up inviting me to an opera (he is currently doing a project on opera performance! AWESOME--I am totally an opera freak and am excited to hear that UCLA seems to tolerate alternative projects) and a dinner reception with a few speakers. I couldn't make it but by looking at the panel, I could tell that he knew exactly what I am after in my research and he had distilled my primary research questions. I can really see myself spending a ton of time talking to him and us working well together. Same with Michael North. I had a few "eh" meetings too, and until the last day I was a bit dubious.
At ACLA, I had heard this great speaker on "Creolizing Memory," who happens to be a professor of Comp Lit at UCLA. Her paper was breathtaking and after I approached her and told her I was thinking of UCLA. She told me to stop by her office when I was on campus.
On my final day, I went to see her. We totally hit it off. Her research is preoccupied with different spatial and temporal conditions, but we are looking at fairly similar theoretical frameworks. Her class (which is cross listed in the English department) offers precisely the material I want to investigate. And our conversation was thrilling. As I rose to leave her office,
i turn to her to say thank you, and it occurs to me to mention that I am also fascinated with the uncanny, to ask whether she had any suggestions for reading. And just as I open my mouth, she says to me:
"And in the back of my mind, when I am thinking, I am always thinking of the uncanny."
Monday was a trip to the Huntington. Shakespeare's First Folio! A 1604 edition of Much Ado About Nothing! I'm not an early modernist, but I was duly impressed. The Huntington is gorgeous, and we had lunch in the tea room, followed by a stroll in the gardens. After, I slept for the first time in a week before the departmnet reception, which was appropriately awkward and also appropriately and celebratorily drunken.
Tuesday was my birthday. I hadn't slept well Monday night (I'm a chronic insomniac) and woke up to a million lovely messages from friends. I had meetings with faculty all day and walked around the campus. I didn't tell anyone it was my birthday (something unsavory to me about having strangers make a performed fuss about a day that they really honestly shouldn't care about) and then had a faculty dinner. I had some great conversations with some potentials, but I couldn't get a sense of who was likely to accept. I doubt they could get a sense from me either, since I certainly had no idea.
Tuesday night= AWESOME. So my brother, John and a bunch of my friends road tripped it down from the Bay Area to spend my birthday night with me. My brother was only in town for a week and he was going back to the Middle East on Saturday, so I was beyond thankful to have the opportunity to see him. And John is, well, adorably lovable. He will always be very dear. They got in at about 10:30 pm, which gave me just enough time to get some work done (since I'm still enrolled in courses here at UMass, a fact I tend to enjoy forgetting). They rolled in with tons of presents, birthday cake, and a good spirit. We hit the town and had a blast. God, I love my family. I am so glad to be back on their side of the country.
Wednesday I finished my meetings. At the last minute, I decided to skip out on my flight to Sacramento and drive back up to the Bay Area with my brother instead. I could drive to Davis from the Bay Area that night or the next morning, I reasoned. I figured it would be awesome to spend the time with him and since there's no real defined date when I will next see him, and since we hadn't really had time to catch up and have a deep conversation, I figured it was worth the extra driving time, which would in reality be quality time with him.
I get in the car, and he puts on his cd. He has just recorded a new album, and for my birthday he wrote me a song. It was breathtaking. I'll post the lyrics. I can't wait to hear it on the radio :)
He'll be touring and I will have to find a way to get to one of his concerts. The music is gorgeous, but the lyrics are what made me cry when I heard him sing (my sister is an artist by the way, the painter in the song. I am the writer):
I see her writing in the wind
And I begin to sing
I see her painting in the sand
And I begin to sing
The story told the painting done
Three children by the sea
Just words and colors but it’s real
As real as a dream
If you would see them
Then you surely would agree
California Hills of Spring
Three glowing children
Reunited in my dreams
San Francisco Tel Aviv
Another minute passes now
Or was it just a year?
We reunite and then we part
As quick as we were here
And when we go our separate ways
Do the memories recede?
And are the dreams of past replaced
By what we dream to be?
Spring’s whispering wind
Rebirth for Deb and Jess and Me
In California Hills of Spring
Three weaving roads
And you know just where they will meet
San Francisco Tel Aviv
And life’s new year
It Brings us here but soon we’ll leave
San Francisco Tel Aviv
So for now we can
Simply close our eyes and breathe
Knowing what we still will see
Each other standing by the sea
A stream of memories to be
It was a beautiful ride up the coast, toward home. With my family waiting, all of us together for the first time in a long time.
Next Up: Davis