Go here, here, and here for other posts in this series.
In no particular order, I offer some final thoughts on the conference. NCS was quite an event, so please excuse the sheer number of pieces I've composed on the topic.
- I was disappointed in the number of papers that did not seem well rehearsed, a problem evident especially at the panel at which I presented. One scholar was several times surprised by what she beheld on her page. An inauspicious moment came early, when she had trouble getting through a long excerpt from Augustine. She announced that she was going to read the Latin aloud for a while to assist her with the English.
- Nearly every paper in the six paper panels was far too long, a big problem when there are that many presenters. Betsy McCormick's, in the same panel as me, was a model: beautifully performed, lucid, just the right amount of argument for the right amount of time. A graduate student named Brooke Hunter, in a 3 person session on "Haunted Chaucer," also presented a perfect paper: 18 minutes, well articulated points, compelling delivery.
- The typical NCS performance began by announcing a change in title. The speaker would then make reference to the very long version of the paper from which this tiny and insufficient piece was being extracted. He or she would last apologize for not having a sufficient number of handouts.
- I began my own presentation by reassuring the audience that I keep a 500 page version of my paper -- with over a thuosand footnotes! -- in a glass case at home. I also declared that I had changed my paper's title from "Forgotten Realms" to "Similes and Metaphors in Grettir's Saga." Everyone stared at me in speechless fear; I had to add "Kidding!" before some laughter erupted. The joke I didn't use (because I wasn't in Swansea to do stand up, you know) was to say that I had brought only one handout, so I was keeping it for myself.
- Very often during this NCS I found myself thinking back to my first, NCS Dublin in 1994. It was a difficult time in my life, with many big transitions (including, among other things, a relocation to DC). I arrived at the conference out of sorts, and was surprised at the formality of the proceedings. Two acts of kindness stand out for me: (1) Carolyn Dinshaw chatting with me, a person she did not know, as we awaited cabs in a Trinity College courtyard; her interest in my project renewed my flagging confidence. And (2) Glenn Burger inviting me out to dinner at an Indian restaurant and supporting me in the crazy thinking that I wanted to start. More than that, he provided me with a model of how to do challenging, affirmative work.
- So fourteen years have gone by, and that is a long time (exactly two scholarly generations, in fact). I hope that I was able to share some of the good karma that I received in 1994 with some young-in-the-field scholars in Swansea. I feel like if I don't keep giving it back, then I've somehow failed a major obligation.
- The intellectual high of listening to some intriguing work at the conference is taking a while to wear off. Presentations by Valerie Allen, Christopher Baswell, Carolyn Dinshaw, Stephanie Trigg, Patty Ingham, Larry Scanlon, Ruth Evans, and Anthony Bale have really stayed with me.
- Speaking of Anthony Bale, I sought him out, introduced myself, and apologized to him. I still feel badly about the draft review I placed on this blog of The Jew in the Medieval Book, an excellent work of scholarship that I did not treat in a way that satisfies me. The first draft read like it was written by someone else: there were moments when the tone is so condescending that I am perplexed as to what my frame of mind must have been at the time. The same with the comments I made when Karl gave me some very good feedback. The good thing about this blog is that conversations with those whose work we discuss happen: thus Peter Haidu showed up in anger after my words over a book he wrote (those are words I stand behind), and Anthony found the review after someone pointed it out to him (I stand only behind the version that will appear in SAC). The long and short: I'm very happy I blogged the review, because that gave me the chance to rethink what I wanted to appear as the review's final form.
- Every conference needs field trips. The day out to the castles was good beyond words, and allowed all of us some space together when we were not dissecting papers or sitting as audience members. Likewise pub time: those social moments are in some ways more important than the dissemination of scholarship at panels, because that's where the conversations had the leisure they needed to unfold.
- These are some of the people who made the conference truly enjoyable: Betsy McCormick, Myra Seaman, Justin Brent, George Edmondson, Bob Stein, Carolyn Dinshaw, Stephanie Trigg, Tom Prendergast, Debra Strickland, Dan Kline, Gerry Heng, Theresa Coletti, Christine Chism, Ethan Knapp, Patricia DeMarco, John Ganim, Miriamne Krummel, Sylvia Tomasch, Tom Hahn, Christina Fitzgerald, Jonathan Hsy, Glenn Burger, and Steve Kruger. Thanks to all of them ... and to anyone I've unintentionally omitted from the list. The conviviality of the conference will -- like the backache from my dorm's mattress -- stay with me for a long time to come.