Friday, December 31, 2010


by J J Cohen

What a year. Honoring my annual ritual, I've been re-reading what I've written here at ITM over the past twelve months and will share a few thoughts.
  1. On January 1, 2010, I ceased to be chair of the English Department at GW after a nearly four year reign. I returned, full time, to the classroom. I composed one of several posts this year about raising a Jewish family in a Christian world. I made observations about David Wallace, not yet suspecting I'd be touring Florence with him and his brother come summer. I organized a lecture series that worked very well. Oddly, I sometimes felt pangs of withdrawal from being chair, especially early in the month ... though as time went on I came to be more at peace with the sudden peace.
  2. During this short month Jews and stars emerged as a theme; look for their return in December. The death of our family's beloved dog Scooby affected me deeply. I composed a small post on medieval disability studies, and on Jews and stone. My post about the academic job market generated a great deal of conversation on the blog and on Facebook. ITM's presence on Facebook, meanwhile, burgeoned: we currently have 451 fans there, and I've begun to think of FB as linked intimately to Blogger.
  3. As a prelude to the talk I was to give in York at month's end, I wrote a piece about contemporary Jewish pranks. And one on high school students and utopia. I departed for the York conference. And that's about it. March and April were months during which I blogged very little. What was up with me?
  4. April brought a pedagogical experiment, and a celebration of a course I love and the students who made it so good. We voted for a new NCS prez. My son Alex became bar mitzvah. And in a celebratory but contemplative post I detect a growing melancholy.
  5. Of the many books I read this year, Vibrant Matter stays with me most. Bruno Latour re-entered my life. The Chaucer blogger de-cloaked. Kzoo was, um, fun -- with Tuneless Karaoke and late night poetry recitals the zenith. I began to have misgivings about the Medieval Academy holding its annual meeting in Arizona, then composed an open letter urging serious consideration of a boycott. 176 people signed.
  6. In June I reviewed the Chaucer blog book and Gustaf Sobin's Luminous Debris. I wondered about the SAA and graduate students, slipped into a funk, then a lull, and I lost my head over decapitation.
  7. Come July, I was wondering why the blog had become less personal over time. I departed for New Chaucer Society in Siena, where I presented on ... blogging (wrap-up post here). On the return trip, I lost something small but important. NCS Siena was a great experience, though, as was the trip to Florence thereafter (thank you, Stephanie Trigg and David Wallace).
  8. With the heat of August came some surprising news about the MAA in AZ decision. I wrote about running, and docility (and Underdog). These last two posts, quite personal, are full of ambivalence and search for calm. What was going on in your head, JJC?
  9. September began with a miracle, and ended with a gift. I finally posted my NCS blogging piece. I went to Berlin and gave a keynote at a queer theory conference (review post here). I brought a strange traveling companion with me, and loved the city. I wrote about Berlin's monuments to its absent Jews.
  10. The B Tour instigated by Berlin continued with a trip to Buffalo, then Bethany Beach, then Barcelona. In between I went to St Louis to assist with the NCS Portland program. On my return from Barcelona I composed one of my favorite travel posts, on companionship. Halloween, though, brought more thoughts of mortality.
  11. November: the month of too much to do. More dwelling on mortality, this time via Lear. There was a conference that seems to have been fun even though I didn't attend.
  12. December, month of holidays and family time. And gifts, like technology (through which one might commit plagiarism). And endings, and snow, and idols. I was haunted by the moon, by mortality (see the pattern?), and by three stars (yes, again with the stars and the Jews). It all comes round.
In re-reading the posts of this year now coming to its termination, I'm struck by how profoundly good it was personally (a bar mitzvah that was as great a day as any I can imagine, a bringing together of people from every part of our lives in a celebration of all that is good in the world; a move home from a rental house after a renovation) and professionally (five international trips! four major essays written!). Yet underneath so much of what I've composed this year runs a palpable melancholy, an awareness of dark edges, of endings and loss. A year filled with very good things, most certainly. But a year with surprising and persistent notes of sadness as well.

According to The Economist, life begins at 46. Until that point, it's all downhill ... and then all of a sudden happiness begins to increase. It's a scientific fact. So, here is to 2011, and good things to come, no matter how old you are. A peaceful and healthy new year to you!

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