Sunday, November 09, 2008

Of Haptic Pasts and Lampshade Fezes

by J J Cohen

Given that the single objective of the recent Touching the Past symposium at GW was to convince Carolyn Dinshaw that a small, burgundy colored lampshade was in fact a fez, and then to photograph said medievalist with said "fez" atop her head, I can without hesitation declare that Touching the Past was a resounding success.

Some highlights:
  • More than fifty people participated, filling the room.
  • Though most of our audience was local (GW, AU and UMD were especially well represented), a hefty contingent came from out of town and spent the night -- gratifying, considering that this hadn't been conceptualized as a "destination" gathering.
  • Among those arriving from semi-distant parts was a van full of undergraduates from Richard Stockton College in New Jersey. They were a cool, friendly bunch. I also got to meet Ken Tompkins. I wish I'd had more time with him, but could say only a fast hello while dashing between cookie plates and audience herding.
  • In fact I wish I had had more time with many people. The problem with running an event like this is the, well, running. I spent so much time on the move that I wasn't able to hear most of the Q&A (I am told it was quite lively, and would love it if someone present would post about the conversation here at ITM). I also didn't get to chat and/or catch up with several people I would have liked to converse with. If I snubbed you, I apologize.
  • I was so proud of my GW students, former and current. They are the best ... and most of them stayed with the group right up to the end of festivities at 2 AM.
  • Among those who came: the polymath Michael Wenthe, the affable Theresa Coletti, the charming Gail Gibson, the ardent Anna Klosowska, the mocking Liza Blake, the Heaney-hating Dan Remein, the splendid Myra Seaman, the elegant Madhavi Menon (the only person in the world who can eat more sweets than me) ...
  • Peggy McCracken, Julian Yates, Carolyn Dinshaw, and Eileen Joy have so much in common that they probably formed a secret club together as kids. Hearing how well the four presentations fit together confirmed this suspicion of mine. Many attendees of the symposium asked me if the papers had been shared beforehand among the presenters. They had not. It's just that we had four people interested in the past, touch, pastoral, the early twentieth century, images, bodies.
  • Possessing more than bare-bones funding for the institute means that we were able to invite as many graduate students as faculty to dinner with us. Twenty-eight of us devoured a vegetarian thali at Nirvana, the kind owners of which even selected two decent Indian wines to accompany the meal. GW MEMSI is trying to foster a community that also lives and breathes outside of the conventional space and formalized interchanges. No better spur to continued connversation exists than good company over good food and good drink.
  • Maybe that is why we stayed out until 2 AM at the Orientalist splendor of the Venetian Room (where Anna Klosowska gave us languishing lessons on the opulent divans), and then in the patio of a nearby college dive bar.
  • All the ITMers made the pilgrimage to my office to see the Tiny Shriner in his native habitat (a window ledge where he currently stands with a gazelle and a miniature boomerang). If you squint at the picture, above, taken by Karl, you can see the ghostly presence of two ITM commentators and favorite people, who were in attendance at the conference.
  • Eileen's paper on the English painter Stanley Spencer condensed all her obsessions into a moving meditation on time, mortality, and letters. Karl gave perfect introductions to Julian and Carolyn, finding resonant fragments of their work. Mary Kate was her usual insightful self in the conversations that followed ... conversations that were errant and energizing.
  • If you are reading this and you attended the Touching the Past symposium, THANK YOU. I cannot imagine a better inaugural event for the GW Medieval and Early Modern Institute. The convivial philosophizing that took place over that afternoon that stretched into the wee hours of the morning remind me -- again, and again -- of how fortunate I feel to be a part of the field right now.
Although perhaps it goes without saying, still I must say: the symposium would not have been possible without my wonderful GW colleagues Holly Dugan, Jonathan Hsy, Marcy Norton, Jehangir Malegam. Lowell Duckert undertook much of the labor that made the event possible, and Mike Smith and Beth Lattin pitched in at key moments to save the day.


medievalkarl said...

If you squint at the picture, above, taken by Karl, you can see the ghostly presence of two ITM commentators and favorite people, who were in attendance at the conference.

It should be said, rather, that the picture was taken by the apple on your desk, or maybe by the camera itself. After all, I just balanced the camera on the apple, set the timer, sat down, and carefully composed my features into what Eileen calls "fairy-like bemusement" (by which she means frozen in some uncanny rictus:

Than he gan bihold about al,
And seighe liggeand within [Jeffrey's office]
Of folk that were thider y-brought).

Then I just waited for the camera and the apple to take the picture.

This waiting for the object to record US is of course in honor of Julian Yates' resocentric (to coin an appropriate thingly word) work. If only a sheep had been holding the apple!

If anyone from the outside feels like talking about my question about the bats in Diane Ackerman's Moon by Whalelight and bad touch, be my guest! I'm worn out, and looking forward to the arrival of Eileen's S. Spenser paper tomorrow, and to the arrival, as well, of A Canterbury Tale, which has been vaulted to the top of my netflix queue, and which awaits its addition to my memory collection of Powell's landlubbing trio: I Know Where I'm Going and The Edge of the World).

Liza Blake said...

mocking? moi? jamais!

Jeffrey Cohen said...

And there she is again, mocking like a mocking mocker mocks. Wonder where she learned that?

dan remein said...

By the way, Jeffrey--congratulations! Everything was beautiful.

dan remein said...

And, (PS), just to share line or two of Heaney that I like, since I've been so down on him lately, from "Squarings" in Seeing Things:

Sink every impulse like a bolt Secure
The bastion of sensation. Do not waver
into language. Do not waver in it.