Monday, May 17, 2010

Memories of Kalamazoo (2010 edition)

by J J Cohen

Monday, gray rain, and an office full of papers in folders and in stacks and in small messy strews. Before the return to that which must be done, though, some lingering over Michigan pleasures enjoyed.
  1. Swag I. My Facebook status on the eve of Kalamazoo departure: "Do you like decorative accessories that can poke people so sharply as to draw blood? ESPECIALLY if this swag is emblazoned with an Englishman on an elephant? AND has a Latin inscription? Stop me and ask me for yours if you see me at Kalamazoo. I may poke you with it, but the gift is well worth the bleeding." Can you guess what I was distributing on behalf of GW MEMSI at Kzoo (besides pain and suffering)?
  2. Swag II. The best swag was -- of course -- the free copy of the initial issue of postmedieval that Palgrave gave to those stopping by their table at the book exhibit. Palgrave also had gray plastic yoyos emblazoned with the postmedieval logo. None of the five toys I snatched actually worked (strings not tied properly? moron attached to the end of the string?). The yoyos did, however, make impressive weapons when swung around the BABEL suite. I brought two home for my kids, and they've been using theirs to annoy and attack each other as well.
  3. Gifts. The following purchases from the exhibit area accompanied me home: a blue t-shirt with armored men in disco poses, the words Saturday Knight Fever across its back (for my son); a book of fairy tales involving dragons (daughter); chocolate bark made by Trappistine nuns (spouse; I told her that the confections had been imbued with the sublimated sexual yearnings of its chaste preparers, and that nothing adds to the flavor of chocolate like sublimated sexuality. Personally though I think conventual desires have a slightly leek-like aftertaste, but that's just me).
  4. Music 1. Lowell Duckert, my traveling companion, put together a playlist of songs on his iPod for us to listen to on the trip from Detroit to Kzoo. Lowell is an old soul in a young body; most of the songs I recognized from having an older sister who adored the music when it was new. So in our electric blue Hyundai Elantra we grooved to Fleetwood Mac, America, Boston, the Eagles ... 
  5. Music II. Late in the night in the BABEL suite we engaged in a Tuneless Karaoke. No machine is necessary for this one: you just sing as if you had a soundtrack, preferably with a serious introduction about how the music speaks to your soul. Favorite: a skillful version of "You Can Go Your Own Way" (J J Cohen, Dan Remein, Lowell Duckert; it began by my emphatic asking of the eternal question "Can you go your own way?") and a beautiful cover of "Grendel's Mother" (J J Cohen, Dan Remein, Brantley Bryant). 
  6. Feats of Strength and Poetry. For reasons that escape me I frequently invent useless contests at Kalamazoo. I convinced Eileen Joy to arm wrestle Jonathan Jarrett to see whether Literature or History would prevail. Predictably literature was crushed, leading Eileen to exclaim: "History wins again! Literature is in second place, call it last place: whatever you want. We are the orphan of history and we like it that way. We gather in back alleys and we lose arm-wrestling contests all over Europe and Russia!" I don't know what that means. We later had a push-up contest (other medievalists possess very little upper body strength, I discovered) and then a 3 AM poetry recital that was, I must say, achingly beautiful.
  7. The Abyss, I & II, plus Laurie and Marty.  I can't say that this was my favorite Kzoo for panels; in fact I attended one so poor I left before its conclusion, because I was afraid I might die (thank you, Mike Pryke, you weedy Englishman, for that near lethal event). Anna Klosowska and Nicola Masciandaro put together two panels on the post-abysmal that provided me with plenty to think about, while an evening session on Laurie Finke and Marty Shichtman's King Arthur and the Myth of History was pure enjoyment.
  8. And Two Kisses. Hanging out with Laurie and Marty at the postmedieval launch party was also great. Marty surprised me with my first big wet kiss on the cheek that night; Garrett Epp startled me with a second. I would describe both as good kissers, in case anyone wonders.
  9. Promiscuous Blurbing. Speaking of being startled, as I browsed the book exhibit I was a bit taken aback by the number of books I picked up that had an endorsement from JJC on the back. I hope I am making a lot of money by lending out my name so freely. Some day people will pay NOT to have their book blurbed my me, it's so predicatble. Don't believe me? Some evidence here here here here...
  10. postmedieval I. Did you know that postmedieval is more than a journal, it's an event? I said that, I really did, and I meant it -- but who knew it would end up on brochures, posters, advertisements, and a mega-sized banner at the Palgrave booth?
  11. postmedieval II. That my blurb isn't hyperbole, though, was suggested by the lavish launch party. We mingled to champagne cocktails and fancy finger foods. I got to climb a balcony to give a toast, an act I was happy to undertake until people spotted me up there and started chanting JUMP JUMP JUMP. Seriously, though: to Eileen Joy, Myra Seaman and Holly Crocker I say well done.
  12. Exemplaria. Two panels and a reception thanked Al and Judy Shoaf for the twenty year labor of love that is Exemplaria. I attended the second panel and was especially impressed with Liz Scala's paper on women medievalists, work, and the messiness of human relations. Unfortunately I was late getting from dinner and missed the reception to honor Al and Judy, for which I am very sorry. Congratulations to Liz, Patty Ingham, Tison Pugh and James Paxson for taking over the editorship of the journal: long may it flourish.
  13. Plotting and Scheming. Sure, there were the usual intrigues (who will murder whom and who will pay for it and how will it be hidden), but I was also happy to conspire on two future issues of postmedieval: New Critical Modes with Cary Howie, and Ecomaterialism with Lowell Duckert. More information on both soon. I also think I told about 17 people I'd give them essays for various projects and collections. I warn you now, I was drunk and I didn't mean it so don't even try to follow up.
  14. The Chaucer Blogger reveal.
  15. Things I am forgetting. More happened at this conference than I can keep track of or relate. If you don't see your name here, it isn't because seeing you wasn't a highlight; there were just too many highlights for me to type out without my fingers wearing down to bloody stumps. So to all the friends old and new who made this an enjoyable and provocative experience ... thanks.
What did I miss? Please add your own observations in the comments below.


    Tom Elrod said...

    Your postmedieval blurb certainly didn't seem like hyperbole to me. It was definitely an "event." Lots of people were excited to get a copy, trying to get a copy, eager for a yoyo, etc. Between the Chaucer Blogger Reveal and the postmedieval launch, Palgrave had a pretty good week, I think.

    And the yoyos led to important questions like, "Who is the Yoyo? Is it other scholars? Is it I? Is the embrace of our Yoyo-hood a positive development in humanities scholarship? Who yoyos the Yoyos?" Well, I can safely say that we have met the Yoyos, and they are us.

    Granted, this discussion took place during wine hour, which is peculiarly suited for meta-conversations about swag. Nevertheless, I am very happy to have both my yoyo and my copy of postmedieval.

    Eileen Joy said...

    Hello? The pile-up in the BABEL suite sofa Friday night? My personal favorite highlight.

    Jeffrey Cohen said...

    Tom: oy on the yoyo puns. Eileen: and whose idea was it to have a medievalist piling contest? Hmmm? I get mocked for making everything a contest but you know, we have to let our competitive sides out somehow.

    Liza Blake said...

    I hope you sent Dan home with a copy of postmedieval for me. I am itching to get my hands on a paper copy!

    Jeffrey Cohen said...

    Yes, I packed twenty of them into his bookbag. I am certain he will give you one.

    Garrett said...

    Sadly, I forgot my copy of postmedieval on the table at the reception. JJC distracted me from everything else. But I still have my yoyo, and my yoyohood.