Wednesday, May 18, 2011

in praise of new friendships

by J J Cohen

A brutal but universal verity: spend sufficient time with any group of friends, especially during an experience as intense as the medieval conference in Kalamazoo, and come the third day you will be slapping them silly (and follow that link to read Eileen's excellent post, not just about the slapfest but the MEMSI roundtable). It's not a pretty truth, but here at ITM we don't candy coat your certitudes for ease of swallowing.

Kzoo 2011 earned infamy through the performance art gone wrong known as Slapapalooza. Eileen didn't realize it was a staged happening, and left her stinging imprint in my tender cheek. I'm still traumatized, and therefore have been offering to slap colleagues at GW. Gil Harris has his day of destiny inscribed for Tuesday of next week. But you know, despite some superficial resemblances the conference at Kalamazoo is not in fact an Icelandic saga, and we should not therefore be concentrating upon the violence done by berserkers like Professor Joy (who, I have it on good authority, is going to attempt the blood eagle next year; stay away, because informing of her of this method of execution's potential historical inaccuracy is unlikely to prevent her from ripping out your lungs).

ANYWAY, rather than revel in this brutality as my esteemed co-blogger does, I want to emphasize something wonderful about Kalamazoo: its ability to generate lasting new friendships. Yes, I know, in three years I will be slapping these parvenu friends while Eileen charges them with a barbed spear, but for the time being, let us celebrate what is good in the world. I was lucky to meet many, many new people at the conference. I am profoundly grateful for that chance. I also apologize if I ever seemed like I didn't give anyone enough attention when introduced: I am terrible at maintaining focus on more than one or two people at a time. I'm working on it.

Two meetings were especially important to me.

Early Thursday Anne Harris (author of Medieval Meets World, one of my favorite blogs) and I had agreed to rendezvous for breakfast. I've known Anne virtually for quite some time, and had met her in the flesh at the AVMEO conference, but this was the first time she and I had the opportunity to sit and have a conversation. We got coffee from Mug Shots, sat outside the dorm on a picnic table ... and talked about everything, from family to philosophy. I'm looking forward to getting to know her work better, but I am certain the field of Art History is fortunate to have her. Indomitable is the word that comes to mind.

Friday I finally met Noah Guynn, the only Exemplaria editor whom I didn't know from some part of my life already. He and I had emailed back and forth several times, and had become Facebook friends, and so I was looking forward to seeing if he was real. Like Anne, Noah is a person who is as full of life as ideas. Like Anne, he is readable and affable. And also, I learned, easy to convince to stay up past the closing of Bells Brewery to have another drink at a nearby bar (this time a cosmopolitan, which I allowed him to imbibe without snarky comment) (but, really, a cosmopolitan??) (In Kalamazoo?) (Really??)

Kzoo always affirms for me why I love the field I study. Spending time with new friends like Anne and Noah also reminds me that even though there is so much that is terrible threatening the future of the humanities, the value of humane relations with each other is absolute.


Anne said...

Boy, now that I see him "in situ" with a proper drink, I realize that the Tiny Shriner really _is_ tiny! Can I sign up to get slapped by him?

Jennifer said...

As a fellow art historian, I can attest to the fact that we are very aware of how lucky we are, Jeffrey! Thanks for highlighting Anne's awesomeness!

i said...

What do you mean potential historical inaccuracy?