MLA recap continued

So I went to four panels on poetry (What We Talk About When We Talk About Form, the presidential Sound of Poetry forum, Sound in Stevens, The Future of Poetry Criticism), three on early modern studies (Perilous Playgoing in Early Modern England, History of the Book II: Consuming Print, Early Modern Migrations), one on both of those topics (Spenser’s Acoustic Worlds), one on opera (Mission Impossible: Literary Texts That Never Should Have Made the Operatic Stage [But Did]), and the Saturday morning blogger panel. The History of the Book panel, the Sound of Poetry forum, and the
blogging panel were the standouts, for me, but they were all good; paper for paper, it was one of the best MLAs I’ve been to.

A couple of common themes emerged. One was the overall "Sound and Poetry" theme that was an official conference track this year. This seemed to lead to an increased appreciation for performance, both in the delivery of talks and in their subject matter. Both the Wallace Stevens panel and the Spenser panel incorporated readings of poems: the former ended with a recording of Stevens reading "Not Ideas about the Thing but the Thing Itself," which led to a discussion in the Q&A about his reading style and his accent ("That’s such a starchy Madison Avenue accent! Where did he pick it up? He doesn’t sound at all like someone from Reading, Pennsylvania"; apparently Stevens lost his accent at Harvard). The Spenser panel, to my very pleased surprise, started with two panelists doing a dramatic reading from Book 1 of The Faerie Queene. I thought this was a lovely idea, and one that should be more widely adopted. And most of the panelists at the Sound of Poetry forum (Charles Bernstein, Susan Howe, Yoko Tawada, Kenneth Goldsmith) gave talks that were also performances. That may have been the first time I’ve ever heard people at an MLA session yell "Wooo!" during the applause. Best metaphors from that panel: terza rima as juggling (Susan Stewart) and cinematic dubbing as "shamanic activity" (Yoko Tawada).

The other theme was one I started calling "everything new is old again": the way the more early-modern papers took up ideas that resonated with the age of the internets. At the blogger panel, Bitch Ph.D. took up the comparison between 18th-century periodicals and the blogosphere, pointing out some of the more intriguing similarities: pseudonymous publication, women authors who hid their identity, and letters to the editor, including fake letters — at which point a man in the row in front of me whispered "Sock puppets!"

The book history panel also got me thinking about blogospheric commenting after Christopher Ivic read his paper on readers’ contentious marginalia on Jacobean political pamphlets. Then Maureen Quilligan made the blogosphere comparison explicit in her response. Also, Juliet Fleming’s brilliant paper on readers who cut prints out of books for other uses, like decoupage, led to my scribbling "It’s early modern remix culture!" excitedly in my notes. Peter Stallybrass’s paper on early print commonplace books of quotations from English poets, and the marking of "pre-read" quotable bits in the margins of plays and poetry books, continued the thread. All were fantastically thought-provoking to someone of my bibliogeekish interests. I can’t wait to take the iSchool’s History of the Book class. (Actually, I wish I could sit in on this class. Mmmm, material texts…)

And I also have to give shout-outs to my former classmates and co-conspirators on the Early Modern Migrations and Perilous Playgoing panels. Congratulations, you guys!

One Response to “MLA recap continued”

  1. rb says:

    happy new year, amanda!