Hello from Central New Jersey, where I’m at my partner’s house watching it snow while one of his cats purrs on my lap. (In this sense, I am, perhaps, having a very similar experience as that of Rosemary Feal, a.k.a. @mlaconvention.)

So we tried to liveblog but it only kinda worked. Part of the problem, of course, was that most of the panels that Mia and I attended were in the Marriott or the Loews, neither of which had free wi-fi. So a lot of the synchronicity couldn’t happen and, even when it could, it felt a bit awkward to do so — as Mia discovered in the middle of the “Why Teach Literature Anyway?” panel. On the other hand, even if I had the technological capability to, say, tweet during panels, I’m not sure that I would have. It takes me forever to get something typed out on my iPod Touch, and I admit that I would have felt kind of awkward, especially in panels where there weren’t that many people to begin with. I suppose that I am old fashioned in my preference to take notes in my Moleskine (despite the vague sense of affectation) — not because I privilege non-digital writing, but simply because this is the inscription technology (if you will) that works best for me in this context.

I do plan to type up some of my thoughts in the coming day/days because although I wasn’t blogging my real-time notes, I was definitely thinking about at least some of these notes as eventually informing a more public post. One thing that Twitter has done for me is add what may be another level of self-narration to my experience of the world — even when I’m not twittering I am often thinking of how this might be tweeted — though I might in turn argue that tweeting isn’t exactly the same thing as narrating.

All in all, I think it was a great convention. Definitely smaller than the ones I’d experienced previously (Philly in 2006; Chicago in 2007), but less fraught than I was expecting it to be. I had a conversation with someone who said, essentially, “the rewards of the profession are so small that it’s not worth selling my soul, doing something I don’t believe in,” and I think that’s a really wise view of the whole thing. I almost feel less stressed out about the  job market for next year, at least in the sense that I will be better than I am now (even if the market isn’t).

One of the things that has been on my mind for the last couple of days (and that I may try to work out here) is what going to MLA can reveal about my own scholarly identity. I joked that, although I’m a Victorianist (more or less), I go to MLA to pretend to be a Romanticist and to have obsessive conversations about Peanuts. The book exhibit finds me looking longingly at the more theoretical offerings of presses like Stanford, Duke, Fordham, and Continuum, even as I hope that my future lies with publishers with strong 19th century offerings. It’s possible that some of my angst on the first day and a half was a result of this field anxiety, particularly since this was my first MLA as part of the ABD crowd — back in 2007 I was still pre-orals. On the one hand, I was able to see how far I’ve come in terms of the thinking I’ve been doing about my field and my dissertation; on the other, it did also confirm the sense I’ve had for awhile now that I’ve become more narrow in my interests than I want to be — particularly in the last, say, year and a half. It’s probably time for me to start expanding again, keeping up a bit more with theory, reading books published after 1900, maybe trying to write about Snoopy when the inspiration strikes, making room for creative work. It was so good to be excited about all this again — 2009 (as I’ve mentioned before) was the year where a lot of it stopped being fun.

Incidentally, my most productive hour at this year’s conference began at 11 p.m. on Tuesday, when Mia fortuitously found herself at someone else’s department party and invited me to meet one of the biggest scholars in my field. There’s something truly wonderful about not being the only person in the room geeking out over Victorian poetry, and I’m very much looking forward to attending this conference in March. And, speaking of geeking out over Victorian poetry, I may have also talked myself into resuming the Poem of the Week posts once I get back from my vacation.

Am going to hop off the blog machine for now, but just for my own memory (and public accountability/shame), I do intend to write up some thoughts on the following:

  • The “Why Teach Literature Anyway?” panel — especially the question of what we talk about teaching when we talk about teaching literature and how suspension might help us rethink the hermeneutics of suspicion vs. reparative reading debate
  • Notes from other panels — probably just random unconnected highlights
  • One other thing that I can’t for the life of me remember now, possibly because it is hard to think with a cat purring on one’s lap.

I also clearly need a lesson in how to write short blog posts. This  may also be why I’m a poor twitterer. (Though I do have a number of new followers there from my indiscriminate tagging.)

Anyway. Bye for now and happy new year all.