Sunday, May 25, 2008

Was she at the same conference?

Was she at the same conference? (warning: here be swearing)



Oh, for fuck's sake. Just ... can someone please bring me a clue stick?

A better question -- Why bother? Because let me tell you, it's not generally a good idea to go to conferences to pick out the papers you don't like. Some of us actually go to Kalamazoo and manage to go to plenty of good papers. Of course, maybe it's because I do the Late Antique and Early Medieval rounds, and we're still all about being stodgy proper scholars? Doesn't keep us from the wine hours and the dance, though.

Thank goodness for Scott Nokes, who has a much better post than I can manage at the moment. The comments there are good, too. And thanks, sort of, to Dr. Virago for pointing it out.

Basically, Charlotte Allen is the worst sort of big, fat liar with an agenda -- the kind who includes just enough of the truth that some things can't be denied. Yeah, there's more theory at the Zoo than you can shake a stick at, and some of it I can't fathom. And some of the papers have ridiculous titles and are on subjects than lots of us think are pretty silly. Me, I'd rather see some of the more lightweight stuff ditched rather than have the evil Thursday night session of doom -- but then I'd be fine with a couple of 8:30 a.m. sessions rather than an evening session.

But generally, it's just a bunch of half-truths cobbled together by a crank. Yeah, K'zoo is the cheaper conference for USians -- and perhaps there are more North Americans (Canada is actually a different country, last time I looked -- Canadians count as international) there than folks from other places, but you know what? Those cheap dorm rooms also make it possible for our foreign colleagues to make it there. And there are lots of them. Really. Ms. Allen, I knew there were well over 3,000 medievalists in the world. It's one of the reasons the job market is so tough -- not that you'd have first-hand experience of that yet. And it's not just the poor, bedraggled non-ivy folk who stay in the dorms (and I'm certainly not up there with the glitterati, but ever since LDW and I went to my first Zoo, I've stayed at the Rad. Shuttle service, good beds, and quiet, thanks) -- lots of the Big Names stay in the dorms, too. I actually get shit about this from some of my colleagues who are big names -- Fellows of the Medieval Academy -- who stay in the dorms, and think I'm a big wuss.

And apparently, there are no Important People who attend the conference. Let's see -- maybe that's true for the some fields, I guess. But I find it hard to believe anybody in my field would say that Ralph Mathisen, Danuta Shanzer, Paul Fouracre, Bryan Ward-Perkins, Bernard Bachrach, Charles Bowlus, Thomas FX Noble, Patrick Geary, Judith Bennett, Barbara Hanawalt, Paul Hyams, Florin Curta, Michael Kulikowski, Walter Goffart (not there this year, but a frequent attender) ... you get the idea. If they aren't Important, maybe Ms. Allen forgot to send them the memo? Because you know? I have a PhD from a reputable R1 program, and I've met at the Zoo probably 2/3 of the people whose work I needed to read to pass my comps. The ones I haven't met? A bunch of them are singing with the choir invisible. Or they go to Leeds. Even the Big Names can't go to ALL the conferences! When it comes to the up-and-coming scholars, it's also the place to be. There are some pretty cool projects that come out of those wine hours, after all.

Speaking of things that come out ... that excrement stuff? Dunno -- didn't go. Because I go to the Zoo to learn new stuff relevant to what I do (as well as to socialize). But I do know a couple of historians who work with shit. That is, they do archaeological and ecological stuff, and those people can find some cool stuff by looking at middens. But you know, you'd have to think in order to get that far. Ms Allen is going for the cheap shots.

I suppose she's right about our dress sense -- Many of us dress sensibly, rather than at the height of fashion. Some are old and famous and don't care. Some are young and don't have the cash to waste on being fashion plates for people who care more about the quality of our minds and our scholarship -- and possibly, about whether we are nice people -- than about our clothes. Some of us have been to the Zoo enough to know that only crazy people try to hike from the Valleys to Schneider in heels! But most of us show up in presentable professional garb, appropriate to our age and station. Kind of like people in general.

I'm not entirely sure what her beef with the dance is, except that she seems to believe that there are age and weight restrictions on having fun? Me, I kind of like seeing the different styles of dancing, which reflect generational AND geographical difference. But then, it's hard to appreciate much about the Zoo when you've got such a giant stick up your ass that it's grown through to form an incoherent chip on your shoulder.

21 comments:

J. Otto Pohl said...

I am not sure why you are so angry over the article. I read it and found it highly entertaining. I can not vouch for its accuracy. But, even if it is an untrue depiction, I did not see anything in it that was particularly offensive.

Another Damned Medievalist said...

Because Allen belittles a lot of people and their work, when it's undeserved? Because for all those poor little folk who work at isolated institutions and have a hard time keeping up with their scholarship, some of them will now have to re-explain that Kalamazoo is a legitimate scholarly conferences, and not just a big boondoggle, or a place where *anybody* can get a paper accepted? Because she reinforces ideas that academia in not worthwhile?

Matthew Gabriele said...

Oh, and Otto, if it's "untrue," then it IS particularly offensive.

jim said...

We've read this article before, of course, mostly in the New York Times about the MLA. The same tropes appear: session and talk titles, academic dress sense, numbers of people. MLA-bashing must be becoming passé -- so obscurer conferences now come in for the treatment.

Emily said...

The offensiveness of the article comes not merely from the fact that it belittles the profession and takes to task paper topics, but that it belittles the fashion sense of academics -- that's a bad way to make a real argument, but definitely a way to get an audience of The Weekly Standard to pay attention.

Another Damned Medievalist said...

Give me a bigger paycheck and time to get to a good gym, and I'll be happy to spruce up my appearance :-)

Anonymous said...

Session 262, Friday May 5, 2006. 41st Congress: Charlotte Allen, Catholic University of America. "Thirteenth-century English Religious Lyrics as Meditative Texts." hmm...I guess maybe her paper wasn't well received.

Another Damned Medievalist said...

It's a weird topic for someone who is supposedly a Byzantinist historian ...

Matthew Gabriele said...

"It's a weird topic for someone who is supposedly a Byzantinist historian ..."

Not really. Recycled seminar paper.

theswain said...

I'm not sure she's a Byzantinist: the program at CUA is Medieval and Byzantine Studies. I've found that in the last few years she's read on Chaucer at a Chaucer conference and on Aelred's sister at the Haskins conference a few years back. In case anyone is interested, I have a longish response in preparation, covering different ground than what's covered here. I think there is something more nefarious going on than just being offensive....

Anonymous said...

Here's another reference to her: http://www9.georgetown.edu/faculty/jod/texts/washtimesreview.html

"Charlotte Allen, author of "The Human Christ: The Search for the Historical Jesus," is writing her doctoral dissertation in medieval and Byzantine studies for the Catholic University of America."

Hm. Book review anyone?

Another Damned Medievalist said...

anon -- fish? meet barrel.

Another Damned Medievalist said...

oh, and theswain? I look forward to it!

Paris said...

It reads like standard 'aren't the medievalists odd' pieces that accompany Kzoo (& Leeds) every year, but with a little more piss than vinegar due to the author's own conflicted relationship to her peer group.

All the CUA medievalists I've met are very nice and collegial. A shame not all their students learn to follow their lead.

J. Otto Pohl said...

It seems to me you are being extremely thin skinned here. I read it as a harmless piece of satire. Also being untrue does not make something ipso facto offensive let alone "particularly offensive." Indiana Jones is not a true depiction of archeologists, but it is not an offensive one.

Another Damned Medievalist said...

The article isn't satire. Satire is funny. This is simply mean-spirited and tries to persuade people that this conference and those who attend it are somehow not serious scholars.

Also -- not fiction. Fiction doesn't have to be true. We all know that. Journalism is -- so writing articles that use half-truths in to convey a particular agenda is unethical as well.

I am surprised that you can't tell the difference.

theswain said...

Interestingly here book _The Human Christ_ is a milder "Inventing the MIddle Ages" gossip rag on modern scholars and the Historical Jesus. Also interestingly is that her conclusion essentially is that the scholar in question creates the historical Jesus in his or her own image, except of course Christian orthodoxy which preserves the truth of the matter. What I find interesting on that question though is that her conclusions are so very postmodern, the very thing she decries so vociferously in her article on K'zoo.

Mary Dell said...

you've got such a giant stick up your ass that it's grown through to form an incoherent chip on your shoulder.

Now that is a nice bit of prose.

I don't understand how someone gets the idea to trash people who will be in a position to hire her in a couple of years.

Anonymous said...

It's a cute piece. She nails the sad desperation of mediocre academics pretty well.

Another Damned Medievalist said...

So speaks the bravery of anonymity ...

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