ASECS 2008 round-up

Well, I’m back in Houston, it’s 85 degrees outside, and the fountain outside the English Department has just received a giant dose of Mr. Bubble, so that we can celebrate our final four weeks with a giant bubble bath.  Or maybe we should wash our cars in it.  In any case, the deadline for dropping courses was on Tuesday, and now we’re all playing for keeps through the final day of classes. 

The prospect of the next four weeks is enough to make me yearn for last week’s freezing rain, hail, and snow in Portland, the only place in the world where I would consider wearing one of those funny-looking balaclava hats.  But how are you supposed to sip your Sumatran free-trade latte (with triple nonfat soy froth) through one of those things?

Even without a funny knit cap, I did have a great time in Portland.  I felt reasonably OK with the final version of the paper I delivered on the first day, and even had Greg of Slawkenbergius’s Tale in my audience.  For that matter, I was able to see a paper and a panel chaired by the Lady Z, and enjoyed both very much.  I saw some panels and had a nice chat with Laura R., although the sushi at the restaurant did make her just a bit sleepy.

Nonetheless, I’m curious about other people’s impression of the meeting.  What were your highlights, your takeaways?  There were a ton of panels, I thought, on consciousness in one form or another, and quite a few on animal ethics and sentimentalism.  In general, there seemed to be loads and loads of panels on sentiment.  In those cases, I always think that representatives of each sentiment panel should get together and convene a higher committee on sentiment in the eighteenth century. 

I especially liked the Austen roundtable chaired by Bill Warner, with an epistolary contribution from Diedre Lynch that helped us make sense of it all.  I found less discussion of globalizing and post-colonial contexts than in other years, but Laura R’s cosmopolitan panel attacked those questions head-on, and made a connection between the contemporary political debates and the 18c discourses of the “citizen of world.” 

One of the things that struck me, though, was a contradiction that has crept into our most commonly taught courses: despite the sophisticated critical and historical models of scholarship we’ve developed for the novel, the novel survey course is becoming harder and harder to teach to undergrads, at least at institutions like mine.  At the excellent pedagogy panel chaired by Lisa Berglund, it was clear that our students will require smaller and fewer works if we are going to teach them about the other stuff that seems crucial to understanding eighteenth-century literature historically.  Like, say, chronology (knowing which author precedes another author, or why Oscar Wilde is not an 18c writer).  This kind of time-and-length constraint might make other genres, like poetry or drama, more inviting, but it might also scramble our sense of the 18c canon and its genres entirely.

In any case, these are a few of my thoughts, as I prepare to finish out my semester.  Any other impressions that you’d like to share?

UPDATE: Ellen Moody has provided her own impressions of ASECS 2008, here, here, and here.  If people come upon any other examples of ASECS blogging, let me know, and I’ll post it here.




2 responses to “ASECS 2008 round-up

  1. Thanks for the shout-out, Dave! I enjoyed your questions and am glad we found time to chat, even if hotel bar scotch (and cabernet, for that matter) runs high.

    Laura’s panel on cosmopolitanism was a real high-point for me. Perhaps this is because, as you point out, there were fewer globalization/postcolonial offerings than in the past, and I gravitate toward those. But I thought all four papers intelligently offered ways of thinking of cosmopolitanism as a more productive paradigm than the postcolonial in reading 18th-century culture, and the panel sent me away thinking about the particularities of the cosmopolitan (the concept, not the cocktail)—what it helps to explain and what it calls into question.

    At the risk of tooting my own horn, I’ll say that I enjoyed the “Sex Objects” panel I chaired with Kathy Lubey immensely, particularly Laura’s response. Since I met Kathy at the Montreal ASECS, I’ve been a fan of her work on epistemology and erotics, and the ideas tossed around at this panel convinced me that there is much interesting work to be done on the question of how subjectivities—and sexualities—are generated as cultural relations between subjects and objects transform.

    But my absolute favorite moment in Portland? When, during Q & A, Laura described a scene from a prostitution narrative in which “the prostitute is encircled by men who toss coins into her … well, VAGINA, for lack of a better term.” I shall nevermore utter the V-word without appending, “for lack of a better term.”

  2. David Mazella


    I always thought it was her “purse” we were talking about, but what do I know?

    In any case, yeah, the sexual objects panel raised a lot of good issues about that subject/object distinction in the period, and those presentations might have made an interesting counterpoint to the “consciousness” arguments I was hearing earlier, which I think tend to treat objects themselves as fixed and preconstituted in ways that the s. objects presenters might have questioned. This (potential) reification of consciousness is what makes me nervous about a view that begins with a certain view of epistemology (say, Locke) in this period as a given.

    And yes, hotel bar scotch may be expensive, but it fuels some interesting conversations.