Friday, December 30, 2005

East Asia @ MLA; The Crescent; Freshman Seminars

Back on earth for the next few days.

I. East Asia @ MLA

I first went to Washington DC for the MLA conference, where I gave my paper on Buson and Chinese poetry--the one that I've been thinking about here on the blog. Its official title was "Haikai and Kanshi: Buson's Haishi." I think it went well--we had a nice discussion afterwards. The powerpoint slide show didn't work out, but that's the way of powerpoint. It didn't matter a whole lot. There was a respectable audience, considering it was the Modern Language Association, and we were talking about stuff in classical Japanese. My appreciation goes out to Laurel Rodd and Faye Kleeman for their hard work in establishing a presence for East Asia at the MLA. The way things are now, MLA should really be called something like Modern Languages of the West Association; impressively polyglot as it appears (and it is fun to walk around at the conference listening to all the heteroglossia happening) it's really only focused on part of the world.

On the other hand, given that the people there were pretty much all specialists in modern literature, most of them were interesting to look at. I don't know why it is, but modern literature folks tend to have a much better fashion sense than the usual run of academics (my own disastrous wardrobe does nothing to raise the bar, I admit). While there was a certain amount of dress diversity at the conference and a few real shockers, for the most part these people had taken time out from their dangerous left-wing intellectualizing to shop for outfits. It was very impressive.

II. The Crescent

From DC I went home on Amtrak, on the train called The Crescent which travels from New York to New Orleans. I love Amtrak and wish it were better looked after by the people who are in a position to look after it. The journey took 10 hours--considerably longer than a flight would have--so it's not something I can ordinarily do. Being of a rather sensitive and misanthropic nature, I would have preferred the solitary confinement of one of the little sleeper cabins, but they were sold out by the time I made my reservation so I took my chances in an open carriage. There are drawbacks to this--other passengers will insist on carrying on with their lives and personalities, even in public--but I was ready for them, and I enjoyed my journey.

I was sorry not to have a window by my seat. However, it was dark for most of the trip, and by the time the sun rose we were already in familiar territory, so it wasn't that big a deal.

Trains are absolutely magical and soothing. I love the sounds they make, gliding over the rails, rocking gently, creaking now and then. I love the sound of the whistle, of passing trains moving in the opposite direction. I love the anxious expectancy when the train comes to a stop, whether in a station or not. Most of all I was pleased to have the opportunity to be quiet and think. You get a lot of thinking time on a train. I highly recommend it.

III. Freshman Seminars

I saw news about Freshman Seminars on Yahoo today. It says that oddball freshman seminars are a real hit these days (well, read it for yourself!). I was encouraged by this, because I'm teaching a freshman seminar next semester that some might think oddball (I don't--it's basically Great Books of China and Japan). Wishing myself luck with it.