January 1, 2007KR Blog

Idle Thoughts for the New Year

New Year’s Day and I’m a tad restless, pretty much an annual rite. I’m still in decompression mode after a long semester, and I’ve just returned from the MLA convention in Philadelphia.

I confess that I never attend MLA anymore for the panels or other literary events. I rarely enter the bookfair and don’t even wear the official nametag. (How awful to have people peering myopically at my chest to figure out whether I have status enough to make me worth chatting up.) Instead, I prefer to fly under the radar, performing my professional responsibilities, and with a little luck, I run into old friends and/or writers I publish and admire. This year, for example, I spent some time over drinks with Willard Spiegelman, heroic editor of the Southwest Review, and a marvelous poet and critic in his own right, and Regenia Gagnier, a professor who has helped revivify the School of English at the University of Exeter.The convention, as I mentioned, was in Philadelphia, but it might have been any city on the planet: I spent two grueling days–eight hours a day–in a hotel room interviewing job candidates for a position in post-colonial literature for the Kenyon English department.

Yet each year has its own rhythms and character, and I suppose my own attitudes shift as well. Our team, Ted Mason, Sarah Heidt, and myself, got on with good humor and little or no friction at all. We picked up for each other during the inevitable sags of energy.

For whatever reason, I was able to pace myself better this year, and I actually found most of the interviews truly interesting. These are relatively young people, recently out of graduate school or just finishing their degrees. They are smart, passionately committed to literature and teaching, and for the most part articulate.

I also suppose that more than most, this particular field–the post colonial–attracts scholars who also care about the world. Typically they have traveled abroad in the course of their research, and most speak other languages fluently. More intriguingly, they want to connect the study of literature with the fate and politics of nations and peoples and individuals. I find this compelling and reassuring.

It’s also true, however, that I don’t think we’ll hear much about post colonial studies for too much longer. It’s a category that has been useful (and fashionable) for a decade or more, but it is in the process of being stretched so broadly as to be increasingly vacuous. Other fashionable monikers will take its place. Of that I have no doubt.

Now it’s back to preparing my new class on the Little Magazine in America. (Not to mention editing KR.) I’m increasingly excited by what I’m coming to learn. And increasingly daunted by the prospect of shaping it in some meaningful way. . . .