Friday, March 19, 2010


My breakfast was served most elegantly: one French press full of coffee, and one plate, neatly covered with its shiny domed lid, containing an omelette that, in its turn, was stuffed with avocado, cheese, and cumin scented - scented! - sour cream.

The irony is that I was eating this with a fork in one hand, whilst with the other trying to revise my thoughts for a fifteen minute presentation on "How has the profession changed since you entered it? And what is your view of these changes?" - "presentation," or, as Marjorie Garber, on the same panel, put it, getting it absolutely right, something poised between the autobiographical and the hortatory. I was trying to draw the parallels and differences between the cuts of the early 80s, when I entered the profession (I even had an image of us all demonstrating against the closure of the Bristol architecture department in 1982), and the cuts in university funding, in both the US and Britain, now. There are, of course, huge differences (not least the fact that in 1980, a conference on this topic wouldn't have opened with a panel on this topic featuring three women) - I talked about remaking canons, about diversity, interdisciplinarity, technology, professionalization... and about underfunding, underfunding, underfunding, especially within the public system (before I came to the US, I didn't really understand that there was any kind of major difference between the public and the private systems here, something that I can now only attribute, going pink as I do so, to extraordinary naivete. I guess I've learned a lot in nine years).

But what I didn't talk about is the fact that it would have been impossible, in 1980, to project myself forward 30 years to a conference like this. I don't mean in terms of its subject matter - it is, indeed, exactly 30 years since I attended the first "Literature Teaching Politics" conference at the Polytechnic of South Wales at Treforest, and we were talking, albeit with a lot more radical fervor, about pretty much the same issues - what and how should we be teaching? But then, there were sheep grazing on the near vertical damp hillsides outside the window, and old slagheaps round the corner from the coal mines. Here, outside the hotel, there's a lavishly manicured golf course. We had instant coffee and plates of cookies in the seminars (the usual fight for Bourbon biscuits). I can't remember the breakfasts, but that's probably because we spent a good deal of time getting drunk in the bar and dancing at the conference disco. One of my themes today was the prevalence of Professionalization: it has its cumin-scented rewards, but being Unprofessional was, so far as I remember, a great deal of fun, too.

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