Monday, April 23, 2007

Seattle, and academic technique.

Wow, New York is beautiful. Summer is really upon us, and I'm loving the warm weather and green things.
Seattle was beautiful, too, though in a rather different way. The natural beauty around the city is spectacular. We spent a little time after the conference sitting on a patch of lush grass near the Pike place market, eating our lunch, and watching the boats in the sound, and the sense of absolute, simple luxury overtaking me was so memorable. And there were several occasions when, walking around the city I caught sight of a sliver of silvery moon hanging in the sky beside the space needle, or the lights of the residential areas on the hillsides around us, and was delighted by the beauty of it. The flowers in the Pike place market, and the carnivalesque atmosphere around the fish stalls were really appealing, too, and I was really happy to see all of that. But there was something about Seattle that didn't sit well with me, and while I can't articulate it very clearly, I think it had something to do with the rather obscene displays of money that abound, not least at the Experience Music Project. I'm afraid the museum did not impress me. Very high-tech, and I'm sure great fun for the children who were milling around most of the weekend, but there is very little real thought about music and the way it works, sociologically, politically, or just in a very mundane practical sense. The conference, however, more than made up for the museum's inadequacies. There were a whole lot of super panels, and I heard some really high-quality papers that made me think in all the right ways, and I met some super people.
Our panel went really well, though I did realize that I have become a little too blaze about conference presentations. It's one thing to write a paper that people will pick through and dissect, and that you know you need to be rigorous with, but it is a whole other to know what you are talking about well enough to do more than simply read it. I tried to talk through this paper, rather than reading it, and I realized rapidly that I have become too reliant on the notes in front of me. I do think that there are some things that are best read, simply because it can be difficult to be concise and artistic with words in a live moment, but in general really being able to present a paper like this means being so deeply engaged with the vocabulary that you can pull it together coherently on the spot. It's a bit like knowing a musical instrument well enough to improvise on it. Doing it well means really knowing it. So I'm applying to a couple of South African conferences at the end of the summer, and I'm going to spend some time over the break getting that in touch with my data again.
In the mean time, the end of the semester looms. Three papers, two abstracts, two presentations and one more conference (at which, thankfully, I am not giving a paper this time) left, and some smaller scale stuff in between, and then I'm back to the airport for that much anticipated trip home. Can you believe my first year of grad school is nearly over? I can't.


wayne&wax said...

Good to see you in Seattle! (And thanks for the kind words.) As you might have seen, I was up far too late on Sat night to make it to the Sunday festivities, but I hope your presentation went well. I'd love to hear more sometime. (There's a website, no?)

choirgirl said...

Thanks, Wayne. Yes, there is a website, that I hope to link to in a few days. As there is some departmental involvement, we need it vetted before it can go public, but I'll let you know soon. Hope Boston is great! I was hoping to come, but am going to be at a conference in Yale instead. Good luck, though.