I'm back from the Shakespeare Association of America meetings in San Diego. (Click here for the web site.) I didn't do any sightseeing--I've been to San Diego before, we're going as a family at the end of May, and the conference hotel (Sheraton San Diego Hotel and Marina) was not convenient to town (it's about four blocks from the airport).
But I enjoyed the conference. I roomed with a young faculty member from Allegheny University (Meadville, PA), named Jim Casey, and we had some good talks. I ate lunch a couple of times with Mike Jensen, a friend from California who respects but strongly disagrees with my religious beliefs. (We also talked about Levinas, family life in the past, and other topics, and he said how much he was impressed by the BYU students he had heard talk on National Public Radio on both sides of the Dick Cheney issue.) I saw other friends, including former student Kent Lehnhof and BYU colleague Brandie Siegfried, who I seem to talk with more at conferences elsewhere in the world than I do in Provo even though she has an office on the same floor as mine at BYU.
I went to sessions and seminars on various topics: historical formalism in Shakespeare studies, "Trans-Shakespeare: Temporality and Identity" (which included a fine presentation on Vigny's translation of Othello and Anglo-French Shakespearean relations in the early 1800s), academic publishing, classical associations, "Shakespeare and the Trace of Theology" (including an especially interesting piece on Calvinist theology and King Lear), and "Re-Sounding Shakespeare" (a seminar about Shakespearean music, speaking Shakespearean verse, and Shakespeare on the radio).
The seminar I took part in, titled "Shakespearean Attachments," was so large it had to be split into two parts. I took part in the first day's discussion. My paper was on "Family, Sociality, and Identity in Shakespeare's Comedies of Identity" (I'll explain some time what it was really about). Both mine and Kent Lehnhof's papers used Levinas, and Levinas's name was tossed about during both sessions. One seminar member, though, questioned whether modern philosophy ought to be used in connection with old texts (like Shakespeare), and another member referred to a critique of Levinas by someone who wanted to remind us that our neighbor might be a monster. That's not a critique Levinas would have been unaware of or unprepared for, so I was a bit irritated to have the challenge thrown down and not really have much of an opportunity to take it up. Furthermore, I had never heard of the person who was quoted as criticizing Levinas. The name sounded like zhee-zhak--I thought maybe it could be a Frenchman named Gijac or Jijaques. After returning to Provo, I did a search and found the real name: Slavoj Zizek, a Slovenian thinker/writer. As I've gotten to know his thought a bit, I find some of it attractive (he is a bit more obviously pragmatic than Levinas appears to be, and he makes some good arguments against things like the invasion of Iraq and the NATO bombing of Serbia). But I also found some things that put me off, such as (apparently) a defense of Robespierre and the Reign of Terror.
Otherwise, the "Shakespearean Attachments" seminar was both thought provoking (with some especially interesting papers on what "neighborliness" meant in Shakespeare's time, practically, ethically, and theologically) and confusing. After each session I felt I was less clear about what exactly we were talking about.
Other events at the conference: an opening reception at Balboa Park (Thursday evening), the annual luncheon on Friday with a fine talk by Georgianna Ziegler, a performance of English broadside ballads by Lucie Skeaping and Robin Jeffrey (Friday evening), and an advanced screening of Kenneth Branagh's latest film, As You Like It (Saturday evening). I did not go to the annual dance, "with live music by Tom Berger and the Hey Nonny Nonnies" (seriously), but my roommate did.
Broadside ballads, by the way, are songs that were sung on the streets of London, and elsewhere, and sold in one-penny sheets with the lyrics. They covered all sorts of subjects, from current events to strange (and usually fabricated) occurrences and constitute what I've referred to as the Renaissance English equivalent of country music crossed with The National Inquirer. I'm apparently not totally original in coming up with that idea, since the promotional materials referred to the ballads as something like popular music combined with the tabloid press.
I enjoyed As You Like It, which will be released in August, apparently only on TV (HBO), later on DVD. It wasn't up to Branagh's greatest (Henry V, Much Ado, Hamlet) but was nowhere near as bad as his worst (Love's Labour's Lost). The play was set in Meiji Japan, but more with atmospheric suggestion than realistically. It was actually filmed in a botanical garden in England that has tori gates and other elements that can pass for Japanese. Some of the casting choices were interesting--Brian Blessed doubling as the two dukes, three black actors as the de Boys boys, and an intermixture of ethnic Japanese here and there.
I spent a good amount of time among the booksellers and got a few items. And I had the adventure of losing my Palm Pilot either on the plane coming to San Diego or somewhere in the airport there. They found it and called me, and I did the 10 or 15 minute walk to the airport to get it and walked back. Maybe that doesn't sound like much of an adventure, but it was.
The other adventure, I guess, was catching an early flight back to Provo so I could enjoy Easter (and a Passover celebration) with my family on Sunday. I made it, amazingly, to our ward's sacrament meeting at 11am but was then so dead tired I had to nap before our Passover dinner at 5--which was a marvelous event, mainly because of the wonderful people there (Margaret, Julie, Misha, Kaila, Noah, Gabby, Alex, Rob, Stephanie, and briefly Julia Blair).
It's good to be back.