July 9, 2008
The Murmuring of Innumerable Bees
NAVSA has posted the preliminary program for this year's conference, to be held in November at Yale University. Am I the only academic who gets overwhelmed and depressed when reading through such listings? It's not that I object to any (or most, at any rate) of the specific papers on the program. I can at least imagine finding them individually interesting; I'm sure they are all being prepared with due diligence and will make the requisite microcontributions to our insight into Victorian literature and culture. But a conference program on this scale (and the MLA program is much, much worse, in this respect) represents the roar on the other side of silence, doesn't it? Pause for a minute and just think about all those people out there working on all those highly specialized topics, beavering away partly for the love of it but mostly because their professional lives depend on it. I count over 75 panels, each with 3 or 4 speakers, which means, well, a lot of papers--and this is just one meeting of just one subfield of our "discipline." OK, probably I'd find this scenario less demoralizing if my own submission had been accepted (wow, if there was room for over 200 papers on the program, my proposal must really have stunk! but I don't know how or why, because I didn't get any feedback on it). But if my other recent conference experience is anything to go on, participating doesn't do much to make it all seem more worthwhile or necessary (except, again, professionally--which isn't nothing, it just sometimes seems backwards, that is, shouldn't the research be the reason for the profession and not the other way around?).