The ACLA conference was pretty monumental – apparently it was the largest one that Harvard had ever hosted, with more than 2,000 participants. Every day there were three streams of seminars, the first starting at 8:30am and the last one ending at 4:30pm with short breaks inbetween, each stream consisting of about 70 parallel sessions, each session in turn usually consisting of four papers plus Q&A – you do the maths. The conference schedule, listing only the titles of the papers and no abstracts, was a booklet of 250 pages. The choice was staggering to the point of overwhelming, in fact.
There were a couple of sessions relevant to my own thing, but apart from that I decided to cast the net pretty wide and go to sessions with topics ranging from graphical novels to Danielewski’s House of Leaves to some old school stuff on Marcel Proust, Thomas Hardy and Henry James. It was all good fun and dipping into different seminars gave a really interesting view of the variety – not only of topics and approaches but also of people. Some seminars were full of young Asian people mixed with professors in tweed jackets, paisley-print neckties and an odd combover, trying to come into terms on modern Chinese literature and art; others had Americans discussing Hašek and Kundera with russians and ukrainians.
On Friday, I noticed an intriguing session in the B-stream (the mid-day one) titled Master of the Universe: Literature, Culture and Finance Culture and decided to check it out. There was a round of introductions before the seminar got started and I opted for full disclosure – stating my investment banking background, which did raise a few eyebrows. Not surprisingly it ended up with yours truly fumbling around during the Q&A session, trying to find a middle ground in explaining the economist’s view of the financial crisis without being either trivial or tedious to a room full of literary scholars.
Anyhow, it was fun and, at least for the most part, interesting. I noticed a few familiar faces from the Amsterdam conference and made a couple of new friends to hook up with once I’m back in NY (which is going to happen tomorrow), plus a few more people to keep in contact with on different topics. All in all, a weekend well spent.