Writing this the night Phil posted his exhausted post-mortem, I’m in somewhat the same shape. I heard some fine papers, some not-so-fine, and even stepped out of my specialty to enjoy a friend’s Renaissance paper. Friday I quite literally never got out of the book exhibit—talking to my prospective publisher, to people in my area of research (conferring about sources, in some cases), to old friends, to people who had heard my paper on Thursday afternoon and wanted to talk about it, and so on. This is the sort of thing that people look at and say “those lazy professors,” but this kind of networking is a once-a-year activity, and an invaluable one.
It is public knowledge (if you know where to look) that this year I was a member of the Paul Pisk Prize committee, the committee that recognizes and rewards one student (that is, a person who has not yet finished his or her doctorate and is thus still a student) who presented a paper at this national meeting. I will be general, so as not to single out this one or that, but for the most part, I found them to be wonderful, a good half ready for publication in a scholarly journal right now. The younger scholars are asking really fun and interesting questions, digging into motherlode source materials that will yield great results for some time to come. Bravi, all! These were wonderful to read. The winner was superb but (frankly) so were several others. I was left with the sense of a really healthy, thriving discipline with a variety of intellectual approaches.
Most notable, from my perspective, was the absence of fashionable, manufactured-hot-topic-of-the-quarter papers. (“Radical Musicology,” if you will, victim-of-the-month-studies, whatever.) Also, there was very little old-school, here’s-the-old-methodology-in-a-slightly-different-area stuff, thank God; trees really shouldn’t have to die for that either. New areas, under-examined repertories, new methodologies relevant to the questions at hand (as opposed to retrofitted methodologies that may or may not illuminate), penetrating questions and thought. I wonder if this is the unexpectedly positive result of the culture wars that have raged in our discipline since the middle 1980s. people are not afraid to ask political questions now, and they no longer hide behind “objectivity” and “the music itself” and other shields, but likewise they understand that manufactured, fashionable anger and resentment are for the most part not “transgressive” but, rather, utterly tedious and predictable, and they likewise understand that their musicianship had better be rock solid or they and their work really will be remembered, and not the way they’d like. When one is on the market, any publicity is not necessarily good publicity. In any case, I did not encounter any us-vs.-them mutterings about methodological or ideological camps; I just heard papers and talked to people. I suspect most of us are really sick of the polarized environment that has flourished—poisoned the well, better—for the better part of two decades.
So I have some post-convention correspondence to catch up on, and lots of sleep—the attendant family visit took its toll on me too. The one rule about AMS meetings is that you return on Sunday desperately needing a weekend to recover, and suddenly it’s Monday morning.
Envoy for readers in the United States: LOG OFF AND GO VOTE. Vote as if you may never again have the opportunity.