Coffee in hand, I fled the cafeteria and found my way to the first session of the morning.
I had selected it whimsically, based solely upon the fact that all three papers being presented had misused quotations from Chaucer in their titles. Not that it would have been difficult to pick out a score of other sessions which had similar deficiencies.
But then it is a common joke, the Medievalists and their penny a dozen titles, titles which always seem to begin with a quote from the Canterbury Tales and go downhill from there: “He coude roste, and sethe, and broille, and frye:” Supercilious Nonsense About Inane Stuff in Chaucer’s Something or Other Tale.”.
At least I’d have the pleasure of asking subtly vexing questions at the end of the presentation.
To those of my readers who’ve never been to the International Congress on Medieval Studies, you must understand that this is the largest academic conference in the world, one which is attended by upwards of 5,000 medievalists and their hangers-on (think of limpets stuck to the bellies of snails). These five thousand medievalist produce voluminous stacks of paper, which are then read out loud, three or four at a time in lugubrious monotones, to other medievalists who are waiting their turn to read their papers.
And the thus sum of human knowledge advances.
I, myself, am complicit in this undertaking, having produced somewhere on the order of 650 academic papers, more than 100 scholarly articles, and fifteen books (none of the latter of which, I am happy to say, remain in print).
So yes, I am complicit in this enterprise, but to my credit I have taken the honorable route of making my presentations unusually unintelligible. My papers, when read out loud, are nothing more than 20 mintues of unadulterated tosh, a fact which saves me incalcuable amounts of time in the writing, and confounds my audience into utter silence in the hearing.
One would imagine that my listeners would rise up as a body and cast me from the academy as a charlatan, but show me a single academic who is brave enough to say, in front of his colleagues, “I don’t understand,” and I’ll send immediate notice to my friend Diogenes to extinguish his lamp.
So I attended the morning sessions, endured the execrable lunch, and pushed on into the afternoon, enjoying myself as much as possible, for my great moment on the Kalamazoo stage was fast approaching.
Tomorrow, dear readers, I shall continue this story.