SBL/AAR 2015

At the SBL/AAR in Atlanta I got to chair a session of the Metacriticism of Biblical Scholarship whose theme was imaginal worlds, canon, and fan fiction – a topic I am currently very interested in but unfortunately lack the time to really work on myself. It was good to hear from others, though. There was much to say and it seemed that the discussion time was too short, as so often. There is a detailed description of the panel by James McGrath here.

At the book fair, I was happy to see my own book exhibited at De Gruyter and also very excited to see a preview copy of a handbook I am really looking forward to getting my hands on: The Bible in Motion, edited by Rhonda Burnette-Bletsch, to which I contributed an essay on Science Fiction film and biblical reception. A fellow contributor has blogged about the books (there are two parts) here.

Enough of the ads.

As normal and expected at this stage of my life/career, I spoke to many friends about the academic job market. I don’t think I have spoken to anyone who is really happy with their job situation: you may have a job but also have a two-body problem; you may have a job, but it’s temporary; you may be adjuncting, but your earnings are pocket money, etc. I myself am very likely on my way out of academia. I may keep it as a sort of hobby if it can be accommodated; we’ll see. Anecdotally: borrowing access to Stanford library is $500 per year if you are not affiliated with a university in the region. As one of those mysterious “independent scholars” (“So… where are you from? What do you do…?”) it can be nice to view the circus of SBL/AAR with that little bit of detachment. Unfortunately, feeling that nothing is really at stake – not a job, not a career, not tenure, not a performance review of sorts – I also question the purpose of it all at every turn. I didn’t do a full schedule of papers, but I’m glad I went to one that felt like a kick in the stomach, because it really brought reality back into abstract discussion of possibly unknowable pasts: Karen Langton’s paper delivered in the “Reading, Theory, and the Bible” panel was about reclaiming the real bases of metaphors, in particular childbirth metaphors. She opposed the disappearance of the pregnant female body behind the detached discussion of the concept of “metaphor”. Her presentation (one might call it a performance, really) on childbirth metaphors in the Bible was supplemented by images of birthing women, and graphic images of violence suffered by pregnant women in wars and massacres. An academic paper rarely moves you to tears, but I was choking back tears all through her presentation. (Something that normally only happens to me in papers by Francis Landy but there simply because they are so beautiful.) Somehow Karen Langton’s presentation brought reality back into it all and also reminded me that the humanities are best equipped to make at least some sense of the absurdities of the world and must absolutely not be starved to death.

This year I went to the conference mainly for three reasons: to chair the session whose theme I’m really interested in, to hang out with as many friends as much as possible, and to attend a dinner at which a Festschrift was presented to a colleague who I have been very lucky to have had as a mentor for a few years.

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