Friday, September 25, 2009

Back from Klagenfurt

I am back, so once again have little time to blog, but the last two days in Klagenfurt were filled with fun, heroic and poignant folk singing, continuing sumptuous food, boat rides, and wonderful collegiality. Back to New York and once-a-month blogging!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Klagenfurt 3

Okay, I gave my talk--which went well depsite an extraordinary initial foul-up in which i was told by the convenor that I was to speak in a room different from those of the other keynotes, went to that room, was told we had to wait fifteen minutes for people to drift in, went to the bathroom, then was told the paper was in fact in the original room, makng me rush back to the alternate room, get my paper, get lost in the cavernous 'Hauptgebaudt' of the university, then finally rush to the podium, despite all this, the delivery was great, the adrenaline if anything really helped. Because the paper got off to such a late start, there was no time for discussion, but I heard appreciative comments afterward. Then the convenor took us to his house in the hills above Klagenfurt for a salad and lasagna lunch accompanied by champagne and red wine with a delicious cake prepared by the convenor's wife for dessert. There is yet another banquet tonight, and I wonder if I am up for it...but at least my own work here is over and I can sit back and listen to the other papers.

The convenor's wife by the way said the local Slovenian dialect (as opposed to the official Slovenian propagated from Lljubljana), was laced with French admixtures..I wondered if from the Napoleonic occupation, but apparently not, it was just French as lingua franca....javascript:void(0)

Monday, September 21, 2009

More Klagenfurt

Back before buffet dinner, impressed but also daunted by the excellence of the two plenaries (out of five, including mine) so far, I will have to be at my best. The jacket and tie definitely helped. Another detail; as those in the know know, Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia, is traditionally referred to by German speakers by its German name, Laibach, which people may know from the band of that name if nothing else. But I have noticed that not only is Llujbjana called that here but they pronounce it with exaggerated formality, as if an English speaking person was saying it--this is also a gesture in the direction of respecting cultural difference. or maybe Laibach is now just the name of the band.

As long as we are on the topic of music--my hotel's soundtrack plays the complete oeuvre of Lionel Richie, including hits I forgot he had.


I am currently in Klagenfurt, Austria, where tomorrow I am giving a plenary speech to Anglistentag 2009, a gathering of German-speaking professors of English. I am writing this as I had to return to my sumptuous hotel, the Lindner Seepark, in order to get a jacket and tie; I usually reserve these accoutrements for the days I am actually giving my talk, but, unlike on my last international conference trip to Brazil, the Teutonic formality of the occasion (even though all the peopel afre friendly, engaging, and unpretentious) clearly dictates a more stringent dress code.

Klagenfurt is, as one of the Forum speakers in the morning said (in German, therefore so far as I understood it) the southernmost city in the German-speaking world, near the Slovenian border (the university makes a deliberate attmept to be trilingual, with signs in Slovenian and Italian as well as German, and therefore a place of liminality that can meaningfully position itself in the context of diaspora and globalization in the Englsish-speaking world. In practice, the only language one hears on the street is German, and this region, as the bastion of the late Jörg Haider, is more 'conservative' than 'multicultural' in inclination, more Tea Party than Spivak or Bhabha in mien, though the people on the street and in the hotel are, again, friendly and charming. The ciy feels like a small city in the hillier regions of the Northeast or mid-Atlantic, sedate yet vigorous, with many new buildings. It is also the beach volleyball capital of Austria. The large lake, the Wörthersee, is now near to all that Austria has for a seacoast, Trieste and Pola of course having been long denied it.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Among the Marchers

While in Washington for totally different reasons, I found myself, unexpectedly on the Mall, in back of the Washington monument, in the middle of the anti-Obama rally on Saturday. I had been with a bunch of Europeans, all of whom were quite surprised that people were rallying against government-sponsored health care that they did not so much celebrate—all said that they had needed to supplement their public insurance with private care when necessary--but assumed as a matter of course, indeed as a social right. The Europeans also were amused that those protesting thought that any reform that would be passed by the US Congress would be "socialist". To go from this point of view to the radically different one of those at the rally was disconcerting, but I was actually impressed by the demeanor, if not the beliefs of the people assembled. They seemed civilized, friendly, well-behaved, and after all they were exercising themselves of the great American right to peaceably gather and represent a point of view. It was also surprisingly diverse crowd, there were certainly people of color as well as people who (from my admittedly snap judgment) did not look as if they could seamlessly afford catastrophic health care costs without some sort of systemic help. One may have said that these people were perversely going against their socioeconomic self-interest, but it could also be said they were standing up for their convictions. There were tons of children there who could not necessarily consciously avow the views on the banners they were holding, but that could be said of left-wing or anti-war rallies as well….
It was when I continued to be surrounded by rally members on the train ride home that I had a few more qualms. First of all, the protestors began, in their conversation, to stray from health care or economic issues into various Obama conspiracy theories, including some with clear racist overtones and I had never heard before and were just incredibly outlandish and full of venom and spite. This was not only reprehensible in itself but detracted from the purity of the convictions I had sensed earlier; they seemed to be looking just for an outlet to attack Obama who they disliked anyway. In addition, a squadron of men wearing identifiable blue-jean jackets with the American flag created a slight impression of uniformity which, with the references to Pat Buchanan and lurid scenarios such as the prospect of the US breaking up into several balkanized regions in the near future, made the group seem more ‘fringe’ than they wanted dot appear (The conversation was full of claims the media had belittled thief renumber, which they said was 1.8 million, the media—CNN, they said scornfully--saying less than 100,000; the media seemed right even if one added ten or twenty thousand to their estimates at the maximum). What also surprised me is that so many of them were going all the way to New York—although hoof course 20 percent of New York City routinely votes for Republicans, and that adds up to a lot of people numerically if not percentage-wise, although of course a lot of the people on the train could have been from the suburbs or other points….a layer of irony was provided by the fact that, of all the ways to get from Washington to NYC, Amtrak is the one run by a quasi-governmental entity it is the public option. Indeed, the Northeast Corridor gets, through Amtrak, the kind of efficient public transportation denied the rest of the country. There seemed to be no protest against that….