Two weeks ago I was in Atlanta for the annual meeting of the American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies. I presented a paper on the first day of the conference and chaired a session that I had put together on the last day. On the whole, I think it was a very good conference, professionally much better than GEMCS in February (though GEMCS was more fun).

My paper, which was entitled “Turks and the Exclusion Crisis: Revising Representation, Partisanship, and Political Culture in Aphra Behn’s The False Count,” analyzed Behn’s depictions of “Turks” in her 1681 comedy. (They’re not actually Turks; they’re Spanish men in disguise.) I think it went pretty well. In general, the most useful part of going to a conference is just that it forces you to write the paper, to get your thoughts down. I like it well enough to spend some more time on it and see if it goes anywhere. I received some very positive response from people who heard the paper. For a day or two, I kept running into people who had been in the audience and who continued to say good things about it. So that was nice.

I thought the most interesting paper on the panel (besides mine, of course) was Chris Gabbard’s “‘The wit may be somewhat trimmed’: Mental Disability in Thomas Willis’s The Soul of Brutes.” This paper demonstrated that at least one writer, Willis, offered an alternative vision of people with mental disabilities than that posed by Locke in the late seventeenth century. It was a fascinating paper and subject.

I heard a few other good papers. (I went to about 6 or 7 panels total over the course of the conference, which I’m pretty sure is a record for me. Usually, I just go sightseeing and drink too much.) I enjoyed Patricia Chapman’s “Laureate and Whore Debate Dramatic Theory: Shadwell, Behn, and the Poet’s Purpose.” Chapman compared these two playwrights’ theories of drama to (kind of) show that Behn’s was better (at least that’s what I got out of it, though I am admittedly reducing her argument to something she didn’t really intend).

Misty Kruger’s panel on “Dramatic Reenactments of Suffering Bodies in Restoration England” was very interesting. The last two papers, by Jennifer Airey and Lauren Holt Matthews, were especially good, I thought. They’re both looking at plays that have traditionally been studied in relation to the exclusion crisis and trying to find new ways of reading them. Overall, I thought their attempts were certainly worthwhile, though I wouldn’t want them to jettison the exclusion angle quite too much. After the conference was over I learned that one of the panelists, a distinguished and elderly Dryden scholar, is a homophobic rightwinger nutcase. I thought that generation of eighteenth-centuryists had died out already but apparently not. Oh well.

ASECS has a Lesbian & Gay caucus that hosts two panels each year. This year one of them was a roundtable on “Building Community in Queer Eighteenth-Century Studies,” which was really interesting. It reminded me that I should be more sociable and less shy than is my wont — not this year, of course, but someday!

Another roundtable was on “Splintering Studies?: Eighteenth-Century Studies and Women’s Studies, Gender Studies, Queer Studies, Lesbian Studies ….” I thought this panel initiated some interesting conversation and discussion. I also liked seeing one of my previous professors, Shawn Maurer, who was on the panel. It’s unimaginable that I was in her class nearly 15 years ago!

The session I put together went well. Adam Beach’s work on “Representing Moroccans after the 1664 Massacre at English Tangier” seems very interesting. I was also fascinated by Natasha Tessone’s paper on Maria Edgeworth’s Harrington, a novel that I will be writing about soon for the conference I’m going to in London this summer. The papers all really came together and, for good or ill, made me think about some of my work in a slightly different way.

So, on the whole, this was a successful conference. I heard a lot of papers, got some new ideas, and did a little sightseeing and drinking. Can’t beat that.

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