I don’t always go to the annual meeting of the College Art Association, but I have been a member for a long time, and when the call for papers came I decided to be a good citizen by submitting a proposal. Many people my age either wait to be invited to be a respondent (which is what I did last time I attended, in Boston in 2006) or simply avoid the whole event. A friend and colleague at another institution said that at our age it’s beneath our dignity to go through the submission process, and even to give a paper. I couldn’t disagree more. Members are members, whether senior professors or graduate students, and we should all be prepared to contribute on equal terms. In any event, my proposal was accepted, so I headed for Los Angeles with “Sublime Damage” and a PowerPoint presentation of a fourth-century BC Egyptian statue in hand.
The grand downtown hotel was as fading as only grand downtown hotels can be; the Los Angeles Convention Center was as angular, functional, and charmless as only vast, urban convention centers can be. The sessions—at least the ones I went to—were sparsely attended, though “The Sublime Then and Now” attracted a good turn-out. Our panel ended up in the bar of the Hotel Figueroa, a west coast fantasy of Morocco exemplifying the anticipatable cultural incongruities of Los Angeles.
The best thing about such megameetings is the opportunity to see old friends, talk with editors and potential editors, enjoy being flattered (“But you’re so young!”), and, above all, to remind the skeptical and the forgetful of one’s continued existence. I relish those cultural cocktails that constitute Los Angeles, and the linguistic and visual intoxications they induce. I love even the idea of a bonsai-a-thon at the Huntington Library.
Los Angeles is a site of nostalgia for me, for it was the first place to which I came in the United States, also for a College Art Association meeting. With two friends, one of whom was then teaching at UCLA, I toured the cool sites, from Forest Lawn, Glendale to Gorki’s. I returned to Cambridge, England intoxicated, from eighty degrees to freezing in twelve hours. Now in half that time I flew from similar heat and sunshine into a New England snowstorm. Los Angeles and Boston may be at diagonally opposite ends of the country, radically different from one another in culture no less than in weather, but I love them both. And the College Art Association? I think I’ll renew my membership next year.