Monday, November 15, 2010

On Being Misplaced

I spent the weekend at a conference which focused on women in the ancient world. I thought it would be significantly easier to navigate than the Indo-European Linguistics conference because I would understand everything that was going on and have read many of the texts being discussed. Yet, it was actually harder. Although I was engaged in the content of the papers, the people were more intimidating because I was engaged in the content. I felt that if I were to talk to anyone, I would have to ask some intelligent question about their talk in order to prove myself. A bubbling resentment arose; I should be in graduate school right now. Thinking back on it, not being in graduate school is not my problem.

Not being in graduate school is actually a great thing right now. I get to explore the academic world. A friend told me about a book, Phrasikleia, a book he was reading for his thesis and I just picked up a cheap copy I stumbled upon and started reading it. I have the ability to visit conferences, art exhibits, and enjoy my discipline from many angles. My difficulty is that I cannot prove I belong somewhere by just saying the name of the graduate school that I attend. This, of course, makes the little failures (like my recent translation of Horace I.37) a little bit sharper. However, it also means that I have the time to iron out problems before I find a graduate school.

Considering this my misplaced irritations, I thought about the benefits and detriments of misplacement of words, emotions, etc. My first thought went to Horace-- poets often transfer or misplace (more accurately, displace) epithets to heighten certain passages and make them more artful. A lot of Latin poets used these misplaced epithets.

Since Sharon James' opening lecture at the conference, I have been thinking a lot about comedy (her lecture was on citizen women in Roman comedy). During the question and answer session, Amy Richlin brought up violence in Roman comedy. She explained that although it comes close, in no extant Roman plays is there any physical violence between husband and wife. Rather the violence is misplaced-- or displaced-- to slaves. According to Richlin, this is because it was no longer funny, even to a Roman audience, if the director showed violence between husband and wife onstage. In more modern humor, there is the same displacement of insults, etc., in order to create comic scenarios.

So misplacement (or displacement) is a common theme. It does not make my discomfort and the conference any less silly, but it illuminates how common it is in the human experience.

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