First, a proposal I worked very hard on even though I had a lot of other things to do was flat-out rejected–no explanation given. But it was in a new area, so you expect some failure at first. Then I saw a CFP that seemed promisingly close to things I know something about (George Eliot, realism, and sympathy)–but it was in a language I didn’t understand (something about how “bodily practices inculcate cultural dispositions”) so I let that one go by. And now there’s a conference I’d really like to go to, because it has great plenary speakers and all kinds of interesting panels and workshops, but its general theme is the kind of work I stopped doing a few years ago in order to explore the kind of thing I did (or would do, if I could) for the other two conferences–so I don’t think I can generate a legitimate proposal. I’m actually developing a distaste for conferences with themes. I suspect they inspire a great deal of spurious scholarship, given that most of us can’t get funding to attend unless we’re presenting and so you have to write up whatever your current research actually is in a way that suits the purpose–which is often defined in ways so broad as to invite all kinds of cute applications of it. And yet my most recent experience with a very open-ended conference program was very discouraging, as the sessions were so many and so disparate that most were badly attended and no sense of scholarly community emerged. (My own paper that time, over which I sweated bullets, was heard by a grand total of about 8 other people.) I do wish I could afford (or get funding) to go to a conference just to learn things and talk with people and get excited about ideas–without having to be on the program myself.
OK, I’m done complaining for now. Time to go do something productive, like trying to describe my current research in a way that fits the conference parameters. After all, rightly understood, what isn’t about “Past vs. Present”?