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Saturday, December 30, 2006

MLA Day Three: A Day of Shreds and Patches

The last day of MLA always feels like bits and bobs, a half-day of catching up with people you couldn't get together with the previous nights, going to one of those unfortunate sessions scheduled in on the morning of the last day (usually sparsely attended), racing against everyone else to buy the deep-discount copies that publishers do not want to schlep home, and then making your way to the airport. In that spirit, I offer some unconnected thoughts.

1) Maybe this is only because this is BtR's first MLA (aww, how cute ... we should have bought BtR a little white dress to wear), but it seems like this will go down as The Bloggers' MLA. For one thing, there was the blogging panel:

Saturday, 30 December
649. Meet the Bloggers: Blogging and the Future of Academia
8:30–9:45 a.m., 308, Philadelphia Marriott
A special session
Presiding: Scott Kaufman, Univ. of California, Irvine

1. “Instantaneous Citation Index,” Michael F. Bérubé, Penn State Univ., University Park
2. “I’m Nobody! Who Are You?” Tedra S. Osell, Univ. of Guelph
3. “Form Follows the Function of the Little Magazine,” John Holbo, National Univ. of Singapore
4. “The New Interdisciplinary,” Scott Kaufman
Respondent: Scott McLemee, Inside Higher Ed

(Abstracts available here)

What a mistake to schedule this one at 8:30 in the morning on the last day. I couldn't make it, and I'm sure many others were in a similar position (ie, lying down asleep). Too bad, I wish I could have seen it; the abstracts are very interesting.

More than this, though, was the feeling I got as I wandered around the conference hotels. This feeling was in addition to the usual feeling of surveillance that one experiences at the MLA: "Who is that person? Should I know him? Why doesn't that famous person seem to have any clue who I am? Should I introduce myself to her? Do I dare? What if she thinks I'm a complete idiot?" Etc. etc. etc. This is a hyper-intensified version--because compressed into two-and-a-half days of a conference dominated by job-searching and networking--of the general academic feeling of Foucauldian surveillance and discipline that was much discussed in a recent post by Flavia. Of course that feeling was still omnipresent. But as I mentioned to Inkhorn yesterday, there was another feeling this year, which involved wondering if so-and-so was really that anonymous blogger from One of Many Academic Blogs, or if anyone around me happened to know that I was Hieronimo. As I say, maybe this is just because this is the first MLA I've been to since we started BtR, but I don't think so. I think a lot of the younger MLA crowd was experiencing the same feeling. I've heard of many blogger meet-ups this year, and there was a buzz around the convention about academic blogging. And, look, not twelve hours after I finish posting about Matthew Kirschenbaum's paper, he comments on my post.

Anyway, I had an amusing blogger not-quite-meet-up with a blogger who shall remain nameless. This other blogger knew who I was (i.e., that "I" [you know, me, in real life] was Hieronimo), and I knew who this other blogger was, but neither of us was technically supposed to know who the other was, so when someone happened to introduce us to each other (by our real names), we just shook hands politely and said, "Nice to meet you," and then went our separate ways. Very funny. Had there been no one else around, and had it been completely clear that we both did indeed know each other's secret identity, I would have said something (and imagine the Other would have too), but instead we proceeded under a silent detente of mutually assured destruction.

2) I went to a great session this morning, but unfortunately can't blog about it because, for various reasons, it would be a bit too revealing. Anyway, it was great. And you weren't there. It would have changed your entire career had you been there, but you weren't. Or if I could just summarize it for you, but I can't. Ok, not really either of those things, but it was well worth dragging my slightly hungover self out of bed. But see: I do go to sessions. Just not yesterday.

3) I saw a senior colleague of Truewit's, who grilled me a little bit on whether Truewit was enjoying his job. Of course, I said he was enjoying it greatly, and then I just happened to let slip that Truewit has been getting a ton of work done during his semester of leave. You owe me a drink, T.

4) Another friend of mine and I somewhat guiltily admitted to each other that we actually enjoy MLA. When we're not interviewing, of course. But it is the only conference where I get to see my grad-school friends who are not Renaissance scholars, and now can see friends from my previous job, and so on. Also, the conference is usually in a nice city and you get to stay in a pretty luxurious hotel room for something like $110. Because of the job market, though, the conference is filled with a pervasive dread and anxiety, and so one feels a bit vampiric enjoying oneself. And however much fun one has, some of that dread and anxiety inevitably enters into your body through osmosis.

5) Yesterday, Inkhorn and I had a drink at the Independence Brew Pub, which is inside the Convention Center. Not only do they have a great selection of beer, including their own brews, but they also have a $3 bar menu. Inkhorn got a burger and fries for $3. Wow. About an hour later, I met a former grad student of mine for dinner and drinks at a nearby pub, and got a delicious burger and fries for $12. Totally worth it. Burgers are great MLA food. They soak up alcohol and they comfort one's psyche (see pervasive dread and anxiety in #4).

6) The first year I was on the job market, I interviewed on the 29th (i.e., the analogue of yesterday) with one of those schools that allow anyone in their department who is at the MLA to sit in on the interviews. So there were about ten faculty in the room. But then there were other faculty members who couldn't make it, so I got a phone call later that night inviting me to coffee in the lobby of the hotel on the morning of the 30th (i.e., the analogue of today). The head of the search committee was there, along with three professors who hadn't been at the interview. That sort of thing should be illegal. For one thing, it's the last day of the conference and people are trying to leave town. For another thing, grad students don't own that many suits, and so I had to scramble to figure out what I could wear to this extra session. I think schools should try their hardest not to schedule interviews, much less impromptu coffee klatches, on the morning of the 30th. There should also be an MLA Resolution forbidding schools to have those "parties" to which all the interviewees are invited, the better to be scrutinized, passed around from hand to hand, and repeatedly re-interviewed. Enough already.

7) I wonder what goes on in those Division Meetings? I've never played any role in a division of the MLA. What do they talk about? Anyone out there gone to one?

8) I miss New Orleans, where the MLA was supposed to be held this year.

  • At 12/30/2006 03:48:00 PM, Blogger Greenwit wrote…

    thanks for the cover, H.

    And now, back to my semester-long project of steady lounging about sipping lemonade whilst listening to NPR.

    They'll never know!


  • At 12/30/2006 03:49:00 PM, Blogger Simplicius wrote…

    Nice use of gendern neutral language, H. I love the "silent detente of mutually assured destruction."


  • At 12/30/2006 03:51:00 PM, Blogger Simplicius wrote…

    The links to "bits and bobs" and "schlep" are cracking me up. Ok, not the links themselves, but the fact that you felt the need to provide links.


  • At 12/30/2006 03:57:00 PM, Blogger Hieronimo wrote…

    Hey, S., you never know. Not all of our readers are British Jews.


  • At 12/30/2006 05:41:00 PM, Blogger Simplicius wrote…

    Yeah, T. S. Eliot would both love us and hate us.


  • At 12/30/2006 06:57:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous wrote…

    Aha! Now I know who you are! Either you or Simplicius is Benjamin Disraeli! Or one of these other guys. Maybe you are both Disraeli! Great MLA blogging, by the way; I particularly like the "in the field, as it happens" quality produced by the daily updates. The more Renaissance-specific conferences were actually more interesting, however--less emphasis on alcohol consumed and more cattiness about senior colleagues. Give the people what they want!


  • At 12/30/2006 07:40:00 PM, Blogger Simplicius wrote…

    But did the coffee klatch school offer you a campus visit?

    There should also be an MLA Resolution forbidding schools to have those "parties" to which all the interviewees are invited, the better to be scrutinized, passed around from hand to hand, and repeatedly re-interviewed. Enough already.

    Yes, there should be. But what's worse than being "passed around" is being ignored. There really is no way to ignore someone delicately, but I was ignored blatantly--with screaming silences--by two schools. And of course I couldn't leave but had to make a good faith effort to try to talk to people who wanted nothing to do with me. At a third "happy" hour, I was told I wasn't getting the job (they were at least polite about it, to their eternal credit). These were the worst experiences I had on the job market or ever had at a conference. And as this comment no doubt suggests, they still burn.

    As for the alcohol, you know how British Jews love to drink.


  • At 12/30/2006 08:07:00 PM, Blogger Hieronimo wrote…

    I did get the coffee klatch visit, S., despite what I thought was a pretty poor performance at the klatch itself, due to being tired and somewhat aggravated.

    And you're right about the ignoring part of those parties being the worst. I've never actually had to "work" a party like that, but I've witnessed them from the other end as a faculty member. At one such party, I can remember talking for an eternity to one of the candidates for an Af-Am job, and so I (and surely he) immediately knew that he was doomed. After all, if you're stuck talking to the Renaissance person while your competition's talking to the Americanists, you're in trouble.

    Just horrible. Why do we do these things to each other? Seriously, we have no idea how to run these "business" aspects of the profession.


  • At 12/31/2006 11:53:00 AM, Blogger Flavia wrote…

    Hm. It sounds as though you and your mysterious met-up-with blogger are, like I myself, zealous amateur detectives. I assume, actually, that most people are, and I'm always surprised by bloggers who don't know--and claim not to care--who ANY of their blogfriends and acquaintances are.

    No doubt you'll meet again in the future.


  • At 1/01/2007 07:45:00 AM, Blogger dhawhee wrote…

    This is definitely the best mla blogging. I can't believe I'm only now catching up, and I had free wireless in my hotel!

    First off, you are so totally right about burgers. I have a colleague who rarely eats meat but when I see her at conferences, or when she calls me from conferences (like she did recently) she is unfailingly wolfing down a burger.

    Secondly, I am outraged by the extra coffee interview! It reminds me of a campus visit I went on recently after which I sent out various email thank yous and nice to meet yous, and one person replied with the question she wanted to ask after my job talk! And then I had to write a really long, thoughtful response with an answer! Unbelievable. Though at least I didn't have to wear a different suit.


  • At 1/02/2007 10:42:00 PM, Blogger James wrote…

    Hear hear about inviting job candidates to post-interview parties.

    Last year one of my top-flight potential jobs had a cash bar that they invited me to, apparently so that they could not only shoulder me into a corner while I drank a $7 bottle of beer, but also display the apparent winner of the job search, who entered fashionably late and literally on the arm of the department chair. For the love of God.


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