I meant to post on this topic so I've elevated it from the comments. MT asks:
You seem to be running into and attending talks by bloggers. How largely does the blogosphere loom at the MLA? And is it a sort of inside secret of those who blog and read blogs, or is it something that pretty much anybody is liable to mention?
On the one hand, all the academic bloggers sought each other out. Even if they blog anonymously. The reason being that the MLA can be a terribly alienating experience. The horror stories I heard about the isolation and loneliness of attending day after day of panels in rooms full of strangers never materialized for me. Not because (like "name" academics) everyone knew me and sought me out, but because academic bloggers arrived with the community in their laptop. Time after time we referenced entries we had written in the same way that old friends swap war stories of high school or undergraduate life.
I had never met any of these people (except for Sean) before, but I felt like I'd come to know how they think in a way guaranteed to assuage the tiny-fish-in-an-oceanic-pond scenario which so many other graduate students experienced. I see one objection to this scenario:
The aforementioned "name" academics have many important friends who they have worked alongside for decades. Surely they are genuinely happy to see each other.
That is certainly the case. But consider the difference between the "relationship" of the average blogger to his or her fellow bloggers. They don't only think about them when they stumble across their name in a manuscript or see a particularly meaningful stain on an old sweater. Bloggers actively seek each other out on a regular basis. They make concerted efforts to see what their cohorts have thought about.
When I met Holbo we shook hands and immediately picked up one of the ongoing conversations we'd been having.
When I met Clancy, I asked her about some of her recent posts and immediately challenged her to an MLA-live-blogging duel. (Which despite disappointing early returns, I clearly one. You'd almost think she had interviews to attend or something.)
When I walked into Holbo's Zizek panel and stood uncomfortably just inside the door, Amardeep tugged on my shirt and pointed at his badge and I was suddenly comfortable.
The strange thing is that our relationships are all academic at heart, but the medium encourages a different mode of relating to fellow academics. For proof of this I saved my best example for last:
John and I emailed one of the most well-respected scholars at the MLA and asked if he wanted to meet up. Now they don't make them any nicer than Bérubé, but if John and I were simply scholars he had exchanged a few emails with over the past year, I doubt he would've offered to meet with meet us after a four hour marathon of an Executive Council meeting and before what would likely be another marathon of a Promotion and Tenure Standards meeting. It would have been one thing had he agreed to do so. But he offered. Why would have have done that?
We don't owe him money or favors nor can we help him advance his career. The only reason I can see is that there is something in the nature of blogging as a medium that encourages people to think of their blogging comrades as friends . . . even if they have never met in person before. More proof on that front:
Normally when I meet "name" academics I get gunshy. So does everyone else. But I didn't. Nor did John. Nor did Amardeep. (Nor did Michael but then again why would he?) What I found interesting, to belabor this point, is that we picked up the threads of comfortable conversations we had already been having.
So I suppose I've addressed this issue in two distinct ways: 1) bloggers seek each other out and 2) once they find each other they travel in packs. I think one of the reasons they do so is the knowledge that whatever conversations they have at the MLA are likely to be continued and expanded when they return home. There's another aspect of this dynamic (one Amardeep brought up as we were about to get coffee on Thursday afternoon) but I cede that discussion to him or promise to discuss it another day. For now I'm inclined to do both.