Friday, 30 December 2005

MLA: Nary a Whimper & What the Future Holds The MLA does not end. It is escaped. By the time I was composed enough to wander downstairs the lines at the registration desk occupied a goodly portion of the gigantic lobby. People dashed about in a luggage-hampered half-clip to make the this- or that-thirty shuttle to Reagan or Dulles. Sure there were still panels to attend, but who wants to stay another day in this environment? Certainly not the man who nearly knocked me down as he darted to a gap in the shuttle line without even bothering to apologize. Three days at the MLA had turned him into a beast. Who knows what a fourth would have wrought. Despite a strong desire to process my experience here . . . to recount conversations in mind-numbing detail, reconstruct the dynamics of the best and worst panels, discuss the overwhelming depth and vapidity of this event, its importance and insignificance . . . despite that desire I think I'll refrain from making those conversations a matter of public record. I will provide accounts of panels and Q & A sessions, but not conversations had in or between bars, on the way to or from readings, or before or after panels. Interesting though they are, the expectations were that the conversations were private, not expected to be up to the standard of public performance. Not that this is true. The most illuminating conversations I had were with one-on-one with scholars in an informal setting. But I since they didn't think they were on the record, they didn't tailor their statements for public consumption. I take that back: some did. Walter Benn Michaels asked whether his answer to a question asked in the bar would end up on the Valve was answered, promptly, with a "Would you be offended if it did?" He answered in the negative, but I cannot in good faith generalize the feelings of an entire profession from a snippet of a conversation which may have lasted all of five seconds. That said, the coming weeks will see some material of interest both here and on the Valve, by which I mean "exclusively on the Valve." We have a hoard of writers--some of them bloggers, others intrigued enough to want to take the plunge--who want to become contributors to the Valve. We've already officially invited one. The next few months should be an exciting time both here and on the Valve. Our plan to have the entire editorial staff of The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism may yet come to fruition.

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