Friday, 30 December 2005

MLA: "I Can't Believe I'm Telling You This" My decision to shed my anonymity has some consequences for how I think about the MLA and how I write about it. "Imagine" I went to a panel in which I heard the following statements in this order: I didn't have time to think about this. This goes way beyond dialectic. I'm talking paradox here! I wish I had 15 minutes to talk about zero. How do I represent this in words? I can't. But I brought lots of examples. What? What is that? I had to think really really hard about that. Dare I say it? "Everybody gets it wrong." Not that I get it right. We need to have a BREAKOUT! As an atheist, I have a thing. I have (holds up three sheets of paper) one paragraph left. I shouldn't say anything about this because I haven't thought about it yet. (trying to recall the title of a book) The [place] something something something and [place] something or whatever. I can't believe I'm telling you this. I am BREAKING OUT! Really there's nothing really there but I think it's important. I had to alter a few of those (and excise some of the best) because then the victim would be able to recognize him or herself. Were I still anonymous this post would have been far funnier. I don't recount this for its sheer entertainment value. (Though I could.) What strikes me about this "imaginary" performance is its breathtaking unprofessionalism. Now you could complain that I'm unfair because written language works differently than spoken language. (There's an old story in linguistic circles about Noam Chomsky being the only person ever who speaks in paragraphs. But I digress.) Every journalist knows how terrible transcriptions of the spoken word read. For this reason I find mocking of a political speech for its grammatical infelicities a cheap tactic. The mocker would fare no better than the mockee did. So you may have read the above and thought it absolutely unfair. The problem with that (otherwise legitimate) criticism would be that about half of those statements were not asides. They were written into the essay being read. That still might seem like a cheap shot. I know when I write a conference paper I include potential and planned asides in the body of the text. But those asides are substantive and said in a slightly different timbre than the rest of the presentation. This panelist delivered his/her asides with the same authority with which he/she delievered his/her thesis. What would possess someone to incorporate "As an atheist, I have a thing" into the body of his/her presentation? What point could that statement possibly further? Why yell "BREAKING OUT!" not once but twice? What does that even mean? (Full disclosure: I couldn't tell if he/she scripted "BREAKING OUT!" or it it was an actual BREAKING OUT! of something something something and something or whatever.)
MLA: Mistaken Assumptions I have attended nine panels. I have filled 2/3 of my little notebook with illegible scrawlings. Of those nine panels I have fulfilled my promise to write about them once. Not quite the sterling track record. The problem with writing about the past panels is that attending others cuts into whatever time you would have to write about them. So I think I may save the panel talk until things quiet down. (Given all the conversations I've had in DC about blogs escaping the fury of the news-cycle, there's something odd about feeling like I've let people down for not keeping up with the MLA's furious pace.) In the meantime I'll sketch my silly assumptions about the people I've met. The Following People Now Officially Exist: John Holbo, Belle Waring, Amardeep Singh, Sean McCann, Matt Greenfield, Mark Bauerlein, Scott McLemee, Jennifer Howard, Scott Jaschik, Michael Bérubé, Clancy Ratliff, Ken Warren, The Anonymous Woman and That Kevin Spacey Guy. Things You Would/Would Not Expect About Some of These People: Holbo speaks softly and deliberately. Bérubé's mouth can barely keep pace with his mind. Given that they both have a reputation for squeezing insanely long posts into "free time" which doesn't exist, I though Holbo would've sounded like more Bérubé. Granted, I haven't seen either type. For all I know Bérubé may hunt-and-peck while John burns through three keyboards a year. Clancy Ratliff has a slight Southern accent. It only cropped up once or twice during her panel but I know I heard one. When I did I thought to myself "She doesn't write like someone with a Southern accent." Then I wondered if I did. Then I resumed paying attention to her presentation. (Her panel may be the first one I blog about later. It dovetailed beautifully with the conversations John and I have had with each other, the other Valve contributors and complete strangers.) Irrational Assumptions Proved Untrue: Amardeep has "bug eyes." Why did I think that? Because an Amardeep I went to middle school with had some serious thyroid condition which caused his eyes to swell out of their sockets. He was "encouraged" to wear sunglasses in the classroom. I am happy to report that our Amardeep does not have "bug eyes." His thyroid seems to be in perfect working order. Scott McLemee is very tall. Because he writes like a tall person. But he is of average height. (John told me he had the opposite experience with Henry Farrell. He assumed Henry would be of average height when in truth he is a giant.) Matt Greenfield is a person of average height. He is very tall. Jennifer Howard is a person of average height. She too is very tall. I also thought she would be the stereotypically fresh-faced beat reporter. This assumption deserves a cateory of its own because that's exactly what she looks like. She claims to be much older and a mother of two but I don't buy it. Ken Warren is old. This assumption also...

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