Friday, 30 December 2005

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...
MLA: The Creature Comforts of Bloggerville 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...

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