Thursday, 29 December 2005

MLA: Book Browsing and Bird/Bat Shit I wandered the halls of the Marriott Wardman Park alone for the first time in three days today. I felt like a dead man wading through a sea of ostensibly impressive conversations about books Borges never even reviewed. I'm not sure what the official ontological status of an imaginary book neither reviewed nor written is but I'd believe in parsley first. Case closed. Very wonderfully good conversations everyone but me is having. (Anyone else suppose MLA makes English professors not to speak English good? Or think for that matter?) I stumbled through the Grove Press stand and leave it with two Robbe-Grillet and one more Tristan Egolf novel than I'd entered it with . . . but I was only out six dollars. So I turned around and made a beeline for the ATM. I understood why they require security passes to enter these dens of inexpensive brilliance. I needed was more money. The line at the ATM snaked around the former homes of pay phones. I stood there patiently . . . like a toddler with a Big Gulp and an undersized bladder. At that point I ran into fellow UCI future-alum Peter Byrne. He looked sharp. I don't want to knock his typical attire but I had never seen him with clean lines and a complementary trench coat. He took one look at what Sean called my "blog hipster" look and correctly sussed that I was not on the market. We talked for a couple of minutes then he went to search for "his" suite. I haven't seen him since but I can spy the gutter from my window so I'm sure it wasn't a disaster. So I played ATM and returned to the killing fields. I noted the New York Review of Books booth and made a blood oath to never enter it. Two minutes later and two gallons paler I entered the booth and spent fourteen dollars on seven books. The woman at the counter performed admirably. Her small talk consisted of giggling (sure to surge the Philip Roths out there to untidy ends) and the "confession" that she had read all the books she displayed. I grilled her on the three books up there I remembered well enough to grill someone on and she passed with flying colors. Then the guy manning the Louisiana State University Press box across the pavement from the NYRB booth joined in the festivities. She did not, however, know much about the wetlands or for that matter any of the books LSU press thought important. I asked her how she knew so much about the books she sold. She informed me that she gets so bored sometimes she has nothing better to do than read the merchandise. If only all students displayed such admirable laziness. Enough about the books I bought. Because if the wife asks I didn't buy a single book. I don't even know what a book is. But I did eventually find myself before the Inside Higher...
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.)

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