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What I did on my winter vacation

Like other lit-crit bloggers, I find that the Modern Language Association convention is too vast to sum up in a single post.  Too vast, too vast, I say!  It is humongous, it contains multitudes!  But I am not interested in commenting on these multitudes.  For me the conference was almost all business:  one afternoon devoted to about five hours of meetings concerning the MLA Delegate Assembly, the next afternoon devoted to the three-and-a-half-hour meeting of the Assembly itself.  Much of that business cannot, in our known physical universe, be narrated, because it is so dull that any attempt to put it into words will create a rift in the spacetime continuum and transport us all to the planet Xanax 4.  And then there are the inevitable newspaper stories about the convention, one of which, this year, was (mirabile dictu) written by a person who attended the convention!  No, not John Strausbaugh’s remarkably weak, self-consciously derivative effort, which managed to be so piss-poor (even by the admittedly loose standards of the form) as to have compromised the entire genre.  Fatally, I hope:  for after Strausbaugh’s embarrassing little display, only the C-listers are going to want to try their hands at this kind of thing.  (I really have only one substantive comment: does it ever occur to people who mock the idea of “queering” the Renaissance or the Victorian novel that a good deal of literature has in fact been written on the subject of sexuality, some of it by writers of various sexualities?  When Strausbaugh sneers at “the race/sexuality/avant-gardist trifecta of ‘Feeling Around in the Dark: Black Queer Experimental Poetry,’” is he really sneering at the MLA– or at the fact that there is such a thing as black queer experimental poetry, and such a thing as critics who attend to it?  And more important, should the New York Times really be encouraging this sort of thing in the first place?  I mean, if you were at a dinner party where someone mentioned the work of, say, Audre Lorde or Essex Hemphill, and someone else rolled his eyes and said, ‘oh, right, the race/sexuality/avant-gardist trifecta again,’ would you consider Mr. Else to be a serious person worth a serious response?  Or would you turn and say, “I beg your pardon, John, but why don’t you just take your sophomoric little remarks to the New Criterion, where they still go in for that kind of thing?”)

No, the only actual daily-newspaper reporting by an actual reporter at the actual convention appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer, and for some reason the article begins by citing one of the two papers I gave this year.  I learned of this article’s existence in a somewhat strange way.  On the final day of the conference, as I was trying to round up my family, find our sixteen or seventeen bags, and get the car out of the hotel garage, I was stopped by someone in the lobby: “hey, did you see you’re quoted in this morning’s Inquirer?” This induced a full-scale panic on my part, since I thought I’d gone to bed the previous evening at a decent hour, reasonably sober, and did not want to believe that I had in fact stayed at a hotel bar until 3 AM sloshing down drinks with a bemused member of the Fourth Estate.  For that matter, I didn’t remember talking to any reporters at any point during the proceedings.  To my relief, when I got my hands on the article, it turned out that it was written by someone to whom I’d spoken briefly at the end of my session on the first day (all the way back on December 27), and who’d introduced herself as the mother of one of my graduate students, a young man who serves in the Navy and has read extensively in nineteenth- and twentieth-century philosophy.  Silly me, I had no idea I was speaking on the record!  I thought I was just saying hello to a student’s mother.  So, then, before I post anything else about what I actually did or said or saw at the conference, here’s my chance to issue my usual post-MLA clarifications, explanations, and apologies.

The full article requires (free and painless) registration; here are the relevant grafs (where, as is standard fare in academic conferences, “relevant” means “mentioning me"):

When a professor draws a parallel between Dumbo and Detective Monk, you just know you’re at the annual meeting of the Modern Language Association, where no topic is too weird or popular for academic inquiry.

About 9,000 language and literature scholars have been holding their end-of-the-year convention here since Monday, bunking and meeting at the Loews and the Marriott, schmoozing, interviewing for jobs, and picking from a smorgasbord of 750-plus sessions on such worthy subjects as “Avian Suffering: Cross-Species Empathy in Chaucer’s Squire’s Tale” and “The Uneatable in Pursuit of the Unspeakable: Psychopathy as Evolutionary Possibility in Naked Lunch.”

It was in a session on disability in fiction that Dumbo and Monk were linked by Michael Berube, professor of literature at Pennsylvania State University, who said that for both characters, a source of shame becomes a source of power.

Dumbo, Disney’s cartoon elephant, uses his oversize ears to fly; Monk, played by Tony Shaloub in the TV series, finds that having obsessive-compulsive disorder is handy for a sleuth.

Berube is also fascinated by science fiction, where the disabilities of mutants like the X-men “are forms of adaptation.”

. . .

Founded in 1883, the association was little noticed until the 1980s, when teachers of trendy new disciplines - African American studies, women’s studies, queer theory - challenged traditional scholarship and brought the “culture war” into the ivory tower.

Ever since, the group has been criticized for pushing the envelope too far, for being too leftist, too socialist, too orthodox, for generating reams of scholarly papers with little practical application.

There’s a reason it tilts progressive, Berube said. “Humanities professors tend to be liberal and to push at boundaries. Conservatives and libertarians are more likely to go into business administration, economics and the law.”

This is a pretty good paraphrase of my aside about Dumbo and Monk, for the most part.  (As for science fiction, I’m not all that fascinated by it– in fact, I don’t know nearly enough about it.  Truth be told, I concluded my paper, “Specials and Monsters,” with a one-page discussion of C. S. Friedman’s This Alien Shore only because an alert reader of mine tipped me off to the book about three months ago, and I read it in November.) More specifically, I wasn’t just linking Dumbo and Monk because their disabilities are transformed into strengths; I was arguing that their narratives work, in an odd way, to make their disabilities disappear, and that this phenomenon suggests that some (fictionalized) disabilities are therefore integral to the workings of certain kinds of narrative.  Noting that most people would not consider the X-Men disabled (with the obvious exception of Xavier, marked as he is by his wheelchair), I said:

This linkage of exceptionality with disability may sound strange, and perhaps to some of you might even sound offensive on the grounds that such an expansion of the dynamic of disability does some violence to the materiality of disability.  But what’s involved here is simply a reversal of the much more familiar narrative dynamic in which disability is rendered as exceptionality and thereby redeemed– as when Dumbo, who might as well have been delivered by the black stork as far as his mother’s sneering colleagues in the circus-elephant crew are concerned, finds that the source of his shame is actually the source of his power.  This is, however, a slightly different logic than the Rain Man logic by which it turns out to be a good idea to bring your autistic brother to Las Vegas to count cards: for when you leave Vegas your brother is still autistic, whereas in the rendering of disability as exceptionality the disability itself effectively disappears.  To take an example from contemporary television, Tony Shalhoub’s obsessive compulsive detective, Monk, shows us that OCD is a particularly good disability for a detective to have.  Even more curiously, a character like Monk raises the possibility that certain kinds of disability make one a more able participant in certain kinds of narrative– if we remember, as we should, that detective fiction is almost always recursive, rewarding those characters in the narrative who are the most capable readers of the tropes of detective fiction.

But this is nitpicking– Ms. Gillin got the main point, and the “source of shame/ source of power” quote is straight up.  One minor thing: the session wasn’t about disability in fiction.  It was called “New Perspectives on Literature, Illness, and Health,” chaired by David Caplan, and my paper was clearly the odd one out; the other three actually dealt with new perspectives on literature, illness, and health.  Strange but true!

Rather, the real problem here is that line about how liberal humanities professors tend to push at boundaries.  Quite apart from whether we do this or not, I just don’t remember saying it.  I remember Ms. Gillin asking me if there were any conservatives in literary study, and I remember replying that they’re few and far between, partly because most conservatives don’t seem to show much serious interest in doing graduate study in the arts and humanities these days.  But I don’t think I credited us with “pushing boundaries.” Particularly at the MLA, where most of the pushing has to do with struggling to get in and out of elevators rather than with extending the projects of the historical avant-garde.  I may have said

Humanities professors tend to be liberal and to stop at the top of escalators to check their MLA programs, oblivious to the fact that dozens of people are still ascending behind them

or

Humanities professors tend to be liberal and to push elderly widows into oncoming traffic

but honestly I just can’t recall my exact words.  Whatever they were, though, “boundaries” was not among them.  I’m sure of at least that much, because I have never used the phrase “push at boundaries” in my life.

Whew!  I hope that clears that up.

Next: the thrills and spills of the Delegate Assembly!  Does the MLA have the authority to call for the withdrawal of troops from Iraq and Afghanistan?  Find out the shocking answer whenever I get around to writing it!

Posted by on 01/04 at 02:40 AM
  1. It’s funny; I got myself so excited by the fact that this was going to be the first year since 1995 that I wasn’t going to the MLA that I kinda clean forgot about it.  Thought of it as sort of not happening this year.  There’s something a bit uncanny about understanding that the MLA goes on whether or not I’m actually there, that, moreover, it’s utterly unchanged by my absence, and then, recognizing all that, actually missing it.  A little.

    Posted by KF  on  01/04  at  04:40 AM
  2. Michael, I might recommend Bapsi Sidhwa’s novel “Cracking India” sort of along these lines. It has a narrator/protagonist who has polio, and is set at the time of India’s partition. It’s not genre fiction, and the novelist doesn’t make her disability disappear. But her lessened mobility and her *dependence* on others does become an important value in a story about the incipient collapse of a social framework founded on the tolerance of *certain kinds* of difference.

    Perhaps the experience of dependence (which obviously many disabled people do not have at all) can be reimagined as a plea for the value of social support systems, and of human concern, all the more highly. In this way of thinking, it’s not the disability itself that is revalued, but its secondary consequences.

    Posted by Amardeep  on  01/04  at  05:12 AM
  3. Mr. Berube:

    I am writing on behalf of Pfizer Inc. We must insist that you strike the word “Xanax” from your post.

    As you surely know, since you seem to be some sort of expert on “literature, illness, and health,” Xanax is the trademark of treatment for panic disorder. True, the planet used the name first, but its denizens had not the foresight to register it with the US Patent and Trademark Office. We did.

    We might consider allowing you to keep “Xanax” in your post if you strike all references to “black queer experimental poetry,” which Pfizer does not endorse. In fact, we are currently testing Xanax to see if it can be used to treat black queer experimental poetry.

    I look forward to your prompt attention to this matter.

    Sincerely,
    Don Cheatham, Esq.
    Pfizer Legal Affairs

    Posted by  on  01/04  at  06:35 AM
  4. see, now a proper, well-schooled journalist with good ethical schooling would have done the following to capture the essence of your statement…

    “Humanities professors tend to ... stop ... escalators to check [out] ... dozens of ... behind[s].”

    Posted by random  on  01/04  at  10:43 AM
  5. Happy New Year, Michael!

    Thank you for sharing your experiences at the MLA conference, and for weathering the media coverage of the event so well.  I am, however, concerned that the fallout from your presentation is not yet over.  Surely you must see what you have opened the door to with a discussion about disability and power that neglected to include any mention of the most famous of all such narratives:  the story of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.  You do realize that this glaring (pun intended) omission is bound to bring down the wrath of the right upon all our heads?  You had a golden opportunity to discuss the importance of a central figure in the celebration of this greatest of Christian holidays, during the Christmas season no less, and you deliberately passed it up?  There is no way the wingnuts will believe we don’t hate Christmas now.  It’s all over.

    Posted by  on  01/04  at  11:06 AM
  6. Is there something about the nature of conservatism or the conservative worldview (and I guess I’m asking about the U.S. brand of conservatism)that opposes activities at the core of the Liberal Arts --criticism, theorizing, etc.?  I’ve been reading Herbert Marcuse for a project and he asserts (but does not argue) there cannot be a conservative political philosophy. Can we substantiate this? My thought is that a conservative political theory would be concerned with justifying enhanced order. For Marcuse, by contrast, theorizing is an enterprise devoted to the embellishment of freedom.

    Posted by  on  01/04  at  11:24 AM
  7. Conservatives take umbrage to the fact that literary studies would ever discuss unimportant things like women, minorities, and non-standard sexual preferences.  In order for academics to be “relevant,” they have to spend their life sucking up to powerful white men, like the “neo-cons” who populate our nation’s great system of think-tanks.

    Posted by Adam Kotsko  on  01/04  at  01:56 PM
  8. Yeah, in principle I don’t see any reason why there can’t be a conservative political philosophy (think Burke-- Edmund, not Kenneth) that seeks to uphold traditional social relations and forms of authority, and a conservative literary studies that devotes itself chiefly to the appreciation of the monuments.  But right now, thanks to Dymphna’s crucial intervention, what I think we really need is an engagé right-wing criticism that will put Rudolph front and center in any analysis of disability and exceptionality.

    Mr. Cheatham:  my apologies.  In future references to psychopharmacological medications named after distant planets, I will confine myself to Zoloft 2, Paxil 9, the ghost world of Elavil, and of course the inhabited asteroids of the Effexor Cluster.  Amardeep, thanks for the tip.  Who knows, it may show up in next year’s MLA!  And KF, remember, the MLA on Tlön does not happen if you do not attend.  And it’s always held in a warmer location than ours is.

    Posted by Michael Bérubé  on  01/04  at  02:43 PM
  9. Thanks. I’ve always wondered what the hell went on at these things. Actually, I’m still a little unclear. Are boundaries in fact pushed, or not?

    Posted by Dave  on  01/04  at  02:57 PM
  10. Michael, I thought the Saturday morning serial cliffhanger ending was great.  How ‘bout making it a regular feature?

    Posted by  on  01/04  at  06:33 PM
  11. Well, Mr. Smarty-Pants Humanities professor, what if Dumbo had been an obsessive-compulsive elephant with normal ears? Or Monk had been a detective without diagnosable cognitive or emotional disorders, but did have huge ears that allowed him to fly through the air? Would that allow either of them to push boundaries? If so, what boundaries?

    Less inanely, how about Sherlock Holmes as a man with a disability that contributes to his exceptional skills?

    Posted by  on  01/04  at  07:05 PM
  12. Michael,

    This reminded me of some personal semi-ancient history.  When I was in high school in suburban Philly, an Inquirer reporter was “embedded” and did a huge report on our high school and its diversity.  When the article came out, all kinds of students felt they’d been misrepresented, and many kids felt that the author made it seem like there were a whole bunch of racial tensions that didn’t really exist.  After it, we had to have a huge school-wide assembly to defuse the tension that the article caused.  Hopefully your misquoting incident doesn’t lead to a tenth of the chaos we experienced…

    Posted by thehim  on  01/04  at  08:06 PM
  13. I love this line: “a character like Monk raises the possibility that certain kinds of disability make one a more able participant in certain kinds of narrative”

    It’s an idea that I hadn’t thought much about before becoming pregnant with, and then actually having, a child with a disability.  (Wonder of all wonders!  Surely this is a sign of End Times that a depraved liberal pro-abortion type would not avail herself of an abortion given such an opportunity!  Why, one would have expected me to rush out and get two or three of them, at the very least!)

    I read Martha Beck’s Expecting Adam when I was Expecting Ellie, and her descriptions of suit-wearing young Adam helping an abused little girl hit me with some force.  I think it had never occured to me before the actual contributions that someone with Down syndrome might make, not *despite* the disability but perhaps even *because* of it.

    Posted by Sarahlynn Lester  on  01/05  at  12:23 AM
  14. Sir:

    Your comment regarding Dumbo shattered the wall built up since preadolescence, shielding my inner child from the hallucinagenic dream sequence suppposedly generated by gin spiked punch inadvertently ingested by a baby elephant in foster care. It occurs to me that Dumbo never actually had a disability but simply an unrealized “ability”, requiring a fiercely liberating out of mind experience (facilitated by better gin than we seem to have nowadays) in order to realize. Forcing the terror laden memories of pink dancing elephants with vacant eye sockets into the dark recesses I keep for such things, it also occurs that Monk is in fact nuts and has found a way to earn somewhat of a living in spite of that fact...as have lots of us...but it is Dumbo that ultimately gets the big bucks NBA contract.

    Posted by Whitescreek  on  01/05  at  04:10 AM
  15. wow--

    so it seems that Librarians are NOT the only people who collect in masses and masses of hordes every year to practice the Zen Art of Wandering Aimlessly around large convention centers in strange cities with their noses pressed between the glossy pages of 20 pound “programme” books, while trying to intuit what the difference might be between “Lower Hall Meeting Room B-1” and “Lower Hall *Conference* Room B-1”, and why it is that both appear to not contain either of the two sessions that Le Programme promises they do, and neither appear on any map of the center...and, often as not, we pause to consider these things at the tops or bottoms of escalators.

    but i betcha’ we have more Kitty-Cat notebooks and canvas bags…

    of course, we like to do our Big One in high summer in Orlando or New Orleans whenever possible. Mid-winter, obviously, leans toward places like Boston or Toronto.

    do you get free toys and food like we do? (that’s really the best part.)

    Librarian

    Posted by Librarian  on  01/05  at  09:39 PM
  16. We get free bupkis at the MLA.  Oh, I exaggerate; there’s the occasional stale warm beer if you crash somebody’s reception.

    But, Michael, I want to make sure I understand the implications of this MLA-on-Tlön thing.  Are you positing a kind of Schrödinger’s Conference situation, in which the MLA exists in a perfect state of happening and not-happening quite simultaneously, until I either show up or don’t?  The question that remains for me is whether, if I show up and the MLA goes on, it’s All My Fault.

    I’m just not sure I could live with that.

    Posted by KF  on  01/06  at  04:24 AM
  17. At the ASA, we do get a nifty tote-bag.  Though seemingly the sociologists get more money for their receptions, most of them were OK (at least, until I ate all the shrimp dumplings!).

    Posted by  on  01/06  at  05:07 AM
  18. Michael,

    I stumbled on your website while searching for one of your books to teach this semester.  The new one on left-liberal professors and how you spend your time sounds perfect.  When’s it coming out?  Dale

    Posted by  on  01/06  at  05:47 AM
  19. I actually sneaked (I’m an AbD in mathematics) in to the panel on Aesthetics and Cultural Studies in which Michael participated.  I was way back on the right side, Michael, and I got a chance to see you in person.  Partly because your mic was a little low, and partly because your hip, witty references went over my head, I didn’t get as much out of the panel as I wish I had, but it was a pleasure to actually meet you (sort of) for the first time.

    I wish you get a chance to blog a bit more about your thoughts on Thomas Frank’s criticism of Cultural Studies…

    Posted by  on  01/06  at  11:02 AM
  20. "When Strausbaugh sneers at “the race/sexuality/avant-gardist trifecta of ‘Feeling Around in the Dark: Black Queer Experimental Poetry,’” is he really sneering at the MLA– or at the fact that there is such a thing as black queer experimental poetry, and such a thing as critics who attend to it?”

    Having waited the three days for the comments page to load, and having taken the time to thicken up my skin for what is doubtless an audience hostile to my comments, might I suggest that maybe Strausbaugh’s sneer is that the title suggests what is important is not the poetry, but the Black and the Queer. 

    Does anyone really argue that we should read, say, Chaucer because he was white and male and is now dead?  (Adam?  You had someone in mind?) Is that what is important about the Canterbury Tales?  The demographic profile of the author? 

    Why is it the Black and Queer of the poetry that gets studied in departments of literature?  Why aren’t the literary aspects of the poetry central to the scholarship generated by literature departments?

    This is no sneer back: though I am a skeptic, I welcome enlightenment.

    Posted by  on  01/06  at  11:24 AM
  21. Re: Free bupkis at the MLA. The exhibitors give out stuff, including tons of free books on the last day. Rumor has it Michael found lots of free drink at the convention, but then, he earned it by after days of delegate assembly meetings. Thank you for being a zombie, Michael.

    Posted by  on  01/06  at  01:19 PM
  22. It’s true, Simetrias, I had two refreshing plastic glasses of white wine at the NYU Press party on Tuesday, after my five-hour meeting.  It was the least I could do, having missed the 2003 MLA altogether and therefore having missed the wine-n-cheese party thrown by NYU last year for my very own book series, “Cultural Front.” If that wasn’t bad form, I don’t know what is.

    But still, that’s nothing compared to what those elite, coddled librarians are apparently raking in at their conferences!  Goddamn, I knew they led lives of intrigue and danger, just like that guy from ER in “The Librarian:  Quest for the Spear” (thanks to Scott McLemee for the tipoff), but I had no idea that they were leaving their conferences with swag bags stuffed full of free toys and food.  I gotta infiltrate one of those gigs sometime-- it sounds as plush as the Restaurant Suppliers’ Convention.

    The Skeptic Who Some Call “Tim”:  that’s an entirely fair question.  For the record, there were three full sessions devoted to Chaucer at this year’s convention (not that Strausbaugh would give a shit about this), and that’s as it should be.  The major authors of British and American literature, and the societies that study their work, have permanent slots on the annual MLA program, whereas your average black queer paper has to be approved as part of a “special session.” (This one was titled, “Not Black Enough?  Experimental Black Writing since 1965.") Now, let me get this straight, so to speak.  There is one paper on black queer experimental poetry-- one, out of two thousand at the conference.  I have to presume, for now, that the blackness and the queerness are relevant to the poetry, because I didn’t go to the session.  But without even attending the conference, Strausbaugh plucks this item out and renders it as emblematic of the whole damn thing, ignoring, in the process, the thirteen full sessions (that’s forty-something papers) devoted explicitly to poetry, and sporting outlandish titles like “Wordsworth’s Theory of Poetry,” “Lyric Utterance and the Reader,” “Rethikning Metonymy,” and “Conversations with Poets:  C. D. Wright.” And you’re really asking why it’s the black and the queer of the poetry that gets studied in departments of literature?  I’m not blaming you, Tim, for coming to this conclusion-- it’s precisely where Strausbaugh led you, in so many words, when he concluded from his fraudulent little survey that none of this nonsense at the MLA has anything to do with the study of literature.  Honestly, the only way for the MLA to avoid criticism from bottom-feeders like Strausbaugh would be to ensure that no reference to black-queer-whatever appears in the paper titles.  And that goes for papers on white guys like Chaucer too-- even though, to gauge by the Wife of Bath, the whole marriage series in the Canterbury Tales, and (most of all) the Pardoner, not to mention the Legend of Good Women, Geoff C. was plenty interested in gender and sexuality himself.

    Pedro, thanks so much for sneaking into my panel.  I’m sorry about the mic-- it was a directional, and it was set up to the left of the podium for some reason, which meant that I could use it to full effect only if I (a) delivered the paper with my head at a 90-degree angle or (b) talked out of the side of my mouth for twenty minutes.  But as for Frank blogging, I did devote a week to What’s the Matter with Kansas? back in September, and if I talk about it any more on this blog, his publisher will sue me for violation of “fair use” under U.S.C. section 17.  They’re very vigilant about these things, you know.

    Dale, the book can’t come out until I finish it!  But I’m typing as fast as I can, and I’m about two-thirds done.  Scheduled pub date, spring 2006.

    Whitescreek, there is nothing more terrifying in all of American animation than the “pink elephants” sequence.  I did not mention it as part of the dynamic of disability and exceptionality because I did not want to be haunted by eyeless technicolor pachyderms morphing into snakes and pyramids.  Thanks for ruining everything.  And VKW, while Dumbo doesn’t have OCD per se, how do we know the pink-elephant episode doesn’t lead him down the road to alcoholism?

    Dave, the important thing to remember is that there are no boundaries to push.  Ask KF for more details the next time she goes/doesn’t go the MLA/not-MLA.

    Posted by Michael  on  01/06  at  04:06 PM
  23. So, how was the panel on the aesthetics of cultural studies?

    --J

    Posted by Jonathan  on  01/08  at  03:02 PM
  24. It was great!  Except that John Frow couldn’t make it, and since his paper was titled “Polemic for a Reinvention of Cultural Studies,” that was a real loss.  And except that it was 8:30 in the morning and I was completely incoherent.  But other than that, it was great!

    Posted by  on  01/08  at  03:57 PM
  25. I wanted to respond to the ‘academics are liberal chestnut’.  It may be true that they are “liberal,” as in they tend to vote for democrats rather than republicans, but that’s about as far as it goes in my experience.  Liberal yes, but on the left?  Hmm ... maybe not.  Oh yes, yes, there’s a lot of embracing of safe-to-support liberal causes like the plight of the homeless, racial oppression, gender-based discrimination, the legacy of colonialism and its aftermath, and so on and so forth.  But when push comes to shove, academics are more bourgeois than anything else.  And increasingly, they seem to me to resemble modern-day Nero’s: playing intricate melodies on their fiddles while Rome, or rather, the academy, burns around them, content and secure in their own stature and protected position.  But when academics look at their own disenfranchised masses, the increasing volume of unemployed, and never-to-be-employed, the hand waving begins.  Academics tend to be on the left right up until their own security and status is threatened—by the outcry of their own class of homeless—and then they become bourgeois to the core: please Mr. Giuliani, can’t you do somethig to get rid of these people, they’re not very pretty to look at, and they intrude upon our cocktail parties.

    After five years as an non-tenured full-timer (at a highly regarded liberal arts college) who was “let go” because it would be “unethical” to be re-hired, I’ve quit academe in total.  I’ve sold off many of my books—needed the cash—and harbor nothing but digust and contempt for the “culture” that is academe.  And when some other disgruntled, beaten down adjunct or academic perma-temp finally goes postal at an MLA, I won’t shed a tear, and will probably mutter something like ‘it was just a matter of time, they had it coming’.

    Posted by  on  01/09  at  10:19 AM
  26. Forget John Strausbaugh; the classic is Morris Bishop, engaging with both the last post and the issues of specialisation -

    ‘Modern Language Association’

    “Was I too hearty? Did he think me bold?
    Should I have said, ‘like hell,’ and not ‘like fun’?
    Does my mustache not make me look too old?
    (He wants a man whose graduate work is done.)
    Nebraska Wesleyan is probably cold,
    I’d rather get down south of Washington.
    He didn’t seem to like that joke I told;
    Jeez, he’s a solemn-looking son of a gun!”
    Thus the young savant ponders at his ease,
    Knitting the critical brow, and on the belly
    Twirling the scholarly thumb, while Ph.D’s
    Deal with the manuscripts of Machiavelli,
    The intervocalic ‘X in Portuguese,
    And the unfaithfulness of Harriet Shelley.

    ‘A Salute to the Modern Language Association, Convening in the Hotel Pennsylvania’

    The Modern Language Association
    Meets in the Hotel Pennsylvania
    And the suave greeters in consternation
    Hark to the guests indulging their mania

    For papers on “Adalbert Stifter as the Spokesman of Middle-Class Conservatism,”
    And “The American Revolution in the Gazette de Leyde and the Affaires de l’Angleterre et de l’Amerique,”
    And “Emerson and the Conflict Between Platonic and Kantian Idealism,”
    And “Dialektgeographie and Textkritik,”

    And “Vestris and Macready: Nineteenth-Century Management at the Parting of the Ways,”
    And “Pharyngeal Changes in Vowel and Consonant Articulation,”
    And “More Light on Moliere’s Theater in 1672-73 from Le Registre d’Hubert, Archives of the Comedie Francaise,”
    And “Diderot’s Theory of Imitation.”

    May culture’s glossolalia, clinging
    In Exhibit Rooms and Parlor A,
    Sober awhile the tempestuous singing
    Of fraternal conventions, untimely gay;

    May your influence quell, like a panacea,
    A business assembly’s financial fevers,
    With the faint, sweet memory of “Observaciones sobre la aspiration de H en Andalucia,”
    And “The Stimmsprung (Voice Leap) of Sievers.”

    Posted by  on  01/17  at  12:03 AM
  27. oh Michael--you think you are being funny through over-statement here:

    “But still, that’s nothing compared to what those elite, coddled librarians are apparently raking in at their conferences!  Goddamn, I knew they led lives of intrigue and danger, just like that guy from ER in “The Librarian:  Quest for the Spear” (thanks to Scott McLemee for the tipoff), but I had no idea that they were leaving their conferences with swag bags stuffed full of free toys and food.  I gotta infiltrate one of those gigs sometime-- it sounds as plush as the Restaurant Suppliers’ Convention.”

    when in FACT, as a rule, many Librarians actually fly to ALA with AN EXTRA BAG, empty, JUST FOR CARTING HOME THE SWAG (buttons, stickers, magnets, bags, books, CD’s, DVD’s. t-shirts...all manor of little beeping and flashing key-chains and coin purses and cups and mugs and pens and notebooks and tiny radios and gadgets and autographed materials--i personally snagged a poster that i had signed to me by the the blond “Animal Cop (NYC)” in Orlando last June--she’s younger & cuter in person.)

    no lie, dude. i kid you not.

    see, when you are representing someone like the Public Library system in LA, or, say, a major state-related multi-campus University, the vendors break into a sweat at the mere hint that you may have some say in the awarding of multi-million dollar technical service contracts, or the purchasing of, for instance, hundreds of computers or sets of furniture and such.

    not to mention the Breakfasts with Lexis-Nexis, and evening “receptions” with organizations and vendors. the RSVP cards & emails begin arriving usually 3 months prior to the conference, and if you play it right, you can eat (and sometimes drink,) for free the entire time you are there (which, at my institution, is kind of important as we get almost no money to cover the hotel/travel costs, as opposed to what regular teaching faculty get here.)

    last year we also had a private screening of Michael Moore’s F9/11, although he had to send regrets for not making it personally as he was on Leno or someone’s show at the time. we also had Amy Goodman and Richard “running around with my hair on fire” Clarke for our keynote...and they were REALLY neat to meet.

    so, now i will REALLY be in trouble for blabbing, but you know what, what the heck--if swag-envy recruits some more snarky smart-asses for the profession, i say i am doing the ALA a favor!

    grin

    anyone need a light-up key-chain or a faux-leather portfolio w/ calculator sewn in? i have extras…

    -L.

    Posted by Librarian  on  01/21  at  02:35 PM

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