Tuesday, March 16, 2004
I’m glad to see that my ideas for academic meta-conferences are catching on. But if that’s the case, then I’d better drop the other shoe.
Ever since I served as a director of a humanities center (the Illinois Program for Research in the Humanities, 1997-2001), what I’ve really wanted to do-- instead of just hosting another conference-- is to direct a short video about conferences. So far all I have are a couple of ideas I’ve hashed out with Janet and with my associate director at IPRH, Christine Catanzarite. On day one of the conference, things would go as I’d suggested in my earlier post-- especially those three-minutes-plus questions/ comments that have little or nothing to do with the paper. But then at the end of the day, we see the conference organizers get together and decide that on day two, all questioners will have to stand up and speak into microphones placed in the aisles of the auditorium. The mikes, however, will be placed just in front of hidden metal plates under the aisle carpet, so that whenever a question goes on and on and turns into a three-part “comment,” the speaker can simply press a button and deliver sharp electric shocks to the feet of the questioner.
But alas, our conference organizers are foiled. The next day, we learn that electric shocks to the feet do not, in fact, deter the questioners. The first one gets up, says, “I wonder if I could comment on your paper’s failure to address neoliberalism--” and quickly jumps and cries out in pain as the speaker secretly “buzzes” him. “Ow!” Slightly aggravated, the questioner soldiers on. “As I was saying, the expansion of neoliberalism is the inevitable horizon of your reprivatization of the social, and-- ow! Jesus!”—proceeding to deliver the rest of the “question” by hopping from one foot to the other-- “seems to me the unspoken assumption behind your move to-- ow!-- conceive of ‘empire’ as simply an aftereffect of intentionality-- ow! ow!” and so on for another four or five minutes.
Over at Invisible Adjunct, I see that someone named “polychrome” in the comments section (comment # 7) has said,
“I must hang out at the wrong conferences. What I’m used to (this is all very interesting, but why aren’t we discussing me?) is really really bad coffee. There’s just something . . . special . . . about conference coffee.”
Well, polychrome, you read my mind. The video will also contain a sight gag along the following lines: in the foreground, two conferees are doing shop talk that mixes academic comings and goings with sports commentary in a kind of mishmash-- “I hear Chicago picked up Cordell and Whalen at the deadline for a pair of prospects”; “yeah, I heard that too, but I can’t believe Texas-Austin got hit with recruiting violations for picking up candidates in the university-press helicopter”; “me, I see Kentucky taking an early exit from the playoffs unless they can get themselves a decent Hegelian”; “no way Princeton’s going to stay under the salary cap if they sign Gates,” that sort of thing. In the background, though, we see a long line of people waiting to serve themselves at the coffee/tea table. One by one, they hit the spigot on the coffee urn, add their creamer and sugar and whatever, take a sip from the little paper cup, and-- bbbleah!-- spew the foul and tepid coffee in all directions. But-- and this is the key, of course-- no one gets out of the coffee line. This scene should go on for 50-60 seconds.
Last but not least. This one wasn’t really my idea-- partial credit (or whatever) here needs to go to my friend and former bandmate Kevin Carollo, from when he was a Comp Lit graduate student at Illinois. So I need to know if it works. Here goes.
On the final day of the conference, the “wrapup” panel is squabbling and the audience is getting unruly. It seems that no one can agree on whether the term “hybridity” reinscribes the very forms of cultural essentialism it seeks to contest! (Don’t you hate it when that happens?) Just as tempers are flaring dangerously, however, there is a flash of light, and a Being from Another Planet appears, dressed, Ed Wood-style, in tinfoil. “People of Earth,” says the creature, “Please! Please! Stop all this bickering! I have been sent from the planet Effexor to serve all humankind!” Conferees sit in stunned silence. “People of Earth, on my planet, we have solved the problem of hybridity.” General gasping can be heard. “And as a result, our academic conferences take fifteen minutes, not three exhausting days.” Now there are faint murmurs of interest. “On Effexor, all our oceans are black, not just one! Please, people of Earth, let me leave with you copies of my most recent book, as well as brochures for future conferences on Effexor.” The murmuring increases-- the conference is collectively flummoxed. Finally, one of the panelists slowly rises from her seat, one raised finger in the air. “Um, creature from Effexor?”
“Yes, Earth person?”
“I have a question that’s really more of a comment. . . .”