Yesterday, on Invisible Adjunct, a post referencing an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education (subscription required, alas), entitled “Signifyin’ at the MLA,” which documents the many hi-larious paper and session titles contained in this year’s program via the device of a new prize competition: The Chronicle‘s “First Annual Awards for Self-Consciously Provocative MLA Paper Titles (also known as the Provokies).”
IA’s post about this article has resulted in a welter of comments about the ridiculousness of the conference and its many attendees — the pretension, the painful enforcement of theoretical hipness, the self-consciously crafted pose of transgressiveness coupled with the absolute absence of any actual, um, sex.
Alright. Yes, perhaps I’m just oversensitive about this issue. I’m a regular MLA-goer — though not often a presenter — and am simply tired of celebrating “let’s make fun of dorky literature professors” season. I’ll acknowledge finding much of what takes place at the conference every year to be personally and professionally repugnant — yes, the horrible clothes! yes, the ridiculous papers! yes (and it seems to me revealing that no one really mentioned this, given the usual focus of IA’s forum), the miasma of angst and self-satisfaction created by throwing together desperate grad-students and job-seekers with the creme-de-la-creme of rock-star professordom — but despite my own feelings about the annual trek to the Slough of Despond (TM), well, nobody can talk bad about my mama except me.
Each year, we all anxiously await the conference city’s local newspaper’s “Gee, Look at How Silly These Academics Are!” article, and each year, we are not disappointed. Each year’s version recounts the same old nonsense busily being recapitulated at IA — ridiculous paper/session titles, bad sartorial choices, no sex. Each year’s article could be cribbed from the last, and no one would ever really be the wiser.
The point, as far as I’m concerned, is that these articles are nothing more than a recycled, sneering, hipster version of the same old intellectual-bashing exercises that mainstream US culture is perennially embarked upon. Is it too much to ask that the freaking Chronicle — our own paper-of-record, one would have thought — resist getting in on the action?
Yes, ridiculous, yes, sexless, yes, dorky. But who isn’t?
(And on that note: I’ll be at the MLA from the 26th through the 30th, though I’ll be spending the greater part of the 27th, 28th, and 29th trapped in various hotel rooms conducting interviews. If you’ll be there as well, drop me a comment. I won’t have much panel-going time, but would love to hit a few, so let me know if you’re presenting. And I’ll definitely be in need of an end-of-the-day martini, which perhaps we can arrange…?)
[UPDATE, 12.19.03, 12.27 am PST: The article that began all the hoo-ha (and it’s really turned into hoo-ha over at IA) is now available without subscription.]