It’s easy to pull a few unrepresentative examples out of over two thousand possibilities to ridicule the academic papers delivered at the annual convention of the Modern Language Association, which is what Scott McLemee did over at the Chronicle of Higher Education. Perhaps McLemee just meant to write a light-hearted piece that wasn’t intended to lump together all of the work presented at MLA. But I’ve heard too many comments over the years, usually from people outside the profession, arguing that the MLA features nothing but silly, trivial, over-politicized scholarship. It’s just not true.
Fortunately, the MLA publishes online the program with all the papers listed, so you could potentially judge the conference for yourself. Unfortunately, you have to be a member in order to access this information. Fortunately, dear reader, I’m a member, and I’ve cut and pasted below all the papers classified as on the subject of “English Literature.” (Note that this represents only a fraction of the total papers to be delivered there.)
I think they sound like the kind of interesting work one would expect scholars of language and literature to be doing.
Old English Language and Literature
110. Anglo-Saxon Cultural Reflections: Ghosts, Fire, Sex
1. “Ghost Words and Ghost Meanings in Old English Literature,” Philip G. Rusche, Univ. of Nevada, Las Vegas
2. “The Candle Relic of Anglo-Saxon Exeter: Early Medieval Ideas of the Physicality of Fire,” Nancy P. Stork, San Jose State Univ.
3. “Sexuality and the Late Laws of Anglo-Saxon England,” Carol Braun Pasternack, Univ. of California, Santa Barbara
284. Toil and Trouble: Anxiety in Anglo-Saxon England
1. “Grief in Anglo-Saxon England: Weeping Men and the ‘Wif-Hades Man’ in the Lives of Female Confessors,” Robin J. Norris, Southeastern Louisiana Univ.
2. “‘Swa Begnornodon Geata Leode’: Beowulf as Traumatic Memory,” John P. Walter, Saint Louis Univ.
3. “‘Eala! Hit Is Micel Gedeorf’: Work and Problems of Identity in the Colloquy and ‘Gifts of Men,'” Marie Nelson, Univ. of Florida
551. Heroic Masculinity
1. “Hrothgar’s Masculine Tears: Gravitas,” John M. Hill, United States Naval Acad.
2. “‘Only a Dream’: Searching for Heroic Masculinity in Cynewulf’s Elene,” Christina M. Heckman, Oberlin Coll.
3. “Devils and Other Strangers: The Antihero in Anglo-Saxon Poetry,” Carl F. Larrivee, Wayne State Univ.
Middle English Language and Literature, Excluding Chaucer
245. Gower and Revolution
1. “Allegory and the Politics of Revolt,” Emily Rebecca Steiner, Univ. of Pennsylvania
2. “Love Lyric and the Lancastrian Accession: Gower’s Cinkante Balades and Chaucer’s ‘Complaint to His Purse,'” Robert W. Epstein, Fairfield Univ.
3. “Gower’s Henry,” Lynn Staley, Colgate Univ.
428. The England of the Chronicles
1. “Warfare, Language, and English Identity: The ‘Battle of Brunanburh’ in Old English and Latin,” Kenneth J. Tiller, Univ. of Virginia’s Coll. at Wise
2. “Crusading Identities: Ralph of Coggeshall, Thomas Walsingham, and the Assimilation of Josephus,” Suzanne Yeager, Univ. of Toronto
3. “The Medieval ‘Brut Mnemonic’ and Early Modern Nationalism,” Elizabeth Johnson Bryan, Brown Univ.
465. Literature and the Other Disciplines
1. “Ricardian Mirabilia? Reading Manmade Marvels in the Late Fourteenth Century,” Scott Lightsey, Georgia State Univ.
2. “What’s a Nice Scholar like You Doing in a Field like That? African American Literary Theory and Medieval Studies,” Pearl S. Ratunil, Univ. of Illinois, Chicago
Respondent: John M. Ganim, Univ. of California, Riverside
326. Apertures and Orifices in Chaucer
1. “Theseus’s Ars-Metrike: An Irresistible Opening for the Canterbury Tales, Fragment I,” Harold N. Ramdass, Princeton Univ.
2. “The Body, the Taboo, and Epistemology in the Miller’s Tale and the Summoner’s Tale,” Andrea Fitzgerald Jones, Univ. of California, Los Angeles
3. “‘The Entree Was Long and Streit, and Gastly for to See’: Visual and Verbal Penetration in the Knight’s Tale,” Disa Gambera, Univ. of Utah
730. Aggression in Chaucer
Speakers: Paul Strohm, Columbia Univ.
Peter W. Travis, Dartmouth Coll.
Christine Nuhad Chism, Rutgers Univ., New Brunswick
Marion E. Turner, Univ. of Oxford, Magdalen Coll.
756. Chaucer and His Contemporaries
1. “The Chaucer-Gower Debate and the Poetics of Urban Desire,” Andrew Scott Galloway, Cornell Univ.
2. “‘What Shul These Clothes Thus Manyfold?’: Chaucer and the Late Medieval Clothing Debates,” Andrea Denny-Brown, Columbia Univ.
3. “‘So Stant Thi Regne of God and Man Confermed’: The Failure of ‘To His Purse,'” Robert Frederick Yeager, Univ. of West Florida
Literature of the English Renaissance, Excluding Shakespeare
203. The Touch of Harry: A Session in Honor of Harry Berger
1. “The Trouble with Harry,” Maureen Quilligan, Duke Univ.
2. “I’m Just Wild About,” Patricia A. Parker, Stanford Univ.
3. “Renaissance Bergerlich Culture,” Leonard Barkan, Princeton Univ.
429. Labor in Early Modern England
1. “Watching Women’s Work in John Skelton’s Garlande or Chapelet of Laurell,” Maura M. Tarnoff, Univ. of Virginia
2. “Deloney’s Jack of Newbery and the Revalorization of Women,” Peter C. Herman, San Diego State Univ.
3. “‘The Sweat of Their Labors’: Reading the Sharers’ Papers, 1635,” Melissa D. Aaron, California State Polytechnic Univ., Pomona
552. The Poetics of Medicine in Early Modern England
1. “‘Give Sorrow Words’: Speaking Grief in Early Modern England,” Michael Carl Schoenfeldt, Univ. of Michigan, Ann Arbor
2. “Living Magnets and the Legacy of Paracelsianism in Donne’s ‘An Anatomie of the World,'” Angus I. Fletcher, Stanford Univ.
3. “Wound-Man Walking: Mutilation and the Martial Body,” Patricia Ann Cahill, Emory Univ.
285. Language and Gender in Shakespeare
1. “Female Macho Performativity,” Donald K. Hedrick, Kansas State Univ.
2. “Translation, Gender, and Constructions of Identity in Henry V and Henry IV, Part I,” Deborah Uman, Eastern Connecticut State Univ.
3. “Rhythms of Female Thought in All’s Well That Ends Well,” Lars Engle, Univ. of Tulsa
506. Shakespeare and Asia: Film and Performance
1. “Stylizing Shakespeare: Intersecting Cultural Identities on Chinese Xiqu Stages,” Alexander C. Y. Huang, Stanford Univ.
2. “Intercultural Performance versus Transnational Cinema: Documentaries on Shakespeare in Asia,” Richard Burt, Univ. of Florida
3. “Shakespeare and Kurosawa: A Conversation on Historical Responsibility,” Joan Pong Linton, Indiana Univ., Bloomington
709. As through a Glass Darkly: Distortion and Subjectivity in Shakespeare
1. “Misframing Shakespeare: The Sonnets in Criticism of the Plays,” Jonathan Vere Crewe, Dartmouth Coll.
2. “Fickle Glass,” Rayna Kalas, Cornell Univ.
3. “The Subject of Forgetting,” Garrett A. Sullivan, Jr., Penn State Univ., University Park
Seventeenth-Century English Literature
430. Religious Zeal in Seventeenth-Century England
1. “Mary Cary: Fifth Monarchist Zeal and Radical Religious Hermeneutics,” David Loewenstein, Univ. of Wisconsin, Madison
2. “‘Not Our Sort of Person’: The Earliest Teaching of Bunyan at Harvard,” Dayton W. Haskin, Boston Coll.
3. “Zeal and the Poets: Martyrs, Terrorists, Assassins,” Nigel S. Smith, Princeton Univ.
588. Private Matters in Seventeenth-Century England
1. “Illicit Privacy and Outdoor Spaces,” Mary Thomas Crane, Boston Coll.
2. “Private Property and Privation: Amelia Lanyer and Female Recovery of Paradise,” Rhonda Lemke Sanford, Fairmont State Coll.
3. “Architectural Involutions: Private Spaces and Domestic Places,” Mimi Yiu, Cornell Univ.
757. Women and Science
1. “Margaret Cavendish and the Science of Sympathy,” Seth L. Lobis, Yale Univ.
2. “Stones like Women’s Paps: Assimilating Men in Jane Sharp’s New Anatomy,” Caroline Todd Bicks, Boston Coll.
3. “Traducing Sex, Translating Science: Lucy Hutchinson’s Lucretius and Foucault’s History of Sexuality,” Denise Albanese, George Mason Univ.
Restoration and Early-Eighteenth-Century English Literature
1. “Aphra Behn’s Religious Libertinism,” Sarah Ellenzweig, Rice Univ.
2. “Icons and Phantasms in the Twilight of Libertinism,” Alison Conway, Univ. of Western Ontario
3. “‘The Most Agreeable of All Bad Characters’: The English Libertine Rake and the Problem of Emulation,” Erin Skye Mackie, Univ. of Canterbury
4. “‘His Mind Is a Room Hung Round with Aretine’s Postures’: Libertine Spatialization in Restoration Writing,” James Grantham Turner, Univ. of California, Berkeley
431. Transatlantic Crossings
1. “Polly’s Work and John Gay’s Cultural Transmission: What You See Is What You Get,” W. T. Lhamon, Jr., Florida State Univ.
2. “Anne Bradstreet, Transatlantic Capital, and Creativity,” Kimberly Suzann Latta, Univ. of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh
3. “Antitheatricality: The Transatlantic Connection,” Lisa A. Freeman, Univ. of Illinois, Chicago
507. Female Playwrights: Text and Performance
1. “‘We All Smoke Here’: Bacon’s Rebellion, Colonial Identity, and the Invention of America in Behn’s Widow Ranter,” Peter C. Herman, San Diego State Univ.
2. “Recovering the Playwright: The Implications of Eliza Haywood’s Theatrical Career,” Emily Hodgson Anderson, Yale Univ.
3. “The First One Hundred Years: A Project to Return Female Playwrights to the Stage,” Gwynn MacDonald, Juggernaut Theatre
Late-Eighteenth-Century English Literature
170. Equiano and the Cultural Contexts of Abolition
1. “New Writings by Equiano and What They May Tell Us,” Vincent A. Carretta, Univ. of Maryland, College Park
2. “Equiano and the Eighteenth-Century Debate on Africa,” George Boulukos, Southern Illinois Univ., Carbondale
3. “Slavery, the Death Penalty, and Equiano’s Interesting Narrative,” Mark E. Canuel, Univ. of Illinois, Chicago
553. Women and Print Culture in the 1790s
1. “Anna Laetitia Barbauld: New Formats for Families and Literature,” Frances Ferguson, Johns Hopkins Univ.
2. “Wollstonecraft’s Lessons,” Sonia Hofkosh, Tufts Univ.
3. “Locating Politics and Print Culture in the Anti-Jacobin Novel,” Kevin Michael Gilmartin, California Inst. of Tech.
4. “Self-Representations: Advertisement and Uncertainty in Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey,” Barbara MacVean Benedict, Trinity Coll., CT
731. Recentering the Field: Peripheral Geographies, Peripheral Sexualities
1. “Captain Singleton and the Rise of the Novel,” Jody Greene, Univ. of California, Santa Cruz
2. “‘No, Madam, I Am an American’: Lydia Maria Child’s Romantic Revolution,” Ashley E. Shannon, Univ. of Texas, Austin
3. “Imperial Reflections: Hindi and English,” Alok Yadav, George Mason Univ.
The English Romantic Period
246. Materials of Memory
1. “Spots of Dust; or, What Remains?” Julie Ann Carlson, Univ. of California, Santa Barbara
2. “Wordsworthian Memory and the Independent Life of Forms,” Ann Wierda Rowland, Harvard Univ.
3. “Sardanapalus and the Spectacular Relic,” Andrew M. Stauffer, Boston Univ.
4. “Romanticism and Modern Memory,” David E. Simpson, Univ. of California, Davis
683. Materials of Print
1. “Mary Robinson and Radical Print Culture,” Adriana Craciun, Univ. of Nottingham
2. “The Illustrated Lay of the Last Minstrel,” Margaret E. Russett, Univ. of Southern California
3. “Print Culture on the Margin: Joanna Southcott and Her Followers in the Home Workshop of the Word,” Gary D. Kelly, Univ. of Alberta
4. “Harems, Copyright, and the Working-Class Reader: Byron’s Don Juan Underground,” Colette C. Colligan, Simon Fraser Univ.
732. Technologies of Memory
1. “Daffodil VR: Memory as Romantic Medium,” Richard Menke, Univ. of Georgia
2. “Fascinating Rhythm,” Margaret E. Russett, Univ. of Southern California
3. “Juan the Memorious: The Feinaiglian Narrative Dynamics of Don Juan,” Stuart Samuel Peterfreund, Northeastern Univ.
The Victorian Period
142. Victorian Terror I: Terror and Terrorism
1. “Christian Terrorism in Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s The Last Days of Pompeii,” Matthew B. Kaiser, Rutgers Univ., New Brunswick
2. “Domestic Terror and the Penitent Woman Tableau,” Melissa Valiska Gregory, Univ. of Toledo
3. “A Tale of Two Towers: Teaching Dickens after 9/11,” David Faulkner, State Univ. of New York, Cortland
286. Victorian Terror II: England and India
1. “Domestic Feelings and Cultural Terror in Mainwaring’s The Suttee (1830),” Jeanette M. Herman, Univ. of Texas, Austin
2. “Terror and Terrorism in the Indian Mutiny,” Christopher Herbert, Northwestern Univ.
3. “Kipling as Terrorist: Sadomasochism and the Imperial Cell,” John R. Kucich, Univ. of Michigan, Ann Arbor
432. Victorian Terror III: Shock
1. “Terror, the Unconscious, and Gwendolen’s ‘Hidden Wound’: The Genealogy of Psychic Shock in Daniel Deronda,” Jill L. Matus, Univ. of Toronto
2. “Body Shock: What to Do with the Dying?” Karen Chase, Univ. of Virginia; Michael Levenson, Univ. of Virginia
3. “Genre Shock: Victorian Terror for the Contemporary Film Spectator,” Dianne Fallon Sadoff, Miami Univ., Oxford
Late-Nineteenth- and Early-Twentieth-Century English Literature
111. Film and Ideology
1. “The Birth of a Nation and the Defense of Private Life,” Michael Tratner, Bryn Mawr Coll.
2. “New Women Criminals: Suffragettes in Early British Film, 1896-1913,” Elizabeth C. Miller, Univ. of Wisconsin, Madison
3. “Cat and Mouse: Technology and Ideology in Early American Cinema,” J. Graham McPhee, Univ. of Portsmouth
Respondent: Michael Valdez Moses, Duke Univ.
1. “‘As Lord Campbell’s Act Forbids’: Dante Gabriel Rossetti and the Protomodern Censor,” Celia Marshik, State Univ. of New York, Stony Brook
2. “Disorientalism: Imperial Geography and the Origins of Conrad’s Modernist Aesthetics,” Michael Valdez Moses, Duke Univ.
3. “Meredith and Arelational Modernism,” Christopher Lane, Northwestern Univ.
554. Speed, Velocity, Acceleration
1. “Time and the Circling of the World,” Jonathan H. Grossman, Univ. of California, Los Angeles
2. “Being, Dwelling, Resisting: British Modernism and the Failure of the International Style,” Victoria P. Rosner, Texas A&M Univ., College Station
3. “Slowness and Altitude: Aerial Photography and Interwar Modernism,” Paul K. Saint-Amour, Pomona Coll.
4. “The Adrenaline Aesthetic: Speed, Pleasure, Politics,” Andrew Enda Duffy
Twentieth-Century English Literature
112. Ted Hughes
1. “Ted Hughes and Keith Douglas,” Cornelia D. J. Pearsall, Smith Coll.
2. “Cenotaphs and Photographs,” Charles Daniel Blanton, Princeton Univ.
3. “Reassessing Ted Hughes,” Charles Stewart Berger, Southern Illinois Univ., Edwardsville
205. Writing World War II
1. “Writing (and Talking) War: E. M. Forster’s BBC Wartime Broadcasts to India,” Elizabeth MacLeod Walls, Nebraska Wesleyan Univ.; Linda Kay Hughes, Texas Christian Univ.
2. “Oblique Representations of World War II in Doris Lessing’s The Golden Notebook and Ian McEwan’s Atonement,” Earl G. Ingersoll, State Univ. of New York, Coll. at Brockport
3. “Raking the Ashes of Memory: Fragmented Silences, Grief, and Trauma in Kazuo Ishiguro’s A Pale View of Hills,” Hema Chari, California State Univ., Los Angeles
4. “A Different Battle of Britain: Contemporary British Women Writers and the Holocaust,” Phyllis Lassner, Northwestern Univ.
328. Female British Gothic
1. “Negation and (Dis)Embodiment in Jeanette Winterson’s Written on the Body,” Ellen Elizabeth Berry, Bowling Green State Univ.
2. “Unwounding Women: Reembodying the Gothic in Dirty Weekend,” Helene Meyers, Southwestern Univ.
3. “Erotic Sublime and Masochism: What’s the Difference?” Marianne K. Noble, American Univ.
4. “In Memorium Darkwave Hippies: Angela Carter through a Goth Lens,” Carol Siegel, Washington State Univ., Vancouver
English Literature Other Than British and American
113. Anglophone Interjections I: South-South Dialogues
1. “Caribbean Cosmopolitanism: Caribbean Travelers in the Caribbean and West Africa in the Late Nineteenth Century,” Faith Lois Smith, Brandeis Univ.
2. “Antique Cosmopolitanism? The Indian Ocean Trade in Amitav Ghosh and Salman Rushdie,” Benjamin S. Graves, Univ. of California, Berkeley
3. “Internalizing History: Psyche and Solace in Bessie Head’s A Question of Power and Toni Cade Bambara’s The Salt Eaters,” Stephane P. Robolin, Duke Univ.
4. “Love, the Home, and the World: Repositioning India in ‘Asia,'” Samir Dayal, Bentley Coll.
206. Anglophone Interjections II: Old-New Discourses
1. “Colonial Fantasies, Postcolonial Masculinity: Ram/RAM Rajya in The Moor’s Last Sigh,” Deepika Bahri, Emory Univ.
2. “Revisiting the Indian ‘Renaissance’: Vernacular-Anglophone Relations in Colonial India,” Makarand R. Paranjape, Jawaharlal Nehru Univ., New Delhi
3. “Anglophone Portraits of the Temple Dancer: Then and Now,” Pradyumna S. Chauhan, Arcadia Univ.
4. “Imperial Theatricality from Kipling to Rushdie,” John S. McBratney, John Carroll Univ.
5. “Plural Temporalities: Toward a Genealogy of Cosmopolitanism,” Betty Joseph, Rice Univ.
466. Anglophone Interjections III: Southern Cosmopolitanisms
1. “Resurrecting Egypt in a British Shroud: Muhammad al-Siba’i’s Colonialist-Nationalist Translations of Charles Dickens and Thomas Carlyle,” Shaden M. Tageldin, Univ. of California, Berkeley
2. “Cosmopolitanism and Nostalgia in Amitav Ghosh,” Gautam Premnath, Univ. of Massachusetts, Boston
3. “Gandhi, South Africa, and the Impossibility of Cosmopolitanism,” Sameer P. Pandya, Queens Coll., City Univ. of New York
4. “Rooted Routes: Jamaican Patois Poet Louise Bennett and the Cosmopolitan Ideal,” Ifeoma Chinwe Nwankwo, Univ. of Michigan, Ann Arbor