annual article on the mla convention

Courtesy of the New York Times:

Every year more than 10,000 literature scholars gather at the end of December for the convention of the Modern Language Association, the 120th of which begins today in Philadelphia.

Past conventions have yielded papers with titles that were rife with bad puns, cute pop-culture references and an adolescent preoccupation with sex, from “Victorian Buggery” to “Bambi on Top” and the tragically hip “Judith Butler Got Me Tenure (but I Owe My Job to K. D. Lang): High Theory, Pop Culture, and Some Thoughts About the Role of Literature in Contemporary Queer Studies.”

The convention has become a holiday ritual for journalists, as routine as articles on the banning of Christmas crËches in public places, and every year a goodly number of those scholars tempt journalists to write articles, like this one, noting some of the wackier-sounding papers presented.

…What any of it has to do with teaching literature to America’s college students remains as vexing a question to some today as it was a decade ago. There is, in fact, something achingly 90’s about the whole affair. The association has come to resemble a hyperactive child who, having interrupted the grownups’ conversation by dancing on the coffee table, can’t be made to stop.

As I’ve written before, articles like this are fundamentally dishonest.

[Update: comments taking place at Crooked Timber]

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5 thoughts on “annual article on the mla convention

  1. Yeah, I agree. I mean, it’s not like the NYT or other media expect to be able to walk into the AMA’s annual meeting – or for that matter, a plumbers’ association meeting – and understand everything that’s going on. And while I understand that the so-called culture wars *are* a big deal in literature, the article also fails to recognize that the changes in and crisis of the job market in the humanities and the MLA’s role as a forum for job interviews have also probably played a big role in the changes in the convention (at least, if the MLA is anything like the AHA in this respect). Anyway, it’s a silly article.

  2. The MLA and self-inflicted wounds

    Like everyone else, I thought that this year’s piece of journalistic MLA-bashing was unusually trite and perfunctory. And, like Mel,…

  3. Also, as usual, this article blames “the association” for bad behavior. I only saw one irresponsible paper the whole time. Given, I’m a period scholar (18th-c) and we don’t see a lot of the look-at-me stuff. (Presumably it’s not fun to sex up a century in which there was plenty of sex happening in the open.) If there are bad, unresearched papers going on, these usually get shame heaped on them in the questions, and rightfully so. We police our own. The sad thing is not just that Strausbaugh doesn’t mind insulting my profession, but to implicate people like Toni Bowers who practically live in archives and share desperately important information . . . it’s wrong. (The NYT sure is quiet when it comes to corporate tactics, but I guess English scholars aren’t a major source of revenue for them.)

  4. It would be interesting, Carrie, if the Times were to write an annual article mocking the empty language of human potential that corporate motivational speakers are so fond of. How much money do these folks make, and how much of that cost is passed on to consumers by the corporations who hire them?

  5. It’s kind of an obsession of mine, as I read the NYT every single day and have yet to see a single article questioning the way industry works. There was a long feature in the NYT magazine about “marketing to kids” and it really never considered a thoughtful answer to the moral problems of doing so — just went on to say how cool kids’ ads are getting to be. It sucked me in; I thought, “Wow, these advertising guys are using every fiber of their imaginations to recreate childhood” (ominous “dot dot dot”) “so they can sell them stuff. Oh.” It’s never questioned, as long as there’s future ad revenue to be had. I used to work at a business mag and it was the same way. No company was ever criticized because we didn’t want to lose ad rev. You don’t make anything on subscriptions. This is why the media is sick.

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