Sunday, December 30, 2007

MLA Day Three: paneldemonium

Okay, so I'm back home now and trying to remember--through the haze of too little sleep and too many meals consisting of $2.00 Nutrigrain bars purchased in a rush in the hotel lobby--exactly what else I wanted to blog about. The panels? Oh yes: maybe the panels.

I went to an agreeable number of these, never more than three in a day, managing to learn some new things and never once feeling tempted to stab myself in the eye with my pen; the academic portion of the conference would therefore seem to have been a success.

There were, however, an unusual number of panel casualties: three of the panels I attended had chairs who wound up reading one of their panelists' papers, due to sickness, snowbound flights, and the like, and I heard about (but regrettably did not see) another panelist who passed out while actually delivering her paper. Most amusing was the chair who, as a result of one such casualty, straight-facedly had to read a paper in which she herself was quoted at length and lavished with praise.

I also tried, and failed, to master the art of reading my fellow audience members' attitudes toward papers based on their body language. During one paper that I thought rather thin, but that for various reasons I couldn't follow fully, I reassured myself about its weakness by noting the behavior of the well-known scholar seated next to me: he was sighing, shifting loudly in his seat, tossing his head, and staring out the window. But at the end he leaned over and announced, with what sounded like pride, his professional relationship with the panelist. (Hmm. Maybe I'm the only person convinced she's as much on stage when seated in the audience as when stationed up front?)

And speaking of being on stage: my own paper went well. I don't fear presenting papers--I'm a very good presenter, though I sez it myself--but I do fear the Q&A, especially when I'm presenting fairly new material (see "Conference Terrorism," infra, and "Social Anxiety," passim, all the damn place). Luckily, although my paper got numerous questions, all of them were pleasantly conversational and allowed me to be funny and expansive before my small audience.

And when I wasn't at panels? Well! I was socializing. I had some fine food and drink and saw some fine people--not as many as I wished to, or as often, for which I issue a blanket apology--and I gossiped up a storm and had an oppressive 20-hour headache and made some nice scores at the book exhibit (especially at noon today, when everything was discounted) and burst unexpectedly into tears while chatting with one grad school friend and scarcely even saw the city surrounding me.

You know: it was your basic MLA.


Sisyphus said...

It was great to see you!

I, too, hate the Q&A part of panels the most. (And based on how my department questions people at their job talks, I'm going to hate and fear those Q&As too.)

Dance said...

Really? without the Q&A I could have just read an article. I'm philosophically opposed to chairs reading papers, for this reason--just seems like a theft of my time.

Tracy said...

I think you should be my escort to conferences in my discipline. I despise our conferences, but you sound like you'd have fun at any conference.

Up for a dull political science conference in Chicago this spring?!

Flavia said...

Dance: I take your point, but I don't feel that I'm often that excited by the Q&A, even when it's not my panel--there are some exceptions, absolutely, but so often the questions seem more about the questioner's desire to show off, or have something to say, or be kind to one's friend, or whatever, than about really furthering the discussion.

Perhaps it's because I'm better one-on-one myself, but the Q&A just doesn't seem conversational to me usually, or not in a productive way. For this reason, although I do myself ask questions in the Q&A occasionally, it's more common for me to go up to chat with panelists--including those I don't know--afterwards. To me that's a better way of asking for a minor clarification, passing on a citation or a reference, or something of that nature. . . and it has the benefit of allowing me to make a personal contact.

I agree about the irritation of having the chair read a paper, since I like to associate a paper with a person and to have someone to refer questions to. But what I like about panels that distinguishes them from articles is learning about work in progress--stuff that often won't see print for years--and getting a sort of sampler-menu of what people in my field are working on. It's a great opportunity to see new patterns, meet or see in person scholars I've never met (and especially young scholars, who may not yet have published), and so on. And all that in less time than it would usually take to read a single article, much less three or four!

Tracy: after two conferences in Chicago in 10 months, I think I'm done with the city for a while, but thanks for the invite! I'm really rather surprised that I'm the kind of person who likes conferences (being an introvert and all), but I seem to be. I think it's the mixture of structured and unstructured interactions, and the fact that there's always an acceptable reason or way to strike up conversations even with strangers.

Oh, and finally Sisyphus: I didn't have many on-campus interviews, but I was always more comfortable there than in MLA interviews (and more comfortable in both than in panel Q&As). I think it's because the more time there is, the more ways there are to convey a sense of oneself and one's ideas, personality, etc. Being on the spot always sucks, but I've found that the more time I have, the more charming I can be. . . and the more likely I am to say something that returns me to the appearance of smartness.

Renaissance Girl said...

Flavia--was great to meet you, and nice to lunch leisurely in preparation for a really good panel. Hoping we cross conference paths again sometime soon---RG