Saturday, December 29, 2007

MLA Day Two: no professional interest in literature

I don't know about my fellow MLA-goers, but I've found the "security" (by which I mean the people checking name badges to make sure that those entering panels are actually registered attendees) to be tighter here than at any of the three previous conventions I've attended. I haven't been wearing my own badge because I forgot to pack one of the nicer badge-holders that I've collected over the years--one with a pin or a clip or at least a longer neckstrap--and I hate the cheap stringy elastic holders they give out here. I half suspect them to be part of a conspiracy against women: the elastic neckstrap makes the name badge hit at the maximally awkward and unflattering height for those in possession of breasts.

So yesterday, after making it past another security guard by flashing the badge from my pocket, I soon found myself sitting through the tedious middle paper of an otherwise excellent panel. I started flipping through my enormous conference program, as one does, and found this item amid the blather at the front about policies, procedures, and so on:
"A convention speaker may obtain a pass for a family member or friend who has no professional interest in language or literature to hear a paper given by that speaker."
And I have to wonder: does the friend or family member have to prove that he has no professional interest in literature? Is there a test?

I was amused by this passage for a while, envisioning the many ordinary Chicagoans trying to sneak into this exciting convention happening in their midst*, until I wound up going out to dinner with two nonspecialists--and hoo-boy: I kinda wish that they had been banned not just from the conference panels, but from the entire city of Chicago.

I was joining a professional friend, who had a number of associates in tow. They included the following:
1. one of his colleagues: a nice, smart, generally interesting person whom I spent most of the dinner talking with;

2. a non-academic friend of his from grad school (she's in the arts): one of the loudest, least clever, and most annoying people I've met in a lifetime of encountering annoying people;

3. his new girlfriend: she's 24 (he's older than I), perfectly sweet, but either very shy or very uninteresting.
I'm not one to exaggerate the charm or appeal of academics, but these nonacademics made me, for more than a few moments out of the evening, feel all kinds of snotty impatience. I'm sure that it's hard being a non-academic, or even a non-literary scholar at MLA. And I like nonacademics (some of my best friends are nonacademics!). But I also like interesting people. And these were not interesting people.

Sometimes it's really best to stick with one's own kind.


*At the INRU reception I spent a fair amount of time talking with a friend who's still a grad student. I'd asked him if this was his first MLA and he said that it was actually his third: he'd gone once at the beginning of grad school, when the convention had been held in his hometown, and once as a senior in high school, when the convention had also been held in his hometown and he and some friends had snuck in. Because, you know: they'd heard what a kick-ass time it was.


What Now? said...

When the first MLA rolled around when D. and I were first together, she got really offended by the language about getting a hotel through MLA channels. One had to check off on the form whether one's roommate had a professional interest in literature. I said that she didn't have such an interest -- meaning that she wasn't in English or Comp Lit or a Foreign Language Lit -- and she got really mad at me because she said she was in fact interested in literature. She clearly felt insulted by this standard MLA language.

Carlton said...

Just a guess: was the annoying non-academic that you met a lawyer, by any chance? We tend to be a bad combo of vapid and aggressive.

Based on my very short and undistingushed academic career, I would encourage anyone who didn't have to go to a panel for a professional reason to spend the time watching television or getting drunk instead. The panel is for professionals and people studying to be professionals, right? You'd expect it to be boring/uninteresting to an outsider.

Archambeau said...

A I so often do at these things, I forgot my name-tag, and ended up having to fake my way past security. A good strategy when challenged is to change the subject and move fast ("Can I see your tag?" "Uh, not now, but you can point me to the restrooms! Thanks!" And zoom down the hall). In fact, changing the subject and moving fast is generally how I get through the Q&A session after my paper, too.

Flavia said...

WN: Yes! And of course D. does have at least a semi-professional interest in literature. There's something so odd and off-putting about that language, as if we--the folks who are supposed to be evangelizing for language and literature--are suddenly turning around and saying, "oh, sorry: you may think you like literature, but we're the professionals here."

Carlton: I know many, many lawyers (it's what happens to humanities majors), but even the more boring associates of my generally very cool lawyer friends are annoying in an entirely different way. This was the not-smart, but-very-invested-in-own-quirkiness annoying of someone in the arts.

Archambeau: Ha! I'll have to remember that one. I did find that the enforcement wasn't particularly strong, despite the frequency of the badge-checks.

(And welcome to both of you!)