Yesterday Cosimo and I were awakened at 7 a.m. by loud chatter from the room next door. As I went about my business getting ready, I realized that this conversation involved more than the two voices I'd first heard--and by 9 a.m. it was clear that there was a job interview in progress: modern British novel this, modern American novel that, "there are a lot of ways you could teach this course," and so on.
Since I'm not on the market, the interview portion of MLA has steadily become less real to me. I have friends who are serving on hiring committees and I have friends throwing their hats in the ring for better jobs than their current ones--but the real fear and desperation of this part of MLA feels a long way off. Listening to this conversation through the wall, and knowing that it was taking place in a small hotel room like our own, probably with committee members perched on beds (and for a job that may well have received 500 applicants), was sobering.
Indeed, Day Three seems to have been about the intrusion of real life into the manic and self-involved whirl of the conference. At lunch one of my friends cried out, having caught a glimpse of CNN on a t.v. screen in the bar behind us; eight hours later, I ran into people who still hadn't heard about the assassination in Arizona. And in the late afternoon the boozy professional chatter in the main lounge was briefly interrupted by grown men shouting--again, there was a t.v., somewhere, this time broadcasting the Seahawks-Saints football game.
I don't mean to imply any equivalence between those events, but I experienced both as disorienting intrusions and reminders of how unreal conference time and space are. Some 9,000 language and literature professionals descend on a few blocks of a city, and for three or four days we socialize only with each other, indulging in the folkways of our tribe. It's exhilarating and rejuvenating, annoying and exhausting, and I wouldn't miss it--but it's also a strange and privileged space.
I have more to say about this MLA, but it'll have to wait: Cosimo and I are headed to the bay area for a couple of days to see my brother. For now, I'll leave you with this photo, taken yesterday, immediately outside the conference hotel. We're half convinced he was a performance artist.
(Photo credit: W.H.)