Sunday, January 09, 2011

MLALA: Day Three

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.)


Flavia said...

Damn, that photo's blurrier than I thought. The dude is wearing a bowtie, sweater-vest, old-fashioned wire-rimmed glasses, and he's meditatively smoking a pipe. (And though he has silver hair, he's not old.)

G-Fav said...

I don't mean this as a joke: are there any language barrier issues that impede the socializing and idea-sharing? In my engineering field, I'm about to go attend + help run the Big Annual Conference. The attendees are from all over the world, chiefly the US, Japan, Korea, and Germany. I'd love to chit-chat about, y'know, stuff, but often this is only with the fraction of the group who speaks English.

I guess all the members of the MLA are pretty awesome English speakers, huh?

A side-effect is limited cross-pollination of ideas, except among bilingual researchers.

(You might ask, "Wait, how do they give talks in English without knowing English?". Often they read from a script, and if someone in the audience asks a question, a colleague hurries to the podium to translate.)


Anonymous said...

I can't believe anybody still allows hotel room interviews.

Evey said...

i actually think this photo is of one of my colleagues and i am not kidding.

Evey said...

fwiw, i actually don't think my colleague is a photo. i think this photo is a photo of one of my colleagues. and about that, i do not kid.

Flavia said...

Evey: this news makes me so happy. Small fucking world.