MLA Convention in San Francisco: Monday Update

The weather in San Francisco is so incredibly NICE (compared to the rest of the country) that it’s a painful challenge deciding whether to attend sessions or go for a run along the Embarcadero. 

Attending sessions won today: this morning I stopped at the Starbucks two blocks from the Hilton (which was pleasantly UNcrowded, unlike the one IN the Hilton), then wondered to the Hilton, where I thought I would attend the Academic Freedom? session, controversial because of the inclusion of David Horowitz (you can read about him with links to what others think about him  here) and Mark Bauerlein (read about him here among other places), set up against Cary Nelson.  But, at the last minute I decided against the drama of that panel (though there were fewer protestors than I expected) and chose a more pragmatic teaching online panel, where I learned that I pretty much know a lot about teaching literature online already (very useful knowledge).

Then I attended the other panel on Academic Freedom, this one sponsored by the MLA’s Committee on Academic Freedom and Professional Rights and Responsibilities (say that 10 times fast). A very rewarding choice, since the panelists were all lively and informative, though interestingly, unlike the earlier panel, this one was in a room the size of a shoebox forcing several folks to stand, and those sitting together to constantly bump elbows and knees. But, and this speaks to the quality of the mostly informal presentations, no one minded.

This afternoon I spent my very first time as a Delegate at the MLA Delegate Assembly, learning not only the painful pragmatism of Robert’s Rules of Order, but also the pleasures (and pain) of listening to very articulate people wordsmith, in a room of over 150 delegates, motions and resolutions.  I also learned that next time I need to bring water and food–sitting for over 5 hours does not come naturally to me.  I did figure out how things work (reminded me a little of Model Congress and Model UN, those high school extra curriculum activities that I enjoyed so many years ago), and next year I’ll be wordsmithing with the best of them.

After drinks at the hotel (the benefit of not staying at the convention hotels is that the smaller ones have free wine tasting every evening at 5pm), dinner at an Italian restaurant, then walking back to the hotel behind a very lively anti-Israel-bombing-of-Hamas protest (with more riot police than protesters, or so it seemed), and now back here, early for urban time, but late for us small town folk.

The MLA convention may be a disorienting crowd to some people, but I have always enjoyed it. I feel like I’m among “my” people, even if I disagree strongly with them, or have very different professional lives than they do.  Former English majors (I can speak to them more than foreign language and other humanities faculty) are an odd mixture of introvert, socially awkward, yet forced, by profession, to be socially extroverts: I find the dissonance fascinating in them and in myself.

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2 responses to “MLA Convention in San Francisco: Monday Update

  1. Yes, the weather in SF is nice, as it always is. It reflects the advanced consciousness of all of us who actually live here at the center of the universe in our beloved cloud of smug. It’s lovely to have 10,000 literature professors in town because no other group is so relaxed. It’s easy to understand: no other group in America gets paid more for doing less. The result, always very impressive to all San Franciscans, is an intense self-satisfaction in one’s own correctness, a lack of all sense of answerability, and a delicious righteousness with which to excoriate everything that remains misunderstood, i.e. almost everything. The fascinating talks on post-colonial identities in third-rate authors; the horrors of past scholarship, which fortunately almost nobody has read in 20 years; and the always delightful scenario of tenured professors who know nothing whatsoever about English literary history is a much-anticipated event in San Francisco. There’s no better place in America for self-satisfaction, self-importance, and self-delusion. Enjoy, and come back soon!

  2. Alas, I’m not sure I know any of the professors you are referring to, though I enjoyed reading your tongue-twisting rant. Thank you for commenting.

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