Say, did I mention that I didn’t have to go to MLA this year? And that I’ll probably/ hopefully never have to go to it again? Oh yeah, I guess I did mention it a few times….
Well, not unlike the rubber-necker looking at the three-car pile-up on the other side of the interstate, I have spent a bit of time skimming through some the things in the blogosphere about MLA. A few random thoughts/memories:
- At “Thanks for Not Being a Zombie,” there is a nice list of links to others who have been blogging about MLA.
- As Rebecca Moore “Schenectady Synecdoche”Howard pointed out on her blog, composition studies– specifically, first year composition– seems to be the target by at least a few folks at MLA as the place where all that liberal indoctrination is taking place. She’s referring to a series of articles by Nick Gillespie on the TCS web site, specifically the first of a three part series. One of the things worth remembering (Gillespie doesn’t seem to realize this) is that, at least at a lot of Ph.D. granting schools, most of the people who teach first year composition are actually literature students.
Anyway, I don’t think first year writing should be a site for “liberal indoctrination” and really, I don’t think it is 80% or so of the time. So often things are exaggerated in the ether of MLA. When I teach first year writing at EMU, I’m just trying to get students to grasp “words in a row” literacy.
Having said that, I do agree with Gillespie when he writes (in the second part of the three part series) “… the MLA’s politically correct and arguably even more annoying obscurantist tendencies have also provided fertile ground for an annually repeated story in the Times and elsewhere, one every bit as worn out and tedious as an Art Buchwald holiday column.” Sure, as Gillespie points out in the same column, the MLA includes serious panel presentations (with not necessarily racy titles) about all manners of literary studies. But so much of MLA is so unpleasant, and besides that….
- …. it isn’t my field. At least it isn’t anymore. I’m not entirely sure when it happened (though for me, it has happened in the last ten or so years), but while composition and rhetoric might fall into the broad category of “English studies,” it really doesn’t seem to have any meaningful connection to the study of literature anymore. At least it doesn’t to me. As Collin writes, “I can state with certainty that I feel no more at home at MLA than I did as a noob and an applicant,” and “I’m more and more convinced that all it would take is for several of our leading programs to decide to interview at NCTE, and within 4-5 years, we could dispense with MLA altogether.” Collin says he doesn’t think this move to the NCTE is likely to happen (and he might be right about that), but I do think there has been and will continue to be a move away from MLA. More and more folks are doing phone interviews (and, as I wrote about a couple weeks ago, I think that all first round interviews ought to be phone interviews), and you’re also seeing more interviewing at the CCCCs, too.
- Unlike Collin, I have presented at MLA, twice. The first was in 1998, the year I was interviewing for the job I currently have. My presentation had to do with the practice of ellocution in 19th century America. Not counting the panel chair and other presenters (grad students talking about their dissertations), I believe there were two people in the audience. The second time was in New Orleans in 2001, where I was on a panel that was organized by Todd Taylor that featured Todd’s mentor, Gary Olson, one of Todd’s grad students at UNC, and me (I am not sure how I got into this mix). The panel was on electronic publishing– this is where my now disappeared CCC Online article “Where Do I List this on My CV?” had its origins– and I think there was about 100 or so people in the crowd. I believe Susan Miller argued with me about something, though I’m not sure if it was her or not.
Anyway, that MLA was kinda fun. My wife and I left our toddler son with the grandparents, and we flew into New Orleans, went out eating and drinking that afternoon/evening; wandered around the French Quarter the next day; I went to my panel; we went out eating and drinking that night; and then we got back on an airplane, back to the grandparents and our son. I guess the moral of that story is MLA can be okay, if you don’t actually have anything to do with MLA.