Home– NOT from MLA

My wife and son and I all returned home yesterday afternoon from the south Florida office (e.g., the in-laws) where we had a long, restful, warm and productive (I did much planning for winter term classes poolside, for example) holiday, and this morning, we’re all recovering from a “disco” New Year’s Eve party that was small but darn fun.

Lounging about, I am NOT coming back from MLA. But it sure seems like many on the blogosphere are reflecting on their MLA adventures.

It sounds like a lot of folks had fun, but my favorite post about MLA so far comes from my friend Mary. I’ll quote it in its entirety here:

At the MLA

Please, kill me now.

Zen-like, isn’t it?

Anyway, as I wrote about this time last year, I ain’t going anymore, even in the unlikely event I end up “on the market” again. There are so many problems with MLA I don’t even know where to begin, but for now, I will attempt to make four observations about the main function of MLA (points I made on the WPA mailing list a couple weeks ago), which is not actually the conference but interviewing.

  • It seems to me rather unfair to defacto charge PhD candidates $1000 or more so that they can get an interview. This is especially a problem in literature of course, where someone finishing up their dissertation on some dead white guy has to invest in a suit (and I don’t care if you are a man or a woman, it’s the same damn black suit!), get airfare, get a hotel room, eat, etc., all of this for one or two or maybe three interviews. That’s a condition that strikes me as one very much rooted in the good ol’ days (like 35 or more years ago) when there were both plenty of jobs and where everyone in PhD studies was of a “certain class” where they could afford all of these expenses.
  • Because at least two-thirds of the people at MLA are really there as part of the arcane interviewing process still practiced by many English departments, the majority of people there are in a bad mood. This has at least been my experience. Interviewees (e.g., job seekers) are obviously stressed out (“the rest of my life hinges on the next 20 minutes– I hope my black suit looks okay…”), but interviewers are mad too (“oh God, I’m interviewing another one of these kids in a new black suit when I could be home with the family watching football games…”). Just a bad bad vibe all around, and, having been on both sides of that table, I personally think that being the interviewer is actually the worst end of the bargain.
  • There is of course a pretty easy technological solution to this whole interview problem, a new-fangled talking device called “the telephone.” Say, did you know they even make them with speakers now so multiple people can talk and listen? Amazing! I have some colleagues (all in literature, btw) who are convinced that the 20 minutes of “real life” contact you have with someone at MLA most certainly tells you so much more about a candidate than 20 or so minutes on the phone. Having been on both sides of the phone a couple of times, I think that’s rubbish.
  • Here’s my first prediction of the year: it won’t be too long before it will become normal to conduct interviews via a live audio chat with a video enhancement. Every Mac on the market right now has a built-in camera, and that means it won’t be too long before every windoze computer has one too. So at that point, what will be the point of interviewing at MLA? The hand-shake?

Enough of that. Time for me to slowly move on with the day and cook up some black-eyed peas….

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