Wednesday, December 28, 2005
Blogging MLA 2005; or, It Is Too An Event
Clancy beat me to the punch, but I’ll have the last word. Or the lengthiest. (I have no shame. I’ll settle for quantity over quality.) I’ve already posted my first not-so-MLA-related prelude. Tomorrow I’ll work up my notes on the first three panels I attended in ways I promise will entertain and edify even the most jaded of readers. (Of which, I learned tonight, we have legion.) So for those of you I met today who expected your names up in virtual lights, well, sleep before celebrity, my mother used to say. But tonight Holbo and I were mocked by name by a name, and I stayed out until 3 a.m. drinking with people infinitely more intelligent than I. And I didn’t even have to use my AK.
I gotta say it was a good day.
FIRST SIGNIFICANT UPDATE: Here.
QUASI-SIGNIFICANT UPDATE: “I Can’t Believe I’m Telling You This!“
[Note: If people would prefer I post the significant updates here I will.]
I don’t even count that post as an actual “Blogging MLA” post. If that kind of post counts, then John Holbo wins.
I’m intrigued by this “mocked by a name” occurrence.
Walter Benn Michaels singled John and I out (Sean, being on the panel, wasn’t in his line of sight) as two people with an unhealthy interest in the theory/Theory distinction. When John asked a question, Walter said “Wait, you’re John Holbo. You didn’t say nothing, but what you did said was dead wrong.” Or something to that effect. He made amends by buying us a round of drinks after the panel. But I’ll discuss that in more detail later. I’m barely halfway through my account of the first panel. Reconstructing these arguments in something approximating real-time is an interesting experience. I would be further along, but these walls are paper-thin and the couple in the room to my left are alternating between loud, dry recitations “What Theorist X said” and extremely loud arguments about how one or the other has confused Theorist Y with Z again for the fifth fucking time in a hour almost like you don’t even want this job we paid $1,000 for the privilege of being interviewed for. I have a feeling I’m going to be somewhere between hilarious, delirious and asleep today.
How I envy you.
I’ll be standing outside the castle with my pitchfork and torch, a raging mob of one. It’s a pain having to carry both of them myself, but the other member of my organization went off formed his own group.
Let’s make a deal, John E.: I’ll insult you publicly today if you’ll insult me publicly today. (The buying drinks part may be tough, though.)
I did publish my sage advice just now at Kotsko.
What the hell, I’ll post it here. It’s not too long, and self-promotion is a good thing.
People I know are trooping off to the dread MLA convention,
so I thought I’d give them some wise (albeit unsolicited) counsel.
1. Literary works and scholarly works can have a political-ethical intention or not. Either way is OK. If there is a political-ethical intent, often the real effect of the work conflicts with the intent—all human action is like that. But closing off options is bad.
2. Any work can be analyzed either as autonomous object, or in relation to a larger whole of which it is part, or in terms of the components comprising it. Everything is potentially related to everything else.
3. All scholars have agendas. These need not be explicit. Having an agenda, even quite an odd one, is in no way disqualifying, but no one needs to take anyone else’s agenda seriously. (An inexplicit agenda is not a “hidden agenda” except in rare cases where nefarious intent can be shown).
4. All scholarship is caveat emptor. Scholars should be aware that readers have the right to mock or ignore them. Readers should be aware that scholars might be just plain silly.
5. Criticism is a worthwhile activity but not really a very important or authoritative one. But among the ways people have of enjoying life, reading literature is one of the finest. It’s good to enjoy life.
6. Because criticism is not important or authoritative, even though it has its value, pluralism is fine. It’s not like medicine, where a non-standard treatment might kill people.
7. Attempts to define criticism by limitation, and to make these definitions authoritative, usually can be traced to old-boy networks trying to guarantee jobs for their students. Since literary scholarship has been defined as a productive job, and since high-level scholars get paid real money, it couldn’t be any other way. Within the bureaucratized university, putatively objective criteria have to be given for hiring, firing, and promotion, so methodologization and paradigmatization were inevitable.
8. What is inevitable is not necessarily good, and the methodologization, etc., of literary studies is really the shitty colonization of an ultimate value or form of play by instrumental, productive, positivist, and bureaucratic forms of organization.
9. Deal with it, sucker.
Once a convention comes to Minneapolis or Portland, it’s a deal.
Because criticism is not important or authoritative, even though it has its value, pluralism is fine.
Pluralism is fine, but not at the expense of communicability. I went to several panels yesterday where people were using jargon I couldn’t understand (an old complaint, yes, but I’m an insider...). Two different panels I attended even used the same word, “ideality,” in radically different ways. In one case, it was clear what the word was intended to mean (a species of idealism, though why that word is insufficient remains unclear to me). In the other place, I had no idea what the term was intended to mean.
Another panelist referred constantly to “aesthetic information,” (almost an oxymoron) without ever bothering to explain/defend.
Point four covers those guys, Amerdeep. Mock or ignore those guys.
See, my theory is robust.