Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Alison from Amherst Reports On the End of Her First MLA. Virulent Pomposity But Smashing Interviews. Everywhere in Life Is There This Balance.

This year is my first time attending MLA and hopefully my last. As academics, I know we're all pretentious in one way or another, but there is a thick and inescapable blanket of virulent pomposity lingering between the Marriott, Loews, and Philadelphia Convention Center that defies description. Inoculate yourself thoroughly before entering this danger zone. If I hear one more impossibly twee man wearing tiny glasses talking about his monograph, I don't know what I'm going to do. Please, sir, just call it a book because when you say the word monograph in casual conversation and you're not being ironic, you make me sad.

There are few friendly people at MLA. I've been to many conferences and the MLAers are by far, the coldest and snobbiest academics I have seen. Would it kill you to smile? It has been truly shocking for me to see these people in action and to have to listen to their "intellectual" conversations that are really nothing more than elaborate performances--posturing and preening and pontificating loudly in crowded hallways so as to be perceived as important and part of it all. What's even more amusing is listening to the language professors speaking French of German or Spanish thinking no one around them understands their conversation. Guess what? We're in the humanities. Most of us know exactly what you're saying. The French doesn't make it fancy around here. I hate leaving my hotel room and having to negotiate the gauntlet of assholery between me and the front door of the hotel. My hotel room sucks. Philadelphia is expensive. I am poor. This whole situation is a scam.

That said, having heard all the horror stories about MLA interviews and awkward hotel room situations and emeritus faculty falling asleep mid-conversation, I was emotionally prepared for anything. I must say that my report will be rather dull. I've finished 7 of 8 interviews so far and they've all been conducted in sitting rooms of suites and they've been engaging, conversational (dare I say, fun?) and the committees have, to a one, seemed to know who I am and have demonstrated a genuine interest in me and my work.

I'll be honest--the positive reception is freaking me out. I have spent all my free time reading the invisible tea leaves that are my nerve-addled recollections of each interview. Are these pity interviews? Are the committees just being nice because it is a proverbial buyer's market? When they laugh and nod and scribble scribble scribble, what, precisely, does that mean? When I rushed out of the room at the end of the interview in a moment of extreme awkwardness, was that the final nail in my potential employment coffin? Was I being too arrogant when I said I'm a great writer / scholar / teacher / bullshitter / asshole / colleague? Did I crack too many jokes? Was I theoretical enough when I discussed my dissertation? Is my 2-minute dissertation spiel too short? Am I delusional in thinking my interviews are ALL going well? Have I taken my medication today?