Friday, December 31, 2004

Happy New Year, Anyways: Tsunami and MLA

At MLA, I spent a lot of time late at night in my hotel room just watching footage of the devastation in South Asia. I was initially angry that this could have happened in an era of immediate global communications, but the more I read, the more I think that preventing something this widespread would not have been easy. I was also a little concerned initially that the Indian government, in a show of misguided bravado, was turning down foreign aid (see Amit Varma), but now they've moderated that stance. And I'm impressed at what people like Amit and my friend Rajeev (who is involved with ASHA) are doing. Amit has already gone to Chennai to help; Rajeev is also going south sometime soon.

Good luck, guys. All I can do right now, I'm afraid, is send in my $50. Which I just did, to AIDIndia.

My panel. I did have a good time at MLA, managing to put things out of my mind for a few hours a day. The best part: I ran into many old friends, an astonishing number of whom seem to be on the job market right now. I also waved at many casual academic acquaintances (the people at whose badges one has to quickly glance). And I went to some great panels. My own panel, if I may say it, rocked -- excellent papers, well-delivered. As chair, I didn't have to do much, though I did throw in some contrarian-sounding, "devil's advocate" points in the discussion to keep the audience awake. (I am growing increasingly contrarian...) The panelists and I have also been chatting about doing something more with the idea the panel was about. (So if you're also not happy with the term "South Asian Literature," let me know and I can keep you in the loop on the further developments.)

Milton and Donne. I went to some panels completely outside of my field, just to see. The best was a panel on "Literature and Religious Authority" in 17th century writing, mainly John Donne and John Milton. I had trouble following the twists and turns in Milton's "anti-prelatical" texts, but I loved one of the papers on Donne, whose style reminds me of the Persian/South Asian ghazal. (It's not surprising, since Donne is a follower of Petrarch, who was himself, I believe [but could not immediately confirm] influenced by Medieval Islamic poetry.) I also had lunch with a small group of Miltonists (one of whom is a colleague at Lehigh), which was intellectually pretty high-powered.

A little gripe: It's always impressive to me that there are so many people in this profession who are so learned, and smart. I wish we spent more time and effort working on how to talk to each other.

A little snark: I also went to a couple of dreadfully boring panels. One speaker (in the middle slot), who was a very well-known, senior person, went on so long that he actually didn't leave time for the third speaker! The chair was too afraid to stop him. Very, very bad behavior.

And a response to John Strausbaugh: It's a tradition that someone in the mainstream media writes a piece trashing the MLA, in all its sequined glory. This year, the honors go to John Strausbaugh, of the New York Press. I'm not concerned to refute Strasbaugh, and I'm certainly not outraged, but I do want to point out two things: 1) all of his best quotes come from earlier Scott McLemee pieces on the same phenomenon (retread!), and 2) most MLA papers have incredibly boring titles, and are in fact, incredibly boring to all but specialists (real geeks like me).

Does anyone want to do a panel at next year's MLA on the mainstream media's obsession with MLA panel titles? Interested, McLemee?

No meetup for me. I missed the lit-blogger meet-up, as there was a panel on secularism in South Asian literature that I wanted to go to at the same time. But I gather from Chuck Tryon and GHW that six people showed up -- pretty good! There is also a little article on the meet-up already.

And now it's New Year's Eve, and I'm back in Connecticut, trying to muster up the energy to get back to work. Or have a good time at some party... Or something.

2 comments:

chutry said...

Hey, sorry we didn't get a chance to meet, but I'm glad you enjoyed the panel. Perhaps we'll have a chance to meet at MLAs in the future.

Nayeli said...

Hello! I found you here quite by random. Cheers!