13 MLA panels we missed

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The Modern Language Assn. is holding its annual conference in Los Angeles -- during the first week of January, for the first time in many years, rather than between Christmas and New Year’s. Professors and post-graduate students of English and the humanities are milling around the L.A. Convention Center, the plaza at L.A. Live and the conference rooms at the J.W. Marriott. The real business of MLA may be the quiet, secluded semi-finalist interviews for the highly prized tenure track positions at universities all over the country, but like most other conferences, MLA also has an exhibition floor, panel discussions and presentations.

Those presentations have a unique flavor. Because scholars with PhDs are often highly specialized, and at this conference they’re speaking to others with an equal level of scholarship, the presentations tend to have titles that can be a bit, um, esoteric. Here’s a list of some we didn’t attand:


Bootleg Paratextuality and Aesthetics: Decay and Distortion in the ‘Borat’ DVD Nature Is a Petrified Magic City: The Poetic Unity of the Organic and Inorganic in ‘Heinrich von Ofterdingen’ Loving the Love of Silence: Material Silence in High Medieval Monastic Books The War of ‘Of’ and Other Polyvocal Syntaxes in ‘An Ordinary Evening in New Haven’ The Paradigms of Paradox and Sarcasm in the Prinadellion Grotesque The Transgressive Sublime: (Post)Modernism and (Post)Colonialism in E. M. Forster’s ‘A Passage to India’ Murdered Modernism: Peretz Markisha and the Legacy of the Soviet Yiddish Avant-Garde Novels as Advertisements and the Production of ‘Surfer Girl Localisms’ Across California and Mexico Shakespeare and Us: Presentism, Historicism, and Pedagogy Metonymic Machines: Books and Literary Histories Readable Urine, Murky Muck: Excrement and Interpretability in Medieval Italian Texts Vital(ity) Economies: Indian Surrogacy and U.S. Middle-Class Dependence on Employable Mothers Rethinking Stylistic Pedagogy: Imitation, Sentence Combining, and Generative Rhetoric for the Twenty-First Century

The most surprisingly topical paper of the conference may have been ‘Was Huck Finn ... Afro-Oriental? Locating American Indian Law and Epic in Twain’s Slavery Novel’ -- there’s no way its author could have predicted the recent outrage over an expurgated version of Twain’s book.

And local hero the Museum of Jurassic Technology is getting some attention during MLA. On Saturday, it will be the focus of a panel with several scholars, described as: ‘This session explores recent currents of theoretical inquiry regarding L.A.'s Museum of Jurassic Technology, including cultural ventriloquism and hybridity, the immediacy of knowledge in an era of ubiquitous computing, the practice of ‘shop gifting,’ the establishment of a middlebrow exegesis, the purposeful cultivation of discomfort and unease amongst museum visitors, and employing aesthetic cannibalism as a strategy of camp.’ Conference attendees who are daunted by the panel description might want to just drive across town and visit the museum itself.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

RECENT AND RELATED: The Expurgated Huckleberry Finn