Thursday, January 13, 2011

MLA11: Hangin' Out & Movie at the End

At the end of this post, I've added a movie I made here in PDX upon my return from MLA. I rode my bike, thought about DH and what it means at this cultural moment in our universities, sat on a rock in the rain and talked into a camera. Voila! Scroll down if u don't want to be bothered by WORDS.

MLA 11 exceeded my expectations in every way.

Moving chronologically through the happy surprises:

1. Blazing fast, ubiquitous wifi. The first thing I did upon arrival at at the JW Marriott at the L.A. Convention Center was to grab Tweetdeck. The columns allow one to watch hashtag streams (#mla11, plus tags for particular sessions), responses, those one follows, and direct messages. It's a very functional interface. Yummy. And I was never disappointed by the Marriott wifi. Never got booted, was never slow. Which goes to show how few of the 8K MLA attendees were sucking broadband: at Brad's dig conferences, they truck in extra bandwidth and even then, it's a struggle to match demand. But as you'll see, broadband demand may go way up at MLA12 in Seattle. This conf was just too exciting to be missing the digital "backchannel" (not sure it was a "backchannel." Think it pretty much *was* the channel.)

2. Had my first f2f encounter w someone I follow on Twitter. Off to my first panel, I opened up the laptop and started Tweeting. Noticed that Brian Croxall, oh he of Profhacker fame (& Emerging Media Librarian at Emory), was also tweeting. I discreetly examined the room from my mid-room row. Nobody looked quite like that tiny icon I was accustomed to. Then: @kathiiberens The wallpaper in this room is like being trapped inside a Louis Vuitton bag. I laughed. He saw me laugh and located me. @kathiiberens I'm sitting right next to you.  I glanced to my right and scanned the room. Nothing. Turned my head to my left and--gasp!--inches away--waved Brian Croxall. F2F? More like elbow2elbow.

3. New Tools Panel; or, The Ghost of MLAs Past It was waaaay too early in my MLA11 experience to gauge how contestatory were the remarks of Marc Bousquet. He was describing an MLA org I recognized all too well: complacent, in denial about market realities, etc., etc. MLA11 Executive Director Rosemary Feal tweeted: "Marc Bousquet looking back, rehashing old history, while the ppl in the room seem to want to look forward"; and "So imp't to stay focused on what we can DO, how we can progress, n not to live in resentment. Bousquet's talk inspires me." Like I said, it was too early in the conf for me to believe her. I didn't even listen to all of Marc's talk (rude, eh?) b/c I felt like I'd heard it, and lived it, all before. Others in the room who hadn't lived through it were alive to the generational differences playing out agonistically on the Tweetstream: "the river runs deep," said Natalie Houston of the old resentments that weren't hers, but were on full display. Remarkably, #newtools didn't get mired in this morass. Urged along by Marilee Lindemann's show-stopping use of humor and political indignation, a strong case was made for unity and action in a time when the humanities are under forthright attack by universities that expect more work (digital plus traditional) for equivalent or less pay. Chris Newfield, whom Lindemann extolled as a hero of political action and careful thought, was the moral center of this panel.

4. Talking w/ the Tweeps I Follow Parked in the back of #newtools on "iPad Alley" sat a few of the (mostly) guys who had taught me a lot about DH before I came to MLA: Dave Parry, John Jones, Matt Gold, Ryan Cordell & Erin Templeton. Met up with all of them. Didn't have to fumble for conversation, b/c I knew what the heck was going on. Inquired after Fun Run meetup space. Chatted abt the panel. And we were off. To Cork Bar, as it turns out:

Here I met Katherine Harris (who loved that wine so much she's hunted it down for a DP this weekend), Stephen Ramsay, George_Online (argh! forgot his last name but can tell u how John Wesley and Methodism figure into his dissertation), Matt Kirschenbaum, Jason B. Jones, and Mark Sample--who on his fantastic blog SampleReality published all the DH panels, thus enticing an outsider like me to haul myself onto a plane. 41 panels, I think it was? It became the de facto guide to the conference for many of us. I kept the paper program for access to the maps.

This was the first afternoon and evening. At Cork, I split a bottle of wine with Dene Grigar, the electronic lit artist, mythologist, and MM program director extraordinaire. We exhorted John Jones and his wife Amy to have a little charcuterie and cheese as Amy told us about teaching music to kids, and preparing to do a doctoral program in astrophysics. Someone showed up, and I wondered if she felt a little bit like a celebrity when I looked her in the eye and said, "You're Amanda French." She was dazed, having conferenced all day with little break for food (an exhilaration I was to experience each subsequent day for the rest of the MLA: too much to see and hear to bother much with eating.) After we'd all hung out in the delicious air, the rectangular fire pit doing its job of making us feel cozied around a hearth, but outside, towered over by the deco downtown LA buildings and wrapped up in the wail of sirens and cars whooshing by, I walked back toward the Marriott alone, chatting with my husband on my Bluetooth. Mark Sample and Matt Gold were ambling the same way, so I signed off and we walked together. Matt lives in NYC. Mark and I took turns telling stories about teaching our kids to walk city blocks without getting run over. (Key: don't stop at the kerb, b/c it's too close to speeding cars. Stop at the edge where the buildings end.)

There's so much more to tell, of course; that's the nature of the new MLA. Pleasure! Who'da thunk it? When I'd told my grad school pals on FB that I was going to MLA for fun, they crinkled their noses as if someone had wafted stinky cheese: "Whhhhyyy? Too much stress!"

Maybe so, maybe so: hard for me to tell, b/c the only job seekers I hung out with were DHers, who generally all had multiple interviews. Nerve wracking always, to interview at MLA; but so much worse if you have only 1 or 2.

I'll end with some reflections about what it all means. Nothing like a bike ride in the rain to extract that from you. Check out the biblio at the end of the vid: blog posts and some panel talks that caught my eyes and ears. Can you name the bands at the head and tail of the vid b4 the music cred rolls?


Kathi Inman Berens said...


Sorry I misID'd you as "Emily" in the biblio of my vid. Argh!

In pasta we trust,

Erin Templeton said...

I forgive you. Thanks for the shout out! :)

Rosemary Feal said...

What an inspiring bike ride/meditation. I enjoyed your perspective (and great vid presence: you do this professionally?) So glad we met at #mla11

Rosemary Feal

Roxie Smith Lindemann said...

Thanks for the kind and thoughtful comments on the "New Tools" panel as well as the reflections on the disciplining of Dig Hum. My typist has been worried ever since MLA that she isn't a Digital Humanist either, on account of bloggers apparently aren't builders, even though Steve Ramsay once told her himself that she was. I think you are wise to be a little suspicious of some of these pressures, inclinations, though as fields mature they are always drawing boundaries, it seems.

Oh, by the way, my typist's real name is Marilee Lindemann, not Marjorie. Marjorie is a fine name. It just doesn't happen to be hers.

Love the vid!

arauch said...

Kathi- Nice reflection about #mla11 and about the valuable intersections between things and ideas (always mutually present in the best of both)!

Alan Rauch

Chris Newfield said...

Kathi - sorry we didn't meet at the MLA. thanks for this wrap and the video esp the comment about bureaucracy and reading and the impact of queer theory on culture overall

Kathi Inman Berens said...

Matthew Kirschenbaum has written a splendid piece that appeared after I'd already edited my vid. "The (DH) Stars Come Out in L.A." ruminates on the inevitability of stars and cliques forming in DH. The following quotation seems especially emblematic of the phenomenon as it affects most of the field (as opposed to what affects a "star," which can perforce affect only a limited few). Kirschenbaum begins by acknowledging the much-vaunted "niceness" of DHers. Then:

"But while being nice is good, being nice is not, or may no longer be, enough. For Shumway, star quality is not simply a function of public image or the number of frequent flier miles the academic logs, but of a specific kind of relationship between consumers, or “fans,” and the celebrity: “It is the feeling of personal connection that transforms the merely famous scholar into a star” (92). In digital humanities, I would argue, this special relationship is less a function of the performativity of a lecture (most of us are simply not that interesting to watch) than the ruthless metrics of online community, the frisson that comes from an @reply from someone more famous than you, or you’ll never believe who just started following me!"

Kirschenbaum has the advantage of being a DH eminence gris w/o looking, well, old. This is also true of Stephen Ramsay. Their participation in conversation during and after MLA11 has historicized DH ably, intervened in self-congratulation ("when I hear about 'cool kids,' I worry about my career"), and helped delineate key terms in a field that clearly is moving from its naissance into a loose-limbed adolescence.

Which is just when the suitors come calling.

Brace yourselves. DH, read from an administrative perspective, is an assessment dream. Metrics! Click-streams! Engines to count things. Data, data, data!

Fortunately, Kirschenbaum and Ramsay are too wily to let such moves pass without notice and, one would hope, a rhetorically baroque protest.