Inspired partly by Scott McLemee‘s satirical “Signifyin’ at the MLA,” which generated a firestorm of criticism from academics when it appeared last December, Gideon Lewis-Kraus attended a recent conference of the Modern Language Association and reported on it for this month’s Believer. The result is an entertaining and thoughtful consideration of the English professor’s role in the year 2004:
as Charlie and I talk about criticism of the academy, it becomes clear that I have a personal investment in this, too. For an almost embarrassing portion of my life, the word “professor” had the resonance most eight-year-olds reserve for “astronaut,” though I eventually decided it wasn’t for me: too insulated, too bloodless. So I’m ambivalent. I want to remind myself as often as possible why it would have been a disastrous decision, but at the same time there’s some tenderness. Usually, I’m as dismissive as the next guy of the pipe-smoking crackpot with the affected ambiguously European accent; in the Arizona desert with Charlie, however, it’s impossible to imagine why the English professor occupies a place in the American imagination somewhere between a bumbling librarian and Vlad the Impaler.