Saturday, November 24, 2012


It occurs to me that, weeks after the event, I have not yet commented about my experience at the 2012 South Central Modern Language Association conference in San Antonio, Texas.  My wonderful wife and I both attended, enjoying success with the work we did, and enjoying some time with our families, as well.

My wife was busier than I was on the trip; she presented on the panel I had organized (about which more, below) and chaired the English VI: General Linguistics panel, as well.  The latter saw presentations from local scholars, both of which spoke to issues of linguistic construction and encoding of identity.  One of the presentations showed the relative youth of the presenter's career in academia, but since I am not terribly old in the profession, and I am happy to see people take the risk of and get experience in presenting research, I have no complaints.  Indeed, the presentation touched upon something that I perceive as being worth investigating (not that I will; I have more than enough to occupy my scholarly time as it is without ranging even further outside of my normal fields of study).

The panel with which both of us were concerned was the one which I had organized and managed to push through: Bullshit Studies.  I am well aware of the seemingly facetious nature of proposing such a panel, and several people at the conference (there were quite a few who had heard of the panel and exhibited interest) flat-out asked if the panel was a joke.  While it is true that there was a bit of the tongue-in-cheek about the panel (really, how could there not be?), more than a desire to say "bullshit" repeatedly in an academic conference informed my proposal.  There is legitimate scholarly interest in the phenomenon we label "bullshit," beginning in earnest with the work of Harry G. Frankfurt and continuing on through a number of other scholars, primarily in philosophy.  Consequently, an academic conference panel is an appropriate place to keep engaging the phenomenon--aside from the fairly obvious jokes about academe being itself bullshit, especially the academic humanities.

Perhaps more important a reason is something which I have discussed before: the need for those of us working in the humanities to return to the joy with which we began our work in them.  Too often, we scholars of the humanities get so wrapped up in the minutiae of our work--and of the things we have to do to support the work--that we lose track of the fulfillment that traditionally has been called the chief reward of the work.  Having the opportunity to do the work in a venue that calls for--and even demands--approaching it with a certain irreverent joy strikes me as being of value.  That does not at all mean that the work is not done in earnest and with devotion.  Rather the opposite is true; approaching the work with joy usually results in better work.  Or I find that it is so.

It is fortunate, then, that I take joy in coordinating the research of others, for I am in a position to do so again.  After the Bullshit Studies panel wrapped up, I attended the English I: Old and Middle English panel, hearing several excellent papers about which I wish I had taken better notes than I did.  More to the point, though, is that I was elected to chair the session when the South Central Modern Language Association meets in New Orleans, Louisiana, next year.  While it does mean that I will be unable to present a paper on the panel (conference rules prohibit it, for fairy good reason), it does mean that I am going to have access to another slate of excellent ideas, from which I hope to be able to develop yet other ideas of my own.

Like Tolkien's road, the work goes ever on and on--as I need to stop doing.  Some more of that work needs doing, and with great joy; I should attend to it.

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