- Pick up your MLA Lingo Bingo card at the Convention desk.
- Proceed to your first MLA panel.
- When you hear a Lingo Bingo word, place a green M&M on it. At five M&Ms in a row, shout “discursive practices” and win an interview for a non-existent job at a fictional university.
I tried, but it is nearly impossible to parody the Modern Language Association (MLA) Convention’s yearly orgy of political correctness, anti-capitalism, and Theory, just concluded in Los Angeles. Rumor was that the MLA had “gotten better,” but if so, I didn’t hear it. Wondering “why literature matters,” I heard that the possibility that Helen actually sent a double to Troy shows how much "we need simulacra that are then exposed” and how “wars are fought and people die for illusion” and how “they also die for the narrative." That’s how you use apparent literary analysis to (wink, nudge) criticize the Iraq War (as though the whole golden apple-Aphrodite deal was real in the first place). Worried that students don’t read, I heard that “readers fashion individual identities for themselves at the moment of selection practice.” It was this kind of language abuse that drove me away from the MLA 30 years ago because nothing of importance can be conveyed in such lingo. Yet the jargon persists because it can’t be replaced. The words are so reified and so necessarily opaque that they cannot be paraphrased or defined. They are simply formulaic, rhythmical iterations that no longer convey “meaning” except as signs of one or another critical theory. Oh, there were a few straight-faced panels on newer “disciplines” such as Ecocriticism, History of Reading, and Fidelity Criticism, but listen closely and you find that they, too, have just wandered out of Farmer Marx’s barn. MLA lingo is terribly serious and terribly self-important (“vital,” “crucial”), very “urgent,” very “precise,” always collective, often sexy, and romantically revolutionary. I had not seen a Che Guevara tee-shirt in years. In the caverns of the L.A. Convention Center, the tedium was palpable, the outlook was bleak, and the air was stale.