Tuesday, June 11, 2019

The Bleak View from the Modern Language Association

Former academic Stephen Marche attended this year's meeting of the Modern Language Association and found it unutterably grim, a depression driven by the news that the number of English majors has fallen by half in 15 years.
The most common response to the humanities crisis at the MLA was lament. At the many, many panels devoted to decline that I attended, many, many academics bemoaned their state, confessing to profound spasms of guilt and despair, and exploring “the larger cultural devaluation of the humanities”. But in a way they revel in their irrelevance. I attended a special session called “Game the Name: Crafting the title of your book or dissertation”, led by Professor Wendy Belcher of Princeton. The session’s description made a startling claim: “Your book’s title is the only part of your book that most scholars will read”. Which is both correct and insane. This is a profession in which people write whole books to have the titles appear on job applications. The measure of a title’s value is the number of times it is cited. Titles with colons are cited more regularly. Titles with question marks are cited less regularly. You want searchable keywords in your titles: periods rather than dates, topics rather than abstractions. Puns and unclear allusions are to be avoided.
Every rising academic needs this sort of advice. There are hundreds of applicants for every position, which means that only those who assiduously play the academic game have any chance at a tenure-track job.

1 comment:

G. Verloren said...

The corporate machine does not value language.

If you want to live in a society where academics can live comfortably teaching the intricacies of the English language purely for the sake of art, literature, etc, then you need a socialist system that promotes such things for their own sake, and ignores the fact that tey are not commodities with benefits measurable in profit margins.