Aging at the MLA

, Malcolm A. Kline, Leave a comment

One way in which the world’s largest conclave of English professors—the Modern Language Association (MLA)—lives up to its name is to leave attendees at its annual conferences with a new vocabulary that they cannot shake.

elderly photoThus, after a couple of days at one of these annual meet-ups, you find yourself uttering sentences such as, “We must ascertain whether we are witnessing a discursive binary or a recursive modality.” Similarly, the MLA loves intersections.

For example, the latest MLA convention in Austin, Texas featured a panel on “The Oldest Profession: Teaching and Aging,” we learned that one of the speakers, Helene Meyers of Southwestern University “works at the intersection of Jewish Studies, queer studies and aging studies.”

This intersection produces some strange traffic jams. Meyers sees  “contemporary homophobia as a threat to Jewish continuity.” “I’m a New York Jewish feminist teaching in the heart of Texas,” Meyers says. “I use technology to bridge the generation gap.”

“It helps defy stereotypes of being passé.” Not all of Meyers’ contemporaries are as enthusiastic about the brave new online world.

“Day by day, year by year, I feel my connection with youth is slipping away,” Robert J. Skolnick of the College of William and Mary said on the same panel. “Theirs is a world of clicking on constant updates. Digital media and phones are checked constantly.”

“I’m in that online, interconnected world but not of it.”