MLA Requiem

, Malcolm A. Kline, Leave a comment

A pair of professors objected to our coverage of them at the Modern Language Association (MLA) meeting in Boston this year. Near as we can figure out, what they objected to was the fact that we covered them.

“Glad you could make it to my paper on 1930s propaganda and popular culture,” Matthew Stratton, an Assistant Professor of English at the University of California-Davis wrote in an effort at cordiality that belied what was to come. “I must admit, however, that I’m a bit confused by your account of the panel.”

“What exactly in my paper did you find objectionable or in need of correction? Certainly not the uncontroversial fact that Hugh Johnson admired aspects of Italian fascism? Certainly not the idea that conservative figures—from Herbert Hoover to Glenn Beck, to scads of well-photographed Tea Partiers—have long charged New Deal / liberal politics and policies with actually being fascist?”

“If you do object to the latter, may I suggest you read Jonah Goldberg’s Liberal Fascism, or throw a random dart at the work of Ann Coulter and read for ten pages. If that seems too onerous, perhaps you’ll consider the words of Ronald Reagan, who in 1976 rather famous claimed that ‘Fascism was really the basis for the New Deal. It was Mussolini’s success in Italy, with his government-directed economy, that led the early New Dealers to say “But Mussolini keeps the trains running on time.”

“If you’d like me to send you quotations where Rush Limbaugh compares Obama to Hitler, I’d be happy to. But perhaps you object to Reagan as well, which would be mildly interesting; I frankly can’t divine what your point is, and would be interested in hearing your clarification.” Really, all we did was quote him.

On the other hand, we gave a relatively sympathetic write-up to autism expert Ralph Savarese. Apparently, he didn’t think it was sympathetic enough. We merely noted at the end that he communicated in an academic speak wherein he invented new words such as “neuro-cosmopolitan.”

“A colleague sent me your little article,” Savarese wrote. “The anti-intellectualism is of a very common sort. I won’t comment on that. But as a journalist perhaps you value thorough research. I was speaking to a group of academics at MLA for whom these terms mean something.”

Savarese is a Humanities Writ Large Fellow at the Institute for Brain Sciences at Duke University. “Are you at least consistent in your opposition to specialized language?” he asked me. “Do you, for instance, complain about the language that physicists use in their technical papers? How odd that you imagine the MLA to be a venue in which I might distribute useful advice to parents, which is something I actually do all over the country.”

“Best of luck with this simple ax you wish to grind and grind.” Well, we better go back to the mill.


Malcolm A. Kline is the Executive Director of Accuracy in Academia.
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