Sunday, January 04, 2009

With intellectuals like these, there's something to be said for anti-intellectualism

The annual meeting of the Modern Language Association dedicates a panel to conference sex.

Alas, with no public demonstrations of the subject at hand. Though one speaker, New York University professor Ann Pellegrini, did conduct her presentation clad in a bathrobe. (Okay, over her clothes.)

Speaker Jennifer Drouin, assistant professor of English and women’s studies at Allegheny College, discussed the fascinating subject of the varieties of conference sex, from cruising by gay male scholars at local gay bars to "'bi-curious' experimentation by 'nerdy academics trying to be more hip'" to "the 'conference sex get out of jail free' card that attendees (figuratively) trade with academic partners, permitting each to be free at their respective meetings" to monogamous sex between long-distance spouses or partners who are separated by their careers and reunite at conferences. (In the comments on the Inside Higher Ed report, a couple of people lamented the stereotyping implicit in the suggestion that only gay men pursue casual sex; Drouin helpfully explained that in her presentation, she "lamented the lack of designated cruising spaces, such as bars, bathhouses, and parks, for people other than gay men, especially the lack of cruising spaces for lesbians.")

More gems:

Milton Wendland of the University of Kansas linked the jargon and exchanges of academic papers to academic conference sex. The best papers, he said, “shock us, piss us off, connect two things” that haven’t previously been connected. “We mess around with ideas. We present work that is still germinating,” he said. So too, he said, a conference is “a place to fuck around physically,” and “not as a side activity, but as a form of work making within the space of the conference.”

At a conference, he said, “a collegial discussion of methodology becomes foreplay,” and the finger that may be moved in the air to illuminate a point during a panel presentation (he demonstrated while talking) can later become the finger touching another’s skin for the first time in the hotel room, “where we lose our cap and gown.”

For gay men like himself, Wendland said, conference sex is particularly important as an affirmation of elements of gay sexuality that some seem to want to disappear. As many gay leaders embrace gay marriage and “heteronormative values,” he said, it is important to preserve other options and other values.

Conference sex encounters become more than mere dalliance and physical release,” he said. It is a stand against the “divorcing physicality from being human, much less queer,” he said.

Meanwhile, in her speech, the bathrobe-clad Ann Pellegrini made a poignant complaint:

Academics are regularly “accused of speaking only about ourselves,” she said. “But when we venture out into public square,” and try to share both their knowledge and beliefs, “we are accused of being narcissistic” and of speaking only in “impenetrable jargon.”

Gee, I wonder why.

Another speaker, Daniel Contreras of Fordham University, wondered: "Did eight years of Bush drain away any energy we might have had for intellectual exploration?"

Seriously, you can't make this stuff up. Who needs parody?

28 comments:

colagirl said...

And academics wonder why so many people don't take them seriously. Geez.

ada47 said...

When I read crap like this I can't decide whether I would rather get tenure, so I can conduct the rest of my professional life with some financial security and the ability to move my scholarship into more exciting areas, or would I rather not get tenure, so I have no choice to remove myself from the company of these self-absorbed, intellectually lazy, unrigorous nuts.

Cathy Young said...

Ada, just wanted to say, good to see you back. :)

MoyCullen said...

Hmm, in my field I occasionally attend IT-Healthcare conferences where the only scoring going on is to snag a pen or a coffee mug from a vendor. Definitely none of those categories of sex have ever been on the agenda as we just go back to our rooms and catch up on work email. Are we sure this isn't just wishful thinking on the part of these academics?

Cathy Young said...

Well, that too, Moy. *G* Though I think "conference sex" does happen.

ada47 said...

Good to be back, Cathy, and glad to see the site up. I'll be scarce until I get past a grant deadline, and, of course, await the tenure decision. Should be an interesting year.

Anyway, back to the subject.

Conference sex absolutely happens (says she who has been married for many years to a guy she met at a conference a long time ago). But it is kind of shocking that "conference sex" is now a, um, legitimate subject of, um, scholarly attention. Well, I guess once you make Women's Studies (or Queer Studies or Biracial Studies or Fat Studies or New Ultra-Specific Identity Politics Category du jour Studies) a major or graduate program, the friggin' barn door is way open.

I cling to the hope that this is largely a generational phenomenon, and despite the existence of a few young assistant professors who have been, um, educated entirely in the echo chamber of postmodern wackiness, this nonsense can not sustain itself much longer. Parents and students are starting to demand that universities teach real thing, like literature and science and history.

colagirl said...

When I read crap like this I can't decide whether I would rather get tenure, so I can conduct the rest of my professional life with some financial security and the ability to move my scholarship into more exciting areas, or would I rather not get tenure, so I have no choice to remove myself from the company of these self-absorbed, intellectually lazy, unrigorous nuts.

You said it, ada. :P

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