The Conference Manifesto
By CHRISTY WAMPOLE
I will have a thesis, and if I don’t, I will at least have a reason that my talk should exist
We are weary of academic conferences.
We are humanists who recognize very little humanity in the conference format and content.
We have sat patiently and politely through talks read line by line in a monotone voice by a speaker who doesn’t look up once, wondering why we couldn’t have read the paper ourselves in advance with a much greater level of absorption.
We have tried to ignore the lack of a thesis or even one interesting sentence in a 20-minute talk.
Our jaws have hung in disbelief as a speaker tries to squeeze a 30-minute talk into a 20-minute slot by reading too fast to be understood.
We have been one of two attendees at a panel.
We have suffered in silence while someone, for the duration of their talk, simply lists the appearances of a certain theme in a novel.
Our faces have twitched as our colleagues pretend they’ve understood a speaker’s academese.
We have listened for the first five minutes of the talk, just long enough to seize upon a word around which we’ll construct a pseudo-question in the Q. and A.
We have asked a panelist if they could “talk a little bit more about that” or “unpack this a little more” or “tease that out some.”
We have listened as colleagues ask questions related to their own research but that have no relevance to anyone but themselves.
We have passed or received notes during a particularly painful session that read “Kill me now.”
We have created a taxonomy in our minds of the various conference types: the contrarian, the entertainer, the wall flower, the theory head, the name dropper, the conformist, the adviser carbon-copy, the philosophy dude.
We have filled our notebooks with doodles and answered unimportant emails during a panel as we sat in the audience.
We’ve picked at our fingernails and counted the empty chairs in the room.
At national conferences, we have attended only our own talk and spent the rest of the weekend at the pool bar, where more can be learned about the liberal arts somehow.
We have had the idea to patent a conference bingo game in which the players in the audience receive cards printed with a grid of various conference vocabulary words to be collected during the panels — “subsemantic,” “dialectic,” “normativity,” “mythopoetic,” the adjectivization of a philosopher’s name (Meillassouxian, Cixousian), “post-”anything.
We have daydreamed that, à la vaudeville, a giant cane would emerge from the wings and pull away the droning speaker from the lectern.
We have wondered, “If this is what the humanities have become, should they continue to exist?”
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