I’m not usually one for declaring rules, but this is a special case.
Today in Chicago, MLA begins. (That’s the Modern Language Association convention, the most important annual conference for language scholars.) Job candidates nurture ulcers. Panicky speakers scrawl last-minute revisions on airplane napkins. And we are all freezing our hineys off, because we’re in Chicago and not, say, San Diego? Miami? Honolulu? YOU HEAR ME, PEOPLE-WHO-DECIDE-WHERE-MLA-IS-HELD?!
Anyway, at MLA, you spend much of your time going to panels, where you listen to three or four talks, then have a chance to ask questions. During these Q&As, odd things happen. People who are ordinarily delightful become insufferable. Pretension (which most humanities academics, media lore to the contrary, studiously clip from their social manners) rears its bushy head. Intellectual generosity comes to seem an impossible dream.
Yet I love the idea of the conference Q&A. What would scholarship be without dialogue? Without dynamic, democratic peer review? So with the hope of preserving the Q&A from the blight of dickishness, I give you these Ten Commandments: