Text Patterns - by Alan Jacobs

Thursday, April 9, 2009

be brief, be blunt, be gone

My title consists of the three traditional guidelines for auricular confession, but it applies in many other situations too. Here's a nice post on academic windbaggery by Mark Bauerlein — though I think it should be said that many (most?) academics never learn the lessons Bauerlein learned as a young scholar, and as they near retirement are still, in their conference presentations, yammering away far beyond their allotted times, continuing in the blithe assumption that everyone in the room enjoys listening as much as they enjoy speaking. This is a symptom of what my former teacher Anthony Winner used to call "academentia."

Some years ago I was at a conference for people who had received grants from the Pew Charitable Trusts: we were all supposed to report on what we had done with our grant money. I ended up on the last panel of all, on a Saturday evening after a big dinner. There were four of us on the panel; each was to talk for fifteen minutes and then take a couple of questions.

I was the last to go — and therefore my talk was to be the last talk of the whole conference. Two hours into the session, I was still waiting to speak. The person at the podium was doing what the previous two persons at the podium had done: exceeding her time limit by a factor of three.  When I finally craweld up on stage, I said, "I was given this grant so I could write a book about the poet W. H. Auden. I did write that book, and I really enjoyed it, because Auden is a delightful poet. I'm going to recite for you one of his poems ." And when I was done reciting I sat down.


  • Michael Straight said...

    In the movie version, this was followed by a lengthy standing ovation and violins soaring with the triumph of the human spirit.

    In real life, I'm guessing people grabbed their stuff and hustled out the door.

  • Alan Jacobs said...

    Michael, your outrageously cynical guess about what happened is, of course, absolutely correct. A few did pat me on the back, though, and one guy told me that my presentation was his very favorite one of the whole conference.

  • Tony Comstock said...

    I look forward to the day when my bloviating fellows rob me of my time allotted to explaining how I spent my grant money.

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