We couldn't resist dropping by the Hilton today to witness the wind-down of the annual conference of the Modern Language Association.

In the lobby of the Hilton, we experienced a sort of soothing Brownian motion of name-tag-sporting academics, each clutching a laptop and tall paper coffee cup. We witnessed a lot of solitary e-mail checking, some happy reunions between old friends, and a few anxiously obsequious professional encounters.

Evading hotel security, we ducked into a meeting room to learn some knowledge. A dozen or so attendees were scattered about the room, attentively listening to the speaker at the podium. Just before launching into "a phenomenological reading of Act 4" of Susan Glaspell's play , the speaker announced that "If the subject of the The Inheritors is radical, it must be some form of radical liberalism, if you can have such a thing." This remark provoked many chuckles and vigorous head-nodding from the audience.

We certainly feel the pull of temptation to ridicule the MLA, and aspects of it certainly merit ridicule (as The Believer demonstrated in 2004). But after our 5 minutes in the Hilton we decided to love the MLA -- and we particularly loved the speaker and the interest he and his small audience shared in the thing they had come discuss.

After the jump, the MLA of yore.

The Inheritors