I'm not going to MLA this week, and I'm very happy about that.
You see, I hate MLA. MLA isn't about intellectual exchange, it's about networking and reconnecting with friends.
The thing is, the best friends I had in grad school are mostly not in TT jobs. None of my undergrad friends went to grad school. So I don't have those folks to see. (I'm guessing of the 28 people who entered in my grad class, maybe half have TT jobs? The best people I knew in grad school, smartest, best teachers, best writers, kindest, etc, don't have TT jobs.)
I've mostly been to MLA in years when I was interviewing, so it's been a while. There are things you notice about MLA behavior, though.
1) The nametag glance: no one at MLA looks at anyone's faces until they've scoped the nametag. The nametag gives everyone a sense of their pecking order, and since it's so angsty what with the job interviews (and interviewers get as exhausted and cranky as can be, too), everyone needs to be able to sneer at someone else for whatever reason. And no one wants to talk to anyone who isn't important to them.
You're first check the name: Do you recognize the name? Do you need to suck up?
Then you check the school: are you interviewing with them? Are they an R1? A CC? Does your school tag outrank their school tag?
(You lose points in a big way here if you're from a flyover state. Everyone sneers at the state my tag shows, and no one is subtle about it.)
2) Everyone's drinking and having conference sex (except me, apparently). MLA has a reputation for hookups. I'm neither a drinking nor a hookup type person. What's gross is the older, upscale men with young grad students. Power play.
3) No one actually goes to listen to the panels unless someone famous is on it or, in the case of famous or crazy people, they hate someone on the panel and want to be rude. Most of the papers are last minute, rushed pieces of crap anyway, so you're not usually missing much. (I admit, I finished a paper at 2am for a 10am panel once. I'm not alone in this.) Count on your fingers the numbers of really good MLA papers you hear in a year, and you won't finish even one hand.
4) No one who asks a question at a panel actually asks a question; instead, "questions" are a time to pontificate at length about your own ideas. These may be brilliant or they may be crazy, but once someone has the floor, watch out.
5) Job interview angst. The whole conference is brimming with it, from arrogant a-holes to terrified and desperate folks, there's a definite odor of angst and desperation. Just thinking about it makes my stomach churn.
And so, while most MLA folks are doing their networking thing, I'm going to read some poetry, maybe some history, work on my syllabus, get some of the snow off my deck, and go donate blood. I hope your MLA is as wonderful as mine will be this year!