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“It seems evident to me that there has been a lull at our conference,” he said.

One irony of the panel was that participants (and others at the MLA) said that the meeting has become less outrageous over time, and that there are far fewer of the sexually suggestive paper titles than used to be the case.

And this year, there can be no doubt that the sex panel was not the norm -- what with lots of discussion of classroom reforms, faculty life, the latest research, the job market, and so forth.

While Pellegrini was playful in her attire, her serious talk -- which brought knowing nods in the audience -- was about how literature scholars’ infatuation with books and ideas is, for many of them, the first love that dare not speak its name.

Generally, Reyes praised Gallop for questioning some widely accepted definitions of harassment, but he said she was “less perceptive” when writing about herself, and the reasons that may have led the graduate students to complain about her.

”For many academics, part of growing up was getting strange looks from friends or family members who couldn’t understand all that time reading, and who continue to not understand as a graduate student devotes years to analyzing passages or an author’s story.

These kinds of passions lead to books that are in some ways “annotated mash notes.” But however much passion academics feel for the works they study, their devotion doesn’t fit into the categories of “recognized intimacy” society endorses.

Reyes devoted most of his paper to a critique of Jane Gallop’s 1997 book, Feminist Accused of Sexual Harassment (Duke University Press), which recounts accusations that Gallop harassed two graduate students.