Thursday, December 22, 2011

20111222.2046

To add to the recent problems with delivery services...*EDIT--a few more of these issues*

I ordered a ham--a lovely, smoked ham--to be part of Christmas dinner.  Because it was a food item, I opted to have it shipped via a certain federal-leaning express delivery service, thinking that it would get to my door just a couple of days after it was shipped, so that I would be able to have a nice, fairly fresh ham on the table and my lovely wife and I would not have to work so hard to put Christmas dinner on the table.

It shipped out on Monday, and it was supposed to reach my door yesterday.  I stayed home all day, not leaving the house, not going to aikido, not going to the office to tie up a last lingering bit of paperwork, so that I could receive the package.  And it was in vain.  No note, no call, no ham.

Today, I called the company that was supposed to deliver my Sunday Christmas dinner.  The customer service rep. apologized profusely and assured me that the ham would be at my door today.  And so I waited again, not leaving the house, not going to aikido, not going to the office to wish a happy holiday to the staff of the building, so that I could receive the package.  By 6:30, the ham had still not arrived, and I remembered that when I had spoken to the rep. in the morning, I had been told that the driver "ran out of time" at just before 7:30.  So I called again, hoping to keep the same thing from happening today as yesterday.

With that call, I was assured that the ham would be at my house by 8.  So I waited a bit more.  And by 8, I still had no ham, but I figured, "Hey, traffic," and I waited a few more minutes.  A few being in this case thirty.  And still no ham, so I called again.

Oh, yes, they apologized prettily, but that didn't get me my damned ham.  And, since I paid for a service I did not receive, I asked for a refund; I was told that I had not paid for it, but the company that had sent the ham had, and so for me to get a refund, I'd have to go through them.

So, no ham, no refund, and not a whole lot of happiness on my part.  I'll be going in tomorrow to get the damned thing--even if it is bad now, I paid for it, and I want what's mine, dammit.  But this will be the last time that I go through this company if it is in any way, shape, or form possible for me to avoid having to deal with these people again.

Oh, and for those who say that the US Post Office can be replaced by more efficient private enterprise...shut up.  Shut the fuck up.  And keep your fucking mouth shut.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

20111215.1410

Several things need discussing.

The first is that today is my brother's birthday.  Twenty-four years, now, he has been a thorn in my side, a source of pride, a fine friend, and a promising young man.  Don't tell him I say so, though; his head is big enough as it is.

Another is that I am working through final exams.  As I write this, I have students sitting in a classroom, poring over a text and writing about it.  A number of their fellows have already finished doing so; I am waiting only for a few stragglers to wrap up.  It is not about their exam that I write today, though.  No, that has already been dealt with in this very blog; yes, I am having my students look at my prose to do their own work.

Instead, I write about another final exam I administered, one that I wrote as a standard exam for the course; all students enrolled in the course this term, regardless of their instructor, have to deal with the test I put together.  That exam centers around Catherine Rampell's 19 May 2011 New York Times article, "Many with New College Degree Find the Job Market Humbling."  In the article, Rampell notes the trend among recent college graduates to have difficulty in finding work related to their field of study upon leaving college.  They are forced to take jobs regarded as having lower prestige and demonstrating lower compensation, which in turn forces out of those jobs the people whose lower levels of education effectively limit their job prospects to them.  It also makes paying back student loans, which Rampell notes center around $20,000 per graduate, more difficult.  People are therefore less likely to say that attending college is worth doing.  It is a disturbing truth, and one that Rampell does well in pointing out.

The exam I compiled about Rampell's article requires that students summarize the article (as I do above) and write a short essay which responds to it by addressing one of two prompts.  It tests what the course needs to test, and in my own classes, students have generally done well with the exercise.

I do not know yet how others' students have fared, but I am aware of several complaints about the test I wrote.  One is that it requires too much of students; I tend to reject that one, largely because I feel that the students we teach need to be pushed harder than they tend to be in their classes--a feeling I have discussed at length.  Another, though, and one I regard as valid, is that the article tends to be quite depressing, since it casts aspersion on the collegiate endeavor, and that it sends an off-key message to students.

Honestly, I had not considered that when I wrote the exam.  I was aiming at having the students read a piece that would engage concerns they had, and they will be facing the job market after they are done--one way or another--with their studies where I teach.  So in that, I succeeded.  But I did not look at the article in the regard one of my colleagues did--and I really ought to have.

The issue, though, is one that does need to be considered.  And I will do so at another time.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

20111214.1823

I have continued to read through my copy of Profession 2011, today getting into its cluster of articles centered on digital humanities scholarship.  One of the articles in that cluster is the work of Jerome McGann, whose book The Textual Condition informs my dissertation; because I am familiar with his work, I was interested in seeing what he released in “On Creating a Usable Future.”

In the article, McGann makes a convincing case that scholars in the humanities need to get involved in digital scholarship, especially since the dominance of print is coming to an end in the near future.  We—and I am a scholar in the humanities, so I can use that pronoun—have not done well enough at it yet, “reacting to the rapidly changing scene rather than working to shape policy and exert control over events,” although that is beginning to change (184).  The Google Books settlement is presented as a case-in-point example (192).  There is much to gain from developing and employing digital resources, and there is a need to adjust the institutional practices of humanities departments to accommodate the valuation and assessment of digital media.  Even so, as McGann remarks, there is a need to move beyond the surface-level phenomena that digital media tend to foster: “Social software technologies have a wide-spreading but shallow root system whose most impressive result to date, Wikipedia, illustrates both its capacities and its limits” (187).  Substantial scholarship requires substantial engagement, even in digital media, and it will be the task of those in the humanities to foster that engagement.

As he discusses his points, McGann makes several particularly pithy comments.  For one, he remarks that “Book culture will not go extinct: human memory is too closely bound to it” (185); if he is correct, then it will be a relief to such bibliophiles as myself.  For another, he relates “the belief, long held by the university community, that innovative research would drive effective and innovative pedagogy” (189).  It is in no small part due to the need for that innovation that some of the protections of tenure were set up; despite the complaints people have against it, the freedom from fear of reprisal for sincerely and ethically undertaking otherwise unpopular research is necessary to the advancement of human knowledge about the world and about ourselves.  The latter is one of the purposes of the humanities, and people are not always pleasant, so that what the study of us reveals is not like to be.

Related is the idea “that a usable future is a function of a usable past” (187).  To paraphrase McGann, the humanities work to create an inclusive and reliable cultural record which scholars can augment through the exercise of their disciplines (185).  We have to have knowledge of who and what we were to understand fully who and what we are.  Both have to be in place for us to have any hope of conceiving of who and what we will be, or even if there will be a “we” for us to be.  And what is “we,” anyway?

Digital technologies can be put to the ends of the humanities, certainly, but much needs to be done.  McGann remarks that the resources currently available are all too often left at the peripheries of scholarly endeavor (190).  More needs to be done to integrate them.  I have made a start on doing so; although my dissertation is largely on a traditional model, it makes free use of digital materials.  And in my non-dissertation writings, many of which I at least like to pretend are of a somewhat scholarly nature, I try to link to relevant materials (as herein).  In addition, I know of people who do quite a bit of scholarship electronically, such as HASTAC.  Perhaps if more of us do it, the study of the humanities can move in a direction that will help to redeem it from the onus under which it is currently operating.  And something needs to be done, certainly, lest the whole enterprise die.

Work Cited
McGann, Jerome. “On Creating a Usable Future.” Profession 2011(2011): 182-95. Print.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

20111213.1315

I received my copy of Profession 2011 in the mail a week or two ago, and I finally got around to reading it in the past couple of days (I was already reading something else, thank you kindly).  I am not yet done doing so, although I have gotten through a number of the articles in it, of which one is Hillary Chute's "Comics Form and Narrating Lives."

I point out the article because of the coincidence or synchronicity of my having had an article on graphic narrative while I complained about another treatment of graphic narrative.  In addition, I think it offers things that are valuable as an introduction to the study of the graphic novel.  For instance, Chute presents a description of the genre as one "in which words and images create unsynthesized narrative tracks; that is to say, it is not an illustrative form in which each is redundant of the other....The form is built on the ongoing counterpoint of presence--in frames or panels--and absence, the white space between frames where a reader projects causality and that is called the gutter" (108).  Chute goes on to narrow the description, marking comics as "largely a hand-drawn form that registers the subjective bodily mark on the page....It demands tactility, a physical intimacy with the reader in the acts of cognition and visual scrutiny" (112).

It seems to me that the description, moving into definition, that Chute employs is a good starting point.  But it also seems to me to be problematic in some respects.  For example, The Legend of Zelda (which remains on my mind) partakes of the framing and unsynthesized synchronic presentation of word and image Chute remarks upon.  While it may not appear to be "hand-drawn" in the conventional sense, it is certainly a hand-making, since people had to put it together.  And there are certainly demands for tactility and "reader" involvement in "cognition and visual scrutiny" involved in playing the game.  Moreover, there are generally recognized comics which are themselves computer-generated; do they not count as "comics," or is there more at work?

As I said, I think it a good point of entry.  I would welcome the input of those in my acquaintance who, more adept in the study of graphic narrative than I, can comment more thoroughly.

Work Cited
Chute, Hillary. "Comics Form and Narrating Lives." Profession 2011 (2011): 107-17. Print.

Friday, December 9, 2011

20111209.1821

One of the iconic features of New York City, a place well provisioned with icons, is its complex system of subways.  Great equalizers and phallic symbols--and would it not be interesting to see someone try to liken the two?--the subways are the means by which a great many New Yorkers and others get around the city.

They also serve as performance spaces.  The platforms and train cars often host musicians, comedians, poets, and acrobats (and the last are entertaining, dancing around the cars while they are in their jerky, erratic motions).  As could be expected, the performances are of varying quality.  Some are well worth watching, while others are more annoying than the tedium of the train rides themselves.

There is the possibility of another type entirely.  Several times, some of which I may have mentioned in earlier blog posts, I have had the distinct...pleasure...of sharing a train car with people who have appeared to be, well, off their rockers.  They mutter to themselves, scream at themselves and at those around them, have conversations with the automated announcements, and, in one case I saw, actually get into a fistfight with an opponent no one else can see.

The idea that the city is pervaded with those who perceive reality alternatively is one that is solidly rooted, and it is certainly true that there are a great many such people in the city.  But it is equally true that New York City attracts a lot of performers, and it attracts a great many people who believe that their artistry is best turned toward making people uncomfortable.  I cannot help but wonder, therefore, if some of those people I have seen acting as though they are insane are really only acting, if their conduct is some kind of "performance art."  Alternatively, perhaps they are trolls, not trying to be "artistic" but simply messing with people.

Only in New York...

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

20111130.1606

While I was at the 2011 South Central Modern Language Association conference in Hot Springs, Arkansas (which was great, by the way), I followed my usual practice and picked up some books to read.  One of them was the Cambridge Companion to Medieval English Culture, edited by Andrew Galloway.  Over the past couple of weeks, I have been reading it, usually on the subway going to and coming home from work.  Most of the chapters have been interesting, and some have been useful to me as I have continued to work on my dissertation.

I am still not a fan of Margery Kempe.  "This creature" doesn't do it for me.

As I was reading today, though, I encountered an error in the work, which disappoints me; Cambridge UP usually does better fact-checking.  Specifically, Clare A. Simmons makes an error of fact in her chapter, "Re-creating the Middle Ages."  In all fairness, the chapter has a lot of good material in it, and its treatment of much of that material is well put and interesting; I am going to have to do some more research because of her work, and I am going to put some of that work into my dissertation (which is still going, but is still going more slowly than I would like it to).

That is has good material, though, does not mean that it is exempt from fault.  And I do not mean by this my rejection of her claim that "It is hard to determine the exact indebtedness of popular culture's medieval fantasy to Tolkien" (295)--even though I do object to it, since the form of fantasy literature since the publication of the Lord of the Rings is as much indebted to Tolkien as rock music after the Beatles is to them.  That is a matter of difference of opinion (although I think mine more informed and accurate on the matter than hers--but I would).  The real issue of fault, the factual error, is Simmons's statement regarding "Stan Lee, who also created Batman, the 'Dark Knight'" (296).  Great as Stan Lee is in the eyes of True Believers such as myself, he did not give rise to the Caped Crusader.  That was Bob Kane.

I understand that there is quite a bit of the nerdy fanboy in my pointing out the actual creator of a comic book character.  I do not deny it.  But I do not deny that a publication from a major world university, a publication that serves (at least in a preliminary way) to ground students and scholars in basic cultural understanding, has an obligation to get correct its factual claims, particularly when those claims are easily verifiable--and Bob Kane's agency in the creation of Batman is not exactly difficult to uncover.  The university exists as a site of knowledge development and dissemination; it can only perform its function if it is known to produce good intellectual materials, and it cannot do so if it includes egregious errors of fact.

We are all human.  We all make mistakes.  But those of us who are involved in scholarship, particularly those of us who have reached the academic dream of professorship at a major institution, are supposed to know enough to check our facts before we send things out into the world.

Work Cited
Simmons, Clare A. "Re-creating the Middle Ages." The Cambridge Companion to Medieval English Culture. Ed. Andrew Galloway. New York: Cambridge UP, 2011. Print. 279-98.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

20111127.1845

One of the things that is particularly strange for someone who grew up in Texas (such as myself) to adjust to upon moving to America's Favorite Borough is the climate.  I had expected it to be a bit cooler here, since it is further north, and a bit more damp, since it is on the ocean.  There are hot spells, sure, just like there are cold snaps back where I am from, and some dry days, but for the most part, things are as expected in that regard.

The problem is the amount of sunlight.

I had not expected what I have gotten for the three autumns I have lived in New York thus far, that night would begin to fall at four in the afternoon, or that before seven in the evening, it would be dark.  I understand why it happens, of course (axial tilt...the same thing that is the actual reason for each season), but it is damned screwy to have to live through it, especially when I grew up use to the strong but kindly Hill Country sun.

Then again, I spend most of my time inside.  It really ought not to matter.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

20111123.1710

Since this is an informal piece, I am not going to be anal about citation.  Know that I am making explicit reference to materials, which I name in the text.  If you want page numbers or specific scenes, find them yourself.

That The Legend of Zelda is twenty-five years old seems somehow to have eluded me until a day or two ago.  As it came to my attention, I thought back over some things that I remember from having played earlier games in the series--the original, Link's Awakening, Link to the Past, and Ocarina of Time--and it occurred to me that Link, for the most part, wields his sword in his left hand.

I do not know if anyone else has commented on it, and I am not particularly minded to care at the moment (although if anyone has, I should like to be informed), but it does seem to me that there are a few things it can mean.  Perhaps it is a commentary on the evils of physical violence.  The English word "sinister" derives from the Latin word for "left" (that is "left" as opposed to "right," rather than "left" as in "behind").  That the sword is put in the left hand can possibly be an indication that physical violence is, well, sinister, and thus to be avoided.  That so much of the Zelda series relies on solving puzzles rather than simply smashing heads--and even the head-smashing tends to require some thought to do correctly--and the perceived dichotomy between the violent and the cognitive* suggests that this might be so.

It might also be nothing more than a reinforcement of the surreality of the milieu in which the games take place.  Most people are right-handed, and so tend to take up arms in their right hands.  The default setting for items, as southpaws can attest, is to be used right-handed.  The world, really, is set up for righties (except baseball, which plays both ways).  That the worlds of the Zelda games are set up for a lefty deviates from the expected norm of the "real" world, giving an indication that the game is a "fake" one.

As though 8-bit glory and its many children need delineation as fiction.

Since the right hand, in the Japan that gave rise to Nintendo and The Legend of Zelda as in Western culture, is privileged and the left hand is disfavored, there is, no doubt, significance in the assignment of shield to right hand and sword to left. Perhaps it is a commentary on relative valuation of defense and offense--putting the shield in the right hand would tend to indicate that it is preferable to defend than to attack. Certainly, there is some traditional Western precedent; in Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur, for instance, Merlin comments to Arthur that the scabbard which accompanies Excalibur is more valuable than the sword itself. As it permits the bearer to sustain injury without suffering harm, rather than allowing for inflicting harm, its valuation above the sword indicates that effective defense is preferable to effective offense.

Of course, it could also be nothing more than a programming quirk.  But that would not be nearly as interesting.

*Of course, thought can be violent, and it is not necessarily true that mind and body are so wholly dichotomous as is sometimes thought.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

20111117.1118

I have been at the front of the classroom for some years now, teaching English language arts and reading (and one or two other things) to students from kindergarten up into even graduate-level courses (the latter once or twice), and I like to think that I do decently at my job.  Part of that liking comes from my inculcated tendency to desire to excel at anything I do, particularly those things for which I am paid--I am hired to do a job, and as long as I take the paycheck, I ought to do my best to do well at the job for which I receive it.

A larger part of that liking comes from my belief in the value of education.  That I prize it should be evident; I would not have spent as long seeking formal education as I have did I not believe in its value.  That I prize it for things other than the potential to earn me a higher or steadier paycheck should also be evident; I could be making a lot more money right now than I am, and with a much lower credentialing requirement, for more or less the same amount of energy I put into the job I have at the moment.

Because I value education highly, and because I feel compelled to be of some good and useful service to the communities in which I take part, I teach; the job allows me to do both.  Because I feel compelled to be good at my job, I invest much in my teaching, doing my best to keep up with current research in both pedagogy and the subject matter of most of the courses I teach: writing; that drive is why I subscribe to both CCC and College English.  And it is why I do worry about what happens in my classroom.

I know that I push my students hard.  I honestly do not believe that students benefit from lax standards or overly fluid deadlines.  I do work with the students I have who act responsibly; that is to say, for those students who keep me updated on what is going on with them (for such things as medical or legal troubles, or the inevitable deaths in the family), I adjust deadlines and requirements to varying extents.  One student this term has benefited from an extra two weeks to complete an assignment, for example, while another has been excused from class meetings (although not assignments, thanks to the wonders of email) because of knee problems.  So I am hardly unmerciful or inflexible.

But I can only bend so far, in my work as in my body (I cannot do the splits, nor am I able to bend at the waist quite so far as I should like).  There are limits to the leeway that I can extend to my students.  There are things that I cannot teach through email or through recorded audio or video.  There are deadlines I have to meet which I cannot extend, and they require me to report on the progress my students have demonstrated--they require that the students have made some demonstration.  And there are the simple facts of my other classes to teach and the other work that I have to do to be able to accomplish what I need to accomplish.

Do I no longer have needs as I work to help others meet theirs?  Should I not value my own education as much as I exhort my students to value theirs?

And it is because I have to say such things as "as I exhort" of my students' valuation of their educations that I have some worry, one reawakened by a conversation I had with one of my colleagues yesterday.  Although I do not necessarily agree with all of what that colleague was saying--some of it was overly reductionist; almost nothing in life is only either/or--I do think that some of the things said were dead on.  It is necessary for a truly successful educational experience, as has long been known, for the learner to have intrinsic motivation to learn.  There has to be something within the student that compels engagement with education for it to work well.  But there is no way to directly foster such motivation; there is no magic bullet with which students can be shot, the wound from which is itself a deep and abiding love of learning.  It can be fostered indirectly through the provision of extrinsic motivation; I can reward students for performing and punish them for not, so that the desire to gain reward and avoid punishment drives action and, hopefully, provides the opportunity for intrinsic motivation to take hold.  Put simply, I can give them reasons to go on and hope that they find their own reasons to keep going along the way.

The thing is, I cannot do it for them.  I cannot give to them something which I do not recall actually acquiring.  As far as I remember, I have loved to learn, to acquire and work with knowledge.  I am sure that I had to be taught it, that I had to be cajoled along, but I do not remember it happening.  And so I do not have the experience with it that others, I think, have.  Lacking that experience, I cannot teach it--one cannot pass along that which one does not have.

From those of you who read this, if you would be so kind, could I get some view of your experience in coming to love learning?  Or could I get direction as to where I might meaningfully look for reports of such experience?  Or if you hate it, could you tell me why?

And if I am simply being a fool...well, perhaps I do not want to be told that.

Friday, November 11, 2011

20111111.0835

It is true that peace is desirable.  Things tend to go better for more people during times of peace, myself among them, and I can hardly condemn that from which I benefit.

It is also true that the maintenance of peace is a tricky thing.  In many cases, it can be done through careful negotiation, but for that negotiation to work, all concerned parties must be willing to compromise; they must have a commitment to creating and keeping peace.

It is true that not all parties which might be involved in the peacemaking process will be persuaded by careful negotiation.  It is against such people, against any situation that s not amenable to reason, that the ability to effect violence must be maintained.

I do believe that the violence should be minimized.  As a student of aikido, I, acknowledging the rights of people to maintain the integrity and security of their possessions, bodies, and selves, believe that it is incumbent upon a right-thinking person to work to inflict minimal harm on others--and that it is a higher expression of martial ability to subdue an opponent such that no attack is possible than to destroy that opponent.

The human body is fragile and easily undone, after all.

I believe that the same is true for nations as for the people who compose them, and so I believe that a military force is necessary.  I know also that I will never stand among such a force.  That does not mean, however, that I do not respect those who do.  And so I offer my thanks, small as they are against so great a set of sacrifices as has been offered and is still being rendered up, on this Veteran's Day.

As I have said before, I owe my existence--in several ways--to the fact of specific people having been veterans.  And as I have also said, I can hardly condemn that from which I benefit.

Then again, I do have to be wary of overstating things.  I benefit from many things, I have no doubt, which are themselves execrable.  Some of them I surely know nothing about; I admit that I do not attend too closely to the production cycle of those things I consume, but I do know that agriculture and manufacture are rife with exploitation.  And my work does tend to remind me of the existence of the downtrodden, since many of my students are very much among that large group of people.  No doubt I contribute to the social structure that keeps the downtrodden trod down.

Wow.  I guess I am an evil hypocrite.

Even so, that does not mean that those who have served and continue to serve are not worth respect and thanks.  And so I still offer it them.  As should a great many people, whether they do or not.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

20111110.1115

It has been some time since I last posted, and I suppose that that means I have some catching up to do.  Unfortunately, now is not a good time for me to do it.  Instead, I will simply be on record as saying (again, since I have already said it to the person in question):

Happy Birthday, Dad!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

20111025.1012

Tomorrow, my beautiful and most beloved wife and I flee The City for the hinterlands of Arkansas, there to chair panels (and, in my case, present a paper) at the 2011 South Central Modern Language Association conference in Hot Springs.  It will be my fifth appearance at the conference and the second time I will have put together and chaired a panel; with luck, it will not be my last time doing either.

One of the things that happens at the conference is the beginnings of setting up for the next one.  To that end, I already have another idea for a panel.  There has been an upswing in, well, bullshit studies.  It seems interesting to me, and so I think I will be submitting a panel proposal for one.  The call for papers will go out later, once I find out whether or not the propsal has been accepted.  I am not sure whether it will be; I can easily ground the panel in ongoing research in major journals, but it does smack of the silly, and silly does not always go over well--even for Monty Python.

Even so, if you are interested in heading down to San Antonio right around Halloween next year, keep me in mind.  I might just have a ready-made excuse for you to go, particularly those of you who are in academia (and I know you are out there).

Right now, though, I am proctoring a midterm exam in one of my remedial English classes; thankfully, the room has a working computer.  I have caught up on the grading that I had from yesterday's teaching, which is good, and I have been able to enter midterm grades for three of my seven classes, which is better.  The other four have to wait for their midterm exams to be graded; I should be able to knock out today's today, but the other two, on Thursday and Friday, will have to wait until I return from the conference.  It is the only drawback to going, that I have a pile of grading and concomitant administrative paperwork to tend to as soon as I return.  It takes the shine off of what would otherwise be a shining example of what is good about the academic life.

There really is quite a bit good about it, actually, when it works out.  Even though I am teaching at a very junior college and am completely off of the tenure system, I enjoy quite a bit of job security here, and I get a number of benefits.  It is cold comfort, I know, to the great majority of those who enter into the academic humanities, who are on the adjunct circuit and struggling even then.  I feel for my colleagues, certainly, and I do what lobbying I can for them at this institution and in my professional organizations--of which there are several.  How much good it does, I do not know, but I can at the very least hope that I am doing no harm.

Friday, October 21, 2011

20111021.2055

In about a week, I will be in Arkansas again.  While my beloved wife is going with me, and we are going to be staying with her father again, this trip is not so much one of pleasure as one of business.  For we are both going to be chairing panels at the 2011 South Central Modern Language Association conference, which will take place in Hot Springs.

Lovely town, really.

As part of my work in putting together panels, I solicit copies of my panelists' papers ahead of time so that I can read through them and have what I hope are good, thought-provoking questions for them that will stimulate discussion not just among the panelists, but among the (too often too few) members of the audience, as well.  One of those papers from this year's panel of mine--which I have read and formulated several questions about--makes reference to an article in Criticism 45.2 (Spring 2003), "Twelve Fallacies in Contemporary Adaptation Theory," by Thomas Leitch.  Although the article primarily concerns the conversion of novels to film, I have found it an interesting read thus far and one which may well prove illuminating in my own (decidedly non-film-based) research.

I agree with most, if not all, of what Leitch puts across in the article, which centers around the idea (as should be obvious from the title) that the way in which adaptations are approached, often by adaptors and commonly by critics of film and literature, is wrong.  For instance, the privileging of the novel over the movie is based on error.  For instance, Letich remarks that "theater critics have always condescended to the canned nature of cinema, which freezes a single performance text forever instead of allowing retakes every night" (155); surely, the process of editing and revising a novel or poem has the same effect.  Indeed, variant versions of texts are pointed out as problematic; an example ready to mind for me is the divergence between the editions of Malory in the tradition of Caxton and that of the Winchester manuscript.  There is little doubt as to the canonicity and literary merit of Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur (believe me, I know), just as there is little condemnation for the quest towards a single "authentic" version of a great many literary and non-literary texts (I am minded of "authorized" and "author's preferred" editions of some of the books I own).  To bring in another art entirely, musical albums are finely crafted, highly edited works, and yet the fact of their being presented as a single "real" version occasions little or no comment (of which I am aware).  Why, then, should film suffer under such an onus?

For another example, Leitch points out that "movies remain notoriously a mass medium that seeks as broad an audience as possible" (155).  Yet cannot the same be said for most of the novels that are so prized?  And is there not the principle articulated by Alexander Nehamas to consider, that it is often in the very fact of wide dispersal that works (in whatever medium) come to be taken up as elite cultural products?  There is something of this in criticism of medieval texts, in which it is often precisely because there are a great many manuscript copies of a work that it is perceived as having been important and therefore worth taking under study.

Similarly consonant with medieval textual practice is Leitch's rejection of the supposed value of originality in the novel.  Leitch goes to the Bard as his example (163).  I can point out a great many bits of Arthurian legend, particularly Malory's own lynchpin text, which are themselves reliant upon understandings of, and borrowings (at varying degrees of explicitness) from, earlier works.  Beowulf, the singular masterpiece of Anglo-Saxon poetry and Germanic heroic epic, makes free use of prior historical materials for a great many of its allusions and embedded tales, and there is less doubt about its canonicity (in several languages, no less) than there is for Malory.  So to assume that film adaptation is to be decried because it is in measure derivative is, as Leitch points out, fallacious.

There is more, of course, but even so few examples provide much that is good to think upon.

Works Cited
~Leitch, Thomas M. "Twelve Fallacies in Contemporary Adaptation Theory." Criticism 45.2 (Spring 2003): 149-71. Project Muse. Web. 21 October 2011.
~Nehamas, Alexander.  "Plato's Pop Culture Problem, and Ours." NYTimes.com. New York Times, 29 August 2010. Web. 14 September 2011.

Friday, October 14, 2011

20111014.2000

A friend of a friend commented today on Facebook that spending a Friday night studying and paper-writing is "lame."  I initially wanted to reject the premise entirely, and I did speak against it, noting that having scholarship to do "keeps you out of trouble" in one of my more dad-like moments.

Yes, I am practicing.  No, there is not a reason for me to be doing so quite yet.  So relax.  The horror of a little version of me is not yet ready to be released into the world.

The comment did provide me a pushing-off point for consideration, however.  I have spent many Friday evenings as I am spending this one: working on one bit of writing or another, or reading so as to be able to work on a piece of writing.  And I suppose that a great many people would very much think it "lame" that I do so--whatever "lame" means in this context.  Certainly my legs both work, and work well, which is not a luxury in this city of staircases.

Seriously, New York seems like that one Escher piece at times.  Or Jared's castle in Labyrinth, particularly that one room--and there are even Bowie look-alikes!

Anyway...

What is wrong with a person spending time doing what that person enjoys doing?  And while I know that many people do not consider doing homework to be a happy event, those of us who are seeking advanced degrees--or whose jobs rely upon us having them--have little claim to number ourselves among such people.  Also, we ought well to enjoy the work we do--and homework is simply more of that work.

But what else would we be doing?  Right now, my dear and beloved wife is hard at work teaching some of the more academically disadvantaged students among our school's corps of academically disadvantaged students; one alternate enjoyable activity is therefore ruled out for now.  Another would involve me spending time and money at a bar, and while I have both available to me, it is better in the end for me to make different use of both than buying beer for me to drink and keep ahold of around my middle.

I have quite enough beer there already, thank you.  And there is some in the fridge at home, bought much less expensively than would be the case at a bar in midtown Manhattan.

Most of my friends in this part of the country are either hours away by train and car or are themselves academics, and so likely enwrapped in the same kind of thing that I am doing right now.  They no doubt have scholarship to tend to and other writing to get done, and I would not tread upon that.

I will also not wake up with a hangover.  And that is, perhaps, sufficient recompense for being "lame."

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

20111012.1618

One of the recurring assignments in my classes is one which requires students to summarize articles from the New York Times, usually the opinion/editorial section.  Students benefit from the practice in reading and in writing, and it allows me to begin teaching attention to the sourcing of materials.  It is a good exercise for them, and one with which I have had quite a bit of success.

Every so often, I experience a coincidence, a Jungian synchronicity.  Recently, one of them came about as a result of the summary assignment.  One of my students had written a summary of David Brooks' September article "The Limits of Empathy," which appeared in the New York Times on September 29, 2011.  In the article, Brooks notes that empathy, the idea of being able to understand how and what other people are feeling, is overrated.  He calls it "a sideshow," arguing that it is used to display that we are "trying" to be better people, but that the display, because not coupled with ideological rigor or organizational/institutional alignment, is insufficient to ensure right action.  A weakness in his treatment arises in his invocation of the Nazis, but his use of other information is effective, making for an interesting article.

The Jungian occurrence derives from my other reading.  I had not long before received College English 74.1 (September 2011), in which is an article by Rutgers University English professor Ann Jurecic titled "Empathy and the Critic."  Jurecic seeks to complicate the concept of empathetic reading.  She notes that the development of empathy--commonly regarded as the foundation of moral action--is frequently put forward as a justification for teaching literature; reading well-written works helps us to understand people, and in understanding them, we come to treat them better.  She also notes an opposing view, that reading a text explicitly to seek out connections is to be overly simplistic or even to assume an offensively hierarchical power dynamic.  Neither viewpoint is sufficient to her understanding, and she maintains that effective teaching recognizes both as being simultaneously true--in addition to other things.  As is to be expected from a work in a high-profile academic journal, Jurecic's article makes ample use of previous researches to sufficiently support its points of contention, and as should be more frequently the case than is true even within a composition-focused journal, the article is easily read and understood even by someone (such as myself) who does not have extensive background training in rhetorical and pedagogical theory.

Having finished reading the Jurecic piece the day before the student turned in the summary of the Brooks piece, I had the College English article fairly far forward in my mind when I read the New York Times article to be able to grade the student's work.  (That is another reason I have students write summaries of news articles: it helps me stay informed.)  Even though Jurecic does not take into consideration the treatise that seems to have sparked Brooks' writing, Pinker's The Better Angels of Our Nature, there is a fair bit of overlap among their sources; Jurecic also  takes into account the viewpoint that Brooks expresses, although I sincerely doubt that Brooks had read Jurecic before writing his article.

I do agree with something that both voice: fellow-feeling is not enough.  It is fine and good, as Brooks notes, to be able to understand the lives of those around us.  But being able to imagine ourselves feeling as others feel does not mean that we will be able to do anything to make things better for them--or that we will be motivated to do so, which he also writes.  Perhaps it is only because I am so evil a man as I am, but there have been a number of times that I have been well aware of what others have felt, even to the point of having felt it or something very much akin to it myself, and have thought that the others damned well deserved to feel the way that they did; sometimes people ought to feel like shit because they have acted shittily.  I tell my students from time to time that I have no sympathy for them precisely because I have faced down heavy course loads with lots of homework.  Even now, even having a full-time teaching job at which I could easily remain for the rest of my career, I have homework to do--and this little piece is not part of it, so that there is more writing waiting for my attention when I get done with my regular day.  I am not about to assign less work to my students because of it.  And if Brooks is right, I am wholly justified in my actions; he argues that the "sense of obligation to some religious, military, social or philosophic code [sic]" does more to make people "good" or admirable than their ability to engage with the psychological states of those they encounter.  He uses the example of the adulterer, who takes pleasure in undertaking a reprehensible act and so is to be shunned even if the reasons for the actions are understood; similarly, while I understand why my students complain about the amount of work I assign or the nature of it, I fail to agree that their complaints should alter my teaching.

Jurecic also articulates the position that empathy, defined as the ability to perceive and understand the emotional states of others, is insufficient.  She would have empathy be the underpinning of academic, institutional, and pedagogical practice, so that the understanding of others comes to inform and direct the treatment of them.  This makes much sense to me.  Certainly, as an educator, I am obliged to treat my students with a certain degree of courtesy--really, I am obliged to do so because I am, or am at least trying to be, a decent human being.  And I do keep in mind that my students have not had the many advantages which have been mine.  Aside from white male privilege, which I have noted has been to my benefit (here, here, and here), I came up in a place, time, and situation which encouraged me (specifically, rather than just because I happen to be a white guy) to spend a great deal of time tending to my studies; many, if not most, of my students have not.  As such, my teaching does necessarily accommodate that difference to some extent.

I maintain, however, that 1) entry into my classroom is on my terms, terms which I openly publish to my students along with the means to fulfill those terms or escape them; and 2) where a student starts in terms of background knowledge and academic socialization is not tied to how hard a student is willing to work at this point to improve.  As such, when my students complain about the amount and type of work my classes require, or the standards by which I evaluate that work--and they very much do--I pay little heed.  I try not to let what pity I may feel for their life circumstances occlude my evaluation of the work that is submitted to me or my judgment of what skills and levels of skills are necessary to pass out of my class, for while I may as a person feel for them, I know that they will ultimately be judged on the quality of what they do.  And just as the bad home life of a killer does not mean that the person killed is not dead, the poor prior education of a student does not mean that a sentence written unclearly and saying nothing in fact is clear and content-laden.  Perhaps it is an expression of empathy, somehow, and an appropriate reaction to it that drives me to act as I do in the classroom; I do feel for the students (in many cases), but I know that if I allow it to unduly affect me in the moment, I will not be able to help the students get to a point at which they no longer have to feel the way that they currently do.

I can hope.

Works Cited
~Brooks, David. "The Limits of Empathy." New York Times. New York Times, 29 September 2011. Web. 12 October 2011.
~Jurecic, Ann. "Empathy and the Critic." College English 74.1 (September 2011): 10-27. Print.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

20111008.1714

On Monday, my wife and I are off from work in observance of the lie that is Columbus Day.  Those who claim that the "discovery" by Columbus of the New World should not be celebrated are quite correct.  One cannot, after all, discover something when there are already people there.

Instead, we celebrate an informal Leif Eirikssons Dagr on the day before (as it should be!).  Tomorrow, in fact.

The weather promises to be good, so I am firing up the smoker one last time this year.  Something like ten pounds of pork, six of chicken, and three of beef are in my refrigerator, along with two pounds of cheese, waiting for the event.  All the meat  save the beef is already rubbed with my special blends of seasonings, soaking up flavor to go along with the sweet hickory smoke I am going to be surrounding them with; the beef will get its salt and pepper rub tomorrow morning, right before going into the smoke.  I may get some salmon and/or herring to do tomorrow, too.

Bottles of mead are waiting to fill the horn for passing around, as well.  It will not be a bad day, I think.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

20111002.1844

When I first met her, the woman who is now my wife already had two cats.  Over the six years I have known her, I have grown fairly fond of those two cats; she claims I have become a cat person, in fact, although I am not so sure I would go quite that far.

Recently, we took a third cat into our home.  A friend of ours had found the cat, along with its mother and siblings, in an abandoned warehouse some time back; she could not care for all of them, and my wife, kind hearted as she is, felt bad that they did not have homes to go to.  Because I do not like for my wife to feel bad, I agreed (reluctantly) to give the kitten a chance.

In the weeks since, the kitten has grown on me.  I am struck, though, by the cat's fascination with our toilets.  Every time I go to relieve myself, the kitten rushes in, rising up to peer intently into the bowl.  My wife notes that the kitten has, in fact, fallen into the toilet several times.

I am forced to wonder how true the old saw is, that pets reflect their owners...

Thursday, September 29, 2011

20110929.2057

Seven classes.
Average enrollment as of this week, the third of the term: 28.
196 total students.
Quite a load.

Classes will shrink.
Some students have failed already.
Missed three classes out of a total fourteen, meaning 21.43% of course time missed.
Policy is to fail them at 20% absence.
Allowances made in some cases.
Still, not all cases merit allowance.
Try again.

Others will fail.
I am demanding.
I require attendance.
I require work.
I require to see it.
I require much.
If there is no challenge, there is no reason to improve.
You are not good enough.
Neither am I.
Yet.
Hence the challenge I offer you.
Get better.
Here is how.

It is a lesson I am still learning.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

20110917.1245

As I was reading the online New York Times today, I ran across Tamar Lewin's September 12, 2011, article, "Student Loan Default Rates Rise Sharply in Past Year."  Lewin notes that there have been larger numbers of students failing to make their required student loan repayments, particularly at for-profit colleges, which largely serve low-income students and are the fastest-growing portion of the college population.  Lewin makes mention of gainful employment regulations and of the ability of students to opt for income-based repayment plans, which does ameliorate the depressing tone of the article and makes it a bit more effective a piece of reporting.

Since the article alludes to gainful employment regulations, they do reappear in my mind.  And I do not think that they are a well-founded idea.  Consider: we bemoan the failing state of education in the United States, saying that we have lost something in our halls of learning from where we were twenty years ago and more.  At the same time, we make of those same schools more vocational training programs--saying that the point of college is to be able to get a good job--than the kinds of schools that we claim to think that they should be.  I work at a technical school, yes, and I hardly believe that training in vocational fields is a bad thing, but training in vocational fields tends all too often comes at the expense of the kinds of critical thinking and social acculturation that is cited as being the thing missing from "the good old days" (the kinds of things that "useless" humanities courses teach).  Do not complain about the lack when you are enforcing it.

Consider also: gainful employment regulations hold colleges accountable for the employment of their students in the years following graduation (or other departure from the schools).  Are the colleges expected to hire every one of their graduates?  For it is only their own hiring practices over which they have any control whatever; they have no ability to compel private firms to take on any given employee, or indeed any employee at all.  Why, then, should we hold colleges to account for activities and decisions that they have no ability to carry out or determine?  Is this just?  Is this right?  And for those students who leave college for reasons other than their graduation...they quit, even if for a completely sensible reason.  Do we expect the military to take care of those among its personnel who fail to complete basic training not because of a grave injury sustained but because they cannot complete the course of instruction?  Who muster out because they give up and stop trying?  Do we expect any other private firms that offer training and instruction to their employees to ensure that the training offered is put to good use after the employee quits?  Again, is this just?  Is this right?

Consider a third: for-profit colleges do have problems, yes, and they damned well ought to be held to account for their recruiting practices; they ought to have to be honest and offer full disclosure about financing options.  But they are also staffed by people, many of whom are dedicated to their jobs and who have an honest, sincere desire to help the students under their tutelage become better workers, better citizens, and better people.  They do not mislead their students; they do not lie to them; they instead do everything they can do to help their students improve themselves and their lives.  And they will be the ones who suffer when the funding cuts called for by gainful employment regulations go through, despite that they are not the ones who do wrong and they are not the ones who cause problems.  Once again, is this just?  Is this right?

Consider a fourth: when the funding is cut, the predominantly low-income students who are served by for-profit colleges, who turn to those schools because they lack the academic acculturation required for success at most public and non-profit private institutions, will be unable to attend those schools--they need the financing because they cannot otherwise afford to go to school.  Many (very many) are in need of substantial remediation, which most public institutions are unable--and many non-profit private, unwilling--to provide, but which are abundantly offered by the for-profit schools.  Gainful employment regulations will result in many of the students most in need of the services offered by for-profit colleges losing access to them, and since it is the case that "you need a degree to get a good job," that denial of access tends to permanently fix those students among the lower socioeconomic strata.  They are condemned to poverty and toil because of things beyond their own control, despite their best efforts and hard work.  Is it right?  Is it just?

Yes, I do work for a for-profit college, and so yes, I have a vested interest in seeing for-profit schools do well.  But just as having a pot call a kettle black does not mean that the kettle is not, in fact, black, that I am the one who says what I say does not mean that what I say is untrue.  Indeed, that I work for one--as is not now and in few if any cases has actually been the case for those who have written and approved the gainful employment regulations--lets me know what does actually go on at them.  And that is the same as is true for most any school: teachers teach, students learn, and we work towards making better the world in which we live.

Friday, September 9, 2011

20110909.1519

Today, I taught two classes at the technical college where I am employed as a full-time instructor (I think the job more that of a lecturer...).  In the second of them, a freshman composition class, a student piped up and claimed that he would earn an A "because [he's] a writer, you know."  Not long after, the same student commented that he loves to write but hates to read.

I smiled sweetly at him.  It was not a surprise when he turned in what he turned in for the day's writing assignment.

I am amazed at the idea that a person can write without reading--I know it is not true, but it surprises me that that is not immediately obvious to people.  Does anyone expect to be able to shoot a basketball without seeing others shoot?  Does anyone expect to be able to throw tsuki iriminage without seeing it done?  Really?

I wonder how long it will take the student to learn the lesson he seems to need to learn.

Monday, September 5, 2011

20110905.1336


Happy Labor Day, folks!

It is part of a fine tradition in the United States that those able to do so host and attend Labor Day cookouts, gathering together around grills in yards, in parks, and on patios to celebrate the end of the summer party season. It tends to roughly align with school calendars, as well, adding to its "last day of freedom" aura.

I do not abstain from such celebrations; rather, I revel in them. And I have been doing a lot of grilling, not just for Labor Day (the party for which my lovely wife and I had yesterday) but throughout the summer--and even outside it. Consequently, I have played around quite a bit with various rubs and seasonings to put on meat as I apply fire and smoke to it, as I think I have noted. My guests and my beloved wife have told me they go over very well, and so I think I'll share what I have...

For Grilling Chicken:
4 1/2 lbs chicken (I use boneless cutlets for ease)
1/2 Tbsp each table salt, ground allspice, ground cinnamon
1 Tbsp whole black pepper, onion powder, garlic powder
2 Tbsp brown sugar
1 teaspoon each cayenne and paprika

Thoroughly mix the non-chicken ingredients together (I use a small countertop grinder/food processor). Sprinkle mixture on chicken while grilling.

For Smoking Chicken:
2 1/4 lbs chicken (again, boneless cutlets for ease)
2 teaspoons table salt
1 1/2 teaspoons whole black pepper
1 teaspoon each garlic powder and ground cinnamon

Thoroughly mix the non-chicken ingredients together (I use a small countertop grinder/food processor). Rub mixture into chicken and allow to sit overnight. Smoke chicken.

For Smoking Pork:
5 3/4 lbs boneless pork tenderloin
1 1/4 c brown sugar
3 Tbsp garlic powder
1 Tbsp each ground ginger, ground cloves, cayenne, ground allspice
2 teaspoons each table salt and whole black pepper

Thoroughly mix the non-pork ingredients together (I use a small countertop grinder/food processor). Rub mixture into pork and allow to sit overnight. Smoke pork.

Tasty. Enjoy.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

20110904.1359

In church today, after our associate pastor said she would beat me up (seriously), she challenged the congregation to consider forgiveness as our ability to remain who we are despite what is done to us, and to apply that consideration to the events of ten years ago next Sunday.

Yes, it is that time.

In any event, the idea of forgiveness as remaining who one is despite what one endures is somewhat problematic in my mind.  Certainly, I understand the thrust of the discussion; it is incumbent upon us to hold to what we know is right, to act as we know we ought to act, regardless of what others do or have done to us.  And it is true, from a purely logical sense, that past performance is not an absolutely certain indication of current or future action.

The idea is one that is familiar to me from my study of aikido.  One of the instructors at the New York Aikikai has repeatedly stated that nage, the person performing the technique, should perform the technique not worrying about uke, the person who receives the technique, but about the technique itself.*  That is to say, nage acts without real regard to uke to dissipate any aggression that may be present--something much like passing peace along, really, and something I am hardly the first to notice.**

On the other hand, experience is the primary teacher; we know what we know because of what has happened to us.  What we have endured is the very thing that tells us what is or is not right in a given situation.  It seems to me, therefore, that it is not possible to act without regard to it, and so I am faced with the frightening idea that forgiveness is not possible.  Yet it is an article of faith for me as a Methodist that it is not only possible, but it is freely offered and ought to be by all of us.

Is the contradiction one, then, that requires the Almighty to resolve?  Is it merely an issue of my incomplete understanding? (I know that it is partly that, at least; my concern is that it is wholly that.)  Is it an issue of the offered definition being--I apologize, Reverend--incomplete or inaccurate?

I believe that faith should not be easy, that that which is struggled for is more valuable, and so I appreciate the challenge for consideration that the pastor presented.

I am not sure how to feel about the one for the fight.

*Insofar as there ought to be any worry about the technique itself.  Diligent practice, however, ought to ensure that there is not any actual thought given to the technique as it is performed; having to think about it slows it down and results in nage getting hit in the face or something similarly undesirable.

**I recall reading a comment by O-Sensei to that effect, although I cannot recall where.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

20110903.1122

It is remarkable how quickly I slipped back into my common routine upon returning home.

The weeks that my lovely wife and I spent gallivanting through the middle of the country had us living out of our suitcases and relocating every few days--with the exception of the time spent fishing in Arkansas, where we got to stay more or less in one spot for a good three days.  It was very good to see and spend time with our families, but it was also exhausting to spend so much of our time in transit--especially given some of the difficulties we faced getting around, what with vehicle problems, flights being rescheduled, and hour after hour of ass-in-the-seat dragging.

I used to spend a lot of time in the driver's seat of a car, commuting to school and delivering pizzas and shooting back and forth between graduate school and my parents' house every couple of months.  It used to not be a problem.

Anyway, being disconnected from my usual life for a time seems to have helped; I returned to New York City refreshed and ready to begin anew.  Indeed, I have already returned to work, if only lightly, on the dissertation and some of my upcoming conference activities.  I have gone to the dojo to get tossed around by people who are not exactly young.   And I am going to fire up the grill for friends tomorrow, weather permitting.

If it does not, I will do something else that will still be quite interesting.

In each of these, I feel myself returning to my "normal" life.  I like that life quite a bit; it is a good one, relatively free from troubles (so that I have the time to focus on annoyances), and it lets me do things that I find enjoyable.  So I suppose it is a good thing.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

20110830.1501

My beloved wife and I are back in Brooklyn, two days later than we had intended, but in fine shape.  Our apartment is similarly in good shape.  While we were away, we did have water in the basement, and we are going to have to do a bit of work with a bleach solution, but it will go quickly and should pose no problem.

We are very lucky or blessed, as your belief system will have it, that nothing worse happened to our home.

As we flew in this morning, we saw some of the lingering high water from the recent storm.  And then, of course, blowhards jumped onto the thing as--and the quotes are scare quotes rather than indications of actual quotations--"a warning to the American people about the evils of government."

I remember Katrina.  Hell, I got my first publication because of that storm (it was a poem, in case you were wondering, and if you weren't, then too damned bad).  I recall that quite a bit of polemic was strewn about in that storm, too.  Except that the administration was different, and there wasn't quite so much of the "hurricanes are God's wrath for having too big a government" going on then.

Without minimizing the tragedy that has befallen many from Irene (because people did die and it is tragic that they did so), it was not the supermassive-end-of-the-freaking-world storm that many (including myself, I admit) feared it would be.  When it hit New York, it was a Cat. 1, a weakling as far as such things go.  At its worst, it was a Cat. 3, which is significant, but living memory recalls far stronger storms (Andrew comes to mind, as do a number of storms from 2005 and 2006).  If, as is asserted by some--and you know who you are--Irene was meant as a warning shot, it seems to be one less well-aimed and of a lower caliber than has gone before.  And that does not seem to me to be in keeping with a God increasingly angry with an overly bloated United States government.

And it does seem to me that it is overly arrogant for any flawed, mortal being to presume to speak on behalf of the Almighty--especially those who claim pious and devout Christianity.  After all, Jesus substantially abased Himself (John 13:5 provides an example, especially considering footwear and roads of the time).

But that could just be me.  Lord knows I have been wrong before.

Monday, August 29, 2011

20110829.1155 CDT

It seems that just about another month has passed between my making blog posts. I make no excuse for this, and why should I, since I am not accountable to people for this? It will suffice to note that I was busy with the end of the term, compiling my third dissertation chapter, and with travel.

Those who are aware that I live in Brooklyn will have some reaction to the fact that I was away from the city for both the earthquake and Irene. What reaction that will be, of course, will depend on the nature of those aware. Some will be pleased, others not so much.

At the moment, I am enjoying an unexpected additional day at my father-in-law's house in the middle of the country; that I was away for the storm meant that I was unable to return home as expected. Although I do very much long to get back to the home my wife and I have made together, it is nice to have a quiet day away from things before I return to the bustling hive that is New York City and the work I do to sustain myself there.

That does not mean that I am not looking forward to getting back to my usual tasks. I have had a couple of weeks off, now, and I feel much better. I got quite a bit of sleep, which was a pleasant change from the weeks before the last term at work ended, and I await the comments from my dissertation committee that will allow me to move ahead with the project and hopefully finish by the end of the fall term.

I am also looking forward to hearing from the folks in Kalamazoo, Michigan. In the midst of my trip, I sent off an abstract to them. It will be a while, I know, before I can expect to get word back from them, but I enjoy my excursions up to Michigan, and I would like to know if I shall have work to do this time while I am there...as will be the case with my upcoming trip to Hot Springs, Arkansas, for a conference in late October.

I suppose I ought to get to work refining that paper so that I do not embarrass myself when I present it. But that will wait until I get home again.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

20110731.0848

More than a month later...

I have been exceptionally busy trying to get the third chapter of my dissertation drafted in and around taking care of all of the stuff that a full-time teaching gig requires.  I have been making progress, but it has not been enough.  It never is, really.  And other things are slipping.

Even so, I do have to say that my life now is the best it has yet been.  Although I am very much feeling the stress of what I do and of the reckless pace of life in New York City--it is impossible to avoid cliche here--I am quite well off.  And I appreciate it.

So, just so y'all know I'm not dead or gone...just REALLY busy...

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

20110628.1138

As part of what I do to help my students perform well, I post examples of the kinds of writing I want to see from them (something I might have already noted, although I do not wish to search through my own blog to confirm it).  Most recently, I posted a short contrastive essay in which I discuss the respective antagonisms of dishwashing and laundry.  Neither is commonly conceptualized as being an antagonist, although household chores are the bane of childhood--and not too fun in adulthood, either.

In any event, I had to actually think about which I find more onerous, realizing that I was not entirely sure of my own opinion on the matter before I set out to write the example.  I did find it along the way--dishwashing is worse.  But it was strange to me to have confirmed it to myself as I was putting together a piece for student use.

The things I do for them...

Writing as discovery...

It is a small thing, I know.  It is a thing, though, that helps me know more of me, and I remain my favorite subject of study.

Friday, June 10, 2011

20110610.0907

Yesterday, I attended the annual commencement ceremony at the college where I work.  As I got myself robed and helped a number of my colleagues into their own regalia, and as I watched the proceedings, a few things occurred to me:

  • There is little if any agreement across institutions about the appropriate position of the tassel that attaches itself to the academic cap, whether Tudor bonnet or mortarboard.  This needs to be corrected.
  • A number of the people at the event were unsure how to wear their regalia.  Since the ceremony is a recurring event, and one at which attendance is seemingly compulsory, there ought to be at least a handout given regarding the appropriate display of academic honors.  I would benefit from knowing more about this, myself; I have a lot of regalia from several graduations, and I would like to know what I am allowed to wear and what I probably ought to never display again.
  • New York likes to have people wear hoods.  I know that there is a prescribable bachelor's hood, shorter than the master's, and I have no problem with people wearing it (although I do find it strange, coming from schools where the practice is not current).  I had not been aware that there is a hood (or something very much like it) for the associate's.  Is this simply a local custom, or is this something that had been ongoing and I was simply unaware of it because of unfamiliarity with the associate's, generally?
These are the kinds of thoughts that come to me at odd moments.  Information about the things I bring up will be appreciated.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

20110608.0808

I am aware that it has once again been a week since I made a blog post.  The reason is that my parents were in town from the first through the seventh; my wife and I flew them up to celebrate their thirtieth wedding anniversary.

I have commented, I think, on the coincidence of their anniversary and that of the D-Day invasion of Normandy during World War II.  Our activities on Monday were far less bellicose and much more enjoyable, I think, than charging up a beach while under fire.

I am thankful that I got to spend the time with them that I did.  It offered one last breath before I plunge back into the work that awaits me...

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

20110601.1550

As I write this, my parents are coming up to visit my wife and me for the first time since we got married.  It is a bit intimidating for me, really, as this will be the first time my folks have come to see me with me having a household and being a "grownup," but it is also quite exciting, as I am fond of my parents and am looking forward to their being here.  That we will be celebrating their thirtieth anniversary while they are up only makes it better.

I know that I missed making a post on Memorial Day, and it is not at all because I devalue the contributions made by those who have served and who still serve.  I believe I stated that rather decisively on Memorial Day 2010, at which time I made a substantial statement to that effect.  No, I missed making the post because I was doing one of the things typical of householders, particularly those who come from the part of Texas that I do.

I was barbecuing.

I do not mean by that that I was cooking meat on a grill--although I did do that later in the day, flame-kissing close to three dozen hot dogs and a whole chicken.  No, what I mean by "barbecuing" is that I was slow-smoking chunks of beef and pork, using an offset firebox to heat a chamber to 250-300 degrees F and filling that chamber with sweet hickory smoke.  The beef I treated with salt and black pepper and cooked low, slow, and smoky for seven hours.  The pork sat overnight in a composite of brown sugar, cayenne pepper, salt, garlic powder, ground cloves, and ground allspice, and it cooked in six.  The dozen or so people who came by all enjoyed what they got to eat, but since they were all excellent guests and therefore brought stuff over, we had a lot of food remaining at the end of the night.

It made for good meals yesterday and into today.

A few of the guests asked me about my methods for cooking the meat.  I am happy to discuss such things, although I cannot claim originality for any of it.  Those desiring to get a good take on the history and methodologies* of Texas-style smoking can find a good treatment in the books of Robb Walsh.  Those desiring to launch in will do well to start small, getting a barrel smoker and working with London broil or pork tenderloins until they get the hang of how much smoke they like and how long they need to leave it--which will be longer than expected, I promise.

My wife and I are going to do this again.  We are also looking into smoking peppers and cheese; both seem like they will be fun to try, and if they work, well, that's that much less I need to get special at the grocery store...

*Yes, plural.  Texas is a big state full of proud people, and they do not all agree on the best way to go about setting up a spread.  Most of them are right.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

20110524.1900

Before I get on with this, I ought to note a couple of things.  First, I worked on my dissertation today, reading five articles and incorporating four of them into the section I am working on.  Second, I am a casual fan of comic books generally and the Marvel universe specifically; I never got into collecting comics, but I do like to read them.

Ahem.

I watched the "motion comic" Astonishing X-Men: Gifted on Netflix today, and I must say that I was not impressed.  Despite being written by Whedon, I found the dialogue a bit stilted and jerky.  The voicing was not, in most cases, what it needed to be; Wolverine is not nearly surly (or Canadian) enough, for example, even if the stream of profanity he releases at one point is entirely in keeping with the character.  The art, although pretty while still, is uncomfortably jerky in motion, looking like nothing so much as cardboard cutouts on popsicle sticks.  And the unnecessary division into thirteen- or fourteen-minute "chapters" heightens the disjunction, interrupting the narrative uncomfortably and needlessly complicating what is an already...non-flowing presentation.

If it is a representative example of the "motion comic" genre, I want nothing to do with the whole damned thing.

I fully anticipate hate mail over this one.  It has been a while since I've really gotten good examples of it, so please, fire away.  Jerks.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

20110519.0826

On May 19, 2011, AP writer Calvin Woodward reported in "Feds Must Stop Writing Gibberish under New Law" that President Obama signed into law the Plain Writing Act.  That act requires that "federal agencies must start writing plainly in all new or substantially revised documents produced for the public," although enforcement is limited.

The measure is, in effect, nothing more than a publicity stunt.  In theory, "each agency must have a senior official overseeing plain writing."  This will either mean that an already-existing official--one of the people putting out the "gibberish--will be promoted and tasked with being grammar police, or a number of new people will need to be hired to do the oversight--amidst clamors for reduced governmental spending.

Who would be qualified as "expert" in the area?  Journalists?  English professors?  Businesspeople?

What, really, is "plain English?"  Whose English?  And who actually speaks or writes it fully?

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

20110517.1536

I returned to New York City from Kalamazoo, Michigan, yesterday.  I was in Kalamazoo to attend and present a paper at the 46th International Congress on Medieval Studies.  As was the case last year, I found the conference illuminating, and I am quite glad for having gone, although I am certainly glad to be back home.

This year, I lodged in the dormitories at Western Michigan University, the site of the Congress.  The convenience of living on site was quite nice.  The lack of air conditioning was less so, particularly for the first couple of days of the conference.  Temperatures in the high 80s and humidity higher than that, along with a lack of ventilation, made for stifling times.  I have the impression, though, that there is method to the madness of that setup; the classrooms are air conditioned, so students are induced to get out of their rooms and use the school's facilities.  It is a clever tactic.

The first day of the conference, Wednesday, boasted a couple of events that piqued my interest some time ago.  The first was a particularly tasty buffet, which I had paid to attend.  The menu included quite a selection of fine neo-medieval food; I ate heartily and enjoyed the company of a few of my professional colleagues.

Following dinner, I attended a performance of Spamalot.  I am not normally a fan of musical productions, but I am quite fond of Monty Python, so it made sense for me to go.  My attendance--an action also taken by a number of the conference attendees--set a pleasant tone for the conference.

The next day, Thursday, saw me attend several sessions after opening up the exhibit hall and spending a fair amount of money buying books as well as picking up catalogs from publishers and a few bits of information from other vendors.  The panels I attended focused on the idea of the neo-medieval, which is the interpretation (and, not infrequently, misinterpretation) of the medieval in the current.  Difficulties in the digital medieval were discussed at great length, as was the fact that the medievals themselves did the kinds of things that current neo-medievalists do; Sir Gawain and the Green Knight was advanced as one example of the phenomenon at work.  Also discussed was the use of the neo-medieval as a way to drive enrollment in medieval studies courses and thereby potentially protect them against administrators who see medieval coursework as expendable.

My own panel, the Rhetoric of Knighthood, followed.  As it turns out, I was the seniormost member of my panel, both in terms of age and of status in the field; my two fellow panelists were both master's students, and the presider had only recently earned her MA.  I found myself therefore in something of a mentoring position, which was unexpected but not unpleasant, and my presentation, "Knighthood Continued: The Endurance of the Chivalric in Early Stuart England" (which derives from a part of my dissertation), went over well.

Friday was a busy day.  I attended most of the Spenser at Kalamazoo events, including two panels and a dinner.  I bowed out of the afternoon session to take a nap; I had not gotten much sleep the previous two nights, and it told upon me.  Even so, I was able to enjoy prolonged discussions with the Spenserians at the Congress, to whom I had been introduced last year by my dissertation director, who is among their number.  I was also invited to attend the meeting of the International Sidney Society, where we had an open discussion of several coronas* written by Sidney and his associates; a fine time was had by all.

On Saturday, I attended a Sidney panel in the morning, finding it quite interesting.  That afternoon, I attended a panel put on by the International Arthurian Society/ North American Branch, finding it informative and entertaining.  Then came dinner with the Sidney folks, followed by a couple of social events that allowed Sunday to be a relatively dead day for me; the conference ended, and I went to see a movie in the afternoon.

As I noted, the experience was quite enjoyable.  I made a number of professional contacts and was able to glean a fair bit of knowledge from outside my field of focus.  Unlike last year, I was not able to directly parlay any of the material into my dissertation, but I think I ended up having a better time.

I look forward to next year.

*A corona in this sense is a cycle of poems in which the last line of one poem becomes the first line of the next.  The last line of the last poem is the same as the first line of the first poem.  The cycle therefore forms a sort of circle or crown, hence the name.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

20110510.0850

"Twenty-nine" years ago today, on a Mothers' Day Sunday, my own mother was born.  That many years later, with me two years in Brooklyn, I wish her another happy birthday and have high hopes for many more.

Love the Momma.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

20110508.1212

...Huh?...

...Dissertating...'zat a word?...

...Oh, yeah.  Happy Mothers' Day!...

...articles...

Thursday, May 5, 2011

20110505.0922

So, just over a year after I began...

Once again, happy Cinco de Mayo!

Also, and more importantly, congratulations to my brother, who will be graduating from the University of Texas at San Antonio today.

Monday, April 25, 2011

20110425.0815

On April 23, 2011, Charles McGrath's "Why the King James Bible Endures" appeared in the online New York Times.  In the article, McGrath argues that a major cause of the text's endurance is specifically in its removal from everyday language.  He comments that the language chosen by the fifty-four member group that initially produced it chose wording that was deliberately archaic--though accessible to the readership of the time--so that even on its first printing, the text would have been different from the presumed common speech of the readership.  McGrath also voices annoyance at the tendency of more recent English transliterations of the Bible to assume a conversational tone, commenting that "Not everyone prefers a God who talks like a pal or a guidance counselor."  The article effectively articulates and provides support for one view of why the KJV endures, although more could be done to support its assertions and there is certainly room for debate.

In my readings yesterday, I was glad to see the article.  It gives voice to a position similar to one I have held for some time (and yes, I know that I sound like I'm saying "Me, too!").  That position arose at the church my wife and I attend.  I am quite fond of my fellow congregants and of our clergy, but I do not agree with all of the choices they make.  For example, I abhor the use of The Message.  It purports to be a rendition of the canonical Biblical texts in current English, but every time I look at the text, I am struck by its insipidness.

I well understand the desire for inclusivity, and I am aware of the arguments against the phallogocentric patriarchal gender-norming that is evidenced in referring to the Almighty as "Our Father."  And I understand that a desire exists to get people away form rote recitation in pursuit of deeper engagement with a text.  I do not disagree with them, and I do not disagree that corrective measures need be taken.  But I do disagree that in seeking to approach the divine we ought to treat it as though it is no greater than we and is not special--which such pallid--and, frankly, intellectually insulting--language as is found in The Message represents.

While I do subscribe to the idea that, as a man of faith, I ought to seek to involve the Almighty in all my doings, I do not presume to speak to God as though the Most High is my peer.  The Wielder is most certainly not my peer, and it is more arrogant than even I am willing to be to act as though the Shaper were.  It trivializes the relationship I have with the Measurer to have Scripture not so much made contemporary as made the same as chatting with someone in an elevator.

I suppose that the point is that I view my relationship with the Almighty as a special thing, and that special things deserve special treatment.  I know that there is in the United States a prevailing attitude that seeks to break down the kind of differentiation I enjoy (see McWhorter, Doing Our Own Thing), and I know that I am of an older mode in my treatment of it.  That is to be expected, I think, given what I do for a living; that I am a student of older literatures is no secret, and shows up in my references to God in the preceding paragraph.

Even so, I do not know that simplest is best.  After all, Jesus himself taught in parables.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

20110424.0844

Happy Easter, y'all.

That is all.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

20110423.1720

I have a few times mentioned that there are stories that inform blog posts I have made.  Referring to stories that are not themselves under discussion is a time-honored tradition in writing.  Tolkien does it in The Lord of the Rings, noting in Sam's pudgy hobbit mouth the tale of Beren Erchamion or having a comment come out of Aragorn's about the "cheek to make verses about E√§rendil in the house of Elrond" or some such thing.¹  Milton does it all over the place in Paradise Lost, opening the poem with a lot of stuff about Mount Sinai and an Aonian mountain.  Malory talks about "the French book."²  Even Beowulf mentions other stories within its own story, some of them not told directly but strongly, strongly hinted at.

Those who will see a disjunction among Tolkien and the other authors and works listed--though they are all dead English white guys--will be pleased to know that I have a reason for including him.  That is, I have a reason other than that I am a nerd who likes to read "that fantasy crap" for including him.  You see, in "On Fairy-stories," Tolkien makes the comment that references to stories understood as common cultural referents by the characters involved in a given story increase the correspondence of the literary world with the directly observable world in which the reader exists.³  The closer that correspondence, the more believable the literary world, and the easier therefore the immersion in the story that is necessary for literary enjoyment.

There is some of that going on in what I write in this blog.  As is necessarily the case with writing, the voice or persona that presents these words is a fiction.  It is not me, even though it is me; really, it is a particular view of me that I want you to see.  This does, of course, make it total bullshit (ask Harry G. Frankfurt in his On Bullshit).  The references, then, are ways to further the perception of the persona; they make it look like my blogging persona has some kind of family life and experience, even though it really is something that I just come up with as I sit in front of one computer or another with more time than sense.

But there is also something else going on.  The communicative act is one which creates an ephemeral community; that is, the community only exists in the moment during which the communicative act occurs.  It is a commonplace that communities are concerned in part with defining themselves, and that one way a community defines itself is by articulating what it is not.  By making references to other events, I tacitly delineate what the community is not: those who do not understand the references are left outside of the community.  They are denied the full meaning of the posts, and thereby are not completely included in the communicative act.

This is, of course, because I do not like them, as they are jerks.

Notes
1. As this is not a formal essay, I am not going to bother pulling up the specific page number.  So there.*
2. He does so in late Middle English, which I do not reproduce here.
3. Provided, of course, that a reader exists.  This is not always the case, however.

*It's Fellowship of the Ring, page 285.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

20110419.1915

Due to some shenanigans involving evidently wrongful termination of one of my colleagues, I am renaming my boss Scott Summers.  Many of my other coworkers are hoping that he finds some ruby-quartz and has it stapled to his head.

No, I am not going to explain.

20110419.1334

As I was reading, I was reminded of something: the need to avoid clich√©.  Case in point: "needless to say."  Really, if it is "needless to say," then why utter it?

I see this getting taken up by the philosoraptor.

Also, yay! post 100.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

20110416.1032

One of the glories, as well as one of the problems, with doing dissertation reading is that it leads to yet other reading.  For example, I am working on a part of my dissertation that requires me to go into some biographical data--I am trying to make the case that because certain people were famous, their decisions exerted influence on the decisions of others, which in turn helped a specific text get taken up as an important piece of work.  Those who know me know which piece I'm talking about; the rest of you get to wait until the dissertation is done.

Anyway, as I have been doing the reading, I have been finding that at least one of the people I am dealing with right now ran around with some other famous people.  Not being a specialist in the period where these people are situated, I was not aware of the awesomeness of those other people, and so I went to do some reading-up on them.  And so, hours later, I found that I was looking at something entirely different and not really helpful for the work, but damned interesting.

I often field the question of why I study what I study.  My stock answer is "the jokes," and it is not at all untrue.  I like to laugh, and there is something funny about there being penis jokes in the "romantic" poems called Shakespearean sonnets or in Anglo-Saxon riddles, or even, as my graduate advisor pointed out to me, in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (maybe I'll explain sometime).  Another answer, though, and one that makes sense only to some, is that studying what I study forces me to study other things, as well, so that I end up learning quite a bit about quite a few things.

The reason I do not usually offer the second answer to people is that many of those who throw the question at me do not have a well-developed love of learning.  That I would study just so that I can study confuses them, probably because they have not had much success in "learning" in other parts of their lives.

In that I have, as in a great many other things, I am fortunate, and I am thankful to be thus fortunate.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

20110414.0818

Most mornings, there is enough time between when I wake up and when I have to leave for work that I can linger over two or three cups of coffee.  As I do so, I do a bit of light reading to get my mind working, and I plot out my day as best as I can.  It is quite enjoyable, really, a taste of the leisurely life of the mind that is often extolled as being the great compensation for the relatively low social status to which those who teach are consigned.

Some mornings, though, require me to leave the house in short order; my teaching schedule does bring me in in at an hour close to the business hours of "the real world" once or twice a week.  When it does, I cannot linger over the cups of coffee.  I am often awake well into the night, and although I tend to do well in the mornings, there is a certain amount of sleep that is obligatory.  And I need the coffee in any event.

On those mornings, as on this morning, I pour a generous amount of bitter black brew into a thermos that I have had since my first year studying English at college.  It goes with me on the subway, sealed against the crowd and the weather and the smells--o! the smells!  When I get to my classroom, enjoying the brief quiet before my students start to arrive, I open it again and pour it from thermos to cup and thence into me.

Something about the taste of coffee from a stainless-steel bottle soothes.