Wednesday, November 30, 2011


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


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


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


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


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


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!