Thursday, December 22, 2011


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


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


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


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


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...