Monday, December 31, 2012


I know that I have been out for a while.  There are reasons, of course, but they are unimportant.

I did want to make a comment or three about this year now passing.  I have been exceptionally blessed in it; I was able to earn my doctorate at last, and I have done much to develop my career through conference work since.  I have maintained a job that does much to secure a good standard of living for my wife and me, and I am not at all unappreciative of it.  Too, I remain surrounded by a number of excellent people, friends and family alike, and I am very much grateful for them.

Their number is somewhat reduced this year, however, and that is less pleasant.  I have noted the passing of Prof. Anderson already.  In the past weeks, I have also lost a key member of my family, my great uncle, Denny Hardy.  I may have more to say about the matter, but for now...I cannot speak more of it than I already have.

Even with the losses, though, I am a fortunate man, and I hope to expand upon that fortune in the year that dawns tomorrow.  And I hope that you do, too.

Thursday, December 6, 2012


[Insert usual comment about delay between postings here.]

Yesterday, my wife and I received a package from my parents.  In it, we found a host of home-made goodies to eat.  Cookies, cookie pops (seriously), and pretzel sticks were all very much welcome, and they still taste pretty good.

Among them, though, was an even greater treasure: Mom's fudge.

The fudge has a long and storied history with me, even if no individual batch lasts long when it is around me.  Although the recipe is comparatively simple, the taste of Mom's fudge is remarkable, as many people who were in school with me have had occasion to find.

I will explain.

Because I am a sharing person (i.e., I like to think that I can get people to like me if I give them things), I would through middle and high school take a batch of fudge with me to share with others.  This usually meant that a lot of it got distributed in the bandhall--I was a band nerd, and I spent most of my free time at school in the bandhall, although not in practice as I ought to have been.  And being in the bandhall meant that drummers were involved.

There is something wonderful about being a drummer (aside from all the jokes at their expense: "What do you call a drummer without a girlfriend?"  "Homeless.").  The very act of drumming--making music by hitting things, sometimes with other things--speaks to something primal and, really, entertaining.  I want to think that there is something of the warrior nature in the act of drumming, but that kind of philosophizing is beyond me.

I philosophize otherwise.

The drummers, because they had a decided appreciation for the pleasures of the senses, enjoyed the fudge immensely.  And because they were jealous and inclined to violence (again, by trade and training, they hit things to get results), they would not seldom get into fights over the fudge.  Drumsticks and the heavier mallets used for timpani and gongs flew across the room or flailed about in adolescent, sugar-fueled hands.

Sometimes, I miss it.

Now, though, I do not have to share the fudge so much.  So there is that.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012


The weather in The City has decided to turn towards winter.  It is not quite there yet; the streets and sidewalks remain clear of snow, if not of waste--rubbish, animal, and human--and the temperatures are such that water does not quite begin to freeze in the open air.  But I find that the cold has begun to affect me even so.

I have long had to struggle with my hands and feet growing cold; as often as not, they feel to me like flexing lumps of ice at the ends of my limbs.  I do not know why; I exercise a fair bit (if not as much as I probably ought), and I move my hands and feet much, which ought to drive blood into them.  Yet even in high summer, I find often that I have cold feet, whether I am frightened or not.  Winter is worse.

Monday, November 26, 2012


It was with heavy heart that I heard that one of my major graduate school professors, James E. Anderson, passed away.  His obituary is here.

Most of my studies with Prof. Anderson were in older Germanic poetry, the heavily alliterative and allusive verse typified by Beowulf.  While I cannot boast the best of bard-craft, some little skill I seek to deploy in a small and unworthy tribute to a man whose approach to scholarship has informed my own:
Mighty the mind-work he made pupils do,
Many the marks he made on their papers,
And great was the groaning when grades were returned,
For of the fast A, a foe he was ever,
But well could they boast who bore well the yoke
Of learning and lore he would lay upon them
To strengthen as scholars the studious folk.
He pushed and he pressed, that professor full,
Student knowledge-seekers.  Some of them fell.
Others endured and approval found.
Hoarse-voiced and hoar-headed, he looked with joy
On verse-lines of value and vaunted old prose
Made new and modern in mouth and by hand,
Brought again back from book into thought,
Turned over, tested, tried, and found good.
From the Franks Casket to Fafnir he ranged,
From Maldon to Milton, the mighty old-scholar,
Even to Exeter.  The ever-jesting man
Spoke of the centuries with sure-knowing ease,
And we who would know his wisdom could have it
Freely for asking, and full of long joy.
Gone is the good man, gathered away
From pen and from paper and pupils diverse.
Fate ever goes as it must.

Saturday, November 24, 2012


It occurs to me that, weeks after the event, I have not yet commented about my experience at the 2012 South Central Modern Language Association conference in San Antonio, Texas.  My wonderful wife and I both attended, enjoying success with the work we did, and enjoying some time with our families, as well.

My wife was busier than I was on the trip; she presented on the panel I had organized (about which more, below) and chaired the English VI: General Linguistics panel, as well.  The latter saw presentations from local scholars, both of which spoke to issues of linguistic construction and encoding of identity.  One of the presentations showed the relative youth of the presenter's career in academia, but since I am not terribly old in the profession, and I am happy to see people take the risk of and get experience in presenting research, I have no complaints.  Indeed, the presentation touched upon something that I perceive as being worth investigating (not that I will; I have more than enough to occupy my scholarly time as it is without ranging even further outside of my normal fields of study).

The panel with which both of us were concerned was the one which I had organized and managed to push through: Bullshit Studies.  I am well aware of the seemingly facetious nature of proposing such a panel, and several people at the conference (there were quite a few who had heard of the panel and exhibited interest) flat-out asked if the panel was a joke.  While it is true that there was a bit of the tongue-in-cheek about the panel (really, how could there not be?), more than a desire to say "bullshit" repeatedly in an academic conference informed my proposal.  There is legitimate scholarly interest in the phenomenon we label "bullshit," beginning in earnest with the work of Harry G. Frankfurt and continuing on through a number of other scholars, primarily in philosophy.  Consequently, an academic conference panel is an appropriate place to keep engaging the phenomenon--aside from the fairly obvious jokes about academe being itself bullshit, especially the academic humanities.

Perhaps more important a reason is something which I have discussed before: the need for those of us working in the humanities to return to the joy with which we began our work in them.  Too often, we scholars of the humanities get so wrapped up in the minutiae of our work--and of the things we have to do to support the work--that we lose track of the fulfillment that traditionally has been called the chief reward of the work.  Having the opportunity to do the work in a venue that calls for--and even demands--approaching it with a certain irreverent joy strikes me as being of value.  That does not at all mean that the work is not done in earnest and with devotion.  Rather the opposite is true; approaching the work with joy usually results in better work.  Or I find that it is so.

It is fortunate, then, that I take joy in coordinating the research of others, for I am in a position to do so again.  After the Bullshit Studies panel wrapped up, I attended the English I: Old and Middle English panel, hearing several excellent papers about which I wish I had taken better notes than I did.  More to the point, though, is that I was elected to chair the session when the South Central Modern Language Association meets in New Orleans, Louisiana, next year.  While it does mean that I will be unable to present a paper on the panel (conference rules prohibit it, for fairy good reason), it does mean that I am going to have access to another slate of excellent ideas, from which I hope to be able to develop yet other ideas of my own.

Like Tolkien's road, the work goes ever on and on--as I need to stop doing.  Some more of that work needs doing, and with great joy; I should attend to it.

Thursday, November 22, 2012


To my people in the United States, Happy Thanksgiving!

To my people outside the United States, Happy Thursday!

Because I am in the United States, and I am celebrating Thanksgiving, it occurs to me that I ought to be thankful, and I therefore ought to think about that for which I am grateful.  Among those things is that I am in a place where I can take a day to be thankful--and that I can show my gratitude by eating to repletion and taking a nap.  (Really, Thanksgiving does not get enough love in the US, but I think it is one of the better holidays.  Seriously, celebrating by eating and taking a nap is awesome!  Even with cooking and cleanup, it's a lot less stressful than many other holidays.)

Among them also is the fact that I am in a position that has me working, but not in a work that will destroy my body, and a work that serves to help people improve themselves.  Too, it supports my household comfortably, which also merits thankfulness.  And it allows me to do much of what I want to do--for pay.

I am thankful to have been surrounded by so many people who love me so deeply as they do.  And even those people who have hated me have given me much, for which I thank them.

For those problems which I have, I am still thankful.  I am grateful that they are not larger than they are.  And I am grateful that I have such opportunities to make of myself a better person; in that regard, I need all the help I can get.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012


Alright, I know I'm doing that thing again where I post a little after I have not posted in a while.  But it'll be good.

On the way home from the New York Aikikai this evening, something happened to me for the second time.  As is my custom, I was reading one of the journals that took forever to get to me; the issue, several months old at this point, is a hefty one, looking more like a book than the periodical that most folks who read on the train read.

Not long before the train emerged from its tunnel into the cool night air of a Brooklyn November, a man tapped me on the shoulder and asked me about my reading.  He seemed genuinely interested in the material, asking several questions that seemed designed to elicit more information from me and following them up with yet more.  It was delightful, really; I enjoy talking about what I read (as those who read my blog no doubt know), and the chance to do so in so public and pedestrian a forum as a moving subway car was most welcome.

I have noted, I think, my desire to (among many other things) be a public intellectual.  Talking literary and historical criticism on a train in Brooklyn qualifies as an instantiation of that desire, I believe.

I mentioned that this was the second time.  The first happened as a good friend, my beloved wife, and I made our way to Brooklyn.  We had gotten onto a train at Herald Square (to which I did not remember you, for which I do not apologize), doing so by way of a platform where, as is not uncommon, a musician was performing...not entirely well.  One of us made a comment about the quality of play, and that comment provoked a response from one of the other straphangers who had gotten onto the train with us.  A discussion about music sprang up, one which shifted slowly (and completely sensibly at the time) to academic work; our friend, my wife, and I all teach college, and the woman who had responded to our earlier comment was fascinated by our talk to one another and to her.

I got her business card, and I hope to have something come of it later on down the line.

In both cases, I was part of a scholarly conversation largely unlooked-for.  Certainly, I was surprised--and pleasantly--on both occasions, and both times, I noticed that the conversation did have an audience.  So I can hope to have done a little bit--with apologies to Horace and Sidney, among others--to teach and to delight and to delight in and through teaching in the world.

Friday, November 2, 2012


It may be a bit flip of me to make the kind of post that I am making here and now, in New York City after a major storm has passed through and left such devastation as it has.  But there is some value in trying to return to normalcy as quickly as can be done after upheaval--insofar as anything I put on this blog can be called "normal."  And this has been on my mind for a while...

I have written about The Legend of Zelda before (here), and over the past few weeks, I have returned to playing Nintendo's Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword (which my beloved wife bought for me for Christmas a while back).  As I did so, enjoying the experience thoroughly (because I have played many of the games in the franchise over quite some time), something else occurred to me that I had not noticed about the game before.  Whether I had simply not paid attention in my earlier stretch of playing the game, or whether I had simply not had enough exposure to the material for the revelation to break upon me, I had not seen that in the characters Greba and Gondo, The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword perpetuates racist stereotypes.

Greba and Gondo are a mother and son who live, along with the eponymous Zelda and the protagonist, Link, in Skyloft.  Gondo, the son, is the proprietor of the Scrap Shop, a large stall in the Skyloft bazaar which offers repairs and gear upgrades.  His mother, Greba, largely stays around their home.  The two are the only dark-skinned characters in Skyloft, and their features appear as caricatures reminiscent of American minstrel shows.  In addition to their darkened skins, both display large, flattened noses, much more so than any other characters in Skyloft or elsewhere.  Too, their lips are overly pronounced, bulging and pale against their dark skin.  The depictions evoke racist imagery in the United States, suggesting discriminatory attitudes at work in the game.

In addition, both Greba and Gondo are afforded ungainly, unflattering appearances.  Greba is a hunched figure and bow-legged, a posture hardly indicative of regard for the character on the part of those who created her.  Too, her eyes are covered, and while it is the case that there are other characters in Skyloft whose eyes are not exposed to view, there are professional reasons for their wearing goggles; this is not the case with Greba.  Nor can they be ascribed to age; there are a number of other elderly characters in Skyloft who have no obvious corrective lenses.  If eyes are the windows of the soul, and if characters within a video game can be considered to have some semblance of a soul, Greba's are shuttered, almost as if the house in which the soul ought to dwell is abandoned and falling into disrepair.  And the disrepair is connoted by her attire, as well, which is the least ornate of all female characters in Skyloft; even the demonstrably financially disadvantaged Mallara wears more decorated, nicer clothing than that in which Greba is unvaryingly clad.  None of these things present Greba as particularly valued among the inhabitants of Skyloft, and the positioning of a dark-skinned character in what amounts to abjection by other features of appearance couples denigration with dark skin, a racist trope somewhat shocking to see in a major media release in the early twenty-first century.

Gondo suffers under a similar onus.  Although it would be expected that a character engaged in mechanical labor would display features of physical strength, and Gondo does have the broad shoulders and deep chest that suggest great muscular power, he is otherwise ill-proportioned.  His arms extend almost to his knees, far longer in proportion than the other residents of Skyloft and more evocative of the apes with which dark-skinned persons have been likened by racists across long stretches of time.  Too, like his mother's, Gondo's eyes are kept out of view.  While it could be argued that his work with machines merits eye protection, the covering that occludes his forehead from view is not standard safety equipment.  Rather, it functions as a mask, one that inhibits the full presentation of the character.  There are, in the story of the game, no major revelations which depend on Gondo maintaining some level of secrecy, so keeping his face veiled comes off as an implication that his face is something which should be kept from view, not because of a plot concern, but because it is not worthy of being put on public display.  In him, dark skin becomes associated with ugliness, another long-standing racist trope, and one reinforced by the deplorable state of his clothing.  For while it is the case that his mother's attire is unornate, at least it fits her form and covers her fully.  Gondo gives the impression that he has not been able to afford new clothing for some time; his shirt is obviously too small for him, and his pants, alone among those of male characters in Skyloft, are tight to his legs.  In addition to ugliness, then, poverty is associated with having dark skin in Gondo, and that, too, is a racist stereotype.

Both characters also reenact racist discourse in their occupations.  Greba is introduced as one of a group of women complaining about having to do laundry.* While it is admittedly true that taking care of the wash is an onerous task, it is one from which the female characters with which Greba is initially introduced are able to extricate themselves. Throughout the game, however, Greba is depicted as tending to her son's laundry. She is fixed in a particularly menial role, the only female character so relegated, and the only dark-skinned female character. It is another unhappy association, if not quite as much so as that of her son's work.

Gondo, as has been mentioned, is the proprietor of the Scrap Shop, the very name of which implies it lesser status among the stalls in the bazaar; he deals in scraps, leftovers, cast-offs, and the connection of a dark-skinned character to such things serves to reinforce ideas that the dark-skinned are dependent on the leavings of others, on charity spared from the rubbish heap.  Too, at the Scrap Shop, Gondo deals only in altering the goods produced by others; he makes nothing of his own, only tinkers with what is made by others.  This is markedly distinct from the actions of the light-skinned other vendors in the bazaar, who for the most part provide direct services or actually manufacture products.**  They create, he does not, and because he, the only dark-skinned vendor, does not, being dark-skinned is equated with unoriginality and intellectual dependence.  Neither is a pleasant association, and neither, since tied directly to one of only two dark-skinned characters in the game, speaks well for racial sensitivity on the part of the game's designers.

That there are racist tropes reiterated in The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, a major media release and the continuation of a nearly generational series of games, serves as a reminder that racial parity has yet to be achieved.  There is also a warning to take away from it; significant threads of the cultural tapestry are still dyed with discriminatory ideology, and while we may not throw away the blanket because of a few loosened threads, we probably ought to see about cleaning it.

*There is sexism in so strongly associating femininity with clothes-washing; no men are depicted cleaning what they wear.  There is some mitigation of the sexism, however, and discussion of it needs to take place elsewhere.  Maybe it can be another one of my blog posts, or it can be taken up by commentators on this one...

**There is the parallel character in the bazaar of Bertie, who augments potions rather than brewing them himself.  Bertie is very much put upon, however; he is remarkably self-derogatory and clearly the inferior partner in his marriage.  To be parallel to him, then, is not a position of privilege.

Thursday, November 1, 2012


As a new month begins, especially after the events of the last few days here in The City and the surrounding areas, I feel it appropriate to express my gratitude for what I have been given and to let the folks who care about it know that I and mine are well.  For we were among the fortunate; we did not lose power, we had no water come into the apartment except in the ways we wanted it to do so, and we have been fine.  Too, work at the school has been cancelled these last few days, so I have gotten an opportunity to catch up on my sleep (if only I had caught up on other work!).

My thoughts and prayers are with those who have not been so fortunate.

Saturday, October 27, 2012


In a Brookyn backyard on Bedford Avenue,
Some sundry things are secured now.
The legs are lashed on a lit-often grill,
A mower made fast so it will move not.
A storm struggles northward, strains up the coast,
Prompting pleas to be safe from parents and kin.
This answer I offer to all who are worried:
We do what we can to weather the storms
Of rain and of rancor in the realm mortal.
As best as can be, battened are hatches.
We watch now and wait upon weather's pleasure,
Seeking our solace in trust of the Savior.

Thursday, October 11, 2012


I have complained repeatedly about academic journals getting to me late, and the September 2012 CCC did not give me cause to stop; I did not receive it until the first of this month.  I know that I have been reading slowly to only now be discussing it, but I am reading it, and I do find that I have something to say about it--or, for the moment, one article in it.

That article is "Institutional Ethnography as Materialist Framework for Writing Program Research and the Faculty-Staff Work Standpoints Project," by Michelle LaFrance and Melissa Nicolas.  I was immediately drawn to the article by its authorship; I studied under Nicolas for a time, early in my graduate career (I am not so old as the phrasing makes me sound), and I regard the time working under her direction as well spent.  Accordingly, I was interested in seeing what she had been up to, and I read the article she co-authored eagerly as the subway dragged me away from home and to the office.

In the article, LaFrance and Nicolas discuss institutional ethnography (IE), a method for investigating how workplaces form themselves and situate the people who work in them, arguing that it is a valuable means for interrogating institutional practices that are often overlooked.  They outline the ways in which IE works to point out how institutional practices differ for people who perform different functions within an organization; they call it situated variability.  To do so, they give a brief overview of the history of IE and of its undergirding concepts before situating it in relation to already-existing methodologies.  Throughout, they deploy examples from their own experiences within institutions, using them to develop a particular ethos that speaks well to the common audience of the journal, and making the article a particularly effective call to use IE as another tool for those involved in the teaching of writing to look into how the context in which they teach influences the teaching they do.

As good an article as it is, though, there is a point at which I find myself calling the piece into question.  LaFrance and Nicolas comment that they are "drawn to IE because it takes into account this situated variability of experience within institutions, casting individuals as active and interested, mindfully negotiating the competing priorities and material conditions of their work day" (133).  In the comment, they seem to make assumptions about the faculty and staff of an institution, assumptions which many people hope are true but which are not always the case.  For it is not true that all of the participants in an institution are mindful of their work or particularly interested in it.

It has not seldom been my experience that there are people working in schools who are the very models of those types held up by opponents of teachers' unions and public school systems, those who come into the school simply to draw a paycheck and not with the idea of helping students to make their lives better.  I have seen it among the tenured professoriate.  (To be fair, many of them are invested in the development of knowledge--which is an aspect of the university that many among the public fail to recognize as being vitally important to the mission of the academy generally.  But that is another discussion.)  I have seen it among people traditionally classified as lecturers (full-time continuing faculty off of the tenure track).  I have very much seen it among the swelling corps of adjunct and contingent faculty as they scramble among classes and institutions to make enough money to live.  I have seen it among the staff, who do as little as they can get away with.  I have certainly seen it among administration, for whom the institution becomes a gathering of dollars and cents rather than a means to develop and augment good sense.  And I see it among all too many students, who paradoxically strive to be passive in their "educations," waiting to be short-term deposit accounts or pre-paid debit cards in the banking model, with "learning" deposited into them and rapidly spent on "the test."

It is true that such people are not the only ones to be found.  I do not know if they are the majority.  But I know that they are there (O! how I know!).  Something in the impetus LaFrance and Nicolas cite therefore sits ill with me, even as they make quite the case for deploying IE.

I shall have to give it more thought.

Work Cited
LaFrance, Michelle, and Melissa Nicolas. "Institutional Ethnography as Materialist Framework for Writing Program Research and the Faculty-Staff Work Standpoints Project." CCC 64.1 (September 2012): 130-50. Print.

Thursday, September 27, 2012


Among the things I encounter when reading the journals I take are calls for proposals, requests for works to be submitted for presentation and publications periodical and otherwise.  I do not always answer them, as I do not always have it in me to offer what they ask.  But I do try to respond to a number of them, such as that which College Composition and Communication currently has open.

I have been doing a fair bit of thinking about how I am going to respond to it.  As I have done so, it has occurred to me that I am facing a task much like that which I assign to my students in various classes.  Like them, I am facing a general topic and a page-limit (well, really a word-limit, but it works out more or less the same).  Like many of them, I am having some difficulty in generating specific ideas to address in what I hope to submit and see get into print; the general topic being offered is fairly broad, and there are many ways in which it might be addressed.

I suppose that since I am in circumstances similar to those in which my students find themselves (at least regarding the assignments I give them), I ought to apply processes and exercises to my predicament similar to those I exhort them to employ.  It would be good of me to do, certainly; modeling is good pedagogy, and my use of the techniques I recommend accords them an additional degree of ethos.  Too, it will afford me more lived experience with them, which will make it easier for me to discuss them with my classes, and that can hardly hurt the quality of my instruction.*

Even so, some uneasiness attends on the idea.  Discussion of my struggles with the students may well be unproductive--or even harmful.  It is certainly possible that instead of developing empathy and rapport--"You see, folks, I am in the same place, facing the same things, so you can trust that what I tell you about facing them down works"--my expression of difficulty will undermine my authority to address the class from a position of knowledge, that I will present myself as someone not fit to guide them through their own difficulties--"Well, you jerk, if you have trouble, what hope have we got?  And if you're having trouble, what gives you the right to tell me how to do this?"

There is also the potential that I will try the things I have been recommending to my students and find that they do not work.  While I certainly expect that not all techniques work for all people (else why would we need to have more than one technique?), I worry about the implications of experiencing total failure of the tools with which I hope to provide my students.  Would I then be in the position of having to set aside my earlier teaching?  And would that not then give them reason to doubt everything else I give them?  Even though I do want them to be able to question that with which they are confronted, to be able to satisfy themselves of its validity, I fear the institutional ramifications that might arise.  Certainly, were I to admit openly that I have been in error in my instruction, the students would have ground to contest every grade I issue and every assignment I offer.

The consequences I imagine are, perhaps, a bit excessive.  They do, after all, assume that the students will pay attention to me in a way that will allow them to enforce those consequences upon me, and for all that I struggle to engage my students in the classroom, I am not convinced that they pay me much mind outside of it--and some do not do so within it, more's the pity.  Too, I have discussed this very issue before, and as yet, nothing bad has come of it.  But I remain conflicted as to how much I ought to let the students see of how I put my own work together--especially at the beginning, when I am having trouble focusing on a single line of argument.

*Those of you who are looking at me for my teaching style and techniques (and I know that there are some of you out there, even if you do not announce yourselves), take note that I worry about them even in my personal life, and that I discuss them openly in a forum which invites comment and critique.  And I do hope to receive some of each.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012


On my subway ride to work today, I finished reading my copy of the September 2012 issue of College English.  Among its pages is an article by Kurt Fosso and Jerry Harp, "J. Hillis Miller's Virtual Reality of Reading" (79-94).  I am not familiar with the work of Miller other than as the two discuss it, but even in that discussion, I found much upon which to think.

Fosso and Harp repeatedly assert that Miller works to establish in his own critical work the idea of the literary world--that is, the world described within works of literary art and craft, in which their plots take place and their characters exist--is a virtual world, one which prefigures the text which gives a reader access to it.  They note that, in Miller's conception, "the literary work does not exist only in this or that copy of a text, nor in the mind of the author, nor in the experience of a reader.  Rather, any given piece of literature can be said to exit only in a dynamic interaction of texts, writers, readers, and hermeneutics" (81).  They also go to great lengths to present Miller's ideas as partaking of the tradition of the Platonic Ideal, and they state that art, being necessarily an incomplete presentation or representation, functions best when it acknowledges its own imperfectness.  Fosso and Harp depict Miller as positioning literature as a form of virtual reality long before computer-aided virtual realities gained mainstream acceptance in popular American culture, concluding that Miller's ascription of value to literature specifically because of its ability to immerse readers in an alternate reality is his own overriding, central tenet.  It is perhaps a bit simplistic an assertion with which to conclude, but the article overall does a fair job of relating Miller's major works to an audience perhaps not wholly familiar with them.

Fosso and Harp do situate Miller in a long tradition of literary criticism and one of its parent disciplines, philosophy.  My own biases, developed through my own years-long course of study and strange quirks in my literary tastes, tell me that Miller's assertion that literature at its most successful depicts events that take place in a world that exists before and after the text* is an echo of Tolkien's assertion in "On Fairy-stories."  I will admit that it is entirely likely that Miller has not read that particular bit of Tolkien's corpus; writers of genre fiction of any sort are not terribly highly regarded in a great many academic circles, and those who work in fantasy literature are typically worse off than the rest.  Similarly those old proponents of works by "dead white guys."  But the presentation of Miller as making the argument that there is a literary world for each text that pre-exists the text seems to me to be Tolkien's assertion of storytelling as a sub-Creative act written again.  For the Prince of Fantasists, it is the employment of allusions to remote histories--the reference to a pre-existing reality within the text--that does so much to lend his Middle-earth corpus the sense of being a living world, which sense fosters much of the appreciation of his work.

*This is, of course, according to Fosso and Harp's presentation of them.  I have no reason to actively doubt that they are--I tend to accept the editorial process of College English as being valid and resulting in the publication of good scholarship--although I am certain that there are other ways to interpret Miller.

Monday, September 24, 2012


As I might have mentioned once or twice, academic journals seem to have some trouble in reaching me, despite my avid reading of them.*  Just a day or two ago, well into the month, I received my copy of the September 2012 issue of College English, and I have only today made a start on reading it.  A new editor has taken over work on the journal, which happens, and with that editor have come a new appearance for the journal and changes to the format.  The former makes little difference; I am more worried about the inside of the publication than the outside.  The latter, I am not yet sure of; I shall have to see what comes of it in the coming issues--provided they actually get to me.

As it is, I am going to have to order an issue that seems to have vanished.

Anyway, I have already plowed through a couple of the articles in the volume, including Tara Lockhart's "The Shifting Rhetorics of Style: Writing in Action in Modern Rhetoric" (College English 75.1 [September 2012]: 16-41).  Lockhart makes a passing comment that, "As they worked toward an effective style in their own writing, the [authors of Modern Rhetoric, Cleanth Brooks and Robert Penn Warren,] also gained a better sense of the middle style they hoped to encourage in students" (21).  It put me in mind of another article that I have recently read, one by A. Abby Knoblauch entitled "A Textbook Argument: Definitions of Argument in Leading College Textbooks" (CCC 63.2 [December 2011]: 244-68). In fact, I think I may try reading the two articles in conjunction to see what kind of productive dialogue I can find between them...

To return, however: Lockhart's remark reminded me of comments I have made before on this blog (such as one here) which address the necessity of continuing learning to effective teaching.  That there is such a need is evident to me, and for several reasons.  One, and one which I likely need a bit more help in learning, is that continuing to learn keeps the teacher humble; it is useful to be reminded that there is a lot of knowledge out there that I do not yet have.  Too, it is helpful to be reminded that knowledge changes, and pressing on with researches in all fields makes manifest at least some of the ways in which it does so.  Further, continued learning allows the teacher to model processes for students--and to empathize with them as they struggle with much the same process (although, as one or two students have commented to me as the new term at my institution has started, their struggles are a bit more pronounced, since they do not have the dedicated years of practice in learning that I do).

To be reminded of the fact, and to be validated by seeing it reinforced in print in one of the major journals in the field in which I do most of my keep-earning work, is a good thing.

*Of course, since in one sense to read something is to devour it, if emotions and understandings can be ascribed to the creations of humanity--and it is something of a commonplace to associate the written word with the child, so that it can be inferred that people in fact so so ascribe--it is understandable that a journal would resist coming to me.  Their pages prove a tasty dish, if not for me quite so much as for Strand's narrator.

Friday, September 21, 2012


I noted in a post on another blog I maintain that I have for a third time been accepted to present a paper at the International Congress on Medieval Studies at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo.  I am as excited about the prospect now as I have been in years past when I have gone (2010 and 2011), perhaps even more so.  Before, I always had hanging over me the spectre of the dissertation (which is available, by the way, if you're interested, and you can check it out on WorldCat), and it largely directed my attendance at panels other than that on which I was presenting.  Now, however, I can more freely direct my attentions, and I very much appreciate being able to do so; the generalist nature of my graduate program, along with my indiscriminate readings during my happily vanishing your and after, left me markedly interested in a great many things.

Indeed, I find that it is very useful to be involved in things outside the regular subject area, both in the academy and outside of it.  The Good Doctor warns of the dangers of overspecialization (namely the fragmentation of knowledge and the inability to perceive singularly important connections between related--and even unrelated--areas of study) in "Sucker Bait," among others, and I, who very nearly cut my teeth on Asimov (and regularly return to him), keep the warning in mind.  That I have, as a petitioner for admittance into and an indweller of the ivory tower, seen too narrow field specialization inhibit understanding over and over again has served largely to push me to do what I can t keep it from happening to myself.

I do think that doing so, that pursuing even passing knowledge in a variety of fields (and I do, believe me), helps me to recall the interconnectedness of all knowledge and all scholarship.  For I truly do believe that it is the case that all of us who are at work in the ivory tower, from its deepest basements to its highest crenellated turrets and under its peaked roofs, are fundamentally pursuing a single object: The Truth.

Perhaps I am naive to think so.  Perhaps I am deluding myself that my own field of study, one engaged primarily if not exclusively in looking at what people centuries dead wrote and which few outside of college literature surveys and the professoriate (broadly defined) anymore read, can be trying to do the same thing that more "practical" fields like physics or medicine or explosives technology or brewing science (I am so very, VERY annoyed at my high school guidance counselors for not telling me that such programs as the latter two exist!  Among other things.) do.  I do not think so, but I could hardly be expected to view myself in such a light.

If I am a fool for my thinking, then I harm nobody by pursuing my passion.  But if it is not the case that I am pursuing some cockamamie idea in thinking that by studying and trying to promote a deeper understanding of the literatures of medieval England, as well as those literatures which derive from it at varying degrees and in varying sorts of removal, I am approaching a greater understanding of what it means to be a human being in this great and glorious creation we inhabit, then my pending return journey to Kalamazoo marks what I hope will be one step closer to what might well be termed enlightenment.

I look forward to it.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012


I have been reading in preparation for my teaching (go figure, eh?).  Among that reading has been Edith Hamilton's Mythology, a book which I have had since I was in high school.  (I am familiar with the text, but I do occasionally need to refresh my memory.)

Only today did I realize the pun on the cover...

Thursday, September 13, 2012


A new term at my current institution has just begun, and so I have once again been spending some time thinking about the way I teach and the reasons that I teach.  It occurs to me that I have talked about it before, something about doing what I do in part because of the jokes.  And that remains true; as has been pointed out, earlier writers had as well developed senses of humor as current writers--if not more.  But there are other reasons...

As I was catching up on the reading I missed during my trip overseas, I read through the September 2012 National Geographic.  Andrew Curry's article, "Roman Frontiers" (106-27) captured my attention.  Part of the attraction comes from the fact that some of what Curry discusses had been discussed in one of the classes I took while I was at the University of Cambridge.  More of it, though, comes from the comment Curry makes: "Understanding why the Romans were obsessed with their borders--and the role their obsession played in the decline of the empire--might help us better understand ourselves" (110).  The comment draws a parallel to late Rome and some of the more contentious immigration issues in the United States and elsewhere*--we do seem to be preoccupied with the boundaries between countries--and serves as a reminder that we are now as we always have been.

There is a remarkable continuity of human endeavor and of human nature.  What we have done we still do, what has been important is still important, perhaps not in its surface trappings, but in its fundamental nature.  And that is another reason that I study what I study: it helps me to understand that person I am.  For I, as are we all, am a product of all that which has gone before me, whether I am aware of it or not.  By learning more of it, I learn more of who I am, and I approach closer to the one great truth towards which all who seek learning and seek to develop new knowledge strive.

*I am not here going to go into the question of whether the implication that the current state of affairs is an empire as doomed as late Rome was.  Later, I might get into it.  Might.

Monday, September 10, 2012


When I post entries about my experiences in and of church, which seems to have been a fairly frequent occurrence as far as my blogging goes, it tends to be on the days that they occur.  Such is not the case at present, not because I have not thought about what went on during yesterday's service at the United Methodist Church of the Village yesterday, but because my grandmother was visiting, and both my family an my guests come before my own personal endeavors.  It was quite good to have her in from Tama, Iowa; showing her around allowed my beloved wife and me to see things we had not previously seen in The City, which benefited all of us.

We did take her to church with us, though, and so we heard the senior pastor, our bishop, preach a sermon, "Choosing Your Seat," which he derived from James 2 and Proverbs 22.  During the sermon, the bishop, working from the Scriptural passages, stressed the fundamental kinship of humanity--a message particularly important as we approach the eleventh anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, and the self-sacrifice of passengers on United Flight 93 in Pennsylvania.  As part of that message, he reminded us that it is the commonplace and mundane which makes possible the exceptional--and that the exceptional will do well to remember that truth.

The bishop often works from personal example and anecdote, a technique of which I approve in my own writing (obviously) and teaching.  The use of such devices lends an immediacy to the discussion and has the potential to impart significant ethos to it--both of which are good things for such folks as sermonists, teachers, and others whose primary vocation is to get people to believe things and act upon those beliefs.  And in "Choosing Your Seat," the bishop employed anecdote in expressing his valuation of his associates degree from a community college as the foundation of his later successes, such that he insists upon its being properly accounted for among the many honors that have accrued to his name.

As someone who teaches at a two-year college, where students are explicitly working towards such degrees, I wonder if any of my own students will have the kind of success that the bishop appears to have enjoyed (I only see the man at and around church, where he gives every indication of being quite happy with how things are moving; if I am wrong, it is through ignorance, and I apologize).  I wonder if they will find the kind of passion that evidently moves him and will be able to follow that passion in such a way that they are able to be of good and useful service to those around them--as the passages from Scripture he referenced strongly suggest we all ought to be.

That they will be is something for which I hope.

Sunday, September 2, 2012


It is often the case that the sermons at the Church of the Village, which I attend, provoke thought.  That it is so is one of the things that keeps me going back to that particular church, of all of them in New York City and surrounding areas (leaving aside the commonplace that academics, particularly those in the humanities, are non- or anti-Christian people across the board).  Today's sermon, the first I have heard from the senior pastor at the church for some time (I had been away for a while, you know), was thus provocative.

During the sermon, "'Talking to the Chair' Religion," the senior pastor made comments to the effect of true religion being that which takes care of those on the outside, that which reaches out and offers a hand to the untouchable.  Examples of Jesus doing so abound in Christian Scripture, for example in Matthew 8, Mark 5, and Luke 5.*

As a (too poorly) practicing Christian, I know that I can do worse than to follow as best as my mortal limitations allow the example of Christ--something about which I have commented.  As I took the train home from church this afternoon, I thought a bit about what the senior pastor said, and it occurred to me that I do so in more ways than simply the literary critique I discuss in a previous blog post.  Indeed, my teaching at my current institution can be said to be outreach to those deemed untouchable.

I have expressed before that many of my students come from profoundly academically disadvantaged backgrounds and that they are in many if not most cases largely dependent upon the (now reduced) charity of the state.  They come from immigrant and indigent populations, many are former convicts, and many others are wrestling with various problems which they only hint at with me (even as I know they discuss them in full with some of my colleagues).  They stand among the underclass, in many cases the nearly-permanent underclass, doing or paying lip-service to doing what they can to lift themselves out of institutionalized, generational poverty.  They are, in a prevailing United States society** which values people by their earning potential and the size of their bank accounts, among the untouchables.  In my classroom, they are the academic equivalents (and sometimes actual instantiations) of those "undesirables" the senior pastor rattled off with much more eloquence than I can summon in recollection.

They are the very people Christ served.

They are the very people Christ called His followers to serve.

In working with my students as I do, I seek to do unto some of the least among us some good in the world.  It was only today that I was reminded of the consequences thereof.

*I am not conversant enough in the scriptures and practices of other faiths to be able to attest to their teachings, for which I apologize.  I would love to learn more, however, so comments to that effect are welcome.

**I am aware of how fraught this term is.

Monday, August 27, 2012


Alright, so, just shy of a month later, I return to making blog posts.

The trip to the British Isles was a good one, instructive in a number of ways and entertaining in just about as many.  Importantly, it threw some things into significant relief for me, helping me to gain some perspective on issues I have considered from time to time, and I appreciate that.

Those who know me know that I keep a journal, and for the trip, I picked up an extra volume.  In it, I wrote nearly two hundred pages, and while much of it simply accounts for my reactions to and understandings of what I did and saw while in Ireland and the UK, some of it offers me directions to go as I continue my researches.

For I intend to do so.  I still have a job teaching full-time at a technical college, for which I am thankful (there were layoffs while I was away, and some folks I know were affected).  I retain the beliefs that I need to improve in my performance of my job and that I can best do so by furthering my own knowledge.  Some of that will come in the form of coursework such as that I did at the University of Cambridge during the month, but more of it will come from my development of knowledge through research into the literary works of the English language.

I have notes to sift through and papers to write, and I am happy about both.

Sunday, July 29, 2012


I know that I do not update my blog regularly or often, but I do think it important to note that there is going to be an even greater irregularity than is usual in my posting.  Tomorrow, I will be heading out to Ireland and England.  I am unsure about my ability to access the Internet during the month-long trip (whether as a technical issue or as an "I'll be busy as all get out and may not have time"), and since I am not diligent in writing blog posts even at the best of times, it is likely that there will be quite a gap between this (admittedly paltry) entry and its successor.

May all that opposes you falter and fail.

Sunday, July 15, 2012


A few days ago on another blog I "maintain," I discussed a recent experience of rejection, not of the once frequent in my life romantic variety, but of the still too common in my life publication type.  In the discussion, I note that I relate my own failure as a learning experience, and I hope in doing so that I am modeling the kind of writerly behavior the results of which I want to see from my students.

Putting the piece together reminded me of some of the reading I did a while back, and when I finally went to my office at work,* I was able to pull up the article which writing my blog entry had brought to mind.  It is Lad Tobin's Opinion piece, "Self-Disclosure as a Strategic Teaching Tool: What I Do--and Don't--Tell My Students," from College English 73.2 (November 2010), pages 196-206.  In the piece, Tobin makes the case--convincingly, to my mind--that teacherly revelations of personal experience should not be exempt from the same evaluations applied to other teaching tools and rhetorical maneuvers; that is, invocations of the self ought to be used in the classroom only when effective in illustrating particular concepts or developing the necessary ethos to teach.  He also points out that the risks inherent in revealing personal experience differ for instructors based on their own positions--something that comes across as obvious once stated but that needed to be laid out just to have it in the open.

In relating his own experience in employing various depictions of himself to his classes, he presents something of a paradox--although he is careful to say that his anecdotal experience ought not to be taken as Truth, so that the difficulty in resolving it is somewhat mitigated.  The conundrum is this: the exposure of the self can be a markedly effective teaching tool, but it can just as easily undermine the ability of a teacher to teach.  With this in mind, and knowing that the students I expect to have when I return to work are largely of lower socio-economic status, educationally disadvantaged (many dropped out of high school or have been away from formal schooling for quite some time), and in many cases immigrants or the children of immigrants, I have a question to pose: Is my relation of my own failure to get a piece published likely to aid my teaching (by presenting me as grappling with many of the same issues as my students, so that I am not asking them to do things that I do not demand of myself) or hinder it (by showing me up as someone who cannot do and thereby according with the old saw about those who teach)?  Or are there other options which I have not considered?

As ever, I look forward to input from others.

*I am on leave during the Summer 2012 term.  That only means that my classroom teaching is on hold.  I am still academically active, if not so much as I could otherwise hope to be.

Monday, July 9, 2012


My dissertation has quite a few footnotes in it--although that is to be expected from dissertations generally.  In one of the footnotes, I make an offhanded comment about a possibility that there is something else going on in the text than what I discuss in the bulk of the text.  It appeared largely because I did not want to fail to acknowledge other perspectives on and avenues of approach to the text; I do not think that it is academically responsible to not at least gesture toward other ideas.

That footnote, though, stuck with me.  When I could (and I have discussed not being able to do so), I started to develop the idea hinted at in the footnote (and I have discussed that, as well).  I had thought I was making progress in the matter...until I started to do some other research, looking at how the text compares to its contemporaries.  I had thought that it was distinct in one particular regard, but when I began to look at texts printed around the same time, I found that such was not the case.  In fact, the text is remarkably in line with its contemporaries in that regard.*  Accordingly, one of the major underpinnings of the idea I wanted to work up is shot.  At the very least, I shall have to rework the paper (I do still think that the central thesis is sound, even if one of the premises is not).  At worst, I shall have to abandon it (I could be wrong).

It is part of the scholarly life that evidence proves ideas wrong, and those engaged in scholarship are obliged to adjust their opinions and interpretations to suit the best evidence available.  I know that and accept it, and I am thankful that I found out I was wrong before I got further into the paper than I did.  That does not mean, however, that I am happy to have been in error.  I do not think that anyone is pleased to be wrong.  The distaste for mistakes is worse for those involved in the many types of research, however, since researchers must justify their work by having and supporting good ideas.  While it is very much part of the process of doing so that bad ideas are identified and discarded, to have a line of inquiry end in the recognition of a mistake is a bit embarrassing, and it all too often leads to questions about the utility of the work of the mind in any event.

There are already entirely too many things in the world that try to undermine the ability of thinkers to spend the time, and devote energy to, thinking, and they work very much to the detriment of all humanity.  They therefore need nothing to aid and abet them, and lest it be thought that I am arming them by admitting my error (albeit with some circumspection), I offer the following:

By identifying where I am at fault, I can work on ways to correct the fault.

By admitting the error, I show that I am secure enough in the ability of my mind that I do not always have to be right to merit attention.

By admitting the error, I do a bit, even if only a small bit, to ease the burden on those who live a life of the mind.  Too often, they are compelled by those around them to always have the answer, to always know what to do--and they internalize those expectations.  In the sense that they are driven therefore to increase their knowledge and understanding, it is a good thing.  In the sense that they are likely not to be able to forgive themselves the faults that they, being human, will make is far, far less so.  And it need not be the case that they are thus bound (those who are thus bound).

*I'll not say which text or which regard.  Those who have read, or read about, my dissertation will probably be able to make some guess about the former.  They may be able to figure out the latter, too.  Why should I ruin people's joy in solving a puzzle?  (Maybe because I'm a hateful person, but I'm still not going to give the answers.)

Sunday, July 8, 2012


I have not made a secret of the fact that I am a church-going man (even if I am not as observant or knowledgeable about my denomination as I perhaps ought to be).  Services today focused on baptising two of the congregation's children and issues of the hometown.  I am not about to elaborate here as to what a hometown is, but I will explicate and expound upon one of the comments made by the senior pastor during his sermon.

His talk, "Hometown Religion," worked from Mark 6:1-13, in which Jesus is confronted by those who knew Him in his youth, and who reject His divinity and power therefore, before sending out the Twelve with the instructions about not taking two coats and shaking the dust off of their feet in repudiation of those who turned them away.*  As the pastor, a consecrated bishop, discussed it, the thought occurred to me that I am not certain I blame those in Nazareth for their doubt; in my own experience, I find that I am still looked at as being a child in many ways by the people who, literally and metaphorically, changed my diapers, despite having a PhD in hand and a household of my own.  The bishop phrased the idea differently (and if I am not quoting, I am closely paraphrasing): "In your hometown, people always know you when."  They remember stupid youthful events--or at least enough of them to make certain situations uncomfortable.

The bishop repeatedly used the phrase "know you when," situating the knowledge of the hometown crowd as a current phenomenon, and the juxtaposition of present-tense construction and the implied past being referenced struck me.  The repetition leads me to believe it was a choice, deliberately made rather than a mis-speaking prompted by the extemporaneous nature of the sermon (particularly as performed at the United Methodist Church of the Village), and so I thought about it a bit on the train ride home.  (There is some value to having idle time, and the train ride usually does not demand much from the rider.)  It seems to me that the comment is a variant on the concept of the "always-already," which is to say that it works in much the same way as does the idea that the way things are now is the way that they always have been; in the case of "know you when," the situation is reversed, so that the way things once were is the way that they still are.

I find that there is some truth in both.  Certainly, there are things about humanity that have not changed from place to place and time to time.  And it is just as certain that there are things people do for many, many years without actually paying them any attention.  I know of places and people that make every effort to remain as they imagine themselves to have been in decades past (as I may have mentioned).  Some of them even enjoy some success in those efforts, for worse and for better.

Some of what we imagine ourselves to have been would be very good to really be.

At the same time, neither is completely true.  The problems in the idea of "always-already" have been laid out time and again; they summarize (with admitted simplification) as "It has not always been as it appears to be, and there is more to the appearance than, well, appears."  The bishop rightly pointed out in the sermon that the "know you when" is also flawed because it does not admit the possibility of change.  Whether that is, as the bishop posited, because of low self-esteem on the part of those acting on the concept, or for a more benign reason--something such as "Things were good when we left off, so let's go back to that"--it fails to acknowledge the great fluidity of people.  For although there is much that remains constant in human nature, there is much about each person that does not stay as it is from moment to moment, let alone across the spread of years and the many events of a person's life.

We do not do well to ignore it.

*There is the curious issue of the text, in the King James Version linked above and in the New International Version, noting that Christ could not work miracles in that place.  Here, I betray that I am not a theologian; I am sure that the seminarians and clergy among my fellow congregants, or the pastoral staff at my church, could walk me through the implications of a stated inability on behalf of Jesus, or could at least direct me to useful commentaries about the same.

Saturday, July 7, 2012


I have been doing some reading, albeit not as much as I ought to be doing, in the hopes of getting some paper ideas together.  It had not been going entirely well (as I think I may have mentioned), but today, I was able to get some work done on one idea that has been clamoring for release from the dark and depraved confines of my head into the significantly brighter confines of the page.  I am pleased by the development, and I mean to follow up on it.  If I can make things work, or get them to work, the way I want them to, I will be in good shape.

But I am not going to talk about that paper.  Instead, I'll talk about something only barely tangentially related to it, and that through more removes than Hollywood is from Kevin Bacon (on average, maybe).*  No, I am going to talk about something that occurred to me when I was reading Vladimir Brljak's "The Books of Lost Tales: Tolkien as Metafictionist" (Tolkien Studies 7 [2010]: 1-34).  In the article, Brljak traces changes in Tolkien's conception of the Middle-earth narrative arc as a redaction from a received translation of older histories and asserts that the metafictional narrative--that is, the frame of the tale as the redaction--serves to highlight the unattainability of the story, simultaneously making it a valid work of sub-creation and reinforcing the removal of the sub-creation for the observable reality of the readership.  Brljak employs a substantial amount of textual evidence from the primary Middle-earth narrative arc (The Silmarillion, The Hobbit, and The Lord of the Rings) and from subsidiary sources (namely the History of Middle-earth series) to support his point, doing a fair job of it, although there is certainly more that could be done.

As I read Brljak's article, I was struck by the parallels between what he identifies as the presentation of the metanarrative frame within The Lord of the Rings and that identified as being present in the excellently-named Geoffrey of Monmouth's History of the Kings of Britain.  On my bookshelf, I have a translated edition of the text (my Latin is really rusty, okay) carried out by Michael A. Faletra.  He remarks, as others have, on the Galfiridian comment that the History is a translation of a yet older text given him by another scholar (15); in the translation, the comment appears in the second paragraph of the dedicatory epistle (41).  In discussing the gift from the older scholar, Walter, Faletra notes that, if the book exists, it "contained not the continuous narrative that Geoffrey presents but a collection of miscellaneous historical materials" (15).  Faletra has more to say, as might be expected, and I have been interested in it for other reasons, but those other reasons are not what I want to address now.

It was the assertion of the likely-never-to-be-found-because-likely-never-existing book from Walter as a collection of diverse accounts and bits of lore, to which Brljak's depiction of Tolkien's metafictional frame struck me as parallel.  Just as Faletra is skeptical that Walter's book will ever emerge (21), Brljak reminds his readers--who are presumably also Tolkien's--that there is no actual Red Book (the source-text identified in The Lord of the Rings as being the ultimate source of its narrative) (9).  Just as Faletra asserts that Geoffrey "was dealing with a surplus of information and that he added, deleted, compressed, embellished, and rearranged" it (21), Brljak notes that "the most drastic of the quantitative changes [to the narrative of The Lord of the Rings from the metafictional Red Book] were those of subtraction" (10) and that qualitiative changes were necessary to take the text from its partial origin in diaries to a third-person narrative that encompassed more action and information than that to which the characters who contributed most to that narrative could provide (11-13).  And just as Brljak asserts that "A key element in Tolkien's fiction is an elaborate metafiction...about the way in which parts of a heterogeneous 'chronicle' came to be transformed into literary narratives" (21), Faletra asserts that Geoffrey gives us "history, as we might put it today, as literature" (30).  In the views of both critics, both texts employ their presentations of themselves as reworked from earlier sources to secure a hold on the reader's imagination, thereby securing for themselves something approaching permanence.

I am certain that more can be done regarding the two critical commentaries, and I may, in time, return to them.  But for now, I will point out only that if Brljak and Faletra as correct in their assertions as I think they are, we have one more point of correspondence between Tolkien's work and Arthurian literature--and there is some work to do in that line of inquiry.

*The link is where it is on purpose.  I promise.

Works Cited
~Brljak, Vladimir. "The Books of Lost Tales: Tolkien as Metaficitonist." Tolkien Studies 7 (2010): 1-34. Project Muse. Web. 21 June 2012.
~Faletra, Michael A. Introduction. The History of the Kings of Britain. By Geoffrey of Monmouth. Ed. and trans. Michael A. Faletra. Peterborough, Ontario, Canada: Broadview, 2008. Print. 8-34.
~Geoffrey of Monmouth.  The History of the Kings of Britain. Ed. and trans. Michael A. Faletra. Peterborough, Ontario, Canada: Broadview, 2008. Print.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012


Happy US Independence Day!

Yesterday, my wife and I were in New Jersey (yes, New Jersey), where we met with a good friend.  With that friend, we took a trip to Washington's and the Revolutionary Army's winter quarters in Morristown, New Jersey (yes, again, New Jersey).  While there, our friend (who is from New Jersey) was reminded, and my wife and I were informed, that the winter of 1779-1780, during which time Continental troops were bivouacked in Morristown and nearby Jockey Hollow, was far and away the worst winter, in terms of weather, seen by the Revolutionary War combatants (and since).  Yet it is little heralded in mainstream media, overshadowed by the gentler winter of Valley Forge.

The reason that the US Park Rangers give for the lesser general popular knowledge of the Morristown winter encampment is that Valley Forge was far more destructive...not because of the weather, but because of the folly of the commanders, who had their men set up in the low-lying areas with their poor drainage and poorer hygiene.  Morristown quartering was set up on the upper slopes of the area hills, so that runoff would flow away from camp.

What does it say about the United States and its people that a failure, neither of fighting spirits nor of tactics but of logistics and the understanding that successful farmers (the very same people trumpeted by the Founding Fathers--you know, those folks whose ideas we are told we ought to take as Gospel*) have to have about how water--and what it carries--acts, is enshrined in the collective national memory as a high point of its natal narrative?

I well understand the annoyance that the Morristown folks feel.  There is something of it in the assertions of excellence made by a number of Texans (including myself, in all honesty).  And I do not know anyone who does not, at least on occasion, indulge in the "Oh, yeah?  Well, I've got X" behavior that often gets called dick-wagging or a pissing contest.**  But my question still stands; why do we so enshrine failure, rather than the successful display of having learned the lesson from the failure?

*Of course, the Founders, the Framers of the Constitution, openly acknowledge that their efforts and the document which encapsulates them are imperfect...

**Okay, "often" in my experience, which is admittedly not the most representative that can be found.

Monday, July 2, 2012


For some time now, I have kept a journal.  While I have not always been as diligent in making entries into it as I ought (really, it ought to be daily, and I have fallen far short of that over the term in which I have kept my journals), in the past year and a half, I have devoted at least a certain amount of writing to each day.  (For the most part; I have not, as I said, always been as diligent as I ought.)  The practice in writing has not done much for my penmanship, as those who have been abused by it can amply attest, but I have benefited from the practice in putting my ideas on the page.  And it has helped me to work out a number of ideas for such projects as conference papers, conference panels, and sections of my finally completed dissertation.

Recently, however, I have not been able to take advantage of that particular phenomenon.  I still make an effort to write a minimal amount each day (and am getting a better success rate in it), but I am having trouble getting my more scholarly ideas hammered out.  It is quite frustrating, really.  I am accustomed to being able to sit down with pen or keyboard and hammer notions into shape, finding support for them as needed (and often more than is really necessary).  Now, I have theses for a couple of papers and ideas for a few more, but I cannot seem, somehow, to get the papers going.

The situation vexes me, and I do not know what has caused it.  A couple of the folks I know have suggested that I am in some ways a bit burnt out from school, and I can understand that it might well be so; I went straight from high school to undergraduate work to graduate work to doctoral work, hardly taking time off between stages (even going from undergraduate to graduate work, I studied hard over the summer).  Twelve years of running full-tilt towards an academic honor I was finally able to reach could certainly be having other effects on me at the moment.  But I somehow do not think that it is the whole problem.

That does not mean that I have any idea what is going on.  But I really ought to be used to that by now...

Tuesday, June 26, 2012


My wife and I have had a subscription to Texas Monthly for some time, and we read it with great pleasure; it is very good to get a little taste of home every now and again.  In the July 2012 issue, though, there is something with which I find myself annoyed.  Specifically, it is a comment in Nate Blakeslee's article "Drawing Straws."  In discussing the haphazard and minimally effective proposals for water use in the state, Blakeslee remarks that "The state water plan is to planning as chicken-fried steak is to steak."

I gather that the remark is meant to disparage the state plan, but the analogy is a faulty one.  While it is admittedly true that a steak is supposed to be a good cut of meat, cooked well (as in adverbially good rather than internal temperature and color of meat) and served to the pleasure of the diner, so that it is a good thing, chicken-fried steak is in no meaningful way inferior.  Sure, it may come from less favored cuts, but when it is tenderized, breaded, fried up, and served with cream gravy, it is a gustatory delight of exceptional quality--and, indeed, quintessentially Texan (particularly the Hill Country).  So to use it as a parallel for a bad idea is, well, a bad idea.

And for those of you who have not had the pleasure of eating a chicken-fried steak, you have a problem that needs fixin'.

Monday, June 25, 2012


As I was writing in my journal recently, I made a comment about my family that prompted a fair bit of reflection.  In the comment, I framed relations with my family in postcolonial terms, and it surprised me a bit that I did so.  I decided to give some thought to why it happened.

Part of it is that I have put a fair bit of time and effort into work in postcolonial discourse.  It was the first major school of critical thought to which I was introduced in anything approaching a serious fashion; my undergraduate thesis rolled around (ineptly, as I now realize) in it.  My master's thesis and some conference papers I have presented worked in it, if not exclusively so, as well, so I can say that postcolonial discourse has occupied a large chunk of my academic life.  That it has, that I have become accustomed to applying that particular filter to my perception, makes sense.

Unfortunately, as I thought about the matter a bit more, it occurred to me that the comment implies that I exist as an entity colonized by my family, which has unpleasant overtones.  I do not think they are entirely accurate.  My family does not exploit my position.  (Economically, this is certainly true.  There is some deployment of the social cachet of my having a doctorate and teaching college in New York City, but I am not giving anything up to allow my family to do so.  I am not convinced, therefore, that there is any "exploitation" going on.)  Nor am I certain that I am "removed" from the centers of power in the family; I maintain close ties with the people I love, and the structure of my family is not entirely so centered as to have a specific "core" in relation to which I can exist as a "periphery."  (And, to be as arrogantly egotistical as I am accustomed to being, I am one of the centers of power in the family.  So there.)

Although I do not, upon reflection, see myself as colonized, I do in some ways act as a colonizer.  I have, in fact, gone out from the gathering of my people into distant lands to take for myself and my own benefit the resources I have found in those places.  From the Texas Hill Country, I went to southwestern Louisiana, from which I derived an education and (damned little) funding.  I also ended up taking a wife from the people I found there, which, if not necessarily "going native," and certainly not against the wishes of the other person involved, does in some ways mimic aspects of the colonization of the Americas by European "explorers" (the more so since my wife grew up a lot closer to southwest Louisiana in many ways than she did to the Hill Country).  I also came to The City, where I used the available resources to complete a degree and to financially enrich myself.  In that, I am very much reenacting on the micro scale what has been and continues to be so destructive on the macro--as are a great many people who go away to school and to work.

Does it then make of us evil folk that we do so?  Are we being as destructive in our small ways as more overt, obvious colonists have been and are?  Or is the reduction in scale enough to make what I and others do in our personal lives not an ill?

I obviously have some more thinking to do.

Friday, June 22, 2012


Everybody complains about the weather...

Summer has definitely arrived in The City.  The past few days have seen high temperatures in the upper 90s--that would be the mid- to upper 30s for those of you working in Celsius--and that range counts as "hot" even in the Texas Hill Country and southwest Louisiana.  Like the latter, the humidity has been up, as well, so it has hardly been the most pleasant of times to be outside.

The problem is compounded by the lack of good air conditioning in The City.  Many of the buildings are older--indeed, "prewar" construction is eagerly sought-after--and I well understand that it is prohibitively expensive to retrofit such buildings with such amenities as central air.  But new construction all too often lacks it, as well, and I continue to be boggled by it.

Even so, this is one of many times I am glad to have lived as long in the South and into the Southwest as I have.  Growing up there exposed me to the kind of heat that is happening now and that flusters New Yorkers as a matter of course, and for months at a time; I am, as much as a person can be, used to it.  (Indeed, while I was at graduate school in southwest Louisiana, I would often be outside on campus in collared shirt and dark pants, and I was not inhibited by it.)

I get along fairly decently here.  But I do so largely because of my experiences elsewhere.  Despite what many native New Yorkers believe, there is much that is worthwhile outside of The City.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012


I know that it has been a long time since I last posted.  Holidays for both parents have passed, along with a few other events.  While I am not certain whether or not anyone has missed reading what I have to write, I am certain that I have missed writing it.  So here it is.

A few days after I made my last post, I headed from The City to Lafayette, Louisiana, where I formally received the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in English.  My beloved wife went down with me, and we were joined by my father-in-law and his wife, one of my uncles, one of my great uncles, one of my grandmothers, my brother, and my parents.  It was good to get to see everybody, and I was very happy that they could be with me to celebrate.

From Lafayette, we dispersed, with my wife returning to The City, my in-laws heading back to Arkansas, and my uncle and great uncle heading back to the Texas Hill Country ahead of my parents, my grandmother, my brother, and me.  I spent a couple of weeks in the Hill Country, relaxing and reminding myself of the circumstances in which I grew up.  It was helpful to reconnect with my upbringing, as it helped me understand better the person I am--a bit cliche, I know, but as true as I know how to tell it.

From the Hill Country, my parents and I went to visit my other grandmother in central Iowa, leaving just before Memorial Day.  There, I continued to relax, and I was introduced to parts of my heritage with which I had only been passingly familiar.  Family farms are still viable in that part of the world, and much that is held to have been only theorized by a great many people in my acquaintance are striven for and in some cases realized.

It is not wholly a bad thing.

I very much enjoyed my time away.  I rested much, did a few things, and ate both well and abundantly.  I was also very glad to get back home, to sleep in my own bed.

And now, even though I am on leave from work, I have things to do.

Thursday, May 10, 2012


Tomorrow, I leave The City for what will be nearly a month in the middle of the United States, the so-called "fly-over country" that all too many folks on the East and West Coasts disregard as consisting wholly of idiots and racist rednecks and without which they would likely starve to death.  Planned events include my being hooded for my PhD and spending several weeks with family in central Texas and central Iowa, as well as trips to local aikido dojo so that I can do something to keep my meager skills in that art from deteriorating while I am away.

The thought of spending the amount of time with my family that I will get is a pleasant one.  The knowledge that I do so at the cost of being away from my home, my life, and my lovely, loving wife is far less so.  I will miss the apartment and the wonderful woman with whom I live in it terribly, so I have another thing to look forward to this trip.

Coming home.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012


Just to follow up on a couple of earlier posts:

I mentioned here that I am the beneficiary of federal student loan programs, and so I have some concern for my interest rate...which looks like it may be going up soon.  The comments attendant on the later article, the one I cite second, worry me even more than does the event which occasioned them; the rancor and "I did it with no help; why can't you?"* attitude that pop up in them makes me shake my head.  Matters have changed, and not always for the better, and the lack of compassion for and understanding of others voiced...I cannot say I am pleased to see it.

Also, here I discussed comments about standardized state exams and the amount of money being paid to produce them.  One would think that something that costs several million dollars to produce would be put through a simple fact-check and quality control review.  That is one of the things that is pushed forward as the virtue of the free market, after all, that it efficiently self-regulates and makes good products.  So when I saw this piece on the news this morning, I was surprised...very little.  I am aware that the myth of business efficiency and the basic ethical stance of corporations is just that: a myth.  It came as no shock to me that a business, one not interested in teaching so much as in making money, would fail to do what it needs to do to make valid, reliable tests--insofar as any one test can actually be an adequate assessment measure or means to drive instruction.  And it did not escape my notice that test results support administrative bonuses rather than going to the people who are held immediately accountable for the creation of those results.

And we wonder where our school tax dollars go.

*Of course, "no help" is not so much not helped.  But when one commentator sought to point that out, referencing the immensely increased tuition and fee rates, decreased governmental subsidies for public institutions, as well as the public infrastructure used to get to and support the school, he was roundly condemned as making, and I paraphrase, "sissy, liberal complaints."

Tuesday, May 8, 2012


There is a large fly buzzing about the apartment.
I think it slipped in when I stepped out.
The cats follow it attentively,
Running from one room to another,
Leaping at it
And missing.
I am sure there is a metaphor in there somewhere.

Sunday, May 6, 2012


In just a few days, I will be taking part in the commencement exercises at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, where I will be hooded in recognition of having completed the work to earn a PhD in English.  The event is an auspicious one, and its imminence reminds me that I am very much attuned to the meanings of rituals.  Something in the ceremonial, among the pomp and flourish of a well-executed traditional performance, speaks to me--and it has long been so for me.  I have invested much in coming to understand how insignia and their placement, what regalia are displayed and in what manner, what phrases are used and in what order, and what arrangement of seats and of things before those seats mean.

And they do have meaning.  Or they can.

I am well aware that a great many people put no stock in ceremony.  They do not attend to the actions they perform, and in many cases resist the performance as artificial and stuffy.  Their complaints are not wholly without merit; even in the case of my upcoming graduation, it is far more important that my transcripts show completion than that I wear a fancy, elaborate robe and get a highly decorated piece of paper with my name on it.  But there are things in ritual that are worth attending to.  It connects us to our pasts, to those who have gone before and upon whose achievements many of us have relied; certainly, I could not have done my dissertation project without a work to write about and without the research of others from which to develop my own ideas.  And attending to the small details of ceremonial activities can show--and for me does show--the belief in the importance of the thing being celebrated.  By making sure that each piece is in place and time, those participating in rituals demonstrate their devotion to the thing being celebrated; it is the very removal from simple efficiency and practicality that makes the ritual important.

I do not think I am the first to say so (although I do not recall where I have come across it before, for which I apologize). But that does not mean that I do not feel it.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012


I was watching the news just now, and saw this piece.  I looked around a bit more, and found this article.  And I found myself annoyed.

The bit about teachers having "no expectation of privacy" is the one which concerns me.  While it is true that social media, being owned things rather than public domain, are monitored by their owners, and those who use them are putting things out so that others can see them, asserting that one specific group of people has "no expectation of privacy," singling that group out for examination, has unfortunate implications.  That the group is teachers reinforces the idea of teachers as somehow incompetent, as it is not those who are trusted who are monitored.

(And as far as the "co-parents" comment goes, what of the calls in the wake of school shootings and instances of bullying--or even in cases of student depression--that the teachers ought to have seen the signs of trouble?  Can we fault a person for not seeing what is on the other side of a door that has been barred to that person?)

My beloved wife points out that it is yet another in a series of such messages, that teachers are not deserving of the same protections as others.  And there have been no statements to other city employees demanding that they restrict their online interactions with those in their charge.  Despite the potential for inappropriate conduct between, say, police officers and persons who are nominally under their protection, or between administrators of various programs and those enrolled in the programs, there is no specific guideline in place to tell them who they can and cannot connect to online.  They are governed only by the laws already in place; teachers are being singled out, once again, as being untrustworthy.

Is it any wonder, then, that the quality of education students receive is perceived as declining?  Teachers work under what amounts to censure, and it is not as if the very web-savvy students whom the NYC DoE measures are supposed to protect are not aware of that censure; can they be blamed for resisting people whom they see as being denigrated by the community at large?

Monday, April 30, 2012


My reading of the March 2012 PMLA has not yet ended--I have been sticking around home more than usual these past few days, and, as I noted, I tend to do my journal reading on the train.  But I went to the dojo today (and did not do so well there as I like to), so I was on the train, and thus I read.

Among today's readings was the short piece by Joan DeJean, "A Long Eighteenth Century?  What Eighteenth Century?" which bemoans the increasing presentism of foreign language departments in the United States.*  DeJean does not claim any scientific rigor or statistical validity, simply noting that "Enough of a trend emerged" from those surveyed for the author "to feel that it was time to sound an alarm" (317).  The alarm derives from the increasing dearth of new hires--and of faculty positions generally--in period specializations in pre-modern non-English languages, although Italian manages to hold onto its "holy trinity--Dante, Petrarch, Boccaccio" (317), and Spanish, because of other factors, has enough enrollment to keep its variety to some extent (318).  Even so, DeJean paints a depressing picture, one which forebodes ill for the study of language in the United States.

Aside from evoking my sympathy for the departments affected (I stand in solidarity with my fellow students of older languages and literatures) and my fear for my own discipline (although DeJean posits that medievalists in English could take up some of the slack created by the elimination of medievalist positions in other languages' departments, I am not certain that administrators would see that as a viable work--and even DeJean is not pleased with the proposition [320]), the article gives me some things to consider.  One of them is DeJean's comment that "We are all intellectually poorer because of this drift to presentism [outlined in the article]" (320).  It seems to imply that there is something wrong with considering the language and literature of the present and near past, and I cannot agree with that implication; there is a lot going on now, and some of it is even worth attending to.  But my arguments against such rhetoric are on record; I need not rehash them here, and there is more to address in DeJean's comment than the implication.

Namely, DeJean is correct.

There is the adage about what happens to those who do not know their history, and those who know that history are aware that the "good old days" are anything but good.  Aside from proverbial wisdom, however, there is the issue--which DeJean points out in some measure (320)--that what happens now is a result of what happened then, so that to understand now we must understand then.  Similarly, failing to comprehend the then shuts out a large chunk of the comprehension of now that we can have, and that is a detriment to us all.  Too, we have a number of tools now that were not available then, and the application of those tools can illuminate then, enhancing further our understanding of the underpinning of now.  And, if nothing else, there are some amazingly subtle, witty bits that happened then, and we miss out by not looking at them now.

I would say that, though, being a medievalist.

My discipline has little to do, however, with my interest in another thing DeJean writes, this in the end-note to the piece: "I name no names so that none of them can be held responsible for my remarks" (320n).  There is something wrong with the world when a professor who is by title well-respected, one at a major institution, has to worry about repercussions upon colleagues for a piece printed in a major research journal.  Academic research is supposed to be one of the few places, if not the only place, where people can speak freely and openly, where they can state opinions sincerely held and supported from evidence, even if those opinions are not necessarily popular or easy to hear.  For such a figure as DeJean, who by all rights ought to be among the people who get to speak freely, to feel compelled to conceal her sources so as to protect them, to note that her sources may well need protecting, bespeaks something that I cannot call anything but evil.

Is this the world in which we live, that those who work to help others find truth must have it hidden that they have done so?  And if it is, can we complain of its sad, sad state?

*I am aware because of my readings (specific citations from which I do not recall at the moment, since I am working away from the set of materials from which I would pull them) and from the simple fact of living in New York after having lived in central Texas and southwestern Louisiana of the problems inherent in the term "foreign language departments."  The languages taught by such departments have a large number of native speakers among the native-born United States citizenship, so that their status as "foreign" is fraught, and the United States does not actually have an official language (the de facto English is not de jure).  The University of Texas at San Antonio calls its version the "Department of Modern Languages and Literatures," which I think a better solution--but it has not caught on as much as I should like.

Work Cited
DeJean, Joan. "A Long Eighteenth Century? What Eighteenth Century?" PMLA 127.2 (March 2012): 317-20. Print.