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.