Tuesday, April 30, 2013


While I have been occupied with other things, my conference work has snuck up on me.  I spent most of the day today engaged in trying to catch up with it, and I fear that I did a poor job of it.

Most of my time was taken up with finishing the paper I am slated to give at the International Congress on Medieval Studies in Kalamazoo, Michigan.  Although the paper is on an author whose work I appreciate greatly and with which I am familiar, the paper was difficult to write.  I want to ascribe the difficulty to my recent circumstances, but I have to wonder if I had trouble writing because the idea I had is wrong.  It is not a comforting thought, the more so because I really have no way to know if I have erred until I actually present the paper--and screwing up on an international stage is not the most enticing of prospects.

I also spent some time doing paperwork for the South Central Modern Language Association conference, to be held in New Orleans, Louisiana, this October.  I am chairing one of the regular sessions, and I had even gotten permission to split the session into two meetings to accommodate a number of excellent submissions.  Then a number of other concerns cropped up for me, and work on the panels slipped my mind.  I am not pleased by it, and it is not entirely enjoyable for me to admit, but there it is; I have no excuse, but I have done what I can to correct the error.  I hope it will be enough.

I hope also to soon have things back as they ought to be.  I know that they will get there, but soonest is best.

Monday, April 29, 2013


I am the son in long line
Of the Clerk of Oxford.
I may not have long ago gone unto logic,
And many will say my speech is far
From full of moral virtue
(Although it is more formal than is common).
There are many things I would rather have in bed
Than books, however many, clad in black or red,
And I am not the equal of the greatest Geoffrey
In stature of employment or quality of rhyme
(Nor do I match Monmouth).
Yet I remain a devotee of learning,
Poor in pockets as my predecessor,
But rich in inner life which rot and moth cannot affect.
I seek after truth,
Or what I think is truth,
As I am called and as I have long been trained.
The truth I seek comes only from learning
As much as can be done.
And so I spend much on my books,
More than all save a few things,
And much of my time is given to reading them.

Certainly, I would rather earn more for the work I do than I do.
I would rather that greater respect came to me from the culture in which I live
For what I do.
But it does not.
I do it anyway.

Sunday, April 28, 2013


On 27 April 2013, Benjamin Nugent's "The Adulterous Sins of Our Father Figures" appeared in the online New York Times.  In the article, the author relates the conflict between having condemned a man for adulterous behavior and, a month later, beginning to engage in it himself.  Nugent provides context for the condemnation and discusses the results of his own engagement in the kind of activity he had proscribed, noting that the experience drove him to a greater understanding of mercy as a superior quality to loathing of the self and of others.  The article is short and intensely personal, but it becomes all the more poignant therefore.

I say "poignant" largely because of my own affective reading (I know that I should be better about it, with my PhD in English, but I am human before I am a scholar even now).  I have long wrestled with self-loathing, with self-deprecation, much to the annoyance of those people who love me.  While it is good to reflect upon one's errors so as to learn from them and learn how to avoid repeating them, it is not good to dwell upon them; it strips energy away from meeting the demands of the day and all too often generates a cycle of waste and self-recrimination proceeding from the knowledge of having allowed the waste to occur.  And I dwell on things rather than reflecting upon them.

Even now, in fact, I am fighting myself to not slip into such a cycle--and slipping is easy, in this as in walking across icy streets in treadless shoes.  A part of me, unfortunately well trained, wants to revel in chastising myself for spending time chastising myself when I ought to have been doing something else.  (The irony is not lost on me, and I am fighting against that part, now as ever.)  It knows that Nugent is right in the assertion that "Hating yourself is a kind of stimulant, anxiety-producing but also energizing. It can be nearly pleasurable."  It feels good when it runs me down--it has to, else I can think of no reason why I continue to berate myself for things that happened years ago and are remembered by nobody other than me.

It speaks especially loudly at the moment, berating me for not having a job to return to; I have yet to secure other employment.  Another New York Times commentator, Sara Hope Anderson, correctly points out in "The Hand That Feeds Us" that "Job searching involves an uncomfortable mix of constant public self-aggrandizement and the private loss of self-respect," a situation conducive to self-condemnation, and I am very much looking for a job.  (If you read this soon after it is published, and you are hiring, let me know.)

I am trying to shout it down, trying to do the things that give me a reason to feel favorably toward myself and others.  This blog entry is one of those things.  My beginning work on HubPages.com is another (please go there, read my stuff, and click on the ads so that I can get money).  The other writing with which I occupy myself is yet another.  And I am sending out job applications in plenty, so that I can hopefully make that part of me shut its mouth.

Saturday, April 27, 2013


I have done what I am supposed to do.
I stayed in school
(Maybe too long)
I looked for love
And found it
In work to do with hands and mind
In a warm and stable home
With a wonderful wife
(Who still puts up with me;
I know that I am damned lucky)
I went to work every day
Went in early
Stayed there late
Did all that I was asked
And more
And I am still out of a job.

I was frustrated.
How not?

But I sit and write now
In the cool spring air
The tree in the treewell outside my window
(The storied treewell)
Is blooming
Pink and white and lovely
The sun is shining
And I am free.

I am not so frustrated, now.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013


I should probably say something about the events in Boston yesterday.  But I will not.  What could I--removed from the situation, experiencing it only vicariously through the remarkably explicit footage of tattered flesh and ruined bodies being carried from the carnage (how fitting a word!)--add that would be of any moment?  My mere words would be of no effect, and I know it.

I could wish, however, that many (but not all) others realized the same.

Friday, April 12, 2013


Yesterday, I bought and read through Robin Hobb's recent novel, Blood of Dragons.  Doing so has prompted me to make a few informal comments about the new book.  It is the fourth volume of the Rain Wilds Chronicles, and therefore the continuation of a major narrative arc begun in Hobb's 1996 Assassin's Apprentice--an arc about which I have written repeatedly and at some length.  As with earlier volumes in the Rain Wilds Chronicles, Blood of Dragons brings together some of the narrative threads from the Six Duchies (Farseer and Tawny Man trilogies) and Bingtown (Liveship Traders) novels, series of books occupying the same milieu but not always consonant in their deep histories and cosmologies.

It is true that the fanboy in me looks for a harmonious and consistent backstory, a cohesive history from which the current narrative can spring--and as Hobb refines her understanding of her narrative world as it exists before her readers can enter it, its pre-plot existence changes.  Sometimes, as I think I may have commented before, it forces Hobb into something close to a deus ex machina in the attempt to account for the discrepancy.  This tends to happen at the end of individual series, in which action ends up feeling rushed and the various devices that conspire to resolve plot points come off as forced rather than arising organically from the narrative.  It is an occasional weakness in Hobb's prose--which is a shame, really, because Hobb does excellent work in terms of character development and investigation of psychology.

A couple of other things, possibly problematic, occurred to me as I read the text, particularly the (to my eye) too-rushed ending.  Hobb's dragons borrow much from those of Anne McCaffrey; although they are much less accommodating than McCaffrey's, Hobb's dragons communicate in much the same way as those of Pern, and their...exhalations...are accentuated by what they consume.  Too, the character of Hest Finbok emerges as something not unlike Christian Grey (in some respects; in at least one other, he is very much the inverse of James's character).  How much of either is simply Hobb responding to sub-cultural and mainstream-cultural concerns is not yet clear to me--I did only read the book yesterday, and more formal study will take more time.

I am convinced, however, that there is much in the text worth studying.  The very shifting histories that frustrate the fanboy in me delight the academic I have trained to be.  History, the story we tell ourselves about what happened in the past, changes depending on the writer and the reader, so it makes sense that those within a milieu but who approach a thing from different parts of the milieu will interpret events differently.  That there is disagreement among the texts regarding "what really happened" makes the series Blood of Dragons concludes more authentic than it would otherwise be; the frustration of easy answers draws Hobb's Elderlings milieu closer to that in which her readers exist, with effects addressed by J.R.R. Tolkien in "On Fairy-Stories."  The changing understanding of the deep history actually makes for better writing, overall.

Also, in Blood of Dragons, Hobb, continues to delve into issues of prejudice--and not only one form of prejudice.  Instead, hers is an multi-pronged investigation of the culturally disfavored, reflecting a sensitivity to discrimination as it still manifests in the United States.  Queer studies, particularly, would benefit from attending to her Elderlings works; I am not suited to carrying out that particular investigation (my training suits me to look elsewhere), but I would be very interested in reading what such a treatment would have to say about the matter.  The proximal approach of gender studies would also be fruitful to take with the novel and its antecedents.  And I am certain that I will be turning my attentions to the text--and to the series it completes--in my conference work to come, if not in posts to this blog.

Blood of Dragons is not a perfect text, certainly.  It is, however, one that I enjoyed reading as a general reader (yes, I do still read for enjoyment), as a student of literature generally and of fantasy literature more specifically, and as a scholar whose projects have frequently focused on Hobb's corpus.  Even were I not going to be working on papers about it (much as I am working on a paper about the Tawny Man trilogy that precedes it both in the milieu and in the "real" world), I would read it again.