Sunday, September 30, 2007


That little conference paper is now done and off. Of course the fact that it grew wildly out of control--fifteen pages before I started trimming back to the max ten--means that I'll be working on it again in longer form, but this version is done.

Maybe tomorrow (in my spare time) I'll blog about the anxiety attached to this paper, but for now, I'll just go to be happy that it's done, and hope that unlike last night, my dreams won't harbor vicious materialist critiques of my bourgeois life.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Analogy quiz

Foucault: Foucauldian:: Althusser: Althusserian:: Adorno: ?

You Know What I Love?

When that abstract you wrote for a conference turns into an even more interesting paper than you even thought it would be...

You know what I hate? When that newly interesting argument has a ten-page limit that really constrains that piece. Fifteen to 18 pages is more like it. Well, at least I have an article to submit when it's all said and done.

Monday, September 17, 2007

"even while men's minds are wild"

So one of my very first posts has a quote from the last scene of Hamlet that contains the following line: "even while men's minds are wild," a line that I'm not even particularly interested in from the larger quote.

So does anyone have any idea why I've suddenly been getting scads of Google hits for searches on this line? They seem to mostly be coming from England.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Re: On Academic Masculinty

Earlier this evening, an anonymous commenter made the following point about a fairly recent post on male bodies in academia: S/he wrote:

Your post is interesting for posing questions about body relations in academia without coming to conclusions on them. Yet, in the post, and in what I just quoted in particular, you seem to conclude implicitly that it is somehow negative for academics to wear dowdy clothing and to ignore their bodies. Why is that? I do not understand why you deplore the "casually ugly wardrobe." I actually think that it is a liberating aspect of the profession. In most fields, there is a rather strict dress code and in the business world you have to dress to sell, especially if you are going out and meeting people, as a realtor or something. But since academia is about the mind, the body can be underrated, it is *permitted* to be sloppy, weak, and poorly dressed. I am not sure why you are so intent to judge academics who are less interested in clothing than you are. In doing that, you seem to imply that there is an ideal way for academics to be dressing and thinking about their bodies, which in turn implies that your way of weight-loss and exercising is the right way, or at least a better way compared to the sloppy academics you "deplore." I don't understand why the body has to figure into a field that is devoted to the mind. Why are you so discontent? Why would you even want to discuss "working out" with academics? I am sure that a number of academics believes that working out is a symptom of and a ritual for our image-obsessed age, a construction to encourage bodily insecurity and body hierarchies, and so since they view the gym not as a place to relax but as a stifling cultural apparatus, they would feel uncomfortable discussing it with your or anybody else.
The commenter raises some important points, and ones that I myself have been grappling with. I'm not sure if this reader is familiar with my whole process here, but I've only been exercising in earnest since May, and I've been trying to think through my responses as I've had them. I think if you look through some of my posts, you'll see that I'm not as consistently judgmental about bodies as I may appear in parts of that particular post.

That said, there are some blind spots that crop up, some of which I am not always vigilant about working through.

Here is what I will say: I do my academic work on bodies in performance, I've taught classes on the culture and politics of food, and I am deeply aware of the biases the commenter points out. While I do not want to reinforce these body hierarchies (which sometimes in these posts I do occasionally and inadvertently reinforce), I do resist the notion that academia is only "about the mind," for several reasons.

1) The mind is part of the body, and the way we construct our identity (which is both intentional and beyond the grasp of intention) operates in both discursive (mental/intellectual) and physical(embodied) ways. I think to say that this is a mind-only profession sometimes simply moves the hierarchies to different grounds.

2) My point here is to note the contradiction between the use of embodied (and masculinist) metaphors while actual bodies are being hidden, which sometimes seems a rhetorical strategy to sublimate masculinist discourse while maintaining its hegemony. So I think that reinforcing this "about the mind and not about the body" divide is actually disguising some real issues in the discourse of gender in academia.

3) Our bodies are part of our work, especially if we teach. The body is a signifier, and while I am interested in resisting normative notions of bodies, I do think that ignoring the body altogether is an ineffective and potentially counter-productive rhetorical strategy.

Also, I am, for reasons that I can only barely defend, annoyed by colleagues who don't consider their appearance in the classroom, and these are reasons that could likely be linked to bourgeois values and the like: I want to be taken seriously, and as a professional. When I see my colleagues presenting themselves in "casually ugly" ways, I read it as signifying a disrespect for the work of the classroom, a view I recognize as probably way out of date and maybe even classist. And yet, I cannot shake the idea that not bothering to present myself as a professional sends a message to my students that I don't respect them or the work we undertake together. I invite people to help me undo that reasoning, but right now, that's how it functions for me.

I will say, though, that the commenter seems to conflate my general (and again, perhaps only barely defensible) annoyance (ok, so "deplore" is an overstatement) for certain kinds of sartorial choices with a distaste for certain kinds of bodies and exercise regimes, something that I will say is uncategorically not the case, both about the way I feel, or the way I think this post is constructed. My only point about many (though not nearly all) colleagues being unwilling to talking about exercise is the way that this is merely a flipping of the binary at work in the rest of the culture-- while the dominant discourse seems intent on enforcing the exact kinds of hierarchies that the commenter wants to avoid, I think that looking sideways at anyone who even wants to address the issue suggests that for an academic, thinking about the body is as bad as how dominant discourse works to alienate those who don't subscribe to an ideal body image.

Now, on this last point I'll concede: it is difficult in this cultural climate to opt out of the body culture and, at the same time, not feel judged by anyone who wants to discuss bodies at all. Entirely understandable. I simply wish that we could talk about body culture in ways that don't necessarily alienate our own bodies from our discussions, no matter what the shape of the body in question may be. Utopian, perhaps.

The point is, just as the obsession with bodies (and the shape of that obsession) in the dominant discourse carries all sorts of demeaning and disciplining messages, our obsession with ignoring our bodies and the embodiedness of our profession can be similarly demeaning and disciplining, and can mask hierarchies and power structures that are no less in operation than those featured in Cosmo and in Muscle and Fitness.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Meme of 4

Sisyphus at Academic Cog just tagged me for a meme, which never happens to me (the tagging, that is), and while I'm not a huge meme-o-phile, I am easily flattered, so here goes:

4 first names of crushes:
It depends on when childhood puppy love transforms into a real crush, and since I'm a lover not a fighter, I've had crushes for as long as I can remember, including my first grade teacher Mrs. Phillips. But I'll start with early adolescence, when grown-up kissing became a real possibility (arbitrary, I know). These four span a roughly one-year period from early August before 8th grade to September of 9th grade I actually eventually kissed three of them:
1. Joy
2. Donna
3. Daphne
4. Tina

4 Pieces of Clothing I wish I still owned (and/or that still fit):
1. The Country Road Australia Suit I gave to Jason, which likely still doesn't fit despite my 23 pounds of weight loss.
2. The yellow, gray, peach and light blue argyle sweater featured in my 7th grade school photo.
3. All of my knit ties, also from the late 80s

4 names I've been called at one time or another:
1. Kyle (not my real name, even though my father in law used it multiple times)
2. Spaz (when I was waiting tables)
3. JabberJaws (by my parents)
4. Bubba (by my sister when she little, and by my parents well after it was ok to be called a nickname like this)

4 professions I secretly want to try:
1. Actor (not so secretly)
2. Director (what I'd really like to do is...)
3. Politician (if only people would vote for someone with no money to run a campaign and with values just slightly left of the late great Paul Wellstone)
4. Restaurateur

4 musicians I'd most want to go on a date with:
1. Michael Stipe
2. Neko Case
3. Tori Amos
4. Aretha Franklin (voice of God and all)

4 foods I'd rather throw than eat:
1. Cheese Whiz, Velveeta etc.
2. Casseroles made with cream of mushroom soup
3. Vienna Sausages
4. Raw tomatoes (I so dislike them, but they're also really fun to throw!)

4 things I like to sniff:
1. Wood smoke from a campfire
2. A really good red wine
3. Following Sisyphus, Pipe tobacco (including, sadly, the smoke)
4. Right now, some nasal decongestant

4 people I tag:
1. you
2. you
3. Not you, but the one behind you.
4. Mo Rocca

Kickoff at 2pm

Season kick-offs are in the air. The college football season kicked off just over two weeks ago, and the NFL Kickoff Special was last weekend. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't glued to the TV as much as a parent of twin almost-4-year-olds can be.

Other seasons, especially at the collegiate level are kicking off (although the term only translates directly to soccer) as well. That excitement, though less palpable on the campuses of bigger schools, is still part of the atmosphere that charges the first weeks of class.

And now, a sport of our own: the most optimistic day of the year for the English PhD, the day (like day one of the NFL season) when anyone can believe that this'll be the year they win the Big One. The day when possibility reigns supreme and pessimism has no evidence, only its legacy, to build on.

Job hunters take your marks (I'm now mixing sports metaphors), the JIL goes live at 2.

ETA: Coming around the first corner's moving very slowly. Incidentally, I'm not on the job market...I'm trying to see if my search committee's job ad is up and spiffy looking...

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Teaching your Research

I just got word yesterday that I'll be teaching a grad class on the same subject as my book, which has been lying dormant for at least a year now. I was planning on returning to it in the Spring in earnest, and now the course will force me to. Now if only I can hold off writing the syllabus until I'm caught up with this semester!

Also, since it will be my second grad class in my first three years at this school, I'm taking this as evidence that I did ok with the last grad class.

Anyway, any advice for teaching subjects that are this close to your research are welcome.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Remembering Names

The other day, Flavia had a provocative post about remembering and forgetting names, and one of her commenters noted that while we tie ourselves into knots about remembering the names of our 40-200 students every semester, many of our students do not remember our names, and they have far fewer names to remember.

This got me to thinking about how I remember many of my students names (I am smug that way) and moreover that I remember virtually all of my professors' names almost 15 years later. And then I thought, "I hope some of my students remember my name in 15 years." And then I thought that just maybe some of my professors, especially the ones with whom I'd have no other contact, in different disciplines and such, might like to know that I know their names still, and more than just remember their names, I remember their impact on me as a thinker and almost inevitably, as a teacher.

Anyway, I decided to look a few up and email them, to tell them thank you, belatedly, for being great teachers. I've gotten one response thus far, from a now-tenured professor who was at the time an ABD adjunct. But I don't really require responses. Mostly I just want to remind myself and them that good teaching does make a difference, even if I am my only evidence.

Anyway, I think that you should do this, too. Figure out which professors would never in a million years expect to hear from you, but who shaped your thinking and teaching in unacknowledged ways. And then acknowledge it. Their email addresses are likely easy to find if they're still teaching, and I can't imagine that the blast from the past would be unwelcome.

A Complicated Anonymous Blogging Scenario

Let's say that you're an academic blogger. You have maintained an online presence at this academic blog for, oh, say, just under a year. You feel like while the blog is pseudonymous, that you blog as though your name were attached. That is, perhaps a little more circumspectly than anonymous blogging allows, or perhaps illusorily seems to permit. The point is, you are comfortable in your bloggerly skin, as someone who writes as a professional, but doesn't necessarily want that blog connected to your professional identity. Nonetheless, you are not so guarded about your identity that you don't share it freely in email exchanges, or leave telling hints as to your real life identity.

Now let's say that before you wrote this pseudonymous blog, you maintained a named blog, one that was again, professional enough that it didn't hinder your academic job search process, but was a mix of both the personal and professional (much as your current one is). You closed it down not because of any identity problems, but mostly because you felt that it was time for a change, and that pseduonymous blogging might be a bit safer in the long term (Ivan Tribble got to you, basically, but not badly).

Now let's say that in the intervening year, the old blog was not deleted per se, but that much of it is either missing or difficult to access, even though it can probably all be retrieved.

And let's say that in the most recent issue of College English, on, hypothetically speaking, pages 26 and 27, your old blog and your real identity, are given some thorough consideration and even a long quote. The post is one of which you are proud, but it is itself inaccessible at the address cited. Assuming your wonderful friend would help you with the technology, would you try to restore that post? The rest of the blog? Even if you don't intend to add more material to that blog?

Monday, September 10, 2007

No Teacher Left Behind

While Congress debates what to do with the disastrous "No Child Left Behind" policies, The Washington Post reports on an organization that is going a different, much more sensible route: teacher development.

I understand the imperative behind teacher training and certification efforts, but those processes have always seemed just a little backwards to me in terms of their priorities. Of course the reason is that they were frustrating to me personally, but still.

Willow had been teaching at an excellent local high school: a part magnet/part district school in a diverse county(and that's not just code for "mostly African American." It was really really diverse). She had taught students who couldn't read by the 9th grade and students who went on to Rhodes scholarships in the same semester. She loved the job, though with only an MA in English and three years of experience teaching at the college level, she had to go through an alternative certification process which basically taught her the jargon and what she had to write on the board every day to avoid getting into trouble with curriculum hawks. Never mind that in her first year of teaching, her AP students had the highest aggregate scores of anyone in the county.

Anyway, when we had just found out about the impending arrival of the twins, there was a scramble for me to finish, though I had not yet secured what started as my first academic job. So I was recruited by her department chair to join the faculty there, and for a month or so, this seemed like my best option. And not to toot my own horn, I was qualified: 5 years of experience teaching comp and lit at the undergraduate level, three teaching awards in the last two years, administrative, training, and mentor experience in the comp program, experience in workshops collaborating with secondary educators. My praxis test scores were all in the 90th percentiles (my math score, oddly, was perfect; my writing score a few points below).

But because I had not taken the praxis tests in time, I would not be eligible for the alternative certification program (which itself would've been a joke), and therefore would've spent my first year as a "provisional teacher" making half of what I'd make as a certified teacher. And the only reason I'd've been able to teach at all was that the county regularly had a thousand-teacher shortage every year.

The point is, that with all of the emphasis on testing packages, and accountability, the groups that are not being held accountable are the institutions that govern the teachers: federal and state education regulators. Instead of whipping schools into shape, support them into shape, and that support begins by supporting teachers and giving teachers, administrators and schools the flexibility and control to invigorate their classrooms: smaller class sizes, flexible scheduling options, professional development that isn't dry as dust, teacher appreciation that isn't demeaning. Regulating them into lock-step isn't support. It's only robbing them of creativity: one of the most rewarding elements of teaching.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Rocking the Gateway Course

Our English major here does not currently require a gateway-to-the-major course, the kind that essentially sets expectations for how students do the work in English/literary/cultural studies. But we've been kicking it around.

I've been thinking about what one of these courses should look like, or perhaps better, could look like, and trying to think big about such a course--how to best introduce a student (perhaps one who has taken some 200-level surveys, perhaps not) to the work of upper level courses in the department.

  • Should we work through genres? how many? poetry, novel, drama, short fiction, non-fiction, film etc. etc.
  • Should we include theory? How much? How closely should it be tied to primary texts? Should we use introductory texts of go straight to the source (remember, it's a gateway)?
  • How much writing should we be doing? How much writing instruction should we be doing?
  • How idiosyncratic should the course be, with, say 4 sections per semester? Should they have themes? Can they avoid themes?
  • And most importantly: how can we make it exciting? How can we make the standard "3-6 primary texts in Norton Critical Editions with theory alongside" class one that students clamor over? How can we rock out the gateway course?
  • But first, how do you do it? What d'ye like, hate or wish about that class?

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Calling all Medievalists

OK Medievalist folks (Dr. V?), here's your chance to save my week. I'm teaching 2nd Shepherd's Play on Friday and Monday--I've read all my textbook materials, done a little theatre history research, brushed up on a couple of the other cycle plays to compare. But still, I'm feeling a little out of my element.

What do I need to remember to tell them that their textbook won't? What are some good ways to teach the play in interactive ways?

And finally: How did they stage the sheep?

Saturday, September 01, 2007

A Nice Way to Start the Month

From the series editor for the collection I'm co-editing:

Hi [co-editor] and Horace,

I read through your book proposal yesterday afternoon and think it's ready to send to [The Publisher]. You've included a strong discussion of the dialectic you're creating between comp and cultural studies, one that sets up the breadth of the project really well. So what say you? Ready to move to the next step?

Have a restful labor day weekend (i.e. a break from labor),

[Beloved Series Editor]

I should note that BSE and I were colleagues at a former job, and co-authored an article together that started this project, so this this news was a forgone conclusion, eventually. That it is happening now is very excellent news.