Friday, January 11, 2013

Tuesday, March 27, 2012


I've threatened to do this before, but I think now is the time to bring down the curtain on this little blog. As many of my readers already know (as if I still had many readers these days, after being such a neglectful writer), I am taking on a new post here at BRU as an Assistant Dean in the Honors College. It's a huge step, one about which I'm a bit ambivalent, and a bit terrified, and (really) very excited. In some ways, it's an experience I'd love to blog about--but that seems just a bit too complex to negotiate at the moment.

It seems a useful moment to reflect on a lot of things as I close up shop. For example, there's a thread rolling around the academic blogosphere about teaching to the kind of student you once were, And in many ways, it's a perfect meme to use to describe this particular transition. Because, you see, this was one of the lines of thought I returned to as I interviewed for this position. I wasn't just an honors student (lots of us were), but I was an honors student at a bunch of not-fancy places--a moderately big fish (though rarely the biggest) in a lot of moderately small ponds.

I'm not a first-generation college student, but second, and my home community was fairly rural, but not deeply so. I was a smart lower-middle class kid in a town that people didn't leave, but mostly because they didn't really want to...Honors pre-college education gave me a lot of opportunities that my public school district couldn't afford me, and the residentiual honors program in undergrad surrounded me with people who had aspirations that I wasn't aware I could have.

And so, taking up a post in an honors college at a university that is not particularly fancy (certainly not at the undergraduate level) feel like a way to teach a lot of kids who could still learn the kinds of (para-curricular) lessons I can teach. Kids who think they are smarter than they are, but are also smarter than they think, just in different ways.

The part about which I am most ambivalent is leaving the English department, particularly at a moment when that department seems poised to potentially leap forward, or possibly go nowhere at all, and where "forward" might be a contested term itself. Perhaps someday I'll return to that department: it's hard to know what direction I'm going after a few years...

This also seems a moment to reflect on blogging. When I first began blogging at Raining Cats and Dogma, I was about to defend my dissertation, take on my first full-time position, and become a father of twins. Now I'm tenured, completing page proofs for the book that came from that dissertation, and moving into administration. Most of that has been chronicled in a weblog (though I see that the domain for the old blog has gone dead...sigh).

These two spaces, and the communities they have afforded me, offered amazing reflective opportunities, ways to acclimate to professional academia, and some damn good friends. These nine years of online writing have been invaluable, and have spanned the rise and (partial) fall of academic blogging as, well, a thing.

It is weird to say goodbye, as it were, but any of you who doesn't already know me IRL, feel free to get in touch, either at this blog's email address or my personal one: both gmail addresses: [delightandinstruct] or [claycomb].

And the rest, as they say, is silence.

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

On *Albert Nobbs*

I haven't seen the film yet, but if you have (or want to), check out this post, in which Jill Dolan reveals how both she and Glenn Close are at the absolute top of their games.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Queering "Queer"

I am what folks once upon a time would have called "a bit of a queer fellow." I'm not talking about my sexuality here: it's neither at issue in this post, nor is it particularly useful as a site of public discourse, since my identity and practice are both quite hetero-normative (I've been in a committed state-and-church-sanctioned marriage for a dozen years).

What I'm talking about is the velvet blazer, the plaid bow-tie, the fact that I'm vaguely ostentatious, flamboyant, chatty, gossipy, into theatre, concerned with home decor, the list goes on. I am, as you might say, somewhat (though not extraordinarily) "queer," and it's a persona that in this town I play up a bit.

In a sense, I'm just a test case. I've been setting off people's gaydar for years, and while that used to bother me, I realized that was mostly just homophobia (although in some cases, it was about the power of presumption). In fact, part of what I think I'm doing, here on this campus that takes its hyper-masculine mascot very very seriously, is opening up a non-normative model of masculinity in such a way that uncouples compulsory gender performance from sexuality.

This post is both a vague rumination and a query (I might say Queer-y), about the history of the word "queer" and about the politics of deploying it in a way that I might claim that identity independent of sexual practice.

I came up in a cultural moment in which ACT UP, Queer Nation (and Queer Campus), and importantly, queer theory were all changing the discourse, and reclaiming "queer" so I have little sense of how that term actually functioned before that moment. Of course it was used as a homophobic slur, but how, and when, did it make meaning as "eccentric" before Stonewall, or even between 1969 and 1990?

And is there a use in self-consciously re-claiming "eccentric" under the newer umbrella of "queer" that has developed in my adult lifetime?

I think there are some interesting precedents here, particularly in the intersection between queer activism and disability activism. This is articulated in academic work like Robert McRuer's, but also in popular culture like Lady Gaga's use of the term "freak."

And here is where some of this all comes together. In the last year, at three different times, someone has shouted some homophobic epithet at me as I walked down the street. And I've gotten these off and on my entire life. So while epithets and slurs are not the worst kind of bullying, I've been bullied a bit about being queer, but queer in the sense of eccentric--since for those young men (all of them that I can think of), they were the same thing.

As always, dear reader, your thoughts welcome, for mine at this stage are amorphous and poorly thought out.

Sunday, January 15, 2012


Some readers will remember that 3 years ago, I went on a serious campaign to lose weight, and in the space of a summer, I lost 25 pounds (193 lbs down to 168). A few minor injuries and another child later, and I settled into a comfortable, though not ideal weight of around 180. Well, a long semester and just plain inertia set in in the fall, and I've found myself back up to 190. More importantly, my favorite clothes don't fit well, my strength level is down, and I feel sluggish--though admittedly, I do think of myself as stunningly handsome at any weight ;-)

Eh. But seriously. With the opportunity of a sabbatical to reestablish some better exercise and eating habits, I'm looking to get back down into the 170s sometime this year (a pretty modest goal, all things considered). And having seen the excellent success of M. Smith Lindemann I am inspired to take up the charge. The regime? Eat less, and more mindfully, and exercise in ways I enjoy: playing squash, coaching Rambunctious's soccer team, light weight-lifting, modest-but-regular cardio at the gym and at home.

We'll see how it goes, but I'd say it's at least as important as the writing goals.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Every Day is Yours to Win

Those who know me, and longer readers of this blog know that I'm quasi-obsessed with REM, and so the news of their closing-up-shop in 2011 was a blow, especially since they had released their best album in 15 years just months before.

But on that album is a typically Stipe-ean song that shares its title, one that seems at once idealistic and optimistic, while at the same time, knowingly ironic. And it is with that same combination of motivational optimism and vaguely weary ironic detachment that I trot that phrase out for my sabbatical.

Because I know that if I don't treat every day as one to be, well, won--against inertia, primarily--that the whole thing will be frittered away before I know it. And so without further adieu, here is the list of projects on the front, middle, and back burners. I won't get to them all, but I want to touch, if not complete most of them.
  • proofreading corrections to the book manuscript.
  • indexing (or arranging for indexing) of the book manuscript
  • The overdue book review.
  • The narratology essay, already 18 pages drafted
  • the pain essay (see the recent MLA program), currently in either 6 pages of prose or 22 pages of prosy notes
  • The essay on theatrical representations of terrorists and human rights, an extension of a recent essay, and maybe only a conference paper.
  • The essay on published autobiographies of autobiographical performance artists
  • The next book, which will have 8 chapters, with the following thematic titles: history, community, body, authenticity, space, gender, alterity, disability. Of those, only two chapters will be built from the ground up, and there are probably about 150 pages of extant prose to work with.

So keep your fingers crossed. To win tomorrow, I've got to touch the book review.

Monday, January 02, 2012

Books I Read and Liked: 2011

The Ballad of Trenchmouth Taggart by Glenn Taylor: Glenn is newly my colleague, but I am not merely being a good department-mate when I say I thought this was a pretty terrific book. What I think is best about it is that the novel thinks critically about the stereotypes of Appalachia that it traffics in, without losing the degree to which the region is deeply steeped in story. A book both suspicious of and inflected by postmodern storytelling, this book put Taylor on the scene from out of nowhere for a reason.

A Foreigner Carrying in the Crook of His Arm a Tiny Bomb by Amitava Kumar: A look at the war on terror from the vantage point of the bumblers and ne'er-do-wells caught on the wrong side of a global exercise of power. What Kumar does that I haven't seen elsewhere is that he looks at the injustice for those who were roped into and sometimes even entrapped in terrorist activities. So that human rights doesn't necessarily presume innocence, which is, I think, an important point to bring in. His approach is also transnational in ways that model an ethic rather than just preaching one. The book has its problems, but it's definitely worth a read.

A Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan: Egan's book, a Pulitzer Prize winner, was most interesting to me as one of a growing category of contemporary fiction that is taking the formal experiments of an earlier generation of writers, and and turning them to somewhat less solipsistic, more humanist concerns. Here Egan uses formal play with narrative time to actually comment on the ravages, possibilities, and unexpected left turns that the inexorable movement of time plays on all of us. More formally interesting interesting than I think it's given credit for, but for me, also somewhat less affecting.

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde: Can you believe I had never read it?

The Anthologist by Nicholson Baker: So I read this while I was teaching the poetry unit in the Foundations course, and I kind of wished my students had been reading it with me, but I also know that assigning it would have been deadly. The plot is reed-thin, but it's a love letter to poetry that I was feeling pretty deeply at the time. Irrationally, perhaps my favorite read of the year.

Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit By Jeanette Winterson: Oddly, it took me forever to polish this one off...Partially, the crazy evangelical thing in this book hits close to home, though not in a way that is uncomfortable, but rather leaves me somewhat blase (more than one traveling evangelist prophesied a preacherly future for me...there's still time, I guess). Still, as a bit of a Winterson completist, it was important to finish and I think it picked up as it went on.

The Tiger's Wife by Tea Obreht: While I very much enjoyed reading this, I did not find it the brilliant fabulism that the reviews sold it to be. But, she's a storyteller, and moments and threads in this were really lovely and wonderful. If by the time Obreht is done writing, this is her best book, then meh. But the potential here is really great. I do want to read her next one.

The Weight by Jeanette Winterson: I read this very early in the's a bit slight by Winterson standards, but a nifty little book, nonetheless. The image of Atlas watching Laika, the Russian astro-mutt sticks with me...

So those are the ones I remember. Up for 2012: Atwood's Penelopiad, Arthur Phillips's The Tragedy of Arthur, Julian Barnes's England, England, Safran Foer's, Tree of Codes, and maybe David Foster Wallace's The Pale King (we'll see). Of course, recommendations welcome.