Saturday, May 31, 2008

bullets of literature

  • So, hey, teaching literature! How about that? It's something I kind of know how to do!
  • Especially when the students are all, "hey, let's talk about literature!" Seriously, I have a good bunch of stus. A few of them have actually taken lit classes before, or are even majors, so there are some solid insights coming out of them, but I don't even care so much about that as about the fact that they are all well-socialized to the seminar classroom, in the best sense. They are all talking, but not too much; they listen to each other and sometimes even talk to each other! My hypothesis is that the presence of two middle-aged women, university staff working toward degrees, helps a lot with this; it's a reminder that student also =s human being, instead of just 18-22-year-old degree machine. But whatever the cause, at the end of the first week they are already meshing well together.
  • Three hours is so. long. Wow. At the end of the first class I could barely hold it together, even though we were talking about The Simpsons. Group activities and individual writing are going to be crucial for the second half of these classes.
  • Compared to teaching writing, it's so much easier to come up with lesson plans, because I know what my goals are. I'm starting to realize that a huge part of my bewilderment at teaching writing was the fact that I wasn't convinced about the stated goals of our writing program, and so I went into class with little idea of the overall point of the lesson. That and I decided it was a good idea to teach a 300-page novel.
  • Oh, and? I am trying to be very Zen about the fact that having 7 students instead of 9 might mean a $1400 pay cut. I keep telling myself that I can be disgusted and offended at the system that encourages the devaluing of academic labor to the equivalent of a per-student stipend (since, of course, we only do as much work as the total amount of students pay for!), while remaining detached in my own situation. (I can only be incredibly glad that I have other supplementary jobs that will get me through the summer comfortably.) But I am also composing a letter that I will send to the office that decides these things once I graduate detailing the ways in which I find this system horrifying.

Friday, May 16, 2008

"real teaching"

I've mused before on the crazy format of my summer class, which starts in less than 2 weeks -- twice a week in 3-hour blocks. What I'm noticing as I've started to lesson plan (and yes, I'm planning relatively far in advance, but it's not really a subject I know well, plus I'm nervous/excited about actually teaching literature, rather than a process-oriented comp class) is that the format is forcing me to mix things up dramatically. Lecturing, in-class writing, group work, brainstorming, video viewing, reading & discussing new material, all the tricks are getting pulled out of the, uh, bag of tricks. Plus I'm coming off a few weeks of fairly intense pedagogy discussions, so I'm all, student involvement! goal-oriented lessons! set my priorities and come up with new ways of getting them there!

But I wonder how much I would have felt correspondingly limited by the more traditional format of two 1.5-hour classes per week. Since in that case, I would have assigned slightly more reading altogether (because whatever they say, I find it impossible to fit in a full semester's equivalent of reading in six weeks), and probably felt less need to come up with a variety of ways to cover that material during class time. Instead, as I said, I'm doing lots of writing exercises, lots of peer review & group discussions, hopefully encouraging the development of transferable skills like attentive critical reading, plus spending slightly more time introducing new written and visual material in class.

This is quite different from the seminars I took as an undergraduate, which were generally guided large-group discussions that rarely varied in format and that were pretty exclusively focused on whatever reading we'd done for that day. So on the one hand I'm feeling all self-congratulatory and whatever, like I'm bucking some kind of pressure to conduct shapeless discussions all the time, and on the other hand I'm just relieved that the format is giving me an excuse to shift a lot of interpretive work onto the students, since I don't know much about the material and would have to do a lot of work to have a more teacher-driven class.

I think what my stuffy head is preventing me from saying more clearly and succinctly is, isn't it great that good teaching sometimes equals lazy teaching?

Saturday, May 03, 2008


Whoa, nothing more recently saddening than getting home after a long day of delayed travel and finding no one but little bugs in the kitchen.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Conference III: bullets of the rest, and zombies

  • The interactive part of my seminar went well. The person who ended up reading was already familiar with the text, which, although not what I'd intended, wasn't bad for the point I was making either. And the audience expressed appreciation for how I'd incorporated it. I'd definitely do it again, in the right circumstances and for a definite reason.
  • The conference banquet was held at the same location as a high school prom. Not quite as good as the first conference I ever went to, which was in the same hotel as a debutante ball, but still, not bad.
  • I found my first gray hairs in the bathroom at the banquet.
  • Meeting other grad students at conferences is weird, especially when you don't work on the same things at all. You're not really there to meet each other for any reason, but you're thrown together by the fact that you're not affiliated with anyone who's introducing you to anyone else. If that makes any sense.
  • Meeting really famous people is weird, since no matter what you say, the power differential is such that you're sucking up.
  • LB describes our awesome meetup! Best meal I had in Cali, with the most attractively tattooed company.
  • But the best dessert was homemade coffee and Thin Mint ice cream. Hand-cranked by two adorable kids, their parents, and me. Aw.
  • The best single talk I heard was on Romero's zombie movies. I had to leave before the session was done, but I really wanted to ask the zombie expert: ARE THERE FAST ZOMBIES? Like, are the creatures in 28 Days/Weeks Later or I Am Legend zombies? They do attack you and make you one of them. But they are not the slowly encroaching, inevitable menaces of all-consuming capitalist culture that slow zombies are. Or are they? Discuss.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Conference II: the ugly

My seminar*, or, how Anthro Foucault Guy became my nemesis.

Day 1: 2 papers presented. Ensuing discussion on bodies, dead and alive.
Anthro Foucault Guy: You know, there's this REALLY INTERESTING guy named FOUCAULT. Maybe you guys in literary studies** have heard of him. blah blah BODIES IN PRISON blah blah CARCERAL. forward a few minutes... FOUCAULT IS A GENIUS.
More discussion on death and temporality.
AFG: Let me inform you about something called CULTURAL RELATIVISM. Anthropology knows a lot about this. It goes like this: other cultures have other notions of death. This changes how they feel about death when they're alive. Like, in some tribes in South America, death is just part of existence. etc.

Day 2:
3 papers presented, among them mine. Ensuing discussion on literary repetition.
AFG, to Kermit: You know, in anthropology there's been a lot of work done on repetition, having to do with chant and ritual...
Kermit: Yes, actually, in the context of my broader project, I've looked at some works that link anthropological studies of chant and ritual to forms of lyric poetry.
AFG: stays pretty quiet.

Day 3:
3 papers presented, among them AFG's. AFG's paper is written in a notebook, and we are instructed to excuse him if he stumbles because his handwriting is not so neat. The paper's argument goes as follows: "Foucault (gently caress book by Foucault) is a genius, but if you combine his views in Discipline and Punish (gently caress book again) with Merleau-Ponty's phenomenology, you discover that the individual has individual ways of reacting to structures of power. [Translates somewhat haltingly, on the spot, a passage from Foucault. Translates somewhat haltingly, on the spot, a passage from M-P.] I really think that it's necessary to think about individuals and how they actively participate in disciplinary structures. Plus, the physical structure of the prison is necessary for its disciplinary structure to be effective."

Discussion ensues, with an emphasis on the words "I think that," always delivered with a flair of machismo.

Kermit: (deciding that AFG needs reminding that other people might possibly have thought about Foucault and discipline before) What you're describing as the individual's participation in disciplinary structures sounds a lot like 20th-century revisions of the Marxist idea of ideology, which discuss how individual people are drawn to want to become part of the dominant cultural field, rather than having it imposed on them...
AFG: NO. Marxism is TOP-DOWN. My point is that individuals can respond to things individually.
Kermit: Yes, and these theorists have thought about this.
Moderator: Well, what you're describing sounds a lot like a problem other people have pointed out in Foucault, but what strikes me about your account is... ... and I've generally seen Foucault as a post-Marxist ...

At this point I must break into the first person. No one else (out of the 6 people left in the room) was willing to call AFG out. This shook me, not out of respect for the integrity of the discipline or anything like that, but because AFG was talking with such a combination of sycophancy and egotistic confidence. I wanted to say:

Guys. We are supposed to be colleagues here. When we are too concerned with maintaining polite conference conversation to call bullshit, that's when jerks can get away with dominating other people by delivering wrong assertions or rehashing arguments with macho confidence, and that's just wrong.

I politely made my excuses to the moderator and left early.

*The format of this conference was unusual in that we were supposed to meet each day with the same group of people, to whom we'd each present our papers.
**Anthro Foucault Guy is an anthropologist. This was a literature conference.

Post-conference etiquette

I kind of want to follow up on a panel presentation by someone who works on a very tangentially related issue to the stuff I work on. I'm thinking of emailing him along the lines of, "Hi, I only got to ask a quick factual question at your presentation, but don't you think it's interesting that XYZ?"

That email wouldn't be for any purpose other than to continue the discussion that started at the conference. I can't figure out whether it's normal or presumptuous to assume that this person would actually want to continue that discussion with a random person he hasn't actually interacted with, apart from a small question? (I tried to look for him later at the conference, but it was crowded. I suppose I could have gone to later sessions he was going to be at, but that seemed too much like stalking to me.)

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

out of commission

Leaving tomorrow. Back next week. See y'all when I see you.

Sunday, April 20, 2008


Four more days until I leave for conferencing and not-quite-family visiting in sunny Californi-a. And it better be sunny, because let me tell you, I am so ready for some beach time. And maybe seeing some weird fish, because I loves me some weird fish.

Yeah, it's not actually a fish, but it sure is weird. And aquatic.

The past month has been challenging, in some familiar ways--lots of scheduled academic and musical commitments that have been enjoyable but sometimes overwhelming--and some not so familiar ones--persistent worries about a very elderly grandmother (in the hospital, recovering from a nasty fall and subsequent surgery), and fewer people than usual to step back and chill out with. And indeed, more of the same between now and Thursday: conference paper to finish, two other people's work to read, and a dress rehearsal and concert, plus hoping that the grandma is up for a visit before I leave.

So right now, California = sun, ocean, free continental breakfasts, lots of free time outside of the 2 hours/day I'm committed to conferencing, hanging out with friends both academic and bloggy, weird aquatic creatures, cable TV, bike riding with one kid, playing let's pretend with another, and peekaboo with a third, and spending time with some welcoming and friendly adults who are easy to talk to and will let me alternately help out and play the guest. And I'm hoping that even though I'm taking the redeye, I'll come back rejuvenated, and that life will be livable at more than a day-at-a-time level.