Another Question for English Professors

*POOF.* This post was related to my just having been informed by one who should know better that GABRIEL GARCIA MARQUEZ was a “Mexican” writer. Please, everybody, realize that Latin America has many countries. Not every Latin American who has lived in Mexico is Mexican. Not every Latin American whose work has been translated to English is a “U.S. Latino.”

But what the original post addressed directly was the rift between “creative” writing about literature and “scholarship” on it, about which I am just learning and which is interesting. I deleted the post because of a comment. I should have deleted the comment, not the post.


13 thoughts on “Another Question for English Professors

  1. Response to comment since deleted:

    Fair enough – I’m only an affiliate, my line’s not in English – but I am interested in this problem for research type reasons … and also because, while I do not come up with clear policies on these matters, I have to deal with the results of not having done so, which is more time consuming since it involves all of this tutoring, last minute creation of reading lists, poor exam performance, etc. If I am going to allow certain kinds of projects to take place, which it is in my interest to do for bureaucratic reasons, it will work a lot better in the future if I think out parameters ahead of time.

    It’s also recreational: I have to spend a lot of time working out curricular issues in lower level foreign language courses. I only have a few students above the sophomore level, and it relaxes and focuses the brain sometimes to come home to Comp. Lit.

    I am speaking defensively because the comment made me cry. It was well meant, I am sure. But it is so unusual for me IRL to get a question of actual interest, or have an activity of actual interest come up. I have been patronized and told to get back onto the Spanish and Portuguese grindstone for so long, so long, so long, always “in my own best interest.” THAT IS WHAT THIS BLOG IS ABOUT RESISTING.

  2. I thought Marquez was Columbian. I have read a lot of his work, well some, most was by proxy. I had a fellow student, Mexican (born and raised in México from Mexican parents) who was fascinated with Marquez and magical realism. We would edit each other papers. One day, in the library he approached and asked if I had time to edit one of his papers. I asked, “Who’s the author?” He answered, Marquez, then I cried out, “Do I have to read another one of your bloody papers on Marquez and magical realism,” which he responded, “No, you don’t unless you want me to stop editing your bloody papers on the patriarchy and British authors.” Neither of us complained again. We did share a common fondness for Greek Mythology though.

  3. Also – honestly, it is really interesting. Pizer’s book, some other books, the question of how to “do” world literature, how to translate L.A. and the Hispanic world to a public that doesn’t read it in the original, etc. … and the bifurcations and confluences between scholarly writing on literature and creative non fiction.

    These are things I am trying to work out for myself as I experiment more and more with literary as opposed to academic writing, with the intention of developing both lines. It is why I enjoy the MFA style committees I end up on.

  4. Foreign languages are a lot worse. The comment I deleted was from someone in Foreign Languages and the tension you feel is from there.

  5. And it is still one of my most interesting curriculum projects in the current context, and I am still gathering books for it.

    I am deleting the first comment in this thread because I do not like it and I find I am still reacting to it – and the reaction gets worse the longer I let the comment stay there.

    All of my interesting students and interesting curriculum decisions involve English and Honors, not my home department, and the idea that I should just limp along in those departments as well as in my main one, where I *really* have no control of what happens to me and *have* to accept limping, is just too depressing.

  6. P.S. … the proto-post I had planned for today actually speaks to the issue. This was on being in Spanish and Portuguese:

    “I dislike being a professor because I dislike teaching with textbooks based on canned exercises and tests which can be machine graded. I dislike having to teach students to pass tests made by commercial companies, as opposed to teach them material.

    People, when you talk about abolishing tenure, or making teachers “accountable” (to commercialized tests), what you are really working for is the abolition of actual teachers and teaching and the rule of commercial companies interested in making money, not in forming minds.

    Remember, please, that academic freedom is MOSTLY and MOST IMPORTANTLY the freedom to choose teaching materials and impose actual academic standards, as opposed to commercial ones.”

    THAT being what most of my teaching is like, I reserve the right to work on getting more useful PhD reading lists for people in English, so that *that* experience doesn’t have to be as frustrating as it is now, and because it is one of the only creative and intellectually stimulating teaching related activities I can do.

  7. Different: Askimet spammed Kitty’s comment here and apparently two others that were already deleted by the time I got there to retrieve them! I’m sorry, Kitty!

  8. wow. I think there is a decided difference between teaching language at the entry level and teaching it at the upper division. There has definitely been a shift from more creative language learning to teaching to the test. At Pov U we have grad students who teach all of the lower level courses and they are really excited about being innovative but then fall in to the teach to the test model b/c they are afraid of: 1. not getting high evals if their students don’t pass the tests and then blame it on pedagogy & 2. not getting high evals from the dept b/c they have veered from the now standardized class. English definitely has more flexibility than that on all levels.

    Thanks for pointing out that there is a link between the decline of tenure and academic freedom, between corporate college and real teaching, etc. At both Pov U and Snooty Poo U when they shifted to a corporate model a lot of the creativity started to leech out and a lot of the innovative hires we used to make, stopped happening.

    Lots to think about here. Sorry about the behind the scenes drama; this seems like such a good process thread.

  9. Thanks Profbw for confirming these phenomena, it is reassuring to know both are not just here. I would *really* like to move into English for these reasons. And I am really interested in the implications of this creative vs. scholarly rift in writing on literature. Currently they are one of the things that it makes my brain wake up to understand and think about. I do not want to renounce that. My entire career is based on renunciation and I do not have a whole lot more left to renounce – got to keep something for a rainy day! 😉

    A well meaning person from elsewhere wrote in to say that by thinking about curricular matters in English and how to interface with them, I was wasting my time solving other peoples’ problems. It is true that I have had posts talking about the literature in translation courses I teach, and the work I do with students in English, Communications, etc. These posts refer to parts of my job I could get out of doing, it is true, or that I could do more mechanically, but they are the most university-like parts of my job. And in fact I would like to do them more mechanically – as in, by having skeleton M.A. and Ph.D. reading lists already prepared for students who want to work with me on Latin America.

    In English there is no reading list – any question can appear on the exam. This is just not practical for those students when they have Latin American literature as an area to prepare. They need lists that will give them some background, some pegs to hang things on, and that will let them develop their interests, as many of them are not on the scholar track but on the creative writing track (yet are getting the PhD not the MFA). It will also be a lot easier to write questions if I have some sort of standard lists. To contribute to a single PhD exam in English you have to write ELEVEN questions, not just one. I need a standard question bank, based on standard lists, because if without them I have to work with the student to come up with an individual proposal, and then write questions pegged to that. It is terribly impractical and it IS a waste of time.

    But mostly it is in my *main* department that I waste time solving other peoples’ problems. It is from work in my allied departments that I get intellectual stimulation and inspiration. This situation is not easily understood by people in large departments elsewhere, yet it is the situation.

  10. Ha. When I taught Chicano/a Lit last year (which I get to do every ten years or so–) some students expected us to read Garcia Marquez and Neruda. Sigh. It becomes a geography and history class first – then lit – but that’s okay, I guess. We do what we can with what we have.

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