Monthly Archives: February 2014

Illuminations

My psychological and academic suffering has much more to do with my specific department than I had realized. Usually I think the issues are what I bring with me and do not allow myself to see how much is structural.

Also, the capitalistic idea that money does not buy happiness is false. Every time I am able to get out of town, I am much happier. When I present in a high quality academic venue, the pain disappears entirely and my mind comes into focus.

(That was a secondary, but still important reason for me to go to law school at a good place. The objective, as I knew then, was most fundamentally healing, a healing still need although I catch glimpses of it at times.)

I know it is easy to say I am elitist and arrogant to prefer interesting discussion over, say, oppression and bickering. I disagree and I think that criticism comes from some hierarchical and competitive mentality that I am not in, and wilfully misreads what I am saying

Someone told me lately, and interestingly, that my preference for “being a small fish in a very good pond over a large fish in a small one” — my interest in pond quality, as it were, over interest in my own size — was unusual, and was a minority attitude.

A professor at this conference was talking about assistant professorships as interrogation rooms where one is being taught to see like the state.

I think the teaching crisis I brought on and then had this semester has been a “correction” … in this sense.

Axé.

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A curriculum proposal

Spanish professors, I want you to weigh in on this proposal for curriculum revision.

We now have a 300 level introduction to literature, four 400 level surveys of which students must take two, and some other 400 level electives that are topics courses.

That is traditional and reasonable but I discern problems, based on the fact that students come in with no experience in literature of any kind, including not having parents who read to them as small children, and on the weak language skills they have. The traditional introduction to literature becomes ponderous and strange in this context, as do the surveys. Furthermore, the modern surveys have much more material to cover than they did a hundred years ago. The tradition of teaching excerpts in the early surveys has always been fragmenting and superficial, and it is moreso now that students have such weak literary backgrounds (not familiar with mythology, never read fairy tales or adventure tales, and much more).

My proposal would be to replace the five courses listed above, of which students must take three, with three required courses at the 300 level: studies in prose narrative, studies in poetry and the essay, and studies in theatre and film. Professors could teach a variety of interesting texts of their choice, and teach critical approaches. We would set aside the imperative to coverage, which we do not meet anyway, and introduce literature and the culture of reading in a much more relaxed format. Courses could be organized around themes or problems of the professor’s choice.

This proposal would also, incidentally, help heal the cumbersome Peninsular/ Spanish American split.

What do you think?

Note that the best undergraduate FL curriculum I have seen was the one in French at Berkeley when I was a child. In it, you first (after the language courses) had a set of courses like the ones I propose, and then a set of other courses, some concentrated on particular centuries, and others on different literary, linguistic, and cultural topics. No cumbersome surveys. It was a lot more seamless and a lot less disjointed than the introduction-plus-survey model other languages employed, and it developed the students better.

#OccupyHE

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Progress

I feel different now, as though a missing tile had been installed in my spinal column, something along those lines. I am getting to be almost as lucid as before Reeducation. It is this solid feeling, and I see I can feel even more solid. I remember being this way.

Still, I dreamed I had driven into a ditch and could not find a way out of the car. I woke up angry at the professors who cowed me into staying in field despite the fact that it had been ruined for me long since, and despite my own sense that lengthening my sentence in it would do few people any good beyond those who would feel calmed to know I was still a professor (or, more darkly, those who believed being a professor was not a real job and that since I would never be qualified for any real jobs I had to be a professor). I suppose, however, that they meant well, and in a certain way they could have been right with their “but you have so much to contribute.”

Yet the realities they live in, I discern, resemble the conference I attended last weekend, where it was so easy and unproblematic to be oneself. Papers were very interesting. People had no difficulty understanding me, nor I them, and nobody seemed to think I was too intellectually oriented. I have now written in my journal:

I see why my judgement feels impaired. My department chair is against literature and/but wants it taught in very traditional ways; appears to imagine that anything else is deconstruction which is what drove him from literary studies so wants us to be back to new criticism, stylistics, conservative forms of philology. Then my one colleague in literature is one of those who wants students to memorize his interpretations and repeat them back to him. Then everyone else is either in linguistics because they hate literature, or does not have the Ph.D. and resents not being allowed to teach upper division literature courses for that reason, so wants to prove that what I am doing is “crazy.” This means that EVERYONE is telling the students that what I am doing is crazy. Yet only students who have had me, survive graduate school. And also, what I am doing is not different from what people do on this site and at other universities, although I do do the easier versions of what is done elsewhere. Yet I constantly have this sense of unreality, of poor judgement, and so on, because what I am told is reasonable locally is so different from what is said nationally. I was about to decide the local authorities are right and I am insane, but then a few people from elsewhere suggested I might actually be on a right track.

As I say: I am becoming more whole, but I want to become even more whole. Perhaps I can. It all has to do with having authority and voice; I am not interested in having power over others but I do want power in my own work and life. Furthermore, these things are essential if you are to do professorial work. Yet it became clear to me early on that these were the things one must renounce to survive. This is a deformed attitude and I can see one must shed it to live well.

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Collage

♦Freedom as death struggle (Hegel); “death or liberty.” Haitian independence slogan, apparently: Vive la mort! (But it is also a mercenary slogan.)

♦THE VIOLENCE AT THE ORIGIN, ORIGINARY VIOLENCE. Which must then be forgotten. Sommer says these “foundational” texts are intended to heal originary violence but do they really work that way?

♦Should I call the first chapter of my book “Fictional Foundations of Latin American Culture” (playing on Foundational Fictions)? Or, would it be better to just use that phrase in the text (and explain it)? A key part of my mission, it seems, is to engage and respond to that Sommer book. I think I am writing about race but perhaps this is the real center of the thing.

♦These “foundational fictions” do not found, but un-found, because they unravel (cf. María) as much as they posit or remain solid. They found fictionally, but not really, and what goes on in terms of policy and practice does not necessarily match what the letrados say.

♦Classic 19th century texts declare certain projects, but they also put much historical reality under some sort of erasure. They may function best as ways to form horizons of interpretation that become hard to see beyond … such that certain analyses are reproduced and others are interdicted.

♦Those are some rudimentary ideas AND they will help with the article I must finish NOW.

♦I should use, somehow, somewhere, the “Fundación mítica de Buenos Aires” and its idea of an illusory, shared past.

♦Also, Baldwin: “The American idea of racial progress is measured by how fast I become white.”Blanqueamiento is not just a Latin American thing.

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Hildegard

This is amazingly ethereal and meditative.

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La beauté

Although I missed the first day of it because of having to finish up some things in Maringouin, I spent all of yesterday at this brilliant symposium, which I knew about from the Spanish Professor and when I was asked to stay at home and do even more things for Vichy State was convinced to go ahead with my original plan, anyway, by Dame Eleanor Hull. (Blogging is clearly good for research.) The event exceeded expectations and Rice University is my favorite university until further notice.

Then I met these people who were quite fascinating, and went to the Magritte and Bontecou exhibits at the Menil Collection, and now I am at the Agora which is massively hip café.

It is quite amazing how quickly one can transform. I can even see why people might say we are in the best profession in the world, if they work at a high level and in luxurious surrounding like all of these. I also feel completely normal and lucid. In New Orleans I feel love and nostalgia and regret, and in Maringouin I tend to wish I had access to morphine, but in Houston I feel I am in the present and in reality and above sea level and in the West and in civilization and at home.

At the symposium I heard a senior professor tell some graduate students to “take a job, any job,” and saw them roll their eyes. This is a good sign. Meanwhile in Reeducation, we were required to “admit” that we were nothing more than the worst thing that had happened to us and accept that this must still define us; that was what turned me into the quivering being I became.

Ideas to cast off today: I am not the person hoped for and the authorities want to get rid of me, but cannot since nobody else would be able to tolerate me. They are therefore putting up with me, but I must conform as closely as possible to whatever they want, do whatever they require. I will never be employable and nobody will ever love me, but in school eventually I will find someone willing to support me. Meanwhile, if I am perfectly good all the time I will not be put out on the street, where I will learn what true cruelty is. Any false step and I will be on the street, and I will be killed or die on the street.

It was like that to be a child but was no longer once one grew up. Yet it is how Reeducation thought I should still feel. Here it seems faraway and utterly silly, but it is in fact how I feel in Maringouin. I hope that by writing them down and crossing them out I can cast these sentences off, sentences that stuck because they were always presented as “the real truth, the truth we should not tell, but the real truth.”

Axé.

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H

I am now in Houston where it is beautiful and I feel almost like a whole person with full human rights. Houston is a big city and it has several good radio stations, and I feel that I am a strong flame among many others, which I really like. I will masquerade as a real person for two days, and hope to bring that feeling home with me. I am still un-depressed, but I have so much pain and grief stacked in me and so much of life is so constrained.

In psychotherapy, which was one aspect of Reeducation,  we learned self-destruction according to certain rules I have explained many times. My initial question on this was, what was the use of it? We would get gold stars for “not being in denial about ourselves,” for having (negative) feelings (happy or postive feelings were “coping mechanisms” and forms of denial), and for self-criticism, but who besides the therapist would benefit from this, and how many others, such as people who might need us to be happy and strong, would lose? I am now posing this question again, what is the use of it?

Two of the ideas that haunt me, and that I would like to shed right now, are that my college degree is not valid and my graduate degrees are too real. My college degree is not valid because I did not work my way through a state school or receive scholarship funding to an Ivy or a SLAC; those possibilities, with a more traditional college life attached, would have meant my degree was real. I went to a low-state flagship and my aunt paid for it, and I emphasized taking advanced courses and getting good grades. So I did not fund college myself, and I did not do enough of the traditional college things, and my grades were too high, so my degree is not real and I should be ashamed. On the other hand, my graduate degrees are too real, too high quality. They constitute a kind of theft because I am not someone who should have been able to get such degrees, someone else should have gotten them, and they make people who do not have them feel inadequate even though that was never my intention. I have written them down and crossed them out, so I hope this action rids me of these ideas.

Two ideas I am unable to take seriously is that if professors resigned their jobs the unemployed Ph.Ds and adjuncts would get onto the tenure track — and that it is our moral imperative to try this.

Originally I started this weblog to post beautiful things, to lift the gris-gris from the day. It was my amusement at five o’clock, to lift my spirits and change atmospheres coming home. Then I started to use it to throw light on my shadows, and this has been useful, but I do not wish to turn it into an abyss and stare at that. Friday is Oxalá’s day, and I may start invoking Legba each morning. I am tired of Protestantism and time management and discipline, and tired of Catholic martyrdom, and I want to flow through life with the support of the many gods, in all the heavens.

Axé.

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La psychanalyse du vendredi

Thank you for all of your instruction and guidance in my education and my post graduation plans. While your classes at first intimidated me, the challenges they present have become a pleasure, and in the end, I find they have been defining of my time at Vichy State. Your attitude and expectations have always encouraged me to go beyond the conventional and, most importantly, to think, think, think.

–from a nice note I got today

Intimidated. But the thing is that I am intimidated, and if I am intimidating I think it is because I am myself terrified due to having been terrorized. Still, despite being terrified I must manage not to feel terrified because this way I am intimidating and it does not serve me well.

On my teaching thread (I am in an online discussion group on teaching under my real name) a full professor in the UC system is telling me that smart means scary and the issue is fragile egos. I think this is a useful comment. I tend to think I am some sort of criminal: I have done terrible things to people that I do not understand or remember. But it may be that I have not done anything except be smart.

Since I think I have done something awful that I did not realize was awful and do not remember, I am on edge all the time, hoping not to commit the crime again and concerned I may be told I have. This feeling that I may be accused of terrible things at any time, that there may be no defense, and that there may be terrible torture sessions ahead, is quite undermining to say the least.

The worst of it is half believing I am truly monstruous and do not know it. If I consider the possibility that mine is just a case of “smart means scary” then I might be able to relax more and actually be less scary.

I tend to think my impression that we are in a prison camp has to do with things that happened to me earlier on and that I have not shaken. While that is true in part, there are significant aspects of current real life which actually have these characteristics. Someone told me yesterday, for example, that we were constantly under a new threat or new state of siege. This is also worth understanding.

In psychotherapy we were encouraged to “look at ourselves,” to remember that things that are wrong are usually wrong within ourselves, and we were told that political critique is nothing but “blaming others” and “not taking responsibility.” I did not realize at the time that these phrases were not therapeutic phrases but were taken out of a 12-step handbook, and that the therapist was a 12-stepper (I was not familiar with this wicked movement) and was modeling his role as therapist on that of his “sponsor” in CODA or whatever branch of 12-stepping he was in.

What intimidated the therapist was that we were smart, and we were already self-aware. I decided to keep an open mind and did not quit as soon as the other friends I had, and who had been referred to the same person, did. As a result of this he was able to convince me that something was very deeply wrong with me. But I think it was just that I was smart. I think that now, the combination of being smart and also being convinced that this is a terrible moral sin, and being preoccupied with the idea that the smartnesss must be chopped down somehow the way a lethal and difficult to control animal might be chained, is disfiguring.

“…how we learned to limit ourselves” is a quotation I can explain and want to remember. It describes my experience in psychotherapy but also in the non-R1 zones of the academic world. It is a sin to be who you are; the reason it is a sin is that it hurts people. I have dreams in which I am searching for my victims, the people I have maimed and killed, because I am convinced they must exist, I have been told so. But perhaps not– perhaps they are just the people who were intimidated because I was smart, not because I was mean, and perhaps they are not maimed or killed but hale and healthy and engaged in torturing me.

So this is how I will now reform. 1. Consider the possibility that “intimidation” is the problem of the intimidated, not my problem. 2. Consider the possibility that I might not actually be mean, I might just be smart. 3. Act with confidence. Act as I do when I know I have backing. Since I have no backing, imagine myself as my own backing. Stop believing it is true that I have hurt someone terribly and must make it up to them by destroying myself. Stop believing that even a minor, civil disagreement means I will be dragged to torture chambers. Stop reacting with fear; be the person I suddenly transform into when I am in larger cities or universities, places where I feel adequately safe.

Honestly. I think I really am intimidating and I think it is because I am so intimidated. (And: amusing side note — that same psychotherapist was always haranguing, out of the blue, about how we had to “get more honest.” I had difficulty understanding this because truly, I am about the least duplicitous person I know and have even been told, not inaccurately, that I am “sincere to a fault.” But can you believe that I, willing to psychoanalyze myself in the open like this, ever took seriously the psychotherapeutic intimation that I, who am amazingly honorable, might be “dishonest,” “not taking responsibility,” and “not willing to consider the possibility that I might have faults” … ?)

#OccupyHE

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Algo que me dijeron

About 25 years ago: “Con estos chicos no se puede hacer lo que tú o yo llamaríamos de literatura.”

It is true, but then again it is not.  I have decided to be who I am.

I see by some things people have said today that I still do not see what is blatant obstruction and abuse. That is why I have these reactions like Ernesto in Los ríos profundos, dejected at what he sees and elated when he looks at the mountains. A student at one of my former universities explained this character to me in terms that are not in any of the criticism, and she was right. It was one of the most important things I have learned from students.

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What I would like to post as my Facebook status, but will not

“The Vichy State faculty I am bored with are those who say students of our largest local ethnicity are less capable than other students. When I taught at State Flagship University there were also many students of our local ethnicity and faculty never made this kind of distinction, or voiced this kind of slur.”

#OccupyHE

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