Monthly Archives: December 2014

2015 and books

Once again I will say it and then it will be said: others say you should only go into academia if you are interested in research and the life of the mind but I say that you should not go into academia if you are interested in these things. You should go to graduate school if funded at a nice place, yes, but you should not be a professor unless you get a good job right away. And good jobs are at state flagships, research extensive institutions within reach of large cities, that have Ph.D. programs in all your fields.

There are no other good academic jobs but there are many other things you can do with a Ph.D. You should never, as I did, accept a job you know you will not like, or renounce other things for the sake of other peoples’ need to say you are a professor. This is tantamount to suicide and having done it is why I want to commit suicide. This would not be a radical act, it would just be the last touch on a murder job begun long ago.

However, I am turning into one of those people I could not be when I was younger — those people who say they live in a wasteland but “have their work.” I was horrified at the degree of resignation this statement evinced the first time I heard it but in retrospect I realize it was not even a true statement: the person who said it was not in a wasteland but was at a major research institution with a very good library, and also had many personal resources with which to withstand the cold.

I have a more ascetic life than that, although asceticism is not my inclination. Yet there is value in having one’s work and that was the main thing I renounced in Reeducation, and that made me so sad; not being allowed to acquire a different work made me even sadder, but I am taking back my old work. It is said one is not to look back, but only ahead; to take up my old work means looking back, though, and that is why it feels traumatic. I had forgotten today that I had made a decision — well, not made a decision, but come to a realization that it is now within my power to suffer less than I do. I might make a resolution, as it is the last night of the year, not to forget this.

I have to review this book and I do not like it. Everyone else does, which is a problem. Am I misanthropic? The book is liked, it seems, for every reason except poetry. I read some translations to Spanish of it and the poems were prettier, as many things are in Spanish, but there is no use of language and no perception in the text that strikes me as new. Another problem is that in English, it reads to me as a depiction of Mexican life as exotic. Reading them I feel like a South American groaning at the ways gringos stereotype us and the Americanization of certain Mexicans, and am embarrassed by this because in fact the writer is the Mexican immigrant and I am the Anglo. My review copy came already marked up by the journal editor who liked a number of images I find particularly awkward; I feel ungenerous since he is the creative writing professor, not I. But I have read a great deal of poetry in my life and I do not like this book.

I took two academic books with me to visit the Emeritus Professor last week and he read them, too. I like one of them quite a lot and I appreciate some of the insights and also facts contained in the other. The Emeritus Professor was far more critical and this was interesting. Let us see what you think of our comments.

Book #1: I say it has deep research, a very original and important topic, skillful and graceful theoretical grounding and commentary, and very clear writing generally. It does suffer from signposting but I realize I am in the minority that considers this bad, and not good style. (The question of style gives a great deal to think about, of course.) The Emeritus Professor says the signposting is a serious problem. Where I see the author making an interesting refutation of a received interpretation or an insightful use of a theoretical perspective, the Emeritus Professor sees him getting bogged down and distracted from his story, such that he is forced to use signposting to get back on track.

Book #2: I say the general argument is of some interest, and that there are some useful insights in the book as well as interesting facts cited. There is too much overgeneralization and too much focus on secondary work: it is not a book about the literary period in question but about scholarship on it. Clearly the author discussed a first draft with a number of people and then expanded the text by incorporating their comments, and commentary on their comments. This adds another level of overgeneralization. Nonetheless the author and his chorus do, as I have already said twice, have some interesting things to say, that are worth thinking about. The Emeritus Professor, on the other hand, says it is a bad book because it says nothing new and contains no original research, but only sews together comments from and arguments by the myriad people mentioned in the acknowledgments.

Result: I am clearly a kinder reader than is the Emeritus Professor. Is my highly negative reaction to the Treviño book, which I assume is an overreaction, a matter of personal taste (“she is just not my cup of tea”) or is it that I am such a kind reader that, when I dislike something, it is that that piece of writing really is bad? Or is this an unscientific comparison since the Treviño book is poetry, and I have higher standards for that than I do for academic prose?

Inquiry: The fact that book #2 is a standard in one of my fields is a reason why I left that field for such a long time. If we were to think and write in that way, I thought, or in other words if this was good research and writing, then I was not equal to the job. My claustrophobia in the academic world seems to stem from that problem: if this was the kind of thing I was to do, I wanted to get out so I could do something interesting and useful. I was told that was arrogant and ungrateful of me but I wonder now whether I was right, and this kind of work is actually less good than it is said to be.

Comment: I do not find South American academic books that I disagree with or consider poorly done nearly as irritating as U.S. ones, because the South American ones seem so much more sincere. They may be thin, but they are what that writer came up with, for their reasons. The U.S. ones all seem so calculated, that is to say they seem more like public relations projects than research projects, and that is another reason I find myself wanting to run quickly away.

The themes of this post appear to be: having been shamed for having views and desires of any kind; being convinced it is inappropriate to have these; feeling it is futile and perhaps dangerous in this venue to develop them; wanting to get away because in this venue one is precisely to develop one’s views, but may killed if one actually does so; feeling that if one is to be killed for developing one’s views, it should be in service to humanity and not over some obscure question of academic decorum; wanting to get to a place where one can actually develop one’s views; not really caring what field one is in, so long as one is allowed to develop in it; feeling guilty because of having been accused of “betrayal” due to willingness to change fields for the sake of gaining freedom.

Axé.

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The snake-oil standard, and on giving

Read this, which explains many things including Reeducation — it as snake oil, its anti-intellectualism — and also the current academia. Key in the piece is that snake oil is widely preferred over science, and people who would side with science are a minority. It is clear that I should stop believing I am insane or inferior or hurtful to others, and realize I am merely in the minority that sides with science.

The reason I do not like the current academia, or the fact that there is a separate world called “academia,” is that it is so often not an intellectual or scholarly venue, but pretends to be one. I dislike manipulation generally, and I dislike that manipulation in particular. One of my friends on Facebook is being excoriated by academics and leftists because he is enjoying being home in Brooklyn after a harrowing semester in the rural outpost where he works. If he were a good academic, they are telling him, he would prefer that place, and if he were a real leftist, he would not be as enamored of urban life as he is: the true American people, with whom he should identify, are at suburban Wal*Marts and he should “respect” that. This is ludicrous: “respect” as a substitute for analysis or action.

I am trying to be a good Maringouin person but I had a full blown anxiety attack today about being here and I have been exhausted from it since. The issue, once again, is that I was not cut out to be a nurse, and academia is like nursing: you tend to impaired patients and you are patient with the delusional, and you serve, and serve, and serve. I did not know this. I was warned I would have to do research, but if I had been told I would be a nurse in the service of a corporation and its bottom line then yes, I would have done something else. I do have a great deal of respect for the kind of education that is social work and the people who do it. Had I wanted to do that I would have done so at home and with an organization of my choice, not move around the country in search of an alleged research job.

This has to do with the post I lost a few weeks ago, on giving. If you are going to give, and give, and give again, you must have steady sources of nourishment as well as a great store of resources. I have always been told I had an unfair amount of personal resources, good genes, high energy. I should give and give and give and give because that was my duty and role. But the fact is that I never was Maecenas, and my blood is thin now from having been donated so much and so often. I am afraid of being in Maringouin because here is where they lay me on a table, stick needles into me and take whatever plasma I have almost before it is produced.

In sum, I am so traumatized by this institution and by another purveyor of snake oil I worked for that I am having great difficulty today not just running away or running into traffic; I fear the upcoming term very greatly. I keep trying to remember that I have more power than I believe, and that I should take authority. I should tell the university that things are going to be as I say, and that they must be quiet.

Axé.

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Geopolitics

First, more on professors who say we have to be professors, or that they are incapable of being anything else: I always thought this was just lack of imagination and information but is it low self esteem? When I was a child I thought school was my only safe bet as well.

We will think about these things but we will also think about this now old book on geopolitics and the avant-garde. Does it have any substance? Does it say new things? Or does it just review others’ ideas (in a somewhat confused way, at that)? Why is it so well blurbed?

Borges, Asturias, García Lorca, Cardoza y Aragón, everyone had a nationalist phase and these Latin American writers were all expanding the modern space. They also critique modernity as a global project, the author says.

VALLEJO is discussed at the end of the book, 153ff., as someone who questions own place of enunciation, and has cosmopolitan breadth but does not renounce a place of belonging, or give up community in favor of cosmopolitan detachment. He is not nativist, nor in-between (AHA: NOT “MESTIZO”), nor cosmopolitan; “home” is always an interrogation, not an origin or a place to which to return; identity is not [fetishized] and not “placed under erasure.”

I am not sure what to do with all of this. But I agree with these remarks, and I am finished reading.

Axé.

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On open access

Read and discuss.

#OccupyHE

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Mais comme c’était beau

Mais comme c’était beau, le Noël.

Ethereal, angelical, vraiment.

Axé.

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And it is about this, ultimately

“We assume you must suffer and live a small life because we cannot believe you are capable of more, or could imagine more. We do not believe you could be serious about anything, or that any of your interests could be more than half-hearted hobbies or talk.”

Yes, one should have been able to rise above this, I am repeatedly told, but I was weakened by it. Adversity strengthens worthy people but did not strengthen me. Ergo, I deserved what I got and worse, by that logic.

I do not believe in these things. I wish I could wash out all the things I was told. I had almost done it when I went to psychotherapy and was told those things were the truth of me, that I needed to feel them more deeply, increase and not decrease pain.

I would like to walk out of the house of pain forever.

Axé.

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Somehow related

…is the time a woman colleague and I had to be our department’s MLA interviewing committee because only we had papers in the MLA, so only we had any funding or any reason other than hiring to go. I remember the department being scared and worried and I thought it was because this gave us so much power in determining the short list. I realized in a dream the other night that the actual worry was whether or not we were competent to conduct interviews, and whether or not job candidates would take seriously a department whose interviewers were us.

#OccupyHE

Axé.

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Take a job, any job

…or we will be derisive toward you and say you are not serious, or that you are a traitor to our cause.

But I am not cut out to be a caretaker and I am more atmosphere sensitive than some. I think that teaching remedial courses to students who do not want to be in them, in programs that are poorly conceived and staffed by faculty who are fighting among themselves and stabbing each other in the back, is more than one “owes” the “profession” … even if faculty who never had to do this say you must because that is how you “pay your dues” and “earn your bread and butter” (how I dislike that phrase).

I know that people who have good situations — colleagues who respect research, universities that have libraries — believe that if I were a good enough person to be a professor, I would “rise above” situations like the ones I have and they would not accept for themselves. But as I keep saying, this superciliousness and falseness is why I do not like professors.

All of which is to say that I do not think I give myself enough credit for the desolate and heartbreaking experience it is to teach the lower division courses in our program. From midterm on I become increasingly sad but it is partly because of the sadness of the days and partly because I, in particular, am not cut out to be a caretaker, as one must be in these courses when there is no coordination.

This is a negative post, I know, and I know the answer to this problem is to laugh and be affectionate, or dismiss the whole thing, and either way focus attention on more sustaining things; but I think one needs to name and acknowledge what makes one ill rather than try to say it is not important. It seems I am always told I should not be able to handle what I easily can, and that I should be able to handle what I cannot easily.

And perhaps it is this, perhaps what peoples’ exhortations come down to is this; perhaps they have all the exhortations and admonishments they have because of this:

…people will accept years of neurotic pain rather than come to terms with the truth of their lives. In this country we complicate things by compelling people to always look on the bright side, to not trouble others with our problems, to “function,”to stop being such children. But the child is always there anyway, no matter how old you get. And the urge to silence and punish the child within is strong.

#felicespascuas

Axé.

 

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Revista Iberoamericana, o, hoy estoy mucho mejor

Dame Eleanor Hull has returned, and it is great.

Meanwhile, here is an interesting table of contents which shows what the world was like when I undertook my first serious research project. Had I read this issue of this journal more closely then, I would be yet more intelligent now, but I was reading older things. I was not to do read anything too recent because it would be too difficult for me and being new, could be wrong in unknown ways. It could thus lead me in a bad direction, it was said.

Life, it seemed, was a series of lessons in how to limit oneself. Nowadays this is chic: learning to accept limits, realizing you have limits, becoming disabled. Earlier on, though, it had been known that those lessons in how to limit oneself were a[n antifeminist] tool of oppression. Think of Joanna Russ.

My mother was raised with expectations which she felt were oppressive, and raised me with anti-expectations. Amateurism or doing just enough to get by were the goals. This was intended kindly, at least at the beginning, but soon I was deeply disappointing or at least incomprehensible because I was serious, or at least took an interest in things and wanted to get them done. These things are a large part of why I cannot abide the “good-enough” or the “bad first draft” cant. Other people may be perfectionists and need to tone it down, but what I always wanted in life was to work above the bare minimum, live above bare subsistence, aspire.

It is still not clear to me what is so wrong with this. When will we be allowed to do our best work?

Dulcis et decorum est per superficialitatem mori, I suppose the moral would be. You must work quickly and not challenge anything, and you are acceptable then; this exactly what I do not like.

I have also had an illumination about sleeping (you know I do not sleep, because I was taught I must feel pain and sleep deprivation is the way I achieve this). I think I am rebelling against conventionality, taking time for myself and so on, because only late at night am I completely sure I will not have to deal with people and thus will not have to be trampled upon or pulled one way and the next. But I am also participating in a  strategy of impairment, so that I will not want more than the minimum out of life; and most fundamentally it is submission to Reeducation which wanted me to find a way to feel more pain.

Perhaps if I remember that, it will be easier to renounce this practice which really feels like anorexia or an addiction.

Axé.

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Capitalism?

I see something now. For Reeducation, work was bad — it was just to be gotten through, I see darkly. Meanwhile, things one does to feel well were not considered positive but were put on a par with drugs and alcohol. By treating yourself well to feel well, you were dampening pain that needed to be felt and hiding from reality. These were two fundamental errors in its theory. Notice how both create suffering as a first value.

Now, we have already discussed at length the ways in which this vision of the world is morosely religious. It is also very nihilistic and there seems to be some form of late capitalist despair in it as well, although I cannot explain that intuition. Alienation, I suppose. (Speaking of which, I should probably teach Children of Men and see what the students think of it.)

Stanley Aranowitz has the last good job in America, and all I want to do is research.

I see though that much of what I am tied in knots over has to do with graduate school, where writing came before speech and also before research. You entered a seminar on an unknown subject in one of your four languages, and were to have a rather publishable article on it ready within ten weeks. That meant you must have your topic by week 2, so that you could order your interlibrary loan materials by week 3 and receive them, perhaps, in weeks 5 and 6. You committed to a topic before you knew anything about its subject.

I remember driving on the Santa Ana freeway one day shortly after I had filed my dissertation, feeling free. I remember thinking that now, my autonomy achieved, I would never again commit to an approach or a hypothesis before doing a certain amount of research. I did not get to do this for long, that is to say, I got cornered again a few years later, but it was a good idea … and that, once again, is why I am for scholarship and against academic advice.

Axé.

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