Monthly Archives: April 2015

Milan Kundera

I woke up in cool sunlight thinking what it would be to be in California or New Orleans with a research day rather than Maringouin with a low-level teaching day ahead. Yes, it is different, very different, and it is false that all academic jobs are the same or that all are inspiring.

Before coming to campus I clipped the bushes, gathered up branches, raked leaves. I rode my bicycle.

I am not a Kundera fan and neither, it appears, is this critic but there is great value in slowness. This is true in all seasons, but it is especially true, I think, in spring.



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What a student said

“I really feel I learned in your class. You are a great teacher.”

I tend to think I am not, or should not be, yet that if I am not, I am in danger; or if I am it is because I have put in effort that should have been placed elsewhere. I am clearly not over all the terrorizing and scolding and warning I had to undergo.

I was constantly considered to be conspiring to do things wrong or to remain in academia while incompetent, or to spend too much time on the wrong thing. It was not that I was in fact acting incompetently. It was that one might, to anyone, at any time, appear vulnerable to accusations of this. That was what counted. For some it was important that you look stressed, or that you not be seen relaxed.

Later on it was recommended to do superficial work and to rush through it. Successful people did this, it was said. But I had never liked rushing, even though I am not slow, and I like to take time to think about things.

Others would rush to grade papers or mark up xeroxes in the ten minutes between classes. I would sit in the sun and stare out at the distance. It meant I had a few minutes’ work in the evening or early morning, before leaving home that they did not, but I was also less tired when I got home and I had my thoughts in order. I still disagree that there was anything wrong with my method.

Most recently my terror has to do with being accused of having inappropriate teaching goals — but I cannot find anything in the literature that would indicate this. I am trying to de-terrify myself.


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What a colleague said

…the first day I came to work here. “You radiate confidence and self-respect and it is though the wind had blown in with another kind of air, startling, disconcerting.”

Now years later a graduate student said: “It is important I not be critical as I am at the beginning of my career, whereas you are close to the end of yours.”

The end of mine. I, who am also waiting for that good tenure-track job.


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Vino el día

I woke up in sunlight thinking of what it is to walk across a large university campus with energy. I thought of what it would be like to go to the library first thing — to a library with holdings. I listened to the radio in the car and they were interviewing a doctor who works at the Centers for Disease Control in Washington, and thought about what it would be like to work for a large, urban research organization on an important project. I put on dark glasses as I came up the staircase as I could feel my eyes glistening. How is it that I have discarded myself in this way, I thought. Pero, ponte el sol.

The students say that the character Paulina was treated like a low being, a non-person, and for this reason lost her profession and ambitions. I do not know whether it is the amenities I keep naming that I need or whether the actual problem is the authoritarian atmosphere. To have the signal states of mind be calm and pleasure or excitement, as opposed to agitation and obstruction or fear. Morale is low, they say; perhaps this is what they mean.

I am not pleased today but my mind is clear; I think I have been wracked by more anxiety than I know for more years than I know; anxiety is made of anger or is a way of experiencing it. It is brought on by acting against one’s better judgment, or having orders for shorter term survival that one knows to be antithetical to flourishing in the longer term–and that are nonetheless one’s orders.


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Trois jours de beauté

Et une semaine de bonté, peut-être.

Là, tout n’est qu’ordre et beauté,
Luxe, calme et volupté.


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Filed under Arts, Bibliography, Poetry

Questo, e questo; París, y 4, y 5

Hoy le ha entrado una astilla. Me viene, hay días, una gana ubérrima, política. These are the poems I would like to present this week.

That pain that is so often just below the surface. “You are in crisis,” someone said. “You are so calm and meditative,” said another. “You are in a panic,” said a third. But it is that pain just below the surface, that I want to pull out.


Hazards of professordom were said to be publication requirements and snow, but the malevolent environments were not mentioned. And it was the malevolence, not research or weather, that made me want to leave. But my mother hated me for what I had done already, and if I did another thing like that, another career, advanced degree, I might never be able to make it up to her. The story might go something like that. I was to repeat her unhappiness; I have done. I should end that.

If I worked at a place that had sabbaticals I would be coming up for one right now. It would be a collegial place, with research resources, and sabbatical would not mean salary reduction. I would still go to campus and the town would be friendly, and I would take small research trips.

That is really all it is. A marginally collegial environment including marginally collegial collaboration (as opposed to war) on teaching, and research time. And calm — I really do not like jerking from one political crisis to the next, as we do. That is really all I require. Yet it is a great deal.


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¡Cima de la delicia!
Todo en el aire es pájaro.
Se cierne lo inmediato
Resuelto en lejanía.

¡Hueste de esbeltas fuerzas!
¡Qué alacridad de mozo
En el espacio airoso,
Henchido de presencia!

El mundo tiene cándida
Profundidad de espejo.
Las más claras distancias
Sueñan lo verdadero.

¡Dulzura de los años
Irreparables! ¡Bodas
Tardías con la historia
Que desamé a diario!

Más, todavía más.
Hacia el sol, en volandas
La plenitud se escapa.
¡Ya sólo sé cantar!

–Jorge Guillén, 1928


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