At times, my university's spam filter is, shall we say, over-efficient. Student e-mails have, on more than one occasion, been consigned to Circle Nine of the spam inferno, never to be seen again. One colleague reported that an interesting request for a collaboration was similarly dispatched to the chilly depths. However, this is quite possibly the first time that the spam filter has ever trapped university e-mails--from the bookstore, no less. I'm impressed, for some value of "what on earth...?"
Speaking of filters, as some of you may have noticed as my Twitter feed scrolls by, I have actually finished copyediting Robert Elsmere. I now need to find something productive to do with my time, although I suspect that Notre Dame will soon fill the void by sending me page proofs and requesting an index for Book Two. (Come to think of it, they're probably going to do that while I'm vacationing. Figures.)
Meanwhile, on an entirely unrelated note, I'll have an essay in this seminar over at Crooked Timber.
Speaking as someone "on the ground," as it were, I found myself vaguely bemused by this tumblr quarrel. As an example of "Christian privilege," "[y]ou don’t have to be familiar with another faith’s scripture in order to 'get' the allusions and references in the literature taught in high
school English classes" sounds good, I suppose, were it not that one's Christian students (even at the college level) are very likely incapable of recognizing most allusions to the N.T. Aside from a very tiny minority, most of my Christian students have the same grasp of N.T. narratives/concepts/quotations as do my non-practicing and non-Christian students--that is, they know what's accessible via popular media. (I've yet to have a student who couldn't recognize a Christ allegory at twenty paces.) And they are also unlikely to recognize anything beyond the basics, if that, in terms of liturgy (in whatever denomination), iconography, etc. From shop talk I've heard over the years, this is as much an issue at Christian colleges, whether Catholic or Protestant, as it is at secular institutions. In other words, the instructor has to go into the room assuming that the Scriptural references will be "unfamiliar" to everybody; it's why I have the "you know, if you're an English major, you're going to have to read the Bible [insert discussion of different relevant translations here]" lecture in my regular repertoire, right alongside "seriously, there's no escaping Paradise Lost," "you'll have to reconcile yourself to reading Shakespeare," and "yup, get yourself a copy of The Pilgrim's Progress."
Which is another way of saying that there's no necessary contradiction between emerging from a culture and being, in many ways, foreign to it. It's why I argued many years ago that one of the common objections to such-and-such "studies" programs--the argument from narcissism--didn't make much sense.
I did this kind of assignment once as an option (which few students took), and haven't repeated it, in large part because I'm dubious about the ethics of siccing random students on Wikipedia. Granted, the results might not be any worse than the current Victorian literature page, but still. I think asking students to investigate and write about Wikipedia is valuable, but having them mess about with the site unsupervised is problematic (shouldn't students be comfortable citing sources before they contribute to a site which demands citations at the drop of a hat?).
I don't usually have to "guess" if my students have done the reading or not. It's apparent within the first five seconds of asking a question. Even in an online setting, surely dead air on the discussion boards would make this clear? More to the point: college students are usually adults. It's up to them if they want to do the reading, because that's the freedom of choice (and the choice of consequences) that goes along with being an adult. At a certain point, students have to motivate themselves to do the work, just as they may have to actively decide to be interested in a subject that doesn't grab them from the get-go. (And as the article goes on to point out, the system can be fiddled with mind-blowing ease.)
On a lighter note, I've been experimenting with this new iPad keyboard case (which I managed to snag at half price on Amazon). So far, pretty good: the keys are comfortably spaced; the feel is comparable to a decent netbook; and the construction is solid. The only thing I dislike right now is that some of the common punctuation marks are controlled by function keys (perhaps this is designed to drive the semi-colon to extinction?).
This blog has existed at Typepad for a decade, and had a brief existence at Blogspot prior to that. After so long, it's time to change things up a bit. Renovate the joint. Offer my readers a new! thrilling! and stimulating! experience!
Thus, I take this opportunity to announce a new focus. Academic consultants of one sort or another are becoming increasingly the rage, I find. Never one to miss out an a potentially lucrative opportunity--after all, that's why I'm an academic, right?--I am jumping aboard this particular bandwagon by offering something many academics admit, with some fear and trembling, that they truly need.
I speak, of course, of fashion advice.
Now, by "fashion advice" I mean nothing so dull as recommendations that you vary the uniform of basic black with basic navy. Instead, I propose something a bit more innovative, more cutting-edge, more likely to amaze your students and colleagues. Let's call it "synecdochal fashion." For example:
Let's say you're teaching Dracula.
Now, I can't say that I advise coming to class tricked out in full Bela Lugosi gear. The key here is to discover which part of Dracula adequately figures the whole, and then incorporate it into your outfit. And that part would be...?
My fees, I hasten to add, are reasonable: one hardback from Cambridge or Oxford UP per consultation. Just imagine the look in your students' eyes! The response from your colleagues! The comments from the dean during your tenure process! Results guaranteed.
There's nothing like booking a dorm room in London to make you suddenly flash back to your graduate school years. My first solo trip to London, as part of my dissertation research, involved a stay at UCL's Campbell House, which at that time (mid-90s) was...how to put this...somewhat grimly decorated. Sort of "late Victorian penitentiary." (Me: "Wow, this is so Foucault.") I have vivid memories of reading bad Wilkie Collins novels under the light of a single, unshaded bulb...
At the risk of sounding like an exceptionally elitist English professor, I am disinclined to purchase any novel that aspires to be "the new Fifty Shades of Grey." Because the old one was more than sufficient.
Perhaps I was unfair to the Clandestine Classics version of Jane Eyre--too critical, too harsh, too mean in my appraisal. In the spirit of charity, I hereby offer some suggestions for their future catalog.*
1) Fifty Shades of Agnes Grey: This tale of a prim young governess reveals the hidden subplot of her escapades with a series of dominating male employers, until she finally discovers true love with a handsome young clergyman. But he has dark secrets of his own (including a strange obsession with epsom salts), which, once revealed, force them to assume new identities and escape to London. Hence the sequel...
2) Fifty Shades of Dorian Gray: Years later, after a series of mishaps and newly-invented labyrinthine plot points, Agnes' son Dorian wishes for eternal youth--and good times. Modern readers can't help wondering what, exactly, Dorian was getting up to with all those lissome young ladies. The answer involves submission, allusions to "sex gods," and, for some reason, sparkly vampires. But when Dorian discovers his own secret urgings, including an intense passion for ricotta cheese, he's set on a collision course with his own portrait.
4) A Male of Two Cities: Just how did Sydney Carton manage to comfort himself after Lucie Manette married Charles Darnay? The hitherto-suppressed answer involves blondes, romantic courtroom scenes, the occasional grave-robbing, and, of course, a guillotine--although not necessarily in that order.
5) Great Consummations: Dickens neglected to describe how Pip's benefactor provided for his dear boy's gentlemanly education in other, shall we say, refinements. For the first time, find out just when and where Pip and Herbert Pocket got themselves into debt...
6) Sylvia's Lovers: This version of Gaskell's classic historical novel, set during the French Revolution, fleshes out (ahem) the novel's love triangle with over one hundred pages of intense material. Readers will be intrigued to discover that Philip was nowhere near so uninteresting as he seemed at first glance--but they'll be even more interested in what he and Kinraid were really doing overseas.
7) Prude the Obscure: Just how did Jude overcome his late-Victorian taboos? Let's just say some previously-unheard of doings at Oxford helped him along. Readers will be particularly intrigued by the sensual undertones of our co-author's descriptions of church restoration. Oh, those ogees...
At the risk of sounding like a) a prescriptivist, b) a grumpy old lady, or c) the annoying neighbor who wants the kids off her lawn, may I ask the following question:
What on earth is "I have feels?" "I have many feels?" "The feels are overwhelming me?" "Drowning in good feels?" Is this post-texting/post-Twitter usage? Because it cannot take that much effort to type out the -ing. (Or can it? Perhaps modern fingers are weakening under the strain of so much time spent on the computer.)
We now return to our regularly-scheduled formatting of Book Two.
I spent a little time ambling around UC Irvine this afternoon. Given that the campus is laid out in rings, "around" is fitting in more ways than one. At the very least, you never get lost. ("Just keep walking! You'll get back to it eventually!")
Looking in the direction of the new Humanities buildings and the Student Union:
There's some unintended architectural comic relief provided by the interim classroom buildings. You know, the ones that have been interim for the entire duration of the university's existence (or close to it), and are now sitting across from shiny, gigantic new builds. These permanent interim buildings were there when I was at UCI from '88-'92:
Incidentally, you know that a college campus was built in the 60s when one of its dormitory complexes has a Middle Earth theme.
Unfortunately, one of the more distressing aspects of meandering about UCI is the new architecture, which somehow manages to be as ugly as the old architecture (is the campus under some sort of aesthetic curse?), but...more bizarrely. What is this, exactly?
And while it's great that there's a new science library--visiting the old one was a signally gloomy affair--I can't help noting that it bears a strange resemblance to some sort of insectoid space invader.
Meanwhile, back to buildings that were around when I was around--Krieger (or HOB), the English department's original abode. I used to hang out and read on a bench in front of the building, but the bench vanished shortly after I graduated. (Correlation? Causation?)
The refurbished plaza is really not bad at all, although my enthusiasm for the new humanities buildings is...muted. (Still, they managed to get rid of the interim buildings over on this side, for which I suppose we all ought to be grateful; I think they were the buildings that E. L. Doctorow compared to egg cartons.)
The park at the center of campus remains pretty.
The most traumatic change, though, had nothing to do with architecture: I went into the university bookstore, hoping to spend some money on remainders (because the bookstore has always had an amazing section of academic and literary remainders), but not only were there almost no remainders, there were almost no books. Sure, there were some books, but virtually the entire upper floor had been taken over by gizmos and shirts and supplies and goodness-knows-what. It's a bookstore! It should have books in it! Really!
One of the videos that cropped up while I was hunting links for my previous post on the Mad Tea Party features this poor Mad Hatter from Disneyland, trying to deal with an awfully apathetic crowd. By the end, I was having flashbacks to those days when the students just. won't. respond. to anything you do. (Although I've never tried singing. Or toy teacups. And I've never hugged anyone in relief, either.) My professorial readers will know what I mean:
PROFESSOR: Hey out there! I'm standing here projecting energy in your direction! *project* *project* *project*
PROFESSOR: Would it help if I juggled these dry-erase markers?
PROFESSOR: What if I do my best imitation of Johnny Cash? I'm dressed entirely in black anyway...
PROFESSOR: *experiences existential crisis, opts to become a plumber instead*
On two occasions, I've broken down in despair and climbed on top of the desk. The first time was in an 8:15 AM freshman comp course (this is what happens when you're new and not around to request your schedule...) during a truly thrilling discussion of prepositions. (Ahem.) This is what happened:
ME: *ongoing demonstration of what prepositions do*
STUDENTS: *general somnolence*
ME: *desperate, standing on the desk* Dr. Burstein is on the desk...
STUDENTS: *mild bemusement* Huh. Dr. Burstein is on the desk.
A colleague later reported that someone else had spotted me through the classroom door's window, returned to the department office, and announced, "That class is either going really well or really badly, because Burstein is standing on the desk!" Which was more of a reaction than I got from the students.
The second time involved students who were usually quite responsive, but had unanimously voted that day to doze off during whatever it was we were discussing (it was intro to lit analysis, so probably a poem). I "lecture" by asking lots of questions, so if nobody responds, I have to start tap dancing. Or, in this case, sleeping:
ME: This X here is really odd, because Y. What do you think is going on here?
ME: Have we seen X happening before? Is it doing something different this time?
*rinse, repeat ad nauseam*
ME: *crawls on top of desk, lies down, and starts Zzzzzz-ing*
Pretending to doze off actually worked that time, but I suspect it's what you'd call a nuclear option. In any event, the video clip reminded me that even if you don't think about yourself as an "entertainer," there remains considerable overlap between classroom instruction and performance.