I don't consider reading a guilty pleasure (let alone reading Dickens--come on, now...). But one of my favorite undergrad professors gave me some useful advice: have a hobby that isn't related to your work, so that you can actually--gasp--relax. He gardened. I know several people who knit; one of my colleagues sculpts; quite a few people play video games. Many years ago, I did a lot of drawing, but stopped during graduate school (my students who have seen me scribble on the board would be shocked to hear I got an "A" in a life-drawing class, I suspect). Anyway, a few years ago I decided that I was an adult with a salary, so I could do something that I'd always wanted to do--which was to build dollhouses. I've rehabbed a couple; this relatively small one, however, I built myself.
One of the things I learned the first time I rehabbed a house was that there were always...surprises. In this case, there were two key surprises. First, I was working with an old plywood kit (my primary interest in it having been "hey, this is listed for almost nothing on eBay"), and some of the wood turned out to be slightly damaged and/or warped. Therefore, while I pride myself that the house is much better squared than those I rehabbed (including the one built by a professional cabinetmaker...sheesh), it still has some areas where there are slight bends/angles that don't quite work. Second, because it's an older kit, the opening for the entry door is not a standard size. If I had picked up on that early on, I could have fixed the problem easily by installing balsa shims across the top before painting the exterior and wallpapering the interior--but I didn't pick up on that early on. Hence the step down into the living room (there's also a front stoop hiding the gap on the other side). Moral of the story: measure the doors before you do anything else, I guess.
I based the house's look on the semi-updated older houses in this area. Imagine that it's been repapered and has some trendier paint upstairs, but it still has the older woodwork and flooring, with a thickly-textured "plaster" ceiling. The exterior is "stuccoed" (coarse gel medium + latex paint).
I've made a point of learning how to do something new for each dollhouse. This time, I used real wood flooring in the living room and bedroom, instead of vinyl or veneer sheets.
The kitchen, with an "older" vinyl floor and a slightly decrepit repainted sink (which I also did myself). I think you can see the texture of the ceiling a little better here. I have to say that my tiling technique has improved from the last time I tried it, although I haven't yet essayed tile that needs grout (next time, I think).
Bedroom upstairs. The railings and newel posts were assembled using a magnetic gluing jig to hold them in place.
And the bathroom, with old-fashioned black-and-white checkerboard tile. You can see here that I dyed the cedar shingles, which was also something I hadn't done before.
One of the things that makes this hobby really convenient for an academic is that you can't do very much of it at one time--this house took eight months--because so many things have to dry before you keep going (each row of shingles, for example), or have multiple coats of paint or stain, or be cut/trimmed, etc. So you can take a quick break from grading umpteen papers, install a row of shingles or tile, and then cheerfully go back to work.
After reading this postmodern contribution to contemporary discourse on the state of higher education, I believe that it's time for me to pitch a few ideas to IHE. To clarify matters, of course, I will identify the allegorical correspondences between my columns' ostensible subjects and their real meanings.
Today, I threw a lot of toy catnip mice for my three new kittens. They charged up and down the room, looking excited. (How to conduct effective college orientation sessions for incoming students)
Getting your old car repaired can be really expensive. (What's the best way of raising funds to replace aging campus infrastructure?)
How many of you have baked brownies and discovered that they just wouldn't set? (Counseling faculty with research productivity problems)
I hate carrots. (Faculty resistance to assessment procedures)
Is there anything more refreshing than a can of icy soda on a hot day? But too much soda can have consequences for your health. (Pros and cons of merit increases)
Mac or PC? (Online vs. face-to-face instruction)
The weather. How about it, eh? (The problem of course evaluations)
I used to say that, unlike her late brother Disraeli, Victoria had been appropriately named. Perhaps, though, I should have called her Maggie, because she turned out to be Iron Cat. In 2013, Victoria was diagnosed with cancer, and I was told she wouldn't survive the year. She did. Then, a couple of months later, she went into chronic renal failure, but persisted in remaining alive (despite having to put up with a daily regimen of subcutaneous fluid injections). Finally, if that wasn't enough, she developed inflammatory bowel syndrome, which is exactly what it sounds like, but she managed to handle it for several months thanks to steroid therapy. The vet was amazed. But last week, shortly after reaching her sixteenth birthday, Vicki suddenly stopped eating, and it became clear yesterday that the cancer had expanded into her abdomen.
Of the two cats, Vicki was far more outgoing and assertive; she was the kind of cat who insisted on supervising the contractors whenever work was going on in the house (which she would keep up for hours, I was told), and wanted to socialize with any and all visitors. Not surprisingly, she was extremely chatty, usually trilling, chirping, and grunting instead of meowing. Meows were generally reserved for informing me not that she wanted to be fed, but instead that "I am going downstairs to eat now." (Obviously, it was important to announce the fact.) She very much wanted to hang with her human, whether on my lap (the preferred spot), the back of my office chair, or on the top of my desk; if I neglected to pet her with the appropriate attention, she tapped my arm imperiously. Late in life, she developed the habit of climbing on my stomach while I was sleeping--which led, on more than one occasion, to me petting her while still asleep. She was, in other words, firmly in charge of the place.
In recent months we've heard from the nurse (a minor character) and now Gwendolen (a major one). But surely this vein of literary endeavor has not yet been fully tapped? I humbly offer the following suggestions:
1) Better Service Have I Never Done You: The First Servant's Tale. Who was that anonymous First Servant in King Lear? And what led him to oppose his master, the Duke of Cornwall? In this shocking narrative, told as an extended flashback, the First Servant reveals why a jealous William Shakespeare vengefully consigned him to both anonymity and an untimely death. Lovers of mysteries and codes will be intrigued by the novel's intricate plot, which begins over a breakfast of bacon and eggs when the First Servant announced plans for a trip to Oxford...
2) Pilot: A Shaggy Dog Story. Fans of Lassie and Lad: A Dog will delight in this innovative reinterpretation of Jane Eyre, which retells the classic love story from the POV of Rochester's dog. Charlotte Bronte's anthropomorphism led her to conceal Pilot's central role in the plot, which included knocking Rochester off his horse and tricking Grace Poole into letting Bertha Mason out of the attic. Pilot's own doomed passion for Adele's Maltese forms a melancholy counterpoint to the more familar tale.
3) A Sensible Gentleman: Or, Mr. Willoughby's Narrative. In this new twist on Sense and Sensibility, Mr. Willoughby offers a rollicking account of romantic life at the end of the eighteenth century, when waists were high and moral standards were low. There is, of course, sex.
4) Unexpected. An irate Pip discovers that Charles Dickens has published his autobiography without permission, and with a few significant--and unapproved--edits. The truth is far more exciting...and far more brutal. Readers will thrill to Pip's gruesome stories of life as an accountant, especially his revelations about the role double-entry bookkeeping played in his discovery of the truth about Magwitch.
5) The Nun's Priest's Horse's Tale. Geoffrey Chaucer spent little time on the all-important animals carrying the pilgrims in The Canterbury Tales. In this twenty-first century Black Beauty, the Nun's Priest's Horse offers--in luminous verse--a touching story about everyday life as a medieval animal. Readers will never look at a haystack in the same way.
6) Ringing the Book. This audacious and ambitious retelling of Robert Browning's The Ring and the Book reimagines the story from the point of view of the Yellow Book itself. In a series of terza rima sonnets, the Yellow Book reflects on the process of its own construction, its fragmentary consciousness of the plot's events, and its eventual appropriation by Browning. Written to be taught in courses on postmodernism, poststructuralist theory, and intertextuality.
7) The Slough of Despond. In this elegiac sequel to Vanity Fair, an elderly Dobbin, still unable to complete his History, reflects on married life, fatherhood, and his secret but passionate affair with Becky Sharp. As the narrative unfolds, the reader realizes that Dobbin's tale is actually addressed to his heretofore unknown love child with Miss Jemima Pinkerton...
8) Lord Henry: My Life. This naughty novel is The Picture of Dorian Gray with all the good bits left in. A boisterous romp through the most decadent homes of the late-Victorian aristocracy, Lord Henry follows the eponymous hero through the heights of passion and the depths of interior decorating. A Fifty Shades of Grey for the more discerning reader.
9) The Dormouse Dozes. The publishing event of the season, The Dormouse Dozes asks us to imagine Alice's Adventures in Wonderland from the perspective of a dreamer within the dream. Told in fragmentary bursts of consciousness, delirious prose reminiscent of James Joyce, and abstract imagery, The Dormouse Dozes heralds our liberation from plot, characterization, genre, and the novel itself.
10) Daniel Deronda. In a scalding rejection of F. R. Leavis, Daniel Deronda retells the events of George Eliot's classic novel with all references to Gwendolen removed.
To change things up a bit, this year's installment of things horrific features eighteenth- and early-nineteenth century literature (to about 1835 or so). More verse (and longer texts in general) on the table than usual.
Gottfried Burger, "Lenore" (Thomas Taylor's translation | Walter Scott's translation). Foundational Gothic text, especially when it comes to the "please check to make sure your would-be bride/bridegroom is actually alive" trope. Once you've read this poem, you'll find echoes of it everywhere.
Robert Burns, "Tam o' Shanter." The dangers of riding home after having one too many...
S. T. Coleridge, "Christabel." An early example of the female vampire.
Richard Brinsley Peake, Presumption; Or, the Fate of Frankenstein. Early (and, shall we say, loose) adaptation of, well, Frankenstein, featuring more singing than perhaps one might expect from the novel in question.
John Polidori, The Vampyre. One of the first successful vampire tales in English. Bears considerable responsibility for the sexy vampire phenomenon.
Alexander Pushkin, "The Queen of Spades." Would-be gambler gets advice...unfortunately for him.
Leitch Ritchie, "The Man-Wolf." Gentleman discovers that he has some unseemly issues.
John Wilson [a.k.a. "Christopher North"], "Extracts from Gosschen's Diary #1." (Starts on p. 596, if the link doesn't take you there directly.) Priest hears the confession of a man who murdered his lover.
William Wordsworth, "The Thorn." Oh woe is me! O misery!
A five-paragraph review of Giordano's stuffed spinach pizza, accompanied by a high-res photograph of the pizza in various stages of consumption. The review applies Bourdieu's theories of cultural capital to the act of eating Chicago-style stuffed pizza, a controversial comestible that pizza aficionados insist is obviously inferior to the New York variety. There are six comments on the review, including one by someone who claims to be Slavoj Zizek (see my "citations" list in Appendix E).
An essay in which I denounce various unnamed members of a prominent academic organization, although while providing enough clues for an attentive reader to identify said individuals. The essay articulates its critique through a deconstructive rereading of Foucault, productively melded with a Lacanian interrogation of Horkheimer and Adorno. It has thirty-nine comments and eight shares; it has also been reposted to Tumblr, where it has garnered 531 notes. One of the unnamed individuals has informed me in private that s/he intends to sue for defamation, which I consider proof of this essay's subversion of sociopolitical boundaries in elite academic circles (see my supporting documents in Appendix G).
"Untitled Cat Photo Shoot." Facebook 8.2.2014.
Six high-res photographs of my cat Twinkums, a Siamese-Scottish Fold mix. The photographs are accompanied by several fragmentary reflections on the role of cats in the construction of postmodern subjectivity, written in a style intended to evoke a combination of T. S. Eliot and Judith Butler. This post has nine comments and two shares; in addition, one photo of Twinkums lyingin a sunbeam has been reprinted on CuteOverload.
"Untitled tweet on hot fudge sundaes." Twitter 1.3.2014.
A 118-character tweet devoted to a peanut butter and dark chocolate fudge sundae, with the hashtag #OmNomNom. Part of an extensive discussion devoted to the cultural implications of eating hot fudge sundaes at the MLA instead of going to the cash bars. This tweet has twelve favorites and thirty-nine retweets, and has recently been linked on Buzzfeed (see "citations" in Appendix E).
"Untitled tweet on television." Twitter 7.3.2014.
A 39-character tweet in which I insist that serious academics do not watch CSI, with the hashtag #OMGLosers. A social experiment in which I performed the role of cultural contrarian. This tweet has eighty-six favorites, ninety-four retweets, and two-hundred-plus responses, including eight responses accusing me of elitism, thirteen insisting that I am a dangerous leftist radical, and four proclaiming me a right-wing fanatic. The tweet has been the subject of serious discussion in Slate, the Chronicle of HIgher Education, and Reddit (see "citations" in Appendix E).
"Untitled tweet on The Phantom Menace." Twitter 10.31.2014.
A 128-character tweet in which I celebrate the radical aesthetics of Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, with the hashtag #AnakinForever. Although this tweet has no favorites and no retweets, I have been informed that it will be reprinted in an upcoming book on Star Wars as cultural phenomenon--according to the author, I am the only person to have ever said anything complimentary about this film (see "citations" in Appendix E).
SELECTED YOUTUBE COMMENTS
"Comment on The Hobbit trailer." "The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies Teaser Trailer." Youtube 8.3.2014.
A denunciation of Peter Jackson's effects on twenty-first century cinema, with reference to the work of Kracauer. At the time of writing, it has received sixty-eight downvotes (and is therefore invisible on the page), but the strength of this response testifies to the power of its intervention in popular discourse on the cinema.
"Comment on Matterhorn POV video." "Super Matterhorn Vid!" Youtube 9.12.2014.
A critique of the video's insistence that rides at Disneyland are fun, pointing instead to the ride's use of the Yeti as a means of sublating contemporary cultural anxieties about ethical tourism. Incorporates multiple references to Baudrillard. At the time of writing, it has received ninety-four downvotes (and is therefore invisible on the page), but has also sparked a serious conversation on academic blogs about whether or not YouTube comments inherently support the status quo (see "citations" in Appendix E).
"Comment on Schoolhouse Rock Mashup." "Schoolhouse Punk Rocks." Youtube 11.6.2014.
A lengthy (equivalent to an entry in The Explicator) argument that contemporary transnational appropriations of Schoolhouse Rock enact an urgent critique of English grammar in an age of globalization, with extensive references to Linda Hutcheon. At the time of writing, it has received three hundred and six downvotes (and is therefore invisible on the page), but it is the subject of articles in Slate, Inside Higher Ed, and the Huffington Post on the possibility of serious theoretical interventions in a medium privileging comments that take the form of acronyms (see "citations" in Appendix E).
I broke my rule about non-business-related travel to trek down to NYC for the National Ballet of Canada's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. (It's...it's sort of Victorian. Right?) When I've discussedAlice before, I've noted that it's unbelievably difficult to adapt: Alice's plotless adventures, in which she stumbles again and again into situations where the characters simply have no interest in her arrival and even less in her departure, work magically on the page but frequently become inert on stage or film. I've come around to thinking that the most successful "straight" adaptation is Jonathan Miller's relatively short black-and-white version for the BBC (1966), which is all the more eerie because there are no funny animal costumes, no special effects, and no attempt at a plot--just Alice wandering through a landscape populated with genteel Victorians doing utterly bizarre things. The NBoC's Alice, a joint production with the Royal Ballet (which I'd originally planned on seeing this winter, before I had to reschedule my UK trip), tries to compromise between the novel's seriality and the dramatic demand for a plot. The plot in question is, not surprisingly, romantic. In both the Victorian prologue and the dream itself, Alice falls for Jack/the Knave, who is, of course, on the run due to some misunderstandings about tarts. This is about it for the romance, which is easy to forget (Alice keeps doing so, so why shouldn't the audience?), and is not helped along by the Knave's utter blankness as a character (and uninteresting choreography, to boot).
Ironically, then, that leaves the serial set pieces, which tend to be far more interesting than the main plot. The ballet's pacing is somewhat bizarre, and some of the pacing problems are far more evident in the theatre than on video, where editing choices and close-ups accentuate aspects of the choreography or mime that get lost on stage. This is most obvious in the Hall of Doors sequence and the Caucus Race, both of which are long on film and really, really, really long on stage--one wishes that the axe-wielding Executioner would walk on and perform some impromptu editing. Then matters (and, at the performance I attended on Saturday evening, the audience) quickly pick up in the eye-poppingly short Act II, with the introduction of the extremely clever Cheshire Cat puppet, a 3D Tenniel sketch animated by multiple dancers, and the Mad Hatter's tap-dancing Tea Party. (Both scenes garnered the first applause of the evening.) Finally, Act III has the evening's only taut narrative action, as Alice and the Knave have to deal with the evening's walking ballet parody, the Queen of Hearts. The Queen's Jam Tart adagio, which, along with the Tea Party, is by now the ballet's best-known scene, had the audience laughing uproariously, but there are certainly more giggles along the way than one might expect from a ballet (Alice trying to reach a doorknob, or experiencing the aftereffects of the Caterpillar's mushroom; the prissy King of Hearts' ineffectual attempts to handle his wife).
Wheeldon has repeatedly compared this Alice to a musical, and I think that the grumbling about the sometimes minimal choreography misses the point of what he's trying to do here--this is not really targeted at the audience for William Forsythe (let alone Swan Lake), and it does succeed as a show, not least because of some exceptionally beautiful costumes and nifty video projections. (Until Act III, there's actually not all that much physical set.) Once we got beyond the interminable Act I, I was definitely enjoying myself. That being said, as I mentioned before, some of the scenes do work better on video than on stage: this is especially true of "Pig and Pepper" and the moment where things go haywire in the courtroom, both of which look coherent when filmed (thanks to the aforementioned editing) and are incredibly difficult to watch live (where there's no logical place for the audience to focus). Similarly, unless you know it's there, it's easy to miss the Cook's little love affair with the Executioner. By contrast, the dance for the Cards in Act III is even more effective live, where you can appreciate the "2D" effect and the geometrical shapes. In general, the video projections work better in the theater than when they've been mediated by yet another layer of video.
If you've seen the Royal Ballet's filmed versions, the 2011 DVD and the 2013 live cinema broadcast, then most of the characterizations will be familiar. At the performance I attended, only two performers reshaped the characters in strikingly different ways from their RB counterparts. Wheeldon has repeatedly said that he thinks of the Mad Hatter as "demonic," and the RB's original Mad Hatter, Steven McRae (to whom this role is pretty much vacuum-sealed at this point), is all thousand-yard stares, his lips curling into perpetual sneers, scowls, and snarls. A visitor to the Tea Party might want to watch out when the Hatter gets too near the knives. McRae also has extremely intense chemistry with his usual March Hare, Ricardo Cervera, which occasionally tips over from buddy-buddy into something slightly homoerotic; in general, his Mad Hatter provides the evening with one of its sharper edges. By contrast, Robert Stephen dumps the demonism and instead plays the Hatter as a blissful pothead--one does wonder what's in the baked goods--and his affect is less insane and more stoned out of his mind. His March Hare, Jon Renna, is correspondingly dottier, and the Tea Party trio are overall more overtly comic than at the RB. (Stephen, unlike McRae, is not a life-trained tap dancer, and he doesn't try to do any of McRae's fancier tricks, but although he seemed to be getting some help from the pit--the Hatter normally provides most of his scene's percussion effects--his tapping was comfortable and clearly articulated.) Similarly, the RB's original White Rabbit, Edward Watson, is tall, rangy, and more "mature" than most of the other characters, a bundle of nerves about to explode every which way. Besides the Knave, he's the only character to be consistently interested in (albeit frustrated by) Alice. Dylan Tedaldi is Watson's physical opposite, small and compactly built, and he's visibly far younger; he was less avuncular guide, more Alice's and the Knave's contemporary, but also more self-assured. And, quite frankly, much cuter--he looked a bit like a teddy bear, and one did want to give him a hug.