Thursday, May 31, 2007

Academipodcasting ... uh ... yeah... that's not a neologism

If you follow the blogs Acephalous and Bitch, Ph.D., you might be aware that there was recently a panel on academic blogging at UC Davis. The History Department now has a podcast of that panel up on their web, if you wanted to watch (be warned! It takes a long time to download, and then you have downloaded a bunch of scholars saying scholarly things! The entertainment payoff you get from downloading a pirated version of Spiderman 3 after the slowness of the internet might not be there. Uh, might be very different. Uh, I'm digging a hole here.)

(A screenshot in honor of the acephalous one himself, I thought this was appropriate, not least because someone sat forward, directly into the camera, for most of the time when Scott was talking. And can I add that these opening credits are a hoot? They really needed the Monty Python and the Holy Grail opening music to run with them.)

So I have some scattered thoughts but haven't really made up my mind about the panel, or even, actually, the notion of academic blogging (as opposed to academics who blog), but if I don't post right now, with the momentum of having watched this, I'll never come back to it ---- and probably won't ever get my scattered impressions down to a decision on one side or another, because there are always new developments in the blogosphere to respond to. So this is to say that yes, there are disadvantages to blogging, as a medium.

What I really want to do is ask the other panelists what their reaction was to the last dude, who was very energetic and funny, but in a rather cutting, mean way, tromping all over the utopian-access-to-the-public-sphere vibe of the other speakers (and he seemed to be trained as a speaker, whereas everyone else is renowned for their blogging, i.e. their writing style, which doesn't seem quite fair in a matchup. Why were they brought in live, instead of to blog things?). But if they were to respond to my questions about the final dude, on their blogs, how truthful would they be able to be? Wouldn't they feel an impulse to be polite, or at least strategic, in their responses about someone they had actually met in real life?

For me, however, no one has seen me in my secret superhero identity and no one gives a fuck about what one random cog of a grad student says on her blog with a total of 6 readers, so I can say whatever I really think about that dude and the panel as a whole. That's one of the good parts to academic blogging, anonymous blogging, and blogging in general. So with that said, I'm going to ignore most of the content of the podcast and focus on the presentation. Specifically, I'm going to think about power.

Structurally, whoever goes last or goes as a respondent on a panel has the last word --- particularly important in cases like these where the video closes, cuts off, before questions and discussion that might make the presentations more open-ended. And this dude, the anti-pajama guy, was able to counter the framework that the other panelists were setting up of a better academic community and more accessible public sphere by mocking it. (That would be another advantage to the academic blogosphere, and the blogosphere in general --- it is almost impossible to have a last word or shut a discussion down --- you kick someone off your comments, they take the party back to their own place to continue the conversation, or fight.) He brought up a series of counter-arguments against the usefulness of academic blogging, (familiar counter-arguments, I should add) from the "increased access" still being an incredibly privileged, white, and educated public sphere, to bloggers sitting around in their pajamas, to blogging being a massive time-suck that might actually make your prose worse rather than better (over at Ferule and Fescue, Hieronymo comments that there are so many ways of wasting time and avoiding doing research; why is blogging so singled out and not, say, watching porn on Youtube or playing Nintendo or reading the New York Times or learning gourmet cooking, all of which activities are obsessively, procrastinatorially practiced by various grad students I know. Why do special anxieties accrue to academic blogging?).

One point he made that I did agree with was his point that the sense of community and increased self-confidence that Scott associated with blogging might not translate to the academic world outside the blogging public sphere (and I would not go so far as to say feelings of self confidence and community are not useful.). Part of this is because, despite all the chatter about blogs, most academics seem to have very little idea of what they are and what it means to blog (At the conference I just came from, someone was introduced at one panel and the panel chair tacked on at the end, "... and she has a blog! And it hardly ever has pictures of her cat or what she ate for lunch, too, so you could ... go ... see it, or something." Which reminds me, I need to look up that person's name and poke around.) I might even go so far as to say the structures of power which blogs destabilize and subvert, allowing, for example, female grad students to attack and mischaracterize tenured male profs as anti-pajama dudes in order to make a point, are only so useful and attractive insofar as these power differences do still exist in the real world and the academy. Which is to say, I'm still not sure if blogs are like safety valves, following the cycles of subversion and containment of the carnivalesque, or something more wiley along the lines of De Certeau's tactics or la perruque. I keep thinking that, somehow, to take the absolute Machiavellian approach to blogs and power and the academy is actually the most utopian view of all. But to actually articulate this out, I think I'm going to need another drink. And possibly more pandas.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

I am not a brain on a stick!

Conference update number 1, a general post of whininess.

Where the hell was the food? The Free food? I can see you’re trying to cut costs --- and this hotel looks swanky and expensive; I can’t imagine how much they’re charging to put out a pastry plate --- but even academics need to eat. I myself, like the hummingbird, need to consume my weight in sugar every two hours. At other conferences I have been at, I have been able to fill up on the free pastries and coffee (or toast, as was all that was offered one time) in the morning and then skip lunch. You, on the other hand, had only coffee out every morning, and it was packed away before the first session ended, which meant that latecomers and people who needed a refill were forced to go to the Starbucks. (And why do panels run through the entire day with no lunch break? I felt guilty every time I left the hotel to forage. But I need to eat, and I need time to pee and walk around before holding still and being mentally attentive for the next two hours!) At least the book exhibitors hosted some afternoon wine and snack parties. (Although, what with deadly allergens and vegetarian people and different religious practices and whatnot, you might consider labeling everything at your spread. Peanut sauce, fish, pork ---- all of these can cause really bad reactions, on so many different levels, if they are ingested accidentally. And no, they were not discernible from appearance, which also says something about the food.)

I hereby make a plea for you organizers to recognize how expensive conferences and traveling are and to help by either making food more easily available, or holding the conference in a slightly less expensive part of town. (And other conference hotels have done a much better job of having water out for each panel, rather than having each panel chair bus the empties and bring fresh pitchers and glasses.) Seriously, conference organizing people, we are trapped in a big fancy hotel. A bunch of us met for drinks but decided $16 for a single drink was not worth it and we had to make up excuses for slinking out of the fancy hotel bar. I didn’t even try their restaurant. Several senior-looking profs told me where they went and found lunch/coffee places that were half the price of the in-hotel places, which means it’s not just the impoverished grad students who are having trouble paying for 4 or 5 days of meals. I thought I was prepared by buying a big box of granola bars and some cranberries, but they ran out quickly since I also was trying to avoid expensive airplane/airport food on a whole-day flight.

I am very food-oriented; for me the best possible conference setup would include “business lunches” or lunch panels every day, or casual roundtables where people shared ideas over food. But evidently this does not seem “serious” or “academic” enough for academia and the best way to make contacts and share research is for three people to read for twenty minutes each while a room of people sit still and pay attention, without stretching, without talking, without any eating or drinking, for hours at a time. We know our students can’t focus for that long without their bodies interrupting, so why do we hold ourselves to even longer time periods?

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Conference Amusings

First of all, I should say, I'm still jet-lagged. And my back hurts for some reason, which might have something to do with traveling cross-country in a plane or perhaps scrubbing down my very filthy (tho' filthy no longer) bathroom. And I still have not gotten groceries. Should I be preparing to teach? Finishing with cleaning? Leaping in to my dissertation or article-publishing work? Why yes. And I also have a plethora of promised posts to produce for you (sorry about the excessive alliteration; the doctor says just to ignore it unless it's medication time).

But, adjunct whore has demanded that I produce funny and interesting --- or at least procrastinatory --- works for her delight and edification, and how can I refuse? Therefore I will ponder for a moment on one of the more random sights of the conference:

I was waiting for one panel to clear out and another to come in when my eyes were arrested by a striking sight: a large, luxuriant, boisterous even, moustache of tan and gray, evidently taking a gentleman out for a walk. The effect was strengthened by a large patterned bow tie, that, despite its wingspread, was still smaller than that of the moustache itself. It boggled the mind in its bushy fullness and absolute symmetry, complete with tiny, incongruous waxed tips at each end, rather like a burly man with small, delicate hands. Words fail in the appreciation of this moustache.

Did it look like this?

Did it look like this?

Did it look like this?

Or did it even look like this?Yes, yes and yes! But it looked even more so, as it was, indeed, the Platonic ur-image of moustachery.

Monday, May 28, 2007

I'm Back!

The conference went well! I had no housing, flight, or public speaking disasters to speak of. People liked my paper ---- people were in attendance at my panel, which is more than I can say about my last few conferences. Free wine was consumed, and entirely too little free food was offered. I have potential posts brewing about the conference, conferences in general, celebrity academic watching, student papers and random student emails, bad radio, and wombats. Well, I feel that I should have something random and quirky in that list as it is entirely too sane to reflect my personality. I shall find something appropriately inappropriate to include in the near future, I promise.

However, I have to finish cleaning the apartment and doing laundry and grading and preparing for lecture and section this week, so more substantive posts shall have to wait.

That and the fact that I have 112 posts on my bloglines to catch up on. Prepare for procrastination!

Loquito sez: What you doin postin crap, foo? You know I need my eats. Get on it!

Saturday, May 19, 2007

But I Don' Wanna...

I am supposed to be writing my conference paper right now. I have absolutely no desire to work on my conference paper right now. Why hasn't everyone updated their blogs so that I can properly procrastinate? You may drive me to desperate measures.

Isn't it amazing how putting a deadline on something immediately makes it an unattractive chore for me? Suddenly everything else I was working on seems fascinating and I must continue researching it instead of writing up the paper, which is a bunch of stuff I half-wrote in another chapter and ended up having to excise, like a goiter, because it grew out of hand (in a chapter that is still too overgrown). It's not starting from scratch, but it is ugly. Perhaps my current chapter is more interesting to me at the moment because I am still in the very beginnings and mostly finding and reading things, which for me is easier than actual drafting, or what's worse, revision. Revision, ugh. Don't pin me down, man! I hate having to make a decision and argue definitively that X or Y is happening here, or choose between six or eleventy adjectives/rephrasings/synonyms/alternatives.

Writing I can do, easy. I can blorp out some stream-of-consciousness crap and fill ten pages in a good day. But my "blorp drafts" aren't even up to the quality of a crappy blog post; they literally contain my every thought including "stop looking around and just write, dammit! Why is X important and why should it come before Q in the draft? Well, in order to properly contextualize Q..." Obviously these take a lot of cleanup just to get to what other people consider first drafts. And even my good drafts (well, hell no, my what-I-consider-final-drafts but Fascistic Advisor hands back to me with a do-over notice), my advisor is always telling me to "Sharpen, Sisyphus, sharpen," and she has a little kneading hand gesture that goes with it. So I am always trying to work on precision and sharpness in my descriptions and arguments, which is the opposite of blog style. But not with this paper. I'm just cut-and-pasting, slapping stuff in one order or another and hoping that the transitions and clear connections would just write themselves while I'm not looking. Man, if I could just pull off talking my way from one half-written paragraph to another, throw some pictures up on the screen to distract everyone, and not bother with a conclusion, I'd be so set.

Oh I have so just tempted myself...

Thursday, May 17, 2007

On the other hand...

I don't want you to think that I'm always miserable and grumpy and making fun of my students; really it's just half the time. So I thought I'd follow up my grade-grubbing complaints with a story of pedagogical success that is happy and fun, although it happened quite a while ago.

Once upon a time (no, actually, this did really happen), I was teaching the course that all English majors have to take to start the major, an introduction to literature and criticism class. After so many quarters of teaching non-English majors in other departments, frustrated with having to teach literature as merely a demonstration of oppression or a transparent historical record, I was thrilled to be back teaching literature in a "literary" way (and as a side note, the more I teach in all these progressive, interdisciplinary situations, the more I become a crabby old traditionalist let's-study-real-literature-damn-it-and-do-close-readings-garumph! person. So anyway.) But years of lit for nonmajors and "teach the engineers how to write!" classes had led me to really dial down my expectations and ideas of what could be covered and understood by students. So where my friend was teaching his dissertation in his wonderfully theoretical and sexy class ---- which, at four eighteenth century novels and most of Pope's poetry, I think was undue punishment ---- my goal was to have them write a paper about a poem, and quote from it directly, too.

So, my class was the ultimate in simplistic close reading, although I approached it from the idea of "craft" and what a poet or writer thought about when writing. (Wimsatt and Beardsley were spinning in their graves the whole time, I'm sure, which makes me wickedly gleeful.) We spent a long time on the idea of "diction," and worked a lot with what happens to the meaning when we change the words or form. Have you heard radio mash-ups, like the remix of Joy Division's "Love Will Tear Us Apart" and Missy Elliot's "Get Ur Freak On"? Well you can do it with Whitman and Shakespeare. Or Hawthorne and Hemingway. And for the students to be able to tell you why it's "weird" or "wrong," they have to articulate what makes a writer's style or voice distinctive, and they themselves will start talking about how a poet would never use that word, or break that rhythm, and suddenly they start quoting things right and left in their papers and sit in class pounding out scansion on the table with their fists, trying to figure out if Shakespeare would want his rhythms to be perfectly exact or wanted a little bit of roughness to change things up.

But. That's not the cool part (although I think I might have had way more fun doing mashups than they did.). I was meeting a student in my office hours about her paper, which was on Keats's "La Belle Dame Sans Merci" (which I did not, but should have, paired with "Lady Lazarus.") She was trying to figure out an argument about the poem and she came in because, as she said, she was worried that, since Keats thought the word "wild" was so important that he kept re-using it, it might have meant something very different to him than to her today. "If only," she said to my rising excitement, "there was some sort of dictionary that not only told you what words mean, but told you exactly what they meant at different time periods, too."

Yes, that's right ---- I had a student not only end up using the Oxford English Dictionary, but spontaneously intuited its existence without me teaching her about it. How amazing is that!?! Of course, it was kind of a letdown that I was so excited about it and showed it to her and she wasn't really that excited or impressed, but she did use it. My colleagues might hate me for sending them students who now like to rewrite famous works or sing them to the tune of "Gilligan's Island," but at least some of them use the OED when doing it, damn it.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Honeymoon's Over

I handed back midterms. (And can I say, as an aside, to all of you other academic bloggers who have already finished their semesters: Tthththtthhtthpppp! So there.)

I always like the beginning of a quarter (despite the chaos of shopping and add/drop) while the instructor and the students are (for the most part) both desperately trying to like each other. Thanks to caffeine, I have a fairly high energy level, despite the time slot, and a big fat mouth that runs off and is often unintentionally funny (occasionally intentionally so), which leads to us all having a reasonably entertaining time in class. But this beginning relationship, so full of promise and transference, is freighted with unstated expectations: the instructor thinks that, if the teaching is going well, it will result in (for the first time) brilliant papers; the students think that the care and attention their remarks are getting in class mean that they will get As on their assignments.

Then comes the first paper, and reality sets in.

No longer is everything under the rosy glow of potential; I now know that my students run the usual range of decent to bad writers, of unused-to-this-midterm format to didn't-believe-me-when-I-said-they-had-to-do-all-the-reading, and my students know that I am a hard bitch of a grader. Correction ---- I usually am a tough grader. I don't see how anyone could cut slack for the large number of people who did not respond to the correct number of passages. Dudes: if you didn't even try it, how can I give even 5 out of 10 points? You're not making it easy.

And now we will set into the next phase of resignation and realistic expectations, the romance and excitement being gone. We will slog on to the bitter end, although some will see their grades and decide that a quickie divorce is in their future. We get to face each other in the classroom with some awkwardness, no indulgent smiles and chuckles, perhaps open recrimination or even mass revolt depending on how organized and with-it the students are.

The part I really hate comes next: students coming to my office to get their grade raised. The ones who had a tough wake-up call (either college or this class in particular will be tougher than they expected) freak out, and I get to deal with students crying or having major identity crises in my cubicle ("But I've never gotten a B before!" --- If I had a dollar every time someone told me that. Of course college is more challenging than high school ---- it's supposed to be that way. I do have some sympathy for the smartasses who've never been called on crappy work in high school, 'cause I had the exact same thing happen to me. I'll tell you about it some day). Others think they are entitled to an A (or even, a B ---- these were a bad batch, yo.) because of the amount of money they (read: their parents) pay, and they come to yell and bluster and storm. Then there are the manipulative ones, consciously or no.

And I must say at this point that although I loved the movie Clueless when it came out, as a witty and sharp take on both Jane Austen and high school, I fucking hate that so many students seem to have taken the line, "Oh, daddy, those aren't grades, I think of them as first offers" and try to bargain (or threaten, or plead, or guilt) their way to higher grades. Nope, I don't know what other instructors are doing, but I worked hard on grading those ---- I read through the piles more than once. Your test was read carefully and with an eye towards both what I expected and what the rest of my students did. If I marked it as a C or D, trust me, it was worse than what most of the others were. When you tell me I should regrade it, you are in effect telling me that I did a crappy job last time and am bad at my job. I know this is not true ---- I am not a softie grader, but I am not a bad, capricious or unreasonably hard grader. What you are really saying, please be honest, is that you don't want this grade and are unhappy with it, and you would prefer that I "give" you a more acceptable grade. To which (your underlying message) I say no, you earned this grade, motherfucker, and if you want a higher one? Try reading the book and taking notes on it. Read it until you understand it; for some people this will entail re-reading. And if you are still unclear on what lecture was about? That's why I have office hours. And for the people the prof overheard selling this course as an easy A? Maybe you should stop with the false advertising. I've TA'd it before and it has never been an A-fest.

Saturday, May 12, 2007


Poor little Timido! My cat has just coughed up a string; I hope he's okay. I'll spare you a picture. He chews on everything, and I try to keep inedible stuff away from him, but I've just had to be kinda Zen about it and hope that he'll be able to get rid of whatever he eats from one end or the other, which he did. I've had two emergency room visits with him already in this same situation, and if they can't get him to throw up it still costs me and I just have to take him home and wait it out. Hence the "wait-and-see" approach.

Unfortunately for the California drought, I no longer have the power to wash my car and have it rain immediately after; but by washing the kitchen floor I can prompt my cat to puke on it, evidently.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

More art ---- Now with Photos!

As I said in my last post, over the weekend I went to LA see a feminist art exhibit, but simply by chance saw one of the other exhibits there and found it much more interesting. See, spontaneity is good! You can find stuff you hadn't ever expected, but really needed to see.

The main MOCA building, a much smaller building than the one that houses the WACK exhibit, has really pretty red stone on the outside and looks very new and inviting (that's it on the right, with a sculpture made out of airplane fragments in front of it). There, we saw an exhibit called "Poetics of the Handmade." It was a collection of very recent work by a bunch of Latin American artists, and I have to admit that, after the revolutionary 60s-style feminist art, it was a bit of a relief to be looking at works that did not harp quite so much on identity politics, and that had a sly sense of humor. These artworks aren’t simply handmade in an ordinary sense of the term; each artist, in very different ways, takes mass-produced items and then, through painstaking craft and detail, remakes them in some way. As the exhibition catalog states, “Their makers do not spurn manufactured products as Process artists did; instead, they make mass produced goods the starting point of their work” (“Art is Made by the Hands,” 12). However, the sheer amount of time and labor that goes into transforming these items sets them apart from both mass-produced commodities and the minimalist or conceptual art that sometimes appears, to put it uncharitably, to be putting one over on patrons and the public. Once, on a sightseeing tour of Chicago, the bus driver pointed out to me the museum of contemporary art or, as he put it, "the museum of I-can-do-that-too," and it is true that conceptual art, particularly bad conceptual art, often appears to be something that anyone could have done while simultaneously being so off-putting and pretentious that the average person would never do it, exacerbating a divide between artists and your general schmoes ---- a divide that I feel the feminist artists of the other exhibit were trying to cross and enable everyone to see themselves as capable of producing art.

The artists of "Poetics of the Handmade" attempt another way around these impasses of commercial vs. individual production, art object vs. readymade, by returning to the idea of craft, an idea of individual technical skill or ability, but one rooted more in the folk or arts-and-crafts tradition than the "great masters" studios of the classical painters. Whether it be Dario Escobar, who covers surfboards and skateboards with silver embossing, transforming sports equipment into reliquaries worthy of the Conquistadores, or Maximo Gonzalez who cuts old devalued money into intricate shapes and pastes a strange story of a war and conquest around the massive walls, or Marco Maggi, who etches Reynolds Wrap aluminum foil so that it resembles a map or a computer circuit, each of them played with what it means to “make” something, and what it means to have something be “hand made.” For all the hours of meticulous hand labor and skill put into these works, they aren’t what you would traditionally associate with “hand made” art or crafts. Their transformations also tend to make the objects unusable, as in the case of the skateboard above, or the cast plaster versions of thousands of paper cups, each crushed in a different fashion. The exhibit catalog notes that these artists are very interested in slight differences within uniformity, minor variations on sameness and repetition; another review of the show calls them "artists of the OCD," and there is definitely an obsessive attention to detail --- perhaps the tiny differences that occur between supposedly identical products as they come off the assembly line? Definitely, these artists seem to say, these ordinary objects become subtly differentiated from each other by their use, if not their origin, thus making a comment on people's individuality in an increasingly standardized and commercialized society.

But my favorite work --- to my relief --- was a woman artist (I was glad both that they had remembered to include women in the other gallery exhibition rather than ghettoize them in the WACK exhibition, and that I liked these new artists), named Livia Marin, whose piece "Fictions of a Use" (2004) consists of 2200 lipsticks, stood up on a long wooden base like a cosmetics counter. As you walk into the room and move closer, you notice that they are, indeed, lipsticks, and then you notice that each one is carved (the exhibition book says cast, but they look like turned chair legs or something) into a different shape and has a different color. Close up, they look like hats, a miniature cityscape, the tops of chess pieces, or even a crowd of abstract people. And the differing shapes call to mind how women, through using lipstick to transform themselves, in a sense, into works of art, also reciprocally transform their lipsticks, those humble everyday objects --- lipsticks may start out mass-produced, but through constant use they are worn down into a unique shape, depending on how the individual woman uses it. Again from the exhibition catalog: “The large quantity reinforces the idea of a mass production that is sustained by the fact that applying lipstick is a daily ritual for millions of women around the world. The iteration of shapes and colors builds up an optical vibration that becomes more evident as one approaches the piece. Once close enough to understand what the small forms are, the fictional aspect of Ficciones de un uso becomes apparent. The doubt as to whether the lipsticks were machine-produced or manual again raises the question of who made them and how they were made” (20).

And you know what else? They were still perfumed ---- I could smell them when I leaned over them to see if they were plastic or “real.” Sweet.


Hello! I spent the weekend soaking up a little Cultchah in LA that I will tell you all about. But first, I shall say that it is hot today.

(No, seriously, that’s it. Nothing more to add on the heat front.)

I went to see WACK! Art and the Feminist Revolution, a massive exhibit showcasing feminist art from all over the world, 1965-1980. It’s being held down at the Geffen Contemporary, a massive warehouse space that was a bit big and overwhelming to navigate. It was great to get to see a whole buncha art with friends, and even better that it was not crowded (neither the gallery nor the streets nor downtown parking) and that the weather was beautiful. But yes, there was a lot of stuff, and I didn’t really recognize any names even if I had heard about them before. One piece I liked was "The Death of the Patriarchy," where a famous painting ---- I think commemorating the French revolution? ---- had black and white photographs of women artists' faces superimposed over the triumphant revolutionaries, while the dead man in the center was cheekily labeled "The Patriarchy" in type. Or course, if "The Man" were really a man, it would have been simple to overthrow him a long time ago, no?

Another project I liked was a small black room filled with webbings of white crochet or weaving that hung down like spider webs, or black hole diagrams, or the fabric of space-time itself melting and coming apart. Shades of 70s macramé and bad arts and crafts, but still. There were also some huge murals that I loved, but a lot of the material exhibited, I felt, was not conducive to large-scale gallery viewing. Many of the materials were light drawings or sketches with hand written biographical passages (or other forms of writing) beneath, or long typed screeds that I really couldn’t bring myself to read. (I’m a philistine, I know, but I like to go to galleries to look at things, and hopefully they are big and flashy. I’m not such a fan of minimalism or tiny stuff.) Likewise much of the material was attempting to document “happenings” or performance art, and consisted of photographs and written descriptions of the performance. I recognized some of them from art history books or classes, like Carolee Schneemann's "Interior Scroll." These works are important to reference and document, but, again, I appreciated them more when reading about them for class (where I have the time to sit and peruse someone’s argument about them) than when hurrying my way through the gallery. Likewise I’m not very patient about video installations. There was one that I did really like (probably because at about two minutes, it’s within my attention span) that simply consisted of a woman stretched up as high as she can reach against a white wall. She slowly pulls her hands down, filled with red paint, across the wall as she drops down into a squat. The resulting mark left roughly approximates the silhouette of her body, but looks like the trunk of an abstract tree.

We didn’t go through with a tour or docent or anything, and there were no printed programs that led you through a certain path of the warehouse, so I felt lost and overwhelmed not only due to the sheer size and scale of stuff, but also because there wasn’t a clear “narrative” of the movement to follow. The exhibition did not seem to “lead” you through a geographic or temporal pattern or make any case for a development or rise and fall of the movement, or even show how these works talked to or were inspired by each other. I don’t know if that says more about me and my lack of postmodern-ness with regards to master narratives or not. One friend did comment when we left that he felt overwhelmed by the bodiliness and overt political stance of most of the art; to him there seemed to be naked women bodies everywhere, asserting their feminism! (on a side note, the gay boys are the only friends I have who are interested in feminist art. What does that say? Perhaps just that they’re the most desperate to get down to LA for any reason whatsoever) I was kinda reveling in the political-ness of it all, having expected and anticipated something revolutionary from the title of the exhibit, but, yeah, lots of naked female (and a few male) bodies. It was interesting to see just how much more constructed the female body is today compared to back then (remember cellulite and pubic hair? and droopy breasts and asses?) but the women who were using their bodies as central pieces of their art back then still were young and thin --- where were the old and fat bodies? Cindy Sherman, whose work I dearly love (oh yeah, she had some stuff in there too) went from her Untitled Film Still series, when she was young and pretty and approximated the Hollywood ideal she was citing, to more recent stuff where her body does not appear at all.

And since you can get in to both MOCA locations on the same ticket, we hauled our butts a few streets over to see whatever they had in the main building, which had an exhibit that I thought was even cooler and really liked. I'll try to get some images and show them off tomorrow, but even if you can't get to LA or a big city, go support your local art museum! Especially if you can go out to a nice restaurant and gossip about it over good wine afterwards.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Old Bag

Ok, I know I said I was going to talk more about blogging and gossip but I am distracted and want to talk about shopping instead.

I think I need a new bag. While the old one I have is great and very cute, it is starting to wear through in all directions. Plus, once I put my laptop and some paper to write on inside, it's full. This means I swagger all around campus with my bag, and several ugly auxiliary bags holding everything else I need --- sometimes even a plastic Ralph's bag wrapped around my lunch. This, I am sure, defeats my attempts to dress up to teach.

So I have been looking at bags and totes and messengers and such here and there and finally remembered that I have an ebay account, so I looked for bags there that would be cheaper, and as promptly swindled. I found a cute bag elsewhere on the web --- see ---

but when I bid for one on ebay what I got was much smaller than a laptop. Maybe it would hold a pencil. While they called it a laptop bag on the ebay, they did list the measurements down in the fine print, so I am screwed for sending it back. Sigh. Stupid me.

And now that I was so close I could taste it ---- although I don't usually lick bags ---- I really want to replace the frayed bag I currently have. I'm on the hunt! I need a bag that will a) hold my little laptop, b) hold other things as well, c) have some pockets so that I'm not constantly excavating the phone, sunglasses, million different sets of keys, etc. d) not be so huge and oversized that I look like a toddler with her mommy's purse e) look nice and yet interesting (now that I'm thinking of how boring my wardrobe is, maybe I need a bag with some sort of fancy or wild pattern as contrast). f) still be lightweight enough not to kill my back. Looking over my list I see I'm shooting for the impossible. Or at least some sort of magic like the tents in Harry Potter that were much roomier on the inside than the outside.

Or maybe I need a kangaroo suit. Wouldn't be as stifling as a panda suit, either.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Why not blog?

Why do I have a blog? Why do I read blogs? Someone or other was passing this around as a meme, and I wasn’t tagged, but that doesn’t ever stop me anyway. To understand why I blog and read blogs, we must reach far, far back into the distant past of last fall, when I was going slowly insane. Evidently the job search process brings out levels of insecurity and neuroticism even in people, like me, who don’t usually seem to be susceptible. My usual style, even in grad school, even in situations where I know I should try to temper myself, is a blunt, “pile-driver” approach to everything, along with a tendency to blurt out whatever thoughts percolate up to the top of my head ---- evidently I am funny, but this is almost always unintentionally; more often I am devastatingly cruel or cutting, and both come from speaking whatever I’m thinking without evaluating how it will be taken, or even whether it makes sense.

But going on the job market for the first time changed all that. Or I overcompensated for my naturally abrasive personality. In any case, I became a quivering puddle of doubt and uncertainty and second-guessed myself on every speck of the job application. I turned, naturally, to the internets for guidance, models, advice, secret magic formulas that would guarantee me a job, etc. I became a addict hanging around the Chronicle of Higher Education forums like a junkie looking for a fix (and then, two days after MLA was over and no job prospects were in play and I was irrevocably back “off the market,” I lost all desire to post there and haven’t been back since. Strange.). But the blogs were the best source of information --- official web sites? The Chronicle? Book reviews of “how to get an academic job” books? They will give you the official rules and concrete plans of action, useful advice. But they do not whine, bitch and moan about how frustrating and annoying the process is, expose other peoples’ fears as similar to your own, or lay out the unwritten rules ---- how to interpret the official rules, how much you should really follow them vs. pay lip service to them. Blogs do.

And as I searched ‘round about the Blogosphere for academics writing about getting their jobs and living their lives (I can’t really stand academic blogs, partially for the tone, partially because they won’t cover the aforementioned points, and mostly because I won’t be interested or able to really follow them unless they are in my field ---- blogging the academic life and all its petty frustrations and triumphs produces much more universal and accessible writing despite being “merely personal”), reading the trials and tribulations of new professors just starting where I wanted to be, grappling with the new experience of being on the tenure track, I discovered that the story does not stop with “and she got a tenure-track job and lived happily ever after. The end.” It goes on, and these people were trying to figure out what came next and how to live their lives and they still had the same fears and hopes and worries and snarky comments and needed to remind themselves not to mock their students but to find another teacher to blow off some complaint steam with. This was great, especially when I found a new (to me) blog that had a very personable or funny voice and I could read the entire archives from back to front like a trashy yet enjoyable academic novel (“Disaffected yet spunky grad student goes on market, finishes dissertation, gets job and then has to adjust to a completely different department and part of the country! Now with more sarcasm and shoe pictures!”). This was great reading for that last hour before bed when I didn’t really want to think or read all the Deep and Serious Literature, the novels I conscientiously buy and then leave piled up on my nightstand. And so, I fell in love.

For perhaps the best thing about these academic blogs is that they are written by real people, people who I think I have a lot in common with and who are actually alive to comment back and forth with this very day (Coleridge, what have you done for me lately?). Once I started reading them, I wanted to talk back to them, to respond to them, to hold conversations with them, and here we are (you people who require a google/blogger account to comment on your blogs know who you are, you bastards!). So, for me, what started out as an aspect of professionalization (uh, and procrastination, I’ll cop to that) became a source of community ---- and really, lit. scholars are such hyperliterate, overarticulate, hyperselfanalytical people already that it should come as no surprise that so many of us would have blogs ---- instead of freaking out about blogs, the people who Ivan Tribble speaks for should be demanding that each and every one of us have a blog, though that would open a whole ‘nuther can of worms. Can you imagine what it would be like for each department web site to have faculty pages and faculty blogs for their members? Yes, yes, I can see a whole slew of problems, but no one thinks about other ways to order blog-ness than repression and anonymity ---- perhaps if we dream up some alternatives, even utopian ones, we can find something useful.

On the other hand, I resisted starting a blog for at least a year. I wanted to really bad, but kept telling myself that it would be giving in to procrastination, that it would suck away from my productivity, that, even though it was anonymous, I would somehow bring my academic career to a spectacularly catastrophic and embarrassing end (there’s still time for this last one). But, deep down, month after month, I still wanted one. And my family has a tradition that, if you keep thinking about something and still want it after a year, you really do want it and you should get it (what can I say, we’re tightwads). So, I bit the bullet and blogified. All I can say is you’re lucky I haven’t found some way to tape record myself while walking to the bus or swimming my laps, because that is where I talk to myself constantly and unendingly, and compose encyclopedic blog posts that would make my current ones seem like haiku. As it is, I probably get four ideas and rough them out in my head for every one I actually muster up the energy to draft and post. All of which is to say, having a blog isn’t exactly what I expected it to be --- just like all these professor blogs keep explaining; what a surprise.

Oh, and the other reason for thinking about “why blog?” these days? I found out some disturbing stuff about my department relating to the internet, privacy, gossip, etc. This post has gotten long, though, so I’ll continue this thought tomorrow.