The Burning Bush
thoughts from a cunning linguist

May 23, 2004

Parking on a Hill

The Maven of Clam Harbour gave me a great piece of advice by way of telling a story a few weeks ago. We were talking about how hard I sometimes find it to get going on my work in the morning. She told me the story of a guy whose clutch didn't work in his car. He couldn't get the car started in first. So he had to make sure when he parked it at night, the car was on the crest of a hill. That way, he could put the car in neutral and slip into gear as the car rolled down the hill.

So I do the same thing with writing now. If I'm working on something that I know I can finish at night, I leave the last little bit to conclude in the morning. I usually know exactly what I want to do in that last little bit. And it means I don't have to start writing a new section or a new idea first thing in the morning. I can shift into gear just by rolling down the hill. It works like a charm. I've written 20 pages in the last three days! Yes, it's draftwork that will need some revision, but I'll take it.

Posted by Bush Whacker at 12:56 AM | Comments (3)

May 20, 2004

Jamesian Adventures

Little did I know that Henry James himself was going to be at the Henry James conference in Montreal. And then there was Henry's twin brother, Robert. These were not ghosts, but real James descendents--the great-grandsons of William James. One woman I met told me that Henry came up and introduced himself to her: "Hi, I'm Henry James." "Yeah, right," she replied, "and I'm Alice." Needless to say she was mortified later.

The James twins were just one of the fascinating things about the James conference. I've never been to such a stimulating conference before. Part of its success, I think lies in the fact that the papers were carefully selected. But another reason for the success lay in the format of the room in which the conference was held. All of us (between 25 and 30, I guess) were seated around a large table. It was kind of like the UN: each of us had our own little microphone. We could hear each other without microphones since the table wasn't that large. But this way we didn't have to yell. It also eliminated the hierarchical nature of conference responses by shifting the organization of the room. No one was really outside the circle (unless they chose to be) and everyone really had an equal opportunity to speak--graduate students and seasoned faculty alike. And the people were just really really smart. I guess you can have all the UN microphones in the world but it really comes down to this last thing: people gotta be smart.

Okay, now some shameless self-promotion: my paper was very well-received and I got two offers to publish it. So not only did I get to spend time in one of my favourite Canadian cities with smart fabulous people, I also got a much needed ego boost. Here's hoping the academic year ends on a high note and my chapter also gets completed before I leave New Jersey for the fine climes of Winnipeg and thereafter Sudbury at the end of next week.

Posted by Bush Whacker at 01:47 AM | Comments (0)

May 12, 2004

Off to the Distinct Society

Today I head off for fair Canadian climes--the city of Montreal in la belle province. Too bad it's only until Sunday. Montreal is one of the cities I love most in Canada, perhaps my favourite next to Halifax. I remember years ago when there was all the debate about the Meech Lake Accord in Canada over the "distinct society clause." I couldn't quite understand the resistance to the clause--or better, I was never convinced by said resistance-- since it was so obvious to me that Quebec is indeed so distinct. It's that distinctness that I love about the province and about Montreal in particular. It's the architecture, the language. the joie de vivre, the bagels--just a smattering of the mundane features of the city that bring it to life.

Yes, sure, I'm going for the conference--and the conference looks like it wil be much fun, having been organized by the unparalleled Queen of Catachresis. One good thing is that I'm finally putting that _Turn of the Screw_ paper to rest. But the conference, as all good conferences should be, is really an excuse to do other things: see people, see places, and, when one is not attached to a sexy girlfriend, do one's best to have conference sex. Since I am so attached, I guess I'll just have to content myself with bagels, architecture, and distinct society. Now who could complain about that?

Posted by Bush Whacker at 10:51 AM | Comments (0)

May 07, 2004

Mr. Eighteenth Century

I think my faith in academics has been somewhat restored this week by my meeting with a professor who can best be called Mr Eighteenth Century. When I was last here, I took several classes from him. He has some prestigious books and a fabulous reputation and we have always got on really well. When I decided to work in the nineteenth century on queer fiction, one of my misgivings was that I had to forfeit working with him, even though much of the work I had produced for him in those courses involved the queerness of fiction in the early eighteenth century.

A month or so ago, at a time when I was feeling a little dismayed by my work and the slowness of its progress, I went to a talk that Mr Eighteenth Century gave. Reminded of what a generous academic he is and a lovely human being to boot,* I thought it couldn't hurt if I dropped him an e-mail to see if he would be willing to talk to me about my work. What with it being the end of term andeveryone being busy, that meeting happened on Wednesday. And what a productive meeting it was. We talked for over an hour about my project, and the meeting ended then only because he had another engagement. Otherwise, he told me he would have been willing to keep talking. Our conversation in fact included his suggestion of a possible revision to my project, or, perhaps better put, a parallel project. He thinks I can do a dissertation that examines queer fiction in the context of the rise of the novel more generally (at the beginning of the eighteenth century) and then shift to consider, at the end of the nineteenth century, the rise of the queer novel itself. In short, I got the distinct impression that he would like to continue working with me on my project and was proposing a way for me to do this, all the while gently reminding me that I could talk to him about my work at any time. He's going to put some articles he's written as part of his forthcoming book in my mailbox so that I can think about this some more. Since that meeting, I've had a lot to think about. On the one hand, it would be great to work with Mr Eighteenth Century. Everyone who has spoken to me since that meeting has commented on how happy and exicted I seem in the wake of this conversation. On the other hand, it does mean that I would have the difficult task of justifying why I'm working in two historical periods. It would also me convincing my current supervisor of the merits of this project. And anyone who knows me also know my supervisor is not always the easiest person to get along with (which, paradoxically, would also speak in favour of getting Mr Eighteenth Century on board.) The problem of reconciling the distinctness of historical periods in the context of the project is not small, but Mr Eighteenth Century said this to me (he always has a way of providing compliments in very encouraging terms): "I don't think any student could do it. But I think you could." Who wouldn't want to hear that?

My other worry is that expanding my project in this way might lengthen the time it takes for me to finish (and frankly, I've already been at this so long!). But I spoke with the Renaissance Eyeore about this precise dimension of the problem. She said that in her estimation, people fail to make progress on dissertations not because they have too much research to do, but because life gets in the way: they get married, have babies, have personal difficulties, etc. I also spoke with my old counsellor, the Maven of Clam Harbour, who, in my mind, holds the key to all psychologies, about the problem. She seemed to agree with the Renaissance Eyeore and remarked on how important it is to remove the psychic obstacles to finishing. She noticed that in the wake of my conversation with Mr Eighteenth Century, I was clearly buoyant about my work and its possibilities. She hoped that I could mine this feeling for all it's worth, even if I did chose not to expand the project in the ways he had suggested. So much seemed possible after that Wednesday conversation, whereas with my current supervisor, I often leave meetings scratching my head and wondering if I might have surrendered my brain to Customs ad the border when I came back here.

A reconfiguration of my project would not be designed to replace my current supervisor. I wouldn't really want that. But it would bring on board a more supportive committee member. Still, I would have to convince my current tasktmater of the merits of broadening the scope of my project, which would be no small enterprise only because he is difficult to convince of anything he hasn't already thought of himself. So this is where I am at the moment. Decisions, decisions.

* One of the first things I ever heard about Mr Eighteenth Century when I arrived here was about his commitment to graduate students. Some years before my time, graduate students' funding as TAs required them to teaching something like 2 courses each semester. This really cut into people's finishing time. When Mr Eighteenth Century's most famous book came out, he was courted by many schools to come and teach for them. In particular, Pinceton wanted him and he negotiated with them most seriously. He said he would stay here, though, on one condition. This condition did not require that he made oodles of money or anything like that. Rather, he insisted that as part of their funding packages, graduate students should have to teach less so that they could reduce their finishing time. There was absolutely nothing in this for him, personally, except the negligible fact that his students were out in the world. But really, there was no incentive for him to do this except the well-being of graduate students. How can you not love that?

Posted by Bush Whacker at 01:15 PM | Comments (2)

May 02, 2004

Academic Prima Donnas

Yesterday afternoon, I went to Princeton to take in part of a one-day conference. It turned out that the conference had been organized by a fellow graduate student who submitted an essay to a collection of articles on sexuality that I co-edited. I thought it wuld be appropriate to go up and meet the guy. But when I introduced myself to this person, though, he seemed rather bashful and proceeded to tell me that he was not going to put that essay on his cv for a couple of years so as not to offend potentially conservative members of job-search committees. It's his right to construct his cv as he wishes and to do what he can to find a job. But his sense of audience was clearly out of whack. Moreover, he then seemed somehow to crow about the fact that he was on a first name basis with one of the more prominent scholars on sexuality, who also has an essay in our collection. I got the distinct sense that he could perform shame or pride in having been part of our collection depending on whom he was addressing. What a piece of work.

Posted by Bush Whacker at 03:21 PM | Comments (0)

Turning the Screws

These days I seem to be lost in Henry James land. I made the mistake of proposing to write a conference paper on _The Turn of the Screw_. It's a great story--about children and ghosts and a nutty governess. But I think every academic in the history of the world has written an essay about this story. There are literally hundreds of articles on the text. I think it's almost to the point where the critics just talk about other critics instead of talking about the story! The story is such fun, though and the conference is in Montreal. Yay! Back to Canada!

Posted by Bush Whacker at 02:12 PM | Comments (0)

April 18, 2004

Writing Sucks

Some days, having to write really is a burden. I'm in the middle of writing a conference paper and I know what I want to say, but I'll be damned if I can organize the bloody thing. Arrggggghhhh.

Posted by Bush Whacker at 01:54 PM | Comments (0)

The Sacred Cow of Democracy

On Friday, I went to a public lecture titled "A New American Empire?" It featured two really smart, interesting academics, speaking quite lucidly about the idea of American imperialism and the war in Iraq. On the whole, I like what they had to say quite a bit. But there is one thing I can't quite figure out. Why is it that so few people can take any distance from the word "democracy." It seems like anything can be justified, on either the right or the left, in the name of "democracy." It is somehow deployed rhetorically as an unquestioned good, as if everyone knows what is meant when the word is uttered. Bush uses it as a justification for the war (bringing democracy to the world, or to Iraq) and left activitist decry the assault on demoncracy in their critique of Bush. But no one really questions the rhetoric. I'm starting to think that until people can distinguish between the rhetoric of democracy and the practice of democracy, maybe we should have a moritorium on the word--on all sides of the political spectrum.

Posted by Bush Whacker at 01:52 PM | Comments (0)

September 25, 2003

What would people do without e-mail?

E-mail's a funny thing. People write things in e-mail that they would never say to a person's face. I notice this especially in my e-mails from students. Right now I'm a teaching assistant in the Writing Program here at my school. This means that I teach two sections of expository writing--22 students in each class. I graded and returned the first set of essays last week. The next essay is due next week. In the last two days, I've received a number of desperate e-mails from students who want help with the next essay.

Nevermind that they did not show up for my office hours or ask any questions about the upcoming essay in class. Nevermind that I make it very clear on the outline that I respond to student e-mails only on class days. Nevermind that there is a Writing Centre on campus whose services are free and for which I've encouraged these same students to enroll for extra help with their writing.

Now, to be clear: it's not that I mind helping students. Not in the least. However, I do mind, when I'm expected to clear my schedule and drop everything (a) to respond to an e-mail sent in the middle of the night and (b) to meet with them only when it's convenient for them and (c) when they take no responsibility for their own work. Granted, they are freshmen. They are still getting the hang of being in university. And of course, I'll provide what help I can.

But, why is it that these requests come in the form of e-mail?

I think the way freshmen use e-mail to talk to their profs says as much about e-mail as it does about freshmen. It's not just freshmen who use e-mail to communicate things from behind a screen. E-mail has the added feature of creating a time gap between the request/initial message and the reply to that request/message. It also allows people to be bolder than they might otherwise have been. I just can't figure out why, given the distancing effect of e-mail that people expect such immediate responses!


Posted by Bush Whacker at 11:20 AM | Comments (2)

June 09, 2003

On The Sublime Nature of Wanting

"Taste," wrote Immanuel Kant, "is the ability to judge an object, or a way of presenting it, by means of a liking or disliking devoid of all interest. The object of such a liking, he says, "is called the beautiful." The "sublime," on the other hand, he says, is "what is absolutely large...large beyond all comparison... That is sublime in comparison with which everything else is small."

The above makes me think that the strongest, most intense forms of desire are sublime. Isn't what we want somehow always in excess of what our minds already have or can hold?

I've found myself thinking a lot about Kant in the last few days. I've always been fascinated by his ideas about the sublime and the beautiful. I've only rarely wanted with great intensity. But each time it happens to me, I get this sense of the absolute largeness of it. The sublime has often been associated with events or states in nature that the mind cannot take in all at once. (Percy Bysshe Shelley's "Mont Blanc" is one of the most famous examples of the sublime in poetry.) But I think it relates to the mind, too.

I'm not sure Kant is right about beauty being devoid of interest. But the sublime itself seems both difficult and delicious, awe- and terror-inspiring--all at once.

Then again, maybe wanting just is what it is, and philosophy is just a poetic way of saying so.

Posted by Bush Whacker at 07:23 PM | Comments (1)

June 08, 2003

The Pros and Cons of Conference Sex

I seem to have a reputation among my friends for picking people up at every conference I attend. It's now a running joke. Nobody asks me how my paper went. They usually look and me with a smirk and say "So?" And I usually have a story to tell.

When flings are flings, the stories are usually not hard to tell. When an affair becomes more complicated or something more important seems to be happening, it's hard to describe to other people--hard to describe without sounding like a Hallmark greeting card, that is. Emotional drama has a Freudian feel about it, whereas social drama seems to exude allure: it appeals to people's sense of prurience and their desire to know the sordid details of other people's live. And we can play to that in telling our stories.

But it's this other thing that stymies me. I can tell you that I met an amazing woman at The Stupids. I could describe the intensity with overused words and cliches. I could talk about sarcasm as the "obstacle" to the happy ending of a romantic comedy that spanned only two days. But somehow, I think, this really means something only to people whom it's about. And even then it's incomplete, barely a gesture. I guess it's just hard to write about desire in the first-person singular. All this is just to say that something very peculiar is happening with this woman and I don't know what the narrative arc is yet. So the story does not yet make sense as a story.

The one thing that does seem to be "the story of my life," though is that my desires seem always to be played out over long distances and often via technology. I've considered this in other blog entries, but I wonder what it's really about. But more to the point, I wonder how one does it well. I'm especially concerned with balance: with balancing the life of the here and now with the emotional life of the elsewhere; with balancing the non-computer here and now with the virtual here and now. Past experiences are good teachers and I guess short of predicting the end of a story too far in advance, the best one can do is occupy the space of "unknowing" or "not-yet-knowing" without being utterly consumed by the lack of knowledge itself.

That, I suspect, is my lifelong project.

Posted by Bush Whacker at 10:41 AM | Comments (1)

June 04, 2003

Conference: Take 2

Just got in from yet another evening of conference shennanigans including Thai food and a fabulous evening of conversations with the most interesting conference-goer I've met so far. Women's Studies might not be so bad after all.

Posted by Bush Whacker at 12:31 AM | Comments (2)

June 02, 2003

Conferenced Out

Long time, no blog. Or at least no blog of my own. Things have been pretty crazy with the Stupids here in town. I've been entertaining houseguests and a seemingly endless number of out-of-towners. But it's been good to see old friends again. It's always an occasion to exchange good stories, eat good food, and drink more than one should. The empty wine bottles in my kitchen can attest to the debauchery. Some friends from my grad school, Rutgers, came to Halifax for the conference, which was great since I'm heading back to Rutgers in the fall and I'm glad to be back in better touch with people. And my closest friend from my Masters days, the Renaissance Eeyore, stayed with me from last Wednesday until yesterday and we celebrated her birthday at my place with a group of her friends on Saturday night. The bush I burned at last year's conference, we'll call her the Shakespearean Dykelet, is also in town for the conference, recovering from the recent death of her estranged husband. Talk about weird conversations. Oh, and then there was the panel my paper was part of earlier today that included my ex (of the "great Canadian beaver" story). But she didn't show up, so someone else had to read her paper for her. Drama wherever she goes. That's just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to conference tales. So far, it has not been nearly as much fun as my time last year in Toronto, but it's sure been busy and has produced its own share of stories. More later, undoubtedly, about the Queen of Catechresis, Women in Buddhist Heaven papers, and Pious Ethics.

For those of you still anxiously awaiting the judgment of the lesbian jokes, I promise it won't be much longer now.

Now, though, sleep is of the essence.... zzzzzzzzzzz

Posted by Bush Whacker at 08:35 PM | Comments (0)

May 27, 2003

"The Stupids"

There's not been much time for blogging lately because all my brain cells have been devoted to doing more writing than I've done in a long time. I had to write a paper proposal and then a panel proposal for a conference next year in England this morning. I'm still working on the blog paper and I have a book review to finish by June 1. And tomorrow, a houseguest.

The houseguest is my best friend from my Masters days in London, Ontario. She's arriving for the "Congress." The Congress is short for the Congress of Humanities and Social Sciences, an umbrella group in Canada for all disciplines and "societies" in the country that belong to, essentially, the Arts. Each year at this time all these groups have their national conferences. For instance, the paper I'm writing about blogs will be part of a plenary session for hte Canadian Women's Studies Association--a panel that is being organized by the Disco Lassie.

The "Congress" is a new name though. Up until a couple of years ago, it was called the "Learned Societies" conference. It was generally acknowledged, by participants and commentators alike, that this was apretty pretentious name. As a result, everyone called it "The Stupids." The name has kind of stuck, the change notwithstanding. This year Canadian academics are making their yearly pilgrimmage to Halifax (the conference is held at a difference uniersity every year--this year it's Dalhousie).

Luckily, Dalhousie is just up the street from me, which means I haven't had to pay a fortune to attend the conference. But proximity may have its drawbacks. Last year the conference was Toronto and I (ahem) had a great time. Here's hoping the Congress arrives with its fair share of interesting participants and festivities. The writing spree may well require some post-presentation partying!

Posted by Bush Whacker at 10:31 PM | Comments (1)

April 22, 2003

Would You Believe?

When I was growing up in Newfoundland, the local radio station had this regular spot called "Would you believe?" It always presented outlandish, but true stories and far-fetched facts.

I think it's time now for some of us to begin hosting a "Would You Believe" based on stories from students. Excuses are far more creative than "the dog ate my homework" these days. Rather it's "the computer ate my homework-- only after I was kicked out of one computer lab because it was closing and I couldn't get to the next one, so I thought I'd call you from a payphone instead to say you won't be getting my essay tonight." Huh?

Or: your course was too hard, so I couldn't write my paper. I didn't even bother trying and that's your fault.

Or: my grandmother died for the seventh time and I know you won't really force me to prove that so I'll get my extension anyway.

Or: WAAAAAAHHHhhhhh. I can't even talk about it. You'll just have to take my word for the fact that there is a good reason why I can't hand in my work.

Or: I have a doctor's note that said I was sick on Wednesday last week, so I can't hand in my paper next Friday.

Now, I completely understand that shit happens and people's lives do fall apart. My own very life has been in shreds more than once. And, being very close to my grandmother, I also do sympathize with the grief of loss one might suffer when a grandmother dies.

But it's because I do take these facts of life seriously that I get so pissed off at the frequency at which they get trotted out as excuses for not meeting deadlines. Yes, some of the people do have genuine excuses and genuine losses. Many, however, are just trying to capitalize on the fact that life does shit on some people as a way of buying themselves time because they screwed up.

Would you believe I'm fed up with it?

Posted by Bush Whacker at 11:55 AM | Comments (1)

April 21, 2003

Eyes Crossed and Ready to Go... bed, that is. It's been a marathon marking day, folks. I revved myself up with my version of "Gentlemen start your engines, this morning" (i.e. "Bush Whacker, uncap that green pen!) and haven't stopped since. (Yes, sometimes a pen really is just a pen.)

I did answer the odd e-mail between essays. And I cackled with Maurice for a minute about how he and Poupoune compiled The Bush Whacker soundtrack. I even ate some food--turkey leftovers supplied by the She-Woman.

But I have not seen the outside world today. April 21, 2003 has been "the day of the poorly printed word," replete with many typos, sentence fragments, and paragraphs that could not decide whether they exist in the present, past or future tense. And for my viewing delight, one student even supplied me with a plagiarism case to investigate.

With such excitement, why would I ever need to leave my house?

Posted by Bush Whacker at 11:33 PM | Comments (2)

April 18, 2003

Cultural Studies: the post-mortem

I have lost so much sleep this semester worrying about my Cultural Studies class. I designed the course as an investigation into "Making Culture": a 2nd-year course in a new program at one of the universities at which I teach. Cultural Studies is a discipline that ultimately examines the structures of power and the way knowledge is constructed and circulated, through forms of culture ranging from television and advertising to watercolours and foreign films. It takes as its objects of study as much how the things we watch, see, and hear influence our thinking about the world as it does what we watch, see, and hear. The field is simultaneously fascinating and complex. It puts the everday under scrutiny. But to do so, Cultural Studies highlights how complicated our relationships are to the things we often take for granted about our culture(s) and, further, it pushes us to consider what is also missing from our taken-for-granted lives, the things we never get to see or are exposed to on very negative terms.

Understanding how culture is made (as, say, a piece of art is literally "made," but also as cultural categories for understanding art are conceptually "made") is, in short, a difficult enterprise. It requires learning complex concepts and acquiring language that itself may not be "everyday" language.

My students think my course has been too hard, the readings to difficult and the bar set too high. I've agonized through the term about how to make it better, not easier, but accessible. I've held study groups, given exensions for those who have struggled and explained things in great detail. The result is that many of the students have risen to the challenge. Some have written brilliant papers and exams. But there is also a number of students who have consistently put things off too long and not completed the exam. For these, I don't know what to do. They're smart students. They get the material when we discuss it. They just refuse to believe that they're getting it, no matter how much positive affirmation I provide.

So I'm torn: between thinking I did the job well and that I let them down.

And torn up.

I don't know how much of this problem is my fault. Perhaps the course should have been easier. I don't know. But I was enlisted to deliver this course--a course that had not even been designed or taught before--in a new program. No one else among the full-time faculty at the university was prepared to teach it. No one provided any feedback on the course outline as it was unfolding.

Now, I get to suffer from the fallout--fallout because my course was too hard, because I've had no support from the faculty. because I made them read "theory."

In the end, the marks for the class will not be low and in the end, the students will have learned something. I guess this is the main point of teaching.

Somehow, though, I still feel like I've failed them.

Posted by Bush Whacker at 02:52 PM | Comments (4)

April 15, 2003

Marking Hell

April is the cruellest month. T.S. Eliot said it. I doubt he was referring to academics for whom, at this time of year, PhD means "piled higher and deeper." But he might as well have been. And so the stack of essays beckons and repels all at once. You drift toward it because you have to, but you really don't want to wade through piles of mediocre writing. It's the essay that earns a "C" that takes longest to grade. The writing is poor, the argument lost in the expression, if it exists at all.

I had a roommate once who told me about getting an essay back from one of her profs. Every time she strayed off topic or was just trying to fill in space with words that said nothing of significance, he would draw a little shovel in the margin of her essay.

Since then, I've always wanted to draw those shovels.

I haven't had the guts--I write the sentences of explanation instead.

But as the printers of lottery tickets tell us, everybody's got a dream.

Posted by Bush Whacker at 05:22 PM | Comments (2)

April 10, 2003

Fair Treatment, my ass

I'm steaming, frustrated, saddened all at once. Picture this: you have wanted all your life to teach at a university. Finally, you land a contract. The first course you teach goes exceptionally well; the students think you walk on water. The next semester, you get to teach the same course again. From day one, you have one particular student who is a pain in the neck--a real attention-seeker, who gets pissed off when he cannot have _your_ notes to photocopy and who will not shut up when anyone else (including you) is talking in class. New to the job, you don't know what to do. You seek the advice of colleagues, of department chairs. How do you control a disruptive student? How do you quell your alarming suspicion that the hostility arises from your open and frank discussion of lesbian and gay issues that began on the first day of class? No real help comes from the powers that be. Word is, the student is a "good student," a "good guy"--he's involved in student politics after all and awarded for it. You agonize over what to do, how to be fair, how to keep the class on track. No one really lays down for you what your options for dealing with this very difficult situation might be. You struggle through only to be told at the end of the semester that this student is filing a complaint against you for discriminating against him, for not letting him speak in class, for effectively harrassing him. The committee that deals with fair treatment, harrassment, etc, will hear his case. Never mind that endless levels of administration have failed to provide adequate support or even hear your case properly. You are now on the defensive. The student sits home and polishes his award.

A big part of me wishes the above person were me, so I could fight the fight on my own behalf, pull out all ths stops, accuse all the right people in style. But it's not my fight; I can't dispell my colleague's fear of both formal and informal recriminations. Unfortunately, the best I can do is support her fight and hope there is a grain of decency left in someone at this damn university.

How does my blood boil? Let me count the ways.

Posted by Bush Whacker at 11:53 PM | Comments (1)

April 02, 2003

The Light at the End of the Tunnel

I think I can, I think I can, I think I can...

Posted by Bush Whacker at 05:43 PM | Comments (0)

March 27, 2003

Assault on the Intellect

It's the end of term and I'm tired. I'm tired of doing somersaults trying to explain why students should care about language and art. All these people want some sort of evidence (i.e. a degree) that they have exercised their intellects. But if they can get the degree with the least amount of intellectual exercise, all the better.

And who can blame them?

How few people care about ideas, about what makes people tick and behave in the ways they do? Intellectual life is out of fashion. It's not efficient. It has no use-value. Who should read "theory"? It's elitist with its big words and complex concepts. I'm so drained at the thought that ideas need their very existence to be justified. Why can't everything be spoken in "plain language"? What's plain language, anyway, and who decides? And isn't the world a complicated place? No one ever asks a scientist to speak in plain language: they accept that science requires 11-syllable words. But, no, people and society and art should never require such words.

The battle inside and outside the classroom these days is the same: people seek you out for your critical capabilities. They want to know how to critique and understand the complications of the world. But only until they have to face their own confusion, the undoing of their own assumptions and expectations about themselves or what they want to believe about the world. My friends are often like my students: they want my advice, they want to know what I think about life, about the world, but really what they want most is to know what I think about them. They compose creative questions, solicit information. But when they don't like the answers or the responses, they say "you're too critical," "too negative," "you intellectualize everything."

How weary to be both exalted and denigrated because of your brain.

Is it too late to be labotamized?

Posted by Bush Whacker at 11:11 PM | Comments (1)

March 25, 2003

Culture Online

The time has come in my Cultural Studies class when we talk about internet culture and the nature of online subjectivity: the extent to which technology makes us cyborgs (sharing bodies and minds with digital phenomenon) and whether this interaction creates a new kind of human relationship.

Tomorrow we discuss Mouchette: fascinating, disturbing, multilingual, sexual, infantile. The only thing I can say is: go look for yourself.

Posted by Bush Whacker at 08:22 PM | Comments (0)

March 12, 2003

When a Contract Might not be a Contract

I am coming to the end of a lengthy collaborative project--co-editing a collection of essays with a colleague (and former friend). And there's a snag. One of the people whose essay is going to be reprinted in this collection has included images in that essay. As the editors, we overlooked this fact by mistake. Yes, the mistake was made by a research assistant who did not scan in the images when she scanned in the text. But in the end, the error is ours. We did not, therefore, negotiate with the press to have these images (there are 6) included in the book. The images are not *essential* to the argument of the essay. But they are published with this essay elsewhere. Before telling the author about this rather significant oversight, we thought we should ask the press what they thought. The guy who is in charge of the project said he would prefer to lve the images out and asks if we can just "let the author know."

Of course, this is not just a matter of letting the author "know." How do we broach the topic with her? My colleague has suggested that we make much of the fact that the press wants to keep costs down and that, after all, the original contract does not make any stipulations about images. And we conclude our message to her by saying "I hope this is okay with you."


This doesn't seem to give the author much sense that she can respond to the matter. She is being informed instead. And, if the images were not going to be published with the essay, should we not have told her this *before* she signed the contract? I think so. Then she could have made a more "informed" decision about signing the contract itself.

I would hate to be "informed" about such a matter, myself. But I also hate being the informant here. Although more to the point, I hate that we've fucked up.

That Catholic guilt again. Is it time to confess? Would confession make it better? Or is pragmatism the way to go and avoid the confession altogether unless it becomes necessary?


Time to sleep on it, I think.

Posted by Bush Whacker at 11:27 PM | Comments (1)