Thursday, December 25, 2008

How to Do Things with Ghosts: Student Web Projects, Fall 2008

Thought for QSMS I'd pass along links to the web projects some of my students chose to do as an option for their final research project in my introductory/general education world literature course, Novels and Tales. Our focus this semester was on How to Do Things with Ghosts. Here's what they came up with:

Two Cultures of Ghosts
The Uses of Ghosts

Ghosts in Comfort Woman
Ghostly Hearn

Concepts of Death
Beyond Mortal

So, what's your verdict?

Sunday, December 14, 2008

All Future Assignments Must Be Facebook Pages...at Least in '09

Be sure to check the comments, too. Seriously, if all of us assign this every course we teach in '09, we'll have populated teh intertubes with so many entertaining plot summaries that no college student will be inclined to pad an analytical or interpretive essay with needless plot summary...evah!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Forget XMas...

...or any other ways you have of abbreviating "Christmas." Onechan just invented the best one ever. It happened this evening when she was trying to write a card to one of her day care providers. What she was trying to write was "Have a nice Christmas." What she actually wrote was four hearts in a row, followed by "QSMS." Not bad, eh? Reads just like she says it: kwissmiss. Her 5th birthday is 24 days away....

Thursday, November 06, 2008

On Hawthorne and Douglass: A Research Note

I haven't done too much with Hawthorne's "Egotism; or, the Bosom-Serpent" (1843) since I mentioned it here and here, but this passage from Frederick Douglass's "What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?" (5 July 1852) got me thinking about it again:

Oh! be warned! be warned! a horrible reptile is coiled up in your nation's bosom; the venemous creature is nursing at the tender breast of your youthful republic; for the love of God, tear away and fling from you the hideous monster, and let the weight of twenty millions crush and destory it forever!


I don't think Douglass was intentionally reallegorizing "Egotism," but his switching of the gender of the afflicted victim and the location/actions of the serpent sure puts Hawthorne's short story in a different light, doesn't it?

Monday, October 27, 2008

On the Double Positive

Onechan (five in late December) and imoto (two-and-a-half today!) were building a room for their dolls in the play room in our house this past weekend, complete with bunk bed (a kids' bench, turned upside down), pillows, blankets, and all the necessary accessories: a plate filled with small change for snacks, a bucket of golf balls (some real) for entertainment, a shovel, and an assortment of other doll-appropriate toys. I was grading in another room, while the Full Metal Archivist was doing homework in still another one. Because mine was closer to the play room, onechan kept coming in to update me on their progress. The first time I saw their room, I was impressed. I think I even called it "awesome." Perhaps that's why, in an effort to get my attention a few minutes later, onechan deployed the double positive: "Dad, it's more awesomer! Come on!" She may even have reached for the triple positive still later: "It's even more awesomer now!" And indeed it was.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Hawthorne/Izumi Update

Ah, the wonders of teh internets! Not to mention the kindness of strangers and the generosity of friends! Since I last wrote on a possible Hawthorne/Izumi connection--Izumi perhaps using the crisis of faith and epistemology in "Young Goodman Brown" to add some interesting resonances to his meditation on dreams and reality, life and death in "One Day in Spring"--I've heard back from Charles Shiro Inouye and Susan Napier at Tufts and my friend Koichi Fujino at Seinan Gakuin University in Fukuoka. The bottom line: there's no definitive evidence either way on whether Izumi could have read "Young Goodman Brown" before 1906. In fact, they know of no work in English or Japanese that takes on the question directly.

The Full Metal Archivist approached the question from an oblique angle that may well prove to be helpful. She noted that Izumi's mentor--おざき こうよう Kouyou Ozaki--read a good deal of literature in English and was a huge influence on Izumi in his literary and wider life. So it's possible that Izumi heard about "Young Goodman Brown" from his mentor. Another line of research to pursue.

What makes this very specific empirical question of perhaps wider interest is that it points to a more general problem: when an intertextual reading isolates structural homologies, what ought we to do with them? I speculated with my students in class Friday on any number of directions we might go in to pursue everything from the meaning and significance to the implications and stakes of the structural homologies, should they actually turn out to be intentional allusions on Izumi's part. Clarifying the conditions of possibility for an actual case of translinguistic/transcultural influence/revision can do more than establish a factual base for an interpretive reading; it can also help reveal pathways for transnational communication at the turn into the 20th century.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Brother, Can You Spare 15 Minutes?

To help out some NYU researchers by filling out their survey? And post the link (with comments closed) on your blog? Please don't do anything to bias the survey results...thanks!

Friday, October 24, 2008

Fredonia State Protests Intolerance

Jessica Kalny (words) and Mike Wayman (photos), two students from my Intro to Grad Studies in English seminar this semester, collaborated on the following report.

***

On October 7, 2008, a man named “Jim” obtained permission to enter campus for the day. He has been visiting several SUNY campuses to spread his message. However, it is not the kind of message that one would want to pass on to the next generation. His message was one of intolerance, particularly against the “typical college lifestyle” and homosexuals.

Focus on the Speakers, 10/7/08

Rather than responding with violence or cruelty, over 2,000 students and faculty members of Fredonia State gathered together to protest his bigoted message. When you consider the fact that there about 6,000 students and faculty members total, you can imagine how big this event truly was.

Crowd Scene, 10/7/08

Having been there, I can tell you that it was an extremely powerful scene. To see so many peers coming together to prove that intolerance is not acceptable. We did not show any disrespect towards Jim, and I’m sure that he expected us to. As a campus, we wanted to show him that it is not right under any circumstance to discriminate against any group of individuals.

After a number of students spoke their minds about this topic, the percussion guild showed their support by playing several songs which many of the students danced along to. I can honestly say that this protest made me proud to be a part of such a tolerant campus community.

***

For more on the spontaneous protests, check out coverage in the local newspaper. Here's one of the many youtube clips that went up soon after the protests:



[Update 1 (10/30/08, 8:11 pm): My old sparring partner The Objectivist sees the protestors as the agents of intolerance here. And there's a vigorous debate on the faculty listserv I may comment on later.]

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Using Hawthorne in Meiji Japan

Waiting for the day when I can research the following topic in the middle of the night from the comforts of home to my satisfaction: could Kyoka Izumi have been consciously alluding to Hawthorne's "Young Goodman Brown" at the end of the first part of "One Day in Spring" (1906)? The answer is most likely "no." Not only does the standard list of conscious Japanese Hawthorne-alluders start in 1908 (with the exception of one 1887 novel by Kososhi Miyazaki), but Izumi would also most likely had to have read Hawthorne's tale in English, as it wasn't a favorite of his early Japanese translators. Still, there are enough textual (journey into woods, bizarre encounters, possible dream, chilling effects) and generic (gothic, fantastic, romanticism) parallels to warrant further investigation. Charles Shiro Inouye mentions in his critical biography The Similitude of Blossoms that Izumi read Hawthorne's Peter Parley's Universal History, so it's at least possible he could have read Hawthorne's short stories before 1906. Looks like I'll also be interlibrary-loaning Susan Napier's The Fantastic in Modern Japanese Literature.

When I get onto campus in a few hours, it'll be a nice break from grading to check out the MLA Bibliography and email Inouye and Napier. I'll let you all know what I dig up.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Amazing Colleagues, Part Ia

I introduced you all to my colleague Aimee Nezhukumatathil awhile ago, so I'm sure you'll be pleased to find out how she turns close reading into an interdisciplinary art form in a brilliant response to Linda Pastan's poem "The Deathwatch Beetle" that ranges from Poe's "The Tell-Tale Heart" to entomology, from word choice and sound to bodies and spirits.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Bloggers and Gentlemen

Just a quick note to publicly acknowledge the utter awesomeness of Rob MacDougall and Marc Bousquet. Rob and his family drove much farther than I assumed they had to in order to meet the Constructivist clan at the Canadian Falls late this summer, while Marc put up with the perils of a skype-mediated conference call with my 11 students in Introduction to Graduate Studies in English yesterday afternoon (his time) in order to answer our questions on his book How the University Works.

We actually pushed the call with Marc back an hour later than planned because I had given my students the option of witnessing/documenting the largest campus/community protest I've ever heard of at my university--actually, an impromptu counter-protest, complete with speeches, musical performances, and skits against an anti-gay nutjob individual with full free speech rights whose point of view the more-than-2,000 people over the course of the afternoon respectfully but firmly declined to assent to--and three-quarters of tbe class took me up on my offer of extra credit to respond to it on our ANGEL discussion forum and perhaps more publicly. I'd like to think our campus made one transplanted western NYer proud. And I'm hoping at least some of my students make good use of the temporary privileges of Citizen SE authorship I've extended them. Stay tuned!

For those clickers from Inside Higher Ed checking out the obscurest blog on teh internets for the first time, please do pay a visit to Rob's and Marc's sites. Their writing, their voices, their scholarship, and their generosity make the academo-critical blogdustrial complex a better virtual space.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

What Department Listservs Are For

I know, Scott is great at explaining how not to use 'em. But how about some examples of best practices?

Like one colleague of mine linking to this. Which provokes this:

Rocket ships
Are exciting
But so are roses
On a birthday

Computers are exciting
But so is a sunset

And logic
Will never replace
Love

Sometimes I wonder
Where I belong
In the future
Or
In the past

I guess I'm just
An old-fashioned
Space-man.


And this. And that.

If you can top this exchange (or simply name the poet I quoted), I'd see that we hired you in a heartbeat. If it weren't for that pesky $4.2M shortfall and hiring freeze we're muddling through right now....

Anyway, do leave a link or report on a good exchange on your department listserv. Berube shouldn't get all the best commenters.

Monday, September 29, 2008

The Bills Are 4-0 and Other Improbabilities

Just surfacing for a moment to note that the novel I'm teaching for the next two weeks in one of my classes--Patricia Grace's Potiki--is highly relevant for thinking through the political situatedness of the PGA event going on 15 minutes from my hometown at the Turning Stone resort complex this week. I did not plan this, but it's pretty neat.

[Update 1 (1:46 pm): Speaking of 1992....]

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The Kind of Search Engine We Really Need

The Full Metal Archivist was just trying to recommend a book on writing about literature for my students in my Introduction to the English Major course: a thin book with a pale green cover and a kind of polka-dot-like leafy pattern surrounding a title in a cream-colored square by a female critic that's now out of print which she borrowed from me about 5 years ago and hasn't seen since. It describes the elements of poetry, drama, and fiction, includes a glossary of key terms, and uses such examples as Chopin's The Awakening and James Joyce's Dubliners to flesh out its concepts. That means it's not John Ciardi's How a Poem Means.

When she has a chance, she's going to dig through her notebooks from that time (which means a trip to our attic) to try to figure out the title and author. But why do we have to rely on such easily-forgettable information when searching for a book on-line? Assuming the google gods aren't regularly checking in on the obscurest blog on the internets, I'm leaving it to my most loyal remaining readers to identify this test before she does!

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Go, Jenn!

Jenn Stuczynski is a Fredonia H.S. grad, college basketball standout, and world-class pole vaulter who's competing in Beijing next week. Going by past results, she'll need something of a miracle to get the gold, but don't put anything past her.

I first heard about Jenn a few months ago from onechan and imoto's day care provider, who was wondering about her chances of making it on the LPGA after her pole vaulting career is over. (Yes, Jenn loves golf.) I was skeptical then and I remain so now, but more on that later (and elsewhere). The key thing is, Fredonia is going nuts about our very own Olympian. Onechan entertains herself as we drive through town by saying "Jenn" every time she sees one of the yard signs Fredonians have been buying up in droves to help her parents afford the trip to China, which makes driving through town rather less than entertaining for the Full Metal Archivist and me, but is a small price to pay in the greater scheme of things.

Since we still don't have cable, we'll be relying on YouTube for video of Jenn's Olympic performances. Send her some good vibes the next few days, will you?

[Update 1 (8/20/08, 3:52 am): Well, she got the silver. Seeing as how her Russian rival broke her own Olympic and then world record after Jenn couldn't clear 4.90 m, that's a pretty great result!]

[Update 2 (8/22/08, 4:04 pm): Fredonia's own Dan Steinberg, of the Washington Post's DC Sports Bog fame, devotes two posts to Jenn in his Chinese Sports Smog.]

Friday, July 18, 2008

On That Day in Golf History: The Ward Wettlaufer Story

A story from golf history with Hamilton College and western NY angles? How could I not take the opportunity to pass it along to my colleagues? While I'm trying to educate academia's golfy philistines, I'd better link as well to some of my somewhat more analytical golf writing thus far this summer....

Friday, July 04, 2008

I'm Back*

*Well, kinda. Just here celebrating Hawthorne's birthday by linking to this (read all the comments there on the only movie I've seen in a theater in, um, I believe, since onechan was born), which is one of the many great posts I've missed in the last month and a half while I've been away. And, yes, there is a (boring) story about that last part. But, no, I'm not telling it now. Got fireworks to go to!

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Friday, May 23, 2008

Non-Western Literature Student Learning Analyses: On The Satanic Verses

I'm experimenting this year with adding blogging into the mix of things students do in my courses. So this semester I'll be posting post-group research/teaching project learning analyses from students in my Non-Western Literature course. The students' task in this assignment, one dimension of many they're being assessed on in this project, is simply to identify the one or two most interesting things they learned about the text and or writer on which they presented as a result of the planning, research, teaching, and reflection/assessment process they went through in doing the project. These are not meant to be full-blown analytical/interpretive/argumentative critical essays, but instead little personal, subjective pieces on what the text they taught meant to them.

Here's the last batch, from Team Wolverines, on Salman Rushie's The Satanic Verses. I wanted to start the course off with this novel, but the paperback wasn't available until later in the semester, so I decided to end it with a bang!

***

Mike leads off:

Over the course of this project I learned a great deal about the life and mind of Salman Rushdie. I learned first and foremost about the hardships that were placed upon him. For our presentation I focused primarily on the life of Salman Rushdie.

On February 14th, 1989 Khomeini, a Shi’a Muslim scholar, issued a fatwa on Salman Rushdie. A fatwa is a death sentence that calls the general Muslim population to hunt and kill someone that a scholar decrees. Khomeini issued this fatwa without giving a legal reason for his judgment. So between 1989 and the present Rushdie has had 11 assassination attempts on his life. On a funnier note every year on February 14th Rushdie reports that he still receives a “Valentine's Day” card from Iran letting him know the country has not forgotten the vow to kill him.

Another interesting fact is that the fatwa didn’t suppress the book at all. In fact it glorified it. In mid-January after the fatwa the book flew off the shelves. In 1989 he sold more than 750,000 copies and earned 2 million dollars.

Now our team on the other hand focused on several issues. One was Rushdie and his political views on 9/11. We also focused heavily on his personal life. In class we discussed his love life as well. Apparently having a death sentence put on you makes you very attractive to the ladies. Salman Rushdie has had 4 wives in the last 30 years and all of them had been famous models or actresses.


***

Jen picks up the ball and runs with it:

Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses is a very interesting read. Given more time to read it, I think I would have really enjoyed it. I had a hard time grasping everything within the novel because there was so much to absorb and not only was it the end of the semester, but I had to present on it and I chose to write a final paper on the novel. I would really love to give this book another chance and reread it because I know there is so much that I missed in reading it over such a short period of time.

After reading just the first few pages I knew I was in for an interesting read. I couldn’t tell yet if I was going to enjoy it or absolutely hate it. In the end, it was a little bit of both. It was rather enjoyable to read, but I got lost in the words sometimes. The dream sequence chapters confused me the most of anything and I had to go back and read them a few times. As I read, I jotted down important events on post-it notes and put them at the beginning of each chapter just to summarize what happened because I kept forgetting.

Salman Rushdie really crammed a lot of things into one novel, but I can easily see why this is one of his most, if not the most, successful novels he has written. Ultimately, I most enjoyed the idea of an ambiguous narrator throughout this novel. I am writing my final paper on the possibility of multiple narrators in The Satanic Verses and the significance of this. The narrator, although he only addresses himself as “I” a few times, is what kept me going while reading this book.

There are many instances where the narrator hints to us who he could be, but each of these instances hints at a different narrator. Although we will never know who Rushdie intended the narrator to be, I love that. Had the first line of the book been, “I am Satan and I’m going to tell you a story,” I don’t think the novel would have been as interesting. There is a lot going on in The Satanic Verses and the fact that the narrator never actually reveals himself is what made the novel so enjoyable for me to read.

I also really enjoyed the pairing of good and evil and the idea that they can be one in the same. Obviously we can’t have one without the other, but the idea that good and evil are one in the same leads to the idea that the narrator could possibly be God and Satan, or even a human. I am still exploring the many possibilities and I am really enjoying it. I know that I will never know exactly who the narrator is or who Rushdie wanted it to be, but the research on it and the quotes from the novel pertaining to it are very interesting.

***

Shane continues:

I think the most interesting things I discovered about Rushdie during this would need to be his perception of good and evil, the falseness of religion and the idea of judging based on appearances. Rushdie does a lot with good and evil--for example, Chamcha is, essentially, the devil. His physical appearances resemble those of a demon, but he portrays mostly good traits early after his transformation. Beyond the judging a book by its cover thing, Chamcha is mostly good. He doesn't get wrathful with his (ex)wife; if anything, he is more understanding than most would be. However, he does do his best to ruin Gibreel, who he feels hasn't earned his good fortune. I got the impression Rushdie feels people are inherently good unless they feel they have been unjustly wronged. Even so, Gibreel, after being ruthlessly ruined by Chamcha, saves his life from danger, even though he was the one who put him into it.

The biggest thing I took from The Satanic Verses is that Rushdie really doesn't like organized religion--he thinks it's a joke. Although it can be assumed he is targeting Islam specifically, the situation he represents with Mahound is very similar to the story of the Mormon faith, slightly disillusioned. Mahound checks with God to find out the legality and purity of certain decrees, but all he does is walk off into the mountains and return with God's decree. He makes, even more so than the actual Mormon story, religious figures to be con artists, intent on swindling and confusing innocent passersby.

I think you'd be happy to know that I actually don't hate Rushdie. The first chapter of his book is terrible--it's a torrential jeremiad of ridiculous stream-of-thought writing that not only confuses readers but accomplishes nothing. However, once I got into the story I found it compelling. I wish Rushdie had dropped his pissing contest with Islam, however, because I feel the actual fictional story (without religious dreams and flashbacks) would have made a better stand-alone novel than with it.

***

Tom concludes:

My original goal for my portion of the presentation was to present the essay, “Introduction: Reading Rushdie after September 11, 2001,” by Sabina Sawhney and Simona Sawhney. I was going to present their points and show the way in which Salman Rushdie seemed to be obviously affected by both the Fatwa put on him and the events of September 11th. However, I learned that essays such as this one cannot be taken at face value. It should never be assumed that anyone (even those who claim to be experts worthy of producing a collection) necessarily reads any author of fiction or political writings the same as any other person. They describe the shift between Rushdie’s pre and post political views and discuss them as if there is a huge contradiction from one to the other. However, upon reading some of the articles he writes that they cite in one light, and based on my own reading of The Satanic Verses, it seemed obvious to me that they were not reading him correctly. The quotes they used seemed out of context and unfair representations of what I felt were his views on the politics they discussed. I attempted to show this in my presentation but I didn’t feel that I had grabbed the attention of the class sufficiently enough to make them want to listen to me go on about something they hadn’t read. I wanted to present many more points of issue, but the class looked tired, uninterested (sans a few faces), and generally unenthusiastic about what I thought was an intriguing topic.

I think that I did a better job at bringing them into the discussion within our small groups and did notice that my presentation set the stage somewhat for the small groups to have some idea of where I wanted discussion to go. We ended up focusing on “World Policing” policies that are prevalent in western politics. We discussed the Kashmir conflict as Rushdie presents it and compared that to our own thoughts on the USA/Iraq issues that we have a closer association to. I did try to relate to the text somewhat; however, I was aware of the lack of reading that occurs near the end of semesters and felt good about not trying to get them to talk about the book more closely than they were able to.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Go Blue!

The Hamilton College women's lacrosse team just won the Division III National Championship! It's the first team national championship in any sport at my old college. I'm turning this blog Continental Blue in honor of their feat.

[Update: Here are almost 175 photos of the team's triumphant return to Clinton--see if you can find my dad on page 3.]

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Non-Western Literature Student Learning Analyses: Team Shortstack on Kincaid and Devi

I'm experimenting this year with adding blogging into the mix of things students do in my courses. So this semester I'll be posting post-group research/teaching project learning analyses from students in my Non-Western Literature course. The students' task in this assignment, one dimension of many they're being assessed on in this project, is simply to identify the one or two most interesting things they learned about the text and or writer on which they presented as a result of the planning, research, teaching, and reflection/assessment process they went through in doing the project. These are not meant to be full-blown analytical/interpretive/argumentative critical essays, but instead little personal, subjective pieces on what the text they taught meant to them.

Here's the sixth batch, from Team Shortstack, on Jamaica Kincaid's A Small Place and the first two stories from Mahasweta Devi's Imaginary Maps.

***

Here's Terry:

Although we covered two works for our group presentation I was most interested in Mahasweta Devi’s Imaginary Maps and decided to cover that as my contribution to the group effort. In doing my research I learned a lot about Devi as an author, the history of and present day India, and gained a deeper understanding of what she was trying to accomplish with Imaginary Maps.

One thing that really surprised me about Devi was that she did not come from the indigenous tribes that she is fighting for, but from a somewhat privileged background with literary parents. She writes with such a passion I assumed she had a stake in her struggle to get the message out that these people are being oppressed. It was a powerful notion to me that this was not the case; she simply saw a great injustice and decided to try to do something about it. In being both a writer and an activist Mahasweta Devi reminded me of Arundhati Roy, another powerful Indian author that I read this semester. Though I didn’t bring it up in class I found it interesting that they both received the Sahitya Akademi award, an organization supported by the Indian government. While Devi accepted the award, Roy declined. Although Roy is much more critical of the Indian government, I would think that Devi would make that decision also since the Indian government still bears some of the responsibility for many of the injustices she fights against.

I didn’t know anything about Devi before I dived into reading her work. Something that surprised me was that when reading Imaginary Maps I felt that these stories must be taking place in the 19th century, or at least the early 20th. The stories are so rife with themes of slavery and organized oppression that I felt like there was no way that they could be taking place in a contemporary country. I thought an industrialized nation like India would be making strides in human rights. I got a real sense of futility for these tribes because it seems as though the this practice of a hierarchical caste system and bonded-labor system are so entrenched in rural India that despite the fact that both discrimination based on caste and bonded-labor are illegal they still exist in society de facto. After learning about Devi and her activism I feel like she is a hero to the forgotten peoples of India, and I sincerely hope she experiences success in her struggle.

***

Here's Kelly Jean Doherty:

Out of the two books that my group presented I think that Kincaid had a greater effect on me. I had never really thought about what it meant to be a tourist, especially in a small and poverty-stricken place. I realized that what may be vacation to some is hell for others. It is not right to disregard customs of a place simply so that one can get away for awhile. The book was touching in that one sees how the natives may view the tourist. I will think twice about going to other places now. I may be more aware of the fact that I should be enjoying a place for what it truly is, not some sweet spot that has been made for the tourist by some western agent of travel. One would want to pick a place to visit carefully after reading this book. I certainly would! Kincaid is an amazing writer and I plan to read many more of her works.

***

And here's Paul:

I felt guilty about being a tourist a little bit. I always feel a little out of place not matter where I go in life. Now I will feel further out of place due to Jamaica Kincaid’s novel A Small Place. Ultimately, I feel overprivileged.

I enjoyed reading A Small Place. I liked it because it had this sarcastic wit to it. When I write an essay or a script I write with a sarcastic wit. It’s nice to see something like a sarcastic wit has survived. Having the right smidgen of wit adds to the ease of reading, making a read faster and harsher than before. The subject matter was also interesting.

Tourism is money. Money people tend to enjoy when they use it to buy things. Money can corrupt a people or government. I enjoy money. I don’t have much money because I am a stereotype of a college student. Though I did not make enough last year to pay taxes; I still felt guilty about having what little money I did have. I felt that white guilt that I rarely feel. I ultimately felt overprivileged. America is a little overprivileged. People in third world countries must look at America and think “They have so much food they're fueling their cars with it!”

I’ve ran out of things to say. The book is enjoyable and fast paced. The book is a real nice read. Perfect for any nice sunny summer day beneath a tree or reading location.

***

Up last (but not least) is Team Wolverines on Salman Rushdie's The Satanic Verses.

Friday, May 16, 2008

To the Virtual Barricades!

Picking up where the public intellectual/op-ed discussion at The Edge of the American West left off (last I checked), here's an op-ed by UUP president Phil Smith on the executive branch mistreatment of SUNY. Critical enough for ya? Or too conciliatory?

Guess Who's Got His Grading Done?

Not me. MacDougall. And he's got a fantastic series on concept courses going. I'll join in sometime this month, with luck! For now, you can check out my place-based Introduction to African American Literature and Culture, a model I cribbed from Kenny Mostern.

[Update (5/19/08, 3:39 pm): Nope, I'm still not done, but MacDougall has installed his third course widget thingie--this one will actually be (co-)taught.]

Non-Western Literature Student Learning Analyses: Team CHAcolate on Dictee

I'm experimenting this year with adding blogging into the mix of things students do in my courses. So this semester I'll be posting post-group research/teaching project learning analyses from students in my Non-Western Literature course. The students' task in this assignment, one dimension of many they're being assessed on in this project, is simply to identify the one or two most interesting things they learned about the text and or writer on which they presented as a result of the planning, research, teaching, and reflection/assessment process they went through in doing the project. These are not meant to be full-blown analytical/interpretive/argumentative critical essays, but instead little personal, subjective pieces on what the text they taught meant to them.

Here's the fifth batch, from Team CHAcolate, on Theresa Hak Kyung Cha's Dictee:

***

Brian leads off:

Having now done the presentation, I definitely came to understand Cha’s work much more clearly and, in the process, came to appreciate it exponentially more than when had I read it on my own. In doing the research for my project, I read a few critical essays on Cha’s work and while they were certainly enlightening, they didn’t help my overall goal that much. This being said, I’m glad that I did read those essays because, even though my project wasn’t any better for having read them, a few of those essays really helped me to see what it was that Cha was trying to do.

The presentation was easy enough. Going through each section, figuring out what tied them to their muses; it wasn’t all that hard, sans one or two. But I got the feeling that a lot of students didn’t understand it at all, and that I was holding a torch for their journey into the first layer of Dictee. And in holding that torch, I illuminated the way not only for them, but for myself as well. Specifically, the sections on Love Poetry and on Astrology were difficult for me to decipher, but once I did, they became my two favorite sections of the book. Until I did such a close textual analysis, I had no idea that Love Poetry had these two stories, of St. Teresa and of Cha’s mother (and neither did anyone else in the class).

I wouldn’t say this is one of my favorite texts, but I’ll definitely be reading it again. Probably not for a while, since I went over it quite a few times in preparation, but some day I’ll definitely go through it again. And I think that’s what Cha wanted. She portrayed time as such a non-linear relation, that to read her book at only one point in my life seems counter-intuitive to some of the goals she was reaching for.

***

Next up is Anonymous Student #4:

Although Dictee presented some challenging aspects while reading it, I enjoyed its culturally unfamiliar content. Cha’s writing style was difficult to grasp but the more I read, the more I enjoyed it. Writing in a narrative of post-colonial displacement raised an interest, and as I prepared for the group presentation I tried involving these aspects into the discussion. Though Cha’s technique was difficult to follow at first, it is evident that she had a distinct pattern in her writing which helped me to understand Dictee, as well as other texts I have been introduced to.

Cha’s technique raised questions dealing with underlying themes and symbols which were a bit complex to understand. I am used to reading texts with culturally familiar content so when I was introduced to Dictee, it was a bit nerve-wracking. Once I started to recognize her approach to alienate the reader so we might know how she felt, the more I actually enjoyed reading it. Although some readers may feel as though this style can be distracting from the message, I feel as though it helped me understand her point of view, and drew my attention towards her culture.

Cha has introduced me to a new way of approaching an unfamiliar style of writing. After reading, I discovered many meaningful symbols and themes just through her technique of writing. While Cha presented readers with perplexed messages, she was very successful in giving her readers a similar perspective when trying to adjust to an unfamiliar environment.

***

Bryna bats next:

Cha’s form of writing and style is what I found to be most unique in the book. As a group we divided into various stations to discuss various aspects of the book. Some of us brought in outside information and related it to the text. Others delved into a deeper meaning of the book or an artistic representation.

Through our group's presentation I learned several things. Most importantly, I gained support for my non-traditional approach to teaching, which I wish to implement in my own classroom someday. Our group has already received some wonderful praise on the discussion board. I personally feel that by shifting the focus to the students we allowed them to reach their own understandings. As presenters we chose to shift the focus off of us and provide students with a more hands-on, personal and student centered approach to learning and discussing the book.

While I do feel that lecture definitely has a place in the college classroom I chose to keep my teaching style that which I would use with my elementary students. Only the content I was teaching was changed due to the need to reach students at a college level. I am happy to report that the students in our class are wonderful, open-minded individuals who accepted our somewhat unorthodox stations with open arms.

The style of Cha’s book was probably the most interesting part of my personal reading. As I am generally a more aesthetic reader, the first things I notice when reading are the emotions the book generates for me. I then shift my focus to the more efferent standpoint. Not only did I love reading about such strong, amazing reading, but I loved the way I was reading about them. Through Cha’s word order, word choice, tone, punctuation I felt as if I was in her mind, thinking about and seeing what she was seeing. Due to the strong impact the style had on my interpretation of the book I quickly decided to have my students participate in stream of consciousness writing. After all, I don’t remember the exact figures but the percentage of details one remembers is significantly higher if they participate in it then if they hear it (incidentally it is even higher if they are forced to teach it--nice job, Prof. Simon).

So, back to my point, to begin I read a selection from the book itself (page 82, second paragraph). I feel that this paragraph is an excellent example of her style of writing. While, the events she is depicting are very dramatic she writes in a way that make you feel like you are seeing it. The students and I then discussed this reading and her specific phrasing and style. I then asked them to spend the next three minutes doing stream of consciousness writing. They were then free to share these if they chose to.

I really enjoyed Cha’s inclusion of poetry in her book. I felt it made it a far more interesting read. I decided to include poetry in my station. I chose poems by Maya Angelou (“I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings”) Langston Hughes (“Dream Deferred”), Lucille Clifton (“I am accused of tending to the past”), and Shel Silverstein (“Forgotten Language”). I chose these poems specifically because I felt they could tie into the book. I asked the students to read their poem and consider the style, if they liked it and how it tied into the book.

To wrap up our presentation we did a found poem. We did this idea because that way even students who did not read could participate. I feel it is important that students realize how difficult the crafting of a style and a piece of literature can be. I hope this helped them appreciate even more how much Cha put into her work.

Overall, I have enjoyed this book more than any other. I enjoyed reading about such strong women. I feel that it is amazing how these women became leaders in a sense and still are today. I truly enjoyed the way Cha dealt with the suppressed language section of this text. I also enjoyed the way she discussed history. I feel the way she depicted several events was very vivid yet raw. She managed to produce a text about history that is both factual and artistic.

***

Madeline takes the baton next:

I loved Cha’s style from the first page. It was different and caught my attention right away. I read the first page multiple times, not out of misunderstanding but out of curiosity. Throughout the novel Cha is constantly making you think and apply your own experiences to hers. So far, this course I have been extremely interested in the barriers we come across. Cha places random symbols of what we can only assume is her original language. I thought it was important for our class to understand the suffering she felt from that barrier, whether they read the novel or not. I chose this theme for my station because although it was important to me, you could tell it was important to her with home many times she emphasized it and repeated it throughout the novel.

For my station, I tried to use elements that were important to her and her culture. I set up the station best I could with candles and flowers from Korea, such as orchids. I brought in magnolias as well which I have never thought was specific to Asian culture. I soon realized magnolias were on my Kimono and called my parents to ask if they did that on purpose knowing it was my favorite flower. Simple connections like these made me feel extremely close to Cha and her story and I tried to give the same blessing to our class. Ink is very messy so I came up with the idea of tea to draw with. I have actually had the privilege to attend a tea ceremony with a friend’s family. The idea of sacred family and tradition would be something Cha would value and appreciate when teaching her story. She also had an overwhelming theme of white, which gave my decision for paper (rather than traditional rice paper). “You remain dismembered with the belief that magnolia blooms white even on seemingly dead branches and you wait. You remain apart from the congregation.” (Cha 155). The theme of white is littered throughout the novel subtly through spacing and context. I threw that in to draw our class more closely into the book.

Overall, I was extremely pleased with how my station went. The class seemed to feel exactly what Cha was feeling and almost blinded by language in their own element: our English classroom. One of the wonderful things about this book I feel that even though it is short, I think I could do dozens of lessons on it picking it apart and never get bored. There are few books that I think share that quality.

***

And last but not least is Anonymous Student #5:

While reading Cha I found it to be very difficult to understand. More so because much of it was poetry and I dislike poetry. I have trouble understanding and following any poetry and Cha was even more broken and confusing than normal for me. Even though it was a frustrating and confusing read the first couple times I read it, I still enjoyed it. I found it interesting the way it was broken up in the sections then broken up again within the respective section.

I felt that this sense of brokenness was playing on the idea of a broken memory. Where a person has their own memories, but also stories of other people’s memory when suddenly something drastic happens and their life is up heaved. They may move so their memories will change or their lives may change drastically and once again change their memories. Until eventually the memories become intertwined. They become mixed and confusing at times--with occasional bouts of clarity.

Which is how I read Cha as on my second and third read-thoughs. The book became clearer each time I read it again. Much like someone carefully sorting through their broken memories to make them become clearer, I was reading the book carefully over and over again. The book may never be fully clear and understanding to me, but then again, neither will a semi-lost memory be fully understood.

I think Cha wanted to reading to feel this sense of brokenness. To feel what it’s like to suddenly be displaced; much like she was during the war. She had been happy where she was, living in Korea where she had been born, when suddenly she had to leave her home and start a new life. This book reads much like someone whose life has suddenly undergone a large change and had to pick up the dropped pieces and try to put them back together.

This idea of putting the pieces where they belong is represented well in the section Erato; the love poetry section. There are about two stories going on at the same time, and they are mixed together. The pieces are sometimes near the top of the page, the middle of the page, or more towards the bottom. It’s like trying to put the puzzle back together, but are unsure as to where each piece of the puzzle should go. The further you read the more you understand the puzzle and able to see the bigger picture. Then you are able to understand the pieces together and put them in their proper place.

So our group I felt focused more on this aspect of the book. Each having a different project and way of explaining the book--each a separate piece of a puzzle. Then we were able to bring each station together and together the pieces made a complete. While each part was good on its own, nothing was fully complete on its own. We needed each part to make everything whole again.

Much like Cha’s novel Dictee. While it may be confusing and difficult to read, it needs to be read as a whole. No piece can be removed or skipped over without thought or the bigger picture is lost. No puzzle can fully be completed until each and ever piece and placed in it.

So while Cha was a difficult read, it is also a very important read. To have a small understanding on what it means to be so drastically replaced. To feel that confusion within yourself and your memories. It is also an important read to understand how even the smallest piece of information or smallest memory is important for without it you lose who you are. You need each piece to be a whole person.

***

Next up: Team Shortstack on Jamaica Kincaid's A Small Place and two stories from Mahasweta Devi's Imaginary Maps....

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Non-Western Literature Student Learning Analyses: Team Aoraki on Patricia Grace's Potiki

I'm experimenting this year with adding blogging into the mix of things students do in my courses. So this semester I'll be posting post-group research/teaching project learning analyses from students in my Non-Western Literature course. The students' task in this assignment, one dimension of many they're being assessed on in this project, is simply to identify the one or two most interesting things they learned about the text and or writer on which they presented as a result of the planning, research, teaching, and reflection/assessment process they went through in doing the project. These are not meant to be full-blown analytical/interpretive/argumentative critical essays, but instead little personal, subjective pieces on what the text they taught meant to them.

Here's the fourth batch, from Team Aoraki, on Patricia Grace's Potiki:

***

Ryan leads off:

I had studied in New Zealand last year and from that was immersed in Maori culture and history. The entire nation is bent on informing everyone about the Maori people, European Colonialism and present day racial struggles. Although New Zealand is still far from being a perfect example of cultural inclusion and race relations, they have gone to great efforts to inform both travelers and themselves of their history.

Having such a readily available wealth of knowledge while in New Zealand, I was surprised by the lack of information here in the United States. There were no critical essays relating to this specific novel of Patricia Grace’s. There was also a lack of information on the Maori people in general that left me resorting to old notes and books that I had acquired while in New Zealand.

Having noted this lack of information, I think what I learned most from this activity was that each country is very much concerned with the specific cultural and racial tensions that exist in each society within that country. The issues of a specific arena of race relations may not be pertinent to one country as they are to another. Giving Potiki the proper context for a reader who is at best vaguely familiar with the struggles taking place in New Zealand is difficult. The themes present in this novel--family, tradition, land and community--are universal but the context they take place within are wholly unique to the people grappling with these issues in Potiki. Although this lesson served as an introduction to “place” and identity in New Zealand, it also served to show just how difficult it is to create a dialogue when the material is very foreign and drenched in cultural nuances that can never be fully explained or taught.

***

Amanda follows:

By reading Patricia Grace's novel Potiki, I was able to better understand how it would feel to have your own home and culture be taken away from you. The novel did not seem as much directed towards the sense of conflict and ambush, but more towards the sense of culture and its people. Grace expressed to us what life was like for this small family or group of people. Roimata took the motherly role, encouraging others to tell their stories. Many details that were shown throughout the stories of these people included bites of the New Zealand culture. For example, Toko told the big fish story which directly relates to a spiritual story of the New Zealanders' past time, and also stories during the prologue express a variety of beliefs pertaining to sculpture and maturation among this culture. Grace allows us to easily access the personalities, and whole-to-part feelings about this place as a whole. She shows us that we also have connections with the people from this place. We can relate to some aspects of these people's lives, and that to which we have a harder time relating she has given us readable, or translatable, yet precise wording to let our minds seep into the lives of the characters. To further our experience with this book, she has not only let us into the minds of the characters and their culture but she has also indirectly asked us to question our own personal beliefs. Grace suggests that we contemplate whether or not we feel that places where cultures have been born and lived should be destroyed for more luxurious things. Is it right for people to destroy something that is of grave importance to another culture just so that they can enjoy themselves, and their own culture, better?

***

Alex concludes:

Reading Patricia Grace’s Potiki and focusing on the aspect of storytelling in the novel opened up a vast array of ideas to me. From the focus on this subject, the reading changed for me, looking at what the author may have wanted to do in presenting her material the way she did. I not only focused on the content of the novel through this, of which storytelling is a major theme of the entire novel, but also the form and storytelling aspects Grace herself used, in order to possibly bring the reader into a more storied approach to the novel.

Looking at the three sections of the book, I made out three distinct parts of the story itself, and that Grace broke up her novel into these three distinct categories changed the way I read Potiki. The novel’s three parts can be looked at in two distinct ways. The first is birth, life, death, following the life of Toko from his inception (with a small back story before his life), through his life, and ending with his death (and a short bit on his story from the afterlife). The other is birth, death and resurrection, following the small village that Toko is born into, from its first relation to the reader (birth), its destruction through fire (death) and finally its rebuilding (resurrection) with the help of others around the area and around the world.

The story also focuses around the initial pole of the Wharenui, beginning with carving of one who is not long passed, and ending in one who touched the lives of the entire village, but also had a special feeling about him, mainly based on his “special knowing.” The story begins in the prologue explaining how this post came about, was carved, and why, and states that it will be finished, but the time is not upon them yet, but there will come one who does fulfill the prophecy and will be carved into the pole. We as readers are led to believe that the carver did initially also have a knowing that led him to this, but we cannot know if he broke with tradition in order to make sure that this coming person would be able to be carved into the pillar, or if it was only a pre-knowledge of the one who was coming, that deserved to be carved.

Preparing to teach on the subject of storytelling, around which the novel is very tightly wound, helped focus exactly on that, the main theme of the novel, and opened up many possibilities for thought and different things to focus on throughout the text. It was also very interesting to see how Patricia Grace went about telling her story, her form of writing and narrating, and her ability to get her ideas across. As the book deals with local customs, traditions and myths, it is impossible for us to separate Patricia Grace and the story she tells, but it is enlightening to see how Grace manages to tell the story, creating stories nested within the story.

***

Next up: Team CHAcolate on Theresa Hak Kyung Cha's Dictee.

Friday, May 09, 2008

E for...?

Lumpenprofessoriat has bestowed upon CitizenSE its first-ever bloggy award thingy. If I had time to figure out how to display it, I would; same for supplying relevant quotations from The Scarlet Letter and The Holder of the World on alphabetization. But what this really reminds me of is when I first arrived here as a shiny assistant professor and E was then used in place of F, which is how I'd grade my blogging here lately. But thanks for the vote of confidence, LP, as well as for the links! And even though I consider everyone on my blogroll "excellent," I agree that recommendations carry more weight when there are fewer of them, so here are my "best of the best" right now:

Is there no sin in it?: for general awesomeness and also for this
Mixed-Race America: for bridging academia and Blogoramaville and for engaging her commentariat so patiently and thoughtfully and kindly
verbal privilege: just because
How the University Works: for bringing to Blogoramaville what he brought to the world of electronic journals when he co-founded Workplace

Thanks to everyone who participates in this meme for helping spread the word about exceptional blogs that everyone ought to be reading (except this one, which deserves to remain the obscurest in Blogoramaville!). Ah, now I got it: E is for "exception"!

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Non-Western Literature Student Learning Analyses: On Naipaul's A Way in the World

I'm experimenting this year with adding blogging into the mix of things students do in my courses. So this semester I'll be posting post-group research/teaching project learning analyses from students in my Non-Western Literature course. The students' task in this assignment, one dimension of many they're being assessed on in this project, is simply to identify the one or two most interesting things they learned about the text and or writer on which they presented as a result of the planning, research, teaching, and reflection/assessment process they went through in doing the project. These are not meant to be full-blown analytical/interpretive/argumentative critical essays, but instead little personal, subjective pieces on what the text they taught meant to them.

Here's the third batch, from a team who named themselves Wiggityx4 Wack and lead a great discussion on V.S. Naipaul's A Way in the World, despite their struggles with the text (and views on the author!).

***

Kate writes:

This project was an interesting one. The book my team presented on was Naipaul’s A Way in the World. This book, when I read it, was very confusing to me and I really had a hard time putting it together, just as the rest of the class did. The reason it was so hard for me to connect to and understand was because of how he set up each story. He introduced us to a character, got us slightly emotionally attached, and created the potential for the reader to become more attached. When this would happen he would change from the story of that author to the next story about another author, starting the pattern all over again. To try and thread these stories together, and figure out their commonalities was the most difficult part of the reading. Because of the lack of understanding it made it hard to see how he even ended the story. I wasn’t sure what his overall message was, or what journey Naipaul was supposed to be taking his reader on.

While working with my group, and discussing how this book could possibly be strung together these life stories of these men made it a little clearer as to where Naipaul may have been trying to head. While our group was discussing it I realized that maybe he was writing this story to not only point fingers at these people for everything they have done wrong, but to himself as well. He could have been trying to find his way in the world.

Another thing, more factual, that I learned while doing this presentation about his literature was that it was marketed as an autobiography in England. This helped me to see the pattern within the book and how he may have been trying to structure an individual’s life and ideals within this alleged book that appears to be built of short stories.

***

Danielle White writes:

In all honesty, I really hated Naipaul’s A Way in the World. It was the most difficult book for me to get through in this class, aside from Texaco which was also a tedious read. When I started the book it seemed like it would be fun to read, because I liked the stories Naipaul tells in the text. However, my joy in reading Naipaul was short-lived--it dwindled before I reached chapter 3. When he started talking about LeBrun I got really bored, and the chapter consisting only of dialogue between two people later on was probably the worst part in the book. Naipaul really doesn’t know how to keep his readers engaged in the text.

I expected Naipaul to develop on the individual stories within the text a lot more, especially the story about the man visiting the village and being led by the two boys--that was interesting. I thought Naipaul was going to go somewhere with that, and tell a story about how his homeland used to be through those people. Instead, he attempted to write about how his homeland had changed in an incredibly abstract way. He didn’t explain how any of the people in the stories were really connected--there was no connection between any of them at all, as far as I’m concerned. If I had more background knowledge on the matter, I might have found a connection, but it was Naipaul’s mistake to assume that his readers would have that much information prior to reading his book. I only read this book because I had to for my presentation; If I picked up this book to read for fun over the summer or something, I would have put it down shortly after beginning it.

***

Lindsay:

My group for the presentations presented on A Way In The World by V.S Naipaul. This novel was a challenge to read as well as a challenge to present. My group and myself were all in agreement that the novel was hard to follow due to the short stories throughout the novel that did not really connect to one an other. The novel itself started out great in my opinion and my group members thought the same. Then the more I read the more I become confused at parts. Even though I was confused by parts of the novel I did however find certain parts interesting. An example is when Naipaul met Lucas and Mateo as well as when he talked about Lebrun. We had a lot of interesting information about the author and his life that I believe helped explain what type of a person and writer he is.

I am the type of reader that is kept intrigued by what’s going on when there are short story formats in the books I read. I thought that this novel was going to be interesting because the format in which the author decided to write was like short story format. However I was disappointed because all of these ”short stories” he had in this “novel” had no real ending or even ties to one another. The author chooses to write his “novel” with lots of unanswered questions. Teaching this book I believe came as a challenge. I am an education major and I feel like even reading this as an undergraduate college student I was lost and confused about certain parts of the “novel,” so how could other reader’s fully grasp what Naipaul is trying to say in this writing? This book to me seems more of a biography of what he did through out his life not really a novel.

The author uses his own format of writing which I do respect as a future educator with a minor in English. He is using a technique of writing that is maybe a little iffy. This may spark some people’s interest in the novel itself. Naipaul writing of the novel can generate interest in others because it is not written like other typical novels. Teaching this to the class was not all that easy. I knew that we were dealing with a difficult novel. This is one of the reasons we had our peers getting up out of their seats. This gave them the opportunity to see what others had written. In the classroom when this type of round-robin writing and answering questions written goes on, there is a chance for the students to learn from each other. The students can walk around and see what other groups or individuals had written; this may spark a questions or comment of their own. That is why we choose to do the posters with groups getting up and answering the questions.

Teaching to just the students can cause them to lose their interest however if you have the students teaching each other by round-robin answering of questions, new questions can be sparked and new topic on a piece of literature be formed as well as implemented in the classroom discussion.

***

Here's anonymous student #3:

Before I read A Way in the World by V.S. Naipaul, I really thought I would like it. I heard many good reviews of the book, so my expectations were very high. I thought it was going to flow like a typical novel would. I did not have a clear idea of what it would be about, but I did start reading the book with an open mind.

Just a couple chapters into the book I knew it was not what I anticipated it would be. I was surprised to find out how disjointed the book was. The chapters did not seem to connect. Though his writing style is very beautiful, it was very hard to follow. Even after class discussions and my group discussions the book still did not seem to come together well for me.

I thought maybe our group research on Naipaul might shed some light upon the book and his writing style. Unfortunately, I discovered many interesting things that may have tainted my outlook of the author and the book more than they already were. My group’s research revealed Naipaul to be a pompous, egotistical, self-indulgent man. We were able to uncover many of his dark secrets. He was unfaithful to his wife and quite a womanizer. He had a woman on the side for many years. He also expressed no care when his wife passed away. Worse yet, he seemed to be happy his wife was out of the picture.

Another unbecoming quality Naipaul possessed was his harsh criticism of other writers. Someone in our class discussion brought up the point that he seemed to be a hypocrite in his critiques. This is a major reason his criticism was not well received. His inflated ego was undeniable. He seemed to think he was not given the credit he deserved.

Though I hate to have Naipaul’s personal life interfere with how I read his story, I have to admit it did not help my already unfavorable view of the novel. If anything the negative “dirt” that we discovered about Naipaul seemed to give me a little more perspective on the novel and his writing.

One question I considered after reading this book was what genre I would classify it with. I believe that it should have been marketed as a collection of short stories. The chapters seemed to be very independent of each other. I think if I had anticipated a collection of short stories I would have a greater appreciation for the book.

I find it very interesting that this book was marketed as an autobiography in England. I think readers would be very disappointed reading this book if they had a preconceived notion that it was an autobiography. It would seem to be a very roundabout way to write an autobiography.

I believe that my high expectations of this book were somewhat shattered when I discovered the disjointed structure it encompassed. Though he had a beautiful way with words, his chapters drove me crazy. Its choppiness made it hard to follow and I was constantly hoping to find the missing link.

***

OK, on deck is Team Aoraki on Patricia Grace's Potiki.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

To the Barricades!

Just when you thought New York State couldn't treat SUNY worse, the Division of Budget comes up with a new trick. First, do the raise expectations/make cuts two-step. Then, undermine the Legislature's restoration of some of the funds cut by Governor Paterson from SUNY by freezing $110M of SUNY's overall budget: tuition and fees dollars can be collected, but not spent.

NYSUT responded last week to this latest move. Here's what UUP President Phil Smith is distributing to chapter leaders:

What does all of this mean to the University and, more importantly, to its constituencies who have had no warning that their contributions will be withheld?

It means that a portion of the tuition collected from students and their families will not be available to support their education ($34.4 million withheld). The result, when added to the impact of a $38 million State funding cutback in the enacted Budget, means that courses will be cancelled, class sizes will once again be increased and the overall quality of the University’s academic programming will certainly be diminished.

It means that a portion of the dormitory fees paid by students will be held back and not permitted to be expended on dormitory maintenance, security and student safety ($9.7 million).

It means that funds received by the hospitals from patients and third party insurance payments will be locked up ($43.0 million)--and the hospitals will be unable to use these revenues for the care of those who paid for health care. Coupled with the continued absence of State funding for mandatory costs, the quality and content of patient health care will surely suffer.

It means that almost $17 million in revenues from food services, bookstores and other user-based sources will be unavailable to maintain current operations.

Even the Long Island Veterans Home will be required to hold back on over $1.2 million.

The irony is that the year began with the promise of enhanced State support in line with the recommendations of the Commission on Higher Education, but could end with one of the most disastrous fiscal impacts in University history.

The key question for all of us to ask is why do this? There is no logical purpose. There is no apparent benefit to the State. There is no positive result for State taxpayers. There is, however, a very clear impact--on students and their families and on the citizens of this State who rely on the University for quality health care and services.


OK, let's tally this up. The Legislature controls tuition policy, but will never raise tuition or taxes in an election year. The Governor controls the DOB, which is looking to cut government spending in New York. There's plenty of money for construction projects, because the Legislature can issue bonds for them. So of course fees have gone up across the SUNY system. What's to stop the state from raiding them?

SUNY is going from state-supported to state-located to state-dismantled in a generation. Whee!

[Update: Somehow this IHE op ed and this Lumpenprofessoriat post seem apropos today.]

Friday, April 25, 2008

Now That's More Like It!

I'm a little late at spreading the word about this bill to secure collective bargaining rights for graduate student employees, but better late than never, eh? Get on the horn and ask Obama and Clinton (they're co-sponsors) to pledge to put some real weight behind this when he or she is elected President. And get your representatives to sign on. Here's who's in so far:

Senators Kennedy, Brown, Clinton, Feingold, Obama, and Schumer
Representatives Miller, Andrews, Grijalva, and Tierney

Saturday, April 19, 2008

The Times on the Costs of Higher Ed: Pollyanna, Meet Chicken Little

Pollyanna, meet Chicken Little!

To the latter, I say ignore prestige entirely and ask yourself which school offers you the best opportunities to learn and grow: which professors did you have better interactions with? which offers the best combination of general education and specialized majors/programs? which offers the best advising/mentoring systems? which offers the most relevant mix of extracurricular activities to your interests and goals?

To the former, I say don't wait for Congress to increase Pell Grants: start spreading your wealth to the "deserving poor"(ly endowed schools that could do an even better job educating larger numbers of the nation's working class undergraduates than you could even if you raised your percentage of students with Pell Grants to 15%). Oh, and let your graduate students and adjuncts unionize while you're at it. They're the ones who will be the strongest advocates for quality in higher education. It's for your own good.

Cell Phone Novels: Medium, Genre, Movement, or Fad?

Enquiring minds want to know! (That's "all the news that's fit to text" for you Grey Lady fans.)

Have mobile phone novels become a phenomenon in the English-speaking world yet, or are they still popular only among innovators in Japan, South Korea, and China? Looks like India may be the leading edge for the Anglophones of the world.

I think Hawthorne would approve. Even his sketches tended to be long, though, with complex sentences. Maybe not.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Sisyphus for President Education Czar!

Did I once call for Sisyphus of Academic Cog to be named President of the University of California system? I was thinking way too small. She needs a Cabinet-level post in the next Presidential administration. This is some serious read-it-and-weep shit. Pass it on.

[Update 4/19/08: LumpenProf seconds my motion, eloquently.]

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Non-Western Literature Student Learning Analyses: Team Ghosh! on In an Antique Land

I'm experimenting this year with adding blogging into the mix of things students do in my courses. So this semester I'll be posting post-group research/teaching project learning analyses from students in my Non-Western Literature course. The students' task in this assignment, one dimension of many they're being assessed on in this project, is simply to identify the one or two most interesting things they learned about the text and or writer on which they presented as a result of the planning, research, teaching, and reflection/assessment process they went through in doing the project. These are not meant to be full-blown analytical/interpretive/argumentative critical essays, but instead little personal, subjective pieces on what the text they taught meant to them.

Here's the second batch, from a team who named themselves Team Ghosh! and lead a great discussion on In an Antique Land.

***

Allison leads off:

In An Antique Land by Amitav Ghosh is not a book that you browse a bookstore, pick up, and say to yourself, “yes I’m going to enjoy this book.” This is not to say that it is not interesting or that I did not enjoy it; however, I do feel that it is the type of book that if you don’t read it in an academic setting you probably won’t read it. While I can see why many people in the class may have disliked the book, I enjoyed it. Reading this book was a different experience: it presents itself as a traveler’s guide, I read it as if it was a novel, and it was actually an autobiography. I was constantly looking for symbolism and meaning in everything that was written but it wasn’t there and I just had to come to terms with the fact that this was a real life experience and not everything had a calculated purpose, it just was.

Ghosh’s writing and travels show the merging of a lot of major themes; while he is looking for this slave he encounters conversation and challenging of religion, westernization, and orientalization. The town he stays in is this strange mix of old world traditions and longing for modernization. My favorite part of this book is when he is having a conversation and another person makes a comment about how he probably worships cows all day back home. This moment shows the assumptions that people make about entire cultures based on the little information they have. It me think about today and the war our country is fighting; we attack people based on assumptions, the US views itself as the world police, but who are we to say how things should be, as we are looking at things through our own cultural (or lack thereof) perspective and many times we don’t take into account an other’s cultural perspective. It is the things that Ghosh did not go looking for that made this book interesting; we never get a resolution when it comes to the slave, but you lose sight of that during the reading because his interactions bring about these other topics.

I believe that the reason that Ghosh is so fascinated by this slave is because he only discovered him by chance. If the slave had never been mentioned in the things that Ghosh was reading the slave would have been long forgotten about. It shows the power that language and literacy hold. The passing on of stories is what immortalizes events, places and people. It is the entire basis for the study of history. How often do we hear that unless we study history it will inevitably repeat itself? Whether Ghosh knew it at the time or not that is really the point that he was proving.

***

Anonymous Student #2 follows up:

After reading In An Antique Land by Amitav Ghosh there are many interesting things that I have learned about this book. First, I found it very interesting that this is a true story. When I first began reading this book I could not seem to put my hand around the idea that in the 1980s life was still very difficult for many Egyptians. Reading this piece of literature opened my eyes to the fact that not everyone lives comfortably and is able to get around in a car. I believe that I knew these things, but in his book Ghosh made me aware of the differences among people; at the same time I was able to see that while there are differences among cultures and religion, people are still the same. I believe that Ghosh uses this book to create a window into a less privileged world, to pull his readers in and make them care about the conditions and lifestyles of third world countries and the history among us.

Another interesting aspect of Ghosh’s book that I was able to pull out of the reading was that religion and trade are what bring people together; they are what lead to globalization. It is interesting to think that although there was such a strained relationship between India and Egypt they both desire the same thing, modernization; both want to increase the technology and want to better their lives. The racial tension and cultural differences throughout the book are some of the themes that I focused on heavily during my reading. I did outside research on the time period and was able to discover that the main reason for the tension between Iraq and Egypt in the 1980s was because the Egyptians were going to Iraq during the Iraq/Iran working and taking all of their jobs. So while, Iraq was at war, Egypt was benefiting from the jobs available.

The most interesting piece of information that I took from the novel is from the slave of MS H.6. I believe that what Ghosh was trying to do by including this character in his novel is show that history lives on through those where able to read and write, through their journals, letters, and records, and if he wouldn’t have found the letter that contained information about him we would never know about him. This sends a message to me that it is important to understand that there are misunderstandings in culture and history. Through Ghosh I have found myself able to look at both sides a situations and realize that we are all the same, fighting for the same things, with essentially the same goal, modernization, for better or for worse.

***

Steph bats third:

What I was most surprised to learn from simply reading In An Antique Land by Amitav Ghosh was his desire to get other people's stories on the page. He observes the culture of Egypt with tolerance and openness; he also has an ear open to the ancient Ben Yiju and his slave, and to what their significance may have been. He transcribes his day to day interactions with the Egyptian “fellahs” and in this book gives them a place to be observed by thousands and thousands of readers, making them more real and less of an “other.” This book must be a way of showing the reality of people other than ourselves and attempting peaceful interactions with them.

In the book, Amitav Ghosh reacted peacefully to cultural barriers between himself and the Egyptians. He does not get fired up over symbolic differences, as he knows from his own experiences that these symbols are what start wars. The Egyptians criticize his religion, the fact that Hindus cremate their dead, and the long-standing myth that Hindus worship cows. He takes these differences, and the way the Egyptians distort the information so that the Indians sound like the more barbaric culture, with an attitude of humility and tolerance.

I believe Ghosh's travelogue showed his personal desire to create bonds that are stronger than and reach past perceived cultural barriers (as well as the barrier of history in the case of Ben Yiju). I feel this even more strongly after researching some of Ghosh's other writings, especially from reading an essay entitled “The Anglophone Empire” posted on his website.

***

Owen Mayer hits clean-up:

Amitav Ghosh’s In an Antique Land was, I believe, the first text I had read in an English class which was not a novel, poem, or an essay. If forced to describe the genre I may venture something like, “narrative history.” It did not come as a surprise to learn that Ghosh has taught at many universities not as an English professor but as a Sociology professor. When reflecting on this text it seems as though it was written with much more of a sociological leaning than a literary leaning. By comparing an ancient society with a modern society Ghosh questions social and technological progress.

In conducting further research on the book I was shocked when I actually took out a map and traced the paths of the characters in the book. Ben Yiju, the trader of the middle ages, began his life in Tunisia and traveled to the south western Indian coast. His “slave” was trusted with his business affairs and traveled between India and Aden, which is in modern day Yemen. I believe Ghosh purposely chose these two well traveled subjects to serve as a comparison with the modern characters, the Egyptian fellaheen (small-town farmers), most of which never leave Egypt. It is interesting to note the differences in travel, especially in what we often think of as a world which has been recently shrunk by modern transportation.

Much of the criticism on In an Antique Land, such as Anshuman A. Mondal’s “Allegories of Identity: ‘Postmodern’ Anxiety and ‘Postcolonial’ Ambivalence in Amitav Ghosh’s In An Antique Land and The Shadow Lines,” discusses Ghosh’s (who is a Hindu from India) relations with the fellaheen (who are Muslim). Mondal describes how they perceive him as an “other,” a person outside their community, and can find no positive in his differences from them. The reader can compare this experience of Ghosh to the experience of Ben Yiju, a Jewish “other” living in a largely Hindu community in India. Compared to himself, Ghosh describes relatively few cultural barriers that Ben Yiju encountered in India. In an Antique Land frequently provides readers with opportunities to compare life in the Middle East and India across the borders of time; readers can make political, social, religious, and gender based connections.

***

Next up: Team Wiggityx4 Wack on V.S. Naipaul's A Way in the World!

Monday, April 14, 2008

On Generalizations (and Grad School, Tenure, and Taylorism)

Can't do with them, can't do without them--that's the problem with generalizations, I say. As an antidote to the off-target generalizations flying around about tenure these days--"it exists only to protect lazy bullies!" "it's to blame for the corporatization and casualization of the university!" "it restricts the academic freedom of the untenured and nontenurable!"--may I humbly recommend that you go and check out A White Bear's post on the way faculty and graduate students (are expected to) interact (and so much more) over at Is there no sin in it?? Go ahead, I can wait.

Read it? Yeah, yeah, I know it's not about tenure even tangentially, but I'll get to that. One of the things I love about her post (and AWB's blogging more generally) is the way she sets up and qualifies the generalizations she makes--they inevitably come from carefully-observed and -thought over details of her life. Even better, almost every post reads like an insight has just hit her or a pattern has just fallen into place in the world or her head. She's not putting it out there as her settled view--she wants to see what her readers make of it. And because she has built up such a great readership and commentariat over the years, the comments on many of her posts are as illuminating and moving as her writing that got each of those asynchronous conversations started. Which is to say that she gets blogging--she really is committed to exploring the possibilities of this medium and of playing with its emerging conventions and traditions.

Tenure? Oh yeah! Here's the connection, in slow motion. AWB offers three interesting generalizations about what being a graduate student means.

1) "PhD students, even more so than undergrads, are, on the East Coast, anyhow, expected to be slime-dwelling sycophants. We are supposed to keep in mind at all times that, although we are responsible for teaching big courseloads of difficult classes, sitting on committees, helping to run programs (often out of our own pockets), advising students, writing recommendation letters, developing curriculum, and on and on, we are in probation. Our classes are observed and evaluated every semester, our behavior is analyzed to the finest degree, our work scrutinized for purity of thought, and, on top of all that, we make about a quarter of what a tenure-track prof makes, and usually without health insurance."

2) "And when I meet students from other, more formal and stately PhD programs, I am rather shocked by the god-like awe that separates the faculty from the graduate students. At MLA one year, I remember sneaking off to a casual Thai restaurant and watching a whole program dine together, everyone in thousand-dollar suits, with the graduate students speaking only to say things like, 'Ah, I believe Professor X is correct there!' and 'Ha, ha, Professor Y!'”

3) "If there’s one kind of mentoring that really gets lost somewhere in graduate programs, it’s something about how to be brave."

She's not putting these generalizations out there as The Truth. For those who read her post and check out her blog regularly, it's clear that these are reflections based on comparing her (relatively collegial) experiences with others'. But because she's so observant, so smart, and such a good writer, it feels to me that she's earned the questions she poses at the end of her post, in which she puts forward even broader generalizations:

Partly, I suppose the grinding-down is there because most of the people who seriously consider grad school in the first place are egotistical assholes, but what about those who are so easily convinced by the grinding-down that they are scum? What benefit does it offer them to further scummify them? We receive all kinds of professional training, but as far as interpersonal social training goes, all grad students seem to be learning is how to couch every statement with an apology and a self-negation. Who is there to lift us up so that, when we go on the job market, we look like young professors, and not like self-loathing vermin? Is the feeling that one is a vermin somehow productive in a way that I am blind to?


Tenure? I'm getting there. First, I want to throw a question or 5 of my own out there. How widespread are the problems AWB identifies? Do they get worse the higher up the academic status (and endowments) ladder you go? To what extent does tenure exacerbate them? To what extent does it cause them? Is it possible that tenure has nothing to do with them at all?

Sure, AWB's comment thread on this post is mostly about gender, generations, and mentoring, but I don't think I'm out of line to connect this to the tenure issue. When you're in your graduate program, you tend to assume it's a microcosm of the entire profession--that The Field is Your Department writ large. If you hit the jackpot on your job search and start your first tenure-track job at a place that's roughly equivalent to where you did your graduate studies, you're too concerned about figuring out the local politics and culture of Your New Department to make much of the difference in perspective on The Field you're getting. Meanwhile, the vast majority of people starting their tenure-track careers find themselves in the world of Academic Taylorism, too busy to do more than rue how badly their graduate programs prepared them for life outside the Billion Dollar Endowment Club. And the rest--the majority of candidates--do academic piece-work. The generalizations you tend to make about The Field start from the kinds of institutions you've been at and positions you've held in your academic career.

What Craig Smith and I have been trying to do is connect the dots--explore the relations between the training/credentialing system, the job search system, the academic staffing system, and the institution of tenure. A post like AWB's can help us do this--from our various institutional locations and academic histories--together.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Nalo Hopkinson to Make Toronto-to-Fredonia Commute

[cross-posted from sf@SF]

It's official! Award-winning science fiction and fantasy writer Nalo Hopkinson will be giving a reading/lecture at SUNY Fredonia on Monday, April 21st. And she'll be making a special appearance in our Science Fiction class the following day, which we're moving to a new room to accommodate Saundra Liggins's African American literature class and any other Fredonians who want to attend.

Many thanks to the Dean of Arts and Humanities John Kijinski, the Pride Alliance, the Science Fiction Fantasy Gamers Guild, and the Mary Louise White Fund--not to mention the amazing Ms. Hopkinson herself--for making this visit possible. And to Jeffrey McMinn, Textbook Manager at SUNY Fredonia, who will have about 25 copies of her newest novel, The New Moon's Arms (which, by the way, was recently shortlisted for the Nebula and Aurora awards) and her first novel, Brown Girl in the Ring (which won the Warner Aspect First Novel Contest in 1997 and recently was one of the 5 finalists among the books selected for the Canada Reads program).

Here are the details:

Monday, April 21, 4:30 pm, Thompson W101: Reading/Lecture on race in science fiction; free and open to the public

Tuesday, April 22, 2 pm, McEwen G26: Class Visit; free and open to SUNY Fredonia students, faculty, and staff

And a bit of a bio:

Born in Jamaica, and raised in Jamaica, Trinidad, Guyana, and the U.S., Nalo Hopkinson has lived in Canada since her family moved there in 1977 when she was 16 years old. The author of four novels and two short story collections, she has branched out into essays, editing, and art in recent years.

Spread the word!