Monthly Archives: August 2012

Being Grateful for Education

I always assign an essay early on in my first-year composition classes that asks students to reflect on their educational experiences and how those experiences have led them to enroll in college. This afternoon I read one of these essays by a woman who grew up in Afghanistan. Her family moved to Pakistan when the Taliban made education for females illegal, and then moved back to Afghanistan once the Taliban were overthrown before finally moving to the United States.

Her essay was one of the most powerful student papers I have ever read because of how passionate and grateful she was for the opportunity to get an education. Although I value education and am a scholar because I love acquiring knowledge, I realize that I am unable to appreciate how much of a privilege it is to be able to be a student (and now a teacher) and to also be able to read any book that I would like because these things have always been readily available to me, and so I take them for granted to a certain extent even when I think actively about appreciating them. I am grateful for stories like hers because they remind me to appreciate what I have.

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Book Acquired Recently: Stephen Beachy’s Distortion

Beachy, Stephen. Distortion. Binghamton: Harrington Park, 2001.

I bought this book as a part of my recent obsession with Beachy’s fiction (see my entry for 28 August for more details about this). It just arrived today from the United Kingdom, which has more aesthetically pleasing mail than the U.S.A. does.

Note the pleasing brown color of the mailing envelope, which evokes the parcels of yore. It looks much better than the nasty yellow/manilla envelopes we have in the United States.

Even though the book shipped from the U.K., the shipping was the same price as all other books bought from independent sellers on amazon.com ($3.99).

The return address reads in part “Paperbackshop.co.uk, Horcott Industrial Estate, Fairford, Glos [I’m not sure what this abbreviation stands for, but wish I did], UK”

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Books Acquired Recently

Beachy, Stephen. The Whistling Song. 1991. New York: Norton, 1992.

I recently read and loved Beachy’s novel Boneyard, and thus have ordered several more of his books, as is my usual practice when I discover a new author. There’s another one on the way.

Creekmur, Corey K., and Alexander Doty, eds. Out in Culture: Gay, Lesbian and Queer Essays on Popular Culture. Durham: Duke UP, 1995.

I bought this book for nostalgia’s sake. I read a few essays in it while doing research for a college essay on Jesus’s sexuality that have remained vivid in my mind over the past ten years and were instrumental in planting the seeds of my personal and scholarly interests in (artistic and literary depictions of) queer sexuality. One is on Tom of Finland, and the other is on the differences between LGBT and heterosexual pornography. I didn’t use the essays then in my essay, but they are relevant now in some of the work I am doing.

Plimpton, George. The Best of Plimpton. New York: Atlantic Monthly, 1990.

As I wrote recently, I’ve been fascinated by Plimpton for years, but have hardly read any of his writing. Buying this collection of his work is an attempted remedy.

All bought on amazon.com.

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UHF and the Loss of Cultural Memory

Last night for some reason I was thinking about Weird Al Yankovic’s 1989 film UHF (the film’s imdb.com page is here: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0098546/). It occurred to me that this film would completely baffle my students because they would have no idea what a UHF dial is, having grown up solely with remote-control televisions and cable (my college’s economic demographics are such that it is fair to assume that virtually all of my American students’ families could afford cable). The UHF dial was quickly becoming a thing of the past when the film was released; it is an ode to a dying cultural artifact. Now the film functions as a piece of historical documentation as well as entertainment.

On one hand, the idea that the UHF dial will be completely forgotten once my generation is dead seems insignificant. The variety of programming available on the UHF frequency is multiplied on cable (the film’s eponymous theme song’s assertion that “You can watch us all day, you can watch us all night, you can watch us any time that you please. You can sit around and stare at the picture tube ’til your brain turns into cottage cheese” is more true than ever), and the convenience of remote controls is wonderful. It is also quite possible that by the time I die televisions themselves will be a thing of the past because we will get all of our visual entertainment through computers. The technological progress since UHF‘s release is a good thing.

But on the other hand, the loss of any human knowledge should be mourned. (Nicholson Baker’s excellent novel The Mezzanine articulates this idea much more poignantly than I do here.) Our lives are enriched by understanding how far we’ve come, and when knowledge of the past disappears we are all poorer for it. It is especially scary when one realizes how quickly this knowledge can disappear. If we are not careful, it does so without any conversation, without any acknowledgment that it is occurring. We lose it before we realize it. I know about UHF dials, but it is not like I discuss them with others, so in a sense this knowledge was already dead because I was keeping it boxed up, but I am trying to resurrect it via this post.

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NOBODY EXPECTS THE SPANISH INQUISITION!

I had this classic Monty Python sketch in my head this morning:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tym0MObFpTI

It struck me that now when I hear the words “Spanish Inquisition” my first reaction is to laugh rather than to be horrified by all of the lives it unjustly destroyed. I am not sure how to feel about this. I suspect that this reaction is shared by most others who are familiar with the sketch. Are there other examples of pop culture rehabilitating an atrocity to this wide extent?

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The Beginning of the Semester

I love all of the pageantry associated with the beginning of the college school year. Aside from all the fun stuff in class–the awkward get-to-know-you games, the endearlingly horrified look on students’ faces when I tell them how many books we will be reading, their nervous laughter at my wry jokes–there are the gatherings of colleagues which always remind me why I enjoy being an academic. This afternoon is our first department meeting of the year, and tonight there is the annual Welcome Back Party at the president’s house with lots of food and drink. The knowledge that all of one’s colleagues are along on the journey as well is a warm, comforting feeling.

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The End of the Summer

A new semester begins tomorrow. I am excited to meet my students and get things going, but I will also miss the free time that this summer has afforded. I’ve had a very productive three months, writing two conference presentations, a book chapter, and some productive brainstorming notes for another book chapter that is due next spring. I have also sustained this blog at a satisfactory level. Writing here almost every day has really helped my academic writing because it helps keep me sharp. It is always a struggle to find writing time when classes are in session, but I am going to try to continue to write here at least every other day, and also make time for my scholarship. I have good momentum going and want to keep it up.

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Books Acquired Recently

Aldrich, Nelson W., Jr., ed. George, Being George: George Plimpton’s Life as Told, Admired, Deplored, and Envied by 200 Friends, Relatives, Lovers, Acquaintances, Rivals–and a Few Unappreciative Observers. New York: Random, 2008.

I am fascinated by George Plimpton as a sort of public intellectual who was one of the last of his kind. However, this fascination hasn’t arisen as a result of his writing, but as a result of his various film and television appearances (e.g., in Good Will Hunting, in Ken Burns’s Baseball, and on the The Simpsons [His appearance as a crooked spelling bee promoter/hotplate salesman is priceless, but unfortunately I can’t find it on YouTube. His final line is “Now I’ll go back to doing whatever it is that I do.” Exactly.]). I decided that it is time for me to learn more about him and his writing, so I bought Aldrich’s oral history of Plimpton’s life and Plimpton’s oral history of Truman Capote (who also fascinates me).

Beachy, Stephen. Boneyard. Portland: Verse Chorus, 2011.

One of my favorite poets, Julia Spicher Kasdorf, recommended this novel to me because of my interests in LGBT literature and Mennonite literature. Intersections between the two are extremely rare, but I am so glad that she introduced me to Beachy’s novel because I just finished it tonight and it is amazing! One of the top five novels I’ve ever read, probably (top ten for sure). It is as though Kathy Acker were male and an ex-Mennonite, and decided to write about her/his Mennonite baggage. It has immediately become the next work that I will write scholarship on.

Plimpton, George. Truman Capote: In Which Various Friends, Enemies, Acquaintances, and Detractors Recall His Turbulent Career. New York: Doubleday, 1997.

Apparently this got excellent reviews. It’s slightly thicker than Aldrich’s book.

Sullivan, Nikki. A Critical Introduction to Queer Theory. New York: New York UP, 2003.

I’ll be teaching a literary criticism and theory course next semester and am starting to look at potential textbooks. Sullivan’s book has gotten good reviews and is supposed to be accessible, so I thought I would check it out.

All bought on amazon.com.

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“The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”

I finished reading William Faulkner’s Requiem for a Nun this evening. I was reading it partly because I’m teaching it’s prequel, Sanctuary, this semester, but also because I am fond of the famous quote from it about the past not being past, and wanted to learn more about its context. I had always thought the quote was “We may be through with the past, but the past is not through with us. In fact, it is not even past.” However, the quote is actually “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” It turns out that the version I had in my head is a misquotation of Faulkner from one of my favorite films, Magnolia. I am sad that the film’s version is incorrect because, even though both make the excellent point that the past constantly affects the present (especially in Faulkner’s work, where the Civil War always happened yesterday), the longer version depicts the past as a foreboding presence, always gaining on us as we try to escape it, which seems fitting for Faulkner’s writing.

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Books Acquired Recently

Faulkner, William. Requiem for a Nun. 1951. New York: Vintage, 2011.

I am teaching Faulkner’s Sanctuary in an independent study this semester, and bought its sequel Requiem to read as part of my preparation.  Reading Faulkner is a guilty pleasure–his writing is beautiful, and he is an essential figure in the development of American literature, but for some reason his personal despicableness bothers me more than any other writer’s aside from Ezra Pound’s. I certainly believe in judging a book based on its artistic merits rather than on its author’s biography, but Faulkner’s statement that he would shoot African Americans down in the street if ordered to do so by Mississippi’s governor is difficult to get past.

Bought on amazon.com.

Poore, Michael. Up Jumps the Devil. New York: Ecco, 2012.

I received this book in my school mailbox today, presumably as an (unasked for) exam copy from the publisher as there was no note with it, so I doubt it is from a colleague. The secretaries usually open mail that isn’t obviously personal (which is weird because I feel bad having someone do a task for me that I could easily do myself, especially one that tends to be enjoyable. I, like Virginia Woolf with her servants, feel tremendously awkward around secretaries. I am uncomfortable with the power imbalance, it makes me feel bourgeois.), so I did not get a chance to see the return address. The novel, Poore’s first, sounds like it could be interesting, but it is not something that I would have bought myself, so who knows when I’ll get around to reading it.

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