Wednesday, 28 September 2005

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Unwitting Tuesday Hatred II; or Susurrus from a Broken Bullhorn Yesterday Michael Bérubé (Michael Bérubé!) declared If I came across a job candidate with a blog like this or this, or this, or this, or this, or this (jus t to take a half dozen at random), I’d be impressed, and if the rest of the candidate’s materials looked as good, I’d want to interview him or her ... because I’m very, very partial to people who write smart stuff. (Click on that first "this" and experience instant déjà vu.) So I'm the sort of scholar Michael would not not hire if I applied for a position at Penn on the condition that "the rest of [my] materials looked as good." This contingent stamp of approval is a little alarming because, to be frank, I don't know how the rest of my materials look (and am a little confused as to what my "materials" would be). I have one potentially forthcoming essay...but it's been "potentially forthcoming" since I sent in revisions well over three years ago. Last year I mustered gumption enough to email the guest editor of the issue my essay would've appear in and heard back almost immediately. Not from him, mind you, but from an automated messaging service letting me know that Dr. _____ is currently vacationing in France and will return my message promptly upon his return. That was last November. Either his position puts the sin in sinecure or he's avoiding me, in which case I should abandon all hope of that article ever being published. But even if I were to publish it elsewhere, I don't think it'd be part of my "materials." (It concerns a field I no longer work in and employs an approach I no longer condone.) So what else is there? The chapters of my dissertation that I'll eventually publish as articles in the field's flagship journals. (Some of which, I recently discovered, now syndicate their contents. That's why the latest issue of American Literary History and American Literature are now available on my left sidebar.) But all I can count on at this point is a finished dissertation and my teaching experience. I've taught or TA'd a variety of courses (some of which were cross-listed with Comparative Literature and Criticism) including Introduction to Irish Modernism (self-explanatory), Modern Youth (a course in which the kids queered 2oth Century bildungsromans after reading a healthy dose of Freud and Foucault), and Covering Elections (a hybrid literature and journalism class concerning the history of election coverage since 1960). I've also taught numerous lower-division Introduction to the Novel and Introduction to Drama courses, as well as five or six Introduction to Literary Journalisms. By the time I hit the market I'll also have team-taught The Ethics and Evolution of Literary Journalism (an upper-division course) with Pulitzer Prize-winning author Barry Siegel. I strongly suspect none of that will matter when I hit the market because I haven't published anything yet. Still, in terms of the originality of its research, my dissertation should belong to the...
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The Horatio Alger Hoax; or, Why Dissertations Like Mine Ought to Be Written In 1928, Herbert Mayes published Alger: A Biography Without a Hero. The young journalist had discovered the lost diary of Horatio Alger, in which the famous author recounted the marriage to Patience Stires his fathered initially opposed and ultimately quashed; one affair with a Parisian café singer and another with a married woman (which, when revealed, forced him from the pulpit); and the adoption and tragic trampling of a Chinese toddler named Wing. The lost diary provided Mayes with irrefutable evidence of that Alger was a Freudian study in repression, his novels of “luck and pluck” little more than pathetic exercises in psychoanalytic wish-fulfillment. In 1938, Kenneth Lynn’s The Dream of Success counted Alger alongside Theodore Dreiser and Jack London as frustrated (in the psychoanalytic sense) little men who pour “out all [their] dammed-up ambitions and repressed desire into more than a hundred novels and countless short stories about adolescent boys who, beginning in poverty and obscurity, took the fabulous city…by storm.” Lynn’s source was, as you may suspect, Mayes. In 1959, Norman Holland followed suit in “Hobbling with Horatio, or the Uses of Literature.” Holland considered Alger “an emotional cripple” for whom the writing of books was a means of surpassing his father while avoiding direct competition with him. In 1963, another psychoanalytic critic, John Tebbel, praised Mayes in the introduction to From Rags to Riches: Horatio Alger and the American Dream, saying “it is a tribute to the research he did at twenty-eight to note that it can hardly be improved upon nearly four decades later. The primary sources of Alger material are meager, indeed, but Mr. Mayes appears to have examined all of them, and no new original material has turned up in the intervening decades.” In 1964, amateur collector and Alger enthusiast Ralph Gardner published Horatio Alger, or The American Hero Era, in which he declared that, given the paucity of biographical information, “some situations were dramatized and dialogue created, but always within the framework of existing facts.” Reviewers discredited Gardner’s speculative biography, calling it a “whitewash” and noting its patent inferiority to Professor Tebbel’s stylishly Freudian account. Tebbel’s academic credentials are significant: because Gardner was “an admirer,” Cecil B. Williams argued in American Literature (March, 1965), “he includes only what suited the image he wanted to present, omitting Patience Stires, Wing, and the illicit affairs, but emphasizing young Alger’s standing in his Harvard class and the prizes he won for Greek prose.” The coup de grace: “Tebbel’s book is indexed; Gardner’s is not.” Instead of extrapolation, Williams suggests, it is better to mourn the fact that “no new original material [had] turned up” since 1928. Except some had. In 1961, another amateur collector and Alger enthusiast, Frank Gruber, had privately published Horatio Alger, Jr: A Biography and Bibliography of the Best Selling Author of All Time. In it, Gruber noted that he had been “compelled to discard virtually everything in [Mayes’] book with one single exception, the date of his birth. Even the date of...

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