Monday, 08 January 2007

Reflections on Professionalization, Blogging and the MLA Blogging has benefited my career. The feedback I received at the conference was overwhelmingly positive. If I finish my dissertation in the next nine months, I see little reason to think my online activities will have a negative effect on my hireability. This is not to say that I believe they will have a positive effect—as Bérubé noted during the Q&A to the first blogging panel, a blog is not something to list on your CV. Still, none of the luminaries I spoke to at the MLA believed blogs inherently unscholarly. (A few have even emailed me in the days since asking for advice on the various blogging platforms.) We've made some progress on this count. But at what cost? The distinction between "academics who blog" and "academic blogs" ought to be insisted upon. The value of anonymous blogs in which a community celebrates/commiserates/communicates the minutiae of academic life has been underestimated (at least by me). The (seemingly) sudden disappearance of a number of blogs and bloggers who were well established when I arrived on the scene speaks to the possibility that "academic blogging" is strangling the life from "academics who blog." Careerists like myself may unwittingly pressure "academics who blog" into thinking their blogs must be more than mere blogs to justify their existence. I don't think that the case, and would hate to feel responsible for changing the environs in such a way that would make people uncomfortable. And yet, I do feel responsible. Perhaps because: Blogging has made me a nicer person. Strange as it may sound, a number of people were shocked by how "nice" a person I am. Something about blogging has transformed the asshole you know and love into a kind and (according to a couple of people) "surprisingly young" gentleman. (Do I write old? Don't answer that. I don't want to know.) The former is particularly amusing given that, as one correspondent insisted, the panel (and its success) should've reinforced my native "asshole-ishness." The MLA should've marked my ego's coming-of-age, should've been its extended coming-out party. Instead, I foolishly wasted those days being polite, humble and modest, much like those before and after the convention. Had someone informed me prior to the panel of these expectations, I would've behaved hideously. Instead, I transformed myself into a dim lummox: Thinking about blogging and academia has made me a dull blogger. When all you do for a couple weeks is theorize your life and its relation to your career, it stands to reason you'll tire of both. And I have. I'm so oppressed by the tyranny of the meta- that mere blogging seems inadequate unless I include a proper justificatory framework for it. (Like the one framing the reproduction of my talk.) Solipsistic meta- posts are as dull to write as they are to read, though, so after this one I'm banishing such thoughts from my mind. Once I resume researching and writing—tomorrow, I attack!—the urge to write dull posts will be drowned beneath the...
Do You Do the Police in Different Voices? (x-posted from the Valve ) A conversation with The Little Womedievalist about how to teach drama-qua-drama in the classroom brought to mind how I taught Introduction to Drama lo those many years ago. I problematized gender from the start, slyly assigning males to read the female roles and vice versa. I knew the students would be uncomfortable reading anyway—this way, not only would they be uncomfortable, they’d be dramatically interpellated into roles they might otherwise think and write reductively about. This approach worked best not in the aforelinked course, but another in which I opened with The Oresteia and worked forward to Twelfth Night. On the first day devoted to Shakespeare, the entire class—which, to my delight, had keened to my scheme—demanded to know who would be reading Viola and Cesario. I had set the stage for a discussion of gender which would not (and did not) alienate conservative students likely to complain of the inherent liberal bias of their patently liberal instructor. (I may have been teaching canonical literature, but why Twelfth Night? Why not Hamlet? Oddly, the three openly conservative in the course I linked to said nary a word about Clifford Odet’s Waiting for Lefty and the adaptation of Sinclair Lewis’ It Can’t Happen Here—but that’s a discussion for another post.) I know that gender should be an issue central to any introductory discussion of Elizabethan drama, but Horowitz and his ilk have all pumps primed, fit to burst. The first mention of “gender” or “sexuality” invites a chorus of complaint. (Had I been half the teacher I think I am, I would’ve incorporated this outpouring of communal outrage into an introduction to a key dramatic device; but alas, teaching is nothing if not a perpetual exercise in staircase wit.) Forcing the students to adopt, to understand unaccustomed roles before the plays raise issues of gender and sexuality counter-primes the students, compelling them to see these issues to be inherent instead of imposed. The ruse worked on both the classroom and conceptual level. The students enjoyed their own and fellow classmates’ performances and learned about the immanence of questions of gender and sexuality in literary studies. But my success here was contingent, not of general pedagogical value to those whose Introductions to Drama include plays which don’t thematize the issues as Twelfth Night does. So I ask—for others as much as myself—how do you teach drama in literature courses? Do you, as one of my colleagues put it, teach plays as “performed novels” and ignore the quirks particular to the genre? Or do you incorporate performance into the classroom, not only acknowledging what distinguishes dramatic pieces from poetic or novelistic but demonstrating how those differences are meaningful? [A final, Microsoft Word-inspired anecdote: Word wanted the first clause of the sentence beginning “Had I been half the teacher I think I am” to read “Had I been half the teacher me think I be.” I must admit—sometimes Word has an impeccable ear for the musicality of prose. Would...

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