Wednesday, 21 March 2007

What, Wait, When? As mentioned elsewhere yesterday, I'm reading Allegra Goodman's Intuition on the advice of a friend in the hard sciences who claims it the most accurate (sociologically speaking) account of interlab dynamics. "Goodman captures," she said, "what happens when scientists stop being polite and start being real." (She reddened before the last word left her mouth.) I'm not sure she meant the entire novel—near the end, a lapsed Jew saves his lab's reputation in a House subcommittee by invoking Godwin's Law—but the routine indignance and perfunctory jealousy outlined in the first half of the novel ring true enough. What makes this novel unique, possibly even brilliant, is the sly turn Goodman pulls more than halfway through it. To this humanist, the descriptions of research sound bleeding edge. Isolating strains of a virus and militating them against cancer cells? Sounds plenty contemporary to me. Then I stumble across this passage on page 165: Larry and Wendy militated to keep software in the public domain and away from greedy profiteers like Lotus and Wordperfect, and their upstart rival, Microsoft. While other people wore FREE MANDELA T-shirts, Larry and Wendy donned shirts emblazoned FREE SOFTWARE. Microsoft an upstart? Mandela still imprisoned? This novel takes place in the '80s. Skimming through the first 164 pages, I find one passage about a backwards character eager to discuss Reagan's Star Wars initiative; but because this character prides himself on possessing the mindset of an earlier era, I took that reference as one more indication of his obsolescence. Sprung as it is, the Microsoft reference must be intentional. There's no other reason to, pause the sentence, and highlight, that Microsoft is, an upstart rival. Goodman wanted the reader to be shocked out of his or her moment, to feel their woeful ignorance of all this scientific. The ploy is well-played. Only now I feel like a ham.
I Am Making People Uncomfortable with My Words and What I Say Someone sent me a link to this page, in which the content of my previous post is discussed. I'm not familiar enough with the conventions of livejournal to decipher who says what, but I want to address some of the issues raised there. First, in regards to this post, I considered everyone would know of my love for Philip K. Dick and understand that I was having a thoroughly modernist laugh at haughty types who would exclude him from any future canon. Second, I'm not laughing (or asking others to laugh) at anything other than an outrageous display of entitlement. What I mocked in the post was not a particular student so much as a type of student. Someone suggested this speaks poorly of me personally and as emissary for the profession. Perhaps. But only the outrageously entitled will think poorly of me for mocking outrageous entitlement ... and I'm not interested in pandering to that particular demographic. (White patriarchal privilege being something I demystify in my class, not encourage.) Third, the person who compared me to a character in a David Lodge novel (not in a complimentary sense) is onto something: I may not be as much of character as Dr. B., but my persona here is tailored. (As noted previously, people who meet me off-line often describe me as "nice.") I've been meaning to write more about this for some time now, but lack the sense of self-importance required to write introspectively for long periods of time. Maybe someday. Fourth, to the person who said "composing it as real seems precisely Kaufman's style," what can I do but confess? (Again, that is.) The letter is written in the style of the student's complaint, but I had a little fun with it. The student may find some of the phrasing familiar, but I freely admit to doctoring the original email. Granted, I parroted the style and diction as best I could. (As the resident poets have noticed, there may be a little more lyricism in my version than there was in the original.) Thing is, writing in someone else's style is something I do rather regularly (if rarely so explicitly). I'm a firm believer in the apprenticeship model of developing prose and frequently inhabit other writer's voices for dramatic effect. Fifth, the complaint is neither recent nor accurate: I'm on a leave of absence this year; and as my former students who piped up in the comments will attest, I'm eminently approachable. (I could trace the origins of my decidedly feminist pedagogy here, but as I spent last week detailing my "teaching philosophy" for job applications, the thought of that discussion turns my stomach.) On an unrelated note, I'm not sure what to make of the fact that every six months or so I write something that people genuinely want to share with others. (Jealous complaints about my over-exposure notwithstanding.) Building off my recent defense of n+1, I'm tempted to think that were I writing in a more traditional...

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