Saturday, 24 March 2007

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...
Oscar Wilde and the Quirks of the Academic Review (x-post from the Valve. For those wondering where Cerebus went, I note that my reading Wilde in my spare time has something to do having received Melmoth last week. More on that later.) I’m reading literary biographer extraordinaire Richard Ellmann’s Oscar Wilde and, as I always do with scholarly material, I hopped onto JSTOR to read reviews. (Were this another sort of post, I’d write something about why I feel the need to read reviews of every scholarly monograph I read. Were this another sort of post, I’d write about how frustrating it is to not be able to find any reviews of scholarly monographs until five years after they’ve been published. Were this another sort of post, I’d announce that our solution to this problem is host yet another book event, this time on Amanda Claybaugh’s The Novel of Purpose: Literature and Social Reform in the Anglo-American World. But this is not another sort of post.) As I was saying, I was sifting reviews of Oscar Wilde when I stumbled upon a review of Melissa Knox’s Oscar Wilde: A Long and Lovely Suicide. Its reputation seems to hinge on how the reviewer feels about vulgar Freudianism—recent concessions about literary Freudianism aside, I think my position on psychoanalysis sufficiently established—still, I’m baffled by the final sentence of John Stokes’ review: A book as profoundly wrong-headed as this can never produce the right answer for the very reason that psychic processes are of their very nature over-determined, which is also why the debate about Wilde and syphilis will fester for a long while yet. I understand that this is one of those rare cases in which literary interpretation can yield a correct answer—Oscar Wilde either (1) did or (2) did not contract syphilis—so the nod to “the right answer” is not throwing me here. Nor is it the pun on syphilitic discourse—although I wonder whether the question of Wilde carried what the English called morbus gallicus ("the French disease") and the French called la maladie anglaise ("the English disease") will fester in quite the same way its trademark pox will. What confuses me is that Stokes seems to identify as “profoundly wrong-headed” the very methodology he employed in judging it “profoundly wrong-headed.” This oddity can be attributed to a problem with conventional academic reviews. Unlike popular arbiter-of-taste—who, if not a known quantity, borrows some cultural capital from the venue in which the review is published—no one assumes any academic reviewer is without methodological bias. There is no singular conception of quality to which an academic reviewer can pretend to measure a work against. Despite this, most academic reviews are written as if there were, the result being strange compressions like the one quoted above. Obviously, this isn’t the only problem with academic reviews, and my annoyance is such that I may even start a series in which I complain and complain and complain ...

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