Monday, 27 October 2008

The fish in Jonah’s barrel? Shot dead. Below the fold you’ll find a copy of the paper I presented today. As I’ve said before, when I write a talk, I write a talk. I don’t write an essay that just so happens to be read aloud. I revise based on what I hear when I read aloud, so as to avoid speaking sentences that can’t be parsed on the fly like, say, this one: Tina told Mark that John thought Pauline knew what Sam had planned for Justine, but Pauline insisted she had no idea John believed that, nor whether the look Justine exchanged with Mark at work yesterday meant that Tina had inadvertently revealed Sam’s trap before John and his brother Adam could spring it. My shorthand’s pretty straight-forward: ALL CAPS means emphasis, en dash short pause, em dash longer pause, &c. Some of the sentences are, yes, ungrammatical when written down—but when read aloud, they make more sense. (There are complicated linguistic reasons for this vis-a-vis the relation of written language to spoken, and one day I might get into them, but that day ain’t today.) That said, my talk: I’ve taken the title of this panel–”Blogging and the Academy”–a little literally, but I’ve heard and delivered a number of talks about the role of blogging in the academy–about its intellectual utility and its community-building potential–but haven’t heard much discussion about what impact, if any, the public presence of academics has had on the general level of online discourse. With that in mind, here are the two types of academic bloggers I won’t be discussing here today: the first is best embodied by former UCI economist Duncan Black, a.k.a. Atrios, whose blog Eschaton is, by any of the various unreliable measures of online popularity—links, hits, page views, &c.—one of the most powerful voices out there; the second comes in the form of Thers, the pseudonymous proprieter of Whiskey Fire and an English professor at a small liberal arts college. Duncan Black I’m avoiding because at this point, Eschaton is little more than a link-aggregator, with his longest recent post logging in at a robust 94 words; Thers I’m avoiding because he deliberately lives up to his namesake, Thersites, and as such is blunt, surly, and coarse; the verbal equivalent of Homer’s powerfully ugly hunchback whose satirical mode is, as Laurence Sterne noted, “of a pelting kind . . . as black as the very ink ’tis wrote with.” Which is only to say, he responds to people like Jonah Goldberg with deserved venom. If you don’t know who Jonah Goldberg is, consider yourself lucky—or formerly lucky, as I’m about to introduce you to him. He’s the son of conservative icon Lucianne Goldberg, who first made her mark on the national consciousness spying on the McGovern campaign for Nixon, but who is now best known for having advised Linda Tripp to record her conversations with Monica Lewinsky and deliver the tapes to Ken Starr. Writing in defense of his mother for publications beholden to her, Jonah...
My wretched cover letter; or, Hire me? (This post will self-destruct before the Google-spiders spy it.) Below the fold you'll find a copy of my cover letter. It's your typical—or what I've been told is "your typical"—four graph affair: introduction summary of dissertation basic teaching philosophy (as related to the dissertation) contact information I'm not happy with it. We'll see what my advisor thinks this afternoon. (That was an audible gulp you heard.) This is, of course, only a template. I could venture into much more detail about any of these points depending on the demands of the job I'm applying for, but even where templates are concerned, the shorter and punchier, the better. Is this short and punchy enough? Dear Professor _____: I am writing to apply for the position of _____ advertised in the _____ Job Information List. I completed my Ph.D. in English at the University of California, Irvine (UCI), where I specialized in nineteenth and early twentieth century American literature and culture. In addition to the interest that shaped my dissertation—the generic history of realism and naturalism and the historical development of evolutionary theory—during my time at UCI, I helped develop the curriculum and standards for the only undergraduate program in literary journalism in the UC system. As the editor of the online journal The Valve, I have organized symposia on books directly related to the literary studies, such as Nancy Armstrong’s How Novels Think and Amanda Claybaugh’s The Novel of Progress, as well as books by literary scholars pertaining to the public sphere, such as Michael Bérubé’s What’s Liberal about the Liberal Arts? and Walter Benn Michael’s The Trouble with Diversity. My dissertation, “Maximal Diversity: Non-Darwinian Evolutionary Theory in American Fiction, 1895-1910,” argues against the tradition of literary critics who consider “social Darwinism” the ascendant evolutionary influence on fin de siècle literary and popular culture. It examines how non-Darwinian evolutionary theory manifests in the works of writers traditionally interpreted in light of Darwinian notions like “survival of the fittest,” but who are as distinct in theme, genre and mode as Mark Twain, Edith Wharton, Jack London, and Silas Weir Mitchell. My thesis is that Richard Hofstadter’s powerful argument in 1944’s Social Darwinism in American Thought compelled later critics to distort the literature of the period by reading it as if the caricatured Darwinism of anti-eugenic polemics was the only evolutionary theory in which writers of the time trafficked. Each chapter reevaluates literary influence accomplishment in light of the actual evolutionary theories which influenced these writers. Chapter One, “The Ambivalent Naturalist: The Authority of Evolutionary Rhetoric in Edith Wharton’s ‘The Descent of Man’ and The House of Mirth,” documents how Wharton’s struggles against the environmental determinism manifest as structural elements of her narrative, such that the plight of Lily Bart is less an illustration of a particular evolutionary theory than a narrative experiment in evolutionary speculation. Chapter Two, “Accelerating Evolution: Social Reform and the Baldwin Effect in Jack London’s The Iron Heel and Before Adam,” addresses the apparent contradiction that has long dogged...

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