Wednesday, 27 January 2010

The End of Lurker Amnesty Week & a Brief Meditation on Professional Identity in the Public Sphere From now on, any lurker who leaves a comment will face reprisals both terrible and swift. Or not. For the most part, I performed this experiment to figure out who I'm writing for because 1) there are many more of you now, but the increase in readers has not been accompanied by a corresponding increase in the number of commenters, and 2) I thought knowing who you were might compensate for the fact that I'm not sure who I am anymore. When I started Acephalous, I was a graduate student in American literature who taught introductory literature classes and believed his dissertation would change the conversation just enough to land him a tenure-track job somewhere significant. My investment in that particular professional identity waned as the odds of its fruition faded, so I remade myself into someone who teaches literary journalism and spent a few years invested in a conception of myself as a candidate who could teach American literature and literary journalism, creative nonfiction, or whatever a particular institution called its program in the writing of things that belong in The New Yorker. But I still considered myself a future literary-critical professional and wrote things that indicated as much, e.g. most everything I wrote about literary theory. Not that my interest in those issues wasn't genuine, but the attention paid to them was commensurate to their foundational significance to an identity that, it became increasingly apparent, the market valued in name alone: the well-rounded literary scholar. After finishing the dissertation, I became that thing that no one wants to admit exists: the professional composition instructor. When tenured English faculty bother to note the existence of these poor souls, they speak to them as if their lives consist entirely of pain and wasted potential. As you might imagine, it is difficult to invest heavily in the identity that for years had functioned as an object lesson in professional failure. Had I focused on rhetoric and composition in my graduate work, I wouldn't have been in this situation, as my current position would have been an extension of my professional identity. But I didn't. To this day, I'm still not entirely comfortable in my professional skin, so much so that I have to trick myself into thinking I'm an adult by wearing slacks and dress shoes to class, shaving daily, and not punctuating my sentences with as much profanity as is my wont. All of which is only to say that as my expertise played an increasingly smaller role in what I taught, I began to feel ungrounded. I'd prepared myself to be a well-rounded literary scholar, but ended up a professional composition instructor. Then I realized something tremendously important: I was happy. I was teaching composition to freshmen and felt strongly gratified doing so. I wasn't teaching students abstruse theories about how literature works or arcane theories about how species evolved—I was teaching them the tools they need to interact with the world with a critical distance. Moreover, the online...
How to prove you formed a whole opinion after watching half a film. Over at Big Hollywood, a man who only watched the first half of Steven Soderbergh's Che declares the whole film a work of propaganda. You can tell he only watched the first half because he thinks the whole film is about Cuba—the second half, sometimes called Guerilla, covers events that took place in Bolivia and, more importantly, undercuts the romantic image of Che cultivated in The Argentine, the part of the film devoted to the Cuban revolution. Did Soderbergh omit the years between the Cuban and Bolivian insurgencies—years in which Che grossly mismanaged the Cuban economy, openly insulted the Soviet Union, and failed to exploit the revolutionary potential in the Congo? He did; however, he did so for narrative reasons, not political ones.Guerilla documents the abject failure of the great revolutionary to accomplish anything in the Bolivian wilds. Che and his dwindling forces spend the entire movie walking in circles—about an hour in, his forces are divided and compelled to walk in circles looking for each other, as if their mothers never told them that should they become separated from her at the mall, they should stay put and let her find them. The already leisurely pace of The Argentine slows to an appropriately Jarmuschian crawl, as it allows the viewer to realize that, as in Dead Man, the protagonist died in the first five minutes of the film and all this pointless wandering through desolate lands is designed to get him to understand as much. Anyone who watches the whole film would know this, but then again, no one who had paid attention to either half of the film would ever write: [I]n those two years of “ferocious” battles, the total casualties on BOTH sides actually ran to 182. New Orleans has an annual murder rate DOUBLE that. The famous “Battle of Santa Clara,” that Soderbergh depicts as a Caribbean Stalingrad, claimed five casualties total—on BOTH sides.I'm not touching the reference to New Orleans, and will instead focus on the author's claim that Soderbergh filmed this battle like "a Caribbean Stalingrad," i.e. as the equivalent of a battle in which an estimated 2.7 million soldiers died, because nearly every casualty in Soderbergh's film was an established character. If anything, the film creates the impression that eleven of Che's closest friends were killed during the entire revolution. Then again, I'm not even sure why I'm paying any attention to someone who would write: Seems to me her tragic story makes ideal fodder for Oprah, for all those women’s magazines, for all those butch professorettes of “Women’s Studies,” for a Susan Sarandon or Sandra Bullock role.Because honestly, if you write the phrase "butch professorettes," you're clearly confused as to what stereotype you're trying to convey: "These masculine fairies, I mean, feminine meatheads, I mean—I mean—I mean." No sir, you mean no more than your words signify, and they're all sound and fury.

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