Monthly Archives: April 2010

Vendredi Noir

Today a major oil slick from the Macondo Prospect will probably make landfall below New Orleans.

You do not know it, but I am not really a professor — I am a landman from Pointe Coupée. I have worked in various branches of the oil and gas industry and my clients have included Halliburton, Enron, and Entergy.

It is the last day of April and I have not yet made my April Fool’s joke, but I am not joking, and you are a May Cat.

The oil slick is covering all the nice porpoises in the Gulf, and this weekend we shall not sing.

Axé.

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Dat Whiteman

The counselor told the student that he had made the choice to join the National Guard and now had to “take responsibility” for the loss of his leg.

What do you want to bet that earlier on, a similarly trained counselor told the student it was his patriotic duty to join the National Guard so as to “take responsibility” for the support of his mother, and for his future education?

Tolstoy’s muzhiks might well have been cheerful about these things and not needed admonishment. But somehow I do not think Tolstoy wrote about such situations so as to call them exemplary.

I really object to all the rhetoric about “choices” that is bandied about today. I find it sadistic. “You made a decision I did not have to, nyah nyah nyah nyah nyah.” “You were uninformed and made a mistake. Nyah nyah nyah nyah nyah.”

Axé.

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An Academic Wednesday: Was Your Graduate Program Bad For Your Health?

In graduate school, we were once visited by a former co-T.A. who was now faculty elsewhere. She said, “Enjoy these days — they are the best of your lives!” I took this comment as the sort of formulaic thing Old Bambis have to say to Young Bambis, and left it at that.

Many years later, I would remember that distant afternoon and understand what my colleague had said.

Around the same time the Emeritus Professor opined that I was “in a fancy professional training program.” I took this comment as laconically as I had the comment from the woman just mentioned and thus, once again, missed the point.

A third comment from the era that I understood still less was from another student, who referred to us all as the “walking wounded.” He meant, or so I thought, that we were in our program despite knowing that we would not get jobs.

I did not see myself as joining the ranks of the walking wounded until later.

Many people left our program along the way and I thought of them as having the maturity, material resources and foresight necessary to make other choices. But it seems that another way of seeing them is as casualties.

Our graduate program was known for exhausting people, and for discouraging them. When you add that to the way in which it produced dead and wounded, you can see that it may have been a bad graduate program.

Another student in that program had a husband who pointed out that we were like members of an elite military corps. I understood his point then, but it seems increasingly accurate now.

Axé.

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White Paper

I am not any kind of Cajun or Creole, and I am not in Cajun and Creole Studies. I have no academic expertise to bear on the question of what is a Cajun or a Creole, what Cajun or Creole history is. My own work on Latin American identities is very different.

I do not wish to be interpellated into collective “dialogue” which engages Cajuns and Creoles of various stripes, and attempts to teach them to identify in a new way. I really do not consider this my place.

Axé.

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Academic Mondays: Des Autodidactes

How often do autodidacts appear as literary characters? How are they portrayed? Why do they fascinate?

When are autodidacts liberated and liberating, and when are they impostors? How can you tell an impostor from a harbinger of new ideas?

How do I, not an autodidact, explain to an autodidact who could be a harbinger of new ideas that he has no need to mold himself into an impostor? How does one counter the defense that I say what I do because am Establishment?

What happens when the understanding of autodidaxy as liberation bleeds into the anti-intellectualism of the Right?

When graduate students say the exams are “only hazing” or “only a hoop to jump through,” do they mean they believe they have a right to degrees without learning or jobs without degrees?

Please feel free to discuss any aspect of any of these questions, or to add new ones.

Axé.

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Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings

It is the weekend, so we must sing! Watch how the presenters present, and consider how you would do it!

Axé.

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An Academic Thursday: The Introduction to Literature

Do you teach a late sophomore or early junior level introduction to literary genres in a language other than English?

This is the course in which you learn to scan poetry. You learn to do close readings of four genres. You learn to formulate an analytical thesis statement. You learn all sorts of rhetorical terms. You learn to write expository prose in that language.

I am thinking that some of these things should now be taught later. I am thinking that the thesis statements and expository prose have to go. Perhaps all the assignments should be much more exploratory and creative, and this course should not be writing intensive in the traditional way.

I have my reasons for thinking these things, but none of them is that “the students are less good than they were.” What do you do / what do you think?

Axé.

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