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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Singing at Work Wednesday: Take This Hammer

“Take this hammer / carry it to the captain / tell him I’m a-gone. / If he ask you / was I runnin / tell him I’s a-flyin’. / I don’t want no / bread and ‘lasses / It hurts my pride. / If he ask you / was I laughin / tell him I’s a-cryin.”

Ya sha, dey still do call tings to de “captains” at Angola. This is the next to last week of classes here. I feel slightly imprisoned in certain forms of drudgery but the analogy is not entirely fair; rather than make it, then, I am saluting all the students with parents and other loved ones in jail.

I would like to say that the current warden did not reform Angola. The work he claims as his own was accomplished by others and he does not represent progress but backlash.

Axé.

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Academic Mondays: Research Culture II

1

A friend says her problem is not only the lack of resources, conditions, and funding for research, it is the lack of a research culture. She says she needs a research culture, and she clearly does not consider this need to be a personal failing. She believes it is normal.

As we know, I have been told many times that one should not need a research culture. One has all the resources one needs since one has electronic access to so many things. I have explained before that electronic access is a supplement and enhancement, not a replacement for actual libraries and archives. I have said I wanted a research culture. I have acknowledged how self indulgent it is to want one, and how weak I am to need one. I have not allowed myself to consider it an objective necessity.

From very early on I was told that my goal was teaching and that I would have a hard time remembering research. My interest in research was disappointing to those who held this expectation and I came to feel guilty about having it. At the same time I feel guilty not being more productive than I am. I self mutilate in many contradictory ways, all so as to become the right person.

But this colleague says a research culture is a necessity. She says it completely naturally, the way one says food is a necessity. I find this fascinating. She believes herself to have the right to exist as herself. That is less common than one might believe.

2

And it appears that many people went to graduate school so they could teach, and see research as something they have to get through so as to keep on teaching. It appears that they knew this was the reality in most of academia. It appears that I did not, although I was expected to know it almost naturally, being a girl.

This, then, would be my advice to advanced graduate students: figure out whether your aim really is to be a research professional. If it is, look for a research job, whether it is an academic one or not.

3

I think many of us were forced into academia because our graduate programs left us no time to think, and accustomed us to accepting whatever position we could get for the next semester or the next year because we wanted to eat.

I do not mind teaching at all, but I am even less willing to sacrifice a research culture for the sake of being able to teach, than I am willing to submit to a suburban or rural life for that reason.

The willingness to say so is the difference between myself and more professors than I would have expected.

Axé.

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Distress Alert

…Eye, nose, and throat irritation; headaches, loss of coordination, nausea…

I can do outdoor painting with no trouble, but the oily sealant I finally found to put on the porch caused an allergic reaction costing $111 and a few bad days, as we know.

Then, in a moment of madness, I started painting the kitchen, which gave me the reactions listed above in addition to a general feeling of irrationality.

I painted a wall as an experiment and liked it, so I continued. Then I realized that it had been a design error from the point of view of the whole house to consider painting the rest of the kitchen. The dark wood in it is dark and the stain and sealant need refinishing, but they match what is in the rest of the house and give it elegance and continuity. I had not articulated my 12 years of hesitancy about changing the look of the kitchen walls in this way before embarking upon it, and it is a mistake.

Now I am faced with stripping and refinishing what is done. I feel rather sure would prefer that to the alternative — continuing to paint. However, all of this is a lot of work and it is very discouraging, and I am definitely not cut out physically for indoor painting jobs.

I always feel somewhat insane when doing them, which is why I put them off and have trouble garnering the patience to do a good job. I used to think that was a lack of discipline but I think it is how the products used make me feel.

I do use gloves and safety goggles, and open the doors and windows. I have not yet tried a mask but it is what I will try on my next attempt.

In the meantime I have netted a kitchen that looks terrible, a big job ahead at an inconvenient time, a great deal of stress, and some information.

I do not like looking at the kitchen in its current state because it appears to me to be the result of some strange form of self mutilation. This, I realize, is a melodramatic reaction and probably not very helpful. I put it up to the strange irrationality I feel around open containers of paint and sealant.

I would like to summon a professional to fix this but there is no way. I am reminding myself that the rest of the house is calm and civilized, that there are strippers which will work and I will learn how to refinish wood, which is needed in the rest of the house as well.

I am, however, distressed for this and related reasons.

Axé.

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