Category Archives: Bibliography

How to read a book

I have not read this book, but should have done, and it is here.


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You have to want…

Like the people who have to want to stop drinking and must make the decision themselves, or the people I know now who are going to have to decide, themselves, to learn to use certain software (or not), I feel I must decide to want to improve my experience at and of work.

I always wanted this of course, so I think that by want I mean something more like insist. This means bringing a different attitude, one endowed with far more lucidity and agency than I am used to having.

In Reeducation we had to renounce our core strengths and our confidence and this was an extreme error — one I have allowed to compound subsequently.

Being able to say “you have to want,” however, presupposes a fairly high degree of strength. It presupposes you are able to be present and that you have an environment in which it is possible to maintain a clear mind.



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Sobre la filología

Many today do not recognize the word, but “philology” was for centuries nearly synonymous with humanistic intellectual life, encompassing not only the study of Greek and Roman literature and the Bible but also all other studies of language and literature, as well as religion, history, culture, art, archaeology, and more. In short, philology was the queen of the human sciences. How did it become little more than an archaic word? In Philology, the first history of Western humanistic learning as a connected whole ever published in English, James Turner tells the fascinating, forgotten story of how the study of languages and texts led to the modern humanities and the modern university.

The humanities today face a crisis of relevance, if not of meaning and purpose. Understanding their common origins–and what they still share–has never been more urgent.

I would like to read this book.



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Julio, encore

I did not know this text.


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JLB and don Américo

A comienzos de 1923, Borges solicita al Decano de la Facultad de Filosofía y Letras, Ricardo Rojas, su ingreso a esa casa de estudios. En su intento tardío (tenía 23 años) de participar del ámbito académico como alumno, además de adjuntar una serie de “ensayos estéticos y metafísicos” a través de los que aspira a ilustrar “las propensiones que hoy le mueven a querer ingresar en esa Facultad”, Borges señala que es colaborador asiduo de la revista Cosmopolis (Madrid), que en el número de Cervantes correspondiente a octubre de 1920 publicó una dilatada antología crítica de la reciente lírica alemana, vertida directamente del idioma original, y que en el venidero numero de Nosotros habría un estudio suyo acerca de las objeciones que propuso Spencer al idealismo de Berkeley. (Espacios 105)

I will read and slowly digest this whole piece, for my reasons.


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What I was thinking this morning

1/ Here is a good post on the Schuman-Potter argument.

2.1/ A low-level tenured person who feels in some ways like a contingent person trying to get a job and wondering if they can stay in the alleged “profession” (not everyone calls it that), I always wake up at first light, even if I then decide to go back to sleep — as I learned to do weekends and holidays after becoming a professor. Today at dawn my hallucination was that someone was being tortured in the next room.

2.2/ I am glad I have this house — I like the inside of it and I feel comfortable in it — because the university, even on its well intentioned days, is thin and so is the town, and I am not well enough off to leave often enough, although life would be far better with weekends away nearby in places I know. It is unclear that in these circumstances I will ever be able to do what I allegedly stayed in as a professor to do, and the future looks very precarious. The instability makes concentration difficult.

3.1/ Someone for whom things have gone better and whom I did not know, friended me on Facebook because I, like her, was railing at the obtuseness of Michael Bérubé (on various issues having to do with the MLA). She has a degree from my university, another department, and got a job in a Southern R1, as I did. Unlike me she stayed and did well, or well enough, as I would have done without Reeducation.

3.2/ Not Reeducated, she has had time to be aware of some other things, including Richard Ohmann’s English in America, which I will read with its 1995 updates. I think Schuman should write about it somewhere, and that this Senate President should read it.

4.1/ I am not entirely patient with people who complain about the elitism of “the profession” because, well, that was what we signed up for, right? I am actually more comfortable with that than I am with the extreme reduction of resources, and the lack of objectivity and also professionalism which can reign in smaller and also less elite institutions.

4.2/ I do agree largely with Clarissa on this. But considering all I have been through despite very good circumstances and luck, and also far greater than average talent, I think the academic institution is inherently abusive, or structurally so. I am more interested in Ohmann’s analysis, and in the way “the profession” is organized to maintain hierarchies while claiming it is “meritocratic.”

4.3/ How we can protect ourselves while maintaining this organization is a very difficult question. It matters even if law and medicine are the same or even if one does not care about those who “lose” as individuals, because the entire enterprise must protect itself. All of the internal policing that goes on, and the bitter arguments among people of different strata, are participation in the status quo, not in any kind of “revolution.” And how some kind of reform can be even thought of from within the logic of capitalism is, of course, another problem. But first, I will read Ohmann’s book.

5.1/ I have decided my subject-position is very unusual. I must have been at one time very, very elite, all though I did not know it. It would be how I kept getting jobs of some kind, despite doing comparatively poorly at them and also not interviewing well enough to get the kind of job where I would really fit in. I am not sure very many people as truly elite as me have fallen as far as I have and yet stayed around so long and in as good shape, comparatively speaking.

5.2/ This seems to give me a broader view on matters than is available to many, and I think I should use the knowledge in some way. I have been working on my vita and my annual report, and these activities sadden me because the lacunae in them track of the amount of time I spend engulfed in the removal of institutional obstacles to work, in exhaustion and in various states of claustrophobia, and longing, and grief. But these lacunae are also a kind of eye, that give me the vista one might need to organize.

6/ On Facebook, and I hope elsewhere, soon, Bérubé has emphasized that the convention interview was invented as a replacement for old boys/word-of-mouth hiring, and it was a democratizing innovation in its day. This is important to keep in mind; people have short memories. He also has an interesting comment that sheds light on some of the irrationality about the job market, and also of the people in my own department, where instructors have this strange paranoia about how the hiring of Ph.D.s will lose them their jobs. Bérubé:

People mistakenly think the MLA convention is a major source of revenue for the association. They actually think the MLA organizes the job search process in such a way as to profit from the misery of jobseekers. At an extreme, they think the MLA is not just a clearinghouse for academic jobs and interviews but some kind of regulatory agency that sets the terms for the number of jobs and interviews available. At an even more extreme extreme (and this takes us back to a certain angry-pseudonymous Chronicle commenter), they believe that the MLA is in possession of information about interviews that, if released, would lead to a radical democratization of the job system whereby everybody in departments in the modern languages would spontaneously agree to interview candidates from low- and middle-ranked institutions in proportion to their numbers in the applicant pool. Relatedly, some people argue that the entire job system should be run by lottery.

7/ People really are prey to irrational beliefs. I am beginning to wonder whether being less so than the average, is another reason why I have so often been called “unfeeling.”




Filed under Bibliography, Resources, Theories, What Is A Scholar?

A novella in pictures: Lives of Passion

I never wrote anything like this before, but now I have, and I do not like it much, but I liked the book, and the text exists.

Gene McCormick’s Lives of Passion: Edward and Antoinette (Rockford, Illinois: RWG Press, 2013), the author’s thirteenth book, is a series of interlocking prose poems that tell, in seventeen short pieces, the story of an ordinary couple–mid-century figures whose lives have run together–from childhood on. The meanings of “passion” here include a strong connection to life through physical experience and contact with things: the sensations of childhood, when everything touched is an experiment or discovery and time seems long, or the sensuality that persists in the characters even when only manifested through Edward’s mild voyeurism or Antoinette’s taste for wine. Passion also signals the slow erosion of their bond and their bodies as they struggle against, but also toward death.

The bright and impersonal light that bursts on the characters when, as children, they come up from play in a darkened basement, “back up the stairs, through the empty kitchen into the wide sunny yard” (II) is not mentioned directly but appears to break again after Antoinette’s lonely death in a dim apartment—

It is a broad avenue of young cars, of people of an age to possess them, of dusty dreams long ago set aside. Antoinette lived on this passageway, and so did Edward, but they don’t anymore.


These changes in light are also the indices of time that structure this collection in a complex rhythm. Between youth and middle age decades flash by, and we only catch glimpses of the couple’s lives. Sections of days, on the other hand, are slow and richly drawn, with a painterly emphasis on lines and dimensions, color, shadow, and luminosity:

On a straight-back wooden chair alone in her bedroom, Antoinette lifts her bare leg as high as it will go—not straight like a horizon line but bent sharply, knee-to-ankle hanging vertically as a faded orange swath painted on air.


The room is enveloped in dusk-gray, with dim white lights bordering the mirror. Focusing, she draws a Band-Aid on her right wrist with a mascara brush, rendering it not at all life-like.


Painterly as well is the weight given physical objects, and the treatment of the characters as figures in a visual field. Textures are thrown into relief as our eye is drawn in close, while tableaux like photographs come into view as we step back. Subtle shifts in perspective work to create a thickly layered realism:

On Tuesday mornings the elderly lady shops for discounted fruits and vegetables, near-rotted and priced at a dollar a box. Other shoppers bump her ankles with their carts and reach and grab items from in front of her. It is terrifying.


Things have as much substance as people, and are granted equal weight. Visual tension is tight and the characters’ struggle with the material world (or the inanimate, or what comes before words and lies beyond them) is closely framed

. . . do you remember the primordial days of school . . . when teachers awarded gold stars for accomplishments and they had glue on the back you had to lick anyway and fell off . . . and when you tried to pick them off the ground . . . or even the top of your shoe, the corners would get bent because your stubby fingers weren’t adroit?


There are conversations in this book but we do not hear the characters reflect, or speak to themselves except, perhaps, in this passage, where Edward contemplates the Taiwanese girl he hired the night before:

A half-empty wine glass sits on the edge of the nightstand, her underwear is beside the bed and other clothes scattered about. Christ, he says to himself, running a hand through matted hair, Christ.


Instead we see them act and dissimulate. The scenes they set as mirrors in which to form themselves and later, to keep up appearances are also spaces of investigation, or frames for a kind of quest. Passion is this search, purposeful even if not explained as these complicit, isolated, only apparently aimless characters contemplate first each other, then the dark.

Edward disappears from the narrative before Antoinette, whom we last perceive in a precarious old age. The soup can in her cabinet is now the only object in the house etched clearly. The narrow dank of this life at its end makes the series’ last shot, of the avenue of “young cars” where Antoinette and Edward once lived, but “don’t anymore,” seem almost a spiritual revelation. It may not be news that the world is made of small lives and draws its depth from this, but the vista still startles.

These characters are not interesting or even particularly likeable as people, and there are sordid undercurrents in their life together from early on. Unlike Antoinette’s family friends (III) they do not entirely avoid interaction, do not keep things under control; this is why their wavering path through the world becomes an addition to it.

McCormick’s poetic prose hits no false notes, and he sketches the story out as quickly as we can follow it. Read straight through the narrative is heady, taking us in just a few minutes from the “primordial days” of childhood to the world as it appears after death. Each piece also stands on its own and entices the reader to look long and look again, as with a set of installations, souls built word by word.



Filed under Arts, Bibliography, Poetry