Category Archives: Juegos

Working at Librairie Gallimard

I wish I could remember the name of the main manager of the bookstore, he was old and expansive and would sit in the office smoking cigars and doing paperwork, perhaps even reading manuscripts now that I think of it. Then there was the under-manager, M. Paul, a neoliberal type. Every morning after Giscard was on tv he would be there early saying allez les gars … meaning that employee Gilles, the only man without some management position, should go up the ladder into the attic and bring down extra copies of the book in question. Fuentes’ Terra Nostra came out in French that summer and we had piles of it. I hadn’t read it but developed a spiel about it that impressed people, so I was stood by it to sell more of it.


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On grades

Here is a bell curve.  I could use it. I could also have: 20% W and F, 20% D, 20% C, 20% B, and 20% A. This would up my grades, and be nicer than a bell curve since more people would have A than F.

Not that it will help you at all, but here’s my wacky system. I teach writing, and points and percentages never made sense to me for writing assignments, so I grade on a 4.0 scale. I think this is also what I was trained to do as a baby teacher. The special beauty of the 4.0 scale is that 50% of a 4.0 is a 2.0 which is a C, not an F. So grade inflation is built into the grade calculation. Throw in 5% participation, a 5% reflective easy peasy final, and 15% homework (graded on a 5.0 scale–yo, kids, doing the reading every day IS your extra credit–which means, yes, I teach college and check homework, and the homework is always to do the reading, annotate it, and bring it to class, but if I didn’t do it, I’d be lucky if three students did the reading), and I feel like I have room to assign scary college-level grades on the actual papers because they can make Ds on all the papers and still walk out with a C, if they do everything else. There are some situations in which a student can automatically fail the course: plagiarizing a whole paper (not the accidental, I don’t know how to use quotation marks crap, but a whole paper), plagiarizing two more more times, and not doing all the papers. They don’t have to pass all the papers, but they have to do all of them. I get a whole lot of Cs and a sprinkling As, Bs, and Ds. I’m not counting the WFs or Ws. No one can ever make me pass a student who doesn’t attend or turn in the work. Period. Or at least not yet.

This means that almost every student who writes all of the papers, attends and reads regularly, and doesn’t plagiarize will pass. After learning to emphasize drop dates and putting my definition of plagiarism and penalties on every assignment, I’ve pulled my average pass rate up from 50% or less to about 66%, which is, of course, pretty damned sad. I teach primarily first-year comp, so we’ve got a high tolerance for failure, and I’m not (as far as I know) under pressure to increase my pass rate, though it does break my heart to see students taking out loans for Fs.

I really dread to think what will happen if Obama’s proposals to link an institution’s eligibility for financial aid to its pass rate / graduation rate. Of course, the intention would be to make universities offer students more tutoring and support to help them succeed, but that’s expensive, so the reality is likely to affect who is admitted and, even more likely, to put pressure on us to pass almost everyone by lowering standards. I’m usually a fan of Obama, but not on this one. It’s like No Child Left Behind for higher ed.

I think I’d be tempted to dumb down my job in a way that not only makes it easy for the students but also makes it easy for me. If they don’t have to work for grades, why should you have to work so hard to make sure that they pass? When my father taught high school math, the lowest a student could get on a test was 40. Students could earn up to 60 points to add to that 40, so they only had to earn 20 points to get a D and 30 to get a C, but it was still kind of hard to get an A. Maybe something simple like that would work?



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I have written an essay for my MOOC that is half the maximum length and that took no thought or deep reading. This is because I am not taking the MOOC terribly seriously, yet I want to experience it. I am working for a C. Therefore I should not be posting the piece, but I am because I have decided I like the sentences, despite the jejune content and the lack of explanation and argument. My new writing partner is a fan of the sentence, so it is also for her possible interest that I am posting this speed-written text. It is just over 400 words and I wrote it in less than one hour.

How did Kant define Enlightenment? Use Kant’s definition to discuss whether either Rousseau or Marx is an Enlightenment figure.  In other words, choose one of the following comparisons to write about: Kant compared to Rousseau, OR Kant compared to Marx.

Kant defines Enlightenment as follows:

Enlightenment is man’s emergence from his self-incurred immaturity. Immaturity is the inability to use one’s own understanding without the guidance of another. This immaturity is self-incurred if its cause is not lack of understanding, but lack of resolution and courage to use it without the guidance of another. The motto of enlightenment is therefore: Sapere aude! Have courage to use your own understanding!

He goes on to say that freedom is required for enlightenment, and to suggest that enlightenment expands freedom; he is thus discussing society and government. “Freedom” does not mean disorder, but rational progress, growing from civil discussion and debate. He states:

A high degree of civil freedom seems advantageous to a people’s intellectual freedom, yet it also sets up insuperable barriers to it. Conversely, a lesser degree of civil freedom gives intellectual freedom enough room to expand to its fullest extent.

That, if I understand correctly, is to say that constraints on civil freedom have the paradoxical effect of requiring greater intellectual rigor. The relationship between knowledge and political authority as analyzed by Kant is something I would like to study further.

Before this course I thought of Rousseau as an Enlightenment figure because of his work on the idea of social contract and influence on the French Revolution; our readings, however, underscore his connections to Romanticism where he is important. It is as though he could take Enlightenment as a given, and look ahead to a reaction that will value imagination over reason. Nature, not reason, is Rousseau’s ideal teacher.

I am intrigued by the idea of Marx as an Enlightenment figure and were I to develop the present essay fully I would take this option. Since he working after the Enlightenment and criticized some of its limitations, one might want to classify him otherwise but he is working with the concepts of reason and freedom, and also science and progress, in dialogue with and following the Enlightenment. He and Kant could, in this way, be considered to be working on the same face of modernity, as it were. REVISE this phrase and insert two to three paragraphs on Marx. 

I am interested in the relationship of modernity and coloniality (cf. Walter Mignolo, The Darker Side of Western Modernity, Durham: Duke UP, 2011) and in alternatives to Western modernity that do not depend wholly on the idea of the “postmodern.” Marx seems a modern thinker to me in part because of his commitment to centralized authority. The paradox I see in a thinker like him–and some other moderns–is that their interest in freedom is accompanied by an interest in order that has not in fact resulted in freedom for all.


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“The Glenn Beck of the Eighteenth Century”

Rousseau in the Discourse on Arts and Sciences:

Considering the dreadful disorders which printing has already caused in Europe and judging the future by the progress which evil makes day by day, we can readily predict that sovereigns will not delay in taking as many pains to ban this terrible art from their states as they took to introduce it there.

Sultan Achmet, yielding to the importuning of some alleged men of taste, consented to establish a printing press in Constantinople. But the press had barely started before they were forced to destroy it and throw the equipment down a well. They say that Caliph Omar, when consulted about what had to be done with the library of Alexandria, answered as follows: “If the books of this library contain matters opposed to the Koran, they are bad and must be burned. If they contain only the doctrine of the Koran, burn them anyway, for they are superfluous.”

Our learned men have cited this reasoning as the height of absurdity. However, suppose Gregory the Great was there instead of Omar and the Gospel instead of the Koran. The library would still have been burned, and that might well have been the finest moment in the life of this illustrious pontiff.

I realize Rousseau is a lightweight, but these antics are amusing…



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J. C. Chasteen on Sommer

The most memorable sentence in his (also favorable review) is about Latin America, of which he asks: “Where else, after all, has interracial sex been a more important source of national identities?”

This 1992 review is in HAHR. As you can see, even while working a festival and spending the entire morning taking tourists around the swamp, I did not forget to do academic work.


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Englishwoman vs. Spaniard on public transportation, Madrid 1871, and more evidence of my avant-garde nature

Pérez Galdós has the inglesa speak Spanish like this:

-¡Oooh!… usted… mi quejarme al coachman… usted reventar me for it.

We have read a novella describing a trip on Madrid’s first ever public tram, which started running in 1871 and was horse drawn. The route began in the barrio of Salamanca, went down Serrano to the Cibeles statue, and continued down on Alcalá. Then it turned into the Puerta del Sol and onto the Calle Mayor, and ends up in Pozas where the Corte Inglés now stands.

Now someone is keeping a blog on Madrid railways, and this is a map of my home barrio in elementary school, Madrid 28013. If I had walked up to Pozas, which was entirely possible, I could have gone to school by that very tram route.

I once had a Cuban meteorologist and cartographer take my class for a general education requirement. He was terrified of literature classes, willing to read the books but too petrified to write a traditional paper — or so he insisted. I had him work on weather imagery, mapping, and the representation of space.

He was as grateful as anyone I have ever seen, and kept shaking my hand with both of his. He believed I was letting him slide, but really I was not. He made a historical reconstruction of the routes Luisito in Miau takes through Madrid, with maps and other illustrations.

Now more than ever one can see I was right, since urban studies and urban cultural studies have become fields — and since it has been decided that literature is a part of a revised version of cultural studies.


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Voyage en Chine

My friend is going to China and staying in this Shanghai hotel when he lands. It has a sauna and a sun deck but for a place at that level I think the China Mansion looks more beautiful.

I, however, would go to the Qinling Mountains, Pingyao, Zhangjiajie, and Kashgar. I have become extremely interested in this country.


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