Category Archives: Questions

On American aristocracies

According to the New Yorker, Ivanka Trump was “born with a silver spoon in her mouth” and has “patrician” looks. I read this and said what? She is neither an aristocrat nor patrician, she is merely rich! How can the New Yorker, of all publications, misuse these terms so? I thought my attitude might be all too condescending so I asked the Aged One, 92: Wouldn’t George H.W. Bush, for instance, with his 17th century New England roots, be aristocratic in a way Ivanka Trump can never be? The Aged One, 92, said yes, and confirmed that it was indeed scandalous that the New Yorker, of all publications, would not see this. He said I should write them a letter. I do not have time to compose the said letter but perhaps I could simply send them this post.



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On academic freedom, again

I hope people actually respond to this. I had a huge argument today with some people in the adjunct movement, about this. They are convinced I do not understand that they are in poverty and I do not think their position is actually very well thought out. They have massive amounts of documentation of poor salaries, high teaching loads and poor working conditions. I don’t see how a move to 100% contract faculty with slightly better than adjunct pay would alleviate this. I also don’t see how nominally writing academic freedom into these contracts would really preserve academic freedom in all its aspects.

Tenured and tenure-track faculty and the professional organizations have failed to stem the overuse and exploitation of contract faculty, they say, and it is out of bad faith. We do well because they do poorly.  Neoliberalism has won, they say, the Humboldtian university is long gone, and they want decent jobs in the corporate one. I, wanting to push back and get more tenure lines while also getting good contracts for those who seriously do not want tenure lines, am not living in the real world. (This is, of course, what the adminstration says as well.) Also, it is meritocratic of me to say the Ph.D. has value or that having a research program does, and it means I do not value teaching.

Here is what I think, a grandes rasgos. 1. Without academic freedom you do not have a university, and tenure is what guarantees academic freedom. 2. Without academic freedom and tenure you weaken shared governance. 3. Universities are nonetheless very hierarchical and the faculty, without a union, do not have enough power to end the inappropriate overuse of contract positions completely. 4. It is not a question of NTT versus T faculty. Better pay for contract faculty means they are not less expensive, so there is less motivation to cut T lines. 5. And more T lines means better market. So you need  unions, and you need the professional organizations. (The NFM says the professional organizations have failed them and exists in part because of this, but without union-like action and follow-through can they do better? Does any advocacy organization have the power to remedy, by moral suasion, the economy and the kinds of business practices universities have now adopted?)

Where do the objections to my views 1-5 (above) lie, beyond the fact that people do not think I am talking about a currently existing university stucture and mission (they think the university I speak of is long dead)? What are the answers to the following anti-tenure, and sometimes anti-research line questions?: 1. “I have been a VAP in this line for 5 years and if it turns TT there will be a search and I will not be selected. I prefer it to be turned into a more permanent contract line for me.” 2. “I am an M.A. and cannot get onto the TT. I want more contract lines and also more power for people like me. The presence of Ph.D. and TT/T faculty limits my career.” 3. “All TT lines go to very new Ph.Ds. My Ph.D. is three years old, so I have more chances at NTT than TT jobs. I would therefore like the numbers of the former increased.”

Aren’t these questions all about how tenure is (mis)used, not about tenure, academic freedom and shared governance themselves? One of my objections to the project of making everyone contingent is that I do want faculty who are current in field, and I don’t see moving to an all-contingent faculty as a road to getting that at all–especially not in right-to-work states. I do think that in the context of the bad job market the search for tenure-track work and the traditional insistence that only that is viable has ravaged many people, including myself. But I also think it is very short-sighted to say the solution is to get rid of it.

I also know that at good schools, there are Ph.D. VAPs who deserve tenure-track jobs, and M.A.s with valuable experience and current expertise. But for us, here, if we cannot offer a T job, we are then reduced to searching for M.A.s living locally. This is not easy. With the tenure track, we get applications from people with a lot of skills. I don’t know how we could get comparable people on a contingent basis without offering a great deal more money. So with the tenure track, we can afford them, and we can also offer them something tangible, and we have the prospect of actually building faculty and program.

As I write this I am trying to envision more clearly an all-contingent world. There are places like that–Evergreen College. You have a lot of people there who are as good as tenured, just as our contingent faculty is (ours are effectively permanent as soon as they are hired). So people do get some form of permanence, and I doubt the anti-tenurists’ fantasy of “flushing out the bad” and opening up more jobs for the truly deserving is realized. But how real are academic freedom and shared governance there–or how real would they be if the place were bigger? What if large community colleges like Miami-Dade eliminated the tenure track–would there be academic freedom then? (Shared governance is no longer very real where I am, I must say, but does that mean we should renounce the idea of it?)

So in any case: how is it that the push to improve conditions for contingent faculty and to win back more tenure lines do not support each other? They do so far as I can tell, and I want as many people as possible on tenure lines. And that is not because of job security, it is because of the role of research in teaching and of tenured faculty in governance. Am I terribly conservative, elitist, out of date? Also, is it that bad to want at least half your faculty to have the terminal degree?



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A serious question, and lagniappe

What is a good literary or poetry magazine, in French, that publishes translations and that is not terribly hard to get into? One of my undergraduates has published translations to English in Alchemy (a translation journal for students) and Tripwire (a poetry journal, not just for students), and I know of many other places to submit translations to English.

I also know that Asymptote has a Spanish version somehow, and is looking for interns too (if you are interested, the best way to find out about that is probably on Facebook). But what about translations of Cristina Peri Rossi to French? This is for a different student. The only non-super-famous journal I have found that might publish translations of an Uruguayan poet is Nuit Blanche and I would like more options. Here are some of the journals and presses I have learned of in this quest: The Apostles Review, Hablar de poesía, Reflet de lettres. There are more.

Lagniappe for today includes a recreation of a Homeric performance, a new recording of ancient Babylonian songs, a very interesting interview with Zizek on “esa izquierda que ni siquiera desea ganar,” a response to Wendy Brown’s analysis of neoliberalism, an interview of Roberto Echavarren about poetry and identity, an interview of Enrique Dussel on Latin American culture and the future, an essay on language teaching and the foreign language requirement, David Sobrevilla’s piece on Moro, surrealism and homosexuality; the Institut français d’études andines, Bruno Bosteels’ new book on Marx and Freud in Latin America, writings of René Magritte, and a correspondence on surrealism between Adorno and a graduate student.

Also, I have found a new source of the kind of bed linen I want. I do not buy sheets or pillowcases by the set, but by the piece, as I do not have more cash than that. But I can tell you that really good bed linen lasts a very long time, and is less expensive than any other.

I have a burning question: what was I going to do with Agamben (in relation to Foucault and Vallejo) and where is that book chapter? This question is truly burning since I have given up other activism and committed to poetry, put poetry first, openly, for the first time.



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A very strange nightmare

Were I a surrealist painter I would paint several versions of this dream. Vallejo would write a difficult, but not surrealist poem about it. I wish I had Freud or Jung to study it. In it, I was visiting at a huge house, large enough to be a castle. My room had a huge waterbed  and my cat who died in 2000 would jump up on me while I slept. Soon hands would reach up from under the bed to pet her. I decided that these were the hands of the friendly dead and I was not afraid, but I was concerned because there was no cat food (I was envisioning Science Diet) in the kitchen cupboard. You got to the restaurant-style kitchen through long corridors. The first day I kept writing my paper (I was on a writing retreat) and cooked in the kitchen but on subsequent days I would look for the kitchen but not find it, and instead kept finding parts of the castle that were for non-residents: supermarkets, delicatessens, restaurants, but no kitchen and no place that sold Science Diet.Then I was sleeping again and the hands that came to pet the cat also started holding my head to the pillow. Now it was harder to get up and look for food for the cat, who was getting thinner. I realized I had gone to New Orleans for the weekend recently and made no provisions for the cat, and was shocked. This caused me to wrest my head away from the hands of the dead and get up in real life to go into the kitchen and look for Science Diet. There I realized that this cat has been dead for 16 years. “I believe I have visited the land of the dead in this dream,” I said. “Of all my dreams, this is the one appearing to come from the deepest levels of the unconscious. What caused it?” “If dreams communicate, who is trying to communicate with me?” Finally I thought, “It is a dream about the prisoners on death row at Angola.” But what does it sound like, and what methods can be used to interpret it?


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Si j’avais l’argent

Although it is a question of time, as well. If I am going to LASA in Lima, then another event in Tampa and another in Washington, and if I am to go to California and Minnesota as well, do I have time to do this in a way that would actually benefit me? I already know what my paper would say, which is what makes this so tempting, but — one more abstract and one more long trip, just for purposes of feeling real for a few days?

ACLA 2017: Race Theory and Literature

Call for Papers

American Comparative Literature Association// Utrecht University, Netherlands// July 6-9 2017

Emerging out of the practices of colonialism, imperialism, and slavery/slave trade, race theory has seen renewed and reinvigorated interest in the last sixteen years. Recent scholarship has started to examine the relationship between these varying theories on race from philosophical, philological, theological, historical, biological, and other disciplines and literature (particularly prose fiction) from as early as the 16th century, but flourishing prominently in the Enlightenment and later 19th century at first in European university and later in U.S. universities, developing concurrently and after these theories were developed and circulated in multiple discourses.

This seminar proposes to look at the relationship between literature and the theorization of race in academic disciplines, primarily in the 18th and 19th centuries but also extending into the 20th century. Questions we wish to explore include, but are not necessarily limited to the following:

– How and why do prominent and marginal authors adopt, reject, criticize, and/or apply theories of race to ethnic others within their works?
– Is there a theory or are there theories of race within works of literature or in larger literary traditions and movements?
– Theorists this seminar would like to examine include, but are not limited to, Buffon, Bernier, Voltaire, Meiners, Kant, Herder, Blumenbach, Hegel, Herder, de Gobineau, Darwin, Galton, Boas, Locke, Montagu, Du Bois, Appiah, Senghor, Alcoff, Hanchard, Ferreira de Silva, Omi and Winant. We will also consider theories of race from literary authors such as Céline and Tagore, for instance.

This seminar seeks research comparing race theories alongside literary works from all over the world, as well as literary works that respond either directly or indirectly to race theories. We also welcome comparisons between race theory and visual culture, music, and other forms of artistic media.

Please submit a 300-word abstract for a 20-minute presentation on the ACLA website ( until September 23, 2016.

Contact the seminar co-organizers Pauline Moret-Jankus at and Adam J. Toth at with any questions.



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My usual anti-rushing, anti-timing post

I have said this before, I know, but it keeps coming true. Every time I try to “make good use of time” the way professors like it — rush, use every pause to get something else done, watch the clock, do things as quickly as possible, keep a strict schedule, and so on — I inadvertently break something, do what I am doing wrong, tire myself needlessly, confuse others, emanate agobio, don’t finish the task because it has become so distasteful, and find myself ill. People in the halls now are lecturing each other about how wonderful it is to use the kitchen timer on themselves when they write. Why are they so masochistic? If left to my own devices I get more done more quickly and more steadily than most people, but if required also to rush, correct the mistakes made while rushing, and recover from rushing, I am much impeded. To whom is this dogma directed? Who do you have to be, what do you have to be doing, to actually need the rushing advice?



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For comment

Staff members told attendees to keep the visits discreet, she says, for fear that their interest in nonacademic careers could hurt their relationship with their faculty advisers.

That is from this article, which I feel needs deconstruction.

It is very fraught. Should degree programs be changed since not all students become professors? Is it really that dangerous to say you have other career plans? If you say it and professors look at you askance, should you quake in fear, or can you (wo)man up?


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