Ill-lustrous Academic Job Market

I've looked for so long with trepidation at this moment, it's hard to explain, even to myself, the peace I feel having arrived at it. Bred of hyperbolic warning, the chanting Chicken Little cant had built up for years to say that when you go up on the job market, you will find it a wasteland, cry out for thirst and you will find no water...

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Notes to Conference Presenters, or, What I Learned not to do by Attending MLA

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Offered here for the edification and instruction of the people, and for the benefit of the world, some negative lessons in conference presentation, courtesy of my time at MLA Chicago. Many young academics will be in this thing for a long while; keep these commandments, that it may go well with you.

  • Read more slowly

Almost no matter how slowly you're reading now, go slower.

  • You don't actually have to read the whole time

Take a minute and speak, elaborate, share an anecdote. Remember, your audience has been in sessions all day, and is in no position to welcome an indiscreet wash of verbiage. 

  • Remember: a conference paper is not quite the same as a journal article.

It's shorter, and needs less evidence/support. They can be livelier, and take more chances, since you won't be on record for the ideas therein. We might have an actual conversation following, and part of your job is to help make that happen.

  • To that end, Dear Conference Organizers: demand copies of the essays before the conference, and distribute to the panel.

I've been on a dozen panels and never had this happen. The first time I hear my co-panelist's paper is the moment s/he shares it with the audience as well. This means my "response" to the other papers is knee-jerk, scattered. It's no trouble to request the papers two weeks out and give us a chance at real intellectual engagement: argument, even. 

  • You do not have to say "unquote."

We know the quote is over because you stopped speaking in iambic pentameter. Also, we know the work and the can tell your prose from, say, Wordsworth's. If these fail, you can signal with your tone, or a pause, that the quoted material is over. 

  • Men, if at all possible, try wearing suits that fit.

We do have to stare at your body for an hour, after all. Ladies, you're doing great. 

  • Oh, and OMG, while you may use an iPad to take notes, you may not type notes on an old laptop during a presentation.

Especially if you have clickey, manicured nails. 

Diabolical Anthems

 I probably wouldn't think anything of it, were I not lesson-planning for tomorrow's #Milton class, and this song just happen to come shuffling across my iTunes, but how seriously wicked it is, and how typical. I don't know anything about Greg Holden, apart from the fact that he made this song and Insound (where I buy my records) is giving it away for free. It's a beautiful tune, and a heartfelt, bold delivery, even if it's full of annoying non-sequesters, but when the chorus comes, it is perfectly diabolical.

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ICR: Shelley Among the Ruins of Language

So should we save an absence? Should we save the void and this nothingness at the heart of the image? -Jean Baudrilliard

Last month, I flew down to Phoenix to give a paper at ASU staged by the International Conference on Romanticism, on the broad topic of "Catastrophes." I've attended the ICR once before, when it was held at Oakland University in Rochester, MI, and had a collegial and intellectually-rewarding time, and was eager to find myself in such company again.   

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Teaching Digital Humanities

This is my tenth year of teaching at the university level, and while I usually have students make some kind of project in addition to writing essays, the projects for the class I've just finished were exceptional, for the clarity of thought that went into them, and the sheer import of the undertakings. 

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The class was called Texting: Writing about Digital Humanities, and the idea was to introduce students at an early stage in their academic careers (this was my first time teaching Freshmen in quite a while) to the plethora of tools available to them during this explosion of all things digital, but also to the problems surrounding the humanities generally, and the digital ones specifically. Not least: what are they?

If nothing else, I wanted to gain, over the course of the class, an answer to that question, and so we set out, week by week, confronting the memes and websites, databases, archives, and articles that make up the debates surrounding

  • Digital Music
  • Digital Scholarship
  • Digital Poetics
  • The New Aesthetic
  • News Aggregators
  • Centers, Symposia, Initiatives
  • DH Resources particular to UW

One student, in a farewell blog post, summed up our project particularly well:

After taking English classes for more than 7 years, I expected to re-learn about things I have already been taught. How wrong I was. My English 111 class's focus was digital humanities; something I've never even heard of. We learned to navigate our way of information, data, history, poems, research, and so much more through the future of the digital age. We live in this digital age and it only grows from here, so I thought that learning about it now will only allow us to strive for greater success later. It doesn't end here. We would take digital works of course, such as articlesblogspoems and really learn to dig deep into them and read. Read for context, read for analytical purpose, but we also read for style. Like what apprentices do, we learned from people who were better than us, who had mastered what we desired.

The class explicitly aimed at education's not being theoretical. I didn't just want them to know what I could tell them during our ten weeks together, but how to learn/make/do whatever it is they are individually in to better ever afterward. Again, a student summed it up better than I can:

I remember in our first day of class, our teacher told us something that stuck with me. He said, "You can do, what you can do." He put great emphasis on how much impact one person can make if they really wanted to. Throughout the whole quarter, we learned about many great organizations and devices that became successful just because one person had a crazy idea.  Due to English 111, I have learned "One person is all it takes", is overused for a reason; because it's true.

You can read more of the students' weekly responses here.

Projects

This is the really exciting part.  The students completed two large projects for the class in groups; one of them, called "The New Aesthetic Project," I'll have to tell you about later; the other was a Free Project of their own choice and devise. The prompt said simply find something that could be better and make it that way using the tools we've discussed. Here's a sample of what they outlined and built:

  • A Facebook page--The Husky Food Project--featuring photos and reviews of every restaurant, eatery, or coffee stand on campus
  • A book (pdf preview here), yes, that you can buy in hardback, softcover, or pdf from here, which is a guide to all the public art on University of Washington's campus, featuring pictures, history, and a short description of each.
  • A Comprehensive Digital Map of UW building interiors (for finding your class on the first day of school, bathrooms, etc) whose pitch is just a model of professionalism and urgency.
  • An e-book about 100 Changes Due to Tech.
  • A website listing all the free products available to students at UW

The point is, I was impressed. These students, for many of whom this was their first college class ever, conceived of, argued for the importance of, and executed significant projects they designed, while writing papers, doing readings, and keeping up with the other, rather large project we were working on as a class.  Hats off!

PAMLA: Coleridge and the Prison Bower of Meaning

This year's Annual Conference of the Pacific Ancient and Modern Language Association was hosted by Seattle University and held October 19-21 - 110th.  I contributed a paper on Coleridge to the session "To Sleep, Perchance to Dream."

Abstract: 

 In Coleridge’s Dream Theory and the Dual Imagination, Kathryn Kimball puts forward the poet’s outline of sense impressions that “arrive constantly,” “whether asleep or awake,” which “the night-working imagination transmutes into dream images,” arguing that, while the poet can be said to have a purposeful theory of dreams, the main reason he was so concerned was that “dreams are an escape from a difficult life.”  

Using Kimball’s assemblage, and a section of the Biographia Literaria called "Nihil Negativuum Irrepresentabile," I argue that the arrest of such “transmutations” becomes for Coleridge an aesthetic technique wherein the Imagination is staged as a mediator who is intentionally exhausted by the difficult (or impossible) task it is set.  He explains the difficulty of his project: to produce “a body at one and the same time in motion and not in motion,” and his method: to erect “...a motory force of a body in one direction and an equal force of the same body in an opposite direction,” which he argues “is not incompatible, and the result, namely, rest, is real and representable.” The interjection of the man from Porlock, for example, during the composition of Kubla Kahn,  like the overvaluation of albatross-hunting, is that second “motory force” which demands that the imagination mediate between the two opposites in an effort to achieve a place of retirement. 

This paper reads Coleridge’s failures of thought and willful obfuscations in the Biographia Literaria as Deluzean attempts to construct a kind of black hole in which meaning is itself imprisoned, with the intention of defining the imagination’s mediative role between states:real and unreal, sleep and waking. 

It was a lively conference in which to participate, and much larger than the usula discipline-specific conferences I attend.  The best part was connecting with people outside my particular area of specialization and hearing the fine papers by my co-panelists (see full program here):

 

  • Patrick Randolph: "

    Who Are You?" Queerly Destabilizing Identity in Wonderland

  • Rebecca McCann

    “The Scientific Possibilities of Mesmerism”: Dreaming of Utopia in The Diothas

  • Kristine Miller

    The 'Fever Dream' of the Post-9/11 Cop: Trauma, Personal Testimony, and Jess Walter's The Zero

 

Special thanks to our panel chair, Lauren Bond (La Sierra University), to the conference organizers from Seattle University, and to the Renaissance Hotel for having us.