Not So Triumphant Return

What’s this?  A blog?  Who left this thing here?  [blows dust off it.]  Why, with a bit of attention, this might be usable!

It’s been awhile, folks, and for that I’ve got no big excuses, rationales, or apologies, really.  Sometime in the lead up to the tenure process, it just seemed like I had very little to say.  I’m not sure that I have brilliant things to say now, of course, but writing has to start somewhere.

Once upon a time, I had a little series I liked to call “Whatcha Gonna Do With That?”, which highlighted the multitudinous vocational and existential possibilities of an English major.  So as a celebration of my return to the blogosphere, I give you this excellent addition to WGDWT: “In Defense of the English Major” by Alex Tunney, recent Saint Rose grad, writer, blogger, jack-of-all-trades.

Enjoy!

Professors on Film

I had the great pleasure of catching a matinee of Tamara Jenkins’ The Savages yesterday (winter break=weekday matinees=bliss). The accolades for the film are everywhere, so I’ll spare you my own review here. What struck me in off moments, however, was Philip Seymour Hoffman’s character, John—a depressed, overly-rational expert on Brecht and a professor of drama in Buffalo. Despite significant differences in characterization, I couldn’t help but think of Steve Carrell’s Frank, a depressed/suicidal, emotionally-distant “foremost expert on Proust” and a professor of literature in Little Miss Sunshine. I’ll admit that like most of America, I took a pass on The Human Stain, but having read Roth’s book, I can imagine the characterization of Coleman Silk that stems from his lifelong elision of his past, his dismissal from the college, and disturbing relationship with a cleaning woman decades younger than him. Let me guess: depressed? Unable to cope with the real world? [Sidenote: K. just reminded me that Dustin Hoffman’s professor in Stranger than Fiction is the exception here: quirky and a mainliner of coffee, but seemingly a relatively happy chap with an improbably large office. Of course, he studies living authors, and that might account for the difference. :)] And, not to put too fine a point on it, it’s probably necessary to note that all of these characters are literature professors.

This is by no means a comprehensive study; let’s instead call it an intuition with a few examples. But, dear reader, what on earth is going on with representations of professors?!! Who are these guys?! Does anyone really know them? Worse yet, did anyone ever take a class from one of them? I understand that professors, like psychiatrists, occupy a certain region of the American pysche, and thus cliches and caricatures are born. But there are two things, specifically, that chap my hide here.

First, it’s the equation of literary expertise and depression. More: John/Frank/Coleman each have a failing or failed relationship that they’re engaged/engaging in. Isn’t that just too Madame Bovary? Emma isn’t the only one who is led down the path to ruined love by books. Even Jules (the Hoffman character) seems unattached at best—in fact, do we ever see him outside the confines of the school? He bears a torch for an author who famously kills people in her books. In short: the equation seems to be a redux of an old chestnut about the dangers of literature (makes you incapable of “good” love!), with a dash of American anti-intellectualism (too much book-learnin’ will make you weird!) for good measure.

Second, on a note of perhaps useless call for some sort of realism, is it impossible to imagine a woman as a professor? Maybe just one? Somewhere? Is that asking too much? It’s not such a new thing for women to have doctorates in literature, I’ve heard—just ask the MLA. I’ve been out of undergrad for over 10 years, and I had a good-sized handful of smart, quirky, engaged female professors even back then. In graduate school, there was a collective of brilliant, well-published, psychologically-sound, sartorially-gifted lady doctors. I can only imagine that there are more now than there were then.

So what gives, Hollywood and indie-filmmakers? How about one measly female professor who’s not eating barrels of Zoloft in 2008? I’d consider it a personal favor.

Benedictions of the Blogosphere

If I had known that I was going to take such a massive break from the blog, I would have asked for it to be subsidized by a sponsor.  But two bits of blog-related news are just too good to keep to myself.

When I first started including blogs as writing practice in my courses two years ago (or “forcing us to do this stuff” as some students like to say), I consistently had a few resistant bloggers.  Rightly so, really.  If you’re not a blog reader, why would you be invested in writing one?  So I’ve learned, every semester, to make the case that we often make in composition contexts: online writing equals writing for a real, public audience; it familiarizes you with rhetorical conventions of particular communities; it instills (i.e., forces) a consistent practice of writing as thinking about readings and/or viewings and/or discussions that we engage in for class purposes.  And with recent high profile examples of bloggers getting deals in more traditional media (Wonkette’s book, Julie Powells’ book, and Julie Dam’s novel), I’ve been hinting around—blogging is becoming a way to secure a “legitimate” (not my choice of words, but one that comes up) way of leveraging a career in professional writing!

This month, it’s nothing but good news from the Strose Student/Alumni blogosphere.  First, Mallory’s soap opera snarkfest, Serial Drama, has bought her a regular column in Soap Opera Digest.  And then, Kim C. finds out that her post on Jean Baudrillard’s passing ended up in the latest edition of the International Journal of Baudrillard Studies.  And these are only two of the multitude of Strose bloggers!  Who’s next?!  [I wonder what to call a group of bloggers.  If it’s an exultation of larks and a pride of lions, should it be a byte of bloggers?  Bring on the collective nouns!  Where’s James Lipton when you need him?]

So, if that isn’t the kind of good news that brings me back to blogging, I don’t know what is.  If you see these two around the interweb, give them a hearty helping of congratulations.

It’s Never Too Late To Reconsider…

In lieu of real content, I couldn’t help but try the meme that’s bouncing around the academic blogosphere (seen first at Dr. Crazy’s). It’s an odd list for someone who has spent a decade reading and writing about literature, no?

  1. Website Designer
  2. Desktop Publisher
  3. Cartoonist / Comic Illustrator
  4. Animator
  5. Fashion Designer
  6. Multimedia Developer
  7. Costume Designer
  8. Anthropologist
  9. Computer Animator
  10. Graphic Designer
  11. Artist
  12. Communications Specialist
  13. Activist
  14. Print Journalist
  15. Critic

The closest any of these get to what I actually do, or am trained to do, is #15; I suppose a good deal of my career is wrapped up in being a critic. What’s surprising here is the consistent underlying aesthetic theme. Graphic designer, fashion designer, artist, cartoonist, etc. As the girl who is consistently assigned as a team handicap in Pictionary, I can attest to my inability to pull these off. And it doesn’t get much better when we move into the technological dimension; I can only imagine what anyone who’s seen my pathetic attempts at coding would have to say about the first job on this list. What’s clear is the way that the test is loaded,  It doesn’t ask what you’re good at/bad at, but rather what you like/dislike.

The end result of this test? I shouldn’t quit my day job.

Inauguration

Due to popular demand (most of it imagined and/or based on anecdotal evidence), I hereby inaugurate a new category for this blog: whatcha gonna do with that?!

The bane of English majors everywhere, and thus to the professors who teach said English majors, “whatcha gonna do with that?!” is the battle-cry of those of little faith; those who are convinced that students studying literature, theory, philosophy, humanities of all stripes will end up starving, holding up a sign at freeway entrances that says: “will close read for food.”

For them, I offer up this category. Whatcha gonna do with that?! will chronicle the innovative and variegated mix of vocations, lucrative passions, and self-supporting hobbies taken up by erstwhile literature majors. I hope it will be a rich archive to show parents, loved ones, and “realists” everywhere.

The inaugural pair for this category will be Stacy London and Stephen Johnson.

Pop culture mavens may recognize the name Stacy London from the addictive and vexing television show What Not to Wear. It may come as a surprise to viewers that London’s undergraduate career focused on—wait for it—“20th century philosophy and German literature.” According to her biography, London parlayed her skills in Germanistik and symbolic logic into fashion, eventually becoming the senior fashion editor at Mademoiselle. Apparently neither of those courses of study asked her to consider gender normativity, but regardless, an employed literature major!

Stephen Johnson (who blogs here) is a prolific writer of non-fiction that examines connections among everyday life, science and technology. His recent book, Everything Bad is Good for You, takes a close look at popular media and traces its neurobiological effects. He makes the counterintuitive argument that, rather than functioning as evidence of the moron-ification of modern society, things like video games and television shows reflect an increasing ability in modern audiences to seek out and understand more complex entertainment. In a recent interview at Pop Matters, Johnson discusses his new book The Ghost Map: The Story of London’s Most Terrifying Epidemic—and How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World. In the course of the interview, he reveals his early educational history:

“I suppose I should make a goal of trying to write one book without a reference to Dickens. It’s funny, I went to Columbia, in the English program, in a sense to do theory. I had been a semiotics major in college, and that was Brown in the late ‘80s—it was the third most popular major in the humanities. It had no faculty of its own, but it was third: history, English, and semiotics. And so I went there because Said was there, and Gayatri Spivak was going to be there, and a bunch of other folks who were in that world–it was either going to be Duke or Columbia. I got there and they actually had this weird thing where they made you read novels, which [laughs] was odd, and then I fell in with Franco Moretti, who ended up having the most influence over my intellectual life at that period. He was really doing the nineteenth-century novel, and so I took a couple of different classes with him and I just got really interested in the period. “

There it is, folks. Not just a background in literature, but also in theory. Theory!

So, the preliminary answer to whatcha gonna do with that?! is plenty.

Stay tuned for the next thrilling installment.