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Thursday, June 01, 2006

Titulary Discourse

Is a title more important than the substance? Generally, we give them a great deal of thought. But for those absent from an author's direct acquaintance or specialty, they can seem obtuse. C'mon. Admit it. Sometimes they're just plain ridiculous, but some can be just right, just so.

This year I've served on two search committees, both of which have been chaired by Prof. Crustivita, the Dark Lord. He is too quick to judge a person's œuvre by titles. We reign him in, but sometimes, and I hate to concede this, he is right. (Ouch, that hurts to type.) Some show that an author is trying to impress with the jargon/discourse of a trendy sub-field, at the expense of the object of the study. Amateurs, as Crustivita calls them, actually include the proper adjective of their favorite theorist whose work seems to guide the argument more than the author's own thinking. "This is an admission that s/he has nothing interesting to say," barks Crustivita. "I've already read that theorist and would know what he would say about this: pour la poubelle!" Some reach for the stars and try to write something that seems authoritative, seminal even. These of course avoid the colon wholly.

Concerning titles with a colon: it would seem that the title could survive without one of the pharases, although it does ensure that the title will take a second line in bibliographies and CVs. Of course, titles with foreign-language phrases in them must have a colon.

It's true: we ought not judge a book (or article) by it's cover, but the title is fair game.

Some criteria for a good title:

  • an (in)offensive pun.....4 points, 6 if potentially offensive

  • figura etymologica.....3 points

  • chiasmus.....6 points

  • catachresis.....4 points

  • made-up words (2 points if it ends in "-ism", 3 if in "-isme" or "-ismus").....2 points

  • reference to children's literature or folktale.....4 points

  • gerunds before the colon (2 extra points if improperly formed form a noun).....2 points

  • substantive adjectives, or adverbs with definite articles.....3 points

  • parentheses and hyphens.....1 point each

  • a cliche, appropriate or not.....3 points

  • reference to popular culture.....4 points

  • French (or German or some Continental language, past or present).....6 points

  • literary reference to something beyond the scope of study.....5 points

  • proper adjective derived from a scholar's/theorist's name.....3 points

  • reference to a "methodology".....1 point

  • using a Greek prefix on a Latintate root, or vice versa (in any other context, such a crime would require one to surrender his philologist's license).....4 points

A test drive:

A Word's Worth: a Lacanian reading of early 19th century British poetry (8 points)

Creating Titles, Entitled Creation: appellationism deconstructed (13 points)

Here and Now, The Now and The Then: einst and jetzt in the narratology of self and other (24 points, although the chiasmus is debatable)

Magic Beans: bucolic meta-urbanism in Hugo (8 points)

See Dick Run: phallogenetica in American political culture (12 points)

Monkeying Around: the semiotics of simiatics in the performative rhetoric of the Senate (8 points)

The Weltanshauung of L'Autrisme (ooh! a seminal work!....12 points, plus 5 bonus points, pour l'audace.....17 points)

Sublime Liminality: a comprehensive diachronic survey of turnstiles and (sub-)urban localities in London, 1919-1923 (8 points)

Discoursing Running Asunder: meta-stercoration and trans-scataficationism in the epinomenclaturismatica of neo-cultural studies (24 points)

Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star: a post-Freudian reading of diminutives in Newton's Principia (8 points)

Reap What You Sow: Schadenfreude and the pessimism of polity in Vergil's Georgics (9 points)

Speaking Volumes, Volumes of Speech: a post-Foucault discourse analysis of the oratory of Hubert Humphry (13 points)

What Big Teeth You Have: the hermeneutics of dental registry accounts in post-War Shropshire (5 points)

Ciao, Ciao, Chow Chow: the canid semiotics of exotica in the performative (dis)course of passagiato (17 points)

Empowering Placement and the Power of Place: topos and logos in the Lonely Planet cycle (15 points)

Blinded by the Light: (re-)deconstructing the voice as hypocultural lens in the productionist texts of IKEA lighting fixtures (14 points)

Drinking Voices, the Voice of Drink: writing orality and the Temple Bar narratives of Spring Break '04 (16 points)

Doh!: the exclamatory as manifesto in Iliad (7 points)

The sandbox is open if anyone cares to play. Come now. Do your worst.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

A Half-Baked Abstract

Let’s be honest. How many of us have written the abstract before the paper because the CFP deadline was, like, tomorrow? Well, I’m coming up on a deadline myself and it has sent me thinking about what the hell I’m doing in my holier-than-thou world of literary studies.

OK, true confessions: the stuff that I defended, the newer post-dissertation stuff that made the cut of some pretty good journals, the abstracts that got accepted to (inter)national conferences…all rubbish, and I well know it. It has the right bibliography, the right jargon, the right stilted prose. The stuff I am most proud of? My advisor and blind reviewers said it had no place in the scholarly debate. It wasn’t what people were talking about. I'm not worried; I'll get tenure. But I am surprised that I am no longer surprised by this.

And so sometimes I get a bit despondent. What the #%&* is scholarship for if not creating knowledge, creating perspective? Why do we just parrot what’s already there 90% of the time? But despondency yields quickly to a deeper satirical instinct. And so...

I’ve served on two searches this last year, attended four conferences/symposia and heard a dozen or so talks. In other words, I've read/heard a lot of as-current-as-it-gets sort of scholarship this year. Just for laughs, my own that is, I printed out a little check-list of “seminal works” and “important scholars” and “jargon du jour” and evaluated what I heard in talks accordingly with a straight percentage, e.g. 85% from 17/20. To be honest, I often had a difficult time discerning what the original thoughts were, but they all did the right things, said the right things. Talk about formal, generic constraints! And these were all smart people, truly accomplished thinkers.

The better conversations, the ones I remember and treasure, the ones that still inspire me, always took place in session (at a bar, to the gringos), well-watered and pint-accountable, well after the grad students finished all the warm chardonnay. Funny, I learned about pub well long before graduate school.

In any case, have a pint, dram, glass, flute, skin, shot, cup, mug, or whatever you like while I bake up an abstract. This won't take long. Feel free to bake your own.



1 modernist scholar or New Critic (ms/NC)
1 accomplished scholar working in university in America (AS)
1 rising scholar whom you hate and who will likely be on the same panel (RS-H)
1 Continental theorist you read in footnotes in grad school (CTh)
1 contemporary Continental theorist who is, luckily for us all, re-reading Continental theorists from twenty years ago (cCTh)
½ accomplished scholar working in a totally different field in the humanities (AS-wise outsider)
½ reference to post-Renaissance but pre-WW2 philosopher (H-German or verbose Scotsman)
2 egg whites
2 Tsp vinegar, domestic
1 tsp bile
1 dry cup arrogance
1 pint faux humility
1 cup –ism/-isme
1 Tsp discourse
2-3 foreign phrase easily expressed in English, preferably French or Italian (e.g. ça passe ou ça casse or sciopero della raggione)

Preheat oven to an incendiary degree.

Begin by combining ms/NC and CTh in a large bowl. Abruptly dump in AS. In a separate bowl, beat and knead RS-H, add vinegar and bile. Stir mixture into first bowl. Combine well. Sprinkle arrogance over mixture and gently fold in AS-wise outsider. Add one French/Italian phrase.

Combine egg whites and faux humility in a separate, small mixing bowl. Whisk for fifteen words. Keep whisking and add discourse, -ism(e), and cCTh. Before adding to first mixture, very carefully and obliquely allude to H-German, by name. (If using verbose Scotsman, insert awkward pun first.) Add to first mixture. Combine well. Pour into soufflé pan.

Bake for 10-15 minutes, depending on panel. Garnish with remaining French/Italian phrases. Serve with lukewarm tap water served in a plastic cup.


Friday, May 12, 2006

Ten Things I miss about graduate school

Is being a professor all that different? I'm not so sure. Chairs replace advisors; the promotion & tenure committee replaces the dissertation committee; I'm still not teaching graduate-level courses....on and on. So, now that the year is done, a little nostalgia seems in order.

Ten Things I miss about graduate school (grad school memory: faculty-life reality)

1. systematic infantilization: at least it was somewhat expected and predictable, whereas now it is unjustified, unprofessional, and offensive

2. being encouraged to have my fill of the cheese plate, crudité, and cheap wine after talks: now I'm expected to buy it

3. speaking with intelligent people in my field: 'nuff said

4. grading blue books for profs without having to take the flak from students: as I'm too junior to have a paid grader, I now grade and take flak from dissatisfied customers

5. being understood to be of meagre means: being thought to be loaded and expected to entertain visiting scholars (school teachers of my age, years in service, and with an MA are making a lot more than me)

6. being somewhat encouraged, somewhat, to pursue ancillary interests: being somewhat encouraged to do the same thing forever (I do have to say, though, that in grad school I pursued too many ancillaria and my advisor did have to reign me in often and it ticked me off at the time)

7. permitted to take time researching in Europe, with departmental support, because it was understood that it would benefit my work: permitted to apply for buy-outs or release time, but only to apply; Mediocre U. couldn't afford to bring in an adjunct to take over my teaching load for even a semester and our own graduate students are not qualified

8. seeing committee work as exciting: seeing committee work as an opportunity to try out new body armour (in grad school I was on the brown bag committee and the grad representative to open faculty meetings--pretty lightweight stuff, really)

9. the collegiality of my graduate cohort: the paranoid subtext of even the smallest of talk among my colleagues at Mediocre U., paradigmata of the discourse of mistrust and deceit (At least the lot of us from grad school are still close. At a recent national conference, I, two other alums of my cohort from Intense Research University and my diss advisor were presenting on the same panel. The audience was very large for this particular conference, and IRU was well represented in the audience. While listening to my advisor present, a friend from IRU who was only a year ahead of me, now an asst prof, leaned over and said "We're all still listening to Dr. Funnimammal, but now we're all professors." We ROCKED that panel and were the talk of the conference. It was a good feeling that I'll never share with my colleagues here.)

10. still idealizing the professor's life: still idealizing the professor's life beyond Mediocre U.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Things I want to say to students, part one

It is that time of the semester, to be sure, and I know I'm not the only one about to burst. list:

1. " grandmother, like, died,'s OK if I don't teach the last two weeks of class, right? I'll be here for the final, though." (I'll say this every semester once the stack of grading just looks a little too high, or I just want to blow off teaching for a little.)

2. "I only took this job until I can transfer to another university with better students."

3. "You're right. You did pay tuition. I forgot. I thought I was spending all that time spilling comments on your F and D papers as pro bono work."

4. "I don't have your papers graded and I won't prepare my next two lectures because I have this thing in Cabo. It's really important, though."

5. "Ummm...I really need to get a good eval from this course, so just tell me what I need to do."

6. "I know I've beeen slacking a bit lately and my lectures haven't been the best, but teaching this class is really important to me. So, will you guys write letters of recommendation to my department chair for me?"

7. "Pardon me. Would you please repeat the question? I wasn't paying attention."

8. "This course is just a requirement for me to teach. Courses that I teach in my specialty are so much better."

9. "You're right. I never said that the papers had to be in correct English and this isn't an English class. Too frickin' bad!"

10. "Would you mind looking at this exam before I give it to you next week just to make sure it's what you're looking for?"