Perhaps the high point of this blog event, thus far, has been the essay posted by Morris Dickstein, who explains the current academic culture with a surplus of big-picture clarity and judiciousness: "Today the theory era is effectively ending and the public intellectual tradition is reasserting itself, along with a renewed attention in the aesthetic that many theorists dismissed as no more than an ideological formation. But thanks to tenure and the intellectual investments we make as graduate students, theory will have a long afterlife. It will also continue to inflect how many important issues are discussed, including the role of language in literature, the degree to which literary works reference the world outside the text, the role of social construction including class, race, and gender in forming our conventions of representation (as writers) and interpretation (as critics). Critical movements leave behind a residue of common sense after the dust of their polemics has settled and the most extreme positions have been abandoned."
True? What is the "public intellectual tradition" referred to here? Certainly we are operating in a time of anti-intellectualism in some ways unparralleled. Has theory--the tool of revolution against the canon--become canonical? How does that unwrite the tradition itself? I dunno but I wouldn't want to assume that I can do the kinds of things I do with texts without it ....
For me writing is like ... a halogen lamp. Once I turn it on, I'm in the pool of light it casts and I see things with a startling new clarity. Some of what I see, I don't like: the sharp edges of bias or prejudice, the moldiness of bad thinking, chipped paint of emotions, the broken furniture of ideas. Whatever I choose to bring into the lamp's glow is forever changed, whether that be a memory, a sense of who I am, how I feel about issues and/or people, tricky intellectual matters, or something I've read. Writing for me, in other words, is a means of understanding the world and my place in it in a more comprehensive way. When I better understand myself I better understand how my emotions, assumptions, and ignorances determine how and what I see. I can start to discern that to which I had otherwise remained blind. I think people in general see what they want or expect to see, but when I write I confront contradictions, either my own or those of others, and only then can I start to negotiate or work through those problems of false consciousness. See I'm starting to do it now, using big words to express big ideas, harnessing language so that I can examine my world. Here's another example of how this works for me:
My areas of expertise if you can call them that are Mary Shelley, her circle (father and mother primarily), and the Gothic romance form. I initiated study in these areas because I was hungry to see how these maverick writers used a popular tradition to explore a radical belief system. The more I work on Shelley, though, the more inescapable becomes a sense of her ambivalence about women's rights, about Empire, and about colonized peoples. So, my writing in this area has not served to reassure my assumptions or my original thoughts on the matter. Just the opposite, which is what makes it such an incredibly powerful tool when we give ourselves over to it. Writing does not always lead to self-reassurance.
Other types of writing I do on a daily basis include the following:
Stuff I'd like to write or write about
That's all for now. What kind of writing do you like to do? What is writing like for you? Like a pizza with lots of toppings, sometimes too thick and bready, other times to crisp? Like taking a shower: cleansing and something that the folks around you appreciate (smelly writing and b.o., now that would be an essay topic!)
Okay, I've never "blogged" before and am self-consciously wondering if this is such a good idea. I read a piece just yesterday about some poor schmucks fired for their too-honest blogs. I always wonder where these stories come from and why they are published. In the process of pondering their effect on me, I get my own answer: thought control and speech police. No, I'm not a conspiracy theorist but why would so much attention be given to the cruel fates of three very naive (dumb?) bloggers if not to impart the lesson that talking honestly can only be trouble? First rule: don't trash your boss/teacher/person-who-can-crush-you if there is any way, no matter how remote, that s/he can get ahold of it. Seems like a smart rule of thumb.
The article I read was published in Vanity Fair, I think, or maybe it was Cosmo? No, it was in Esquire, that's right. I was on the stairmaster and thumbing through the only magazine at the rec center I hadn't yet memorized. Our rec center subscribes to strictly gender coded mags. There are the "male" mags (GQ, Esquire, and some sort of Muscle Mag) and then there are "female" mags (Family Circle, well, actually that's about the only female mag they ever have. And I really don't care for Family Circle. Aside from the fact that the pieces are not terribly affirming for a working mother who is also an academic (I should be home cooking, gardening, and obsessing about my chiuld's development, shouldn't I?), I find the prescribed religiosity and casualness with which a Christian point of view is rammed down readers' throats incredibly off putting.) In any case, of the three, Esquire has the most interesting articles and GQ the best ads. Family Cirlce has some good recipes, but that's not usually what I want to read as I sweat my ass off and pray dinner will be ready when I get home. If I were to cook, FC might come in handy. If I were to cook. Not that I don't cook; I do, and I'm pretty good at it. But I hate thinking about food while I'm exercising. It's like rubbing salt in the wound, ya know?
BVack to why I'm here and sharing my writing in this public arena: Looking over a colleague's syllabus, I saw how he used blogspot as a way to connect students and expand their writing opportunities. I strongly believe, as most writing instructors do, that writing should be something more than producing themes (dreadful stuff, themes) for an arbitrary teacher sitting on his/her throne made of red pens. So, why not, I thought, do something similar in my own courses? Students could respond to whatever prompt I provide, but they could also make the space their own: a unique public space from which they could extemporize on the latest Bright Eyes or Black Eyed Peas CD, review or trash a film, share their impressions of an art gallery oping or concert, or whatever else may tickle their fancies. Within reason of course. Strictly PG-13.
We shall see how it works; I imagine it will be a very comfortable space for most students but some will find in intimidating. I know that I do. The only way I could get my motor running for this entry was to first stuff myself with Chinese food (sesame chicken and boiled dumplings, yum!), down 2 cups of coffee, and blast Joni Mitchell through my headphones. If it works, it works, yes?
The rules of the road will be announced in class but students generally will be asked to post at least once a week and to respond to their classmates' writing at least once a week as well. How to provide access to everyone's blogs will be the next trick ...