Thursday, March 31, 2005


Whither Academia?

First of all, let me make the required complaints about Blogger. It's taken me far too long to get into my "dashboard" tonight, and I'm tired of the numerous "time-outs" before finally getting a page to load.

That taken care of, I'm in the process of drafting replies to those of you who emailed me on this question. Because my response to depression over academia generally involves the extensive administering of cocktails and bad television, these will be understandably slow in coming.

Some good suggestions here. I will be hitting the job market again next year regardless of any other decisions I may make in the meantime, so hopefully there'll be an opening in my field at one of the sensible schools Juvenal mentions. In 2003, I interviewed at what I thought was one of the most sensible schools in the nation, but they turned out to be a rather irritating bunch, and the interview was quite unpleasant. So it's a hard call. I need to find a sensible school whose English department isn't inhabited by assholes. Is there such an animal?

One major problem I'm having as a scholar right now is that I teach absolutely nothing in my field. This makes research and publishing very, very difficult, particularly as I am teaching to set reading lists in the courses I do teach, often with texts I am not familiar with, because they are either non-canonical (this is a work of literature because it was written by a Mexican woman!) or they are not even literary texts (like the Ehrenreich). And I do have a responsibility to my students, regardless of my personal feelings about this crap. So time that I could spend working on my own projects is often spent prepping to teach, and prepping to teach books you think are utter garbage is a difficult task indeed.

I guess I'm just not sure how worth it all of this is to me anymore. The odds are against me in so many ways. First of all, the longer I adjunct, the less attractive I become on the job market. I've already adjuncted for three years before the Ph.D., and now we're looking at two years after. I've heard that seven years of adjuncting is the terminal number--after that, you are considered unhireable.

Second, even if I do land a tenure-track position, will it be one I can live with? I'm getting very, very tired of contributing to the dumbing-down of the academy, and of sitting silent while I watch critical thinking replaced with ideology. I literally wanted to jump across the table at a department meeting and strangle a colleague. Or thrust my Ticonderoga through his eye. He is, frankly, an idiot, whose ability to think logically was compromised decades ago, if it truly ever existed in the first place.

Finally, I find it harder and harder to actually give a shit about literature. I can't quite figure out why what I'm doing is important anymore, particularly when much of the effort I put in is undermined by the low standards of my colleagues, who think that writing an interpretive poem is somehow a satisfactory final project in an introduction to literature course. We haven't quite gotten as far as allowing students to submit a diorama in lieu of a piece of writing, though if the school of education has much more influence over our curriculum, we're not far from it.

I just feel like my days at work are spent pissing in the wind.

My days at home are spent trying to recapture my interest in my field, an activity that generally degenerates quite quickly into hours of PS2, followed by massive guilt and self-loathing. This is doing wonders for my CV.

And I know that the "real" world is just as irritating in its own way. I think the problem is that after a decade of having professors blow sunshine up my ass about how wonderful and pure the academy is, how lofty its aspirations, the reality of what a shitpile the whole thing has become is difficult to deal with.

Anyway, comment way. I've just invented a new drink I call a "blueberry drop," so I'll comment on your comments for as long as the brain remains more or less fuzzless.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005


I cannae take much more o'this!

It's altogether possible that I have had my fill of academia, hence the fall off in blogging. Blogging in anger rarely results in anything useful.

The general problem I'm having is that the field that I entered more than a decade ago is becoming more and more unrecognizable to me, as it is encroached upon by cultural and area studies, and as the political left makes it more and more impossible to exist as a conservative in an English department.

On of the straws that may have broken the camel's back has to do with asinine curriculum decisions--more mandatory leftist texts (works which force an instructor to talk about race, class and gender, as that's all they are about), less in the way of real reading and writing standards in the classroom--but the anvil was a minority woman being given a tenure-track position. I kid you not. A minority woman was given a tenure-track position without even interviewing for it. All of a sudden, she was a member of the department. Just like that. No national search, no MLA interviews, no campus visits. It was all handled on an administrative level and it was presented to the department as a done deal.

This is not, mind you, a famous scholar--it's not like we've hired a superstar here. This is a person at the very beginning of her career, with minimal teaching experience, all of it thus far as a graduate student. She was, I have been told by a number of colleagues, hired because she was a minority.

And she has become well-known amongst the students and select colleagues--the ones whose opinions I value--as a lousy teacher.

So I'm kind of at the end of my rope with the academy.

So what in the hell do I do with myself? What does a Ph.D. in English literature in his mid-30s do with himself, when he has done nothing outside of the academy for decades? What am I qualified to do?

I know that there are others out there who have successfully made the transition from academia to the real world. I would like to hear their suggestions for how I might do the same, and strategies for coping with the transition from being the master of much of your own time to having others master your time for you.

Friday, March 25, 2005


You say you want a revolution?

I think I've said before that while I agree with David Horowitz's criticisms of the academy, I'm quite apprehensive about the methods by which Horowitz thinks these problems can be solved. Recent legislation in Florida and Tennessee, which opens the door to students suing their professors for "oppressing" them with leftist ideology (or right wing ideology, too, though nobody worries much about that) frightens the hell out of me, and is going to have the sole effect of making me even more reluctant to deal with matters of any substance in my classroom, for fear of opening myself to a lawsuit.

When the left started taking over colleges and universities in the late 1960s, the promise was that we'd end up with universities that were more open-minded and willing to deal with ideas that some found offensive and dangerous. We know where that went. Why this push, instigated by many on the far right and by a group of neo-cons who are fighting a battle decades old (and preventing us from moving forward), should produce a different set of results, escapes me.

So, to mix pop icons, I reproduce here the wisdom of Mr. Peter Townsend, whose words seem particularly apt:

Sunday, March 20, 2005


New Linky

I recently discovered The Moonbat Abattoir while reading some comments under a post by a definite Moonbat whom Stephen Green for some reason saw fit to help fill his martini glass while he was on vacation.

A very nice job of explaining what's wrong with the Democrats. I wait for his/her response to Howard Dean's recent remark in Canada that Republicans are brain dead. So far, he/she seems to think Dean is an okay guy.

Hate to break it to you, Mr. Abattoir, but Dean is as big a moonbat as the rest of 'em.

Saturday, March 19, 2005


Cinema Studies

Last week, the folks over at Hatemonger's Quarterly wrote a post on Cinema Studies that caught my eye.

You see, I make use of film (and sometimes television) in my literature classes on a regular basis, and I have been doing this pretty much since the first time I started teaching. I'm of the opinion that good cinema does indeed count as literature, and that it can be as difficult to "read" as any novel, play, or poem.

Yet I cannot help but agree with the myriad of "Chips" over at Hatemongers that Cinema Studies is, for the most part, complete and utter bullshit. Most of what is being produced by the "scholars" in this field is the same sort of self-indulgent crap I was complaining about last week in my Boomer vs. Gen X post.

A not-so-brief quotation from the Hatemonger's post in question highlights what I'm talking about:

    Don’t believe us? Then clearly, dear reader, you have not taken a gander at the Fall 2001 number of the journal Cinema Studies, which features an article penned by one Nicholas F. Radel, a professor of English at Furman University.

    The magnificently ridiculous title of Mr. Radel’s piece says it all: “The Transnational Ga(y)ze: Constructing the East European Object of Desire in Gay Film and Pornography after the Fall of the Wall.”

    Delicious, isn’t it? We, the crack young staff of “The Hatemonger’s Quarterly,” particularly savored Mr. Radel’s pathetically typical use of parentheses. You can imagine him patting himself on the back after typing the word “Ga(y)ze,” can’t you? Sure, his ideas may all be pseudo-radical academic boilerplate; but, man, can he use those parentheses!

    Mr. Radel’s article begins with a sublimely ridiculous sentence: “Of all the effects of the collapse of the Iron Curtain on East-West relations, perhaps the one that will be the least discussed is its effect on gay communities in the United States.”

    Gee, Mr. Radel, we wonder why that is? Actually, given the number of idiotic English professors in these here United States, we have the sneaking suspicion that the influence of the collapse of the Iron Curtain on US gay communities will be among the topics most pondered.

    So what, you may (or may not) be asking yourself, is Mr. Radel’s landmark work of scholarship about? Let Mr. Radel tell us himself: “In particular, I wish to examine the ways of in which Eastern Europeans are constructed as desirable sexual partners for American gay men in Gary Terracino’s popular short film My Polish Waiter (1994) and in some examples from the increasingly large number of gay pornographic films that feature young men from Eastern Europe.”

I wish I could say that my own perusal of cinema studies journals belied the findings of the Hatemongers. It has not. Oh, this is an extreme example, of course, but it's pretty much par for the course in a field which now boasts "pornography studies" under its every widening umbrella. You should read some of that stuff. It's porn people. It's there for people to wank to.

But I digress.

As I said, I like to use film in my courses, and I'm of the opinion that in an age where the ideas that were once delivered to the populace via the printed word are now delivered via the projected or broadcasted image, it's become just as important to teach students to do close readings of film and television shows as it is to do close readings of novels. Oh, not all of them, of course. I would never bring an episode of Survivor or some crap like that into class, but there are some very well-done episodes of The Twlight Zone, the original Star Trek, and even The Simpsons that need "textual unpacking" to really appreciate them in full. And, of course, there are hundreds of films out there that reach a level of artistry and philosophical complexity competitive with some of the greatest works of literature.

The problem I've run into is trying to find criticism that I can hand to my students that isn't full of the sort of masteurbatory nonsense cited above.

Honestly, I've never seen a field as myopic as cinema studies. From what I've seen of it so far, it's all theory. With a few exceptions, the majority of essays and books I've examined looking for sources for my students are chock full of Lacan, Freud, Marx, Althusser, Foucault, etc. In many cases, there are more pages of an essay or book dedicated to a theorist than there are to the filmmaker being examined. In fact, I've made a practice of examining the index of every film studies book I pick up to see what the ratio of artist to theorist is.

Is there anything going on in cinema studies that even remotely resembles old-fashioned, close reading of literature? That examines the formal elements of films and television episodes without using them to make some sort of lefty argument? Readings of films by straight, white men that are not hostile? That do not seek to prove that the straight, white filmmaker was/is some sort of evil monster, out to pervert the minds of innocent viewers with radical conservatism?

Where is the common sense in cinema studies? Anyone? Anyone?

(More on the Boomer stuff soon. I've had a few Boomer vs. X encounters this week--or at least encounters I was predisposed to examine in terms of generation because of my earlier post--and I need to fit them into my overall concept. Soon.)

Sunday, March 13, 2005


Student Writing Crisis

Well, I thought I was going to finish my blog on Boomer versus Gen X, but the stack of papers I had to grade over the weekend begged to differ.

Simply put, I have a student writing crisis, and I've had to spend the bulk of the weekend making extensive comments on the batch of essays I've been grading as well as constructing a lesson plan for Monday that will, I hope, address the worst of the problems I've encountered and help my students understand what it is they just don't seem to be getting.

I think what I'll do is break my Boomer observations into chunks and start posting them ASAP.

In the meantime, any suggestions from those of you who teach writing how best to hammer into these kids' heads that a thesis statement needs to argue a point and that paragraphs need to support that argument and not just provide a summary of the work being written about?

I'm not sure how many more times I can repeat myself before I pull an William Hurt in Altered States in the middle of class.

Friday, March 11, 2005


Yet Another Academic Obscenity

This is obscene. How much you all wanna bet this reprehensible POS already has a tenure-track job lined up somewhere?

The blogger I've linked to provides a link to contact both Bowling Green, this student's degree-granting institution, and Boise State, his former alma mater, which has invited him to come speak on his thesis topic, "In Defense of Terrorism: When is it Permissible to Target Children?"

Mr. Gatliff, you should be immediately deported, preferably to a nice, deserted island, which you can share with your Islamofascist buddies.


Boomers, Version 1.5

Well, I'm still working on Boomers Versus Gen X, Part 2, so that'll have to wait until later this evening or possibly tomorrow. I've been reading an interesting article on Woody Allen's Zelig, and the argument it makes regarding the portrayal of intellectuals in that film has added a facet to my Boomer thesis, while at the same time provides ammunition for Juvenal's arguments regarding ideology in the academy. Essentially, I want to examine the effect that the "me-centered" culture of the Boomers (don't forget the "Me" Decade) had on criticism and interpretation--whether this contributed to the critic-centered scholarship that currently dominates the academy in a sort of Satanic marriage between Boomerism and leftist ideology.

Simply put, the next post on the Boomers will be a long and complex one, and it's taking me a while to write.

Also, we've begun the process of house hunting, and that's been taking a great deal of my free time. We've simply had it with apartment living, and if we finagle the finances, we can probably buy a place for only slightly more a month than we pay in rent. And, what with the massive amount of HGTV and TLC being watched in our home, the home owner bug has really set in.

I guess this will make us members of the "owner class," and securely ensconce us in the ranks of the evil capitalists. 'Bout f***ing time, too.

Saturday, March 05, 2005


Boomer Vs. X in Academia

A sequence of events, culminating in an odd desire to hear Bananarama's "Robert DeNiro's Waiting (Talking Italian)" (which I actually own on CD) reminded me that I was a member of Generation X. I think my current liminal status in academia is reminding me of 90s films like Reality Bites and Kicking and Screaming--I'm about as happy with my post-college life as the characters in those films.

Now, an initial disclaimer. I don't buy completely into the whole generational labeling game, and I certainly understand the objections raised against it. However, I also recognize that despite my own efforts to the contrary (particularly in the wake of the Peter Sacks book on Gen Xers in college), I'm more or less a typical Gen Xer. And many of the Boomers I know are more or less typical Boomers. Whatever the origins of these labels, there is something to them. Call it zeitgeist, unpopular as that term has become in academic circles. Whatever. I still like it.

But, this post isn't so much about me or about the labels themselves as about what I was able to discover while playing around on the internet, looking for stuff about Generation X.

A search of Amazon, followed by a Google search, revealed three distinct areas of study currently being conducted in Gen X department: how to best sell us stuff (to which my answer is: provide us with greater economic stability), how to bring us into (or back into) organized religion, and how Boomer bosses can successfully understand their Gen X employees and integrate them into the pre-existing workforce, itself largely the product of Boomers and their values.

This last seems to be a major concern, and was the subject of at least ten of the first forty or so books that came up when I did a subject search of "Generation X" at Amazon. Apparently, the effects of the generation gap are quite severe in many places of business. The values of Generation X, these studies seem to stress, are very different than those of Boomers, and this has caused no small amount of strife in the workplace. For one thing, we appear to be far more interested in our private lives than Boomers--we aren't willing to work as much overtime or devote ourselves to our work to the exclusion of home and family. We also desire greater economic stability, and are resentful of Boomers who block our way up the employment ladder. Finally, Gen Xers have largely rejected both ends of the Boomer "value spectrum": the crass materialism generally associated with Boomers as well as the leftist political activism of the Woodstock crowd. Some pundits have even made the argument that we are more conservative as a generation, though from what I am able to gather, this doesn't necessarily mean we are a Republican generation, but that we seek a stability that was severely lacking in our youth--this is particularly true of the large number of Xers who are the children of divorce and the children of workers who were laid off during the recession of the early 1980s. (Personally, I think it also has a lot to do with the fact that we were weaned on films like The Day After and Testament.)

But my question is, why don't we see evidence of this large generational gap in academia? From what I've seen, most of my fellow Gen Xers have bought into the left-wing branch of Boomer culture hook, line, and sinker, and I can generally find little or no difference between the Boomers and the Gen Xers I work with, even when the discussion is limited to Xers, and the Boomers are nowhere near.

It seems to me that if the problems of the business world were duplicating themselves in academia--and by academia I mean the humanities and social sciences, since that's where I work and those are people I have daily contact with--then we should be seeing a rejection of what I can only characterize as "60s think" among up and coming scholars. They should also be interested in stablizing fields of study, rather than trying to explode them, a la cultural studies and the various ethnic and gender enclaves.

Yet in academia, Generation X scholars are, for the most part, simply replicating the thoughts and work of the Boomers. Oh, we've added things to the mix, but we haven't added anything that smacks of Generation X, at least not as it is described in the non-academic world. Instead, we're just helping the Boomers move their projects further ahead.

Does anybody have any insight into why this would be?

Have Gen X academics allowed themselves to become Boomer clones, or are we going to see a massive Gen X revolution once more of these omnipresent Boomers retire?

(Click on "Confess Your Thoughtcrime Here" to leave a comment.)

Wednesday, March 02, 2005


The Joys of Adjuncting

With the demise of The Invisible Adjunct, I should probably do my part to make certain that the concerns of adjuncting remain visible in the blogosphere. Since Winston the graduate student has moved to Winston, the spousal hire adjunct, I suppose I'm in as good a position as any to voice some of my concerns as an adjunct. Also, I was a freeway flyer adjunct in Southern California for several years between the M.A. and the Ph.D., so I have that experience to draw from as well.

I will say that my current adjuncting experience is quite different from the earlier one. For one, I am at a single institution, primarily because we do not live close enough to another insitution at which I could pick up classes. All we have within driving distance are Research One schools, with a vast pool of graduate students slaves to staff the classes the profs avoid, and schools that require I make a statement regarding my relationship to Jesus and promising to adhere to a certain code of moral conduct which includes abstinence from alcohol. Not to weasel in on Vodkapundit's territory, but I drink like a fish, so these schools are out of the question. Life without cocktails and fine wine would be no life at all.

Plus there's the fact that all of these schools are at least 1 - 1 1/2 hours drive away, and only pay abour $1,300-$1,600 a course. That doesn't make it particularly attractive. And, of course, they'd all want me to teach composition.

The position here is not too bad. The Freshman Indoctrination course will, within the next year or two, cause some definite problems between me and my department chair, but I'll deal with that when the breakdown comes. Beyond that, I've mainly taught literature and film, and have even been offered a graduate level course for the next Spring semester.

The teaching itself has been enjoyable, sans the actual material in the Freshman Indoctrination course. The students are polite and attentive, such a change from the large Research One school where I did my Ph.D. The material in the literature classes I've been given is quite enjoyable, and I have been given more or less free rein in determining the content of these courses.

Yet I am teaching completely out of my area, at least in terms of my dissertation work.

This poses some massive problems, at least as I see it, for going onto the job market next year (this year, by the way, was an ENORMOUS flop). Where to concentrate my attention? Certainly, the way to success in academia is to teach courses that follow along with your own research--definitely the explanation for some of the narrowly conceived, esoteric graduate seminars I took. Yet I do not really have this luxury. I'm teaching right now in an area about as far afield of my dissertation area as it is possible to go. And Freshman Indoctrination takes up far more preparation time than I'm being remunerated for, and has NOTHING to do with anything I've ever worked on or will ever work on.

So what the hell do I go on the job market on as next year? How do I work in the necessary research to produce an additional article in my dissertation field--work that will require a massive bifurcation of my brain?

Or do I instead try to market myself as the "ultimate generalist"? God knows, I'm not adverse to teaching a variety of literatures, and actually enjoy my work more when there is some variety to it. And I'm enjoying the material I'm teaching right now in many ways more than the material and era I dissertated on.

So I find myself in a dilemma common to many of the adjuncts I've known, wrestling with the disparity between their graduate school work and their teaching.

Of course, it may be the case that I will adjunct at this school for the rest of my life, or at least for as long as they'll throw me the bone of a couple of classes a term for twenty cents on the dollar. Hopefully, my wife will move to an associate professorship on schedule and get a reasonable raise that will allow us to live and pay off our student loans.

Can you be an adjunct forever?

Adjuncts and former adjuncts, comment on your experiences.

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?