Monday, April 30, 2007

Another Busy Week...

Grad school makes life busy. I have my final theory paper due on Thursday, which means I have to do a massive overhaul of my previous draft (posted earlier) and add five to ten pages to it. I may be able to add seven, but I make no promises. Luckily my other class is done with the exception of one more meeting and talking more about Gerald Graff's Clueless in Academe.

My Professing Literature class ended very nicely. Remember that syllabus I posted? My teacher loved it--in fact he recommended that I get with another student and write an article about ways to spice up an introduction to literature class! I was proud. And then I thought to myself--perhaps this is a path I should take for PhD school. Maybe I should explore pedagogy and ways of teaching English literature. It's something I love and care about...why not study it more? Maybe I will...

We had guests in our last class, tenured professors. And I discovered that the issue I selected to write my prospective essay about is perhaps not as big a deal as I thought it was. It seems that these three that talked to us quite easily and successfully navigate the intersections between teaching, research, and service in their careers. They bring their research into their classes. And they love to teach.

Anyway, just wanted to post something. I'll be working on that paper until Thursday, and then I'll turn it in. And be done with this busy (but successful!) semester.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

On Arguments

Right now, I'm working my way through Gerald Graff's Clueless in Academe, which partly deals with arguing. So I've been thinking of the nature of academic arguments, the need for arguments, and trying to teach argument to students. Then I got into another political discussion with my mother.

I should know better, but it was interesting because of the way she views arguments. She doesn't like them at all. She also doesn't understand that "discussion" bears with it certain implications (at least for me): that you share ideas, and if you disagree, you talk about it. No where in this process is there an attack on the individual bearing the ideas. However, Mom sees any argument as a personal attack, gets upset, and wonders why I don't respect her.

She doesn't see argument as constructive; I see it as a process to get ideas on the table and to challenge the status quo, authority, or ideas that we just don't agree with. In order to change, our society must argue--what were the suffrage movement and the civil rights movement but a big argument with those who would not recognize that women needed the right to vote and that African Americans (and other minorities) deserved the same rights as whites?

Though arguments can be destructive, they are only so if they descend into a sort of name calling, yelling match. If each side is truly in the discussion to listen and to respond to each other with civility and openness, then discussion is a constructive tool. And it can be a tool of social change. One of the major holes in my mother's responses to me where that I just needed to pray (constructive) or wait God's will--protesting, arguing, and acting were not constructive, but destructive apparently. My response, of course, was that part of our duty and rights as citizens of a free democracy would be to actively participate through arguing and disagreeing with those in power.

In her mind arguing is pointless. In mine, it's everything. Even if in most cases it doesn't change minds, it (in the best case) plants ideas that perhaps the other person might not think about. Or it gives me something to think about. And then the next time, perhaps we pause and contemplate what passed before.

Anyway, even though these thoughts on the nature of arguments and discussions emerged from it, I really shouldn't argue with my mother anymore.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Yet Another Assignment: A Prospective Essay

I feel really bad about this--but I keep on merely posting my assignments! However, it is my blog, and perhaps a few of you are interested in my grad school doings (and this is a blog about grad school, at least in part), so I continue posting.

I will get around to writing about Salman Rushdie soon. I adored his presentation.


Jenn Miller

Professing Literature

David Jolliffe

April 25, 2007

Reuniting Academic Siblings: A Prospective

I miss teaching. Though my experience was limited—one college seminar, one high school writing class, a one-family Spanish group, and writing/speech tutoring—I loved teaching. I enjoyed leading discussions, showing students where they could strengthen their writing, and creating assignments to enhance student learning. It was fun, challenging, and intellectually stimulating. I regretting turning down my graduate assistantship offer at the University of Arkansas because I wouldn’t have the chance to be in the classroom. It was my desire to teach that led me to graduate school to pursue the professional goal of literature professor—or to be an English teacher in a college setting.

In pursuing this path, I have begun to learn the true nature of my chosen profession. Having a Ph.D. implies a pursuit of personal scholarship over the education of university students. A professor of literature (or of any discipline in the academy) is instructed that research is her primary goal; teaching is just something that has to be done in order to be able to do that research. Research is supposed to feed the soul of the individual, while teaching is mere drudgery. However, I do not mean to imply that all academics think this way, as Gerald Graff comments in Clueless in Academe:

The view that academic writing is necessarily insular and obscure props up the overdrawn opposition between research and teaching. We are so used to opposing research and teaching that we overlook the fact that good research is itself pedagogical, often drawing on skills of explanation, clarification, and problem-posing—of asking, “So what?” and “Who cares?”—that are central to good teaching. Indeed, as many academics testify, teaching often helps us sharpen our research writing and thereby advance our careers, a fact that refutes the renunciatory view of teaching that sees it as necessarily sacrificing professional self-interest. (10)

Thus, my prospective goal as I prepare to lead life as a member of academia is to bring my scholarship and teaching into the same realm and demonstrate through example that they are not as separate as one might believe. Teaching is vital to my desire to participate in this profession, and I do not want to see it relegated as a secondary (or even tertiary) consideration in my career. However, scholarship is part of the profession and cannot be neglected—or relegated to the back burner if I am to get tenure under the current system—and can also a rewarding part of being a literature professor.

Fortunately, I know I’m not the only one who is growing tired of the separation of our teaching lives and our scholarship—Robert Scholes, Gerald Graff, Kathleen Yancey, and countless others are striving to unite their scholarship and teaching, even going so far as to focus their research on—shall I say it?—pedagogy. These scholars are writing articles and books directed toward the professorate which emphasize the importance of teaching the next generation of scholars and improving the academy. Scholes would go so far as to declare that we would be bad academics if we were not doing our damnedest to make sure that we were helping form citizen intellectuals or educating young people in such a way as to form active participants in society.

Still, teaching seems a dirty word. As a former secondary education student, I was told repeatedly that I was “too smart” to be a teacher. My retort was usually that wouldn’t you want someone intelligent teaching your children? though they remained unconvinced. The “those who can, do, and those who can’t, teach” mentality still pervades much of the attitude toward teaching, pedagogy, and education. I believe this prejudice extends into higher education, where teaching is just something you do, and you don’t have to worry about being better at it. The smart kids will get it, the dumb ones won’t, and at the end of the day, you can go back to your isolated tower and do your real work. Studying and researching pedagogy is for the non-academics in the College of Education, and if someone in English attempts to claim that it is real research—woe to them. This mindset, though it is beginning to lose its hold, is still present throughout the academy. Academics do not want to be equated with high school teachers (or worse, elementary teachers) who, in their minds, teach because they can do nothing else.

This attitude toward teaching trickles down even to the students as they are choosing their future careers. The low pay, mediocre benefits, and little hope for (much) promotion lead young people to shy away from the education profession unless they feel particularly driven to teach. And the quality of individuals who do enter education is generally not high; I remember listening to my classmates in my education courses and thinking to myself How can these people be the teachers of our future citizens? Of course, there were also intelligent, capable people in those classes, but they were the exception rather than the rule. And they are the ones more likely to leave the field after dealing with administration, No Child Left Behind, and the apathy of students and parents, not to mention curricular constraints. I elected not to sign up for my internship and student teaching after growing weary with jumping through all the hoops required to be in the education program, especially as I was uncertain whether I even wanted to deal with all that goes along with teaching at the secondary level.

So perhaps a place to start to bring teaching and research together would be to work against the prevailing stereotype that pedagogy is for non-academics. Perhaps it is a stereotype that should be addressed throughout all levels of the education system: in elementary school through college. If we, as college English teachers, were to strive to improve the quality of our teaching and enhance the importance of pedagogy in our research, then perhaps we could start a paradigm shift, where teachers of all levels would be prized and appreciated for their skills and for working to improve education. Maybe a little idealistic (especially in the age of No Child Left Behind), but it could be a place to start. We need to lead the way in changing the way education is viewed and assert that teachers should be intelligent, capable individuals that are worth respect and better compensation—and that includes adjunct professors and graduate assistants.

Not only should we strive within the profession to place greater emphasis on teaching and encourage academics in all fields to pursue research on pedagogical topics, but we should also seek to introduce our research into our teaching and into the classroom. On the one hand, academics should strive to improve their teachercraft and bring teaching into their research; on the other, allowing research to have a place in the classroom is another way to bring the two aspects of our profession together. Academics feel the need to shield their research from their students for various reasons: perhaps because the think that undergraduates won’t have any interest, perhaps because they think their students won’t understand, or perhaps because they are afraid to be critiqued by their students. Or it could just be that scholars like to separate the two areas of their profession—it keeps things tidier if research is located in one area, and teaching in another.

However, sharing our research and our own writing can be a beneficial process for both us and our students. If I were working on an article about a novel I was teaching in a class, wouldn’t it be useful for students to see a piece of current research by their professor? The students could then get a glimpse into the other side of being an academic, and also their comments could help me to improve my own writing. I do not want to be one of those scholars whom Terry Eagleton blasts for being obscure for obscurity’s sake, and I want to take pride in a good piece of writing and scholarship. Students’ “review” of the article would prove beneficial because I would have feedback from a non-specialized audience on the clarity and readability of my article. Also, it’d be interesting for the students to either agree or disagree with my stance, so it could also function as a teaching opportunity on argument and criticism. In such a way I can enhance my own research and hone my writing skills, and I can also let students in on the inner workings of academia instead of obscuring it as Graff claims that we often do.

Teaching and research should not have to occupy separate priorities or realms of our professional life. Research is how we get tenure and earn promotion, but perhaps less emphasis should be placed on publication as a measuring stick for our worth as an academic and more emphasis put on our teaching. Changing the tenure system is more than any one person can handle, though speaking up and working with others toward change is certainly feasible. Another option is working with the English professors who are trying to change the stereotype of pedagogy and pedagogical research. On my own, I can focus my on uniting the classroom world with scholarly world. I can allow classroom experiences to influence my research; I can use scholarship as an access point into better teaching. Only when we can see that pedagogy and scholarship can work together effectively will we be able to release ourselves from the quandary of choosing between our “real” work and good teaching.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Apostrophes, Apostrophes (and Drinking)

We were quite drunk. Don't gasp, it was a Girl's Night after all, and we had started at Lori's apartment on some fantastic homemade sangria. By the time we made it to downtown, we were happy, buzzy, and giggly--and extracting wedding details from Leanne, the guest of honor. (I had already agreed to make her a guestbook, but when I was sober...)

After some sushi, we went to Common Grounds, a lovely coffee shop/bar. It was raining, but we were cozily inside, ordering martinis and cake. Six girls, six forks, two pieces of cake. And more drinks. I look at the menu, and I see "Martini's". My grammar brain clicks on, apparently not slowed down by my consumption of intoxicating beverages. My mouth, which usually checks such displays of nerdiness, was unequal to the task, and I shouted, "Why is there an apostrophe?" All of us scrutinize the menus, and Sophia declares that I'm right--there shouldn't be an apostrophe in martinis. We banter back and forth about the apostrophe, then dig into cake.

We then head for another bar, where I pick up the beer menu. And there's yet another misplaced apostrophe! I burst out, "Look!" and everyone laughs and me and mocks my nerdiness--but they had said "wheat's, ales, and stouts". They couldn't even be consistent with their apostrophe errors, so I fussed a bit more, the grammar schoolmarm in me raging, generating more laughs all around (including my own). A pineapple upsidedown cake shot shut me up for the rest of the evening, though not before I declared that I would start carrying around a red sharpie to apprise the world of their apostrophe errors.

It just goes to show that one's true obsessions are not slowed down when ingesting mind altering substances.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Syllabus Pt 2.: Reflection

We had to write a reflection for our syllabus project. Here it is. (I told you I had a lot due this week).


Jenn Miller

Professing Literature

David Jolliffe

April 18, 2007

Syllabus Reflection

Course Overview

I titled my course “Textually Active,” taken from an avatar on a friend’s online blog. I felt that it captured the sense I wanted students to have about the course; in order to be successful, educated individuals, they would need to possess the tools to be both active consumers and producers of text. (Plus, it’s a bit of an evocative pun). The most effective way of learning is doing, and by obtaining the skills required to create text (and to reflect on what went into that creation), students also learn how to interpret. English is a growing field and is increasingly about texts other than literature (Dead White Guy texts). Helping students realize that the interpretive act can move outside of the classroom and beyond literature they may only encounter in a class setting may assist in creating actively conscious consumers and producers of text that won’t be fooled by advertising or slick words.

Learning Goals

I have four learning goals: 1.) Getting students to realize that text is more than just literature or novels or poetry—it can be film, blogs, magazines, paintings, advertisements, etc. If they are able to recognize that literature is among a range of texts, I think it will help them recognize that the skills they develop through a literature course of this nature can be applied to other situations in their lives, be it for entertainment or for further knowledge. Thus, after they come to understand this conception of text, the next learning goal will come into play: 2.) Developing techniques to interpret the range of texts they will encounter everyday. Interpretation is one half of being “textually active”—if we want involved citizens, students need to be active consumers of text, not individuals who allow others to tell them what a text means. However, to fully understand the interpretive process, students also need to be active creators of text, which leads to my third and fourth goals: 3.) Students will produce creative texts of their own, and 4.) Students will reflect on what is involved in the creation of text. The creation and reflection (to take a page from Kathleen Yancey) go hand in hand for actual learning and meaning-making to occur. By striving to create a text out of their own experiences and then reflecting on why they chose which elements to use in their creative text, students should be creating and reflectively interpreting. It is not enough to merely create something—knowing their own process helps them to better understand interpretive techniques to apply to text outside of themselves.


The texts I chose were geared to demonstrate a variety of mediums and differing interpretive strategies. We’ll begin the class with the short story by Tim O’Brien, “The Things They Carried”, paired with an article from The New Yorker about a wounded American solider returning home from Iraq, diving into historical analysis and connecting the past to our present. I wanted to students to see how historical events and circumstances can often spark the production of art, and how often our contemporary situations can cause us to interpret art about the past in a new way—in this case, many have begun connecting Vietnam and the war in Iraq. The New Yorker article contains statements about Vietnam veterans who can sympathize with the wounded men returned back to the US. The war is increasingly a part of our social and political reality, and I think teaching texts that help students realize that will empower them as citizens.

In this same vein, I also chose the novel by Asar Nafisi, Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books. The novel takes a look at how the revolution in Iran and its return to a state of theocracy where women are not allowed to teach at the university and must wear the veil, and no one is allowed to read Western literature. Nafisi, a professor of literature at a Tehran university, forms a book club where her former female students can read forbidden books and remove their veils. She finds, however, that their political and social situation has increasingly interesting effects on their discussions of Nabokov’s Lolita, Jane Austen, and F. Scott Fitzgerald as she and her students make connections between their lives and the lives of the fictional characters. It’s a combination of creating art from history and interpreting art because of political circumstances.

I paired up two more texts to explore the cultural aspects of texts—in this case Native American culture with its rich oral traditions. “The Circle in the Square” is a chapter from John Lame Deer, Seeker of Visions which contrasts John Lame Deer’s Lakota (Native American) worldview with the typical white person’s. I believe this nicely sets up some similar tensions we’ll find in Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko. Silko also relies heavily on her cultural heritage and the importance of storytelling and ceremony to that culture to create her novel. Additionally, the novel is full of interpolated poems, symbols, and metaphorical language that it would be a good text to demonstrate those elements to students.

To demonstrate text as visual representation, I brought in a graphic novel (Sandman: Preludes and Nocturnes by Neil Gaiman) and a stunning film also by Gaiman called Mirrormask. To introduce the graphic novel, I wanted to use excerpts from Paul Gravett’s introductory text, Graphic Novels. Graphic novels are unique for their combination of textual and visual elements, and Gaiman’s graphic novels are rich creations that contain mythological references, examples of interdiscursivity and intertextuality, and great stories. Mirrormask is a film that tells the tale of Helena who finds herself in the world of her own imagination, where the story strangely parallels the story of her real world. Dave McKean and the Jim Henson Company add their visual magic to Gaiman’s storytelling to create a beautiful and intriguing film that will demonstrate to students the limitless nature of creativity and artistic ingenuity.

The next three texts I selected because of they interplay with one another: The Odyssey, The Penelopiad, and the film O Brother Where Art Thou?. Texts often have their root in other texts, and the interplay between those texts often forms a unique and interesting discourse. The Odyssey, a canonical text, finds itself revised in ways Homer could not predict in the feminist version of The Penelopiad (where the narrative voice is controlled by Penelope and her twelve maids who Odysseus hanged), and O Brother Where Art Thou?, where the story finds a new context, but still has clear roots in the originating story. Reading (or watching) these three texts together helps students see that borrowing ideas from other sources is a good idea, when the artist can do something interesting and meaningful with it. It also gets them to think about playing with text—since, after all, learning that is fun works—and allows them to de-center and re-center a text, an effective interpretation technique.

I wanted to include a discussion of nonfiction (especially the essay) because it to is a source of creativity. Pollan is a journalist, so it also introduces a journalism-style text to the course. It also is a way to tap into the essay genre, another type of text that students will encounter. Nonfiction has different motivations, characteristics, and interpretations than fiction or film. This is part of the unit on text as a creative process, so I also wanted to include “The Raven”, which is one of the most carefully planned out poems I’ve ever read along with Poe’s accompanying essay, “The Philosophy of Composition” to give students a clue into what a writer is thinking when he sets out to create art. Also, Poe is often labeled as having written much of his work while he was on drugs, so this is a chance to demonstrate that “The Raven” is an example of meticulous, careful writing and not the product of opium-induced creativity.

Also in this unit that moves the students to thinking about creativity and production of text, I wanted to include a visit to the student art gallery, and also teach student produced texts. I think it’d be useful to obtain writing from an MFA student, have the students analyze it and discuss it, and then come up with questions to ask the author. In the next class period, we would have the contributor come to class and share with us his creative process and answer the students’ questions. These classes would demonstrate the connections between production and interpretation as well as assist the students as the move toward their own creation of a text for the final project.


The online world is becoming increasingly important in the sharing of ideas, finding information. It’s influencing social interactions, writing, and the way that we do research. In order to represent that aspect of textuality, as well as providing a space for students to keep a reading journal, the first class project will be a blog. All of the students would be linked together through a blogring, which means that the entries would be public. Students would be required to post once for each class session on a specific prompt, though more frequent posting would certainly be encouraged as a form of class participation. The student responses would be due before class, so I would be able to use them to tap into what students have questions about, what themes they are exploring, and other issues. More importantly, it gets students to write on a regular basis and to receive feedback on that writing from both me and other students. This opens up the dialogue beyond the teacher-student relationship, creating a community of learners that can share with one another.

In addition to the blogging assignments, students will turn in three reflection papers after each of the first three units. These papers will be a way for students to bring together the lessons of a unit; for each paper, I will give them fairly open prompts where they can reflect and synthesize what they have learned from that specific unit. While being more formal in tone than a blog entry, it will to be a place for them to reflect and explore ideas. I would encourage them to post them to their blogs to share them with other students, though that will be strictly voluntary.

Group work is an important skill to have, and also can serve a creative function—two minds are better than one and all that. Thus, in place of a reflection paper for the interplay of text unit, there is a group parody project/presentation, where students will do their own de-centering and re-centering of The Odyssey. This can be a skit, an epic poem, or whatever they can think up—but the presentation of it to the class is what will be evaluated—and the students will have to make their project into a performance. It allows them to play with the text and to share their playing with their classmates while they dig into the themes and characters of The Odyssey.

Finally, the final project will bring together all of the elements of the course. To make sure they are at least thinking about it before the last minute and also to give me a chance to provide feedback, students would turn in a project proposal. The final project has three parts: the actual creative production, a reflective element, and then a presentation where the student shares that creative text with the class and discusses their process and inspirations. Not only do they need to actually create a text, students also need to reflect on how and why they created it the way they did, and then share both the text and the reflection with their peers. (To make sure students don’t skip presentations, they’ll have to choose one of the texts presented each day to write about on their blogs). The final creative project will pull together everything that we’ve been learning in the class, but hopefully be an enjoyable and interesting final project for the students.


I weighted all the parts of the class equally, except for the final project, which is more substantial than the other projects and thus should be worth more to their grades. I thought this would be the best way for them to see that keeping the blog is just as important as a paper or group project, and that I expect more from the final project. I’m not sure how useful a percentage assessment is—how many professors actually figure out a percentage grade for an assignment and then weight it accordingly?—but by putting it on the syllabus and explaining it to the students, they will hopefully understand the relative importance of assignments to their grade.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Theory Presentation Paper

Here's the paper I just finished presenting. Comments are appreciated, since I'm editing it and expanding it to make my term paper.


Jennifer Miller

Literary Theory

M. Keith Booker

April 17, 2007

The Quest for Utopian Community:

A Marxist Approach to LeGuin’s The Dispossessed

A group of anarchists carves out an existence on the moon, understanding themselves as a social organism, a community, an entity that must strive together to survive or fall into ruin. They came from an individually-driven, capitalistic nation where class distinctions are strong, where both the extremely wealthy and extremely poor exist side by side, the rich exploiting those beneath them. In her novel The Dispossessed, Ursula LeGuin sets up two distinct societies: Anarres the world of the socialist anarchists and A-Io the capitalistic nation on the planet Urras. However, LeGuin has no interest in pitting a perfect utopian society against its flawed counterpart; instead, she presents two worlds, each with its problems, and she strives to show us a vision for community and a pursuit of Utopia.

The utopian impulse lies at the heart of Marxism. Fredric Jameson’s critique of postmodernism is in part based on the observation that postmodernism is not concerned with a pursuit of utopia; in many ways, it denies that such a quest is possible and accepts the futility of any attempt to seek it. Postmodernism, in fact, seeks to declare an end to such an ideology along with the political ideology of Marxism. However, the sixties saw a revival of utopianism that the fifties had tried to eliminate and postmodernism would later attempt to deny. Jameson comments: “If one inserts the sixties into this historical narrative, everything changes: Marcuse’ virtually becomes the name for a whole explosive renewal of Utopian thinking and imagination, and for a rebirth of the older narrative form” (160). Jameson praises The Dispossessed as “the richest literary reinvention of the genre”, and LeGuin intends the novel not as a dystopia like 1984 or Atwood’s feminist dystopia The Handmaid’s Tale but as a work that comments on the meaning of seeking Utopia. The Dispossessed is subtitled “An Ambiguous Utopia” because none of the societies presented within the novel are the ultimate fulfillment of the utopian vision, yet that vision is one that drives LeGuin’s novel.

To follow Jameson’s Marxist mandate “Always historicize!”, our first stop in getting at LeGuin’s work is to situate it in the period in which it originated. The Dispossessed was published in 1974, within the rich period of literary theory and a period that saw the birth of the feminist movement, political shifts in power, a growing discontentment with capitalistic/consumerist culture, the rise of environmental concerns, and the emergence of several new aesthetics, including science fiction. Indeed, A-Io on Urras functions as a projection of the United States; it is a country that has disconnected its means of production from its products, and where profit drives labor instead of the pleasure of creating or of doing meaningful work. They set up leaders in less democratic states, like the United States did in countries that threw off colonial rule to keep them from turning toward socialism or communism, and A-Io supports those leaders with military force if the people rise up to cast them out. Unlike the United States, A-Io has figured out a solution to the ecological effects of large-scale industrial production and the subsequent consumer culture. The influences of LeGuin’s contemporary politics are present throughout the novel, albeit at times subtly.

By looking at the novel historically and politically, we gain access to LeGuin’s pursuit of both community and Utopia. As Jameson discusses in his work Postmodernism, the social and political forces of the sixties led to the reemergence of utopian concerns in literature and art. For LeGuin, the utopianism within The Dispossessed centers on an idea of community which affects Shevek’s theories in temporal physics and is present in the structure of the novel itself. In the first chapter when Shevek departs Anarres for the world he grew up believing ran counter to everything he was, his feeling is that of isolation:

He was clearly aware of only one thing, his own total isolation. The world had fallen out from under him, and he was left alone…He had always feared that this would happen, more than he had ever feared death. To die is to lose the self and rejoin the rest. He had kept himself, and lost the rest. (6)

Shevek’s removal from his community invokes a deep fear; death is preferable to the isolation he now feels because individuals of Anarres are keenly aware of their reliance on their society and their need to belong.

Community manifests itself in many ways in The Dispossessed the first of which is in the societal structure of Anarres. The inhabitants of Anarres are anarchists and thus without government, but not without a social order. Odo’s plan was to decentralize their society, not de-urbanize it: “She intended that all communities be connected by communication and transportation networks, so that goods and ideas would get where they wanted, and the administration of things might work with speed and ease, and no community should be cut off from change and interchange” (95). Their planet is not an easy one to live on, and without cooperation from the entire Anarresti community, their society could not survive the harsh conditions. Their work is connected to the community—what they do, how they do it, and where their talents lie are contributions to society. The connection between the makers and their products is strong—thus, Shevek is confused when he visits the Urrasti equivalent of a mall:

And the strangest thing about the nightmare street was that none of the millions of things for sale were made there. They were only sold there. Where were the workshops, the factories, where were the farmers, the craftsmen, the miners, the weavers, the chemists, the carvers, the dyers, and the designers, the machinists, where were the hands, the people who made? Out of sight, somewhere else. Behind walls. All the people in all the shops were either buyers or sellers. They had no relation to the things but that of possession. (132)

The connection between maker and product is part of what keeps the Anarres society communal; they do not experience reification and isolation from one another that Althusser describes is the result of industrial specialization when a worker has no connection with her work (Booker #). Shevek also has difficulty understanding the capitalistic society of Urras: “[I]n the rites of the money-changers, where greed, laziness, and envy were assumed to move all men’s acts, even the terrible became banal. Shevek looked at this monstrous pettiness with contempt, and without interest. He did not admit, he could not admit, that in fact it frightened him” (131). Much of his confusion and distress emerges because the function of labor and production on Anarres are forces of the community and of the social organism, while on Urras they fracture, reify, and separate the community.

The Anarresti community also does not consider basic distinctions between individuals as affecting their societal function. One does the work they are best suited to do, regardless of gender or age. The scientists on Urras are confused when Shevek inquires about female scientists—on Anarres, about half the scientists are women as they are about half of the population; however, the Urrasti believe that women “can’t do the math; no head for abstract thought; don’t belong. You know how it is, what women call thinking is done with the uterus! Of course, there’s always a few exceptions, God-awful brainy women with vaginal atrophy” (73). For the men of Urras, an intelligent woman is one who is not a true woman, a woman who does not have access to femininity or feminine sexuality because she thinks. One scientist, Pae, admits that perhaps women would make good lab technicians, to “free men for original work much sooner”, though Oiie comments, “Not in my lab, you won’t…keep ‘em in their place” (74). Shevek realizes

that he had touched in these men an impersonal animosity that went very deep. Apparently they, like the tables on the ship, contained a woman, a suppressed, silenced, bestialized woman, a fury in a cage. He had no right to tease them. They knew no relation but possession. They were possessed. (74-5)

The loss of community on Urras occurs when women are not allowed to participate or to have meaningful relationships—they are merely possessed.

When he is invited to Oiie’s home on Urras, he realizes that he was cut off from a part of himself by being isolated from both women and children: “It was so good to be talking with a woman again! No wonder he had felt his existence to be cut off, artificial, among men, always men, lacking the tension and attraction of the sexual difference” (146). He sees, however, that an Anarres-type community exists on a small scale in his colleague’s home: “Oiie was fond of his wife and trusted her. He behaved to her and to his children very much as an Anaresti might. In fact, at home, he suddenly appeared as a simple, brotherly kind of man, a free man” (147). On Anarres, that community that is confined to the home on Urras is extended throughout the Anarresti society.

Another community present within the novel is the community of the individual—one’s relationships with others. As we saw from the example of Oiie’s relationship with his wife in his home, it’s closely tied to the societal community but localized within the individual. Shevek comes to understand the importance of connecting the individual community to the social structure, a connection that is often lost on Urras. For an Anarresti, cultivating individual relationships is just as important as contributing one’s talents to the functioning of the social organism. Shevek grows to adulthood believing himself to be an isolated individual: “I haven’t really ever known anybody. You see how I didn’t understand you. I’m cut off. Can’t get in. Never will. It would be silly for me thinking about a partnership. That sort of thing is for…for human beings…” (50). Community did not come easily to him, as it did his father and most others (106).

When he goes to Abbenay to study physics and work under Sabul, he is given a private room and begins to isolate himself. Only when he becomes severely ill from overwork and lack of sleep does he realize that he needs other people: “His illness had made him realize that if he tried to go on alone he would break down altogether” (155). He makes friends, re-enters society, and by cultivating the individual community, he begins to understand the connection between his work and his personal relationships. He also comes to realize that a partnership, a bond deeper than friendships, is something he needs to be fulfilled and whole, (179). He forms that bond with Takver; he is no longer isolated, and their partnership becomes central to their friends: “…they sought to share in what Shevek and Takver shared, and to celebrate, and to praise” (189). For Shevek to be able to participate in society as a functioning individual, he needed to cultivate his personal relationships.

The Dispossessed also reflects community in other ways. LeGuin consciously writes about ideas of time: Shevek’s goal is to create a unified theory of time that explains the relationships of past, present, and future. It is his physics work that leads to the creation of the ansible, which will eventually allow an interstellar community to develop and flourish because they can communicate instantaneously. In a sense, what Shevek seeks to accomplish is the formulation of a community of time, where past and present and future are unified. This corresponds on certain points with the Marxist historicist perspective of history; Jameson describes the historicist perspective as one “in which our readings of the past are vitally dependent on our experience of the present” (11). Shevek comes to Urras with the intention to learn, saying, “You are our history. We are perhaps your future” (75). When Takver describes her perceptions of time as simply being a road laid out that one traveled, Shevek takes her metaphor and explains “unless past and the future were made part of the present by memory and intention, there was, in human terms, no road, nowhere to go” (183-4).

In fact, the novel’s structure conveys a community of past and present; they interact dialectically to give the reader the whole narrative. The Dispossessed begins with Shevek’s departure from Anarres and arrival in A-Io on Urras. Each subsequent chapter alternates between his past on Anarres from the time he was a baby and his present narrative on Urras. Some readers find the structure jarring; it is not clear until several chapters in precisely what LeGuin is attempting to accomplish with her structure, and ideas that are introduced early in the novel are not developed until much later. Incidentally, the novel invites multiple readings; only after a second time through does the reader understand certain clues that LeGuin places early in the text but are not fully revealed until much later chapters, such as Shevek’s reasons for leaving Anarres and his relationship with Takver. By the end of the novel, the structure effectively conveys a whole narrative, past and present mingling to form The Dispossessed. Tellingly, Shevek is planning to go to Urras in the second to last chapter, and in the final chapter, he is returning home, his journey complete, and both he and the reader changed.

Shevek’s sense of time and the formulation of a community of time has a point: LeGuin uses it, along with all the other senses of community including the narrative structure, to impart her utopian vision. Shevek says, “To break a promise is to deny the reality of the past; therefore it is to deny the hope of a real future. If time and reason are functions of each other, if we are creatures of time, then we had better know it, and try to make the best of it. To act responsibly” (225). The connection of Shevek’s theory of time to acting responsibly, to the ability to hope for a better future returns again at the end of the novel in Shevek’s discussion with the Terran ambassador, Keng, who describes how Earth has become barely habitable and how they have no hope of achieving a society like Anarres. Shevek responds:

You don’t understand what time is…You say the past is gone, the future is not real, there is no change, no hope. You think Anarres is a future that cannot be reached, as your present cannot be changed. So there is nothing but the present, this Urras, the rich, real, stable present, the moment now. And you think that is something which can be possessed…You cannot have anything…And least of all can you have the present, unless you accept with it the past and the future. Not only the past but also the future, not only the future but also the past! Because they are real: only their reality makes the present real. (349)

Keng can only respond: “I don’t understand…You are like somebody from our own past, the old idealists, the visionaries of freedom; and yet I don’t understand you, as if you were trying to tell me of future things; and yet, as you say, you are here, now!” (350).

LeGuin’s sense of utopia is not clearly defined, but the novel is “An Ambiguous Utopia”. Her interest is not in giving her readers a utopian vision where the “root of all evil” (in Jameson’s terms) has been eliminated from the world; instead, she seeks to form a dialectic between the two distinct societies of Anarres and Urras, a dialectic that is reflected in the structure of the novel. Anarres, while having solved many of the problems that living in a capitalistic society created, is not without its own faults. Urras, while still struggling with class problems and divisions because of their elitism, is not without its strengths. There is no root of all evil to be eradicated to form the ultimate utopia; there is no underlying human nature to cause problems. Jameson, in his essay “The Politics of Utopia” comments that for Marx, there was no essential human nature: “If there have been not just one human nature but a whole series of them, this is because so-called human nature is historical: every society constructs his own” (37).

So each society in The Dispossessed has its own nature, but they are linked because they share a common past. They form a dialectic: Anarres may have solved the problem of creating a society that can function harmoniously, but they do not know how to deal with the individual, if the an individual’s function appears to run counter to the rest of society. Shevek dealt with societal censure at many points in his life, yet his theories were vital for the formation of the interstellar community with the invention of the ansible. Urras, however, has conditions where the individual can flourish, and Shevek is able to finish his theory on Urras where he could not on Anarres. Shevek learns from his journey to Urras, and he begins to tear down walls that are holding Anarres and Urras back from achieving a better society.

LeGuin’s intention is to demonstrate that Utopia is not something a society achieves, it’s something that a society (and individuals within that society) pursue. Jameson paraphrases Brecht and says, “…since human nature is historical rather than natural, produced by human beings rather than innately inscribed in the genes or DNA, it follows that human beings can change it; that it is not a doom or destiny but rather the result of human praxis” (37). Utopia, if it ignores the needs and functions of the individual, cannot be fully realized even if inequality and the private ownership of the means of production are eliminated as the Marxist vision of utopia would indicate. LeGuin’s focus on community would suggest that Anarres needs to form a community with the world outside of themselves and reconcile the needs of the individual with the needs of the community, to do what Shevek seeks to accomplish and tear down walls.

LeGuin’s utopia is then truly ambiguous because she seems to suggest that though we, as the human species and human societies, may never actually achieve Utopia, we must try. And though a society may never achieve the utopian vision, to give up is to give up hope, and that is far worse than failing at the attempt. Her vision seeks to give her contemporary readers hope that we can strive to solve our problems, to find a way out of the mire of consumerism and capitalism that is leading our society to destruction; to form a dialectic with our present and our possible futures and seek to achieve a utopian community.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Class Project: Syllabus

Here's my syllabus. I think it's done--I just have to finish up the annotated part of it, which I'll post soon. This is the week of projects, so I suspect it will be a project posting week here...


Jenn Miller

Professing Literature

David Jolliffe

April 18, 2007

Syllabus: Introduction to Literature

“Textually Active”

Course Overview:

Each day, all of are required to read and interpret the world around us. One person, for example, may see an advertisement and view it as a way of receiving information about some new product, while another may read the same text as a manipulative ploy and an exploitation of the unconscious consumer. It’s all in how you look at it!

The world of texts may come to us in the form of images, words, sounds, or speech, and we must be able to interpret those texts to fully participate in our world and comprehend what’s occurring around us. In order to be active consumers and producers of text, we need to understand how texts are produced, how to develop techniques to interpret those texts we encounter, and how to form methods to create meaningful text.

Learning Goals:

Students will study the variety of texts available to them for interpretation (be it literary, print, online, visual, etc), develop techniques to interpret the range of texts, produce creative texts of their own, and finally reflect on what is involved in the creation of texts.


  • Atwood, Margaret: The Penelopiad
  • Gaiman, Neil: Sandman Vol 1: Preludes and Nocturnes
  • Homer: The Odyssey
  • Nafisi, Asar: Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books
  • Silko, Leslie Marmon: Ceremony
  • selected readings as assigned
  • in class films


  • Blog (online reading journal)
    • The blog, hosted by Wordpress, will function as a reading journal. The minimum posting requirement is once for each class session, following an assigned prompt, though students are certainly welcome to post more. I’ll be reading these, and they will be available for your classmates to read and comment on. The blog entry will be due by midnight the day before the next class meeting so that I can read the entries. This will be counted as part of the participation aspect of the course.
  • Unit reflection papers (3 total)
    • These will be three 3-5 page papers that will come at the close of the first three units asking you to reflect on certain aspects of that unit.
  • Group parody project and presentation
    • The assignment at the close of Unit Four will be a group project and presentation. The class will be broken up into groups to create a parody or re-centered text based on The Odyssey.
  • Project proposal
    • In order to get you thinking and working on your final projects early, a project proposal will be due. It’ll give me a chance to provide feedback on your ideas and for you to ask questions.
  • Creative project/reflection/presentation
    • It is not enough for us to learn how to interpret texts—we must also know how to create them. The final project will contain three parts: the creative element (which can be anything textual—song, poetry, short story, essay, film, comic, painting, collage, etc—of your own creation), the reflective element (what went into your creative process?), and the presentation element, where you share your project with the class.


  • Participation—class interaction/blog assignments: 15%
  • Unit reflection papers: 15% each (45% total)
  • Group parody project: 15%
  • Final creative project: 25%

August 20—Introductions

Unit One: Text as History/Biography

August 22—Tim O’Brien, “The Things They Carried”

August 24—Dan Baum, “The Casualty: An American Soldier Comes Home From Iraq

August 27—Asar Nafisi, Reading Lolita in Tehran

August 29—Reading Lolita in Tehran

August 31—Reading Lolita in Tehran

September 3—Labor Day, no class

September 5—Reading Lolita in Tehran

September 7—Finish Reading Lolita in Tehran

Unit Two: Text as Culture/Oral History

September 10—John Lame Deer, “The Circle and the Square” Assignment #1 Due

September 12—Leslie Marmon Silko, Ceremony

September 14—Ceremony

September 17—Ceremony

September 19—Ceremony

Unit Three: Text as Visual Representation

September 21— Paul Gravett, Graphic Novels (excerpts) Assignment #2 Due

September 24—Neil Gaiman, Sandman: Preludes and Nocturnes

September 26—view Mirrormask

September 28—view Mirrormask

October 1—finish Mirrormask

Unit Four: Interplay of Texts

October 3—Final project day: Assignment #3 Due!

October 5—Homer, The Odyssey

October 8—The Odyssey

October 10—The Odyssey

October 12—Margaret Atwood, The Penelopiad: The Myth of Penelope and Odysseus

October 15—The Penelopiad

October 17—The Penelopiad

October 19—Group project work day: Project proposal due!

October 22—view O Brother Where Art Thou?

October 24—view O Brother Where Art Thou?

October 26—finish O Brother Where Art Thou?

October 29—Groups present parodies, Parodies Due!

Unit Five: Text as Creative Process

October 31—Michael Pollan “Why Mow?”

November 2—Non-fiction essay, continued

November 5—Edgar Allen Poe, “The Raven”

November 7—Edgar Allen Poe, “The Philosophy of Composition”

November 9—field trip to student art gallery

November 12—Prose contribution from MFA student

November 14—MFA student guest speaker

November 16—Poetry contribution from MFA student

November 19—MFA student guest speaker

November 21 & 23—Fall Break and Thanksgiving Holiday, no class

November 26—Project presentations

November 28—Project presentations

November 30—Project presentations

December 3—Project presentations

December 5—Dead Day

December 6—Class Final: Reflective piece posted to blog by HIGH NOON

Friday, April 13, 2007

We Interupt This Blog...(Say No to Faith Conferences)

My parents want me to go to this faith conference. For one, I can't because I'm busy that weekend. More importantly, I don't think Kirk Cameron (of Left Behind movie fame!) is going to have all that much to offer me about my faith.

But here's the real reason that I am concealing from my parents (because they won't understand): why is so much of Christianity about the self and the individual? It's my faith, my Christian walk, my sin, my redemption, my eternal soul. It seems so silly that Jesus would want me to focus so heavily on myself when thousands--nay, millions--of his children are hungry, dejected, oppressed, and in pain. Why should I go to some faith conference that's going to tell me how to be "on fire" for God, when I could use that time, energy, and money in doing works for the poor and those less fortunate then myself? Wouldn't that serve God more, bringing a little kindness to those in need? What does it serve God if I'm so caught up in a cycle of sin and regret that I can't see the more dire situation of those who are oppressed, depressed, and just need a hand?

Jesus never focused on himself. He broke Jewish ritual law, but that wasn't important to him--talking to the woman at the well, eating with the lowest of his society, and bringing peace and love to those around him were what he was concerned about. If we're truly to be like Jesus, as our Sunday-school teachers tell us, then perhaps concentrating on my own soul is not what I need to do. Rather, I should be volunteering, donating my extra time and resources to help the needy, the oppressed, the fellow human beings who need a little comfort in this world, even over trying to save their souls. If a person can't meet the needs of the body, how are they going to even understand the needs of the soul? Souls are within a body, part of a body (not separate), and if that body suffers and is broken, then the soul cannot ever be whole, no matter how much preaching we throw at them. The material realities cannot be ignored for the fanatical assumption that this world matters not and only the afterlife is important. We still have to live in this world, in a material reality--and how many of those decreeing that nothing matters but Heaven have ever felt the pangs of hunger, the pain of knowing you can't feed your children that night? Very few, I would wager, if any at all.

(Wow, that turned into a longer rant than I had intended...)

Thursday, April 12, 2007

"So it goes"

Kurt Vonnegut passed away today. Here's to one of the greatest modern American authors. Here's a link to the NY Times Article: "Kurt Vonnegut, Counterculture Novelist, Dies"

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

That Library Thing

Though I didn't need another web-based fun thing to play with, a friend of mine gave me one anyway. This one is Library Thing, and it's nifty. It's an online cataloging system for your personal library, as well as a way to connect with others who have read the books you have, and it also gives you a space to write reviews and rate your books.

See that module in on the right, over there? That's also sponsored by Library Thing. It displays--with a choice of several formats--what's in my library. Of course, since I have a million books, I haven't managed to get many uploaded besides what I'm currently reading or thinking about, but it's still nifty to have books in my side bar.

It's both useful and fun, especially if you like to sort and catalog things (I do). But even if you don't, it's still useful and fun because it can connect you with other online users of similar book tastes, or give you a way to explore new books. Finding new good books can often be a challenge, and Library Thing proudly facilitates that process.

I just wanted to share that site with you all; I won't be able to do much with mine until the semester is over, but I look forward to playing with more features on the website.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Salman Rushdie!!

(Read at your own risk)

I opened up my campus news e-mail today. Scrolling down, the name Salman Rushdie caught my eye. I excitedly clicked on it, only to discover that he's coming to campus!!! Salman Rushdie!! He's one of my favorite authors: He wrote The Satanic Verses (for which he was famously condemned to death). His books are just really interesting. He's probably my favorite modern author next to Milan Kundera (maybe he'll come to campus too?)

I'm so freaking excited!! It's not everyday that I get to go hear an author whose works I've studied, talked about, loved, and debated.

The problem: I happen to have class the night that he's going to be speaking. (Oh, woe!) But my professor is pretty awesome, so he may let me out early so I can go see Salman Rushdie!

How cool is this??

Monday, April 09, 2007

Allow Me to Quote You a Quotation...

I have something that's been bothering me for while. I used to not care, but suddenly I developed a new grammar twitch that hasn't gone away. It drives me up the wall when people misuse 'quote' and 'quotation'. Here's the difference:

--QUOTE: a verb, TO QUOTE. "He quotes random movie lines constantly."
--QUOTATION: a noun. "He loves movie quotations."

I suppose some of the confusion enters in from a lot of words that are both nouns and verbs. (Example: DRINK. He drinks. He takes a drink.) Also, you can call in for "a quote" on some service (an estimate, if you will)--call in for an insurance quote! So really, it's no wonder that people just use "quote" when they mean the noun "quotation". I really shouldn't get all bent out of shape on it.

But none of us can truly know why the gods decide which things will drive us crazy. And right now, those that misuse quote-quotation are on that list.

Friday, April 06, 2007

I was doing so well!

I was posting furiously, and then...a trickle. Maybe I put too much pressure on myself to post things of real substance, be they a poem I wrote on a whim because I was thinking about how much I disliked walking home alone at night and feeling cranky about it or my paper that I proudly turned in last week.

Maybe I shouldn't put so much pressure on the quality of my posts--I want them to be interesting reflections of my life as a grad student. I also want to post everyday (except maybe weekends, due to limited internet access). So I think there just have to be some days where I post mediocre. And I can be okay with mediocrity, as long as you, my dear readers, don't mind it.

I like posting things of substance. But let's be honest: as busy as I am and as often as I would like to post, posting something interesting and wonderfully written each day is too lofty of a goal. Now posting everyday, that's a good start. Making myself write and reflect each day, also a good aspiration. I like how blogging is helping me be a better writer, so I just need to quit worrying about it and write. It won't always be good, but I'll be doing it (the writing, that is).

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Poem: Night-Women

Why is it that the
Shadowy night holds
No pain for the men with their strong arms
And fast legs.

They tell us to tread carefully,
Carry our mace and whistles
Never go alone, they warn.
The bad men will find you--
(Though if they do, it's probably your fault anyway)

So we slink, paranoid,
Conscious of our weak arms
And slow legs.
Conscious of our vulnerability.
We start at every leaf fall
And panic at the step behind

We could be strong, you know.
We could be the Night-Women,
Prowling and powerful
Gliding and flying
Free from our socially-
Constructed fears
(And they would not
Control us.)

Perhaps, then, the little boys would be warned of Us;
Instead of teaching our girls fear,
We would tell them Tales of the Night-Women
Who seized the rule of the Twilight-mists
And transformed it into
A place of joy, and of beauty

Book Review Essay: Lindsay Waters' Enemies of Promise

Assignment: An eight- to ten-page critical book review. Write an essay, for an audience of other graduate students/teachers of literature, that unpacks a problem, then talk about how the book you've read speaks to that problem (but doesn't necessarily need to solve it).

My book: Enemies of Promise: Publishing, Perishing, and the Eclipse of Scholarship by Lindsay Waters (Prickly Paradigm Press: 2004)

Stifling New Growth in Academia:
Enemies of Promise

A tremor is going through academia, a pang felt mainly in the humanities: the boding feeling that something is very wrong with our current system and needs to be put aright so universities may flourish with ideas once more. It’s enough to make a young academic break out in cold sweats and cross herself lest the demons prevent her access to the ivory tower. For one seeking to enter the hallowed halls as a Ph.D. in English, the increased demands of gaining tenure (and job security) and the decreased availability of tenured positions are compelling reasons for one to flee to the corporate world. The call to participate in literary studies—or any of the humanities—is not for the faint of heart.

As an English M.A. student looking to also pursue a Ph.D., I have already begun to feel the pressures of the academic life. Tenured positions—even at smaller universities—are often contingent on receiving a doctoral degree from a highly ranked institution with a well-established, reputable English program. However, in order to be accepted to one such Ph.D. program, I need to have written papers for publication and conferences, attended conferences, and often be willing to teach as an underpaid GA. If I were so lucky as to be hired into a tenure-track position with my newly minted Ph.D., I would still have to undergo the tenure process: publishing, publishing, and publishing. Not only would I need to be published to get into my first choice Ph.D. program, but I would need to continue publishing to be hired and eventually promoted at a university lest I be banished to the fringes of adjunct-hood. Based on a market economy where one provides goods for another to buy, the hiring and promotion system in the humanities is ultimately self-destructive and stifling. Academics no longer can pursue knowledge for the joy of learning; we must pursue knowledge for the drudgery of publishing something that most likely will go unread and unloved by any, even ourselves.

The market approach to academics is one that is wreaking havoc on the once flourishing world of the humanities. We are in the business of truth and truth is not a tangible product that college presidents and deans can sell. While the engineering and science disciplines are able to bring in research funding each year and producing advances in technology and patents that they can sell, administrators and students alike are starting to turn a critical eye to the humanities and wondering what our purpose is, besides teaching freshman composition. The pressures of the job market cause students to shy away from literature: a degree in English landed me a underpaid secretary position at the university, the human resources staff counting my English degree as clerical experience. Whereas a student with an undergraduate degree in engineering usually has a job lined up before they even graduate, the English major faces uncertain job prospects. The only way to get paid to do what I love to do—study and teach literature—was to pursue higher education. But there, my prospects are still not shining, and I will have to overcome obstacles and learn to navigate the system itself in order to have a chance at success.

With genuine concern and stinging criticism, Lindsay Waters addresses one symptom of the problems plaguing academia and the humanities—publication—in his lively and riveting book Enemies of Promise: Publishing, Perishing, and the Eclipse of Scholarship. Like Robert Scholes, who argues in The Rise and Fall of English that English must discover itself as a discipline or meet the fate of its predecessors Rhetoric and Oratory, and Terry Eagleton, who in After Theory defends the current need for theory over the protests of those who would declare its end, Waters too recognizes the urgent need for change in the humanities. He asserts that the current application of the market economy within the academy is harmful, stifling, and self-destructive to the quest for truth, declaring, “It is harder for the truth to submit to the market than for a camel to fit through the eye of a needle” (9).

Waters, the Executive Editor for the Humanities at Harvard University Press, is an insider to the publication system, and he feels the urgent need to be one of the critical voices: “I say it’s upon the shoulders of the insiders that the duty to speak up falls first” (4). He begins his work with a warning that the end of the era of high production from university presses is near. He then asks, “What good are books? What are publications for?” (3). He explains his own interest in books:

The reason I am here, suppliant before you, is my immoderate love of books, which I love nearly as much as I love people. If this be fetishism or idolatry, I am guilty. We may be—as Marshall McLuhan suggested years ago—collectively on the eve of exiting from the time when the book was central to human flourishing. We owe it to ourselves, then to figure out what it was we most valued about the book so we can try to preserve it. (3-4)

Books matter. We in literary studies understand this; we devote our time and energies to books. We read books, we love books, we teach books, we seek to understand books. We write books about our most beloved books, and we read what others have to say about them. Books show our achievements; they can be the happy products of our studies and passions. However, books and publications have become the currency of academia as markers of achievement and paths to promotion. Waters points out that the problem of over-publication is an academic cooking of the books: “My guess, then, is that the phony profits of Enron are like the false achievements of academia, represented by mountains of unloved and unread publications” (7).

If no one is actually reading these books, then why are they still being published? The trouble lies in the blending of capitalism and intellectualism, the application of the market economy to the marketplace of ideas. Waters wryly comments: “I think that we scholars and publishers have allowed the moneychangers to enter the temple” (5). In the post-World War II era, funding suddenly poured into colleges to fund research and technological advances, and the structure of the university administration changed to manage the influx of cash. Administrators and deans began to put pressure on university publishing houses to produce more, earn more, and do more and began raising the bar on standards of promotion and tenure. Production and profit, not scholarship, became a driving force in the academy. Waters remarks, “Modern, highly sophisticated accounting methods have been brought to bear on the work of the scholarly community and are having the unintended consequence of hollowing out the work of the academy” (8).

Capitalism and academia do not work well with one another if the goal of academics is the pursuit of truth and the examination of ideas. The two cannot co-exist in the same system if we stand by the traditional role of scholars as social critics, slightly out of step with their society. (Eagleton too makes a similar argument about the loss of the power of cultural critique as scholarship and pop culture begin to merge). “The so-called free market—which is anything but free—is not a concept that should be considered the ultimate framework for the free play of ideas” Waters maintains (9). As the humanities cannot offer up profit-making patents and advances in science and medicine, publication becomes the mark of achievement in the market-driven university—to the detriment of both books and the study of literature.

Thus, as the humanities are required to produce more, then scholars must find “new” things to write about. Suddenly, fashion is introduced to literary studies: if you have an interest in the DWMs (Dead White Males) of years past, it had better be because you are examining their possible homosexual tendencies or the hidden eroticism of their work, even if none exists. Terry Eagleton, in After Theory, sums up the current trends in literary scholarship:

On the wilder shores of academia, an interest in French philosophy has given way to a fascination with French kissing. In some cultural circles, the politics of masturbation exert far more fascination than the politics of the Middle East. Socialism has lost out to sado-masochism. Among students of culture, the body is an immensely fashionable topic, but it is usually the erotic body, not the famished one. There is a keen interest in coupling bodies, but not in labouring ones. Quietly-spoken middle-class students huddle diligently in libraries, at work on sensationalist subjects like vampirism and eye-gouging, cyborgs and porno movies. (2-3)

Eagleton is obviously critical of these new fashionable approaches that Waters would assert are a product of the application of capitalism to the university system. It becomes a world where anything goes, and submitting an article that is racy and lurid (with a clever and catchy title) rather than a carefully thought out and contemplative work is a quick way to get published and add lines to one’s CV. Those outside literary studies look at the titles of papers presented at an MLA conference and wonder what those crazy kids are up to and how we are able defend what we do. Robert Scholes would argue that they have every right to demand that we do so.

As a woman entering academia, I often am asked if I’m planning to go into women’s studies or if I want to be a feminist or gender critic—that’s the fashionable thing for women to do in literature (and the humanities as a whole) after all. As a woman, I should be looking for signs of the oppression of women in all texts, or seeking feminist interpretations—even when they are not the most interesting parts of a work of literature. It’s intellectually worthwhile to look at the issue of motherhood in Shelley’s Frankenstein; examining the possible lesbian aspects of the work—because Shelley’s mother may have a lesbian—is not. Feminism and feminist readings can be extremely fascinating and bear important cultural implications, but I don’t like feeling forced into an interpretive mode simply because of my gender. I want to be able to study what I want to study, for the sake of knowledge and the joy of learning.

But let’s be practical here. As a professor has pointed out to me recently, you’ve got to think about scholarship in terms of publication. Is studying Tolkien’s hobbit-heroes likely to get me published? Quite possibly not, at least not in a reputable journal. Will exploring the possibility that Jane Austen was a lesbian and that her work was all about women desiring one another earn me a spot at a conference? More likely, considering the sensationalist nature of such a topic. However, is it true scholarship? I think not, especially if it is born out of the desire to earn a coveted publication that will grant assurance of tenure and promotion. Waters declares, “We have entered the Twilight Zone of academic research, and now the demands for productivity are leading to the production of much more nonsense” (22).

Another result of allowing capitalism to be the gatekeeper of the ivory tower is the increasing compartmentalization of ideas and concentrations. Suddenly instead of studying English, I’m forced to choose a specialization in a specific area. African American Studies are separated from Southern Literature and the two no longer speak, though they might have much to offer one another. And we should forget about incorporating History, Literature, and Philosophy—heaven forbid they intermingle. The humanities are slowly being divided and conquered, split into squabbling groups who only look at the small picture. We cannot critique one another because they are outside our field of specialization. By focusing on the small picture, ideas have stopped trickling out of universities; everyone complains that there is nothing new to say. As someone who’s interested in a wide range of ideas, subjects, and areas of study, the specialization approach is stifling and frustrating. I want to study what I love and love what I study, and I want the freedom to look at a range of subjects and ideas and allow them to illuminate each other. One of the achievements of literary theory has been to prove the New Critics wrong—literature does not occur in isolation. Why should scholarship be any different?

Another problem stemming from the emphasis placed on publication is that it is becoming increasingly difficult for the new academics to find a place among the tenured faculty at a university. My fellow graduate students speak with a note of despair in their joking tones about being forever an adjunct or the possibility of obtaining a tenure-track position. “The academic life is a calling, not a job” Waters states, and we’re all certainly not here for the lucrative salary, but we’d still like to have bread for our stomachs and a roof over our heads. However, a production-based tenure system creates a form of censorship, according to Waters. A generation gap has formed between the old and the young, and the old are blocking progress and refusing to lend a helping hand. They assist in increasing the demands for tenure and promotion that prevent young professors from moving up. A form of censorship has emerged within the academy, linked to the increase in publishing. Waters asks, “Why does the rise in demands for productivity come along with a seeming prohibition upon innovation?” (53). He blames it on the reluctance of individual scholars to be critical, to take a stand for any idea. He blames it on Last Men (as he terms them) like Richard Rorty and Stanley Fish who laud the end of inquiry and triumphantly proclaim the death of theory. (Interestingly, Scholes and Eagleton also argue against Rorty and Fish). This becomes a form of censorship to young academics: “The motto over the door of this academy would best be Lasciate ogni speranza voi ch’entrate [Renounce all hope you who enter]. No wonder the young who aspire to scholarly careers are playing it safe or abandoning ship” (66). Waters calls the approach of the Last Men like Fish timidity masquerading as boldness:

And so narrow-minded professionalism rules the roost, because the God of Small Minds loves a blinkered intelligence that flatters itself in its timidity about dangerous ideas by telling itself that ideas have no consequences. It all adds up a defense of the status quo. You have to grant the captains of the industry this: They do not conceal their animosity to ideas, to the foreign, to the new, to change. (67)

You have to hand it to Waters; he is brilliant writer who is able to deliver stinging criticism in a way that makes aspiring academics like me raise a fist in the air and shout “hoorah!”.

Waters’ goal is to point out the damage that both the market-driven publication systems and the attitudes of critics have done to the free play of ideas and the growth of scholarship in the universities. His solution to these problems is for us to return to prizing books, not hurrying along their end as Fish would have us do. Enemies of Promise is a call for the humanities to come together, take back their own from college administrators and journal editors. Like Scholes, Waters asserts that we need to explain our purpose; we need to become a true discipline. “We have to embrace art once again and show how the interaction of readers, viewers, and listeners can precipitate the sorts of experiences that allow our souls to spring forth into momentary glory” (86-7). Quality, not quantity, needs to be the goal of publications.

Waters seeks to provide hope and to encourage his readers to strive for change in the humanities, to save scholarship from the timid and the mundane. This is a matter of utmost importance to fledgling academics and tenured professors alike, and is a concern expressed in multiple pages written by numerous scholars who don’t want to see our profession and our disciplines die away or be reduced to arguing the “small stuff”. Waters is another iteration of the truly bold—such as Scholes and Eagleton—who are sounding the call to fight the Last Men and revive scholarship. Waters may not give a plan, exactly, but his words are strong and stirring and give me hope that my path into the academy is not doomed, though it may be lined with pitfalls and barriers along the way. He tries to shine a light into the darkness and divert humanities from its self-destructive course and rally academics young and old alike in the fight to save the promise of the future.