En un lugar de la mancha…

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Screen Shot 2016-07-03 at 10.38.03 AM

it’s hard to see but Rocinante and Rucio are actually saying “de cuyo nombre no quiso acordarse…”

I’m fortunate enough to be hanging out in Spain for a few weeks this summer in order to work on some projects that require archival and library visits, and, even luckier for me, it just so happens to be the 400th anniversary of Cervantes’ death, which means that everything is all Cervantes, all the time!

Last weekend I spent a day in Alcalá de Henares, the birthplace of Cervantes (the outside of which is being obscured by the above posters announcing a special exhibition “Cervantes (Don Quijote) Forges: un diálogo a través de los siglos” (“Cervantes (Don Quijote) Forges: a dialogue across centuries). Forges is a graphic artist who has used Quijote and Sancho in his work for many years. The exhibition gives us a humorous look into the lives of Quijote and Sancho, particularly the innermost thoughts of Sancho as he follows Quijote around on, well, quixotic adventures. It also puts Quijote in 21st century scenarios and gives his companions, particularly Sancho, some modern touches:

forges 8 forges 4

Here we see Sancho, with a modern “rappers hat” and the racing greyhound of Alonso Quijano, complete with fitbit and beat-style headphones.

forges 7

And here, Sancho warning against getting too involved with the windmills because “they continue to get voted in”… an allusion to modern-day Spanish politics, one assumes.

 The house itself is a two-story structure that features a sitting/guest-receiving room, the “surgery” of Cervantes’ father, a kitchen/dining room, sitting room for the women of the house and inner patio, all on the first floor; and the temporary exhibition space, and two bedrooms (one for women/children and the other for the man of the house, with a writing space).

baciaHis father’s surgery, complete with bacía or shaving bowl—much like the one that Quijote adopts as a helmet—sitting on the patient’s chair. Since the professions of surgeon and barber were often one and the same, it is not unusual that he would have had such an instrument… but one must assume that the museum did not place it there accidentally!

estrado instruccion mujer cris

The estrado de damas or women’s sitting room, a tradition that, according to the museum, comes from Muslim traditions. Women sat on cushions on the carpeted area and performed daily tasks. Of course, no woman’s life would have been complete at the time without a copy of Juan Luis Vive’s Instrucción de la mujer cristiana, which can be seen on the little desk in the picture on the right.

Of course, Cervantes is not relegated to his houses this year (nor really any year in Spain), but his presence is definitely felt in the streets right now.  All around Madrid you can find well-chosen quotes in the place of advertisements. Here are just two that I have happened upon while making my way to and from various archives:

cervantismos 1 cervantismos2

My rough translations:on the left: if they don’t want me to speak or write, cut out my tongue, and cut off my hands, and even then I would put my mouth in the the entrails of the earth and I’d shout however well I could; and on the right: Because one of the effects of fear is to upset the senses and make things appear to be that which they are not…

I can’t really top that, so I’ll just leave it here, with one final picture of me, hanging out with Quijote and Sancho.

quijote y yo

Ok, more Quijote than Sancho… I think Sancho was eating and he really didn’t look like he wanted to share…

Orphan Black: Playing Within the Play

Spoiler Alert: This is a post about the Season 3 premiere of Orphan Black. If you haven’t seen it (or any of the previous seasons for that matter) please go watch it first!!

I have been obsessed with Orphan Black since it started. As others have recently pointed out, part of that obsession likely stems from the fact that it is one of the only shows on the air that is really, truly invested in showing a large female cast (even if only one woman actually plays most of the leads), who are fighting for autonomy over their bodies and the decisions made about them. Sure they’re clones, and one might argue—as the show’s antagonists at the Dyad do—that they’re not fully human and thus not fully deserving of human rights… but they fight for them and you, as an audience member, are fully invested in seeing them win. (For more on the woman-centric-ness of Orphan Black, check out “The Many Faces of Tatiana“, which discusses how using female archetypes in concert with each other actually breaks down stereotypes and begs TV to do something new with women; or “Orphan Black: An Allegory for Reproductive Rights“, and “TV’s Most Important Political Debate Is Happening Right Now on Orphan Black” which both delve into the ways in which the show directly comments on the politicization of women’s bodies and issues.)

So they’re clones—so far there are nine, to be precise (Beth, Katja, Alison, Sarah, Cosima, Rachel, Helena, Jennifer, and Tony)—all played by the same actress, Tatiana Maslany. Each is similar, of course, in that they have more or less the same face, and yet they are all so very different. There is no mistaking when Maslany walks into the shot, which character she is playing. Each has their own style and demeanor—Alison, the stiff, Stepford-wife; Sarah, the punk rocker; Helena, the abused, misguided killer—and they’re unmistakeable for the viewer. Prior to this season Sarah had “played” Beth, the deceased police officer, in order to figure out who—or perhaps more fitting what—Beth was, as this is the first time she has seen someone who shares her face. Since as an audience we have never seen Beth herself, aside from the brief opening sequence in which she commits suicide in front of Sarah, we had no way of knowing whether or not Sarah’s “acting” was on point. The show has played with clone as clone in various ways, but the audience is always in on the joke and the often times the characters are recognized quickly as impostors. Two seasons into the show, we know each of the living clones so well that it would be hard to fool us as spectators.

Clones will be clones, indeed.

So when the premise of the season 3 premiere became apparent—(and here come the spoilers): that Rachel, although not dead, is badly wounded and Delphine, who has taken over Dyad, needs someone to “play” Rachel for a visiting executive—I found it hard to believe that it would work. The clones, in all their guises, are familiar, and so different, that it seemed a stretch that one actress could play them all playing each other.

And yet… it was perfection. The play-within-the-play is a trope that has been around for hundreds of years. In the Spanish Golden Age (as well as the English one, I would think) it was used for a variety of purposes: to move along the plot; make a point about a character’s flawed nature; to disguise one’s true purpose… but the audience is always aware of its relation to the overarching storyline, even if the characters are not. Here, when Sarah-as-Rachel appears on screen we can sense her nervousness; she wants to pull off a one-line act and escape as soon as possible. Ferdinand, the visiting exec, will have none of it though, inviting “Rachel” to sit down and discuss their future plans. Sarah-as-Rachel quickly realizes that they have shared a more intimate relationship and, not wanting to jeopardize her freedom, agrees to a more private meeting later on. She almost panics, however—as do the spectators, since we aren’t yet in on the whole story—when he asks to see the captive Sarah. As Sarah, she cannot possibly be playing herself and Rachel at the same time. When they arrive in the holding area, we see an almost-too-perfect version of Sarah sitting, chained, before us. Alison has been brought in on the game and she plays Sarah for Ferdinand, Delphine, and Sarah-as-Rachel.

The part that is perfection is not so much that Maslany is playing Rachel and Sarah in these scenes, but that she is flawlessly pulling off Sarah-as-Rachel and Alison-as-Sarah. In the scenes in which the clones are themselves, they are fully themselves. There are no seams, no tells that remind the audience that this is one actress playing nine (or more?) separate people, but rather she embodies each of them fully and distinctly. In these scenes, there are gaps, holes through which the audience can see another character thinly veiled below the facade of the character they are then playing. Alison-as-Sarah has an obvious wig—the bangs are all wrong—as does Sarah-as-Rachel. Alison’s tight-lipped smile belies her wound-up nature even as she tries her hardest to be Sarah for her audience of three. Sarah-as-Rachel does somewhat better—which makes sense, given Sarah’s background as a bit of a vagabond who has had to be deceitful in order to survive—but can hardly suppress her panic in the elevator to what she assumes will be an empty cell, as well as in Rachel’s apartment when she realizes that “Helsinki” is code for kill-all-clones. Still, she holds it together enough to try and seduce Ferdinand in order to kill him off (although unsuccessfully thanks to the interruption of Delphine).

In a way, the season 3 premiere has pulled back the curtain. We watch as Sarah picks out an outfit with Delphine’s help, and puts on a wig to match her hair to Rachel’s—likely the same wig they use to make Maslany into the “real” Rachel. Alison’s valiant, but ultimately poor attempt to play Sarah can only be pulled off for someone who is completely unfamiliar with the clones and their personalities. By showing us how difficult it is for Sarah to play Rachel and Alison to play Sarah the audience is forced to acknowledge how seamlessly Tatiana Maslany plays each of these characters as individuals, and yet even as individuals they are only made whole by each other.

Spain’s Nuns Come Full Circle

 

Portrait of Catalina de Erauso by Juan van der Hamen, from the Wikipedia page dedicated to Erauso

Some 400 years ago, a novice from a convent in the remote reaches of the Basque province of Spain cut her hair, fashioned her robes into a rough suit, and ran away to join the forces conquering America. Her name was Catalina de Erauso, but she changed that to fit in undetected amongst the all-male troops, and later became known under the moniker she shared with her autobiography: La monja alférez (the Lieutenant Nun). Catalina was not your typical cloistered sister, much preferring her life as a violent, gambling, womanizing, cross-dressing soldier. She has been called “Spain’s only true mujer guerrera [woman warrior]” (McKendrick 213), and spent her time outside of the convent subduing the indigenous peoples of Peru, Chile, and Argentina. At the end of her escapades she returns to Spain where she demands equal pay for equal work, and when denied that by the crown, travels to Rome where she (according to her own autobiography, in any case) asks and receives dispensation from the Pope to continue living her life the way she truly desires:

Partí de Génova a Roma. Besé el pie a la santidad de Urbano VIII, refiríle en breve, y lo mejor que supe, mi vida y corridas, mi sexo y virginidad; y mostró su santidad extrañar tal caso, y con afabilidad me concedió licencia para proseguir mi vida en hábito de hombre, encargándome la prosecución honesta en adelante, y la abstinencia en offender al prójimo…

(Erauso 173)

I left from Genova to go to Rome. I kissed the feet of his holiness Urban VIII, gave him a brief account, the best that I could, of my life and actions, my sex and virginity; and his holiness was shocked by such things, and with affability he gave me permission to proceed with my life in men’s clothing, charging me to be honest in future endeavors and abstain from offending others…

(Translation mine)

Basically Catalina was a bad-ass. One of the first accepted female cross-dressers, by the Pope no less, she surpasses all previous—and many later—attempts by women to live out their lives as men. Most women who chose to cross-dress in the early modern period did so for protection while they traveled alone, or to follow a lover into battle, or to make decent money for their families without having to turn to prostitution. Most of these reasons lead to short lived stints of cross-dressing, and if caught, most women argued that they were only doing it to preserve their chastity, an argument that was generally acceptable to both the courts and church, as long as the woman in question promised that it would not happen again. (See Dekker and van de Pol The Tradition of Female Transvestism in Early Modern Europe.)

So, how has all of this come full circle, you might ask… it has nothing to do with Catalina’s cross-dressing, unfortunately (but All about my mother by Almodovar has some great nun/transvestite interaction, if you need a fix of queer Spanish culture, I highly recommend it), but rather her warrior side. Yesterday, All Things Considered on NPR ran a story about another Spanish nun, Teresa Forcades, who is about as unusual a nun as the original Catalina. Born into an atheist family, Forcades only went into the convent as she looked for a quiet place to study when taking her medical exams. She’s a doctor with an MA from Harvard and a feminist who has had run-ins with the Vatican… but if you’ve read the article or listened to the story, you know all that. My interest with her lies in the intersections of her life and that of Catalina. Specifically in her ideas about Catalonian independence, which she makes clear in the NPR piece:

Forcades’ latest crusade is for Catalan independence. She has become one of the most prominent faces of the secessionist movement in Catalonia, which seeks to break away from Spain and form its own country in Europe.

“I am in favor of the independence of my country, because I do believe that for true democracy to be real or possible, you need small political units,” she says, offering the example of the U.S., in which many powers are devolved to the state rather than federal level.

“I want to avoid what unfortunately has been so prevalent for the Catalans. We complain to our local government, the Catalan government, and the local government says, ‘Yeah, you are right, but you know what? It’s Madrid’s fault.’ OK, so we go to Madrid, and Madrid says, ‘Yes, you’re right, but you know what? It’s Brussels’ fault,’ ” she says. “I don’t like growing huge empirelike structures that are removed from the people.”

Spain was, at the time of Catalina’s life, quite possibly the biggest empire the world has ever seen. The King of Spain was also the Holy Roman Emperor, which meant that just within Europe Spain controlled much of the area that is now southern Germany and Austria, Flanders and other Northern parts of Europe, not to mention the vastly unexplored South American continent and the Caribbean. Now, this new, outspoken nun, Forcades, is speaking out against precisely the sort of thing for which Erauso fought and killed. But Erauso did not join the Spanish troops for political reasons. She didn’t necessarily believe in the expansion of Spain’s empire to an unwieldy size. She did it to escape a life she hated, and to live as her true self. Forcades found her calling by entering a convent, in spite of the difficulties of living within the church as an ex-atheist feminist. Erauso found hers by leaving, in spite of the dangers of living both in disguise and in full view of those who might harm her. Although they might appear to fight for the opposite thing, I see them as having far more in common.

References:

Rudolf M. Dekker, and Lotte C. van de Pol,  The Tradition of Female Transvestism inEarly Modern Europe.  London: Macmillan Press, 1989.

Catalina de Erauso, Historia de la Monja Alférez, Catalina de Erauso, escrita por ella misma, Ángel Esteban, ed.  Madrid: Catedra, 2002.

Lauren Frayer, The Outspoken Spanish Nun Who’s Made Herself a Political Force. NPR “All Things Considered”. September 24, 2014. Web: http://www.npr.org/blogs/parallels/2014/09/24/347660274/the-outspoken-spanish-nun-whos-made-herself-a-political-force

Melveena McKendrick, Woman and Society in the Spanish Drama of the Golden  Age. New York: Cambridge UP, 1974.

Gender, performance, performativity, and the stage

As I was scrolling through facebook this morning I saw a link to an NPR story “Laura Jane Grace, Transgender Punk, On Life In Transition“, which turned out to be a beautiful conducted and written interview on the transition of Laura Jane Grace, the frontperson/singer of Almost Me!, a punk group that I had not actually heard of (academia doesn’t leave one much time for getting deep into the contemporary punk scene apparently) until this morning, but that I am very much intrigued by now.

The reason I even clicked on the link, however, was not because I am a fan (see above re: knowing nothing about current punk) but because of the tagline featured above a picture of the band, a tagline which is not a direct quote from the piece but an interesting way to frame the piece, and gender/transitioning in general:

NPR performance fb

shameless screenshot from the NPR facebook page.

“I don’t have to think,” Laura Jane Grace says of performing as a woman. “I can just be and exist.”

What the “performing as a woman” refers to is the on-stage presence of Grace. The actual question and answer from the article are as follows:

MARTIN: And performing is better for you now?

GRACE: Of course. It’s what it was when I started out, as far as being a joyful experience and what I live for. I don’t have to think; I can just be and exist.

But written the way it is on the facebook page “performing as a woman” has connotations beyond the idea of performance as a punk star. To me, at least, it referenced the idea of performing gender as described by Judith Butler:

The performance of drag plays upon the distinction between the anatomy of the performer and the gender that is being performed. But we are actually in the presence of three contingent dimensions of significant corporeality: anatomical sex, gender identity, and gender performance. If the anatomy of the performer is already distinct from the gender of the performer, and both of those are distinct from the gender of the performance, then the performance suggests a dissonance not only between sex and performance, but sex and gender, and gender and performance. (Gender Trouble 175)

I am by no means insinuating that what Grace is doing is drag—her performance on stage is not one of gender-bending, her gender is female and the anatomy is irrelevant—but that what the NPR screenshot suggests that she has found her comfort zone. Being on stage as a man was probably far more of a taxing performance in terms of the performative nature of gender, whereas having self-identified (even calling the latest album Transgender Dysphoria Blues) and begun the transition process, Grace has become her full self and is able to focus the performance on the music, rather than the image that someone plagued by dysphoria would likely feel they had to project. This is what the second half of the Butler quote above alludes to: prior to transition, Grace would have felt the distinction of sex (male) and gender (feminine) internally, as well as the disconnect of the performed gender (masculine) for the sake of the audience. Now that all line up (not that I know the extent of the physical transformation, but again, anatomy is less of a concern here*) Grace can focus on the rest of her life, and partake in the “joyful experience[s]” that can be marred by the need to be consciously aware of who your audience is and what they might be thinking.

*To those who might argue that anatomy is important to this process, I’m sure for some it might be… but our ideas about the binary nature of sex and gender and the links between the two are outdated at best and extremely harmful at worst. They are what force families into making uninformed decisions on behalf of intersexed children, and they are what keep many from leading full lives in the way in which they need. Serendipitously (because I wasn’t following but someone retweeted) I saw this on twitter just as I was sitting down to write this:

 

Genitals = sex, Gender = heart, mind, body, soul, love, hate…. and anything else you might feel shapes you. If the only thing that shapes you is what you see between your legs you lead a pretty small, sad existence.

just when you think it might get better…

… you hear about this panel at the MLA and want to tear your hair out. But at least the fabulous TheProfessorIsIn and the equally wonderful pankisseskafka have already written take-downs of the sheer idiocy and lack of touch with reality that one would have to live in in order to actually believe that not shrinking, nay, perhaps even expanding(!) graduate programs is the right path at the moment.

I’m not going to add any more, I just thought I should post this as a sort of addendum to earlier post of MLA-happiness. The reasons the MLA was good for me were not the reasons it was good for those who are entrenched in a system that has already failed. They were good because I saw old friends and found new ones with whom I feel a sort of solidarity (even if I only know them by their twitter handles!). And no, none of them are the ones quoted in the first article. (Except theProfessorIsIn, of course, who is quoted as being anti-everything the panel stood for.)

How I learned to stop worrying and love the MLA

This past weekend was the 2014 MLA convention in Chicago, a site (albeit nomadic) that fills most early career faculty/graduate students with dread. Last year, my first “real” year on the market (aka my first year with MLA interviews), I felt that dread. I soaked in the anxiety of everyone around me (and yes, it is palpable in those hotel lobbies). I expected this year to be no different.

And yet, it was. I had three times the interviews that I had last year, which I believe is mostly due to two factors: a) the market, while still absolutely shite, is improving, or at least appears to be; and b) I’m in a much better position professionally than I was last year. I also bunked with a dear friend from my MA days on-site (instead of staying with equally dear, non-academic friends an hour away), met up with other colleague-friends nightly, and sat in on several conference panels, including session 418 on “Vulnerability and Survivalism of the Humanities in Corporatized Academia”, the live-tweets of which (mine included) you can see under hashtag #s418. That session, in particular, made me feel both not alone, and even more like shouting about injustices from the roof-tops.

My interviews went well, I think. Under the harsh light of day I am of course starting to second guess almost everything I said, but at the time I thought they went well. Never perfect, I’m sure of at least one flub I made, but I was much more relaxed than last year and acted far more like myself, something of which I am quite proud. Sure, they’re nerve-wracking—this is my potential future we’re talking about—but, like this blog, if you don’t want ME as a colleague based on something I’ve said or written, it probably wouldn’t work out in the long-term anyway. Some of my previous blog-posts, which, if you just interviewed me, you may be on your way to check out now, probably sound angry (and at times they are) but that drive to improve this thing we call The Profession won’t go away even if I do get one of the rather fancy jobs for which I just interviewed. We deserve better, and our students do too. If you still don’t believe that, perhaps you’d like to check out this piece by Richard Moser on the Chronicle?

Panem et circenses: Honey Boo-Boo

I’m home visiting family, which for me means that I spend some of my time helping out with my nana, who, all things considered, is in very good shape for someone who is over 90. But she still has health issues from time to time and has appointments with various doctors regularly. Generally it falls to my mom, who is the only child/grandchild in the same city (and province for that matter) who isn’t employed/in school full time, to drive her around, take her to appointments, gether groceries, etc, etc. This can be, as one might imagine, somewhat exhausting after a time. I lived closer and was able to be home a lot more last year (see: un/underemployed), now it seems that we will only be able to get in every 6 months or so. Point being, when I’m here, I try to alleviate some of the work for my mom so she can do her own thing sometimes too (her own thing, for the record, is being a pretty kick-ass artist).

Ok, so yesterday I took nana to the drs, and then to the drugstore, and then home for tea. Tea with nana = philosophical/political discussions and tea. And probably biscuits or chocolates or something. So sometimes (a lot of times) tea with nana = awesome. Nana is also slowly losing her sight, which is sad because she was a voracious reader up until 2 or 3 years ago, reading 2-3 books a week and several newspapers every day. The love of literature thing runs in the family around here. So whereas often our conversations would have centered around something she had read recently, now they often come from something that she heard/watched on radio or tv. Yesterday she brought up Honey Boo-Boo. Full disclosure: I have never watched a full episode of Honey Boo-Boo, but I have seen clips and I did mention it in a lecture last year. Apparently, however, there was a Honey Boo-Boo marathon on tv on New Year’s Day and nana happened to catch an episode or two.

The conversation went something like this (I’m editing the times I had to repeat since nana is also a little hard of hearing):

Nana: Why would the US want to broadcast something like that?
Me: I don’t know… entertainment purposes?
Nana: But do people find it entertaining? It just seemed a little… silly.
Me: Well, it is a narrative. They’re poor, uneducated… maybe it’s what they want people to see.
Nana: But do they really want the rest of the world to think that they’re all like that?
Me: … (thinking) Maybe they do. The political argument in the US is that if you are uneducated you’re poor because you didn’t work hard. So that’s the narrative they want to project. A TV show that followed around super-educated but poor people wouldn’t be as funny because it would be a harsh look at reality. Take the salary I was offered [and eventually walked away from] last year: $2300 per class to teach 2 classes with no guarantee of work in the Spring. $4600 (minus taxes and other deductions) for 4 months of work. With a PhD. Would anyone want to watch that “reality”?

There was further discussion about whether some of the audience could relate or whether most viewers were just watching for the laughs, but the point that echoes in my mind is that Honey Boo-Boo (and it’s ilk) is, in a way, suppressing the revolution. No one cares how they live because they “deserve” it (note: I’m not actually saying that they do or don’t, again I haven’t watched the show, I’m just riffing on the idea that circulates in US politics that everyone gets what they work for) and it is entertaining. Watching someone that has been in school for over a decade, working hard at something they are passionate about, only to be paid to educate your children for far below minimum wage would be far too difficult.

Until we get it out there, until we force people to see the reality that adjuncts live in (and not just other academics, I think most of us/them are painfully aware now… although there are a few hangers on that still need convincing) the myth of the ivory tower will continue to blot out any truth we try to speak.

So, anyone up for their own reality show?

how to fight the power (and fix the system from within)

Yesterday I was angry. And it would appear a few others were as well. But out of Schuman’s post (linked again for posterity and clarity) came some interesting comments. More than one tenured (not necessarily lifeboater) claimed to understand the frustration felt by those of us on the “outside” but did not have (nor did they claim to) a solution.

One in particular (theelderj) stuck out as a particularly good potential ally when he said this:

Look, I’m tenured, I know I am privileged and I also know that the whole damn system is doomed. But I wonder (and this is not ad hominem, I am really just trying to figure out what happens next and what I can do) whether the revolutionary language is rhetorically overblown (I am a bit of a defeatist) or whether I’m blind to ways to alter a system that is irreversibly corporatist and historically elitist…

(cited from the previous linked pankisseskafka post)

OK. He gets it. At least in theory. But he doesn’t know what to do. This seems to be a common theme amongst the responses to these sorts of posts. Sure, things are broken, we can all see it, but how do we change it? No one is posting about how to change it, so we’ll all just sit on our hands and hope that it will magically fix itself, right?

Here’s my response to him (originally posted as a comment, also on Schuman’s post):

On the small scale, what can you do? Well, for one, you can encourage your dept/division/school not to hire multiple adjuncts/lecturers to teach the equivalent of full-time positions, but rather hire one or two to teach full-time with benefits (crazy concept, right?).

On the larger scale: accept non-tenured/tt (who have decent proposals, of course) to speak at your school/conference/MLA panel. Sure you’ll probably get a 35.6 (or whatever it is that just barely excludes your panel) and not get to present at the MLA, but if everyone decided that the MLA was actually for what it is supposed to be for (that is, presenting new research and allowing up and coming colleagues to shine in front of their potential employers), then they’d have to start accepting panels with newly-minted grads and ABDs.

 

So: Tenured and TT people who might stumble upon this (particularly if you’ve received my application and are here to check out what I’m all about): I don’t think I’m asking anything too radical here. Advocate for full-time (and note that I didn’t necessarily say TT) lines that treat your colleagues like decent human beings over multiple adjunct/lecturers in your own dept/division/school/whatever you feel comfortable with. Include promising grad students and recent grads/adjuncts/non-TT people on your conference panels, even if it means you might get excluded. If every person who submits a panel to the MLA makes the conscious decision to include “outsiders” on their panels, they will have to accept at least some of them. I’ve been accepted to MLA panels, as a almost-finished grad student and as an adjunct/”independent scholar” and they’ve always been just under the acceptable score required to be allowed to present. I assume (rightly or wrongly, but if I’m wrong I’d like to see the documentation) that they would have gotten the score to present had they only accepted well-known full-time, TT/Tenured scholars. Sure, there have been outsiders allowed to present at the MLA but generally they are one on a panel full of lifeboaters to make up for their deficit.

And here’s the other thing you can do, as an insider, although this one might really rock the boat: stop accepting so many grad students. Teach more undergraduate classes yourself. I’ve written about the plan at Hopkins to do just this already, here. Stop telling us “it gets better” or “it’s still early” or “that won’t happen to you“. Unless you can back it up with real results (which, since we’re being honest, let’s just admit that we all know you can’t, at least right now)

So, what can you do to fix the system from the inside out? I’ve given you a couple of ideas here. We are all smart “inteleckshuals” so I’m sure there are more, and better, ideas out there. I’d love to hear them.

Social media ‘civility’ and the attack of the flying sock monkeys

This morning on twitter I had an interesting interaction with Rebecca Schuman (better known as pankisseskafka) and Jonathan Goya (amongst others) regarding the recent spate of attacks on adjuncts who dare to speak out against the system and the “lifeboaters” (aka tenured faculty) who insist on maintaining the status quo, in spite of the fact that the so-called status quo has been in decline for the past 30 or so years. I won’t rehash the argument between Schuman and Claire Potter (aka Tenured Radical) since most of the 3 people who will read this will already be familiar with it.

The latest in the “but it’s always been this bad” saga comes at us from historiann, who wants us to come up with (or rather immediately assume without question her version of) a guiding set of principles for academic social media use.

For those of you who just can’t take another “telling you how to do this thing that you should as an intelligent, rational, well-educated person already be able to figure out how to do on your own” post, let me skip to the rules for you. They are directly quoted from the above link:

  1. The Golden Rule:  don’t publish anything online that you wouldn’t say to someone’s face.

  2. Don’t make assumptions about the motives or personal experience that may inform the social media commentary of others.

  3. If you are the proprietor of a blog, Instagram, or Twitter account, think before you write and edit before you publish.  Think again:  is my post or comment useful, necessary, or productive?

  4. If you are a commenter on someone else’s social media account or platform:  Consider the intended audience for a blog, Instagram, or Twitter account, and be respectful of the proprietor’s online space and attention.

  5. If someone publishes a nasty or personal post or comment about you or something you’ve written, resist the urge to return the favor.  Read it two or three times to be sure you’re not overreacting or feeding a flamewar.  Consider ignoring it if it’s really inflammatory, but otherwise use your teaching skills to turn it around:  is there something in the comment of value you can address respectfully, thereby modeling the kind of conversation you’d like to be a part of?

I’m going to be honest here: these are not completely out of the question. As someone who recently (and perhaps stupidly) posted something vaguely anti-gun on my facebook, knowing full well I have gun-loving family members who have access to said facebook, I feel the sting of forgetting my audience. That said, I still believe that my posts were tasteful, respectable, and if anyone takes/took them personally, that’s on them, not me. I’d probably avoid the conversation in person, sure, but I don’t retract or feel remorse for what I said.

The problematic part, however, comes when historiann explains WHY she feels that these should be the rules the rest of us adopt. Again, quoting direct from the above link:

Here are my rationales for these principles, in seriatum:

  1. No one likes a jerk, and when you’re a jerk online, you are performing jerkiness before a potential audience of hundreds or thousands.
  2. You can always ask a blogger or Tweeter why they wrote what they wrote, or ask for further clarification before unloading on them.
  3. Since when is thinking a bad thing?  Aren’t we inteleckshuals?
  4. See rule #1, and remember:  don’t be a jerk.
  5. Let your productive, positive social media presence speak for itself.  If you lie down with the dogs, you’ll get up with fleas.

I personally take umbrage with her rationales, most particularly with #3, which is the one that launched me into the twitter conversation in the first place. You advocate for being less jerky, more civil, etc, and then remind me that I’m an “inteleckshual” and so I should think before I speak? Did you think before you wrote that? Because it would appear not.

Oh, but I’m calling you out on something you said, which apparently would not be civil. I mean, it’s right up there in rule number 5, right? If someone says something nasty on the internet, it’s on me to not respond to it. And yet right there, right in the middle of telling us all not to be jerks and how no one will like us if we are, you do the jerkiest thing of all. I pointed out this inherent oxymoron to Schuman and others:

to which Schuman replied:

Basically if we accept historiann’s new rules of social media use as “professionals”, then we’re over a barrel. We can’t say anything against the rules, as that would be jerk-ish and we can’t call her out for calling us idiots (because if you think calling us “inteleckshuals” is anything other than an insult, well, you’re in the wrong place, that’s for sure).

We also shouldn’t be bothered by the fact that tenured radical thinks (as she so clearly states in comments to historiann’s post on the new rules) that we’re just a bunch of whiny millennials that haven’t worked for anything we’ve got. I quote, from the comment section of the above linked post:

Tenured Radical on 30 Dec 2013 at 8:38 am #

Yep. I keep wondering also whether there isn’t something age related. The folks on the market now are the Millennials who never failed, never got below a B+, got prizes for everything they did. And one response to the terrible job market has been to add *more* prizes: you don’t see a job candidate who hasn’t won named fellowships in grad school, teaching prizes, and post-docs (intended to keep people going in a bad job market, but now just another prize.) There must be something genuinely confusing to many people who have, in fact, done everything right, and failed to win the big prize — or even, in a way, been given a yellow ticket to go to Hollywood at all. You can say a lot of things about Rebecca Schuman, I suppose, but unaccomplished she is not.

 

Anger is one way to project shame outward: another valuable lesson from years of psychotherapy.

Well, I guess I’m not supposed to respond to this attack on anyone (myself included) who came on to the job market in the last 5-10 years (which is a hella lot of people to lump together and insult in one fell swoop, I might add), but I can tell you that the person described above is not me. I have failed at things, I have been rejected for publication and conference presentations (only at the MLA… but that’s a whole other can of worms), I have, in fact, gotten lower than a B+ in classes in my chosen field. (Which, let’s face it, isn’t a big revelation to any search committee who requested my transcripts.) I didn’t choose the easy path, I chose the one that would push me harder, push me down even, and that I would love enough to get back up and push back against. I haven’t received every accolade in the book, which, given this comment, might appear to some as if though you might gain more respect for me. But in fact, because I didn’t get all those things, because I work hard to master my field instead of it just coming easily to me as you seem to imply it does or should, means that you will try to hold me down even more. In a world where everyone apparently just gets given whatever they want, even while you mock it, you will judge me harder for not getting it. Do you see the juxtapositions in your argument? Do you know how hypocritical you are being in this one, seemingly insignificant comment?

Do you know that the hordes of contingent #flyingsockmonkeys are coming at ya?

Thoughts on JHU’s strategic plan

For background on the current situation at Hopkins, see the JHU newsletter article that first brought it to the public’s attention, and Colleen Flaherty’s article from today (12/11/13) on Inside Higher Ed.

As a graduate of Johns Hopkins, I cannot say that I was surprised by either the proposed plan (which, granted, still has not been released publicly to my knowledge, and therefore has been unavailable to me thus far) or the reaction of the graduate students. For several years prior to my graduation, various departments in the arts and sciences held “futures seminars”, inviting leading scholars from within and out of the school to discuss what the future of graduate school would look like

At the time I took umbrage (and still do) to suggestions that humanities graduate programs should become two-tiered; one tier for those who would go on to become “real” academics, writing a full dissertation and following in the career footprints of their advisors; and another “phd-lite” style program that would be on a faster track, potentially paid for by students or outside funding, with no (or a very short) dissertation, geared towards MBAs (or anyone, really) who wanted to show that they could read and write critically and/or be creative. Pixar was cited as an example of the sort of company that would be beating down the door for these second-tier PhDs.

Around the same time, graduate students in my program met with our then chair, William Egginton (now Vice Dean of Graduate Education) and aired out grievances, festivous-style. Money was on the forefront of many a mind. We explained that our stipend was hardly enough to live on, and more difficult still when, come May, the pay cheques dried up. From mid May to mid September, we were on our own. That, plus the belief (ahem, well-known fact) that our colleagues in similarly ranked institutions were paid much more for the same (and sometimes fewer) responsibilities, made it a particularly harsh reality. Likewise, we discussed the somewhat delicate issue that those of us who choose to study literature in a foreign language often get teaching assistantships that are a far heavier load (teaching, prepping, and grading a class entirely on our own from day one) than those in, say, history or English departments who generally T.A. under a lead professor, at least for the first year or two.

For these reasons, amongst others, it was clear that the vast majority of grad students believed that they deserved a higher stipend. The national average, as per glassdoor, is $25,000, which puts the current JHU stipend $3,000 below the mark (as per the Inside Higher Ed article linked above). The plan proposes raising new graduate student stipends to $30,000 and raising current students stipends by approximately $5,000. The issue that current students have with this plan is that in order to do so they will cut the acceptance rate by approximately 25%.

Those opposing the plan claim that cutting already small cohorts by 25% would effectively kill some programs. My own cohort was made up of 4 people, although they very well could have accepted more (and probably did, as they have in previous and subsequent years), some of whom may have chosen to go elsewhere or forego pursuing a PhD for whatever reason. So, it is not to say that my cohort would have automatically become 3, but it could have meant that some of us may not have been accepted in the first place. Whether three students instead of four would have greatly changed my perspective on or experience within the program is difficult to say.

As a former student I am torn. I understand the argument that cutting already fairly small cohorts could affect the quality of programs. However, as a current Assistant Professor who is also on the job market, the plight of the adjunct and contingent faculty that now make up over 70% of higher ed faculty in the US is often in the forefront of my mind and I am pleased to see schools responding to the oversaturation of the market. It is the other side of the plan, “leaning junior” in new faculty hires, and, in particular, the adjunctivization of undergraduate instructors, that concerns me most. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against them hiring more junior faculty, I think it might actually do them a lot of good. Junior faculty will probably be on the forefront of their respective fields. They’ll also probably be willing to teach more than the one to two classes per semester taught by current senior faculty. It is the hiring of “adjuncts with master’s degrees” to do the work of the soon-to-be missing graduate students that worries me. Hopkins may be on the right path to empower the students they do accept to both graduate with less debt and with higher prospects for fulltime work, but replacing those “missing” students with adjuncts, instead of having full time faculty teach undergraduates negates any good will the plan might have generated, at least for me. Why any parent or student would pay a total of over $60,000 for tuition and room/board combined per year just for their classes to be taught by underpaid, uninsured, MA graduates with little or no job security is beyond me.

As I stated above, I have not had the opportunity to read the plan. If anyone has a public copy that they would like to send me or that they can link to in the comments, I would be very interested seeing it.