Thursday, May 25, 2006

Literary Loners

I recently read Andy Greenwald's Miss Misery, a novel that fits firmly into the Guy Lit genre discussed in Michael Kimmel's Chronicle of Higher Education piece.

Sidebar: I'm amused that this man writing on novels for wussy men shares a last name with Jimmy Kimmel, former host of the tongue-in-cheek-manly Man Show.

I don't agree with Kimmel fully, although I do agree that these boy lit books are not very interesting in general. As a genre, I hope to see fewer and fewer of them in bookstores in years to come.

Sidebar: I read Nick Hornsby when he first arrived. I was amused. I wanted the man/men I was dating at that time to grow up, and the fantasy of a guy who could actually recognize that he needed to grow up but was still fun and daring and a bit juvenile was appealing. Perhaps I'm just getting old.

But I think Kimmel is skirting an issue which can't be ignored. Why are these books being written at all? What do they tell us about our young men? Kimmel writes,

Virtually every writer of guy lit is an almost-thirtysomething graduate of an elite college or university. Their college pedigrees read like the college rankings at a certain national magazine: Brown (Sam Lipsyte), Harvard (Benjamin Kunkel), Stanford (Erik Barmack), Wesleyan (Scott Mebus), Yale (Kyle Smith). Each writer, and their characters, lives in New York City. Each work is written in the first person, by a destabilized, unreliable narrator; these books are like one long run-on sentence of self-justification and rationalization. "I don't want your wholesome values, your reasonably good judgment," says Jeb Braun, protagonist in Erik Barmack's The Virgin. "My goal isn't to please you. So if you're expecting the whole handshake and nod routine, you can stop reading right now."

Elite. Destabilized. Unreliable. Self-justfication. Rationalization.

The long, whiney, boring, unfulfilling, and hyper-selfish "I". These books are the products of a lack of balance. I think I'm going to read Little Women again.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Why Tenure?

The Ward Churchill situation leads me to question the entire practice of tenure itself. What is its purpose and why do we fight so mightily to keep it? A few thoughts:

On the What and the Purpose:

As I understand it, tenure exists to provide job security. A tenured professor cannot be dismissed for arbitrary reasons (or budgetary). Rather, the tenured professor is guaranteed a job unless said professor commits some horrid infraction that gives a committee cause to release them from their post. Some other thoughts on tenure and its purpose can be found in this brief Wikipedia article*.

Of course, many would point to the tenure job protection as being related to academic freedom. A professor cannot (and should not) be fired for research that runs counter to authoritarian interests, for speaking and studying that which is considered protected. In the interest of free inquiry, we do our best to make those who teach and research in our universities safe from punishment by those who may disagree with the work that they do. That's a good thing.

Why Fight to Keep Tenure?

Because it protects professors. That's the oft-cited and general rationale for keeping the system. But I would be naive to assume that there aren't other motivations at work, the greatest being job security, not merely as a protection for unpopular sentiment-weilding, but just for the human need to feel secure in one's employment.

Why Am I Thinking About This?

Because I'm deciding what to do with my career. Do I pursue a tenure-track position, thereby putting my 36 year old self on a 6-7 year post-doctoral proving of worth that may end with me out on the street if I don't suceed?** Or do I pursue other avenues of employment in academia, relegating myself to more service-oriented activities, thereby shutting myself away from the faculty realm?***

Thinking continues.

Oh, and Ward Churchill--I just think they should let him go. If he has been found to have conducted his academic work in an irresponsible manner, then he shouldn't be entitled to maintain his tenured status.

* Yes, I am aware that Wikipedia isn't the most reliable of sources. I encourage you to help build its accuracy.
** If you don't get tenure, you don't stay at that university. Really, what would be the point? It would be like continuing to date someone who left you at the altar.
*** While this is an attractive option, my sense of this path is that it can curtail your ability to advance, since you kind of operate in more of a support role for the faculty. I could be wrong about that. ETA: I'm probably not wrong.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006


I'm currently reading Shari Stenberg's Professing and Pedagogy. Stenberg "reads" the major metaphors that define the professoriate (teacher as scholar, teacher as trainee, etc.) and calls out for a professoriate that focuses not on the transmission of mastered knowledge, but the learning of that knowledge by teacher and student.

A few random thoughts in this vein.

I've spent the last year as part of a mentoring program at my university, working alongside other TAs as we prepared to enter the academic workforce as tenure-track professors. I often question whether the track is for me and this book has focused in on much of what I fear about the professoriate.

I know that I don't know everything. I'm a much better teacher when my students know that as well, but trust me as a knowledgable guide. I learn every time I teach, and if I feel as though the material is stale for me, I shake it up and use something else, something new and fresh.

I have long struggled against disciplinarity and love my discipline (English) because it encompasses so very much. I hope that as I continue to grow professionally that I never lose sight of my teaching mission.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Why It's Good to Be In Loco

I just read a request on a LiveJournal community that has me puzzled. The poster is a student at a large land-grant university. This student lives in a residence hall. This student has injured him/herself and suspects a broken foot. The student wants to know how to get to the campus health center.

My first thought was "Call your RA". This didn't seem too crazy of a thought.

But apparantly it is. An RA in that particular dormitory replied and suggested that the student get some friends to help them downstairs. Apparantly, we've gotten to the point where RAs aren't allowed to take injured students to the campus health center.

I call shenanigans.