on my family always being right

Sister (Noni) comments:

Om … condensed thoughts for the day from 33187lo :

‘Pick your battles’ and ‘don’t **** where you eat’.

Also, when there’s a war on, sticking your neck out is liable to get you and those you love hurt. So you either keep necessarily quiet, struggle to maintain dignity and live on as best you can ; or leave everything behind, gently and with great sorrow.

I know I’ve raised this before, but look! It’s online! http://classiques.uqac.ca/classiques/benda_julien/trahison_des_clercs/trahison_des_clercs.html.

And just because it’s out there, check out http://visitmolokai.com/

A first comment: Well Noni, you’re right: of course you’re right. As is Mother. But there are more than two options here. (continues in comment on post)

Couple of Some further points:

1. I repeat: it is part of my job to comment and criticize.

That’s what “doing literary studies” is. That’s why where I work is called “the Department of French, Hispanic and Italian Studies.” My colleagues are good, smart people; the name is well-chosen. It’s not “languages, literatures, and cultures”; let alone just “lang & lit.”

And it’s not just teaching received wisdom. Especially now: anyone can go forth and get that for free online. They’ve been able to get that for free in libraries for generations. Ex.: Grandad Kerr and the glorious Carnegie libraries. Students are now “full-time units” and “customers”: this sucks. But it also reminds us that we can’t sit back on our laurels and regurgitate the same lectures for decades, and we certainly can’t read out a book in lieu of actively teaching. We need to offer something extra.

That can be a very good thing for us: if we integrate that whole learning-by-doing thing; with sharing and exchanging; add in the idea of knowledge as a process (an exciting and entertaining one at that) rather than an end result, a commodity to be acquired; and make it relevant.

This is an opportunity for us to think about what we’re doing, what point we have, why–come the Revolution and/or post-apocalyptic u~/dystopia–we should have any more reason or right to existence than anyone else in a university, or elsewhere. Sure, this might mean that what we do and how we do it changes: we might become storytellers again, or discussion-catalysts. The academy and academics have changed a lot, frequently, over the last 2600 years or so. We deal with it, and adapt; or we die, and the academy in any shape or form dies out.

2. Part of making something relevant–ex. Medieval literature for non-Medievalists and non-litérateurs–is bringing in parallels translated to and from the here and now. Showing by example and demonstration, that practical side of things, comes into play.

Even in a beginners’ French class, you bring in culture and history–this is normal methodology–and part of reading and discussing images is commenting on them. It’s also useful for pedagogical reasons: ex. in FREN 220, where metaphor is a crucial part of the course (see first lecture). Metaphor, seeing metaphor, thinking metaphorically, thinking poetically, and thinking critically: this is what it’s all about.

Where opinions may differ, and individuals’ judgement and preferences and temperaments and characters, will be how this is expressed and how much a part of life it is. That’s cool (this is for you, O my nice students!). People are different. Some are very quiet and say little but write much, eloquently, with larger-scale ideas, seeing the larger-scale implications. Some do this the other way round. And points between.

But: here’s the thing. The basic things we teach students how to do in literary studies:
a) synopsis, résumé
b) commentary: a combination of explanation, analysis, and critical commentary
c) essay, dissertation littéraire: which must include other parallels and a conclusion…
d) research paper
e) translation
All of them bar the first (which is an elementary sort of exercise) involve knowing about as much as possible, about the world beyond the end of your nose/the text you’re in. All of them bar the first (and, at may levels, the last) include having ideas, personal subjective judgement, and expressing them. If you don’t do that, you’re looking at a B tops. If you do them, well and interestingly, you’re into the As. Errm, to fall back into the very flat-footed, practical, and objectifying/commodifying…

3. “Criticism”: By which latter I mean what the damn word actually means: weigh and judge, inc. interpretation. That is how the word is used in literary studies and much else of the humanities. (Plus, again, that’s what it means and what words mean is important.)
a) That weighing isn’t just the bad, it’s the good too.
b) Interp = inc. seeing implications and consequences (that have perhaps completely innocently not been imagined), which can be positive for all concerned. As can subversive activity.

4. This is supposed to be a democratic institution in a free country. It would be ridiculous for me to be supposed to be more scared of opening my mouth about anything HERE–a public university in Canada–than I was when at Princeton: a private university (and structurally a weird mix of the illiberal and enlightened despotism), in a country that at the time was under the Glorious Dubya Régime.

5. This is, in most respects, a very civil and civilized place. Both country and university. I have good colleagues, and more good colleagues and friends (with some intellectual part) elsewhere in the collegium. The department staff are superb; my criticism if anything would be that I prefer the UK nomenclature where everyone is “staff,” and maybe like staves we all support each other, and support and hold together the overarching entity that’s also the whole of which we are parts.

That’s pernickety and just words. But words and philology are what I do. Also, delete that “just”: they’re important.

6. An outstanding recent incident: the University has pulled out of the main copyright agreement here (long story). The “staff” part of the university has been very good in communicating and explaining and re-explaining what all this means–at all levels: from JC and the head in my dept. through to a number of strata of the Library. This has been an exemplary case of “serve and protect” from the administrative part of the university–seeing this “admin” maybe now in the trad separation-of-powers way? It’s not all policing, secrecy, labyrinthine bureaucracy, walls of paperasserie with barbed wire on top.

7. I have good students, and a sense of there being some sort of studium here: not least as unions are strong. I’d like to see more guild-structure, but a lot of that is there or still there. Might offer another opportunity to subvert the economisation of academia? We offer an end product, a bit of paper that says someone has received an education, and that we, the authorities, have authorized them to call themselves “educated,” with all that entails. Rather than a process, “becoming educated,” plus us not as authority but as catalyst-facilitators, “helping you to educate yourselves.” We need to join forces with the students to subvert the rubber-stamped-official-qualification approach, in the interests of their educations (were I any sort of believer, I’d have the nice argument of saving their souls).

8. To emphasize the liberating power of education. Education as a foundation and just the start of life-long learning: of continuing education–something, by the way, that UBC does extremely well, as well as distance education.

9. It would be nice if i could really claim that translatio studii is a pun:
the old turkey movement of knowledge from Greece to Rome to France (coupled with t. imperium)
+ the broad-sense translation of that knowledge to a different culture
+add in the following two, which bring together the two wings of what I’m supposed to do:

a) teaching as transmission, but retranslated for each generation, rendered anew to each new studium–group of students–each being different from any other. Every class has different individuals, and dynamic, and even from one term to the next, a different culture (music, TV, movies, etc.)

b) literary studies as translation: rendering anew, explaining afresh, seeing each time the new implications and consequences and applications for each new time and place. This is in teaching, kinda part of (a) already, and it’s part of research and writing. And it’s in research and writing.

10. Cos I’m me, having lived from 19xx till now, in various places, read various stuff, talked to various people, etc., etc., that’s going to influence how I read stuff and what I see in it. However much I might try very very very hard to do method-reading, or to blank my whole mind (this is why I read a lot of misogynist Medieval stuff, it’s a great exercise…). If I’m being honest: no: all that stuff is there. As is everyday life. And poets’ (and other lit people’s) everyday lives and circumstances of writing: it’s all part of the whole.

Most sensible people nowadays would tend to agree, whatever they called this sort of approach, that if you’re doing a good job of working in literature, on literature, on any given object of study you treat it as completely as possible (within whatever your own self-imposed limits might be–I have pre-Chomskian linguist colleagues who have very strict limits). Taking a holistic approach: the text, the words, sources and inspirations, the author’s imaginatio and other baggage and biographical context, historical background, cultural and intellectual environment, circumstances of production, context of book/works/codicology, immediate reception, transmission and reception history, history of editing and scholarship and criticism, translations into other forms: music, visual arts, films, games.

Put the two aforementioned together into the work that is literary study: if you’re being honest and doing a good job, your work is going to include what’s going on in both the paragraphs above. In my case, that’s going to include being a person who walks the world with her eyes open. As much as possible, does sometimes stumble or not look where she’s going, but. I think there’s an obligation to be engagé with the world, and that that’s an important part of our jobs as academics in literary studies: we can’t force students to do this, they’re free adults, but at least to introduce them to the idea–however it is they might want to deal with it, to whatever extent, whatever they might consider their “world.”

Concluding:

1. there are more than two options here; just as there are more than two types of individual human being involved.

2. it’s more a broad-spectrum of options–heh: the human condition as broad-spectrum disorder. With “and/and” options as well as the more usual “either/or” ones.

My problem and struggle: tolerance, patience, and sympathy vs. damn it, this is what “doing literary studies” IS. On which there’s a whole range of approaches: I’m happy to tolerate people who withdraw completely from what’s seen as “political” (negatively-loaded) discussion, especially as there’s often reasons for this (past experience, ex. for some of my Latin American colleagues), and they deal with the world in other ways. Many of these people have kids. That changes things: I see many people putting their energies, and transmitting these sorts of ideas, to their offspring and offspring’s friends at least as much as they do to students; sometimes, only to kids. That seems to me a shame, but at least someone is benefitting, and chain of transmission can continue. Also, some people just talk, some just write, some write different things in different places, and so on: there’s more than one way to skin a cat.

3. subversion is the way forward: which means reading and understanding a thing first, then interpreting it, seeing where it might go next–and choosing a way that’s compatible with the original thing but that pulls it away from its dodgier sides. It’s not going to be universally true of all situations (ex. actual civil war in a developing country): but in this sort of situation, there are ways of being subversive that are not negative or destructive; nor about bringing down the system. Subversion can be about change and evolution; it can be positive, constructive, and creative

2 comments

  1. Ehh … unrelated, but saw Rango the movie with Johnny Depp as a chameleon with bobbly eyes on the plane the other day. Very good bobbly eyedness but didn’t see it all the way. Wd recommend the first 8 minutes though … however I might be going off topic here, sorry …

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