Saturday, July 22, 2017

My Productivity Record for Aug. 2016 to Aug. 2017

It sure would make sense to do these productivity reports for a calendar year, but the August-August timeline -- basically the academic year -- works just fine too, I suppose. In my previous yearly productivity report, I managed 63,000 words of writing, most of it publishable, and I expressed hopes that my upcoming year on a Writing Fellowship would see that output rise. I didn't quite make that, primarily because of job applications and the massive revisions my dissertation underwent during February and March, which meant that I couldn't accomplish any new work. But even if I wasn't quite convinced about the necessity of those revisions, at least the beast is done, and life's going good.

So, the output:

  • Essay on narrative theory and world construction in The Hobbit (under review) -- 6,000 words
  • Essay on J.R.R. Tolkien and why he nominated E.M. Forster for the 1954 Nobel Prize (forthcoming) -- 9,000 words
  • Essay on Glen Cook's Instrumentalities of the Night series (revise & resubmit) -- 7,000 words
  • Dissertation chapter 4 -- 20,000 words. (Yes, it was a long chapter!)
  • Dissertation introduction -- 11,000 words
  • Four book reviews
    • One on Fimi and Higgins (eds), A Secret Vice, 1500 words
    • One on Edmund Gordon's The Invention of Angela Carter, 1500 words
    • One on Jad Smith's Alfred Bester, 1500 words
    • One on Jamie Williamson's The Evolution of Modern Fantasy -- 1,000 words.
  • One conference paper on Glen Cook, 1500 words
Sum total: 60,000 words. 

Other big time sucks (besides the major last-minute revisions to my dissertation) included editing Scientia et Humanitas and -- oh god -- those god-awful job applications, which constitute a full-time job in themselves. 

One item worthy of note: I managed to write all my dissertation chapters within the single calendar year of 2016. Of course, February and March of 2017 saw me rewriting quite a bit of that, but since I liked my original versions slightly better, I think I can legitimately say that I wrote my dissertation in a single year.

Anyway, now that I'm about to teach full-time, next year's productivity report won't be as glitzy, but I'll keep chugging along anyway. 

The Travails of Traveling

Well, more like "The Travails of Moving," but then that wouldn't alliterate, would it? :)

So, I've done several big moves in my life, and while it's always stressful, I'm generally someone who travels light. No furniture, no big ticket items, just a couple (dozen) boxes of books which I usually sent via USPS and that's it. Marriage, though, has a way of helping you accumulate a whole lotta stuff, so our upcoming move to Arizona is proving trickier than any of my other previous ones.**

The challenge now is that, just yesterday, we nearly almost hired a scam moving company called Region Relocations. Thankfully, my ever diligent wife  Martina, the faithful checker of on-line reviews, checked out them out and saw loads of awful ratings. When I asked their customer rep about them, he hemmed and hawed and finally said, "Well, trust more than Yelp." So I said, "Okay, I'll check that out and call you back." Lo and behold, while they were definitely licensed and had valid insurance (as required by law), about 5 of the red flags listed for problematic movers applied to Region Relocations.

Incidentally, when I got off the phone with the rep, telling him that I'd call him back after checking the government website, he sounded VERY dejected -- like, Eeyore-levels dejected. That's red flag #6, if you're keeping track at home.

On the bright side, we got amazingly cheap plane tickets to Tucson. Apparently nobody is willing to fly to the desert during the hottest month of the year, the wusses.

** And that's saying something. When I moved from Athens, OH to Murfreesboro, TN five years ago, I couldn't move there directly because I spend the two months between the move in England visiting the then-fiancĂ©e. So I had to box everything up, sent half of it to Pennsylvania to reside with the grandparents, and asked a friend to store the other half and send it to me when I finally moved to the Murf. I got pretty lucky that worked out (and pretty lucky I had such a good friend!). I also arrived in the Murf a week before I could move into my apartment, but that's another story.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Joining the Legions of the Gainfully Employed

Okay. So, last Friday was a day of major ups and downs for me. I'll start off with the good news. I've been waiting until I got my official contract before I announced it, but . . . . I GOT A JOB!!!!!  It's a full-time lecturer position at . . . get this . . . the University of friggin' Arizona. I couldn't be more stoked to be joining a state flagship research institution. It's the ideal place for someone like me to land, and the wife and I have been googling the area, the city of Tucson, and the university like crazy since we got confirmation. My initial schedule is also awesome -- four classes, all MWF, and from 12 noon to 4 pm. 

What makes this job even sweeter is that, a month ago, I believed that I had completely struck out on this year's job market -- a whopping 0-90. UA put their job ad up on June 20th (cuz they hadn't had their budget finalized yet, as I later found out), and my interview a few weeks later went really well. The rigorous GTA training program from my doctoral institution really helps. 

Now, we're busily planning how to move cross-country in about 2 weeks time. Making the whole situation even more nail-biting is that our lease is up at the end of this month -- we hadn't been able to make ANY future plans until the whole job situation was settled. As it is, because of arcane leasing rules, we'll have to rent out our apartment 1-month past the lease (for August) while we're also paying rent for the place in Arizona. No help for it, though -- just one of the casualties of taking a cross-country academic job one month prior to the semester.

Last Friday, though, also had some bad news. My grandfather, James Wilson, passed away. He was the best man I ever knew, and he and my grandmother are the only reasons I was able to attend graduate school. I flew up to PA on Sunday, had the viewing Monday, and the funeral today. Both my brother and I offered eulogies. My great regret is that I couldn't tell him the good news I'd learned just that morning. He will be greatly missed.

Those crazy leftist professors and their Nobel-winning economists

So, yeah, the Wall Street Journal is crazy, but this article caught my eye. The gist is that not all "radical leftists" (aka, college professors) are "crazy." The reference is to center-left criticisms of a Duke professor touting a conspiracy theory about a Nobel-prize winning economist James Buchanan. At least the article writer makes it sound like a conspiracy theory -- this could simply be a normal academic discussion about a particular work, which strikes me as much more likely than a so-called conspiracy theory.

Anyway, what's especially interesting about this is James Buchanan. I've heard the name, but only because he's one of my graduate university's most favored sons -- he got his undergrad from Middle Tennessee State, and we have a nifty plaque of him on-campus. (It's about 1/50th the size of the status of the football coach for our completely unknown football program, though!)

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Cringe-worthy Academic Movie Reviews

So, I recently signed up to do an academic review of a Okja (2017), a film directed by South Korean director Joon-ho Bong, for Science Fiction Film & Television.  You know -- just as one of those things to be productive. Anyway, film's not exactly my wheelhouse, and I've never really seen academic reviews of films before, so I printed off some sample reviews from SFF&T

In the half dozen I sampled, I discovered two things:

A) unlike a blog or website review for a film, I'm going to have to try hard to be smart here. Which is to say, some of the reviews were damn good, so I'll have to stay on my toes to achieve that level of quality.

B) two of the sample reviews, however, waded into the area of "cringe-worthy." Well-written, but slanted to the point of unbelievability.

The first was of the film Ex Machina, which I loved.


Anyway, Ex Machina. The guy did a feminist review of the film, and his major contention is that the super likeable male protagonist, who is left to starve to death by the female robot with whom he fell in love, completely deserved to die that slow lingering death because . . . well, cuz patriarchy. Otherwise an insightful review, but that takeaway just left me shaking my head.

The other one, about Joss Whedon's The Avengers, was even rougher. I don't think I could summarize it with any justice, but the basic gist was that it allowed all its white male protagonists to silence and marginalize the major female and minority characters. That's certainly a possible against-the-grain interpretation of the film partially justified by certain scenes, but it's still a darn good movie at the end of the day with a lot of virtues that get ignored. To view it as fundamentally repressive or regressive is to view it through an excessively narrow ideological or critical lens.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Oh boy, Mickey Spillane

The tropes of hard-boiled detective, and particularly hard-boiled prose, have been so relentlessly parodied that it comes as a shock to see them in non-ironic contexts. I had a few Mickey Spillane books lying around and, although I almost never read detective fiction, I've been meaning to try him out because:

(A)  He was massively popular in his day, and I like to keep  my snobbishness at bay, and
(B) Ayn Rand, of all people, absolutely loved him.

Anyway, I'm only three chapters into a very short book, and it's already a struggle. The detective's name is Mike Hammer (HAMMER, for crying out loud) and he's so bitter, cynical, and sneering that I absolutely detest him already. But the prose, the prose! If you believe in gems of atrociousness, then I submit to you the following:

  • "Two drunks with a nickel between them were arguing over what to play on the juke box until a tomato in a dress that was too tight a year ago pushed the key that started off something noisy and hot" (5). This is the very first page of the book, mind you.
  • "[The picture] was a big shot of Marsha in a pre-Civil War dress that came up six inches above her waist before nature took over" (33). I can't be sure until I do some historical, OED-level research, but I think Mike Hammer may be talking about boobs.
  • "I let my hat drop and it stayed on the floor. My hands ran up her arms until my fingers were digging into her shoulders and I drew her in close. She was all woman, every bit of her. Her body was taut, her . . "  Well, I'll trail off here -- there could be children reading this. Suffice to say that "nature took over" very shortly thereafter. But seriously, she was all woman?!?!?!?!?

Spillane, Mickey. The Big Kill. New York: Signet, 1951.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Angel Carter gives me my come-uppance

Originally, I had wanted to title this entry "'Bums aloft!" (and other reasons not to read Angela Carter)," but, unfortunately, I'm afraid I'll have to eat goat on this one. The culprit is The Invention of Angela Carter: A Biography by Edmund Gordon, a book for which I'm currently doing a review. Alas and alack, greater knowledge of Carter has led to a greater personal appreciation for her, forcing me to revise my earlier cutting opinions. This is why you shouldn't read stuff. I often tell me students, "If a little learning is a dangerous thing, think of how dangerous a lot of learning is -- and I don't want that on my conscience." In this case, however, it's too late for me.

Anyway, here's why I didn't like Carter -- as varied as her writing is (and I never denied the talent), I just loathe most postmodern books. Things like Kurt Vonnegut and Tim O'Brien are exceptions, but I really, really, really dislike that excessively self-conscious, metafictional, wink-wink-look-at-me-subverting-reading-norms type of fiction. The Crying of Lot 49 is a canonical culprit, as is Delilo's White Noise, but so is Carter's Nights at the Circus. On the opening page of that novel, in fact, Carter has a paragraph describing the winged protagonist, Fevvers, being lifted up into the air for an acrobatics act -- hence the "bums aloft" line.*** 

Now, I perfectly understand why some people go gaga over that kind of writing, but it just irritates the heck out of me. The subsequent narrative coyness doesn't help -- the constant suggests that you can't trust the narrator, that what you're reading isn't how things really are, etc. All of it's quite clever, but as a reader I need something more. Rather than being an organic part of the fiction, such as in the case of Nick Carraway in The Great Gatsby, such unreliability and metafictional cuteness just seems like mockery, making fun of the reader for wanting to enjoy a good book. Although the rest of Carter's writing often strikes a different tone, it's her sense of overly precious literariness that makes me want to throw her fiction across the room.

Sadly, though, after reading Gordon's biography, I found myself really liking Angela Carter as a person. Some of the random cool things about her:

  • She's really funny. Her letters to friends are sprinkled with gems such as the following: “I get a lot of stuff asking me to subscribe to anti-pornography groups, and others asking me to subscribe to pro-pornography groups, but very little actual pornography” (400).
  • She loves to exaggerate. Given my own sense of humor, I'm on-board with this.
  • She's not nearly as pretentious as I expected from her writing
  • She couldn't ride a bike or drive a car. Same here. Phew on you, late modernity!
  • She married a guy 15 years younger. My wife did the same -- although the current French president has us all beat.

In short, at the end of the book, I really wanted Angela Carter to be my friend. I'm never going to have any affection for her writing, but I think much better of it than I did before I finished Gordon's fantastic biography.

Gordon, Edmund. The Invention of Angela Carter: A Biography. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2016. Print.

*** Also, all that "Leda and the Swan" imagery. Fevvers combines the two because, see, she's a bird woman! But the actual myth is quite horrific -- as indicated by Yeats's poem of the same name. Of course, Carter is never one to shy away from a theme just because of a little bestiality, but it did put me off. For the sake of fairness, though, Carter also uses the Leda myth allusion in The Magic Toyshop, and I found that more effective and horrifying.