Friday, August 24, 2018

Ego much?

Well, here's an object lesson in how one is never too old or too famous to be childish.

I recently had to reject a book review submission for being an incompetent hatchet job . . .  though, of course, I phrased my evaluation much more professionally than that and, technically, gave him the option of revising or bowing out of the review. (Obviously, he took the latter option.) When I asked for the return of the $30 book, which the reviewer received for free, he threw a minor hissy fit and refused. Oh, just grow up, for Chrissakes.

UPDATE: Okay, I take back some of the attitude from the above post. We had a little bit of a back-and-forth email exchange afterward, and he remained professional, though he was still clearly hopping mad about our decision. 

He also mentioned that asking for the return of a book was outside normal reviewing conventions, which might well be true, I suppose. My only concern had been that the publisher had given us that free book in good faith of having it reviewed, and I'd wanted to make good on that.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Forthcoming article on Zimmer's Alliterative Poetry

Well, I'm having the loveliest day today. Just got the peer review back for an article I had submitted, and it begins: "This paper is an enjoyable and effective discussion of Zimmer’s work against the background of the alliterative poetry. . . . "

Mind you, that's the exactly the sort response that I expect to receive every time I submit a paper for publication, but alas, the vast majority of the ice-cold hearts of cold-blooded reviewers remain unmelted. . . .  :)

Still, what's extra nice is that I greatly admire Zimmer's work, and this will be the first peer-reviewed article on his fiction.*** The subject matter -- alliterative poetry -- is also an entirely new field for me. Literally everything I know about the topic was learned in the process of researching Zimmer for an entirely different article on his work (which I submitted for publication a few weeks ago, btw). In fact, prior to that researching process, I had never even encountered Zimmer's alliterative work or understood their influence on his prose style. 

Interesting tidbit: usually, academic writing is a process of agony for me. My other Zimmer article, for example, took me four painstaking months, and my Donaldson article on gender violence took at least 5 months and possibly even six. This alliterative poetry essay, though, was composed in only two weeks. I'm still not entirely sure what made things so relatively easy. I suspect it may have to do with the straightforwardness of the argument -- anything requiring abstract concepts and careful theorizing, as those other essays did, just ups my agony factor to 11.

***A quality fan article by Bruce Byfield did appear in 1985, however.

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Fall 2018 General Meeting

Thursday was our General Meeting for Writing Program instructors. Although I hated these things as a grad student, I'm a big fan now that I'm a lecturer brimming with free time (relatively speaking!). Anyway, this particular get-together was particularly interesting thanks to our invited speaker, a radical rhet/comp theoretician by the name of Dr. Asao B. Inoue.

First things first -- he was a highly energetic, engaging speaker. Second things second -- he didn't pull any punches. Basically, his first statement to us was, "Grading is racist." (Put into slightly more theoretical language, which he did later: standard institutional forms of assessment reflect white hegemony and privelege.) Basically, one must act and think "white" in order to function well in such a system.

As a result, Dr. Inoue argues for "contract grading."  While not a new concept, he makes it even more radically by assigning a grade -- because one has to as an university-affiliated professor -- based on work produced and behavior, not on the "quality" of work produced. In other words, if you simply turn in the relevant assignments, you'll get a B. If you turn in a few extra assignments, you'll get an A. In the process, Inoue also emphasizes a lot of community-orientated activities such as peer review, presentations, audience awareness, and so forth, but yeah -- that's the basis of his social justice Freireian pedagogy. Success should be about learning -- not grades, which imperfectly measure learning and even inhibit learning due to their "punitive" nature. (I believe there is some research supporting that.)  Competition between students, such as suggested when teachers are forced to grade according to a standard bell curve, is the enemy. Even worse, it discourages co-operation. Classes should be stress-free and focused on well-being; Inoue's classes even begin with a 5-minute meditation and mindfulness session.

 Needless to say, I'm not a convert. While I have a certain broad sympathy with Dr. Inoue's general leanings and the great faith in places in students, I'm pretty much constitutionally unsympathetic to anything that devalues the quality of writing produced. At the end of the day, I just don't see anything problematic with distinguishing between, say, a good annotated bibliography and a bad annotated bibliography. Likewise, while I recognize the limitations of assessing student work via grades, I'm still pretty okay with handing them out.***

Still, it was a fun talk to which to listen -- and being exposed to new ideas in the field of the subject I'm teaching (First Year Writing) is never a waste of time. So, all-around productive day.

Now, time to finish my dratted syllabus for Monday . . . .

***Incidentally, grades were much more important to me as a student than they are as a teacher, and I think student interest in grades can be extraordinarily healthy.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Tell me how you really feel . . .

Here's an unexpected wrinkle in the life of a reviews editor. I gave a book to a reviewer some months back, and they just messaged me hoping to beg off from finishing the review -- apparently, they thought the book so execrable that, in their view, putting their candid opinion into print wouldn't do anyone any good at all. I admit that I'm now burning with curiosity to hear the (former) reviewer's critiques. The book's outside my academic field per se but has a fascinating title, so I read it when the publisher first sent it to me. While its survey-like treatment of the subject matter was disappointingly lacking in ambition, I didn't think the volume that bad. Our (now former) reviewer, however, has quite a bit of experience, so I'm just itching here.

UPDATE: The reviewer's now going to give the review the good ole' college try, which fortunately saves me the trouble of figuring out what to do with the book, thank goodness.

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Academic blog guilt

Sadly enough, I know I've been neglecting this academic blog. Most of the reason simply revolves around being too obsessed about the recent spat of articles I've been finishing up: two new articles on Paul Edwin Zimmer, both of which have been submitted for review, and a revision of my Donaldson essay on gender violence which came back "revise and resubmit" about a month ago. All that's left is the SRD piece, and I've been frantically revising that -- no matter what I do (and I realize I'm a perfectionist), I simply can't seem to get it "right." My self-imposed deadline for the article was yesterday, but I had to tell the editor that it'll take another week.

Unfortunately, the upcoming semester begins in 10 days -- on Monday, August 20th, to be exact. I still haven't looked over the material for my online courses, either, so I'll be frantically engaged with that over the upcoming week, plus a few general meetings for department members.

Alas, it'll be a rough week. Curiously enough, it might feel like a "break" when the semester actually starts up again.