Monday, October 19, 2009

On Today's Agenda

It's Monday, and that's my long day this quarter. I got in about an hour ago (10 am), and won't leave until after 9 pm, when my night class gets out and I hit the freeway home.

So: what am I up to today?


Spent some time this morning on a committee project. I'm chair of our department's one-year-old Curriculum Committee, ascending to that noble throne last month. On the table first is a new one-course "Diverse Traditions" requirement for English majors, which we approved last year without ever quite defining what counted as a "Diverse Traditions" course.


As you can imagine, this has led to a certain amount of internal wrangling & Chicago-style politicking. I'm not at liberty to divulge the details, but broadly speaking, we're having to decide which courses will count for this requirement.

Here's some of the language I've been playing with to define the requirement, which I'll bring to the committee and to the department overall in the future for debate. Your thoughts, everyone?
In “Diverse Traditions” courses, students will study authors, texts, or topics that have historically been marginalized by the dominant culture’s literary canon. [I keep wanting to add, "hereinafter referred to as "DCLC," pronounced "De Klerk," but I'll save that for the meetings.]

To receive “Diverse Traditions” status, a course must focus on at least one of the following:

1. Works in English by racially or ethnically marked authors (e.g., Latino/a, Asian American, African American, Native American authors), with attention to how such categories of difference have been constructed and contested over time;

2. Works in English by women, especially authors who have historically been excluded from the literary canon, with attention to how the relationships between gender, authorship, and social power have been constructed and contested over time;

3. Works in English by sexual minorities, especially authors who have historically been excluded from the literary canon, with attention to how the relationships between sexuality, authorship, and social power have been constructed and contested over time;

4. Works in English by working-class authors, especially authors who have historically been excluded from the literary canon, with attention to how the relationships between class, authorship, and social power have been constructed and contested over time;

5. Works in English by immigrant, exiled, or diasporic authors, especially authors who have historically been excluded from the literary canon, with attention to how the relationships between national identity, authorship, and social power have been constructed and contested over time;

6. Works in English by religious minorities, especially authors who have historically been excluded from the literary canon, with attention to how the relationships between religion and social power have been constructed and contested over time;

7. Non-Anglophone works (in translation) from predominantly Anglophone countries (e.g., Britain, Ireland, the United States), with attention to how such literature complicates or counterpoints the national literary narrative of that country;

8. Works by Anglophone authors from outside England and the United States, especially by authors who have historically been excluded from the Anglo-American literary canon;

9. Works of new interest in light of emerging categories of diversity (e.g., Disability Studies, Masculinity Studies), if the course introduces students to these emerging theoretical approaches in a way that will profitably complicate the way these works are taught or read in other contexts.
By separating these out, my plan is to allow debate and voting--if necessary--on each one, line by line, so that no single category can sink or delay the program as a whole.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

From “Spring,” in James Thomson’s The Seasons

A lively discussion's underway over at Teach Me Tonight about the nature of love (here and here) in romance novels and elsewhere. Whenever I hear these discussions, I think of a line from James Thomson's The Seasons—"Perfect esteem enlivened by desire"—which Jean Hagstrum borrowed for the title and epigraph of a very good book a few year ago. The line comes from the "Spring" section of The Seasons, and although you can find the whole text on Google Books, I thought I'd post the immediate context here, for easier reference. (I've added the verse-paragraph breaks, to make the selection a bit easier to read.)


One thing I do notice: Hagstrum (and I, following) have always cut off the quotation at "enlivened by desire." In fact, there's an immediate adjective: "desire / Ineffable." What to make of that, I'll decide another time.


But happy they! the happiest of their kind !

Whom gentler stars unite, and in one fate,

Their hearts, their fortunes, and their beings blend,

'Tis not the coarser tie of human laws,

Unnatural oft, and foreign to the mind.

That binds their peace, but harmony itself

Attuning all their passions into love,

Where friendship still-exerts her softest power,

Perfect esteem enlivened by desire

Ineffable, and sympathy of soul;

Thought meeting thought, and will preventing will.

With boundless confidence : For nought but love

Can answer love, and render bliss secure.


Let him, ungenerous, who, alone intent

To bless himself, from sordid parents buys

The loathing virgin, in eternal care,

Well-merited, consume his nights and days ;

Let barbarous nations, whose inhuman love

Is wild desire, fierce as the suns they feel ;

Let Eastern tyrants from the light of Heaven

Seclude their bosom-slaves, meanly possessed

Of a mere, lifeless, violated form ;

While those whom love cements in holy faith.

And equal transport, free as Nature live,

Disdaining fear. What is the world to them?

Its pomp, its pleasure, and its nonsense all?

Who in each other clasp whatever fair

High fancy forms, and lavish hearts can wish;

Something than beauty dearer, should they look

Or on the mind, or mind-illumin'd face ;

Truth, goodness, honour, harmony, and love,

The richest bounty of indulgent Heaven.


Meantime a smiling offspring rises round

And mingles both their graces. By degrees

The human blossom blows ; and every day,

Soft as it rolls along, shews some new charm

The father's lustre, and the mother's bloom.

The infant reason grows apace, and calls

For the kind hand of an assiduous care.

Delightful talk ! to rear the tender thought.

To teach the young idea how to shoot,

To pour the fresh instruction o'er the mind,

To breathe th' enlivening spirit, and to fix

The generous purpose in the glowing breast.


Oh, speak the joy ! ye, whom the sudden tear

Surprizes often, while you look around,

And nothing strikes your eye but sights of bliss

All various Nature pressing on the heart ;

An elegant sufficiency, content,

Retirement, rural quiet, friendship, books

Ease and alternate labour, useful life,

Progressive virtue, and approving Heaven.

These are the matchless joys of virtuous love ;

And thus their moments fly. The Seasons thus,

As ceaseless round a jarring world they roll,

Still find them happy; and consenting Spring

Sheds her own rosy garland on their heads :

Till evening comes at last, serene and mild ;

When after the long vernal day of life.

Enamour d more, as more remembrance swells

With many a proof of recollected love,

Together down they sink in social sleep ;

Together freed, their gentle spirits fly

To scenes where love and bliss immortal reign.

This & That

Trying something new here: the "write it in Word, as a Blog Post" option. We'll see if it works.


This from Ben Friedlander, over at Facebook: "Tropes involve mental processes; grouping them under the heading 'metaphor,' which is done surprisingly often, is a little like using a globe for a street map."

I remember an interesting discussion of Auden's line, "The hourglass whispers to the lion's roar" (or "lion's paw," in other versions of the poem) that tried to walk students through the set of mental processes it takes to make the line meaningful. Where was that? Reading Poetry, by Tom Furniss and Michael Bath. From the results of this Google search, it looks like the line gets used that way a fair amount, actually.


So now the test: will this post? Is it preferable to the usual interface? One click, and we'll see!

Saturday, October 17, 2009

LIVE at the Poetry Foundation!

Well, not LIVE exactly, but close enough. A column of mine, "Ten Poems I Love To Teach," has been published by the Poetry Foundation, and last week I was interviewed for about an hour for a possible podcast about two of the poems, "The Sun Rising" and "Wild Nights," to be hosted there as well. When it goes up, I'll post the link. In the mean time, you might want to take a look at the new Learning Lab the Poetry Foundation has set up, especially if you're a teacher. Lots of resources, some of which I was a consultant or editor for.


(A twinge: not that this will count for my promotion. But compared to the colleagues I have who were passed over for tenure, for flimsier reasons, I don't have much to complain about--and unlike some of my colleagues at other schools, especially public universities, I haven't been asked to teach for free or even cut back on travel. From now on, when someone asks me whether the glass is half full or half empty, I'm going to tell him, "Dude, I have a glass." Pollyanna, c'est moi.)


This is the first time I've posted anything here in several months. As I wrote last year (last school year, or Jewish year, take your pick), I find Twitter and Facebook now do the job of social connection that this blog once did. I'm not sure whether I'll have the time to post here with any regularity, or to do so particularly thoughtfully. But the mood struck, and the computer was on, so here I am.


The picture I've added above is of the late, great poet Ronald Johnson in his kitchen, back in San Francisco, I believe. The book I co-edited on Ron--the link is to your right--has sold perhaps a hundred copies so far. A labor of love, as they say, as was Ron's work, so I don't feel terribly bad about the slow sales. As the poem says, I never expected much!


Tonight is the Sharing Fest at my wife's church: a fundraiser for parishes in Haiti, Nigeria, and Mexico that she's run for the past seven or eight years. Last year, as usual, this was a terribly stressful time for her, not least because she was heading for Haiti herself soon afterward. This year, someone else is finally running the show, and there's no trip to follow. Much calmer, chez nous, but a real sense, also, that a year has passed.

It's as though I've had three or four New Years in a row: the school year starting, the Jewish holidays, now this. I have such vivid, horrid memories of the time when R was away: sleeplessly grinding out an overdue essay on the poet Lawrence Joseph, taking care of the kids and R's father, who was staying with us at the time, hearing from an editor that my piece was simply too late to use. It all worked out, in the end--but not without some anguished phonecalls back and forth to the tropics (Blackberry works in Limonade!) and a flurry of groveling emails.

Now that piece is out, and the Parnassus essay on Darwish and other Palestinian poets that followed, hot on its heels. I have several projects in motion--books, a new journal, classes, new committee work--but nothing that has me as unhappy as I was a year ago.

As good a time as any to return.