Sunday, November 07, 2010

Decisions, Decisions

This spring and summer I'll be heading off to a string of conferences: first to the ACLA (American Comparative Literature Association) conference in Vancouver, then to PCA in Texas, and then, in June, to New York City, for the the Third International Conference on Popular Romance. I need to decide what to speak about for each of these--which is to say, to plan my research and writing agenda for the rest of the school year.

Folks, I'm stumped. Let me list the parameters, and may be you can help.

My current project list Prof. H. M. Wogglebug’s Great Big List of Things to Do!") tells me that a few writing projects are already locked in, which might help shape my decisions.

First off, there's my current work in progress, an essay on poets Mike Heller, Harvey Shapiro, and Stanley Moss. Not much to be done with that for a panel about romantic love at ACLA, or at the popular culture conferences. On the other hand, the ACLA panel would be a good venue for me to revisit and build upon my work from the last piece I did for Parnassus, on three Palestinian poets. When I invited my colleague Nesreen to participate, I did so because I wanted to do more with Darwish for this next ACLA meeting: maybe something on Darwish as a love poet.

Now, though, I'm having second thoughts--that seems so far from everything else I'm working on these days (popular romance, Bollywood film, etc.) that I'm not sure it's the best, most focused use of my time. Not to be crass, but what does it get me to give that talk? No closer to a new book, or at least to any book that I know I'm already working on. (It could be the start of another book...but at this point, I need to finish up projects, not start entirely new ones!)

(It's also anxiety-provoking to give a professional talk on poetry that I can only read in translation, unless I'm specifically discussing the translations as poetry in English--for example, I could talk about Michael Sells little book of translations from Ibn 'Arabi, Stations of Desire, because it also includes original work by Sells, so there's some overlap. But again, that's not popular culture, or part of any project that I know I'm working on yet. So is it worth pursuing?)

What else am I up to?

There's a revision I have to do by December 31, turning my IASPR talk on shame and happy endings in romance fiction--the one I gave last summer--into a publishable essay for the conference proceedings. That has some application to a project I could work on for the PCA and IASPR conferences. At the moment, this piece ends by focusing on Jennifer Crusie's novel Welcome to Temptation, but I drafted a section on the ending of Susan Elizabeth Phillips' Natural Born Charmer, a book I know very well, having taught it several times in the last few years. I could easily talk about this book from a couple of perspectives: the complexity of its ending, which is what I've already drafted, and also its reflections on the aesthetics of popular romance vis a vis modernism and other forms of popular culture.

One thing I could do would be to decide, right now, that the PCA and IASPR talks will be about Natural Born Charmer, from one perspective or another. Hm. Maybe that's a good idea. Feels oddly limiting, but that's probably a good thing--my impulses are always to scatter myself, so if it feels wrong, it's probably right.

I know that I'll be turning a conference paper I did some years ago on Jennifer Crusie's mysteries into my contribution to the anthology that I'm co-editing on her work. I could revisit that paper for ACLA, and talk about the encounter of various genres in Fast Women: romance, noir detective fiction, even poetry. But that doesn't allow for much discussion of the international / comparative issue at the heart of the seminar. Or I could do a paper about poetry in popular romance more generally: how it's used, and what happens when it shows up. (How, though, to establish the corpus?) There's a Turkish bestseller that brings Rumi into a story about domestic love-life in 20th century America: Forty Rules of Love. It might be an interesting point of comparison to...something. Maybe to some other book that has love and poetry in it. If I'd read it. Which I haven't, yet.

Or, since I'm thinking about doing a book about Bollywood movies at some point, I could take advantage of ACLA to do another Bollywood talk. The one on Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na went very well, and turned into a couple of spin-off projects: a second talk, this one at the Film / Love conference next week; a summer research grant to revise and expand it for possible publication.

If I were to do something about Bollywood, I might focus on issues of sacred and secular love in Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi. That's a topic that interests me more generally. It could even be comparative: RNBDJ and Redeeming Love, for example: the Francine Rivers novel that I'll be teaching in the winter. Or maybe with that Forty Rules book in the mix. Or maybe add in Joey Hill, the BDSM romance author, since her work gives a slightly different twist to the whole notion of worshiping the beloved. (Heh.)

Or, since I have another paper on Sufi poetry in the ACLA seminar, I could do something on Jodhaa Akbar, although that film has already gotten some attention from scholars (unlike RNBDJ, whose status as romantic comedy has made it less appealing to serious critics). Or Sufi love in Darwish, where it also comes up as an anti-mono-cultural trope. Heck, I thought of doing something on Sufi love in the songs of Richard Thompson, but that's been discussed by others... and I'm not quite sure what I'd say about or do with it. (Thanks to Mark S, though, for putting that Frank Zappa song "Dirty Love" into my head with "Sufi Love" as the new lyric.)

Speaking of songs, I could do something on the intersections of high and low culture, Western and non-Western versions of love in Leonard Cohen songs. I've been struck by how the lay critical discourse about Cohen--on this or that on-line forum about his work, for example--marks an ongoing version in popular culture of the kinds of discussion that go on (or used to go on) about poets in academia. So there's another crossroads: academic and non-academic "scholarship."

And ACLA is in Canada. And he's a Jewish writer, and my department chair thinks I need to keep pushing the Jewish studies work.

Oh, I don't know, friends. I don't know. Help!


Sarah S. G. Frantz said...

You HAVE to stick to work that will get you somewhere. Your book on romance, which you HAVE to get done before you start on Bollywood (she says selfishly). Wasn't there a chapter about something comparative that we worked out? And I think PCA and IASPR should be the same talk or the same book. :)

E. M. Selinger said...

This is why I asked, Sarah! Not sure if there's an actual comparative thing in the chapters we talked through. But there are a couple of books we talked about that engage precursor texts: Redeeming Love and the biblical book of Hosea; Fast Women and The Maltese Falcon (and that Roethke poem). Phyllida and several precursors (Austen, etc.). Does one of those sound like the one that popped into your mind?

Could also re-run some version of the Kinsale at ACLA (romance and Milton). Frees up time, but doesn't move things forward.

The love and religion thing could be fun if I got to do Rivers and Hill in the same paper!

Let me see if I can think of a Natural Born Charmer talk that would fit ACLA. Nothing coming to mind yet, but I'll think about it. Encounter with the foreign, the other, shattering of NBC? Hm.

E. M. Selinger said...

Or maybe, since the purpose of the seminar was to bring high art & popular culture romance scholars together--maybe I should speak about THAT. What might be learned from that conjunction, how it plays out in the texts themselves, what a comparativist perspective might reveal in both sorts of texts. (Not least, how hard it is to police the high art / pop culture boundary.)

A sort of "Romance High and Low" talk?

Jonathan said...

Sarah is correct, write the book (I say this for selfish reasons as well!). As for the high/low divide, you know that I think this is an important project and I have been working through this question as well...I wonder if that could be a sort of introductory question in your book? But, how much credence do we give to this question? I say this because this is the way I was able to "sneak" popular romance into my dissertation. My field exams were on "romance" which meant 19th century, from there, I was able to include Twilight (the only popular romance on my list). So, as much as I want to answer the question, I am reluctant to let that question dominate research of popular romance. It all seems very Bloomian to me.

E. M. Selinger said...


Well, as you probably suspected, the purpose of raising the question is to complicate or undermine it, from multiple angles. (Features of pre-modern literary "romance" that we now allocate only to the popular; features of the literary that show up pervasively in popular romance; the instability of the boundary, etc.)

An Goris said...

For what it's worth, here's my two cents. I'm pro this idea of doing something on the high/low divide with regards to romance and am wondering if you could connect this (in the case study part of the paper?) to the use/status/ ... of poetry in some popular romance novels. Here's why:
- I selfishly want you to work on romance. You're one of the top scholars in the field - I don't want to loose you to poetry. They've had you for a long time already. But you need to flesh out your actual romance publications, so work on developing something that will (in the not so very distant future) be part of a publication.
- The more important, less selfish reason: based on the work I've seen from you these past couple of years, this high/low question goes to the very heart of your interest in romance novels AND makes the best of your very impressive analytical skills and theory chops. If you can somehow connect the high/low issue to the poetry question - e.g. how is poetry used in romance novels and how does this relate to issues of cultural hierarchy, place the novels in this dynamic, etc. (remember the brief discussion you gave in class last year about the cultural "placing" function of the brief poetry quotations at the beginning of one of Roberts' novels? You don't have to work with Roberts, but in this kind of work (like in your analysis of Kinsale) I often find you are at your very best because you are combining the multiple areas in which you are trained (romance, poetry, theory in the IASPR talk).

That's my two cents. It comes with the warning that I'm a popular romance scholar, so my heart does beat as frantically for the sole-poetry piece suggestions you made.

Sarah S. G. Frantz said...

What about NBC and the rock n' roll thing, Eric? I know you wanted to work on that. What about...Kinsale's For My Lady's Heart/Sir Gawain connection, although that's not helpful b/c you've already got a Kinsale chapter. What about Brockmann's WWII tragic love triangle vs. the HEA of Tom and Kelly in The Unsung Hero? I like An's idea of engaging with poetry and I don't think you need a corpus, because that's not what you DO. You just look at one text. But is there a text out there that engages poetry? Lots of author heroes/heroines. What about POET heroes/heroines who actually include poetry in text? (Do NOT go back to Possession--we talked about that! :)

E. M. Selinger said...

I was just joking about a corpus, Sarah--no worries. I know what I do!

One text for poetry is harder, though. Can think of several where it comes up peripherally, but centrally...let me think. Must be one or two of Mary's: maybe that's a way to go?

Or there's the romance & religion angle, with Redeeming Love. Which I could do differently from anyone else--not being Christian or interested in sociology of reading. Would help if I'd already read it, dag nabbit.

Sarah S. G. Frantz said...

Redeeming Love is an utterly fascinating book, IMO (having read it), because of how *different* it is from a "normal" romance. I'd be fascinated to (have someone else) read more Inspirationals and see if Regis' 8 elements hold for them because I don't think they do.

And then you could compare RL to Buchanan's HARD FALL, which really *is* a hardcore BDSM Mormon Inspy. :)