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Archive for September 2009


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17,000 words or so this month, subdivided into a bunch of small projects. Am currently only late for a single deadline – a massively long review of Jameson’s Modernist Papers. That must count for something! Oy. It’s in my bag, the book. Oh, and something for the journal that pollian runs – sorry, pollian! Has it gone long enough that I can swap books? Could I do this instead? Would love to have the right to a review copy, as Ads is complexly, on paper, broke!

Have developed some form of graphomania as a result of this schedule, and am spending the spare moments today between meetings with students converting an old post from this site into a piece that I will submit to a journal tonight,  on spec, just before the deadline listed on the cfp. Decided just this morning to do this. Why not?

A longer post to come, almost done,  about academia and grub street but for now: lists of things to do, incessant small movement forward, these hold the darkness at bay, it is true.

UPDATE: It’s now the next morning. Fell asleep at 10 PM last night, woke at 3 AM. It’s like there’s an internal alarm clock that rings exactly five hours after consciousness flickers out. But I spent 3 AM – 7:15 AM sitting at my kitchen table, and now have a finished piece, the first one to be wholly drafted on here. Will send in a few hours from my office. But we’re now at 20,000 words for the last thirty or so days. That is, by the way, nearly double the pace that reputedly killed George Orwell:

Suddenly he was a widower and a single parent, eking out a threadbare life in his Islington lodgings, and working incessantly to dam the flood of remorse and grief at his wife’s premature death. In 1945, for instance, he wrote almost 110,000 words for various publications, including 15 book reviews for the Observer.

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September 30, 2009 at 2:49 pm

Posted in grub

busy man i am

with 11 comments

1. Was browsing in the LRB Bookshop today and picked up a particularly handsome and fronttabled book about literature in my period. Hmm… Lovely, I thought, I’d like mine to look just like this. I wonder who the publisher…

My heart fell when I realized that the book was published by a house that had read my dissertation back in 2005 and expressed enthusiasm about publishing the fucker. I had turned them down, as said fucker needed work, and besides, we were taught, back in the golden years and by people whose career paths had been paved in gold, not to publish with commercial presses as it looks bad on the CV.

Fuck. Fuck. Perhaps I’ll try again with them now, in a much worse publishing environment, and several years on. But the thought of all I might have been doing with this monstrosity off my plate…. Fuck.

2. Have been writing (and missing deadlines) more or less constantly. For the current thing, all the famous people have theirs in; mine is basically the only one outstanding. And I am not famous, sadly. But the interesting thing is that approximately a third of the piece was cut and pasted (and, sure, heavily editted) from the blog, which actually seems to be becoming the notebook-type resource that I’ve always intended it to be.

Good news is that I think this thing I am just about to finish is probably the best thing I’ve written since the piece that got me both jobs that I’ve had. You have to wait for Ads’s products, but sometimes Ads’s products are ok. Wish I could link to all of it on here. One day! Soon!

3. Went to a meeting with my kid’s school teacher today. They start a year earlier here than they do in the US, which I suppose means one day my daughter, if we ever move back to the US, will turn out to be brilliant and troubled. Anyway: was astounded by the amount of material that we learn when we go to school. The letters and numbers, counting and reading, writing and adding. And then all the other stuff.

The teacher has asked me, in my capacity as a university lecturer, to come do things for the kids. I am thinking Isotypes. What do you think?

One of the other girls, quickly becoming one of my daughter’s friends, has a pair of academic parents. What sucks is that the mom likely just read a friend’s job application that didn’t work out. (They didn’t hire me either when I applied….) What is funny is that the dad reminds me of a character on Mad Men, spitting image, but it’s not that flattering a comparison. He also flirted like shit with my wife tonight, unaware perhaps that I was her husband. Hmmm…..

4. I am a bit crestfallen that I won’t have an opportunity to go on my daily run tomorrow. What busy lives we lead! But running is actually starting to help – I go to sleep earlier than I’ve ever done, as I’m actually normal-tired at the end of the day instead of rangey-exhausted.

5. A year and a half in, and I am actually starting to make friends with my colleagues. I mean I was friendly enough before, but now there’s a weekly meetup of guys, and this is a good sign for me, you have no idea.

6. School starts next week. Americans will be shocked to hear this, but the first week of university here is mostly taken up with drinks parties – no, not just for us, but for us with the students, i.e. new undergraduates. What a dissolute place this is. I have pledged myself to remain not quite dry, but dry enough, during said parties. I do like the party involving the MA students, who again, now that the pound has fallen against the dollar, will be largely American. It’s funny to see their faces fall when it dawns on them that they’ve paid all this money to participate in enormous numbers of seminars with a guy from New Jersey.

7. I am not sure, but I think I might have a sockpuppet problem.

8. I have decided to ask my parents for some money, as I likely need it. You might have heard, but the cost of living in London is a wee bit high.

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September 24, 2009 at 11:43 pm

Posted in academia

sunday post – 660 AM

with 10 comments

We almost always end up eating separately, in various combinations, now. Sometimes it’s my wife and I in the kitchen and the kids in the other room (in front of the tv, ugh, sorry god of parenting!) but tonight it was my wife and the baby in the living room and my daughter and I at the table in the garden.

She actually sits and the table and eats. She is 4 and I am still 32. Negotiates, of course, but does eat. There is corn on her plate – they call it sweetcorn here, but I say of course it’s sweet, it’s corn for christ’s sake! She doesn’t want to eat it because it is yellow and yellow “is not a tasty color.” I know what she means, but still – it’s fucking corn!

I tell her that she is American, and that all Americans, by nature and nuture, love corn and so she should eat it. She reiterates the issue of the yellowness. But still she is sitting and eating with me, alone at a table and under the broad London sky, and I think a new thought: ah, a lifetime of having dinner with my daughter. I will take her out when she is 8 and when she is 16. I will visit her at the university she attends – maybe I’ll give a paper at the university she attends and have dinner with her after. I will be older then, and she will tell her friends that she is having dinner with her father, who is giving a paper.  And then later too, when she is working and loving and maybe having her own kids. We will sit like this.

I am surrounded by females. It is as if someone were around to bless me because this is not what I deserve. I deserve much worse than to be surrounded by females, which is what I would have selected from the menu if menu there were.

I tell her about corn on the cob. It is astounding, in a sense, that she does not know what this is. When I was growing up, I can remember right from the start the special corncob holders, the plastic holders with metal spikes. I will get her some – they sell corn on the cob at Tesco, I noticed. The holders may have to wait till we’re in the US at Christmas.

I decide that we should listen to the Yankee game, in the late summer eating dinner in the garden – in our yard. But the iPhone indicates that the Yankees are playing later. We try the Mets instead – and the iPhone feed is WFAN. I tell her that her grandfather and I listened to WFAN together all the time, and before WFAN was WFAN we listened to its predecessor, WNBC. Both at 66o AM in New York, in New Jersey. She asks if Poppy is listening to this too, the Mets game, and I tell her maybe, though I doubt it. I tell her that we listened to this station while he drove me to school everyday, and since she has just in the last week or so started going to school herself, she is interested.

I eat my salad and my buttered bread. I soak up the dressing with the last piece. I promise to dance with her if she eats four bites of the corn that she calls sweetcorn, and she does, and we then dance.

I’ll be a better father to them the older they get. I tell myself this, but it is probably true. My daughter, at any rate, is now a person, one who eats dinner with her father and talks about stuff.

I hope all of  the females in my life will forgive me –  I will get better at this as I go along.

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September 20, 2009 at 11:59 pm

Posted in america, in the yard

cross your fingers

with 4 comments

Henri Lefebvre in the second volume of The Critique of Everyday Life:

Up until now, one of the great paradoxes of the twentieth century has been that capitalist economy has apparently taken the form of a “pleasure economy.” Like a caricature of itself, this economy some times goes so far as to become organized waste. Since it conceals the economy of power while organizing, controlling and pulverizing pleasure, it is a form of mystification. In fact, as regards quantity and quality, it is very restricted. In a contradictory way it arouses many needs and desires, some artificial, the rest unsatisfied. Satisfaction is characterized by accident and contingency. It is “a stroke of good fortune”, a windfall, a happy piece of luck. In so far as the words mean anything, joy and happiness consist of a series of favourable encounters and chances. Freedom, so frequently exalted, is no more than the skill of making the most of luck and chance…. This explains the importance of luck and chance both in the highest theoretical thinking and in the ideologies some extremely unsophisticated people adopt and “live” on a practical basis.

The last line is a zinger. Sometimes it seems to be that the left-philosophical / theoretical tradition as a whole placed its chips on black when it should have been red, chance and contingency when it should have gone with the opposite of those things (patient waiting? slow building?). As a result, it learned only to dream permissible dreams, became fascinated by the very dynamics of a system that it would replace.

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September 18, 2009 at 3:40 pm

Posted in lefebvre

awk, ads

with 3 comments

It’s not hard to describe the pain of writing. You type and the other part of you says No, not good or sometimes scribbles in the margins in ink visibile only to you AWK. And so the first you backspaces and starts again. And again you hear, from the other guy, Nope. Awkward. And this goes on for quite awhile until you finish the piece, progressing in a way best described as an inside-outing of the Zeno’s arrow paradox.

I am rewriting a section of this into my piece on waiting. The blog is the only place (perhaps you can tell – ugh) where the process above does not apply. And thus I’m beginning to have a sense that the most efficient way for me to get writing done is simply to scribble every night on here and then, later, go back and see what can be combed out of all this knotted stuff. I am combing more out of this knotted stuff, and it seems to be OK to do that.

Interesting to think: I only write easily when I write under another name. When I have a sense that my own name is going to be on the thing – and it’s hard not to have that sense when I tap into the first two lines of every document THE TITLE and then MY NAME, right back to Catholic school training that, see also APOTAAAYM.) But under the pseduo, even though the pseudo is becoming increasingly less pseudoffective all the time, I can simply type. If I could remember my Derrida on some level other than a sort of intellectual muscle-memory, I could probably come up with something clever to say about all of this. But now, really, back to the cutting, pasting, and strenuous editting.

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September 17, 2009 at 11:31 am

Posted in blogs, writing

the list

with 11 comments


So the MLA job list is out. Totally not on the market, myself, thank god… just spectating and for-statisical-purposes-only looking. I wouldn’t be happy if I were going out this year – I’d imagine that there are half or a third of the jobs available vs. the year when I first went out, and  maybe only one that I’d have been relatively happy to have. Of course there’s still more to come, but what do people think? How’s it look to you?

Just to explain, for people who aren’t in the business: the MLA job list, which contains almost every job that will be available during the coming year in language and literature departments in North America, comes out once a year, today actually. The process is incredibly long, getting an academic job in literature – the listings that arrived today won’t be filled until late January at the very earliest. Gruelling, it is. You spend the summer preparing your stack of job materials (CV, writing sample, dissertation description, teaching statement), send off and wait. Later, you might be asked for another writing sample. If you’re lucky, sometime in November or so will invite you to an interview at the conference (this year, like almost every year it seems, it’s in Philadelphia. I’ve already been to two in that city.) After that, three or four people will be asked to visit the campus, give a talk, meet with students and potential colleagues, and go out for a few awkward dinners. Then, after all of that, you wait for the department to get its act together, schedule a meeting and vote (in most cases – some place do the actual deciding part differently).

So much more complicated and arduous than the process in the UK, where you get a stack of apps, read them, a committee argues out four to bring in, then you interview them serially and make a call within an hour. Doesn’t take much more than a month, listing to filling. But that’s what America gets for being a great big country full of land-grant universities, I guess. And I’ll cop to preferring the campus visit, in the end. It is strange, passing strange, to be offered a job without having met your future colleagues in any scenario other than the gladiatorial contest of the interview. *

Nothing remarkably incisive to say about all of this beyond the capsule rendition of how it works. It is an engine of professionalization, though. American job candidates, almost all of them, spend an entire year focused almost exclusively on this sort of thing – well, save for any teaching they might be doing, and frantic nighttime dissertation finishing. You enter into your first year on the market a kid who likes to read and write; you exit a fully fledged professional academic. Don’t get me wrong – there are good and bad things both about this sort of professionalization. But it is something to note, and perhaps something worth thinking and writing about a bit more, what effect the rhythm of the market has on intellectual life in the academy. Of course it’s always present, informing the decisions that people make about their work etc. But it becomes profoundly present, definitive, in bursts. There the struggle to get into a PhD program, and then relative calm for a few years. Then a frantic burst of market-awareness, then a bit of calm (at least on that front) as you start your job. Then the tenuring process, and after that, if you’ve made it, calm again… until you decide to look for another job… Goes on and on. **

Anyway, here’s Berryman, in a not very successful Dream Song, on the MLA…. Happy hunting to those that are!

* Coetzee actually writes up, quite accurately, the differences between the UK (SA imitating the UK, in this case) and the US style of English department hiring in Summertime, fyi. Wish I had time to type it all in, but not just this minute, as I have my own job to keep.

** Please note: I am fully aware that I am describing only one sort of track through the field, and that there are other tracks. Not everyone, or even most, don’t end up in a straightforward PhD to tenure track to tenure line.

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September 17, 2009 at 11:21 am

Posted in academia

“such as are supplied by the advertising pages of a newspaper or the traffic of a big city”

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Lil help. There’s this clip that one sees in documentaries highend and low centered on London / urban life. A mass of pedestrians, circa say the 1950s, are crossing a busy intersection – actually a circle, if I recall correctly. They don’t wait for the lights – they stride out as a clump, wait at an island, clump out again this time halting a car rather than waiting for it to pass. That’s the whole thing.

Some of you know the clip I’m talking about. Black and white. Crops up all the time. Am writing something and would love to snag a still or stills of this. I’ve seen the clip many times (in fact, recently) but I can’t find the source.

Obviously, it’s not in the one above – that’s just a gift from me to you, a day-brightener.

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September 16, 2009 at 11:33 am

Posted in benjamin, cities