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Archive for September 17th, 2009

awk, ads

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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

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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