End Of Semester Roundup

Prof Hacker’s end of semester checklist post suggested writing some sort of “End of the Semester Roundup” post so I thought I would write one up. This semester was one of great advancements for me. I taught my first college level courses and had a great time doing so. Originally, my schedule involved teaching two sections of Composition I but during the first week of the semester I ended up adding a section of Composition II as well.

Comp I was a lot of work, but well worth it. I saw a lot of advancement in my student’s work as the semester went on. I also saw a lot if disappointing efforts from others. Teaching writing and grammar also allowed me to sharpen my own skills and talk about some of the adventures I have had over the years as a student and academic. Check out the class weblog for more information.

Composition II was a great joy to teach. I got to teach a lot of my favourite canonical authors like Chopin, Gilman, and Ibsen. An unconscious theme of discussing gender and women’s liberation became a focus of our close readings as the semester advanced through short stories to plays (A Doll House, Othello) and then to poets like Plath and Dickinson. Immediately, a handful of students stood apart from the rest of the class but I also saw many others slowly begin to contribute more and more as they became more comfortable with their own close reading skills. My focus in class was on what my students wanted to discuss. Of course, I would bring lecture notes with ideas I wanted to highlight. However, after our daily, randomly selected, journal readers I would ask the class where they wanted to begin, what they wanted to discuss, and that is where we would start. I could talk for hours about most of the texts we read, but I am more concerned with what my students wish to discuss.

One student in particular started the semester off very slowly only to eventually be the first to raise their hand almost every class. Another only contributed on Fridays, somehow, but always blew our minds with their ideas. Almost every student in class had a day where they stood out and shone brighter than anyone else.

The week of my classroom observation by Dr. Alexander coincided with my favorite week of the semester: the week we discussed (post)modern authors like Borges, Coover, and Auster. I was very impressed with my students and their ability to tackle these difficult texts. I can’t wait to teach 102 again and hope I get a chance to pick up a section in the spring. Check out our course weblog.

This semester I ran our course weblogs on WordPress and am thrilled with the results. I have run WP on a number of websites, including this one, for the past four years and couldn’t be happier with the results. In the spring I think I am going to try the dreaded Blackboard for my classes. As an offsite alternative, I believe I am going to wade my toes into the world of Drupal as well. I am going to spend some time over break considering my options.

I also guest lectured for two classes in Dr. McCadden’s upper level class ENG203 The Origins of Literature. I presented two lectures: “Telemachus & The Search For the Ideal Son in Classical Greek Literature” and “The Odyssey & Nonlinear Reading.”

Another project I am going to finish over break is the long-awaited draft of my article on Shelley Jackson for The Quarterly Conversation. I was supposed to have this completed for the winter issue, but the hectic nature of the fall semester got in the way. Scott Esposito was gracious enough to give me an extension. I’m hoping to have something to him early in the new year.

I have a handful of journal article proposals that I need to send over break as well. A few of them are spinoff projects from my MA thesis and others are ideas that I have brewed for a period of time. Hopefully some of them will be publishable.

in the spring, currently, I am teaching two sections of Comp I. One is MWF, the other TT. This isn’t the most ideal schedule, but hopefully I will pick another Comp I, a Comp II, or another class. I am very happy to have a few weeks off to get some of my work done and prep for the spring. However, I am also excited to get back to Burlington and begin teaching again.

 

Weekly Reader

  • According to her monthly Web Site column, Jeanette Winterson is creating a children’s show for the BBC.
  • Scott Esposito on the role of research in Infinite Jest.  Also see the comment section for some discussion from myself and others on the difference between the sort of notes Wallace and Borges created for their imaginary works.
  • Jacket Copy on John Barth’s The Floating Opera
  • Henry Jenkins on the role of fan fiction as critical commentary on texts.
  • The new issue of Open Letters is, as always, worth your time.
  • Amazon Kindle & The Future Of Content Delivery

    Scott’s post last month about the Kindle’s ability to hold hundreds of books contrasted with most American’s lack of reading got me thinking of how Amazon’s new device could be properly used and/or marketed.  Scott writes:

    And among the majority of the American reading public (as measured by the NEA), anything over 11 books per year is a lot. It doesn’t really make sense to have an ebook reader that can hold hundreds of titles at once, unless you’re planning on being the one to sell hundreds of books to fill it.

    A lot of people I know who own a Kindle note that one of the most pleasurable aspects of it is the ability to have newspaper content sent to them every morning.  That is fine, but why can’t someone just get that via an RSS reader?  I assume if you’re on the move a lot in the morning it’s useful, but wouldn’t you have a Blackberry or IPhone or Android phone for that?

    Which comes to my big concern for all of these devices: All of them only do some of the things that the other might not be able to do.  The average reader, if they read at all, is not invested in reading enough to spend hundreds of dollars on a device the way they would be for a high definition television.  My coworkers often share books, passing hardcovers back and forth as each reads them.  I’d be surprised if many of them even own books in the way that prolific readers do.  They are invested in other things.  I’m not sure how to market the Kindle to the common reader, but I am interested in seeing what happens next.

    Weekly Reader

    Meanwhile…

    • The New Yorker piece on Obama’s early years in Chicago politics is another indicator he is just as scummy and slimy as the next politician.  Making the right friends, the right votes, the right influences; you might counter by saying “that’s politics” but I say that if you take part in that crap, I blame you.  I’d rather have no government than one filled with slimeballs.  None of the above…yet again…in 2008.

    • Alexander Solzhenitsyn recently passed away.  When we moved to Manahawkin, I remember the first friend I made was reading The Gulag Archipelago at the time.  We started to bond while discussing that and other books.

    • Io9 offers a guide for fans of the modern Doctor Who series who wish to get into the classic series.

    • Scott Esposito comments on the amazing ending of The Mill On The Floss and links to a review of the novel from a 1860 issue of The Atlantic.

    • PETA still sucks as much as I remember.

     

    Prisons

    In the fall issue of The Quarterly Conversation, Scott Esposito offers an excellent look at two books about the American, specifically Arizona, prison system: Richard Shelton’s Crossing The Yard and Ken Lamberton’s Time Of Grace.   Shelton’s book chronicles his time as a creative writing teacher in Arizona prisons.  Lamberton is a former student of Shelton’s who is a convicted sex offender.

    America’s prison system deeply troubles me.  It seems in the so-called “post 9/11” world, the mainstream’s attitudes towards prisoners, rehabilitation, and sentencing has become stricter and more conservative.  This is nothing new, of course, because in the 1990’s I remember, as Esposito notes, a lot of the “tough on crime” laws that were passed:

    This is mostly due to the increasing criminalization of drugs (well over half of prisoners are doing time on drug charges) and the many “tough on crime” mandatory sentencing laws passed during the 1990s that take away a judge’s power to, well, judge. Though the percentage of the population arrested has not increased significantly, those now doing time as a result of the arrests is much higher.

    In a country that fully embraces truly devastating vices like alcohol and tobacco, the war on drugs is a comical joke.  Commercials try to scare people away from marijuana and follow it with disgusting, misogynistic, commercials for booze.  Pot never killed any of my friends, but drunk drivers have taken two.  Groups like Families Against Mandatory Minimums are working hard to try to change mandatory sentencing laws, which I fully endorse.

    But I have digressed: I am more interested in the experiences of Lamberton and what Esposito has to say about his book.  A few of the issues Lamberton brings up in his book trouble me greatly.  I have lost a lot of interest in shows like Law & Order, especially the Special Victims Unit blend, because of the way they treat of a lot of their suspects.  Sex offenders are truly disgusting and barbaric, obviously, but as Esposito notes in his review of Lamberton’s book, is feeding them to the Aryan Brotherhood and other despicable savages any better?    I hate how shows like SVU always stick it in the face of suspects that they will be the “boyfriend” of someone in jail.  While that might be true, using homophobic fears and gleefully encouraging them on a television show just feels wrong.

    Esposito continues that as Lamberton is telling his story he notes the ongoing tale of corrupt Arizona governor Fife Symington:

    This isn’t the only double-standard Lamberton reflects on in Time of Grace. Throughout his narrative he occasionally dips into the ongoing affairs of former Arizona governor Fife Symington, who is undergoing investigation for taking bribes from Big Tobacco while in office. Symington is permitted to stay in his vacation ranch in Honduras during the proceedings (a common criminal would be in a cell) while Big Tobacco pays his public relations expenses all the way. Eventually he gets off, and neither Lamberton nor his friends are surprised.

    Ah, Big Tobacco to the rescue!  Isn’t it wonderful how government officials can escape jail via the scum they associate with, whose only contribution to society is small boxes of poison and sexist advertising?

    I agree with Esposito’s wonderment at the end of his reviews as to what exactly is the purpose of prisons?  Corrupt officials like Symington, who take money from purveyors of poison, get off but people like Lamberton can be “interred in a mental ward indefinitely” if the state so chooses.  Esposito points about that before stealing two presidential elections, George W. Bush “executed more prisoners than any other.”  Bill Clinton, while campaigning to become president in 1992 went back to Arkansas to execute a mentally retarded man.  A country that “does not torture,urinates on copies of the Koran,  and allows the disturbing things that took place at Abu Ghraib to happen.

    I think I am going to look into both of these books sometime down the line.  I don’t have any answers to how the prison system can be fixed, or any perfect answers for what should be done with sex offenders, but I do believe in rehabilitation and second chances.  Shame, sticking someone in a mental home, or capital punishment doesn’t seem to be working.  I am very concerned with how a prisoner will come out of prison at the end of their stay.  Will they be a productive member of society?  Will society assist them and allow them to be even?  Or will they end up committing the same, or similar, crimes?  To conclude, I agree with Esposito’s final statement:

    Lamberton notes that 95 percent of all people currently incarcerated in Arizona will be getting out over the next decade. They will be members of communities. They will be people’s neighbors. What do we want them to have learned while they were in prison? Would we prefer that they return to society with a chance of flourishing in it or preordained to be outcasts?

    Weekly Reader

    • If you have time in July, head to Wisconsin to check out the GLS conference.

    Weekly Reader

    • One of my favorite pieces of Transformers fan fiction is A Chance In A Million.  Now that I think about it, it might have been the first one I ever read too when I got back into the fandom in 1997.

    • It seems that I link to a Marjane Satrapi interview almost every week.  This week’s interview is from Nerve:

    I have to tell you something: I never felt as free as when I wrote Chicken with Plums.  When I write about women, and obviously when I write about myself like in Persepolis people relate [the text] to me. In this book, the main character in is a man. I could hide behind him, yet in some ways, he is me. I can be very cynical, but I can also die of love.

    • Incoming Vermont senator Bernie Sanders is interviewed over at Mother Jones:

    Third, I want to take a look at some of the good things that are being done around the rest of the world that are almost never discussed in the United States. How often is it discussed that the American people work the longest hours of any industrialized country in the world? The two-week paid vacation is almost a thing of the past; meanwhile in Europe you get four to six weeks vacation, and maternity leave with pay. We don’t know about these things. I want to take a look around the world and see what workers are receiving, and compare that to the United States — from an educational point of view.