Saturday, November 01, 2008

Studs Terkel, 1912-2008

I'd see Studs around the city periodically, out and about at events when he was well into his 90s. He was a progressive force for good and until pretty recently it seemed like he would live forever. Studs was a true patriot, populist, and a genuine journalist, someone who believed in America's egalitarian promise enough to listen, thoughtfully, to everyone - including those who are down and out. It's a shame Studs will miss Obama's victory, since he worked so tirelessly during his 96 years to keep hope alive in America. You won't be forgotten, Studs, especially not in your beloved Chicago.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

French Theory in America


From the late sixties to the end of the twentieth century, a disparate group of French intellectuals greatly influenced Anglo-American arts and culture. Once imported to and disseminated in US universities, philosophical ideas and writing by figures such as Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida, Roland Barthes, Julia Kristeva, Jean-Francois Lyotard, Jean Baudrillard, Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari came to exert tremendous force both inside and out of the American academy. Rather quickly, a diverse and radical body of thinking was codified, first as intellectual movements (e.g., structuralism, deconstruction, poststructuralism) and eventually as simply “French theory.”

This course studies the reception of French theory in the US. Our aim will be to understand why and how it became such an integral part of American culture, shaping academic disciplines (especially literary theory, cultural studies, and media studies), sociocultural trends (e.g., identity politics, new historicism), and artistic practices (minimalism, L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poetry, surfiction).

In assessing French theory’s American influence, we will consider how it has been interpreted differently in the US and France, trace iterations of significant concepts (différance, discipline, abjection, simulation, minor literature, etc.), and evaluate the inflection of these concepts by US-based literary scholars (e.g., Edward Said, Judith Butler, Stanley Fish, Henry Louis Gates Jr., Walter Benn Michaels, J Hillis Miller, Gayatri Spivak, Fredric Jameson) and writers (Charles Bernstein, Raymond Federman, Shelley Jackson, Lynne Tillman, Gerald Vizenor, David Foster Wallace, Curtis White). Not least, we will speculate about theory’s relevance to twenty-first-century praxes.

Teaching Method: Short lecture followed by moderated seminar discussions and weekly presentations by seminar participants.

Requirements: One class presentation (5 pages), annotated bibliography (10–12 secondary sources), research paper (12–16 pages).

Reading List:
Cusset, Francois. French Theory: How Foucault, Derrida, Deleuze & Co. Transformed the Intellectual Life of the United States. Trans. Jeff Fort. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota Press, 2008.

Deleuze, Gilles. Essays Critical and Clinical. Trans. Daniel W. Smith and Michael A. Greco. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1997.

Derrida, Jacques. Limited Inc. Evanston, IL: Northwestern UP, 1988.

Foucault, Michel. The Foucault Reader. Ed. Paul Rainbow. New York: Pantheon, 1984.

Harari, Josué, ed. Textual Strategies: Perspectives in Post-Structuralist Criticism. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1979.

Leitch, Vincent, eds. The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. New York: Norton, 2001.

Monday, September 22, 2008

An Old School Professor Asks Students to Think

The Thinker is an inspiring profile of a philosopher at Auburn University who has resisted the imperative to instrumentalize higher education, which is undermining humanities departments and cheapening the value of college degrees. A true practitioner of the liberal arts, Professor Jolley challenges his students, first-year undergraduates included, to think through difficult philosophical problems with him. In the process, his best students learn to do philosophy, which they come to appreciate and understand as a way of living, curiously, in the world, rather than just another subject to be mastered on the way to a degree.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

1500 characters max. how many hours revising?

Reading & writing are migrating to digitally networked environments; literature & literary studies must not be left behind. How are scholars & writers creating a sustainable literary presence within noisy, image-dominated media ecologies? My 3-part project analyzes & participates in the literary field’s evolution within an emerging, collaborative, network culture.

Editorial: ebr (, a literary journal & networked database, hosts critical exchanges between distributed scholarly & artistic communities interested in digital writing & publishing, interface design, & cultural critique. I coordinate clusters, assign essays, & edit peer-to-peer-reviewed articles. Goals: keep conversations current, moderate debates, & solicit innovative scholarship.

Archival: Contribute to Archive-It, a curatorial experiment designed to preserve & disseminate the 1st generation of e-lit. On the Electronic Literature Organization’s international research team, I select works, write evaluations, & develop an e-lit lexicon. Over time, these efforts will provide a profile of the emergent e-lit field & scholarly tools for studying it.

Critical: Applying my editorial & archival expertise, I examine how changing communication systems affect world-literary formations (literary networks & innovative fictions) in the network society. Connect affective & ideological redistributions of the sensible to sense-making techniques in digital and printed networked narratives.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Seeking Satiric Sublimation

Is Jon Stewart the most trusted man in America? Personally, I'd have to vote for Bill Moyers or Studs Terkel, because they're better listeners during interviews. But then, of course, there's Stephen Colbert, who liberates the truth so it may soar like an American eagle!

As an avid reader addicted to dozens of online journals and newspapers, despite being disgusted by the onslaught of lies, propaganda and stupidity reported (and too often uncritically repeated) there, I think I'd fit in perfectly at the "Daily Show."
The day begins with a morning meeting where material harvested from 15 TiVos and even more newspapers, magazines and Web sites is reviewed. That meeting, Mr. Stewart said, “would be very unpleasant for most people to watch: it’s really a gathering of curmudgeons expressing frustration and upset, and the rest of the day is spent trying to mask or repress that through whatever creative devices we can find.”

Could I get away with running a media studies course based on this model? Finding a humanities department that could afford 15 TiVos would be hard, but still...

Friday, May 16, 2008

Patriarchy and Pathology

Last night at dinner I asked Ira how one might productively analyze the Joseph Fritzl case in terms of systemic, rather than subjective, violence. (Yes, we do have dinner conversations like this. Whaddya expect? We're both PhDs in literature.) Ira's response: begin by looking at the way the Austrian State's patriarchal biases effectively enabled Fritzl to commit his crimes. The State, for instance, repeatedly ignored his daughter's attempts to run away from home, even though her father had a record as a sex offender. Ira's hypothesis is corroborated by "Joseph Fritzl's fictive forebears," a TLS essay, the gist of which is this: Symptomological analyses of Austrian literature, including Freud's case studies, suggest a systemic sociocultural tendency to indulge abusive patriarchs while disregarding patriarchy's victims, primarily women and children.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Will the minnestoa review Survive?

Marc Bosquet reports on his blog and at The Chronicle of Higher Education that the minnesota review's days may be numbered due to budget cuts that"quality managers" at Carnegie Mellon Univeristy want to impose on the journal.

It would be a shame if the minnesota review closed shop. (Full disclosure: The mr has published my work.) Could Williams move to another university and take the minnesota review with him? Many public U's are hurting financially right now, it's true, but surely there's a shrewd dean somewhere who can recognize that hiring Williams and funding the mr would be a great opportunity to increase their English department's profile - for a reasonable price.

It's great that Jameson, Felski, Berube, Menand, etc. went to bat for the mr, but maybe it's time to call in Stanley Fish. As a specialist in contract law and the former head of Duke UP, I would think that Stan the Man could - and probably would - negotiate a sweet deal for the mr and Jeffrey Williams. In fact, if Fish was still the Dean of LAS at UIC, I'd ask him myself if it would be possible to bring the mr to UIC's English Department. It already hosts two fine critical journals, ebr and Mediations. Why not one more?

Part of the problem is that editorial work is not properly valued in academia. Editorial work is absolutely necessary for the publish-or-perish model to survive, but the time-intensive labor (too much of which is effectively outsourced) required to put out a quality publication is invisible, and editing is treated more like service than research, which is a serious mistake. Faculty and grad students need to make it clear that the editorial infrastructure needs to be maintained in order for the system to function.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Open Humanities Press

With the current economic recession likely to result in budget cuts for cash-strapped university presses, the appearance of the Open Humanities Press could not come at a better time. More ventures like the OHP will be needed if the current "crisis" in academic publishing is to be resolved in a manner that doesn't pressure scholars to conform to the profit-driven dictates of the market. The OHP's Editorial Advisory Board is impressive, and the cultural capital these scholars have earned should help to legitimize digital-publishing initiatives in the eyes of those academics and administrators inclined to value printed monographs more than digitally produced texts.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Sunday, January 13, 2008

After Identity, Politics

Thank you Lorrie Moore for rejecting the Clintonistas' sentimental appeals for female votes by reminding us of the Clintons' conservative political record and thank you even more for stating what no male educator dares to say in a public forum:
The children who are suffering [most] in this country, who are having trouble in school, and for whom the murder and suicide rates and economic dropout rates are high, are boys — especially boys of color, for whom the whole educational system, starting in kindergarten, often feels a form of exile, a system designed by and for white girls.
Pre-election discussions should be about material issues (rising inequality, a rotting infrastructure, health care, the cost of war, etc.) not about sentimental symbolic issues (role models). It's the 21st century people -- time to move beyond the identity politics that have paralyzed the American left.