Friday, 25 February 2011

7 Quick Takes (75)

Yet another two-week edition.

1. Last week was Reading Week. What time I did not spend procrastinating, watching Firefly, or visiting with friends, I spent working on a biography review or grading papers. I shouldn't talk about the later as a matter of professional discretion, but I can discuss the former. If I were you, I would not read Park Honan's Christopher Marlowe: Poet & Spy. It is surprising that a biography about a brilliant poet and playwright, a libertine with ambiguous sexuality, a swashbuckling spy, could be so boring. If you do read this book, prepare for such a surprise. If you nonetheless insisted on reading a biography of an early modern playwright, then I might be more inclined to recommend Shapiro's A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare: 1599. While its literary readings of Henry V, Julius Caesar, As You Like It, and Hamlet are not the best in the world, they are at least interesting, and it nicely situates Shakespeare in the time of his writing. I am not a fully-converted New Historicist, but I find that I appreciate Shakespeare far more (and far more maturely) when I think of him as situated in his time, nation, and culture.

2. I went to the Regent Chapel service on Tuesday morning with a friend, and we went for lunch afterwards. The service was interesting; I'm intrigued by, though not entirely comfortable with, the idea of an overtly religious post-secondary institution. This one is small and feels very collegial. I did, however, like the looks of their library and bookstore.

3. That following Wednesday evening I acquired Hopeful Monsters and a journal. I had received a phone call explaining that my book order for Hiromi Goto's collection of short stories had come in and realizing that I had reached my threshold of productivity for the day, I visited Chapter's that evening to get the book. While there I bought a set of journals. They have writing-paper lining and not graph-paper lining, but otherwise they are identical to those pictured. I have been told by Creative Writing professors and others that I should use a journal as a collection of insights into experience. This will be a useful repository as I write. I am not thinking of it as a "Dear Diary" sort of writing-as-catharsis exercise, though it may be that in some instances; rather, I am thinking of this as a commonplace book of experience. It is also a little bit of a commonplace book more generally, as Bakhtin, Foucault, Barthes, and Firefly have all featured in this first journal.

I know perfectly well that I will not get a chance to read much of Hopeful Monsters soon.

4. On Friday I went to a dinner party organized by the church. It has been a long time since I've been to a dinner party. It was very nice. Fortunately I knew most of the people there at least a little bit, but it's interesting to note how this sort of event, in which the host is good at leading conversation and involving people, is an excellent way of getting to know people better or at all. Having dinner parties is a skill I don't see developing especially well in my generation and/or demographic, and yet it seems tobe a key element in the social fabric of previous generations. Something to think about.

5. On Tuesday, despite being intellectually and emotionally exhausted by Reading Week (I hope you'll forgive me my reticence regarding the reasons--plural--for the emotional exhaustion), I gave what I felt was a good presentation in my Reported Speech class. It was on an essay by Short, Semino, and Wynne on faithfulness in reported speech. That is, they argue that faithfulness is important in some contexts when people report the speech of others. This may interest anyone outside of the field because most people (or most academics, anyway) assume that when we quote, we quote verbatim. What I am learning in this class is that such an assumption is all lies and deceit. We certainly do not quote verbatim. For the most part (especially in conversation) we don't even pretend to. What Short, Semino, and Wynne argue is that faithfulness (not verbatim) is important in some contexts, and while they are right to point this out, their argument is still problematic on a number of details. If this interests you, let me know and I'll tell you more.

6. The last few days have been spent in a glut of social interaction. I am making up for the scarcity of the same over Reading Week (other than ocassional Skype, a smattering of collegial talk in the Graduate Reading Room, tea at a bakery one morning, and what I wrote on above, I spent most of my Reading Week in scholarly isolation). I have a short but heavily-weighted paper due on Tuesday, so I need to put my nose to the grindstone and all of that good stuff. However, to see friends again, even after a week's absense, is a balm.

7. Just last night I started reading DeLillo's End Zone for the class in which I am a TA. I love it so far. I am not a fan of American football (nor should I be), but this book is only about football on the surface. So far I can tell that it is far more about language and the politics of devastation: it examines the jargon of the Cold War and the jargon of professional sports, reducing them to a moment in which they mean either far more than we'd like or nothing at all. Of a player, Bobby, who is "famous for saying he would go though a brick wall for Coach Creed," the narrator says the following:

Maybe he had heard others use it and thought it was a remark demanded by history, a way of affirming the meaning of one's struggle. Maybe the words were commissioned, as it were, by language itself, by that compartment of language in which are kept all bits of diction designed to outlive the men who abuse them, all phrases that reduce speech to units of sound, lullabies processed through intricate systems. Or maybe the remark just satisfied Bobby's need to be loyal to someone. [Creed does not want or deserve loyalty.] But Bobby had this loyalty to give, this eager violence of the heart, and he would smash his body to manifest it. Tradition, of course, supported his sense of what was right. The words were old and true, full of reassurance, comfort, consolation. Men followed such words to their death because other men before them had done the same, and perhaps it was easier to die than admit that words could lose their meaning.

The brackets are my summary of a longer passage; the embolding is my emphasis of sentences I love.

[Bonus round!]

8. I found this video on Facebook, and I was fascinated. It's a fanmade trailer for Riverdale, a fictional "gritty remake" of the Archie Comics. "Lux Aeternae" is likely responsible for 25% of my fascination with the video. My nostalgic and theoretical pull to Archie Comics is responsible for my 35%, and my interest in the genres of the dark remake and the movie trailer account for the remainder. I should warn you that, no matter your politics, something about it will probably offend you. Also, I should give a trigger warning.

9. Due to my nose-to-the-grindstone sentiment I expressed before, I will not be writing the posts I have planned. In response to Leah's post on transhumanism at Unequally Yoked, I plan to write a series of posts concerning the boundries of self. That is, what does and does not consitute "me." I intend to talk about somatic control, prosthetics, two-headed snakes, Judith Butler, and friendship. Do not expect this to be a simple or traditional account of identity; I want to write these posts at all in order to complicate the sort of naive delineations of self that I saw expressed in the comments section of that post. However, I must beg your patience on this matter, as my workload and lifeload not only demand that I abstain from writing those posts any time soon, but cease writing this one as well.

Please go visit Conversion Diary, the host of the 7 Quick Takes blog carnival.

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