Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Just a bunch of stuff (with some initial, boring book-project talk)

So, I'm back "here" now. We have commenced having meetings for the new semester (the theme for this semester's meetings: Student Engagement (more about that later, but I did note at one point that it'd be nice to have as a goal for these meetings, if not a theme, "Faculty Engagement")).
But let's review the holidays, shall we?
*My mother came to Kansas to stay with Mrs. Meridian and me for Christmas. It was mom's first time here, and the weather gods saw fit to deliver bitterly cold weather on the day of her arrival. Mom also met my in-laws on this trip, and I think all that went well. She was here from the 23rd through the 27th. It was a quiet but, on the whole, pleasant holiday.
*One definite highlight of the holiday for me was the midnight service at my church on Christmas Eve: beautiful singing (especially a gorgeous performance of "I Wonder as I Wander") and, amazingly, a challenging sermon that the pastor, quoting another writer, said he hoped would not "put Christ back into Christmas but rescue Christ FROM Christmas"--that is, make Christ a real and genuine presence in our lives regardless of the season and not a cute little baby for one month of each year. One doesn't often hear (and many, I suspect, don't WANT to hear) reminders of the fact that Jesus was a real person who came into a real world and whose meaning in THIS world becomes manifest only to the extent that those who claim to believe in His divinity actually seek to live as He would have us live. The fact that we WEREN'T expecting to hear such a sermon made it all the more effective. The tsunami only amplified the message for me.
*After a precious few days alone with Mrs. Meridian, I went to visit my children for a week, delivering Christmas cheer and celebrating C's birthday early (she is my younger daughter; she turns 7 on the 16th). All seems well there. C. read to me for extended periods while I was there. She reads at her grade level, but because her sister reads a few grade levels above her actual grade level, their mother and I have to remind ourselves that C. is not deficient: she is where she should be. But C. IS a math whiz, which pleases us. It was, on the whole, a good visit during which I grew more confident that my girls will be okay as they navigate puberty in their very different ways.
*Over the holidays, I have finally, seriously, resolved to get serious about revising my dissertation for publication. As I've been reading Spivak and poking about in the U.S. studies' version of postcolonial theory, I'm persuaded that the diss still seems valuable, that its moment has not passed. What's unnerving as I've been reading is the vocabulary, which has only grown and become more nuanced in the time that I've not been reading; and the fact that, as with every area of theory, agendas drive the arguments that have little to do with actual understanding of the texts at hand. (Don't tell anyone, but I am something of a closet formalist after all, though I certainly DO acknowledge theory's value as a tool for elucidating the text.)
In a future post, I'll lay out the basic argument in the diss in more detail so as to provide a context for still future comments on what I've been reading. For now, though, I WILL say that, just as I had claimed in my dissertation without, like, you know, actually knowing what I was talking about, postcolonialism as initiated by Edward Said's Orientalism and further elaborated by Bhabha and Spivak and others, are finally inadequate in discussing the literature (and, for that matter, the cultures) of the Americas, if only because their work has arisen out of their attempts to discuss the British colonial/administrative adventures in, especially, India and Africa. Something fundamentally different happened here in the Americas: Jamestown aside, Europeans came to the United States with the express purpose of LIVING here, as opposed to administering governments and businesses. The Spanish, French and Portuguese colonies were more obviously economically exploitative in nature and thus somewhat closer in nature to the British colonies of later centuries, but even there, the colonists were permitted to intermarry with native peoples, something, I get the impression, was not the case in the later British colonies. How else to explain the near absence of discussion of miscegenation in Bhabha and Spivak but, in its place, something that appears to me to be a de facto discussion of race in absolutist terms even as both would claim that race is a social and legal construct? All that leads me to my diss's central claim: that miscegenation (yes, the painfully familiar plantation rape scene, but also the less-familiar but just-as-prevalent scene of mutual love and respect) serves as a trope for New World culture generally (I'll outline later a distinction I make between "The Americas" and "The New World").
I'll develop all that more later, I promise; in the meantime, those who have made it this far and are so inclined are encouraged to ask questions.
*Also while away, I watched Hidalgo with my girls. I frankly didn't expect too much. It's about a horse race, isn't it? Well, yes. But, perhaps because of the reading in postcolonial theory I've been reading, the film assumed a pretty complex subtext for me, especially as regards the themes of "pure" vs. "mixed" race, the clash of cultures between the (mid)East and the (Wild) West, etc. The film isn't great (though it's beautifully photographed), but it doesn't gloss over these themes--the theme of race is especially foregrounded. It deserves its own and longer post.
*Our back-to-school meetings' theme, as I mentioned, is Student Engagement. I actually started out wanting to hear about this, and most of the time was given over to pedagogical matters. But when the director of the Accounts Receivable office got up and said that part of how faculty can ensure Student Engagement is to enforce payment of tuition by refusing entrance to those students who've not met their financial obligations, I had to Just Say No. Of course I recognize that tuition money helps pay my salary and so, to a certain extent, I'm invested in this matter. But it seems to me that to effectively become the agent of the Accounts Receivable office doesn't aid students in their development of a sense of Engagement. We already ask them to assume primary responsibility for the academic choices they make, once they know what is expected of them; why not do the same with regard to the financial ones they make? "Here, Student, is your bill for the semester; here are your options for meeting this obligation; here are the deadlines for meeting them. NEXT!!" Perhaps it's a false analogy I'm making here, but doing that doesn't seem much different from passing out a syllabus and, in effect, putting the ball in the students' court.
I know from experience that these felt conflicts between the roles of faculty and administration are not peculiar to my school, so I recognize the rather ho-hum nature of the above. I mention it, though, precisely because such conflicts so rarely arise here. We know our places, in the most positive sense of that phrase, which is one of the genuine delights of working here. Given the state of my previous school--where we knew our places in the WORST possible sense of that term--the above complaint is a minor one.
*In cheerier news, though, I'll be joining a group that will be discussing The Art of Changing the Brain, which, so far as I can gather, is a discussion of how a knowledge of neural science can enhance one's teaching. Two good reviews on Amazon, one less-glowing one. I'll let you know. Also, I was pleased to learn that the college now officially offers 4 (!) courses in film and film theory; thus, I won't have to go through the rigamarole of developing a proposal. I can just request to teach it in the fall.
*Humanities and Intro to Literature beckon this semester. 'Nuff said.
*If one scrolls down my page far enough, one will see a counter--it counts visitors (both new and returning), but not page views. At some point over the holidays, the number of said visitors surpassed 1000. My counter keeps track of how people have found the Meridian, and that has been fascinating to contemplate. More about that in a separate post as well. But I mention this now simply to thank in particular those of you who return (and comment) because you ocasionally find something worthy of your time here. Without your visits, I would have stopped this a long time ago.

I'm out of stuff for this grab bag of a post. But it's good to be back.

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