Gerry Canavan

the smartest kid on earth

Posts Tagged ‘my life as a perpetual student

Jameson as Teacher

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I begin my review in this conflicted, confessional mode because both Tally and Wegner do; both foreground their personal relationships with Jameson, albeit with considerably more confidence and grace than I feel able to muster, situating his writing within the context of teaching within the university system to which he has dedicated his life. Jameson’s very public profile and reputation as “America’s most famous Marxist” actually makes him something of a rare exception in this regard: he is one of the leading members on the relatively short list of scholars who have been more influential outside their classrooms than inside them. For most of us the classroom is where the lion’s share of our work happens, however much our egos might prefer things to be otherwise. For most of us the classroom is the work.

I have a short review essay (weirdly personal by academic standards, at least by mine) about Jameson as thinker and Jameson as teacher, pegged to Robert Tally and Phil Wegner’s recent books on his career: “Doktorvater.”

This paradox returns us also to the question of what it means to be Jameson’s student, whether metaphorically as his reader or literally as his dissertation advisee. Early in Tally’s book he paraphrases other critics who see Jameson as “embrac[ing] all things—but, like a python, squeezing the life out of them” (20). What resists this totalizing enclosure in Tally’s treatment is Jameson’s foregrounding of the productive tension between history as a nightmare and the future as possible utopia, located in the present as a site of struggle—a critical perspective that remains vital and alive insofar as it is always both urgent and irresolvable. Wegner’s version of this same problem comes in his conclusion, where he quotes Evan Watkins’s observation that Jameson’s work is “an ‘anomaly’ among that of the ‘masters of theory’ for the simple reason that ‘you can’t follow this act.’” (Wegner 213). “Jamesonian” has simply never caught on as an adjective in the mold of Hegelian, Marxist, Freudian, Foucauldian, even Žižekian—even as many people (some of his many former students and dissertation advisees among them!) are clearly doing “Jamesonian” analysis. Rather than unfinishable, from this perspective Jameson’s project looks too finished, too complete: he ate the whole elephant, and left nothing behind for the rest of us. Wegner’s answer is to return to the question of fidelity and betrayal: to attempt to simply do Jameson is itself a betrayal of the Jamesonian ethos, and turn him into a “discourse of the university,” another kind of too-close, python-like suffocation. The alternative is to see Jameson not as a master or a mapmaker so much as, again, a teacher, who one day leads us to the gates of the school and then hurls us out into the world to find our own way. “Maybe you can’t do this for yourself,” Wegner quotes Watkins. “It’s not exactly clear what it might mean to ‘follow Jameson’s direction.’ But it is always possible to learn from his work how to do what you do far better and in more historically responsible ways” (qtd. in Wegner 213). As a conclusion to a two-hundred page exegesis, this is perhaps somewhat deflating—you mean this was all a dead end? a road to nowhere?—but for Wegner it seems something more like a rousing call to arms, a “joyful possibility” that speaks to Jameson’s “inexhaustible richness,” resulting in an exuberant final benediction: “May we prove equal to the task!” (213). Jameson’s very irreproducibility, his singularity, can become the engine for our own critical production, so long as we betray him right.

Weekend Links (Now with More Twitter Nazel-Gazing!)

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* How to Survive a Graduate Career. Draws in part from Audrey Waters’s “The Real Reason I Dropped Out of a PhD Program.” I’ve just been talking a bit on Twitter this afternoon about my own experiences with a very particular kind of health scare near the end of graduate school (no symptoms, only the potential for very serious symptoms in the future) and the extent to which it completely opened my eyes about how unforgiving academic labor can be with respect to human frailty.

* I also had a long, possibly extremely tedious conversation on Twitter this afternoon with @adamkotsko, @ibogost, and @pannapacker about whether the focus of efforts to reform graduate education in the humanities should be focused on individuals or on systems. Way down at the end of it I monologue a bit both about the self-defeating nature of market-driven, consumerist approaches and about my own experience making “good” and “bad” choices with respect to the academy.

* From earlier today: Don’t miss Kotsko hulking out.

* Meanwhile in humanities education: Employers and Public Favor Graduates Who Can Communicate, Survey Finds.

* Ask Sven Lindqvist: Who is responsible if a drone kills my child?

* While earlier studies have argued that redshirted children do better both socially and academically—citing data on school evaluations, leadership positions, and test scores—more recent analyses suggest that the opposite may well be the case: the youngest kids, who barely make the age cutoff but are enrolled anyway, ultimately end up on top—not their older classmates. When a group of economists followed Norwegian children born between 1962 and 1988, until the youngest turned eighteen, in 2006, they found that, at age eighteen, children who started school a year later had I.Q. scores that were significantly lower than their younger counterparts. Their earnings also suffered: through age thirty, men who started school later earned less. A separate study, of the entire Swedish population born between 1935 and 1984, came to a similar conclusion: in the course of the life of a typical Swede, starting school later translated to reduced over-all earnings. In a 2008 study at Harvard University, researchers found that, within the U.S., increased rates of redshirting were leading to equally worrisome patterns. The delayed age of entry, the authors argued, resulted in academic stagnation: it decreased completion rates for both high-school and college students, increased the gender gap in graduation rates (men fell behind women), and intensified socioeconomic differences.

* “I get enraged when I see people hating on the kids today. You try graduating into this mess.”

* Ted Cruz Turns Obamacare Defunding Plan From Disaster to Utter Fiasco.

Step one of this far-fetched scheme was the passage of a “continuing resolution,” which keeps the government open, attached to abolishing Obamacare. Now it goes to the Senate. Once that bill comes up for a vote in the Senate, the majority can vote to strip away the provision defunding Obamacare. That vote can’t be filibustered. It’s a simple majority vote, and Democrats have the majority.What Senate Republicans can do is filibuster to prevent the bill from coming to a vote at all. That’s the only recourse the Senate defunders have. And Ted Cruz is promising to do just that: “ I hope that every Senate Republican will stand together,” he says, “and oppose cloture on the bill in order to keep the House bill intact and not let Harry Reid add Obamacare funding back in.” A “committed defunder” in the Senate likewise tells David Drucker, “Reid must not be allowed to fund Obamacare with only 51 votes.”

In other words, the new stop-Obamacare plan now entails filibustering the defunders’ own bill.

The GOP’s Suicide Squeeze.

* BREAKING: Online courses don’t live up to hype. Inside the Coursera Hype Machine.

drudgesirendrudgesirendrudgesirendrudgesirendrudgesiren

* Some new reporting on the hydrogen bomb that the US government dropped on North Carolina in 1961 reveals just how close it came to detonating.

Over 22,000 gallons of oil spilled so far in Colorado’s floods.

* And it is said that no one truly knows a nation until one has been inside its jails: 22-Year-Old Inmate Says She Is Going Blind Because Prison Won’t Treat Her Diabetes.

Wednesday! Night! Links!

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* Jonathan Senchyne on Breaking Bad, cancer, and Indian Country. I like the way he teased this on Facebook: “Walter White has lung cancer, but doesn’t smoke…”

You know that newfound Van Gogh painting has the TARDIS in it, right?

* From the archives, just in time for application season: Should I Go to Grad School in the Humanities? I wrote that a year ago. If I wrote it today I think I’d write basically the same thing, just be more emphatic about every part. In particular — with all the necessary caveats about the falseness of meritocracy fantasy — going to a highly ranked program with strong recent placement rate is absolutely crucial. If you don’t hit that, and you want to go, work on your writing sample for a year and apply again. Your grad school’s reputation becomes instant proxy for your reputation. It’s not something you should plan to make up for by working hard.

* Also with all the usual anti-meritocracy caveats: On selling yourself on the academic job market.

* From the Washington Post archives: This amazing George Will there-are-too-many-states-nowdays rant against denim crossed my stream today.

The Inside Story Of How A Fake PhD Hijacked The Syria Debate.

Go Play This 8-Bit Version of Game of Thrones Immediately.

* Thinking through The World’s End: Part One, Part Two.

* Rich people are freaked out about Bill de Blasio. Sounds like a good start.

Nate Silver vs. Public Policy Polling. I’m amazed anyone is taking PPP’s side on this. If you don’t like a poll, run it again and release both; otherwise you’re introducing a massive bias into your process and destroying the credibility of your brand.

Medical Examiner In Zimmerman Trial Sues For $100M, Claims Prosecution Threw Case.

Long Lives Made Humans Human.

* An oral history of The Shield.

The New Yorker on Truman Show Delusion. Subscription required, alas.

* Years later, everyone remembered the Cheese Winter: The city’s Department of Public Works will go ahead this winter with a pilot program to determine whether cheese brine — a liquid waste product left over from cheesemaking — can be added to rock salt and applied directly to the street.

* Life imitates the Onion, as always in the worst possible way.

* And Salon interviews the great Margaret Atwood.

‘The Opportunity Costs Are at Least a Million Dollars’

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Larry Cebula has the latest in the never-ending series of articles and blog posts telling people not to go to graduate school in the humanities: Open Letter to My Students: No, You Cannot Be a Professor. Erik Loomis replies that no, you can, just not if you go to Duke. Now he tells me!*

* N.B.: I was actually given this advice almost word-for-word by my advisor at UNCG when I was choosing between Duke and Chapel Hill. Obviously I just don’t listen.**

** I regret nothing! Duke has been truly great for me. I’d stay forever if they’d let me.***

*** And now back to job apps.

What It Was All For

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From Barking Up the Wrong Tree: Do straight-A students live longer?

The findings come from the Wisconsin Longitudinal Study, which has been following more than 10,000 people who graduated from Wisconsin high schools in 1957. Those students who finished in the top 25 percent of their high school class were healthier, decades later, than the ones who finished in the bottom quarter. When they were all in their early 60s, those who had finished in the top quartile were, over all, half as likely to have experienced the declines in health that their peers who graduated in the lowest quartile were experiencing. Asked to assess their health on a scale from ”excellent” to “poor,” the top students ranked their overall health higher, and they were only half as likely to report having a chronic ailment like diabetes, heart disease or respiratory illness.

Written by gerrycanavan

August 7, 2011 at 2:01 am

Failed Writers

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Thoughts From Inside The MFA Ponzi Scheme.

1.  These ten pages of writing–does this count as a novel…? (No.)

2. Aren’t I supposed to have like a fucking masterpiece by now? (No, but you do have two or three stories that are maybe worth publishing in semi-popular online website.)

2. Am I going to get a job after this? (Probably not.) Will I have to go back to food service? (Probably yes.)

3. Has my writing gotten better? Have I become good enough to get an agent? (Shrugs.)

4. Have I made “connections”? (Do classmates count?)

5. Should I just give in and apply for a PhD or something? (Yes.)

Oh, to be young again…

Written by gerrycanavan

January 18, 2011 at 11:33 pm

Behold the Man

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Scientists have shown I’ve read a lot of science fiction novels: nearly all of this list. (And this one.)

Infinite Summer #9: A Brief Comment on the Narcissism of Grad Students and My Own Arrested Adolescence

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The salience of this particular moment fades a bit as we get further and further from Friday’s spoiler-line, but I feel compelled to comment briefly on the conversation between Marathe and Steeply that begins on page 638. How can I, or anyone who has chosen a life in academia, read this week’s material without feeling interpolated by it? How could any academic, would-be or otherwise, avoid asking him- or herself more than once just what it is that separates us from Steeply’s M*A*S*H-obsessed father beyond the razor-thin veneer of professional legitimacy? It’s my job, allegedly, to develop intricate and sometimes bizarre readings of pop-culture artifacts, which means it’s perfectly okay for me to (still) spend all my time reading science-fiction novels and watching science-fiction movies just like I did when I was twelve. Heck, I wouldn’t be doing my work if I didn’t! And if I can just trick somebody into paying me to do it I’ll never have to stop.

Herman Blume:What’s the secret, Max?
Max Fischer: The secret?
Herman Blume: Yeah, you seem to have it pretty figured out.
Max Fischer: The secret, I don’t know… I guess you’ve just gotta find something you love to do and then do it for the rest of your life. For me, it’s going to Rushmore.

Intellectually, of course, I’ve always been able to recognize the tragic irony of this exchange—Rushmore, you’ll remember, doesn’t offer a post-graduate year—but I wonder sometimes whether deep down I’ve ever really come to terms with it.

Is this addiction? Does pursuing a academic career studying literature and pop culture—a preoccupation which over the years has diverted me from any number of more financially lucrative pursuits—mark me as the writerly equivalent of a functional alcoholic? Do I even qualify as functional? And it occurs to me now, reading this section against not only my own life and those of my grad student associates but against the life of anyone who has ever been a “fan” of anything—anyone, that is, who can recognize themselves in the way Steeply’s father looked at M*A*S*H—that the danger DFW is highlighting is central to the construction of modern subjectivity. If everything is at least potentially bad for us—even/especially the things that give us pleasure, the things that make life appear to be worth living—just what is it we’re supposed to be doing? Where is the authentic, healthy, free life, if there was ever such a thing to begin with? When even the things we love conspire to destroy us, what is left?

My Life as a Perpetual Student

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A writer to the Economist has discovered my secret.

I once proposed a solution somewhat tongue in cheek to the problem of pensions: turn retirement upside down. In my plan, people would be supported by society up to the age of 30. During that period they would study, travel, prepare for a profession, reproduce and give full-time care to their young. They would not hold any positions of responsibility, where their youthful enthusiasm, unbounded energy and over-ambition were likely to cause problems. After 30, they would work until they dropped dead or became incapacitated.

Written by gerrycanavan

July 28, 2009 at 2:41 pm

Infinite Summer #4: You, Me, and Everyone We Know

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Rather short Infinite Summer post from me this time around as I put together all the things that need to be put together for my late-summer stint as an instructor at the Duke University Institute for Gifted Youngsters. Like last year, posting will be somewhat slow the next three weeks; I’ll mostly be posting only in the very early morning, at night, and on weekends, with occasional daytime posts here and there whenever I’m able to commit a little time theft.

With IGY on my mind, I was really struck by footnote 76, which provides as good a summary as you’ll find of the inner life of anyone stamped “gifted” when they are young, not just Hal Incandenza but also my IGY students and me and most of the people who have become my close friends over the years and maybe you as well:

Hal Incandenza had been thought for a while as a toddler to have some sort of Attention Deficit Disorder—partly because he read so fast and spent so little time on each level of various pre-CD-ROM video games, partly because just about any upscale kid even slightly to port or starboard of the bell curve’s acme was thought at that time to have A.D.D.—and for a while there’d been a certain amount of specialist-shuttling, and many of the specialists were veterans of Mario and were preconditioned to see Hal as also damaged, but thanks to the diagnostic savvy of Brandeis’s Child Development Center the damage assessments were not only retracted but reversed way out to the other side of the Damaged-to-Gifted spectrum, and for much of the glabrous part of his childhood Hal’d been classified as somewhere between “Borderline Gifted” and “Gifted”—though part of this high cerebral rank was because B.C.D.C.’s diagnostic tests weren’t quite so keen when it came to distinguishing between raw neural gifts and the young Hal’s monomaniacally obsessive interest and effort, as if Hal were trying as if his very life were in the balance to please some person or persons, even though no one had ever even hinted that his life depended on seeming gifted or precocious or even exceptionally pleasing—and when he’d committed to memory entire dictionaries and vocab-check software and syntax manuals and then had gotten some chance to recite some small part of what he’d pounded into his RAM for a proudly nonchalant mother or even a by-this-time-as-far-as-he-was-concerned-pretty-much-out-there father, at these times of public performance and pleasure—the Weston M.A. school district in the early B.S. 1990s had had interschool range-of-reading-and-recall spelling-beeish competitions called “Battle of the Books,” which these were for Hal pretty much of a public turkey-shoot and approval-fest—when he’d extracted what was desired from memory and faultlessly pronounced it before certain persons, he’d felt almost that same pale sweet aura that an LSD afterglow conferred, some milky corona, like almost a halo of approved grace, made all the milkier by the faultless nonchalance of a Moms who made it clear that his value was not contingent on winning first or even second prize, ever.

The incredibly slippery slope from this sort of childhood precociousness to adult dysfunction is something we’ve talked about here once or twice before in connection with the films of Wes Anderson, whose thematically similar The Royal Tenenbaums pops up around the fringes of IJ discussion quite a bit. And we can see now what a hard-luck case I really am: thirty years old and I’m still a student, still chasing the same damn high.

Most of the rest of what I’d have to say about today’s spoiler line was already covered in my post last week on DFW, addiction, and suicide, for which Joelle is something of an exemplary case. This weekend’s pages were pretty much all Joelle, all the time, not that I’m complaining. She’s an interesting character and somehow able to bring us closer to the mind of Himself than anyone else we’ve met thus far.