Teleology.

This class I keep babbling on about: the professor edits and writes for an online scholarly journal called nonsite. One of the joys of this class has proven to be the defense of genre that’s crept in in various places. To wit: “Literature, Genre, and Standards of Criticism.”

If reading academic jargon gives you hives, avoid this link. But if no, this is may be the best defense I can give for my crit style at Clarion. I pretty much assumed, for better or worse (and I was often wrong to begin with this assumption, I’m sure), that everyone had the following goal, at least in the general sense:

“One central, characteristic purpose defined by the literary practice and served by the literary work is to develop in depth, through subject and form, a theme which is in some sense central to human concerns and which can therefore be recognized as of more or less universal interest.”

Hence, my “posit a theme and produce the most logical reading possible based on that account of theme” version of crit. Anyway, I was gratified to find someone who’d codified the thing I kept claiming I was doing.
Or perhaps this piece sheds some light on what Kessel meant when he claimed that literary fiction was also a genre. In which case, my crits were all wrong, since I used the lit crit model on everyone’s genre fic.
Clearly I must do more thinking on this…

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Ego protection, hating everything.

Well, this is going to be a fun year.

Read back through previous posts, and the downside of using one’s blog like a journal is then you get to psychoanalyze yourself. Apparently I am so terrified of Mondays that I’ve taken to writing long puffer-fish posts blowing up my ego to the largest size possible before the inevitable deflation. I’m talking myself out of quitting, before the axe has even fallen. I’m going to try to STFU on Mondays, since I’ll only have the one topic to write about on those days, and I’m already boring myself with the every-other-week fear.

In other news, repairmen are opening a giant hole in my bedroom as I type.

The ceiling only leaks when the radiators come on. The radiators only come on when the temperature is in the high 40s/low 50s. Chicago will be high 50s/60s all week. This means that I get to have a giant hole in my ceiling for four weeks again. Yaaaaaaay!

Ceiling hole, with fan.

The process last time: 1) they check on leak. 2) they cut small hole in ceiling. 3) they return a week later to cut large hole in ceiling. 4) they have me watch the pipe to figure out where the leak is (hence the problem w/ the radiators not coming on. I can’t see the drip if they’re off). 5) I mark the leak. 6) they come back a week later to fix the leak. 7) and eventually to patch the ceiling. 8 ) and eventually to paint.

The whole process took almost a month last time, all told. So it will be Thanksgiving before this is done. And it’s unbelievably messy–I’m still finding plaster dust from last time inside my files and books. This time, at least I knew to prepare: all the furniture but the bed and one shelf are moved into the kitchen, and the apartment is swathed in plastic so that plaster dust doesn’t get into everything.

Actual quote just overheard: “Why is the fan moving? Is there something electrical up there? Maybe I’ll try going this way…” Followed by the sound of more falling debris as they pull down the ceiling in a different direction.

Debris, plus plastic-covered furniture.

My god, I am liveblogging the destruction of my apartment.

I suppose I shouldn’t complain; at least things do get fixed eventually. But it makes me want to move as soon as possible. This year, there’ll be no Clarion in the summer, and hopefully I’ll have time to apartment hunt. Sigh. I like so much about this place, but the constant repairs have about pushed me over the edge. Oh, and did I mention that they show up at 9am? Oof.

Perhaps I will go to a coffeeshop and grade, since it doesn’t look like I’ll be getting anything accomplished here today.

Cutting implements.

I don’t know what I think I’m doing, taking this class.
It’s exam year. My committee is, I think, a good committee–I need to touch base with the two faculty members who are doing my field lists, just to get a sense of the range of questions I could be asked, but I’m plodding through the readings, turtle-style. Thank goodness for my 45 minute commute twice a day–at worst, I’m still reading a book a week thanks to commuting alone.

And the research paper list looks…possible? For the first time ever. I’ve thought all this time that I’d write about affect theory. Turns out, affect theory’s a dead end. But what I’m really interested in, nonfiction, isn’t necessarily. So I get to mess around with the genre conventions of nonfiction, make some claims about what nonfiction is and what it thinks it’s doing in the academy…I made a series of n-grams looking at the “rise” of memoir, and they are…surprising, to say the least. It’s an American phenomenon, for one, and it tracks with the rise of postmodernism. I want to connect these two things–not causally, certainly, but…temperamentally? We’ll see.
However, this class, it is killing me. I adore it, and yet it is such a timesink. I could pour years of my life into reading these texts, into reading the referent texts for these texts. Izenberg requires Adorno requires Hegel requires Kant, and if you’re going to read Hegel you may as well read Marx, oh and you must read all the great novels and all of poetry and you haven’t read Oppen? How have you not read Oppen? It’s an evil rabbithole, a receding horizon of inadequacy. Over beers, one of the first-years said something along the lines of, “If you’re not in a state of self-doubt, you’re doing it wrong.” Exactly.
I wrote yet another incoherent-but-polemical response paper for this week, and once again I am in headspace of dread. I know I’m wrong, and I can see at least three reasons WHY I’m wrong, and I don’t know how I can pore over something so closely and still get it wrong. It feels like the text moves on me–I pin down an interpretation, but when I look back at my argument, all I can see are holes.
But it’s my damn brain that’s moving. Which is why I wanted to take this class–I want to be able to argue. I want to learn how to articulate the core arguments of complicated theoretical texts in such a way as to be unassailable. Clearly this is impossible (no argument’s unassailable), but I am definitely getting better–my first response paper is unreadable to me now. It’s a wall of errors, leaps in judgment, gaps, incorrect or merely slipshod summaries…typos, even. It’s a horrorshow. And not just that first paper–all of them, even the one I’m presenting today. Especially that one.
If anything is going to prep me for exams, it’s this, this gauntlet. I am reading as much as fast as well as I can and better than I ever have before. My academic writing compacts down, since there’s no room for the marshmallow fluff of wandering toward my argument. I’m attempting to use examples and interrogate examples, rather than focusing on terms (okay, I failed at that this week…I got distracted by a particularly oddball turn of phrase). It’s amazing. I haven’t felt like this about a class since undergrad, since Douglas Canfield gave me a D on my first response paper and told me to learn to close read a text, not just inhale the words on the page. There’s no prize for getting to the end first.
This type of analysis is exactly what I need to be doing. I wish I had more time for my creative writing, and I’ll probably regret the timesink later, when I’m on the job market pub-less. But I have my whole lifetime to write, and only this one shot at learning to think (with this caliber of prof, anyway).
Every Monday (look it’s a Monday!) I fight laziness and regret. How much time I’d have if I weren’t doing this. I’d be through my lists by now, surely, or at least close to done. I’d have three stories out, rather than a measly one.

And yet all I’ve ever wanted is to be able to kill people with my brain. When do I learn how to do that?

Tubez.

So apparently for Halloween the group costume is Internet memes. My blog readership has fallen off alongside my blog writership (and deservedly so…I’m thrilled I managed to blog throughout Clarion but knew I’d get face-melted by this semester and exams. No surprise my blogging’s dropped off), but if anyone’s still out there, any ideas for EZmode Internet memes I could turn into a costume on the fly? Possibly Baby Landlord. Or the DoubleRainbow guy, genderswapped. I love the “will this be forever?” kid, but that might be a little too close to home after last summer’s dentalpacolypse. Maybe the 99% tumblr?

Good news: I got summer teaching! A comp class, which is less good than a lit class, but I am still absurdly happy. Been waiting three years for this. Thanks to my working for the comp office (a job I love, but still), I’ve only TA’d one lit class, and I’ve taught 0 writing workshops (since I lost the nonfic I was supposed to have this semester). I am a bit concerned about my one-note teaching record here. But I do like teaching comp, especially the second-semester research-paper version. It’s an 8-week class, and the pay will get me through the summer. I’ll miss visiting home and seeing the fam for those three months, but it’ll be lovely actually getting to have a summer in Chicago for once. And maybe I can get a plane ticket for May and convince my boss to let me do a little pickup editing, so I can justify a trip home to visit Grandma, my brother, and los padres (if they’re home from globetrotting yet…).

In keeping with the Internet-y theme of this post, there’s also this random Internet link a friend posted via the FB today:

Why You Should Keep Your Goals Secret

This is a thing I have been feeling for awhile now. Have not vetted the sources on this or nuffin, but I definitely find myself accomplishing more when it’s just me and my brain and my own ambition. The second I crow about something, or publish my list to this blog, I then proceed to not do the things I’d planned. So, new rule: no blogging my To Do list, only my Have Done list. With happy strikethroughs through what all I’ve “accomplished,” however small. Getting milk, for example.

Today:
Finished White Teeth
Read more Ulysses (alllllmost done)
Read 70 pages of WBM homework and took copious notes for this weekend’s paper
Caught up with brother
Lunch with Sacha
Bought bus tix to visit Rhin
Got milk
Prepped activity for comp class tomorrow

Tomorrow:
Žižek!

The nostalgiabeast requires veggie snax and booze.

Went on a nostalgia shopping trip to Trader Joe’s this weekend. No, I did NOT get lost en route. Got coconut water, Cthulhu veggie snax, chocolate pretzels…I totally should have bought a bottle of Macallan 10 and the fixings for agave-basil margaritas. Maybe next time (that stuff’s pricey!). But the apartment now features a Clarion food-shrine cupboard.

Tonight, I will fill my mouth with all-green veggie strips, make drunken Cthulhu noises, and miss my Narwolves.

ArrrooooOooooo!

It means whatever you think it means.

I keep ending up in conversations with people who don’t want their art (usually writing, but we’ll go with “art”) to mean.
“Well, here’s what I got out of your story,” I say. “What did you WANT me to get out of it?”
“Oh, nothing. In fact, I aimed to confuse you,” or “I wanted you to get that it was banal and shallow,” or “I wanted you to feel bored, experience tedium, understand monotony etc.,” or “I wanted you to be unsure of exactly what took place, plot-wise.”

I am to the point where I hate this shit. I mean, I can see the point of trying to create productive doubt in the reader. Maybe. By my definition of productive doubt, anyway, which is more like meditating on things we think are real and true that upon reflection aren’t, or oughtn’t be. There are artworks that thematize doubt in a way I can get behind (Borges’ The Aleph, although that’s a hella simplistic reading of that text…am trying to avoid using the word “ontology,” shudder).

But I seriously don’t get making any of these problems the endgame of your art. I see how by trying to not make a point, that then becomes the point–you can’t get outside the problem; art can’t NOT mean. But because this is the case, I’m sick of people who seem intent on ONLY thematizing this problem, as if the desire to not mean–or even just mean something boring, or mean something so confusing you can’t follow it–were somehow therefore interesting.

Your wordcount has wasted my life. I can’t get those hours back. Someone tell me why this is an aesthetic I should care about? Because at this point, I AM SO OVER IT.

Long week is long.

I’m exhausted and it’s only Wednesday. Am in the midst of putting on our week-long composition mini-conference, and I am beat. More beat than I should be, really.

Played hard this weekend–went to an awesome wedding that looked out on the Chicago skyline, and went to a fabric store with most of my cohort. I’ll be making/edging curtains, a dressy work scarf and a tablecloth this weekend. Craft projects to take my mind off the wall of work.

Submitted another response paper to class and am now 3/8. Am still in love with the course, which is helping morale immensely on those days (like this week) where I’m spending upwards of 10 hours reading for class instead of exams. But I did manage to get through two more exam books, Cosmicomics and About a Mountain (Mom, you asked for reccs? You would love D’Agata). Still 2/3 of the way through Ulysses, just waiting for my exam group to get together and discuss before I plow through to the end.

And. I sent out a story this week (!!!). I do not know if it’s done, but it’s as done as I could make it, anyway. Now I’m gutting and reworking the next story on my list. I’ll hopefully send it out to a few readers w/in the next week.

So that’s all going well. What’s not? My damn health. I feel like I’m sick more often than well. Not crazy super sick, just constant sinus and throat trouble that flares up whenever I’m stressed (so, pretty much all the time). Currently I can’t swallow past the golf balls in my throat, but I’m disinclined to bother with a strep test because the last five times I’ve gone to get one, the doctor treats me like a hypochondriac: “Yes, your throat’s swollen. Yes, it looks very painful. Nope, there’s nothing we can do.” And of course when I’m feeling sick I sleep more (less reading/writing time) and don’t exercise. I feel miserable, mind and body, and I know that gym-time would help; technically I can totally run with a sore throat. But whenever I push it, my body punishes me and I end up sicker longer. Am so, so tired of this crappy cycle of poor health.

The only upside is that there’s no temptation to go out, see friends, spend $, play in the city, etc. All I want to do is curl up with a cuppa tea and an exam book (White Teeth, at moment. When I’m sick, I read the fun ones). Maybe I’ll even do more story revision this evening. It’s not like I’m going anywhere.

Although I do have zero groceries in the house. Perhaps I will STARVE TO DEATH before I feel well enough to brave the Jewel. Will that make you happy, body? WILL IT?? Going on a hunger strike until I feel better. Harumph.

Go away I’m dyeing.

Okay, THIS is why I let my hair grow out into its natural color. I am home dyeing my hair black on a Sat. night. My boringness, it knows no bounds. Although I did manage to read moar Ulysses and cook two fancy meals and exercise and revise a story that is CLEARLY TRYING TO KILL ME.
Seriously, story. We need to talk. Please just work, okay? I am done with revising you down dark alleys, into dead ends, whereupon you flee over a convenient fence and I’m left scrambling to find the most recent unrevised draft so I can start over from scratch. This cannot persist, or I’m going to need to abandon you. Which would be sad, because the three revision passes I’ve done on this piece represent the sum total of my writing since returning from Clarion.
Exams, they are also trying to kill me. Other than that life is splendid, though. Meeting with adviser went…if not well, exactly, then at least hopeful. I just need to read my two lists (history of nonfic and experimental fic) this semester so that I’m prepped to write the paper over Winter Break.
Farkas did a glorious job on his job talk, and I learned much about how to make that process go well. I only hope I can get my work to where it needs to be between now and my own job talk. Because his talk went well on the strength of a truly awesome story, IMHO. It gave people tons of smart stuff to ask questions about. Have got to get more experimentation into my dull memoir blues. Writing all the fabulist fiction this summer ought help with that, no?
In other news, I am going to visit Rhin in Missou over Thanksgiving. We will read and write and talk high theory and this is totally what counts as fun in my life. these days, sigh. And I also need to buy tix to Buenos Aires to see the fam in the very near future, before prices skyrocket. Whereupon I will study Spanish and read all the Borges and be the happiest girl alive.
Just need to get through the oncoming months…

Go away, I'm dyeing.