Sunday, September 30, 2001

Blech. I'm coming down with a cold. A couple of days ago, I thought it was the return of my seasonal allergy symptoms and probably related to the change in weather (much drier air and cooler temperatures). I had been negligent about taking my meds, after all. But today, my throat started feeling funny and now there's no doubt I've some sort of cold infection. Time to imbibe ginger tea and echinacea extract.

Joe was so cute this morning. He walked into the room I was reading in with one of my shirts and asked if he could wear it to church. The shirt is one of these shimmery kind of things, and I laughed to think he wanted to go to church in it. But he was serious. And then I asked myself why I thought church always had to mean formal clothing.... because it doesn't. Joe eventually chose another of my shirts to wear because the first one he picked out needs shiny black pants -- though I have a pair, the legs are too short for Joe.

Grrr... I don't want to be sick. I just want to curl up in bed with a warm cup of ginger tea, but I have to read and grade student papers... and prepare for class tomorrow. I'm being observed by the assistant director of the writing program. It's part of the usual first-time teaching deal. Actually, the program is pretty good about creating a network of dialogue between teachers in the program. I need to get over my self-pitying attitude towards my teaching experience and make the most out of it for myself. At the very least, I know my students will be getting something out of the class, even if it's not all that I want them to learn about writing.

Teaching and learning are very intriguing things for me. I'm only now beginning to realize the importance of repetition and breaking down ideas, concepts, and skills into smaller parts. In some ways, I think it's like the idea of church-going (Joe is at church now). For those people who grow up going to church, the regularity of it all must have an incredible effect. And in some ways, I think we generally have a poor understanding of how things work little by little over time. The common metaphor is how water and wind can erode hard rock over long periods of time. But in the human scale of time (a lifetime), we can't easily see these things. Cancer research is another example. To test if something is carcinogenic, researchers gorge test subjects (usually mice) with insane amounts of the substance. The understanding is that ingestion of or exposure to large amounts of a substance has similar effects to continual ingestion of or exposure to that same substance in miniscule quantities over a long period of time. But is that necessarily the case? Who knows...

      >> 8:40 PM

Saturday, September 29, 2001

Today is North Carolina's [PrideFest]. For a number of reasons (including excessive heat and low attendance), the Pride festivities have been moved from June to the end of September here.

      >> 12:13 PM

Thursday, September 27, 2001

Teaching is stressful.

      >> 7:42 PM

Wednesday, September 26, 2001

My mom called me at 6:45 this morning -- 3:45 am her time in California. She couldn't sleep; she was worried about my facial hair (gone since mid-August -- but my parents haven't seen me since July). Reading about all the "retaliation" hate crimes against Arab and South Asian Americans, she came to the conclusion that a defining feature of Arab-ness is facial hair Given my non-white, non-black skin color, too, she concluded that from a distance, I would appear to be an Arab. And she feared for my safety.

Her concern reminded me of what happened with Asian Americans in World War II. With Pearl Harbor and fear of Japanese attacks growing, the US shuttled Japanese Americans off into concentration camps. Chinese Americans went around with buttons proclaiming they were Chinese, not Japanese. Newsweek published an article on how to tell the difference between Japanese and Chinese people (based on physiognomy and personality). Chinese Americans definitely had a desire to separate themselves from Japanese Americans, not wanting to be mistaken for "the enemy," without questioning the overriding understanding of all Japanese Americans as spies and traitors.

And in terms of the history of Asian American panethnic unity, the brutal beating and killing of Vincent Chin in Detroit in 1982 was certainly a catalyst for organizing around an Asian American identity. Chin was a Chinese American killed by white auto workers who were upset at Japanese for "taking over" the auto industry.

(I wish I had more time to dilate on these ideas...)

      >> 6:52 AM

Tuesday, September 25, 2001

I'm [torn] between the admittedly troubling conception of obsessive Romantic love and a more staid understanding of mutual love and respect.

      >> 11:24 AM

Monday, September 24, 2001

Boo. Stuck in the library without an umbrella to get me back to the English department building. All of last night I was in Raleigh with Joe and [St. John's MCC]. I'm becoming a churchgoer, it seems... They had a guest minister give the sermon last night. He was from London. He had a cool English accent. He was also of Asian descent, from Singapore. He was funny.

      >> 11:43 AM

Saturday, September 22, 2001

Edward Said gives some balanced, yet sobering thoughts on how ["Islam and the West are inadequate banners"].

      >> 2:58 PM

[This] is all so very disturbing. Military service. "Homosexual conduct policy." The hypocrisy of using military service in time of war as validation of citizenship. (And all this after I've just looked at Cynthia Enloe's The Morning After in which she discusses this tactic of giving second-class citizens like women "full" status in their participation in war efforts during the Gulf War of 1991.) Stop-loss order. When do bodies just become bodies, expendable for war despite their markings as non-citizens at other times? Is it really "stop-loss," or "prepare for projected loss"?

At least there's some understanding that war will not solve all problems with [Barbara Lee].

Secretkings has had some very well-written comments this past week-and-a-half about responses to the terrorist attacks. In [this post], I especially found item 3 to articulate exactly my exasperations with the smugness of the "Left." I spent an hour at a teach-in on campus here, only to leave after hearing a few people self-righteously condemn American foreign policy with an I-told-you-so attitude. (One speaker kept calling himself "Cassandra"; another talked about how when he was young, he hated being wrong, and now that he is old, he hates being right.) This is exactly the problem I have with the Left. Although I consider myself a leftist, I can't stand the way leftist organizations and pundits are much like their conservative counterparts in refusing to entertain alternative understandings of situations. It's my way or the highway, in effect. And the insistence on casting themselves as "outsiders" only serves to entrench divisions that they are ostensibly trying to break down...

All that being said, however, I don't think close-minded leftists should be ceded the discourse of peace. Plenty of people in this country and the world understand that what we need now more than ever is a concerted effort to maintain and spread peace, love, and understanding (trite and naive as that all sounds) rather than military retaliation. And I'm glad that secretkings is continuing his participation in organizing peace rallies, even though he feels like he doesn't "speak" for the organizations.

      >> 8:28 AM

This was such a hyper-/inter-textual dream. And the ending was so hilarious (at least while it happened) I had to blog it. It took me awhile to get out of bed, though, so the details have faded... All the [links] in this entry are "annotations" to the various parts of the dream that point so directly to tensions and specific events in my life. I really feel like this dream was part of a process of digesting bits of information from the last few days.

As far as I can remember, it begins [back in California], and I'm in the back seat of a car with my brother. My parents are in front. It's a sunny day, and I'm dressed up as if for some fancy occasion. In the middle seat, there is a whole pile of [stuff] -- the knicknacks I bring on driving trips along with extra clothing for sudden changes of weather.

Someone says it's time to go and everyone gets out of the car except me. I'm slow; I ruffle through the pile of clothes and odds-and-ends looking for [something]. I finally make it out of the car onto the curb. It's a fairly busy street, with cars wizzing by constantly. Everyone's in a hurry, and it appears that a decision has finally been made about where we're going (for dinner?), but we're getting in different cars. My [sister] is there. A car pulls up next to the parked cars and we have to hop in quickly since the traffic is pretty heavy.

We drive along; at this point I'm not sure who got in what car. We get out of the car and are walking past a building. I notice some [half-naked guys] frolicking in the sun outside. But suddenly we're on our way to [my brother's dorm/apartment] and we walk into the building. The school year has pretty much ended, and he's already mostly moved out, but for some reason we're going by one last time. My brother, Joe, and I enter this apartment filled with [people] sort of moving out, but sort of just hanging around. The place is largely empty of furniture and boxes. A woman introduces herself to me though she's talking on the phone. She sticks out her hand; I shake it. But then she withdraws her hand and apologizes for having something on her [hand] though I didn't notice. Joe and I walk around a bit more, my brother having disappeared at this point, and say hello to some more people, peek into some more rooms.

More driving in a car, on our way to a [school]. We get there and we walk around the beautiful campus. At some point, I run into this girl and she complains to me about the train to Manhattan coming through town so infrequently. I tell her we just came from there, except we drove. She's excited by that idea, for some reason, but asks why we drove, since the road is so circuitous between Manhattan and campus. But I tell her I didn't [drive], and it seemed like a straightforward drive to me.

Then Joe and I are going to class as visitors. It's an old lecture room with wooden seats bolted to a slightly sloping floor. The class is full; the [professor] a middle-aged woman with short hair in that sixties kind of style. She sits among the students instead of at the head of the class. We're talking about [Virginia Woolf]. I've even brought my book, it's either The Voyage Out or a collection of her non-fiction writing. The phrase "moments of being" seems to hang in the air. But as the class discusses the reading, it becomes clear that they are talking about a poem of Woolf's, one they've all hand-copied onto an index card that they pull out of the book. I become increasingly [uncomfortable] because I haven't read the poem and I don't know what they're talking about. The professor is sitting in front of me, about a quarter of the room away, so she doesn't really see me unless she turns all the way around in her seat.

All of a sudden, a group of at least five [state troopers] comes into the room. Joe and I are sitting next to each other at the back of the room, just behind where the entrance is. The officers fan out around the room, but one woman officer sees us as she comes in and comes right up to us. She says please excuse the intrusion, but they wanted to know if the class knew what [anal-rective (?) surgery] was, all the while looking at us. It was clear she meant surgery to repair a torn rectum. She began pulling down her pants. And then she talked about [men wanting to be women], though not very explicitly. I can't remember the words she said, but what was important was her implication, the unspoken spoken. She pulled her pants down to reveal slinky red underwear, and just as she pulled that down far enough to reveal a bit of [trimmed] pubic hair, she stopped and dressed herself. She goes on a little bit more, decrying (male) homosexuality and Joe and me more directly.

Frustrated, I finally raise my hand, like this is all part of a class discussion. All I say is, "Excuse me, but that is so old-fashioned." As I say this, I keep my arm up, but let my hand fall to emphasize my limp wrist. And the class bursts into laughter as everyone thrusts up their hands, eager to critique these state troopers' attempt to vilify (male) homosexuality as [inversion], a desire for a man to be a woman. The [class] has become so raucous that eventually, it just disperses. We're outside on the rolling green hills of campus, racing around. A cute guy that was in the class stops to say hi. And then all these soccer balls are flying around and he joins in with an impromptu game of [kick-the-balls].

The End

      >> 7:55 AM

Wednesday, September 19, 2001

Just found out from Joe that [Yale] is developing more institutional support for sexuality studies. Apparently, Larry Kramer changed his mind and donated his papers to the library after all back in April ([Larry Kramer's Papers Donated to Yale and the Larry Kramer Initiative in Lesbian and Gay Studies Announced]). I wonder how it all happened, remembering how a few years ago, Kramer wanted to donate his papers, but left angrily when his demands were not met. (I'm sure I blogged about it at some point in the last year.) In any case, of course, the official announcements don't mention any controversies. But I am glad to see that as a result of the [Initiative], there is now a formal Queer Studies Reading and Research Group as well as "Queer Teas at Yale," a new interdisciplinary forum for Studies in Gender and Sexuality.

      >> 8:00 PM

[The new list is clearly different. Instead of promoting national safety, its intended aim is to ensure national mental health, though First Amendment supporters may point to it as the first shadowy blacklist in what President Bush says will be a war against terrorism.]

      >> 7:31 PM

Monday, September 17, 2001

And now a brief message from our regular programming...

[xkot.net] brings up an interesting observation about the rhetoric of love (and sexuality):

I am sad that people who claim to represent my faith are blaming this whole disaster on gays, when they should be speaking about the love God has for all of his children. I wonder if they blame Mark Bingham, one of the heroes who kept the fourth plane from hitting anything other than a field. He was gay. Is it his fault, Mr. Robertson, or is he a hero?

What I've noticed generally is that the news media have made much of passengers on the hijacked planes calling their spouses and telling them, their last words, that they love them. (Or maybe that was just the sentimental Barbara Walters report.) And I'm not trying to downplay the awfulness of these final communications. But I begin to wonder what the effect of these representations are when the news reports repeat endlessly that phrase, "I love you." I've been told that some of these parting voice-mail messages, too, have made their way from the privacy of intimate relations to the national airwaves and broadcasts. And I wonder if these reports aren't a sort of manipulation of the intense sadness we all feel for the victims and their loved ones, a molding of our ideas of what it means to be an American attacked by terrorism. Following the stories I've seen over and over on the television, do you have to be a married man or woman with a beautiful, smiling child? Or can you be another kind of person, someone not married, perhaps even gay? What do we make of these lost lives? The article xkot.net links doesn't mention Mark Bingham's sexuality. But it definitely links him to his family, to the phone call he made to his mother. What are these webs of familiarity that seem to define our humanity? Can we mourn the loss of people who live outside ties of marriage, heterosexual union and reproduction, and heirs? Can we mourn the loss of people we don't know who don't fit our representations of the American Dream?

      >> 10:00 AM

Sunday, September 16, 2001

There are so many good writers out there, so many people who can tell a story, argue a point, describe a situation in ways that bring their perspectives to life. I've been clicking my way through so many new journals and blogs this past week, trying to fill my mind with thoughts not my own. I've been unable to do "work," the kind of reading and critical thinking graduate school demands of me. It's always the first to go when something catastrophic or even mildly disturbing intrudes upon my life. I also can't focus on preparing for the class I'm teaching, commenting on student papers. But while it's been great reading all these new blogs and seeing how others are attempting to understand and deal with terrorism, I'm afraid all the new bookmarks I've made are going to occupy too much of my time...

      >> 7:55 PM

Joe's friend asks some of the most fascinating questions. She thinks about things in ways that very few other people do, draws connections between events that go beyond publicly sanctioned rhetoric.

She wonders how we might turn to music and the arts as a way to deal with the emotions, the anger, churned up by Tuesday's attacks. She wonders whether Islamic cultures, especially in the Middle East, have parallel understandings of music's power to bridge emotions and politics. Are there songs of struggle among the people of Afghanistan, for example? Can we somehow tap into the lives of these people, appreciate what they go through each day under the repressive regime of the Taliban, by sharing their music?

On the topic of music, there are some quite disturbing songs of patriotism and nationalistic excess on the radio waves. There's a song comprised of clips of Bush's pronouncements of war and retaliation played over a militaristic / anthem-like accompaniment. I just think it's interesting how people are reacting with a sense of injured national pride. It's as if people think that projecting a strong sense of national pride would deter terrorist attacks. But terrorism operates at a completely different level. Terrorism is about killing "innocents" because of their associations with the larger entity of a nation. The more vociferous Americans are about their pride in being Americans, the more appropriate the terrorists' endeavors seem to be. It just seems to me that the more appropriate response (what does that mean? more appropriate?) would be simply to mourn the lost and express solidarity in the value of human life over divisions of nationality, ethnicity, religion, or whatever.

      >> 7:29 PM

There's something very interesting going on with the media focus on "children" in relation to the terrorist attacks. The local network affiliates have been airing stories and question-answer sessions focused on how to deal with children's concerns and reactions to the terrorist atttacks. In some senses, this approach is incredibly infantilizing. But it also seems to be an attempt to recuperate discussions of how these events have affected all of us emotionally. It is a displacement of the fear, sadness, and anger that we "adults" feel in reaction to the attacks, but aren't allowed to discuss in public forums except as a desire for immediate, violent retribution. Yesterday, for example, a child psychologist on a local station talked about how children are more "raw emotion" without the ability to reason and "rationalize" that adults have.

Peter Jennings on the national ABC news had a remarkable forum with children on Saturday morning. I didn't watch most of it, thinking that most of the show, like the local coverage, would be sentimental, condescending "talking to" children's fears. But the kids on the show asked some very important questions. Because they weren't "adults," it seems, they were allowed to voice the questions that clearly plague many of us. They were allowed to ask the questions that are racist, xenophobic, etc. One kid asked about whether the Quran indeed says that killing enemies of Islam allows one to enter heaven. And clearly, while most of us understand that the holy book does not condone killing, some of us still insist on taking the extremist terrorists as representatives of all of Islam. I'm glad that within this forum, at least, the participants were able to air their fears and prejudices so that as a collective body, they could dispel myths and outright lies that stereotype Islam as a religion and Arabs as a people.

      >> 8:52 AM

Saturday, September 15, 2001

[Choire's photos] of NYC and the people are amazing, moving, life-affirming.

      >> 5:45 PM

Yesterday my friend cried in our office. In the face of all that has happened, her beliefs and understandings of life were flaking away. She didn't know what she was doing here, now. Why teach first-year college students when they clearly are not interested in learning, not even respectful of the classroom environment to stay awake, listen, work? Why surround herself with people who don't care, who don't even seem to notice? Why live so far from her family and friends, work so hard at a graduate degree program, when everything falls apart anyways? And I had no answers for her, no consolations. She cried, and all I could do was watch.

      >> 5:25 PM

Thursday, September 13, 2001

After a presentation on the week's reading of Edward Said's Orientalism, the student opened up discussion by trying to relate the ideas of Orientalism, othering, and difference to current events. A woman in class grabbed her notebook and bag and rushed out of class frantically as some other students began to talk about their worries of the strident rhetoric of retaliation and self-righteous patriotism. Understandably, this woman was not ready to talk about the terrorist attacks in a classroom setting. The emotions were still too immediate and terrible. She left in her wake a jarring sense of utter despair over how things are, over how we might begin to return to our lives as they were.

Ironic how utterly appropriate this week's reading in postcolonial theory was: Said's work as well as an essay by Homi Bhabha. But also it brought back to the forefront of my mind how immensely influential theoretical paradigms of how we relate to each other, how we know ourselves and others, etc. are still inadequate to deal with the fallout of terrorist attacks. Thinking about the immediate consolidation of "American-ness" and "foreign-ness" as distinct, polar entities, about the quickness with which the words "go back home" spew out of people's mouths, about the complete lack of understanding or any attempt at understanding the forces that might truly have brought us to such a horrible tragedy. And all this is NOT to say that understanding one's actions justifies them, but merely to say that only by understanding one's actions, no matter how twisted, irrational, fanatic, extremist, and plain crazy, is the only way we can deal with what happened. Only then can we address whatever the real problems are rather than displacing anger and violence onto the visible markers of racial difference, of Oriental otherness.

But my words do nothing. What can they do but sit by idly? What would justice really mean, too? I certainly to cheer on the investigators diligently and fervently tracing the leads from plane manifests, trying to find the accomplices to the suicide hijackers. And they should be found and punished. But is punishment enough? How can we make sure such terrorist attacks never happen again?

      >> 9:37 PM

Wednesday, September 12, 2001

I thought this sentence from the end of an e-mail I received today announcing a teach-in about the "Attack on America" was especially thoughtful: An Eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.

And from my friend milypan: Do they [people out for vengeance and the invasion of Afghanistan, etc.] really think that declaring all-out war on a bunch of Muslim countries is going to make crazy, fanatical suicide bombers *less* likely to target the United States?!?

And from my friend Eric: Though it is also a little hard not to start to think already of the ramifications, such as the US response -- we see in the Middle East the cycle of violence and tragedy that comes from terrorist attacks followed by military responses, which begets more of the same...

Not much room for formulating my own thoughts at the moment, though the flow of words from peace-minded individuals comforts me greatly, even if the general rhetoric from "the public" (interviewed on the news) and speeches of our representatives veers frighteningly towards advocating sheer violence as a solution to terrorist attacks. I don't live in some sort of utopia of non-violence (though I wish I did), but I also cannot believe that violence really ever solves anything. I just do not understand the kind of anger that can lead one to wish death upon another human being; I especially cannot understand anger / fear / fanaticism that leads one to murder thousands of unknown peoples who "represent" a hated country, nation, religion, etc. I've never been good at accepting collective identities as governing criteria for my interaction with people. (I suppose part of my social-phobia is a general feeling of utter confusion and novelty upon encountering people, an inability to slot people into identities based on hearsay, appearance, or other prejudices.) To see how grand narratives of identity like nationhood and religion can mobilize extremists to this unholy scale of violence is far beyond comprehension.

I've been seeing how some critics of US greatness on listservs have been getting slammed for not being "patriotic." But the idea of how strong the US is, how good the US is, seems to me to miss entirely the point of the situation. Terrorist attacks on US civilians are a mark of some extremists' attempt to categorize us in the US as "the enemy," above and beyond whatever ideological, political, and economic effects the US might have on the extremists' countries and peoples of affiliation. And while a knee-jerk response to such a collectivizing attack would be to mobilize around that sentiment by reversing it, by claiming one's membership in a "great" US, it seems a hollow move to me. So, what of it? What really makes us morally superior as US citizens? I have running in the back of my mind an audio imprint of our Congress singing (spontaneously, so the news reported) "God Bless America" as a rousing go-get-'em show of solidarity. It actually disturbed me to hear that performance this morning. I can't really explain why -- something about the uncritical raising of the banner of patriotism only seems to me to exacerbate the problems of why extremists would think of the US as the enemy in the first place. (Can you tell I was never into team sports?)

In other words: Whether or not these extremists have any justification for judging the US and its people as "the enemy," simplistic retaliation in kind will never address the reasons for terrorism. I have to believe that it is possible to work out issues and problems, not just on a personal level (therapy), but on larger scales such as between countries, between religions, between ideologies.

      >> 11:41 PM

Tuesday, September 11, 2001

It's all so unreal. Watching the World Trade Center towers collapse. All of a sudden, all that's there is a cloud of smoke and debris. The incredible disconnect between the long distance image of skyscrapers falling in on themselves and the understanding that there are thousands of people in and around the buildings. The awful realization that there are people able to hijack commercial jets with scores of passengers and crash them into heavily populated areas. I was in shock all morning, on the verge of tears, watching the television coverage.

It's incredible, but I'm expected by the university and Writing Program to convene my writing class tomorrow morning as usual at 8 am. I received an e-mail from a student saying he is "emotionally distraught" and unable to focus on anything. We won't be doing much in class, but I suppose the gesture of going on is important.

More frightening perhaps is what will come next. Will things escalate to all-out war? How will the U.S. respond? I'm very nervous about what a Bush-led administration and military will do to reassert U.S. strength on the global scene.

      >> 7:11 PM

Monday, September 10, 2001

. . . avoiding work . . .

      >> 12:28 AM

Sunday, September 09, 2001

Back from a wonderful weekend couples retreat to Sunset Beach with Joe's [church]. I've never really been to the beach before. It was fun wading in the water. I, of course, did not have swimwear to venture further out into the waves. It looked like so much fun, though.

It was great being around a whole bunch of loving gay people. There were a few workshops for us to attend. They were filled with earnest discussions and funny / moving anecdotes about our lives as same-sex couples. All in all, a very affirming weekend.

The drive back was kind of horrendous, though, with the inexplicable detours and poor signs that threw us off onto a side road from which it took us awhile to find the main highway again. And then there was the half hour of torrential downpours. But we made it back safe and sound.

Now off to the welcoming reception for the [English department]. (Just as the weather turns grey above; thunder rumbles.)

      >> 2:04 PM

Friday, September 07, 2001


      >> 6:50 AM

Monday, September 03, 2001

Happy Labor Day!

Ah, the day off from work. Relaxation. Nice.

I had to post this [picture] of our dear President and the Pope that Joyeeta sent me. Too funny.

These reading glasses I got on Saturday are SO amazingly helpful. I no longer have headaches! (I was getting them every day -- I guess from eye strain, reading so much.) It's sad that I need reading glasses at my age, though. Oh well.

A belated weblog happy birthday greeting to boyfriend, too! (It was yesterday, and no, I didn't forget.)

      >> 10:08 AM

Finished watching [A Very Natural Thing] this morning. It was actually quite engaging. When Joe and I picked it up at the video store, I thought it might be a slightly boring film, one of those "recovered" films that has more value as an historical oddity than anything of stand-alone interest. The box claimed it was one of the first openly gay films (from 1974) that explored the lives of gay men in any depth.

The film was a sort of mixture between a gay liberationist documentary, an after-school-special presentation of gay rights issues, and a story of relationships over time. By far the most interesting part for me was the film's story of how relationships develop and/or deteriorate over time. But the interspersed footage (?) from pride parades with gays and lesbians proclaiming their stances on the importance of the parades and gay rights also worked well in the film to ground the "love story" in a larger social context. At times, the dialogue was a little labored in trying to work out a whole host of issues about the right to love whomever one chooses, what marriage means, what sex means for gay men, the difference between the personal and the political, etc. But the fact that this single film brought up all of these issues is quite impressive.

It also got me to thinking about progress and gay rights -- about how much things have really changed or not since the mid-1970s. And even if there is more open discussion and acknowledgement of homosexuality in the public, there seem still to be great difficulties for individuals to move through barriers of compulsory heterosexuality. Near the end of the film, two characters discuss the "point" of gay pride parades, and it was great to hear them acknowledge that as important as pride parades are for visibility, so many people disappear into their closets the other 364 days of the year -- that the parade should be part of a larger social movement to make gays an open part of everyday life rather than a spectacle for entertainment (in some ways, the commodification of a gay "lifestyle").

. . .

Last night we had dinner with a sort-of new friend of ours. After dinner we came on the topic of literature, fiction, and canons. It was great to talk to this guy -- a medical student -- to see just how some other people think of literature and literary value. What is it that we get out of reading literature? Our friend argued that nonfiction is much more straightforward, that there is some point to be extracted from reading essays and such; but reading fiction is far more ambiguous for him. Is there a point to reading a novel? Do you get some sort of knowledge about the world or social issues? Is there a simple connection between reading fiction and the value you get from it? I don't know that we came to much a conclusion of anything last night, but these questions that our friend had are very much the sorts of questions I have about my studies. Of course, he has pretty much decided that it is much more worth his time to read nonfiction for ideas and arguments than fiction for some more undefined thing. And I, on the other hand, am struggling to define the various things I get from reading fiction, literature, poetry -- things that aren't necessarily rhetorical arguments, particular stances on social issues, or facts about the world. It's like I'm not really trying to define things I get from reading literature, but rather processes or maybe skills -- ways of thinking about the world, of analyzing, interpreting, communicating... But I don't know. I'm still trying to figure it all out for myself.

Our discussion of literary canons was enlightening, too, if perhaps also disheartening. In essence, our friend saw canons -- literary, filmic, artistic -- as arbiters of value. Books, movies, and other works of art that make it into various canons (and at least he understood the variety of canons that exist) pass some sort of evaluative process that he implicitly authorizes to make decisions for him. And yet, he knows just as well that there is a fallacy in believing that something is "good" (for whatever reasons) simply because a well-known, well-respected critic said so. He also understands that what works for one person may not work for another, that a movie critic may love a movie for some particular reason that just doesn't catch his interest at all. I think what lies at the heart of his understanding of literature is actually a fear of "getting" what it is about a certain canonized book that others talk about. If he reads something like Hamlet, for example, he wants to know that he has understood the play as others have, that he has understood why it is in the pantheon of great literary works, why it has become a part of the popular consciousness. And the fact that literary interpretation can be so spotty, can run in quite different ways than one would go without outside guidance (i.e., reading what other people have written about particular literary works), is upsetting to him (and me).

But I think what is more interesting about canons is their formation, how various people come up with the criteria to define good or worthy books, movies, and art. What are the issues that concern them? What are their values (social, aesthetic, and other)? Why is one book a "must read" now, when a couple of decades ago, it was lost in the archives of time? What kind of work are particular works of literature doing as part of canons?

      >> 9:35 AM

Sunday, September 02, 2001

What a coincidence! Just came across [this passage] in Anne Brontë's Agnes Grey concerning formal address and the tension between decorum and distancing within the relationship of instructor and student. Agnes Grey is a novel about a young woman who takes on the role of governess in at least two (fifty pages in) households. I'm finding it to be an enjoyable read so far. Gotta love those Brontës.

      >> 6:56 AM

Saturday, September 01, 2001

Tee hee. I'm amused by the simplest things. I'm amused by my students' confusion about how to address me. Raised to be formally respectful to their teachers and authority figures in general (I think), they call me "sir." I ask them please to call me "Paul" and I still hear "sir" often. It's not entirely unpleasant, but funny to consider the extent to which they are trying to deal with this incongruity -- a teacher they must respect, but one who doesn't want to be called "sir." Today, I received an e-mail from one of my students with a greeting that emblematizes this confusion. He wrote, "Hey sir ... " Heh.

In any case, it is interesting for me to consider how people show respect. In some circles, the formal aspects are most important. In others, respect is less about formalities and more about respecting others as people. Or maybe that's just the culture in which I grew up.

      >> 5:41 PM