Amy Armenia, chair of the sociology department at Rollins College in Winter Park, Fla., has been studying ways colleges can help alleviate child-care crises this fall. Programs in women’s and gender studies have also been collecting models of promising ideas, most of which have yet to be put into practice. Among the suggestions Armenia and two psychology faculty members compiled:
Put nonessential service obligations, like curriculum reform, on hold.
Evaluate teaching loads and enrollments to be sure that early-career academics, who are more likely to have young children, aren’t overly burdened with large courses.
Allow flexibility for asynchronous teaching, work from home, and nonstandard work times.
Help employees help each other by setting up banks for unused sick leave or coordinating efforts to share part-time nannies and tutors.
Create lists of employees without current care-giving responsibilities who are willing to spend an hour or two a week virtually reading books or teaching math lessons.
First thing I will do in the Fall: urge my graduate students and young colleagues to subscribe to Tom Mullaney’s YouTube Channel. His videos about how academia works (research and writing, job search and presenting, funding and awards, the politics of academia) are valuable not only to first generation professors but also to scholars working in peripheral academias.
Pushing other people’s works forward before summer break: students’ dissertations, postdocs’ proposals, colleagues’ article and chapter drafts. Particularly proud of a dissertation I co-supervise: an old-style 640-page volume almost ready to be submitted!
Back to UAB for another doctoral dissertation oral defense. Last time I came up here was on March 13, right at the beginning of the lockdown. The campus is still completely empty. In March, at the end of the defense the candidate, who had just come back from China, offered a few masks to each member of the committee as a sign of gratitude instead of the proverbial cheese and wine. Almost four months later, each member comes equipped with his own mask. Still no cheese and wine.
Working with the Ethics Committee at my university to refine the process for assessing the research proposals coming from the humanities and social sciences. The EU General Data Protection Regulation was implemented in 2018. Two years later we still need a better understanding of how the issues of data protection and privacy should be dealt in fields outside biomedical research, for instance.
Reading about soccer in Iceland. In 2016, the Iceland national soccer team qualified for the first time for the UEFA European Championship and reached the quarter-finals after beating England in the Round of 16. In 2018, Iceland qualified for the first time for the FIFA World Cup.
Of course, Icelanders feel proud: they excel at soccer at a world level, even if they are a very small country and live in a very tough climate–two conditions that make it extremely difficult to excel at soccer internationally. Being able to overcome these difficulties, Icelanders feel they can achieve anything–beyond soccer.
I’m reading about all this pushed by a comparison: scholars in peripheral academias should feel like Icelanders playing soccer and look for their sources of pride given their own Icelandic professional conditions.
The ubiquity of death helps explain not just the overnight socialism and the nervousness of governments but also the new difficulties elected leaders are facing in explaining their actions to citizens. The Great Pestilence cries out for leaders who are good at motivating citizens by winning their respect. True democratic leaders display a radiance of style. They listen. They are practiced in the art of knowing when to be silent. True leaders learn from others. They know and respect the value of experts, wise people (as Niels Bohr said) who remind them that they don’t know everything. Good leaders are wise in turn: they are not blinded by expert advice and scientific data, which they know to be incomplete, constantly mutating and subject to disputations. Genuine leaders are level-headed and inwardly calm. They know how to poke fun at themselves, but they refuse to be clowns. They are not biddable. When the chips are down, as they now are, true leaders are rock steady. They have the courage to face up to hard realities and to make difficult judgments about how best to save lives while protecting citizens from social and economic ruin. They avoid demagoguery. They don’t worship power for its own sake. Above all, true democratic leaders humbly acknowledge their deep dependence upon the people known as the led. They don’t try to drag citizens by their noses. They lead people by persuading them to look up to their leaders.
On the emergency rule:
Such justifications of emergency rule are both dangerously naïve and ignorant. Unless they are resisted, concentrations of arbitrary power always display a definite stickiness. As temporary measures, they easily become permanent arrangements. Power granted is power conceded; and power relinquished is power reclaimed with difficulty. Emergency rule gets people used to subordination. It nurtures voluntary servitude. It is the mother of despotism and, as Percy Bysshe Shelley observed in Queen Mab (1813), arbitrary power, ‘like a desolating pestilence’, which strangely resembles the virus it claims to combat.
Book project: planning ahead. Josep Pla in The Gray Notebook:
He emprès aquest camí, no pas pensant en els resultats que en podré obtenir que seran, gairebé segur, mediocríssims, potser nuls, potser negatius–llevat de produir-se alguna cosa impensada. He emprès aquest camí per vèncer la dificultat d’emprendre’l–exactament parlant.
Just learned that Hjckrrh has opened some books for free. One of them is Pema Tseden’s Tharlo, translated into Spanish by Maialen Martín-Lacarta. Another great piece of news chez Hjckrrh: Li Ang’s Muñecas con curvas is out, translated by Alberto Poza.
Another factor in the exhaustion, Joosten adds, is that so many people want to project to others that they’re doing business as usual, even while the news is full of “images of death, of illness, of economic downturn and collapse.”
I am trying to convince some peers at my department that we should minimize this factor of exhaustion: limit the amount and length of online meetings, cancel research seminars, and so on. We should avoid projecting the image of business as usual. Not only because we are surrounded by “images of collapse,” but also because, pure and simple, business is not as usual–particularly for those who have to care for others at home.
The dossier on contemporary China for L’Espill that I coedited with David Martínez-Robles is out! It includes wonderful pieces by young China scholars. It also includes my translation of Dai Jinhua’s essay on the future of Chinese (and world) history, which seems quite appropriate for these days. Proud to make Dai’s work available in the Catalan language and for such a prestigious journal.
La Xina del present, el món del futur (L’Espill 62, 2020)
David Martínez-Robles i Carles Prado-Fonts, “La Xina del present, el món del futur”
Javier Borràs Arumí, “Periodisme, censura i el repte d’un futur comú amb la Xina”
Carles Brasó Broggi, “La Xina i les noves rutes de la seda”
Irene Masdeu Torruella, “La Xina com a país d’origen i de destí”
Xavier Ortells Nicolau, “Les ruïnes de la nova Xina”
Jesús Sayols Lara, “Sota els paraigües”
Manel Ollé, “Dai Jinhua o el feminisme que mira més enllà dels drets de la dona”
In the past few weeks I’ve been asked many times to share impressions or recommend readings about China and coronavirus and the virus and them over there and now the virus and us right here and etcetera. Mostly I have directed them to the mandarin button and to Eric Hayot’s The Hypothetical Mandarin…
In the predictable near future, as the nation celebrates its victory against this national battle that is the Covid-19 with music and song, I hope that we will not become empty and hollow writers who echo along, but people who are simply living authentically with our own memories.
Still, a kind of pandemic caste system is rapidly developing: the rich holed up in vacation properties; the middle class marooned at home with restless children; the working class on the front lines of the economy, stretched to the limit by the demands of work and parenting, if there is even work to be had.
Terrific piece by Nick Admussen here. One of the best things I’ve read in the past few days. First paragraph:
As cases of Covid-19 spread and we begin a period of social distancing, I want to give you my argument for continuing to do the two things university was designed for: to read and to write. Colleges often present themselves to students as a package excursion for youth: open quadrangles, energetic friends and lovers, deep conversation, light beer, live music, parties. It is that, and much more. Yet my colleagues and I didn’t become literature professors – we didn’t become literate – by going to class. We learned what we know in rooms that lacked conversation, friends, and open doors.
Getting adjusted to this new situation. I read this Twitter thread from Aisha Ahmad. I find it very helpful. She later expands this thread in an article at The Chronicle of Higher Education: Why You Should Ignore All That Coronavirus-Inspired Productivity Pressure. The article, though, does not mention what, for me, was perhaps the most important advice given in the Twitter thread: simplify, minimize, focus on the most basic and important things:
Third, any work that can be simplified, minimized, and flushed: FLUSH IT. Don’t design a fancy new online course. It will suck & you will burn out. Choose the simplest solution for you & your students, with min admin. Focus on getting students feeling empowered & engaged.
Yesterday was the last day of school before lockdown. So the kids are at home today when I leave for work. I take the train to UAB–I’m a committee member in a dissertation oral defense that has not been canceled. The campus is still open but there are no students around. At the end of the defense, the candidate, who has just come back from China, offers each member of the committee a few masks as a substitute for the cheese and wine traditionally offered by candidates at the end of defenses in Spain.
Anna Kornbluh on academic service in this interesting conversation, here:
I can’t believe that people don’t want to understand the conditions of their own work. There’s this terrible feminization of service, but there’s also the mischaracterization of it as not intellectual. Building a curriculum, inventing a gen-ed curriculum: Those are profoundly intellectual things. So one wants to be careful of upholding that divide.
I’m not quite sure that most of the tasks related to academic service that are part of my daily routine could be considered profoundly intellectual. But I promise I will give it some thought.
While I am driving to Reus for the book presentation, the news report the first coronavirus case in Catalonia. The presentation goes well and I am happy to meet again with friends and family, but there is a strange mood. Back home I read Ian Johnson’s piece, Coronavirus and the Panic Epidemic. Quite prophetic–this kind of government’s gesticulation will take place here too. The effectiveness of the government’s actions is another thing.
Recognizing some of the feelings mentioned by Vikrant Dadawala in this piece. For example:
Like Stephen Dedalus in front of his British dean of studies, I found my tongue stumbling over familiar words, intimidated by how naturally Americans spoke English: caressing each word, adding lilts and twangs in the most unexpected places.
Indeed: “Maybe against all odds, and in the face of all this technology, and the distractions we have, the next cool thing that can happen with our culture is people consciously detaching from all these devices. That would be so cool.” Nickolas Butler dixit here.
Reading ahead for a doctoral dissertation oral defense. The dissertation is on Yu Hua’s fiction writing. Happy to reencounter Yu Hua’s “Death Narrative” and one of my favorite short story starters:
Translated by Teresa Tejeda as: “En principio no había planeado ir con el camión en otra dirección, así que todo esto estaba destinado a suceder.” Translated also by Lucas Klein here as: “I hadn’t planned on driving the truck in that direction in the beginning, so this was all predestined by fate.”
How can literature help us here? The claim is often made that people who read literature are wiser or kinder, that literature inspires empathy. But is that true? I find that literature doesn’t really do those things. After observing the foreign policies of the so-called developed countries, I cannot trust any complacent claims about the power of literature to inspire empathy. Sometimes, even, it seems that the more libraries we have over here, the more likely we are to bomb people over there.
What we can go to literature for is both larger and smaller than any cliché about how it makes us more empathetic. Literature does not stop the persecution of humans or the prosecution of humanitarians. It does not stop bombs. It does not, no matter how finely wrought, change the minds of the little fascists who once more threaten to overrun the West. So what is it good for—all this effort, this labor, this sweating over the right word, the correct translation?
I offer this: literature can save a life. Just one life at a time. Perhaps at 4 AM when you get out of bed and pull a book of poetry from the shelf. Perhaps over a week in summer when you’re absorbed in a great novel. Something deeply personal happens there, something both tonic and sustaining.
Back again to teaching–this quarter, Readings in Modern and Contemporary East Asian Fiction. Really looking forward to it. On my way to the first session I just read that Jennifer Egan taught a course at Penn and banned computers and phones: “I won’t have it. I won’t. Unless people have a problem with handwriting, I have no computers in the classroom. I think these devices really erode our engagement with whatever it is we’re trying to do.”
Interesting piece here by Karen E. Spierling on the humanities and critical empathy:
Functioning effectively in a globalized society — in business, politics, medicine, education, daily interactions with immigrants in one’s own community, or daily interactions with locals in the community into which one has immigrated — requires the skill of rigorous, critical, empathetic thinking. Not just run-of-the-mill empathy. Not a wishy-washy definition of empathy that reduces it to natural feelings or emotions. Not just instinctive “people skills.” Not some kind of imagined empathy that depends on a person’s inherent ability to listen well and think from another person’s point of view. Not touchy-feely but uninformed sympathy for “those less fortunate” in other parts of the world. Instead, navigating this globalized world requires sophisticated, well-honed skills of empathy.
Yesterday, department seminar on the future of the humanities led by Marina Garcés and based on GUNi’s 7th Higher Education in the World Report presented this week in Barcelona. Today, read this piece by Aaron Hanlon–what is the future of the humanities, of knowledge, of higher education when the situation of the professoriate is so critical?
a professoriate that can count on a job for only a year at a time is not well positioned to build, or even to consider, the future of knowledge. What is the future of plant science? What is the future of literary studies? What is the future of pedagogy, of rhetoric, of media, of communication? People with tenure and job security are now working on those things, in many cases in partnership with people outside the university, but if such people cease to exist in a professional capacity, what will become of their fields?
Attended Ignacio Sánchez Prado’s double feature today here in Barcelona: a morning seminar on his theoretical and methodological approaches to world literature and an afternoon talk on transculturation and the global novel. Very inspiring–I hope to put that inspiration on paper very soon…
Wonderful seminar by Jorge Locane at our weekly departmental lunch series: “Literature between China and Latin America. South-South Flows and Exchanges in the Context of the Cold War.” A pleasure to share some ideas with Jorge about this great project ahead.
Back to Joan Torres-Pou’s Asia en la España del siglo XIX. His chapter on Luis Valera takes me back to one of the best moments in Sombras chinescas:
Son las once de la noche. Nos queda una hora hasta que llegue el cotillón, último número de los festejos. La gente se dispersa. (…) Las señoras bajan a orillas del lago y se embarcan en los dorados juncos imperiales, que parecen iluminadas góndolas venecianas. Yo también voy en junco. Desde el lago contemplamos de nuevo aquella visión de teatral apoteosis. (…) Las señoras que estaban en Pekín el año anterior, recuerdan lo que hacían doce meses antes, y cómo estaban encerradas en las Legaciones oyendo los gritos de los boxers detrás de la negra muralla de la Tártara Ciudad. Los que no estábamos entonces en Pekín contestamos a las señoras que todo aquello fue una pesadilla, cosa soñada y nada más; y si no, ¿cómo nos estamos paseando en la misteriosa Ciudad Prohibida, por el Lago de los Lotos Purpurinos, dueños de hacer cuanto se nos antoje y gozando de maravillosa fiesta? ¿Dónde están los boxers, dónde la Corte imperial y dónde los pérfidos mandarines que la aconsejaban? Alguien, desde la proa del junco, nos contesta incoherentemente: “cadáveres de boxers hay en el fondo de este lago, la Corte pronto regresará a Pekín, y quizás nunca vuelva a celebrarse fiesta como la de esta noche.” Lo de los boxers yacentes en el limo debajo de las aguas que surcamos no agrada a las señoras; éstas quieren tornar al embarcadero de la Rotonda, y tanto más deprisa cuanto que se oyen los compases del primer vals y las aguardan sus parejas.
Just finished my translation of Dai Jinhua’s essay–squeezed in the middle of this quarter’s teaching and while revising the book manuscript too… Really happy to make her work available to Catalan readers in the Catalan language and for such a prestigious publication as L’Espill. It should be out in January in a special issue on contemporary China that I have co-edited with my colleague David Martínez-Robles.
Amitav Ghosh interviewed at The Creative Independent. What do you do when you feel creatively stuck?
I find that it’s very important to read. Really, a lot of the time I get my ideas for books or for essays, articles, whatever, from other sources. I think it’s very important to read not just literature but also history. It’s important to read poetry. It’s also very important to read in other languages because that also gives you a perspective on the world which can be very, very fruitful.
Interesting definitions of alienation and resonance in this (rather old, given our high speed society…) interview to Hartmut Rosa on the LARB.
Hence, we can only make our world more resonant and less alienating when we change our own attitudes, but also the structures of our social and economic world. Economic democracy, a basic income, and the idea of resonance might be essential components for such a change.
Still re-reading and organizing my thoughts on James St. André’s Translating China as Cross-Identity Performance. On Lin Yutang’s My Country and My People:
Even though Lin may have set out to write a measured account that would refute both the overblown defense of China by Sinologists and the defamation of the Western missionary, trader, and diplomat, he finds himself acting the part of a Chinese (Daoist) sage and decrying the limitations of his own people. No wonder that, according to his daughter, a popular criticism of Lin’s work in China after it was translated into Chinese was the bilingual pun “ 賣 Country and 賣 People,” where the Chinese verb “to sell” is used as a homophone for “My” in the original title, so that it now reads “Selling [My] Country and Selling [My] People”.
Organizing the tons of notes taken when reading James St. André’s Translating China as Cross-Identity Performance (University of Hawaiʻi Press, 2018). This is an amazing work. So far, one of the most helpful readings for my own project.
Great conversation between Ken Liu and Nick Admussen. Here. My favorite bit: Liu compares the work of a programmer, a lawyer and a fiction writer–and most modern jobs:
I’m like many other people in modern society: we’re paid to become skilled manipulators of symbols. One of the signs of modernity is the degree to which we cease to make anything concrete. A lot of our jobs are about manipulating symbols and putting them into virtual symbolic structures. We are engineers of symbols, if you will. That’s really what most modern jobs are.
Preparing my thoughts for today’s event at Casa Asia Barcelona. Looking forward to exchanging ideas with Irene Masdeu and Xavier Ortells. Glad that Regresar a China has opened so many interesting conversations.
I have let my book project rest for a few weeks. I am now engulfed by Dai Jinhua’s reflections on the end of the post-Cold War, which I am translating into Catalan for the dossier to be published by L’Espill. Happy to exercise my rusty translation skills–a totally different kind of mental gymnastics.
In the middle of a hectic rentrée. Finishing up all the logistics for the new semester plus some paperwork that cannot be further delayed. Preparing my notes for the final meeting of the Marcela de Juan Translation Prize committe. Drafting my intervention for a fishbowl conversation about SDGs and the university to be held next week–I’ve been (quite unexpectedly) invited to expose my critical ideas, especially from the perspective of the humanities.
From David B. Honey’s Incense at the Altar (super helpful as a map for the chapter I’m writing on 19th-century sinology), I jump to John K. Fairbank’s autobiographical Chinabound. First page:
The shrinkage of the globe we live on has made it more necessary to understand the other nations, and for the past fifty years I have been trying to understand China. The gradual enlargement of my circle of knowledge about China has of course enlarged the circumference of my ignorance which surrounds it. Questions multiply faster than answers.
Found Álex Matas’s En Falso (Pre-Textos, 2017) at Olin Library, seventh floor. A very timely discovery for my impostor syndrome, which always increases when I’m here.
En este contexto de relaciones sociales constantemente dinámicas propiciado por tecnologías de la movilidad, el yo es tan sólo el modo como nos damos a conocer ante los demás. Preservar alguna clase de individualidad exige renunciar a toda posibilidad de ser reconocido por lo que se ‘es’, y excluye también, por supuesto, la adhesión sin fisuras a generalidades salvadoras, como aquellas grandes narraciones sociales o nacionales de antaño.
First signs of exhaustion after some weeks of very focused, intensive work on the manuscript. But I want to make the most of the few days left until we go back. So, as Rachel Toor, says here: “Productive writers don’t reach for excuses when the going gets hard. They treat writing like the job it is. They show up, punch the clock, and punch out. Nothing romantic about it.”
Thinking about potential changes in next year’s syllabi. Skimming some options. Then remembering Bruce Robbins in this piece on critical correctedness:
The sudden pervasiveness of this depoliticizing impulse came to me while teaching a graduate seminar last term on intellectuals. Two of the books I asked the students to buy, without having first done more than skim them myself (I know, I know), were David Scott’s Stuart Hall’s Voice: Intimations of an Ethics of Receptive Generosity (Duke University Press) and Deborah Nelson’s Tough Enough: Arbus, Arendt, Didion, McCarthy, Sontag, Weil (University of Chicago Press), both from 2017. Both enacted some version of “the new modesty.” And both, it turned out, depoliticized intellectuals whom I considered political heroes.
Mark Grief in this piece: “The reality is, for our generation, if you care about the life of the mind, you’re just going to have to keep doing it, (…) and who knows where you’ll be doing it? Is it going to be as an adjunct? On a tenure track? At Gotham Writers Workshop? As a journalist? As long as you can keep it going in your own head without going mad, you’ve got something.”
Ignacio Sánchez Prado in his great introduction to Strategic Occidentalism: “I decided to embark on this project a few years ago, and to do so in English, partly as a reaction to a couple of frustrations.”
Thinking about which of my too many frustrations I should pick and make visible in the introduction of my book.
Thinking about Robert Bickers again. He also dixit that research is sitting in uncomfortable chairs and straining your back. Yes. He dixit all that here. Still waiting for the accidental encounter in the archive he also mentions…
Found myself reading around, without a clear purpose, despite intense efforts not to do so–weeks go by and I feel that my time at Olin Library is limited. But then I calmed down when I remembered what Robert Bickers dixit: “Research itself is mostly a process of not finding things.”
Yesterday, reading this piece by Douglas Dowland and Annemarie Pérez and thinking about generosity and the microscopic activities we do (or should do) in everyday academic life.
Today, bumping into this sentence in the acknowledgments page of Johannes von Moltke’s The Curious Humanist: Siegfried Kracauer in America: “While occupying the chair’s office in Screen Arts and Cultures, Markus went the extra step of leaving me the key to his beautiful of office at the end of the hall in Asian Languages and Cultures, which became an invaluable refuge for the completion of this book.”
Reading about Emilia Pardo Bazán, her French connections, and her role as introducer of Russian literature in Spain. Just found out that her La revolución y la novela en Rusia, originally a series of lectures given at Ateneo de Madrid in 1887 and published in the same year, was quickly translated into English by Fanny Hale Gardiner and published in Chicago in 1890.
The novel is read neither quantitatively nor qualitatively in Spain. As to quantity, let the authors who publish, and the booksellers who sell, speak for what they know; of the quality, let the numerous lovers of Montepin and the eager readers of the translations in the feuilletines tell us. The serious and profound novel dies here without an echo; criticism makes no comment upon it, and the public ignores its appearance. Is there a single modern novel that is popular, in the true meaning of the word, among us? Has any novel had any influence at all in Spanish political, social, or moral life?
On coming from France, I have often noticed a significant fact, which is, that at the French station of Hendaye there is a stand for the sale of all the popular and celebrated novels; while at Irun, just across the frontier, only a few steps away, but Spanish, there is nothing to be had but a few miserable, trashy books, and not a sign of even our own best novelists’ works. From the moment we set foot on Spanish soil the novel, as a social element, disappears.
Starting to work on a dossier for L’Espill. So happy that Regresar a China caught the attention of the journal’s editors, who invited me to edit a dossier on contemporary China based on the claim for new ways of looking at China that I make in the book. Thinking now about structure, contributors, texts. Should be out next winter.
The main tasks of a professor are to teach and do research. The two sometimes vie for priority, but together they encapsulate what we expect professors to do, and they take the bulk of weight in yearly evaluations, tenure judgments, and other professional measures.
Now, it seems, a new task has been added to the job: promotion. We are urged to promote our classes, our departments, our colleges, our professional organizations. More than anything, we are directed to promote ourselves. The imperative is to call attention to one’s writing, courses, talks, ideas, or persona in media new and old. It could be about your new book on Shakespeare or the history of haberdashery, or something you did, or simply yourself, but the key is to get your brand out there — if not in The New York Times, then on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, or just the department newsletter. And if not quite to the general public, at least to administrators, boards, funders, students, and other professors. The conventional standards — teaching your classes well, publishing in reputable journals or with academic presses — no longer are enough. You do not exist unless you fire up your personal publicity machine.
(…) The new promotional imperative pressures scholars to produce more directly marketable products, skills, and ideas. It also produces a new mind-set.
In between settling in, grading the last dissertations and finishing up the end-of-the-year paperwork, working on some more contextual readings for chapters three and four. For example, Malraux’s La Tentation de l’Occident. Interesting how Malraux could have written La Condition humaine only seven years later.
Today I presented Regresar a China at La Central del Raval. Many thanks to all of you who came to share this wonderful moment with me! And very special thanks to Seán Golden, Marina Garcés and Manel Ollé for their complicity and for their very generous words about the book!
Gathering resources for my work helping out in my department’s faculty development. To combat impostor’s syndrome and the perpetual self-perception of failure, I forward several CVs inspired on Melanie Stefan’s idea of a CV of failures, published in Nature in 2010:
As scientists, we construct a narrative of success that renders our setbacks invisible both to ourselves and to others. Often, other scientists’ careers seem to be a constant, streamlined series of triumphs. Therefore, whenever we experience an individual failure, we feel alone and dejected.
So honored to have hosted Margaret Hillenbrand for a few of days here in Barcelona. As we are in the middle of conceptualizing our next collective project at ALTER, Margaret’s talks will be a great inspiration. We can’t wait to read her next book: Negative Exposures: Knowing What Not to Know in Contemporary China (Duke UP, forthcoming 2020).