Workroom

2021 ICAS Book Prize!

What a fabulous break from my summer break! My book Regresar a China has just been selected as the Spanish Winner of the 2021 ICAS Book Prize in the Spanish and Portuguese edition!

It is a real honor for me to receive such a prestigious award–especially taking into account the fantastic array of books that were submitted in this edition.

This is a book that has only brought me wonderful news since the moment the book project was welcomed by Ignacio Sierra and the folks at Editorial Trotta. Since then, the joy of seeing one’s work in print has been multiplied by the very kind words I have received from esteemed students and colleagues, old friends, and new readers.

I already expressed my gratitude to some of these people in the acknowledgments section of the book–which can be read (in Spanish) at the bottom of this page. Now I can only add my deepest gratitude to the jury for their very generous assessment of Regresar a China.

And, of course, ICAS and SEPHIS also deserve additional and very special thanks for organizing a multilingual award such as this one. The nine language editions of this prize are a celebration of linguistic richness and give much-needed visibility to the knowledge about Asia that is being generated, published and read all around the world in different languages.

Thank you all!

Summer break

Quote from Peter Fleming’s Dark Academia:

Scholars are extremely self-motivated and have always been prone to overwork. Since most are driven by an intrinsic commitment to their vocation, it can be difficult to switch off after hours. I know plenty of academics for whom nothing is more relaxing than holidaying on the beach with a dense monograph.

The Agony of the Internal Candidate

Kari Nixon, The Agony of the Internal Candidate. Nixon is very right indeed: inside hires are unfair to applicants and search committees alike. Her piece shows how the process can be quite complicated and unpleasant for both sides. Precariousness makes the situation even trickier, as it increases strong internal candidates.

On this side of the Mediterranean, this is a new situation too–but, ironically, the other way around. Being an internal hire has traditionally been almost the only way to secure a permanent position. Despite some recent (and modest) changes, it is still the typical way to go. So some internal candidates can actually be quite talented and competitive. Nowadays, though, globalization has pushed universities to, at least, dramatize a certain objectivity and rigor in hiring procedures. And so the contrast sometimes reaches surreal moments.

Gone are the days when departments “publicized” job announcements by posting them on a remote board typically on a Friday evening–and the deadline for applications was on Monday morning. But you can still feel the old Mediterranean flavor when a job profile changes unexpectedly after candidates have already been shortlisted; when an external candidate walks in the interview room and finds members of the selection committee yawning ostensibly; or in public job advertisements with profiles like this one.

Meet the author

I am very honored to have Regresar a China shortlisted for the 2021 ICAS Book Prize in the Spanish and Portuguese edition.

The organizers have kindly invited the book prize candidates to present their work. My heartfelt thanks to SEPHIS and the International Convention of Asia Scholars for this opportunity to share my work–and, particularly, for adding English subtitles to the video!

 

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Working on…

Victor Segalen. Such a fascinating figure. Reading his work and trying to read as broadly as possible into the tons of literature about him.

Favorite quote so far–found on a letter that Segalen wrote to his friend Henry Manceron, written in Tianjin on September 23, 1911, later added to Essai sur l’exotisme:

A force d’entêtement, je me construis, brique par brique, un Kiosque intérieur où l’existence soit moins abjecte. Mais l’effort même de sa construction me détourne parfois du plaisir que j’ai à l’habiter.

El sueño español de China

Very proud of my colleagues David Martínez-Robles and Xavier Ortells-Nicolau who have curated the exhibition El sueño español de China, 1845-1945, based on our collective ALTER project on the interactions between China and Spain. The exhibition has recently caught the attention of several national media–among them, Telediario.

The arc of our project is almost complete. It has been a phenomenal trajectory. We began almost from scratch, learning all about a topic we barely knew anything about. We have now  made the headlines of national TV news. In between: 11 years, 4 competitive grants, dozens of publications and thousands of visits to Archivo China-España.

The moment

Today one of my graduate students filed her dissertation. Extremely proud of her! The oral defense will take place in the Fall, but–at least to me–the moment (of joy, emotion, pride, relief) always comes with the filing.

Working on…

Submerged in multiple MA dissertation committees this week. The transition from the BA dissertation committees period in June has been swift. Almost not a single blank day in between.

Dark Academia

This is one of the best works I have read belonging to the academic crisis genre: Peter Fleming, Dark Academia: How Universities Die. Comprehensive, insightful, accessible and, above all, sympathetic. Analyses in this genre often loose track of scholars’ mindset and  subjectivity. Far from the case here. Fleming connects very well the macro factors (economic, ideological, political) with their micro effects on scholars and students.

Scholars are extremely self-motivated and have always been prone to overwork. Since most are driven by an intrinsic commitment to their vocation, it can be difficult to switch off after hours. I know plenty of academics for whom nothing is more relaxing than holidaying on the beach with a dense monograph. But the workaholicism afflicting universities today is different. It’s not voluntary but linked to externally imposed demands on our time.

 

Palestrina

And here we are again. The typical rush at the end of the academic year. Is it longer and more intense every year? Coping with Palestrina, three times a day, until July 15th.

Who really wrote your book?

Rachel Toor, Scholars Talk Writing: Who Really Wrote Your Book? Ha! Turns out it was too late when I found out about this…

Because I started my career in publishing, I don’t consider myself particularly naïve about authorship. But last fall I was shocked to learn — during an online panel discussion on ghostwriting, put together by the creative-writing program I teach in — that some scholars do not write their own books. On the panel were two women who said they made a good living as “collaborative writers,” as well as a tenured academic who had written a book with one of them.

Reading for life hacks

Nancy Sherman, If You’re Reading Stoicism for Life Hacks, You’re Missing the Point. Scholars in Western classics feel that Seneca and stoicism have become a mega-industry:

For the consumers seeking wisdom on how to live the good life — and there are a lot of them — there are daily digests of Stoic quotations, books and websites packed with Stoic wisdom to kick-start your day, podcasts, broadcasts, online crash courses and more.

Now imagine what scholars in, say, Chinese philosophy may feel about their whole field and self-help…

Working on…

Still polishing, tyding up the manuscript. Going over some materials such as this sentence by Federico García Lorca on cross-cultural epistemologies and a, sort of, reversal of the hypothetical mandarin: “el chino bueno está más cerca de mi que el español malo.”

It was Lorca’s last interview before being killed by Nationalist forces at the beginning of the Spanish Civil War in August 1936. The reference is: “Diálogos de un caricaturista salvaje: Federico García Lorca habla sobre la riqueza poética y vital mayor de España,” El Sol, June 10, 1936, 5. It was published with the image below.

Historia del Caballero Encantado

The most fascinating projecte I have seen in a very long time: Lin Shu translated Don Quixote into Chinese via English versions in 1922. Of course, he did so in his very idiosyncratic way. And now Lin Shu’s version is translated “back” into Spanish by the great Alicia Relinque! Full story, here.

The Apocalyptic New Campus Novel

Charlie Tyson’s The Apocalyptic New Campus Novel is about Christine Smallwood’s debut novel of academic precarity, The Life of the Mind (2021). The review opens with Tyson’s dream, which is probably shared by many scholars who are also thinking “at least I can tell people I work at…”:

Early in graduate school, I had a curious dream. I had finished my dissertation, but no job was forthcoming. Taking pity on me, my department hired me to perform the functions of a janitor-cum-chambermaid. A pathetic scene followed. I found myself down on my hands and knees, scrubbing the floor tiles of the humanities building, choking on the fumes of cleaning fluid, squeezing my rag into a bucket of dirty suds. Students teemed past holding lattes. My former professors averted their eyes. “At least I can tell people I work at Harvard,” I thought madly, as hot tears spilled down and mingled with the lemon disinfectant.

More time than is available

Rose Casey, The Pandemic’s Sexist Consequences, on how academe’s gender disparities are exacerbated by Covid-19:

And Covid-19 has made stark what socialist and Marxist feminists have been arguing for years: The work of social reproduction takes more time than is available. As Nancy Fraser puts it, our political-economic structure “externaliz[es] care work onto families and communities while diminishing their capacity to perform it.” As Kathi Weeks explains, we need less work so that we can undertake the reproductive labor required to sustain our communities. (…)

We’re already overworked in academe, and those of us who have been forced to take on extensive additional care work are now at a breaking point. But colleges can take concrete steps to ameliorate the social and structural conditions that have exacerbated gendered and raced inequities during this pandemic.

The relative security of private life

A. C. Graham, Disputers of the Tao, on Han Fei:

His personal fate [suicide after having been slandered by his old fellow-student the now minister Li Si], like that of Lord Shang (ripped to pieces by chariots in 338 BC) and Li Si (cut in two at the waist in 208 BC) helps one to appreciate why Yangists and Taoists recommended the relative security of private life.

Working on…

Revising a doctoral dissertation that will reach the finish line very soon. It is a great work about the images of China in Lorca and Alberti. I am learning many things. And, bonus track: I found this beautiful illustration that opens Alberti’s original edition of Sonríe China

Great news in pairs!

Two great news have arrived almost at the same time: two of our ALTER colleagues have been offered permanent positions at two excellent universities. We feel euphoric over their promotions–which inevitably remind us, again, how difficult it is to have a decent academic career.

The Legacy of Constant Disruptions

Erin Marie Furtak, The Legacy of Constant Disruptions:

Those large-scale interruptions will affect our careers for years to come. Moves by colleges and universities to delay tenure clocks have acknowledged the damage that’s been done. At the same time, those of us who are both professors and parents have also faced thousands of tiny little interruptions. Seemingly inconsequential in the moment, those tiny interruptions add up and can interfere in a big way with our writing and research.

Once upon a time I used to think the same thing about those seemingly inconsequential, tiny little interruptions that added up… at the office.

Putting the Humanities PhD to Work

Reading Katina L. Rogers’s Putting the Humanities PhD to Work. Thinking about how to make some of her ideas work in our own PhD program. True: PhD programs here in Europe do not have the Bildungsroman nature as in the US. But they also need to be rethought–particularly in Spain. Almost in the blink of an eye, we have moved from the old feudal system (where a professor manoeuvred to have his/her own PhD graduates hired at his/her own institution) into a neoliberal vacuum that leaves graduates out there completely on their own–equipped with the same old training.

Students as consumers

Karin Fischer and Lindsay Ellis, The Heavy Cost of an Empty Campus on the consequences of universities relying more on tuition and other revenue related to having students as consumers than on public investment. Very true:

“What you see with Covid is what happens when you build a model around the presence of students, around the presence of students as consumers,” said Kevin R. McClure, an associate professor of higher education at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington.

How Nothingness Became Everything We Wanted

Kyle Chayka, How Nothingness Became Everything We Wanted:

It’s no surprise we yearn for comforting private sensation. The social atomization that Robert D. Putnam outlined in 2000 in “Bowling Alone,” which he blamed in part on television and the internet, has been both amplified and smoothed over by the rise of social media. These communication technologies work like a placebo, providing a hollow version of the connection we’re missing.

The reversals in Laozi

This quarter I am teaching again an introduction to Classical Asian thought. Really looking forward to it! So I’ve been preparing my notes, reading some new books and translations (such as Paul Goldin’s The Art of Chinese Philosophy) and going back to old materials. Challenge: make the original texts significant to students in the humanities without previous background in Chinese culture. So I underlined, for instance, this passage in A. C. Graham’s Disputers of the Tao:

The reversals in Laozi have a modern parallel in Jacques Derrida’s project of deconstructing the chains of oppositions underlying the logocentric tradition of the West. The parallel is indeed so striking that there is danger of missing the differences.

Gilbert

Erik Gilbert, A Reason to Be Skeptical of ‘College for All.’ A much-needed critical reflection in times of unanimous beliefs in pushing universities for growth…

Given the limited resources of the types of colleges likely to be tasked with educating these students, the most probable outcome of these two mutually contradictory initiatives is that institutions will lower standards in order to keep graduation rates up. The near certain effect of this will be to lower the value of college degrees. So, not only will the newly degreed students face the opportunity costs of having been out of the labor market for four years and the burden of the debts they will have incurred, their degrees will be devalued by their ubiquity. It’s also possible that a huge increase in college graduates won’t create opportunities for new graduates to move into better paying, more desirable jobs, but instead make it possible for employers to lower the threshold for the types of jobs for which they expect their employees to hold degrees.

Rankine

Claudia Rankine, interview:

On Hisham Matar’s The Return: “[it] does the thing I love best in literature. It takes a personal question (or a moment of doubt could be another way of thinking about it) and interrogates lines of inquiry surrounding that question, historically and psychologically. After a while the answer is known but it no longer matters because the expanding life of the question is what keeps us reading.”

On Saidiya Hartman’s Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments: Intimate Histories of Social Upheaval: “[it] created new pathways for me to think about archival work — what’s left unsaid, what’s documented, what goes undocumented in the making of a life.”

Morey

Miguel Morey, Pequeñas doctrinas de la soledad:

Suele decirse que llega una edad en la que se relee más que se lee. Y oímos decirlo con un sentimiento ambiguo: por un lado parece expresar una rendición, una fatiga. Pero, por el otro, nos hace envidiar algo com la calmada posesión de un territorio. La alternativa entre lectura y relectura se pone aquí gravemente. ¿Pueden darse seriamente por leídos aquellos libros de nuestra juventud a los que no hemos vuelto? (…) ¿Qué es preferible: leer dos veces el mismo libro o leer dos libros? (…) Tal vez una pregunta más ingenua aún pueda ayudar a que cada cual solvente a su aire la cuestión. ¿Vale la pena leer una sola vez un libro que no merece ser leído dos veces?

Osterhammel

Updating my list of notable scholars who work or have worked in distance-learning universities: Stuart Hall, Mariana Mazzucato et alia. Just learned that Jürgen Osterhammel worked as a professor of modern history at the FU Hagen.

Is Deep Thinking Incompatible With an Academic Career?

Joseph Keegin, Is Deep Thinking Incompatible With an Academic Career?

Yet even there [in college] I found myself a stranger. I discovered peers who were concerned with the acquisition of prestige and profit, beleaguered professors forced to justify their positions in terms of metrics, and careerists of all kinds. The lesson, it seemed, was that curiosity has no home. Thinking is at best a liability, something that destabilizes the solidity of a life and rips one from the fellowship of other people. At worst it’s poison, a fatal and ineradicable dose of melancholy and doubt.

Working on…

Revising the conclusion of my book manuscript. Putting myself in Kate Sturge’s shoes when, in Representing Others: Translation, Ethnography and Museum, she wrote :

At times my comments will seem only negative, following the hallowed tradition of translator-bashing. But despite the troubled past and present of ethnographic translation–in its harshest formulation, as an imperialistic appropriation into terms of the translating culture–this book starts from the assumption that translation must happen, that, however difficult, it is a necessary move and assertion of our common ground in being human. Translation must happen, that is, if the alternative is to wait silently until the others adopt our own language and linguistic homogeneity makes translation obsolete.

Wanderlust

Fully back to routine (sort of) and also back to my walks across Barcelona. Remembering Rebecca Solnit’s Wanderlust:

The multiplication of technologies in the name of efficiency is actually eradicating free time by making it possible to maximize the time and place for production and minimize the unstructured travel time in between. New timesaving technologies make most workers more productive, not more free, in a world that seems to be accelerating around them. Too, the rhetoric of efficiency around these technologies suggests that what cannot be quantified cannot be valued–that that vast array of pleasures which fall into the category of doing nothing in particular, of woolgathering, cloud-gazing, wandering, window-shopping, are nothing but voids to be filled by something more definite, more productive, or faster paced. (10)

Liberate our imaginations

Wonderful last sentence in Tom Mullaney’s The Chinese Typewriter: “As we continue our examination of Chinese and global information technology in the age of computing and new media, one of our biggest challenges remains: to liberate our imaginations from a past that never actually existed.”

Jazz Suite

Received very good news about my book manuscript. Wait: not to be ecstatic yet! But I’m very happy to be moving in the good direction.

Dimitri Shostakovich, Jazz Suite #2: Waltz #2.

Working on…

Preparing a graduate course on language and cultural contexts in East Asia that I will teach for the first time this quarter. Very excited to be able to share and discuss fascinating readings on, among other topics, translation, Sinophone studies, sinographies and typing machines. Really looking forward to it.

The Humanities After Covid-19

Jonathan Kramnick, The Humanities After Covid-19 on what happens when hiring dies:

Disciplines of study exist only to the extent that they are grounded in institutions and practices: in syllabi, in methods of argument, in archives that compel inquiry, topics that inspire debate, and above all in the human labor of research, writing, and teaching according to norms that one acquires by training. Hiring is the backbone of all this. It is an occasion for collective expressions of value, for stating what kind of work a department wants or needs or judges favorably. It is also the means by which a discipline both survives and changes over time.

Suggestions

Reading Katherine Mangan anticipation of Fall’s Looming Child-Care Crisis. It comes with some suggestions:

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 Gen Professor: How Academia Works

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.

Working on…

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!

More masks

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 on…

Grading many BA and MA dissertations. Always learning something new–about Qiu Shihua, for instance.

Qiu Shihua, Untitled, 2009. Oil on canvas. Galerie Urs Meile.

Ethics committee

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.

Icelandic pride

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.

On leadership and the emergency rule

John Keane’s Democracy and the Great Pestilence. On leadership:

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.

Overcoming difficulties

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.

Working on…

Reached a small but important milestone in the long path towards the book manuscript. Piano Concerto #1 in B-flat minor, Op. 23, by Tchaikovsky. Also, family ice-cream to celebrate.