Very interesting reference found in Dora Zang’s Is There a Future for Literary Studies? Zang mentions Rachel Sagner Buurma and Laura Heffernan’s The Teaching Archive: A New History for Literary Study (The University of Chicago Press, 2020). I quote:
Examining materials ranging from T.S. Eliot’s lecture notes from his classes at an extension school for working adults to Simon Ortiz’s efforts to establish a Native American-studies curriculum at the College of Marin, Buurma and Heffernan show that many of the key methodological developments in literary studies over the 20th century have developed in and through the classroom. This startling claim counters the familiar idea that the discipline’s theories and practices are pioneered by scholars at a handful of elite institutions “only later to ‘trickle down,’” as Buurma and Heffernan put it, “to non-elite institutions, students, and teachers.” It also challenges classic disciplinary histories like those by Gerald Graff and John Guillory, which characterize the history of literary studies as a series of “method wars,” whether between belletrists and philologists at the turn of the 20th century, or formalists and historicists towards that century’s end.
For me, the most interesting thing in Williams’ book is how he moves the criticism of informational technologies away from the typical individual spots and pays attention to the larger (and far more dangerous) social and political consequences.
We face great challenges today across the full stack of human life: at planetary, societal, organizational, and individual levels. Success in surmounting these challenges requires that we give the right sort of attention to the right sort of things. A major function, if not the primary purpose, of information technology should be to advance this end.
Yet for all its informational benefits, the rapid proliferation of digital technologies has compromised attention, in this wide sense, and produced a suite of cognitive-behavioral externalities that we are still only beginning to understand and mitigate. The enveloping of human life by information technologies has resulted in an informational environment whose dynamics the global persuasion industry has quickly come to dominate, and, in a virtually unbounded manner, has harnessed to engineer unprecedented advances in techniques of measurement, testing, automation, and persuasive design. The process continues apace, yet already we find ourselves entrusting enormous portions of our waking lives to technologies that compete with one another to maximize their share of our lives, and, indeed, to grow the stock of life that’s available for them to capture.
Faculty members, as unhappy as many of them are, are largely staying put. What has changed is how they approach their jobs. (…) For them, the Great Resignation looks different. We would describe it as disengagement. They are withdrawing from certain aspects of the job or, on a more emotional level, from the institution itself. Faculty members are not walking away in droves, but they are waving goodbye to norms and systems that prevailed in the past. They are still teaching their courses, supporting students, and trying to keep up with basic tasks. But connections to the institution have been frayed. The work is getting done, but there isn’t much spark to it.
An excellent piece of advice for PhD students in Tom Mullaney, Impostor Syndrome: The Secret to PhD Sanity: read less books and more dissertations. I often offer the same advice–even to MA students on their way to write MA dissertations.
Very honored to have shared a very interesting conversation on the relations between China and Spain with Carmen Cano, Jordi Quero and a bunch of excellent students. The roundtable was part of Current Issues in Spanish Foreign Policy, a course organized by the Centre for International Studies and the Spanish Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
End of a very stimulating week: “Universal versus Particular in the 20th century”, an online international workshop on the interactions between the universal and the particular in the global context. It was organized by our ALTER colleague Etienne Lock, who gathered a wonderful, truly interdisciplinary set of presenters.
In my concluding remarks, I highlighted a few ideas that, I think, were shared by most of the presentations: language as a political issue, the productivity of truly interdisciplinary conversations, the scalability of these discussions, the importance of ethics in approaching these issues, and teaching as a much-needed substantiation of more abstract reflections.
Very productive ALTER seminar today: “Discussing Scale, Taphonomies and Circulation in Global History”, organized by our colleague Mònica Ginés-Blasi and with Christian G. De Vito (BCDSS, University of Bonn) as special guest.
Going over the mail that arrived at my office during the lockdown, etc., and that I ended up receiving only quite recently. For example, past issues of the JAS. In vol. 79, no. 4, November 2020, interesting reflections by Gail Hershatter, Tamara Loos and Geeta Patel on the afterlives of Judith Butler’s Gender Trouble in Asian Studies. Followed by a wonderful reply by Butler herself–which includes an interesting personal reflection on translation:
Nearly thirty-one years after the publication of Gender Trouble, I no longer think of translation as a secondary act. In fact, the category of gender is unthinkable without translation. For too long, those working in Euro-American frameworks have assumed that whatever is said about gender is true if it is conceptually clear within those vocabularies and grammars. They have (we have) failed to note that gender itself is an English coinage, emerging in the 1950s, that does not always travel well, and which meets resistance for reasons that are not always suspect. If a theory of gender seeks to be generalizable, then it has to pass through translation. (…) There can be not theory of gender without translation, and translation is the condition for a global understanding of gender and a differentiated sense of gender studies. (…) A text like Gender Trouble has to lose its authority to still do any work in the world. Torn up and rightly plundered, it produces still, I hope, some parts that can be reappropriated for a use that I could not have imagined. This is perhaps the greatest gift, to find that what one has put into the world has a life of its own, enters the life of others and is thus given life in ways that could not have been imagined.
A good contribution to what has already become a genre–China scholars trying to cope with a new context for dealing with China: Todd Hall (University of Oxford) hosts Biao Xiang (Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology), Ingrid d’Hooghe (Leiden Asia Centre) and David Ownby (Université de Montréal): Understanding China in Uncertain Times, organized by the University of Oxford China Centre.
A colleague of mine, Eric Baldwin, vice president for student development at the University of Lynchburg, summarized it like this: “Gallup shows us that students need two basic things to feel like they belong. They need to know someone on campus has their back, and they need a chance to do something really meaningful to them at least once a week.”
Found out that Jim Svejda retires after 43 years at Classical KUSC. I’ve been listening to his shows for about half that time. Given the time difference, I used to catch half of The Evening Program as I started my work day. Will miss his commentaries–and his voice and (dramatic) pauses.
Very interesting conversation between Jaume Subirana and Xènia Dyakonova on writing and translation at Diàlegs Humanístics UPF. Spectacular collective goose bumps after Jaume recites his Catalan translation of W. B. Yeats’s An Irish Airman Foresees His Death.
Another chain of happy coincidences. I am introduced to the professional indexer who will work on Secondhand China. Then I listen to this podcast and find out about this sensational book about indexes: Dennis Duncan, Index, A History of the. Then I find out that the indexer who will index my book has, in fact, reviewed Ducan’s book for the The Washington Post!
Interesting ALTER seminar with María Íñigo and Roger Sansi. They share with us their early ideas for a great project on the restitution of colonial objects. They should definitely publish an ethnography of the whole process: all the difficulties they are encountering to include non-EU partners illustrate very well how the decolonial project is very difficult to put into practice within our current academic and institutional structures…
Later, we circulate this text. As one of my colleagues mentioned, it could work as a creative plan B should everything else fail…
Very true: mailrooms, hallways, stairwells, coffeemakers, cantines, etc., are real academic danger zones–informal minefields. Open-floor offices (very à la page nowadays, even at universities…) can complicate things even more.
It was a pleasure to share my thoughts on doing research in Asian studies in Spain with great colleagues such as Antonio J. Domenech and Pablo A. Rodríguez-Merino in a roundtable organized by Raúl Ramírez at Universidad Rey Juan Carlos. We met back in October and the video has just been made available here.
The male academics I spoke to were highly involved parents who had used family leave to take care of children. While they appreciated that colleagues tended to be supportive of their decision to have kids — something a couple of them chalked up to gender privilege — some of them were frustrated that these same colleagues had assumed that they wouldn’t have any trouble balancing work and parenthood. Saul Zaritt, an assistant professor at Harvard with appointments in comparative literature and Near Eastern languages and civilizations, said that the message he got from older male colleagues who had been “particularly productive” on leave was that “it was easy to hold the baby and write the book.” But for Zaritt and other male academics who split child care evenly with their partners, it’s been far from easy. A child is “an enormous impediment to productivity,” said Parker, the assistant professor at Brown. The men I interviewed had many of the same worries about publishing and tenure as their female counterparts.
Kevin Carey, The Great Master’s-Degree Swindle, on “how colleges are making a killing selling dubious credentials to naïve students.” Reading the piece from a European perspective, the cost is even more exorbitant. Poignant illustration by Jason Hoffman.
Just read Murakami’s conversations with Seiji Ozawa, Absolutely on Music, in the Catalan translation by Albert Nolla. I guess I learned more (about music) from Murakami’s interventions than from Ozawa’s… In one of their conversations, they refer to this:
Emily Yeh’s Fraught Times on how “binary thinking and academic un-freedom threaten to foreclose the potential for geographers’ (and others’) research and teaching to make a productive difference toward a livable and dignified planetary future.”
Just found out that Fang Fang’s 武汉封城日记 (her series of blog posts published during the 2020 quarantine in Wuhan) has been translated into Spanish and Catalan from Michael Berry’s English translation. Will keep that in mind as a recent example for those who may object that the ideas I argue in my next book (that covers roughly from 1880 to 1930) do not apply today.
Happy to be back at my alma mater to present Regresar a China to students in East Asian Studies at the Facultat de Traducció i Intepretació, Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona. Heartfelt thanks to my colleagues Blai Guarné and Manuel Pavón for having organized this!
Those who are truly contemporary, who truly belong to their time, are those who neither perfectly coincide with it nor adjust themselves to its demands. They are thus in this sense irrelevant [inattuale]. But precisely because of this condition, precisely through this disconnection and this anachronism, they are more capable than others of perceiving and grasping their own time.
Some of the ideas for rejiggering the academic calendar are interesting. (…) But we need breaks to refresh, to renew, and to catch up on work. Professors have come to rely on official breaks for this rest since, unlike most professionals, we can’t take vacations for a week of our choosing during the semester. (…) If you mess with breaks, you also cut away at one of the few perks that an academic life has over other, more lucrative professions — namely, the flexibility of our work days. Teaching, scholarship, and service require long hours of effort. The benefit is that you may choose which hours you work and that you get scheduled breaks in between marathon stretches. As we transition to a new normal, we need to restore breaks during the academic year.
Enjoying Enzo Traverso’s very lucid Passés singuliers: Le “je” dans l’écriture de l’histoire. Loved the (ironic) personal preface to the Catalan edition (wonderful translation by Gustau Muñoz, by the way). Traverso narrates the frustrated trip to a conference in Spain that was at the origin of the book–his flight from Ithaca to Newark got delayed and then cancelled, etc. (My also ironic and personal immediate reaction was relief: it was wise, after all, to drive up to Ithaca and then back down to Newark on both our visits to Cornell…)
I am currently away from the office and have intermittent access to email. If your email is not urgent I will in all likelihood still reply within 10 minutes due to ineffective self-regulation and an inability to maintain work-life balance.
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.
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.
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.
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!
Don’t know how but this piece written in 2019 by James Shapiro happened to be in one of my tabs: Occupying Shakespeare. A book and a book review that offer a full portrait of a profession and of a whole generation of young scholars.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
It is very easy to see how cultivated people take refuge in art and spirituality when politics are corrupt and the general state of social life is discouraging; you see it here, and how in the end it increases the decadence.
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…
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.
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.
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.
It is quite painful to read Jelena Brankovic’s The Absurdity of University Rankings just when your own institution has decided to start a campaign flaunting pyrrhic achievements based on… university rankings.
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.
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.
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