Reading: Hervé Le Tellier, L’anomalie (2020).
Reading: Hervé Le Tellier, L’anomalie (2020).
From Jacques Berlinerblau’s They’ve Been Scheming to Cut Tenure for Years. It’s Happening, I clipboard:
We also became aware of “administrative bloat”, or the mushrooming of an academic labor force whose mission was neither teaching nor research. A number of upper admins were hired to manage — some might say “rule” — the faculty. Some of those who accepted this task were scholars themselves. A novel hybrid creature, the everlasting tenured admin, was sparked to life. No three-year stint as vice dean and back to teaching freshman composition, for this guy! He was in it for the long haul.
The significance of this development is underappreciated. The decisions which ravaged the future for coming generations of Ph.D.s were made not just by consultants and suits, but by those with Ph.D.s and likely a few peer-reviewed publications. This was scholar-on-scholar violence.
Why is our vocation so vulnerable to fratricide? Maybe spending a doctoral decade in a moldy archive doesn’t heighten your sense of empathy. Maybe repeatedly venting your spleen as anonymous Reviewer Number 2 doesn’t sharpen your sense of solidarity. Maybe class consciousness can’t blossom when our final work products are, in many disciplines, solo recitals.
Reading: Patrick Radden Keefe, Say Nothing (2018).
Speaking of which: three things that I particularly liked in The Double Education of My Twins’ Chinese School, Peter Hessler’s piece on education in Chinese primary schools in The New Yorker:
First, the confidence of Chinese teachers, the respect they inspire. “The dignity with which they carried themselves”.
Second, the confidence of Chinese schools. “The fact that nobody cared what I liked—along with every other Baba and Mama, I was welcome to flush any nervous parental energy down the whirlpool of WeChat”. Of course, this can be controversial, etc. But it does sound refreshing when clientelism is taking over many school systems.
Third, unrelated to education, the actual impossibility of the in between (of combining cultures, systems–or, in my case, professional realities) that ends up making it necessary to have two lives:
Like many people with experience in both China and the United States, we wanted something in between. But each country had a tendency toward extremes, and deeply entrenched systems resisted reform. Solutions tended to be at the individual level, like the classmate whose parents sent her overseas every summer. In order to combine the strengths of both places, it seemed necessary to have two lives, two educations, two names.
Katie Kadou, The End of the Star System:
A few weeks after I got back from EI [the English Institute], I asked on Twitter whether anyone thought the “academic star system” still existed. “I feel like it does, but when once it was measured by adjacency to the English Institute or MLA presidency, it is now measured by adjacency to The New Yorker,” suggested Gus Stadler, a professor of English at Haverford College.
Loretta Lou interviewed David Graeber at Made in China Journal:
Question: The spiritual violence of doing nothing in a bullshit job seems to be the inverse of the labour exploitation we see among workers doing precarious ‘shit jobs’ in the casualised gig economy (for instance, university cleaners; Amazon workers being fired for not working fast enough, etc.). Are these two phenomena linked somehow?
Answer: There is an enormous culture of ‘lean and mean’ in the corporate world, but that is applied almost exclusively to blue-collar workers, not to white-collar ones, where the opposite logic applies. I always go back to the example of the Elephant Tea factory near Marseille, which illustrates for me a lot of what has been happening since the 1970s: in this case, workers improved the machinery and increased productivity steadily over the years. In the 1950s or 1960s, this would have led to increases in pay—there was basically an understanding that if productivity goes up, workers get a share of the increased profits—or perhaps hiring more workers, but since it was the 1990s, the boss just hired more and more white-collar workers. At first, there had been only two: the boss and a human resources manager. Suddenly the catwalks were full of guys in suits, three, four, five, ultimately maybe a dozen of them, wandering around with clipboards watching people work, basically trying to figure out some kind of excuse for their existence. They tried to concoct schemes for greater efficiency but the place was already about as efficient as it could be. They held meetings and seminars and conferences and read each other’s reports. Finally, they decided: well, we can just fire everyone and move the plant to Poland! The place has been in occupation ever since.
Elated to see this published! En el país de los chinos is the result of a very long collective project. All chapters have been written by ALTER members after a meticulous process of collaborative thinking and writing under Xavier Ortells-Nicolau’s superb editorial guidance. We are all super proud of this publication!
We hope the book will show the richness that underlies the interactions between China and Spain–both at the empirical, theoretical, and methodological levels. Our final goal is that the book becomes a helpful tool for future researchers on these topics. So each chapter includes a specific section with potential research lines waiting to be explored.
Early September: moving vigorously, but not too quickly. Mahler, Symphony No. 1 in D Major: II: Kräftig bewegt, doch nicht zu schell
Reading: John Le Carré, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (1963).
Back home. It has been a very productive stay. Since I was a bit lost and was sensing a certain lack of direction in my reading and thinking, I decided to write a research proposal to myself. It was a very good exercise. Now I have 10,000 words with some questions and potential claims to be (hopefully) developed in the near future.
I will take a couple of weeks off. I feel a bit bad when I change the auto-response from “Thank you for your message. I am working intensively on two research projects. Unless your message needs an urgent response…” to “I am currently away from work until… I will reply to your message on…” But since vacation is important I still push myself to do it.
Browsing through old issues of Chinese Literature Today. Ji Jin interviews Carlos Rojas:
Question: Your research places considerable emphasis on theoretical interpretation. Compared with previous research, what do you think are the advantages or disadvantages of this approach? How do you understand the relationship between theory and text?
Answer: Actually, I would contend that everyone approaches literature theoretically. Indeed, without some sort of theoretical framework, there could be no analysis. The key difference, accordingly, is not between literary scholars who use theory and those who don’t, but rather between those who attempt to explicitly reflect on the theories that they use, and those who focus instead on the analytical process itself. I don’t think that one must explicitly reflect on one’s theoretical assumptions in order to do useful literary scholarship, just as there are many historians, anthropologists, film scholars, and musicologists whose work is deeply informed by a set of theoretical assumptions but who don’t analyze those assumptions in their writings. On the other hand, I do think that—in many circumstances—an attention to theoretical concerns can be useful and productive. This kind of theoretical reflection can help reveal the unexamined assumptions that shape our analyses, and also help catalyze new approaches and methodologies.
Reading widely, organizing disparate thoughts, drafting chunks of ideas. Relocating myself in my old field–a very strange feeling, as if I had been living on a different planet for more than a decade.
Things have changed. For instance, I now read Tang Xiaobing’s Visual Culture in Contemporary China. Then I go back to the review that Wendy Larson wrote of the book. I remember reading these lines in 2016:
Perhaps Tang’s anger, and his willingness to express it so pungently in an academic book, should make us wonder if we have overestimated the possibilities for true cross-cultural understanding. Perhaps the global imaginary of a seamless world that respects difference has failed to recognize that culture demands some degree of allegiance, and when confronted, the sense that one’s culture is “right” and that outsiders cannot possibly understand it is difficult to avoid. Perhaps our hopeful cosmopolitan vision has wantonly ignored the rootedness of human beings, their commitment to certain views of their lives in the world, and their desire to sustain their way of life, rejecting other narratives.
I remember that in 2016 I thought these lines were ironic, an exaggeration. Now, looking at the current state of things, I am not so sure.
Ta-Nehisi Coates’s review of Ill Fares the Land by Tony Judt. Chapeau.
Reading: Wendell Berry, The World-Ending Fire (2018)
Haydn, Symphony No. 104 in D major (“London”), II. Andante
I always find picking up a seat at a big reading room a bit tricky. So every morning, when I arrive at Cambridge University Library, I have a few rules I try to follow. The most important one is, perhaps, to avoid sitting next to someone who uses a laptop–a potential fast and furious typist. Not an easy task, obviously. But I still take some time hunting for a spot next to someone who is reading a physical book and taking handwritten notes. If I am lucky, I then try to reciprocate typing as silently as possible.
In the morning, I have an inspiring chat with a colleague who has a very long list of superb publications. I ask her what is the secret of her productivity. She confesses she just enjoys writing. In the afternoon, I read the piece Tenure and the Arrival Fallacy by Rebecca Mason. Her advice:
Do research that you care about now. The road to tenure doesn’t need to be a miserable grind. Being happy now and in the future means deriving happiness from the pursuit of self-concordant goals — that is, goals you deem meaningful and worthwhile. Having goals is crucial to long-term happiness, but it is not their achievement that makes us happy; it is our pursuit of them.
So instead of doing something you don’t enjoy just because you think it’ll look good on your tenure file, find things that you enjoy doing that will look good in your tenure file. Maybe that means seeking out research collaborators who are fun to work with (even if they aren’t well connected), or beginning a new research project on a topic that sparks your interest and curiosity (rather than following research trends that don’t matter to you). Don’t save research and writing projects that you find stimulating and meaningful for “after tenure,” as if the only way to become an associate professor is by doing research that bores you to tears.
Extremely grateful to Prof. Ester Torres-Simon for her thoughtful review of Secondhand China in Perspectives. It has just been published in a very interesting special issue on past, present and future trends in (research on) indirect literary translation, edited by Laura Ivaska, Hanna Pięta, and Yves Gambier.
Bumped into this at the library: Roger Garside, China Coup: The Great Leap to Freedom:
Before the next National Congress of the Communist Party of China, due in November 2022, President Xi Jinping will be removed from office by a coup d’état mounted by his rivals in the top leadership who will end the tyranny of the one-party dictatorship and launch a transition to democracy and the rule of law.
The main body of this book, Part 2, explains why it will happen. Parts 1 and 3 tell how it may happen; they are semi-fictional–the people named are real, while the storyline is fiction.
Writing from Cambridge, UK. I will be a visiting fellow at CRASSH this summer. I hope to make significant progress in the conceptualization of my next research project–I need a big push…
Reading: Roger Ruppmann Tobella, Avui m’he comprat una destral (Males Herbes, 2019).
End-of-semester rush: George Gershwin, Catfish Row, Symphonic Suite.
A grand finale to this super busy end of the academic year. It was a great pleasure to have Lucas Klein with us at ALTER for a couple of days. He gave us a more formal talk: “En Face & the Face of the Other: On Intersubjectivity and Equivalent in Translating Contemporary Poetry from Chinese.” Then the next day he offered a comprehensive survey of the Chinese poetry publishing field in English–a great panoramic view on the main translators, presses, and poets.
Fascinating ALTER seminar with Qin Shao. We discussed her piece “The Pursuit of Transitional Justice from Below”. Then she presented her work in progress about the housing reform in Shanghai–and the related tensions over the treatment of death and the dead.
Took part in a podcast about “new” books published by our department’s faculty in the past year or so. Very grateful to Helena Prieto, Elisenda Ardèvol and Marina Garcés for the invitation to talk about Secondhand China . But, above all, for their insightful organization of the discussion. We talked more generally about the meaning and value of writing (and reading!) books that take time to be written (and read!), particulary when we work under the institutional pressure to publish quicker, shorter pieces as our colleagues in the sciences do.
Reading: Kate Rhodes, Hell Bay (2018).
Full-family concert at Palau de la Música: Philippe Herreweghe and Orchestre des Champs-Élysées.
Working on my new project, slowly. Back to books and sources I studied more than 20 years ago. Coincidentally, our department has moved to a new building and I am now unpacking boxes with hundreds of photocopied articles and book chapters collected many years ago. Very strange feeling.
Speaking about first-world conference registration fees (last one I attended:$250) and rooms at conference hotels (last one I attended: between $220 and $300/night plus tax), the ungenerosity of Spain’s government funds has even reached media outside academia. For example, a typical grant from Spain’s government caps accommodation for US trips at $155/night. Limitations also apply when you try to invite a colleague to give a talk or a seminar in Spain–and finding a hotel room at €66/night in Barcelona can be a real challenge.
Karin Fischer, Slamming the Door on Scholarship:
The irony of the moment is not lost on scholars on China and Russia: Understanding both places is more crucial now than ever. But just as their expertise is more valued, gaining firsthand insight could become much more difficult.
Felix Mendelssohn, Symphony No. 1 in C Minor, Op. 11, I. Allegro di molto.
Reading: Hwang Sok-yong, The Old Garden, trans. Jay Oh (2009 )
Salvador Pániker, Adiós a casi todo:
Es higiénico, respecto a ciertos ámbitos, estar un poco in albis. “¿Y usted a qué se dedica?”, le preguntó Vladimir Nabokov a un atónito John Wayne en una party. Pues eso.
Marine Brossard, Lying Flat: Profiling the Tangping Attitude: reading the “lying-flat attitude” in China as a universal subversion against global crises:
One of these buzzwords was tangping (躺平, ‘lying flat’).
As I read about this concept for the first time in the spring of 2021, I immediately felt connected to the term as I had started lying flat after completing my PhD in Chinese Studies in 2018. My life in China from 2012 to 2015 had shifted my understanding of the world and undermined my ambition to become an academic. After receiving my PhD, I decided to quit my academic career as an act of rebellion against both the labour market and a system in which knowledge had become an instrument of domination. The unemployment benefits granted by the French Government allowed me to lie flat to ponder the world’s problems and attempt to imagine a new way of life beyond the capitalist imaginary. The emergence of the lying-flat attitude in China and the way it echoed my personal experience revealed the universality of the phenomenon among younger generations who struggle to cope with the disintegration of the meaning of life at this stage of late capitalism.
Submerged in a new project: teaching a new generalist undergraduate course on modern and contemporary Asian history. Weeks fly by. Nice to remember how preparing a new course can be so demanding and gratifying. For the first time I have included a couple of comic books as part of the required readings: Kanikosen and Tian’anmen 1989.
Mental note: next time I attend an international conference, every time someone mentions how nice it must be to live in Barcelona I will attach this piece as supplementary bibliography to my conventional answer (Americans Head to Europe for the Good Life on the Cheap). And I will also make sure to emphasize the last part of its subtitle: “Home sales to Americans have increased significantly, giving them a chance to enjoy a lifestyle they could not afford in major U.S. cities, but the influx risks upsetting local residents.”
Brahms, Intermezzo No. 2 in A Major, Opus 118.
Reading: Jim Ottaviani and Leland Myrick, Feynman (2013).
Great ALTER seminar with Caio Yurgel and Xiang Zairong (Duke Kunshan University). They presented their project “At the Margins of Data: The Histories of Translation Between the Chinese-, Portuguese-, and Spanish-Speaking Worlds”. Interesting discussion about the potential of large, quantitative findings, and the challenges of turning raw data into significant qualitative analysis.
Back to Barcelona. Still ruminating and digesting last week’s AAS conference. It was great to reconnect with friends and colleagues. The experience was generally positive and productive. Etcetera.
Then, a coincidence: precisely during this trip I bought a copy of Disorientation by Elaine Hsieh Chou. On page 5:
She even attended a pricey international conference in New York in the hopes of gently plagiarizing some Argentinian or Swedish scholar’s paper.
Indeed, I have recently come across a few cases of scholars based in first-world institutions using research done by scholars from other parts of the world without acknowledging it. I never thought about this as a generalized practice–until I found it in Elaine Hsieh Chou’s novel… (Still not sure what is worse, though: that they use previous research without citing it, or that they just genuinely ignore it, or decide to ignore it.)
In any case, the truth of the matter is that academic conferences are becoming an industry that charges at levels that are not always affordable for scholars working outside of first-world academia. And that this discrimination may reinforce the insularity and/or the arrogance of certain kinds of scholarship.
Just attended the AAS conference in Boston over the weekend. I shared some ideas from Secondhand China in the panel “Conditioned Solidarities: Relay Translation between China and the World.” Gal Gvili, Clara Iwasaki and Yang Peiyu talked about their recent books on the topic too. We were very honored to have Michael Gibbs Hill and James St André as discussants.
Now I write from Ithaca–an express visit to Cornell to participate in China in Place: Locale and China Studies after 2020. This event has been a superb opportunity to organize my scattered thoughts about China, China studies, and the Sinophone today. Best thing of all: contrasting my own views with the ideas and experiences from Nick Admussen, Ding Fei, and Jack Zinda. I learned a lot and feel very energized.
Interesting thread by Ignacio Sanchez Prado. His points are a response to Nathan Heller’s piece on The End of the English Major and, more generally, enrollment in the humanities published in The New Yorker a few weeks ago. I particularly agree with #9:
9. The humanities are not doomed or close to the end. Rather they are experiencing a contraction that results from capitulating to the idea that college is solely to train for labor skills. Until the humanities find an argument to push back against that effectively, the downward turn with continue.
Still figuring out how to coexist with ChatGPT and other AI developments that will come sooner than later. I guess I mostly agree with Christopher Grobe in Why I’m Not Scared of ChatGPT: most of the discussion is based on how it will impact assessment–not learning per se. So if we focus on learning, then perhaps it is not such a big deal?
But if we treat learning (not distinction) as the goal of education, then generative AI looks more like an opportunity than a threat.
My latest article Inventing Reality: Obstinate Orientalism in Victor Segalen’s René Leys has just been published. I am very honored that it is hosted by the Journal of Postcolonial Writing. Some free online copies are available following this eprint link.
I came across Segalen’s novel while working on Secondhand China. I found it absolutely fascinating. The specific idea for the piece emerged after some discussions with the ALTER folks during our project on taphonomies of cross-cultural knowledge. My fascination continued, so I decided to translate the novel into Catalan too–it will be published soon.
Reading: Julian Herbert, La casa del dolor ajeno (2015).
Very happy to have participated in the midway assessment of a superb doctoral project at the University of Olso. Very grateful to Jorge Locane and Ana María Ramírez for their invitation and hospitality. I learned many things–and, most importantly, my reading list increased significantly.
James Rushing Daniel, The Cruelty of Faculty Churn: Term-limited lectureships give scholars a taste of academic life — then yank it away.
Whether officially or unofficially time-capped, these positions in aggregate make up a colossal infrastructure of postdocs, fellowships, visiting assistant professorships, preceptorships, and lecturer positions that contribute to a system of turnover many dub “the churn.” New faculty members are brought into an institution at low pay just as senior ones, at slightly higher pay, are unceremoniously ushered out the back door.
Recent chats with human colleagues have mostly been about Chat GPT, of course. But about other topics as well. For example, about a professor who decided to charge for his manuscript reviews for journals that later charge for access. Or about another mock paper accepted by a predatory journal–the title of the paper, by the way, was “Get me off your fucking mailing list”.
Great ALTER online workshop with Nick Admussen, who shared with our research group his work in progress. A very inspiring example of formal experimentation in academic writing. Nothing beats the face-to-face format, but online meetings are easier to arrange and can be productive and stimulating too.
Very happy to finally see these two activities happen: La Xina del present, el món del futur. They were supposed to be the launch of the dossier on contemporary China we published at L’Espill… just before the lockdown in 2020.
The folks at CCCB tell us this is the first activity they schedule back at Sala Mirador after the pandemic–the only way to get there is through a set of small elevators and access was still restricted.
Reading: William Boyd, Waiting for Sunrise (2012).
Arvo Pärt, Spiegel im Spiegel – Version for Violin and Piano.
Seattle’s schools suing tech giants for harming young people’s mental health–or, in other words, for harming future adults’ mental health.
Watching the public conversation between Pablo Martín Sánchez and Hervé Le Tellier held at CCCB a couple of years ago. When they talk about the OULIPO, I realize I am, in fact, in the middle of a very oulipian moment: trying to find a way through the different constraints upon my next writing project. I should be enjoying this moment, then.
Trying to structure my new project and align it with my research group’s new collective project. Lots of planning and strategizing. Perhaps too much? I bump into James C. Scott’s views on his own intellectual trajectory:
The very attempt to summarize some of what I have written over several decades is likely to convey a false sense of purpose and unity—a teleology even. (…) There are connections between different things I have written, and more than once, I have been both startled and convinced that a close and perceptive reader had discerned a thread of thought that was obviously there. The simple point is that these were rarely connections that I was aware of at the time. I was, instead, simply stumbling, like a crow or magpie, from one shiny object to another. Maybe the phenomenology of my journey is beside the point, but I confess that my guiding ethic was one of intellectual hedonism; I turned my attention to whatever seemed to offer the most intellectual fun. And when I had squeezed as much fun from it as I could manage, I looked around for another playground.
Reading: Carlo Rovelli, Helgoland, trans. Francesc Massana (2022 ).
Coincidence: on the very same day I learn about the release of a new translation of 1984 into Catalan by Albert Nolla and listen to The Daily‘s summary of the World Cup–with the following reference at around 22:40:
Sabrina Tavernise: And what does that [purest form of] FIFA land look like for you? I mean, you’ve been living in it for the past month.
Rory Smith: There’s a lot of fences everywhere because you’re not allowed to walk in certain directions at certain times. There’s lots of vaguely vapid slogans like “now is all” and “together” that are meant, I think, to inspire you, but it feels just a little bit 1984. There’s music everywhere. Just there is no point at which it’s quiet or still or restful.
William James: “A great many people think they are thinking when they are merely rearranging their prejudices”.
Ola Gjeilo, Dawn Sky.
In my graduate courses I often have students who enrol without any background in literary studies. They tend to interpret novels mostly as realistic depictions of the world. To help them understand the power of rhetorical devices and literary techniques such as irony, I usually point them towards Yu Hua’s article The Spirit of May 35th. The recent protests across China have brought more updated examples.
Reading: Mayte López, Sensación térmica (2021).
One of the most brilliant moments of Particle Fever is when, during a Q&A, physicist David Kaplan is asked about the potential economic return of the (at the time forthcoming) experiments at the LHC. He gives the following answer–which I will no doubt try to adapt when in the future someone asks me something similar related to literature… (although I assume that, not being a physicist myself, I shouldn’t expect the same applause in return.)
Question: Let’s assume you’re successful and everything comes out okay. What do we gain from it? What’s the economic return? How do you justify all this? By the way, I am an economist…
Answer: The question by an economist was, “What is the financial gain of running an experiment like this and the discoveries that we will make in this experiment?” And it’s a very, very simple answer: I have no idea! We have no idea. When radio waves were discovered, they weren’t called radio waves, because there were no radios. They were discovered as some sort of radiation. Basic science for big breakthroughs needs to occur at a level where you’re not asking, “What is the economic gain?” You’re asking, “What do we not know, and where can we make progress?” So what is the LHC good for? Could be nothing other than just understanding everything.
David Wallace-Wells, Beyond Catastrophe: A New Climate Reality Is Coming Into View. A complete, balanced assessment that captures the complexity of the current situation:
For me, the last few years provide arguments for both buoyant optimism and abject despair. They have made me more mindful of the inescapable challenge of uncertainty when it comes to projecting the future, and the necessity of nevertheless operating within it.
Talking with a colleague about the need to rehearse before talks–of any kind. How is it possible, for instance, that so many people have so much trouble adjusting to the allotted time? I always use the same example: if (according to David Remnick) Bruce Springsteen at sixty-two still rehearsed obsessively for all his concerts, I honestly don’t see why we shouldn’t…
Isaac Albéniz, L’Automne Waltz, Op. 170.
Reading about Chinese architect Xu Tiantian, her work, and architectural acupuncture. In an interview I find this answer–which should be applied the other way around too:
Question: Is there anything that you would like to change in the university system?
Answer: To be more open. Especially for the students in their early years of architecture education, it is really important to open up their minds, to see more architecture and look beyond architects. There’s a lot of inspiration from others, from art, from culture, from literature, from everything, from life in general. So you need to get that as your foundation when you start in architecture.
Organizing my notes from the past few weeks. In Joanna Page’s wonderful presentation during the Ciencia y Caridad Conference, I discovered Eulalia de Valdenebro’s work. Can’t stop thinking about her series Heterogéneas/Criminales. Is it because the contrast between the two rows looks to me like the perfect illustration of the world literature problem?
Reading: Juan Tallón, Obra maestra (2022).
Arjun Appadurai, Stop Weaponizing History. On presentism, pastism and the traces of the future.
It is no wonder that the hills are alive with the sound of presentism. Absent a serious space for reflection, debate, and deliberation in or on the actually existing present, it becomes easy to claim that my history is bigger than yours, or more ethically relevant, or more marginalized. In this weaponized sense everyone is in the history business, and it is only in the relative calm of graduate programs, annual meetings, journal submissions, and the recruitment of professional historians that the soothing hum of sources, chronologies, periods, and methods can still be heard.
James P. Johnson, Harlem Symphony: 3. Night Club.
Mental note: recommend Patrick Radden Keefe’s Empire of Pain to graduate students and, in fact, to anyone dealing with complicated writing. The book combines a scientific topic, tons of data, very intricate politics and legal stuff, complicated threads… And yet it is all explained so clearly–as if it was so simple. Even if it is not a scholarly book, it could be a great source of inspiration for academic writing.
Very honored to have been invited to give a keynote lecture at the Humanities Fall Conference: Ciencia y Caridad 科学与慈善, organized by Duke Kunshan University’s Humanities Research Center.
It was my first in person conference after the pandemic and I enjoyed two really stimulating days among great colleagues and students. The conference was based on Picasso’s Ciencia y Caridad. The painting’s allegorical potential spurred excellent presentations and discussions about science, the humanities, and the global challenges that lie ahead.
A few days ago, I talked about Secondhand China with Suvi Rautio. Our chat has just been released in New Books in Chinese Studies. As an enthusiastic subscriber of the New Books Network (a terrific resource I always recommend to students and colleagues) I am so glad to be now an episode in the channel!
Week that feels truly post-pandemic. Today, I presented Regresar a China in Madrid. I enjoyed a wonderful discussion with a group of superb readers. On Friday, my first face-to-face conference after the pandemic.
Reading: Patrick Radden Keefe, Empire of Pain (2021)
Very grateful to Sílvia Fustegueres for her interview–just published today to celebrate International Translation Day!
Back to teaching very soon. Going over syllabi, class notes, and teaching logistics. And gathering drive and stamina to wrangle time for writing and research during a busier weeks. Perfect timing for Rebecca Schuman’s reminders in 3 Practical Approaches to Writing While Teaching.
Pankaj Mishra’s book recommendations. Very happy to find references to the English translations of Mercè Rodoreda’s La plaça del diamant (as a book hardly any reader in English has heard of) and Josep Pla’s El quadern gris (as “a hypnotic record of the author’s life in the Catalan provinces and Barcelona in the first half of the 20th century, and I found myself wishing this very long book to go on forever”).
More on reading around. I find this interview to the great writer and historian Robert Bickers. Question: “What’s the best advice you ever got about history?” Answer: “Read, read, read, read, read, read, read. And read anything and everything.”
Not yet fully adjusted to this new phase between projects. Feeling quite anxious, in fact. I search for advice in a senior colleague I admire very much. He says he loves this phase and hopes I enjoy it too. “It’s a parenthesis of pure potential, when you can read around and wait for some kind of lightning to strike.” I do my best to absorve this good piece of wisdom. But: what if there is no lightning?
In a letter to his wife on January 15, 1918, Victor Segalen writes what could have been written by one of those academics who became very productive during the lockdown…
Je me suis fêté hier ma quarantaine, que je porte, ma foi, fort bien… J’ai trois drames, dix romans, quatre essais, deux théories du monde, une poétique, une exotique, une esthétique, un traité des Au-delà, une vingtaine d’ouvrages inclassables, et quatre mille soixante-trois articles de deux cents à deux mille lignes à donner avant de prendre ma vraie retraite. Après quoi, je préparerai une édition entièrement contradictoire de mes oeuvres–afin que l’on choisisse.
Reading: Frédéric Ciriez & Romain Lamy, Frantz Fanon (La Découverte, 2020).
Summer break. Having read this last year, I turn my out-of-office reply and promise myself that this year I will do as say in the automatic message: check email only sporadically and reply upon my return.
I sort of do it. I make only one exception and reply an email from a colleague I admire. He has asked me to send him something and I basically tell him I will have to deal with that in early September, etc. He writes back: “Thank you so much, and safe travels! Vacation is important!”
Mental note: we should make the importance of vacation more explicit–especially to young colleagues.
Marin Marais, L’Arabesque (4ème livre de Pièces de viole).
Lunch with my PhD student–the one who recently filed and then got a decent job. So happy for her!
She confessed that the best thing I ever did during my mentorship was to share with her very early drafts of my own manuscripts–rough, messy, full of nonsensical ideas.
Finishing up a translation project that has been (intermittently) in the making for quite some time now. Definitely a very different kind of intellectual gymnastics–compared to the usual academic writing. I like how they supplement each other.
Reading: Jhumpa Lahiri, Whereabouts (2018/2021).
A PhD student files and gets a decent job: that this is spectacular news (and not just a normal concatenation of events) tells about how difficult it is to become a professional academic nowadays.
Dilemma: Should we then keep on training young researchers (help them select a dissertation topic, dialogue with the field, become generous and dedicated scholars) if there will be almost no decent jobs after they file? Would any other profession do that–train someone for a non-existent job?
I have also received very warm comments about the Acknowledgements section. Some colleagues have told me that they will share it with Anglophone friends. One even told me he will circulate it in a course he teaches on scholarly publishing for graduate students, who (in his program) are almost never first-language English speakers. Most interesting: a British colleague suggested that it may not be (only) a question of Anglophone speakerism but (also) about the parochialism of North American academia–as even the “other” Anglophones find their work outside the canon. I am so happy my reflections can help making these issues more visible.
One month since Secondhand China was officially released. It has been a joy to share the book with colleagues. I have also shared with family and non-academic friends a FAQ document to “explain” the whole book’s project in Catalan language and without scholarly jargon. I must confess I was a bit reluctant to share this at first. But from their responses I see that it was really worthwhile!
“Goodbye Red” by Ben Locket, from Revolting Rhymes soundtrack (2016).
Thanks to Barnes’s work I come across this letter from Flaubert to Turgenev in 1872:
J’ai toujours tâché de vivre dans une tour d’ivoire; mais une maré de merde en bat les murs, à la faire crouler…