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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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?
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.
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.
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.
A permeating paranoia. Profound absurdity. Conspiracy and terrorism. Technological alienation. Violence bubbling, ready to boil. This has long been the stuff of Don DeLillo’s masterly fiction. It’s now the air we breathe.
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)
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.”
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.
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.
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?