Shortbus: A Review Monday, Oct 30 2006
movies 9:35 am
Yesterday PJ and I drove up to Columbus to see Shortbus, John Cameron Mitchell’s new movie. A couple of my favorite undergraduates had mentioned that they were going to go see it, and we were going to meet them there and watch it together. PJ and I ended up going earlier than I had thought we would (so we could also get in a little shopping), and so we didn’t end up seeing them there. But I owe them for spurring us to drive up yesterday, because Shortbus is a wonderful film.
The plot of the film revolves around a group of characters who are all emotionally wounded and who live rather hollow lives: a “couple’s counselor” who’s never had an orgasm, her husband who can’t tell her that he needs to be spanked (and spanked hard), a dominatrix who can’t step outside this role, a gay man who’s nearly debilitated by depression, his shallow boyfriend of five years who desperately needs to “love everybody,” and a younger generation of gay men who obsess so much over what they think is this couple’s perfect relationship that they aren’t able to create relationships of their own.
While the film is getting a lot of press for its sexual explicitness (and it is sexually explicit!), the key word here is “relationships.” The sex in the film is a metaphor for the characters’ failed attempts at connecting with one another. The therapist who’s never achieved orgasm also can’t talk to her husband about sex or their relationship without the safety of psychobabble covering over all of their real feelings and frustrations. The gay couple invites a younger man to join them for a threesome but this serves the same function as the straight couple’s comic scene of “safe” language (though the awkwardness of the three men getting to know one another as they wait to start the sex is touching and it is in the combination of these awkward moments and the subsequent sex, which is bizarrely hilarious, that the characters begin to find what they’re looking for).
What I’m Watching: House of Flying Daggers Sunday, Oct 29 2006
movies 10:14 am
Today I’m taking a break from reflecting on my place in the profession (and from writing long posts). Instead, I’d like to inaugurate a series of posts I’ll call “What I’m Watching.”
I’m currently in love with the 2004 movie, House of Flying Daggers. This movie was directed by Yimou Zhang and stars Takeshi Kaneshiro, Andy Lau, and Ziyi Zhang. I love, love, love it! The plot’s a little thin — it’s basically boy-meets-girl, boy-loses-girl set in Imperial China during the T’ang Dynasty — but it’s a visual treat (cinematography, special effects, lots of flying daggers, etc.), very romantic, and Takeshi Kaneshiro is hot, hot, hot!
I also love the music for this movie. Here’s the video for the movie’s theme song, “Lovers,” sung by Kathleen Battle. It also gives a little taste of the movie:
In future posts, I hope to share my thoughts on other movies, and I’ll discuss/review what I’m reading and what I’m listening to. I also plan on posting about my favorite museums and other random things. In other words, I want to flesh out other aspects of my life as an academic beyond teaching and research. (I think it’s important to prove that I’m not just contemplating “the profession” all the time, which brings to mind Darth Vader in his mediation chamber in The Empire Strikes Back, though I love, love, love Darth Vader too!)
Passion, Teaching, and Gerald Graff Saturday, Oct 28 2006
As I mentioned in my first post, one of my goals during my sabbatical has been to begin reconnecting with my passion for teaching. I’m now in the second phase of my career, that huge void between being a beginning professor and nearing the end of one’s career. I don’t want my teaching to become stale. As a student, I saw many professors in this second stage lose interest in teaching. I want to imbue this next part of my career with passion. I love teaching and I love most of what I teach; I want my students to see that love, even if they don’t always share it.
Until recently this process of reconnecting has focused on specific teaching methods and assignments that I would like to integrate into my classes. For example, when I teach Restoration and 18thC classes in the future, I would like to assign my students to keep commonplace books; I then want to connect their commonplacing with reflection on processes of self-fashioning and self-discovery in the period and in their own writing. I also plan to have these students use Johnson’s Dictionary to keep track of key words from the period on a weekly basis. (These words may also lead us to potential topics for their commonplace books.) In other words, I want to synthesize the kinds of assignments I require my students to complete with the kinds of texts and issues generated in the period we’re studying.
Now I’m moving into a second phase of my thinking about my teaching: reading and reflecting on published pedagogical work by other scholars. So, this will be the first of perhaps many posts about teaching. (Of course, once I return to the classroom in late March these posts will probably be less theoretical and more about the day-to-day aspects of my teaching experience, but we’ll see.)
I’ve just finished reading Gerald Graff’s “Toward a New Consensus: The Ph.D. in English,” which is included in a collection of essays entitled Envisioning the Future of Doctoral Education: Preparing Stewards of the Discipline, Carnegie Essays on the Doctorate. This collection is the outgrowth of The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. My attention was brought to this particular essay because I am looking for potential articles to propose for my department’s new colloquium on teaching series, which will commence in January. I also know two faculty members at Texas A&M University who have been participating in the Carnegie Foundation’s initiative on the doctorate.
So Eighteenth Century Friday, Oct 27 2006
Near the end of the quarter this past winter, the students in my graduate seminar and I were discussing my favorite books. As part of the conversation I expressed by chagrin about the fact that I don’t read much contemporary fiction, a lack that probably distinguishes me from most of my friends and colleagues. My graduate students, however, were not terribly surprised by this revelation. As one of them offered by way of explanation, “You’re so eighteenth century!”
It’s true that I love my period, but as a literature professor it is often awkward to admit how ignorant I am about contemporary literature. It can also lead to some embarrassment, even if only in my own mind. (I should note that I do read contemporary literature from time to time, just not as much as other people I know. I love, for example, Laura Esquivel’s Like Water for Chocolate and Edwidge Dandicat’s The Dew Breaker. I also read contemporary GLBT lit.)
Case in point: last night my department (or at least the Creative Writing Program in my department) sponsored our annual Writers Harvest, a benefit for hunger relief. The program featured three writers who read from their own work and a short “interlude” of selections to be included in the first issue of the New Ohio Review (at least that’s my understanding of what these latter selections were).
This Gaudy Gilded Stage Thursday, Oct 26 2006
earl of Rochester 5:45 pm
I’ve reached a milestone in my blogging: I’ve accidentally deleted a post! Here’s a recreation of that post, as best as I can recall it’s content. I’ve also added a little that clearly wasn’t there before, just because I can.
When I first decided to start a blog, I sought the advice of one of my friends, mistersquid. When we discussed a name for my blog, he suggested I use something from my work that also had some special meaning for me. Shortly after our conversation, I knew that I wanted to use the opening line from my favorite poem by John Wilmot, earl of Rochester (pictured right, placing a laurel on a monkey, a comment on the quality of his rival poets):
Leave this gaudy gilded stage,
From custom more than use frequented,
Where fools of either sex and age
Crowd to see themselves presented.
To love’s theater, the bed,
Youth and beauty fly together,
And act so well it may be said
The laurel there was due to either.
‘Twixt strifes of love and war, the difference lies in this:
When neither overcomes, love’s triumph greater is.
As I write in the introduction to my book, this poem encapsulates a key element of Restoration libertinism: the impulse to retreat from and mistrust the “gaudy gilded stage” of public life expressed in a poem written for some level of public consumption.
This tension between public and private strikes me as particularly apropos to writing a blog. I’m asking what will probably turn out to be a relatively small number of people to retreat into a kind of private space, my blog, while publishing that blog on the internet for all and any to read. Like the libertine performing for his would-be lover and the members of the court who will read this particular performance, I exist in a space between my private thoughts, ideas, and interests and the public, mostly anonymous readers who might stumble across my blog.
Since I’m recreating this entry retrospectively, I can add here that I already feel the tension between creating a public persona for anyone to read and trying to be “myself,” whoever that is. I will be interested to see how this plays out in posts to come.
Inaugural Post: Being Evaluated Wednesday, Oct 25 2006
I’m starting this blog while I’m on sabbatical, which means that I’m not teaching and doing very little service; instead, I’m researching and writing my new project. This quarter has also been a time to reflect on my professional goals and future teaching practices and rejuvenate myself so that I can reconnect with my passion for writing and teaching. I hope this blog gives me a space in which to think through some of this reflection and reconnection.
As a professor, I am frequently evaluated. My students evaluate me at the end of each quarter, and a committee of my colleagues evaluates my scholarship, teaching, and service annually. While my evaluations tend to be good in both categories, these processes can’t help but be fraught with a range of emotions. Student evaluations are anonymous and withheld from me until I’ve turned in final grades. This anonymity makes the one or two less positive evaluations (and there are almost always one or two students who hate a class or who were bored by the readings or hold you responsible for another student’s body odor or whatever) stand out all the more. As my colleagues and I often discuss, these one or two negative comments can overwhelm 30 positive reviews. We can’t help but agonize over which one hates “us” (since we are the class) or how we could have made the readings come alive more or which one smells.