Tag Archives: writing

From the Fireplace to the Furnace: Journal Publishing from a Graduate Student’s Perspective

From the Fireplace to the Furnace: Journal Publishing from a Graduate Student’s Perspective

Devoney Looser’s recent article on journal publishing for graduate students and early-career scholars is as funny as it is informative. I certainly have fallen victim to imagining journal editors as either angels singing hymns of praise while reading my work or devils condemning my work and me to the furnace of eternal hellfire. As Professor Looser reminds us, however, editors are people—ones who sit at sometimes overcrowded desks rather than at fireplaces, and who do their best to balance the (far too often thankless) job of journal editor with myriad other professional and personal duties.

Continue reading From the Fireplace to the Furnace: Journal Publishing from a Graduate Student’s Perspective

Sleep, Dreams, and Poetry

Endymion is one of the funniest heroes in Romantic poetry, mainly because he is so frequently fainting and falling asleep. He sleeps so often that I struggle to separate his waking and sleeping, a common problem for Keats that I want to talk about in this post. I have written previously about shared feeling and cognition, and dreaming is a particularly interesting case study for these topics, I think.

Let me catch you up to the ideas I’ve been toying with for my dissertation. I have come to believe that for Keats communion across time and space is enabled by acts of reading and the shared feelings reading encourages. Feelings circulate, via a text, among the bodies engaged in acts of reading (or other aesthetic experiences), and feeling is always an embodied cognitive experience. Therefore communion is realized (not just imagined) in the embodiment of transferred or circulated affect, a reactivation or revitalization of feelings in the moment of reading. From these assumptions, I begin my study of sleep and dreams. Continue reading Sleep, Dreams, and Poetry

Join the Red Pen Society: an argument for copy editing

Editing is the bane of my existence. It’s monotonous. It’s time consuming. It’s well, hard. Choosing what words and sentences to amend or even eliminate often feels like butchering your own children. But what happens when you are entrusted with someone else’s baby? Acting in an official editing position in any capacity, be it for a manuscript, article, or publication of any kind, is an honor and a privilege—albeit a terrifying one.

Maybe you are one of the lucky ones, and taking out a red pen or sitting with a large cup of coffee at your computer with thousands of words waiting for the guillotine of your keystroke is an exciting task, not a daunting one. Bless you. Despite my undergraduate degree in journalism and years spent as a school newspaper editor, I still struggle with copy editing. But I am trying to change. Continue reading Join the Red Pen Society: an argument for copy editing

The Art of the Book and Romanticizing Landscape

For several months now, I have had the pleasure to work on a project with my friend and fellow artist Cat Snapp. On a Texas summer evening, we discussed over dinner our overlapping interests in the outdoors and the influence it has on our work. Through connection to the geological past or ties to personal culture, we each use print media to speak about the personal, historical, and psychological relationships we have with the world around us. At a certain point, we realized that the project that would best unite our voices and express the feeling we wanted was a letterpress printed artist’s book. It has the power to be intimate with the reader, yet it transcends the starkness of simple text on a page – it can reach into places travelled and landscapes desired.

Continue reading The Art of the Book and Romanticizing Landscape

Trick yourself into productivity: the best technologies to keep you focused

‘Tis the season—to become a crazy hermit living under a pile of blankets and books as a tangle of charging cords threatens to spill your very full coffee mug or wine glass (or both, no judgment) onto your laptop. The worst time of the school semester is upon us as the holidays collide with final deadlines. Student grades need to be finalized and seminar papers written, all while family and friends  inundate you with invitations to various shenanigans. Personally, this is the time of year where I struggle to get everything done while still enjoying the holiday cheer and remaining sane. So I have compiled a list of the best technologies tested by yours truly to help you reach your deadlines, whatever they may be. Good luck! Continue reading Trick yourself into productivity: the best technologies to keep you focused

Academic Writing & Emotigifs

We’ve all seen them.

Animated gif images, image macros, and memes on academic writing. You know the ones, like this:

“When a friend asks how the dissertation is going”
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Or, similarly,

“When someone asks you how the diss is going”
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There are even those created for inspiration, such as the “Shouldn’t You Be Writing?” meme.
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Whether we admit it or not,
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Even something as simple as finalizing a topic for this blog post, trying to decide on something that would benefit this community, was an enormous task. While I knew I wanted to discuss writing, that’s still a very broad topic. Should I write on the differences between writing to be read silently, such as for a journal article, or aloud, like a conference paper? What about whether we should include digital writing (ex. tweets, blog posts) on our curricula vitae? Tips on learning to write new genres like proposal abstracts and statements of philosophy? Is it okay to tweet about conference presentations? What about my own lessons in writing from that initial graduate course on “Writing for Publication,” to the various workshops I’ve attended and organized on writing for publication? How about the costs of writing perfectionism? Soon I realized that all of these topics share a common theme: struggling with the writing process itself.

Writing about the writing process also meant I could throw a mini gif party with all these writing related image macros and animated gifs I’ve been accumulating on Pinterest. Because let’s face it, these little animated gifs convey a strong, multimodal rhetorical message.  Scholars who study the linguistics of internet language have argued that emotigifs, hashtags, “Tumblr speak,” doge speak, etc. are all powerful language tools that help us communicate in more complex and nuanced ways than simple text or emoticons can. In the case of the academic writing genre of emotigifs, they express – in a highly creative and immediate way – that academic writing requires wrangling thought and idea into words on a screen (or page, if you prefer) that, with a great deal of work, combine into a persuasive and engaging argument. As Kerry Ann Rockquemore wrote in her article “Writing and Procrastination,” “The truth is that the road from the spark of a new idea to the submission of an article, grant proposal, or book manuscript is a long and winding path.

We get distracted

“The sort of progress I make on my paper when I read Buzzfeed instead”
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We get frustrated:

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Then there are the times “when we think we’ve finally trouble-shooted the essay”
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but then need to go back to the drawing board.

And those (hopefully rare) occasions when we worry about
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But despite all the frustration depicted above, it’s not all bad. In fact, there are some days when we just want to cry out 

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And remember “that thing you’re writing is awesome.” Tom Hiddleston said so.
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Monica Boyd
19th Century Colloquium
Arizona State University

Interview: Dr. Judith Page and Dr. Elise Smith

Dr. Judith Page and Dr. Elise Smith’s article, “Writing a Book Together,” featured in The Chronicle of Higher Education, documents their experience working on Women, Literature, and the Domesticated Landscape: England’s Disciples of Flora, 1780-1870 across the disciplines and across several states. Page and Smith explain that from the beginning, they had two objectives: To bring together the disciplines of art history and English, and to find a topic that would yoke their “mutual love of gardening.” These two goals resulted in their brilliant argument, that “gardens provided women with a new language and authority to negotiate between domestic space and the larger world,” while it simultaneously “offered expanded possibilities that re-centered domesticity outward” (2).

Page and Smith’s friendship is partially rooted in gardening. In fact, one of Page’s first memories of their friendship is planting her first vegetable garden with Smith and her children. “Our children were also friends,” Page says. “They grew up together and thought of her as a second mother, so it made sense for us to want to do a book together.” In this way, Page and Smith’s book is more than a well-researched, fascinating study of women and gardens; it is a carefully constructed document between friends.

INTERVIEWER

How did you initially meet?

PAGE

We met each other as faculty members at a small liberal arts college, Millsaps College, where Elise still teaches. I taught for a long time until I moved to the University of Florida. I loved the kind of collaborations that can occur at a liberal arts college because you really are very connected to people in other departments […] We became good friends and realized that we shared a lot of interests. At first, we actually team taught together. […] We taught a couple classes on images of women in art and literature. We went from very early images through the twentieth century and mostly focused on European art.

SMITH

It was a big change for the two of us because although we already had a lot of teaching experience, at that point, it was always just us in our own classes, me, as an art historian, and her, as a literary historian. […] Thinking about women was the baseline for what brought us together from our various fields. Those courses were such fun to teach. I think it was marvelous for the students to have a way to see alternative perspectives, not just in what they read, but in seeing us with our different viewpoints there in the classroom. That really helped later when we came up with this idea of writing a book together. It was an important foundation for us in terms of thinking collaboratively.

INTERVIEWER

How was this project similar to or different from your other collaborative processes?

PAGE

I would say that the project is different from the collaborative project of teaching together because when you teach a course together, you have to sit down and shape the course and perhaps make changes as you go along. When you’re writing a book together, you really have to read the work, collaborate, change it, revise for each other, and we found that process worked really well. People joked with us and said, “You’re such close friends. Are you still friends after writing a book together?”

INTERVIEWER

How did you come up with your idea?

PAGE

I think it moved from that very early amorphous images of women to something that was much more specifically grounded in the garden and what we might be able to do with that […] I don’t remember what actually sparked the initial idea except our love for the garden and our interest in writing a feminist piece on the garden and our interest in women artists and writers, so it all just came together. […] This was after I had left Millsaps. I’ve been at the University of Florida for 13 years. We both had finished book projects. I had finished my book on Romanticism and Judaism and she had finished a book on the Victorian painter, Evelyn De Morgan, which was her first piece of work in the 19th century.

SMITH

One of the advantages of us not living in the same town anymore is that we’ve got a lot of emails that relate to the project. One dates back to August, 2003. I had written Judy an email at 1:16 in the morning. I started by saying that I had been trying to get to sleep and just wasn’t able to because my mind was full of thoughts about this book that we had begun to think about. Initially, we had been thinking very broadly and loosely about something relating to gardens and landscape issues in the 19th century.

In this middle of the night email that I sent to Judy, I was sort of moaning about this article that I was working on about Gainsborough […] and I said what was really getting me a lot more excited was the thought of working with her on 19th century women gardeners or rather women and gardens, since some of the women might not necessarily be gardeners themselves […] She responded that same night at 2:51 AM, which is kind of bizarre. And she said, “This is so strange because I’m sleepless in Gainesville and decided to get up with hot milk, dry cereal, and a computer check. I love the idea of focusing on women and gardens although we might find that pushing back in the 19th century could be interesting too.”

The time framing of the book—that may have been one of the hardest things for us to figure out, because, of course, there was only a certain amount that we could do. But, any time we got ourselves a tentative beginning and ending date, one of us would kind of stretch an elbow out and say “Oh, but you know, if we just go ten years further or ten years earlier, I could include such and such.” It really was not until late in the writing process that we finally settled on the framing device that we had.  I think it was, in part, some of the frustration that both of us felt at having to leave out some of the later 19th century stuff that got us going on our second project that we’re working on now.

INTERVIEWER

Can you tell us more about working between the disciplines? Within “Writing a Book Together,” you touch upon the clash of verb tenses and working together to achieve a seamless writing voice–a “we” rather than an “I”.  What were some of your other struggles or victories? How did you approach them?

PAGE

We found it a very congenial process and almost always took each other’s criticism and felt that it was right. We’re coming from different disciplines. Elise is a trained art historian. I’m trained, of course, in English. […] There really were some funny moments in sharing our work where we would see different conventions that would guide us. For instance, in my previous books that were not collaborations with Elise, I had illustrations, and some of the illustrations were what she might consider to be decorative. In other words, I did not engage the illustration in the text. Elise’s ground rule was if you have an illustration in the book, you have to engage with it in the text. Of all the 75+, or however many it turned out, nothing was just gratuitous. We talked about each one of them. There was a purpose for having them. That is something that I really had not thought about before. When I wrote my book about Wordsworth and women, I had illustrative illustrations […] and I didn’t necessarily engage them. […] Some of the pictures of the home places I did talk about, but I didn’t have such a strict guideline that I was working with. I liked it. It makes a lot of sense and it’s a good way to justify the illustrations to your publisher.

SMITH

I was also particularly concerned about being sure that we incorporated images in all of the chapters, not just in the chapters that I was working on, and that we incorporated them in what I thought was a substantive rather than a relatively cursory or merely illustrative way. I wanted significant analysis as much as possible to be done with all of the images, rather than just having them there as an illustration on the page.

PAGE

There was that issue, and another one, which I also think is a disciplinary difference that we had. I’ll give you an example: I am the primary author of the chapter on Dorothy Wordsworth. That chapter had even more in it when I first shared it with Elise that was very speculative about Dorothy Wordsworth and her relationship to her brother. Elise wanted evidence. […] On what grounds are you making this statement? What can you point to? What evidence is there? I took it out when it was purely speculative and I didn’t really have the evidence. I worked according to that and I think it was good for me. It certainly made our writing more compatible because she is devoted to really careful scholarship and all of her evidence and references are very precise. It was a good discipline for me to have that because I think that we, as literature scholars, perhaps tend to have more flights of fancy and things that we can’t absolutely justify [with hard evidence], but that we still think we’re right.

INTERVIEWER

Can you tell us more about your collaborative process?

PAGE

We were collaborating from the very beginning. As soon as we would write a chapter, we would share the chapter. We agreed from the outset that each of us would write four chapters. The book has eight chapters, plus an introduction and a conclusion. One of us drafted the introduction—I did—and one of us drafted the conclusion. Then, we each revised them, so they were all truly collaborative.

I also think that our voice is pretty close. […] Maybe someone who analyzed the chapters with some kind of technological program could tell there are certain ticks or ways of writing that are distinctive, but I think we’re actually quite close in our writing styles and I think that it made for a greater harmony in terms of the voice.

SMITH

We assigned ourselves key chapters to draft up and then we would send that draft to the other person. I’d send my draft to Judy and would get all kinds of responses from her and vice versa. Often, something that I might have been working on, for example, related to images, I realized didn’t really fit in my chapter anymore but could easily fit into one of Judy’s chapters as additional visual material […] or a literary passage could really fit well into one of my chapters, so that worked well in the later stages of drafting.

PAGE

We were also both committed to the “we”. We were committed to writing the book together, so it was something that we accepted. I know at one point, Elise said, “I feel really funny using the word “we” in the chapter on Dorothy Wordsworth. It’s so clearly your chapter. You’re the Wordsworth scholar.” There were moments like that where we both chuckled a little, but even the chapters […] where one obviously wrote more of that chapter than the other, at the end of our process, we ended up taking some things out of one chapter and putting it in another with no regard for who wrote the chapter originally. I would say our process, if I had to have a metaphor for what it was like, was like making a quilt. We got the parts, we thought of the chapters, and then we pieced things together in them, so it’s quilt making, if you think of quilt making as an organic process.

INTERVIEWER

In your book, you mention collected specimens, exotic flowers, and how “the microscope suggested a hidden life rich with possibility and meaning” (58-9). If we consider female botanists collectors, can we compare them to famous male botanist and collector, James Banks? Could they be following his example, set in 1771, when he returned from Captain James Cook’s first voyage to South America with samples in tow?

PAGE

Some of the women that we wrote about, for example, Agnes Ibbetson, who is a very accomplished botanist, did have an interesting system of categorizing and collecting in that sense, but we didn’t find this grand design of women as collectors in the sense of Banks or some of those great collectors and adventurers. […] It’s almost a kind of gendered distinction. Male adventurers have a strong desire to conquer and collect and to bring it all back as a part of the empire and put it on display in Kew and other gardens in Britain.

We found less of that in women writers and artists. We found more of an interest in teaching that a lot of this knowledge goes into an educational function […] That educational interest that is very strong, so that you find women who have great knowledge of different parts of the botanical world. That knowledge takes the form of dialogues between mothers and children and various kinds of scenes of instruction in books, so that the botanical knowledge is often put toward that kind of advancement of intellect.

That said, I just read Elizabeth Gilbert’s novel, The Signature of All Things, which was published a couple of months ago. The main character is a woman botanist who has an amazing collection of moss and becomes an incredible expert. I was fascinated by the portrayal of this character not just because she was a collector and wanted to get to the heart of it, but because of what she saw when she studied the moss really closely under the microscope. Gilbert’s character demonstrated this notion that we see in Chapter Two, this discovery of this interior world, an amazing world that was represented when you could actually see into the life of this species, this plant. I think there was this sense of wonder in the world. A lot of women botanists write about wonder, often putting it in a religious perspective too.

INTERVIEWER

Interesting! You discuss the garden as a liminal space of education and exploration, especially for girls before they become women. Did the garden have the same erotic connotations as other well known liminal spaces of education and exploration, such as boarding schools?

PAGE

We do indeed focus on the garden as a place of exploration and education, a place where women and girls can extend their sense of themselves. […] The garden for both men and women always has this erotic charge. It makes me think about the Garden of Eden and all of those kinds of metaphors that go with that. The book is not comprehensive and we didn’t talk a lot about that, but if I had added another chapter, […] I would’ve loved to talk about writers in that context—one of them is Austen. I did a paper for the Cambridge Companion to Pride and Prejudice that just came out last year on the landscapes and estates and gardens. One of the things I talk about there is not the garden narrowly defined as a garden per se, but certainly the outdoor space and the outdoor world in Austen’s novels is a place of freedom. It’s a place where many of the really important scenes and activities take place and discussions between characters that are highly charged and couldn’t take place in the drawing room. They take place out of doors.

Think about the moment in Emma, at the end of the book, where Emma is described as hurrying into the shrubbery. She’s overcome in that moment. She’s recognized that, “I’ve loved Mr. Knightley all along—Harriet can’t have him because I love him!” And she’s pacing the garden, the shrubbery. In that moment, Mr. Knightley appears. That moment can only take place out of doors. It’s highly erotic, and Austen handles it so beautifully.

SMITH

I think that you can particularly see erotic fears perhaps most prominently and ironically in children’s literature–this fear of the children escaping past the wall and the kind of punishment, the literal and metaphorical fall, that these children might have if they climb up on top of the wall. And, of course, the idea of the fall takes on so much resonance symbolically. That could be read as sexual metaphor. I have not made that explicit in the chapter that I wrote, but I think it’s a really neat way of thinking further about that work.

PAGE

We describe this in the beginning of the book that we use the term garden very fully and loosely and we take in botanical writings, landscape, and a whole range of ways that people can engage with the natural environment in the book.

INTERVIEWER

Can you tell us more about your next project?

PAGE

We decided that we loved writing this book together so much that we’re going to write one more book together. […] If critical books could have a sequel, I suppose it’s a sequel. […] What we found looking at the later 19th century is that if in this earlier period, we talked about the way that so many women writers and artists negotiate their relationship between the public and private, in the newer project, one of the things we talk about is an increasing professionalization of the way that women writers and artists talk about the garden, the garden as a potential profession. If women were amateur gardeners in the 19th century, and many of them did move into professional garden writing […] at the end of the 19th century, you have women thinking of themselves as professional writers, professional gardeners, and that there’s a kind of conjunction between women and the garden and women who worked in the city, New Women, if you will. The whole notion of the New Woman fits into this.

Some of the figures, for instance, that I’m interested in, begin to write important gardening histories. They see themselves as historians of what has taken place in the garden not only over the last century, but going back for many centuries. […] There are examples of women who have university educations and see themselves as historians of the garden. We’re going to look at some of those writers.

SMITH

Mostly, I’m working on the time between the very tail end of the 19th century through World War I. That’s where most of my stuff is leading right now. […] I’ve drafted a chapter on garden memoirs written by women who were gardeners themselves and were really thinking about how to create a space for themselves outside of the city. The city/country dichotomy is very important because many of these women travelled back and forth between their country retreat and the city. In fact, I’ll be giving a talk at the 19th Century Studies Association in Chicago in March, which is a conference centered on the city in the 19th century. I’ll be talking about these women in the country and the way in which they contrasted what they valued about their lives in the country, in their gardens, as opposed to what they saw as really problematic about the city, the noise, the dirt, and also the city as standing for some of the violence that they associated with the war torn years.

One of these garden memoirists wrote in defining this contrast between the city and the country, “Asphalt or turf? Pose or repose?” She was referring to the idea of the pose, the sort of artifice of the poseur life in London, as opposed to being able to let that all go when one is rooted in the countryside. That was a lot of fun for me to write. I hadn’t heard of a lot of the women before, but very few other people now have heard of them either. As an art historian, I’m finding myself pulled into text based writing and text based image making, because there is very little imagery involved as I dig into these memoirs and write about them. My other chapter, so far, is about an artist from the Bloomsbury group who knew Virginia Woolf. Her name is Dora Carrington. She was working in the 1910s and ‘20s before she committed suicide. She did a lot of paintings of the land around the three homes that she lived in. One was her childhood home and two were houses that she lived in with the Bloomsbury writer Lytton Strachey. I argue that these landscapes that she painted are really a way of attempting to make a psychological home base for herself because of the way she felt increasingly removed from friends and lovers, and even the actual homes themselves, which she didn’t own. […] She was afraid of being a hanger-on with Lytton Strachey. […] My next chapter will be on children’s stories and illustrations centered around Frances Hodgson Burnett’s Secret Garden, but I will also look into other children’s books written by women that deal with children in the garden in some way, which will be an extension from the chapter that I wrote about children’s literature in the last book. I’m not sure what my fourth chapter will be. That is sort of giving you an indication of how Judy and I are feeling our way into what we might want to write about.

 PAGE

I’m very interested in figures like Beatrix Potter and Vita Sackville-West, women who saw themselves in terms of a kind of mission that they had to revitalize the English landscape. Beatrix Potter is an example of someone who is best known as a children’s author. She wrote the Peter Rabbit books that we all grew up on. However, after she wrote the Peter Rabbit books and settled in the Lake District, she became a conservationist and someone who dedicated her life to the restoration of the countryside. […] Sackville-West wrote books where the garden features very importantly, but she also developed and designed with her husband and then worked in one of the most important gardens of the 20th century, Sissinghurst, which is still regarded as one of the great gardens in England. I’ll be looking at what the relationship between her life as an actual gardener and what she wrote about her gardening life. In this project, we’re also going to be very interested in looking at the effect of the First World War, but we’re going to take it through the Second World War and the effect of the war on the sense of the landscape, the place of the garden in the landscape, and women’s relationship to it in particular. One of the things that developed during the First World War is the Women’s Land Army, and women increasingly took the place of men as workers on the land as men were drafted into the army. Many of those women became committed to those skills and to that life, even after the war. Looking at those kinds of changes in how women contributed to the land and the landscape during the war years is something that we’re going to be very interested in.

INTERVIEWER

Do you have any advice for scholars interested in collaborative work?

PAGE

I would say that productive collaborations arise from shared interests and passions, and when each contributor brings a different knowledge or disciplinary perspective to the mix. Once you get going on the collaboration, think of it like other relationships that always require give and take—and compromise.

SMITH

I think my main advice would be that you have to give up turf possession. That’s a good metaphor to use when we’re talking about gardening. You have to give up the sense of, “Oh, I’m an art historian, and thus what I write has to be situated in art history.” I learned long ago by coming to Millsaps and being the only art historian here for many years, to give up turf ownership of any particular period in art history because I teach from ancient all the way up to contemporary. […] Now, by working with Judy collaboratively, I’ve had to broaden out beyond being just an art historian to being a thinker about the world, open to all kinds of questions, and then following those questions to whatever kind of evidence might come to bear on those questions. I think about texts as well as images. That advice is important advice for any scholar in whatever field, whatever they’re doing – go where the questions lead you.

 

 

 

 

Rethinking Romantic Textualities with Media Archeology

In my first post for this blog, I wrote about how my background in archeology influences my perception of texts as physical objects, and how I’d like to move towards an “archeological hermeneutics” that takes into account a text’s material conditions as contributing to its contents and their significance. Moving forward, I’d like to complicate our understanding of text-as-object by introducing what I’ve so far learned in my “Media Archeology” seminar taught by Lori Emerson. It came as a surprise to my family and friends that I enrolled in this course, because I tend to take classes that focus on the study of 18th and 19th century literatures. Although I won’t be reading any texts “in my period” for this class, I’ve found it has in fact supplied me with a variety of alternative methodologies for my Romantic-era research.

Although those who work in the field tend to resist a concrete definition, Jussi Parikka calls media archeology “a way to investigate the new media cultures through insights from past new media, often with an emphasis on the forgotten, the quirky, the non-obvious apparatuses, practices and inventions” (Parikka loc 189). We’re encouraged to take apart machines in order to understand how they operate, and in turn expose the conditions and limits of our technologically mediated world. Relying on Foucault’s Discipline and Punish, among other texts, media archeologists expose structures of power embedded within the hardware of modern technology, revealing the ways in which media exert control over communication and provide the limits of what can be said and thought.

I find this way of thinking about the structures and limitations imposed by media particularly useful for the study of 18th and 19th century texts. Instead of thinking about how printing and publication practices give rise to individual texts, as I have in the past, I’ve started to consider texts from the inside out: what do books tell us about the cultural conditions and constraints imposed by the media in which they were (and are) written, manufactured, and consumed? Like the ASU Colloquium’s post, I wonder what three volume novels, for example, might tell us about communal reading practices and circulation of texts and, importantly, our modern reading practices in comparison. I’d hypothesize that circulating texts and libraries would contribute to communities of readers in which reading was, perhaps, a shared experience. In contrast, modern reading tends to be solitary experience which involves owning texts (especially when the library has only one copy of the book you need).

I’ve also found media archeology’s rethinking of linear time and notions of progress particularly useful and interesting. Collapsing “human time” allows us to bring together seemingly unrelated technologies for comparison and analysis. I’m thinking here of the Amazon Kindle and 18th century circulating libraries, which both create spaces for communal reading. In contrast to the private reading practices I described above, I think the Kindle – and specifically the “popular highlight” feature – presents an opportunity for readers to become aware of their participation in collective readerships. When you click on a pre-underlined sentence, it shows how many other people have also highlighted it. While at first I found this feature annoying – perhaps evidence of the private relationship I tend to have with books – I’ve begun to enjoy the way it makes me aware that I’m one of many readers who’s enjoying this particular text. Furthermore, I wonder if my newfound sense of collective readership would also give me a better understanding of Romantic-era reading practices that were likewise characterized by shared texts and mutual engagement. The ASU Colloquium posed an important question about whether we should attempt to read texts as their original readers would have; since many of us no longer have access to the original 3 volume novels and their circulating libraries, maybe we can gain insight into these texts and reading practices from the vantage point of our own collaborative technologies.

To close this post, I want to introduce one more concept from my media archeology reading that I’ve also found particularly applicable to the study of Romanticism: glitch aesthetics. Typically understood as accidents and hick ups within games, videos, and other digital media, glitch artists exploit them in order to “draw out some of [that technology’s] essential properties; properties which either weren’t reckoned with by its makers or were purposefully hidden” (McCormack 15). Again, media archeologists are concerned with exposing the power structures embedded in technologies, this time by giving us a peek of what lies beneath. While looking at glitch art, I couldn’t help but think of an experience I’d had in the British Library reading Keats’s manuscripts. I remember finding an additional verse to “Isabella: Or, the Pot of Basil” in George Keats’s notebook in what I think was Keats’s hand etched nearly invisible on the opposite page. Of course, this mysterious stanza threw a wrench in the carefully constructed argument I’d planned, and I had no idea what to make of it. Now that I look back on it, I’d like to think of that stanza as a textual glitch – it’s possible that Keats never intended for it to be read. Perhaps it had even been erased from the page. For me, this “glitch” reveals the textual instability of the poem and disrupts the sense of solidity and permanence with which I’ve come to regard Keats’s oeuvre.

I still have much to learn about media archeology and its methodologies (which I’ve certainly oversimplified), but I think this field could lead our work in Romanticism in new and exciting directions.

 

“I have a new leaf to turn over:” A Romanticist’s Resolutions for 2014

I think we can all agree that Keats’s Endymion (1818) was a critical and commercial failure. As Renee discusses in her post, Tory reviewers lambasted the poem because of Keats’s affiliation with outspoken radical Leigh Hunt. Although the poem’s most notorious critic, John Gibson Lockhart, notes its metrical deviations from the traditional heroic couplet form, he spends more time attacking Keats personally: “He is only a boy of pretty abilities, which he has done every thing in his power to spoil.” It’s no wonder, then, that Keats’s letters written in the months that followed show a recurring preoccupation with self-improvement, or “turning over a new leaf.” In a short letter to Richard Woodhouse (friend and editor) dated December 18, 1818, he writes “Look here, Woodhouse – I have a new leaf to turn over: I must work; I must read; I must write.” He’d repeat the phrase again that April in a letter to his sister, complaining that he had “written nothing and almost read nothing – but I must turn over a new leaf.”

Due to my unfortunate tendency to self-identify with whomever I’m reading (“OMG, Keats, I know EXACTLY what it’s like to have your work rejected and then mooch off your friends because you have no money. WE ARE THE SAME PERSON.”), Keats’s desire to “turn over a new leaf” resonates as I prepare for a new semester of graduate school in the new year. While our situations are slightly different – constructive criticism of a seminar paper not quite as devastating as the complete and utter failure of a published book  – his mantra for self-improvement sounds eerily like that of a graduate student: “I must work; I must read; I must write.” In the spirit of turning over a new leaf, and hopefully transforming that Endymion-esque seminar paper into a Lamia, I present to you my academic resolutions for 2014. I should note that many of these will be obvious to the more seasoned scholars among you, but for all of you newer grads out there, I hope you’ll find my mistakes instructive.

Resolution #1: I will develop arguments from texts instead of making texts conform to my arguments. 

This one seems easy in theory, but it’s something I’ve been struggling with throughout the semester. I’ll read one text – Endymion, let’s say – and then a bunch of criticism, and its reviews, letters, etc. Then, I’ll develop an idea about how Keats’s later poems revisit the same genre and politics as Endymion, but ultimately rewrite them. Except, I’ll form this connection even before I’ve read the later poems, just because it sounds so smart and will make such a good paper. Then, I’ll set about writing the paper and finally get around to reading Lamia, Isabella, The Eve of St. Agnes, and other poems (1820), and only then will I realize that the texts interact in completely different ways than I had originally thought. Of course, there’s not enough time to completely rewrite my paper, so I stick with the argument, praying that the reader doesn’t realize I made this crucial error.

So, simply put, I resolve to stop doing this faulty method of research. I’m going to let myself be confused by texts, and stop trying to develop beautiful, complex arguments before I’ve had time to fully read and think about them. If a brilliant idea pops into my head before I’ve done this, I’ll write it down, set it aside, and consider it later. As a wise professor once told me, “Always start with close reading. If you leave it till the end, it will always most certainly change your argument.”

Resolution #2: I will accept that I am, first and foremost, a student.

A wise man (Michael Gamer) once told a group of English majors, “graduate students are full of themselves.” I hate to say it, but I’m living proof of this. I started graduate school last August under the impression that I was a Romanticist. In my undergrad days I was merely an “aspiring Romanticist,” but starting a Ph.D. program gave me the right to crown myself with the full title. Once I was accepted, I thought that I had made the transition from student to scholar, and deceived myself into believing that I knew more about my field than I actually do. Thankfully, the enormous ego that Michael prophesied was soon deflated when I realized a few weeks into class that, in fact, I know very, very little about the period in which I claim to specialize. Of course, this realization was accompanied was a decreased sense of self-worth, doubt about whether I was in the right line of work, and a frantic conversation with my advisor in which I dramatically exclaimed, “I KNOW NOTHING!” “That’s ok,” he assured me, “you’re a student, and you’re not supposed to. Frankly, you’d be surprised how many people in the field don’t know much either.” So, for 2014, I resolve to remind myself that I’m not a scholar yet; I’m a student. I will accept the limits of my knowledge while doing my best to expand them.

Resolution #3: I will overcome writing anxiety.

This problem plagues many of us, and it’s one of my biggest areas for improvement in the new year. Sometimes, the sheer size of what I need to write, the nearness of the deadline, and difficulty of the subject matter create a Kafka-esque paralysis in which no writing is accomplished. I can tell I’m experiencing this when I go to extra lengths to avoid starting a paper, whether it’s extra research, extensive outlining, or a meticulously organized Spotify playlist entitled “Writing.” As many of us know, talking about writing and thinking about writing is not actually writing. The only way to overcome this problem is simply to write more. At the advice of many of my peers, I plan to write everyday, especially while I conduct research. There were simply too many times this year when I was tempted to end my seminar papers in the way that Milton ended “The Passion” (1620): “This Subject the Author finding to be above the years he had when he wrote it, and nothing satisfied with what was begun, left it unfinished.” I’m pretty sure only Milton could pull off that one.

Resolution #3.5: I will write my blog posts on time. 

This probably should’ve been number one. Thank you, Jake and fellow NASSR grads, for your patience.

Happy 2014!

 

 

Last-Minute Gift Ideas for Academics (or what to get with your holiday Amazon giftcards)

My department has recently introduced these two books to the grad students through reading groups and classes. Both give great professionalization advice for various stages in the studying, working, and writing processes.

Semenza, Gregory Colón. Graduate Study for the 21st Century: How to Build an Academic Career in the Humanities. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010.

This is a book that practically anyone involved in graduate studies, from newly-accepted students to scholars about to defend their dissertations, would find an invaluable resource. As its introduction boasts, it’s geared towards students who have already made the decision to dedicate their time and energy to graduate school, studying with faculty in order to become faculty themselves, thereby bypassing any discussion of applying to grad school or whether or not grad school is for you. The first three chapters focus on providing insight into aspects of the graduate education we deal with every day but that are rarely taught in any official capacity: how to negotiate department politics, how to field questions and misconceptions from those who don’t understand academia, how to use the different stages of the process wisely instead of just getting by, and how to structure and organize your time. Though the advice is detailed and helpful, the tone of the book is in no way warm or sanguine: Semenza does not sugar-coat anything. He knows the job is tough, and the process of getting there is even tougher. He talks about problems we all know about: the highly-competitive job market, the numbers of grad students admitted versus jobs available, the hiring of adjuncts instead of full-time faculty. He also criticizes the structure of graduate school itself, placing a lot of responsibility on advisors and faculty, who, even with the very best of intentions, simply treat their grad students as they, themselves were treated in grad school, thereby perpetuating the system. He offers his book as an extra advisor to supplement their guidance.

Chapters four through eight discuss, in-depth, the different stages of graduate school—the graduate seminar, the seminar paper, teaching, exams, and the dissertation. Some of the advice is simplistic and may already be part of your academic practices, like note-taking and organizing folders, but other advice simply helps you make sense of what you’re doing and why. Though Semenza recommends not reading these chapters selectively, I read the exam chapter and the section on the dissertation proposal while studying and writing for each, before I read any of the other chapters, and I still found the advice helpful. The next three chapters cover activities we engage in throughout our graduate career: conferences, publishing, and service. Some of the advice in the seminar paper and publishing chapters I even found useful for teaching writing in my own classroom, something that I found with the Belcher book discussed below, as well. The appendix includes several “professional documents,” such as C.V.s, job letters, abstracts, syllabi, and other important formats to guide you through seeking publications, conference presentations, and jobs.

I do highly recommend this book for individual academics, but I think the way that my department handled it was particularly effective: we gathered the grad students and a few faculty who were interested and formed a reading group, where we discussed one or two chapters per session. As I said, the book does not ease up on the harsh reality of the academic state of the humanities, and the dooms-day tone, though completely realistic and necessary (and appreciated for the respect it gives academics), could easily send grad students already on the edge into a serious panic. Reading the book as a group allowed for conversations that quelled this kind of panic and allowed us to measure our own experiences against Semenza’s and to make the most of the tough-love approach. This could be a book to hold onto through grad school, graduation, and even when we (fingers crossed) have grad students of our own to advise.

 

Belcher, Wendy Laura. Writing Your Journal Article in 12 Weeks: A Guide to Academic    Publishing Success. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, Inc., 2009.  

Belcher’s book, on the other hand, offers a more optimistic “you-can-do-it” approach to one single aspect of being an academic, both for grad students and established scholars: publishing an article. This workbook-style text demarcates a chapter per week, giving you specific activities to do each day for a specified amount of time, ranging from half an hour to about two hours. For example, the chapter for week 5: Reviewing the Related Literature opens with this list of tasks:

Day 1, Read through the pages in the workbook, 60 minutes

Day 2, Evaluate your current citations, 60 minutes

Day 3, Identify and read related literature, 8 hours (this is very unusual)

Day 4, Evaluate the related literature, 60+ minutes

Day 5, Write or revise your related literature review, 120+ minutes

Theoretically, if you are able to stay on task for every day (only five days per week, so there is some flexibility), you should be able to complete and polish up an article and follow Belcher’s advice for choosing a journal and submitting your final draft. My department offered a one-credit class that followed this book like a syllabus, completing the tasks for each day and spending about half an hour per week workshopping one another’s work along the way. The book does seem to work best if you have a piece of work already in mind, like an old seminar paper or conference paper. There really isn’t a chapter that guides you through starting from scratch, which is obviously the most time-consuming stage of the process. For me, the most effective part of Belcher’s method is just setting time aside everyday to work on my article and sticking to a schedule (though, to be honest, there were many weeks were I was barely able to fit in an hour or two). Belcher is both adamant and realistic: she insists that you should be able to find at least fifteen minutes per day to work on your article, even if it’s just on the back of an envelope in an airport. In a section in which she addresses common obstacles to writing, she bluntly states that, “If you really are too busy to fit in fifteen minutes of writing a day, then this workbook cannot help you. I recommend that you plan, in the very near future, a weekend away from it all where you can really think about your life” (26). On the other hand, she begins many of the later chapter with the concession that it is very possible that you haven’t been putting in your time every day or every week and offers some (shaming) encouragement: if you haven’t been working, now is a good time to start—it’s never too late!

I think my fellow grad students would agree that this book is very helpful in just getting you to work and write every day towards one specific (and necessary) goal and that it provides some really solid writing advice and techniques. I personally found the chapter on structure the most helpful. Some smaller sections within the chapters, however, I suggest taking with a grain of salt at times to determine whether they are really helpful for you. Some of the anecdotes seem slightly unrealistic and out of context at times and may discourage rather than encourage, as I think happens in many of these academic advice books. Like Semenza’s book, Belcher’s book also seems to underestimate the extent to which academics make themselves visible electronically, through blogs, online journals, etc. Semenza mentions almost nothing about these venues, and Belcher treats them fairly condescendingly. Nevertheless, her book offers guidelines and tips that could also extend beyond article-writing to teaching and other types of writing, like the chapters on editing sentences and on presenting evidence. Also similar to the Semenza book, this text is another useful tool that I think is best read amongst a group of students and faculty in order to make the most of its advice through further discussion and personal experience.

You can access some of the forms and schedules, like this weekly schedule, at Wendy Laura Belcher’s website: http://www.wendybelcher.com/pages/WorkbookForms.htm