Monthly Archives: February 2008

The Luxury of Revision

I enjoy cooking. These days, with what feel like ever-increasing obligations in my work schedule and my increasingly long days at work, one of my low-key, relaxed pleasures remains experimenting with recipes, trying things out, refining them. And I wish the way I taught, the way I ask students to write, matched up better with the way I cook.

It starts with when I want something, with desire: when I’ve got a taste in my head, or an ingredient I want to work with. Lately, it’s been fish soup — not quite chowder, but close — and I’ve been coming at it from different directions, most of them involving Thai and Vietnamese flavors. So for the first draft, I tinkered with onion and garlic and sesame oil, fish broth, catfish, potatoes, green vegetables. Not good: the textures were terrible. The flavor of the broth was right, at least. So I regrouped, cooked the vegetables separately from the broth, used clam juice and curry paste and lime juice, added scallions and basil and cilantro at the end. Still not there: the broth is again the best part, but too many different vegetables are distracting, though it’s a gloriously green soup. Better than the first version, at least, in that it’s worth keeping and will feed me for a couple days. But too spiciness and citrus obscures the seafood flavors. I’m almost there, and I’ll try again in a week or two, reducing and focusing the base, making it simpler, making the accent notes work together.

I wish my students had the luxury of that extended process in their writing. I’ve tried to plan it into the course, to make it available, but when I write, I know that availability and desire without time — or any of those terms without the other — are often and too easily a recipe for 1-2-3 casseroles and tupperware leftovers. When I cook, I can come back to it because I want to.

Where’s the place for the student who makes the burnt dish and then makes the same burnt dish again? Sure: I need Shaughnessy and Bartholomae helping me with the recipes. Part of it is certainty and vocabulary, making a roux, roasting the spices, knowing when to deglaze; part of it’s knowing what ingredients you like to pull from. But the most important part, I think, is knowing what you want. What you’ve got a taste for: desire.

Lately, I’ve felt like I don’t know how to teach that last thing.

Toilet Bowl Sunshine

I’ve alphabetized and tabulated the survey results for words we like and don’t like in conference panel presentation titles. As I’d hoped, people had more than a little fun with the survey (thank you, Mr. Garcia, for risky, frisky, and Lebowski), but there are some interesting minor findings here, as well. (I’ll refer to respondents as “we,” but with such a small sample I’m not in any way suggesting that these findings are generalizable to a broader population of “we.”)

First: our likes are more diverse than our dislikes. The only repeated concept in the “yeah, I’d go see that panel” was punk, either as pseudo-punk or as punk rock. (Apparently, we’ll take punk any way we can get it.)

In terms of what we dislike in conference titles, there were a number of repeats: “post/process/ed” in its various forms (all from one respondent, who apparently really doesn’t like that construction), assessment, community, diversity, expressive or expressivism, literature or literary, praxis, Derridean parentheticalized prefixes, and — of course — Mark Bauerlein. I get the sense that some of these dislikes are tropes — as with the Derridean parentheticalized prefixes, modes of disciplinary talk that have reached the point of tiresome over-use — but with others, I’m not sure if it’s a sense that the terms or topics have been over-discussed to the point of redundancy, or if it’s a sense that use of the term in presentations has been consistently and problematically imprecise (as in the point Joe Harris uses Raymond Williams to make about the term “community” in what we call “discourse communities”).

Note, also, that the one term occurring in both columns is “queer.”

Results follow.

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Patriots

I voted on Tuesday, and felt good. It’s a satisfying thing to do, isn’t it? There’s a small emotional high afterwards; a hopefulness, especially with primaries. A pleasant feeling about democratic processes.

My lesson plans for the two courses I’m teaching intersected with that pleasant feeling in interesting ways. I hadn’t figured the primaries into my syllabi, but in a nice bit of synchronicity, one course was responding to Ernest Renan’s “What Is a Nation?”, and the other course was responding to our Declaration of Independence and the documents Jefferson drew from in composing it.

But nobody in either course raised the question — despite that Super Bowl defeat — of what “patriot” might mean, and I’m curious about that silence. It’s a gendered term, of course, and so carries certain difficulties, but its semi-synonyms — “nationalist,” perhaps, for one — are even more troublesome to some.

Certainly, the students I teach can’t not be patriots, in the service they’ve volunteered to their country: one reason it doesn’t come up in discussion is that it’s beyond argument for them.

But I bet, readers, that some of you might not want to be labeled as patriots. So I’m curious: how has our sense of what it means to be a nation, or to be a patriot, or to declare allegiance to Renan’s patrie — how has that changed from 1776 to 1882 to today? On November 4, will you think of yourself as a patriot — and if so, or if not — why?