Weeks 4 & 5: Why Bhabha Isn't on My List

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Just a few weeks into the semester, and I've already failed at my promise to blog once a week.  The past couple of weeks have been exhausting as I've struggled to get everything done, and I can already tell this will be another semester of very little sleep.  I've already settled into a (rather terrible) habit of sleeping just a few hours every night, then "treating" myself to a two hour nap on Friday afternoons, from which I inevitably wake up even more exhausted and disoriented.  I spend the weekend trying to study and catch up on sleep, and then restart the cycle of sleep deprivation on Sunday nights.  I have exactly six weeks left to finish reading all the books on my comp lists, so the cycle will no doubt continue until mid-November, when I will most assuredly crash and sleep off the rest of the semester like a bad hangover, rising only to tend to necessities (i.e. eating, teaching, grading).

The past two weeks I've been diligently reading for my travel writing and postcolonial exams.  I'm not sure why (okay, I know exactly why), but I've been putting far more energy into reading for my postcolonial exam than either of the other two, and it's by far the one I've read the most for.  I have just two novels and six theory books left to read on it.  Right now I'm reading Patrick Colm Hogan's Colonialism and Cultural Identity, which brings me to this week's list:

1)  Hogan's use of theory: or why Homi Bhabha isn't on my comp list.  When I was compiling my postcolonial list, I had a lot of difficult decisions to make, and I ended up making the list almost entirely on my own, with some help from standard PhD lists I found on the web.  I wanted to make the list fairly canonical and representative (Spivak, Said, Rushdie, etc.), but I also didn't want to read Bhabha.  I'm sorry, but apart from isolated moments of genius, his work is generally incomprehensible.  I assumed this was mostly a weakness on my part, even though in speaking with colleagues and other candidates I realized that I was far from alone in this estimation.  But this decision was justified today when I was reading Hogan's book, which is well-written, well-argued, and by far the most comprehensible theory book I've read from my list to date.  I've already killed one highlighter marking up his text because it is just full of genius. Seriously. If Toril Moi is my academic crush in feminist theory, Hogan is my new academic crush in postcolonial theory. (Or postcolonization theory, he would say. Seriously. Genius.)

So as I was drinking the Kool-Aid that is Colonialism and Cultural Identity (grape-flavored, natch), imagine my delight at coming to this line:  "On the whole, I find the writings of Bhabha and Spivak terminologically opaque, conceptually imprecise, and empirically lax" (25).  And this statement introduces an entire section in which he rips "Of Mimicry and Men" apart word by word and eventually concludes that what Bhabha has written is not theory.  All I want to say about this is, thank you, Patrick Colm Hogan.  Someone had to say it, and I'm glad that person was someone as articulate, accessible, and intelligent as you.

2)  Nadal wins the U.S. Open.  I realize that's quite a jump from postcolonization theory, but this is the real reason there wasn't a Week 4 post. I have a bit of an obsession with professional tennis and with Rafa in particular, so of course I devoted far more hours during Week 3 & 4 to watching the U.S. Open than I should have.

Seriously, is there another man alive who could pull off that shirt color?  I think not.
I watched every one of Rafa's matches during the two weeks. I'm not kidding.  And with Rafa being my top story during Week 4, I couldn't write my post until after the final.  The final between him and Novak Djokovic was supposed to be last Sunday afternoon, so I was fully expecting to post that night, but then it was delayed a day because of rain (and then several more hours because of more rain), so it was late Monday before I was finally able to celebrate Rafa's career Grand Slam, his first U.S. Open victory, and his third Major victory in a row.  I didn't fall on my knees or roll around on the ground, but I might have teared up a bit when he did.

There's just something about seeing young, hard-working people succeed at what they love that I find so inspirational.

3)  Emma Stone and Easy A.  This weekend I took breaks to see two movies--Easy A and Devil.  Devil was okay.  It was by far the M. Night Shyamalan movie that felt least like an M. Night Shyamalan movie to me, and considering how long it's been since I liked an M. Night Shyamalan movie, that's a very good thing. (This summer the Devil trailer played before a showing of Inception I went to, and the entire audience groaned and booed when M. Night's name appeared at the end of the trailer. I think that says it all.) Easy A was very likable, mostly because Emma Stone is an extremely likable person and plays a smart and sassy heroine. One of the greatest things about this movie is that Emma is intelligent and witty and (unlike Kady in Mean Girls) never compromises her intelligence.

This movie has been compared by some critics to other classic teen girl movies like Clueless and Mean Girls (both of which I've seen countless times and could easily see countless more), but it never quite achieved that level to me, so afterwards my brother and I tried to figure out what this movie was lacking.  We decided it was memorable secondary characters.  Amanda Bynes' Jesus-freak antagonist was just annoying (and was done so much better by Mandy Moore in Saved!), and Aly Michalka's best friend character was certainly no Dionne (but perhaps, unfortunately, more realistic).  As a love interest, Penn Badgley was sweet but lacking.  Patricia Clarkson and Stanley Tucci were great as Stone's parents, however--adorable and irreverent.

Another reason this movie will probably never reach classic status, however, is exactly the reason it should--with the exception of the Jesus-freaks, it does not depend on the same sorts of stereotypes and cliques that so many other teen movies and TV shows (I'm looking at you Glee) do.  This high school felt much more...normal.  Like a real high school, like the one I went to, where people were not always so easily classified but they all still struggled to fit in anyway.  For that alone is the movie worth watching.

4)  "My Mirror Speaks"--Death Cab for Cutie.  Every week there's a song or album that helps me get through the week, that I end up playing over and over until I inevitably wear it out.  This week that song is "My Mirror Speaks," which you can listen to here.  Ben Gibbard has one of those rare talents for writing lyrics that are as much poetry as they are song.

So that's it--those are the four positive things I wanted to share with you that have been going on in my life the past couple of weeks.  I'll try to come back next week with more things to share, but since I'll have four sets of exams and two sets of essays to grade, I wouldn't count on it.


Week 3: Let the Games Begin...

Monday, September 6, 2010

...Not the Hunger Games--that was last week.  I'm still obsessing at least once a day over the series' ending and my newest literary crush, Peeta Mellark, but the games I'm referring to in the title are currently far more terrifying to me.  Comps.

I've been putting off studying for them for far too long, and now I'm running out of time. This week I finalized my exam dates and submitted my final lists and justification, so now it's all too real. In a little more than two months I'm going to sit down and write those three exams, and I've never felt less prepared for anything.

This is my fault, of course. I spent my long, glorious, unencumbered summer writing fiction and reading YA and contemporary novels--not reading all that dreary travel writing and literary theory. And now I'm going to pay for it. Although there are a few journal deadlines and contests coming up that I may submit to, for the most part I've got to give up creative writing for the semester and focus on these exams. Just the thought of reading all these books makes me want to stick forks in my eyes, so I've come up with a few things that made reading last week just a little more...bearable.

1)  My newest musical crush, Ezra Koenig, and the fabulous music of Vampire Weekend. Their latest album, Contra, has been on constant rotation on my laptop and iPod this past week, mostly because I love Koenig's voice and their music is so upbeat I can't be unhappy (nor do I feel inclined to stick forks in my eyes) when I'm listening to it. Music is a big part of my creative process, whether I'm writing, decorating, or editing photos, and songs like the one below can make even my worst day seem just a little bit brighter.

2)  New Media.  Arcade Fire.  And Arcade Fire’s use of new media to create an interactive version of the music video.  This is the future, people!  Seriously, when Victoria shared this link on Facebook, I was MIND.  BLOWN. If Vampire Weekend makes me feel warm and fuzzy inside, Arcade Fire makes me feel nostalgic and introspective. And this new video for their song "We Used to Wait" is seriously the most creative and inspirational thing I've seen in a long time.  I love mixing artistic mediums, and it really makes we wish I knew more about graphic art and computers.  If you haven't experienced this video yet, you must click on the above link immediately. Note: You have to have Google Chrome to watch it. (Which you should have anyway because Chrome is totes awesome.)  

My postcard to my younger self.

3)  My awesome support system.  I got to spend the weekend with those I love the most, including T and my family and my lovely cousins Britt and Jess, which is always refreshing.  I got absolutely no work done during the past three days, but it was good just to get away for awhile and recharge my batteries.  Oh, and eat yummy seafood in Destin and a fabulous steak at Meritage Cafe in Columbus, which everyone in the Columbus/Auburn/Opelika area should visit immediately.  

4)  Blogging writers.  Even if I'm not allowing myself to work on The Novel right now, that doesn't mean I'm not thinking about it all. the. time.  And a lot of what I'm thinking about is revision, even though I'm not finished with the first draft.  This is partly due to my terrible love/hate relationship (mostly hate) with outlines.  Sarah Frances Hardy and Katie Anderson have been running a series of posts on outlines this past week on their blog, and they have been tremendously helpful. If there's anyone out there writing a novel and struggling with outlines, I strongly suggest you check them out.

5)  Creative students.  This past week my literature students had to submit something I call the Encheiridion project (stolen from a similar project I did in undergrad)--a handbook on how to live a "good life" in the style of the Tao Te Ching, Marcus Aurelius's Meditations, and Epictetus's The Encheiridion.  The handbook was supposed to be grounded in philosophy and written for a 21st-century audience using 21st-century means.  I was amazed by how intelligent, creative, and original the results were. Along with scrolls, fortune cookies (freshly baked!), Facebook posts, handmade books, PowerPoints, a scrapbook, and a craigslist forum, several of my students made blogs or websites, and I wanted to share with you a few of my favorites:  Living Life.  Simply, Roadmap to a Successful Life, and For the Love of a Break.


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