Monday, June 12, 2017

How I Finished My Dissertation in One Year


Note: I entitle this how I finished my dissertation in one year, because what worked for me won't necessarily work for you, and vice-versa.  If you find anything I suggest here personally unhelpful, please discard it without a second thought.  But a number of classmates have asked me lately how on earth I finished my dissertation so quickly, so I post my process here for anyone else out there who might also be frantically googling for help.

Some caveats: I do not have any sort of formula or system, though my life would be far easier if I did.  But then again, if you are in grad school--and especially if you are in the Humanities--then you are likely already imbued with a deep-seated suspicion of any and all attempts to reductively quantify and contain the expansiveness and diversity of the human experience.  The last thing I want to do is write yet another Covey-esque management book, and I don't think you want me to write one either. Not only is there no formula, but you should embrace the fact that there is no formula; writing a dissertation is as messy as life is.

Moreover, most of what I will cover here you have either already heard before, or has independently occurred to you.  Please therefore take these tips in the spirit they are intended, as a series of useful reminders and encouragement to keep going.  (Few things irritated me more as a grad student than to be condescendingly lectured about, say, the awfulness of the job market, as though we didn't already know, as though we didn't need encouragement now more than ever.)

Yet even if I did try to set up a system, well, as John Lennon once sang, life is what happens when you're busy making other plans.  Just in this one year of dissertating, I moved 3 states west; got married; started adjuncting at a community college an hour from where I lived; my car was rear-ended; my laptop died (twice); the vacuum cleaner quit working; my wife and I took in a stray-cat that turned out to be pregnant; and etc. and etc. and etc.  Now, none of these are necessarily big deals in and of themselves; some of them are even cause for celebration.  But they are all the sorts of things that can cause you to lose whole days of writing at a time, to the point that a week can go by and you've accomplished nothing.

And I didn't even, say, get pregnant, like some of my classmates have; nor did anyone close to me suffer a life-threatening illness (at least not this year).  Those are the sorts of things that really will disrupt your writing schedule, to say the least!  Even if everything runs smooth, even if you are able to live a perfectly cloistered life, then (unless you have a rich family that hired you a butler) you will still have to do all the petty minutia of daily life: grocery shopping, laundry, cleaning the house, and so forth.  Things are always going to come up and get in the way, no matter your best efforts.  A lot of what I will be writing about is how to make the best of the time you do have leftover.

I should also make clear that, contrary to what some friends have assumed, I am not especially disciplined; I oversleep, I eat too much, I don't exercise enough.  I am one of you, in other words; do not assume you need any greater self-discipline than you already possess to get this dissertation done in a year.

One last caveat before proceeding: The correct amount of time to spend on your dissertation is whatever amount of time is necessary to make it good.  That will vary from project to project and person to person.  This is not a race, nor will anyone think you are brilliant or gifted or whatever for finishing fast; at best, they'll think you're a drudge, and may even hate you a little bit.  Your motivations for finishing in a year cannot, repeat cannot be egotistical--such is counter-productive and ultimately self-defeating, for reasons I will get into shortly.  (What's more, the last thing we should be doing right now is giving the University administration yet another excuse to cut our funding packages.)

However, if you are worried about the precarity of your funding package next year--or a key member of your committee is retiring soon--or you are (like me) over 30 and simply sick and tired of being in school--or you are at a Midwest university and the corn fields are just getting to you--then I may have a few pointers that can be of some help.

The caveats out of the way, let us begin.

First, some nuts and bolts tips: The research article from your comprehensive portfolio should double as your first chapter.  That saves you an enormous amount of work; there is no virtue in making things harder on yourself by writing everything from scratch.  Work smarter, not harder.

If your program requires a prospectus (as mine did), then you need to start writing your second chapter at the same time as your write the prospectus.  Though you are technically jumping the gun without permission, it is better to ask forgiveness than to ask permission--and besides, you're trying to finish in a year here. 

Second, Outlines: An outline can take many forms.  I personally hate to make detailed, structured outlines because they do not help me at all (though if they help you, then please, by all means, write one--do whatever it takes to get the dang thing written).  Partly that is because I am often figuring out what exactly my argument is while I am actually writing it.  However, I still do a primitive, brutish sort of outline just to get me started.

I begin my rough outline by gathering a bunch of articles and books, and then I extract relevant quotes, either by typing them out free-hand, or (if the pdf will allow it) copying and pasting.  I group the various quotes together thematically.  I go by the rule of halves: over half of all articles and books I skim through will turn out to be irrelevant and useless; about half of all the articles that are relevant will not make it into the final chapter; and at least half the quotes I extract into a word document will end up cut as well.  There is no efficient way to do research, or to determine which books and articles will be relevant, so just embrace the inefficiency.  (Learn to trust yourself, too; you can normally tell within a couple pages whether an article or book chapter is relevant or not).

Once I have arranged the quotes into the rough order I think they will appear in (full well knowing that I will be moving things around a lot later), I begin writing the connective tissue between all these quotes.  Slajov Zizek once said that he actually hates to write, that the way he tricks himself into being so productive is by telling himself that he is just typing down thoughts and notes, until one day, voila, he has a manuscript.  Do the same.

This brings me to a very important Third Point: You must learn to embrace what Anne Lammott calls "Shitty First Drafts".  I am dead serious here, read her whole essay; I don't proselytize for much in pedagogy, but I absolutely proselytize Lammott's essay.  I teach it to my freshmen.

Terrible first drafts are how you break out of the perfectionism inherent to graduate students.   Other folks really do need to be told to get off their lazy keister and do something with their lives, but the sheer fact that you are a grad student speaks well of your innate ambition and drive.  But ambition and drive can be good servants but terrible masters--they breed a debilitating perfectionism that prevents you from ever getting started, because you are filled with this horrible need to make your manuscript brilliantly perfect from the first draft.  This, in my observation and experience, is what slows down grad students more than anything.

You have just got to shut off your perfectionist tendencies when you start writing.  You have just got to give yourself permission--nay, encouragement--to write so horribly that, like Anne Lammott, "I'd obsess about getting creamed by a car before I could write a decent second draft. I'd worry that people would read what I'd written and believe that the accident had really been a suicide, that I had panicked because my talent was waning and my mind was shot".  This all will result in an awful draft that is hell to revise; but, as you well know, it is always far easier to revise a terrible draft than to write a draft in the first place.  Remember that.  No matter how nightmarish the revisions are, it is still way easier than writing the draft from scratch in the first place, so just grind it out as fast as possible.

On the revisions: Once you have completed a terrible chapter draft, lay it aside and start writing the next chapter.  That way, when you finally return to that chapter a few weeks later, you can read it with fresh eyes, as though it were written by someone else.  Give yourself frequent breaks from your drafts, always try to read it with fresh eyes.  Ideally, you stagger your chapter revisions apart, such that, though you are continually working on the dissertation as a whole, you are only looking at any single chapter once every few weeks.

Now to discuss the importance of writing continually: I don't know about you, but every time I begin a new writing project, it is preceded by an ungodly amount of procrastination.  I can't tell you how many times I announced to my wife that I was going to sit down and write all afternoon, only for her to come by a half-hour later and catch me surfing Facebook and YouTube.  It was embarrassing, but it was what I needed to work through in order to get to a place where I could finally force myself to write.

And as you know, every time you take more than a day or two break from writing, you have to get back into that mode again, and go through that whole time-sucking procrastination process once more.  You must therefore make an effort to write at least once every day, to stay in that writing mindset.  Even if your writing's terrible--especially if it's terrible--you must write constantly; because, as Lammott astutely observes, "Just get it all down on paper because there may be something great in those six crazy pages that you would never have gotten to by more rational, grown-up means. There may be something in the very last line of the very last paragraph on page six that you just love, that is so beautiful or wild that you now know what you're supposed to be writing about, more or less, or in what direction you might go--but there was no way to get to this without first getting through the first five and a half pages."

That also means setting stupid goals, of how many pages you are going to try to get through each day (but not beating yourself up when you inevitably fall behind); that also means being willing to cancel meetings, stand-up friends, ignore phone-calls, blow-off chores and commitments, if you ever get into a good groove.  When we were still dating, my wife would call me sometimes to chat and I would just say, "I love you but I have to call you back later, I'm in a good groove and don't want to lose it."

Now, this is not a call to be irresponsible or anti-social (you need your friends now more than ever), just a reminder that when you get into a good groove, to do everything you can to ride it out as long as possible--because that groove doesn't come often, but when it does, you usually get more accomplished in those few hours than in entire days of forcing yourself.  You put the groove first, and it will put you first--for the more you ride out those good grooves as long as possible, the more likely you are to have them.

On that note: pace yourself. Don't write all day. If you're not in the mood, don't force it. Take short, frequent breaks, so your eyes don't glaze over. Go on walks. Maybe set aside one day each week that you tell yourself that you will NOT work, to rest and recuperate. I'm religious so I take Sunday off (I ironically take that whole "day of rest" thing more seriously in grad school than I ever did as a kid in Sunday school), but it could be a different day for you; the point is that you have a day, you draw a line in the sand, where the outrageous demands of the world are not allowed to touch you.

Finally we get to the elephant in the room: the problem of motivation. You don't need need me to rehearse to you the awfulness of the current academic job market, or how few people will even read the finished dissertation.  It is difficult to stay motivated in the face of such existential despair.  We can talk all we want about becoming "self-disciplined," but let's face it, "self-discipline" is just a smarmy code-word for doing something you don't actually want to do--and more damning, don't really believe in, either.  You don't need discipline when you are motivated.  The problem is not one of discipline, but of motivation.

Therefore, make sure that what you write is something you actually care about, are passionate about, that you would want to talk about anyways even if you weren't getting school credit for it. Caring about it will also make you happier to write it, and paradoxically makes it more likely other people will actually read it voluntarily. So write your manifesto! Stick it to the man! You can tone it down later in your final drafts depending on your advisor's feedback, but for now, rant and rave (if ever there was a better year to do that than 2017...)

You may here protest that your dissertation is not particularly political; while mine, for example, examines how Irish and Latin American modernist literature utilizes tropes of remembering the dead as a form of decolonization and resistance, yours may be nowhere close to as explicitly political.  Here I would remind you of Mikhail Bakhtin, the Russian formalist, who wrote The Dialogic Imagination whilst in exile in Kazakhstan; his fear was not about getting tenure, but of being shipped off to the gulags.  In the face of such monumental oppression and injustice, what did Bakhtin choose to write about?  The structure of the novel, of all things!  He wrote about what he wanted to write about, no matter how brutal the political situation.

In fact, Deleuze and Guattari claimed in Anti-Oedipus that desire itself can be inherently politically destabilizing, especially when you determine what you desire, not a corporation or a government or the job market.  Robert Pirsig argues something similar in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.  Proust in the final volume of In Search of Lost Time likewise describes a propulsive need he felt to create a work of art no matter the devastation of WWI.  And as Doris Lessing stated simply, "Whatever you're meant to do, do it now.  The conditions are always impossible." 

In short, when you write about what you want to write about, it is not only an act of genuine desire, but of resistance.  It is how you find your motivation to finish what you started.  May your own stubborn and liberating desire likewise to carry you through to the end--of not only your dissertation, but beyond.

I wish you way more than luck.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

On Swan Songs


[One last attempt to properly capstone and wrap-up this silly ol' blog]

Amidst our current vinyl Renaissance, I've noticed that the one Beatles LP you are guaranteed to find in every surviving record shop, in every book-store music section, and on the shelf of every hipster, collector, nostalgist and enthusiast, is Abbey Road.  Where once upon a time Sgt. Pepper, Revolver, Rubber Soul, and/or the White Album garnered the lion's share of the attention, now as the years turn to decades and the fame of the Beatles turns from legend to mythology and finally to historical obscurity, it is Abbey Road alone that has become the sine qua non of every record collection.  It appears that in our age of streaming and free downloads, if you are actually going to pay money for a Beatles album, Abbey Road is the one.  Everybody's one Jazz LP is John Coltrane's A Love Supreme, and everybody's one Beatles LP is Abbey Road.

There are a number of reasons for that staying power: for starters, the songs have aged exceptionally well; it also feels custom-made for a record-player, what with how the driving groove of "I Want You (She's So Heavy)" ends only when Side A runs out of space, and with how the "You Only Give Me Your Money" suite closes out Side B; the album is also undeniable cool--it's the supremely self-confident statement of a band at the height of its powers with nothing left to prove; perhaps most importantly, it's the all-too-rare sound of a great band choosing to end on its own terms, to definitively say "The End."

As any Beatles nerd can tell you, while Let It Be was their last album released, Abbey Road was their last album recorded.  The Beatles had shelved the Let It Be sessions as the band tore apart at the seams; John and Pauls' massive egos were pushing each other apart, George was sick and tired of only getting 2 songs per album, and Ringo even briefly quit during the White Album sessions amidst the endless verbal abuse from John (who nowadays is less the martyr and more the wife-beating villain in Beatles lore, though Paul weren't no saint, either).  Yet though the writing was on the wall, the Beatles also knew that the sloppy and unpolished Let It Be was not how they wanted to go out, nor how they wanted to be everlastingly remembered!  Knowing this to be the last breath of the Beatles, these four egomaniacs, against all odds, put aside their differences, rallied together one last time and went out on top!

While nothing lyrically gives away Abbey Road as a swan song, it nevertheless just feels like a grand finale.  I still have clear memories of the afternoon of my High School graduation, decked out in my robes and an ever-uncertain future, putting on my Mom's ancient copy of Abbey Road on a record-player older than me, and listening along with all the swelling passion of my soul like only an 18-year-old can--it was the end of my public education, of my childhood, of my youth, everything was ending, and only Abbey Road seemed to understand.

Now, part of every young man's personal growth is to realize that there are other bands than the Beatles; and throughout college, grad school, and adulthood generally, I've had the privilege of hearing a grand diversity of artists who have moved my soul.  But here's what I've only lately come to understand--so few of them ever got to end on their own terms, to self-consciously produce their swan song!  If acrimony tears apart the band (e.g. The Smiths, The Talking Heads, Dead Kennedys, Oasis, Guns 'n Roses, Rage Against the Machine, etc), they tend to never rally one last time a la the Beatles, to produce a final, definitive statement.  Or if they get along great, they tend to keep producing albums weeellll past their relevancy (e.g. The Rolling Stones, U2, Pearl Jam, REM, etc), severely blunting the impact of whatever their final album turns out to be.  If sudden death disrupts the band (e.g. Led Zeppelin, The Who, Prince, Nirvana, etc), they rarely if ever realize that their last album was in fact their last album.  So few acts ever actually produce a genuine Swan Song!

This point was really driven home for me in 2016, when, 47 years after the release of Abbey Road, we finally got not one, but two bona fide Swan Songs worthy of the name.  They even bookended the year: David Bowie's Blackstar came out in early January, just a scarce a few days before his death of cancer, while Leonard Cohen's You Want It Darker came out in October, just a month before his own passing.

What sets apart these two albums is that 1) both artists knew the end was nigh and that this would likely be their last dance, and 2) both artists had actually pulled off the rare feet of returning to relevancy in their twilight years.  David Bowie had tapered off recording new material with the new millennium, dropping off the musical radar after 2002...until 2013's The Next Day welcomed him back to the scene with surprising enthusiasm.  He discovered that the queer kids considered him a godfather of sorts, the art kids a progenitor, the hip kids a living legend.  When Blackstar debuted less than 3 years later, fans were excitedly talking about what a bold new direction this was for him, what a delightful new reinvention in a career replete with them--that is, the discussion was not on his past glories, but of what he was still going to do next!  Despite the endless references to death, heaven, resurrection, and saying goodbye that permeate the album, his impending mortality was the last thing on anyone's mind.  To the very end, Bowie got to control the narrative, to define himself, to go out on his own terms.

Cohen, likewise, had basically taken the '90s off after a couple decades of critical and commercial success.  He returned to touring, in fact, only because his manager (who was apparently a jilted lover, in classic Cohen fashion) embezzled millions of his dollars, and so he needed to recoup his retirement fund.  But he didn't just do a simple cash-in tour, but by all accounts created a religious experience for all present.  He, too, had achieved living legend status.  As You Want It Darker prepped for release, Cohen said in a NYT interview that he was "ready to die."  The title track's mix of Jewish funeral calls and chorus of "I'm ready, my Lord," affirmed the inevitable.  If he was going out, he was going to go out deliberately, in his own way.

So few other acts get to do that.  One of the only other example I've been able to find so far is Fugazi, who, as they pulled apart in different creative directions, made sure that 2001's The Argument finished off the band as principled and uncompromising as they started.  The band had accomplished all it had set out to accomplish, and no mere commercial considerations was going to artificially (and monstrously) lengthen its life.  Frontman Ian MacKaye, speaking of his own Dischord Records--the indie label that had kept the faith even when they had multi-million dollar offers from the majors-- has described Dischord as a "living thing," and therefore will die one day, like it should.  Fugazi, likewise, completed its natural lifespan, and there is something paradoxically life-affirming about that attitude.  "Have you made your peace with God?" someone asked Thoreau on his deathbed; "I hadn't realized we had quarreled," he replied, and Fugazi could have responded the same.

I guess I've just become slightly obsessed, lately, with how an artist chooses to end.  It just feels more organic, more honest, more alive, to always keep foregrounded in one's own mind how it all ends.  There's something liberating about knowing that you're going to end, when you're going to end, in choosing to end, deliberately, on your own terms, to say "I'm ready, my Lord"--to affirm that "Here comes the argument"--to declare "I'm a Blackstar"--to say "In the end, the love you take/is equal to the love you make"--not as a platitude, but a warning.

Ending is how you lay aside the things of this life to pursue those of a better.  It's how you move on, progress, grow.  It's how I end this silly little blog, once and for all.

Monday, February 20, 2017

On Cuban Currency

We briefly interrupt the silence of this retired blog to bring a public service announcement to any and all stray googlers prepping a trip to Cuba.

There are two national currencies in Cuba (I learned this the hard way): The CUC (Cuban Convertible) and the CUP (Cuban Peso), also known as MN (Moneda Nacional).  Now pay attention.

The CUC is pegged to the dollar; that is, 1 CUC is equal to 1 USD.  The CUP, however, divides into the CUC by 24.  That is, 24 CUP make up 1 CUC.  Are you with me so far?

Say something costs $15 CUP; you can hand the vendor 1 CUC, and get 9 CUP back as change.  The CUC can be converted into Pesos; hence the name "Convertible."  Still with me?

It gets tricky, because both use the dollar sign - $ - so you have to look to make sure the price lists either CUC or CUP (and/or MN) next to it.  Otherwise you can be taken advantage of, as I was, when I went to a little hole-in-the-wall place in the touristy areas of Old Havana.  I ordered a plate of rice and beans and beef, but was scratching my head when the price was listed as $30.  It was my first day, and not sure what else to do, I handed $30 CUC to the cashier.  Without a second look or a second thought, she took it and sent my order to the kitchen.

Needless to say, accustomed as I was to favorable exchange rates in Latin America, I was suddenly very worried about how the heck I was going to afford to eat in this country (for that matter, I worried how the heck anybody affords to eat in this country)!  Moreover, U.S. credit cards and debit cards do not work in Cuba, so all I had was the cash I had on me--and the Havana currency exchange had already taken their standard 13% off the top, so I didn't have as much as I thought I would have to begin with.  I was suddenly looking forward to a very belt-tightening few days.

I considered just eating once a day, but late that evening, my hunger-pains got the best of me, so I ventured out to a pizza take-out place I spied near my Airbnb (cause those exist now in Cuba, apparently).  I was staying in a much poorer part of the city, so they were arguably all the more incentivized to just take my clearly-tourist money and I would've been none the wiser.  But they didn't.  They were good, honest people.  I meekly offered my $15CUC to the cashier and he immediately rolled his eyed and, with a guffaw, asked if I spoke English.  That's when he explained to me the difference between CUC and CUP/MN.  I am deeply grateful to that man.

CUC is typically used for taxis, hotels, and fine sit-down restaurants; CUP is for local goods and services.  The museums will charge, say, $8 of everyone, but it will be 8 CUC of foreigners, and 8 CUP of locals, in order to keep the museums affordable to Cuban nationals.  The CUC was first introduced in 2003 in order to try and prevent the US dollar from infiltrating the local economy too deeply as it had after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

I just want to save you from making a $30 mistake like I made.  Whatever you buy in Cuba, make sure you first ask if it's in CUC (typically pronounced "coo") or in CUP (typically referred to as either "peso cubano" or "MN").  Good luck, and have fun!

Friday, January 27, 2017

The Adjunct in the Latter Days

This is not a revival of normal communications; on the contrary, this might just be the capstone.

Three-odd years ago, as I left SLCC to return to grad school at Iowa, I wrote a brief blog-post intended to encapsulate the experience of being a community college adjunct (a job I began the same year I began this blog).  This last Fall, SLCC put out a call for submissions for their inaugural community anthology, so I submitted it, feeling that if it belonged anywhere, it was with the place that produced it.  Matter-of-factly, they accepted it.

The anthology in question was formally released last night, and I've scanned a pdf of it here.  The reason it feels like a capstone is because I taught my final class at SLCC just last month; after 3 years in Iowa, I briefly resumed adjuncting at SLCC in July after I moved back out west to get married.  I'm now at UVU while I finish my dissertation.  As such, there's been this feeling of closing a circuit, a full revolution, a completion and valediction, in having this brief summation of my time at SLCC published by SLCC after I finally finish with SLCC.

Yet at the same time, the circumstances and conditions that produced that entire SLCC student body have neither diminished nor disappeared; if anything, recent events have only amplified them.  Cliché though it may be to say, I leave SLCC but SLCC does not leave me: and if ever you wonder why I feel so passionately about immigration, refugees, sexual assault, health-care reform, poverty-alleviation, criminal-reform, or even just the dire importance for basic human decency and empathy (especially in light of the first acts of the new administration), know then, just how deeply my community college students have marked me, and who I feel I am fighting for.

Once more for the road: "The Adjunct in the Latter Days"

Sunday, November 13, 2016

On the Evolution of Teaching Letter From a Birmingham Jail

When I first started teaching college composition 6 Autumns ago, I threw Martin Luther King Jr.'s "Letter From a Birmingham Jail" onto the syllabus mainly because it was a famous essay and I was a last-minute hire still trying desperately to flesh out a course plan.  In my painful naivety, I taught "Letter" like a historical artifact, a relic from some bygone and incomprehensible era--fantastically well-written of course and well worth modeling, but fundamentally dated.  The students responded well to it so it stayed on my syllabus; nevertheless I still felt slightly guilty, that I hadn't assigned a selection that was more contemporary, more "relevant."

But then Trayvon Martin happened, and Michael Brown, and Tamir Rice, and the Ferguson riots and the Baltimore riots and etc and etc and etc, and it became sadly clear to me that there was nothing dated about MLK's message at all, that for all our lip-service to his memory, his fundamental message is still as urgent as ever.

Then Election 2016 happened.  Now "Letter From a Birmingham Jail" is my manifesto.

Early in this essay, he writes, "In any nonviolent campaign there are four basic steps: collection of the facts to determine whether injustices are alive, negotiation, self-purification, and direct action."  I am now entering my self-purification step, as I prepare myself for what will come next, examining my motivations, removing my fear and anger, considering what my responses should be, strengthening my commitment, contemplating how I can do the most effective good. Self-purification is no longer something that once happened, but must still happen.

Teaching this essay, I had often praised to my students how MLK, despite having every reason and justification to lash out viciously at his critics while he sat in jail on trumped-up charges, nevertheless still engaged with them respectfully, kindly, friendly, in love and charity and brotherhood, all the while still remaining uncompromising, unyielding, and outspoken in his convictions--he sincerely sought to persuade, not just shout.  I will now be meditating on how to consistently perform such a feat myself.  Following the admonition of Christ, I must always love my enemies, no matter how vociferously I disagree with them, no matter how many people they hurt, including me.

I will not condemn protests but consider their causes; forswear the path of the "white-moderate" more committed to peace than justice; become an extremist for love and not hate in the face of a resurgent White Supremacy (yes, they had always been there, I know; in a perverse sense, it's almost a relief to have them back out in the open, where we can see them). 

It used to be a sterile intellectual exercise for me to wonder whether I would have supported the Civil Rights movement had I been alive in the '50s and '60s--of course I hoped I would have been, but one can never be certain, what one would have been like, how one would have been raised.  But we no longer need to wonder now, do we; in fact, as protests and KKK parades sweep the nation, we can prove with whom we stand right now.  I will forthwith be teaching "Letter From a Birmingham Jail" accordingly.

I started teaching college composition the same year I started this silly little blog; I may take a break from writing here awhile--or, I may need to express myself here more than ever, who knows, I haven't decided yet, I've never decided yet.  But either way, whether this is a final sign-off or but a brief pause, in the words of Dr. King:

"Let us all hope that the dark clouds of racial prejudice will soon pass away and the deep fog of misunderstanding will be lifted from our fear drenched communities, and in some not too distant tomorrow the radiant stars of love and brotherhood will shine over our great nation with all their scintillating beauty.

"Yours for the cause of Peace and Brotherhood,
Martin Luther King, Jr."

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Modernism and Fascism

A hundred years ago, amidst global depressions and failing democracies and rising xenophobia and racism, populaces across the Western world turned towards strong-man demagogues, to stick it to all those dithering, do-nothing congresses and parliaments and cut through all the red-tape and stand up for the working man and the church and to drive out all the immigrants and shout out grandiose promises to make their respective countries great again.  This especially occurred in Germany, Italy, and Spain.  The Anglo world was not immune either; Charles Lindbergh became an infamous Nazi booster, and many of the most respected poets of the era--including Ezra Pound, Gertrude Stein, TS Eliot, and WB Yeats--openly sympathized with fascism as well.  This is the era I study, this is the period I am most familiar with, this is the epoch we are repeating.  A century later and we're right back where we started.  Joyce and Yeats considered history to be cyclical, not linear--they were correct.

Marx was right, history repeats itself, first time in earnest, second time as farce.  What a disgrace.

The irony is, I was actually trying to empathize with Trump supporters for a while there, see where they're coming from, understand the working class angst that fuels their unfocused rage. That has officially evaporated. If you voted for Trump, then as far as I'm concerned, you voted for the KKK, for Russian collusion, for an open admirer of Kim Jong On, Vladimir Putin, Qaddafi, Saddam Hussein, for mass deportations, for rape, and against Latinos, refugees, immigrants, black people, gay people, muslims, women, all minorities. If you don't like "Political Correctness," if you prefer to "call a spade a spade," very well, let's start with you: you voted for bigotry and fascism. Guess what that makes you.

Malcolm X once said he preferred dealing with blood-thirsty wolves to smooth-talking foxes, because you always know where you stand with the wolf. There are no more foxes, are there. Just wolves. It's perversely clarifying.  You know, I had actually been actively resisting radicalizing myself.   That may no longer be possible. 

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

The Last Time the Cubs Won the World Series...

I of course can only put it in temporal terms that would most resonate with me personally:

The last time the Cubs won the World Series, TS Eliot was still at Harvard, Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock not even a twinkle in his eye--and it would be far longer before the Cubs would again dare disturb the Universe.

The last time the Cubs won the World Series, Ernest Hemingway was 9--the Sun would not Also Rise over the Cubs for another century.

The last time the Cubs won the World Series, Ezra Pound still hadn't arrived in London, let alone turn to fascism (a word that didn't exist yet)--there were still no apparitions of these faces in a crowd, Petals on a wet, black bough.

The last time the Cubs won the World Series, Gertrude Stein had yet to self-publish Three Lives--A Rose was not yet a Rose was not yet a Rose was not yet a (Pete) Rose.

The last time the Cubs won the World Series, Virginia Woolf hadn't even started work on her first novel yet--for that matter, she still couldn't vote or legally inherit property, rights she would obtain before the Cubs saw another pennant. 

The last time the Cubs won the World Series, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was still alive and writing new Sherlock Holmes stories--he would solve more mysteries in the 20th century than the Cubs would win series.

The last time the Cubs won the World Series, Marcel Proust had not started In Search of Lost Time--For a long time he still went to bed early, as did the Cubs' repeated playoff's hopes.

The last time the Cubs won the World Series, Picasso was only barely past his Blue period--though the Cubs, unbeknownst to them, had only begun theirs.

The last time the Cubs won the World Series, Bloomsday was just another forgotten Thursday--History was not yet a nightmare from which the Cubs were trying to awake.

The last time the Cubs won the World Series, Ireland was still entirely part of the UK, William Butler Yeats had no notion of one day memorializing the Easter Rising, James Joyce had only just barely ditched work on Stephen Hero for A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, and George Bernard Shaw had yet to write Pygmalion, the precursor to My Fair Lady--Ireland made more progress in 107 years than did the Cubs.

That is, the last time the Cubs won the World Series, the term "Modernist" did not yet exist, nor did any of the texts it would eventually get applied to.

In short, the last time the Cubs won the World Series, my entire dissertation topic didn't even exist yet!