December 5, 2007

J's Fellowship App


This is a beautiful description of your dissertation. I think it will strike the review committee, as it struck me, as thorough, sophisticated, and, for the most part, accessible and clear to the non-specialist. The prose is elegant and richly textured, and the tone is appealing and persuasive. The project definitely sounds interesting and important. Its background and purpose develop smoothly within and between paragraphs. My suggestions for specifying and/or expanding on ideas fall into two categories: (1) additions the review committee might expect, given the instructions, and (2) questions I have as an "academic" reader.

(1) I do think that more specifics on your goals, and on the larger significance of the specific issues in English studies to which your project responds, are in order. At the end of the first full paragraph on pg. 3, you mention that, once you have obtained a faculty position, you "can contribute to these conversations, which are shaping the face of education and the role of the university in contemporary America in crucial ways." I think the review committee will (as it should) assume that you will meet your goal of becoming a professor. Thus, they may want to know how, exactly, you'll contribute, as a professor. For example, you suggest, at the end of para 2 on pg. 1, that your study situates you to "look to new models of curricular reform in literary studies." When a professor, will you develop and implement new pedagogical models? What might your future classroom and curriculum look like, then? How would it compare to your classroom and curriculum now?

It might help to make your experience and goals more concrete by relaying an example (an anecdote from your classroom?) of when/how the current curriculum has proven inadequate. You also might explain more fully the ways in which the research you cite has revealed the inadequacies of the curriculum. For example, what does/would it mean for lit studies to "ground its critique of unequal social relations," mentioned in the same para? Why/How is "'multiculturalization' of the canon" seen, by the scholars footnoted, here, as "an inadequate model of progressive curricular reform"? What's wrong with multiculturalism?, the committee might ask. How does it threaten English?

I think emphasizing and elaborating on your argument, also in this para, that this "mode of curricular reform not only constrains the ways that students can understand authors and texts, but also oversimplifies the complexities of identity formation and representation," is in order. This is so beautifully put. However, I may get what you mean by this more than the committee will, and I think arguing more forcefully and specifically the real damage that you think "multiculturalism," as defined in the university today, does, would help to clarify your politics and the urgency of your project. And you might use a more detailed explanation of how you would define and teach "multiculturalism," identity, authors, and texts differently than is en vogue at present, to not only help define and address the current and future crises and challenges English faces but also elaborate on your own professional goals.

Other places in your text where you might address this: in first para on p. 2, what's at stake "as English departments attempt to modernize and retain their institutional salience in the changing contemporary university"? And what's driving this change (what makes it a kind of 'modernizing')? Who/what is English trying to be salient to? You might, here, briefly introduce a general reader to such terms/events as the "canon wars" or "culture wars" (actually, I've never been sure what the latter phrase means, exactly), or even, if possible, (perhaps in a footnote) E.D. Hirsch's "conservative" idea of "Cultural Literacy" and the reactions to it (do you think that's relevant?), and, most importantly, explain your politics and goals in relation to these.

A key explanation of the state of the field and your place in it comes up in the last para of Part II, pg. 3: "While 'diversity' and 'multiculturalism' have become buzzwords in most educational institutions, it is imperative that educators keep these concepts from losing real meaning by maintaining a critical pedagogical focus on how they play out in curricula." This is wonderfully put. But I wonder if, again (or earlier), you might give a concrete example of "how they play out in curricula." Also, bc this strikes me as such a key claim in your argument, you might move it up to pg. 1.

Finally, in reading your proposal, I wondered if the committee might wonder why you've picked the turn of the 20th c to compare to the turn of the 21st c. I think you touch on your reason for this when you suggest that the former period witnessed "the creation of middle-class reading practices." Can you make this "creation," and any explanations for it, more explicit? Also, I think you've said outside this proposal that the turn of the 20th c saw an unprecedented explosion of autobiographical texts. Is this correct? If so, can you emphasize it more, here? How does the latest autobiographical rise compare to the earlier one? Is it, as you suggest, here, but might clarify, that the latest one is in the university (is it in the popular book press too?) while the earlier was only in the publishing market?

(2) Questions I have that I'm not sure will concern the reviewers are: Do the middle-class readers you study have a particular racial or ethnic identity? Do you argue that these readers' race/ethnicity was constructed by and/or against that represented in autobiographies written "from cultural locations outside of their middle-class readership," as you put so beautifully in para. 3, pg. 2? I get, from this para, that your study looks at "ethnic" writers, but do you also, or not, research "ethnic" readers? On this note, perhaps saying more about "passing," as you ask at the end of the first para, would help to clarify and expand on how your project approaches race and ethnicity.

That's all for me in writing. I look forward to talking about this proposal in person tomorrow. Again, I think you've done a fantastic job of articulating your project. The above questions and comments are simply meant to help add specificity and "newness of you-ness" to this proposal-- which I struggle a great deal with in my own.


November 20, 2007

"Hopes and Burdens" Proposal

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"Thinking Through Ideology" Chapter

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November 14, 2007

New Books

News from my postal mailbox: the following new anthologies may be of interest...

Modernism and Colonialism (Duke UP, 2007)
(Maddy: Includes an essay on Conrad titled "Disorientalism" by Michael Valdez Moses.)

Bad Modernisms (Duke UP, 2006)
(Jessie: Includes an essay on Filipino American writer Carlos Bulosan. Sounds like his writing moves between fiction and autobiography.)

October 24, 2007

Moving Daguerreotypes, Myths of Reproduction, and Edgar Allan Poe

Lauren's Chapter

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October 15, 2007

Thanks + a few things

Thanks so much everyone for your incredibly valuable comments and suggestions! I got some much-needed perspective on my essay. I really appreciate it.

A couple important questions I thought might transition nicely into discussion of Lauren’s upcoming paper were in Jessie’s response to my paper—I think a few of us are grappling with these issues and, although I don’t know how to answer them yet, I’m keeping them in mind. I’m copying Jessie’s questions here:

On my linking of textile laborers with avant-garde artists: “Firstly, why is this link important for you to make? What’s at stake in terms of our understanding of Albers as an artist and/or the currents you’re tracing in modernist thought?? I’d add, what does it mean to link figures across temporal (and national, other kinds of) boundaries? Lauren’s project connects the Gothic to the modern, Jessie’s connects early 20th c. thought to the contemporary classroom . . . Why are we doing this??!?!?!?

On Albers’s conservatism: “What does it mean to ‘reclaim’ a writer/artist who has been cast as conservative in the name of a more progressive politics? What is gained and risked/obscured in such a move??

In addition to these questions there are a couple things I’m curious about in terms of academic writing. One has to do with the use of theory, and the other with the use of “I.?

Because I felt the main thrust of my Albers paper was to show the importance of taking her seriously as a theorist, I was reluctant to devote much space to other theorists. Although I love Adorno and Benjamin and feel they inform my entire project, I didn’t want to write an essay that claimed Albers was “serious? because they—famous, respected male theorists—shared some of her ideas. I think Albers’s thinking intersects with Adorno, Benjamin, Freud, Marx, and others, and she also shares their conflicted relationships with their own Jewishness. But I don’t know how useful it would be to just compare her with them. Has anyone else dealt with this? Do you have any thoughts on this issue?

Another question is about using “I.? Maddy and I corresponded a bit on this, I’m pasting our email exchange below. Basically I see that removing “I? does lend authority to writing, but at the same time I also like hearing the author’s personal voice. Because my project is very personal, taking out “I? gives it a sense of distance which feels sort of weird to me (as if I’m writing about myself in the 3rd person). I’d like to find a balance between authority and the personal, which I think may mean taking out some “I? statements but not all of them. I’d be interested to hear what others think about this. It seems relevant to teaching as well (I always have students who are reluctant to use “I? and sometimes others who seem to overuse it).

from Becky to Maddy:
one question, about the use of 'i' in academic writing . . . i just read something recently recommending that grad students not use 'i' in describing their projects, because writing sounds more authoritative without it. i was curious if that was why you prefered eliminating the 'i,' or if there was another reason. i think i agree (my writing certainly sounds much better with your edits), although i go back and forth on the issue. sometimes i like to hear the author's voice more directly. i'd love to hear your thoughts, when you have a chance . . .

from Maddy to Becky:

Anyway, to answer your question (if it's still applicable), yes, the reason that I would discourage the "I" in academic writing has to do with making it sound stronger. In general, sentences that begin with or contain "I feel" or "I present" tend to, I think, make the argument sound inconclusive when, in fact, having done the analytical work, you should feel completely confident in your findings. I hate to quote Tim, but he's always talking about not leading with your chin, and I find that I agree. He'd also said something in reference to my abstract about how to establish your findings than to present them as queries-- that is, instead of saying something like "an analysis of xya examines the implications for abc" one should actually go ahead and present what the findings are. I'm still trying to figure out how to do that one.

That said, I do agree that the author's voice is an important aspect of the dissertation. Do you think that "I" statements are really an effective way of establishing that voice? It seems to me that really, the way that you read a text, and then read it inter-textually, could reveal that individuality.

October 11, 2007


We missed you at our meeting, Becky (and btw, my comments on your wonderful paper are forthcoming). As I mentioned to the DaWGs present, I'm hoping to get some feedback on my prospectus. The version I'll post here is in process--I don't yet think it does a good enough job positioning my project in a big-picture sense, and I'm still struggling to make the chapter descriptions coherent while keeping them brief (I have a longer version, but I want to try to nail a short version). Anyway, any general feedback is welcome. Also, I'm planning on starting with the "mock autobiographies" chapter. I've been thinking lately about Samuel Ornitz' *Haunch, Paunch, and Jowl*, Johnson's *Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man*, and Edith Eaton's *Me* (which I wrote about in my exam). But I'm trying to collect as many titles as I can that fit into this category--books published in the early 20thc AS autobiographies that in fact aren't, and that use the genre to think about/trouble/undermine ideas about race/ethnicity/class. Oddly, there seem to be a lot of them. If you know of any, please let me know! Also, I still want to tweak my title, as it doesn't really reflect the whole project (i.e. the connections I make to contemp. pedagogy). Suggestions welcome. Okay, sorry for the long post:

Circulating Selves: Identity, Autobiography, and Popular Reading in the Early Twentieth Century
This dissertation examines a wide range of autobiographical texts from early twentieth-century America to consider the ways in which autobiographical writing—intimately tied to socially-defined concepts of personhood such as race, ethnicity, and class—impacted a burgeoning middle-class readership in a period when ideas about identity were in great flux. Popular writers who narrated their lives from cultural locations outside of their middle-class readership faced a unique set of circumstances linked to changing concepts of cultural difference and developments in the technology of mass culture; their narrated lives resonated with readers in new ways that had significant implications for how those readers conceived of themselves in relation to others. Furthermore, this history of autobiography illuminates the unrecognized significance of the autobiographical in contemporary debates surrounding multiculturalism and literary studies. This study thus contributes to ongoing conversations that have attempted to enlarge our understanding of the full range of literary production and consumption of the modernist era through an examination of popular or “middlebrow? texts, while also drawing new connections between the history of publication and contemporary literary pedagogy.
The subfield of autobiography studies has exploded in recent decades. However, it has been saturated by a methodological focus on narrative analysis—that is, an examination of the structure and interaction of various elements within a narrative work as a means to consider how a person or life is textually constructed through autobiography. My project draws on theoretical developments linking autobiography to psychic subjectivity and political citizenship, but it goes further to broaden the study of autobiography from an exclusive focus on primary texts to include the material history surrounding those texts (publication history, author interviews, reviews, correspondence, etc.), thereby situating authors and works in the context of their contemporary readerships. This historical context is particularly significant because it allows for a consideration of how the function of genre, as an unstable system of classification, changes over time and across different cultural milieus: I ask, how has autobiography, as produced and circulated through a wide range of cultural mediums, facilitated the production of the middle-class citizen-subject at the turn of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries? By bringing into conversation autobiography theory and a historical analysis of popular writing, I highlight the often-ignored significance of authorship as a public role embedded in institutions and reading as a social practice linked to the circulation and reception of texts; thus, this study also contributes to the emerging field of the history of the book.
Chapters one, two, and three examine autobiographical texts as they appeared in a wide range of venues in the early twentieth century. Chapter one focuses on autobiographical sketches and serialized autobiographies from mass magazines such as Munsey’s, The Independent, and Harper’s Monthly, which engaged (and in fact, helped shape) readers from an emerging middle class who were attempting to fix their bearings in the fluid social space of the fin de siécle. I argue that the ideological work performed by the magazines’ frequent inclusion of memoirs, reminiscences—not only by well-known politicians or literary figures, but also by immigrants, workers, and others whose lives were foreign to the magazines’ middle-class readership—informed and was informed by larger concepts of citizenship, selfhood, and an emerging ideology of consumerism. Chapter two examines popular novels that simultaneously destabilized conceptions of both genre and identity through variations of what I call “autobiographical passing?—the use of the generic conventions of traditional autobiography to explore newly malleable concepts of identity. I examine the reception and circulation of work by writers like Samuel Ornitz, James Weldon Johnson, and Edith Eaton, whose mock autobiographies reveal and challenge expectations for how both genre and identity function. Chapter three examines texts published for audiences more specialized than that of mass magazines and popular books. Autobiographical narratives were often collected and circulated by unions, ethnic newspapers, and other organizations operating outside of mainstream publishing apparatus. These texts provide an interesting counterpoint to those published for mass consumption, and the narrative comparisons they invite illuminate the imbrication of autobiographical practices and questions of audience and circulation.
Having examined a range of autobiographical texts and their circulation in the early twentieth century, chapter four links these findings to the contemporary debates surrounding multiculturalism and literary pedagogy. If, as many argue, over the course of the twentieth century the University came to claim the cultural authority that once belonged to publishers and literary critics, then we might see the contemporary literature classroom and its curriculum as a locus for the creation of middle-class reading practices. In that sense, literary education plays a primary role in setting up expectations of how texts should function within a social field. I argue that in the age of multiculturalism, the autobiographical has taken on a significance both more central and more unrecognized than ever before, as authors increasingly (and problematically) come to stand in as representatives of marginalized social groups.

Deadline Calendar

DaWG Calendar.jpg

October 9, 2007

The Work of Spontaneity--Becky's Chapter

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September 28, 2007

Prospects and Speculations

There's a theme on this here DaWGblog and it has something to do with the future - with the prospective and the speculative. Perhaps as veteran grad students we are hyperconcerned with our features and this anxiety seeps out through our ideas. In any event, I've discussed this a bit with Lauren (and Paula) and we propose that the DaWGs meet regularly, to update, workshop, and motivate. I'm thinking every other week (bi-weekly?) and of the times Lauren suggested, Wednesday afternoons are best for me. I know we are all at different stages in the process, but everybody has something they can bring to the table. The point is to get regimented and moving. I know I need this desperately. So what do you say? And is there anybody else we can bring into the fold? Becky - of course, you are far far away, but it would be pretty easy to keep you in the loop by e-proxy and materials can be sent back and forth for workshopping.

Also, this discussion of the word and idea of speculation really interests me. Esp. in terms of seeing sort of forking into the two paths of knowing and guessing, and the increasing collusion of specualtion with capital. As it becomes less empirical and more, what, contemplative, imaginative, uncertain? speculation seems to be about seeing in MINDspace, VIRTUAL space, which is something I'm currently thinking about in terms of the development of psychoanalysis etc. But still about seeing, just seeing the future - like prognostication (which has your 'gnostic' in it Lauren) or clairvoyance, which, pardon my French, seems to indicate 'clear seeing' or something like it. (And why does any sensate connection to the future have to be visual? It's the hegemony of the visual for sure ... though Proust could smell his way back). Also this connection with capitalist "VENTURES," I think both 'speculation' and certainly 'prospecting' are Gold Rush terms ... land where your hoping something is in it. And I'm still thinking of SURVEYING and cartography, owning land with your imperial eyes, etc.

Sorry to have been so delinquent with the blog

August 9, 2007


I was going to post this as another comment on "Talking of Horses," but after reading Jessie's last comment on “Prospecti,? it seems also relevant there, so I thought I’d just make it a new entry. In my paper (for the gothic conference in June) on Poe's implicit racism and its connection to the developments of photography and cinema, I argued against one critic's view that Poe equates "reason" and "whiteness." Agreeing with other critics (such as Maurice Lee), I think that Poe's philosophy and politics do not claim to be "rational," exactly, but, rather, "speculative." The word speculate, or speculation, is interesting to me for its various meanings (see OED), having to do with vision, observation, viewing, spectacle, entertainment, theorizing, conjecture, gambling, risking, and profiting (note that horse-racing encapsulates all of these). "Speculation" brings together the interests and claims of racism, science, cinema, and capitalism, but with a different approach than what Tom Gunning has called Euro-Americans' "gnostic impulse," which I understand as the belief that it's possible to know reality, to find truth, and to recognize and identify objects as familiar. To connect to Jessie's project, maybe ethnic selves at the turn and in the early part of the 20th c are produced out of a philosophy and/or politics of speculation in which Poe and the cinema are also engaged.

July 23, 2007


hi dawgs,
first, thanks for having me--i feel honored and unworthy. and, slightly jealous of all of you who have actually begun dissertations. speaking of, i wonder if you all would be willing to share the prospecti that you turned in to the grad school? i would love to check them out if you have a moment to post them (or, if you'd rather not post them, my email is hope y'all are well.

May 23, 2007

Talking of Horses

"We had been talking of horses, if I remember aright, just before leaving the Rue C--. This was the last subject we discussed..." --Detective C. Auguste Dupin, to the narrator, in Poe's "The Murders in the Rue Morgue" (1841)

Continue reading "Talking of Horses" »