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November 20, 2007

"Hopes and Burdens" Proposal

Dear Chris,

So far I’ve only had the chance to look at your application proposal. It’s made me excited to read more of your work—you are thinking about so many complex, intersecting, and important ideas and questions. I love how you are bringing together boxing, race, and film (class might be something else to add, eventually). I hope you get the fellowship! I’ll look forward to reading the chapter you write on this topic. I think you are correct to focus on ‘jargon-free’ ‘layperson’ writing (often, unfortunately, these fellowship committees do not seem to reward complexity and multi-layered thought). There were a few spots where I thought you could make your writing a bit more clear—primarily, the amount of description could be reduced, and there could be more attention paid to what you doing now/what you are going to do with the fellowship money. I’ll just go through and note by page number some things I noticed . . .

1/ In the summary, I didn’t understand the meaning of this phrase: ‘how the projects informing the development of these film forms are inextricably bound.’ Which projects? What do you mean by ‘development’? Are the projects bound with each other or with the ‘film forms’? I think making a more straightforward case for why you are connecting these film forms with the 1910 fight would strengthen this section (and you could do it in one sentence).
Also in the summary, you might consider either clarifying or taking out the word ‘frame’ in the last sentence. For me, I read ‘frames of early film’ here as the contextual or historical situation of early film. But then on page 2, you speak about the literal frame in relation to the boxing ring (I really love this connection you’re making between shapes of the ring and the film frame!!!!!). I got confused about how you were defining ‘frame’ in this project, is it the literal frame or the contextual frame, or something else, or both?

2/ When I first read ‘domestic strife,’ I assumed you were talking about home-domestic, not national-domestic.
The topic of masculinity comes up here for what seems like the first time after it’s mentioned in your title. From your summary and your introductory statements, I didn’t get that this was going to be an explicit part of your project. The Jack London section on page 3, while fascinating, also felt like a new topic that wasn’t mentioned in the summary/beginning.

3/ At the top of the page, I thought you could provide a clearer statement about your position on the Johnsons’ primitivism/racism. The quotes you include are really offensive. I’m wondering, how exactly are you going to deal with these quotes? What is your approach? The statement about film that concludes the paragraph does not seem directly related to the quotes, but it does make a strong statement about your project as a whole. Perhaps one option would be removing the quoted material and focusing on the film element, then you could save your in-depth interpretation of the quotes for your paper.
Regarding the Jack London paragraph, I think less description of what London did and more about what you are going to do with his writing/persona would bolster your case further.

4/ Usually the people who read these things seem to want to hear about exactly what you are going to produce by the end of the fellowship term. Will you complete one diss chapter, or two, or a chapter and an introduction, or something else? Will it be both a publishable journal article which you can submit to a peer-reviewed publication as well as a dissertation chapter (yes!)? Is this fellowship absolutely necessary for you do the best work possible (yes!)? I think it’s important to emphasize that you need this money and that you are extremely organized about how you will use your time (even if, in reality, you’re not). Another option for talking about archival materials would be to mention them in the body of your essay—in the first paragraph, for example, you could mention the Edison National Historic Site materials which you need in order to deal successfully with the Jeffries-Johnson fight.

"Thinking Through Ideology" Chapter

Dear Maddy,

I think this is a sophisticated, beautifully written dissertation chapter. Since being required to read Heart of Darkness multiple times in high school and college, I have refused to look at it again. But after reading your essay I am interested in returning to it! You do such a great job of explaining other critics’ interpretive logic and pointing out the strengths and flaws in it. For example, on page 5, your presentation of Firchow’s argument and the logical failures in it is exceptionally clear and convincing. Your explanations throughout the essay are consistently well-argued.

I was struck by how much this feels like a ‘real’ dissertation chapter—it seems to fit into a larger, interconnected project about ideology, and supports a particular aspect of your overall statement. On page 8 you mention your dissertation ‘which has an explicit political purpose’—at this point in reading your work, I’m not quite sure what this purpose is. Perhaps it would be clear in the context of the dissertation as a whole, but if I were reading this essay in a journal or an anthology, this would be confusing for me. (I think it would actually sound stronger to imagine the dissertation as a draft for a book and therefore not refer to it as a ‘dissertation.’) If you plan to prepare this to send to a journal, you might want to think about sketching out more about your argument about ideology for your readers.

In terms of the main argument in this essay, I was somewhat confused about how exactly you were entering into this debate about Conrad. There were points where I felt there were excellent assertions of your thesis, particularly on pages 9, 10, and 11, but, for me, these were clouded by the engagement with the academic work on Conrad. Until page 9 or so, the essay felt at times to me like a survey of Conrad scholarship—although I really admire your ability to engage in depth with other critics, I kept wondering, How does your position on the text move out of current scholarship and lead us into a ‘new’ conversation about Conrad? I think you do an excellent job of showing that H of D is a ‘crucial text to contend with for postcolonial studies’ (p.1) and that understanding comes about with ‘positions that untie race and imperialism’ (p.3). But I’m curious to find out more about the particular stakes of your ‘contention’ and your ‘position.’ Again, there are places here where I do see a clear overall argument at work, I would just love to see more of this, especially at the beginning of the essay. The question of how much ‘outside’ critical work to include and how to incorporate it is something I’m thinking about a lot right now (as you know from reading my essay), and so I’d be interested to hear more about your perspective on this issue.

The end of the essay felt a bit abrupt to me, as did the move to discussing workers around page 18—perhaps this could be a place to do some additional expansion and elaboration. I am so impressed with your work in this chapter, and am truly intrigued to learn more about your ideas and to read more of your diss. Thank you for sharing this!


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.)