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Posts from the ‘Pedagogy’ Category

“Nowhere Space:” Sonic Materiality and Sites of Reading

In Listening and Voice: Phenomenologies of Sound, Don Ihde writes: “Sometimes there is a ‘singing’ of voice in writing. I have often been shocked at ‘hearing’ a friend’s voice on reading his or her latest article or book” (xx). For the last year or so, I’ve been investigating the role of the ear in processes of reading and writing. As a grad student, my project, broadly, has been to bring the field of sound studies into dialogue with the discourses of rhetoric and composition. In doing so, I have needed to confront slippery aural modalities—when sound itself seems to toggle between vibrating physically in the air and echoing off the page into the minds of readers. Investigating these sonic slippages has led me to see the body as implicated in writing in unexpected ways. Ihde puts it this way: when we “hear” a piece of writing, “the other shines through in an auditory adherence to what is ordinarily soundless” (xx). How is it, after all, that a written text can at times be so strongly “heard,” even during silent reading?

In the introduction to his 1990 book, Reading Voices: Literature and the Phonotext, Garrett Stewart asks, perhaps for the first time among literary theorists, where reading occurs: “what…precisely,” he wonders, “is the site of reading, and why?” (17). From here, he goes on to suggest that reading may take place not in the “brain” but in the body, or rather in a delicate and complex combination of the two. This suggestion is notable for bringing the reader’s sensorium to bear on literary interpretation, a field in which readers and texts at times seem to be disembodied. Adriana Cavarero calls this a “strategic deafness to the plural, reciprocal communication of voices” that “devocalizes” written texts and the bodies that they come from (530). More recently, Brandon LaBelle takes up Stewart’s idea of a mixed physical and mental space in Lexicon of the Mouth: Poetic and Politics of Voice and the Oral Imaginary.

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Disillusions: The Dunk Tank

There is a kind of humiliation particular to graduate school in the humanities. Graduate humiliation is unique because it is experienced solipsistically. In light of the fact that humanistic work requires the juncture of creativity—blending or concocting new concepts—and the need for analytical rigor, unfavorable feedback from advisors and committee members feels deeply personal. My analogies for the experience are completely clichéd: a blow to the guts; the rug gracefully, but unexpectedly, pulled out from underneath you; or, in the most acute moments, an experience of vertigo in which my relationship to points of reference in the world is just beyond grasp. Even before I entered graduate school doubts about my self-worth tinged my everyday experiences. So there must have been something particularly masochistic in my applying to East Coast and Midwest doctoral programs and turning my back on a climate I considered ideal for human bodies and an intellectually engrossing, if sometimes misguided, activism on the West Coast. In this previous context I felt I had finally come into my own, and I assumed a confidence lacking in preceding years. This self-assurance came across in the bombast of my first years in the PhD program during which I freely, and joyfully, denounced ideas I found suspect and other graduate students whose work seemed soft and without stakes. But as my dissertation writing group noted early in my drafting of my first chapter: this confidence is now “shot.” Read more

Disillusions: What Keeps a Writer Writing?

I spent five days hearing papers on a broad variety of cinema-related topics at the SCMS conference in Chicago recently. It was a terrific, stimulating experience. When I first sat down with the conference program I circled the sessions that featured writers whose work I already knew and admired, like Victor Perkins, Lesley Stern, Gilberto Perez, Dan Morgan, and a few others. Then I turned my attention to other sessions whose topics sounded intriguing, featuring scholars whose work I didn’t know. The sessions in the former category turned out to be reliably great, but I was surprised by the latter category – specifically, the high number of graduate students who delivered dynamic, well-researched and memorable presentations.

Surrounded as we are today by a conversation about the ‘crisis in higher education’, I couldn’t help wondering: What percentage of these students will have the opportunity to devote the rest of their lives to teaching and researching cinema/media studies? To make a statistical prediction: that number is likely to be low. Which seems deeply unjust. Veronica Fitzpatrick provides the valuable, much-needed graduate student perspective on the conference experience in her recent blog post. She calls for a discussion on the theme of “disillusions”: on “the bad feelings associated with carving out a life in academia: discouragement, disenchantment, faltered hope, insecurity.” Her post is essential reading.

And so, if a distressing number of current PhD students in the field are unlikely to get a full-time position doing what they truly love, what will that mean for their continued interest in writing about cinema for the rest of their lives? Doesn’t moving image culture stand to lose an enormous amount of potential thought and writing in the decades to come? Which makes me wonder: What are the cultural conditions necessary to recover some of this potential that is on its way to disappearing forever? Under what circumstances might scholars continue to write about cinema even if they were condemned to the slave labor of a system that exploited them as adjunct faculty for the rest of their lives – or if they ceased to be professionals in the field altogether?

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Disillusions: On Conferencing

My first time attending the Society For Cinema and Media Studies (SCMS) conference in 2011, I was thrilled to have been accepted from the still-mysterious open call submission pool in the first place, and doubly so to be randomly placed on a panel chaired by Rosalind Galt, whose writing on both space in contemporary European cinema and queer aesthetics I knew and so admired. Hours within arriving to New Orleans, I had spotted Steven Shaviro at the one cafe within walking distance of the Ritz, given my talk on masculinities in zombie apocalypse films to a fullish room, and was dodging dreamy gusts of wind-borne sugar at Café du Monde. The latter is a memory that returns in darker moments, such as waking to emails concerning misprocessed travel reimbursement forms and final deadlines on degree progress – at a different time, in another life, there was Rosalind Galt and beignets. Read more

“Teachers and Researchers and Something Else”: Cooper and Marx Confront the Future of the Humanities

Mark Cooper (University of South Carolina) and John Marx’s (University of California Davis) lecture “Crisis, Crisis, Crisis: Big Media and the Humanities Workforce” represents part of their on-going collaborative project to “reappraise key arguments about higher education in light of media history.” As their title suggests, Cooper and Marx open their talk with the question: Have the humanities always been in crisis? If so, what makes this crisis different? They set out to analyze how today’s crisis qualitatively differs from the others and from there, explore how we can train our students (and ourselves) to inhabit the digital. Although they aim to find diagnostic solutions, they first work through the history of Film Studies, paying particular attention to the challenges film posed for the humanities, its disciplining into English, and the university’s efforts to define the role of media. Cooper and Marx work through this history because film stands as a prime exemplar of mass media; this conception of film as mass media slides into a contemporary digital mass media—a digital mass media for which traditional visions of the humanities prove inadequate. Accordingly, Cooper and Marx call for us all to envision the future of the humanities differently. With their bemoaning of “enough with the English Department,” it appears their vision of the digital humanities’ future is not in English disciplining. They, instead, urge universities to use humanities training in creative, marketable ways, increasing diversification and deliberately building a humanities workforce.

Speaking as a Ph.D. student in Film Studies/English, I find myself feeling uncomfortable with many of Cooper and Marx’s proposed solutions. Throughout the latter half of the lecture, I continually wondered what exactly they mean by workforce—where do they position professorial careers in this mystical marketplace? What about students who pursue humanities degrees for an intended future in academia? I do not plan to use my degree for something “marketable” (I want to teach) and I wonder where I fit into their schema. While sitting in the audience, I could not help but feel like I was not their intended audience. Yet, I ultimately have a certain sympathy for their project. While I find some of their solutions like “unifying culture and professional management” a bit clinical, it is difficult to say that other scholars offer better, more ideal answers to the crisis. Even if I do not share their perspective, their work provokes specific questions and productive conversations. In light of other critics who accept the humanities’ death, their project emerges from a place of optimism for the humanities’ future. While at times prescriptive, Cooper and Marx’s project seeks to understand the humanities as an integral part of the social and carve a space for the digital humanities in both the university and the marketplace.

Printmaking for Scholars of Film and New Media

I originally intended to view the Frick Art & Historical Center’s exhibition “Three Centuries of Printmaking” (featuring The Prints of Jacques Callot) for purely recreational reasons. I often find that prints are as detail-oriented and beautiful as oil paintings, but give greater flexibility because of their less extensive initial investment and potential for reproducibility and massive circulation. Prints are a great means of gaining familiarity with a wide variety of aesthetic experiences, as they give us a sense of an individual artist’s taste and experience of the world. They provide a means of experiencing the paintings, sculptures, geographical views, and historical fantasias that obsess that particular artist. Moreover, they tell us something about a society’s taste (they verify what genres a given society found valid at a given historical moment) and about the personal taste of patrons and collectors (seeing which royal or ecclesiastical figure originally commissioned a work, and which monied industrialist later collected it, tells us a bit about the transmission of class values throughout the centuries). Further, exhibitions of prints are a great way for smaller venues to display a wide-variety of images of art historical interest without going bankrupt. These exhibitions bring some of the images that are stranded in the art centers of the world to less trod regional centers.

The Frick exhibition is split into three main rooms. One contains Callot’s work, which is here thanks to a package put together by The Reading Public Museum (of Reading, PA). In fact, much of Callot’s work has been collected in Pennsylvania. The University of Pittsburgh has an extensive collection (thus making Pittsburgh this Summer’s mecca for his work). A second room contains a series of mezzotints from the Frick’s permanent collection. These 18th century prints are mainly of aristocratic subjects, and a few are directly after painted portraits by Sir Joshua Reynolds. The third room contains a complete series of chromolithographs (one of the first color print processes) from Thomas Shotter Boys’ book Picturesque Architecture in Paris, Ghent, Antwerp, Rhouen, Etc. While the idea for this post mainly comes from my encounter with the Callot prints, I will reference the others as well.

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Great Recession and Financial Meltdown Films

For the past year or so I’ve been keeping a shortlist of post-AIG recession-themed films, with the hopes of one day teaching a Great Recession film class. There are, however, a number of concerns – some pedagogical, some ideological – that come with the topic. For one, I wouldn’t want to put students’ political and economic beliefs so squarely on the table, with nowhere to hide and no end in sight. Nor would I want the class to become my own personal soap box to proselytize and indoctrinate. (That’s what the blog is for, after all.) On the other hand, maybe it would be a good thing to bring students’ feelings and thoughts on the current economic situation directly into the classroom. In this job market, it’s something that’s no doubt already in either the back or front of their minds, in which case why not talk about it openly and explore its popular and cinematic representation? Read more