I’m starting this blog while I’m on sabbatical, which means that I’m not teaching and doing very little service; instead, I’m researching and writing my new project. This quarter has also been a time to reflect on my professional goals and future teaching practices and rejuvenate myself so that I can reconnect with my passion for writing and teaching. I hope this blog gives me a space in which to think through some of this reflection and reconnection.

As a professor, I am frequently evaluated. My students evaluate me at the end of each quarter, and a committee of my colleagues evaluates my scholarship, teaching, and service annually. While my evaluations tend to be good in both categories, these processes can’t help but be fraught with a range of emotions. Student evaluations are anonymous and withheld from me until I’ve turned in final grades. This anonymity makes the one or two less positive evaluations (and there are almost always one or two students who hate a class or who were bored by the readings or hold you responsible for another student’s body odor or whatever) stand out all the more. As my colleagues and I often discuss, these one or two negative comments can overwhelm 30 positive reviews. We can’t help but agonize over which one hates “us” (since we are the class) or how we could have made the readings come alive more or which one smells.

Annual evaluations are of course different. I know who’s on the committee and the feedback I receive from that committee is mediated by a letter from the chair of my department (accompanied by three scores between 1 and 5 and the composite score based on a formula that takes into account the weight of each category: 40% scholarship, 40% teaching, 20% research). Occasionally I gripe about one of the scores — I do a lot of service (committee work, faculty meetings, etc.), a lotof service — and this isn’t always accurately reflected in my evaluation, imo.

But I now have tenure, so these evaluations affect my raise each year but don’t really have a lot of impact, apart from the emotional dimension, on my job security. And since I’m on sabbatical, I won’t have student evaluations this quarter and my departmental evaluation isn’t until early in the new year. In case I’m feeling a lack of evaluation, I’m now experiencing a new way to be reviewed. When I came up for tenure in the 2004-2005 school year, all of my publications were in press but not yet published. A year-and-a-half later, these publications — a book, three articles, and a book chapter — are now out and (hopefully) being read by other scholars.

I now know that at least two of my works have been read because — you guessed it — they’ve been evaluated by experts in the field. Unlike my teaching and departmental evaluations, however, these reviews are published for others to read. The first review was of my book, Performing Libertinism in Charles II’s Court, and recently appeared in the journal Studies in English Literature 1500-1900. This review was written by Cynthia Wall, a major eighteenth-century Brit Lit scholar. Overall, it was a mixed review. On the one hand, she says that my thesis isn’t entirely persuasive. On the other hand, she says that my book is “well-researched and well-written, the readings of the various literary works are nuanced.” Considering the alternative, I’ll take that and say, “Thank you very much!”

The second review is a different matter entirely. My first publication to appear in print was an article on Samuel Richardson’s last novel, Sir Charles Grandison, which was published in Eighteenth-Century Fiction in April 2005. Most journals don’t review articles, but in my field one does: The Scriblerian. The Scriblerians were a group of male satirists in the early eighteenth century who used their pens as weapons to blast other writers whose works they disagreed with, abhorred, or thought inferior to their own obvious talents. It was not untypical for these men to dismiss the works of women, for example, or lower class writers or more politically progressive ones.

My article argues that the novel as a genre was a tool for perpetuating and extending patriarchal control over women and dependents rather than a tool of feminist liberation during the eighteenth century. The mechanism writers used to effect this control was the deployment of sentiment. Richardson’s novel is a case in point. I wrote the core of this article in the first graduate seminar I took in 1992; while I was waiting for my book to find a publisher, I dusted off the original paper, revised it, and sent it out to ECF for the editors’ consideration. It was reviewed by two anonymous readers who are experts in the field and quickly accepted for publication. I was delighted.

One of the editors of The Scriblerian, however, HATES this article. The review is unsigned, which means that one of the editors wrote it; the editors divide the work among themselves based on their fields of interest, so one can assume the Richardson editor wrote this review. The reviewer begins by ridiculing my frequent use of forms of the word patriarch/patriarchal/patriarchy. He accuses the piece of making the same mistakes that I and others argue a particular historian makes, i.e., being optimistic, though I’m not sure what’s optimistic about saying that literary depictions of fatherly love for their children are actually methods of subjugating wives and children. And he maintains that my argument is simple-minded, though he doesn’t actually use that word.

One negative student evaluation can devastate me, but I think this review is simply hilarious. To me, the editor comes across as a bit of a jackass who thinks he’s one of the original Scriblerians reincarnated. It seems telling that he complains that I use patriarch/patriarchal/patriarchy too many times (what’s a synonym for “patriarchy”?) but he doesn’t notice that I use the word “father” even more and other words just as much. His flippant dismissal of my point (he begins, “Prepare to be patriarchalized,” a word I never use in the article) that the patriarchy is a network that constantly adjusts in order to maintain its power, a net from which we can never really escape, suggests to me his own anxiety about threats to the current white, heterosexual male domination of academia. His review, imo, reenacts some of the anxieties and power structures I analyze in my article; the key difference being that, by the middle of the eighteenth century, writers invested in maintaining patriarchal structures had learned that the Scriblerians’ satiric barbs were not the way to silence other voices. Instead, they invested their rhetoric with sentiment, catching more flies with honey.

As a Foucaultian, I don’t think we can ever escape patriarchal structures of power, but we can resist and give them the middle finger. I suppose this post is my attempt to do just that.