Working Hard for the Money Wednesday, Jan 31 2007 

I think this will set the right tone for this post:

About a year ago, another eighteenth-centuryist and I talked about the “fact” that eighteenth-centuryists have a history of becoming department administrators–chairs, graduate directors, undergraduate directors, etc. In her department, both the chair and the graduate chair are eighteenth-centuryists; my senior colleague is our department’s undergraduate director. This conversation was, in part, about my likelihood of someday becoming an administrator–do I want to; if so, when; what kind of administrator, etc.?

For as long as I remember, I’ve liked to be in charge of things and, if I can’t be in charge, I at least want to know what’s going on, why it’s going on, and how it’s happening. This has led me to accumulate a sizable record of department, college, and university service in my first 7 years as a faculty member at OU. Take this month, for example. I just finished up the site visit for a department’s 7-year review, which took two days. I’ll help with another department’s review in two weeks. Both of these will result in 5-page reports that I’ll have to help write. I’m also participating in near weekly meetings of a faculty senate committee and the monthly meeting of the faculty senate. I’m coordinating the annual review of my department chair, and I’m coordinating the review of my department’s current policies and procedures. I present a colleague’s tenure case to the department on Friday and will probably serve on at least one college promotion and tenure committee in late February. I’m also writing an article and a conference paper for a conference in late February. I am exhausted, yet I’m only at the beginning of most of this work!

But I’m not complaining. One of the things that I learned in conducting the 7-year review earlier this week is that I enjoy this kind of stuff. I enjoy participating in administration, and I love knowing what’s what. It’s fascinating to see how another department, which is fairly comparable to mine in size, scope, and programs manages itself in ways that are sometimes similar to my department and sometimes quite different. It also fascinating to see how members of other departments either do or do not get along with one another. I definitely learned this week that my department has it really good in some ways and that we’re much worse off than this other department in other ways. It’s a whole new level of information and involvement. It was exhausting, but I really enjoyed being able to do it.

I don’t know when or even if I’ll become an administrator in my department. I think I have a lot of the requisite skills, knowledge, and experience to be a good administrator, but I’m not sure I’ll seem old enough when the next round of administrative turnover happens.

But either way, I’m not going to sweat it too much right now. I’m enjoying my current level of participation, and that’s all that really matters. In the meantime, I’ll keep singing along to Donna Summer and (metaphorically) dancing the streets!

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Last King of Scotland: A Review Saturday, Jan 27 2007 

We just got back from seeing The Last King of Scotland, Kevin MacDonald’s film about a Scotsman, played by James McAvoy, who becomes the personal doctor of Idi Amin, the president of Uganda, played by Forest Whitaker, in 1971. Here’s the trailer, which does a great job of giving a sense of the film’s suspenseful action and political themes:

The film is based on a novel by Giles Foden. Many of the political events depicted in the film are true, but the main character, McAvoy’s Nicholas Garrigan, is fictional. Garrigan is based, in part, on a British soldier who became a key advisor to Amin.

I really liked this film. Recent articles have compared this movie to The Queen and Forest Whitaker’s performance to Helen Mirren‘s — both purport to show us the private lives of public rulers during historically accurate events in their lives. In fact, though, I found this movie to be much better than The Queen. I still hope Mirren wins the Oscar, but The Last King of Scotland doesn’t feel like a made-for-t.v. movie like The Queen does. This film is both sweeping in its depiction of Amin’s brutality and the violence of his dictatorship and an intimate portrayal of one man’s interactions with him.

Whitaker certainly deserves all of the accolades that he is receiving for this role. He manages first to humanize Amin and then slowly to show us this man’s inhumanity and mental instability. It’s a towering performance, which explains why Whitaker is up for Best Actor when in fact his role is a supporting one. He will certainly be robbed if he doesn’t win.

James McAvoyThe lead actor in this film is actually McAvoy, pictured here in a promotion shot for the Toronto Film Festival. He is the heart and soul of this story, and McAvoy does an excellent job showing us how and why his character can become involved with Amin and then slowly realize all of his mistakes in doing so. He manages to embody his character with an idealism that seems genuine, especially as we come to see it as based, at least in part, on a fundamental racism. He wants to “make a difference” in Africa, but he knows nothing about the continent or the nation of Uganda. His idealism is ultimately exposed as naivete.

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Man of La Mancha Thursday, Jan 25 2007 

Last night the touring company of Man of La Mancha came to Athens, and PJ and I went to see it. Man of La Mancha is one of my favorite musicals, so I was excited to have the chance to see it. La Mancha doesn’t get the acclaim of such musicals as Gypsy, West Side Story, or My Fair Lady, especially among gay men. But I love it.

Man of La ManchaThe touring company production was pretty good, but I’m not a fair critic — I’m as irrational in my love for Don Quixote de la Mancha, Aldonza, and Sancho Panza as I am in my love for Luke, Leia, and Darth Vader. Like Star Wars, La Mancha was one of my childhood obsessions.

In junior high, I was in drama — or “theater arts,” as it was called. In 9th grade, our teacher, Mrs. Stansbury, decided that a non-musical version of Man of La Mancha would be the one-act play we would perform for the spring season. I was assigned the part of Dr. Carrasco.

In order to get us ready for our parts, she lent some of us her soundtrack of the original cast recording, which not only had all of the songs but most of the dialogue too. I immediately fell in love with it, and so I taped it so that I could have my own copy, which I listened to practically non-stop for years. (Unfortunately, due to various issues concerning the annual junior high drama competition we participated in, we ended up not doing a play at all that year.)

I was particularly drawn to the play’s exploration — if that’s not too strong a word — of reality vs. idealism, of life as it is vs. life as it ought to be, of whether it’s madness to accept life as it is (a “dung heap,” as Aldonza calls it) or to make your own world through imagination. Now, I’m not saying that we should all go crazy and pretend to be Medieval knights, but clearly this is a musical about the theater — the role of theater in a society of gender and class inequity and oppression. I don’t think it’s going too far to say that this work participates in the same discussions of the role of theater in society raised by such scholars as Martin Esslin and W. B. Worthen.

And let’s face it: what budding 13-year-old homosexual wouldn’t fall in love with Aldonza, the hardened prostitute with a heart of gold?!

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Hottie of the Month Monday, Jan 22 2007 

Many of the gay blogs I read feature pics of models and other attractive men either as part of the site’s main focus or as a periodic entry. (Clearly, it’s a good way to boost viewership.) I’ve been wanting to include a similar monthly feature since I started my blog. So, this month’s hottie is …

Sir Charles Sedley

 

Sir Charles Sedley (1639-1701), one of Charles II’s courtiers. Sedley was one of the famous libertines in Charles’s court during the 1660s and early 1670s, but underwent a kind of political/sexual conversion in the mid-1670s. He subsequently settled down and became a relatively prominent and respected member of Parliament.

Stage Beauty's SedleyI chose him as my first hottie of the month for three reasons. First, just look at him in his portrait (by Sir Godfrey Kneller) above — he’s clearly hot! Second, I was terribly disturbed when I saw how the movie Stage Beauty, which I like very much, portrayed him. In that film, he’s shown as a fat fop rather than as the hot-to-trot libertine he clearly was. On the right is a picture of the movie’s version of Sedley, who is played by Richard Griffiths (who is great in The History Boys, btw). And finally, I chose Sedley for my first hottie because I love his work — I even have a chapter, which a review recently pointed to as especially good, about him and one of his plays, Antony and Cleopatra, in my first book.

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Feminists, Conservatives, and Old Farts Sunday, Jan 21 2007 

John DrydenTo help me with an article I’m writing, I spent part of yesterday reading two articles about John Dryden’s 1681 poem, Absalom and Achitophel, a satire written during the so-called exclusion crisis, an effort to exclude Catholics from the throne of England. In this poem, Dryden (pictured here) uses Biblical history — the story of David and his rebellious son Absalom — as a metaphor for the current English situation of Charles II and his rebellious son, James Scot, duke of Monmouth. While the particulars of this research probably aren’t of much interest to anyone but me, I soon became fascinated by the gender politics of the scholars themselves and what this politics means about the state of literary criticism.

I started reading an article by Jerome Donnelly, a retired professor at the University of Central Florida. His article, entitled “‘A Greater Gust’: Generating the Body in Absalom and Achitophel,” was published in Papers on Language and Literature Vol. 40 in 2004. The article quickly turns into a diatribe against another essay written by Susan Greenfield and published in ELH in 1995 and reprinted as part of a collection of essays entitled Inventing Maternity: Politics, Science, and Literature, 1650-1865 (University Press of Kentucky, 1999). Her essay is “Aborting the ‘Mother Plot’: Politics and Generation in Absalom and Achitophel.”

After reading the first couple of paragraphs of Donnelly’s article, I had to run to the library and check out Greenfield’s essay — his dismissal of her work was so vehement that I knew I had to read her essay first and then come back to his. (My first thought, in fact, was, “This is going to be good!”) In her work, Greenfield examines Dryden’s construction of the maternal in his poem. She concludes that “the poem’s emphasis on David’s promiscuity is gradually replaced by references to a feminine sexual desire and productivity so dangerous that the king appears politically reliable by contrast” (86). In effect, Greenfield argues that Dryden attempts to absolve Charles II’s promiscuous activities, which have, in effect, led to the exclusion crisis, by associating his rebellious son with the feminine and the feminized. She supports her reading with evidence from the period’s political theory (Filmer and Locke, especially) and from a close reading of the poem.

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Can You Be a Voyeur If You’re Narcissistic? Wednesday, Jan 17 2007 

Note: Parts of this post have been substantially altered since it’s original publication — my continued thinking on this topic ultimately led to a different conclusion and an epiphany.

As the faculty advisor for Open Doors, OU’s undergraduate GLBTAQQT (gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered, ally, queer, questioning, and two-spirited) student union, I attend a couple of the group’s weekly meetings each quarter. Let me say up front that it’s always kind of weird being there: Here I am a 36-year-old professor sitting in a room of mostly 19- and 20-year-old undergraduates — we don’t have a lot in common. Add to that my general shyness and social awkwardness, and we have a generally weird situation. Just to put things in the proper perspective: at least technically, I’m old enough to be most of these undergrads’ father.

So, as I was saying, it’s always a little weird for me to be sitting there mostly listening to their conversations. My weirdest experience was last quarter. Each meeting is divided into announcements and then a discussion; one particular discussion involved a somewhat humorous conversation among the undergraduates about “relationships,” which quickly devolved into a series of sexual revelations: one student talked all about only being a top, another talked about only being a bottom, etc. The more explicit their conversation became, the less comfortable I felt being there, especially since I think the ones saying these things seem so naive and inexperienced. Like most people in their early twenties, they talk as if they’re adults, but I’m increasingly convinced that true adulthood doesn’t start until you’re in your forties (or maybe even later — I’ll let you know when I get there).

Partly, my sense of the weirdness comes from my fear that they’re all wondering who I am sitting there listening to them. While I certainly enjoy the gossipy qualities of the meetings — and I do cyberstalk my favorite former students on facebook (generally with their knowledge and permission) — I worry that in the Open Doors meetings I will come across as some sort of voyeur, which is not at all how I feel while I’m there. Mostly, I’m thankful for my age, experience, and (just to sound completely old) wisdom. I really don’t see how older men can find twinks sustainably attractive. (Not that there’s anything wrong with twinks — we were all twinks before we got old and married!)

The meetings begin with an ice breaker question. Tonight’s question was, what would your superhero name be and what superhero power would you have if you could have one? As usual, I had no idea what to say. If I say anything that could even remotely be turned into a sexual thing, I’ll end up embarrassed and full of all the fears mentioned above. If I say something totally boring, I look like an old professor and therefore evoke all of the fears mentioned above. It’s a can’t win situation in my mind. So, imagine my horror when the most precocious of the undergrads (who’s never had a class with me, btw) turns to me and says that he knows what my superpower would be: the ability to be invisible and walk through walls so that I could spy on my students; my name, he declares, would be “The Voyeur!”

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Curse of the Golden Flower: A Review Saturday, Jan 13 2007 

Today PJ and I saw Curse of the Golden Flower, the latest film from Zhang Yimou, the director of House of Flying Daggers, one of my favorite movies. It stars Chow Yun-Fat and Gong Li as the emperor and empress of China. Here’s the plot summary from IMDb:

China, Later Tang Dynasty, 10th Century. On the eve of the Chong Yang Festival, golden flowers fill the Imperial Palace. The Emperor (Chow Yun Fat) returns unexpectedly with his second son, Prince Jai (Jay Chou). His pretext is to celebrate the holiday with his family, but given the chilled relations between the Emperor and the ailing Empress (Gong Li), this seems disingenuous. For many years, the Empress and Crown Prince Wan (Liu Ye), her stepson, have had an illicit liaison. Feeling trapped, Prince Wan dreams of escaping the palace with his secret love Chan (Li Man), the Imperial Doctor’s daughter. Meanwhile, Prince Jai, the faithful son, grows worried over the Empress’s health and her obsession with golden chrysanthemums. Could she be headed down an ominous path? The Emperor harbors equally clandestine plans; the Imperial Doctor (Ni Dahong) is the only one privy to his machinations. When the Emperor senses a looming threat, he relocates the doctor’s family from the Palace to a remote area. While they are en route, mysterious assassins attack them. Chan and her mother, Jiang Shi (Chen Jin) are forced back to the palace. Their return sets off a tumultuous sequence of dark surprises. Amid the glamour and grandeur of the festival, ugly secrets are revealed. As the Imperial Family continues its elaborate charade in a palatial setting, thousands of golden armored warriors charge the palace. Who is behind this brutal rebellion? Where do Prince Jai’s loyalties lie? Between love and desire, is there a final winner? Against a moonlit night, thousands of chrysanthemum blossoms are trampled as blood spills across the Imperial Palace.

I should admit up front that I love Yimou’s movies and martial arts films set in Medieval China. Daggers and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragondirected by Ang Lee, are wonderful films. I was less impressed with Hero — ultimately it seemed too intricately plotted for its own good. Curse of the Golden Flower shares some of the stengths of these earlier movies as well as some of their weaknesses.  

Like House of Flying Daggers, this is a beautiful film. The cinematography, art direction, and costumes are all excellent. One review that I read complains that the characters spend a lot of time walking through beautiful hallways. With hallways as beautiful as these, who could resist walking through them as much as possible? I also really like Gong Li’s performance. She is amazing. Her role calls for her to alternate between vulnerability and fierce strength. She fulfills this difficult task well. By the end, hers is the side we’re most on, I think, even if we’re not sure if the film really wants us to support her cause. (more…)

Fun Home: A Review Friday, Jan 12 2007 

I’ve just finished reading Alison Bechdel‘s graphic novel/non-fiction text, Fun Home. Bechdel is already kind of famous for her Dykes to Watch Out For comic strip. Fun Home promises to make her one of the most important GLBT writers working today. It is an amazing book. I urge anyone who enjoys reading to rush out and get it.

Fun Home cover Fun Home is, on one level, Bechdel’s effort to come to terms with her father, a high school English teacher/funeral home director in small town Pennsylvania who also restores old homes to museum-like quality on the side. Already strained, their relationship is made more complicated by the fact that Alison’s father is hiding a substantial secret, one that she only discovers after leaving home for college. Part homage to her father, part indictment of him, Fun Home is both the particular story of these two characters’ relationship and a universal story of the constant renegotiation of the parent-child relationship as the child grows into adulthood.

There are many things that recommend this book. I should first admit that this is the first graphic novel (or autobiography or memoir — whatever the correct genre is) that I’ve read. My assumptions about graphic novels have all been upended by this book. I assumed they were rather basic and intellectually unengaging. If Fun Home is any indication, these assumptions are clearly wrong.

Bechdel uses the graphic elements of her medium to create a rich and intellectually engaging text in which words and images play off of one another. Early in the work an image includes a copy of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina that at first glance appears to be just a random book lying next to a character. As we continue reading, however, we realize that this image is actually an inter-text, a literary reference that guides the reader’s expectations of Bechdel’s story. This is just one of the many ways that she uses the graphic medium successfully to add to the reader’s engagement with her text.

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The Graffiti Artist: A Review Tuesday, Jan 9 2007 

Since my last few posts have been about academic and professional interests, I thought I would post a movie review today. PJ and I watched James Bolton’s The Graffiti Artist (2004) over the weekend. The movie’s webpage has a link to trailers and images from the film, if you want to check them out.

The Graffiti Artist The movie is about a kid named Nick, played by Ruben Bansie-Snellman (pictured here), who is a homeless graffiti artist in Portland, Oregon. In the larger sense, the movie traces the effects of the city’s efforts to cut down on such graffiti by arresting the artists and charging them with a felony. Nick is arrested early in the film and decides to skip town in order to avoid the fine and community service. He goes to Seattle, where he runs into Jesse, played by Pepper Fajans, another artist who’s from a middle class family. Where Nick has made a life for himself by stealing food and sleeping in alleys, Jesse pays for everything he wants and has his own small apartment. Nick believes in graffiti art for graffiti art’s sake; Jesse sells pictures of his art to magazines.

Despite these differences, the two boys become friends. Their friendship is tested, however, when it becomes physically intimate and the lines between friendship and romance begin to break down.

I really like how quiet this film is. There’s a kind of emotional intimacy cultivated between the characters and the audience that I found very effective. In part, this sense of quiet is literal — the score doesn’t overwhelm the film and is often quite muted and there is often little or no dialogue in the film. Indeed, it is several minutes into the film before Nick speaks his first lines. I thought this worked really well.

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The Party’s Over Monday, Jan 8 2007 

My sabbatical/leave is now officially over. The winter quarter began last week, but today was the first day that I actually had to admit that I’m not on leave any more. It’s sooooo depressing! Getting paid to read, think, and write without actually having to interact with anyone else has been wonderful. Now it’s back to the grind. Oh well.

First, I had to finish up several letters of recommendation. I am finally done with all of the letters that I’ve agreed to write so far. So, I’m glad that I have accomplished that.

Second, I distributed a memo to the members of a committee that I’m chairing. We’ll be reviewing our department’s policies and procedures and creating a set of by-laws, though I want to call the final document our “Policies and Procedures” rather than by-laws. I’ll have to schedule a committee meeting at some point soon, but that can wait a while.

Next, I participated in my department’s seven-year review. Since I’m on the review committees for two departments later this term, I was glad to see how it’s supposed (or not supposed) to work. And my involvement was really limited: all I did was attend an open meeting with the outside reviewer.

And then I went to my first faculty senate meeting since June. When I left the June meeting, I told a couple of my colleagues that I would see them in six months. Now those six months have passed. The meeting was as tedious as usual. Several speakers kept telling us that, since there wasn’t much on the agenda, they would go ahead and tell us about x, y, or z, which meant that each speaker actually spoke longer than usual. So, for a meeting with a short agenda, we had a longer than usual meeting. On the one hand, I love being involved and knowing what’s going on. And I do really feel obliged to participate in faculty governance and service. On the other hand, these meetings are tedious and I can’t help but wonder why we spend so much of the time discussing minutia. But ultimately all I have to do is sit and listen, so there’s not that much to complain about.

Now that I’m back at work, the important question is: what did I accomplish?

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