Hottie of the Month: Burke Thursday, Mar 29 2007 

Edmund BurkeMy hottie of the month for March is Edmund Burke, the eighteenth-century politician, orator, political theorist, and philosopher. Burke is, perhaps, most famous for writing his Reflections on the Revolution in France, a work I had to read as an undergraduate history major. He is considered one of the fathers of conservatism, a political philosophy he embraced in response to the terrors of the French Revolution and its potential threat to England.

Because of his conservative leanings, I’ve never been particularly interested in him or his writings. Every now and then, I’ve tried to read a few selections from my anthology of Burke’s speeches and writings, but I’ve never been able to make it very far. So, I’m rather surprised to find myself suddenly interested in him and in late eighteenth-century English conservatism more generally.

This interest arose as I was working on my paper for GEMCS this past February. One reference led to another, which led to another, and before I knew it I was rereading parts of Reflections. While working on that paper, I picked up Frans de Bruyn’s “Anti-Semitism, Millenarianism, and Radical Dissent in Edmund Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France,” published in Eighteenth-Century Studies in 2001. This excellent and interesting article looks at passages in Reflections in which Burke seems to embrace anti-Semitic rhetoric and attempts to explain the historical context for these passages and how they work rhetorically within Burke’s larger political argument. It’s a very informative essay that led me to another essay on conservatism in the period, which led me to start thinking about various other issues related to my current project.

I doubt that I’ll be teaching Burke any time soon. In fact, I’ve never been assigned him in a literature course (it was a history class that I read Reflections in). And he’s certainly not a major figure in my current project. But I am interested in using him and his writing to illustrate a couple of points about anti-Semitism at the end of the eighteenth century and about conservatism in general. In other words, he’s become quite useful to my project, even if he’s not a major figure in it.

So, I suddenly find myself interested in a political movement, conservatism, and a socio-political circle, one that includes Burke and Richard Cumberland, neither of which I ever thought I’d be writing about. For this reason, and certainly not because of his portrait above, I am celebrating Burke as March’s hottie of the month.

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The Cockettes: A Review Wednesday, Mar 28 2007 

Since enough copies of Stone Butch Blues haven’t come in yet at the local bookstores, I had to rearrange our reading in the Lesbian & Gay Lit class for the first few weeks. Since I didn’t think I could spring a reading on them at the last minute (more or less), today we watched the documentary on The Cockettes rather than read a text.

The documentary recounts the rise and demise of the Cockettes, a hippie/acid freak/queer theatrical troupe from the late 1960s and early 1970s in San Francisco. I didn’t show it in class last year, but I did show it a couple of times before that. What I like about it in relation to my class is its illustration that the Stonewall Riots, while incredibly important in queer history, were not in fact the only show in town in the late ’60s.

Hibiscus The Cockettes were led, at least for a time, by Hibiscus, shown here. They were known for their outrageous form of drag — outrageous in part because of their combination of male facial hair (in some cases), feminine clothing, and (arguably) excessive glitter. As one member of the group explains, whatever someone was doing the others would call for more. If you had one shirt on, why not five more? If you had some glitter, why not a lot of glitter. In many ways, this summarizes the whole Cockette lifestyle.

It’s a great documentary. It follows a relatively predictable narrative: formation of the group, the group’s zenith, its demise, and the aftermath. It intersplices interviews with the surviving members with images and footage from the group’s performances. It also focuses on a lot more than just sex or drugs. We see parts of some of the performances. The movie also explains who people in the late 1960s were able to survive in communes (welfare, in most cases). And it shows the effects of Ronald Reagan’s cutting of state programs that many artists used to subsist.

Whenever I watch it, I start to regret that this sort of queer community and action doesn’t seem possible today. While some aspects of the era’s culture are probably not quite as attractive today (promiscuous, unsafe sex and hard drug use, for example), one (I) can’t help but be a little jealous of the love, the excitement, and the energy created by this family/community. I suppose I see Shortbus as the fictional heir to this kind of queer community, one that includes everybody — gays, straights, transpeople, bisexuals, and anybody else that wants to come along.

And maybe someday I’ll be brave enough to dress as a Cockette for Halloween or something! It will be a pale imitation, but perhaps a liberating one nevertheless. In the meantime, I highly recommend The Cockettes. It’s a very entertaining documentary.

Teaching in a Sauna Tuesday, Mar 27 2007 

My classes started yesterday. Based on first impressions, I think it’s going to be a good quarter. The HTC students might be a little quiet, but the GLBTers will make up for that I’m sure. The GLBT lit class has a lot of students that I already know, either from past classes or from Open Doors. (I also already know half of the HTC students.) It’s always nice (and somewhat affirming) to have repeaters. Ellis Hall

But the main thing that sticks out in my mind about my classes yesterday was the unbearable heat in Ellis Hall. (I’m not quite sure why, but I love this picture of Ellis.) We’re in the transition period between winter and spring, and the thermostat is not quite set for the warmer weather.

Because the building is so hot inside, most of the windows are open, but then the sounds from outside — like lawn mowers during my HTC class — make it difficult to hear in class. There’s a lot to love about Ellis Hall, but the semi-annual temperature problem is not one of them.

Due to the heat, I ended up letting both of my classes go early. I was going to give my HTC class a PowerPoint presentation about eighteenth-century English society and I was going to show my GLBT class a documentary about Stonewall and its aftermath. but it was just too hot to make them (or me) sit there another minute. Sweat was pouring down my back, and I felt like my clothes were sticking to the furniture every time I stood up. I’ve put the PowerPoint presentation on Blackboard, so the HTCers can just look at it there sometime, if they want. I can show the video at a later date — either tomorrow or next week.

Tomorrow will be the first real class for the GLBT class. I’m looking forward to seeing what they make of Stone Butch Blues.  It’s an amazing book. The HTC class doesn’t meet again until Thursday. We’ll be watching Stage Beauty in there. I really like this movie, but I also object to some of its misrepresentations of the period. I just hope Ellis is cooler tomorrow and Thursday!

So, the quarter is off and running. One down, 39 days to go!

Back in Athens and Ready to Go Sunday, Mar 25 2007 

I got back from Georgia a few hours ago. On the whole, being at the conference (ASECS) was really good, and I definitely enjoyed hanging out a bit in Atlanta. My paper went really well on Thursday, which pretty much meant that anything else fun or good was icing on the cake. The panel I put together and chaired also seemed to go well. I’ll try to give my review of the conference sometime this week. I’ll also post about the museum I visited.

But what’s really on my mind is the fact that my sabbatical is completely over starting tomorrow at 1 pm, when I start teaching again! While in Atlanta, I have to admit, I really disliked the idea of going back into the classroom. Don’t get me wrong: I love teaching, and I love many of my students (I love my students, but I don’t love my students). But having the past several months to spend almost unlimited time reading and thinking and writing has been really enjoyable. It wasn’t quite like being on vacation — since I did work a lot.

But now that I’m back in Athens and doing a little prep work for tomorrow — I figure I’ll give my tutorial students a little background about the period, and we’re going to watch a 54-minute documentary about Stonewall and its aftermath in my Lesbian & Gay Lit class — I’m actually feeling a little excited about teaching again.

I’ve long felt that a great deal of my sense of self-worth comes from my teaching. I’m not the best teacher around or anything, but teaching is very invigorating. I love talking with my students about the writers, texts, and issues I love. I love introducing them to my favorite books and authors and hearing what they think about them. I enjoy teaching, and I’m fairly good at it. When my research has been slow or non-existent, I’ve always been able to fall back on my teaching for a sense of accomplishment. It’s going to be interesting to see how I feel about it now that it’s going to interrupt my on-going (and definitely not non-existent) research.

This quarter I’m teaching the eighteenth-century tutorial, which I hope will be a lot of fun. It’s my first time, so I’m anxiously excited to see how it goes. I’m also teaching my GLBT Lit class, which is probably my favorite course to teach each year. Not the least of my excitement comes from knowing that my current crop of favorite former students (most of which have had this class) are graduating — hopefully this quarter will bring me a new set of Brodie “girls.”

I’ve already been so busy in recent weeks that I’ve not had time to blog, so I’m a little worried about whether I’m really going to be able to keep it going, but I hope so. Starting tomorrow, I’m sure I’ll have lots to blog about. So, cheers to the start of a new quarter!

Off to Atlanta Wednesday, Mar 21 2007 

I had hoped to post at least once before heading off to Atlanta for the meeting of the American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies. Unfortunately, I didn’t get a chance to. When I went to GEMCS last month, I managed to pre-write several posts; no such luck this time.

I present my paper first thing tomorrow morning, so it will be over quickly. I’m chairing a session on Saturday. In between, I hope to hear some interesting papers and see some sights in Atlanta, including the High Museum of Art and maybe the aquarium or the Carter Presidential Library. (PJ and I try to see presidential libraries whenever we get a chance, but it won’t feel right seeing one without him.)

When I get back, I hope to have lots to blog about. I also want to write a few short reviews of movies I’ve seen recently — I think there are four in my mental queue waiting to be reviewed — and, of course, reveal the hottie of the month. And I start teaching again on Monday. I hope I remember how!

Choose Your Own Adventure: Aphra Behn Sunday, Mar 18 2007 

I haven’t had time to post in a week, because I’ve been working on my paper for the American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies, which meets in Atlanta later this next week. My paper is on Thursday morning, and I’ve been working all week to finish it. I finally finished a complete draft of it, so I can sit back and let it (and my brain) rest for a day before giving it one last once over.

Aphra BehnThe paper is on Aphra Behn’s 1681 comedy The False Count. My interest in the play lies in its depiction of a group of men who disguise themselves as Turks and “capture” an Englishman, his wife, and his daughter. I’m trying to figure out how this play’s representation of “Turks” reflects Behn’s participation in partisan debates on the exclusion crisis.

This is a portrait of Behn. I’ve never really worked on her before, but I have taught two classes on her. During my first year at OU I taught a senior seminar on Behn. It was a fun class, even if some of Behn’s works weren’t all that great. It always amazes me how some works are anthologized while others — better ones — aren’t. In general, the scholars who were the first to champion Behn were also most interested in her plays that feature prostitutes and women who disguise themselves as prostitutes. They analyzed these characters as early, proto-feminist figures. So, some of the plays that are available in print aren’t, in my opinion, her best ones. The False Count is a good example. It’s not anthologized, but it’s a great play. (I also taught a junior composition course on her and her work.)

The Restoration period was once taught as the ‘Age of Dryden;’ we could easily rename it the ‘Age of Behn.’ It’s been fun researching her play and rediscovering some of the historical context that informs her depiction of “Turks.” It reminds me that one of the things I really enjoy about writing is the discovery process. As you read one scholar, s/he introduces you to a new concept or quote or fact; you then follow up on that, which often leads to another new concept or quote or fact. It’s like a game or a choose-your-own-adventure book.

Being on leave for the past two quarters has been extremely helpful to my research. I haven’t completed anything yet, but I’ve gotten some really good reading and thinking done. And it’s put me in a position to finish an article or two (or maybe three) by the end of the year.

I’m looking forward to the ASECS conference. I’m excited to learn some new things and make some new discoveries. If research is a choose-your-own-adventure, I’m ready to start reading a new one!

Daytripping to Columbus Sunday, Mar 11 2007 

Yesterday, PJ, Matthew, Liz, Ayesha, and I drove over to Columbus to visit the Wexner Center for the Arts on the Ohio State University Campus.

Glenn LigonOur main reason for going was to see the Glenn Ligon exhibit, entitled “Glenn Ligon–Some Changes.”Glenn Ligon is a queer artist who “creates resonant, multilayered works that filter other people’s texts, images, jokes, and voices,” as the exhibit’s brochure relates. Or, as book of the exhibit explains, “Glenn Ligon is at the forefront of a generation of artists who came to prominence in the late 1980s on the strength of conceptually based paintings and phototext work whose subjects investigate the social, linguistic, and political constructions of race, gender, and sexuality” (7). This is a picture of Ligon.

The exhibit is small but fascinating. One of the works that stood out to me was End of Year Reports, a series of “thoughtful and brutally honest critiques of Ligon at age 12 and 13,” to quote the brochure. Here’s a picture that shows how the work looks hanging in the museum. It’s a collection of report cards in which his teachers comment about such issues as his refusal “to talk about his own recognition of his own sexual urges.” This refusal is interpreted as a kind of immaturity, and the teacher concludes that he will become more comfortable with his body and sexual desires within the next year, at which point he’ll interact with the other students — especially the girls — on a more social level. (We, of course, know that he in fact turns out gay instead, making the reports even more interesting.) What kind of teachers are these that they comment on his sexuality so directly? At first, PJ thought that these must be Ligon’s imagined recreations of his teachers’ thoughts, but the brochure indicates that they are his genuine report cards. They’re really crazy to read. It really makes me wonder what I’d say about my students’ sexual development (and so glad that I don’t ever have to)!

One work, Annotations, is online. If you launch it, you get an online version of a family-style photo album. If you click on the individual images, you get Ligon’s annotations, some of which are definitely adult-oriented. I find his insertion of his own desires into the family album to be a fascinating project. It’s a great idea; maybe more of us gay people should do projects like this one. His Runaways series is also great: he uses the historically accurate format of escaped slave notices to describe himself, using his friends’ descriptions of him. (As I said above, a lot of his work is about reprocessing other people’s words about him.)

The Wexner is also housing an exhibit of works by Sadie Benning, called Suspended Animation, right now. Benning is another queer artist. I first heard of her a couple of years ago when a colleague recommended that we watch her videos. As a teenager, Benning made a series of videos using a Fisher Price camera. These short movies detail, in part, her coming to terms with her sexuality. I highly recommend them, especially her short film about Rubyfruit Jungle.

This exhibit is mostly of her recent paintings but also includes Benning’s 29-minute animated film, titled Play Pause. I didn’t watch it all, but the part I saw was fascinating. I wish I had stayed to see it all. It’s kind of simplistically drawn (or so it seems at first) and combines music, dual screens, and a non-narrative form to follow a group of characters around in bars, at home, at the airport, etc. We see various aspects of these characters’ lives, including their sex lives. As I’ve subsequently read online, this movie is a response to 911 and the loneliness she feels is intrinsic to her sexuality. Like I said, I really wish I had stayed and watched the whole thing. I did buy the book that accompanied the exhibit, so at least I’ll get to learn more about it.

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The Field Museum Wednesday, Mar 7 2007 

While I was in Chicago two weeks ago, I had hoped to make it over to the Art Institute, which is only about two blocks from the hotel I stayed at while I was at the conference. The first morning I was there, I walked over to the Institute, but I got there about a half hour before it opened. So, I thought that I would walk around a bit and then come back.

I walked down Michigan Avenue and ended up at the Field Museum. I didn’t know what it was, but it had the word “museum” in the title, so I figured I go in for a little while and then walk back to the Art Institute. Three hours later, I left the museum and went in search of lunch. A friend of mine was supposed to arrive a little while after that, so I went back to the hotel and waited for him. I never made it to the Art Institute, but I loved the Field Museum.

The Field Museum, it turns out, is a natural history museum. PJ and I don’t often go to natural history museums — if we’re only in a particular city for a few days, we tend to try to fit in as much art as possible instead. The Field Museum is well worth a visit.

Sue at the Field MuseumThe museum’s main draw is Sue, the world’s largest, most complete, and most famous Tyrannosaurus Rex. She’s practically right inside the door. Her skull is too heavy for the exhibit, so it’s displayed separately; the skull attached to the skeleton is a replica. There’s also a special Sue gift shop where you can buy Sue souvenirs.

A large portion of the museum is dedicated to taxidermied birds, mammals, and reptiles. The birds section, in particular, was both fascinating and totally macabre. On the one hand, I can see how useful it is to have the specimens in the museum. While I was there, for example, a woman was painstakingly drawing one of the birds. On the other hand, it feels like a weird kind of funeral home for dead birds — rows upon rows of carcasses. Some of the birds are now extinct; the bodies of these birds especially evoked the dual sense of benefit and grotesqueness.

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A Seahorse Year: A Review Tuesday, Mar 6 2007 

This past weekend I led our GLBT book club in a discussion of Stacey D’Erasmo’s A Seahorse Year. I hadn’t read the book before; after reading it, I looked forward to hearing what the undergraduates had to say about it.

A Seahorse Yearis about what happens to a non-traditional family when their 16-year-old son is diagnosed with schizophrenia. The son, Christopher, disappears one day. He turns up later, but unfortunately the family’s nightmare is just beginning.

The narrative is told from individual characters’ points of view. As a result, we get inside their heads, but only for brief moments. Otherwise, the narrative is relatively fractured. Our understanding of what’s happening, why it’s happening, and what the consequences are is only partial. In many ways, it’s a fairly realist, because it’s a (mildly) postmodern narrative.

What I really like about this book is its overall point of view. I’m not quite the same age as the parents, but I could really identify with their basic existence. In a sense, they each — the two lesbian moms, Nan and Marina, and the biological father, Hal, who inseminated Nan using a syringe — wake up one day and wonder how they got where they are: How did they end up in the relationships they’re in? Do they want to stay in them? What do they want in life?

I think there are days when one wakes up — either literally or figuratively — and is suddenly confronted by one’s life choices. It doesn’t mean that you don’t love your partner (or whoever) but it does mean that you suddenly see yourself in a different way. You see that you’re no longer the person you were when you were 22 and that so much of your life is over. You begin to ask whether this is the life you had intended, if this is really what you want. A Seahorse Year really captures that sense of being middle aged, for lack of any better descriptor.

So, in sum, I really liked the book’s realistic portrayal of how these people react to their lives and the difficulties of suddenly discovering that your son is seriously disturbed. (more…)

The Libertine: A Review Friday, Mar 2 2007 

The film version of Stephen Jeffreys’s The Libertine was, for me, perhaps the most anticipated movie ever. (The last Star Wars movie might also be in competition for that title.) I saw it as soon as it came to Athens. I watched it again on DVD tonight — I’ve actually been postponing watching it again for as long as I could. My memory of the film wasn’t very good, and I wanted to wait until I could come at it fresh again.

Here’s the trailer:

First let me say that I love Stephen Jeffreys’s original play. It captures a lot of the spirit of the Restoration even if it plays around with the historical facts a bit. Even though Jeffreys adapts his own play for the screen, the script really goes awry in the translation. On the whole, I think the movie’s direction, cinematography, set design, makeup, acting, etc. all work, but the script just simply sucks. It sucks bad. Really, really bad.

Johnny Depp plays John Wilmot, earl of Rochester. In many ways, this is inspired casting. Or at least it would have been a decade ago. By 2004, Depp is a little long in the tooth to play Rochester, who died at the age of 33. But Depp nevertheless does an excellent job in the part.

My main criticism of the movie’s depiction of Rochester is that its Rochester just isn’t sexy. We never get a sense of why people like him. When Sir George Etherege (played by Tom Hollander), who has written a play (The Man of Mode) whose central character is based on Rochester, tells the earl early in the film, “You’re an endearing sort of chap,” we should see that this is true. Unfortunately, we never do.

The movie begins with a monologue spoken by Rochester:

Allow me to be frank at the commencement: you will not like me. No, I say you will not. The gentlemen will be envious and the ladies will be repelled. You will not like me now and you will like me a good deal less as we go on. Oh yes, I shall do things you will like. You will say “That was a noble impulse in him” or “He played a brave part there,” but DO NOT WARM TO ME, it will not serve. When I become a BIT OF A CHARMER that is your danger sign for it prefaces the change into THE FULL REPTILE a few seconds later. What I require is not your affection but your attention. I must not be ignored or you will find me as troublesome a package of humanity as ever pissed into the Thames. Now. Ladies. An announcement. (He looks around.) I am up for it. All the time. That’s not a boast. Or an opinion. It is bone hard medical fact. I put it around, d’y know? And you will watch me putting it around and sigh for it. Don’t. It is a deal of trouble for you and you are better off watching and drawing your own conclusions from a distance than you would be if I got my tarse pointing up your petticoats. Gentlemen. (He looks around.) Do not despair, I am up for that as well. When the mood is on me. And the same warning applies. Now, gents: if there be vizards in the house, jades, harlots (as how could there not be) leave them be for a moment. Still your cheesy erections till I have had my say. But later when you shag–and later you will shag, I shall expect it of you and I will know if you have let me down–I wish you to shag with my homuncular image rattling in your gonads. Feel how it was for me, how it is for me and ponder. “Was that shudder the same shudder he sensed? Did he know something more profound? Or is there some wall of wretchedness that we all batter with our heads at that shining, livelong moment.” That is it. That is my prologue, nothing in rhyme, certainly no protestations of modesty, you were not expecting that I trust. … I am John Wilmot, Second Earl of Rochester and I do not want you to like me.

The film presents this prologue as a serious speech, which I think is a real mistake. It should be light and fluffy, like the prologues of Restoration comedies. We should be in danger of liking Rochester from this first moment we see him. We should laugh when he tells us about “putting it around.” We shouldn’t be creeped out. There has to be some possibility that we will have his homuncular image rattling in our gonads, but this film never gives us that possibility.

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