Hottie of the Month: Henry Fielding Wednesday, Oct 31 2007 

I spent much of the past month teaching Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones, a great novel that I’ve really enjoyed. I’ve already written about teaching the novel, so I won’t write about that again here.

Instead, I want to write a little about a different aspect of Fielding’s writing. He was born in 1707 in Somerset, where the first part of Tom Jones takes place. Upon completing his education, he moved to London to pursue his literary career. At first, Fielding concentrated on being a playwright, but his politics and the Theatrical Licensing Act of 1737 put an end to those aspirations. He continued to write, publishing prose works in various journals and pamphlets.

In 1746 he published “The Female Husband,” a prose work retelling the story of Mary Hamilton, who had become infamous for cross-dressing, passing as a man, and marrying/seducing a series of women before being caught and punished.

I didn’t teach this story in my eighteenth-century lit class this term, but I love teaching it in general. The piece begins with some editorializing by the narrator, presumably Fielding:

THAT propense inclination which is for very wise purposes implanted in the one sex for the other, is not only necessary for the continuance of the human species; but is, at the same time, when governed and directed by virtue and religion, productive not only of corporeal delight, but of the most rational felicity.

But if once our carnal appetites are let loose, without those prudent and secure guides, there is no excess and disorder which they are not liable to commit, even while they pursue their natural satisfaction; and, which may seem still more strange, there is nothing monstrous and unnatural, which they are not capable of inventing, nothing so brutal and shocking which they have not actually committed.

Of these unnatural lusts, all ages and countries have afforded us too many instances; but none I think more surprising than what will be found in the history of Mrs. Mary, otherwise Mr. George Hamilton.

Scholars have written about this narrative’s place in the history of sexuality, so what I’m about to say about this excerpt isn’t necessarily all that original. But I’m fascinated by this passage’s assumptions about sexuality. The first sentence, for example, seems to advocate for something that’s beginning to resemble the modern ideology of heterosexuality. According to Fielding, God has instilled within all people a “prosense inclination,” a natural propensity, toward the opposite sex. (Hetero)Sexual desire is thus natural, according to this opening sentence.


Barack Obama and Gay Rights Tuesday, Oct 30 2007 

So far, I’ve studiously avoided writing about politics on my blog. I have friends who write about political events and issues, but I’ve felt a little weird about doing so myself. Partly this is because my blog started as primarily an academic outlet for me rather than a place to comment on current events. I also know that some of my students and former students read my blog from time to time, and I don’t like to feel that I’m exposing myself too much here. (I’ve also avoided a lot of other topics for this same reason.)

But maybe that’s being too careful. Too sheltered and defensive. So, I’m reconsidering that exclusion.

This reconsideration is partially the result of what’s been happening in the past week or so between Barack Obama‘s campaign and gay rights activists. As just about everybody who follows politic knows, Obama has gotten into trouble for allowing a gospel singer, Donnie McClurkin, to sing at one of his events in South Carolina this past weekend. While other musicians at the event are also on record as opposing gay rights and issues, McClurkin has especially drawn the fire of activists, since he is “ex-gay” and routinely talks about homosexuality as a “curse” that homosexuals should be delivered from. Keith Boykin has a great article about McClurkin and his views. Americablog has also been reporting on this story. And finally Atrios has also covered it. McClurkin has also contributed to the Exodus International website. (Exodus International is an organization that claims it can cure gays and turn us straight. As an aside, one of the best articles I’ve ever read is Elizabeth Gilbert’s “Queer and Loathing” in Spin Magazine, June 1996. It’s a great look at a convention sponsored by the organization.)

So, to sum up, Obama’s campaign allowed this man not only to sing but also to speak about his views on homosexuality during this campaign event. When the campaign came under fire, they assured their critics that this was an attempt to open a dialogue between gays and the African American community, between gays and religious conservatives. The campaign argued that the Democratic party needs to be a “big tent” where we can all come together, debate our position, and most importantly defeat the Republicans. Activists insist that the inclusion of McClurkin was a huge political mistake and that Obama will lose support for this.

He’s certainly lost mine.


One Year of Blogging Thursday, Oct 25 2007 

Today is the first anniversary of my blog. It was one year ago today that I posted my first entry, which was about being evaluated. In rereading that post today, I see that my blog started with a rant! I don’t think there have been too many rants since then — a few — but not many! I think that’s a good thing.

Since I include so many YouTube clips in my blogs, I thought I would intersperse my three favorite clips from the past year throughout this post. Here’s my favorite, which is from The House of Flying Daggers:

So, what has this blog been about this past year? I started it while I was on sabbatical and wanted to use it to keep track of some of my reading and writing while I was on leave. I wanted it to help remind me that I’m accomplishing things even if I wasn’t teaching or producing articles or a book right away.

I find that I haven’t actually written much about my scholarship. I think the reason for that is the impulse to keep my work to myself until I’ve submitted it for publication. I have written about some of the books I’ve reviewed for journals, but that isn’t quite the same thing as posting ideas from my book project or an article that I’m writing.

I have written about my teaching from time to time. I like posting about my classes and what I’m doing in them, because it does help me record some of my ideas as well as help me process some of what’s going on. One lesson I’ve learned this year, however, is to be careful what I write when it comes to my classes. One post apparently “upset” some of my students, who subsequently talked to a colleague of mine about it. She then emailed me to express their complaint (which I think was based on a misunderstanding of what I had written — I put “upset” in quotes because that was my colleague’s description of their reaction, but I don’t really believe that any of them could possibly have been too upset since what I had written was such a minor thing). It certainly isn’t my intention to offend of my students by writing about my classes, and I studiously avoid identifying any individuals or critiquing them in any overt way. Mostly, I write about me — there’s very little room left to write about them! 🙂


Passion Works Studio Sunday, Oct 21 2007 

Yesterday, PJ and I visited the Passion Works Studio for the first time. He’s long wanted to stop by, learn more about the studio, and maybe buy something. They were having an art sale, so we decided to go.

passion flower Passion Works is a local studio that supports artistic collaboration between artists with and without developmental disabilities. They are best known for their passion flowers, pictured here. In fact, the Passion Flower is the official flower of Athens. It’s kind of amazing to see all of the passion flowers lined up throughout the studio. Not only is each flower unique, but there are different genres of passion flowers: painted ones, rust ones, and stainless steel ones, as well as large and small. We intended to buy one, but I was a little overwhelmed by the prospect of choosing one, so we ended up delaying that choice until a future visit.

Since this was a special sale, the studio was a) full of people and b) full of art. The art sale was distributed throughout the building, which was a great way to expose people like us to the full range of the studio’s activities and space. I liked that we were forced (in a good way) to move beyond the usual gift shop and into the other work spaces and conference rooms in order to see the various kinds of art that were on sale.

The NacklaceWhile we didn’t buy a flower, we did buy a painting, “The Necklace” (2003), by Carolyn Williams and Visiting Artist Mark Hackworth. This isn’t a great picture of the painting — we spent some time this morning trying to get a good picture, and this is the best of the bunch. I had to take it from a slightly side angle in order to avoid getting my own reflection in the glass. I also had to use a flash. But you can get the general idea of what it looks like.

The image is of overlapping yellow, green, and red rectangles which, by overlapping, create a purple rectangle. The green circles and lines have been exposed from underneath the purple area. There are also black lines and circles overlaying the purple patch, but they’re not as visible in this photo.


Teaching Tom Jones Friday, Oct 19 2007 

This week I finished teaching Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones, which I had never taught before. In fact, I’d never finished reading it before, which is one of the reasons I decided to teach it this term — what better way to force myself to read it!?

Because the novel is so long, some 800 pages, we spent three weeks (fully a third of our class) on it. Now that I’ve finished it, I have to say I see why this book is reputed to be one of the great novels of English literature. It’s a hoot! Parts of his are hilariously funny, and (maybe because it is so long) it encapsulates just about every major issue that a teacher would want to bring up about mid-eighteenth-century literature and culture. I also think a good number of my students enjoyed reading it. Not all of them, of course, but the ones who clearly read all (or most of it) seemed to enjoy it and have interesting things to say about it.

Tom Jones DVDWhen I decided to teach it, I also decided to show my class a miniseries version of the novel as we read. The dvd is distributed by A&E and was originally a BBC production. This production stars Max Beesley as Tom and Samantha Morton as Sophia. They both do an excellent job in the roles. Beesley is very good at playing the manslut with the heart of gold, and Morton is great as the ever put-upon Sophia (but she’s always great in everything she does!).

One of my students commented on the production’s costumes when we finished it on Wednesday; she really liked them. I totally agreed. This miniseries gives its audience a great feel for eighteenth-century clothing, manners, houses, etc.

To finish my mini-review, everything about this production is top-notch. I also really liked James D’Arcy as Blifil, Lindsay Duncan as Lady Bellaston, and Brian Blessed as Squire Western. All of the casting was perfect, but these three actors were especially great in their roles. So, I’m glad we watched it.


Remembering John Denver Sunday, Oct 14 2007 

As a kid, one of my favorite singers was John Denver. I was too young to think of him in these terms, but I’m sure he was one of my first crushes. This past Friday was the tenth anniversary of his death. He died in a plane crash on October 12, 1997. He was only 53 years old.

I heard “Annie’s Song” playing in Kroger yesterday, and it reminded me of how much I had loved him as a kid. I’ve been intending to get a copy of his greatest hits or something, and hearing him yesterday finally gave me the impetus to do so. So, I’ve been listening to his music while I’ve been working on an article (on something entirely unrelated).

What strikes me about him now, not having listened to his music for such a long time, is just how pure his voice sounds. I’m also impressed by how sincere his lyrics come across as he sings them. He reminds me of Kate Wolf, another great folk singer. Denver acted in movies, like Oh God, and appeared on numerous television shows, mostly notably The Muppets. But it’s his music that endures.

“Take Me Home, Country Roads,” “Rocky Mountain High,” “Thank God I’m a Country Boy,” and “Sunshine on My Shoulder” are all so iconic. Listening to them now definitely makes me nostalgic for the 1970s. I love his hair in some of these old videos!


National Coming Out Day Thursday, Oct 11 2007 

Today is National Coming Out Day, a day in which closeted gays and lesbians are encouraged to come out and in which lesbians and gays who are already out celebrate our visibility and self-actualization. It’s also a day to reflect on the fact that coming out is a constantly repeated activity for us gays and lesbians — we come out in all kinds of ways on a daily basis.

I was 23 when I started to came out to my friends and family. Here’s a picture of me that was taken at the same time that I was coming out:

Me at 23

Before I get to the coming out part, let’s stop and say a couple of things about this picture. First, I can’t believe I was so skinny — no wonder everyone thought I was still in high school! At the time, looking like I was 15 was really irritating; I was in my second year of graduate school when this was taken. Second, this picture makes me realize that, while I’m no longer a skinny little twink, I haven’t really lost that much hair since then (yippee!). Apparently, I’ve always had a receded hairline and “baby fine hair,” as my hairstylist calls it. This realization feels me with relief!

Back to the gay part. The guy in this picture was, as we’ve already partly established, a graduate student at Texas A&M University who was earning a Master’s Degree in English literature. He had just bought his first car, a cherry red 1993 Hyundai Excel. He was taking two seminars: one on Milton and one on non-dramatic Renaissance literature. He probably would have described himself as a devout Christian; he definitely attended church weekly.

And he was in the throes of his first serious crush on another man, another graduate student, Sam, a queer Ph.D. student in the English Department. I had had a class with Sam the previous Spring Quarter. The class was boring as hell, so I entertained myself by surreptitiously starring at Sam, who would beautifully (and somewhat dramatically) remove his glasses during class and gesture with them as he talked. But I’m pretty sure I never talked to him that term. I definitely wasn’t ready to come out then.


Planning a Gay Lit Syllabus Monday, Oct 8 2007 

My favorite time of the quarter is finally here: the time to start planning next quarter’s classes! (And I’m only half joking about that!)

As usual, I’m teaching my Lesbian & Gay Literature class during the winter quarter. Every time I teach it, I try to include some new works that I’ve not taught before. I also try to keep a few books I’m familiar with so that everything isn’t starting from scratch. So, deciding what to keep from last time and what to add is the main difficulty. The basic course description is always the same:

This course studies the political, artistic, and rhetorical uses of the erotic/sexual in gay and lesbian literature with particular emphasis on the ways in which gay and lesbian identities and experiences have been represented in post-Stonewall (i.e., post-1969) literary discourse. Regardless of how homosexuals self-identify, the heterosexual mainstream by and large defines us according to its perception of lesbian and gay sexual identities, desires, and activities. Queer writers have therefore struggled with the issue of representing sexual identity, desire, and practice in their literary works. Should representations of sex work to make homosexual identities, desires, and practices aesthetically pleasing in an effort to gain acceptance in heterosexual society? Or should queer writers revel in what makes us different, using explicit descriptions of sex as a literary corollary to the phrase, “We’re here! We’re queer! Get used to it!”? We will try to answer these and other related questions as we read this term.

In a way, insisting that the class focus on post-Stonewall literature makes it even more difficult sometimes. There are a lot of great texts from before 1969, but I am ultimately committed to teaching a class centered of gay and lesbian identity and that arguably means post-Stonewall. I once tried teaching the class as a survey of “queer” texts since Shakespeare, but neither I nor my students enjoyed that kind of broad sweep in a 10-week class.

So, I tend to select 5 or 6 authors/books for us to study (usually with some smaller texts thrown in). This past spring, for example, I taught Leslie Feinberg‘s Stone Butch Blues, Katherine Forrest‘s Curious Wine, Larry Kramer’s The Normal Heart, Tony Kushner’s Angels in America, Wayne Hoffman’s Hard, and Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home. (I threw in a little Richard Amory, Andrew Holleran, Chrystos, Dorothy Allison, and Jewelle Gomez.)

While that class went well, I’m ready to change it up a bit. In particular, I was unhappy with how little racial diversity I had among the writers we studied last quarter. I also want to give my students more generic diversity — non-fiction, fiction, drama, poetry, etc. I usually chose to keep a couple of texts that I’ve taught before and add a few news ones to the syllabus. So, I’ve been thinking about what to add and what to subtract.

I starting by thinking about which texts I absolutely wanted to keep. I quickly decided that there are two of them: Angels and Fun Home. Angels is one of the most important gay texts, and I really like to include its ultimately optimistic view of the next millennium. And Fun Home has become one of my favorite texts to teach. Everyone I’ve recommended it to has loved it. And my students really responded well to it last term.


Two Days in Paris: A Review Thursday, Oct 4 2007 

Over the weekend, I saw Two Days in Paris, a film written, directed, and starring Julie Delpy. Here’s the trailer:

The movie is about Marion, played by Delpy, and Jack, played by Adam Goldberg, who spend two days in Paris on their way back home to New York after a vacation in Venice. Marion is French and grew up in Paris. She is therefore naturally looking forward to showing Jack the city and introducing him to her friends.

Jack, who is an interior designer by trade, is a rather difficult person even under the best of circumstances, but meeting Marion’s too familiar parents is just the beginning of his troubles in Paris. It turns out that Marion has remained friends with many of her exes, and every time she and Jack go anywhere they inevitably run into one of them. What first seems a funny coincidence quickly becomes the bane of Jack’s existence, especially when he starts to wonder just how friendly Marion remains with one ex in particular.

I thought this movie was delightful, but I have to admit that I’m a total sucker for Julie Delpy, Adam Goldberg, and movies set in Paris. So, this was cinematic feast for me. I laughed throughout he film — it’s hilarious: Marion’s mother walks in on them while they’re having sex, for example, and Marion seems to think nothing of it. Similarly, we learn early in the movie that Marion has given her family a copy of a picture of Jack nude with a balloon tied around his penis (Adam Goldberg is HOT, by the way, in this picture!) And I laughed until it hurt during a scene in which Marion’s cat, who has grown rather stout in the two weeks that Marion and Jack were in Italy, is the focus of a family argument. The cat steals the show simply by being passed around like a sack of potatoes. It’s hilarious!