Visiting the Asian Art Museum of SF Saturday, May 31 2008 

During our recent trip to San Francisco, I visited the Asian Art Museum, a museum that I visited previously two years ago. At the time, I thought that this museum was one of the best museums I’ve visited. Since then, I’ve had the chance to visit a lot of other world-class museums, including The Louvre, The Frick, The Whitney, the Musee d’Orsay, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, the Guggenheim, The Met, and the NY Museum of Modern Art, the Victoria and Albert Museum, and the Tate Britain (unfortunately, I never got around to blogging about my visits to these last two). I don’t think the Asian Art Museum is quite in the same league as these others, but it’s still a great museum and well worth a visit.

The museum is housed in a great building. I took a picture of it on my way in:

Asian Art Museum

It’s across the street from City Hall with a green space in between. The building is well designed to display the artworks within it. Overall, I thought the rooms were well proportioned and that the works of art were arranged to maximum educational and aesthetic effect.

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Visiting San Francisco Monday, May 26 2008 

PJ and I traveled to San Francisco this past week. We left on Wednesday and flew back yesterday. The trip has given me lots to blog about.

We were officially in San Francisco for the conference of the American Literature Association. PJ had to attend the business meeting of the association for which he serves as treasurer. While he had to work, I had plenty of time to be a tourist. This is our third or fourth time to visit San Francisco, so we know our way around the downtown relatively well. Overall, I think the trip was a good mix of repeating things I’d seen/done before and seeing/doing new things.

This time we stayed at the Parc Fifty-Five downtown. Here’s a view of the city from our windown on the twenty-ninth floor:

Just click on the picture to enlarge it. The bit of gray showing just between some of the buildings is actually the bay. We really liked the hotel, and our room was great. My only complaint is that we later spent a small fortune on 6 gin and tonics in the hotel lounge, but they were absolutely delicious, so I guess I can’t complain too much!

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Local Theater: Two Reviews Sunday, May 18 2008 

This week, PJ and I saw two productions at Ohio University, Knock Me a Kiss and The Compleat Female Stage Beauty. Knock Me a Kiss was written by Charles Smith, a professor of playwriting here in the School of Theater, and tells the fictionalized story of W.E.B. DuBois‘s daughter, Yolande, and her short-lived marriage to poet Countee Cullen. It was part of the School of Theater’s regular season. The Compleat Female Stage Beauty, by Jeffrey Hatcher, is about Edward Kynaston, the last actor famous for playing female roles in the Restoration. It was made into a feature film in 2004. I really enjoyed both productions.

Knock Me a Kiss is a really complex examination of race, gender, and sexuality during the Harlem Renaissance. The play revolves around Yolande’s struggling to decide whether she should marry for love or duty. She is in love with musician Jimmy Lunceford, but her father wants her to marry Cullen, a poet frequently featured in DuBois’s magazine, The Crisis. According to DuBois, his daughter’s marriage to Cullen will usher in a new age of racial equality, helping to liberate African Americans from discrimination. Once Yolande has married Cullen, however, she learns that he is more interested in “spending time with” his “friend,” Harold Jackman, than in being with her. Cullen ultimately confesses his homosexual leanings to his wife, causing her to divorce him.

I knew nothing about these figures before seeing the play. A little internet research and conversations with PJ have suggested that Smith has taken license with some of the historical details, but historical accuracy isn’t really the point of this play, it seems to me. Instead, I thought that the play used these events to explore issues of patriarchal power, masculine privilege, and double standards based on gender. Yolande is forced into making a decision she later regrets because her father is able to dominate her and convince her that marrying Cullen is for the greater good. Indeed, according to this play, women pay the greater price for men’s efforts at political change.

One of the things I liked most about the play was its depiction of Cullen’s sexuality. It would have been easy to make this character the villain, to portray him as malevolently using Yolande to hide his sexual orientation. I thought the production did a good job of showing Cullen’s own victimization. In order to receive a fellowship to write in Europe, he needs DuBois’s recommendation. DuBois makes this recommendation contingent on Cullen marrying well. Kevin Vaught does an excellent job of showing his character’s humanity — he’s a complicated character that is both likable and despicable.

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Teaching Tristram Shandy (Again) Tuesday, May 13 2008 

For the past two weeks, I’ve been teaching Laurence Sterne’s The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy in my eighteenth-century Honors Tutorial class. This is the second time I’ve taught this novel; I also taught it last year in this class.

I’ve been very honest with my students. I taught Tristram last year just to make myself read it finally. I had twice been assigned to read it in graduate classes but had never been able to finish it.I decided to teach it this year so that I could see if I wanted to write about it in my current book project. I think it’s good to be upfront with them about my choices in the class.

I enjoyed reading and teaching it last year, but I’ve loved it this time through. Reading it a second time has opened it up in whole new ways. Now that I’m not reading just to get any handle on it, I can enjoy it and try to get into it as a scholar and critic.

My students have done a great job with this novel so far. We watched Michael Winterbottom’s 2005 adaptation of the novel yesterday, so some of them are writing reviews of it for this essays this week. To do so, they have to think about what they think the novel is really all about, what it’s doing. Then they can evaluate whether the movie captures that. So far, they’ve done a great job on both counts. I’ve been really impressed with their ability to analyze this incredibly difficult work. They’ve been game for it, which I guess is one of the perks of teaching in the HTC program.

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Boys Briefs 3: A Review Sunday, May 4 2008 

Before PJ got home this weekend, I watched Boys Briefs 3, an anthology of gay short films about guys getting together. Some of the shorts are fairly brief; others are a little longer. Some show a lot of skin; others don’t. Overall, I thought it was a rather weak collection of eight movies, but I did really enjoy two of them.

The first of the two that I really liked is called “Cabalerno,” which also happens to be the first film on the dvd. I found a clip of it on Youtube.

I like that this short has no dialog and yet we totally get what’s going on between the two boys. I also like that these guys aren’t totally buff or obviously hot. Instead, they’re attractively normal. Overall, I think this is a really sweet look at a young guy’s crush that turns out not to be totally unwelcome. It’s a great short film.

The other film that I really liked is called “Portmortem.” It stars Murray Bartlett (the guy on the right) and Daniel Dugan (the guy on the left) as two gay men who reunite to talk about their relationship, which ended a few years before.

I liked several things about this movie.

First off, the two guys are not only hot, but they’re also really cute. Both actors are perfect in their roles. Dugan plays the guy who was dumped years before by Thomas. He’s still smarting from the pain, but he’s also moved on with his life, living with his partner, Raul. Bartlett is the butch guy who dumped his boyfriend as he moved to a new city. Now he’s back and he wants to see how Thomas is doing without him.

Second, I love the music in this film. It’s by Harel Shachal, and I think it should be described as Middle Eastern jazz. It suits the short perfectly. In fact, the director, Eldar Rapaport, started writing the film after hearing some of Shachal’s music. The music and the plot seamlessly tell the story.

And finally, I like that the end of the film leaves what happens next up to the viewer’s imagination. The film’s final scene is somewhat ambiguous, so we have to decide how to interpret it. We can imagine the two former lovers reconcile, or we can imagine that Thomas goes back to his current lover.

The other films in the collection are all fine, but I didn’t really like them as much as I did these two. Some of them were rather disappointing. But I certainly recommend these two films. They’re both excellent.

Academic Homophobia? Friday, May 2 2008 

I should be cleaning up the house in anticipation of PJ’s arrival back home tomorrow, but I just came from a department meeting that’s left me really depressed. While writing about it on my blog is probably not the best idea, I need an outlet for what I’m feeling and thinking; otherwise, I’m just going to sit here and stew until I make myself a martini.

Here’s the thing: I actually don’t think my colleagues are homophobic in any sort of intentional or active way, but I think they might very well be intellectually homophobic, by which I mean prejudiced against queer work and teaching.

English departments are supposed to be so progressive and liberal. At least that’s what we’re told all the time. Right? We’re a bunch of lefties. In my experience here this is only true in the sense that my department and university doesn’t actively discriminate against GLBT people. But they don’t acknowledge our importance or value our presence either. Too often “liberal” just means ignoring difference, whether it be sexual, gender, racial, religious, etc. And ignoring difference causes problems.

First off, this meeting convinces me that my colleagues are simply blind to the relatively large number of GLBT students we have in our undergraduate major and graduate programs. It really makes me wonder how our students experience our classes. No wonder they’re so hungry for my Lesbian & Gay Lit course — it might very well be the only time they have a class that acknowledges sexual difference in any meaningful way. I often hear that it’s definitely one of the very few classes that actually values sexual difference (which is why I feel so guilty about taking a break from teaching it next year).

Second, while my department at least pays real lip service to racial difference, we’re terrible when it comes to GLBT issues. For example, as we discussed hiring priorities today, it seemed perfectly acceptable to everyone that we could combine a position in 20th-Century British Literature with Post-Colonial Theory, since, and I’m almost quoting here, almost anyone working the 20thC could be assumed to also work in Post-Colonial Theory and Literatures. My colleagues can’t image a good candidate in 20thC British Lit who didn’t also work, to some degree, in P-C Theory.

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