“Non-Love-Song”: A Review Thursday, Aug 28 2014 

If I were teaching my Lesbian and Gay Lit class this term I would show my students this 2009 short film, “Non-Love Song” written and directed by Erik Gernand

I think this short beautifully captures the experience of many young gay men: king of having an unrequited crush on your best friend and trying to let him know how you feel and who you really are while worrying about what would happen if he knew you were gay. At least that’s how I interpret the film — some viewers argue that straight guys have the same interactions. But I think the part where Josh asks what would happen if they meet up again in a few months and they’re different suggests the character’s anxiety about coming out and whether Alex will still be his friend. His defensiveness about Alex’s use of words like queer, faggoty, and gay further reflects this, I think. As does Alex’s assertion, “I know” when Josh tells him how much it bothers him. I think the emotion on the actor’s face when Josh asks, “Do you understand?” is especially poignant. 

I also like how the grittiness of the cinematography and some of the jumpy editing reflects the nervousness of the main character.  

And Alex’s line, “You won’t be different. Not to me” is just perfect. 

 

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April is the Cruelest Month Thursday, Apr 29 2010 

APRIL is the cruelest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.

~ T.S. Eliot, The Waste Land

If my life as a college administrator in the past month is any indication, Eliot knew what he was talking about! April has been the most exhausting month of my deanship thus far. Every time I think that things can’t possibly get any busier, my job proves me wrong!

But I should say up front that much of the headache involved in my job is the direct result of the fact that I love it so much. If I didn’t really care, then it wouldn’t be as much work and worry as it is. I definitely want to do right by my students and staff (and the university). I also want to succeed for my own sake. And being dean of the honors college combines all of the things that I most enjoy doing. So, a huge part of my exhaustion comes from my commitment to do excel as dean (or try as hard as I can to excel).

Now feels as good a time as any to think a little bit about how things are going. I’m exhausted all the time, but I love it! Some part of my job are going extremely well; other parts are more challenging. I think we’re headed in a good direction, but only time will tell if we can end up where we want to be.

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HotM: Jonathan Swift Wednesday, Mar 31 2010 

Tomorrow night I am beginning my graduate seminar on Laurence Sterne’s Tristram Shandy by having my students read Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels. I’m hoping that this text will serve as a useful model for Sterne’s difficult novel.

I’ve taught Gulliver’s Travels before, but this time I’m taking a slight risk. In addition to the usual discussion of politics and the Enlightenment (and Swift’s views on each), I am also emphasizing a reading of the novel based on two essays by Christopher Fox. The first is an article published in EIghteenth-Century Studies in 1986 entitled “The Myth of Narcissus in Swift’s Travels.” The second is a chapter in an MLA volume, Approaches to Teaching Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels entitled “Sexuality and the Body.”

What I’m interested in exploring is the joke early in the text in which Swift brings up masturbation. The joke starts with Gulliver’s mentioning the man to whom he is apprenticed, Mr. Bates. After a few near misses, Gulliver finally calls him “Master Bates.” The question I have is, “Why does Swift begin his text with this joke?” I wonder what function it serves and what connotations are evoked by it. This joke is all the more interesting because the opening paragraphs of Gulliver’s Travels so heavily emphasize the conventions of realist fiction: where Gulliver was born, who his parents are, where he went to college, how old he is, etc. This joke immediately seems to undermine this realism.

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Planning a Tristram Shandy Seminar Sunday, Mar 28 2010 

Our spring quarter starts tomorrow, so I’ve been spending some of my spring break planning my graduate seminar on Laurence Sterne’s The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, which will meet on Thursday evenings starting this week. This is going to be a vert busy and difficult quarter for me, but I’m really looking forward to teaching this class. I anticipate that it’s going to be the most difficult class I’ve ever taught, but if I can pull it off it’s going to be immensely rewarding.

I’ve taught Tristram Shandy twice before in my honors tutorial classes in 2008 and 2007. In both of these classes, we spent about two weeks rushing through the novel’s highlights. When I last taught it in 2008, I decided that I wanted to spend more time with this book, to challenge myself to really try to come to terms with it (emphasis on the word “try”). So, I decided that I would teach my next graduate seminar on it. What better way to force oneself to get to know a text better?!

As a graduate student I was supposed to read Tristram for a seminar on the eighteenth-century novel. I didn’t enjoy the book at all and was never able to finish it. Now that I’m teaching it to graduate students, I’ve been trying to identify why I disliked it so. My current theory is two-fold. First, I think that the professor didn’t properly contextualize the novel for us. As a class on the novel, we read what one would expect (for the mid-nineties): Oronooko, Roxana, Pamela, Joseph Andrews, Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure, and then Tristram, which was followed by Humphrey Clinker, Caleb Williams, and probably something by Mary Wollstonecraft or Jane Austen, but I forget now what we ended with.

I now realize that this context only partially prepared us for Sterne’s novel, since the traditional of the eighteenth-century realist novel is only a small part of what Sterne is doing in Tristram. For this reason, I’m placing Tristram Shandy in a different contact by starting this seminar with Jonathan Swift. We’ll begin with Gulliver’s Travels and then read A Tale of a Tub (another text that I didn’t enjoy as a graduate student). I hope that these texts will show my students how Sterne is indebted to Swift’s combination of realism, fantasy, and satire. Like Swift, Sterne draw on the growing conventions of realist fiction in a playful way so that he can comment on and critique a host of cultural, political, and religious issues of his time.

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A Career Change Is Gonna Come Monday, Jun 8 2009 

My university announced today that I have been appointed to serve as dean of our Honors College. It’s a huge step up and, needless to say, a great departure from what I’ve been doing as a faculty member for the past ten years. I’m deeply honored by this promotion and sobered by the responsibility with which I’ve been charged.

First, let me describe my new job, which starts next month. I will be moving from the Department of English to the Honors College, which resides in an old, converted house next to our president’s residence. This is a picture of my “new” building. My new office will be the one above the front porch. As a candidate for the position, I joked with the students during a forum to answer their questions that one of my goals to promote community within the college was to take up pipe smoking and sit out on the front porch and regale them with stories from great works of literature. In real life, I do fantasize about sitting on the front porch in the early morning with a cup of coffee and a newspaper. I hope I have time to do that from time to time!

The first announcement of my appointment was an informal introduction at the college’s potluck this past Friday, which is the day I formally accepted the job. I got the call from the provost on Thursday, which was about two weeks after I interviewed for the post. I had thought my interview went well. I think I made a few mistakes here and there, but nothing major. In fact, I really enjoyed the interview process. I had meetings with the college staff, the university president, the provost, and directors of some of the programs of study within the college. I also had dinner with some of the deans. I gave to short talks, one during an open forum for anyone who wanted to attend and one during a forum just for the college’s students. This is the first set of interviews I’ve had since getting my current job 10 years ago. I had forgotten how fun they are when everything seems to be going right.

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First Day of Classes Tuesday, Mar 31 2009 

Today marked the beginning of my spring quarter. I’m only teaching one class, a survey of British Literature to 1688. I have 50 students and a T.A. to do most of the grading, so I can’t complain too much.

I’ve only taught this class one before here at OU. That was the first time the course was offered here, so it was a much smaller class of only about 30 students. Because of the size, that time I was able to spend most of class time discussing the reading material rather than lecturing. It went well enough, but it wasn’t a class that I immediately wanted to teach again.

This time, I’m pretty much going to have to lecture during the two lecture days and then let the T.A. meet with the two discussion sections on Fridays. This means the bulk of my work this time will be in preparing the lectures, something I don’t regularly do in my other classes. It will be interesting to see how this goes. One motivating factor will be that I’m teaching the class again next winter, but that time it will be one of two classes I’m teaching. If I work hard this time (i.e., if I write great lectures now), it will mean less work in the winter.

So, I started class today with a lecture that surveyed some key issues from the three literary periods we will cover this quarter: the Medieval period, the Renaissance, and the Restoration. I decided to organize the presentation around three images. The first was an illustration from the Aberdeen Bestiary (which has a great website, by the way):

This image depicts Adam naming the animals. We talked a little about the way in which Adam is portrayed in this image — the fact that he’s clothed, that he resembles more familiar images of Christ, and the kinds of animals included in the naming. The point of our discussion of the image (and ultimately of Medieval literature) is the Christianization of pre-existing, non-Christian texts.

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Hottie of the Month: Daniel Defoe Wednesday, Feb 4 2009 

On Monday I finished teaching Daniel Defoe‘s Roxana, his 1724 novel about a woman who exchanges sex for money. (As my students pointed out, it’s difficult to call her a prostitute, since she never sells her body directly; she’s always a kept mistress.)

Defoe was, of course, one of the great early English novelists. In some ways, his works, including Robinson Crusoe and Moll Flanders were seminal in creating the novel as a genre. His life is also interesting. A Whig, Defoe was able to write politically motivated prose works while maintaining his government position regardless of whether the administration in power was Whig or Tory. In many ways, he was very much a modern man.

I have admit that my memory of reading Roxana turned out to be more pleasurable than the actual practice of reading it. I first read the novel in the first graduate seminar I took in 1992 at Texas A&M University, one on the eighteenth-century novel. I loved the class, and my memory was that I really enjoyed the novel.

I should have thought twice about this memory when I recalled that I also have fond memories of reading Samuel Richardson‘s Sir Charles Grandison, a novel that I’ve published on but that also doesn’t get easier to read with subsequent efforts. (But my memory of it is still very positive; I just don’t want to read it over and over again.)

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Teaching E.M. Forster’s Maurice Sunday, Jan 18 2009 

Last week, I taught E. M. Forster’s Maurice for the first time in several years. The last (and only other) time I taught it, I didn’t think it went very well. This time I taught it in my Major English Authors class, which is focusing on British Lesbian and Gay writers. I think it went pretty well.

Forster wrote Maurice in 1913/14, but it wasn’t published until after his death in 1970. The novel relates the story of Maurice, a suburban, middle class English boy (and later man) who comes to understand that he prefers men to women. The novel is impossibly romantic, but it provides an interesting glimpse of Forster’s ideas of the origins and experiences of homosexuality.

Maurice holds a special place in my life. It is literally the novel (and film adaptation) that helped me come out. I was “struggling” with my sexuality when I happened upon the movie version of the novel on one of the cable movie channels (my dad worked for a cable company, so we had all of the pay channels). The first time I stumbled across it, I only saw one scene, one in which Clive, played by Hugh Grant, and Maurice, played by James Wilby, lay on a bed together. Maybe my parents were around or something, but I quickly turned the channel. I then looked up what movie it was in the guidebook and found out when it was playing again. I often stayed up late at night after everyone else had gone to bed watching movies. Fortunately, Maurice was playing late one night a few days later. I found a copy of the novel and read it too (though I can’t remember if I read the novel before seeing the movie or vice versa.)

The first scene I saw is about 5:40 into this clip:

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Hottie of the Month: John Milton Friday, Nov 21 2008 

November’s hottie of the month is John Milton, the seventeenth-century Puritan poet, polemicist, and civil servant who wrote one of the great epic poems of all time, Paradise Lost (1667).

Milton was born in 1608 in London. He studied to become an Anglican priest at Cambridge University, where he earned an M.A. in 1632. As the English nation seemed poised for civil war, Milton began writing tracts in favor of the Puritan and Parliamentary cause. In return for his support, Milton was appointed the Secretary for Foreign Tongues, a position in which he translated the government’s correspondence in Latin. Throughout the Commonwealth period, Milton used his writing to support the government and articulate Puritan positions on important issues of the day.

After the Restoration, Milton was arrested for his beliefs, but his friends in Parliament, most notably Andrew Marvell, intervened on his behalf, and he soon released. The last decade of his life was lived in relative quiet in London.

His waning years were, of course, most notable for the publication of Paradise Lost in 1667 and its expansion and revision in 1674, the year of Milton’s death.

I selected Milton for this month’s hottie because this week marks the end of OU’s fall quarter, which began for me with Paradise Lost. This is the second time this year that I’ve taught this poem; I also taught it in my graduate class this past winter. This quarter I taught a new honors tutorial, which was designed to introduce our first-year students to the methods and theories of reading critically at the college level. The course’s content was largely put together by a committee earlier this year, and one of the things we wanted this tutorial to cover is a narrative poem. For me, this instantly suggested Paradise Lost as one of the core texts in the class.

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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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