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How to Use a Semicolon

January 27, 2010

Whether you love them or hate them (Vonnegut said: “[Semicolons] are transvestite hermaphrodites representing absolutely nothing. All they do is show you’ve been to college.”), you can’t deny that semicolons trip up lots of writers. Luckily, the good folks at The Oatmeal have devised a cleverly perfect tutorial on semicolon use:

Click the link above to visit the full comic and check out their other insightful nuggets of joy: the evil of printers, ten words you need to stop misspelling, coffee facts, how to use an apostrophe, and more. If you happen to be a grammar teacher or a fan of grammarians in general, posters of The Oatmeal’s savvy tutorials can be purchased from the site at a not unreasonable rate. Enjoy!

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Rethinking Literacy

January 26, 2010

Literacy, whatever that may mean, is a priority for educators at every level. Until recently, I interpreted the word ‘literacy’ as it’s meant in the phrase ‘literacy rates,’ meaning the ability to read the written word–at some level of competence determined by those amassing the stats. After some recent readings, I have begun to rethink of fairly limited definition of literacy.

A few days ago, Alex Reid published on his blog, digital digs,an interesting discussion of literacy: what it means, how it’s changing, and what’s changing it. He writes that, much like Stanley Fish’s notion of Interpretative Communities, literacy shifts depending upon the text being read and the reader in a given setting. He goes further to suggest a rising importance for digital literacy in the academy. I couldn’t agree more. In addition to Reid’s thoughts, Mark Sample consistently pushes to expand theories of literature and literacy to include digital texts and digital interpretation.

The future of what is taught in literature/composition classrooms is fairly wide open and, at least for me, pretty exciting. Let’s see what’s going to happen.

Today in Literature

January 25, 2010

25 January 1759: The Bard of Ayrshire, Robert Burns, was born in Alloway, Scotland. In his relatively short life, Burns composed some of the most enduring poems of the English tradition including “Auld Lang Syne,” “A Red, Red Rose,” “Afton Water,” and “To a Mouse” which gave us the lines “The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men, / Gang aft agley.”

If you missed out on Burn’s Night, celebrate today by enjoying a tasty haggis and toasting the favorite bard of Scotland, for auld lang syne.

On Boredom

January 20, 2010

Work is often tedious. There most likely isn’t a job out there that is at least occasionally boring. While I am not at all complaining about my job since I am very fortunate to be employed, the nature of my employment is such that I have time to reflect on tedium and ways to dull its effects.

Given that time for reflection, I grow increasingly excited about the posthumous publication of David Foster Wallace’s unfinished novel The Pale King. According to an article in the New Yorker, Foster’s last novel deals with the problem of boredom in a mid-western IRS office. After a sprawling novel about entertainment it should be interesting to see his treatment of entertainment’s opposite.

My desire is to replace boredom with engagement; whether it is engaging in conversation with a person close by, an interesting text, or a curious thought.

How do you endure your tedium?

In case you’re curious, published excerpts from The Pale King can be found here, here, here, and here. (I am particularly fond of “All That,” the last link, which was recently published in the New Yorker) Enjoy!

Academic Job Market Doldrums

January 18, 2010

The humanities professor blogosphere has recently been abuzz with talk of the dismal job market and what can be done by institutions and potential professors alike. (You can read a sampling at Tenured Radical and responses to that at Historian, Dr. Crazy, Clio Bluestocking, and Academic Cog with other thoughts from Dean Dad and SunnySide.) Much of the recent chatter, no doubt, has been inspired by this rather disheartening report from the MLA indicating that job postings through the MLA were down 26% between Oct. 2008 and Oct. 2009 which, of course, is not very good news for those of us who plan to enter the job market in the near-ish future.

Sure, the market is shrinking (only temporarily, one can hope) but the fact remains that nearly everyone most concerned/writing about the shrinking market have tenure track positions at universities. Many folks have suggested actively shrinking English departments, especially MA and PhD programs, which may make sense. I’m happy to report that most also mention retaining some spots in grad programs for non Ivies, which makes this non-Ivy’s heart happy. On the other side of the argument, some assert that shrinking PhD programs will only hurt the humanities in the end because the job market is bound to rebound (though it certainly hasn’t much grown in the last decade or so) and more positions will need to be filled. Another argument is that by shrinking departments, the effects of the humanities will shrink in universities across the country which, understandably, will have negative ramifications for the future of humanities funding. All of this, of course, is true to a certain extent but none of it is particularly helpful for those of us who will one day be on the job market–especially those of us whose fates are sealed by the choices already made to pursue graduate degrees.

I am here to offer hope (more to myself than anyone)! Of course, as one without a job in the humanities (yet.) it may be cold comfort at best. Bardiac, and others, write that they weren’t informed by advisors or professors that the job market was terrible. Indeed, others were told that the market was set to open up due to mass retirements and expanding programs (which, of course, didn’t happen). Not knowing that they were set to confront a difficult challenge, many of these now-professors encountered grad school and the tenure track job market with hope. Many of those in tenure track positions admit that they are there because of incredible luck and a good deal of privilege but they all possessed hope!

With the sour market and no real respite in sight, it would be easy to lose hope and start searching for other career path, but I’m going to remain hopeful. I am assured that I will be taken care of and that the plans for me are good. For now, that’s all I need.

edit: As has been pointed out, I’ll work on some back up plans while I’m at it, though. No need for carelessness.

Martin Luther King Jr.

January 15, 2010

In Atlanta, GA on January 15th, 1929, the best known black civil rights leader in American history, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., was born. Since being pegged to lead the Montgomery, AL bus boycotts at the age of 26, King has been an American symbol of strength, perseverance, hope, justice, and love. To honor his courage and life’s work we, as a nation, take a day (this coming Monday) to pause and reflect on the man and his purpose. (A quick aside to recognize my alma mater for finally acknowledging the importance of this holiday of reflection. Along with a day of no classes, the university encourages service on that day and even organizes such service opportunities.)

Dr. King preached a position of non-violent resistance that he saw in action in the life of Gandhi. He endured firebombings, threats, arrest, police violence, and vicious hatred and responded with justice and love. Through his leadership, the buses of Montgomery were desegregated as well as lunch-counters and other businesses. King’s work proved the effectiveness of non-violent resistance of systemic oppression.

Though his actions were powerful, Dr. King is perhaps better known for his rhetorical prowess. His speeches combined soaring rhetoric, Biblical allusion, historical context, and a powerful message of freedom and hope that ignited the passion of a nation to struggle for justice. Dr. King, sadly, was ruthlessly taken from this world before his dream of a more just society could be realized. Much like Moses, he was aware that he would likely not see the fruits of his work, but he knew that his cause was just. The night before he was assassinated by a coward, Dr. King delivered his powerful, almost prophetic speech, “I See the Promised Land” that concludes:

Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn’t matter with me now. Because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people will get to the promised land. And I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.

This weekend, let’s not forget Dr. King’s struggle or forget that the fight for justice and equality is not yet finished–but we’re inching closer toward the promised land.

Be Not Afraid

January 14, 2010

With my recent research being fairly broad in scope, I get the chance to read articles and research from all sorts of fields. Focusing on graffiti art, I have read quite a bit about culture jamming and the way contemporary artists use whatever technique available to disseminate their messages. Reading this article last night by Marc Dery, I was struck by this quote:

“Our wars are Nintendo wars, fought with camera-equipped smart bombs that marry cinema and weaponry in a television that kills. Futurologists predict that the flagship technology of the coming century will be ‘virtual reality,’ a computer-based system that immerses users wearing headgear wired for sight
and sound in computer-animated worlds.”

While I don’t disagree with the author’s assertion that the virtual nature of war-coverage has a separating effect from reality, I was drawn to his comment on the futurologists’ prediction that our reality will be overrun by virtual reality.

So much of speculative fiction centers on a fear of a future virtual world that spirals out of control. Watching movies like The Matrix, WALL-E, and others in which human-created technology supplants the level of reality we all know and love would lead one to believe that our culture has a fear of technology that bubbles just beneath the surface, only held in check by the realization that it makes life easier. On the contrary, I believe that we–especially we digital natives–really have no fear that the intelligence of our inventions will outstrip our own. Instead, we are working to convince those less comfortable with the advancements around us to embrace the change and use the tools at their disposal.

Sure, there’s the chance that developers will create a black hole near Geneva or that all our jobs will be stolen by robots but overall, our technological future is bright.

What do you think?