Monday, September 30, 2013

Just Published: FAULT [postmedieval]


FAULT: It is yours, the one to blame, for everything. FAULT: Tellurian fissure, index of the means of mountains, earthquakes, islands. FAULT: Deep opening, essential accident, the only way for lovers to whisper: "The wall their houses shared had one thin crack, which was formed when they were built and then was left; in all these years, no one had seen that cleft; but lovers will discover everything: you were the first to find it, and you made that cleft a passageway which speech could take" (Ovid, Metamorphoses). FAULT: Lack, defect, shortcoming, mistake, error. FAULT: Exactly where you are at. The essays included in this special cluster represent post-medievalist work that willfully shares, practically and theoretically, in the significance of fault. The purpose of FAULT is to rigorously practice fault as the way of purpose, as the inevitable space of method. FAULT = to take things too far, to follow and seduce error rather than evade it, to fall hard for something, to creatively stray in the "sylvan wandering that allows itself to become lost enough to find what cannot be deliberately traced," to pursue and persist in the identity of strength and weakness ("for when I am weak, then I am strong. I have been a fool!" 2 Corinthians 12:10), to corrupt, deform, perforate, decay, infect, disease, and totally lead to wonderful decline a text or other form of debris from the past, to colonize a little crumb into a vast continent, to studiously enjoy the fact that life is already over and you have/are lost, to do what you must do, what you will do anyway, but now to do it openly and fully, to a fault. This is not frivolity, but serious folly. 

(from original description of FAULT issue, penned by Nicola Masciandaro)

I am pleased to announce the publication this morning of postmedieval 4.3, a special issue on FAULT, co-instigated by Anna Kłosowska and Nicola Masciandaro and edited by Anna, and including a marvelous set of essays on everything from Oulipo (Chris Piuma) to Fumblrs (Asa Mittman and Shyama Rajendran), Möbius strips and topoi of recycling (Brian Macaskill) to plagiarism and the ex post facto-garde (Chris Piuma), Machaut and Bach (Macaskill) and Coetzee to Chaucer's Book of the Duchess (Wan-Chun Kao), and al-Safadi's parodic poetic commentaries (Kelly Tuttle) to early modern Spanish codicology (Heather Bamford), among other unlikely (or is it "untimely," in Jonathan Gil Harris's parlance?) companions. In addition, this issue brings to print the 3 winners of our inaugural Biennial Michael Camille Essay Prize: Haylie Swenson (1st Prize), David Hadbawnik, and Alison Hudson (Runners-Up), whose essays range from Latour and Ian Bogost in conversation with The Sketchbook of Villard de Honnecourt, to contemporary poet Jack Spicer's work with Chaucer's Troilus and Criseyde, to tracing how the cultural and social contexts of particular groups of scholars shaped their conflicting views of violence in relation to Æthelwold's Vitae. There is also a wonderful book review essay by Stephen Murphy, "Carmen et Error," which covers books that have taken error as their theme: Tom Conley's An Errant Eye: Poetry and Topography in Early Modern France, Seth Lerer's Error and the Academic Self: The Scholarly Imagination, Medieval to Modern, François Rigolot's L’Erreur de la Renaissance: Perspectives littéraires, Gordon Teskey's Delirious Milton: The Fate of the Poet in Modernity, and Julian Yates's Error Misuse Failure: Object Lessons from the English Renaissance.

I will thus leave you with the closing of Murphy's review essay which seems to speak to the whole volume:
If the figure of the scholar wanders in displacement, or error, or in exile, he or she may find the poet providing company. Ovid has long offered the classic example of the poet in exile, and the end of his poetic career has often seemed to say something larger about the place of poetry. His case may look like a concrete application of Plato’s decree to eject poets from the virtuous state: they err, so let them wander away. Ovid claims that two ‘crimes’ led to his exile from Rome: ‘carmen et error’ (Tristia 2.207). He erred in both senses: by his fault and by the wandering to which he was condemned. The poet is displaced -- geographically, emotionally, linguistically -- and has only himself to blame, or so he says. With Joachim Du Bellay and Osip Mandelstam, two of Ovid’s illustrious heirs, things become more complex. Error may take the form of Du Bellay’s mistaken attempt to promote his career in papal Rome. The poetic result, as contained in his Regrets, is both nostalgia for the homeland and satire of Roman corruption: that is, both the reversal of errancy and the condemnation of moral error. On the other hand, Mandelstam’s foolhardy distichs against Stalin led to his arrest and exile and ultimately to his death, so it could be said, giving Ovid’s words a tweak, that ‘carmen est error.’ The Russian poet’s own Tristia had already portrayed the modern poet voyaging through history and drawing inspiration from it. Through that displacement the poet and his reader experience the present all the more powerfully. Mandelstam, like other poets and critics at their best, manages to communicate error as illumination:
O if I could hoist a lantern on a long pole
and be led by a dog, under the salt of stars,
with a rooster in a pot, to the fortune teller’s yard.
But the white of the snow eats the eyes to the quick.
The entire issue's contents can be seen HERE. And you can find out more about the issue's cover image (Louis and Auguste Bisson, “The crevasse on the way to the Grand Plateau,” ca. 1860) HERE.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Make. Good. Work. (or, On the Academic Job Market)

compiled by Mary Kate Hurley
Title with apologies to Neil Gaiman. 

First, go read Jonathan’s post here on empathy, and enjoy all the no doubt wonderful posts that will come in the next few days about Oceanic New York and Critical Liberal Arts. 

The epigraph and opening for this post is advice given by David Wallace to one of his graduate students :

“All this [jobs and postdoc applications] can be overthought. The first and last imperative is: do good work, and work that you believe in.”

Earlier this month, I was asked to speak to the graduate students in my department about the job market application process. This isn’t of great note, except that it precipitated a fateful facebook post, looking for advice from those not quite so geong on geardum as myself.

And so Friday the 13th precipitated one of my most commented-on Facebook posts. It also, as we all know, heralded the posting of the MLA job list for 2013-2014.

The post marks one of the best conversations – open, honest, and useful – that I’ve ever had about the job market. And so, with the goodwill of many of my colleagues, I’ve collated here the advice they wish they’d gotten, or did get, or learned the hard way. I’ve created several headings under which to file said advice, in the hopes that graduate students and job-market-goers of all varieties will find easily the type of advice they are looking for. Feel free to add to my list in the comments here. Or on facebook, where you can read the whole thing: it came to 11 pages in total, so this is much abridged! And of course, this post isn’t meant to be comphrensive: rather, it’s a sampling of advice that might or might not be useful to folks facing the job market.

1.      Existential Advice
a.   No one is alone. Your colleagues are not your rivals. One of the things that, for me, made the job market livable was not doing it alone. Find colleagues and friends you can root for without inhibition, both in your field and beyond it. Tim Youker adds “avoid thinking of your peers as rivals,” and Ryan Judkins suggests that “one should avoid the black hole of competition with each other and anger at the process and the academy.”
b.   Departments are people with quirks too. Amanda Walling says, “Think about the departments in which you have studied or worked. Did the people in them have their own eccentricities, hobbyhorses, prejudices, and longstanding personal conflicts? Probably so. And the people in the departments where you apply will have just as many that you don't know about, that will come into play in their reading of your application. It is not a meritocracy, or a referendum on your work as a scholar, and 'fit' is not code for that. It's a bunch of flawed people making compromises with each other and with their administrators, and sometimes where you fit into that is just blind luck.” This luck element cannot be overstated.
c.   You cannot read the minds of departments who post job ads. Chris Piuma puts it this way, and gives us “the most helpful thing I've heard, as a grad student, translated: The hiring process is a black box—a different black box every time—and, outside the vaguest generalities, you cannot predict what goes on inside that black box; it is, for all intents and purposes, irrational, and, whether you get the job or not, it is no reflection on you.” Christina Fitzgerald notes that you should “also know that committees sometimes disagree with each other, and may even inadvertently set you up for failure because of it. This is not your fault.”
d.  The Job Market is not a referendum on your worth as a scholar, a colleague, or a human being. Robert Stanton puts it: “Understand that a tighter job market doesn't mean that only the very best people get jobs, but rather that imponderables and quirks become bigger factors.” Jeffrey Cohen adds: “Don't internalize rejection; it means nothing.” I’d add that my favorite coping mechanism for rejection a drink, or dessert, or long walk in a beautiful park with good friends.
e.  The Jobs Wiki is not your friend. While it is tempting to watch the wiki like a hawk (and I’ll admit to having done so a bit during all of my job market runs), consider its implications. It may have information that you might not get anywhere else, but as Jeffrey observes, “Much that appears on the job wiki is mean-spirited and wrong.” Think through who you are, and how you’ll respond to the culture of the wiki, before you click that link!
f.    Be your Best Self, and find support for that best self. Jonathan Hsy gives us a checklist for that process:
 1. Always keep an open mind.
 2a. Be honest, and 2b. Be yourself (the "best version" of yourself of course).
 3. Find understanding people (not necessarily academics but people who "get" the weirdness of the process you face) to be your sounding boards.
g.   Take care of yourself, psychologically and physically. Jeffrey writes: “Rely on your friends and supportive colleagues (and be there for others). Do what you can to keep anxiety down: run, see movies, take walks, whatever.”
2.      Preparing for Applications
a.   Prepare in advance of the job market. But do so in a way that reflects your interests and expertise. Kevin Caliendo writes, “Broaden your profile by developing skills and projects outside of your primary field. For example, show that you can teach composition (that you know current ideas and best practices in Comp, not just that you can teach a section they assign you). Develop skills in digital humanities applicable outside of your discipline (ex. learn markup).”
b.  Tailor your letters. No, seriously: tailor your letters. There are a variety of ways to approach this, but make sure that you’ve seen the website for the department you’re applying to at the very least – it may be that there’s a program they’re spearheading that’s JUST PERFECT for your research, and it’s up to you to make certain they know you know! Ryan Judkins notes that while this advice is thrown around pretty often, “both the necessity of doing that and learning HOW to do it well take awhile.” Seek advice from other job market veterans, and...
c.  Have someone outside your field read your application materials. It can be very painful to share your materials and have them critiqued, but can only help in the long run. Megan Cook suggests that you “have someone outside your area read your materials to make sure they're interesting, accessible, and free of field-specific jargon, especially if you're looking for a job at an SLAC or in another small department.”
d.  Have an article out for consideration, or already accepted. This is not just because of the “publish-of-perish” model of academia either – it’s also soothing for you to have the article. As Catherine Osborne points out: “not only does it demonstrate that you can publish etc, but it also reduces the angst around what to send as a writing sample by 400%.”
e.  Don’t try to change who you are. As Tim Youker puts it, “Trying to pull off a new self-refashioning for every application is a mug's game [. . .] Committees can tell that you're doing it, and it doesn't impress them.”
f.   Accept the things you cannot change, and that you have no control over. Put another way (Catherine Osborne again), “All you can do is have a decent CV, write the best letter you can, and then hope that you happen to fit their idea. It's important not to get caught up in the idea that you can convince them you're someone you're not.” Lenora Warren sagely adds: “There is no perfect formula to getting a job. Don't obsess over gaps in your CV to the point where you psyche yourself out.”
3.      Interview Advice
a.  Practice. Practice. Practice. Most schools will happily set up a mock interview. Do one every year – it is possible to forget how to act in an interview.
b.  Practice your elevator pitch. It’s the most concise form of your research explanation. Bruce Holsinger has a fantastic exercise over at Burnable Books – #3tweetsmax. Try it. Try it again. See what you learn about your project when speaking/typing about it concisely. 
c.  Make your research accessible and interesting. It’s already the most fascinating thing you do, but it’s important to talk about your research to a search committee differently than you’d talk about it to your medievalist colleagues. Dan Kline notes that it’s important to “Remember that for smaller schools (and the 'directional' schools), there's probably not going to be someone in your field on the committee, so you have to be accessible and fluent in your research pitch.” Catherine Osborne suggests that “A good way to be ‘accessible’ when talking about your research, if it's not immediately obvious why your research has broader relevance to the state of the world, is to start by saying ‘a big problem in my field/subfield is X. People have tried to solve it in ways Y and Z. I wondered if we couldn't approach it in way M instead.’ This shows that you're well-situated in your field while also explaining why your not-immediately-obviously-useful work is aimed at an actual problem and not just for fun.”
d. Know the department that you’re interviewing with. Dan Kline reminds us that “many committees are looking for people who can teach the courses in their department, so it's wise to look at the website to get a sense of (1) what courses you'd likely teach (first half of the British and world lit surveys, most likely) and (2) how you'd approach them. It's always a good sign for a committee when a candidate, unbidden, says something like, 'I was noticing on your website that in the structure of your English major that students take ...' or 'From your website it looks like students most often get medieval content in ... ' It shows that you're actively imagining how you meet their needs.” Moreover, it can focuse you on the excitement of an interview rather than how nervewracking it is.
e. Did I mention PRACTICE? You should also consider practicing for the TYPE of interview you are having. Phone interview? Try to get friends to conference call you and see how you come across. Dorothy Kim reminds us that Skype interviews are different from regular interviews: “Do a mock in the location you will be doing it. There may be weird technical and angle things you don't even notice (glare of computer on glasses, lighting, etc.) that can easily be addressed etc. Also it hyper-emphasizes any talking ticks.” Keep in mind that to make “eye contact” you will need to talk to the camera. The upside of this: it’s the most like a movie star many of us will ever feel!
f.  You can’t read their minds. Interviews result in lots of feelings. You might feel like you were so great they’ll cancel all their other interviews (unlikely), or you might feel like you’ve actually just tanked your career (thankfully this is also unlikely). Luckily – as Tim reminded us – “how you felt about an interview walking out of it is an unreliable indicator of whether you'll reach the next phase. I didn't feel great about the interview for the job that I actually got, whereas what I still think was the best interview I've given didn't even lead to a job talk.” These stories are pretty common, in my experience – so have a “survival celebration drink” and then do your absolute best not to overthink it.

4.      Campus Visit and Post-Campus Visit Advice
a.  This goes without saying at this point, but PRACTICE. Make sure you’ve given your talk and practiced answering questions. Try to get a mock job talk group together that includes people outside your field, and professors who have acted on job committees before. The questions you will get are not standard conference fare, but will likely be very wide-ranging and important to practice for/be aware of.
b.  Know what’s expected. Dorothy Kim points out that you need to know what they expect of your job talk: “Find out explicit instructions and reconfirm what they want (whether for general audience, specialists, length, etc. etc.).”
c.  The teaching demo is not always teaching per se... Teaching Demos are one of the harder part of the campus visits, particularly because your audience is both the students AND the observing faculty. Catherine Osborne notes that one way to approach the teaching demo is to “think of it as a performance which requires certain elements: some form of tech (powerpoint, preferably a video clip), some form of class discussion (preferably involving small groups), some form of (preferably brief) lecture.” I would also note that it rarely feels like a normal class.
d. Be your best self. Your extroverted best self. As Melissa Ridley Elmes mentioned, a lot of your campus visit is about performance – what you’re like, how you get along with others: “The happier and more enthusiastic and comfortable and natural you are up there, the better you are going to look. And for the love of all that is good and holy, SMILE. Real smiles, not plastered-on smiles. ENJOY yourself -- even if the interviews suck, even if you don't think you have a shot, when you actually get up in front of people to talk about your work you should be having fun. You are talking about Your Thing. Sell it! And TALK to people. Talk to Everybody. Just this once, for these couple of hours, no matter how introverted you are, really interact.” That said, if you hate smiling or are otherwise not a smiler, engage in the way that feels natural to you.
e.  Know your audience. This is obvious for the job talk – don’t give a talk for medievalists only if you’re speaking to mostly 20th century specialists. Consider that you should look for the good in the place you’re visiting, too. This means, as Megan Mulder points out, “If you're interviewing at a school in a small town and/or red state, be really, really careful not to do anything that suggests you'd be whiny and miserable there and would be looking for another job within a couple of years. Trust me, they will be hypersensitive about this.” And regardless of hypersensitivity – they are hosting you. Be gracious.
f.  Once again, accept that you cannot read their minds. There is, as Peter Buchanan relates, no such thing as the perfect job talk: “From having seen a large number of job talks last year, I think one important thing to realize is that there is no such thing as the perfect job talk. Most job talks are pretty good because we're smart, articulate people working hard to achieve our goals. That's enough to get a job (although it doesn't mean you will get one). Some people will like your work better than others, and what works in one department might not work in another. Another important thing to realize is that schools want to hire you. They ask for more materials and interview you because somebody already likes you. It's just they may not show it, and they might not call until six months later when you get a letter that says, ‘It's not you, it's me. You're great, but I've met somebody else.’”
g.  After your visit, remember you have options. Christina Fitzgerald reminds us that it’s important to “know that you can negotiate stuff, especially once you have an offer, including asking for extensions to make decisions about an offer and even salary and start-up funds. The market makes us so abject that we forget that sometimes we have some leverage!” As Meg Worley puts it: “Don't say "yes" right away when the offer you the job Even if it's the job of your dreams, say "Let me think about it." Then, go read an article on how to negotiate, before you do anything else. If you're female, read a second one that decries the tendency of women not to play hardball. Only THEN should you say yes, and then play hardball.”

5.      Clothing Advice
Not surprisingly, a lot of really great advice was given regarding what to wear to interviews and campus visits (we medievalists are a stylish set). A lot was aimed particularly at women – don’t, for example, wear a pantsuit if you are not a pantsuit kind of a person. I’ve made an effort here to encapsulate the more gender-neutral salient points.

a.  Be yourself. (Yes, your best self.) Meg Worley suggests that you “dress like yourself, not some over-coached drone candidate.” The best advice I ever received was to make sure that your clothes didn’t look like they were still on the hanger. Be comfortable in them.
b.  Test your shoes first! Make sure that you can walk, comfortably, possibly a long way, in the shoes that you wear. This goes for everyone.
c.  One last word on suits: Lenora Warren gives the fantastic advice that “If you have a professional outfit that makes you feel like a superhero that's probably the one to go with. If you feel compelled to buy a suit, and you are not a suit person, think of the droves and droves of awkward newly minted phds in stiff new suits that will be hurrying around MLA and ask yourself, ‘Is this how I want to present myself?’”
6.   And finally, just in case you were feeling blue, or nervous, or just plain scared, remember the great advice from the Old English poem Deor. Þæs ofereode, þisses swa mæg! (Thanks to Steve Rozenski for keeping it in perspective at the end, and for reminding us that the best recording is Seamus Heaney, reciting his translation on the Norton Website. To translate: “That passed over, this can too.”)

Also see:

Add your favorite links, advice, etc, in the comments -- looking forward to seeing what else we come up with!

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Thursday, September 26, 2013

On Empathy and What We Do ... Together


Hello ITM readers! I'm just on my way to the BABEL symposium in NYC (#cla2013) by way of Oceanic New York (#ony2013)—of course more about this on ITM after this weekend. But first, in this posting, I'd like to quickly comment on a few buzzworthy online items that might at first seem unrelated—but are actually intertwined by an important common thread.

On Contingency: Earlier this month, MARY KATE returned to ITM with this thoughtful blog posting entitled “On Contingency.” In a large part “giving props” to her medievalist community during her time teaching at Yale, Mary Kate offers one positive example of professional experience as an adjunct, and she illustrates the importance of working in an environment in which one is valued as a peer and well supported on all fronts (emotionally, intellectually, and materially). I found it so striking that soon after Mary Kate’s posting, this truly devastating “counterpoint” began to circulate regarding the experience of Margaret Mary Vojtko, a dedicated teacher and adjunct professor of French at Duquesne University for 25 years (see “Death of an adjunct” HERE). This story has been picked up and re-circulated by the NPR, Huffington Post, CNN, BuzzFeed (and I’m sure many other outlets) generating righteous outrage—and sincere discussions about the adjunctification of higher education continue to reverberate online and in the corridors. The inherent pathos in this story of the suffering of Margaret Mary Vojtko is not without a certain literary (almost hagiographical) tinge: in some respects she becomes a kind of modern-day “martyr” for the case against our profession’s increasing dependence upon (or even exploitation of) contingent faculty. This concern about the adjunctifation of higher education is something we've been thinking about quite a lot on ITM: Jeffrey and Eileen, most noticeably, have attended to issues relating to what Jeffrey has called the “precariat”; and see the comments on Mary Kate’s posting by Ben Tilghman and Myra Seaman on their own experiences as adjuncts and the need to find a “home” as a scholar, teacher, and fully valued peer. 

On a related note, read Rebecca Schuman’s excellent posting on “Horrible Job-Market Platitudes and How to Retire Them,” which provides some tips for mentors and job placement officers on avoiding well-intentioned but ultimately unproductive words of “comfort” for people who haven't landed tenure-track positions. Many of us who act as academic mentors are products of a culture that still codes non-TT status itself as “failure” and this posting goes one step toward changing some of these attitudes and sentiments.

Declasse Academics: You may have seen this posting making the rounds over the past week on "declasse" academics, a link I first saw posted by KARL on Facebook (see the link by @WernherzBear HERE). In this list, this blogger reveals a certain implicit assumption that all academics come from a privileged (and Northeastern US) background. I feel many items on this list don't quite apply to people of color and/or folks who grew up outside of the US, but what this posting suggests is that unstated social codes (i.e., the implicit norms of WASP culture) still underpin many aspects of (North American) academia. Everyday interactions can make even TT-faculty “insiders” feel like perpetual “outsiders,” people who don’t “belong.” There are many ways in which people can feel “othered” in the profession beyond class of course (gender, race, age, ethnicity, sexuality, disability), but the posting draws attention to something we can be so reluctant to discuss openly.

Serious Literature (No Women or Chinese): This is a much newer story (really only “broke” yesterday and last night). I’m closely following the ongoing reaction to a recent interview with David Gilmour—an author and apparent literature instructor who (now notoriously) reveals he doesn’t “love” literature by women or by “Chinese” (?!) and is instead most invested in teaching works by “serious, heterosexual guys”—and the apology/interview making up for the original interview didn’t help matters. I’m not linking to the original interview or follow-up here, but you can see that the posting has swiftly generated both online rage and mockery, with this spot-on parody HERE and response HERE, an awesome open letter by Anne Thérault HERE, and a devastating point-by-point takedown HERE. The comments on the Facebook event page for Serious Heterosexual Guys For Serious Literary Scholarship (created by Miriam No, on twitter @imposterism) are pure COMEDY GOLD (and track #SeriousReads and #GilmourReadMore on twitter RIGHT NOW for the ongoing University of Toronto community response).

On Empathy

So what ties together all of these items? In his very insightful response to the Gilmour story, early modern literature professor Holger Syme offers these remarks on the importance of empathy:
Good teaching requires empathy — an effort to understand things, ideas, and people totally unlike you. Some of those people are your students. Some of those things are of the past. Some of those ideas are the ideas of authors from different cultures than yours, and yes, shockingly, even of a different gender. Engaging with those people, things, and ideas is not just what research means, and why research is necessary, it’s what reading is. 
This statement beautifully showcases how empathy is not only the key to good teaching but also a feature of research and scholarship, including (as is the case in medieval studies) people who seek to understand a culture or worldview that is distant and “alien” to one's own. I would extend things to say that empathy is, of course, a key part of human interaction in general -- which includes one's treatment of students, mentees, and coworkers of all kinds (regardless of rank, social affiliations, or employment status).

I will end by stating why I believe that online communities like the ones cultivated here at ITM and the BABEL Working Group—and other forms of social media—are so very important. In a lot of cases, being a medievalist means being “the only medievalist in the village” (so to speak), and in these instances many turn to online venues a way to stay engaged with a broader community of people who share their scholarly and intellectual interests. Moreover, the field-specific isolation one might feel as a medievalist can certainly be compounded and complicated by so many other factors (most noticeably, contingent status). What I hope ITM and BABEL can continue to foster is this genuine sense of community and support for people who might physically be far apart, and I hope (collectively) we can create non-hierarchical forms of community that not only think beyond discrete academic disciplines but also break open the very idea of “the university” and the world that surrounds and sustains it.