Sunday, July 8, 2007

Things Seem to be Proceeding Apace

Not a lot to report this week. I've been visiting the boyfriend down in the Metropole, so I haven't been able to make any headway on moving stuff--that's probably for the best. It's been good to take some time off from staring at my books and thinking, "Do I really need you? or you? How would I feel without The Mill on the Floss? What if I need to recollect some essential fact about Maggie Tulliver? What will its absence do to Middlemarch, which will then be the lone Eliot on the shelf (Silas Marner having already received the axe)? Oh god, oh god, I don't know if I can give it up!"

For the record, I plan to keep The Mill on the Floss.

The car-purchasing frenzy has also sort of died down. I may still buy my friend's car, but I haven't test-driven it yet, and I'm leaving tomorrow, so that'll have to wait for my next visit. In the meantime, I'm going to look into the possibility of renting a car for an occasional weekend (thanks to Hilaire and Sisyphus for that suggestion!). Once I Crunch the Numbers, I'll have a better sense of whether paying for a car + insurance will really be a good idea.

So what I've been doing, for the last few days at least, is reading some of the stuff on the very end of my survey syllabus. I recently bumped into a friendly acquaintance on campus who'd just finished teaching her first-ever course, and she said that in the future she planned to prepare her last classes of the semester well in advance--ideally before the semester even begins. Because by the end of the semester she found herself just too worn out to thoroughly prep her lectures. Now, I'm not going to go that far; it might turn out to be a waste of time, after all, because presumably the concerns etc. that I'll want to highlight in December will be shaped by what we've done in September through November. But the tail-end of the survey course--which is one of your typical lit surveys, running up to about 1800--is the end that I know least well, and I'd never actually read one of the longer texts that I want to assign. So it seemed highly sensible to take a look at them.

I must say that I'm enjoying this. It reminds me of reading for my comprehensive exams early in grad school, a process that I also much enjoyed. I came across that poem of, um, Cowper's, I think, that's quoted all over To the Lighthouse--you know, "We perished, each alone"--and it was just such a pleasure to finally see what it was that Mr. Ramsay was always mumbling to himself. [It is Cowper; I just checked.] One of the things that I really wanted to get out of grad school was breadth of knowledge, as well as depth; while the dissertation is excellent for promoting depth, breadth sort of gets lost in the shuffle, especially once coursework is over. And, in my grad program at least, I fear that increasing budget cuts will limit the opportunities for reading widely outside of one's stated field even more. Ideally, perhaps, one should see undergrad as the time for reading widely, and grad school as the time to focus; but this isn't terribly practical, I don't think, as I was still developing the critical reading skills that I needed to understand and appreciate a lot of this literature when I was an undergrad. Or rather, I would have understood and appreciated them differently at that time: not inadequately, necessarily, but differently, and in a way that possibly wouldn't have been useful to me in grad school or beyond.

But perhaps the same could be said of my reading now. That is, my understanding of the literature I read for my exams back in '02 or whenever it was might not be terribly useful to me now, and I really ought to go and reread Milton and Spenser and so forth in order to "get them" in a way that's appropriate to my current interests and--for lack of a better term--scholarly "level." And should read them again in another 5 years or so. It's kind of like how, at the end of college, I thought that I'd be better off if I could start it all over: I'd have taken a better range of classes and ultimately gotten more out of my education. But then I realized that, if I could have done so, at the end of Round 2 I very likely would have had the exact same feeling.

Luckily for me, however, I'll have to read bits of both Milton and Spenser for this very survey class. Maybe that's one good thing about teaching: returning to the same texts again and again can, in a funny way, keep you fresh.

I guess I'm thinking about this in part because I spent some time this spring re-reading favorite books from about 10 years ago, to see whether they were still good (and because I'd pretty much forgotten a lot of what happened in them). So I read Ullman's The Day on Fire, Nabokov's Ada, and Somerset Maugham's Of Human Bondage. All three were, indeed, excellent, and it was a real pleasure to discover them anew.

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On a totally unrelated note:

Although I haven't formally been tagged for Squadratomagico's new meme, I do have one wonderment: Why on earth do bars equate "loud" with "fun"? We were out somewhere on Friday (for a free happy hour courtesy of boyfriend's workplace) where we had to speak so loudly to be heard over the music that my throat is still rough and I'm still a little hoarse two days later. Decidedly not fun, I assert.

3 comments:

Sisyphus said...

I agree; loud bars do not equal fun. I love talking, so that's my main reason for going out to them. Similarly I dislike bars that are so dark the person I am talking to could leave and I wouldn't be able to tell. They make me paranoid.

The reading ahead seems to be a smart idea (I would agree that anything you prep far out in advance will need to be re-prepped later on that day anyway).

And unfortunately the pressures to "professionalize" and make oneself look fancy for the job market are pushing people in my dept., including me to an extent, to avoid breadth and rereading and anything that doesn't immediately and concretely benefit, which is sad.

medieval woman said...

Oooo! Oooo! I tag you! I tag you! I didn't tag anyone...

jb said...

Hi, MW, and thanks (my first tag)! Okay, I'll start thinking of questions....

Sis--I think that the "professionalizing" pressures, combined with the financial ones, are the cause of the urge to stop reading widely in my grad. dept., too. It's interesting, though: for the most part, the faculty want us to have a broader-based education, and the grad students (anxious about running out of $$, understandably) tend to want to start focusing right away. But I'm glad that I had the chance to read more widely; I only figured out that I wanted to be a medievalist mid-way through my second year of my Ph.D. program. That never would've happened if I'd started specializing right off the bat!