Featured Post


I am posting this as a benchmark, not because I think I'm playing very well yet.  The idea would be post a video every month for a ye...

Tuesday, July 30, 2019


Here are four things I aspire to now:

1. Depth of engagement.

2. But... with a sense of humor, of not taking myself too seriously, and seeing the humor in things with some degree of humility.  

3. Intellectual curiosity, leading to continued intellectual growth.

4. Accessiblity; writing for hundreds of people rather than dozens.

Thirty years ago, at the beginning of my career, I might have said this:

1. Theoretical sophistication; being at the cutting edge.

2. Having brilliant interpretations of texts.

3. Checking off the boxes to construct a CV; publishing in PMLA, MLN, Diacritics... Getting the major fellowships.

4. Being top banana, or at least being in contention for being considered the best in my field.

Of course, I've already accomplished most of those things, so it's easy to dismiss those aspirations as excessively "careerist." Of course, (I now realize that there is no top banana. Not simply because it is a subjective judgment, but because comparisons with others are pointless.)  I still apply to major fellowships, but my career is complete without them.

What are your top values for yourself in your scholarship? These will vary between individuals, and also in one individual at different career stages. My current ones reflect where I'm at now. I realize I haven't reproduced myself, having PhD students in my own image (with one exception) or been particularly influential in the way other people do scholarship. Thanks god there's no Mayhew school.  

(Unfortunately, my scholarship will not create a more just world or alter the climate for the better. Those are valuable things, but I don't see how the kind of work I do will further those ends. Even politically engaged scholarship in the humanities doesn't really do very much. Yet if that is one of your core values, then you should be honest about that.)

BACKGROUND: I am writing one of those career narratives for an application. I actually like reflecting on what I have and haven't done.


Leslie B. said...

30 years ago I said:

- Be in research atmosphere so I can do research and learn more, work with advanced students and cool people.
- Live in cool weather, energizing environment, lots of international travel, very businesslike colleagues.
- Never again write or publish something I don't believe - never again do something just to pass a class / an exam. Develop work that is mine, not work that just enables me to keep in school / keep a TAship / keep a job.
- Combat corporatization and neoliberalization of universities. Work for student and faculty rights, free academy, free society.

I have not changed.

Leslie B. said...

P.S. Also, 30 years ago and now:

- Be autonomous. Not be a colonial subject. Make enough of own money never to have to subjugate self, curtail speech, etc. for the sake of money.

***It is interesting, I have been going through papers and notes, like 3 decades' worth, so I can find my thoughts, and realized how BRILLIANT all this non published work I have is. I am always saying I am lazy, or I am not interested enough in this field, to finish and polish all of that but looking at it coldly and impartially, it becomes clear: (a) I need a research environment, I need to be in a research culture, this is something academics are NOT supposed to need because we are supposed to CREATE OUR OWN ATMOSPHERES but that only goes so far; (b) the harassment, the shunning, the conspicuous non-support, and the OBSTRUCTION / gaslighting / wasting of our time are why I and my colleagues in unit don't get more done. It's so clear. And we keep thinking we should be able to rise above it.***

Leslie B. said...

AND I see I have answered the wrong question. It was top goals in scholarship.

30 years ago:

1. Finish work on avant-garde and then move forward in time, working on more current things.


2. Finish work on avant-garde and also 19th and late 18th centuries, the roots of all of that. The present is interesting and one is interested in repercussions in the present of all of these things, but what I want to excavate better, for me, are the roots.

Givens 30 years ago:

1. Of course one would publish in best journals etc., do all of that, be cutting edge, and so on, because I did not know there was another world that wasn't like this. Everyone I knew was, so of course I would remain in the same universe.

2. I did not know I was interested in journalism or would be a good journalist.

Givens now:

1. I am interested in publishing at all, and surviving at all without increasing debt or cutting back too much on quality of life. I am interested in being in more touch with the people and the kind of people I used to be surrounded by exclusively.

2. I do some journalism and it is important to me, and I am good at it and should do more.

***Hmm -- things to keep thinking about, I don't know if this is complete.***

Leslie B. said...

OK then:

Original goals.

1. Top work in general.
2. Interact with top people in field. Of course that meant being one, but I didn't think of it in that way: I just thought, doing top work because it is interesting to interact with top people.
3. Originality, self-determination in work were VERY important to me. I was not interested in being top to just be top, and sacrificing originality to be top.
4. Combat corporatization and neoliberalization of universities. Work for student and faculty rights, free academy, free society.
5. I expected I would always work on more or less contemporary authors, or at least later 20th century.

Current goals.
1. Finish unfinished work, whether or not it is top, and keep on going, so I can get my curiosity satisfied.
2. Interact with top, i.e. very smart, my idea of top people.
3. I do guess I have achieved goal #3, even if it meant not finishing anything for a very long while.
4. Combatting corporatization, etc., yes, I still do it, and it is more important than ever, should have been made central sooner.
5. My research interests moved back in time, not ahead, and I discovered my journalistic talents and interests.