readingredhead: (Reading)
It's a truth universally acknowledged that the best Emma AU is and will always be Clueless, but for quite a bit I've been thinking that the closest modern equivalent to "three or four families in a country village" (one of Austen's tongue-in-cheek descriptions of her own preferred subject) might in fact be the members of a university English department. This is particularly relevant to Emma, because let me tell you, professors and grad students in English departments are such huge gossips. Not always in a bad way, but information does tend to circulate... At any rate, I've been pondering this for a bit, and while I'm not sure when I would even have the time to write it (or what kind of audience it would have, outside an English department!) I'm going to spend a little bit of time thinking through the various characters and how to transpose them to this new modern setting.

Preliminary thoughts behind the cut )

***

More directly on the scholarly front, today I wrote up notes about one of the texts I'm going to work with in my upcoming seminar paper, Margaret Cavendish's Sociable Letters. You can check them out over at my academic journal [link].

readingredhead: (Professor)
After deciding, totally on a whim (and with far less forethought than I should have invested in it) to follow a friend's challenge to create something every day for the month of March, I started thinking a lot about what it means, for me, to MAKE something, and how that's changed over the past few years. 

I'm pretty sure I always knew I wanted to be a writer. But I'm pretty sure that was mostly out of a sense that words, and the things we did with them when they left our mouths or our hands and made their way out into the world beyond us, mattered. I wanted to do something with those words. I wanted to show other people how they could matter. And being a writer seemed like the only option available to me: after all, no one was going to pay me to sit on my couch all day and read books.

I'm a stubborn person, and a critical one. I tend to be very critical of myself for giving up on projects I said I'd follow through on, even when those projects are no longer as central to my conception of who I am as they were when I first devised them. And so as a result, late in college when I realized I wanted to apply to grad school and that I felt so much more fulfilled in my English classes than my creative writing classes, I beat myself up over it. I was majoring in English so I could teach high school English and still have time to write on the side, until writing became the thing I did full-time. That was the plan. That had always been the plan. (I realize this sounds like exaggeration, but seriously I have documentary evidence of my desire to be a teacher and writer from as far back as an "About Me" survey I filled out in the second grade). Going against the plan wasn't just going against myself, in some fundamental way -- it was "giving in" to doing the thing that was "easy" and that I could know I was good at, rather than the thing that promised fewer tangible rewards in the near future but was "more worth it."

And you know, I'm really glad I stared down my anxiety about that plan I'd made for myself all those years ago, and let myself be okay with the fact that I'd changed, because I love what I do as a graduate student. Not all of it, no -- but a substantial portion of it, all of the parts of it that have to do with belonging to a community of people who care about the production of knowledge, whether those "products" are tangible or not. All the parts of it that have to do with how much words matter. (And lo and behold, I do get paid to sit on my couch all day and read books!) It is, in some ways, an easier life than the one that I used to want -- but part of that is because I think it's always easier to live the life you want to be living than the one you think you should be living. 

It's become easier for me to accept the fact that what I do (and love) now isn't the thing I thought I would never stop wanting to do (i.e. creative writing) as I've come to admit to myself that the same impulses that prompted me to that old plan are satisfied by the new one. It's hard to justify this to people other than myself -- the things that I "make" as an English grad student, when they are concrete, are also directed at a very specialized audience. I'm writing seminar papers and conference talks and lectures that may never have audiences beyond the people present in the room at the moment that I deliver them (and before long I'll be writing articles and a dissertation and scholarly monographs that won't gain a readership any larger than that).

But here's the thing: I care more about the continued life and health of the constantly-fluctuating community of people who gather together to consider and rejoice in the ways words matter than I care about having anything like a central role in that community. It's hard to tell people that the thing that you "make" for a living is something as intangible as "knowledge" or "a community" or "a spirit of rational inquiry" (god I am more of a student of the Enlightenment than I think I am). But these things need to be made. By which I mean both that humanity needs them, and that they don't just spring up on their own. They must be sustained by the ongoing contributions of effort and energy that community members/human beings make, one by one, day by day.

And I've gotten into some pretty abstract philosophizing here in the process of making what is, to me (but often not to others), a simple point: my work as a grad student, and the work I'll do someday as a professor, is essentially creative. Not just because I care about researching and writing papers whose arguments are inventive and unique and, in some ways, beautiful (though I do care about these things, and quite a lot!) -- not just because I produce tangible (if arcane) things -- but because I am part of the collective support system for something bigger than me, something that everyone who supports it is constantly involved in (re)creating. 

(As a side note, I feel like a lot of what we think about when we think about "making things" has to do with distinctly individual authorship -- this is certainly the case with books -- and this is increasingly a problem for me, because I really do want to emphasize the communal role of the work I do, the impossibility of doing this work or of this work having meaning outside of a community. And that means giving up some of my own authority as sole agent of creation. That also, however, lets me change my definition of what "counts" as creative in a way that has been incredibly rewarding for me personally.)

---

In other news: I also baked things today! I am basically working my way happily through the Smitten Kitchen Cookbook, and finally got around to making chocolate chip brioche pretzel rolls (yes, you heard me). Warning: if you attempt these yourself, watch your KitchenAid while it's mixing -- I think the dough is actually way too heavy to be properly mixed for 10 mins straight (as it's supposed to be at one point). My KitchenAid started massively overheating and some other people's actually broke. So do the 10 mins in shorter intervals, and be prepared to knead a bit with your hands. Still: totally deliciously worth it! [picture]
readingredhead: (Muse)
Maybe -- MAYBE -- I will actually post these things the day I do them for this week since I am on spring break?! ONE CAN ONLY HOPE. (Also I will start commenting on other people's stuff because I realize that's part of this thing that I've been totally lame about.)

Day 14: On Thursday I delivered my first ever lecture in front of a classroom full of college undergraduates. I was given the opportunity by the prof I TA for to give a guest lecture (something that's somewhat common practice here?) and I jumped at the chance, especially because I got to lecture on the second half of Austen's Persuasion, a novel I absolutely adore and have a lot of thoughts and feelings about. I have really no problems about speaking in front of people (like, really no problems with it, never have had) and so I went into this with more excitement than anything else. I think my biggest fear was that no one would show up, since it was the last class before spring break! But the students showed up, and I gave the lecture, and even though it wasn't perfect, it was pretty damn good. My professor congratulated me afterwards with, "That was an amazing job, and you're obviously doing the thing you were born to do, so keep it up!" And that's basically how I feel about this, so it's good to have it confirmed. (Downside is that I spent a lot more time talking on Wednesday and Thursday than I usually do -- the lecture was 75 mins, I practiced it twice the day before I gave it -- and as a result my throat is still a little bit sore...)

Day 15: So, I was coming off the high of giving the lecture (and deciding that I deserved some time to rest on my laurels before jumping right back into the fray), and then I got hit by horrendous sinus pressure headache that I thankfully recovered from just in time to prepare drinks for the small group of friends who came over for the evening: blackberry gin fizzes, to be precise, from this Smitten Kitchen recipe. (If you're trying to replicate it, I sort of find straining out the blackberry seeds to be unnecessary -- I mean, you'd eat them if you were eating the berries, and it takes longer than you think it will to strain them out.) I made more of the blackberry puree than I needed, but that turned out for the best...

Day 16: ...because I saved the puree and used it as a sauce for the lemon ricotta pancakes I made this morning for breakfast. [recipe] [picture]
readingredhead: (Reading)
 So, okay, as expected I have been doing a bad job of keeping up with all of this. So have a catch-up post with a lot of days smooshed together.

Day 7: Sausage, kale, red onion, and ricotta pizza: We had a couple of random cheeses left over from a calzone [personal profile] oliviacirce made earlier in the week -- specifically some ricotta -- and so I made a pizza based on this one from Smitten Kitchen. I adapted it by using crumbled Italian sausage instead of prosciutto (cheaper) and also by adding chopped raw kale to the ricotta mixture so that it cooked with the pizza. Click here for a picture.
 
Day 8: ---

Day 9: ---

Day 10: Baked a batch of raspberry ricotta scones based on this recipe from the Smitten Kitchen cookbook. They turned out very deliciously -- so deliciously, in fact, that it appears I don't have a photo of them.

Day 11: I made a slow-cooker beef stew based on this recipe (though I use my own blend of herbs and spices instead of onion soup mix). Since that got prepared in the morning, I had time to make these rosemary pull-apart rolls

Day 12: ---

Day 13: Today I really got to work on my lecture on the second part of Persuasion that I'll be giving tomorrow (!). I've been planning in part through the use of sticky notes and note cards on my closet door [picture]. It's basically a conglomerate of every idea I've ever had about the novel, and there are a lot of those, so organization has been difficult -- but I think it's finally coming together. 
readingredhead: (Muse)
 The students in the class I TA for have their midterm tomorrow, and I decided to bake them cookies. I made just under four dozen in an hour and a half.

Molasses Crackles
makes ~2 dozen cookies

2 C flour
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp ground cloves
1 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 C shortening
1 C brown sugar
1 egg
1/4 C molasses

Preheat oven to 350F. Add dry ingredients to bowl and mix; then add wet ingredients and mix. Place even balls of dough on cooking sheets about 2" apart. Bake for 12-13 minutes; cookies will look slightly under-done, but that means they'll be just right once they've cooled.

Brown Sugar Pecan Cookies (adapted from the Smitten Kitchen cookbook)
makes ~2 dozen cookies

1/2 C (1 stick) butter, softened
1/2 C packed brown sugar
1/3 C granulated (white) sugar
1 egg
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/4 C flour
~1 C chopped pecans (I haven't actually measured this, might be a little less)
1/2 tsp baking soda

Preheat oven to 350F. In a large bowl, cream together butter, brown sugar, white sugar, egg, and vanilla until smooth. In a separate bowl*, whisk the flour and baking soda together; stir this mixture into the butter/sugar mixture. Fold in the pecans. Place even balls of dough on cooking sheets about 2" apart. Bake for 10-12 mins, until edges are light brown. Let sit on baking sheet a few minutes to firm up before transferring to cooling rack.

*I didn't use the separate bowl and I'm pretty sure these turned out just fine.
readingredhead: (Reading)
So I've already managed to miss a day -- and technically two days, because I feel like my Day 4 "something" is even more of a cheat than usual -- but I'm doing this just as much as part of a mental exercise and refocusing of my current activities under the category of "creation" as I am interested in producing vast quantities of new creative material.

Day 3: I spent almost all day grading student papers. I did write a bunch of responses to those student papers, but it really feels like cheating to call that work creative.

Day 4: I wrote a report that was due today for one of my classes. If it's creative, then it's only really creative in the sense in which it creatively misappropriates Habermas to my own purposes, but I did write it with my very own words (setting the bar low, I know), and I'm going to keep it on the list, because skipping two days in a row would just look sad.

Day 5: That's today! I've actually started work on two future posts for my academic dreamwidth:

1) On reading Dorothy and William Wordsworth in the context of transformative works theory: Dorothy Wordsworth's journals are indisputably the source texts of many of Wordsworth's famous poems ("I wandered lonely as a cloud" and "Resolution and Independence," to name two major ones), but Dorothy is only ever considered important to romanticism as the brother of one of its founding poets. We talked about her in my lecture class today and I found myself thinking about how different the focus would be if we saw Dorothy's journals as a "canon" work and William's poetry as transformative fan work -- immediately we'd escape a lot of the problematically gendered issues that surround the relationship between these texts. I feel like whether students taught this way of relating D & W Wordsworth understood fan culture or not, you could get something important out of the discussion: especially because I suspect that most of the students who are likely to be anti-transformative works are also the same students who would typically put Wordsworth on a pedestal and dismiss Dorothy's works as "feminine jottings," and this context would either force them to a) admit the potential power of transformative works or b) see the intellectual relationship between D & W as intellectually dishonest (and perhaps even abusive) on William's side of the equation... And I would call either of those results a good one. (Also, man, I never thought I would want to teach Wordsworth!)

2) On interiority as social medium in the works of Jane Austen: This started out with my shower epiphany that the trope of "costume theater" in The Lizzie Bennet Diaries (a modernized vlog adaptation of Pride and Prejudice -- if you're not watching yet, you should be!) is the closest this adaptation comes to representing free indirect discourse.

Now, this is a hobbyhorse of mine, because I think the dominant narrative about free indirect discourse is all wrong. For many critics of the 18th-century novel, the development of free indirect discourse coincides with a new respect for and valuation of interiority in the real world and not just as represented in fiction. The novel, or so the argument goes, develops FID in order to represent the newly-complex interior states of humans in the world in which it's situated. This argument is usually invested in larger claims about the "rise of the novel" being parallel to the "rise of the individual" and the creation of something like a modern notion of individuality as originality.

But if you actually read a Jane Austen novel, it's obvious that free indirect discourse operates in a much more complicated manner. Yes, it does allow for a narrative representation of an interior space -- but that doesn't mean that interiority = individuality = originality, because more often than not, characters' heads are full of other people's words and phrases. And furthermore, this isn't always a bad thing: while there's a sense that it would be great to have a unique interior language, there's also a sense that this is impossible. Language always belongs to a collective beyond the scope of the individual character, and so the real individuation occurs when you consciously choose which bits and pieces of other people's speech you will allow to represent your own thoughts. (I make these arguments loosely here because I've already sketched them out elsewhere and at great length, mostly with regards to Persuasion, but also in Northanger Abbey and Pride and Prejudice.)

For example: no one disputes that the infamous first sentence of P&P is an example of FID. But it's not at all about the uniqueness of anyone's interior space -- if anything, it's about the crushing generality of public opinion, and Mrs. Bennet's inability to escape from this general public to become her own individuated person. (I call this type of FID "generalized," though I would sort of love a better term.) Another example: at several points in Persuasion, Anne represents her own thoughts using the language of others -- this is particularly visible when she describes the way in which Mrs. Russell persuades her to break off her engagement with Wentworth by describing her own thoughts in language reminiscent of a speech Mrs. Russell has just given. (I need a better term for this type of FID, which I have been thinking of primarily as "ventriloquy" but which is rarely that conscious.)

So, back to the idea of social media: I think that using LBD and the idea of costume theater makes it obvious that there are lots of ways that FID works in the Austen canon. They're harder to see because we've bought into the narrative that interiority = individuality = originality, but these instances often show the severe dependence of our interiority on a social sphere. This sphere is, in LBD, very literally the sphere of social media as we know it -- YouTube, Twitter, etc. -- but in Austen's novels, it's still a mediated social sphere. What the vlog is to LBD, the letter is to P&P, in some ways: audience-oriented interiority (oh dear god and this is the part where, were this a scholarly paper, I would quote Habermas, because damn him he is relevant). Bottom line, I think that LBD's social media rewriting of P&P could actually be a really great pedagogical tool for getting students to understand multiple modes of FID that Austen criticism only rarely differentiates.

ETA: And this idea of interiority as a social space is something that makes me think Austen would be totally in favor of transformative works because she understands the difference between imitation-as-plagiarism and imitation-as-transformation -- she understands that all language is borrowed, and she cares more about how you reflect your own agency in those borrowings than she does about whether you can say something that is wholly and utterly "yours."
readingredhead: (Nora Reading)
Today, I did a fair amount of planning work on the first paper for one of my seminars. I wrote up a lot of notes about it on my academic Dreamwidth account, if anyone really wants to read about thoughts on late-17th/early-18th-century women's writing and the creation of virtual or actual female homosociality, but I don't blame you if you don't.

Now I realize it maybe seems like cheating that I'm working on a seminar paper and counting that as "creating something." But I really do believe that academic writing and what we call "creative writing" can and should have more in common than the typical assumption of unreadable scholarly prose allows. I think that good scholarship is about creating something: looking at what you have before you and turning it into something new, something that wasn't there before you started tinkering. I also think that the papers themselves can (and should!) be written in a language that is exciting and engaging and clear -- just like any good work of fiction. 

Sometimes I worry that I spend so much time working on seminar papers and so little time working on more "creative" prose, but this is not actually a useful way of distinguishing between the two genres. If I stop thinking of seminar papers as a creative outlet, I'll never write beautiful ones. And I care about the beauty of my academic work, just as much as my "creative" (i.e. fiction-writing) work, so I'm going to keep thinking about seminar papers as thins that I create, one step at a time.
readingredhead: (Grin)
So like I said in my previous post, I'm going to very interpret the "something" in the title of "National Create Something Month" very loosely...mostly for the sake of days like yesterday, when the only thing I created was dinner.

But trust me -- it was a good dinner.

There's a restaurant about ten minutes' walk from my apartment called Kitchenette that does the best savory breakfasts. Possibly the best sweet breakfasts, too, but I love them for things like biscuits and eggs and home fries. On weekday mornings, you can get the "Kitchenette Special" for $7.50: biscuit, bacon, two eggs, cheese, and coffee. (This is a steal in Manhattan.) My biscuits might not be quite as good as theirs, but we had heavy cream and I decided I would whip up a very easy biscuit recipe (five ingredients, less than 20 minutes!) and have Kitchenette Specials for dinner.

Kitchenette Special )

I suppose we could also count it as working towards creating something that I spent part of last night watching a punk rock band documentary and thinking about how I want to write a Romantic poets rock band AU...
readingredhead: (Fear for Courage)
Maybe it's not the best idea to take up my friend's challenge to create something every day of this month when it's the month during which I have to write a paper, give a lecture, and have family visiting for a week and a half...but I've been frustrated lately that I spend so much time doing things and so little time making things, and I need to set aside time for this, for MY sake. I also need to remember that a lot of what I do really is about making things, and this will actually force me to look at what I do on a daily basis as working towards things I am making in the long-run.

I'm planning to take the "something" in the title rather vaguely -- which means that, for the next 31 days, you'll get updates about everything from school stuff (I have a paper to write and a lecture to give in the next month, not to mention research for another paper to start in on, and a syllabus to plan, and a conference to start thinking about) to kitchen stuff (I've recently become a lot more invested in cooking, so possibly some of my creative things will be recipes or meal plans!) to fandom stuff (I know it's been ages since I have been active in Young Wizards fandom, and that frustrates me and so maybe I will work to change that) to actually Making Things With My Hands (probably via knitting, but who knows?).

I'll use this as a masterpost throughout the month to keep track of the "things" I'm working on, but I'll also be posting what I've accomplished at the end of each day, one post per day, to this journal. My first post will show up later tonight.

Anyone else in this with me?

Things by day:

Day 1: Breakfast for dinner (+ biscuit recipe)
Day 2: Seminar paper planning
Day 3: ---
Day 4: Secondary source report
Day 5: Interiority as social media in the works of Jane Austen
Day 6: Two types of cookies (+ recipes)
Day 7: Sausage, kale, red onion, and ricotta pizza (+ recipe)
Day 8: ---
Day 9: ---
Day 10: Raspberry ricotta scones (+ recipe)
Day 11: Beef stew and rosemary rolls (+ recipes)
Day 12: ---
Day 13: Worked on Persuasion lecture
Day 14: Delivered Persuasion lecture
Day 15: Blackberry gin fizz (+ recipe)
Day 16: Lemon ricotta pancakes (+ recipe)
Day 17: Some meta on "making" & chocolate brioche pretzel rolls (+ recipe)
Day 18: Jane Austen English Department AU & seminar paper planning

Things by topic:

Food: 1, 6, 7, 10, 11, 15, 16, 17

Seminar Paper: 2, 18

Other school assignments: 4, 13, 14

Unassigned academic work: 5

Meta: 17

Fiction: 18

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readingredhead: (Default)
readingredhead

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