De realitatis falsis
I'm teaching composition this semester, and at the moment I am grading their first papers, which are to varying degrees an analytical explication of the elements of short fiction. Most of them are all right, but I've come across a disturbing pattern of error in not only their prose but also their thinking: several of them have proposed that something is a "false reality" or that "reality [is] that nothing is as it seems."
As I understand it, these terms would seem to be paradoxical: the idea of reality, especially as we mean it in the post-Enlightenment world, is that there is a single state of being from which all our knowledge arises. To adapt and perpetuate a misinterpretation of Gertrude Stein, there is a there there, and it cannot be changed. What changes is our perception of reality, and that perception is what can be said to be "true" or "false." So why, then, have my students conflated their idea of reality with reality itself, to the effect that they feel it possible to say that reality itself can, on occasion, not be real?
In all likelihood, there are a number of factors at work, from the trickle-down Romantic idealism so popular in American bourgeois culture to the daily barrage of poorly constructed syllogisms that is our current political climate. I'm not out to lay the blame anywhere, but I am sincerely disappointed that not one but several of my students appear to think that reality itself can be unreal. Surrealism I can accept; dreams I can accept; but an unreal reality is too paradoxical for an old materialist like me.
It does lead me to ask, though: what do you think? Am I overreacting, or are there in fact reasons why our students can't tell the difference between "false perceptions of reality" and "false realities"?

Edit: Meanwhile, my parents are in town, and we had brunch (how bourgeois!) at La Maison des Tartes (how aristo!), which was very tasty. On the way back, we took the bike trail, and overtook not only several nice people but a very strange pair of animals: a Great Dane and a small pig, both with the same piebald markings. The Dane was friendly, but the pig was confused. Overall, an amusing afternoon.


Gonzo Journalism Science

Aside from everything else in my life being about normal (behind on reading, behind on projects, behind on grading, life, love, and happiness—hey, it is grad school), I now have a new hero. See, I work in the University's Writing Center sometimes, and today I met with a master's candidate to set up times to work over his thesis. The kicker?

This guy blows up chickens for a living.

Well, not really, but he does inject them with a virus that causes their skins to rupture. So, it's either he blows up chickens or he makes George-Romero-zombies out of them. Either way, that's pretty cool.

Gross, but cool.


Project Updates

I've begun stabbing blindly at writing toward the Utopian survey project. In the course of this research, however, I turned up last Autumn's issue of the JMEMS, which was Karma Lochrie's special Utopian issue. There are a few good moments in that issue, and in Lochrie's essay especially but I haven't been impressed by the scholarship at all. Indeed, at the risk of being that wide-eyed idiot who dismisses things he doesn't like as "excessively bourgeois," I suspect that a lot of utopian scholarship either doesn't go into the HX sections of college libraries, or does but wanders out in a daze (I'll admit that the latter happens to me quite often, though the Ernst Bloch dazes are especially rhapsodic). In any case, a lot of what I've read so far has been fluffy scholarship, full of ifs and mights and lacking in a lot of common sense. Medievalists also seem keen to grapple with "utopianism-before-Utopia," as if More's libellum nugarum was some sort of foundational text along the lines of Wealth of Nations or Das Kapital. But it's not: it's the culmination of one tradition and the inception of another, less Also Spracht Zarathustra and more Le Morte Darthur. But I'll go into greater detail on this as we move through the semester.

I've done less work on my alliterative revival paper, though I do think I'll shoot for working with Pearl. Thankfully a recent article by Helen Barr, "Pearl—or 'The Jeweller's Tale,'" has explored a lot of the class issues inherent in Pearl; moving from that to "utopian visions for the emergent bourgeoisie" should be a snap. Whether it's a snap of the fingers or a snap of my neck we'll know soon enough.

Meanwhile, I've been served with jury duty sometime between the first of October and the end of December. I wouldn't mind it if it wasn't for the fact that they will not call me until a day or two before they want me, so I get to spend [n<90] days waiting for a phone call that will cause me to panic and reschedule, probably at the last minute and with some degree of pain toward my students.


Blog Is Not Lost

No, I haven't disappeared: it's just been a busy two weeks, is all. I'm back to teaching composition for the first time in a year, and it's both refreshing and frustrating. I have rather enjoyed teaching literature, being able to come in and just say "What is this about? How does it work? Does it even work at all?" and while one can do that with the composition courses, I also have to spend time explaining how they need to construct arguments and sentences: it's teaching two and a half liberal arts at once (dashes of grammar, rhetoric, and dialectic), and it's a bit of a drag. On the upside, the classes are smaller and the prep is easier, leaving more time for the insane class schedule I now find myself taking.

I've signed up for two seminars: one on Discourse Analysis and another on the Alliterative Revival. Both should be good, and both should generate material towards my dissertation. My current plan in the DA course is to build a chapter in which I examine (to borrow a Raymond Carver title) what medievalists talk about when they talk about utopia. So far I've got some Le Goff, a few articles in German, Spanish, and Italian, and (for better or worse) Michael Uebel's Ecstatic Transformation: On the Uses of Alterity in the Middle Ages. I'll plough through these and whatever else turns up, and with any luck produce something worthwhile and possibly part of an opening chapter.

The same holds true for the Alliterative Revival. Right now, the dissertation looks to be shaping up into an examination of dream-visions as sources of utopic energy, specifically how the middle ages imagined the city, the other, and the self. The AR paper will likely focus on Pearl, Langland, or something more obscure. In any case, I've had to put aside any plans for popular romance until another project.

Right now, I'm at that stage in a project where I'm excited to find out what's been said, but I'm afraid I'm not going to have anything to say myself. I'm also beginning to get burnt out on doing coursework, as I feel like having to take classes is sapping my ability to do my work. Is that normal for a second-year PhD, do you think?

In completely one-off news, I am now the proud owner of maps which show the world's landmasses as they will look when the oceans rise by 100m. Frankly, I can't wait to sail the Gulf of Louisiana or live on the island of Wales, just south of the Irish archipelago. Despite the loss of just about every major capital of the world—London, Washington, Rio, St. Petersburg, Shanghai, etc.—I can't help but think that these maps also show some hope: new oceans in the deserts, new kinds of politics, perhaps even entire nations cobbled from the seas (shades of China MiĆ©ville). Those maps are here, by the way.