I was delighted to be invited to give the keynote at this year’s Northwest Undergraduate Conference on Literature at the beautiful University of Portland. You can read about the conference here, on their English Department blog, and here’s an excerpt from the remarks.
Scenes from a Life Loving Books; Or, Everything I Think I Know about Stories I Learned from Barry Manilow
I actually do think that reading literature makes you a better person, which sounds positively 19th century — maybe even 18th or 17th century — but also kind of 21st century, as cognitive science, the emerging field of “literary neuroscience” proves irrefutably that Jane Austen makes you smarter. Literature does make you a better person by engaging people in big questions of humanity and civilization, or at least it gives you the equipment to recognize when those questions are being asked, and maybe even to grapple with their answers, myriad and various though they are. But more and more I think that literature is important because it allows us to give in to our impulse for play as well. AND, perhaps an even more important point, and an even weirder thing to say, is that literary criticism is important because it allows us to give in to our impulse for play.
We don’t necessarily think of literary critics as the types to go in for fun. But that’s sort of why I began with a kind of “autobiography of the reader,” writing the life of the critic, in order to model just one version of how a reader gets to be who she is, and in the telling of my story I’m offering an instance of play. Such a story provides an opportunity to think about how we develop a sense of who we are as readers, and how we begin to understand the questions and ideas that are most important to us. You all have a story like this, and while I’m talking you might even think a bit about what it is. In the time remaining to me, I’d like to focus on what I’ve done with these origins and this still-emergent critical stance, and how I think criticism works — how the incredibly important empathic and affective function literature serves exists in what is to me a very exciting and productive dynamic with play — and how the job, the use, the delight, the necessity of literary criticism is to illuminate that dynamic — and, finally, how literary criticism does this by performing and enacting both the incredibly important empathic function and the play. Literary criticism explains by doing, it doesn’t just tell, it shows, and this is why we need it. It shows us how to play, how to care, how to have an intelligent conversation — indeed, how to fulfill what Lionel Trilling called “the moral obligation to be intelligent.” Who would ever say, in our world today, that we don’t need more empathy and more play?
I was prompted by this post from Cathy Davidson on making online professional engagement visible and this piece in the Chronicle on #altmetrics to use TweetLibrary and Storify to archive my tweets. I began using Twitter for professional purposes in 2009, shortly after receiving tenure. It’s been an important part of my working life, but I never thought about how it illustrates my areas of engagement until now.
The archive reflects work I’ve done post-tenure in a number of areas: teaching/assessment, scholarly research and writing, blogging and chatting on professional issues, chairing a department, moving into advocacy for the humanities both in the classroom and the public square, and keeping up with developments in my discipline (such as digital humanities). I’ve attended conferences and contributed not only presentations via the traditional paper but also content to the backchannel via livetweeting. The archive illustrates the ways we can connect with colleagues to share ideas, ask questions, and keep our own learning and development going.
Screenshot of my Storify archive
But as part of that, I realized going through the material that the archive also offers a window into something we don’t often get to see: process. If you go through the archive, you’ll see the early stages of projects, brainstorming for blog posts, a public testing of ideas and an appreciation of feedback. You’ll also see the impact, however small, that some of this work has. That’s something else that’s not always visible in scholarly work. Using this tool, I can get a sense of who is reading my work, the extent to which it gets passed around and commented upon, and whether or not what I’m doing is making a difference and contributing to a dialogue. It’s not the only way to measure the reach of faculty work, but it might be a valuable way.
Posted in blogging, higher ed, humanities, research, teaching
Tagged altmetrics, assessment, biography, blogging, HASTAC, humanities, James Joyce, leadership, modernism, Modernist Studies Association, narrative, peer review, profession, ProfHacker, publishing, scholarship, teaching, technology, THATCamp, University of Venus
Welcome to the new and improved website.
This fall I’ll be in Buffalo for the Modernist Studies Association annual conference: Thursday at the seminar “The Emotional Life of Modernism,” and Sunday speaking on the panel “Modernism and Ethics,” organized by Stephen Ross. I’ll be presenting on my current work, about which more here.
In the past few months I’ve also had blog posts up at The Comics Grid, ProfHacker, and University of Venus/Inside Higher Ed/Guardian UK.
Posted in blogging, travel
Tagged biography, James Joyce, leadership, modernism, Modernist Studies Association, ProfHacker, teaching, Ulysses, University of Venus, women