Cool Beans

So… I keep promising to update more regularly, and then I disappear for a number of months. What’s up with that? It’s probably because I never pinky promised and only pinky promises make for binding contracts. 😛 In all seriousness though, grad school has me pretty swamped and a lot has changed in my life since I last posted (I’d like to think I’ve grown up a bit). I probably won’t be able to write that much the rest of this semester since paper season is upon us, but I thought this was exciting enough to share: I’m officially signed up to TA a Shakespeare class! That’s right. If you’re an undergrad at UVA, you can now sign up for my discussion section. Awesome possum.

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“I go alone/ Like to a lonely dragon”

A conversation with the boyfriend –

Me: Did you know that Shakespeare made the word “lonely” popular? Like people didn’t use that word until Shakespeare. But that’s crazy ’cause its so common now.

Boyfriend: Maybe people were just really happy before and then Shakespeare came along and opened Pandora’s box. And everyone was sad. 😦

Well… not quite, although Harold Bloom’s Shakespeare: the Invention of the Human does make a similar (controversial) claim. Whether or not Shakespeare was the first to discover or conceive of individual psychology (and then make that concept popular), he certainly left us with a great set of new vocabulary with which to describe our inner selves. One of the most fundamental things that I believe and love about literature is that language can change the way we think and see the world. Shakespeare was a great inventor of language and he was so good at saying “what oft was thought, but ne’er so well expressed” as Alexander Pope would put it. (Although, to temper my bardolatry, I will also say that he produced some duds like “unfix”.)

A lot of non-English majors I know shrug off Shakespeare like a chore, something they had to read in high school, and they wonder how Hamlet or Much Ado About Nothing will ever be useful. Maybe its because Renaissance drama is my specialization, but I really do feel like Shakespearean studies is important precisely because Shakespearean language has influenced so much of Western culture since the 1600s. Ever use the words “dejected,” “ruminate,” or “pious”? Or even “abstemious” – which is usually the second or third word on any SAT vocab list? You have Shakespeare to thank for that.

Now that I’ve given my “why I love English” speech of the day, it’s time to get back to converting citations for my professor’s article on Shakespearean neologisms. It’s tedious, but also insanely awesome because it’s like I’m reading a top secret unpublished manuscript. I love my new job.

Joining the Conversation

Physics is like sex: sure, it may give some practical results, but that’s not why we do it.” – Richard Feynman

With this quote, Anthropology professor Jerry Moore concluded his keynote speech at the 17th annual Southern California Conference on Undergraduate Research (SCCUR), held this year at CSU Dominguez Hills. Moore’s point, in an address titled “Undergraduate Research in Difficult Times,” is that there is something wonderfully satisfying and pleasurable about university research that cannot be replaced by trade schools and technical training programs. People may see academic pursuits as a luxury in this slumping economy, but Moore argues that there must always be a place where people can learn, wonder, and discover. Research, as Moore puts it, is the best way to learn.

This weekend, Lillian (of Scientific Lillian) and I joined 400+ participants at SCCUR 2009 in embracing and celebrating the necessity and beauty of research, particularly at the undergraduate level. I got to sit in on two oral presentation sessions (including my own) as well as spend some time looking at posters during a poster session. I was impressed by the seriousness and dedication of the presenters as well as the creativity and range of the questions and approaches that they took. From 1950s Hollywood censorship to vanity sizing in women’s jeans, the presentations definitely ran a gamut of research topics.

During my own panel, the presenters spoke on Islamophobia in the US media and Renaissance rhetorical practices in Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra. Presenting last, I talked about collaborative authorship in Renaissance theatre, particularly focusing on Henry VIII and The Two Noble Kinsmen. I wasn’t especially nervous as I had already given a preliminary version of this presentation at a previous conference. But at the same time, there is always a certain amount of insecurity about how your ideas will be received.

I think academic conferences are important for this very reason. Research can be lonely, but it is so so important to find your own tribe to share your ideas with and get feedback from. In my honors research colloquia, we’re always talking about inserting ourselves into the scholarly conversation and showing our awareness of previous scholarship. Oftentimes in undergraduate literary research, this means responding to journal articles and critical theories. But at some point, we hopefully begin to engage in real life debates with the people we used to cite in our papers. We will struggle to meet their challenges and questions and eventually we will emerge the better for it. Fancy ideas are just fancy ideas until you test them against an audience and persuade them to see things your way.

Personally, I also find conferences to be a great source of motivation to get cracking on my own research project in the same way that Googling grad school CVs already makes me worry about getting published. You’re filled with a nervous energy, but its the good kind that inspires your ambition and excites the spirit. Going to a conference with 400+ presenters really hits home the fact that a lot of people are doing exactly what you’re doing so you better work harder than ever if you want a shot at the whole professor thing.

Permission to Go Insane? Granted.

The smell of brand-new books waiting to be opened and annotated. The fresh pages of notebook paper. The bright-eyed students eager to bury their heads in books, neglecting the beautiful sunny day outside. Spring quarter has arrived! After a difficult but rewarding winter quarter, Sophia Literaria is ready to… go through the torture all over again. 🙂 With the GRE out of the way, I decided to take on extra (22) units this quarter, resulting in the following reading list:

  • Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night’s Dream
  • shakespeareglobeShakespeare, As You Like It
  • Shakespeare, Much Ado About Nothing
  • Shakespeare, Sonnets
  • Shakespeare, Richard II
  • Shakespeare, Henry IV, part I
  • Shakespeare, Titus Andronicus
  • Shakespeare, Julius Caesar
  • Shakespeare, Hamlet
  • Dryden, All for Love
  • Inchbald, The Mogul Tale
  • southerne_oroonoko_Colman the Younger, Blue-Beard
  • Southerne, Oroonoko
  • Bickerstaff, The Padlock
  • Rowson, Slaves in Algiers
  • Gay, Polly
  • Colman the Younger, Inkle and Yarico
  • Sheridan, Pizarro
  • Steele, Conscious Lovers
  • Lillo, London Merchant
  • Williams, Craft of Argument
  • Booth, Craft of Research
  • Culler, Literary Theory: A Very Short Introduction

Not to mention secondary works, the books I’m reading for my independent research project, submissions for Aleph, and articles for my Information Studies seminar. Lovely. No wonder I indulge in television and comic books/manga in my spare time (the less words the better!).

200px-delirium_sandmanBut the truth is I love being crazy busy. I love the challenge of making sense of a hard passage, the adrenaline of filling up a bluebook during a midterm, the sense of achievement when all those late nights pay off, and the satisfaction of turning in a paper that you’re actually proud of. Maybe I drive myself crazy with work because I like the affirmation at the end of the quarter that, despite all the pain and frustration, I still adore English. Even after struggling (and complaining) through The Faerie Queene all winter quarter, I can still say that there’s nothing else I’d rather be studying. Literature is my soulmate. 🙂

Brownie points if anyone can guess what three classes I’m taking based on this list (One of them is really easy, but let’s see how specific you can get)! AND extra brownie points if you know where the last picture is from!