Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Ho! Ho! Holly Cr@p!

The holidays are upon us again: the Christmas tree is standing in the room so proud and festive, the presents are under the tree, the lights are twinkling joyfully, and the little black dress hangs ready, freshly ironed, for another party. You are probably thinking about your menu for the annual Christmas feast, more gifts, the fireplace being (not) delivered, and more cleaning. But somewhere in the middle of it all you want to break down and cry. The feeling just sneaks up on you, the stress having been building up for a while: it just creeps into your head and overwhelms your entire being. And suddenly the Christmas cheer and glitter and laughter--like the early morning mists over the mountains--dissolve themselves into a full-blown depression, and all you want to do is stab yourself in the eye with the tree topper. I don't know how it happens. It just does. And I have a feeling I am not the only one susceptible to holiday melancholy.

Is it that we start retrospecting on the year past: our accomplishments, our failures...? I don't know about you, but all the little things that bothered me all year, all my imperfections, all disappointments grow into immeasurable proportions and blow up in my face. Suddenly, I realize that I have no accomplishments to speak of, I've achieved nothing; I've only angered and annoyed people, pushed family and friends away with my incessant perfectionist comments, smug opinions, and impeccable taste. What I've lost in friends, I gained in weight. I smile and hold the door for people I can't stand and show the door to the people I love. I have pretended to be a tower of strength, a model of an enlightened human being, a brilliant, shiny success, when really all this time I've been secretly dealing with low-spirits and perfect lack of confidence. What a sham!

The good news is that now that I have recognized the symptoms and identified the malady, I can work on an effective treatment. The first small accomplishment: first person singular. Dispensing with the impersonal second person, first person plural, or--worse yet--third person narrative means I am ready to own up to my issued. They belong to me! The "I" makes them mine!

Next, I need to think positive: pink frosting, sugar canes, and marshmallow pies. What have I accomplished? I have
  • come to important realizations (ie, that I am my worst enemy, that there is no one in the department interested in working with my thesis, that people barely tolerate me but that I need them more than I would like to admit, that despite my newly-found love of mankind I don't like them enough to enjoy teaching, that I am overeducated as it is and should quit before I go completely gray and the economy worsens even more so that the only jobs available would be for flipping burgers at the neighborhood fast-food joint... oh, wait! I was supposed to be positive! Darn! It's more difficult than I thought. I am Eeyore!);
  • made important decisions (ie, to quit grad school and get a real job for a change because any further investment in education will be detrimental to my sanity, my family, my "career" goals, and to my bank account);
  • overcome my fear of commitment (ie. bought a beautiful house in a quiet neighborhood and a good school district so my child can attend a decent public school, and finally married the man I live with, climb with, ski with, and tolerate... ok, fine! Love! There! I said it!);
  • improved my quality of life (ie. read books I actually enjoyed reading, unleashed my creativity in art, design, interior design, and cooking);
  • climbed better and harder ('nough said!)...
I should stop here before I lose my faithful reader, but at least the exercise got my spirits up a bit. Try it! I promise it will make you feel better and perhaps even dispel some of the holiday gloom. Now it's time to take an hour to yourself: no work, no school, no shopping, no cleaning... just you, a good book, a cup of coffee, and a cozy couch. And during this holiday season remember to enjoy and appreciate the little things that life has to offer! Happiness comes from inside of you, and it turns out it has nothing to do with external circumstances.  So look deep down and find your happiness. Merry Christmas to all!

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Georgia on My Mind

I have been asked lately what was my favorite font... Hmmm... I love my fonts: the simple but stylish like Century Gothic; the bold and thick like Arial Black and Impact; the funky and trendy like Cracked, Curlz, and Mesquite; and the cursive, of course, such as Edwardian Script. They are all wonderful! They all offer something different. But in the end, I would have to go with Georgia for its versatility and elegance. It is a well-known fact that serif fonts are easier to read than sans serif typefaces. Of course, every font has its proper use in the design world, but if I had a large body of text to display, I would forgo the artsy, trendy, and strange for a simple, elegant serif.

"Well, what about Times New Roman, Baskerville, or even Garamond?," you may ask. Why is Georgia so special? Georgia (like Times New Roman and Baskerville) combines the old with the modern but excels in readability because of its large x-height. It is also slightly wider than Times or Baskerville, which gives it a jolly look, I imagine: it has character--sort of like Falstaff or Sir Toby--without being pretentious or artificial. It makes you feel comfortable. Yet it is an elegant font, which is especially apparent in its numerals: unlike the lining figures of Time and Baskerville, Georgia offers old-style figures that are of inconsistent height: some drop below baseline, some soar all the way to cap height. They look playful and frivolous like notes dancing on a music sheet. Yet for all its uniqueness and subtle complexity, it does not draw attention to itself.

Now that I've described my fondness for this particular font it seems to me that our preference in fonts reflects who we are. I look at Georgia, and I want to be like Georgia: elegant, versatile, playful, unpretentious, slightly kooky, but not flashy, and definitely likeable. A font then becomes a magic mirror that, like a loved one, reflects only what is good, virtuous, and admirable within us. It erases all the imperfections of our character, all faults. Perhaps I'm simply pointing at the real function of art: it makes us into better people. It erases the line between what is imaginary and merely desired and what is real. From it springs a Platonic conception of ourselves. So I don't want to be like Mike. I want to be like Georgia.

And this is why I design with Georgia on my mind.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Carnival! Carnival!

Carnival! Carnival! 2011. Acrylic on canvas, 32 in x 32 in.


Detail

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Tying the Knot: Rock Climbers' Wedding

Mid July, the day has come when my climbing partner of three years asked me to marry him: on one of our climbing trips to Eleven Mile Canyon, while we were all sitting around a campfire, he asked everyone to turn their headlamps on, and said, "This place has been sacred to me," suddenly turned towards me, dropped on one knee, and pulled out a diamond ring. How could I refuse? I trust him with my life every time we climb. Can marriage require any more commitment?



So after a week or two of avoiding setting the date, I finally looked at my calendar and realized that if we wanted to get married this year, it would need to be at the beginning of October at the latest. We wanted to get married on the rock in Eleven Mile Canyon--one of the most beautiful canyons in the state. The canyon is located in Colorado, near a small town of Lake George, west of Colorado Springs, over 8,000 feet above sea level. This means that starting October the weather has the potential of turning to hail, sleet, and snow. It did not take me long to realize that if I did not want to wait until May of next year, I needed to plan a wedding within two months.

We knew the wedding would be for rock climbers. We were both married before, so we wanted an informal celebration. Also, we had monetary limitations: we'd rather spend the money on climbing equipment than on a wedding.


The Invitations:

Being a designer and art director, I opened up Photoshop, dusted off the scanner, and went to work. The obvious choice was to use the pun on “tying a knot.” The visual of a knot I chose was the double fisherman out of one of our climbing books, as it ties two separate ropes, just as a marriage ties two separate people. The invitations and the cards were printed on a store-bought pre-cut card stock from Hobby Lobby using a DeskJet printer for the total cost of $25 (envelopes included).
 

The Dress:

I knew I needed a dress that I could climb in. So I headed to David's Bridal with my climbing harness, rock shoes, and climbing pants to get fitted. The staff thought the idea was a riot. The dress had to be off-white, loose, and relatively short. The color was prescribed not only by our previous marital status and mature age (35 and 52) but also by the potential of getting dirty while climbing. I chose a strapless dress, just below the knee, layered with semi-transparent organza with a subtle leaf print. As accessories I chose a black belt and a cream colored vale with a black trim. Black was a natural choice: it is my favorite color, and it matched my climbing pants.



The Decorations:

My fiance was rather particular. He did not want any cut flowers: being part Native American, he was against "killing" plants. So I opted for a dried wheat bouquet tied with a black satin ribbon. For the hair, I chose a twig of natural wood flowers I found at Hobby Lobby. As the campground table centerpiece, a yellow bucket nestled in a fall door wreath filled with ice and wine bottles was both practical, seasonally appropriate, and pretty.


The Ceremony:

I did not get a chance to worry about climbing in a wedding dress, because I was too worried about the imminent rainfall. As we drove into the canyon, we were greeted with a huge rain storm with thunder, lightening, the works...  As we pulled up to the rock where the ceremony was to take place, it stopped raining. The rock was not even wet when we began the ascent. The four of us--the bride, groom, maid of honor, and best man--climbed up to a rather comfortable shelf about 100 feet off the ground. Climbing that rock proved to be easier than I thought. Then, as the music played John Denver's "Annie's Song," the groom descended with the best man. I followed with my maid of honor to the sound of "1 2 3 4" by Plain White T's.


In case you haven't noticed already, my attentive reader, we chose to forgo traditional Christian rituals and made the wedding into our own following our own secular spirituality associated with the love of nature in the spirit of Native American beliefs. The ceremony and the exchange of vows was performed on a boulder under the climb with our children reading short passages modeled on the Native American ritual. We both wrote our own vows and read them lastly (mine, of course, the product of an English major, were way longer with deep literary references that were probably lost on my audience... oh well). After the ceremony we all proceeded to our campground for the party around a campfire.

The Party Favors:

Since this was to be an outdoors wedding with a campfire reception, the idea for party favors came naturally: s'more kits for everyone!


Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Art of History

I've devoted an entire day to reading more of Metahistory trying to understand White's differentiations based on modes of emplotment, ideologies, and narrative tropes. What I find interesting is that he identifies the romance and the satire as the primary modes of historical thinking during the 19th century. White's thesis undermines any scientific status given to history, instead proposing that all history is fiction and can offer no more authenticity or facticity than literature. If that is so, then whether we're looking at Scott's historical novels, Carlyle's account of the French Revolution, or Gibbon's history, all these narratives offer the same kind of "knowledge."

Now, if Scott fits the romance paradigm, then Shelley would fit the satire paradigm: satire is Shelley's primary mode of expression of his political ideology. That, according to White's schema, would make Shelley a liberal (and Scott an anarchist?). Shelley is certainly a liberal, and if the philosopher most associated with satire (ideally, that is) is Croce, then his idealist philosophy definitely fits Shelley. But what does it say about Scott?

Having read two of Scott's novels I found his heroes passive, pusillanimous, and ineffectual--nothing like Byron's heroes: "Mad, bad, and dangerous to know." Edward Waverly lets things happen to him: he hardly ever makes his own decisions. The action of The Heart of Mid-Lothian depends on Jeannie's devotion to save her sister. And even so, Jeanie's moralistic, Christian, conformist choice to tell the truth in court, instead of telling "a white lie," would have resulted in ounces of ink salvaged and many a pages less to read.

White writes that a romance is "fundamentally a drama of self-identification symbolized by the hero’s transcendence of the world of experience, his victory over it, and his final liberation from it--the sort of drama associated with Grail legend or the story of the resurrection of Christ in Christian mythology. It is a drama of the triumph of good over evil, of virtue over vice, of light over darkness, and of the ultimate transcendence of man over the world in which he was imprisoned by the Fall" (White 8-9). In other words, a romance epitomizes Christian values in a world divided into easy moral dichotomies. It is a drama of redemption as men ultimately triumph over it, as reflected most accurately in Nietzsche's philosophy, according to White. Of course, Nietzsche would have nothing to do with dichotomies: dichotomies of any sort are imaginary and totally wrong--especially the binary rules of morality imposed by the Judeo-Christian tradition. What White wants to associate with the existentialist in his theory is Nietzsche's emphasis on "Metaphorical consciousness," I think, especially as it manifests itself in myth. Where Irony is the denial of life, Metaphor is life's heroic affirmation. 


What Scott does in his novels then is escape into a metaphor: he gives history order and form as if it were the truth. His books produce heroes not because of the deeds they commit, but rather by their embrace of this newly created or mythologized reality accepting all the consequences instead of evading them despite the premonition or awareness of historical facts eventually leading to their own destruction. Perhaps this is the reason why Scott was so dearly loved as a novelist: he mythologized the past in order to make it palatable after the cultural, widespread disenchantment with the French Revolution. He tried to turn history into a good story in order to empower the next generation to have the strength and the confidence to take the future into its own hands despite the mishaps of the past.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

On Method

It's the middle of the summer! I have a month and a half before my exams, and having completed all my primary readings I'm concentrating on the critical and philosophical part of my studies. This week I started (re)reading some of the more influential scholarship on Shelley. And, having read Pulos, I've moved onto a more recent study by Hoagwood. Critical methods have certainly changed in 30 years! Although Mr. Pulos' situation of Shelley's philosophical position in the skeptical tradition from Plato to Hume and Kant offers a comprehensive explication of skeptical thought influential to Shelley, this kind of mapping of the poet's thought against philosophy that Mr. Pulos, along with others (including Notopoulos and even Hoagwood himself) is as artificial as Hume's skeptical conclusion of causation: just because there is a constant and evident conjunction between the two (historically and ideologically), doesn't mean that the connection is real. It is merely imagined by the critic.

But isn't literary analysis in general all about imagined connections, you might ask? What would Mr. Freud say about it? What would Marx? How do feminist theories deal with this issue? Queer theories? New historicist? I guess what we're pointing to is a difference in scholarship: it is one thing to take a piece of literature and try to re-interpret it within a different theoretical framework, regardless of the author's intentions, and another to impose a rubric on the author, within which he has developed his work. What I see as a major problem with the latter kind of scholarship is that it makes dogmatic assumptions, and with them possible distortions, of the original work. What Mr. Pulos, Mr. Notopoulos, Mr. Hoagwood among others assume is that Shelley was consciously aligning himself with some philosophical tradition. But Shelley, as much as he toyed with the idea of being a philosopher, was a poet. So why are we desperately seeking to find some consistent form of philosophy in his writings?

Hoagwood in the prologue to his volume strongly suggests the other critics' (such as Mr. Scrivener in Radical Shelley and P. M. S. Dawson in Unacknowledged Legislator) treatment of "Shelley's poetry or poetics as an ultimate end" is erroneous and "unnecessary" (xvii). O Mr. Hoagwood! You are confused! What I'm seeing is an attempt at re-inventing Shelley (once again) as a philosopher. I must acknowledge that Mr. Hoagwood's method is limited to Shelley's prose works; however, as a poet, Shelley's prose indeed has the same narcissistic, self-reflective, language-centered quality that privileges imagination over reason. Since Shelley is a poet and not a philosopher, I propose treating his poetry and poetics as a commanding centerpiece of scholarship.

Here I am not suggesting that Shelley was not both a poet and a philosopher. In fact, he was one of the most philosophical poets of his age. I do not reject his prose works as having no philosophical value; I only would like to stress that the critical method some of the critics have employed is inappropriate perhaps given the fact that Shelley as a master of language, self-proclaimed "legislator of the world," and--if we believe J. L. Austin--a creator of the world manipulates language not in search of some objective truth but rather to deconstruct conventional conceptions or cultural dogmas into epoche or "suspension of judgment," in Sextus Empiricus' terminology or John Keats' "negative capability."

Thus in my project, I would like to consider Shelley's poetry and poetics (along with Wordsworth's and Beddoes's as representatives of their respective "generations" of Romanticism) as an unconscious response to the apparent pervading social anxiety over the passage of time. In my thesis I am more concerned about the problems of time, space, and identity and their evolution during the period between 1790s and 1840s through the lens of poetry of these three literary figures, and less about what these poets had to say about the problem: not the conscious commentary on time but their intimations.

Why look at poetry rather than philosophical or social tracts? Because what poets offer is an acute sensitivity to their sociopolitical environment that finds outlet in their poetry for the perceived anxiety. As Shelley explained to Godwin in a letter of December 11, 1817 regarding Laon and Cythna, "I am formed, if for anything not in common with the herd of mankind, to apprehend minute and remote distinctions of feeling, whether relative to external nature or the living beings which surround us, and to communicate the conceptions which result from considering either the moral or the material universe as a whole. Of course, I believe these faculties, which perhaps comprehend all that is sublime in man, to exist very imperfectly in my own mind." Unlike philosophical treatises, poetical reflections offer a glimpse at an individual psyche, rather than gross generalizations of a society at large, and hence, a more complex and detailed look at pervading cultural apprehensions.

In Romantic poetry and poetics we can find encoded perhaps a unique, profound but subtle hermaneutics of time. Because poetry quite often reveals more about the poet and his soul than about the world he/she attempts to describe, a careful analysis of the language provides a time portal into history. Through Wordsworth, Shelley, and Beddoes I would like to deepen the understanding of the Romantic concept of time, the passage of time, the anxiety over its fragmentation--a concern over the separation between the past and the present--, and its effect on the construction (or deconstruction) of Romantic identity.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Dealing with Death

In the past week, I have been teaching elegies, from the 18th to the 20th Century. What I found fascinating was the change in elegiac tradition in literary history. The most stark difference in my selection, simply in terms of the temporal gap, was between Gray's Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard and Stevens' "The Owl in the Sarcophagus."

Mr. Gray evokes the emotions of grief and melancholy through his pastoral landscape drowning in the darkness of the evening: "The lowing herd winds slowly o'er the lea," "the beetle wheels his droning flight," "The moping owl does to the moon complain." Everything in this homely churchyard wanes from view in the darkness of the upcoming night, just like all the inhabitants of this wonderful world wane with each day, awaiting their hour of darkness in death. The scene created by the poet is quite stark: he provides plenty of detail for the mind to be able to recreate that scene, to see it with its inward eye of the imagination.

Mr. Stevens, on the other hand, in one of his habitual incomprehensible modernist mood, evokes a certain pathos in a different way. His poem is inhabited by images more abstract, less tangible: "Two forms move among the dead," "There sleep the brother is the father, too,/ And peace is cousin by a hundred names," "Peace stood with our last blood adorned," etc. These phantoms pass through the poem like ghosts, but the mood of grief and sadness is created by the fluidity of language: we don't really know what he's talking about but, boy, it sounds great! The words roll off the tongue and make us rather intuit the emotion in the beauty of language. We are soothed by the sounds alone: it is comforting us in the presence of death that somewhere, somehow lurks between the lines.

The difference in coping with grief in that span of 200 years rests in abstraction. Where Mr. Gray clings to concrete material objects and ground himself in the corporeal world in order to embrace the melancholy for the ones that passed away, Mr. Stevens chooses to leave the well-known in order to wallow in abstractions, indefinite reality, perhaps the transient images of our imagination created as if in a day-dream but beautiful and serene all the same. He invites us into the world of death, the world of the unknown--"The undiscover'd country, from whose bourne/ No traveler returns"--by appealing to the unknown. Language itself becomes the conciliatory agent.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Imagine!

The author of The Little Prince, Antoine de Saint-Exupery once wrote, "A rock pile ceases to be a rock pile the moment a single man contemplates it, bearing within him the image of a cathedral." I think Saint-Exupery's comment is too true in Western tradition: our civilization strives, on one hand, to control nature, order it according to our own overactive need for symmetry and, on another, to make it into an object of worship. Human beings seem incapable at taking things at face value: Why can't a rock pile remain a beautiful, natural, chaotic pile of rock? Why can't we see any beauty in it just as it stands? Does everything need to have a perfect structure? And, along with that question, what's with our incessant drive for perfection?

Mr. Wordsworth found perfection in nature as it was--in that field of daffodils, in that landscape of the Tintern Abbey. Nature shaped, created, inspired human emotions: it shaped us; we didn't have the power to change it. Even Tintern Abbey, after all a place of worship, became insensible to him as such: it was a scene of a natural sublime. Yet he still became its "worshipper." He couldn't resist the urge to make nature into divinity--some obscure power man chooses to elevate above everything else. At least he admitted that it controlled him and had no desire to subdue it.

Nature in all its imperfections should show us a way to be satisfied, to find beauty and meaning in objects imperfect, to allow ourselves to be happy. Perhaps, as Mr. Keats suggested, the ability to stop squirming once in a while and allow ourselves to remain in a state of uncertainty "without any irritable reaching after fact & reason" belongs only to poets. But it is not impossible to imagine that there is a poet waiting to be discovered in all of us, that instead of trying to order the universe according to laws, rules, and reason, we could order it instead according to beauty. Wouldn't that kind of structure eliminate any need for wars, conflict, pain? The day when a rock pile perceived remains a rock pile would be the beginning of hope for this civilization. And on that note, I will go and enjoy those rock piles now, rock climbing!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The Sweet World of Teaching

A good instructor does not instruct but provides an environment for the student to learn effectively and, most importantly, willingly.  The learning process should be transparent to the student: he/she should learn without necessarily being aware of being taught. Most effective learning involves a willing, curious, open mind. A good instructor offers a student a world of ideas and an opportunity to engage with these concepts intellectually. Why would a student be interested in the concepts instructor is trying to convey? Because the instructor’s enthusiasm for the subject he/she is teaching is contagious. The role of an instructor then is similar to the function of a candy store display: there is no question that the kids want it as long as you show it to them. If they see candy, they will want candy.

I am an instructor because I am interested in the process of learning. Each student has a different way of acquiring information: my challenge is to recognize each student’s learning style and cater to it in order for the student to retain the information I am trying to convey without him/ her recognizing my effort and with minimal effort he/ she puts into gaining knowledge, expertise, and interest. I also believe that literature as well as the art of reading and writing are important aspects of being human: literature offers us a wealth of information, opens a whole new world to the imagination, and brings out the best of our nature: feelings of empathy, pity, compassion, tolerance, understanding for another human being, delicacy, good taste, sensitivity to other’s pain and sorrow, a recognition of our own finitude and limitations, our own insignificance in the universe. In short, literature teaches us to be human: to recognize our place in the world, our responsibility to the world, so we can become good ambassadors of our own kind.

The idea of online education presents to me a range of new challenges as well as new possibilities. For once, I will be able to hide my foreign accent and teach without constantly being conscious of the students’ possibly questioning my ability to teach English knowing that it was not even my first, not even my second, language. Some of the challenges I might find are in a different way of interacting with my students, in a different way of getting to know them. How do I show my interest in their success? How do I impart to them my enthusiasm for their education? For literature? How do I avoid making literature seem dry with online lectures and discussion board? In a traditional classroom, if I find I’m losing my students’ interest, I can always walk around, gesticulate, change the intonation of my voice to bring them back; in an online classroom that will not be an option. How do I keep them interested? Some of the more interactive exercises I use in class, such as my descriptive writing assignment, “How to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich?” will not be possible to execute in an online environment.

As I continue to teach, I challenge myself at finding more effective ways, more interactive ways of conveying information to students that they will be able to retain for a lifetime, not only for the duration of the class or the semester. I constantly experiment with different methods of teaching, try to vary the format of the class to keep my students interested in the subject (lecture, discussion, demonstration, visual presentation, group work, etc.). Currently, I am working on improving my discussion questions: how do I ask questions that will provoke a meaningful discussion among the students so that they will forget that there is a moderator in the room? I have a feeling that the experience of teaching online will help me with this particular challenge.

My job, as I see it, is to lead a student in front of that candy store display and watch their mouths water as they gaze upon the wealth of sweets. I cannot make them buy the candy; I cannot force them to eat it; I can only entice them to desire it.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

God is Dead

The Romantic period can be identified by a pulling away from religion or religious iconography to what, what Carlyle termed, "natural supernaturalism": the secularization of spiritual experience by identifying God in nature and in the individual rather than in some abstract realm, church altars, and/ or official figures of the church with the imagination figuring as the faculty of redemption.

Poets started finding spiritual meaning in the natural world and a religious epiphany emerging from the individual himself or the individual's communion with nature. Blake rejected traditional, institutionalized religion in favor of his own system of beliefs: as Los proclaims in Jerusalem, "I must Create a System, or be enslav'd my another Man's." He saw traditional theology as limiting of the power of man and another way of keeping him enslaved and subjugated. Wordsworth found his religion in the natural world, where he became the sole minister of it. As Abrams points out, his Prelude is filled with theological language, but it is secularized. For example, the boat stealing episode expresses a sudden awe at some awful power represented in the "huge Cliff" emerging between the water and the sky that keeps the poet disturbed and agitated for days afterwards. Shelley's antipathy to institutionalized religion is evident in a number of his works, perhaps most ostensibly in The Necessity of Atheism where he argues that because there is no proof of the existence of a Deity, we must resign ourselves to the only reasonable conclusion that there cannot be one. In the Epipsychidion he rejects the "sect" as one of enslavement and "cold oblivion."

Instead of religion the Romantic poets sought a spiritual experience in the objects of the senses--in the beauty and sublimity of the natural world. Wordsworth find "a sense sublime" in nature and a manifestation of God. For him God is everywhere: in the rocks, and trees, and flowers. For Keats, nature is an escape from melancholy: he writes in the Ode to Melancholy that we should "glut our sorrows" on nature because it alone provides pleasure found in its passing beauty. Shelley in Mont Blanc again finds an incomprehensible, awe-inspiring power behind the great mountain, sometimes identified with Godwin's Necessity.

Along with the Evangelicalist, movement in England came the rejection of the "cold" religion of Catholicism and distrust of Catholic priests and monks. The sentiment is evident in the Lewis' The Monk, Owenson's The Missionary, and Shelley's The Cenci, for instance. Lewis' Ambrosio is not only seduced by Matilda, who turns out to be the instrument of Satan, but she encourages him to kill and helps him seduce the innocent Antonia. Owenson's missionary in his attempt to convert a beautiful priestess of Brahma to Catholicism falls in love with her, yet still remains true to his vows. She, for the love of him alone, is excommunicated from her faith and is destroyed by the religious advocates of the religion she chose to follow for the sake of her lover. The missionary at the end realizes that he has destroyed the young maiden's life in his imperialist attempt to "command." In The Cenci, Shelley exposes the hypocrisy of the Church in the figure of Count Cenci, who rapes his own daughter after a banquet, at which she undermines his feigned piety. Morality becomes subjective and personal rather than an objective expression of some theological, essential principles.

The emergence of Gothic fiction is closely related to the people's disenchantment with religion, monasticism, the excesses of the Regency, and politics. As Marilyn Gaull points out, "gothic architecture and antique collecting contributed to the fantasy that was preferable to degeneracy, corruption, and the visible ruins of politics and the church with which many of them have been involved" (Gaull 228). The atmosphere of horror and dread, the presence of ruins, dark castles, and creepy abbeys is symbolic of the devastation and deprivation of the civilized world. For example, in Radcliff's A Sicilian Romance, the atmosphere of horror pervading the haunted castle of Mazzini is symbolic of the marquis' tyrannical, deprived character and of his guilt of imprisoning his wife. In Byron's Manfred, Manfred wants to find peace and forgiveness for his crime of incest and of breaking his Astarte's heart. He uses magic to summon spirits and when he is refused forgiveness, chooses to die defying all authoritative powers, including the Abbots' offer of redemption from sin through religion. Mary Shelley's Frankenstein is probably the most prominent example of Gothic fiction where God, the creator, is displaced by a man, the creator. The story betrays an anxiety of the power of science replacing the tenets of religion.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

The Girl Scout Bartender

It's April! I have finished grading papers! And it's Thursday, which means I've got a weekend ahead... I might even be able to get back to my readings. But for now, in order to unwind, I will amuse myself and you with a drinking guide. It's been a while since I was grossly politically incorrect and offensive, so I figure now is as good a time as ever to don my evil cap and feed you some excellent yet trivial information.

We all love Girl Scout cookies and Girl Scout cookie time. I know you still have a cupboard and perhaps a freezer filled with a stash of your favorite boxes. But you are a sophisticated lady or gentleman and cannot imagine having a desert, snack, meal without a martini to bring out the flavor of the food. Besides, you look good holding one of those gorgeously shaped glasses. Just like a doctorate degree in English Literature or philosophy, a martini is a purely aesthetic invention. Sure, it goes down smoothly and makes you feel good, but unlike other cocktails it's not meant to stupefy you. In fact, getting hammered on martinis is a faux pas, social suicide. It is, as E. B. White famously proclaimed, "an elixir of quietude." So here is a practical guide to pairing martinis with your favorite Girl Scout cookies.

To make these wonderful concoctions you will require special equipment: a martini shaker and a martini glass. You will also need plenty of ice because a warm martini is like a slow Ferrari: it's just not designed that way! Make sure you garnish your martini: the better it looks, the better it tastes.

Thin Mints: Peppermint Martini
In the summer I would definitely eat my Thin Mints with a Mojito; however, it's not hot enough to drink Mojitos and, of course, you don't drink those out of martini glasses, so I opted for a more wintery treat. Besides, even if you had Thin Mints stashed away, your supply is probably dwindling at this time.
  • 2 1/2 part vodka
  • 1 part white creme de menthe
  • 1/2 part peppermint schnapps
  • Garnish with mint leaves or a peppermint stick
Samoas: Coconut Pineapple Martini
It's like a tropical breeze on a sandy beach! Palm trees are swaying as you sip this divine drink.
  • 1 part coconut rum
  • 1 part pineapple juice
  • Splash of amaretto
  • Garnish with a pineapple wedge, maraschino cherry, or an umbrella
Lemon Chalet Creme: Lemondrop Martini 
Lemon cookies naturally go with lemon drinks. This one is a classic!
  • 1 1/2 part vodka citron
  • 3/4 part fresh lemon juice
  • Splash or two of simple syrup
  • Garnish with sugar on the rim and a lemon twist
Do-Si-Dos: Nutty Martini
Peanut butter sandwich cookies must be complemented with a hazelnut tasting drink.
  • 2 parts vodka
  • 1 part Frangelico
  • Garnish with a lemon twist
Thank U Berry Munch: Cosmopolitan 
Dried cranberries and white chocolate in these divine cookies is well complemented with a tart Cosmopolitan.
  • 2 parts cranberry vodka
  • 1/2 part Cointreau
  • 1/2 part fresh lime juice
  • Splash or two of cranberry juice
  • Garnish with an orange twist
Trefoils: French Martini
The French cannot survive without butter. So naturally the French Martini goes beautifully with this simple yet satisfying butter cookie.
  • 2 parts vanilla vodka
  • 1 part pineapple juice
  • 1/4 part Chambord raspberry liquor 
  • Garnish with an orange twist

Dulce de Leche: Caramel Apple Martini
This one is a twist on my favorite martini: the infamous appletini. Add a bit of butterscotch schnapps and "Voila!" you have yourself a caramel apple tasting treat! Adds a perfect tang to this sweet cookie.

2 parts vodka
1 part Apple Pucker
1 part butterscotch schnapps
Garnish with a thin slice of Granny Smith

Tagalongs: Hard Hat
Chocolate, meet peanut butter... and amaretto and Jack. Great for dipping!
  • 1 part Jack Daniels
  • 1 part amaretto
  • 1 part sweet vermouth
  • Garnish with a maraschino cherry
I strongly recommend trying all of these elegant drinks, just not all at once :) Cheers!

Monday, March 7, 2011

All the King's Horses

If Mr. Beddoes is the poet of physical death and mystical resurrection, Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (1818) represents a scientific possibility of life after death. Dr. Frankenstein creates his monster choosing the most beautiful human body parts. But to his surprise and abhorrence the human he reanimated turns out to be a hideous and loathsome creature. Dr. Frankenstein project of collecting human parts and putting them together to breathe life into them is a transgression equal to Prometheus': the novel's subtitle, The Modern Prometheus, emphasizes Frankenstein's  crime and punishment for his defiance of the Olympian gods. Just as Prometheus, Frankenstein is punished for usurping a power that belongs to God alone: the power to create life.

The story of Dr. Frankenstein and his monster evokes not only the Promethean myth but also intimates myths of dismemberment and rebirth associated with Orpheus and Dionysus. Orpheus, the patron of all poets, dares to defy fate and death and attempts to bring Eurydice back from the underworld. He is eventually dismembered by the Maenads, the female followers of Dionysus in Bacchic frenzy. Orpheus is said to have founded the cults of Dionysus and Apollo. Dionysus is the god of wine and harvest, associated with irrationality and madness but also immortality. In one version of the myth, the jealous Hera sent the Titans to rip  baby Dionysus into pieces until Zeus intervened but not until the Titans devoured all the body parts except for the heart. Zeus then is said to have sewn Dionysus' heart into his thigh and the child recreated was born again. Frankenstein's ugly monster is born again or reanimated from various dismembered body parts and betrays an anxiety over not only scientific and technological progress as a means to gain unnatural, almost divine, knowledge by men but also implies a fragmented cultural experience that cannot be put together by any human attempt. If it ever is, it will prove nothing other than a monstrosity, an abortive project.

Three years after the battle of Waterloo, during the Regency after King George III is proclaimed insane, the time of excess and decadence, a year before the infamous Peterloo massacre and two before the hated Regent is crowned becoming George IV, Mary Shelley is responding to the unrest of the period. The world in her eyes does not correspond to her husband's grand vision. In 1820 P. B. Shelley offers his own myth of Prometheus in his drama, Prometheus Unbound. For P. B. Shelley, Prometheus becomes the hero of the human race and, according to Marilyn Gaull, "embodies the history of all those god-men, the divinities, who chose to participate in human life and the human beings who were touched by the sacred: Apollo, Dionysus, Orpheus, Buddha, Job, Moses, Christ, Zoroaster, even Satan" (Gaull 203). Shelley's myth ends with a release of the world from tyranny and culminates in the Earth and the Moon joining in an ecstatic, joyous, erotic union, and the Earth proclaims man to be the ultimate power capable even of controlling lightning. Mary Shelley's Frankenstein is not the usurper of a power greater than himself and a transgressor of human limitations but a heroic figure who liberates the world from tyranny and suffering.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Raising Ghosts

               And by a sleep to say we end
The heart-ache, and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to: 'tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wished. (Hamlet III.i)
Having gotten into a dangerous and rather scary skiing accident a few weekends ago, I found myself in the ICU with--to the amusement of all the nurses and doctors--an appropriate book: Thomas Lovell Beddoes' Death's Jest Book. I must admit that Mr. Beddoes has been growing on me since I was introduced to his poetry a few years ago. The fact that he considered himself almost a disciple of Shelley further establishes him for me as an iconic figure in the limited and otherwise unimpressive canon of the so called "third generation Romantics." What I find most fascinating with Mr. Beddoes is his obsession with death. Beddoes is a kind of a 19th Century Hamlet; but where Hamlet oscillates in his ideas about death, Beddoes has made up his mind: he is convinced of the "sleep" being a desirable escape from "The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune."

Beddoes, of course, is not the only one with a death wish in the Romantic period. Let's track chronologically some of the more memorable death wishes and their transformation throughout the period.

For Charlotte Smith throughout the 1790s the world of the living is a world woes and of suffering and death seems a pleasant escape. For example, in “Sonnet IV: To the Moon” she complains that life is a pilgrimage of suffering and imagines that the dead end up with the moon, which she finds soothing, and wishes to get there as well. In other poems, such as "The Dead Beggar" she rhapsodizes about death's being the end all sorrow and freedom from the woes of this world. In "To Tranquility," she wishes for a temporary relief from sorrow. And in the poem "Written in the Church-yard at Middleton in Sussex," she recognizes that the dead are insensible to the destructive forces of this world. Although in most of her poetry she finds death a welcome end, she often lingers in metaphors and subtleties and her conception of death seems ambiguous but terminal.

Another notable example of a death wish is Lord Byron's Manfred. Written in 1817, the play portrays an existential hero, who guilty of incest and of breaking his beloved sister's heart lives in isolation in the Bernese Alps. Since the spirits he summons through his mastery of language and spell-casting cannot grant him forgetfulness, he prefers to die defying religion and its power of redemption from sin proclaiming at the end to the Abbot, "Old man! 't is not so difficult to die." Even though for Byron dying seems an easy task and death is not the end of existence, evidenced by the ghost of Astarte, there's still a certain finality in it.

Moving towards the end of the Romantic period, the death wish seems to become more persistent in poetry. Felicia Hemans, Alfred Lord Tennyson, and Letitia Elizabeth Landon all engage in their poetry in the idea of death.

Hemans, for example, in "The Grave of a Poetess" (1827) bemoans the fate of a poetess and, reminiscent of Smith, finds death liberating from a world of woes. Hemans wrote a whole catalog of poems representing historical scenes from women's perspectives. The women remain faithful to the men who often abandon or betray them. In "Indian Woman's Death-Song" (1828) a woman chooses death for her and her daughter when her husband finds another woman in favor. Properzia Rossi (1828) pines away after her lover abandons her but leaves a sculpture of Ariadne for him, so he can remember that she loved him best. And in "The Wife of Asrubal" (1819) the heroic wife of a man who proved to be a traitor and who left her to in a burning city jumps off a citadel with her children and perishes in the flames. Even though Hemans' heroines are quick in condemning themselves to death, they do it for the love of their men or husbands, upholding those traditional patriarchal values.

Tennyson in Mariana from 1830 also expresses a death wish of a woman who has been abandoned by her lover. But even though Mariana repeatedly says, "I am aweary, aweary,/ I would that I were dead!," she doesn't do anything to bring that death about. The poem is famously static, and the woman--as opposed to Hemans' heroines-- is disturbingly passive.

L.E.L. in "Hebe" and "Corinne at the Cape of Misena," written in the 1830s, also expresses a death wish. Hebe, the goddess of youth and spring, was gods' cupbearer until she fell and spilled the wine. She was replaced by Ganymede. In "Hebe" the goddess wants youth and childhood to “pass on” because it has “too much unrest.” She wants her heart to “grow calm and cold/ Calm to sorrow, cold to love.” Since her hope, truth, and faith have ceased, so she wants her heart to rest or die. Likewise, a poetess's mind seeks "a home" in "a grave; and hope/ That looks beyond to heaven!" What is particular about Corinne is that her song lives on: the music is gone but the words participate in "immortality of pain." The universal feeling of pain and suffering so persistent in a poet are eternal and live beyond the individual poet's grave.

It seems that by the mid-19th Century we evidence if not a denial of death then at least life's extension beyond the grave. For Beddoes especially, death becomes nothing other than another state of living. Virtually all of Beddoes' poetry is haunted by ghosts: in his plays characters often proclaim that death is non-existent. For example, in The Bride's Tragedy Olivia, the forlorn bride of the condemned Hesperus says:
                           Death! Thou silly girl,
There’s no such thing; ‘tis but a goblin word,
Which bad men conjure from their reeking sins
To Haunt their slumbers; ‘tis a life indeed.
These bodies are the vile and drossy seeds,
Whence, placed again within their kindred earth,
Springs Immortality, the glorious plant
Branching above the skies. What is there here
To shrink from? (V.iii)
Death is but a "life." The grotesque physicality of this existence beyond the grave as buried bodies become the seeds contrasts starkly with the abstract notion of "Immortality." The two ideas are combined to create a strange breed of the walking dead.

Death is not only a state of being but one that is desirable and which shouldn't be feared. For Hesperus life is the "ailment." And for Mandrake in Death's Jest Book death is an invention of doctors and undertakers:

[The dead] live all jollily underground and sneak about a little in the night air to hear the news and laugh at their poor innocent great-grandchildren, who take them for goblins, and tremble for fear of death, which is at best only a ridiculous game at hide-and-seek. That is my conviction, and I am quite impartial being in the secret, but I will only keep away from the living till I have met with a few of these gentle would-be dead, who are shy enough, and am before initiated into their secrets, and then I will write to the newspapers, turn King’s evidence and discover the whole import and secret, become more renowned than Columbus though sure to be opposed by the doctors and undertakers whose invention the whole most extravagant idea seems to be.

Effectively, Beddoes' world is filled with harmless zombies, such as Wolfram, who is raised from his tomb by an African necromancer. In a poem, "A Dirge" published posthumously in 1851, Beddoes dismisses life and glorifies death. The uncertainty of tomorrow becomes the source of fear rather than death. Because life is death and the corporeal body is the tomb, "To die is to live." This paradox transforms suicide into a resurrection and the unfortunate suicide victim into a necromancer.

Throughout the 19th Century then although we consistently see a wish for death rather than an endurance of a life of woes and sorrows, especially in women's poetry, the desire becomes more concrete and turns into an obsession. The prospect of an immortal life replaces the finality of death. And the mid-century world is occupied by the walking dead. And given Beddoes' opinion of poetry of his day, the recently deceased Keats, Shelley, and Byron are among the zombies haunting the poets of his time.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Boston in Winter

It is a beautiful, snow-covered day here in Colorado: the sun has finally graced us with its presence after two days of cloudy skies that shed this snowy, white fluff onto our majestic mountains. I sit with a hot cup of coffee reading Henry James and think about the turn of the century--not the most recent one, but the 19th Century--and my favorite US city, Boston. How different is the winter scene!


Childe Hassam's painting, "Boston Common at Twilight," always brings back memories of my time spent in Boston. The scene is so serene despite the busy, city street with its zooming street cars. For some reason, I always imagined the painting to be of Boylston Street looking up towards Copley Square; but now that I take a closer look, I realize it must be Tremont Street, because of the location of the setting sun: walking South on Tremont Street the sun would set in the West over Boylston Street. The demure, unexaggerated hues the sun casts on the street scene always draw my attention and make me wish for brighter colors, so I could see the scene better, in more detail. But that is precisely what draws me to the painting, and so the fulfillment of my wish would destroy its principle source of attraction.

The painting captures the clash of modernity with simpler pleasures and beauty of a natural landscape with human agency being at the center of their causal relation. The smartly-dressed ladies and gentlemen strut in between the modern Boston and the snow-covered wonderland of the Common with its bare, ancient trees and cliques of playful birds inhabiting their branches. People transform the land, crowd it with artificial structures and street cars. Yet the Common overwhelms the scene as if it wanted to resist the trend and regain its control over the inhabitants of the city. In fact, the children in the foreground demonstrate the park's irresistible power and a human affinity for simple pleasures.

The children's feeding of birds stands in direct contrast to the crowd's implied occupation during this winter evening in the city. The fashionable coats and top hats of the gentlemen suggest they are coming back from the theater, which at that time would probably have been the Bijou. The Bijou Theater (later B.F. Keith Memorial Theatre and now the newly renovated Boston Opera House) was just a block away from the scene on Washington Street. The entertainment at the theater--a vaudeville perhaps, quite fashionable in the 80s--delighted its audience by providing a temporary escape from the reality outside the theater. The children, however, are able to find pleasure in the natural scene that winter in the city offers.

I cannot help but notice the predominance of top hats in the background and at the same time the focus seems to be on the domestic, warm foregrounding scene of the woman with her children. Was Hassam, painting during the time of the Boston feminist movement, trying to make a statement? If so, it is quite ambiguous. On the one hand, the emphasis on the woman suggests a progressive move towards a new social consciousness and importance of women in modern society. On the other hand, it establishes women in their stereotypical position of being child-bearers belonging in the domestic scene.

"Boston Common at Twilight" delights both the eye and the mind. I love the painting not only for its uncomplicated beauty and its larger social context but also for the feeling of melancholy and nostalgia it so successfully creates. Living in Colorado in the 21st Century, reading a book by Henry James about the turn of the 19th Century, and looking at this painting, I wonder at the vast temporal and spacial displacement and at the power of imagination. How tremendous is the mind's ability to wander through space and time! How capable of mental vagrancy is one sitting at home in Colorado on a snowy morning with a cup of coffee and a book! Thank you, Museum of Fine Arts, for posting the painting on Facebook! I miss you, Boston!

Friday, January 7, 2011

The Egotistical Sublime

In Being and Time, published in 1927, Martin Heidegger writes, "Time must be brought to light--and genuinely conceived--as the horizon for all understanding of Being and for any way of interpreting it. In order for us to discern this, time needs to be explicated primordially as the horizon for the understanding of Being, and in terms of temporality as the Being of Dasein, which understands Being" (39). If Heidegger is right that time is a primordial, intrinsic part of our very nature--in fact, it is being itself--than any avid scholar of human nature and its relation to the outside world would be concerned with the understanding of time. If we consider the Romanticism a self-reflexive movement, then the Romantic obsession with time has its justification, although the anachronism suggests that the Romantic writer/ poet was not fully conscious of the root of his/ her obsession. This hypothesis undermines Richard Terdiman's thesis that the Romantic anxiety of the past being severed from the present has a historical source in the French Revolution. And, further, it suggests that the Romantic poet was much more egotistical than Terdiman could ever admit. Because if the source of the Romantic hyper-sensitivity over the nature and the passage of time is the poet's/ writer's conscious desire to further the understanding of one's own existence in the world rather than an unconscious response to historical events, then we need to question the Romantic engagement in the humanitarian, political, and social agenda of the time. If we are right, then the Romantic mind was much more introverted, misanthropic than its poetry seems to suggest at first glance.

To back up a bit: to what extent are the Romantics invested in the issue of Time anyway? And how do they deal with it?

Starting with William Wordsworth, who seems to be terrified of getting old lest he loses his poetical talent, which he is convinced trickles out of him like sand in an hourglass with every passing moment, one way of dealing with the problem is to incessantly rewrite his poems and turn from the worship of nature to the worship of a Christian god. His increasing faith in institutionalized religion of the Anglican church suggests a growing fear of death. If William James is right when he proclaims, “Religion is a monumental chapter in the history of human egotism,” then Wordworth's turn to institutionalized religion takes his egotism to a whole new level.

P. B. Shelley's solution to the inevitability of a temporal connection between human existence and the outside world is to offer another realm where the concept of Time is more fluid, flexible, abstract, where Time is personified and, therefore, given will or agency. In "Ozymandias" and "Mutability," change is the only thing that endures through Time. In Prometheus Unbound, human agency in political change is reduced to subordination to greater forces of Necessity, which is directly associated with Time. In the first two poems, Time seems to be an enemy, whereas in the drama, it becomes a liberating force. It displaces the significance of political and social activism with personal and erotic relations or Love.

Thomas Lovell Beddoes, a representative of the "third generation Romantics," has a much more pessimistic, morbid solution to the temporal problem of human existence. His poetry, by far the most personal of the three, seems to hang in between two realms: life and death. The grotesque coexistence or simultaneity of the two worlds reaffirms and at the same time denies the importance of temporal forces associated with human life. The mingling of life and afterlife undermines the significance and finality of death. Death is merely a gateway to another world and Time becomes a non-issue.

I think it is significant to point out, that Shelley, one of the most (supposedly) political poets of his time, was Beddoes' greatest hero and influence. Yet Beddoes' own poetry does not reflect any of Shelley's apparent commitments to social or political agenda. What we see instead is Shelley's disciple's engagement with his master's Utopian ideas of transcendence of Time through rebirth, resurrection, as in Prometheus Unbound or "Dirge for a Year." This observation suggests that Shelley's real concern was first and foremost his own personal relation to the world, and only by extension a more general socio-political ideology, which would explain its inconsistency and impracticality so often criticized in his writings.

Is John Keats then excluded from this Romantic phenomenon? After all, he attributed the "egotistical sublime" to Wordsworth and, in his letter to Mr. Woodhouse, distinguished his poetry from that of the other proclaiming that a poet has no identity. He is a "camelion" who adopts everyone's identity and has none of his own.  But that does not necessarily mean that his identity as a human is not of his greatest interest. It just means that he is presumptuous enough to think that he can speak for everyone: represent  human nature in general, beyond his own self. To be absolutely fair to Little Johnny, in his poetry I find the least, out of all the others representatives of the age, interest in time, politics, or religion.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Mental Vagrancy

Happy New Year! An entire new year has started, and it is time to think about the previous year. Looking at the scarcity of my blogs, I cannot deny a vacancy of productivity in the past few months. It seems I have done nothing useful. I worked for others rather than for myself and, besides a measly improvement in finances, I have painted myself into a corner of mental and physical stagnation. In fact, I nearly gave up my ambitions, my passions, a desire to do what I do best. Yes, with the purchase of a new house, I not only gave up my literal vagrancy, but I also almost renounced mental vagrancy and became a domesticated automaton. I stopped thinking. I stopped writing. I stopped reading with pleasure. I stopped having meaningful conversations. I even stopped offering sarcastic comments on Facebook.

So now, after months of spiritual death, I arise, like Lazarus, from the ashes of my own complacency from whose bourn many never return. For this renewed enthusiasm, this necromancy, I must credit my students at RMC+D. In the process of preparing the syllabus and lecture plans for this semester, I needed to justify my choice of the overwhelming amount of Romantic texts to art students, who would rather draw than read and consider the entire reading endeavor quite useless, especially things as "irrelevant" to their lives as ancient poetry from two centuries ago. Of course, the real reason for this Romantic syllabus of mine is the need to prepare for my comps, but I doubt my students would appreciate this explanation. I figured that the best way to involve my students would be to close the gap between me--the instructor of English-and them--students of art. The artist at the end of his project has something plastic, tangible, physical to show for it: his creation has a definite form. The graduate student's of English literature--as opposed to a creative writer's--most valuable product of academic effort is perhaps a new way to think about literature, a new way to relate one poet to another, one literary period to another, one method of interpretation to another. In other words, all we are are mental wanderers, and we like it that way. Even if we do produce a piece of writing, it is merely esoteric. On the other hand, an artist needs to enter that realm of mental vagrancy before he/ she can create a meaningful piece of art. So a true artist takes the enterprise of mental vagrancy a step further than the graduate student of English.

Perhaps this explanation touches on the problem of motivation in doctoral studies in English as well: because if all we have to show for years of thinking and rethinking literature, theory, and philosophy is a paper or a book that a few will read and even fewer understand, then why are we doing it in the first place? Is it really worth the effort? The sleepless nights? The anxiety? The gray hair? The time devoted to reading endless books filled with complex ideas that no one in the real world seems to care about anyway? It helps to have an adviser or a mentor who will be just as enthusiastic about your new theory about the Romantic fascination with time that opposes those of the ones we tend to call "Great" and place on the pedestal of modern literary criticism, such as Harold Bloom and Marilyn Butler. But in the end we just need to remind ourselves that the entire doctoral studies are just a way of avoiding real work so that we can sit at home with a glass of wine and a book and engage in shameless mental vagrancy. Here's to the New Year!