Sunday, December 21, 2008

We'll Take a Cup O' Kindness Yet...

The English Department wishes everyone a safe and happy holiday. As the students depart for winter break, the department blog is also taking a short hiatus. We will be back online with our weekly Sunday posts (and an all new lay-out!) starting January 4, 2009.

Until then, we leave with you a classic holiday poem: Robert Burns' "Auld Lang Syne."

SHOULD auld acquaintance be forgot,

And never brought to min'?

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,

And days o' lang syne?

We twa hae rin about the braes,

And pu'd the gowans fine;

But we've wander'd monie a weary fit

Sin' auld lang syne.

We twa hae paidl't i' the burn,

Frae mornin' sun till dine;

But seas between us braid hae roar'd

Sin' auld lang syne.

And here 's a hand, my trusty fiere,

And gie's a hand o' thine;

And we'll tak a right guid-willie waught

For auld lang syne.

And surely ye'll be your pint-stowp,

And surely I'll be mine;

And we'll tak a cup o' kindness yet

For auld lang syne!

For auld lang syne, my dear,

For auld lang syne,
We'll tak a cup o' kindness yet

For auld lang syne.

For those of us not fluent in Burns' native Scots, The Oxford Book of English Verse provides the following glosses:

gowans] daisies. fit] foot. dine] dinner-time. fiere] partner. guid-willie waught] friendly draught. Read full post....

Friday, December 12, 2008

Reading Recommendations: Children's Lit

In what follows, Ph.D. candidate Natalia Cecire offers what she calls an "idiosyncratic list of recent (i.e. from the last ten years) children's fiction that I've enjoyed, with a bias toward fantasy." Natalia is the co-founder of the Children's Literature Working Group and offers these recommendations as suggestions either to get your young niece or nephew into good but entertaining reading or to access your own inner child-reader.

M.T. Anderson, The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation. Volume I: The Pox Party. Candlewick, 2006.

In colonial America, a boy grows up surrounded by scholars, trained extensively in Greek and Latin but unaware of his own origins. The outbreak of revolution leads to disturbing revelations about Octavian and his mother. Dark and Gothic in sensibility, it's Johnny Tremain meets Vathek, taking a long, chilling look at the U.S.'s Enlightenment heritage. A sequel was released this year.

Blue Balliett, The Wright 3. Scholastic, 2006. Illustrations by Brett Helquist.

This is the second of three mysteries by Balliett centering on famous works of art (the other two are Chasing Vermeer and The Calder Game). Balliett's everything-is-connected! sensibility has resulted in comparisons to The Da Vinci Code, but I prefer to see it as a descendant of Thomas Pynchon's paranoid fantasias, minus the bizarre sex scenes. In this volume, three middle-school students at the University of Chicago Laboratory School fight to save a local Frank Lloyd Wright masterpiece, the Robie House, which is (fictionally) in danger of being torn down. As the friends work together, Balliett offers sensitive insights into gender and class dynamics.

Mary Hoffman City of Stars. Bloomsbury, 2003.
Hoffman's Stravaganza series features present-day Londoners who travel magically ("Stravagate") to Renaissance Talia, the Italy of a parallel universe. In this, the second novel of the series, the protagonist is a fifteen-year-old girl named Georgia. Her main goals in life are to ride horses and to evade sexual harassment at the hands of her brutal step-brother Russell. When she learns to Stravagate to Talia, she becomes involved in dangerous political intrigues surrounding a magical winged horse. It turns out for Georgia that, once you've crossed the Medici family of an alternate universe, you become less scared of your jerk step-brother.

Diana Wynne Jones, Dark Lord of Derkholm. Greenwillow, 1998.

In a parallel universe filled with magic, the people are under the thumb of an unscrupulous businessman, who sets up elaborate tours featuring every fantasy cliche in the book. Nerdy, bumbling Derk is selected as this year's Dark Lord; with his large, genetically engineered, multispecies family, he has to pull off a convincing performance while trying to figure out how to stop the tours forever. Jones lovingly and hilariously mocks the cliches of the sword-and-sorcery genre. Jones is also the author of Howl's Moving Castle, which was adapted to film by Hayao Miyazaki a few years ago.

Gail Carson Levine, The Two Princesses of Bamarre. HarperCollins, 2001.

Two sisters, princesses both, are the best of friends. Meryl is a sword-wielding tomboy; Addie is painfully shy. Meryl has always protected Addie, but when a magical plague strikes Meryl down, Addie must be the one to save her. Suddenly she is forced to fight dragons, wear seven-league boots, and of course, wield her bad-ass embroidery needle. An interesting negotiation between difference feminism and the third wave (with princesses), this novel is both literally and figuratively about sisterhood.

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Sunday, December 7, 2008

The Importance of Being "Ernest"

The following is an account, written by first-year student Marsha Polovets, about the Freshman Seminar she took this semester. Freshman and Sophomore seminars are one-credit courses given by a faculty member to a small group of lower-division students to explore a scholarly topic of mutual interest together. Marsha has been enrolled in Professor Katherine Snyder’s “Rethinking Hemingway” course which focused on gender issues and the way they have reinvigorated Hemingway studies over the past two decades.

On the first day of class, Professor Snyder asked the students to list what images or words we associated with this iconic author. The entries on the board quickly piled up: “expatriate,” “fishing,” “war,” “journalist,” “bullfighting,” “stoicism,” “alcoholic,” and so on. Many answers flashed through my mind, but now that I look back on it, the most important one never came until writing this blog. Hemingway was special to me because I associated him with my grandfather through his rugged character, his love for boxing, and his noble looks. I signed up for the class because I wanted to see the essence of the man and the writer. Do I still connect Hemingway to my grandfather? In some ways yes, and in some ways probably no, but I definitely appreciate Hemingway more than I did before.

The course began with analytical essays by literary critics Debra Moddelmog and Thomas Strychacz who posed challenging questions about the role of masculinity and identity in Hemingway’s works and introduced us to some of the themes and issues we would encounter. First we tackled a chapter from Death in the Afternoon, Hemingway’s highly idiosyncratic study of Spanish bullfighting. Next, we read a selection of short stories, including “Indian Camp,” “The Battler” and “Big Two-Hearted River,” and discussed the ways in which race, sexuality, and gender intersect as well as how Hemingway understands both his male and female characters. The character of Margot Macomber in “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber” particularly intrigued us: is she weak or powerful? does she mean to save or kill her husband? does his death destroy or liberate her? Our discussion of this complex female character and Hemingway’s ambivalent attitude toward her set the stage for our reading of the gender-bending Lady Brett Ashley in The Sun Also Rises. We also focused on the male characters in the story: the epicurean Count Mippipopolous, the Jewish boxer/author/scapegoat Robert Cohn, the bullfighter Pedro Romero, and of course Hemingway’s narrator, Jake Barnes, whose sexual war wound makes him, above all, the emblem of masculine lack in the novel and, paradoxically, its epitome of ideal manhood.

Our discussions in the class engaged issues of form as well as content, as we considered how Hemingway’s style—at once concretely descriptive and yet leaving much unspoken, at once flowingly associative and yet awkwardly abrupt—might be understood in gendered terms. Is there such a thing, we asked, as “masculine style,” and what are its implications for narrative voice, character development, and symbolic meaning? Since this was just a one-unit seminar, we didn’t write any full-scale, formal essays, but each week students posted informal responses to the readings and to each others’ comments on our bSpace course website, enabling us to engage more actively with the readings and to develop questions for class discussions. In the final weeks of the course, we reading some parodies from The Best of Bad Hemingway, and then try our hands at writing (and reading aloud in class) our own Hemingway parodies: Hemingway-style prose so bad that it’s good!

The seminar has been a wonderful introduction to Hemingway’s works, and it helped me improve my analytic skills. Professor Snyder really challenged the class to be active readers and look for deeper meanings in the texts. She encouraged us to question the notion that there is a unified essence of masculinity and to recognize that Hemingway’s work can be interpreted in many different ways. I learned that I am interested in exploring the role of gender and identity in literature, and I began to read from a new point of view. It was a special way to start my journey at Cal, and I am very thankful for it. Hemingway has been transformed from a cultural figure and the symbol of masculinity to a complicated person and an insightful author whose works possess an intricate, challenging style and reflects some of the most beautiful and human emotions. I hope to return to Hemingway in the future and “rethink” him again, remembering what I learned in Professor Snyder’s class. Like my grandfather, “Papa Hemingway” will always hold a special place in my heart.

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Thursday, December 4, 2008

Passed from one mouth to another

(a poetry event featuring UCB grad students)

Cecil Giscombe’s English 243 class presents an evening of poetry and song along with food prepared by the poets.

Graduate students Anthony Bello, Rachel Carden, Rebecca Gaydos, Nikhil Govind, Mariah Hamilton, Charity Ketz, Gillian Osborne, Samia Rahimtoola, Robert Reyes, and Rachel Wamsley will read, sing, and recite.

Monday, 8 December • 7 pm • English Department Lounge (Wheeler 330)

(*from “Anthem” by Samia Rahimtoola) Read full post....

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Faculty/Graduate Colloquium -- Modernism: Material, Spectral, Aural

In what follows, second-year graduate student Juliana Chow, one of this year's organizers for the English Graduate Association's series of colloquia, reports on a recent department event, entitled Modernism: Material, Spectral, Aural.


Rubbish, refuse, trash. Noise, static, din.

I know when I go to talks, I'm supposed to be able to make sense of all the words flung out at me, that there is, subtly or conspicuously, a line thrown out to lead me out of one labyrinth and into another. As William Carlos Williams writes, "jumble is superb."

This was my sense of things at the English Graduate Association's third colloquium of the semester. Graduate student Kea Anderson and Professor Mark Goble each presented on modernism's medium, whether it be sound for Jean Rhys (Anderson's presentation) or archives, vintage office furniture, industrial e-waste, and what James Agee lists as, "fragments of cloth, bits of cotton, lumps of earth, records of speech, pieces of wood and iron, phials of odors, plates of food and of excrement" (Goble's presentation). If Williams and Agee reorganized material waste into a poem or photograph, Rhys remade sound into a medium for registering the world. Each visually or aurally mapped a way out that was simultaneously a way into their material.

This was probably the eleventh or twelfth EGA colloquium I've been to, and each time I've left thoroughly impressed by my colleagues and the faculty here at Berkeley. I appreciate their generosity and skill in, well, mapping a way for me into their work. Both Anderson and Goble, in their own way, reminded me that the presentation of what looks like waste (here Goble contrasted Chris Jordan's photograph of a jumble of cel phone chargers with Jackson Pollock's paintings) or snatches of rote recitation (like the Heine lyrics from Rhys' Midnight! that Anderson selected—"Ja, ja, nein, nein…") is never a blank, artless rendering, but a mediated deliberation. On this page at this moment, what html codes translate the font, size, color, and style of these words? What modernist sense of medium underlies Williams' poetry, Rhys' novels?

Of course, if I knew, I wouldn't have gone to the colloquium—but no one knows everything and each day there is more to know, maybe too much to know. As Rhys writes, "Oh Lord, keep me blind." Yes, keep me blind—and thank you for leading me out.

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Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Distinguished Alumni Series Kicks Off: Peter Chernin

Peter Chernin (BA, English, 1974) serves as President and Chief Operating Officer of News Corporation, and Chairman and CEO of the Fox Group. He has overseen Fox’s tremendous growth in sports, cable, and entertainment programming, and gained a reputation as an executive with a unique mastery of the creative side of the business. Mr. Chernin is also Chairman of Malaria No More, a non-profit dedicated to ending deaths due to malaria. Please come to hear him in conversation with incoming Chair Sam Otter and Professor Bob Hass this coming Monday!

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Sunday, November 23, 2008

Literature and the Environment

In what follows, fourth-year English major Stacy Lee gives a brief meditation on what is it like to balance a study of literature with her second major, Conservation & Resource Studies.

When I see aching beauty in T. S. Eliot’s verses or understand why a no-till system is beneficial for soil fertility, I get the same kind of joy in learning something new and interpreting it in my own way. Because I major in both English and Conservation & Resource Studies, I constantly adjust my vision to see the connections between both fields. In analyzing novels, for instance, the role of the environment often goes unnoticed in the pursuit of a character’s agency. Yet, we are realizing the significant impact of nature in our lives now more than ever; why should it be any different when it comes to the works created to reflect our experiences? The resources within a region have a way of shaping how communities think, behave, and live. Perhaps the closest we come to this realization is through poetry: Whitman aptly writes, “if you want me again look for me under your boot-soles.”

So much of our humanity lies within our environment. Agriculture itself is a story of humans trying to manipulate nature, a world of struggles between protagonists. The greatest tragedy can be found not in books but on marginal lands and waters, in which farmers and fishermen export their food in debt-accumulating systems that leave them too poor to feed themselves. What is more horrifying than societies which consume resources at a rate that reduces the quality of life for future generations? Do we have any agency in determining how this story will end? These are the questions that my English classes inspire me to ask, to find the human heart that beats beneath policies of conservation and behind the manmade sources of particulate matter in parts per million. Just as we try to explain ourselves with words, we also define our humanity with our interactions with nature.

Balancing the two majors is not hard (obtaining advisors’ codes from both L&S and CNR is another story) when I remember to acknowledge a holistic perspective that connections are everywhere between English and Conservation & Resource Studies. I equally admire the flowing syntax of William Cronon’s works in environmental history and that of Tobias Wolff’s short stories. And I see how the portrayal of resource extraction in Joseph Conrad’s The Heart of Darkness is not much different than what continues today. In a narrow view, it would be easy to create a simplified dichotomy between nature and culture. But studying both has taught me otherwise: each becomes a lens through which I can examine the other and enrich my understanding. My hope is that others might also adjust their sights for another look.

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Monday, November 17, 2008

English Dept Teaching at San Quentin Correctional Facility

In what follows, Annie McClanahan, a sixth-year PhD student in the English Department, gives a brief overview of her teaching at San Quentin Correctional Facility. This is the first of a number of posts about the English Department’s involvement with the program. In the future, both Annie and other members of the department will report specific stories from their classes as well as describing the different facets of the experience in greater detail.

I imagine that most of us are pretty sure we’ll remember where we were on election night this year—I know I will, because I happened to be in prison. Lest you think the academic and financial pressures of graduate school have led the department’s students to a life of crime, let me explain: on election night, I was teaching my class at San Quentin Correctional Facility, through the Prison University Project’s program there. I teach English 101, a “freshman comp”-style course which is one of the main requirements towards the AA degree that students in the San Quentin program can earn. I learned of the election results from one of my students who had a portable radio with him; besides celebrating the news—and as if the scene couldn’t have gotten more surreal—that evening our class was dedicated to watching Stanley Kubrick’s 1964 Dr. Strangelove, a film whose image of the potentially apocalyptic results of political stupidity certainly amplified our shared sense of the stakes of this election!

The teachers in the San Quentin College program are all volunteers, though there is an incredibly dedicated and hard-working three-person staff that manages all the organizational aspects of the program as well as doing fundraising, outreach, and probably a thousand other things behind the scenes. The San Quentin program was started in the mid-90s when legislation was enacted that prohibited the use of federal Pell Grants for inmate higher education. This legislation effectively ended over 350 college programs in prisons across the country, but through the dedication of a number of people, San Quentin's program persisted. Currently the program offers about a dozen classes each semester, and has graduated almost 70 students with an AA degree (though many more are paroled and continue their education on the outside).

This is not my first time teaching at San Quentin—in fact, I’m now in my sixth year in the Ph.D. program and also teaching my sixth class at San Quentin: I’ve taught a range of courses, covering the main curriculum of the English Department. I TA’ed for my first class during my first year at Berkeley, a class called 99B that is the second (after 99A) of the two “gateway” courses most students take before beginning the college-credit classes in the program. 99A and B are basic college writing courses but also introduce students to study skills, good reading habits, college-level classroom discussion, and a host of other skills that may be new to many of the students, especially those who haven’t been in school for many years. Since then, I’ve taught 101 a number of times and have also taught English 102, Introduction to Literature. This semester, I am teaching with a fantastic team of 3 other graduate students, two from the English Department and one from Philosophy—two of us teach on Tuesday nights and two on Thursday nights, from 6:30-8:45 pm. One of the best things about my work in the program has been this rare opportunity to try out team teaching. Teaching at San Quentin has allowed me to to teach with faculty and graduate students from colleges and universities all over the Bay Area, including both those with many years of teaching experience and those who are newer to teaching; I’ve thus been able to find great mentors and to do some ad-hoc teaching mentorship of my own.

This semester, we have a fantastic group of 7 students (an unusually small class). The reading for our course is designed around a specific topic: the manifesto, a type of text that offers a critical perspectives on the world as it is and a vision of the world as it might be. Manifestos we’re reading include Plato’s Republic; the Declaration of Independence and 19th-century feminist responses to it; essays by Thoreau, Ezra Pound, and Salvador Dali; poems by Aime Cesaire, Sonya Sanchez and Oscar Wilde; hip-hop lyrics; professions of religious faith; and platforms from both mainstream and marginal contemporary political parties. The idea of the course is to connect the reading students are doing to their writing: as I say in the syllabus, writing does not just describe the world, it brings a new world of ideas into being. And nowhere is that creative potential clearer than in the manifesto.

Stay tuned for future posts about teaching at San Quentin that will describe the nature of teaching in the prison, interactions with students and other anecdotes about this amazing pedagogical experience.

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Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Undergraduate English Major Combines Literature and Medicine

Medical school is not necessarily the “traditional” career path of English majors, but department alumna Elana Shpall, who graduated in 2007, has found a program that allows her to combine her humanist interests with research in science and medicine. Unsurprisingly, this forward-thinking course of study is the Joint Medical Program at UC Berkeley’s School of Public Health and the UCSF School of Medicine, where Elana is a first-year student.

Elana reports that she was always curious about the functioning of the body and used to page through her sister’s medical school books. But she found the draw to literature at Berkeley too difficult to resist. Though she had been considering a number of courses of study as an undergraduate, she said that reading Mrs. Dalloway in Professor John Bishop’s 45C course clinched her decision to major in English. It was reading Ulysses with Professor Bishop in his Fall 2005 course on the Modern Novel, however, when Elana began to perceive a way to connect what seemed to her like unbridgeable discourses. Joyce’s famous investigation of the body in his novel stimulated Elana to keep reading Ulysses (the “Lestrygonians” episode in which Joyce treats the digestive system is her favorite part) as it also made her enroll in science classes to investigate the subject from a different point of view.

As Elana combined her science classes with volunteering experiences in the immune-compromised unit at Oakland Children’s Hospital and began to foresee a fruitful career in medicine, she was not willing to give up her interests in literature. The Joint Medical Program was a perfect fit for her because, after an intensive summer course in gross anatomy, it offers its students a holistic, case-study approach to learning medicine. Rather than didactic lectures, Elana and her classmates receive a patient scenario which they are expected to investigate and recommend treatment for. She says the kind of flexible, creative thinking that she learned as an English major, along with the skills in research and critical reasoning, helps her immensely in this kind of learning. In the meantime, she is also pursuing a scientific research project that explores the relation of Vitamin D to the development of certain types of cancer. After three years of this kind of intellectual exercise in Berkeley, she will spend two years in the hospital at UCSF for her clinical experience. She will graduate in 2013 with an MD and a MS from UCSF and Berkeley, respectively.

Literature remains, however, one of her great loves and she said she has tried to follow Professor Bishop’s advice that everyone should re-read Ulysses before any major life event. So, this past summer, she picked it up again. The demands of a scientific approach to the body in her anatomy class proved daunting, however, and she only made it half-way through the book. She says, though, that she’s marked her place and is waiting for this coming summer to return to it.

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Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Michael McClure, Holloway Reading

The following is the introduction which fourth-year graduate student Megan Pugh gave for poet Michael McClure on 14 October 2008. A podcast of the reading that followed will soon be posted here.

I’m honored to introduce Michael McClure. McClure’s one of our most exciting and prolific poets, and has written some 20 plays and 14 books of poetry since his first appearance on the Bay Area literary scene at the famous Six Gallery reading with Allen Ginsberg, Phillip Whalen, Gary Snyder, and Phillip Lamantia in 1955.

Since then, he’s become something of an icon, famously reading his poems to the lions at the San Francisco Zoo, triumphing over censors who tried to ban his Obie award-winning play The Beard, and reciting Chaucer in Scorcese’s The Band’s Last Waltz. Greil Marcus told me that “If James Dean had lived, it's not hard to imagine that Michael McClure is what he might have become.” It’s a lovely thought experiment: Dean’s rebellious and charismatic angst matures into a poetry with direction and careful attention to the world it’s a part of. Pauline Kael called James Dean—who said as much with his gestures as with his lines—a “beautiful, disturbed animal.” And McClure’s poetry, restless and gestural, reminds us that we’re all animals.

The opening of his poem “Oh Hail to Thee Who Play,” for example, turns the epic into the biological:



be me, be I, no ruse

In the 1960s, McClure began blending human language with “beast language” to discover what he calls “the energies a-roar,” the inner workings of the body—both spiritual and scientific. It’s part of a larger, ecological project designed to show us that all living things are connected—and for McClure, poetry’s part of that connective tissue.

McClure has described his poems as complex organisms. He usually centers his lines, creating a kind of spine that gives the poems organic solidity; but the structure also suggests that the words are always reaching out, moving away from themselves and toward the rest of the universe. They’re explosions of energy.

I think you’ll find that explosiveness in his reading tonight, too. McClure’s books often include instructions on how to experience the poems—“READ ALOUD AND SING THEM,” says the back cover of Ghost Tantras. We’re lucky to hear them as intended, relentlessly physical, traveling from mouth to air to ear.

McClure describes his own poems as ears—and shoulders—in the forward to September Blackberries, where he gives a beautiful summary of the kind of work poetry can do: “Poetry is the way that we extend our inner life. The real inner life is cut off from us—but we can put it out there and call it a poem. We stand on poetry—like a steppingstone in a torrent—and are more free.”
Please join me in welcoming Michael McClure.
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Monday, October 13, 2008

Summer Travel Tales

The beginning of the fall semester means that members of our department make their way back to Berkeley from many corners of the globe. Though many students and faculty stay around campus in the summer, there are just as many that jet off to far-away places to learn, study, research or, sometimes, just to have fun.

In fact, two grad students from the English Department spent this past summer in Europe doing preliminary research for their dissertations. Ruth Baldwin, currently a fourth year in the department, won a grant from the Center for British Studies to do summer research at the British Library in London and the National Library of Scotland in Edinburgh. Ruth is beginning work on a dissertation that investigates the way that the early nineteenth-century novel re-imagined criminality by poaching on "real life" biographies of famous criminals. She spent her days elbow deep in criminal biographies and crime novels of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Back in Berkeley now, Ruth is turning this research into important insights about the the way the novel form enabled the mythologization of criminal figures.

At the same time, John Lurz, another fourth-year graduate student was wading through the bureaucracy of the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris to find an ever deeper morass in the manuscript notebooks of Marcel Proust. Having won a Summer Research Grant from the Graduate Division, John was examining Proust's unconventional treatment of his manuscripts, the way he liked to paste in long extensions to the tops and bottoms of his notebooks pages to add a passage or give himself more room to write. While Proust doesn't exactly fall in the middle of the English-language canon, John's dissertation focuses on the way the modernist novel started to conceive of the materiality of print and writing as something that could influence a writer's and a reader's relationship to a literary work. Though he reports spending hours looking at microfilms of Proust's indecipherable handwriting, he also was able to request to examine a few original notebooks, a thrilling experience to be sure. Back in Berkeley, John is trying to conceive what to do with his pages of notes but says he has confidence that something will come of it.
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Saturday, October 4, 2008

Beat Poet Michael McClure Reads at Berkeley

As part of this year's Holloway Series in Poetry, Michael McClure will be reading on October 14th. This is the second year in a row that McClure has "performed" at UC Berkeley. Last year, he was a guest lecturer in Lyn Hejinian's undergraduate survey course, ENG 45C: Literature in English from the late Ninteenth Century to the Present.

As always, McClure put on a good show. He regaled the undergrads with stories of psychedelic experimentation, mind-expansion and what it was like to live in the Bay Area in the 60s. At first, many of the students were as put off by his wild stories as they had been by his difficult poetry. They had good reason to be perplexed by the selections from Ghost Tantras that Lyn had assigned them. For example, take the first poem of the collection:

Grah gooooor! Ghahh! Graaarr! Greeeeer! Grayowhr!
looking for sugar!
But, once McClure explained his thinking behind the series of poems, the way he wanted to think of a new language and to think of inarticulate "baby language" as having as much expressive power as more conventional forms of speaking, some of the students started to get pretty excited. One undergrad said that he had never been so fascinated or entertained and he was surprised at how much meaning he had taken away from McClure's performance of the poems. When asked to articulate that meaning, he wasn't sure how to proceed, but said that he just liked it. "You know, it's like what the poet said it was: 'cosmic breathing.' It makes me think."
Certainly there are many here in Wheeler Hall who love to think and who are looking forward to the next installment of McClure's cosmic breath. Look out for a report on the reading!
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Our New Faculty

The start of this academic year has been especially exciting here at Berkeley because we begin with six new faculty members, five of which are new Assistant Professors! Below is some brief info about these new junior faculty.

Namwali Serpell recently received her PhD from the Harvard English Department for a dissertation called “The Ethics of Uncertainty: Reading Twentieth-Century American Literature.” Her interests include ethics and literature; theories of reading; twentieth-century novels and plays; world literature; aesthetics; and the literary essay. This fall, she is teaching a lecture course on the twentieth-century American novel. In the spring, she will teach a junior seminar on post-war American fiction and the problem of evil and a graduate seminar on the phenomenology of reading.

Steven Lee finished his doctorate from Stanford's Modern Thought and Literature program in September 2008. His dissertation traces the interactions of American and Soviet conceptualizations of difference, focusing on how socialist internationalism shaped ethnic literatures and liberal pluralism in the U.S. In 2001-02 he was among the inaugural group of Fulbright students to conduct research in the Central Asian Republics, where he compared Soviet Korean and Korean American literatures and histories. For 2008-09, he will be a postdoctoral fellow at NYU's Center for the United States and the Cold War.

Emily V. Thornbury is an Anglo-Saxonist who joins the English Department as an Assistant Professor after almost nine years in Cambridge, England. While there, she got her PhD in 2004 through the Department of Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic at the University of Cambridge, and afterward was a Junior Research Fellow at Churchill College, Cambridge. Some of her other adventures in medievalism while in the UK include discovering the worst Mexican restaurant in the world while on a trip to look at manuscripts in Worcester Cathedral Library, and viewing the mummified hand of the seventh-century St Æðelðryð, foundress of Ely, which was nearly as alarming as it sounds. Most of her work has been on the poetics of Old English and medieval Latin, and she is currently at work on a book about how people became poets in Anglo-Saxon England.

Elisa Tamarkin received her Ph.D. from Stanford University in 2001, and joins English at Berkeley after several years in the English Department at UC Irvine. She specializes in American literary and cultural history before 1900, with special interest in the eighteenth and early-nineteenth centuries. Her research and teaching focus on transatlantic cultures, slavery and antislavery, theories of style and social form, the intersections of class and race, and the history of literary studies in America. She is the author of Anglophilia: Deference, Devotion and Antebellum America and is currently at work on a book project entitled "Irrelevance: The Scholarly Life in the Age of News" on ideas of relevant and irrelevant knowledge since 1830 and on the relationship between the academy and the press. Professor Tamarkin is the recipient of an ACLS Fellowship, a President’s Research Fellowship in the Humanities, and, in 2007, was named Chancellor’s Fellow at UC Irvine.

Mark Goble comes to Berkeley after six years as Assistant Professor in the English Department at the University of California, Irvine. He received his Ph. D. from Stanford in 2002, and specializes in twentieth-century U. S. literature and media studies. He is the author of Beautiful Circuits: Modernism and the Mediated Life (forthcoming from Columbia University Press in 2009), and has published essays on such topics as U. S. poetry and visual culture, cinema and the avant garde, and Henry James. His current project, “Downtime: The Twentieth-Century in Slow Motion,” examines the relationship between the experience of slowness and the limits of high technology from early modernism to contemporary digital art.

Nadia Ellis joins the Department as an Assistant Professor. She works on twentieth-century trans-Atlantic culture -- on the circulation and intersections of Caribbean, British, and African American cultures. She has traversed the Atlantic a few times herself, completing her undergraduate degree at the University of the West Indies in Jamaica and an M.Phil. in modern English literature at Oxford. There followed various study and research stints on such Atlantic coasts as New Jersey and London. Her dissertation, completed this summer at Princeton University, focuses on affect and the West Indian subject in Britain. It includes readings of work by CLR James, George Lamming, and Andrew Salkey, as well as the archival record around West Indian immigration and homosexuality in 1950's Britain. Other research and teaching interests include post-colonial studies, modern fiction, and African diasporic popular culture.

STAY TUNED for a profile of our newest senior faculty hire Katherine O'Brien O'Keeffe!

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Friday, September 26, 2008

Welcome to the English Department Online!

In an article in the September 7 issue of The New York Times Magazine, entitled “Brave New World of Digital Intimacy,” Clive Thompson discusses the way that a rise in social networking applications is (unsurprisingly) changing the kinds of relationships we are having. He points out that web applications like Facebook and Twitter explodes the number of “weak ties” – the term sociologists use for loose acquaintances with whom one is more or less friendly – a person is able to cultivate and maintain. Any member of a networking site like Facebook has had the experience of reading all about someone with whom they haven’t spoken in years. It’s both exhilarating and disorienting, but whatever it is, it is redefining what it means to be part of a “community.”

It is our hope, here at the Berkeley English Department, that this blog will help to increase and strengthen the “weak ties” that the alumni and friends maintain with us. For those of you who aren’t local, we hope this blog will be a way for you to keep in better touch about a place where you once spent some formative time. For those of you who are local, we hope it will reveal a different side of the Department, one that is impossible to show in formal events which the Department sponsors. Indeed, a blog seems like a great way to foster a sense of academic community for those off and even on campus, since the nature of intellectual pursuits sometimes inhibits close personal interactions. (It is never harder to make friends than when one has one's nose stuck in a book.)

So, check back to this site for announcements of on-campus happenings like lectures, events and readings, for everyday mundane anecdotes of goings-on in Wheeler Hall, for reports of the amazing achievements of our students and faculty, for updates on our continuing fundraising process. We hope that it eases the difficulty of staying in touch and makes you feel a part (however technologically mediated) of our community.
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