Friday, February 14, 2003

Up absurdly early this morning because of all the stuff I've got to do today:

1) Teach: Well, this is actually no biggie, I do it all the time. And a movie like Nikita practically discusses itself.

2) Teach Next Year: Today is the English department's deadline for turning in your request form for what you'd like to teach in the fall and spring. I've been dithering over this because I wasn't even sure I should teach, at least not both semesters. My book is coming out in September or perhaps October and I'm going to want to travel around reading from it. And in the spring I'm going to be looking for creative writing jobs which (hopefully) will involve traveling for on-campus interviews. All the while I'm supposed to be writing my dissertation. But I now think I can teach a Tuesday-Thursday schedule without much difficulty: I can always get somebody to sub for me if I go touring for a week, and as far as interviews and such go they usually happen on weekends, so as long as I don't have to be in a classroom Fridays and Mondays it should be manageable.

The larger question then becomes: what should I teach? Cornell's First-Year Writing classes follow a "writing in the disciplines" approach and come in a variety of stock flavors—I'm one of perhaps seven people teaching some variant of "Writing about Film" this year. But film isn't really my subject and the only poetry class that gets offered every year is something of a shapeless survey. How can I teach something centered on my own interests (Modernism and/or postwar American poetry) that's going to draw freshmen? I woke up at quarter to six this morning with an inspiration for a class that I'm going to call New York Poets and Poetries. Its course description will look something like this:
Walt Whitman, a kosmos, of Manhattan the son

Can you capture New York in a poem? In this course we will read some of the poems that have come to be associated with the sprawling mass of contradictions that is New York City, and explore their role in shaping how we've come to experience the city today. We will consider the work of poets who differ radically in their aesthetics, politics, and ethnic or sexual identities, all of whom have strong claims to being poets of New York. We will start with Whitman, perhaps still the most representative and inclusive poet of the city, and move up to study the nightmare New York of Federico Garcia Lorca, the urban pastoral of New York School poets like Frank O'Hara and Barbara Guest, and the spoken word poetry of the Nuyorican Poets Cafe, before concluding with a consideration of contemporary New York poetry in the aftermath of 9/11. Students will write critical essays on a range of poets and topics, and perhaps try their hand at a poem or two of their own.
Poetry is never a big draw, but many, many Cornell students come from New York and I think that description might be enough to hook the requisite dozen or so I need to have a class. It will require me to learn a thing or two (aside from a few encounters with the Aloud anthology I know nothing, really, about the Nuyorican poets) and will also give me a chance to introduce stranger, more subversive ideas about poetics than students are likely to encounter in other poetry classes here. When it comes to latter-day manifestations of the New York School I'm really a babe in the woods, so I would appreciate any New York-knowledgable readers of this blog to e-mail me with names and suggestions for a class on this topic taught by a bridge-and-tunnel kind of guy.

My day isn't over, not by a long shot:

3) Prepare presentation for "Writing Home Conference": This weekend divers papers are being presented under this loose and inclusive rubric, one of which is a paper I wrote in which I wrestled seriously with deconstruction for the first time—I think it was a draw. The paper's called "Deconstructing the Diasporic: 'Jewish Writing' and Its Zionist Other," and it's a doozy at 25 pages which I have to figure out how to compress into a 20-minute presentation. Here's the abstract I e-mailed the conference organizers back when this all seemed like a good idea:
My paper is concerned with the characterization of "Jewish writing" as necessarily diasporic in the thought of Derrida and Deleuze and Guattari. The "minor literature" that Deleuze and Guattari describe Kafka as practicing is explicitly opposed to the literature of "symbolic reterritorialization" that must have "its political result in Zionism and such things as the ‘dream of Zion.’" Deleuze and Guattari valorize a writing of deterritorialization which disrupts the official "maps" of conventional literary representation—a nomadic, diasporic kind of writing that acts on the reader like Barthes’ "text of bliss: the text that imposes a state of loss." Derrida’s thought suggests an ethical valence for what would otherwise be an inscription of pure negativity: the refusal of metaphysical presence, ontological stability, and "at-homeness" (Heimlichkeit, chez soi) creates a space for "Other" thinking to emerge. This ethics for diasporic writing is derived from the work of Emmanuel Levinas and his precursors Franz Rosenzweig and Martin Heidegger. My presentation will revolve around an examination of Levinas’s ethical philosophy (in a literary context) and what I call its repressed Zionism—that is, the ways in which it suggests possibilities for Jewish writing that go beyond the diasporic. Levinas attacks Heidegger’s claims for the fundamental importance of ontology and describes ethical imperatives for the subject that are derived from the messianic mission of the (necessarily diasporic) Jewish people as described in Rosenzweig’s The Star of Redemption. Yet while Levinas devotes considerable energy to attacking Heidegger’s presentation of ontology as prima philosophia, he nonetheless grants an ontological stability and rootedness to the subject—a rootedness which that subject is only compelled to abandon out of his or her desire for justice. This desire can only be achieved if the Jews are willing to step back into the ordinary, Christian history that Rosenzweig’s "eternity" excludes them from—yet they are asked to do it without the metaphysical security other nations take in their historical and geographical rootedness. In the last part of my paper I offer a Levinasian interpretation of Kafka’s parable "Before the Law." I argue that the man from the country in Kafka’s text has voluntarily placed himself in the impossible position of an ethical Zionism, and in so doing suggests possibilities for a Jewish writing that is willing and able to risk fullness of representation while remaining responsive to the demands of the Other.
Naturally I've done almost no preparation at all, so I'm going to have to spend the morning and part of the afternoon after my class snipping and sniping at the damn thing. Maybe I'll just read the abstract. Very. Slowly.

This also means I have to wear a sportcoat and slacks to school under a ten-year-old topcoat in 10-degree weather.

4) Romance: Yes it's Valentine's Day in the third year of the reign of George II, and I'm fresh out of duct tape. But in spite of all that, my girlfriend Emily and I are going to try and have a romantic dinner after the conference at a local restaurant called Turback's which I happen to have a gift certificate for. Don't know if the food's any good, but we can at least afford one or two decent bottles of wine, which I'm going to need.

Thanks for reading, all—and good luck to all you wonderful protesters in New York and elsewhere tomorrow. No pasarán!

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