Commentaries - July 2009
“The income-producing research activity will follow the trend of moving into nondepartmental locations — institutes, centers, and programs — that can be closed with less fuss if the income dries up.” — MARC BOUSQUET, Associate professor at Santa Clara University, and author of How the University Works: Higher Education and the Low-Wage Nation (New York University Press, 2008)
From: “FORUM: The Faculty of the Future: Leaner, Meaner, More Innovative, Less Secure,” Chronicle of Higher Education.
Tim Carmody, whom I admire and whose blog, Facebook updates, and now tweeting I follow, has a statement here too, part of which reads:
The curriculum, especially in the humanities, valorizes thoughtful curation and recirculation of material rather than comprehension or originality. The traditional unidirectional model of knowledge transmission (best represented by the now-deprecated “lecture”) has been effectively discredited, although it persists through habit, inertia, and whispered doubts about the efficacy and rigidity of the new model. Many professors periodically pause to lecture, but only apologetically, or when distanced by ironic quotation marks. / The ’teens are as widely remembered for technical innovation and radical dissemination of knowledge as the ’20s are for job loss, technological retrenchment, and economic concentration. In 2019, when Google used its capital to snap up the course-management giant Blackboard and the Ebsco, LexisNexis, and Ovid databases, it effectively became the universal front end for research and teaching in the academy.
Anyone who has read this blog knows how much I would (and do) disagree with Tim’s use of the lecture (his valorization of it and pre-nostaligia for it) in this scenario. His error is to tie inextricably the “traditional unidirectional model of knowledge transmission” (which he implicitly commends) to the techno-corporate consolidation of profit-making information providers.
Now, as for “originality” in this context: oh, don’t get me started. For another time. I promise.
Bob Perelman, "The Unruly Child"
At right, left to right, PoemTalkers Tom Mandel, Sarah Dowling, Rodrigo Toscano.
Bob Perelman began to write "The Unruly Child" using as a pattern Cesar Vallejo's "The Right Meaning". Vallejo: "Mother, you know there is a place somewhere called Paris. It's a huge place and a long way off and it really is huge." The Peruvian's own mother had been dead many years at the time her son wrote the prose-poem, and it is a sad call back from late 1930s Paris (with all its politics, both fascist and antifascist--a tense scene in which Vallejo participated) to a lost Peruvian motherness - pre-self-exilic, pre-political.
The gesture creates a distance and a desperate emotion at once. "I want both modes of address to resonate," Perelman wrote to us at PoemTalk before our discussion. "Vallejo's heartfelt/estranged address to his mother is further estranged by my detourned quoting, but it's heartfelt, too. Kind of a chiastic structure: heartfelt/estranged: estranged/heartfelt."
Tom Mandel, a second-time PoemTalker and an old colleague of Perelman, wanted (at least at first) to stave off theoretically sophisticated readings and to talk of the poem's speaker as Perelman himself: Bob the witty talented impatient poet, Bob the literally unruly son. In its late-70s/early-80s political context, the poem risked being deemed mere bourgeoisified radicalism; but on second much-later thought, it seems to succeed in tracing the deformed social development of the political son of the American mother who learns the language by refusing to learn its "right" meaning.
Thus the term "unruly" is crucial to all this poet's pajama play: a certain energetic conception of language has a politics. Sarah Dowling helpfully discusses the word "desirable" in connection with Marathon Oil. "If you're the unruly child," Sarah notes, "you have to ask questions as to why it [Marathan Oil] is not desirable." What values inhere in that skepticism? What do they do to the nostalgically summoned mother? "The unruly child," adds Rodrigo Toscano, "is a place for language to shake out in periods of instability, a transition from one historical moment to the next. And it seems to want to reset the terms under which he is willing to talk politically. He's trying to renegotiate how he's going to be a hostage to representation." Tom Mandel heartily agrees with that. In the poem, we have this directive: "Learn the language. / That beautiful tongue-in-cheek hostage situation." (It's a 1979/80-ish poem and the situation is of course the American Embassy hostage-taking in Teheran.)
"The Unruly Child" was published in To the Reader (1984), an early Perelman book, and then reprinted in Ten to One, his book of selected poems. He recorded this poem for PennSound's Studio 111 series in 2004, offering a brief comment on each poem recited. Before reading our poem, he mentions that To the Reader was the first book in which he regularly "used the present political landscape for subject matter."
The mother, memory, and language socialization are common themes for Perelman, returning in full force for the recent book The Future of Memory. Here a few lines from "To My Mother":
people are real, me
too, and I know
the real one goes
cold at the end,
it's written into the
pen stroke I or
body or language uses
to divide knowledge. Before
teaching me social location,
you died and undid
the difference between now
Here is the recording we used for this episode, part of a session with students in which Perelman read poems, commented on most, and took questions. And here, below, is the text of "The Unruly Child":
We at PennSound have put together a new author page — for Tina Darragh. Some very great stuff here. Already there are eight readings. One of them (her PhillyTalks program, with Jena Osman) is segmented into individual poems. The others we’ll segment later. My favorite poem at the moment is “Bill Clinton Plane Ride Dream.” Here is your link to that audio.
Recently I posted here a review of a book called Wallace Stevens across the Atlantic, a collection of essays on Stevens “in” Europe and Stevens “and” Europe. I was less enamored of the latter positioning, finding it a catch-all concept which netted the editors good but conceptually miscellaneous essays. Edward Ragg has written a very thoughtful response and has given me permission to make it available here (as a PDF). I love dialogues like this; Edward’s collegial response (somewhat ironically) made me more confident that writing my criticism of his work was the right thing to do (rather than the more typical blandly positive review I tend to write).