stealing from famous people’s houses

the semester has begun, and i am reveling in the fact that i am no longer a small fish in a big pond. well, rice isn’t exactly a big pond. i suppose last year i was a small fish in a relatively small pond full of older more experienced fish.

but i am now more or less the size of one of those freaky goldfish you find in the decorative ponds in front of japanese cook-on-your-table restaurants. walking into the seminar room this year felt like that great scene in the first season of scrubs when JD and his friends walked through the hospital, striding to a new groove because they finally had their own med students to boss around.

of course, i don’t plan on bossing around any first-year grad students. unless they’re being obnoxious and i’m feeling fiesty.

moving on.

this semester represents a new era of masochism in my academic career, as i’ve decided to take on about twelve-too-many projects. i’m taking three classes, TAing one, working a regular schedule at Studies in English Literature, and contracting out my style-editing services to Feminist Economics. this will also be the year of the Wedding Planning (the cake-tasting is now only a month away… all life post-cake-tasting will seem boring and somehow unsatisfying. at least that one involves food tasting. more grad seminars should involve food tastings.*

i’m TAing for a 20th century class. i had requested a british survey (it was 18th/19th century i believe), but i didn’t get my first choice. i’m relatively pleased with the assignment, especially because i’ve only read two books on the course list and therefore will have a constant excuse to be reading something new. including woolf, turtola, rushdie, lessing, gordimer, kipling, and joyce. and, of course, i have to read heart of darkness. again.

my milton grad seminar seems a little more promising than i had hoped. i’m a little miffed that we’re not using the riverside edition of milton’s collected verse, which i bought for eighty-freakin-dollars as an undergrad. instead, we’re required to purchase a longmans edition of paradise lost that is annotated within an inch of its life at fifty dollars. i have spent way too much money on milton in my life. but the professor seems enthusiastic and extremely smart, if a little scattered, and he’s interested in studying “the other milton,” whom he defines as a man who isn’t the yawn-worthy patriarch much criticism makes him out to be.

my 400-level course on the victorian family met for the first time today, and it turns out that kevin and i are going to be the only students in the class. so, despite it’s 400-level designation, it’s really a graduate seminar. the class is taught by a visiting professor who seems very on top of things, and she’s interested in tailoring the syllabus to our interests, which is always a good sign. and she’s from canada, so she’s totally disconcerted by the fact that it’s about 5000 degrees outside. kevin informed her quite rightly that the weather will be much more disconcerting in a much more pleasant manner in november, when she’s still able to read her students’ papers poolside. we’re reading frankenstein, which i haven’t even opened since high school, and the tenant of wildfell hall, an anne bronte novel i’ve never read. and dombey and son, which is really damn long.

last but not least i’m taking a class on victorian material constructions, which is completely different from anything i’ve taken before. we’re only reading three novels. and damn it, heart of darkness is one of them. joseph conrad must have had a beef with me in another life. but we’re going to spend a lot of time talking about the production, circulation, and social history surrounding material objects, which is not only a hot topic in academia right now but also interesting to me. we’re also reading an article on victorian wedding cakes and another on the fetishization of gloves in the renaissance. it will be a very quirky class. case in point, the following comments were made during our first meeting:

“well, light bulbs can also be used in some very erotic ways.”
“i thought these were vitamins, but i was wrong. they’re dog pills, and this is causing me much anxiety.”
“you’re using the word ‘anthropomorphic’ in yours? wow, mine sucks now.”
“you mean someone stole this from elizabeth barret browning’s house?”

so yeah. that one will be fun.

but i’m off to have some stress-dreams, which have also returned with the semester.

*last semester there was a grad seminar that involved food tastings. it was a food and culture class, and each week one student cooked up one of their family recipes. i totally should have taken that seminar.

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6 thoughts on “stealing from famous people’s houses

  1. “more grad seminars should involve food tastings.*”

    agreed, and the wedding tastings sound yummy.

    your courseload sounds amazing, but intimidating. i feel really out of the english lit loop because i’ve been studying literary/critical theory all year out of context, so i’m curious about how this stuff is done at a grad level. are you mostly still approaching literature with a formalist attitude, or are you trying to develop new theories via historical studies, etc.?

    • the methodology i use in class really ends up depending on the professor. the professor who teaches the 20th century course is very old school — invested in a canon of “great books” and only interested in examining the text in and of itself. my milton prof is a little more forward-thinking (he is quite interested in issues of gender in paradise lost, for example, while the 20th-century prof is quite anti-gender studies), but he’s definitely a close-reading professor. he can spend three hours on ten lines.

      my material cultures prof, however, is very interested in new approaches to literary studies. we’re pulling in theories from anthropology, history, philosophy… even design and decorative arts. some diverse theoretical approaches, as well. it’s a somewhat controversial approach, partially just because it’s so interdisciplinary, but it’s a lot of fun. and my victorian family professor is similar… she’s into social history and political theory, so our examination of the texts is going to go in a lot of interesting directions.

      • awesome! i personally favor the interdisciplinary approaches, in general. it works the best logically: human lives are multidimensional, and i think the work that they produce reflects this same complexity.

      • i like interdisciplinary work, as well — in fact, i’m getting a graduate certificate in women and gender studies as well as my english degree — but there are always problems. we had a conference last year that brought together literary scholars and historians, both studying the victorian period. sometimes people get protective of their “turf.”

  2. Will be reading…

    Hey Vicki,

    Wow. You’re going to be one busy girl this semester. Sounds like you have a very interesting schedule though. I’m not teaching this fall, but I will definately be reading your blog regularly. I look forward to all the stories and discussions of books, etc. And the wedding cake tasting. mmm.

    It seems I’ve read a lot more of the books you’ll be reading this semester than last. One of the best courses I had as an undergrad was Brit Modernism, which included a lot of the books you’ll be reading. So I’ll be interested to hear your thoughts on them. Be careful: Modernism might win you away from the Victorians! Which Lessing are you reading? The Golden Notebook?

    Hope all’s well.

    • Re: Will be reading…

      Yes, The Golden Notebook. I’ve never read it before, and the professor of this class plans on conducting an “experimental” reading — reading only those excerpts of the novel that are transcriptions of the embedded novella, then going back to read the excerpts of the notebooks. I’d feel better about this if I’d read the book before, but I kind of feel cheated that I won’t get the back-and-forth experience I would if I read it straight through.

      I suppose I could read it straight through now, before we tackle it in class… but with the work load I have, that’s not really possible.

      Hope all is well with you, too. Say hello to the fam for me.

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