Thursday, November 16, 2017

Mythlore 130 Received

Just got my order of Mythlore #130 (vol. 35, issue 2) in the mail last night. I've particularly proud of this one (the biggest single issue in the journal's history), as it contains both an article and a review of mine. The article, which I summarize here, is about why Tolkien might have co-nominated E.M. Forster for the Nobel Prize in 1954. The review is of a great biography about Angela Carter, the British fairy tale writer and postmodern feminist. 

Incidentally, this may be the first physical issue of Mythlore I've ever handled. All my prior experience with the journal has been through either an online database or through a pdf of an interlibrary loan. Nice looking volume, in all. 

Christopher Tolkien, semi-retired!

So, the big news last night is that Christopher Tolkien has resigned (retired, I suppose would be a better word) as the director the Tolkien Estate. He'll remain the literary executor, but still, this is pretty big news. This announcement also comes on the heels of the big news from a few days ago that Amazon just acquired the global t.v. rights for a prequel series to The Lord of the Rings, and it's hard to imagine that the two pieces of information are unrelated.

Anyway, though, as can be gleaned from the comments section in the above link, Christopher Tolkien's centrality to Tolkien Studies is about as high as you can possibly get, and his influence on the field as great as any scholar, just about, could make to their field. I certainly don't know any comps, especially as C. Tolkien started his work decades before Tolkien scholarship became as prolific as it has been. I wonder sometimes if the fact that he's the son of Tolkien Sr. has partially obscured his scholarship -- before I began my dissertation (I admit this to my embarrassment), I had the lurking cynical suspicion that the plethora of new posthumous editions of Tolkien's was just a money ploy. Of course I realize that's all nonsense. A literary executor can make or break the reputation of a great writer -- Franz Kafka had a great one, Edgar Allen Poe had an awful one. The still-strong popular reputation, and the booming critical reputation, of J. R.R. Tolkien just wouldn't have been possible without the decades of work C. Tolkien put into setting and correcting new textual editions.

If someone ever complied a list of the top literary scholars of the 20th- and 21st-centuries, I'd have to imagine that C. Tolkien would make the top-20.

About the new Amazon series of LOTR, I have high hopes. I never really liked the Peter Jackson films, even his critically acclaim
ed first trilogy, and this could be something good. Of course, there's no script or ideas for the prequels yet, but Amazon has the money and apparently has the willpower and daringness to emulate what HBO did for Game of Thrones. Martina and I watched the first episode of Amazon's adaptation of The Man in the High Castle, and it was quite competent. (Although, ultimately, we didn't continue the series; as a Czech, Martina usually refuses to watch anything involving Nazis or World War II.) So maybe they could work some magic for these new prequels.

Saturday, November 11, 2017


Well, actually, last Thursday night with Chomsky. In celebration of luring Noam Chomsky away from MIT, the U of A had a "discussion" with him at Centennial Hall. Tickets were $15 -- and I don't know if I was outraged they were charging for an academic event, or disappointed that someone at the very pinnacle of academia didn't bring in triple-digit ticket prices!

(Regardless, the ticketing website was the most convoluted thing imaginable. Despite that, a pretty nice crowd showed.)

Anyway, the discussion itself wasn't much -- just some normal observations about current politics, media, human rights, nuclear war, and the like. Nothing particularly insightful or amazing. Still, the wife and I went for the pleasure of seeing a genius, not any practical or academic benefit, so we were happy. Plus the discussion and following Q&A went about 2 hours long, so we certainly got our money's worth.

Afterwards, we went to Chipotle's. Apparently, one of my students works there, and she gave us free chips and quacamole. She only did it cuz she's fun (i.e., she probably does the same thing for all her friends), so only later did I realize that, technically, we may have been bribed. Whoops.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

First Annual Conference on Gender-Based Conference (U of A)

Spurred on by that encyclopedia article I wrote about Stephen R. Donaldson and aliens, these last two months I've been hammering away on an article about the relationship between his work and gender violence. With the article entering the final stages, the following opportunity was just too good to miss: the First Annual Conference on Gender-Based Conference, November 3rd & 4th, hosted here at the U of A. I didn't go last evening since it started at 6:30 pm, and that's perilously close to my bed time (although I hated to miss the keynote address by Brooke Axtell), but I'm making the Saturday sessions.

So far, it's a pretty good conference. It's a bit less academic than I was hoping for, being a bit more practical about how to solve issues of gender-based violence, but I'm learning some valuable things about terminology and the kinds of discussions current in the issue. Even though my interests in the topic are a bit narrower than most people's who went there, I'm glad I went.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Taking one for the team . . .

So, I've had an absolutely beautiful schedule this semester: four classes, all back-to-back on MWF, with only one prep and plenty of time to work in the mornings. Well, a kink's just been thrown into those gears. Apparently, one of the lecturers here suddenly resigned yesterday, and I responded to the frantic emails of the WP director calling for help. I figured, why not, what with my (relatively) open schedule. Plus, it's just good to help out the department during a pickle.***

So I'm going over the previous instructor's course documents and D2L, trying to get a feel for what he was doing after 10 weeks. Plus, no idea if he had given his students any more indication about his leaving than he did the university. This'll be weird . . . but, also, strangely less pressure than my normal classes. I'll meet the students tomorrow. We'll see how it goes!

***Incidentally, our WP director told me how she'd been bragging just the other day, "Oh, October's always a crazy month, but absolutely nothing crazy has happened." Her friend ominously replied, "But October ain't over yet."  Lo and behold -- not only this course and two others all get sudden & unexpected on the last day of the month -- Halloween, no less!

Sunday, October 29, 2017

White Supremacist Rally in Murfreesboro

Life conspires to make my existence dull, apparently.

The solar eclipse hit Tennessee just a month after I left for Tucson; Arizona barely saw anything dramatic, whereas the world went completely dark in the Murf. Then, after narrowing missing out on that job in Houston, Hurricane Harvey struck the area, causing massive flooding and evacuation.

Now, yesterday witnessed a huge white supremacist rally in Shelbysville and Murfreesboro, TN. Worried that another Charlottesville might happen, businesses closed, people were warned away, and the university canceled several scheduled weekend events. Interesting tidbit: the rally organizers picked the area because they thought it significantly less likely to spur counter-protests than in Charlottesville, a relatively liberal bastion . . . which implies that Tennessee is particularly racist-friendly. Nonetheless, there was a enough push back that the organizers canceled the Murfreesboro rally at the last minute. 

Mad respect to everyone who counter-protested anyway. Wish I could have been there.

Full details can be read here.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

An wretchedly awful and completely bad psychoanalytic Kristevan interpretation

Currently, I've begun reading a psychoanalytic interpretation of Stephen R. Donaldson (cuz that's how I roll, baby). Although quite well-written, especially engaging with Julia Kristeva's theory, the incompetent literary analysis finally irritated me so much that, after a particularly egregious misreading, I wrote in the margins, "Jesus, no, this is just stupid!"

Since this was a library book, no less, I now have the difficult moral decision of whether to erase that remark when I return the book. On one hand, marginalia is technically vandalism. On the other, I feel a responsibility to warn all those fresh-eyed eager young undergrads, bedazzled by the complexities of Theory, who might be tempted to consider anything this particular book said seriously.

Anyway, in other news. After getting bored with writing a feminist analysis of Tolkien, I decided to write a feminist analysis of Donaldson (spurred by the enthusiasm I felt in writing the encyclopedia article about him and aliens). Anyway, I wrote something along the lines, "SRD hasn't received the critical attention that his status as a major modern writer of speculative fiction deserves." After a bit, though, I realized that this wasn't quite true. Although only a handful of academic articles have appeared on Donaldson, there are currently three monographs on him -- which ain't bad for a still-living fantasy writer who isn't Rowling or George Martin. 

The best Donaldson book, of course, is by William Senior. Another is . . .. well, let's just say that it doesn't much challenge Senior for title of "best book on Donaldson."  Then there's this Kristevan monstrosity.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Sejong wuvs me?

Open up my mailbox yesterday, and what do I see but a letter from the Sejong Cultural Society informing me about the "2018 Sejong Writing Competition." Needless to say, I haven't the foggiest notion how they found me or why they contacted me -- I recently did a movie review on South Korean film director Bong Joon-ho, but that's it (and that hasn't even been published yet).

Most ironic of all: the writing contest isn't even open to anyone over 25 years old!

Saturday, September 30, 2017

I've been cited!!! (sorta kinda maybe well not really)

Although I've now a decent among of published articles for an early career academic, considering the glacial pace of academic publishing, it takes quite a while for anyone's ideas to disseminate widely enough to be cited by other scholars. My only essay out long enough for citation is my first, an article on Stephen R. Donaldson and the idea of genre. By a stroke a great good fortune, the director of my undergraduate senior thesis, Dr. Donald "Mack" Hassler, was compiling a volume of essays with Clyde Wilcox called New Boundaries in Political Science Fiction and, well, to make a long story short, he threw a young protege a bone, and gave me my first publication.

Anyway, you can imagine my excitement when I recently saw that someone had cited me. Actually, tbh, I've been cited once before to my knowledge -- way back in 2011 or so, a scholar named Patricia Kennon quoted from me in a contribution to Irish Children's Literature and Culture: New Perspectives on Contemporary Writing (2011), quite the pleasant surprise when I found out a few years later.

Within the last few weeks, though, as I worked on my aliens article for SRD,  a new essay on Donaldson by someone named Emily Auger, Gothic Science Fiction: 1980-2010 (2011), came to my attention. It's a pretty decent article, too, pressing on Donaldson's aversion to posthuman identities (through the metaphor of ruined skin and the technology of genetic mutation in his Gap novels); although perhaps excessively theory-heavy, Donaldson deserves more discussion & this certainly fits the bill.

Anyway, the Works Cited quickly drew me like a moth to light, and voilĂ  -- my 2008 article made the cut. "What part did she actually cite?" I wondered. So I read the article, and . ... well, apparently I didn't make the cut. 

Alas and alack, Dr. Auger made no reference to my article anywhere in hers, despite the WC reference. Seems as if she included the citation isolely for completeness's sake, but couldn't find any rational means of incorporating a direct quote or paraphrase. Technically in terms of MLA, that's a no-no, but can't say that I mind, honestly. Truth be told, I'm a bit embarrassed by my essay. Although Political Science Fiction came out in 2008, I mostly wrote the article in 2005, my final year of undergrad. I haven't read the essay since then, dead-sure that there'd be some absolute undergrad howlers in there, but the encounter with Dr. Auger's essay forced me to revisit the piece. Luckily, my library had a copy. And . . . .

. . . . well, it isn't as bad as I'd originally feared. Sure, there were a few howlers. For example, I had used the phrase "social construction of evil" despite (I easily see now) not knowing exact what that phrase meant. Also there were some truly cringe-worthy over-generalizations on what fantasy literature is and does. Plus several additional counterarguments that should have been rebutted, possibilities I just wouldn't have known enough about back then to counter. Still, all in all, it's not bad for someone in their first year of an MA (the period when I actually sent the final manuscript to Dr. Hassler). Nobody reading it today could realize that, of course, but so it goes.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Evangeline Walton, papers!!!

So, some random coolness.  Browsing through our U of A Special Collections, I realized that we have the papers for Evangeline Walton, a relatively well-known American fantasy writer, pre-Tolkien. She did a number of books based off Welsh legend and the Mabinogion trilogy. I bought a number of her books from a used bookstore last fall, intending to read her, but never quite got around to it. Anyway, apparently she spent the last part of her life in Tucson, so gave her papers to the university.

If I ever get some time or the opportunity, I might try taking advantage of that collection for an article, perhaps.