Last Week/This Week: New Students, Old Arguments, and a Death

by Ashley Bales


The world is full of change and tragedy: John Ashbery died, fall 2017 semesters started across the country, and I am reading a book on my phone.  That list may suffer from issues of scale and context, but not sincerity.  A tragic loss is followed by the inevitable ticking forward of academic clocks to the tune of incoming freshman that will soon demand post-millennial identities, and a stubborn holdout (me) is pushed along. 

The academy continues to rage at itself: down with historic-contextualism, three cheers for practical criticism.  Roth’s irate review of Literary Criticism: A Concise Political History by Joseph North may go a bit too far in bashing literature departments by dismissing their central goal of “the production of knowledge” as a backward facing circle jerk. But one can only hope that the call to action from both author and critic for a more pedagogical focus in which literature may be experienced as opposed to simply contextualized will be answered. For better or worse, my students want nothing more than for me to tell them about themselves—the little egoists. 

As I I shuffle my own way up the ivory tower—hearing the scholars rumble, still closer to the students—new semesters mean new jobs.  Mixed feelings is how I’d describe the revelation that one of these new employers has a tenure-like system for adjuncts.  Tenure-adjacent, you won’t get fired, but you won’t have the time or energy for any frivolous writing (or knowledge production).  The other new employer had me interviewed by students for a week not to see if I got the job (which I had), but if my class would be a good fit for them.  The pedagogy there runs deep.  Perhaps there’s hope after all?

In other shocking changes to what we read and its context: a Page-Turner post on “The Promise and Potential of Fanfiction” proved portentous as “Alleged Author of…My Immortal…Announces Book Deal.”  Sometimes these things happen and there’s no fighting it.

For antidote: Mountainview visiting author Joshua Cohen has a new story out in Wired, and faculty member Justin Taylor reviews Jenny Zhang's Sour Heart in the current issue of Bookforum.

This week on the blog we'll have current student Garrett Zecker discussing Zweig on the 75th anniversary of his suicide and Eddie Dzialo on the difficulty of writing war.  Alumnus David Moloney finds "Devils at the Stateline."

Ashley Bales is a current student of Southern New Hampshire University's MFA in Fiction and Nonfiction.  She holds a Ph.D. in Biological Anthropology, teaches in the Math and Science Department at Pratt Institute and is web editor for Assignment Magazine.