Surrealist Doodle

Surrealist Doodle
This was used as the cover of Karawane in 2006 and I have included it in on a number of bags and postcards over the years. Someone on the subway asked me if it was a Miro. I was very flattered!

Monday, November 28, 2016

Amy Shuman: Gender and Genre

I have journals due in one of my current MA classes, but the instructor is only going to glance at them. I have done all of this work for very little return. I know, a journal is often written only for oneself, but I also wrote it as a conversation with the instructor which now will not happen. So as to make this a more fruitful endeavor, I am going to post some of the journals here. Enjoy and feel free to respond so as to make these truly a conversation.

I remember working with Amy Shuman's essay “Gender and Genre,” which I had wanted to revisit but for the life of me, I can't find that ONE course reader I had from NYU that has it in there. I even know which course reader it was and what color it is, but it must still be packed away. So, I found the article and have ordered the book from Amazon and I will write about it more extensively within the next two weeks. What I do recall is that it was a response to Derrida's “Law of Genre” and that it influenced what I had talked about in my presentation. Again, we talked a LOT about feminism and women's words when I was at NYU. And it now occurs to me that there are a lot of women in English studies, both at WIU and in general.

Richard Schechner, one of my professors at NYU asked a question about the relationship of gender to teaching and he said that it has traditionally been a women's position and that was why it paid so low. I held, and I still do, that it has not traditionally been women's work – but I think that we w ere arguing two different things. I believe that he was thinking about the education of young children, which for the last 150 years or so has been done by women. I am thinking of university educations which women have only been accepted into relatively recently and in greater numbers within the past 40 or so years. But thinking about the “demise of the humanities,” this has been an area that women have been drawn to and so it shouldn't come as a surprise at all that now that women have rushed to the academy to join the ranks of the humanities, that people now think the humanities don't matter and that they should be defunded. But they can't close ranks forever. As they defund the humanities, or at least try to do so, more women will enter the sciences and other fields that have also traditionally been male-dominated, and there will be no place for the patriarchally-minded among us to go where there are no women, unless we have something like a Margaret Atwood Handmaid's Tale kind of reversal of society, which is not as improbable as it seems, given what happened in Germany between the Weimar and the Nazis, wherein there was a political rejection of the open climate of the Weimar.

All of this, again, brings me back to “Gender and Genre,” about a possible “rejection” or at least radical rethinking of academic work and what it means to be academic, what it means for women who have traditionally done “expressive” writing – short stories and fiction, storytelling, to rehink and remake what constitutes academic writing. Is it necessarily less rigorous? What potential do we have to remake academic writing and not have it devalued, like so many things in culture become once they are associated with women and with women's work? Is rigor always to be male-defined or adhered to by male academic standards that we had no role in setting, but must uphold and maintain? And if we choose to change those standards or to not uphold and maintain those standards any more, will our own work be less valid? What would the new standards look like?

And now I am thinking about Rebekah Buchan's class on digital humanities, and she talked about work that was being published online for critiques to happen online. I can't remember now if it was said that the work was never really considered finished, but I tend to think not. And that's what I tell students who come to the writing center, and that's what I even tell my students in class – that no piece of writing is ever really finished, but that at some point you have to finish your writing of it and turn it in for the time being. Although I know that I certainly go back to my writing all the time and borrow from it, revise it, rewrite it, and whatever else there is to “redo” from it. The internet and the digitization of literature is changing everything. I put a lot of my work out on and in some cases, that might disqualify it for publication in scholarly journals or at least will mean that I might have to “cheat” and pull my work down from site like that in order to get it published by a journal that “counts” as academic and rigorous in the eyes of academia. There is a lot of talk, and always has been, among creative writers who are academics, because it is possible to amass a whole lot of writing credits that are not “acceptable” to the university because they are not peer-reviewed journals. This is especially true for experimental or avant-garde writers.

Despite all the talk about interdisciplinary work being the rage, the future of academia, that is also not true. Disciplines are still very much in place and defending their turf.

So, I ask you, what is a genre-jumper, an academic/non-academic, someone for whom writing is both a social and an anti-social act, to do?

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