Notes from Stonesthrow

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In Awe April 24, 2011

Filed under: Education,Ursinus,Writing — Greg @ 11:48 am

On this gorgeous Easter Sunday, and completely hopped up on caffeine, I read through my advisee’s aesthetic statement for his Honors project. I entered into this project as a reader with feelings of considerable uselessness since I, as I constantly state, dislike poetry, and this was a creative writing project focusing on poetry. I was there though to give him some feedback on the theoretical underpinnings of his project. He was composing a sheaf of poems in a gay male American poetic tradition and was using some queer theory to inform his work. I may have helped; I think he thinks I helped, which is all that I may have asked for.

Oh, by the way, his name is Robert Whitehead. I say his name out loud because he will be known.

I read his poems several times over the past few weeks, and, as I said, I read his final draft of his aesthetic statement this morning. I don’t often come across brilliance, but I wanted to take this moment to just say that I literally wept in the face of this poet’s brilliance. His poetry is robust and tender. His poem on Narcissus makes one completely rethink that myth. His “Ars Poetica” declares his unarguable grasp of his voice and his medium. And, his poem to Tyler Clementi should be published immediately and hailed by all as a perfect paeon/remembrance.

I am so lucky to have known Robert. And, I am so lucky to have a job where I get to know so many brilliant individuals. This year alone, I have worked closely with Aakash Shah, our Rhodes scholar, for whom that award is so deserved and also inadequate for the brilliance of mind and expansiveness of spirit he possesses, as well as Ashley Green, a Fulbright recipient, whose modesty is frustratingly enormous for the caring and intelligence she exhibits to all, worldwide. There are so many more; it’s unfair that I won’t list them all.

To all of them, I just want to say that I am in awe and humbled by who you are. You make me proud and honored to have known you.


Satire is Hard February 15, 2007

Filed under: Education,Teaching,Writing — Greg @ 12:01 pm

First, let me put forth a quotation from D.H. Lawrence; as you may remember, I am advising a student on his Honors thesis on DHL, focusing on showing that it was DHL’s distrust of the reading public and increasing recourse to philosophy that explain the change (some might say devolution) in his novels after Women in Love. Anyway, the quotation:

The great mass of humanity should never learn to read and write — never.

Now, perhaps I wouldn’t go that far, but as I keep coming across attempts at satire for class, I might insert “satire” as the penultimate word in that sentence.

It seems as if college newspaper writers are profoundly bad at satire, as students from Princeton, Tufts, Dartmouth, and most recently Central Connecticut State (thanks Mrs. t.g.) have come under fire for failed attempts at satire. In the first three cases, the attempts were by conservative students attempting to satirize race-based policies (e.g. Affirmative Action), but ended up making fun of the people of color.

Also, Fox News is starting Sunday a show called “The Half-Hour News Hour,” (the title of which rips off the old MTV “Half-Hour Comedy Hour”). A snippet from the show can be found on YouTube. It’s not funny (though it’s probably racist).

All this is in the context of a theory I bandy about in class: that satire is inherently conservative, in that it often will argue for a return to a previous time when life was simpler/cleaner/truer/better. I think there might still be support for that, potentially. However, these Conservatives (note the capital) make it difficult to discuss because they are so bad at satire: their attacks are often misguided and the satire is often just not funny, even to their intended audience (e.g., the Fox News show uses some of the worst laugh tracks I have ever heard).

I’m wondering about, then, both my theory but also just why contemporary Conservatives cannot do this. I’m not going to be so simplistic as to say it’s lack of intelligence. I will say that, preliminarily, perhaps it is because they are so filled with venom, that it overpowers their abilities to use the satirical scalpel, and instead resort to the chainsaw. I’m sharing the latest failed attempt in class this week, so I will share what my students think.


Fun with Logic, “Unserious,” and War December 1, 2006

Filed under: Politics,Soapbox,Writing — Greg @ 5:30 pm

Much of my blog reading is about the war and about sn(a/i)ppy people pointing out the idiocies that come out of other people’s fingers/pens/mouths.

One of the smarter people who I read who does this very, very well is Glenn Greenwald. I don’t read him as much as I should because, frankly, he writes some long damn posts. However, he’s very smart and articulate and thorough.

Anywho, today he takes to task New York Times columnist and talking head Thomas Friedman, who many, many people listen to for some reason. You should obviously read the whole post, but what he deftly points out are the logical fallacies Friedman and his ilk have been working under:

(1) If the war is done the right way, great benefits can be achieved.
(2) If the war is done the wrong way, unimaginable disasters will result.
(3) The Bush administration is doing this war the wrong way, not the right way, on every level.
(4) Given all of that, I support the waging of this war.

Not only have Friedman et al. been saying this, but so too have far too many politicians.

Greenwald also talks a lot about how those who have been against the war from the beginning are still thought of as “unserious” participants in the debate. The only thing I can add to this discussion (since Greenwald does a wonderful job of exposing the idiocy behind that whole thing) is the oddness of that word, “unserious.” Is that even a word? Does anyone use that outside of this debate?

[Moments pass]

OK, apparently it is, as the OED has it being said as early 1655 (Damn Earl of Orrery!).

It’s still dumb though.


New Word! October 17, 2006

Filed under: Writing — Greg @ 4:03 pm

OK, so this rarely happens to me.

I decided yesterday to actually exercise and walk first to the post office and then to the bank. I know. Anyway, I walked to the post office and then ducked into the part of the Perkiomen Trail that runs through Collegeville, and makes something of a beeline from the post office to the bank.

At the part where the trail returns to civilization, there was a sign:


Um, sure. OK.

So, bollard.

Well, it’s better than a sign that reads:


But, really, has anyone ever heard of this word before?

I like it. Not that I will have occasion to use it often, but it’s sort of like a cross between bollocks and bastard, so I’m going to turn it into a swear word, in case anyone minds.

PS: I have been ghostwriting letters for my dean the past two weeks, and it’s been sort of fun writing and doing a little showing off. I mean, I realize that I have some severe writing tics (e.g., I am forever using two verbs/nouns: e.g., “the value and values of a liberal arts education.”). But I do have my moments. Anyway, I used instantiate recently, and she hadn’t heard it before. I thought that was odd, but she’s a chemist, so there you go. New words for everyone!

PSS: If you haven’t already, you must get Gnarls Barkley. I mean, yeah. So good.


Writing and Writing October 13, 2006

Filed under: Education,Writing — Greg @ 12:50 pm

There’s this article in the Post this week that actually made me a little sad. I pride myself on my lovely handwriting, and, despite my predilection for writing on keyboard, I’m pretty sure that I wouldn’t be as good a writer as I am (ahem) had I not enjoyed the actual task of writing.

Two small things. First, at some point I should scan in a letter from my Grandmother, who has some of the craziest handwriting on earth. I love it though: it is her personality–big, complicated, interesting. I learned how to read, in part, by navigating these complex lines that actually created meaning, and I will always value that.

Second, when I attended a workshop on teaching writing at Bard College a few years ago, we did all of our writing (and a lot of it) with pen. And, I have to say after years of computer composition, it was a liberating and envigorating experience. I felt so much more connected to my words, invested in them. While I was perhaps just as speedily writing, it felt like I had more care with and about my words.

Therefore, I think it’s a shame not to teach kids how to write well by writing well.