Sunday, March 30, 2014

Un lugar de cuyo nombre no quiero acordarme...

At a talk this week in my department, the speaker kind of off-handedly mentioned, in the context of talking about how Central Park in New York and the Eixemple in Barcelona were developed roughly concurrently as part of the modernist movements in urban planning, that there has been a statue of Cervantes in Central Park that, after much skirmishing over where to locate it, ended up right across the street from us at NYU after years of wrangling over where it should go. I was really surprised, because I'd never seen a statue of Cervantes on campus and couldn't even picture some random statue I'd walked by a million times without ever really looking that could be Cervantes. 

By total coincidence, I took a bit of a circuitous way home today, and something down the alley between the Mews and the brownstones on Washington Square north caught my eye. And there he was.

The placard is pretty worn, but reads: This statue was presented to the City of New York by the Mayor of Madrid, Spain, in 1986. Located in Bryant Park before being donated to New York University in 1989.

And, having never really looked down the alley before, I happily discovered a really nice, quiet outdoors spot on campus.

Friday, March 28, 2014

The Right Choice

I've had reason to be thinking lately about the decision-making process in academic life, about right and wrong decisions and choices, and about what it says about us if, in a particular moment, we aren't able to discern the right choice from the wrong one. My general position is this: First, if someone makes a decision that seems objectively to be bad, then the right one probably wasn't the right thing to begin with. And second, I have very little respect for people who aren't able to discern good advice from bad, and so if they make bad decisions because they got bad advice, it's their own fault even more than the erroneous counselor. I've made pretty good decisions in my career thus far.

(And yes, before anyone starts, I know how much luck played into the fact that I have a tenure-track job. All I'm saying is that where I have had to make decisions, I've largely made the right ones, and that set me up well to be able to take advantage of the luck that came my way.)

In certain cases, I've chosen things that could have gone any way at all. For example, I received some very serious cautions against applying for the current position that I hold at NYU, on the basis that it was too early in my graduate career and that the search would probably fail and they'd have to re-run it the next year, why I could apply at a better moment for my dissertation. Obviously I didn't follow that advice, and as much as my dissertation did suffer, I'm obviously, on balance, glad to have the job and the less good dissertation than a great and comprehensive dissertation and potentially still be in job market limbo-hell.

But when I was choosing a graduate program, my hand was more forced. I made the right decision, but I don't know with 100% certainty that I would have, had the wrong choice actually been available to me. I applied to Yale, Harvard, Cornell, Chicago, and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. I was devastated to be rejected by the first on that list not so much because I really wanted to be there for graduate school but because I interpreted the decision to mean my own professors were telling me that I wasn't good enough. The second was where I really wanted to go, but I withdrew my application when the Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations department to which I had applied decided that I wasn't NELCy enough and kicked my application over to Comparative Literature; I hadn't applied to Comp Lit because I didn't want to be in Comp Lit, hence my decision to withdraw. I was admitted to the other three.

My undergraduate adviser had told me that if she could control both sides of the process, she'd just pick me up and put me at Cornell — that I could apply to Harvard, that I could think about Harvard all I wanted, but that at the end of the day I had to go to Cornell.  Her advice couldn't be clearer. By the time I got through my pre-admission visit at Cornell, what was right about that program was so clear to me. It was such a breath of fresh air compared to the disfunction that is apparent even to the undergraduates at Yale. I'd like to think that out of respect to my adviser, I would have visited Cornell even if I had been admitted to Harvard, too, but I can't say with certainty that I would have. I like to give myself credit in hindsight and say that I would have seen what was so right about Cornell and chosen it even if Harvard and Yale had accepted me. But I can't be sure. I am so, unspeakably lucky that I was forced to make the right decision.

I made the rightest decision of my life, the one that has allowed me to make subsequent good decisions, essentially under duress. Since then I've become better about letting the right combination of head and heart rule in these situations and making the choices that are the right ones for me and objectively the right ones. But perhaps I can't afford to be as dismissive of those who don't make the right ones, especially early on. Or perhaps I've learned enough to have earned that perspective.

There's that Celia Cruz lyric that comes to mind. I'm not remembering it precisely, something along the lines of: Lucky me to be born in Havana, and there I became a singer of songs.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Lost Without Translation

Shakespeare doesn't work without text. It's not Shakespeare.

I've just returned from the National Theater of China's production of Richard III, which is currently playing at the Skirball Theater at NYU. In Mandarin. Without supertitles.

It's captioned, with a brief description of each scene projected onto a screen above the stage, at a cost of  what makes the play great, the precision psychological game and the beautiful, permanent havoc wrought on the English language. Without that, it's a story about a king, and some people who talk, and some people who die, and a new king by the time it's all over.

It reminded me of the recent and much-talked about magazine article by a man, writing about how his autistic son learned to speak and to connect with people by watching Disney cartoon movies. One of his observations was that Walt Disney had set out to make movies so bold and brash that they could be watched without the sound on, and this way, young children who had not yet learned language could still understand them, and ultimately make increasingly sophisticated connections between the bold colors and outlined characters and the dialogue and emotions and social interactions. This, he surmised, was why Disney movies worked as a conduit between his son and the world — they were a clear enough cipher for that particular need.

Watching Richard III in Mandarin is as good as watching it with the sound "off," as much as that metaphor can work for live theater. This was a story about a king fit for a child, and could just as easily have been the nursery rhyme about Old King Cole. But Richard III is not a nursery rhyme or Disney cartoon movie with an obvious likable hero going out on a quest with the aid of his sidekicks, vanquishing a monster and maybe one central internal demon as he goes, and coming home victorious. This was a story about a king — you could even call it a story about the historical Richard III told on stage if you wished to give that king a name — but it was no more Shakespeare's Richard III than any other text written about that monarch. It exists in parallel to Shakespeare's play and to every other literary-fictional representation, rather than as a translation of what it purported to be.

I didn't do a good job preparing for the theater this time because I've seen two live productions of Richard III in the last four years (and in fact, it was really interesting to see the way that the set design for this production was very clearly in conversation with Sam Mendes' production of the play, but that was so overridden by the sense of alienation from the action that the language barrier created) and I've watched Sir Ian McKellen's portrayal of the role on film several times in that same period and so I didn't think I needed to reread the play before I went to see it again tonight. I was a bad sport about it, too, once I realized what was going on. By the middle of the second act I had pulled out my phone, searched for the text of the play — thank you, God, internet and MIT —and tried to follow along as best I could. Of course, it doesn't really work like that. Productions of plays don't necessarily adhere completely to the script — lines are omitted and rearranged, and in this case I think that some of the minor characters were conflated, although it was really impossible to tell. There was no way to line up the subtle gestures of the actors with precise moments in the text. It was all broad, gross strokes, missing a cipher appropriate for the audience.

And that's not to say that I went in blind. The promotional materials say that the play is staged in Mandarin with supertitles, but by supertitles, they meant a single rough caption for each scene or two or three: the story-board (interesting typo: story-bard) version that misses everything about this version of the tale that makes it this version. I was a little bit suspicious upon receiving and reviewing the program when I arrived, with its quotation from a review that reads: "It scores for its intense confrontations and for a fascinating, mercurial villainy that needs not translation." I didn't for a moment think that this meant that it wasn't actually going to be translated. That reviewer is correct that this Richard III is a mercurial villain — the actor played him not as a hunchback but as someone who feigned physical disability when it suited him. However, without that variation being tied to the text, it was impossible to understand his vision for the character.

(I looked up the review to see if the quotation had been pulled out of context. It doesn't seem to have been. But the review does mention that the three witches from Macbeth dropped in — and I had wondered what was going on when three witch-like characters I didn't remember from Richard III turned up in the first act. If you're going to do a Shakespeare mashup, some guidance is required for an audience that cannot discern the Mandarin equivalent of "double, double, toil and trouble.")

Others people in attendance were worse sports than I was: there was a constant flow of audience members out of the theater throughout. When the thing was finally over, nobody clapped. The house lights came up, people got up and put on their jackets, and left.

In a way it was a very straightforward comment about text in translation that didn't require a lot of perveracating or theory or problematizing the cultural and literary and performative questions and all the kinds of things I'm supposed to be doing to text all day. Forget about what subtleties are lost in translation and whether translation and death and resurrection are related and what is or is not translatable and what the task of the translator might be. Forget about it all. If you can't speak Chinese, you can't watch Shakespeare in Chinese. It is all lost in translation without re-translation.

The translation is the cost of the meaning.

I'm sure it was a very nice play for the people in the audience who spoke Mandarin. It may even have been Shakespeare for them. But for me, for the people who left, for the people who sat there with their phones out struggling for the meaningful details that make the play William Shakespeare's, all it was, in the end, was a brash, colorful children's tale about an old king and a new king and about what was lost.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Ashes to Reform

I teach in the building that used to be the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, which burned famously 103 years ago today, with hundreds of workers trapped inside. It's now NYU's Silver Center, which, I hadn't realized, has been an NYU classroom since 1916, so fairly shortly after it would have been restored.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Territorial Dispute

¡Albricia, Álvar Fáñez || ca echados somos de tierra!

(It's an alarmingly appropriate book for him
to have chosen to make his stand for the chair.)

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Mal d'Archive

Here's hoping this amuses, fascinates and perplexes some future scholar.
I think the hotel reservation number is an especially nice touch.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Genizah as Library

Atlas Obscura is an interesting site to follow for ideas for quirky places to visit and quirky places to fantasize about visiting. This week they ran a photograph of of a monument in a Jewish cemetery in Austria.

It is conceived of as a library but, I think, speaks to some of the questions about genizah practice in different communities, placing old worn out sacred books and implements in the cemetery as the proper disposal. The idea of genizah-as-archive that is sometimes bandied about is a flawed one because it misrepresents chaos as organized. Genizah-as-lending-library does something else in the space between life and death.


I'm ambivalent about posting this as a single, undeveloped thought because I think I want to write more about it, and I'm not sure if this is staking out the territory or scooping myself (or setting myself up to be scooped). I'm so sick of my book, and there's so much new I'd like to be working on already and I'm despairing of the fact that I won't get to do or think about anything else for at least another year still. I hate the pace of the academy. Deadly.


I'm working on a translation project that begins with a discussion of writers becoming possessed by their subject matter. I'll write about it more concretely when it's official — things are looking good, but I don't want to jinx rights or contracts by being premature. But it's funny; I just read something about the author's work, and the scholar writing about it made her own sub-par translation of a few sentences of a different text he had written and that she was discussing. And I felt not possessed but possessive of his words in English. Reading his work rendered badly in English was more painful than a simple translation because I felt that I should somehow be the custodian of the form in the English language.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

This Week in Book Purchases

Both via Variación y cambio is for teaching — I'm trying to convince my department to let me take over our inexplicably popular undergraduate-level history of the language course after the member of faculty who teaches it retires next year. El lector de Julio Verne sounded good and I feel like I should be keeping up better with contemporary peninsular literature since I do teach in a Spanish department. I exercised great restraint, though, in not buying any Brill books at the AOS this week, so all in all, I count this as coming out ahead.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Orientalizing in a Desert Oasis

In a justifiable panic last night (more on this later), I completely rewrote the paper I'm giving later today at the 224th meeting of the American Oriental Society. As a consequence, I'm skiving off the morning sessions, sitting on the balcony of my hotel room and proofreading and making sure the new talk comes in under the time limit. At least the scenery is pleasant.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

This is Not a Sign of the Apocalypse.

I did something that a lot of my colleagues would consider to be unconscionable. I used that book. In a graduate seminar.

And you know what? Everybody's okay and nobody believes that anyone was nice to anybody else ever in the Middle Ages. Promise.

I'm teaching my first graduate seminar this semester, an introductory-level graduate course called Faith and Text in the Spanish Middle Ages. It is a set of case studies in cultural and literary history that is designed to give an overview of the major literary and religiocultural traditions of the Iberian Peninsula. My predecessor retired several years before I was hired and hadn't been teaching for several years before that; amongst the student population here, there is no institutional memory of the Middle Ages, however you want to define that, as a thing that happened in Spain. In other words, I knew this had to be a very introductory-level course. Even so, after the first couple of weeks it was clear that I was still pitching a little too high in terms of the background that students were missing.

To remedy the situation, I made an uncontroversial choice and added in relevant chapters from Richard Fletcher's useful if imperfect political history, Moorish Spain.

But I also asked my students to read Ornament of the World.

I explained to them why I had left it off the syllabus to begin with. Principally, this was because it is not a work of scholarship and so it really isn't designed or appropriate for a graduate seminar. But I also gave them the other reason why: Having been a student of its author, I have taken unusual flack from colleagues, most often in history, for being soft on the work. For wanting to defend it because its author was my teacher. For being incapable, because of that personal connection, of seeing it for the assault on history that it is. Not my words, of course.

One of the other scholars who was with me at the Katz Center last year took it upon herself to reeducate me about why the book was such a travesty after I suggested, during the opening session of the semester when we all attempted to stake out some common intellectual ground, that a caricature of Ornament's "culture of tolerance" was not necessarily what we needed to gird ourselves against because it wasn't a scholarly work, but was rather a book intended for a general audience of interested lay people.

She understood, she told me later that day in a kindergarten-teacher voice, that she must have hurt my feelings. I didn't tell her that I'd heard it all already. That I'd heard it all from my own professors at Yale, the author's own colleagues who referred to her (to undergraduates, mind you!) as "la que ve moros por todos lados" — the one who sees Moors everywhere she looks. That I'd heard it all from people with gripes about exile and with petty jealousies about publishing. In my co-fellow's mind I obviously couldn't be objective and needed to be made to see the light. After all, she told me, in a line of reasoning I still don't quite follow, people might read the book and cite it in their scholarly works and then it will become part of the scholarly narrative. I insisted then, as I do now, that if a historian or literary critic can't distinguish between a work of scholarship and a work of popular writing, that it is hardly the fault of the popular book. I voiced this objection and was met with a promise of examples of historians and classicists citing Ornament in their scholarship and a lunch date to discuss why this was such a big problem.

What I could never make this other fellow see was that my feelings had nothing to do with any of it. All of this came about because I had the temerity to suggest that we oughtn't decimate the book in a scholarly setting not because it is unassailable but because it is not a work of scholarship. It is a question of audience, a question of venue. Feelings have nothing to do with it. I bear my soul in my scholarship and it is deeply personal but my feelings are not at stake. Even so, this particular conversation managed to burrow deep under my skin, even as I came to have increasing reason to doubt this colleague's professional judgment. The only thing this other scholar — senior to me, a stranger to me — could see was one of Maria Rosa Menocal's students refusing to bash, without qualification, her book that was never intended for a scholarly audience and was always only a literary history, never a political one. Other scholars who dislike the work are often a bit more subtle than this colleague was, and for narrative and illustrative purposes, I suppose I'm lucky that her efforts were so blunt-edged. But the criticisms of the book and of the students is nothing unusual.

Because of where my realization about needing to backtrack and backfill and back form came in the course of the semester, we focused particularly on the chapter that compares the very literarily-informed biographies of the poet Judah Halevi and the mythologized Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar, el Cid. Its major focus on the relationship between poetry and prose narrative cut straight to the heart of how I wanted to teach the relevant texts. And I asked the students to read a variety of primary sources from Halevi's life, as well as explicit and indirect critiques of Ornament's treatment of them. We talked about his reliance on Isma'ili terminology in his philosophical work even as he was rejecting the forms of Arabic poetry. We talked about the various exiles of various Arabophone Hebrew poets. I walked away feeling like I had made Halevi out to be a bad guy — but crucially, a very different kind of bad guy than the one Hillel Halkin accuses Menocal of making him to be and, equally crucially, not uniformly a bad guy. We talked in some detail about the cultural paradoxes that are the backbone and the highpoint of Ornament and the most often misread by its critics.

A culture of tolerance that means total interreligious respect and harmony is not the version of the narrative that I would want graduate students to come away from my class with; and it's not the version of the narrative that they'll come away with. (And if we're honest, it's not even the version of the narrative that's there in Ornament even if that's what people take away from it.) The kind of convivencia that obtains in my classroom is the kind where Jews, Christians and Muslims physically cohabit the same space, read the same kinds of books and interrogate their ideas in similar ways.That is also the convivencia of Menocal's more scholarly works, the graduate-level appropriate ones that I also had my students read and that are often ignored by these intellectually neo-conservative reeducators who would see us return to the grand nationalist narratives of Sánchez-Albornoz and Fanjul. But in terms of giving my students an overview of the material and orienting them towards a cultural-historical methodology deeply informed by literature, as my research methodology is and as my classes are, asking them to read Ornament worked really well. Our few class sessions since then have gone much smoother and the discussion has been more involved; and in a two-hour seminar with three non-specialist students, that's no small victory. Convivencia is not an all-or-nothing proposition.

To the naysayers: Naysay away.

My real mistake was letting them live on in my head for as long as I did and for not starting out the first week with Ornament as a useful if imperfect cornerstone.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014


Because having the better part of a week to sit on a long-distance train and do nothing but write sounds ideal, I applied for the new writers' residency program that Amtrak just launched. The application was pretty simple — in 2000 characters, address why you want one of the writers' residencies and how it will benefit you — so I knocked it out and sent it off. It's not exactly . From Twitter traffic on the #AmtrakResidency, it sounds like a zillion people are applying for the 24 spots, so I don't expect it'll work out, but it would be a nice treat, once I finish my book manuscript, to have time and space in such a congenial setting (I love train travel!) to work on the other project I have going — sporadically, out of necessity — on the side, a book for a more general audience.

This was my 2,000 (well, 1,973) characters' worth:

I would like to hold an Amtrak residency to complete a draft of a book in progress, tentatively entitled Empire’s Companion: How Reading Shaped the Conquest of the New World. This book will be a history of the books read by Spanish conquerors before they set off to the New World, and how the stories and ideas contained therein influenced their understanding of their own imperial project. These books included everything from works of fantasy, with descriptions of monsters and dragons that informed how Europeans saw the new species of birds, fish and mammals they encountered in the New World, to works of political theory that influenced the ways in which they treated the native American populations. This is a book intended for an audience of interested lay readers (i.e., not professional historians); and as a work of scholarship for the general public, I think that this project dovetails nicely with the public-intellectual goals of the Amtrak Residency program.

There are two main ways an Amtrak Residency would benefit my writing: 1) My project is about the conquest of a continent, and first-hand exposure to the sheer distances and changing landscapes across North America will give me some much-needed perspective on the scope of my subjects’ imperial undertaking. 2) Normally, I write mainly for an academic audience. This means frequent interruptions to the actual work of writing in order to check obscure references write detailed footnotes. This leads to a lot of jargon and minutiae not suitable for general readers. I have already done the bulk of the research for this book, and an Amtrak residency will help my writing by letting me do nothing but writing. By removing myself physically from my own personal library and my university library, I will be able to think solely about the craft of the prose and the narrative. I’ll have to go back and double-check references later, but the reader-friendly shape of the book will have already taken form.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

I've moved back.

After a brief interlude in which I moved my blog over to being a sub-page of my professional web site, I'm back in my old space.

This was my original rationale for moving:
I began blogging in the summer of 2011 as a way to compel myself to start writing on a regular basis and not in academese after finishing graduate school. I wanted to be able to think things through the way I do best, in writing, and I thought that knowing that there was an audience, even one in the abstract, would be enough of an encouragement that I’d go beyond keeping jotted notes and could really flesh out some ideas about my work and the profession. I originally set out to find a balance between “notes from the life of a medievalist” and writing about the Middle Ages in a way that would be accessible to a general audience. It has ended up being more the former than the latter, and even as I have lately begun to write a series of posts that drew connections between medieval and modern cultural production, it’s going to remain largely what it was in terms of audience and focus. 
That said, I’d like to post a little less frequently and a little more thoughtfully and content-heavily. That’s not to say that there won’t be the occasionalanecdote, quick photo of paper ephemerapithy short comment or photo of my cat sitting on something professionally inopportune, but I’m hoping, largely, to be a bit more essayistic, a bit more careful, and a bit less reactive. 
I was going to be switching, at least partially, over to the WordPress platform for a nascent digital humanities project I am beginning, and so I decided to take the plunge and move my professional site and blog over here, too, to keep everything in a single platform. This seemed like a good moment, then, to refocus my purpose as a blogger. I have manually imported and backdated some of my old posts that I like best and think are most reflective of the direction I’d like to take. The old blog will remain up on the Blogger platform as an archive. 
This explanatory post will be what WordPress calls “sticky” for a while, meaning that it will stay at the top of the page. Scroll down below here to see new posts. I hope you’ll find the next iteration of the project to be fruitful as the last. I’m really ambivalent about leaving behind an old space that had become familiar and comfortable to me, but excited about letting the experiment evolve.

And the fact of the matter is that a lot of what I said about wanting post a little less frequently and with more serious, thoughtful content, still obtains. But at the same time, I was finding it paralytic to consider writing in my more conversational professional voice right next to all my black-and-white professional details. I've moved the few posts I wrote in the interim back here. The location doesn't change who might or might not be reading, but somehow, this just feels a bit more comfortable. So here I am. 

The One Where the Job Market Sucks

This is probably not the best time to be admitting this, but I was on the job market in a very limited fashion this year. I hadn't really intended to be, but that's how it worked out: I was invited to apply for one job and did so because I was flattered to have been asked and because I would have liked to have had a bargaining chip that I could have cashed in for a salary bump or a larger apartment or something else. (My significant other, also an academic, suggested I try to parlay it into a spousal hire. I had to ask him if he knew something I didn't.)  It wasn't a job that I really ever believed I would take, although as a colleague of mine said, in encouraging me to pursue the opportunity despite my own hesitation, you never really know how you'll feel about a competing offer until you have it in hand. It's just as well that I didn't care one way or the other because the institution was running two searches to fill one chair — one junior and one senior — and ultimately decided to make a senior rather than a junior hire. That's easy enough to take. I was ambivalent at best about the position in the first place and I didn't get it because, ultimately, I wasn't senior enough. 

The second job I applied for is one I would have considered very seriously had it been offered to me. I can't say for sure that I would have accepted it — and I was brought up better than to accept or decline a job that hasn't been offered to me — but it might well have been a difficult decision. It was at the single institution that I have occasionally thought, because of the structure of several programs and the concentration of people working in my area, would be a better fit for me than my current one. That's saying a lot about the place, because my current department is a pretty damned good fit for me. As much as the ad for my current job sounded as if it had been tailor-written for me, this ad sounded like I was made for the position. I fully expected that I would, at least, be long-listed, even if everything after that was a crapshoot.

I wasn't even considered.

The deadline for applications was Friday, 21 February, I received confirmation of receipt of my materials on Monday, 24 February, and a rejection letter dated Tuesday, 25 February. Either this is the single most efficient committee in the recorded history of all committees ever or the search is a sham; and I know enough academics to know where the safe money lies. We are, as a rule and a group, just not that efficient. I have heard from sources on the ground that they are hosting three candidates in the coming weeks, but I have to believe it's pro forma and that they already know which one they will hire. The timeline's just too hinky to be credible.

In a sense I am relieved. I wouldn't want colleagues who behave like that, willing to waste people's time and play on their emotions and put on a dog-and-pony show whose outcome is already a given. Sham searches are deeply unethical and are poor practice, to boot. I'm glad I found it out this way than, say, from the inside when it would be much harder to escape. It affirms for me that I am at the right place: The one other university in the country that I thought might possibly have a program that would be a better fit for me intellectually than the one that NYU has behaves, in a corporate sense, badly. The grass I thought might have been greener over there actually isn't, and lucky me to have found out on the cheap.

It's still a body blow, though.

I know that some search committees are horrible about communicating with candidates and can be unbearably cruel when they do. That wasn't the case here, but the letter was still off in two ways. First, it tips its hand as to the done-and-dusted nature of the search: The institution, the letter says, "has decided to pursue another candidate who more closely matches our requirements." Another candidate. One. Even if they are bringing three to campus, they know who they are are going to hire. I wish that more people would remember that the moral of the move Footnote is: Don't try to pull one over on a philologist. It won't work.

Second, it assured me that "this decision is not a reflection on the quality of your work but is, rather, determined by our need to locate a faculty member with a strong commitment to multidisciplinary work in the field." It's the first time in my life that I've been accused of not being interdisciplinary enough. What a dumb excuse. What a ridiculous thing to expect me to believe. Normally people don't know what to do with me because I don't fit neatly into a box of literature or history, of Spanish, Arabic, or Hebrew, of textual or manuscript studies. It in fact has to be about the quality of my work, because I am completely committed to multidisciplinary work in the field. Or it has to be not about me at all.

I know, in fact, that it's not about me. The timeline and the wording of the letter make that abundantly clear; but my ego still hurts.

Look. I know that I have been extraordinarily lucky in my professional life and I don't take that for granted for a second. I know, from all the horror stories around me, that it is a luxury to have been able to apply for only two jobs in a cycle and have the outcome of those searches not be what determines whether I will be able to continue on in my chosen profession or put food on my table. And so this post isn't so much about the job market as it is about still being green enough that my first exposure to certain realities of the profession — the compromised ethics, the willingness to use people to make things look legitimate, the sheer hubris of it all — are shocking.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Knitting Together a Historical Narrative

Conventional wisdom holds that Americans look at a map or pick up  works of history only during times of war. With many parts of the world and periods in history I’m better than that (partly an occupational hazard and partly because I’m a geek), but with the renewed hostilities in Crimea I’m in the same boat as everybody else, needing to get my geographic bearings and brush up on the history of the region.
Upon learning that British forces, led by Earl Cardigan and Baron Raglan were decimated at the Battle of Balaclava I was determined to knit together a better historical narrative:
Some wooly thinking on the front line led to a dropped cable from  Raglan, andCardigan gauged the situation badly. The charge felt wrong, but, as memorialized in poetry by Tennyson, “theirs was not to make reply/theirs was not to reason why/theirs was but to do and die.” The cavalry hit a snag and the whole thing came unravelled, leaving the command feeling pretty sheepish. Although there was initially a blanket of silence with the British government stringing the press along and batting the issues around amongst themselves while blocking the release of information, the whole knotty issue eventually came to light. Raglanwas killed in theater but Cardigan survived the war and returned to England, where he lived out the rest of his life as a cro(t)chety old man.
And now back to my regularly scheduled, non-knititng-related, medieval historical writing.
Some final notes: 1) With infinite time and resources I’d knit a miniature Light Brigade and include photos with this post. It’s not going to happen right now, though. 2) Many of these puns are mine, but, credit where credit’s due, equally many are the result of Twitter banter early this morning with @jshermanrobertsand @passeriform.