Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Veering Off-Course

So this blog has clearly become mildly defunct. As I dislike leaving partial efforts visible to the naked eye, and I don't want to delete it, I am going to recommend to my fellow contributors that we use this space for random ramblings on our particular interests, whether or not they are particularly funny or offbeat. I figure it would be a good way to communicate with each other about what's going on academically, as well as a good way to blow of mental steam, which was of course the initial intent of this blog.

To that end, I here present an offering of this sort:
I have been reading Stanley Fish a lot in the past two days; particularly Fish on Milton, which is probably his most famous work (Fish's, not Milton's) although he has of course worked on other authors. I first encountered him through a friend who had to read an article in which he was challenging what constituted a poem by writing random things on blackboards and labeling them as poems. But that is neither here nor there; what I'm reading now is for a class.

I've read Surprised by Sin: The Reader In Paradise Lost and his fairly recent article Milton Studies, "Why Milton Matters." He wrote these about 40 years apart, but I noticed a similar trend between the two, or at least between my reactions to the two of them. In both cases I find myself nodding along with his general point, or at least conceding its general validity or importance, but quibbling distinctly with his details.

To cut a long description short, the reason for this is, or seems to be, that these two works by Fish are both heavily rooted in individual, idiosyncratic relations with the text, whether it be the text of Paradise Lost, as in Surprised by Sin, or of modern Milton criticism, as in "Why Milton Matters." In both cases, Fish stands in, reasonably well, for a certain type of reader, and therefore his statements must be seriously considered, and there is much to be gained from engaging with them. In the first, his argument that Milton catches the reader in the process of constantly being seduced by Satan (or evil generally) and therefore makes the reader participate, and be aware of participating, in Adam and Eve's fall and the condition of fallen humanity generally, is clearly plausible, and quite productive (indeed, he makes very good use of it). In the latter, his criticism that too much Milton scholarship is focused on Milton's politics or theology and not on his poetry is well taken, or at least worth considering in the field going forward.

However, in both I feel that he oversteps; he over-generalizes from his own perspective. Perhaps he is caught up by Satan (or the devils generally); and indeed, I would argue that likely many or most readers are, at least once. But his argument is that all readers are, and many of his specific examples fall flat for me, as I have read the poem multiple times without falling prey to the mental traps he alleges to be inevitable. The case is overstated; it is a useful tool for examining what is at work in the text, but it is not as all-encompassing or sufficient as he believes. As for the criticism, it should be noted that first, he is very gracious to those he criticizes, commenting positively on their scholarship even as he says it is misguided. But more importantly, he once again overstates his position; he argues "against historicism" rather than arguing against the misapplication of historicism. The latter is a more accurate target; indeed, his criticism could almost be boiled down to the point that critics fail to turn back to Milton successfully after considering the larger world. Instead of making this more limited argument, he seems to wish to simply dismiss historicism out of hand, acting as if it must, by its very nature, refuse to apply its historical insights back to the text, or fail to do so successfully. This is not true, and the seeming assumption that it is weakens Fish's case.

In both these cases, Stanley Fish makes valid points, only to overgeneralize them and fail, at least for me, only by virtue of the attenuation of his arguments over too wide an expanse. Am I also overstepping by seeing this as a pattern? Has anyone else read Fish, and had this or a different opinion on him? And does this idea work for this blog?

Wednesday, April 15, 2009


I'd just like to point out that our three authors are going to graduate school.

Ms. Z - NYU
Mr. G - University of Chicago
Ms. S - Sarah Lawrence College

Basically, we are brainier than you, and should probably update this more with random facts.

Today I'd just like to share this:

In New York City during the 1840s Lydia Thompson brought her production of Ixion, the first burlesque, to PT Barnums theater. It grossed 40,000 dollars in ticket sales. That's more than Wicked or the Lion King has done in the modern era.

In other words, burlesque kicks Disney's butt.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

A quickie

Board game taglines, courtesy of

"Split: A thrilling yet simple Card Game of smarts, chance, and...who the heck knows."
"Guillotine: The revolutionary card game where you win by getting a head."
"In a galaxy far, far away...they need sewer systems too" - Galaxy Trucker
"Money rules the world" - Money

And the best ever:

"Mongolian Goat Rodeo is the most fun you can legally have with a horse and a goat."

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Ah, fickle language!

Today's Brain Rot is brought to you by the shrinking middle class. Although not for much longer. 

Our topic? The population statistics of the English profession. According to the Modern Language Association (MLA):

More people who teach English teach part-time at Associate's degree level institutions (26,700) than teach full-time at any level of four-year institution (24,911). Only 5.7% of the former have a Ph.D.

73% of all jobs on the MLA Jobs Information List are filled by candidates who had received their graduate degree at most three years before.

With over 80,000 faculty, English trails only Fine Arts and Business in the number of faculty members employed, narrowly edging Biological Sciences, nearly doubling History, and quadrupling Sociology. However, only 1/3 of those faculty work full time.

27.3% of English faculty would be TAs...if TAs counted as faculty. TAs teach 42.9% of English comp classes, 28.3% of lower-division undergraduate courses, and 1.8% of graduate(!) courses. Public institutions are slightly more reliant on this labor, private non-religious institutions slightly less, and private religious institutions are almost entirely free of it (4.4%).

Average salaries for full-time, non-tenure track English professors have increased by 14% in real terms since 1999.

Tenured professors ($65,320) make almost $20,000 more on average than tenure track professors ($45,590), who make only $4,000 more than full-time non-tenure track professors ($41,391). Part-time faculty, however, make almost nothing ($9,586) and a full 12% of them have a joint household income below $25,000 (including spousal income).

41.5% of all full-time, non-tenure track faculty hold a master's degree and have no plans for further study.

Enrollment in degree-granting institutions has risen by three million in the past 10 years, while the number of English faculty has declined by 1,700. Only English and Law suffered declines among the 19 major fields chosen by the MLA for comparison.

On a final positive note, the plurality of all tenure track assistant professorships went to those directly out of graduate school (32%)!

You always knew you did it for the love of learning, now you have the statistics to back it up!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Blue Laws

For today, we're sharing with you something called Blue Laws: Laws which are still on the books, but make little sense or are rarely enforced due to their rampant idiocy.

In Seattle, WA it is illegal to:

Carry a concealed weapon over six feet in length.

Ride the bus with an aquarium on your lap.

Women who sit on men’s laps on buses or trains without placing a pillow between them face an automatic six-month jail term.

Lean up against lamp posts.

In New York City:

It is illegal for a woman to be on the street wearing “body hugging clothing.

Citizens may not greet each other by “putting one’s thumb to the nose and wiggling the fingers”.

Flirting may cost you a $25 fine. (I'm not going to be happy...)

In Staten Island:

It is illegal for a father to call his son a “faggot” or “queer” in an effort to curb “girlie behavior.

In Boston:

It is illegal to play the fiddle.

No one may cross the Boston Common without carrying a shotgun in case of bears.

No one may take a bath without a prescription.

Also, Quakers and Witches are banned from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Sigh.

The point of all of this, is that really, does the government need to legislate these things? Am I really so silly as to think that I should sell my eye after it's removed, or does the Texas government actually need to make a law about it?

In Clarendon, TX it is illegal to dust a public building with a feather duster. So the question is, why do we bother? Would the world crash down on our heads if we dusted buildings? Does it really matter how many dildos we own (multiple southern states) or is anyone really ridiculous enough to push a moose off of an airplane (Alaska. Also, how would one get the moose ON the airplane?)

In short, these laws make no sense, but they're certainly fun to dissect as part of constitutional law and civil rights research. If you know a law you're fond of laughing at ,post in the comments.
Today's edition of The Brain Rot is brought to you by Arrow Shirts. Keep your friends close, and your arrows closer.
Without further ado, we bring you: the Deaths of Early English Kings.

Edmund I was murdered when he tried to single-handedly catch a thief. He forgot that, while it may be a crime to carry a knife and stab the king with it, most criminals are not too worried about committing crimes.

Harold II Godwinson was shot through the eye with an arrow. Stupid Normans.

William II Rufus was shot in the chest by an arrow. People accused his hunting companion Walter Tyrrel of having killed him on behalf of his brother, Henry I. Tyrrel, a great PR man, responded by fleeing the scene and having his friends claim he was not in the forest that day at all, and never saw the king.

Richard I Lionheart was a connoisseur of of archery to a fault. He was besieging a rebellious castle and walked around outside without armor on. A young man on the castle wall shot at him, and Richard stood there applauding the shot as it plunged into his neck. He got gangrene and died, although not before pardoning the shooter for being an excellent shot. On a side note, his brain, heart, and body are buried in three different places in his French domains.

Edward II is generally rumoured to have been gay; even Christopher Marlowe thought so. So of course his murderers decided to stick a copper tube up his bum, followed by a red-hot poker. Seriously. At least they may have suffocated him to death first.

So what have we learned? If you're an English king, arrows are hazardous for your health. As is being king. See you all in the next edition of The Brain Rot.