romanticism cage match: wordsworth and shelley

I have always thought there was an interesting overlap in the Romanticist and Modernist aesthetics, which may be why I nearly ruined a perfectly good pair of pants when I first read these two (already familiar) works in one sitting. The same kind of Modernist fantastic phenomenological ethos is right there, all ripe and delicious, see. First there is this:

These beauteous forms,
Through a long absence, have not been to me
As is a landscape to a blind man’s eye:
But oft, in lonely rooms, and ‘mid the din
Of towns and cities, I have owed to them
In hours of weariness, sensations sweet,
Felt in the blood, and felt along the heart;
And passing even into my purer mind,
With tranquil restoration:–feelings too
Of unremembered pleasure: such, perhaps,
As have no slight or trivial influence
On that best portion of a good man’s life,
His little, nameless, unremembered, acts
Of kindness and of love. Nor less, I trust,
To them I may have owed another gift,
Of aspect more sublime; that blessed mood,
In which the burthen of the mystery,
In which the heavy and the weary weight
Of all this unintelligible world,
Is lightened:–that serene and blessed mood,
In which the affections gently lead us on,–
Until, the breath of this corporeal frame
And even the motion of our human blood
Almost suspended, we are laid asleep
In body, and become a living soul:
While with an eye made quiet by the power
Of harmony, and the deep power of joy,
We see into the life of things.

(W. Wordsworth, “Lines Composed a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey…“)

And then there is this:

Poetry is the record of the best and happiest moments of the happiest and best minds. We are aware of evanescent visitations of thought and feeling sometimes associated with place or person, sometimes regarding our own mind alone, and always arising unforeseen and departing unbidden, but elevating and delightful beyond all expression: so that even in the desire and the regret they leave, there cannot but be pleasure, participating as it does in the nature of its object. It is as it were the interpretation of a diviner nature through our own; but its footsteps are like those of a wind over the sea, which the coming calm erases, and whose traces remain only as on the wrinkled sand which paves it. These and corresponding conditions of being are experienced principally by those of the most delicate sensibility and the most enlarged imagination; and the state of mind produced by them is at war with every base desire. The enthusiasm of virtue, love, patriotism, and friendship is essentially linked with such emotions; and whilst they last, self appears as what it is, an atom to a universe. Poets are not only subject to these experiences as spirits of the most refined organization, but they can color all that they combine with the evanescent hues of this ethereal world; a word, a trait in the representation of a scene or a passion will touch the enchanted chord, and reanimate, in those who have ever experienced these emotions, the sleeping, the cold, the buried image of the past. Poetry thus makes immortal all that is best and most beautiful in the world; it arrests the vanishing apparitions which haunt the interlunations of life, and veiling them, or in language or in form, sends them forth among mankind, bearing sweet news of kindred joy to those with whom their sisters abide?abide, because there is no portal of expression from the caverns of the spirit which they inhabit into the universe of things. Poetry redeems from decay the visitations of the divinity in man.

[…]

It is impossible to read the compositions of the most celebrated writers of the present day without being startled with the electric life which burns within their words. They measure the circumference and sound the depths of human nature with a comprehensive and all-penetrating spirit, and they are themselves perhaps the most sincerely astonished at its manifestations; for it is less their spirit than the spirit of the age. Poets are the hierophants of an unapprehended inspiration; the mirrors of the gigantic shadows which futurity casts upon the present; the words which express what they understand not; the trumpets which sing to battle, and feel not what they inspire; the influence which is moved not, but moves. Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world.

(Percy Bysshe Shelley, “A Defence of Poetry“)

See also my Modernism Cage Match. Don’t you feel all sweaty now?

back to black

I’ve written before about how hard it was for me at some points during the dissertation-writing phase of graduate school. When you aren’t taking classes or even having regular meetings, and the only thing you have to get out of bed for is teaching two days a week, it’s easy to let the days slowly melt away into a sludge of nothing, barely differentiated by the faint lines of a teaching schedule and the map of various weekly drink specials around town. Monday morning: teaching; Monday night: dollar beers; Tuesday morning: sleeping; Tuesday evening: two-dollar drinks and karaoke; and so on and on it goes until you have been “working” on your “project” for several years and it feels like only a week has passed. Because, you know, all your weeks are exactly the fucking same.

What with all the cheap drinks and the karaoke and the getting paid to do nothing, that probably sounds like a pretty sweet deal, but I can assure you it isn’t. There’s a constant lurking web of guilt, inadequacy, and fear in the back of your mind — not to mention the fact that all the drinks and pub food and lounging around have some seriously detrimental effects on your figure. I mean, unless you want to look like an extra in a Sir Mix-a-Lot video, or, worse yet (because let’s face it, those Mix-a-Lot girls were pretty fly), Valerie Bertinelli’s before picture.

My weeks still all look pretty much exactly the same, but there are a few small but important details that change everything: there’s the busy schedule (four classes, if I haven’t mentioned it — full professors only teach two classes and yet make 3x my salary, but that’s a bitch for another time) and there’s the fact that I am no longer living under the shadow of a project I have no idea whether I will actually have the gumption to complete. Instead of moping away all my free time either in the campus area hostelries or in front of an episode of One Life to Live with my jammies on, I am actually at school, doing work, accomplishing things, teaching the whippersnappers, and other productive, meaningful activities.

My Mix-a-Lot ass is slowly shrinking back down to its usual size, and I am finding the mental energy for things like crushes and doodling and memorizing song lyrics and hiking and art projects. I think I am slowly starting to resemble a person I used to know somewhere. Somewhere like, oh, I don’t know, college, maybe? It’s been a long time. Anyway, enough of this maudlin introspective shit: I think I am off to go pencil in some yoga on my schedule for tomorrow and then doodle some Decemberists lyrics and think about boys.

2007, i am through with you!

This has been one of the most eventful years for me so far, and I don’t really know how to sum it up. As my sort of year-in-review thing, I have taken this questionnaire from one of my favorite bloggers, Linda of Sundry Mourning. You should do it, too! Go on, you know you love a good questionnaire!

1. What did you do in 2007 that you’d never done before?

I wrote and defended a dissertation, was called “Doctor,” got a full-time college teaching job, drove across the country alone, and lived in New Wye, a bizarre and temperate state with far too much pleated khaki.

2. Did you keep your new year’s resolutions, and will you make more for next year?

I rarely make resolutions for the new year, but I seem to recall pledging to make my bed every day or something random, unnecessary, and trite like that. Needless to say I did not follow through on that ridiculous plan. Bed-making minutes are precious minutes that could be spent sleeping, or perhaps applying some under-eye concealer to approximate the appearance of having slept.

One thing I did do, without really thinking about it or planning it or trying, was quit eating fast food. No more McDonald’s sausage biscuits for breakfast, no matter how magical their hangover-curing properties, if the fuckers have, like, 500 calories. Just no more. That was a good (and surprisingly easy) decision.

I don’t think I will resolve anything for next year. I think I will do whatever I fucking like! (Wait, was that a resolution?)

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?

Yes! My lovely total BFF just had a baby boy in May, and he is glorious.

4. Did anyone close to you die?

Not this year, thank dog.

5. What countries did you visit?

The U.S.A., baby! Everything in between Zembla and New Wye, which unfortunately included Nebraska, my most hated of the fifty states. I loved doing the drive myself, in spite of my passenger tendencies. It is one of my favorite things I have done.

6. What would you like to have in 2008 that you lacked in 2007?

More money.

7. What dates from 2007 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?

May 4th – My aforementioned friend’s baby was born — I remember constantly checking my messages all day, going, “Is he here yet? Is he here yet?”

July 15th – The day I left Zembla. Most of the day was spent driving through the Eastern Zemblan desert, which is a really lovely place to drive.

August 1st – The first day I had to show up to my new job. It was about 100 degrees that day, and one of the professors ambushed me as I got to the office and took my picture for the school website. I looked like a sweaty mess.

October 8th – The deadline for my dissertation draft. The week before this date was spent working on the draft as well as grading about 100 student papers and being observed in class. On October 8th, I finally put the draft in the mail and drank and slept the week-long caffeine buzz into oblivion.

November 19th – The date of my defense. I was wearing pin-striped pants.

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?

The PhD, of course. Not that I passed so much as that I didn’t give up before finishing. There were times, people, times.

9. What was your biggest failure?

Not keeping up with running (or any other exercise) when I got to New Wye. It’s just that there are no sidewalks here. Damned backwards redneck town! This isn’t such a big “failure,” or anything but it’s all I’ve got for this question. It’s been a good year.

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?

Just a few running-related injuries – my old plantar fasciitis acted up again (fucking plantar fasciitis, I hate it SO MUCH) and the damned shinsplints.

11. What was the best thing you bought?

A tie between my souped-up MacBook or my iPhone. Also, never in a million years would I have thought I’d answer this question so geekily. Sigh. I accept my nerdy fate.

12. Whose behavior merited celebration?

The dog’s. He stopped peeing on the carpet and barking at night. He also was very generous with cuddly lap time when his owner was feeling stressed, which was at least once every hour for a while there.

13. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?

The cat’s. I had a mailer bag from Old Navy with a jacket I was returning, and before I could send it off the damned cat took a damned shit right in that bag. Fucking cat. She also bit the hell out of me in a hotel in Nebraska when I tried to get her out from under the bed. Hey, anyone want a cat? Um, she’s real nice?

14. Where did most of your money go?

Other than the usual bills, I would say it went mostly to the moving expenses and wine and cigarettes.

15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?

Graduating and starting my new job, the birth of my friend’s son, the graduation and new job of my other total BFF. The three of us have had a great year and with all of these events I spent a lot of time feeling proud, happy, and excited for someone. It was a good year, I keep saying!

16. What song will always remind you of 2007?

Can I pick a whole album? If so then I pick Rilo Kiley’s More Adventurous. I started listening to them this past year and fell in love, and this album was almost always on in my car or on my ipod. “More Adventurous” pretty much describes my year, too (the title, not the song/album itself).

17. Compared to this time last year, are you:

a) happier or sadder? Happier. I was depressed and hiding under a blanket the year before. Thank dog that’s done with.

b) thinner or fatter? About the same, I think, but it’s hard to say since I don’t have or use a scale. I’m wearing the same size, though. You would think that the no fast food thing would have made me lose weight, but the no running lately thing balances it out, I guess.

c) richer or poorer? I make more money now, but only marginally more. I am still always completely broke. Metaphorically speaking, I suppose I am richer, though.

18. What do you wish you’d done more of?

Running, hiking, visiting the Zembla Coast, non-dissertation-related writing and reading.

19. What do you wish you’d done less of?

Procrastinating and wasting time.

20. How did you spend Christmas?

At my parents’ house with them and my brother. It was nice to see them all, but it was nowhere near as relaxing as my “grown-up” Christmas alone in Zembla the year before.

21. Did you fall in love in 2007?

No. I also didn’t fall out of love or get my heart broken, though. It was a completely uneventful year on the love front.

22. What was your favorite TV program?

That I watched this year: Buffy the Vampire Slayer, hands down. (HOW did I not watch this before?)

That actually aired this year: Veronica Mars. I was so sad to see that one go.

23. Do you hate anyone now that you didn’t hate this time last year?

No. My hate levels remain constant. Constant, fiery, and seething. Heh.

24. What was the best book you read?

That I read this year over all: The Real Life of Sebastian Knight by my boyfriend, Vladimir Nabokov.

That I read for the first time this year: either If on a winter’s night a traveler… by Italo Calvino (I’m not sure I didn’t first read this in 2006, though) or A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, by Dave Eggers.

25. What was your greatest musical discovery?

Rilo Kiley and The Decemberists. Both groups I had heard before, but I only really started listening to them this year. Love love love. At the moment I cannot stop listening to The Decemberists’ The Crane Wife. It is so fucking good. Hey, I think I’ll put it on right now.

26. What did you want and get?

Materially: a new laptop, phone, and car.

Really: A job, a PhD, good friends at the new job.

27. What did you want and not get?

Materially: Great knee-high black boots.

Really: Respect from the head of my graduate program. I am so glad to be rid of her shit.

28. What was your favorite film of this year?

I can’t say I have seen any that great so far this year. Instead, I give you the three movies I have not seen yet, one of which I am sure will wind up being a favorite: Juno, No Country for Old Men, The Darjeeling Limited. Without seeing them, I guess I would say The Namesake or Volver, both of which, um, came out in 2006. I am just so slow to see new movies — I usually wait for the DVD.

29. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?

On the day itself I went out with a handful of friends and played pub trivia. We won a bunch of stuff: appetizers and free drinks and such. Then on the following weekend, my friends threw me a big surprise party with the jumping out of corners and the shouting and everything. It was nice. I was 30.

30. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?

Sex, I assume. Hard call, though, as I only foggily remember what it is like.

31. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2007?

Blazers and Heels Make Everything More Professional. Essentially it is the same concept I had in high school: jeans and tee shirts and a jacket. Chuck Taylors make frequent appearances, too, but, on teaching days, for the clack of true authority, one wants heels.

32. What kept you sane?

Friends, whiskey, caffeine, writing, music.

33. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?

Along with the budding Buffy obsession, it would be either David Boreanaz or James Marsters. Milo Ventimiglia and Nigel Barker are frequent favorites, too.

34. What political issue stirred you the most?

Shamefully, I have been politically inactive all year. I vote and shit, but I avoid the news and most political discussions. When I think about the ridiculous insistence on this war, though, and the endlessly mounting toll of deaths because of it, I suppose I am “stirred.” Stirred to a tasty mix of nausea and despondence.

35. Who did you miss?

All my Zembla friends and my two aforementioned college BFFs. I miss them all a lot. Moving across the country tends to do that to a person.

36. Who was the best new person you met?

I can’t name one, but there is a solid bunch of fellow instructors and professors I have met here in New Wye who have made the transition so much easier. These are the ones who have been planning trips to Nearby City and nights out and surprise parties and the like. They’re all brilliant and fun and we all consider ourselves lucky to have been hired as part of such a good group.

37. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2007.

My old favorite, qui patitur vincit, really held true this year.

There was also the discovery that college students everywhere, North, South, East, and West, are all equally whiny, self-centered, coddled little shits. Most of them. There will always be a handful who make it worthwhile. (The exception to this rule: my 8:00 class last semester, where NOT ONE OF THEM got an A. That has never happened before.)

38. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year.

I generally think quoting song lyrics is a bit lame, but here’s something not unlike my last year, and, hey!, it’s from my own album of the year, too:

Any idiot can play Greek for a day
and join a sorority or write a tragedy
and articulate all that pain
and maybe you’ll get paid.

But it’s a sin when success complains,
and your writers block don’t mean shit.
Just throw it against the wall and see what sticks.
Gotta write a hit
I think this is it.
It’s a hit.

— Rilo Kiley, “It’s a Hit”

Dude, you should really get that album; I swear it’ll change your life. Or your week, at least.

Happy New Year, y’all!

it's done!

I passed and am now officially a doctor.  So far I have learned that doctors have a lot of drinks bought for them.  Doctors also get to sleep in.  Sometimes doctors are faced with problems, like a headache, for example, or like the sudden inability to figure out how to put on a tank top.  Hey, tank tops are confusing.  Nonetheless, as in all things, doctors will face these problems bravely.

I am still not sure where my minions are, however.  I was told there would be minions, and right now I need said minions to bring me some sushi.  Still waiting for the minions.

stress, lists, and pie

I think I’m done with the Pillow Book posts — those were fun, and I muchly enjoyed your participation. I mean, who doesn’t love a good list-making session?

Currently I am in the throes of list making as it applies to my upcoming trip to Zembla, and by “upcoming” I mean I am leaving tomorrow night. (Also “upcoming”: my dinner. Oh, the stressful tummy!) That’s right, y’all: it is the moment of truth. I am going back to defend my dissertation, at which point they will either make me a doctor officially, or they will uncover the horrible fraud I have been perpetrating over the last seven years — finally realizing I am not an academic at all but merely a lame lump who spends more time thinking about TV than literary theory — and kick my round butt to the curb.

As far as the list making goes, I have already crossed off such items as “fret,” “worry,” “stress,” “revise last chapter and bibliography,” “subtly probe committee members as to what their tough questions might include,” and “arrange a dog sitter.” I still have to find the perfect blouse and do my nails. Let’s not forget the crucial things, shall we?

It’s going to be a busy week, starting with my leaving for the airport at 2 a.m. tomorrow night (OK, technically Sunday morning, but since 2 a.m. is before my usual bedtime and I won’t be going to sleep first, it will feel like tomorrow night, and that’s what counts — how things feel to me, for I am the center of the known universe.  Of course.). After the defense I will fly back to New Wye, arrive the night before Thanksgiving, then leave the next morning to go up to my parents’ house for the holiday. I plan to spend all my time there happily consuming turkey, pumpkin pie, wine, and their adulation. Monetary gifts are also welcome, of course.

What are you doing for the holiday break, if you have one? I hope it’s something a little more relaxing, and I hope that wherever you are (and whether you’re doing Thanksgiving or not), you have plenty of pie and wine.

frankly, i'd rather be smooting

My dissertation defense date is almost official:  I am just waiting for two more professors from my committee to log into the website and confirm they will attend.  I swear to dog, dealing with my committee is the most ridiculously annoying thing about the whole effing project.

I have an “outside member” (dirty!) whose job is mainly to make sure the school isn’t handing out doctorates willy-nilly, and who sits on the committee but doesn’t work very closely with me throughout.  Although he requested not to see the dissertation until it’s complete, I did make sure to copy him on all of the planning, scheduling, and logistics emails as it is absolutely necessary that he attend the actual defense.  We have had one date and one date only in mind throughout the whole thing, and just as I sent out the email stating that I was entering the scheduling module online, he finally piped up to complain that the chosen day was his busiest of the week and sweet sassy molassy but he didn’t have a spare minute between eight and five, the pobrecito.  Well, too bad, sucka, I guess we will just do it at five then.

On the plus side, this should ensure that everyone will be tired as it will be the end of the day, and thus they will hopefully not feel like sticking around after my talk to pepper me with difficult questions, like did I actually do any research or why I think anyone in the known universe would be likely to care about my little project or who the hell do I think I am.  That kind of thing.  Hopefully, it’ll be a quick talk, some quick questions, get in, get out, get a round of shots.

In other committee-related crap, I had also picked out a draft deadline before leaving Zembla — a date by which I would have a complete manuscript in the hands of each committee member for their perusal.  Although the grad school suggests this be done three weeks before the defense, we had decided on doing it six weeks before the (then still hypothetical) defense date, just to make sure everyone had adequate time to read through and give me the go-ahead on setting the defense date officially.  After all, no one wants to walk into that room to face a committee that has decided, upon reading the manuscript, that it is just not done yet. Surprise, you don’t graduate! Oh, oh no.  Shudder.

So the six-weeks-ahead draft deadline was supposed to eliminate any problems, but when it came time to set the date officially, had any of those people read the thing yet?  No.  And of course this is my fault, not theirs, as I surmised from certain emails that were sent to me using words like “frankly.”  Do not “frankly” me, people, oh no.  DO NOT “frankly” me, because frankly I think I have given you more than adequate time to read the manuscript and frankly it is not my fault that you put it off until the last minute. Frankly.

Whew, I feel better now.

Anyway, I can finally start looking for a plane ticket back to Zembla for the defense.  That should be fun — I get to see my Zemblan people again and wear a coat again and get a blessed break from the sight of khaki and Polo shirts and Topsiders and protestants.

Tomorrow is another day of teaching: it’s Chaucer these days.  I must strive to be more like the pilgrim who gladly wolde learn and gladly teche, even though of late I am more inclined to model myself on the guy who went around with his iren hoot, other people in the ers for to smoot.