Sunday, February 18, 2007

Checking Spelling, Checking Jargon

The number of words one has to add to Microsoft Word's spellcheck dictionary seems to me to be a very good indication of the amount of jargon in our discipline. It also makes me realize that there are some words that I seldom use. (Or perhaps I just didn't bother to add them when I did use them.) Is it possible that I've not typed the word "structuralist" since I got a new computer two years ago?

Monday, February 12, 2007

Snow Day, Please

I'm doing my as-yet-unpatetented "snow day dance" so that I might appease the Snow Gods so that they might bestow enough of the white stuff on our fair hamlet for there to be no school tomorrow. Dance with me, won't you?

The sad thing is, I want a snow day so that I can get more work done. How I long for the days when a snow day meant sitting home and watching Bob Ross paint happy little trees.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Old Books

It’s fascinating to me that we all traffic in books, yet many of us don’t consider the material object. At least not consistently. It would be impractical, of course, to consider leaf size, typeface, font, binding, cover design, and paratext qua paratext, etc. every single time we pick up a book. But of course, we notice. All of these things make an impression on us and influence how we read, but they typically operate in the background.

I’ve been working lately with very, very elementary descriptive bibliography and it’s been wonderful to look at books almost only on these terms. I’m lucky in that I have access to an excellent rare book collection at my university. The main humanities collection is terrible, but the rare book room is great, having benefited from a large donation of nineteenth-century books from a private collector. Not to mention a Shakespeare First Folio, a page from a Gutenberg bible, a Coleridge first edition in the original paper boards, and first edition of Mary Shelley’s which includes several personal letters written by Shelley. It’s not the British Library, or even the Beinecke, but there are some wonderful books. Among them, the one that I’ve been working on: a first edition, “triple-decker,” of Bronte’s Jane Eyre.

Here’s what it looks like:

Currer Bell [pseudonym of Charlotte Brontë]. Jane Eyre. Vol. I of a three-volume “triple-decker.” London, 1847.

Size and Format: The cover measures 5” x 8”. The leaves measure 4 ¾” x 7 ¾”. Based on the size of the leaves and the signatures, this is an octavo. First signature is “B” followed by “B2” and then six blank leaves before “C”. Sheet “B” is then folded into eight leaves, or sixteen pages.

Cover: This book is in the original publisher’s cloth. Cloth is maroon and features a blind stamped border on both front and back covers. Spine is stamped in gilt:
Condition of the binding is very good, with only minor rubbing to the boards.

Provenance: Bookplate on front paste-down. “Charles J. Rosenbloom.”

Title pages: This edition includes a half-title, or bastard title, page after the first flyleaf. It reads:

The full title page reads:
JANE EYRE / an autobiography / EDITED BY / CURRER BELL / IN THREE VOLUMES / Vol. I / LONDON: / SMITH, ELDER, AND CO., CORNHILL. / ----------- / 1847.

At the bottom of the verso of the title page leaf:

Edition: This is a first edition, according to Sadleir’s bibliography. Also, the publisher’s catalog included in the back of the first volume lists this book under “Works Just Published.”

Paratexts: There are no paratexts in this book, though there is a half-title page.

Printed pages: Each printed page measures 4 ¾” x 7 ¾”. The text block on each page measures 3” x 5”, with a significant amount of blank space at the margins. Blank space at margins measures:
Head: 1 ¼”
Tail: 1 ½”
Fore: 1”
Back: ¾”
Type is set in Roman. Each page has the title “JANE EYRE” at the head and, with the exception of the first page, is paginated. Pagination is top right on the recto and top left on the verso. For pages that include signatures (B, B2, C, C2 . . . U, U2), the signature is at the tail on the right. All signatures are on the recto of the leaf.

Recto of first leaf after title page is distinct and reads:
JAYNE EYRE / ~~~~~~~~~~~~~ / CHAPTER I
At the tail of this page, opposite signature “B”, it reads “Vol. I.” This is the only page that includes this marking. The other two volumes also contain a “Vol. II.” and “Vol. III.” in the same location.

Advertisements: After the last leaf of the text there is a thirty-two-page publisher’s catalog.
The recto of the first leaf of the catalogue reads:

The verso of the first leaf of the catalog is a table of contents for the catalog and contains the following:
Works in the Press
Works Just Published
Scientific Works Illustrated
Oriental and Colonial
Religious and Educational
Works by the Rev. L.V. Tayler
Embellished Works and Prints
Books for the Blind

Among the books which are advertised in this catalog is Leigh Hunt’s Men, Women, and Books. Jane Eyre itself is also advertised. In addition, there is a full-page advertisement for Sir John William Kaye’s The Calcutta Review.

Overall, the condition of this book is very good, considering its age. All three volumes of this triple-decker are housed in a buckram Solander box made by Rivière and Son, likely in the 1930s.
While the overall design of the book is not overly elaborate, triple-deckers were quite expensive even though this was mass produced on a steam press. The paper and the ink are of good quality, though the pages were not cut well. The heads of nearly all the pages are frayed, and many of the tails are cut ¼” or more too short.
According to the publisher’s catalog, this book sold for £1 6s 6d.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Reminiscing About Blog Bastille Day

Almost a year ago to the day, Fafnir wrote:
This year brought us the Blog Revolution, which wasn't that big but moved so fast it went from Blog Bastille Day to the Blog Reign of Terror to the Blog Buncha Ol Fat Guys Talkin About Blog Bastille Day in like a week!
I have this "friend" who has a problem. Perhaps you, dear reader, can help. This "friend" is a pseudononymous blogger--and I use that term loosley since he's been a lazy blogger lately--who happens to work for an academic journal. This "friend" is thinking about soliciting articles and reviews for a section on online criticism. Who should s/he ask? While there were some excellent papers given at MLA, my "friend" wants to address some issues that weren't raised or expand on some that need to be expanded.

This need not be limited to "blogs" per se, but could include all manner of web-only criticism, literary, cultural, or otherwise. Any ideas?

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

The Living Hell of Forgetting Titles

The other day I saw a review of a book--didn't actually see the review, but saw the title of the book in the reivew section of a journal's table of contents--and it matches what I'm working on almost exactly. Problem is, I didn't write it down. I was sure I'd remember where I saw it. I don't. I suck.

I know it was published in 2004 and that it dealt with Victorian cultural criticism and the ways in which it prefigured contemporary criticism. But now it's gone. This is no good.


Monday, January 29, 2007

A Report on Rapport

It’s ironic, I think, that Inside Higher Ed has decided to link to my post about academic time since it’s exactly a lack of time that has prevented me from posting. The semester’s gravity has sucked me in, indeed. Enough whining, on with the post.

I have to admit it, I love to teach. At my (research) institution, the old saw about the lack of investment in teaching just isn’t true, at least not in the English department. The professors as well as the grad students here are incredibly invested in instruction, both at the undergrad and grad level, and are some of the most reflective teachers I’ve met. That said, in this, our third week of classes, many of the grad instructors are encountering resistance from their students. It happens every semester. The grad students are bright, articulate, and know the material. They are, for the most part, enthusiastic. But many of them have the same complaint about their students: “They just won't talk.” I attribute this to the inability of some teachers to effectively build rapport with their students. Of course the writing course most of us teach doesn’t, in and of itself, have students singing from their dorm windows. This is the only course that every undergrad has to take. They typically come in uninspired and somewhat dispirited. In my class though, almost from the first day, everyone is taking, students stay after class to talk to me. Why? I would like to think that it’s because I’m especially charismatic, but it’s not. It’s because I design my course so that this happens. This is how:


Though we all have to teach the “same” course in terms of the structure of the writing assignments and learning objectives, the content is up to us. While a lot of instructors base their courses around their research interests, I don’t. Why? Because I couldn’t face twenty-five freshman everyday and expect them to get excited about eighteenth- and nineteenth-century British literature and culture. Would it help my research if I taught a class like this? Yes. I am incredibly invested in my “work,” but I can’t subject freshmen in a required, non-lit course to only the things that I’m interested in. Since the learning objectives are about arguing and writing, I want them to argue and write about things that they’ll find . . . well, fun. So on my wife’s suggestion, I designed a course around reality TV. And I can still talk about the things I’m interested in on the theoretical level like gender, class, and textual interpretation.

It's All About the Kids

In the classroom, I try the best I can to flatten the power hierarchy. Of course I know that there are always extreme explicit and implicit power differentials at play, but we talk about them openly. I also talk about my role as a grad student, about the work I do, about how even I miss deadlines. They understand that I understand that the end of the semester is busy for everyone, and that we all have other things to attend to besides this class, but we still have to do it. Besides humanizing me—not always an easy task—the other upside is that they cut me a little slack if I’m late getting papers back.

In class, I’m fully invested, not only mentally, but bodily. I flail a bit more than I should, shout for emphasis, and generally run about the room like a maniac when it will make a point. In my class I have no shame and the kids know it. If I can embarrass myself a bit, they might be less afraid of embarrassing themselves.

The most important thing I do is to care about the kids. I know it sounds cloying, or a bit Dead-Poets-Society-y, but it’s true. I always come to class early and talk to the students as they come in. I ask about how their lacrosse games went, how they fared on their calculus exams, and if they’ve managed to mend ties with that estranged dorm mate. I always make time for them. I take them seriously and, in turn, they take me seriously too, despite the flailing.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Bad Blogger

Yes I know, I've not been a particularly good blogger as of late, but the start of the semester is always a bit rough. I have a few posts brewing that will appear shortly, one on teaching and building rapport with students, the second post on academic time, and a long one on the Frankfurt School. (And it's been Horkheimer, Adorno, Marcuse, and Lowenthal that have been keeping me from my bloggy duties.)