Talking yesterday with a dear friend, I compared Doing Academia (TM) as fighting with a ravenous dragon. Only, you don't see the dragon - you see a cute little gecko, that you mostly adore, called Colin. You sort of forget what you're up against. I feel compelled by a current bout of "never-enough-ness" to apologise once more - as ever - for the temporal chasm between the last Internet Bibliography and this one. But, you know what? I see today that Colin-the-gecko is actually Ranulph-the-Dragon. I am fighting back against Ranulph, that damn productivity beast. [Imagine I'm now speaking in hushed tones replete with self-import] And so, I herewith foreswear such apologies and instead affirm my staunch intent to Do My Thing (TM) and keep on rolling. [Return to normal speech patterns.] Anyhoo, with that mission statement out of the way, I present to you a nice little library of interesting stuff to read. Enjoy!
- On the meaning of colour:
o In a piece for Nautilus, Courtney Humphries disentangles the various cultural significations of the colour white. She hangs her analyses on the phenomenon of teeth-whitening, deftly reaching out to discuss hygiene more generally, class, racism, and the gap between scientific findings and personal behaviours. It’s the kind of essay that makes you reconsider quotidian ephemera – teeth-whitening toothpaste, white panties in tampon ads, the aisle of anti-baterial products in the supermarket – and your own unique construction of whiteness itself. Opening one’s eyes to the insistent underlying symbolism of that which we consider happenstance is an exciting, important affair.
- On modern saints:
o On 13 September, Benedict Daswa was beatified – the first South African to ever be recognised officially by the Church for his extraordinary piety. Daswa is acknowledged as a martyr, murdered due to his staunch opposition to witchcraft. IOL Online, a South African news outlet, covered Daswa’s story in January. The Archbishop of Johannesburg, Buti Tlhagale, explained the immense significance of the event for South African Catholics:
“This is the first South African saint. We have been waiting to have our own saint for years. Having our own saint means having our own spokesman in heaven – a model of someone who believes and dies for his faith.
Most of the time we hear about this – but it happens in other places and other times. This time, we have our own martyr who lived in the same time and country as ourselves. It is most striking and inspiring. […]”
As ever, authentic representation is shown to be crucial, whether in media, culture, or authorised religious role-models. To read more about Daswa, see also the “official” beatification website, and the “official” website dedicated to him.
o A recent article by Elisabetta Povoledo for The New York Times offers a counterpoint to Daswa’s ecclesiastical approbation. She explores the circumstances of a popular Bosnian shrine, famous for its Marian apparitions. The shrine has recently been investigated by the Vatican in terms of authenticity, with the results yet to be made public. If the Vatican rejects the shrine’s status as a holy locale, it would pit the popular devotion of locals and pilgrims against official doctrine proffered by the clergy. As Povoledo points out, the potential fall-out is not just cultural/religious – but also financial, given that the shrine attracts many spiritual tourists and boosts the local economy. An interesting window into the intersection of economic and spiritual potency, an issue which has been evident for as long as saints have been in existence.
- On the power of pop culture and representation:
o In 2014, psychologist Cendrine Robinson-Head published an account of her experiences incorporating rap music into her sessions with troubled black youths. She found that the rap music frequently listened to by her patients, such as tracks by Meek Mill and Chief Keef, articulated many of the struggles her patients faced. Using rap lyrics and the songs themselves, Robinson-Head discovered a mode for her patients to articulate their own suffering. In an interview with Matthew Trammell for The Fader in August, the psychologist explains and meditates on the utility of using rap as a therapeutic tool:
“One day, I heard a song that my husband was playing from his computer, [Meek Mill's] “Traumatized.” I was like, “Man, that reminds me of my kid." So I go and play the song for him, and he knows every word. He’s basically like, “That’s my life.” That was the first time that he opened up to talk to me. I started listening to Meek's music more. There’s so much emotional content there. He talks about his life so much, which was obviously very difficult. That’s relatable for a lot of those kids."
Robinson-Head underscores that stories have power, and relatable stories – those that seem to represent the experiences of a given individual – can be a compelling tool for difficult psychological work. Crucially, then, it’s not that her patients respond to all rap music, nor can you force “relatability” on a given story:
“If they’re listening to Meek Mill, and I’m like, “Come on, let’s listen to this Talib Kweli,” they’re going to look at me like, “What? What’s wrong with you? You’re again forcing something on me that I don’t want.” Which is the whole construction of them receiving therapy in the first place. Something is being forced on them.”
Pop culture has power; authentic representation in pop culture is breathtakingly important.
- On the business of academia:
o The Clerk of Oxford (AKA Eleanor Parker) blog is highly recommended. Blogging since 2008, the Clerk posts accessible, interesting stuff about medieval English literature and history, and a whole host of other topics. In a beautiful and thoughtful piece from July, she sketches out her intimate personal relationship to one of the Anglo-Saxon saints she studies, Mildred. I love the fact that she recognises the impossibility of discerning clear boundaries between personal and professional interests, and argues for the productivity of this intertwining. She discusses her own deep connection to Mildred’s home, Thanet, and considers the ways in which modern life – where people routinely move around – differs from medieval rooted-ness. Also excellent is her framing of “public academia”, and her vivid dissection of the problems of lack of diversity in academia:
“The more academia becomes the preserve of people who are able - financially, practically or emotionally - to move countries every few years and to support themselves through extended periods of part-time work, the more socially and psychologically narrow a world it will become, the more detached from the wide range of human experience it claims to be able to classify and explain.”
o Over at The Atlantic, Andrew Giambrone offers a frustrating, heart-breaking look into the ways in which prestigious institutions of higher education fail students with mental illness. He concentrates on the suicide of Yale student Luchang Wang in January 2015, highlighting Yale’s withdrawal and readmission policies which work to obstruct students needing time off to deal with mental health problems from actually taking that time. Yale is clearly the principal target of investigation here, but Giambrone sheds light on an issue which can and does affect many institutions. Much food for thought on the ways we, as academics, can support students in need.
o Apparently, there’s this email you can send that makes people reply – even if they’ve been actively avoiding responding to you. I haven’t tried it yet, but I figured I’d share the love: see The Magic Email. Apols in advance if you get a copy from me in your inbox…
o Jennifer Polk and Derek Attig recently co-hosted a Twitter discussion focussing on goal-setting in academia. Participants shared their current goals, and strategies for achieving them. It’s a nice window into what other academics are up to, and offers inspiration on how to get your own things done. Full disclosure: I waded in myself, albeit briefly.