le plus loin le plus serré

le plus loin le plus serré
mourning art

in memoriam

"yet I tell you, from the sad knowledge of my older experience, that to every one of you a day will most likely come when sunshine, hope, presents and pleasure will be worth nothing to you in comparison with the unattainable gift of your mother's kiss." (Christina Rossetti, "Speaking Likenesses," 1873)

Sunday, April 29, 2012

While visiting my parents in Florida this spring, I was delighted to see this sign in the little subdivision where they rent a house for the winter.

I never see Jasper Dash signs up here in Pittsburgh, only that sinister villain, Bobby Spandrel.

It was a welcome relief to see that wholesome, hearty boy technonaut displaying such excellent form on a sign.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

kick start my heart

Kickstarter is a good way to get things funded. I am all for funding creative projects. I just want in on that action for my dissertation.
I tried looking for kickstarted dissertations and found a couple, both music-related.

I've read the Kickstarter rules before, and I don't think I could get my dissertation on there "legally."  This despite the fact that my dissertation engages directly with the following:
  • Popular Culture
  • Disneyland/Disney history
  • Mister Rogers' Neighborhood
  • Toys and Play
  • Space and Place
  • Queerness
  • Masculinities
  • Reception studies/fan culture
 Not to mention the fact that the Mister Rogers work I'm doing is essentially the only such work that has been done.
There's broad crossover appeal here: Disney nerds, Mister Rogers' Neighborhood fans and sentimentalists, anyone with an investment in challenging traditional models of masculinity, anyone with an investment in making the world safe for little sissy boys, anyone invested in the possibilities that play can engender.

But, you say, what does anyone get from donating to a dissertation kickstarter?

Well, the knowledge that they are furthering scholarly study of important aspects of life. But more importantly, by helping support my dissertation they would be actively supporting making me a teacher/professor.  And my pedagogical aims are queer-positive, child-positive (in a non-sentimental way), intent on interrogating conventional attitudes about everything, organized largely around helping my students learn to see and read and think and write in a critical way. Short answer: my pedagogical position is: QUESTION EVERYTHING.

Alas, kickstarter's rules of engagement seem to prohibit me from using them as a way to pay my bills and buy groceries through the summer dissertation-writing season.
It's too bad there's no way to reach out beyond super-official channels for funding for academic projects. There are big important fellowships, but not everyone can get one of those - they are limited editions. Money for the sciences seems to flow like water, but in the humanities - you're on your own to peck and scratch for pennies. You know that awful scene in Ellison's Invisible Man, early on, when the men throw pennies on the electrified floor, and laugh and laugh as the black boys fight each other, while getting shocked, to pick up the pennies? That's kind of what the funding situation is like over here in the humanities. It's much less physical, of course, it doesn't have quite the same ring of horror that Ellison's does, but it's an emotionally brutal, scroungey, and painful contest just the same. And most of us come up emptyhanded, or with maybe one penny to our names.

And when we leave our institutions, hopefully with dissertations in hand and PhD appended to our names, we may very well be saddled down with so much student loan debt that it will be decades before it's paid off.
And there are fewer and fewer jobs every year, paying less, for those of us who have knocked ourselves out to write dissertations and become good college professors.
Kickstarter, come on! Cut the scholars, the academics, in on your crowdsourcing financial wizardry.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Dirty *Dirty Cowboy*: censorship idiocy, again

From the Rogue Librarian's blog, this post about the recent decision to remove The Dirty Cowboy from a school's library.  The cowboy in question, a boy, asks his dog to guard his clothing while the boy (who is covered in mud) bathes in the river. The illustrations are careful to use various objects to completely obscure the boy's genitalia; as the Rogue Librarian writes, "readers do not see so much as a butt crack."

But one student's parents complained, and the school board of Annville-Cleona voted unanimously (unanimously!!) to yank the book from two elementary school libraries.  School Superintendent Steven Houser offers this explanation:
[the parents] were asked what do you feel might be the result of viewing or reading this material, and their answer was, ‘Children may come to the conclusion that looking at nudity is OK, and therefore pornography is OK,’

Because of course, nudity = pornography. Of course. Never mind that there's no actual nudity going on here, because the book is illustrated in paintings (so there are no real human bodies); even if you don't buy my logic on that, there is still the fact that all cowboy "private parts" are fully covered.

Once again, proof of James Kincaid's brilliant thesis from Erotic Innocence and Anne Higonnet's equally brilliant thesis in Pictures of Innocence.  We have been acculturated to see even the drawn partially-naked body of a child as sexual; thus we get parents overreacting, and ultimately, a school board caving completely to the will of two people.

The Rogue Librarian quotes from a (quite positive) Booklist review that references Norman Rockwell; my sense (and I have a very vague recollection of flipping through The Dirty Cowboy, probably while working at the bookstore) is that we never see much more of the cowboy than we see in Rockwell's "No Trespassing."
Hardly a spectacle of pornography.

The politics and processes of sexualized child bodies aside, it's the tyranny of the minority in these cases that really gets me. It's just not logical, at all, to allow the parents of one student to have that much influence. It also makes me wonder if the contrary occurred, if the parents of one student came to the board and demanded inclusion in a library of, say, queer books, would the board as uninamously cave in to those demands?

Banning books is never, ever, ever okay. Banning picture books under the "logic" that children might perceive naked drawings as pornographic is actually kind of grotesque. I don't doubt the child's ability to have sexual reactions to things, but I also don't know if that's the controlling reaction; furthermore, I doubt that The Dirty Cowboy would provoke a sexual response from most people, child or adult. In some ways, it's reminiscent of that fool who wanted to ban Speak last year because of the "pornographic" discussions of rape. If you find descriptions of rape titillating, you've got way bigger problems than worrying about teenagers reading that book. Likewise, if you think nudity is equal to pornography, you have a lot more on your plate to contend with than a picture book.

I guest-lectured a friend's class once, on the subject of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, which included the inevitable question about "Wasn't Lewis Carroll like a pedophile or something?"  A boy in the class, a junior in college, listened to a few classmates' queries about naked photos, and elected to respond to their disapproving tone: "Nudity isn't the same as sex."
It's rare that I encounter students who are able to so concisely sum up a complex argument (or are even able to make the distinction between nakedness and sex). This one is especially on point, and it's a remark, a phrasing, I come back to often for one reason or another. It's worth repeating, and perhaps informing those parents of: Nudity isn't the same as sex.

If it was, Norman Rockwell could never have gotten away with this, nor could the Saturday Evening Post printed it on its cover.

Friday, April 20, 2012

From editrix extraordinaire, Ursula Nordstrom, on the exceedingly ill-conceived burning (by a librarian!!!) of Maurice Sendak's wonderful In the Night Kitchen:

 Should not those of us who stand between the creative artist and the child be very careful not to sift our reactions to such books through our own adult prejudices and neuroses? ...  I think young children will always react with delight to such a book as In the Night Kitchen, and that they will react creatively and wholesomely. It is only adults who ever feel threatened by Sendak's work. [my emphasis in bold]

I've never read Dear Genius: The Letters of Ursula Nordstrom, though of course I have read about her, and read excerpts of her letters quoted in various sources.  But I think, as I begin to assemble a summer reading list (aside from the mountain of dissertation that awaits me), that I will be placing Dear Genius somewhere near the top. 

Friday, April 06, 2012

Fairyland 2; ARC-fever and book excitement

Catherynne M. Valente has just posted pictures of the ARCs of the second volume in her Fairyland series, The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There.

It's got an absolutely gorgeous cover in what look like melted-grape-popsicle shades of purple.

It has also inspired in me another outbreak of ARC-fever.  I lament that I am not important or influential enough to warrant ARCs. I don't so much want to be important for its own sake, but I wouldn't mind being book-influential; I have good taste in books.
But I'm sad about not being able to read advance copies.

As I've mentioned ad nauseum, I can't afford to buy new books very often, especially not hardcover new releases. I do my book buying from goodwill and library used book sales and yard sales. New books are rare, exquisite treats for me, and since my perilously small income is under threat of becoming nonexistent in the fall semester, new-book-buying needs to come to a halt.
There are a handful of books coming out that I am dying to read; they're in the category I maintain (mentally, anyway) of Books I Will Buy New.  Diana Wynne Jones lived in this category by herself for quite awhile, but I've had to make expansions.
So what's coming up that I can't live without?
Railsea by China Miéville, due out in May. It's his young adult novel, and it sounds dreamy, and since I love his books and have an intense book-crush on him, I NEED to own this one as soon as possible.

This is not a test by Courtney Summers. I really, really like her books; this one is a zombie novel, and I'm very curious about what she'll do.  This one should be out in mid-June; I can make do with a library copy, but the library doesn't always have new releases in a very timely fashion.

Who Could That Be At This Hour? by Lemony Snicket. It's the first book in his new series (All the wrong questions), coming out in October. I don't think I need to say much about how badly I need to have this one.

And of course, Catherynne Valente's second Fairyland book, out in October as well.

It's not just my excitement/love/curiosity that drives wanting ARCs; it's that I now know, at least online, quite a number of people who do receive ARCs regularly, and post about them. It's frustrating and sad to be left out of those conversations, even if they're just little bits and burbles on twitter. It puts me behind the times, conversationally speaking, sometimes by months. By the time I've read the new book, a number of the people with whom I want to talk about it have moved on to the next ARC. They've had weeks or months to mull the book over, or their memories aren't as sharp or emotions as fresh as when they just finished it.

Reading and talking about books with other people has been my primary life goal since forever. This is partly why teaching makes me so happy (provided students do the reading). Reading and talking about children's and YA books is what I most want to be doing, more than almost anything else, and to feel belated and excluded from the very conversations I most want to be in is not very enjoyable.

I suppose the instantaneous availability of ebooks makes a difference, or would if I had - or could afford - an ebook reader other than my laptop. I've had to read lengthy texts on my computer before, and it's very uncomfortable; I don't like reading on a screen and I don't retain information as well at all. So that's not much of an option, really.

I'm also still smarting from the unavailable-in-the-US-ness of the third Spud book by John van de Ruit, and of more books by Simmone Howell and Gabrielle Williams and probably a million Australian YA authors who I can't/won't discover because it's too bloody expensive to order them from over here in the states.

On occasion, something joyous will occur, as when I received the glorious Sea hearts from my amazing online friend in Australia.
But other than that extraordinary kind of event, I suppose I just have to accept my belatedness.

Doesn't that Fairyland cover look delicious?  I cannot wait to read it.