Sunday, January 30, 2011

Academic Blogging

Should academics blog?

Yesterday, I held an informal workshop with my postgraduate students. It's an occasion for us all to meet and discuss the down and dirty aspects of working on a PhD thesis. I always mean to introduce more baked goods to these meetings, but the last few days have been far too hot to even think about ovens (the witch in the gingerbread house did not live in Melbourne in summer). Yesterday, we began talking about the importance of - and drawbacks of - having an online presence.

There are a few reasons I began to blog here:

1. I often come across information and links that are of interest in my research. The blog is an opportunity for me to pull these together and share them with students.
2. I can communicate with past, present and potentially future students beyond the classroom.
3. The blog provides me with some control over my online presence. Through the blog, people can at least see how I like to present my work.

More and more, publishers are also checking the online presence of potential authors. This is something to think about for those hoping to go the authorial route.

There are, of course, drawbacks. Blogs are public. Anyone can read them, so you have to be mindful that you are publishing, albeit in a more informal way. Copyright boundaries are still vigorously debated. There are trolls and their bridges apparently have wi-fi these days.

Yet, I like having my blog. It helps me to think about what I'm doing and what it means in terms of the wider community. I think it is a useful tool for academics.

A while ago, Patrick Spedding blogged about our colleagues' blogs, including mine. I also came across a blog by Maria Nikolajeva, best known by myself for her work on children's literature. She helpfully blogged, among other things, about her career trajectory. Nikolejeva combines personal and academic reflection and the first time I came upon her blog, I read her post on baking bread. There is, of course, Henry Jenkins, too. His blog is a great source for interviews with great thinkers, whether from industry, fandom or academia. There is little personal reflection, but, then, Jenkins has worked his life as a fan into his academic life. Each academic decides on what they feel comfortable with sharing. The important thing, I think, is to respect those boundaries and for readers of the blog to understand that it is a blog - not an academic monograph.

Literary Knitting

The Sanguine Gryphon has a Winter 2011 pattern collection inspired by literature. I've already picked up "As You Wish" and "Taming of the Fox". This morning I noticed that Boing Boing readers were being directed to "Hwaeti", so the collection is seriously turning heads.

There's also fairy tale in the collection with "Jack".

I love that some of the patterns are incorporating words themselves. "As You Wish" features those immortal words from The Princess Bride (incidentally, how great is it to see that brilliant book included along side The Great Gatsby and Emma?). Now I just need more time to knit... and possibly cooler weather.

Incidentally, the Sanguine Gryphon also has an awesome steampunk pattern collection.

Patterns like these remind me why I picked up knitting. Not that I would recommend these patterns for knitting during lectures. For lecture-knitting, you need plain, simple knitting.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Fairy Tale Pilot

I just learned that a pilot for Grimm has been greenlit. Behind the fairy tale/crime drama are David Greenwalt, known for Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel, and Jim Kouf, known for Angel. That provides me with an element of confidence in the concept. Both Buffy and Angel have some wonderful fairy tale moments - "Hush," for instance. The "Through the Looking Glass" episodes of Angel are also a good twist on fairy tale experience and I've always had a soft spot for the old Groosalugg.

I think the comments to the Inside TV article, linked above, were intriguing, though. Many brought up the resemblance to Fables and a couple of comments brought up Fforde's Nursery Crime Division. In fact, much fairy tale involves criminal activity - stolen golden eggs, kidnapped princesses, murdered grannies, con artists etc - so it makes sense that authors today are drawing on the crime element. They don't need to be copying each other - it's there in the stories.

Not to mention that fairy tale is one genre where ideas and motifs continue to be regularly recycled into new stories and retellings. That's what makes fairy tale such a brilliant field to be working in.

And now I really need a cup of coffee. I was up till 2am last night (this morning?) finalising copy edits.

(Update: i09 just posted a piece on the above news, featuring a clip from Fairy Tale Police.)

So You Want To Write Science Fiction?

StarShipSofa, an excellent podcast for science fiction that only recently won the 2010 Hugo Award, is running an online writers workshop. This is a great opportunity for those hoping to hone their skills and take advantage of the wisdom of those in the industry. The session, What An Editor Wants - Sheila Williams, is particularly notable. Writing a brilliant piece of fiction is only half the battle. Navigating the publishing world is the other half.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Bookmark Corners

I love ideas that make organising research that much simpler. I picked up this terrific idea for using old envelopes to make bookmarks from d.Sharp Journal. It's a great example of re-use of materials, it doesn't cost a thing, it avoids the messy effect of 1001 post-it notes being stuck to pages, and you can write little messages to yourself on it.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Oscar Nominations 2011

Keep your fingers crossed for Shaun Tan, nominated for the animated adaptation of his picture book, The Lost Thing.

There's an amazing website if you'd like to catch up on the film.

We had Shaun Tan visit Monash a couple of years ago to speak to students. He gave a fantastic presentation and was incredibly gracious, staying back to sign books. The line very rapidly grew! So I'd like to congratulate him on this latest achievement.

We're studying The Rabbits, illustrated by Tan, this semester in Children's Literature. I'm hoping to introduce more of his work into the curriculum. The rest of the world has been sitting up and noticing his talent and this is good news for Australian literature.

Monday, January 24, 2011

The Dog Ate My Homework

Boing Boing this morning features a sign encouraging academic honesty: "Professors have heard all the excuses before. Pretend you're talking to a vampire. You wouldn't lie to a vampire, would you?"

As much as I'd appreciate academic honesty and try to live up to it myself, I'm not sure I want to be thought of as a vampire.

Particularly in light of comment #3 - I really don't want to be covered in glitter.

However, I am wondering if a variation on the theme would be suitable for the unit guide's small print? Just to see how many people really do read it?

Monday, January 17, 2011

Art and the Written Word - then it's all about rolling up the sleeves

I continue to find art like this awesome.

I have a few more days leave up my sleeve, then it's all about rolling up the sleeves to ensure unit guides, classes, tutors, test papers and the other assorted paraphernalia of academic life is sorted before semester begins. It's going to be a busy year. We've got Children's Literature in the first semester, with new unit codes to get our heads around (just when I'd finally memorised the last codes), HDR projects at interesting junctures, a fairy tale project that is still in its early stages, a new conference to announce shortly, and then in the middle of the year... teaching fairy tales at Prato. I've already bought a new suitcase. It has bows on it.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Growing Up

This morning I was reading Alain de Botton's piece, "A Point of View: Justifying Culture." He queries the inability of academics in the humanities to explain the importance of their work. At times, it is difficult. And I do agree that often we fall into that trap of: "speaking only in dangerously vague terms about the value of culture in helping people to 'think'." Though 'thinking' is a simple, yet fundamental and amazing aspect of who we are.

Some of the work we do does appear impossibly esoteric. I've at times furrowed my brow over why someone should care about the sexuality of a warthog or an obscure bibliographic point about a seventeenth century edition of fairy tales. Yet, as I go along, I begin to understand how it all fits into a bigger picture. Stories matter. How they're told, printed, collected, read... these things all matter. They tell us little things about human nature and the world we live in. Sometimes they tell us big things. Most of all, they tell us how stories tick. Stories are, I think, a natural phenomenon as worth understanding as quantum mechanics or neurology. Just as we all breathe and live and die, just as the world turns and stars 'fall,' we all tell and attend to stories.

Alain de Botton writes: "My personal view of what the humanities are for is simple - they should help us to live. We should look to culture as a repository of useful and consoling ideas about how to face our most pressing personal and professional issues. We should look to novels and historical narratives to impart moral instruction and edification, to great paintings for suggestions about value, to philosophy to probe our anxieties and offer consolations."

I am admittedly always cautious over and often dismissive of the 'moral instruction' element. I teach fairy tales and children's literature. It's a minefield of morality and I have great sympathy with Mark Twain's attitude, expressed in the notice to Huckleberry Finn: "Persons attempting to find a moral in it will be banished." Morality is such a shifty thing. I don't trust it at all. I also worry about the implications of 'consoling ideas.' Would we potentially have classrooms that are akin, at the very worst, to therapy sessions? I don't want study to turn into a self-obsessive habit - for a fantastic story to become all about 'me.' That's why I like the big picture. Just as an astronomer looks out to the stars and thinks about galaxies and black holes, I look at the history of storytelling and think about all those Rapunzels and Cinderellas and Sleeping Beauties. It's not that I find long hair, cute shoes and long naps a consolation (well, maybe the shoes and the naps) or their fates a moral example by which to live life, it's that I want to understand how those tales work and why they work and what they tell us about how the world works.

Yet, I do respect the call for universities to teach us how to live. When I teach children's literature, for instance, I like to challenge students to enjoy and stand up for the right of adults to engage with these stories, to challenge the idea of what it is to be 'grown up' and what it is to be a child. We share stories about the reactions of friends and families as we curl up in a chair with Where the Wild Things Are or Harry Potter. We question which stories are important and how, and even why, we make those calls.

I believe one of the problems facing the university system as a whole is the increasing pressure to act as a training facility. There is an idea that going to university should equip you to do a certain job, to embark upon a certain career. That idea is gaining ground. At Open Days, you will hear a parent asking "but what can she do?" with the degree. On one memorable occasion, I even heard a parent ask "but what will he be paid?" once armed with the degree. There is an essential incompatibility of the university system with the jobs market. While often a degree in Medicine or Architecture immediately leads to the appropriate job (although it may lead to many other things, too), a degree in Philosophy will not be so straight forward. There aren't many paid philosophers about. Yet, universities are not places where you obtain the education required for the one job, the one future. They are places where you go to engage with knowledge and wisdom, where you go to be equipped for any kind of future that might follow. Universities are about educating people for and about possibilities. What people do with that education is up to them and hopefully, by the time they leave the campus, whether with or without the degree (for sometimes the degree isn't everything), they will know that and be ready to make the most of all possibilities, professional or otherwise.

The reason it is so difficult to say exactly what academics do is that we can do almost anything and everything. It's why I became an academic.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

2011 - I'm already knocking on wood

I am very nervous about this as my first post for 2011, but it's so brilliant, I think I just have to.

"Nasty Case of Writer's Block Creates the Most Brilliant Scientific Paper Ever" (via i09)

Now I'm going to do everything possible to ensure I don't jinx myself for the rest of the year by starting with a post about writer's block.

So I am not, therefore, going to give you tips about how to get past writer's block. Besides, my method, which involves listening to the Rolling Stones, looking up design blogs and finally weeding the garden beds, is perhaps not the best method out there.

The best method is to simply write.

We all know that's harder than it sounds.