Fordham GSAS: Grad. Life: November 2012

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Social Book

   When you think of "reading," what images come to mind? For me, I picture being curled up with a novel and a cup of coffee on the couch on a winter day, or lying on a beach chair soaking up the sun when I turn the pages of a favorite fantasy. Sometimes, I am reminded of late nights and tired eyes, trying to finish a new work before a seminar the next day. Other times, the verb "reading" evokes images of a table in the corner of a sunlit cafe, of a quiet desk top in a corner of the third floor of Walsh Library, or of a blanket spread out on the quad during an early May warm spell.
     All of these scenes involve a solitary person, in a space that may be public or shared space -- but a space made very private by the act of reading. For me, reading has always been about being drawn in somewhere between the pages, shutting out the rest of the world.

    Of course, I went to graduate school for literature because I loved nothing more than talking about these books and these reading experiences, thus making the very private act of my reading transform into something public once again -- be it a discussion in a class or around the dinner table, a lesson plan, an essay or article, or a conference talk. The oscillation between the private and the public in our acts of reading are quite fascinating, indeed.
     I ask this question about reading because a new concept of reading has emerged in the world, driven by the new landscape of social media and technological communication. It is called "social reading" -- along with it comes the concept of the "social book." Featured in the most current issue of The Chronicle of Higher Education, "social reading" imagines the act of reading as one facilitated by social media applications, in which readers can "log into" an interactive, online text and "read" in a "group," making marginal notes, links, comments, and annotations as they read, while others do the same, creating a sort of "open," ever-changing text, and making the experience of reading become a interactive, hypertextual experience.
     If the every-day pleasure reader may find social reading unappealing, what about for teachers? The Chronicle article points out that the "social book" may be an excellent way to start thinking about teaching texts in a classroom format, either in a traditional classroom or an online classroom. I have to admit, that is the first thought I had when I was introduced to the idea of a social book -- what an amazing teaching tool!
    The concept of the social book and social reading has emerged from the intense increase in tablets, e-readers, and mobile devices that threaten to make the traditional paper book obsolete. And the idea that books may go out of style is not just changing the way we read but the way we write, as well. In the same way booksellers are wondering how to market books in ways that keep up with the times, so are writers wondering how to write books that keep up with the times. My sister launched a project during her senior year at the Parsons School of Design that experimented with social writing; the project called for a text to be written collaboratively using social media. The design of the "book" would be dictated by the ways in which it slowly emerged out of the collaboration. In the end, my sister is hoping that the resulting text will be a new form of a book, that is "read" according to the design innovations developed during the collaborations. I took part in the project as one of the collaborative writers; and, each day, I would check to see how the text grew. It was almost like watching a living thing grow day by day -- it was a fascinating experience!
    Of the concept of social reading, Jennifer Howard writes, "A conventional book invites readers to shut out the world while they read. Social reading asks them to connect with others as they encounter the text. Whether that sounds like a more perfect world depends on the reader." What do YOU think?
    Sound off, grad students!
    Until next time, Liza


Monday, November 26, 2012

Lincoln, Skyfall Offer Inspiration, Escape for Grad.Life

Hello Readers!
    I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving break! Now, as I have told my students, and also I have told myself in panicky breaths of self-determination, it is back to work for the home stretch of the semester! I have a deadline fast-approaching for myself, and my students have a couple papers due from now until classes end, so I know I will be in high gear for the last few weeks! I promise to be here for you with the blog to take us through to the end, hopefully with some humor, motivation, inspiration, stimulation, community, and insights that resonate with, or offer brief respite from, your end of the semester experiences.
    So, like many Americans this Thanksgiving weekend, this grad student took a bit of time with family and friends to see a couple of the holiday movie releases. (Side note: I did not go shopping! But, if you did and have any good Black Friday stories, please write in to share!) I was so inspired by the filmmaking that I decided my perspectives on them needed to be a part of Grad.Life.

     The first film I saw this weekend was Skyfall, the latest film in the James Bond series by Eon films. I saw it up in Lake Placid, amidst a lovely 3 day snow storm that did not cripple but rather enhanced the charms of the town. Quite beautiful!
    Now, I have watched Bond movies from an early age, as my dad was a huge fan of the character and the franchise and always seemed to be tuning into some AMC Bond double feature or marathon. But Skyfall has, by far, supplanted all the rest of the contenders as my new favorite Bond movie ever. Roger Ebert used the word "invigorating" when describing this film, and after seeing it, I know what he means.
     It is invigorating in terms of story-telling -- from the opening action sequence which sets the stage for the plot, to the innovative animated credits set to Adele's enchanting future Best Song Oscar nominee that tells the story in images, to the sweeping geographic journey for both Bond and the audience -- the film breathes life into the character of Bond like no other film before it. It sort of borrows from the Superhero movie narrative style and tradition, painting the picture of Bond's past and transformation into 007, and also drawing a haunting and fascinating origin story for this movie's villain. All of my training in literary analysis wouldn't let me miss its thematic exploration of how the passage of time affects humanity, the world around humanity, and the story about the world around humanity. But even thematically it was playful and interesting, with a subtle twist at the end that made time and sequence if not meaningless, than at least.... perhaps flexible is the right word?

    Then, I capped off the holiday with a viewing of Spielberg's Lincoln. As an Americanist literary student, I knew this would be right up my alley, but I had no idea how moved I would be by this story and the telling of this story by these filmmakers and these actors. I was reminded of when I first visited DC and was inspired by the inscriptions on the stones around me to study American literature in the first place. But the movie -- the movie is absolutely incredible. I was stunned by the performances: Daniel Day Lewis leaves behind his persona entirely, like he does in most of his roles, and seems to inhabit Lincoln's actual body and channel his spirit; Tommy Lee Jones made me cry and laugh; the "figures" we "know"and "don't know" from "history" receive beautiful, heartwarming, heroic, three dimensional treatment from some of the best character-actors in the business. At the heart of the movie is the story of Lincoln's crusade for the 13th Amendment to be passed. Although the Civil War rages on in its fourth year, the audience also sees Lincoln at war within himself -- his conscience, his politics, his desires, his role as a husband and father, his humanity, his guts -- they are all raging with life inside him, and we see a man working through what he believes, and what actions he must take, in a very human way. In the end, it is Lincoln's ability to really stand for his belief in the dream of democracy -- an ability to really represent what he believed to be the best interest of the idea of the United States, for the sake of it -- while also remaining true to his participation in the real and embodied community of humanity, that cuts the deepest into the audience's heart.
    Like all historical pieces, Lincoln serves as a reflection not of a historical time but of the times in which it was written and created. Lincoln serves as a mirror for our own shaky political times, and reminds us that it is minds, hearts, and bodies, not ideologies or documents, that make up our government and our democracy. And, Skyfall also destabilizes the idea of history, demonstrating that the way we were in the past is not so different than the way we are now.
    Both movies inspired me in ways that I didn't think were possible as I headed into the theaters. Both reminded me of why I love stories. Both made me want to keep going, to keep creating, to keep learning. And that is what I call the hallmark of a great cinematic achievement. Bravo to movie season! Grad.Lifers, let me know if you see anything that inspires you this season!
    Here's to taking a motivational break that will help keep your scholarly fire lit in the home stretch! Until next time, Liza

Saturday, November 17, 2012

New Essay Ponders Benefits of Graduate Life

Hello Readers!
     This lovely essay was passed along to me by a mentor in my department, possibly to be shared with others through this blog, and I am happy to now pass it along to Grad.Life readers! Entitled "Love in the Ruins: or, Should I Go to Grad School?", the piece explores some very human, beautiful ways in which graduate school could make your life better.  The piece stands to offer another side to the most common strain of advice being given out in recent years to potential graduate students in the humanities -- a cacophony of voices that suggests, explicitly, NOT GOING to graduate school unless you are independently wealthy or you are well-connected. 
       Since being exposed to these types of "advice pieces" -- heard, alas, for me, a day late and thousands of dollars short, might I add -- I have tried to work out the good that being in graduate school for English Literature has done and is doing for me, personally, despite the lack of financial comfort that it promises. (Read here.) And I have also tried to assert some of the good it might do for society at large to have somewhat of a graduate student population still surviving, if not thriving, as part of our culture. (Read here.)
       This new essay, by Peter Coviello, will appear in the book Should I Go to Grad School?, and from the looks of this essay, the book seems to hold off on foreclosing on the notion entirely. Coviello regards language-making at the center of a humanities graduate education, and he speaks beautifully about the ways graduate school enables an individual to not only express his/her enthusiasm and delight for the world but also to expand upon those feelings in generative and constructive ways. He writes, "The languages you begin to speak with more and more assurance and agility, and to make more completely your own: these, sometimes, are ardor’s vehicle. They can give coherence to the complex delight you feel in relation to certain objects, as well as a versatile, usable form, by which that delight can, in turn, be sustained, elaborated, enlarged."
       It's true that graduate education has given me a way not only to view the world -- as Coviello says, "in the grain of a spectacular, inexhaustible complexity" -- but also to give form to that world.  Over the years, when I've been feeling down or regretful or doubtful about the paths I've chosen, I have tried to think about what graduate school has given me (new ways of grappling with what I always thought was beautiful, or unjust, or bewildering, in the world?), rather than what it has taken away (time for making money? time and money for living in a cool apartment in the city? money to afford fancy stuff?). I mean, like Coviello says, this is not to say that if I hadn't gone to graduate school that I would be living some kind of shallow, unfulfilling life. But I went to graduate school because I needed to satisfy something inside of me -- I was, indeed, looking for something. It may sound cliche, but the short story of it all is that, in truth, deep down, I know I wouldn't be the same person today if I didn't take the path I took, and I guess, in a very simple way, that is as good a reason as any to not have regrets. 
     And, as Coviello points out, the community created around you during a graduate school education is a valuable part of the experience, too. He writes, "these are languages you are learning to inhabit in concert with others." I like the image of "inhabiting" a language with others; it makes me think of graduate school not only as a time in my life, but a place in my life -- a kind of home. Part of what makes a home is the connections forged with and memories shared with other minds and hearts. Coviello writes, "I found that what one might cherish with a sustained, lifewide devotion was not only objects – books, passages, arguments, etc. – but the scenes that kindled around them, scenes forged in the heat and friction of contestation and knit together by, precisely, language, the languages we were just then learning to inhabit." 
     In the end, the essay gave me something to smile about, and made me remember that maybe everything is happening just the way it should, just the way it is supposed to, and the long concentrated stretches of time spent thinking and writing and exchanging and sharpening and backtracking and deepening and sharing are ultimately times well spent. I hope you enjoy the piece; let me know what you think!
Until next time, Liza :)

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Graduate Student Body Reacts to Ann Coulter (Dis)Invitation

Hi readers,
     This week at Fordham, graduate students have been buzzing about the controversy surrounding a student organization's decision to invite, and then dis-invite, right-wing political pundit Ann Coulter to speak on campus. After the group (the College Republicans) announced the event, about two thousand other members of the student body voiced their opposition, via an electronic petition campaign, to Coulter's scheduled appearance.  The students who were opposed to Coulter's appearance on campus expressed distaste and disgust for Coulter's provocative, often inflammatory, and sometimes "hateful" views, and did not wish their student activity fees (part of the undergrad tuition bill) to fund this kind of speaker. In addition, University President Father McShane also released a statement expressing his disappointment in the group's invitation but said he would "not block the College Republicans from hosting the speaker of their choice," as to not undermine academic ideals of engagement and conversation. Yesterday, the CRs released their own statement, explaining that the event has been cancelled and Coulter's invitation rescinded. Many blogs and web-publications have picked up on the story, including, jezebel, AJC, legal insurrection, BlackBook magazine, Newsday, Washington Examiner, Gothamist,, and The Chronicle of Higher Education.
Ann Coulter
    This controversy has raised several interesting issues that we graduate students have been busy discussing via Facebook, twitter, blogs, and over coffees during study breaks and at dinner after class. Should student organizations strive to hold events that adhere to and uphold the University's community values, and avoid events that challenge these values? To what degree do, and should, speakers on campus act as a reflection of the community's views and ideals, both internally and externally? Was there a fear that Coulter's talk would galvanize feelings of intolerance and influence students' ways of thinking in a negative way? Did the bias incidents on campus last year have an effect on the community's response to the scheduled talk by Coulter? What other people would be on the same list as Ann Coulter, and why? What makes someone a good choice, and what makes someone a poor choice, and where do we draw our lines? And finally, what about other events or student movements that have been "blocked" in the past because they didn't compute with traditional Fordham values; how much should consistency be valued by our community when it comes to policies that determine what occurs on campus? Overall, the Coulter incident has provoked many questions, and not as many answers, regarding the harmony between a university's ideals and its policies on freedom of education and expression.
    I want to hear what you all think. As the graduate student body continues to weigh in on this issue, I would love to document the conversation here on the Grad.Life blog! Leave a comment here or on Facebook if you want to share any thoughts from the graduate student body about this incident or its coverage in the media.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Graduate School and the American Dream

     With Election Night finally here, having exercised my right to vote and now waiting to see how Americans envision the future of this nation, I've been thinking a lot about the American Dream. I've been thinking all day about what that idea really means, or has come to mean, over the years. And I've especially been wondering how graduate school, and the choice to attend graduate school, fits in with those ideas and connotations.
     Well, first of all, what is the American Dream? What are the most important tenets of it? Wealth? Career success? Home ownership? Rising above obstacles to achieve all these things? Being an "important" or "famous" member of society -- being celebrated, achieving celebrity?  Being true to yourself, and finding a way to express that self while contributing to the community and society?
      What about for people who choose to pursue graduate studies in the arts and sciences? Do scholarly and intellectual achievements and pursuits carry any cultural significance in the realization of the American dream? How about artistic achievements? Do they only resonate with the cultural idea of the American Dream if these pursuits bring success and notoriety to the scholar? Or do they carry some value inherently in this context?
     Keeping all this in mind, how does the pursuit of happiness, and the freedom of expression, factor into our concept of the ideal American experience?
     When thinking about the relationship between the graduate experience and the pursuit of the American Dream, one important factor to consider is the way graduate school shapes a student's world view through a cultivation of critical conversation, thinking, and creation. When I think about the ways I've grown as a person and a thinker while in graduate school, I feel grateful for the riches my education has bestowed upon me, despite what the numbers in my bank account say.
     But is there another side to this story? Is graduate school itself an opportunity that is not available to every American equally? I'm not saying here that everyone would want to go to graduate school, but are there people excluded from this opportunity because of economic disparities? Bruce Springsteen, whose last three releases were titled, respectively, Working on a Dream, The Promise, and then Wrecking Ball, says he sings about the "distance between the American dream and the American reality." This disparity, I think, is important to acknowledge when identifying, describing, and defining the American Dream. What goes along with this notion of "distance" is the accessibility of the "dream":  who has access to the opportunities that epitomize this dream? Certainly not every American, in reality, although the whole point of the dream is that everyone does.  
     Springsteen imagines the promised land, and the land of hopes and dreams, and tries to find ways to heal the broken hearts left from those runaway American dreams and unfulfilled promises. His first single from Wrecking Ball asks if we are living up to the promise that "We Take Care of Our Own." These promises, in fact, are what haunts the American Dream. But what does the American Dream promise us -- opportunity for wealth, or something more?  In a recent interview, professor and graduate director in the English Department Dr. Edward Cahill discusses the origin of the American Dream. Dr. Cahill's thoughts remind us that the upward mobility promised in the narrative of the American Dream was not merely an end in itself but a means to an end --  in which prosperity could enable a person to commit to public service, to help others and to create a better society. Today, it seems that affluence itself is the goal, rather than achieving affluence in order to commit to the society at large.
    As a graduate student, I see the impact that my commitment to pursuing my higher education has had on my life -- financially, emotionally, and intellectually, among many other ways. And I must weigh them all when considering the way graduate life has fit into my own personal vision of the American Dream. What are your thoughts on this topic? I'd love to hear from you!
   As we wait, I'm...electorally yours, Liza

Monday, November 5, 2012

Letter from Dean Busch in the Aftermath of Sandy

Hello GSAS students,
I hope all your recovery is going okay since Sandy, the Superstorm.

Below is the letter we all received from Dean Nancy Busch concerning the GSAS semester in the aftermath of Sandy. With permission, I am reposting it here in case it got lost in the shuffle of your emails/ inboxes. Upcoming on the blog, look for information about we as the GSAS can help during the storm recovery. In the meantime, stay safe and don't forget to vote tomorrow! :)

Letter from Dean Busch

Dear GSAS students,

In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, you and your families have been
in my thoughts and prayers as I have learned about the scope and depth
of devastation. My heart goes out to those among us who have lost
homes and cherished items and the security associated with those
spaces and things.  I recognize that it may take more time than you or
I might now imagine to re-establish patterns of life--and my goal is
to have GSAS procedures be flexible to allow you that time.  As a
Fordham community, I ask that you look out for each other, and please
let me know of the needs of your fellow students.

Fordham’s Rose Hill and Lincoln Center campuses experienced little
damage from the storm, so our physical spaces there will permit the
resumption of activities in a flexible manner as befits the situations
of individual faculty and students. As expected with a tree-covered
property experiencing high winds, the Calder Center did experience
damage, including the loss of power, and remains closed.

While the campuses are ready for the resumption of classes, the
reality is that many, probably most, faculty members and GSAS students
may not be able to get to campus--or do so only with great difficulty.
 Thus the earlier decision to begin resuming classes tomorrow was
revisited and delayed until Monday, November 5.  The university is
open tomorrow, and GSAS students with assistantship responsibilities
should come to the campuses if--and only if--they do not put
themselves in danger and their personal circumstances permit.

I am working with the other Arts and Sciences Deans to create a
schedule for making up the class meetings missed during the recovery
period.  Please note that GSAS does not have a formal examination
period—the expectation is that classes continue to meet during the
undergraduate reading and exam periods to make sure that each course
has 15 class meetings.  Thus, the adjustment to the calendar will
probably involve using undergraduate reading days and extending the
end of the semester through December 21, and you should plan for the
Christmas break accordingly.

Let me close by expressing appreciation for the support that many of
you have already provided to those who have been impacted by Hurricane
Sandy.  As a Fordham community, I ask that you continue to look out
for each other, and please let me know of the needs of your fellow


Nancy A. Busch, Ph.D.

Dean, Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Quick Post-Sandy Note

Hi Readers!
     I hope everyone weathered the storm all right and is picking up the pieces in the aftermath. My heart goes out to all families who suffered losses throughout the storm.
     I just returned home myself after being relocated and without power for the week, but I will be back up and running with the blog this week on a normal schedule.  And in the next few days,  I will be sure to post updated information and links on the blog related to post-Sandy Grad.Life!
     Until next time, Liza