Friday, March 13, 2015

Today in Language: Pluto Planet Day

Today is the fifth anniversary of Pluto Planet Day. The New Mexico House of Representatives declared this holiday on March 13, 2007.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Underdevelopment vs. Development

Underdevelopment is not a stage of development. It is its consequence.
- Eduardo Galeano, Open Veins of Latin America

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Thursday, January 15, 2015

"One River, One Boat"

The poet laureate of South Carolina, the state I live in, is Marjory Wentworth. She has written and read a poem for every gubernatorial inauguration since she became poet laureate in 2003. Yesterday, January 14, 2015, Governor Nikki Haley had her second inauguration, but this time the governor's office informed Wentworth that she would not be reading a poem this time. She had already written a (fairly political) poem that speaks forcefully to the state's contemporary life and identity. The stated reason for which she was not included was time. Two minutes to read a poem simply would not fit into the governor's inaugural schedule. The reader may be the judge of the sincerity of that reason, but in any case, I wanted to share the poem. It manages both to express local identity and a state's social imaginary and to balance that with the need for constant revision of such imaginaries and for introspection and self-examination in regard to identity. Note especially the first and penultimate stanzas.


One River, One Boat
by Marjory Wentworth

I know there’s something better down the road.
-- Elizabeth Alexander


Because our history is a knot
we try to unravel, while others
try to tighten it, we tire easily
and fray the cords that bind us.


The cord is a slow moving river,
spiraling across the land
in a succession of S’s,
splintering near the sea.


Picture us all, crowded onto a boat
at the last bend in the river:
watch children stepping off the school bus,
parents late for work, grandparents


fishing for favorite memories,
teachers tapping their desks
with red pens, firemen suiting up
to save us, nurses making rounds,


baristas grinding coffee beans,
dockworkers unloading apartment size
containers of computers and toys
from factories across the sea.


Every morning a different veteran
stands at the base of the bridge
holding a cardboard sign
with misspelled words and an empty cup.


In fields at daybreak, rows of migrant
farm workers standing on ladders, break open
iced peach blossoms; their breath rising
and resting above the frozen fields like clouds.


A jonboat drifts down the river.
Inside, a small boy lies on his back;
hand laced behind his head, he watches
stars fade from the sky and dreams.


Consider the prophet John, calling us
from the edge of the wilderness to name
the harm that has been done, to make it
plain, and enter the river and rise.


It is not about asking for forgiveness.
It is not about bowing our heads in shame;
because it all begins and ends here:
while workers unearth trenches


at Gadsden’s Wharf, where 100,000
Africans were imprisoned within brick walls
awaiting auction, death, or worse.
Where the dead were thrown into the water,


and the river clogged with corpses
has kept centuries of silence.
It is time to gather at the water’s edge,
and toss wreaths into this watery grave.


And it is time to praise the judge
who cleared George Stinney’s name,
seventy years after the fact,
we honor him; we pray.


Here, where the Confederate flag still flies
beside the Statehouse, haunted by our past,
conflicted about the future; at the heart
of it, we are at war with ourselves


huddled together on this boat
handed down to us – stuck
at the last bend of a wide river
splintering near the sea.

Friday, September 12, 2014

So Why Study French?

In the last post here a topic was taken back up from the spring in regard to the importance or need or usefulness of teaching and learning French. My posts from the spring focused on a couple of John McWhorter's articles that essentially argue that French is no longer an important language and, therefore, should not be emphasized as much as it is in American schools. So can I, as a French professor, argue for the importance of French and, more specifically, its place in language departments?

For me the essential first step is to pose the right question. I would not want to ask why anyone should study French -- or assert that anyone should either. Thus the title of this post. If someone is interested in learning a new language, and is perhaps considering French, what are potential reasons in French's favor? That is how I want to approach the matter. Thus, this post is not about its title, or not about answering the question in its title -- but rather calling attention to that question as opposed to other similar but, I think, misleading questions (Why should I study French? or, Why should my child study French?).

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Background to John McWhorter's Recent Article Against French

Eons ago, I started to analyze a couple of articles that had riled about (French) language teachers, one from this year saying that French is not really an important language. The author's main point, writing in the context of New York City, was that French is disproportionately taught, particularly in NYC immersion schools. The best of intentions proved insufficient in finishing my thought process in relation to those articles. So now that I am even busier than I was last academic year, I have decided to revisit and, I hope, close out, the topic.

Just as a refresher, it might be interesting to read the New York Times' article that prompted McWhorter's somewhat unconsidered (and largely discredited) response. In addition, it would probably be helpful to read an attempt at providing not so much a response to McWhorter as positive reasons for learning French. A piece came out on Business Insider that, for me, gives not entirely persuasive reasons to teach/learn French. I would be interested in knowing what you think of the reasons given in that article, if you have any more extra time in your life than I do.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Raymond Chandler on realist fiction

In the classic essay on the genre of the detective novel, "The Simple Art of Murder," Raymond Chandler is keen on distinguishing realist detective fiction from escapist detective fiction. The latter, in its most celebrated manifestations of Sherlock Holmes or Hercules Poirot, follows basic formulas of studied improbability and non-realism.

Chandler, on the other hand, wants to write detective fiction that does have something profound to say about reality, and thus, he says, "The realist in murder writes of a world in which gangsters can rule nations and almost rule cities, in which hotels and apartment houses and celebrated restaurants are owned by men who made their money out of brothels, in which a screen star can be the fingerman for a mob, and the nice man down the hall is a boss of the numbers racket." The entire paragraph is worth citing or reading, but I want to get to the description of the "world" that grabs my attention in this particular historical moment. This world is one
where you may witness a hold-up in broad daylight and see who did it, but you will fade quickly back into the crowd rather than tell anyone, because the hold-up men may have friends with long guns, or the police may not like your testimony, and in any case the shyster for the defense will be allowed to abuse and vilify you in open court, before a jury of selected morons, without any but the most perfunctory interference from a political judge.
I would not take sides in the debate over what is art or "serious" literature, as I think Chandler mistakenly does (or as does W.H. Auden, in an even more elitist, unfair manner, in his similarly celebrated essay on the detective story), but I would make the observation that escapist detective fiction (or any escapist fiction) does not move me by, say, its accounts of death or injustice. I read it for very different reasons, and a character's death means no more to me, usually, than that of a character in a video game. Realist fiction, by contrast, exists to say something about the reality I live in, not to help me escape it. Thus, a detective story like Crimen en el barrio del once moves, saddens, and angers me as it makes me ponder the themes that Chandler alludes to of state violence and systemic injustice.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Jeunes de France, où est votre salut?

Exactly two years ago, three French men (a journalist, a businessman, and a rapper) made a big splash with an article attacking France and saying that French youth would assure themselves a better future by, essentially, ditching their country. They even have their own website to support French youth in this endeavor -- barrez-vous, they encourage them (scram, run off). One of the original authors had an opinion piece on the same theme published by the NY Times' editorial page.

I am not sure whether this was (is) grandstanding, but obviously it's not something that most people, particularly French young people, can or do take too literally. But the socioeconomic causes behind the article are interesting -- a country with fewer and fewer opportunities, a worsening economy, an overregulated job market.

And yet, working in France (or more generally, the E.U.) has distinct advantages to working in the U.S. And some people on this side of the Atlantic, like me, would rather be living in France right now (or any francophone country, really) than in the U.S. (but not because of any specific gripe with the U.S., which I also enjoy very much). And ultimately, do people really take other people seriously when they tell them just to leave their own country? Why not at least try to improve it first?



 

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Death and the World Cup

The 2014 FIFA World Cup starts tomorrow.

Marcela Turati in Fuego Cruzado: "El 11 de junio de 2010 no sólo pasó a la historia como el día de la inauguración del Mundial de Futbol en Sudáfrica, en donde el equipo tricolorse batió con el anfitrión; también es recordado como el dí en que hubo más asesinatos en el sexenio. Fueron 89. Tantos, que alguien en su blog ironizó: "Más de 70 ejecutados y un gol". Bajo el imperio de la muerte la sociedad pide su dosis diaria de homicidios. Se acostumbró a desayunar viendo la pira funeraria que muestran las noticias" (46-47).

Monday, May 26, 2014

Today in Language: May 26

The Today in Language feature has always focused on one or two people, but today, because 1) there are a lot of language-related items to talk about, 2)  there are several miscellaneous items I want to mention, and 3) it's my 30th birthday and thus intrinsically an important date, this Today in Language post will break the mold.

Today in Language:
*As far as birthdays go, apart from yours truly, Count Zinzendorf was born on this day in 1700 and the French writer Edmond de Goncourt in 1822.

*As far as random theological events, John Calvin and some of his followers were ran out of Geneva on this day in 1538. That was an unfortunate event in itself, although perhaps just as unfortunate was Calvin's own behavior once he returned to that wonderful city.

*As for hugely significant world events and journalistic malpractice, on this day in 2004 the New York Times admitted that its genuflecting to the government and uncritical coverage of the leadup to the Iraq war contributed to the WMD lie and botched invasion.

In short, this day in history is a day of birth, concrete theological battles, and journalistic confession. Happy May 26th!