I thought it would be nice, for those of you who read and support my work (thanks, all two of you!) to write a little reflection on what has been a busy semester - though you wouldn't know if from the lack of posts on here. Sorry!
My main pursuits have remained academic, of course. This semester marked the halfway point of the coursework section of my PhD, meaning that I am now 1/4 of the way done with my program. Assuming I finish on time, of course, which always happens in humanities PhD programs. Always.
I had a fun but busy semester, which included my first work as a TA, learning Danish, and writing a master's paper, on top of work for three classes (not to mention life, which includes three young children -- one an infant -- plus all sorts of other goodies). All that work meant I wasn't able to give quite as much to each task as I would have liked, but things turned out alright in the end. Here's a brief summary of the four papers I wrote this semester, each of which I liked in its own way.
For my Master's Paper I had to take a previously written seminar paper and expand it from 20 to 30 pages. I took the paper I wrote for my class on Joyce's Ulysses -- about reading that novel through the lens of the Old Testament, rather than Homer's Odyssey -- and added in a theoretical framework based on the ideas of the great French critic Rene Girard. It would have been better with more polish, but it turned out alright.
For my Book History class I wrote about this odd series of books, the Childhood of Famous Americans (a stack of which I just happened to have sitting in my house from my own childhood). I tried to read them alongside the Progressive Education movement of the Early 20th Century. It was an odd, stretching experience, but I was mildly pleased with the end result.
For my class on the Literature of World War I I wrote a paper examining the idea of aristocratic comedy of old age in certain WWI-adjacent texts. I looked primarily at Joseph Roth's monumental novel The Radetzky March, but also Jean Cocteau's novella Thomas the Impostor, Robert Graves' memoir Good-bye to All That, and the Soviet comedy film Lieutenant Kije. I had a lot of fun writing this, and I thought it turned out pretty well.
Probably my favorite paper, though, came in my American Film Genres class. I looked at two films that seem pretty unconnected on the surface: Andrew Dominik's The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford and Raoul Walsh's gangster film White Heat. I tried to argue that they represent different stages in thinking about the problems of technology, with Jesse James representing the fear that technology will inhibit freedom of movement, while White Heat moves on to consider the problems of technology that constantly monitors movement. It was a blast to write, and not half bad.
In the midst of all this academic work I managed to crank out a few other things as well. My work as Film Critic for the Columbia Daily Tribune continued apace, in what turned out to be another great year for film. My top ten list will be up just before New Year's; if I have the time, I'll do a supplement here to fill in some gaps (performers and such) that my limited word count for the paper necessitates.
I also had a big first for me this semester, actually a double first. I had my first real, legitimate book review published, and that occasion also marked my first print appearance in the pages of Books & Culture, a magazine I greatly admire. The review's been out since November in print, but due to the nature of the magazine, it has yet to go up online. It should be up in the next few weeks, and I will make sure to link to it. On top of that, I wrote an online only piece for the Movies section of Christianity Today in which I wrote some reflections on laughing at characters in documentaries.
So that's a wrap for my fall, from a writing perspective at least. But there are some exciting coming projects that I want to tease a bit. First off, I'll be doing a book review for a really cool publication of a book by someone I really admire, so we'll see how that goes. It won't be out until the Summer, so hold your breath until then. Or don't. Probably don't.
Most exciting at the moment, though, is a duo of articles I will have coming out in January at an online only publication that I have loved for many years. I can't say more than that at the moment, but I'm excited by these pieces, and the prospect of writing more for this particular publication.
Though I make no promises, I'm also hoping to put up a few pieces here in the next few weeks, things I don't think I can sell to anyone but want to write, regardless. On top of my film piece, look for the following this holiday season: my second annual list of the worst pop songs of the year (definitely happening); a review of a new album by a friend of mine (that will NOT be making an appearance on the worst pop songs list! (almost definitely happening); and a list of my 10 favorite symphonies (happening, assuming I can finally narrow that sucker down).
God Bless you all in this season, whatever you happen to be celebrating. Thanks for reading. As an early Christmas gift (or a very late Chanukah one), here's some culture I've consumed this fall that I've loved:
Joseph Roth - The Radetzky March. One of the great novels of the 20th century, I now firmly believe. Hilarious, heartbreaking, wistful, wry; all in equal measure. Simply stunning.
Martin Amis - The Information. Just finished this, my second novel by the acerbic Englishman. It's rip roaringly good: biting, laugh out loud funny (in a literal, not metaphoric way), and utterly insightful into the life of writers.
Muriel Spark - Memento Mori, Territorial Rights, The Bachelors, Girls of Slender Means. Spark is quickly becoming an obsession of mine, and each of these shows why. She has the wit of Wodehouse and the depth of Graham Greene. Of the four, Memento Mori is the best, an absolutely daft romp through old age and conceptions of death. But Girls of Slender Means is not far behind. So, so good.
I won't pick any 2015 films here (you can just wait for the list like everyone else), but here are a few older films I discovered.
Leo McCarey - The Awful Truth, Make Way for Tomorrow. Somehow McCarey has been lost a bit in film history, overshadowed by other studio directors like Hawks and Capra, but he's an absolute master. Take these two films, very different from each other. The Awful Truth is a corker of a screwball comedy, with Cary Grant and Irene Dunn in top form. Make Way for Tomorrow, meanwhile, might be one of the saddest films ever made, a mortgage melodrama that clearly served as inspiration for Ozu's more heralded Tokyo Story (which you should also see, if you haven't). I always attributed the genius of one of my favorite films, Duck Soup, primarily to the Marx Brother's manic energy, but I've clearly been giving short shrift to McCarey, who directed it.
Preston Sturges - The Palm Beach Story. Speaking of screwballs, this has to be one of the best, most bizarre examples of that genre ever put on film. Crackling with energy, bursting at the seams with invention, it's Sturges on top of his game.
Bruce Robinson - How to Get Ahead in Advertising. After seeing this, I commented that it was the most me film ever. Two months on, I stand by that comment. Here's a film - part satire of modern business, part body horror - that manages to condense most of my philosophical preoccupations into one uproarious film. A must see.
Once more to you: peace! Stay safe, and do good work.