Sunday, February 28, 2010

Get to Know Your TA: Jessica Frazier

Do you ever wonder who is sitting in the front of the room taking attendance? Who is the TA leading your discussion section and grading your papers? As part of a new feature on the GW English Blog "Get to Know Your TA", we will be interviewing the three Myths of Britain TAs Jessica, Nedda, and Lowell.

Get to Know Your TA: Jessica Frazier

As we struggle through a Charles Dickens novel for class, sometimes we wonder if it is relevant for our future. Not only did Dickens enrich Jessica Frazier's college experience, but it helped her get her first post-graduate job in Florida. After graduating from Furman and getting married, Frazier found herself amongst the cubicle crowd working as a technology writer for technology manuals for mortgage software. "They asked me if I could track detail and I said, 'Have you ever read a Dickens novel? There are long sentences, you have to track detail.'" she said. Surprisingly Frazier was surrounded by fellow English majors in her office. "We had bookclubs," she said.

Although Frazier enjoyed the three years she took off when she lived in both Florida and San Francisco, California working everything from tech writing to retail, she was ready to go to graduate school. She said, "I always knew I wanted to be doing this, but I did not take a linear route." Frazier got her M.A. at American University, studying how fashion worked in literature such as Milton and female poet writing in the same time period. "Clothing in the newspaper and novel all developed at the same time and it coupled with the Milton paper. It was an organic process," she said.

Frazier took this interest in fashion to GW as well. Currently she is working on a paper about French fashion and diamonds. On the surface Philip Massinger's play The Renegado is about a Venetian who falls in love with a woman from Tunis, an area controlled by the Ottoman Empire, but when he returns he is considered French. Naturally, the paper involves a lot of research about relations between the Ottoman Empire and England. "The Ottoman Empire and India and Britain had a certain history," she said. "Part of the research for this paper is on diamonds. Diamonds were only known to be in India." Frazier has a real love for research and teaching, but her love of literature and fashion is found outside of her studies as well.

Frazier has always been passionate about literature. "I believe we read for different reasons and at different moments," she said. She describes her family as a "literary tribe" and finds that the moments she remembers from childhood are the ones involving sitting down with a book. The first book that really influenced her was Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights. Next Frazier found herself reading Persuasion by Jane Austen every year, she is moved by the "control" exhibited in the novel. Frazier loves British literature and has read everything from E.M. Forester to Kazuo Ishiguro, and of course, Dickens has a special significance to her. "I am constantly amazed at Great Expectations. It is an incredibly complicated and well wrought book." She also appreciates the short fiction she finds in The New Yorker.

Literature is not the only art form however, Frazier also follows fashion. "I am absolutely intrigued by fashion," she said. "My guilty pleasure is Project Runway." She believes that fashion is a way to "construct our identity from moment to moment and day to day." Frazier tends to follow both the New York and Paris runways, finding them "powerful and mesmerizing." She admits to admiring couture, but notes she does not wear it. She said, "I have a practical side. I try to infuse an artsy side into my wardrobe."

When Frazier is not at GW, you can find her in the Palisades neighborhood. "I spend a lot of time running and walking around. It's a very community oriented place," she said. She also admits to being a foodie and has restaurant recommendations for anyone who wants to ask. Some of her favorites include Tryst, Teaism, Komi, and the Dupont Circle Farmers Market. She still loves the humble coffeehouse, as any reader will tell you, there is nothing better than spending a day at a cafe. "I have a cup of coffee and just read. It's isolated enough and just plugged in enough."

Now that you know more about her, make sure to stop by at office hours to discuss the latest runways (it is Fashion Week right now), your favorite restaurants, and Dickens. But she can help with Marie de France as well!

Friday, February 26, 2010

Howard Jacobson at the DCJCC on Memory and Antisemitism


What is a joke? More specifically, what is a Jewish joke? I have a feeling the answer would vary depending on who you were talking to. The answers the Marx Brothers would give you would likely be entirely different than the answer Woody Allen would have. However Howard Jacobson's idea of a Jewish joke is certainly unique. He maintains his books explore "where comedy dare go, I take it to the edge of the abyss," he said. In some sense he feels an "aesthetic obligation" to be funny. However for him, funny is not where it is expected. He said, "The hard stuff where you're almost in the grave...You make them laugh exactly where laughter is not to be expected and most difficult."

As Jacobson explained at his reading at the DCJCC last night, people need humor to help them cope with tragedy, such as the Holocaust. In his novel Kalooki Nights, the protagonist, Max Glickman, finds himself forever scarred by the reading of a book about the horrors of Holocaust during his childhood. Jacobson described Max and his friends as, "marked and even marred by the reading of this book. Can you be a victim of the Holocaust when you had nothing to do with it?" he said. The book examines how Holocaust functions in memory. Jacobson asked, "At what point does one stop remembering? What do we owe to memory?" he said. He believes that language can contain some of our most important memories, and to him, Yiddish is the language to unlock the memories of the Holocaust. He said, "Yiddish is one of the ways in which we will not forget."

While Jacobson discussed the Holocaust he read several selection from Kalooki Nights about Max's father and Max's one and only Jewish wife. However, the most intriguing portion of the night came during the Q&A. GW has been lucky to host Jacobson this month, but for the most part we have never seen him interact with someone off campus. Therefore I was curious to see what the diverse DCJCC crowd asked. The crowd was fascinated by the distinction between an American Jew and an English Jew. Jacobson explained it by noting, "American culture is still in the state of being formed. The wax is still wet, there is still room to impress upon it. Whereas the book is always closed on English culture...The culture is sorted and settled and its Anglo-Saxon. Mostly protestant, a little Catholic, but not much and no room for Jews, Italians, or others," he said.

Naturally, the state of antisemitism is also different in England. Jacobson said, "It is the temperature of antisemitism that tells you what is going on. What tells you about a culture is what you can, with a degree of impunity, say." Jacobson purposely writes for the Independent, a paper that is not always sympathetic with his viewpoint, because he would rather write for those who do not already agree with him. He admitted that his reading of antisemitism can be more stringent than others. "When I say something is antisemitism, many Jews would say it is not. They would just say it is anti Israel," he said. Jacobson does not believe antisemitism today is a new form of it, but rather an old antisemitism being dragged up. In some sense, he does not think antisemitism will ever disappear. He said, "Some where or other, at the back of other people's mind is a strangeness about Jews," he said. "It is built into Christianity. Christianity defined itself against Jews."

On that note, it should be noted that there will be a screening of "Creation" (2009), Jacobson's documentary about the Book of Genesis, a production of Channel 4 in Britain. The one-hour film will be followed by talkback with Howard Jacobson and Roger Bennett; 5-7 p.m. Betts Theater, Marvin Center this Sunday. C0-hosted with Judaic Studies.

Also don't forget that there will be a panel, "
Jewish Writing, Jewish Lives." Featuring Andrea Levine (WLP), Jenna Weissman Joselit (Judaic Studies), and Judith Plotz, in conversation with Howard Jacobson; all are invited. 2-4 p.m.; Rome 352. TODAY!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Short Story & the Truth Behind Grad School: Talking to Magali Armillas-Tiseyra

You know that graduate school is getting to you when teaching a summer course is considered a "break." While working on her dissertation on the dictator novel in Latin American and Franco- and Anglophone African literatures, GW alumna and current NYU graduate student Magali Armillas-Tiseyra, decided it would be good to slow down this summer by teaching a course on the short story. The short story has always been significant for Armillas-Tiseyra. She remembers analyzing the mechanics of short stories in creative writing courses at GW. "I thought focusing on the short story would be a great way to allow students to read broadly while also allowing us to work on the mechanics of close reading and textual analysis. When you're trying to get through a whole novel with the class, this kind of focused work can sometimes get put aside, and I wanted to be forced to focus on this with my students," she said. However as easy as it was for Armillas-Tiseyra to choose this topic, it was hard to choose the actual stories. The course will span a broad range of authors from Europe, Latin, and North America.

Teaching is not new to Armillas-Tiseyra. Previously she taught a Spanish language course and has TA-ed for several introductory courses and seminars at NYU. However, she still finds herself learning every time she teaches. She said, "It's your opportunity to put what you care about into action. It's hard, often humbling, work, but it's also a great learning experience and even fun." Armillas-Tiseyra maintains that the adjustment between being a student versus a teacher is a welcome one.

When Armillas-Tiseyra is not teaching, she is pursuing a PhD in Comparative Literature. Originally she intended to apply to English programs, but as a senior at GW working on her thesis about Anglophone Caribbean literature and taking Spanish courses with Sergio Waisman, Armillas-Tiseyra found her focus shifting. "In shopping departments, and in particular at NYU, I began to realize that the classes and work that really interested me were in Comparative Literature rather than English," she said. "I found the prospect of the much broader literary horizons (technically, everything) and the linguistic challenge really exciting."

Armillas-Tiseyra found the GW English Department very encouraging. She cites Tara Wallace, Judith Plotz, and Maxine Clair (her creative writing adviser) as her best guides. "I'd always 'known' that I'd go to grad school, but at GW I was actively encouraged and supported in the process. I realize now, talking to fellow graduate students and looking at undergrads here at NYU, that I was really very lucky," she said. This encouragement was necessary during her busy senior year when she ran the GW Review, wrote two theses, and worked at the Writing Center. She said, "My last year was tough, and in a lot of ways my first year of grad school was even tougher--I got here and realized that most people wait before coming back, which makes them very different students." Although Armillas-Tiseyra does not regret her decision to start graduate school immediately after college, she believes taking one year off could be beneficial.

Armillas-Tiseyra does see an advantage of applying to graduate school right after graduation: the graduate programs seem less intimidating. She realizes she is lucky, but luck has only so much to do with her success at NYU right now. "I feel very lucky to be where I am, but, from this end of things, I also understand that, in some ways, getting in is luck and the difference comes in the sort of career (if that's the word) you build while you're actually in there," she said. Since she started NYU, Armillas-Tiseyra has been working on conferences, organizing lectures, and helped to start a departmental colloquium series and system for student representation. She said, "I am so much prouder of the things I've done--particularly within department life, such as starting a colloquium, in the last few years than I ever was happy or devastated by my response letters."

However, getting into graduate school is a different matter than staying in graduate school, which is what Armillas-Tiseyra sees as the main conflict now. She recognizes the bad job market after graduate school for literature majors and knows many people who did not pursue this field and are happier for it. "But there's no point going through this (long hours, low pay) unless you absolutely love the work; one of the advantages of being relatively young for me is that I feel I have time to change course in the future, without having to sacrifice what I'm passionate about at the moment," she said.

We wish Armillas-Tiseyra the best of luck with her PhD and summer course! For more information on her course on the short story at NYU this summer click here.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Jane Austen Seminar at the Smithsonian

Zabrina McIntyre of the Smithsonian Associates would like everyone to know about a special program featuring professor Tara Wallace:

Jane Austen: The Author, Her Legacy and…Sea Monsters? This program will be on Tuesday, March 9 from 6:45 pm to 8:45 pm. It will feature three authors, Seth Grahame-Smith, New York Times best-selling author of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies; Ben H. Winters, New York Times best-selling author of Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters; and Regina Jeffers, author of Vampire Darcy’s Desire and Darcy’s Passions as they talk about Austen the author and why her works have endured and inspired through the years.

The following link provides additional information about the program:

I’d like to offer a special $15 student rate for anyone who is interested.

1. They may call our registration line at 202-633-3030 and mention this special promotion.

2. They may purchase tickets through our website:

When they log-in or register, there will be place to input the promo code 182292.

Friday, February 19, 2010

"English with a Jewish Accent:" Howard Jacobson's Visit to JLL


After a week of being trapped in his hotel room, Howard Jacobson has spoken to more English classes and student groups than he can remember. Tonight he will make a appearance at Hillel and yesterday he finally visited Jewish Literature Live. So surprisingly, the author of Kalooki Nights (probably the most Jewish book I have ever read) and the British Jew, does not like being called a "Jewish" writer. "If I am called a Jewish writer I hit the roof. I am an English writer, but I did not have to choose this subject [Judaism]," he said. "There is no reason why a Jew who writes should be a Jewish writer. I regret marketing myself as a Jewish writer and calling myself a Jewish writer, it limits one." Plain and simply, Jacobson proclaims himself an "English writer with a Jewish accent." And there you have it, within the first fifteen minutes of the hour Jacobson was already stirring up controversy and setting our minds on rapid fire.

Jacobson may write about Jews, but he is not religious whatsoever. "I am not a religious person. I cannot stand rituals. I find them moving for some people, but not for me," he said. He elaborates to say that religious faith impresses him and although he feels no scorn for it, faith does not interest him personally. His lack of religiousness does not stop him from writing about what he considers the most interesting subject for a writer, Judaism. He said, "The Jewish commitment to argument is a fascinating thing."

To Jacobson, argumentation is the essence of art. "There is no art that gets made without argument. If you're not divided in yourself you're not going to write a great book," he said. This divide is one of his favorite parts about writing. He said, "The fun of writing is when I suddenly do not agree with something my character says." Later on Jacobson discussed the Jewish concept of Havdalah, which he describes as, "the heart of Jewish intellectual life is that one thing is not another thing. We're dividing all of the time. Endlessly choosing one thing over is the way we possess the world," he said. Naturally Jacobson's love for argumentation in literature fits perfectly with Judaism.

Kalooki Nights's title (a reference to a card game) is true to form with Jacobson's thesis. "I remember aunties of mine playing Kalooki nights," he said. "It's a game where no one knows the rules. It's a yelling game...I associate it with Jewish women who do not read Tolstoy or who wouldn't read me." As much as he is fascinated with Jewish "philistinism," there is an entire sector of Jews who refuse to read his book or any book for that matter. Jacobson recalls a conversation he had with an Orthodox Jew on a book tour once. He was asked, "Why would a Jew write books. We've got a book."

Jacobson cannot please everyone and nor does he want to. He is aware that the cutting humor of his novels is not for everyone. Despite how the jokes in KN could be read as offensive, Jacobson views humor and insult as two different things. "The unforgivable thing is to stir people up for the sake of it. Just being shocking to be shocking," he said. "But too much self censoring is bad too." Jacobson had described this balance as a "tight-rope walk" earlier on in the conversation, but really what it boils down to is entertainment. "I am a writer. I am in the entertainment business...I do not write to entertain one person. If I am getting bored, then the reader is also getting bored," he said.

Some could accuse Jacobson's joking as a backwards step for the progress of Jews fully assimilating, but he sees it differently. He said, "I am an English Jew fighting a battle you've won [Americans], but I don't believe you've won." In some sense Jacobson does not want to "win." "It is terrific fun not feeling like you fit in properly," he said.

See Jacobson next at the Howard Jacobson Reading (HJ/JLL) DCJCC, 16th and Q Streets NW; 7 p.m. Free to GWU students with ID

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Jewish Writing, Jewish Lives

GWU's Jewish Literature Live course (taught by Prof. Faye Moskowitz) and GW's collaboration with the British Council on its U.K. Writer-in-Residence Program converge for one afternoon only: Friday February 26, 2-4 p.m., Rome Hall 352.

What do we mean today when we say "Jewish writing"? Do we mean writers who identify as Jews? Do we mean writers who write about Jewish themes, whether Jewish or not? How do Jewish writers conceptualize Jewish identity, and how do they grapple with questions of identity in their works? Is Jewishnes chosen? voluntary? cultural? religious? something else? How is "Jewish writing" a transnational phenomenon?

Please join us for this lively, interdisciplinary discussion about these and other questions of contemporary Jewish writing in a transnational context.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Study with Prof. Dugan in England and Scotland this Summer

This just in from Prof. Holly Dugan, describing her fascinating summer 2010 English course:

This summer, I'll be teaching a course on early English drama that culminates with a week abroad, exploring Edinburgh, Scotland and Yorkshire, England and watching the 2010 production of the York mystery plays. I’m writing here in the hopes that I might inspire you to join me in endeavor! Medieval drama may not be high on your list of summer plans, but my aim here is to change that. At the very least, I hope to inspire you to consider taking my medieval drama course next fall.

I often joking refer to the course as “the craziest plays you’ve never read.” Most of us have had some exposure to early English drama through the works of Shakespeare but know almost nothing about their historical predecessors, except that they are “religious.” While it’s true that all of the plays on the syllabus operate within a medieval Catholic
worldview, the religion they perform is surprising to our modern perspective.

The Digby Mary Magdalene play, for example, includes a same-sex kiss between the Magdalene and “Lady Lechery” in staging the saint’s sinful past. The “Crucifixion” scene at the apex of the York mystery cycle involves physical comedy that would rival the Marx brothers. The three university coeds—Mischief, Nought, and New Guise—in Mankind have a moral code straight out of one of MTV’s reality shows. And the irony of the Second Shepherds’ Play, where a shepherd and his wife try to pass off a lamb as a miraculous child on Christmas Eve (of all nights), seems downright blasphemous. There are moments of profound sorrow, such as in the Wakefield Abraham and Isaac, when Abraham contemplates sacrificing his son for his faith, and profound horror, such as the mass infanticide in the Slaughter of the Innocents. And there are moments that vex and deeply trouble our critical perspective, such as the anti-Semitism of the Croxton Play of the Sacrament or the violence against women staged in the York Noah play. Under-read and definitely under-performed, these plays often falls out of our literary assessments of early English drama, yet they offer much to contradict and challenge our assumptions about life in the past.

During the summer of 2006, I had the good fortune to visit York during one of the two weekends when it staged a modern production of the city’s famous mystery cycle. I joined the crowd on the street, watching these 600-year-old-plays come to life in the modern city. The experience shaped how I thought about the plays; they seemed both historically distant and, yet, at the same time so very current, almost postmodern in their staging and humor, and so very linked to the urban space in which they were performed. Emerging from a culture, a language, and a nation that was very much in formation, these plays continue to ask important larger questions about community and identity for modern audiences. I returned to GWU determined to teach these plays in a way that captured the spirit of this production.

Using a host of contemporary materials, including films (Evan Almighty, after all, is a modern Noah tale), television shows (an episode of Showtime’s This American Life that explores what happens to a small community when a Mormon painter relies on religious outsiders in Utah in order to paint realistic “bearded” apostles from life), and modern theater (a dvd from the 2006
York production), the course examines medieval drama as literary adaptation. For their final projects, students can choose between scholastic research or creative adaptation. Most choose the latter; I’ve read screenplays adapting the York cycle to an HBO miniseries on corporate corruption, adapting Wisdom to a film about transgendered experience, and adapting the Noah play to a rock-opera set in the 1960s.

Though the idea for this summer course stemmed from my travels in England, it was the work we do here in Rome Hall that inspired me to reframe it to include study abroad. Since 2006, we’ve revised our mission to include an emphasis on global and transnational texts; we’ve had famous authors muse on literature in a global age; provide us with a reading list and archive; muse on history and literature; and reflect on literature and the nation. We’ve watched our classrooms go live and expand to include both the archives of the Folger Shakespeare Library and the Queer and Transnational Film Studies Festival in the Czech Republic.

Inspired by these events, I hope to link our eclectic energy at GWU with the theatrical events in our broader literary world. This July, the city of York will once again stage the mystery cycle. If you’ve never had a chance to examine medieval drama closely (and I’m willing to wager a bet that most of you haven’t), this course is a rare opportunity to do so while also thinking through issues of literary adaptation and the role of theater history in modern productions. If you have studied medieval drama, I promise that it will seem fresh and new once we’re finished with it.

Hope to see you in York this July!

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Howard Jacobson's BIG READ: Biscuits and Banter

According to Howard Jacobson, being a British Jew is always a struggle. Especially when you arrive in Washington on the very last international flight to Dulles last Friday and then find yourself stuck in your hotel for six days. Jacobson joked he was beginning to wonder if GW even existed since all he had seen of DC was Trader Joe's. But Thursday Jacobson did make it to GW and met our affable English department. After some cookies (or biscuits as the charmingly British Jacobson called them) were passed around Jacobson's BIG READ was on.

As our writer in residence for February, Jacobson will lead a one-credit evening course, converse with various classes, and talk about his novel Kalooki Nights (KN) to Prof. Moskowitz's Jewish Literature Live course. Because KN deals with Jewish themes and characters, the conversation was largely about Jewish identity, particularly in Britain."You're in hiding as an English Jew," said Jacobson. He attributes this sense of not belonging to the English Jews' expulsion from England in the Middle Ages. Today being an English Jew means creating a fine balance between being "an Englishman and still being Jewish."

Jacobson takes on subjects that other British Jewish writers have avoided. He said, "Very few Jews have done what I've done--write about the Jewish experience. There are almost no 'Jewish' [English] novelists." In England, Jacobson is frequently referred to as the British version of Philip Roth or Woody Allen, which he attributes to the fact that he's just another Jewish man writing about his experiences. "I ran into Allen at a restaurant. When I told him I was called the British Woody Allen he apologized and said 'I'll buy you dinner.'" Jacobson says he would prefer readers think of him as the "love child of Roth and Jane Austen." After all, his influences are quintessentially British: George Eliot, Charles Dickens, and of course Austen.

Many of these writers are much more dramatic than Jacobson initially started off as. An author of "comic romps," Jacobson did not believe he had the license to write about tragedy for much of his early career. This changed after the death of his father. "When my father died I was given permission to write about tragedy," he said. "His dying facilitated something in me." Though Jacobson believed he could write something containing tragic elements, he did not realize KN would turn into the novel it did. The protagonist of the novel, Max Glickman, is the creator of a graphic novel Five Thousand Years of Bitterness, a work that details antisemitism, a topic Jacobson has always been fascinated with. "I have not seen actual brutal acts of antisemitism [growing up in Manchester, England]. But there is intellectual antisemitism in England partially due to Zionism and anti-Zionism," he said. Jacobson is concerned with such antisemitism, but "the degree to which I am obsessed with it has surprised me."

Perhaps Jacobson's obsession may be in response to England's "Jewish illness," as he calls it. "I can call myself the Jewish Jane Austen until I'm blue in the face, but that doesn't mean that Austenites will accept me," he said. Jacobson likes discourse with those who disagree with him, though. He writes for the British newspaper the Independent (click here to find a recent column on Snowmageddon that he wrote), not a newspaper one would expect for Jacobson's writing. He said, "I write to people not who already agree with me, but those who do not."

That is not to say that all Jews agree with him either. Jacobson will openly debate what it means to be "Jewish." "I do not go to the synagogue or be careful with what I eat, but I have Jewish thoughts and my Jewish thoughts are more Jewish than you not eating a bacon sandwich," he said half jokingly, comparing himself to more observant Jews. What does "thinking" Jewish mean, however? Jacobson emphasizes the Jewish joke. He said, "The Jewish joke controls pain. It's a safety valve. It's always got to be smart, but it can be too smart. It poses as a self punishment, but it can achieve a victory of sorts." In some sense, Jacobson views his novels as extended Jewish jokes. After all, "Judaism is an endless argument, that's why we write novels," he said.

Who reads his novels? To be honest, not as many Jewish readers as Jacobson would like, but that does not stop him from writing about Jewish subjects. "For a writer, [Jewish experience] is a fantastic subject," he said. How does writing a novel that combines comedy and the Holocaust work, though? "For me, comedy is not light. How can you have comedy and the Holocaust together? You can, you have to," he said. In its essence, this quote from the Big Read may best describes Jacobson. "The comedy I like is where you smell blood. Where if you don't laugh, you scream. It's survival comedy," he said.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Snowpocolypse Quips: Your Favorite Snow Quotes!

Well we know what the entire English Department was doing yesterday. Due to the 13 comments I got on the Facebook post yesterday asking for famous literary quotes about snow/despair I found myself googling like mad today to appease you all. So without further ado, here is what this week's madness reminds you of:

Joseph P. Fisher recommends Jack London's "To Build A Fire"

English Dept GWU (this was either Jeffrey Cohen or Gayle Wald, the other tWo admins for our lovely little Facebook page) suggested Wallace Stevens "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird"

Maria Frawley mentioned Robert Frost
A Patch of Old Snow

THERE’S a patch of old snow in a corner
That I should have guessed
Was a blow-away paper the rain
Had brought to rest.

It is speckled with grime as if 5
Small print overspread it,
The news of a day I’ve forgotten—
If I ever read it.

Holly Dugan noted Shakespeare's Florizel in The Winter's Tale swears by "the fann'd/snow that's bolted/By the northern blasts twice o'er..."

Gowri Koneswaran would like to honor the late J.D. Salinger with this famous quote from The Catcher in the Rye

"I went over to my window and opened it and packed a snowball with my bare hands. The snow was very good for packing. I didn't throw it at anything, though. I started to throw it. At a car that was parked across the street. But I changed my mind. The car looked so nice and white. Then I started to throw it at a hydrant, but that looked too nice and white, too. Finally I didn't throw it at anything. All I did was close the window and walk around the room with the snowball, packing it harder. A little while later, I still had it with me when I and Brossard and Ackley got on the bus. The bus driver opened the doors and made me throw it out. I told him I wasn't going to chuck it at anybody, but he wouldn't believe me. People never believe you."

Robert McRuer
recalled Ohran Pamuk's aptly titled novel Snow. He is also partial to "the scene in Jim Jarmusch's Stranger Than Paradise where they look out at the blankness of Lake Erie and describe the snow as beautiful when it's essentially just a white screen of nothingness."

"These sights spoke of a stranger and powerful loneliness. It was as if he were in a place that the whole world had forgotten, as if it were snowing at the end of the world."-Pamuk

Christopher Griffin (who started this fun) would like to contribute another quote to the blog. This time from James Joyce's "The Dead."

"Snow was general all over Ireland, . . . falling softly on all the living and the dead."

He also would like to share Louis MacNeice's poem "Snow."
The room was suddenly rich and the great bay-window was Spawning snow and pink roses against it Soundlessly collateral and incompatible: World is suddener than we fancy it.  World is crazier and more of it than we think, Incorrigibly plural. I peel and portion A tangerine and spit the pips and feel The drunkenness of things being various.  And the fire flames with a bubbling sound for world Is more spiteful and gay than one supposes - On the tongue on the eyes on the ears in the palms of one's hands - There is more than glass between the snow and the huge roses.
And finally Derek Mahon's "The Snow Party."

Thanks to Simile1000 (whoever you are, we thank you) for this spectacular quote from Melville's Moby Dick.

"Is it that by its indefiniteness it shadows forth the heartless voids and immensities of the universe, and thus stabs us from behind with the thought of annihilation, when beholding the white depths of the milky way? Or is it, that as in essence whiteness is not so much a color as the visible absence of color; and at the same time the concrete of all colors; is it for these reasons that there is such a dumb blankness, full of meaning, in a wide landscape of snows--a colorless, all-color of atheism from which we shrink? And when we consider that other theory of the natural philosophers, that all other earthly hues--every stately or lovely emblazoning--the sweet tinges of sunset skies and woods; yea, and the gilded velvets of butterflies, and the butterfly cheeks of young girls; all these are but subtile deceits, not actually inherent in substances, but only laid on from without; so that all deified Nature absolutely paints like the harlot, whose allurements cover nothing but the charnel-house within; and when we proceed further, and consider that the mystical cosmetic which produces every one of her hues, the great principle of light, for ever remains white or colorless in itself, and if operating without medium upon matter, would touch all objects, even tulips and roses, with its own blank tinge--pondering all this, the palsied universe lies before us a leper; and like wilful travellers in Lapland, who refuse to wear colored and coloring glasses upon their eyes, so the wretched infidel gazes himself blind at the monumental white shroud that wraps all the prospect around him. And of all these things the Albino whale was the symbol. Wonder ye then at the fiery hunt?"

And I will leave you with a fabulous Julia Alvarez quote from Snow mentioned by Hache Carillo.

"...Soon I picked up enough English to understand holocaust was in the air. Sister Zoe explained to a wide-eyed classroom what was happening in Cuba. Russian missiles were being assembled, trained supposedly on New York City. President Kennedy, looking worried too, was on the television at home, explaining we might have to go to war against the Communists. At school, we had air-raid drills: An ominous bell would go off and we’d file into the hall, fall to the floor, cover our heads with our coats, and imagine our hair falling out, the bones in our arms going soft. At home, Mami and my sisters and I said a rosary for world peace. I heard new vocabulary: nuclear bomb, radioactive fallout, bomb shelter. Sister Zoe explained how it would happen. She drew a picture of a mushroom on the blackboard and dotted a flurry of chalk marks for the dusty fallout that would kill us all.

The months grew cold, November, December. It was dark when I got up in the morning, frosty when I followed my breath to school. One morning, as I sat at my desk daydreaming out the window, I saw dots in the air like the ones Sister Zoe had drawn—random at first, then lots and lots. I shrieked, “Bomb! Bomb!” Sister Zoe jerked around, her full black skirt ballooning as she hurried to my side. A few girls began to cry.... See more

But then Sister Zoe’s shocked look faded. “Why, Yolanda dear, that’s snow!” She laughed. “Snow.”

“Snow,” I repeated. I looked out the window warily. All my life I had heard about the white crystals that fell out of American skies in the winter. From my desk I watched the fine powder dust the sidewalk and parked cars below. Each flake was different, Sister Zoe had said, like a person, irreplaceable and beautiful. "

Thanks again! Hopefully we will be dug out soon!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

BIG READ is ON! 1-3 p.m., Rome 771, Thursday

Here is a photograph of acclaimed British writer and public intellectual Howard Jacobson in warmer climes. Howard has been "in residence" since Monday, but the weather gods seem intent on making it impossible for us to hold any classes with him.

But we will not be cowed by Snowpocalypse 2010. We are stronger than that.

Show your love for the English Department, your support for and interest in Howard Jacobson, and your refusal to give in to snow-day #4 lethargy and loneliness by attending our BIG READ event tomorrow, February 11.
It will be from 1-3 p.m. in Rome 771. (That's several hours earlier than we had originally planned.)

This is a B.Y.O.H.C. (Bring Your Own Hot Chocolate) event. I'll try to buy some treats for us from whatever grocery store is open along my slushy route to school, but if you want to bring your own treats to share, they would be most welcome.

This event is open to everyone, not only English majors. And you don't have to have finished Jacobson's wonderfully funny and poignant novel Kalooki Nights to attend. Do you think we can fill Rome 771?

Pass it on.

Snowmageddon (Aka Watching Your Fellow English Majors Go Insane)

Walking outside today feels like a scene from Cormac McCarthy's The Road. The streets are disturbingly empty and the few who do dare to venture outside are so bundled up you cannot even see their faces. All winter wonderland fun has been abandoned for general misery. Instead we are locked up in our dorms, apartments, and houses going stir crazy. Who knew that Sartre's No Exit was not just an existentialist play, but reality? Sorry for all of the pretentious literary references (even though this is the English blog), but clearly I am losing my mind as well. It seemed only fitting though to post an excerpt from John Greenleaf Whittier's poem, "Snowbound." My wonderful Irish literature professor, Christopher Griffin, sent this to me today and I couldn't resist putting up. Enjoy! Stay safe, warm, and sane!

Unwarmed by any sunset light

The gray day darkened into night,

A night made hoary with the swarm

And whirl-dance of the blinding storm,

As zigzag, wavering to and fro,

Crossed and recrossed the wingàd snow:

And ere the early bedtime came

The white drift piled the window-frame,

And through the glass the clothes-line posts

Looked in like tall and sheeted ghosts.

So all night long the storm roared on:

The morning broke without a sun;

In tiny spherule traced with lines

Of Nature's geometric signs,

And, when the second morning shone,

We looked upon a world unknown

On nothing we could call our own.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Rebecca Goldstein talk, Howard Jacobson seminar canceled

Author Rebecca Goldstein's reading scheduled for 6:30 Tuesday night in the Marvin Center has been canceled because of weather.

Also, the first meeting of Howard Jacobson's 1-credit seminar, scheduled for 6:10 p.m. on Tuesday, has been canceled. The class will meet on Tuesday, Feb. 16, as usual, and arrangements will be made to make up the missed hours.

But ... the BIG READ event scheduled for Thursday at 4 p.m. in Rome 771 is still on. Do come out to meet Howard Jacobson, this year's British Council U.K. Writer in Residence, who arrived in DC on the last London-to-Dulles flight to take off last Friday before Snowpocalypse 2010 hit!

Friday, February 5, 2010

Working During the Recession: Natasha Simons's Experience with the Job Market

Natasha Simons can read 700 words per minute, cites her final paper for Jeffrey Cohen's Chaucer course as one of greatest accomplishments as an undergraduate, had a 3.8 GPA., and had two and a half years of publishing internships. Naturally one would expect a woman as talented and experienced as her to get a job immediately after graduating last spring. Think again. "I slowly came to the realization that I was one of the unemployment horror stories passed around the class of '09, and it was entirely unpleasant," she said.

Never fear though, being the witty woman she is, Simons is now the Assistant to the Editor at the National Review, but getting there was a long hard struggle. After taking the summer off to travel, she only applied to jobs she thought she was qualified for, but with this selective process she had to wait a whole month before her first interview. From then on, Simons dove into the job market, a grueling exhausting task. "I started applying to 3 or 4 jobs a day, then up to 10 by November," she said. "I was living at home, the only one of my friends to be doing so. Not [that] they had jobs either, mind you! Or they were just nannying or bartending or something -- no one seemed to be on track."

Soon Simons realized that if she wanted to get anywhere, she would have to apply outside of the publishing track, a hard decision for her to make. However it did lead her to a job as a legal assistant in DC, a position she was reluctant to take because it was an entirely different field and could lead to an entirely different life. She said, "But you get to this place where you just feel like such a failure, and I did end up taking that job. Exenuating circumstances, or what I like to call fate, stepped in and made it impossible for me to move to DC at that time. I had to give up the job, all the while thinking 'Oh no, it took me five months to get that one, and now I'll be unemployed forever.'"

Obviously Simons was not the only graduate of 2009 that was left jobless. Blame it on the economy, but she sees many reasons why the current generation of college graduates is at such a loss. "We're a generation of a Protestant work ethic, no matter our religion. We were raised to believe this was a meritocracy, you know? So we got real focused real early," she said. "I was looking at colleges and job paths as early as 10. We did everything we were supposed to, we went to the best college we could, we got good grades, we held jobs down all through our copious studies, we upheld our half of the contract. And when we came out on the other side, hands extended, what happened was we were denied. And continually denied." Simons's personal struggle was recognizing that most of her internships did not matter in the end. She said, "I applied to be at Random House in the EXACT division I'd been a fabulous intern at, knew people there, tried to pull strings -- I barely got the time of day. No interview. Nothing." Furthermore, current graduates are expected to earn far less than their parents. Regardless of why so many twenty somethings are out of a job, Simons is certainly sure of the anger she feels. "There's a lot of resentment and we're all angry, but it feels so immature to say that sometimes... Are we having a teen rebellion or something, to come out and say we deserve jobs for the hard work we put in?" she said. Simons recommends this website for anyone else in her situation.

However Simons's story is not about unemployment, but finally getting the job. Only one week after she rejected her DC legal assistant position (although she does recommend the legal field, since it always needs people), she was offered her current job. She said, "My mother caught [my now-boss] Rich Lowry's post on The Corner requesting an assistant and forwarded it to me -- I read there regularly but missed that post, so I basically owe my employment to my mother! She's very proud of that fact, as you can imagine." Simons's job as Assistant to the Editor at the National Review is a "catch-all" job as describes. "It's great to have so many different types of tasks to do because I'm never bored; one hour I am editing one of Rich's columns, another I am doing payroll for the authors, and another I am updating the NRO Twitter feed," she said. Simons loves her new job and hopes to stay in the field for awhile.

Simons recognizes GW's influence on her current career path. Her work on Wooden Teeth aided with organizational skills. She said, "The detail-oriented work of keeping a literary magazine going directly applied to a lot of the stuff I'm doing now. Just keeping on top of things and remembering to get it all done -- that's the technical side of things." Simons also notes that all of the reading and writing English majors bury themselves in is useful. "Reading a lot of different books and doing all that analysis, sounds corny, but it does prepare you for getting used to a publishing type of career," she said. And like many GW English majors, Simons has a few favorite professors to recommend, Jeffrey Cohen, Patrick Cook, and David McAleavey.

Although Simons is a success story in this tough economic environment, she does not expect the job struggle to end soon. She notes that even when she was searching for jobs, she was still writing. She said, "I freelanced for a couple of sites and ended up working on a book deal through having an online presence." Simons is willing to offer advice to anyone about to graduate or struggling with the job market. You can email her at

Upcoming Events to Ponder during the Snowpocaylpse of February 2010

So you're snowed in from Friday through Sunday morning. What to do? Consider adding one of these upcoming events of interest to your calendar:

The BIG READ, featuring Howard Jacobson, author of Kalooki Nights. Even if you haven't finished the novel, and even if you weren't one of the 200 lucky people who picked up a free copy of it last semester, stop by the English Department next Thursday afternoon. The conversation will be wide-ranging and the vibe will be low-key. February 11, 4-6 p.m., Rome 771. Howard Jacobson is GW's British Council U.K. Writer in Residence for 2010 and will be visiting the English department through early March. This event is free and open to everyone. Co-sponsored by the British Council.

Come out to see Prof. Kim Moreland, as well as the mayor of Pamplona, Spain (!), for Ernest Hemingway and Pamplona: A Celebration. This event is at the Mumford Room, in the James Madison Building, 6th floor, of the Library of Congress, one block from the Capitol South metro station. Friday, February 12, 4-6 p.m. This event is co-sponsored by the Embassy of Spain. More information and RSVP to Cynthia Acosta,, 202-707-2013.

Gonda Theater at Georgetown University is just crazy enough to be mounting a theatrical adaptation of Michel Foucault's classic text Madness and Civilization. The show is called The Madness and Civilization, and you can catch this world premiere Thurs.-Sat., Feb. 11-13 at 8 p.m., Sun., Feb. 14 at 2 p.m., or Wed.-Sat., Feb. 17-20 at 8 p.m. Typically I wouldn't use this forum to advertise events at Georgetown, but this one is too rich to pass up. Call 202-687-ARTS for information.

And if you're looking for opportunities to do some acting yourself, this just in: The GW Shakespeare Company, a student organization founded this semester, is putting up Henry V as its debut production this April. Auditions will be on February 17th at 9pm and February 19th at 6:30pm, both in Marvin Center 403.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Mixing Pyschoanalysis with English: Marshall Alcorn's Washington Trauma Conference

English is said to overlap with many other disciplines: American studies, theater, linguistics, and more. But how about psychology? Maybe this would not be your first connection, and even Marshall Alcorn is not the first to claim that the two subjects go together. Our Director of the English Undergraduate Studies, Director of Human Sciences, and popular critical methods professor is also a psychoanalyst. He notes that reconciling the two fields is "challenging."

Psychoanalysis has always been an interest for Alcorn. As an undergraduate, he volleyed from major to major, eventually graduating with a B.A. in psychology because it allowed him to graduate early. Graduating early was imperative because Alcorn was drafted, but he applied for the Peace Corps before his number was drafted and instead of being sent off to be in the military he was sent to India. His experience in the Peace Corps has been a defining experience in his life. "We had a severe drought in my last year and it was a traumatic situation for me to be in," he said.

When Alcorn returned to the United States, he found himself at a loss for what to do. For a year he worked at a nursery in Oregon and applied to graduate schools. The first program he found combined psychology and world literature, but eventually he transferred to Vanderbilt to get his M.A. in English. From there on out he focused mostly on English, finally getting his PhD at University of Texas at Austin. Psychology was still very prominent in Alcorn's work, however. Although he admits that as an undergraduate he thought Freud was "insane," Alcorn later found significance in his work Mourning and Melancholy, leading him to his dissertation. He said, "My dissertation was on narcissism. Narcissism is related to loss and denial."

Because of Alcorn's work in psychology, he was introduced to clinicians when he first moved to DC. Thus Alcorn's dual life in psychoanalysis and English really started. In 1994 he co-founded, with Mark Bracher, The Association for the Psychoanalysis of Culture and Society, which continues to publish the journal Psychoanalysis of Culture and Society. In 2002 he began psychoanalytic training with the Washington Psychoanalytic Institute and graduated in 2006. He describes the journal as one that “explores these issues [psychoanalysis and culture/society]. It represents a community of scholars that publishes a synthesis of these issues."

Alcorn's involvement in the field does not stop here. Together with two psychiatrists, Arthur Blank Jr. and Anton Trinidad, as well as Catherine Erskine, a board member and Treasurer of the Washington Center for Psychoanalysis, he is organizing the Washington Trauma Conference. The conference runs from March 4-6 in the Marvin Center. With various speakers including Bruce Perry, Howard Steele, and other famous analysts, the conference intends to explore the effect of trauma on people. Trauma is, "these catastrophic events that have tragic effects on people. It does not matter what your politics are, everyone responds to trauma," said Alcorn. The conference hopes to look at trauma from a different perspective, focusing on psychological narratives.

Clearly Alcorn is looking forward to the conference. He and a few of his English colleagues will be involved in the actual panels. Jane Shore will talk about trauma and creative writers in a plenary panel and Evelyn Schreiber will talk about her research on trauma in Toni Morrison. For his own panel, Alcorn will "be representing the thinking in humanities departments on trauma." The conference will potentially produce a book. "We hope to collect some of the essays," he said. Even if we do not get a chance to read the essays, we look forward to the conference!

Tweetez-vous? GW English needs you!

Quick pop quiz (answer "yes" or "no" only):

1) Are you a genius at saying things in 140 characters or fewer?
2) Are you interest
ed in what's going on in the English department, in English courses, among English professors and students, and in the wider GW English community?
3) Do you want to feel even more connected to the English department?

If you answered "yes" to all three, you may well have a career ahead of you as the GW English Tweeter. You heard it right: the English department is looking for a student to tweet for us. Qualifications include: a passion for the short, frequent message; the time to stay up-to-date on GW English events and news; a desire to get to know your peers, professors, and those of us who hang out near the new coffee machine in the department lounge (get your fix for $1).

If you're intrigued, simply email Prof. Gayle Wald [] and tell her, preferably in 140 characters or fewer, why you're right for the job. If you like, you can append a paragraph or two about yourself. We'll pick the best tweeter.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Talk on "Assisted Dying" by Kateřina Kolářová

Readers of this blog know that Prof. Robert McRuer has twice taken lucky students in his "Transnational Film Studies and LGBTQ Cultures" to Prague for the annual Czech Gay and Lesbian Film Festival. For GWU students and for Robert, a highlight of the course is getting to know their counterparts in the Czech Republic.

Now, one of those Prague colleagues is coming to GWU. The English Department, along with Women's Studies and the University Writing Program, is pleased to welcome Kateřina Kolářová, who will be delivering a talk Friday, Feb. 5, titled "Entangling the Discourse of Choice: 'Assisted Dying' and Representations of Severe Disability." The event is from 3-4:30 in Rome 771, and all are welcome.

Prof. Kolářová's talk examines the discourse of individual choice that has been powerful in shaping the debate on assisted dying. She examines the discourse of choice in relation to sexuality and dis/ability, drawing on examples ranging from media coverage of a "voluntary death" in Britain, current German legalisation of the “patient’s will” in cases of assisted dying, and the Spanish film Mar Adentro. "I want to present a thesis that the present controversial debate concerning ‘the right to die’ might in fact make a strategic use of disability," she writes.

Please join us for Prof. Kolářová's timely and interesting presentation.