Saturday, January 13, 2007

Questions for the Ages

Why is it that scholars who study the Beats tend to be obnoxious sexists and wear berets?

I know a Beat "scholar" who fancies himself quite cool. I have bad news: you have an advanced degree in the humanities, but aren't a Marxist scholar or a cultural theorist. By definition, you aren't cool. Period.

It's not like early modernists wear big Elizabethan ruffs and codpieces, right? Why do Beat folks wear black and berets?

Another question: why does every local PBS station wherever I live still play The Lawrence Welk show repeats. I swear, that show has been repeated more often than I Love Lucy and is not even one one hundreth as entertaining.

A student in my "texts" class emailed me to ask which novel we're reading first.

Notice how the question assumes there's more than one novel to read for the class?

Okay, so maybe this is one of those situations where students call anything a novel. I've had students call plays, non-fiction, short stories, and yes, Paradise Lost a novel. Or maybe not.

And my final question for the ages: what the heck is a novel that, say, Beware the Cat or Sidney's Arcadia aren't? I'm afraid I've never quite understood the distinction between prose fiction and a novel.

And don't give me the unified and believable plot structure thing, because lots of things written in the past century have neither.

Individualized and believable characters?

A pervasive illusion of reality?

Ulysses strikes me as a GREAT novel that doesn't do any of those things. Oh well, I haven't emailed my student back, but we aren't reading a novel until the very end of the term. There's just so much good lit to choose from!


  1. My students call *essays* novels. This I truly do not understand.

    The questions about the costume of Beat scholars, and about Welk reruns, I have asked myself many times. I wish I knew.

  2. The head of our MFA program not only wears his little beret, he constantly tells stories of his times hanging around the beats. He's completely full of himself, and somewhat full of shit, and everyone wants to knock his damn beret off his head all.the.time.

    Like Prof Zero, my freshmen referred to essays (and short stories) as "novels" and I was really confused by it. Still am.

  3. I've had classes in which the students called everything poems (because the first works we read were poems, perhaps?). We're working in a foreign language, so I thought part of the problem was not having heard the terms used outside of class, but maybe not, if the English students are mixing up the genres too (plus, for some of them it is their first language).

  4. Bardiac,
    You think that your students are bad. I have co-workers (another word is not really appropriate) who think that writing letters to a newspaper, or posting on blogs count as research! I guess traditional journals are not 'post-modern' enough. Funnily enough, although they are not beret wearers, they all prefer affected dress. It is a common bad sign.

    The CP

  5. Oh god - the beret! Like, how does the beret ad in Harper's still keep reeling them in??

    I don't teach literature, but I have been floored by the number of people who refer to the scholarly, often social scientific and/or theoretical, articles we read as "stories". Sheesh.