Sunday, November 30, 2008

Who Should Do Your Portrait?

Some days ago, several of us art historical types got onto the topic of who, in the entire known history of art, we might like to have do our portraits. This is a fairly complex question since it isn't really about which artists we like, although that comes into it to some extent. It's possible to admire an artist considerably without having any real desire to have that person do one's portrait; it's also possible to think a given artist would do an interesting portrait but not think one would really care to put such portraits on the top of the wish-list. The initial group of us tended, for example, to think that Alice Neel, Andy Warhol, George Grosz, and Otto Dix were not exactly high on our lists even though we would not turn them down should they ask to portray us.
Alice Neel, Portrait of Joe Gould, 1933

Andy Warhol, Marilyn Monroe, 1967

George Grosz, The Engineer Heartfield, 1920

Otto Dix, Sylvia von Harden, 1920s
I'll be posting some responses on artists people would like to be portrayed by, but in the meantime I think we will start close to home.

Calypso Spots thinks she would like to be painted by Beatrix Potter despite the fact that Potter doesn't seem to have done any lops or spotted rabbits.

Orion thinks he would be better served by Albrecht Dürer.

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Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Nice Little Surprises

One of my students stayed after class to ask a question about her paper, and we got into a longer conversation, as often happens. When she mentioned that she planned to become a vet and start a small-animal practice, I said she should consider specializing in animals like rabbits and guinea pigs.
It turned out that not only does she have a rabbit of her own and not only is she a rabbit volunteer with the local shelters, but she's currently fostering the enchanting Sophia in the hopes that her rabbit will fall in love with the visitor. Sophia is even moving toward being litterbox-trained (she is one of the only rabbits I've ever met who did not believe in litterboxes).
I've certainly met people who turned out to know one or more of my friends, but the other day when I was watching a program about network theory and "six degrees of separation," it did not occur to me that I'd be discovering that one of my students and I know some of the same shelter rabbits.

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Tuesday, November 18, 2008

And on to Philadelphia...

where the year's AAASS conference is taking place. Kristen and I are headed out first thing in the morning (that is to say, around 10:00) and will be feeding upon bagels on our way.
While on the whole I suppose I have things in a relatively manageable condition--rabbits corralled, a new supply of antibiotic purchased, rabbit-sitter ready to medicate twice a day--and I have mailed off something very non-dissertation-like written over the summer--and none of my students have had mental breakdowns yet although one is about to have child #4 at any moment--etc etc--I feel that all I really want to do at the moment is go into a deep sleep during which Orion will be medicated into complete health, all of my job applications will be written and mailed, next semester's courses will be made perfect and put up on Courseweb, and publishers will be begging me to favor them with my work. All those little sorts of things.
I believe I will go and contemplate my suitcase.

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Sunday, November 16, 2008

Never Feel Momentarily OK

On the whole, I enjoy this whole academic adventure. When in the mood, I don't mind working at it seven days a week.
But I really dislike feeling as though seven days a week is necessary not to fall behind. This makes me irritable. So today I thought perhaps I could take the day off.
Apparently not. When I returned from the library with some fiction in hand, I discovered Orion having a sneezing fit. RELAPSE! I rapidly corralled both rabbits into the X-pen and medicated the sniffly one, to his fury. Ms. Spots showed no particular annoyance at being confined, until she tried to be friendly to The Angry One, who began to take out his aggressions on her instead of on the wire. He began chasing her around in a malignant frenzy and trying to bite her, so I had to take her out. She was quite upset at her devoted admirer turning on her like that. Usually they only have spats about treats, and not in a limited space.
I then turned to checking my email and found the advice that I should (to all intents and purposes) plaster the civilized world with my job applications. This is depressing. I was hoping ten or twenty would be enough.
As if that weren't enough, the only suitable looking film I could rustle up to have shown on Thursday has to be brought from storage (it is a reel film), might not arrive in time, and will have to be shown by someone or other specially brought in for the purpose. Not really what I had in mind.
I don't feel any happier than Orion, but at least I'm not biting anything or anyone. Yet.

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Saturday, November 15, 2008

Defense Scheduled and All That

My dissertation defense has been duly scheduled for December 8, the same day I give my Modern students their final.
"Brilliant, brilliant," exclaimed one of my committee members as I handed him his copy of the thing. I pointed out that I hoped he would still be saying that after actually reading it. He must be optimistic, as supposing he concludes that it is tedious and lacking in any merit whatsoever? (Unlikely, but you can never tell about these things. Just because my advisor likes it doesn't mean anyone else will.)
The tradition of the dissertation defense is, I gather, gradually disappearing. It is fine with me that I will not be defending my work tooth and nail against fierce criticism in an amphitheater full of people--we sort of go on the humane principle that a dissertation shouldn't get to the defense stage if it isn't passable, so I anticipate a fairly pleasant talk with the committee about what to do with the thing next. But people who got their PhDs at UC Berkeley and UC Davis tell me that all they had to do was turn their dissertations in. No defense, no conversation, no champagne, no nothing.
While I guess that's better than having an unruly committee member beat you to a figurative pulp over some minor point of interpretation, it sounds pretty dull to me. What, you slave over the dissertation for years and then no one even wants to talk about it, you just fill out some forms? Faugh. The UC Berkeley alum who told me this (she had to defend her MA in an amphitheater in Russia) said she thought all these famous types were just too busy (or thought they were too busy) to collect for a face-to-face meeting. My source from Davis didn't opine on why her department doesn't do defenses. (Note: neither of the above are art historians. I will not divulge their specialties to reporters and papparazzi.)
Meanwhile, life continues along in its usual dynamic and action-packed manner. My students are barraging me with email questions about their papers. I am wrestling with the final form of next semester's syllabi and presentations. There are job applications to prepare. I have a book chapter to write and provide images for. What sort of film can I find to have shown to my American Art students while I'm away in Philadelphia carousing with other Slavic scholars next week? People who have danced with me at some point or other greet me in cafes and want to know when I will return to the dance floor (preferably immediately, they imply, and in their company). And the Spotted Pair speeds across the living room floor as I type, stopping only for a spot of mutual grooming in mid-carpet.
Well, at least I have succeeded in condensing a five-page book outline into a two-page synopsis this evening. This might allow me to feel productive until tomorrow morning or so, when I'll fret because the post office isn't open and I'll have to be content with doing the laundry.

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Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Nearly There

I had, of course, hoped that I'd be able to breeze through the comments on my dissertation and get printouts to the rest of my committee this morning or at least in the early afternoon, but of course life never quite works that way.
As far as what I was supposed to fix and rework, there really was not much, and I was actually able to do nearly all of it Monday without any real problem. However, there were some bits of tricky translation still awaiting smoothing out, and furthermore, my advisor wanted me to add figure numbers throughout the text even though I will have to remove these (along with the figures) before submitting the document electronically.
Adding the figure numbers proved more time-consuming than difficult, although quite a few works get discussed in different ways in different places and therefore ought to have the figure numbers added repeatedly.
There are some annoying translation issues, though, and they get increasingly annoying the more dictionaries I consult.
Nezval, for instance, writes: "Tak, pozorujeme-li průběh dosavadní vývojové křivsky umění Štyrského a Toyen..." Well, I understand that he wants us to consider the development and evolution of Štyrský and Toyen's art, but what on earth does he mean by "křivsky"? The word apparently bears some connotation of curved or bent, but it is not showing up in dictionaries in this form. I looked at the text several times and assured myself that I did not mistype it.
I have just re-examined the Štyrský text that was plaguing me, however, and find that due to the illegible font, I had managed to misread at least a couple of the words, so perhaps now I can plunge back into the dictionary. I have often thought that whoever chose the font for Každý z nás stopuje svoji ropuchu ought to be drawn and quartered. I don't know why the book couldn't have been done in a nice legible modernist font.

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Monday, November 10, 2008

Things Take a Turn for the Better

My advisor reveals that she is pleased with the newer, slimmer dissertation and that it can go to the rest of the committee once a few small things (probably some rough translations and typos) have been fixed).
We can now proceed to determine a defense date.
After spending all day working on presentations for spring classes, I might take a little break and wander about and think about fiction or something like that.
And Orion, who finagled his way into not being medicated quite as long as the vet wanted (I hope this will not result in a relapse, but his symptoms went away around Tuesday), has made clear that he no longer hates my guts but really would like to be petted and get back to being on good terms and have his ears kissed. I'm relieved he doesn't believe in holding grudges for extended periods of time like the late Penelope.

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Sunday, November 09, 2008

On Correspondence

My friend Geoff, whom I've known for what I realize is a surprisingly long time, mostly writes about politics and things relating to the Spanish-speaking parts of the globe. In fact, he and his wife Susana have gone so far as to relocate to Spain, although at the moment they're back in New York.
The other day, Geoff was reminiscing about the days before we were quite so internet-oriented, when we used to send letters on actual paper in real envelopes through the mail. I had taken up the art of letter-writing at about the age of thirteen and had combined it with the art of the decorated envelope (sometimes stationery as well), and was still pursuing it fairly diligently by the time Geoff and I met.
Geoff recalls our correspondence and the decorated envelopes with due nostalgia. In fact, I think Geoff was one of the last people to whom I regularly sent my decorated envelopes, because I knew he appreciated them (and sometimes reciprocated with sketches on his own envelopes) and I was reluctant to give up the visual element of my correspondence for the purely text-based. But eventually our postal correspondence lapsed.
Had I any of my special envelopes handy, I'd scan one for illustration, but I think they are all in a box in my parents' shed (I didn't initially envision being away from the Bay Area for more than a couple of years and the acquisition of an MA). Most of them were done in collage and, I think the recipients will generally agree, were rather peculiar as a rule. I could make a new one, given that I have some suitable materials to hand (a Pottery Barn catalog arrived just the other day, despite the fact that I don't actually shop there). But then who would I send it to? Who would I choose to surprise?
I'm not sure who. Everyone I once sent them to, and it was a reasonable number of people, now keeps in touch with me via holiday cards and/or infrequent emails. They have spouses, children, pets, jobs, and the like occupying their thoughts. Some of them, like Geoff, live in foreign countries now, which makes for some caution about non-standard packaging.
It is true that my friend Megan keeps in touch with certain of her friends through exchange of physical letters and bits of stuff that almost make my old envelopes look like hasty productions; the wall of her bedroom in Kutná Hora was well decorated with mail of this sort. I gather, then, that there are indeed people--in their twenties!--who do not care to lead an entirely digital life, and I think this is a fine thing. But Megan and I do not habitually write to each other; we just make sure to see one another when in the same part of the world.
Actually, when I think about it, there are not all that many people in my life who engage in real correspondence of either the paper or the electronic variety. Nobody at all sends me paper letters. It's all email.
Some people send out a couple of long emails a year, or when something exciting is going on in their lives like (latest example) buying a house in Mexico. People in my department, of course, frequently email me about this or that in a relatively personal way, and this sometimes provides some interesting reading, but it is not what I would normally term real correspondence. Most of them do, after all, see me fairly often and so our emails tend not to be very discursive. When I think about it, there are really only a few people who exchange email with me that can be regarded as an ongoing conversation. Now, it is true that in part I am no longer very good at carrying on a correspondence with people when this involves doing a lot of catch-up on what has happened in my life, and this has probably dissuaded some of my friends from bothering. I try to do my big catch-up over the holidays, which renders it less individual. And for that matter I take the view that the blog ought to mean I shouldn't have to laboriously explain what I'm doing--if people want to know, they can come right here and get the public side of it and not have to ask things like "Have you finished your dissertation yet?" or "Are you still living in Prague?" But, of course, some people are convinced that "blogs are self-indulgent drivel" or that they can catch a virus by visiting a blog. Um, fine. Be that way.
In any case, while I rather miss the excitement of thinking there might be something delightful in the mailbox, with or without foreign postage, email and blog comments have the advantage that an entire multi-part conversation can occur on a topic in the course of a day or two. I am glad that at least a few people partake of this sort of entertainment with me.

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Saturday, November 08, 2008

Architecture, Film, Posters, and More!

Getting back to the more academic side of things, now that Mr. English Spot has recovered from his sniffles (though still has to be medicated, causing him to look at me with great loathing and struggle wildly as I attempt to get the syringe near his mouth)...
Er, yes. Academic sorts of things. Intellectual matters. All that.
Well, my advisor looked cheerful when I ran across her on Wednesday and claimed that since the election had been a certainty, she had been reading my dissertation rather than watching the returns. I was impressed at her managing to pull herself away from counting up electoral college votes to think about Toyen, surrealism, and interwar Czech sex-reformism.
And I wrote up a proposal for a conference paper.
And I am busily preparing next semester's courses, as despite my strenuous efforts over the summer, they weren't actually finished up. This was partly, but only partly, because 1) the syllabus I was basing my Realism & Impressionism syllabus on has to be altered significantly because everyone tells me that undergrads hate the textbook it used, so I'm switching textbooks and adding lots of short primary texts that have given me the chance to learn how entertainingly Stendhal wrote about the Salon of 1824 (I was sitting at my library carrel going over it and thought truly, I had no idea of Stendhal's gift for comedy; he trashes Classicism right and left); and 2) my syllabus for the Czech Modernism class has to be properly tailored to it being a seminar that focuses on teaching upper-div majors how to write a research paper. Um, yes, I will be placing every Czech modernist text the library owns on Reserve for the whole of next semester! And (sigh) a gigantic part of my personal library, weighing no doubt several hundred pounds. On the one hand, I plan to give the students whatever Czech scans I have created for my own use, to keep them from wreaking too much damage on the spines, but even with the help of our diligent interim VR director and her minions, only a certain amount can be scanned. And besides, they're supposed to (all seven of them) learn to research so I don't want to spoon-feed them. (But I can't expect them to perform research miracles either. I'll be lucky if any of them can read French or German, let alone Czech.)
Well, before I betake myself off to deal with the likes of laundry and then settle down to slave over the syllabi and presentations some more, I will direct my readers' attention to my British colleague Owen Hatherley's blog Sit Down, Man, You're a Bloody Tragedy, which deals with modernist (and sometimes postmodernist) architecture, film, design, posters, and other excitements of that sort.

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Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Election Day Arrives

My neighborhood, as far as I can tell, is pretty solidly Obama territory. At least, going by signage. But one of the local landmarks of late has been this duplex on N. Highland. The large McCain sign on the one side is balanced by an army of smaller Obama signs.
I had initially assumed there was a bitter fight going on there, but one day I heard that the two neighbors actually get along well outside the political arena. The Obama half happened in to Tazza d'Oro one day and told my friends Lawrence and Alexis (who know everyone) that Obama signs simply keep showing up in his side of the yard and that they should feel free to take one or two for themselves. The McCain neighbor, meanwhile, is said to take in his sign at night to prevent it from being stolen. Well, it is a pretty stunning sign whether or not you agree with it.
I went to my polling place as soon as I could get myself out of the house. I was a little nervous given that I had somehow been registered as a Republican. It gave me that feeling that some dire thing might happen. Whether because of my bizarre alleged affiliation or for some other reason (I had not voted at this precinct before), the pollworkers wanted plenty of ID, and were finally satisfied with my California driver's license. I had brought a mountain of ID just in case.
All my past votes had been cast on paper, however. I was alarmed to see I would be voting on a computer screen. Visions of voter fraud went through my head, especially since I couldn't see any sign which company had manufactured the machine. Still, I succeeded in casting my vote, and proceeded on to Tazza d'Oro for some coffee. A steady stream of voters and election workers are coming through, emblazoned with more different Obama pins than I had previously seen anywhere. Perhaps my old friend Dr. Zaius is right about the course of the McCain-Palin campaign. And for that matter about the Bush presidency. I thought, however, that I had been too busy cutting my dissertation to get to any Halloween parties. I guess I attended one in my astral body over at the Zaius-Gregarious campaign headquarters. If you look closely, there I am in one of the photos. Not one of my better moments but I guess Dr. Zaius intuited that the costume in question is much like what I wore on my fifth birthday (hint: standing there next to Kermit the Frog).

On the home front, life revolves around medicating an angry rabbit. After a morning of chasing Orion round and round the couch (he won), I gave up and incarcerated both rabbits. Ms. Spots has taken the whole thing abnormally well, although this morning she did let me know she thought I had taken this far enough. But then, she would happily take Orion's medicine for him. Orion still wants no part of it but recognizes that he has been bested. He's furious but submissive. I have to say that while submissive is convenient, I don't really like seeing him get that way. It isn't exactly natural to him.
The heavily trimmed dissertation has been turned in. We will see whether my advisor thinks it has been trimmed and revised enough to go on to the rest of the committee. I can only hope so. I wasn't able to cut as much as she wanted, but I did get rid of over a hundred pages. My stamina for this kind of thing is about gone for now and I really need to turn to other projects, like finishing next semester's courses and putting together job applications.

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