Saturday, September 3, 2016

Summer recap

dunes, clouds, trees...up in Michigan

I’ve been up in Michigan again this summer, spending a lot of time with my family, as well as getting out in the woods and fly fishing on my favorite lakes and streams. I’ve also been getting some work done.

I published a piece on careerism in college at Public Books—it’s part of a short book I’m working on about liberal arts education. This year I am going to volunteer at the small public school I graduated from in northern Michigan, offering guidance and advice to juniors and seniors who are researching college options. Since I graduated from high school, I’ve had experiences at four quite different institutions around the country—as a student and as an instructor—and I hope I can help some students in their searches for a good fit. I hope to learn about what high school students think about college, and see how this accords (or not) with my sense of liberal arts education in the early twenty-first century. If the experience is interesting, I’ll write about it—maybe it will even become a part of the book.

I wrote a review of Don DeLillo’s novel Zero K for 3:AM Magazine.

I wrote a piece for Inside Higher Ed on how scholars can use Twitter.

I revised a book chapter for a collection called Sweet Spots: Interstitial New Orleans. The book should be out sometime next year from the University Press of Mississippi, and my chapter is about Louis Armstrong International Airport as a specially liminal space.

I wrote an article for a transportation-themed issue of ISLE: Interdisciplinary Studies of Literature and Environment. My contribution is, not surprisingly, on air travel—but I’m moving in new directions that come out of my current book-in-progress, Airportness: The Nature of Flight.

I’m making good headway on Airportness and plan to deliver the final manuscript in December.  There’s still a lot to do, but I am at the point where I can visualize it in my mind—I can see the shape of the whole book, and see how the pieces have to fit together. It’s a fun if also daunting part of the book assembly project: moving blocks of writing around, creating transitions, experimenting with formal flourishes and other structural details, and so on.

I’ll present a piece from Airportness at the Western Literature Association conference in Big Sky, Montana, later this month. My paper is called “Airportness in the West: Fame, Fantasy, Frontier.” I'm on a panel called Dispatches from the Post-West.

Meanwhile I’ve been reframing my “Up in Michigan” book project, and I have focused it on broader issues of ‘place’ and the problems and possibilities of landscape ecology in the age of the Anthropocene. I’ve honed a fresh version of the proposal and hope to finish the book during the second half of my sabbatical year (so, January through next summer). Reading Helen Macdonald’s H Is for Hawk prompted me to think creatively about how I can indulge in nature writing while also critiquing it from the inside, as it were.

Lit Hub revealed a bunch of new book covers and titles signed for our series Object Lessons. We’re about to enter an intense period of serious manuscript editing, as we prepare to release a mega-batch of books in the series in late 2017. If only I could have a bunch of my wonderful Loyola students up here in Michigan, to help me with the series! (Luckily, I have a couple dedicated students working with me from afar.)

I’m heading now into sabbatical, for real. It is very odd to be feeling the sun shift to the south up here in Michigan…usually by this point we are back in the sweltering heat of New Orleans, settling into our autumn rhythms there. It’s strange to not be in the classroom. I don’t miss all the various meetings and never-ending budget crises, but do I miss my colleagues and my students. Yet here we are in the north country, and just last night it got very cool. Wind in the pines, a kind of wind I haven't felt in a long time. The bracken fern have all turned gold, on the hillsides. It’s very dark now in the mornings, when I get up to write.


Sunday, July 3, 2016

Airport Battle


Last week I followed one of those frequently insane suggestions on Amazon for things I might be interested in, based on my browsing history. And, I’ll admit, this one was immediately intriguing: it said Lego Airport Battle. The full description was Super Hero Airport Battle, and as I inspected this set I was at turns baffled, turned off, and utterly delighted.

The set is apparently based on a scene from the recent blockbuster Captain America: Civil War, which features a tumultuous battle on the tarmac.


Think about what the Lego set does with this scene. All the objects and operations of the airport are distilled to the bare minimum: a Tug and baggage cart (replete with spilling suitcases), some illuminated wands for the (absent) ramp worker, barricades with no-entry signs, and an air traffic control tower. Some cryptic containers, too. All else is implied, and the scene is given over to the Marvel super heroes who are wreaking havoc on the non-place. On the Lego packaging, the tarmac is busted and the baggage cart is tipped over. In the movie, the floor-to-ceiling windows get smashed, a car park is demolished, and explosions rock the terminal (among other acts of destruction).

This Lego set and the cinematic scene it is based on got me wondering: why stage attacks at airports, whether for terror purposes or entertainment? I decided to write about this for The Atlantic.


Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Review of The End of Airports

A nice review of The End of Airports appeared in the Times Literary Supplement:


Thursday, June 2, 2016

Back Up in Michigan

a beaver swims in the distance, across one of my favorite lakes on a still morning

I'm back up in Michigan, this time for a full year! Sabbatical—I never thought it would feel so good.

I've always thrived on the synergy between teaching and writing, but I now understand the great gift of sabbatical, to take a step back from teaching—hopefully to reassess, rethink, and reimagine life in the classroom. And also to truly focus on writing. During the school year I tend to write in undisciplined bursts in the middle of the night or whenever I can grab a few minutes to jot down a sentence. I'm looking forward to sitting down in the daytime and really stretching out into my writing.

I'm working on three books right now, and they stop and start in unexpected ways. I'm trying to let myself follow the whims and explosions of thought around each of these projects. I pick them up and put them down as ideas occur to me, as research forays present themselves.

The first book I am going to finish is Airportness. This book is turning out to be very fun to write—I'm taking a more structured approach to the topic than my previous airport books did, and this structure is pushing me in new directions. I'm also revisiting a lot of material that I wasn't able to include in my first two books, and in many cases the time lag is turning out to be beneficial—things just get weirder and weirder when it comes to air travel, and some things that seemed prescient or insightful a few years ago are even more so, now.

Once Airportness is done, I plan to turn to my Michigan book, a strange book about place and eco-criticism—it keeps changing form in my mind and on the page, shifting from one thing to another. I've been thoroughly enjoying Helen Macdonald's book H is for Hawk, as well as Jeffrey Jerome Cohen's new book Stone. Both of these books are helping me think about how to write a different kind of 'nature' book.

Then I'm also working on a short book about liberal arts—I'm calling it "a quiet manifesto." Like David Foster Wallace sitting in an airport coffee shop writing about his cruise ship experience after seven days in the Caribbean Sea, I'm sitting up in the woods writing about my seven years teaching in a liberal arts context at a small university in New Orleans. (The analogy breaks down, at this point.)

Other than my own writing projects, we've got some thrilling new Object Lessons books in the works. More on those soon, but I just want to say here how gratifying this series has been to work on, with such great support from Haaris Naqvi and the entire Bloomsbury team, and my unswerving co-editor Ian Bogost. We have four wonderful new titles in the series coming out next month: Hair, Bread, Questionnaire, and Password. (Also, Ian's new book comes out in the fall, and it's so good!)

Finally, Mark Yakich and I are excited to see our edited collection of essays Airplane Reading hit the shelves next month. If you are looking for some good summer reading, this book is it.

I'll try to update this blog more frequently, now that I have more time for disciplined writing habits to form. But, we'll see.



Friday, May 6, 2016

Introducing Kara Thompson (& Environmental Cultures)


This week I had the pleasure of hosting my great friend Kara Thompson at Loyola. Kara and I were at UC Davis together as graduate students, and we've been trying to coordinate a visit to one of our campuses or the other for several years—and it finally worked out. The timing ended up being perfect in many ways. Kara visited my classes, and I was so pleased with how my students engaged Kara's work (and I was delighted that Kara managed to assign the perfect reading with which to wrap up the semester, Mel Y. Chen's "Toxic Animacies, Inanimate Affections"). Later in the day Kara gave a wonderful public talk that wove together threads from Prince, Jurassic Park, diagrams of hydraulic fracturing, Fredric Jameson, and Walt Whitman's poem "I Sing the Body Electric"—among other rich visual and cultural texts. We had a good turnout (especially considering it was so late in the semester), comprised in part of many of our terrific Environment Program students, who were a vibrant audience for Kara's presentation.

A couple years ago I started posting the introductions I write for various visitors' talks, because I realized that our written introductions for such events often end up in the trash—but I actually enjoy writing these things, and I want to preserve them somewhere (like here). So once again, here is my introduction to Kara's scintillating talk at Loyola, "Fracking and the Art of Subtext."

*

Just yesterday I watched a video introduction by eco-critic Richard Kerridge for a new series of books with the theme of "Environmental Cultures." The scope of the series was astonishing and thrilling—books in the series could be about practically anything so long as the authors could make smart connections to matters of environment, ecology, or nature. So this series might include animal studies, posthumanism, feminist ecocriticism, cultural geography, disaster theory, new materialisms, queer ecology, nature writing unbound...there would seem to be no limit.

As I say, this is exciting: once we loosen our definition of "nature," or realize, rather, that there's no outside of it, anything becomes a subject, or an object of serious inquiry. Environmental studies goes anywhere, with anything. But this can be daunting, too—or just plain bonkers. Imagine sitting inside the airport to practice "environmental studies"! When you say that something is anything, where to begin (or end)? How does one demarcate a project, establish an archive, conduct experiments, interpret results, formulate a theory—any of these things, when ecology is understood to be such an endlessly seeping, leaking, expanding field? One tentative answer: you have to do it very carefully, and with keen attention to detail, contradiction, and slippage.

And this is where Kara Thompson's work comes in.

Kara Thompson, assistant professor of English and American Studies at the College of William & Mary, works on the edge—or at the intersection, or overlap—of disciplinary thought. Bringing cutting edge critical theory to bear on tense questions of borders, territory, sexuality, national identity, and indigeneity, Kara's research routinely unsettles what we might think of as set in stone. Indeed, in Kara's thinking even "rocks" become points of fascination and are thereby unsettled from their resting positions as inanimate objects.

But once the land itself becomes so open to interpretation—as in fact we know it is, from the most mundane property dispute to the most heated national border debates—then what to we do about the things that would seem to grow organically from the land, whether they be so-called invasive plants, or human settlements? How do citizens become naturalized? What is a foreigner, or a foreign object? Are attractions natural, are repellents cultural? Have these sorts of frameworks outlasted their use (and maybe for good reason)?

Everything is in play, nothing can be taken for granted. We are in the weeds, right here, across the street from Audubon Park, sitting in this nice neat quiet and climate controlled room. Welcome to "environmental cultures" writ large. This is no mere academic exercise—this is real life, fecund and brimming. Here we have to read closely and carefully, and go slowly—and we need a good guide. Kara Thompson's writing takes us into the utterly familiar, which may then turn out to be bizarrely unfamiliar. But the wager is that such interpretive adventures will make us see—and act more justly in relation to, while entangled with—the rich complexities of this world, our present place in space.


Saturday, March 19, 2016

AIRPORTNESS



Airportness: The Nature of Flight

I am very happy to announce that I just signed a contract for my next book, which will be published by Bloomsbury in fall 2017. The book is called Airportness. Here's a short description of what this book is about: 
Airportness takes the reader on a single day’s journey through all the routines and stages of an ordinary flight. From curbside to baggage, and pondering the minutes and hours of sitting in between, Christopher Schaberg contemplates the mundane world of commercial aviation to discover “the nature of flight.” For Schaberg this means hearing planes in the sky, recognizing airline symbols in unlikely places, and navigating the various zones of transit from sliding doors, to jet bridge, to lavatory. It is an ongoing, swarming ecosystem that unfolds each day as we fly, get stranded, and arrive at our destinations. Airportness turns out to be more than just architecture and design elements—rather, it is all the rumble and buzz of flight, the tedium of travel as well as the feelings of uplift. 

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Overview


Earlier this month, sitting on the tarmac on a airplane in Detroit, in the middle of what would become a three-hour runway delay, which would then turn into a twelve-hour flight cancellation and rebooking protrusion, I pulled up the map on my iPhone to show my son Julien where we were, exactly, in line for de-icing. As the satellite view focused, I watched the airliners and jet bridges blur, liquid like, as they settled into proper resolution. For a moment it resembled a Wayne Thiebaud cityscape, the way the recognizable forms of the airport veered and smeared, hyperreal. I quickly captured the image mid-focus, which you can see above. My new book The End of Airports puzzles over these sorts of strange, spontaneous comportments: when we are in the airport on the brink of flight; tethered to the ground while visualizing ourselves soaring above the earth; or sitting in jetliners at cruising altitude feeling nowhere at all, not exactly....

Some big news, related to my new book: Nathan Heller's ruminative article on flight in this week's New Yorker, "Air Head," cites The End of Airports fairly substantially. I was delightfully surprised, and honored, to see my work on airports discussed so thoughtfully throughout Heller's piece.


My special issue of Criticism on "critical air studies" is now out; this issue features an array of scholarly inquiries into the culture of flight, and I'm very happy with how it came together. You can read the beginning of my introduction to the issue here, and here's the cover of the issue, which riffs on airport carpets (but not PDX). 



And if you are craving some lighter reading on the culture of flight, our book Airplane Reading is almost out! The book should be published in May: 54 wonderful contributions by a wide range of writers and air travelers. This book was a blast to put together with my great friend and colleague Mark Yakich. Look at the cover, a fantastic collaboration between Nancy Bernardo and the design team at Zero Books:


A couple other things while I'm in overview mode: I wrote a piece about the Millennium Falcon in the new Star Wars movie "The Force Awakens" for the Los Angeles Review of Books' Philosophical Salon, and I wrote a review of Maggie Nelson's book The Argonauts, for 3:AM Magazine

Finally, last but not least, Object Lessons continues to bloom, with fifteen books now published and many many more in the pipeline. You can hear Alison Kinney talk about her new book Hood, and me talk about the series in general, on a Jefferson Public Radio show we did together the other day. LARB also did a long interview with me & Ian about the series, and then later they ran a generous omnibus review of the first ten books in the series. I wrote a bit on the Bloomsbury Literary Studies blog about teaching with the series at Loyola, an experience I'm eager to recreate in Fall 2017, when I return from my sabbatical. Object Lessons continues to be a thrilling adventure in editing and publishing—with no end in sight.