Thursday, April 13, 2017

The Work of Literature In An Age of Post-Truth

Here's the cover of my next book:


This book is sort of an academic memoir about teaching literature in a liberal arts context in the early years of the twenty-first century. What problems crop up, what opportunities arise, and what lessons I've learned doing this work over the past 16 years or so. I'm finishing up this book over the next six months, and it will be published in 2018.

Monday, February 6, 2017

That jet is next to go

a neat little piece of airportness nestled into my son's schoolwork...


I'm thinking of calling the final section of my new book "From Work to Trump." It would include, among other things, versions of some of these recent essays I've written:

After the election, walking it off.

Further thoughts on Trump in relation to environmental consciousness, specifically around the concept of the anthropocene.

Then reflecting the Women's March on Washington, and on Trump's airplane armrest transgressions. (An earlier version of this essay ended up in Airportness.)

The travel ban happens, followed by airport protests.

My idea is that this kind of writing—a medley of cultural criticism, political theory, ecological thought—all becomes part of the work of literature in an age of post-truth, even though it seems to find itself far from the Norton anthology or the English classroom. It's an interesting experiment, to be writing a book that keeps finding material as each week unravels, from "alternative facts" and the fascinating rhetorical reversals of "fake news," to new tensions within and around air travel. And then to chart how these things pick up on issues I might have touched on or seen in other contexts—especially in literary texts.

We'll see how this continues to form, or if it dissipates. In the meantime, what will happen next? What jam is next to go?


Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Points of Detention

I'm writing about this image right now, a perhaps seemingly innocuous graphic that appeared above a Washington Post article last weekend:


Monday, January 23, 2017

This is the time

A Southwest 737 taking off from Reagan National the other day...a plane likely full of remarkable, strong women

What a time, what a world!

Fresh back from the Women’s March on Washington, I’m feeling inspired to write and energized to redesign my courses for the fall semester. I’ve been in a funk since the election in November, and I've also been hunkered down trying to channel whatever verve I could muster into my writing, since I had a book due this month. I just turned it in a week ago: it's called Airportness:The Nature of Flight, and it comes out in September. It’s the most carefully structured of my airport books, yet. (It's probably also the last one I'll write on this topic.) And I love how the cover came out:


Meanwhile, I signed a contract with Bloomsbury for a new book, called The Work of Literature In An Age of Post-Truth. I’m tackling some of the things in our current political moment, and thinking through a range of topics related to teaching, writing, and thinking about contemporary literature and it’s roles in the present epoch. One of the things I’ve been struggling with over the past few months is how to return to teaching once I return from sabbatical. All my old reading lists and course frameworks seem obsolete, what with the new political regime in place. I can’t imagine sitting around with my students close reading The Great Gatsby like it’s any other fall semester. (Not that’s how I really teach, but…you know what I mean.)

On the other hand, with Trump as our once unimaginable president, maybe The Great Gatsby is the perfect book to read: the worship of power, shady background dealings, toxic nostalgia, destructive secrecy…it’s all in Fitzgerald’s pages. But I feel like I need to reassess exactly what I’m teaching, and how I'm teaching it—especially my twentieth century American fiction course. In one of the chapters of my new book I’m going to work through some of my previous required readings for this course, and also explore some new stories and novels that I’ve read this year—thinking about how these American fictions I haven't yet taught speak to and speculate about the moment we’re now in, in the nonfiction world ("alternative facts" notwithstanding).

While driving back from DC I also sketched out a few new ideas in my head, which hopefully I can wrangle into essays and pitch them to places over the next couple months. So I've got a lot to do over the remaining months of my sabbatical. But I'm convinced that this is the time to do get to work, if we want things to change for the better. This is the time.