Sunday, December 17, 2017

Fly Tying and Building for Flight

a deceiver I tied last spring

I wrote about tying flies in an age of unraveling, for Sierra magazine. My chapter in the new book Veer Ecology elaborates on my obsession with fishing. It has been strange and challenging, but also fun, to write about something that is so close to me, personally—something I've had and done since I was a kid, but which has always felt somewhat distant from my more scholarly interests (whatever that means).

I also wrote about teaching a weird piece of airport futurism, for 3:AM Magazine. As I've been traveling to our NEH Institute workshops over this academic year, I've been watching the new New Orleans airport emerge from the swamp. I hope to learn more about this edifice under construction, and perhaps even take my students out there and get a tour of the project in process, this coming semester or maybe next fall. For now, it exists as an eerie sideshow each time my planes taxi out to the runway, a glimpse of the as yet unrealized future, right before takeoff.

the new New Orleans airport underway

Monday, October 9, 2017

Bumper Stickers

Sometimes in my classes we talk about bumper stickers. What does every bumper sticker say, no matter what it actually says? It says "bumper sticker." This always gets a laugh, but what does it mean? Something about the fantasies bundled up in automobility, about passive aggressive modes of communication and community. And something about tone and tautology: about how the form of a statement—any statement—adorning a car always risks being tuned out because it is seen immediately for what it is: just a bumper sticker, whether it infuriates, agitates, or sparks a fleeting feeling of solidarity or smug mutual understanding.

The other day I was riding my bike from campus to pick up my daughter from school when I saw a Jeep with an assault rifle bumper sticker on display. It was a simple silhouette, suggesting a specific make but also transmitting a general threat: this person is proud of their gun ownership, carries a gun whenever they can, is quite possibly carrying a gun right now.

This might have been troubling enough, but in the wake of the Las Vegas mass shooting it was especially chilling. How could this image not conjure the awful, meticulous planning and carrying out of the event which left 58 people dead and over 500 seriously injured? I pedaled alongside this vehicle for several blocks. I thought to myself, how does this person feel okay with broadcasting an advertisement for the technologies of violence that caused so many horrific deaths? We know the answer: they disambiguate, they say that guy in Las Vegas was a "lone wolf." If anything, the situation in Las Vegas can become an argument for more guns, more armed citizens wary and watching for the lone wolves or the terrorists, the common burglars or escaped convicts. Inside the head of gun ownership it must be a paranoid place, always someone out to get you.

But what about this bumper sticker? I was still riding alongside the Jeep, seeing the bumper sticker again at each stop sign. Part of me wanted to attempt to scrape it off the bumper; or, if I had a very thick black Sharpie, maybe I'd just add a bold line as a strikethrough:

Either one of these would have been stupid, not least because if the driver saw me tampering with their bumper sticker, they might have blown me away with their assault rifle. How else is one supposed to interpret the mandate of such a bumper sticker?

So I established that I wouldn't tamper with the bumper sticker itself, but there it was again as we stopped at the end of the next block. The Jeep's windows were tinted, so I couldn't get any sense of the driver, no familiarizing or friendly exchange of glances that might have humanized the moment and made me forget about my minor obsession. Instead, I obsessed. What could one do to destabilize or defuse such a sign? Then I thought, what about juxtaposition? What if I carried around a bunch of assorted, random bumper stickers that could simply be slapped next to these guns? Gun bumper stickers are often displayed in stark isolation, feeding into the very monomania that fuels second amendment fanaticism. So what if the scene were just, well, crowded a little? I imagined reaching into my pocket, peeling off the back of the sticker, and slyly affixing one as I pedaled past the Jeep...then another along the next block.

A rubber ducky here, a pile of rocks there...just the stuff of life surrounding the gun. Because this is what bumper stickers resist more than anything: complicating the picture. Bumper stickers drive at common sense understanding, obvious solutions, affiliations with the right group. So what happens when bumper stickers become less clear? What is an assault rifle that jostles with a plastic toy and some stones? I don't know, but it's surely better than the gun on its own, isn't it? Such a grouping might say something about the nature of coexistence, about affiliations that are less than obvious, amalgams that are less than clear in their function or makeup. It might invite dialogue rather than death dealing.

Of course, it's still their Jeep and they have a gun and so I'll keep my bumper stickers to myself, at least for now.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Fall 2017 update

a plane sighting in New Orleans

I'm back in New Orleans, and back in the classroom with my Loyola students. This semester I'm teaching an Environmental Theory seminar for juniors and seniors, and two first-year seminars on air travel. It's been something of a jolt, after having been away from campus for a year—but it's good work and I'm grateful to have such energetic students and dedicated colleagues. As I transition back into teaching, and as I think about the unique demands of advising and mentoring students in these strange times, I am trying to work this material into my next book The Work of Literature in an Age of Post-Truth. Here are some recent writings, and a few of these pieces are wending their way into The Work of Literature:

On ticks, for The Philosophical Salon.

On morel mushrooms, at Guernica.

On finding and fighting words after last year's election, with Stewart Sinclair for Avidly.

On the difficulties scholars have writing for broad audiences, with Ian Bogost for Inside Higher Ed.

On humanities at the airport, for Inside Higher Ed.

On Sarah Manguso's 300 Arguments, for 3:AM Magazine.

On ecological disorientation in Don DeLillo's Zero K and in various airline ads, for ISLE: Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature & Environment.

On the importance of sabbaticals, for Inside Higher Ed.

"Wait," a chapter for the book Veer Ecology: A Companion for Environmental Thinking.

"Air Force One: Popular (Non)Fiction in Flight," in the book Popular Fiction and Spatiality: Reading Genre Settings.

Finally, my new book Airportness releases this month! Here's one of the early cover designs for the book that we almost ended up using, but we couldn't track down the artist or gallery to acquire permission:

The image on that cover is part of an artwork from 2005 by Ho-Yeol Ryu, and which periodically goes viral online. I like this image a lot, but I also love the final version of my book's cover, as it better reflects the pensive mood and outward-looking subject positions that frame the book:

Order it today

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Advance praise for Airportness


Airportness is an insightful, witty guide to the ecologies of Earth's strange new habitat. A Thoreau not of Concord, but of the concourse, Schaberg writes with boundless curiosity for the many layers of meaning and contradiction within the physical and mental space of airports.” —David George Haskell, Professor of Biology, University of the South, USA, and author of The Songs of Trees and Pulitzer finalist The Forest Unseen
“With deep insight and a singular brilliance, Christopher Schaberg takes the reader on a journey from curb to curb, chastising us for our indifference to cloudscapes, rekindling our wonder for liftoff, asking us to reckon with airport as metaphor for late-stage capitalism, for American identity, for the last vestiges of faith, even, ironically, for what we call home. Part razor-sharp critique, part advanced elegy for a doomed mode of transportation, Airportness is finally a declaration of love for a threatened land(sky)scape, an imperative to remain awake and alive.” —Pam Houston, author of Contents May Have Shifted
“An enchanting, meditative journey through the cultures and ecologies of contemporary flight. Airportness unsettles places and processes that are often taken for granted, drawing us out into the simultaneously fascinating and disturbing webs of earthly possibility that are tangled up in the world-forming creature we call an airport.” —Thom van Dooren, Associate Professor of Environmental Humanities, University of New South Wales, Australia, and author of Flight Ways: Life and Loss at the Edge of Extinction
“I loved this book. Exemplifying the enduring value of flânerie, Schaberg's insightful fragments cohere into compelling arguments about supermodernity as we go on a 'trip' with him through the well-worn paths of the contemporary airport. This collage of passionate vignettes, quirky observations and analytical musings made serendipitous connections I hadn't noticed before. His enthusiasm is as infectious as his observations are sharp. It was refreshing for these jaded eyes to see the airport anew. Highly recommended.” —Gillian Fuller, author of Aviopolis: A Book About Airports

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 a series of reflections on 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...

Some of my recent writings could be summed up under the title "From Work to Trump." It would include, among other things, versions of these essays:

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.

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 about things that keep coming up in new (sometimes frightening) ways as each week unravels, from "alternative facts" and the fascinating rhetorical reversals of "fake news," to new tensions within and around air travel, to ever more shocking displays of arrogance concerning ecology, or living on this planet. 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 sort of writing 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.