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The other day I was talking with one of my best friends about academia. And how it kills absolutely everything it touches. You like Dickens? Take a class on him, that’ll fix that problem. You’re a fan of writing about and analyzing interesting cultural phenomena? Go to grad school, so you can learn to write so well you’ll be unintelligible. Want to share ideas with like-minded people? Learn how to speak jargon so well that you’ll never be understood by humanoid life forms again.
Ah, sweet academia. Being outside it – at last? finally? unfortunately? – feels odd to me. For the first time in a long while, I find myself outside a scholarly community, living in “the real world,” even if only for two years, after which time I shall go to grad school and become a Slave to Academia once more. But this little respite prompts me to ask: is academia useful? For studying fairy tales? Folklore? Does studying something actually partially destroy it, as I’ve suggested elsewhere?
First of all, before you even say it: yes, I agree. Academics need to make themselves – and their work – more accessible. It’s part of the reason why I write this blog, and why I write it the way that I do. I write about what I’m working on, and I write to be read. Understood. Much though I love certain academic thinkers, they specialize in being obscure. Like Lacan! Reading Lacan is like doing mind-gymnatics: how well can you perform on the balance beam? Can you do a triple flippy thingy? Those who cannot do a triple-flippy-thingy are abject failures whose minds are worthless. Or so the prevailing attitude goes.
Some people seem to think of academia the way that Miranda Priestly thinks about fashion. Click here to listen to Miranda Priestly from The Devil Wears Prada explain it all, as she rants at her assistant for not caring about fashion. But fashion actually controls us all!
For those international viewers who can’t watch the clip, I’ve copy/pasted the relevant text here: Read the rest of this entry »
I’ve been thinking a lot about speaking lately. This is because I’ve been doing far less of it than usual; my Vietnamese is pitiful, and many of the people I interact with on a daily basis speak little to no English. It’s an odd feeling; I have this whole (crazy, nerdy, whatever) self that I am completely unable to communicate to the world. Same goes for those trying to speak with me, I guess, except their problem has less to do with “the world” and more with “that gal.”
So I’m a mute in my own life. This makes me think about fairy tales! And cultural crticism! Surprise! Joseph Jacobs – collector of English Stories from the late 19th and early 20th centuries – is my target today. Like many fairy tale collectors, Jacobs saw himself as preserving a vanishing tradition. England, he warned, was losing its folk culture due to industrialization. Also, and way more importantly, they were being shown up in the Folklore arena by the Germans and the French. SO not okay, people. But! In his otherwise rather pedestrian Preface, Jacobs says something really interesting:
Who says that English folk have no fairy tales of their own? […] The only reason, I imagine, why such tales have not hitherto been brought to light, is the lamentable gap between the governing and recording classes and the dumb working classes of this country–dumb to others but eloquent among themselves. It would be no unpatriotic task to help to bridge over this gulf, by giving a common fund of nursery literature to all classes of the English people, and, in any case, it can do no harm to add to the innocent gaiety of the nation.
Dumb to others but eloquent amongst themselves. When you first read it, it’s pretty easy to dismiss the comment as dated and classist. And in a way it is. Though Jacobs isn’t using dumb to mean “stupid;” Laura Gibbs of the University of Oklahoma believes that Jacobs’ comment refers to a lack of literacy in the non-governing classes. And this might be the case. But I think that there’s something more in Jacobs’ comment, soemthing more telling, even if there’s also a hefty dose of elitism mixed in.
Thing is: the idea that the underclasses – for lack of a better word until later – can’t communicate themselves may have a grain of truth in it. But it’s not because of a lack of intelligence. It’s because of the nature of communication itself. Read the rest of this entry »
I’ve been in Việt Nam for almost a month, and I have yet to take a single picture. I find myself 100% incapable of even taking my camera out in public, and even if I did, I know that I’d never have the guts to actually point it at anything.
I had this same problem when I lived in Germany. Ask anyone in my family about my time in Hamburg, and they’ll probably rant about how the only pictures I ever posted were of graffiti. I never took pictures of monuments, parks, natural wonders, anything that normal tourists take pictures of. Instead, all my photos were either of run-down buildings, tags, pieces, or sidewalks.
Why do I suffer from an inability to take pictures – at lest normal pictures – in public? Read the rest of this entry »
This post is a sequel to yesterday’s post about beauty standards, whiteness, and “the uncanny.” If you haven’t read it yet, you gotta. Otherwise this post will make no sense at all.
I’m going to use this post to talk about the concept of “unheimlich” or “uncanny” specifically as it relates to the restructuring of fairy tales in contemporary adaptations. Sound complex? It’s not. I just mean this:
Now you get it. So what’s that all about? Read the rest of this entry »
Finally, I’m settled in Việt Nam. My apartment is right next to a lovely hole-in-the-wall cafe with excellent coffee and free wifi. ‘Tis here, Dwarves and Elves, that I shall be blogging away.
I’ve been thinking about many things since I came here, but beauty standards are close to the top of the list (the top of the list? caffeine). As a Westerner living in the decidedly non-touristy District 5, I get a lot of stares, a lot of shouted greetings, and a lot of people asking me if I’m married. But the second question people usually ask is where I’m from. And people really, really want to know this about me, to the point that if I don’t tell them, don’t understand the question or laugh it off, they get upset and ask very, very urgently. Why the urgency?
First of all, this is not a question that most Americans get nearly as much as I do. Most people here are very surprised that I’m American; after I tell them that I’m from the US, they usually say that they thought I was from India. Or Turkey. Or “Arabia.” Or even South America. After I convince my interlocutor that yes, I am American and no, I didn’t move there as a child, their next sentence – 80% of the time – is: “Wow! You’re very beautiful.” And this is interesting, but not for the reason you’d think. Read the rest of this entry »
Well, the “The Pricess and the Frog” opened quite a long time ago, didn’t it? And I was supposed to write a review…and what I ended up doing was falling into a pit of Thesis Doom instead. Neat, no? But! I do have some interesting things to say about the movie which I think are still relevant all these months after the fact.
First of all, most of what can be said about “The Princess and the Frog” has in fact been said. The animation is gorgeous. The songs are sweet, but not stellar (with the exception of Tiana’s “Almost There.”) For the most part, Disney handled Tiana’s race and the issues she faces because of it by not handling it at all..with a few small exceptions (such as Tiana being refused a loan because of her “condition.”)
Now here’s what I think is interesting! That *servant* storyline! Remember that? Remember how i did a post on that wayyyyyy back? Well I personally thought that how that turned out was one of the more interesting parts of the entire movie… Read the rest of this entry »