Sunday, August 28, 2011

More on the MLK Memorial

Previous posting at. From an "anonymous" comment on Princess Sparkle Pony's Photo Blog:

"The most 'Stalinist' element in the MLK statue on the Mall in Washington DC is that it depicts Martin as someone who wants to indoctrinate (as if by hypnosis) rather than communicate. This is not the man who gave us the 'I have a Dream' speech which I, for one, cannot listen to (as I have innumerable times) without deep emotion, if not, quite frankly, tears. This crude depiction of an inspiring leader with profound religious roots creates an enormous psychological distance between the viewer and what she/he's looking at.

You feel you have to genuflect before the King altar (in my case, I would with great trepidation, given how awful it looks; I'd rather kneel before the Pietà,

a real work of art).

Now, the fact that the sculptor is Chinese [wasn't it a Frenchman who designed the statue of liberty? -- JB note] is quite irrelevant (I suspect one of the reasons he was chosen was that he was neither white or black, a politically "safe" choice). But what is pertinent is that the artist (he really doesn't deserve the honor of that name) clearly doesn't evoke in his work the subtlety and fragility of being human -- or the American historical context. MLK looks like a stern, ideologically-committed leader in the Chinese/Russian revolution, as depicted by state-supported art workers following the Party's dictates. There is little, in my view, that is 'American' in this statue (e.g., our constant experimentation with who we are and could/should be, our lack of a firm identity which provides such hope for the future) -- or that evokes the tumultuous epoch which Dr. King did so much to shape positively (yes, positively; here I take a political stance) in a humane and non-violent way.

This tasteless horror in granite is an appalling, cheap (despite its price tag) propaganda piece of stone -- it should never be called a work of art -- to have on the Mall, which, as I understand it, is dedicated to the aspirations of American democracy. Rather than opening the past to the present, it encloses it in a lapidary, dare I say totalitarian silence. As I look at it, I think of (with considerable regret) Shelley's poem Ozymandias,

a sad reminder that America, if left to those who wish to glorify, Stalinist-style, its leaders, rather than understand and remember them for who they (and we) are as imperfect human beings, may go the way of ancient Egypt."

Top image from; middle image from; below image from, with caption: The 'Younger Memnon' statue of Ramesses II in the British Museum thought to have inspired the [Ozymandias] poem

Saturday, August 27, 2011

What Killed American Lit.

AUGUST 27, 2011.

The Cambridge History of the American Novel
Edited by Leonard Cassuto, Clare Virginia Eby and Benjamin Reiss
Cambridge, 1,244 pages, $185

What Killed American Lit.

By JOSEPH EPSTEIN, Wall Street Journal

The Editors of "The Cambridge History of the American Novel" decided to consider their subject—as history is considered increasingly in universities these days—from the bottom up. In 71 chapters, the book's contributors consider the traditional novel in its many sub-forms, among them: science fiction, eco-fiction, crime and mystery novels, Jewish novels, Asian-American novels, African-American novels, war novels, postmodern novels, feminist novels, suburban novels, children's novels, non-fiction novels, graphic novels and novels of disability ("We cannot truly know a culture until we ask its disabled citizens to describe, analyze, and interpret it," write the authors of a chapter titled "Disability and the American Novel"). Other chapters are about subjects played out in novels—for instance, ethnic and immigrant themes—and still others about publishers, book clubs, discussion groups and a good deal else. "The Cambridge History of the Novel," in short, provides full-court-press coverage.

"In short," though, is perhaps the least apt phase for a tome that runs to 1,244 pages and requires a forklift to hoist onto one's lap. All that the book's editors left out is why it is important or even pleasurable to read novels and how it is that some novels turn out to be vastly better than others. But, then, this is a work of literary history, not of literary criticism. Randall Jarrell's working definition of the novel as "a prose narrative of some length that has something wrong with it" has, in this voluminous work, been ruled out of bounds.

Most readers are unlikely to have heard of the contributors to "The Cambridge History of the American Novel," the majority teachers in English departments in American universities. I myself, who taught in a such a department for three decades, recognized the names of only four among them. Only 40 or 50 years ago, English departments attracted men and women who wrote books of general intellectual interest and had names known outside the academy—Perry Miller, Aileen Ward, Walter Jackson Bate, Marjorie Hope Nicolson, Joseph Wood Krutch, Lionel Trilling, one could name a dozen or so others—but no longer. Literature, as taught in the current-day university, is strictly an intramural game.

This may come as news to the contributors to "The Cambridge History of the American Novel," who pride themselves on possessing much wider, much more relevant, interests and a deeper engagement with the world than their predecessors among literary academics. Biographical notes on contributors speak of their concern with "forms of moral personhood in the US novels," "the poetics of foreign policy," and "ecocriticism and theories of modernization, postmodernization, and globalization."

Yet, through the magic of dull and faulty prose, the contributors to "The Cambridge History of the American Novel" have been able to make these presumably worldly subjects seem parochial in the extreme—of concern only to one another, which is certainly one derogatory definition of the academic. These scholars may teach English, but they do not always write it, at least not quite. A novelist, we are told, "tasks himself" with this or that; things tend to get "problematized"; the adjectives "global" and "post"-this-or-that receive a good workout; "alterity" and "intertexuality" pop up their homely heads; the "poetics of ineffability" come into play; and "agency" is used in ways one hadn't hitherto noticed, so that "readers in groups demonstrate agency." About the term "non-heteronormativity" let us not speak.

These dopey words and others like them are inserted into stiffly mechanical sentences of dubious meaning. "Attention to the performativity of straight sex characterizes . . . 'The Great Gatsby' (1925), where Nick Carraway's homoerotic obsession with the theatrical Gatsby offers a more authentic passion precisely through flamboyant display." Betcha didn't know that Nick Carraway was hot for Jay Gatsby? We sleep tonight; contemporary literary scholarship stands guard.

"The Cambridge History of the American Novel" is perhaps best read as a sign of what has happened to English studies in recent decades. Along with American Studies programs, which are often their subsidiaries, English departments have tended to become intellectual nursing homes where old ideas go to die. If one is still looking for that living relic, the fully subscribed Marxist, one is today less likely to find him in an Economics or History Department than in an English Department, where he will still be taken seriously. He finds a home there because English departments are less concerned with the consideration of literature per se than with what novels, poems, plays and essays—after being properly X-rayed, frisked, padded down, like so many suspicious-looking air travelers—might yield on the subjects of race, class and gender. "How would [this volume] be organized," one of its contributors asks, "if race, gender, disability, and sexuality were not available?"

In his introduction to "The Cambridge History of the American Novel," Leonard Cassuto, a professor of English at Fordham and most recently the author of "Hard-Boiled Sentimentality: The Secret History of American Crime Stories" (2009), writes that the present volume "synthesizes the divisions between the author-centered literary history of yesterday and the context-centered efforts of recent years." Yet context is where the emphasis preponderantly falls.

One of the better essays in the book, Tom Lutz's "Cather and the Regional Imagination," is only secondarily about Willa Cather. It is primarily about what constitutes the cosmopolitan ideal in fiction, which Miss Cather embodied and which turns out to be an imaginative mixture of wide culture and deep psychological penetration, lending a richness to any subject, no matter how ostensibly provincial. This is what lifts such novels of Cather's as "My Antonia" and "Death Comes for the Archbishop" above regional fiction and gives them their standing as world literature.

"The Cambridge History of the American Novel" could only have come into the world after the death of the once-crucial distinction between high and low culture, a distinction that, until 40 or so years ago, dominated the criticism of literature and all the other arts. Under the rule of this distinction, critics felt it their job to close the gates on inferior artistic products. The distinction started to break down once the works of contemporary authors began to be taught in universities.

The study of popular culture—courses in movies, science fiction, detective fiction, works at first thought less worthy of study in themselves than for what they said about the life of their times—made the next incursion against the exclusivity of high culture. Multiculturalism, which assigned an equivalence of value to the works of all cultures, irrespective of the quality of those works, finished off the distinction between high and low culture, a distinction whose linchpin was seriousness.

In today's university, no one is any longer in a position to say which books are or aren't fit to teach; no one any longer has the authority to decide what is the best in American writing. Too bad, for even now there is no consensus about who are the best American novelists of the past century. (My own candidates are Cather and Theodore Dreiser.) Nor will you read a word, in the pages of "The Cambridge History of the American Novel," about how short-lived are likely to be the sex-obsessed works of the much-vaunted novelists Norman Mailer, John Updike and Philip Roth or about the deleterious effect that creative-writing programs have had on the writing of fiction.

With the gates once carefully guarded by the centurions of high culture now flung open, the barbarians flooded in, and it is they who are running the joint today. The most lauded novelists in "The Cambridge History of the American Novel" tend to be those, in the words of another of its contributors, who are "staging a critique of 'America' and its imperial project." Thus such secondary writers as Allen Ginsberg, Kurt Vonnegut and E.L. Doctorow are in these pages vaunted well beyond their literary worth.

A stranger, freshly arrived from another planet, if offered as his introduction to the United States only this book, would come away with a picture of a country founded on violence and expropriation, stoked through its history by every kind of prejudice and class domination, and populated chiefly by one or another kind of victim, with time out only for the mental sloth and apathy brought on by life lived in the suburbs and the characterless glut of American late capitalism. The automatic leftism behind this picture is also part of the reigning ethos of the current-day English Department.

As a former English major—"Indeed! What regiment?" asks a character in a Lionel Trilling story—I cannot help wondering what it must be like to be taught by the vast majority of the people who have contributed to "The Cambridge History of the American Novel." Two or three times a week one would sit in a room and be told that nothing that one has read is as it appears but is instead informed by authors hiding their true motives even from themselves or, in the best "context-centered" manner, that the books under study are the product of a country built on fundamental dishonesty about the sacred subjects of race, gender and class.

Some indication of what it must be like is indicated by the steep decline of American undergraduates who choose to concentrate in English. English majors once comprised 7.6% of undergraduates, but today the number has been nearly halved, down to 3.9%. Part of this decline is doubtless owing to the worry inspired in the young by a fragile economy. (The greatest rise is in business and economics majors.) Yet that is far from the whole story. William Chace, a former professor of English who was subsequently president of Wesleyan University and then Emory University, in a 2009 article titled "The Decline of the English Department," wrote:

What are the causes for this decline? There are several, but at the root is the failure of departments of English across the country to champion, with passion, the books they teach and to make a strong case to undergraduates that the knowledge of those books and the tradition in which they exist is a human good in and of itself. What departments have done instead is dismember the curriculum, drift away from the notion that historical chronology is important, and substitute for the books themselves a scattered array of secondary considerations (identity studies, abstruse theory, sexuality, film and popular culture). In so doing, they have distanced themselves from the young people interested in good books.

Undergraduates who decided to concentrate their education on literature were always a slightly odd, happily nonconformist group. No learning was less vocational; to announce a major in English was to proclaim that one wasn't being educated with the expectation of a financial payoff. One was an English major because one was intoxicated by literature—its beauty, its force, above all its high truth quotient.

In the final chapter of "The Cambridge History of the American Novel," titled "A History of the Future of Narrative," the novelist Robert Coover argues that, though the technologies of reading and writing may be changing and will continue to change, the love of stories—reading them and writing them—will always be with us. Let's hope he is right. Just don't expect that love to be encouraged and cultivated, at least in the near future, in American universities.

—Mr. Epstein's "Gossip: The Untrivial Pursuit" will be published in December by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Martin Luther King -- Hero of all-American Communism!

"It Don't Mean a Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing)."

--Duke Ellington

The below socialist/Stalinist-realism statue, composed by an art-worker who did busts of Mao ZeDong, is about to be a long-delayed and permanent fixture on the Washington D.C. Mall as a memorial in honor of Dr. King.

Simply put, it is an offense to a religious man who was a humanist and moralist rather than an ideologue (but also a savvy politician); indeed, it could have been designed by J. Edgard Hoover, whose FBI thought Martin was a committed Commie all along.

It is a sad reflection on our America that we are remembering -- in such a crude, one-dimensional fashion -- a complex, charismatic person who was such an inspiration to our country during critical decades. This simply stupid statue (it has nothing to do with art) does violence to the memory of a leader of sensitivity, subtlety, and humanity -- not to speak of his immense intelligence and sense of history.

Nobody's perfect. Martin was an accused plagiarist and not exactly a model husband. So: why can't we honor Dr. King in a way that shows him as the human being he was, like all of us, imperfect -- but who led us the world over in such extraordinary ways, because he reminded us, no matter the color of our skin, of our endless imperfections -- and, most important, of our hopes and aspirations for a better world?

Since when do we need Stalinist models to remember persons who make our country (let's hope) great?

Saturday, August 6, 2011

6 Niche Graduate Programs That Meet Market Demand

6 Niche Graduate Programs That Meet Market Demand
Ritika Puri, San Francisco Chronicle

Friday, August 5, 2011

A graduate degree can cost upwards of $100,000 or more, especially when you factor in living expenses, technology, textbooks and accrued interest from debt. In light of these costs, there's one big question:

Is it worth it?

In the end, a simple "yes" or "no" can't answer this question. Your education is an investment that you can leverage, regardless of what your specialty is and what school you decide to attend. No matter what, you need to be able to market yourself in a field where you can succeed, and of course, success is measurable through a range of interacting qualities like happiness, money, career growth, and more. Regarding these qualifying factors, some people might tell you that graduate school isn't worth it, while others say it is the best decision that they ever made. The difference isn't about luck. It's about your plan and whether it's a plan that works for you.

Above all, graduate school is a time to specialize. Building upon what you did as an undergraduate, graduate programs help you refine a niche set of skills. Before you decide where to go or what to do, you need to pinpoint a specialty that makes sense. Even if you're still in college or don't have work experience you should - at the very least - understand what skills the job market demands.

Here are six types of degrees that will equip you with highly practical skills. You probably won't get rich quick, but if you work hard, you'll have a solid set of marketable skills:

Northwestern University's Master of Science Program in Predictive Analytics

Located in Chicago, Northwestern University offers a Master of Science program in Predictive Analytics. This program caters to people who are interested in data analysis across fields and discipline is practical for people who are interested in data modeling, management, communication and analysis. These skills are essential for people who are interested in sales planning, market research, marketing and business analytics - all fields that accommodate a variety of backgrounds ranging from finance to healthcare and media. Designed for working professionals, the degree is 100% online and equips students with a marketable and unique skills portfolio.

A Graduate Degree in Demography

Demography is the study of population dynamics, which means that students analyze topics including fertility, immigration and migration. Integrated with these themes are topics of risk analysis, consumer insights and trend extrapolation, which are all highly relevant to the business world. Because the field is data-driven, students of demography learn how to analyze and communicate patterns using sophisticated statistical methods. Currently, U.C. Berkeley, U.C. Irvine, the University of Pennsylvania and Penn State University offer graduate programs in demography. Programs in demography are relatively rare and are frequently listed under population studies or sociology.

Programs in Specialized Communications

The University of Southern California (USC) features a number of master's programs through its Annenberg School of Communications. These programs feature diverse tracts, ranging from specialties in broadcast journalism to specialties in online communities and new media. Currently, programs are available in communication management, global communication, journalism, public diplomacy and strategic public relations. In the fields of public relations, marketing and online media, and strong communication skills are invaluable.

Public Health, Epidemiology and Biostatistics Programs

Graduate programs in public health equip students with the skills to thrive in a research, business or nonprofit environment. Students can specialize in healthcare communications, or they can pursue a mathematical track in epidemiology or biostatistics. These programs cater to analytically-minded students who are interested in health but don't want to pursue careers as practitioners. The healthcare industry is one that will always be important, and people with this degree provide a unique perspective to the field. Public health, epidemiology and biostatistics programs are available at a number of academic institutions throughout the United States.

Public Affairs Programs

Public affairs graduate students tend to specialize in topics related to local, state or federal government, completing courses in public finance, management, research and budgeting. Even though students study topics related to government, they do not necessarily pursue careers in government - options are available at think-tanks, nonprofits and consulting firms throughout the United States. These specialized degrees enable broad applications. Public affairs programs are available at institutions throughout the United States.


Graduate programs in informatics train students in computer applications across industries. For instance, health informatics curriculums include coursework in patient record administration, clinical data management, research and programming. The skills are practical for researchers in business and nonprofit entities.

The Bottom Line

Your graduate degree is what you make of it. A niche degree is something that you can leverage, especially if the skills that you'll develop are in high demand. Economics 101: know your market, and know where supply undershoots, meets, or overshoots demand.

Original story - 6 Niche Graduate Programs That Meet Market Demand

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Friday, August 5, 2011

Captain Euro

For those of you kind enough to read this blog who enjoyed (perhaps tongue-in-cheek, or from a sociological point of view) "Captain America," I strongly recommend, if you have the patience, the just-issued (as far as I can tell), on CD, "Winter in Wartime"

(picked up by yours truly for $1.00 [plus tax] at the Redbox vending machine [Washington, DC, at the local Giant supermarket], a subsidiary of a Netherlands company).

It's about a Dutch adolescent's anti-Nazi heroics (without the hero changing, like Cap American style, into a fortified body; he -- the young not-flying Dutchman  -- rides a bicycle, in wintertime, throughout, so he is enviromentally-correct and Euro-unmotorized) during the German occupation.

I of course do not intend to get into the complicated issue of Dutch collaboration during WWII -- just suggesting that you might get a kick out of this rah-rah-Euro WWII flick, if you can stand it more than the trash our very own HollyWeird-town produces.