Just as a fair warning, this is not one of those posts I have worked out in my head and then stick here wholly formed and funny. This is one where a few things are milling about in my head and I try to figure out why they all seem related to me.

1. Here in the university world, we often talk about the Crisis in Scholarly Publishing. Basically, what this amounts to is that, though people still need to publish books in order to get tenure, the economic reality of the university press is such that books need to make money for presses and books with an audience of 200 don’t make money.

One solution that’s always tossed around is doing electronic-only versions of books, because some people are under the mistaken impression that the cost of a book is bound up in its physicality.

The other solution, and one I only hear talked about in jest, is that people need to buy more books.

The problem with this solution is that most scholarly books are so difficult to read that no one in her right mind would buy them if she didn’t feel she had to in order to keep up with her field.

I must say that nothing fills me more with dismay and amusement than seeing the ways that people who love literature train themselves to write in ways incapable of expressing that love. If you love good writing that speaks to a wide audience, why don’t you learn to be a good writer that speaks to a wide audience about that love? Why must you turn the study of literature into some secret club where people who don’t know the meaning of praxis and hegemony can never enter?

2. One thing that’s been sticking with me from Sherman’s March is this scene where this guy has a Biblical flow chart and he’s trying to explain to the cameraman that the endtimes are near. And it strikes me because I’ve seen it played out so often in real life, where someone will say something and the person he’s talking to will say, “Well, Revelations 3.11 says…” and they just go on as if that’s a perfectly normal response to have to a crisis or question or whatever.

I’ve had these kinds of conversations before, where I’ll be making a point about, say, feminism and someone will say to me “Ephesians 5.22” as if that settles the matter. The weirdest part about it–and I think this is well-reflected in the movie–is that, again, it’s like this secret club. If you have the right background and belief system, just saying the Bible verse is enough to reaffirm your rightness. And you and other members of your club can get together with your secret maps or your books and reaffirm for each other how you have this great secret few others share.

3. This really burns me about political discourse as well. I noticed it recently perusing Nashville is Talking and Pith in the Wind and other political weblogs and seeing that the exact same arguments happen over and over again, and when I say exact, I mean, I start to wonder just where everyone goes each morning to get the Democrat or Republican talking points each day.

If I read enough of it, I start to feel like the arguments are larger than the individual people having them, that somehow, once those folks know what the party line is, their own individual selves fall away and it’s just these talking points in dialog.

And, as amazing as that is to watch, it’s also frustrating. It reduces politics to a sport and us to mere fans who pick a team and stick with it through right or wrong. But it doesn’t get us anywhere.

Forget changing minds, we’re no closer to understanding each other because we aren’t actually conversing. We have no idea how to hear people who believe differently than us.

I keep saying to my scholars that I don’t give a shit how you prove Foucault right. He proves you right or you prove him wrong, or he doesn’t get to be in your book. And I don’t give a shit what it says in the Bible about what my role in society should be. You look me right in the face and see me as a whole human being and then try to tell me I need a governmental Daddy in ways you’d refuse to accept for yourself.

Put down your Republican or Democratic party lines and speak to me from your heart and I will speak to you from mine. I probably won’t change your mind, and you probably won’t change mine, but at least we can finally hear each other, instead of this regurgitated bullshit.

It’s funny, sadly funny, the ways in which we camouflage our desire to not have to think and be open and possibly wrong through reading and writing, the very things we think of as being revolutionary aids to communication.

War is Hell on the Homefront, Too

I go to bed at 9:30.

Though I repeatedly tell my hipper friends this, they treat it as if it’s an urban legend, something that on the surface seems plausible, but can’t possibly be true. So, every once in a while they test me. Someone will come over at seven with a three hour long documentary in order to prove to him or herself that I am “not just a brilliant and incisive observer of human interaction, but an actual participant on occasion as well!”

Ha, wrong-o buddy. That was me with the dog nodding off on the couch at exactly 9:30.

Anyway, we watched this movie, Sherman’s March, which was a beautiful meditation on love, loss, and Burt Reynolds.

It got me thinking of Lucy Virginia Smith French. I’m guessing that none of you know Mrs. French, unless you are related to her, but she was a writer who lived in McMinnville during the Civil War and she kept a diary. Civil War diaries are pretty much a dime a dozen, but what sets French’s apart is, I think, her great and terrible honesty and her willingness to chronicle her descent into hopelessness.

Much of the diary reads like this: “We’ve just gotten news that our fine, brave boys have defeated Sherman at Atlanta and Hood is on his way back for a victory celebration at this very minute” and then, three days later, “Dreadful news. Sherman is on his way to the sea.” Over and over again, events reported early as victories are rereported as great tragedies. It’s emotionally exhausting just to read it, let alone live it.

And there’s a moment, early on in the war when she relegates the two women who help her run the house and tend her four children to the back yard because she is afraid they’ll kill her and her family in their sleep. Then, not three months later, she brings the women back in the house because it’s too much for her to run the house and tend the children and by this point, she’s convinced they’ll all die anyway and, if the enslaved women are helping in the house, at least she won’t have to be alone until that happens.

But the part that really got me, that still haunts me, is her entry on Lincoln’s assassination. By this point, frankly, I was expecting her to break into great shouts of “Well, he got what he deserved, that fucker.” But her response was utter despair.

It caught me off guard because it’s not a response to Lincoln’s death that we really talk about–well, except our generous uncle Walt, who always mourns what we cannot–that, for all the seceding and the warring and such, at some level the South felt somewhat safe with Lincoln as President, because he wanted those states back in the Union.

So, I think French felt that Sherman’s march was a pivotal moment, the point at which she understood that war could be waged in a way that decimated whole cities and took into account no standards of decency or formalities of rules of engagement. And when Lincoln was killed, she was terrified because she was certain that the North’s response would be to march into the South and just start slaughtering Southerners–men, women, and children–until the blood lust was satiated.

I could try to loop this back around into having something to do with the movie, but I guess it really doesn’t come back to that very naturally.