I Survived Graduate School!

Hi readers! It’s been too long since I’ve posted something on this website! I feel a little guilty for not uploading content regularly this past year, but life sometimes gets in the way of keeping up with side projects. However, even though this past year has been excruciatingly busy, it has also been one of the most rewarding years of my academic career.

One of the most exciting things to happen this year only occurred about three weeks ago: I successfully defended my dissertation and officially became Dr. Matos! This is the primary reason I haven’t been updating this website. Writing the dissertation was an interesting journey, and while it feels immensely satisfying to have completed the project, I wasn’t quite ready for the emotional and intellectual weight of writing a 300-page book. When I first began my project, I had envisioned a more comparative study in which I established the parallels between an archive of queer literature written for adult audiences, and an archive of queer literature written for adolescent readers. However, the project transformed into an in-depth analysis of young adult queer literature, focusing on the narrative and affective dimensions of this genre in works published in the twenty-first century. This was the first thing that I was not prepared for: the dissertation is not a stable project. The more you write, the more the project changes. Part of this has to do with the fact that you’re constantly learning new things as you read and write. You could have two chapters written, and suddenly you come up with an idea that alters the scope of your entire project (this is both thrilling and terrifying).

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This was basically my reaction to successfully defending my dissertation. This plus tears. Many, many tears.

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After years of research and writing, I completed the final draft of my project, which I decided to title Feeling Infinite: Affect, Genre, and Narrative in Young Adult Queer Literature (a nod to one of my favorite young adult novels of all time, Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower). This project explores how young adult queer novels written in the twenty-first century conciliate the tension that exists between the negative affect commonly associated with the queer literary archive, and the positive affect that readers often associate with young adult literature. In dealing with this tension, I also explore the ways in which the positive affect of young adult literature could lead to innovative and fresh ways of thinking about queer literature and culture. Rather than approaching young adult fiction as a straightforward and simplistic genre, one of my aims was to show the extent to which young adult queer texts can be multi-layered, rich, and complex—and how through this complexity, these novels are able to represent the association between positive affect and queerness in unprecedented ways.

Drawing from research in young adult literature and queer literature, and from queer theory, affect theory, and narratology, I analyzed, deconstructed, and conducted reparative readings of novels ranging from more realistic, historically based genres to more fantastical, speculative genres, including the young adult historical novel, contemporary realism, magical realism, and dystopian literature. Each chapter in my investigation can be approached as a case study, in which I explore the particular ways in which a subgenre of young adult queer literature navigates the tension between queer negativity and the positive affect of young adult literature, and the ways in which positive affect provides readers with the tools to conduct a reparative reading that ameliorates the tension between a damaged queer past, a still damaged present, and a distant yet imaginable utopic future.

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As the cliché goes: “The best dissertation is a done dissertation.”

Besides becoming a doctor, something else incredibly exciting happened: I GOT A POSTDOCTORAL FELLOWSHIP! As of July 2016, I will officially be a Consortium for Faculty Diversity Postdoctoral Fellow at Bowdoin College (Maine, U.S.A.). I can’t even begin to express how excited I am about this opportunity. While at Bowdoin, I will work on turning my dissertation into a book manuscript, and I’ll also teach some really fun and exciting courses. This fall, for instance, I’m teaching a first-year seminar on young adult speculative fiction entitled (Im)Possible Lives, where students and I will determine how authors construct hypothetical settings, and even more important, how authors use speculative fiction as a way of exploring notions of life, identity, and livability (I will upload a version of my syllabus in July or August). I absolutely fell in love with Bowdoin during my campus interview. The college is beautiful, my future colleagues in the English department were incredibly warm and intelligent, and (cue the sappy music) I think I will grow a lot as a person and as a scholar during my time there.

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I’m pretty stoked about joining the Bowdoin polar bears next semester!

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It was not easy applying to countless jobs on top of trying to finish my dissertation. Things ended up working out in the end, but the levels of stress and panic that I have experienced over the past year were unprecedented. Part of this has to do with the uncertainty of it all, and the fact that obtaining a job in academia mostly comes down to luck. As a graduate student, you try your best to professionalize and turn into a full-fledged scholar who develops important and original research, and who possesses the ability to disseminate this knowledge via teaching and academic writing. However, the effort that you put into research, teaching, and professionalization doesn’t always lead to a job in academia. I’ve heard horror stories of brilliant scholars who were in the job market for eight years before landing a tenure-track job. You could be an amazing and groundbreaking scholar, but landing a job depends on so many factors that are out of your control: department need, university politics, chemistry with other faculty members, and the viability of the market, among others. Applying to jobs was just like applying to graduate school all over again: a shot in the dark.

In the midst of job applications and chapter revisions, it became incredibly difficult to sleep, I would sometimes go through bouts of depression, and at times, I went through terrible periods of writer’s block. Even after having defended the dissertation, I still have many vivid dreams about failure. Part of the reason I experienced these things has to do with the nature of what I study. By immersing myself into queer literature and queer studies, I had to read a lot about the devastating effects of AIDS in the mid-1980s, anti-gay violence, suicide, and other events that are anything but cheery. This, in combination with the pressures of graduate school, was not a very productive combination (to say the least). It’s so difficult to realize that something that you love usually possesses the potential to hurt you, or to make life tougher than it already is.

I survived graduate school.  I won’t lie: it was rough, and I wish I were somehow more prepared for the psychological effects of graduate study. I’m glad, however, that people are starting to have conversations about these psychological effects. I remember people telling me: “why are you letting books affect you this way?” Every time, I couldn’t help but think: books are my world. Books were and continue to be pivotal in shaping who I am, and part of the reason I did my Ph.D. in English was because I believe, and know, that books possess the potential to change people, and to cultivate new and exciting ideas. This helped to push me through graduate school. There were also other things that helped me push through: a generous and caring dissertation committee, a supportive network of friends, family, and colleagues, hobbies and activities that are not related in any way to my work, and learning how to talk about my fears and anxieties (and when to ignore them).

Things will still be busy next year, but unlike before, I feel more prepared for what’s to come. That being said, I plan on being more active on this website in the future. I hope to share more books reviews and analyses (there have been SO MANY amazing books published this last year) and I also hope to share more syllabi and class activities.

I wasn’t able to walk for graduation this May because I defended my dissertation during the last week of April (May graduates were supposed to defend during the first couple weeks of April in order to walk). However, I’m looking forward to returning to Notre Dame in May 2017 in order to wear a fancy robe and finalize my strange, stressful, but utterly delightful time in graduate school. It has been one hell of a ride, and I’m excited about the bigger, faster, scarier, more thrilling rides that are yet to come.

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Course Syllabus for “The Young Adult Novel” – University of Notre Dame

Here is the syllabus for a course that I designed on the Young Adult Novel. I will teach this course during the fall 2014 semester at the University of Notre Dame. I’m very excited about this course for various reasons–mostly because I finally get to teach the texts that I work with and that I love. This course is offered as an English 20XXX requirement, which is an English course for non-majors. I also managed to get the course cross-listed with the gender studies department–especially since class discussions will focus heavily on notions of sexuality and the body that are looming in YA fiction. As of now, 18 of my 19 students are seniors, and they all come from different concentrations such as marketing, biology, English, gender studies, American studies, and education

The most difficult thing about designing this course was the choice of novels to be discussed in class. I wanted to strive for a balance between male and female authors, and I also wanted students to familiarize themselves with books that either they haven’t encountered before, or books that blur the line between young adult literature and literature marketed to adults. Because of this, I feel that there is a lack of novels focused on issues of race and class, but I will certainly make sure to cover these issues during the semester.

As always, all comments and suggestions are more than welcome. You are welcome to draw inspiration from this syllabus, but please make sure to give me credit if you do so–and be sure to share your syllabus with me so I can see what you did similarly or differently! I hope you enjoy the course I’ve designed, and I will keep you posted with how everything is going as the semester unfolds.

My Ultimate Reading Challenge – The Reading List for My PhD Candidacy Examinations

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Part of the requirements for the doctoral degree in English at the University of Notre Dame are written and oral exams (which I will take in March of 2014). The exams are a requirement that demonstrate that all doctoral students have in-depth knowledge of a major field, a secondary field, and a literary theory/methodology, in order to assure that we are thoroughly prepared for teaching and dissertation writing. For these exams, we are all required to construct a reading list for three areas of specialization. The list for our major field should contain approximately 75 works, whereas the reading lists for our secondary field and the literary theory/methodology should contain about 50 works each–for a grand total of about 175 works. This means that we have about ten months to read and familiarize ourselves with these works. Yikes!

After a lot of thought and research, I have decided that my major field will be Contemporary American Literature (1945-Present). My secondary field will be Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer (LGBTQ) Literature, and my literary theory/methodology will be Queer Materiality (which fuses readings within the areas of Queer Theory, Queer Cultural Studies, and the Materiality/Sociology of Texts). Professors Susan Cannon Harris (chair), Kinohi Nishikawa, Matt Wilkens, and Barry McCrea have graciously agreed to be part of my examination committee. I am very thankful fo their support and their interest in my project. The lists below were constructed thanks to my committee’s  advice and input, and thanks to extended periods of online and library research. What I have below is a description of each area, along with the reading list that I developed for this list.

Now, in terms of making this a challenge, for every single work that I read, I plan to write a blog post with my thoughts, opinions, and concerns about the work–think of these posts as mini book reviews. If all goes as planned, I should have a total of 176 posts related to my candidacy exams. Each time I write one of these reviews, I will update this post and provide links to the review next to the works’ title. Not only will this help me keep track of what I have read, but it will allow me to share my thoughts an opinions of these texts with the world. Wish me luck!

EXAM AREA I – CONTEMPORARY AMERICAN LITERATURE (1945-PRESENT)

(Historical Field)

These works are typically approached as Post-World War and postmodern, and the list has a heavy emphasis on works published between the 40s and the 60s. Although my primary interest is in the area of gay fiction, I have decided to make contemporary American literature my primary field seeing as it is a more marketable area within the field of English and literary studies. I would claim that my main area of expertise within this area is the coming-of-age narrative, particularly focusing on issues of gender and sexuality in the coming-of-age process. Seeing as texts that are typically dubbed coming-of-age narratives are usually concerned with readers’ self-identification with characters in the text, many items in this list are works that would be considered “middlebrow.” The items included in all of my sub-lists are works that reflect the aforementioned themes within an American and postmodern context.

I am interested in determining whether gendered or queer issues manifest in coming-of-age texts that are not typically approached as queer—thus, I deliberately avoided the inclusion of queer texts within the novels section of this list, as they are included within my second list on LGBTQ fiction. In addition to the notion of “coming-of-age” and gender, I am also invested in the marketing and sociology of texts within a “globalized” postmodern American context. Thus, in conjunction with coming-of-age texts, I have also included novels that have helped to shape the globalized American literary landscape that we live in today—which is why my young adult fiction section also includes important global novels that have had a major impact on the young adult market.

I.A – Novels

  1. Alice Walker. The Color Purple (1982)
  2. Ana Castillo. So Far From God (1993)
  3. Art Spiegelman. Maus I: My Father Bleeds History (1986)
  4. Bret Easton Ellis. American Psycho (1991)
  5. Cristina Carcia. Dreaming in Cuban (1992)
  6. David Foster Wallace. Infinite Jest (1996)
  7. Don Delillo. White Noise (1985)
  8. James Baldwin. Go Tell It on the Mountain (1953)
  9. Jack Kerouac. On the Road (1957)
  10. Jonathan Safran Foer. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (2005)
  11. Joseph Heller. Catch-22 (1961)
  12. Junot Díaz. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (2007)
  13. Kurt Vonnegut. Slaughterhouse-Five (1969)
  14. Matthew Quick. Silver Linings Playbook (2010)
  15. Philip K. Dick. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968)
  16. Ralph Ellison. Invisible Man (1952)
  17. Sandra Cisneros. The House on Mango Street (1984)
  18. Sylvia Plath. The Bell Jar (1963)
  19. Thomas Pynchon. Gravity’s Rainbow (1973)
  20. Toni Morrison. Beloved (1987)
  21. Vladimir Nabokov. Lolita (1955)

I.B – Short Stories

  1. Abraham Rodriguez. “Boy Without A Flag” (1992)
  2. Anne Proulx. “Brokeback Mountain” (1997)
  3. James Baldwin. “Sonny’s Blues” (1957)
  4. John Barth. “Lost in the Funhouse” (1968)
  5. John Updike. Pigeon Feathers (1962)
  6. Norman Mailer. “The Man Who Studied Yoga” (1959)
  7. Raymond Carver. What We Talk About When We Talk About Love (1981)
  8. Sandra Cisneros. Woman Hollering Creek: The Collection (1991)

I.C – Drama

  1. Amiri Baraka. Dutchman (1964)
  2. Arthur Miller. Death of a Salesman (1949)
  3. Arthur Miller. A View from the Bridge (1955)
  4. August Wilson. The Piano Lesson (1990)
  5. David Henry Hwang. M. Butterfly (1986)
  6. Edward Albee. Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1962)
  7. Eugene O’Neill. Bound East for Cardiff (1914). Click here for my discussion of this O’Neill play.
  8. Eugene O’Neill. The Hairy Ape (1922)
  9. Eugene O’Neill. Long Day’s Journey into Night (1956)
  10. John Guare. Six Degrees of Separation (1990)
  11. Lorraine Hansberry. A Raisin in the Sun (1959)
  12. Tennessee Williams. Camino Real (1953)
  13. Tennessee Williams. Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1955)
  14. Tony Kushner. Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes (1993)
  15. William Friedkin. The Boys in the Band (1970)

I.D – Poetry

  1. Adrienne Rich. An Atlas of the Difficult World (1991)
  2. Allen Ginsberg. Howl and Other Poems (1956)
  3. Elizabeth Bishop. The Complete Poems (1984)
  4. Frank O’Hara. The Collected Poems of Frank O’Hara (1995)
  5. John Ashberry. Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror (1976)
  6. Sylvia Plath. Ariel (1965)

I.E-1 – Young Adult Novels (Supplementary List)

  1. Daniel Keyes. Flowers for Algernon (1958). Click here for my discussion of Keyes’ novel.
  2. Harper Lee. To Kill a Mockingbird (1960)
  3. J.D. Salinger. The Catcher in the Rye (1951)
  4. John Corey Whaley. Where Things Come Back (2011). Click here for my discussion of Whaley’s novel.
  5. John Green. Looking for Alaska (2005)
  6. Judy Blume. Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret (1970)
  7. Judy Blume. Then Again, Maybe I Won’t (1971)
  8. Lois Lowry. The Giver (1993)
  9. Madeleine L’Engle. A Wrinkle in Time (1962)
  10. Orson Scott Card. Ender’s Game (1985)
  11. Robert Cormier. The Chocolate War (1974)
  12. Scott Westerfield. Uglies (2005)
  13. S.E. Hinton. The Outsiders (1967)
  14. Sherman Alexie. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian (2007)
  15. Stephanie Meyer. Twilight (2005)
  16. Stephen Chbosky. The Perks of Being a Wallflower (1999). Click here for my discussion of Chbosky’s novel.
  17. Suzanne Collins. The Hunger Games (2008)

I.E-2 – Global Young Adult Novels

  1. Diana Wynne Jones. Howl’s Moving Castle (1986)
  2. Douglas Adams. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (1979)
  3. J.K. Rowling. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (1997). Click here for my discussion of Rowling’s novel.
  4. Mark Haddon. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (2004)
  5. Philip Pullman. The Golden Compass (1995)
  6. T.H. White. The Once and Future King (1958)

I.F – Criticism

  1. Fredric Jameson. Postmodernism, or, the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism (1990)
  2. Joan L. Knickerbocker, Martha A. Bruggeman, James A. Rycik. Literature for Young Adults: Books (and More) for Contemporary Readers (2012)
  3. Mark McGurl. The Program Era: Postwar Fiction and the Rise of Creative Writing (2011)
  4. Michael Cart. From Romance to Realism: Fifty Years of Growth and Change in Young Adult Literature (2010)
  5. Stuart Sim. The Routledge Companion to Postmodernism (2011)
  6. Richard Gray. A History of American Literature (2011)

EXAM AREA II – LGBTQ FICTION

(Special Topic Field)

As of now, I envision my dissertation project as an analysis of the intersection between the areas of fiction, queer theory, and middlebrow culture. Part of my focus will be the concept of coming out and concealment, not only in terms of a novel’s content, but also in terms of its marketing and design. Thus, my project will ultimately have a dual focus in that I will pay close attention to matters of queerness and the closet as applied to the coming-of-age narrative and the materiality of the books themselves, delving later on into a discussion of how the digital age has expanded (or perhaps even shattered) the limits of this, as Sedgwick would put it, queer space. In due course, I want to present myself as a scholar who is well versed in the realm of novels that deal directly with LGBTQ concerns, issues, and representations. My hope is that in addition to working with contemporary American novels, I will ultimately be able to teach classes focused exclusively on LGBTQ fiction. With this in mind, although this list will focus heavily on contemporary fiction published after the “gay boom” in the late 90s up to the present day, I also want to develop a historical awareness of the novels and works that paved the way towards a possible market of LGBTQ fiction—especially novels that were published prior to the 1969 Stonewall Riots.

Although in my past work I have focused heavily on issues and concerns pertaining to the male tradition of gay literature, I am seeking to expand my current scope of queer texts by including a healthy sample of texts within lesbian, transgender, bisexual, transsexual, and intersex traditions (even though the gay male tradition is far more prevalent). Keeping in line with my interest in coming-of-age fiction and issues of materiality, a large portion of these LGBTQ texts are classified within the young adult genre—especially when considering that in today’s literary market, young adult fiction is the genre in which queer issues have been able to flourish, due primarily to its middlebrow and so-called didactic nature. Seeing as LGBTQ fiction can, to some extent, be considered a niche market, I have decided to approach this genre from a global Anglophone rather than a purely American perspective in order to determine how queer and coming-out narratives, in addition to the books’ marketing, are influenced by their specific geographical locations.

II. A – LGBTQ Novels and Prose

  1. Achy Obejas. Memory Mambo (1996)
  2. Alan Hollinghusrt. The Line of Beauty (2004)
  3. Alison Bechdel. Fun Home (2006)
  4. Armistead Maupin. Tales of the City (1978)
  5. Barry McCrea. The First Verse (2005)
  6. Bret Easton Ellis. The Rules of Attraction (1987)
  7. Christopher Isherwood. A Single Man (1964)
  8. Colm Tóibín. The Blackwater Lightship (1999)
  9. Djuna Barnes. Nightwood (1936)
  10. Dorothy Allison. Bastard Out of Carolina (1992)
  11. E.M. Forster. Maurice (1971)
  12. Edmund White. A Boy’s Own Story (1982)
  13. Evelyn Waugh. Brideshead Revisited (1945)
  14. James Baldwin. Giovanni’s Room (1956)
  15. Jamie O’Neill. At Swim, Two Boys (2001)
  16. Jeanette Winterson. Oranges are Not the Only Fruit (1985)
  17. Jeanette Winterson. Written on the Body (1994)
  18. Jeffrey Eugenides. Middlesex (2002)
  19. Leslie Feinberg. Stone Butch Blues (2003)
  20. Melvin Dixon. Vanishing Rooms (1991)
  21. Michael Chabon. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Klay (2000)
  22. Michael Cunningham. A Home at the End of the World (1990)
  23. Michael Cunningham. The Hours (1998). Click here for my discussion of Cunningham’s novel.
  24. Patrick McCabe. Breakfast on Pluto (1998)
  25. Radclyffe Hall. The Well of Loneliness (1928)
  26. Rita Mae Brown. Rubyfruit Jungle (1973)
  27. Sarah Waters. Tipping the Velvet (1998)
  28. Scott Heim. Mysterious Skin (2005)

II.B – LGBTQ Young Adult Fiction

  1. Alex Sanchez. Rainbow Boys (2001)
  2. Benjamin Alire Sáenz. Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe (2012)
  3. Brent Hartinger. Geography Club (2003)
  4. Brian Katcher. Almost Perfect (2009)
  5. David Levithan. Boy Meets Boy (2003)
  6. Eddie De Oliveira. Lucky (2004). Click here for my discussion of De Oliveira’s novel.
  7. Ellen Wittlinger. Hard Love (2001)
  8. Ellen Wittlinger. Parrotfish (2011)
  9. J.C. Lillis. How to Repair a Mechanical Heart (2012)
  10. J.M. Colail. Wes and Toren (2009)
  11. John Donovan. I’ll Get There. It Better Be Worth the Trip (1969) – Click here for my review of Donovan’s novel. 
  12. John Green and David Levithan. Will Grayson, Will Grayson (2010)
  13. Julie Anne Peters. Luna (2006)
  14. Justin Torres. We the Animals (2011). Click here for my discussion of Torres’ novel. 
  15. Martin Wilson. What They Always Tell Us (2009). Click here for my discussion of Wilson’s novel.
  16. Nancy Garden. Annie on My Mind (1982)
  17. Nick Burd. The Vast Fields of Ordinary (2009)
  18. Perry Moore. Hero (2007)

II.C – LGBTQ History and Criticism

  1. Christopher Bram. Eminent Outlaws: The Gay Writers Who Changed America (2012)
  2. Claude J. Summers. Gay and Lesbian Literary Heritage (2002)
  3. Kenneth B. Kidd and Michelle Ann Abate. Over the Rainbow: Queer Children’s and Young Adult Literature (2011)
  4. Michael Cart and Christine Jenkins. The Heart Has its Reasons: Young Adult Literature with Gay/Lesbian/Queer Content, 1969-2004. (2006)

EXAM AREA III – QUEER MATERIALITY

(Theoretical/Methodological Field) 

Seeing as my dissertation project will focus on issues such as coming out, concealment, confession, circulation, and distribution, immersion in the realms of queer theory and the sociology/materiality of texts will be crucial to my study. The fusion between queer theory and the materiality/sociology of texts is one that has been vastly underexplored within studies of gay fiction, and in my estimation, this is due primarily to the fact that the aims of these studies, at first, seem radically different. Queer theory problematizes the male/female binaries while in turn addressing other dichotomies within the domains of sexuality and pluralistic identities. Queer theory approaches identity, as Jonathan Kemp points out in “Queer Past, Queer Present, Queer Future,” as a porous, unfixed, and intersectional entity that takes into consideration multiple cultural facets, including but not limited to race, gender, religion, and nationality, among others. Crucial within this approach are goals such as the disruption of binary approaches, the notions of reproductive futurism, and ideas concerning affect and the body. Furthermore, a strand of queer studies also has an obvious activist and emancipatory mission.

I think these issues would mesh in an interesting and productive fashion with the materiality and sociology of texts, which focuses mostly on how the textual, paratextual, political, and cultural elements of literary productions work in conjunction to circulate texts within the social sphere—particularly when it comes to the role of the closet and “concealment.” I think queer theory, particularly when it comes to notions such as the closet, futurity, and affect, will provide a rich and innovate spin on the materiality/sociology of texts, a spin that will ultimately prove to be quite fruitful when it comes to the analysis of the socio-cultural dimensions of LGBTQ texts, which in and of themselves actively align themselves against the status quo.

III.A – Queer Theory

  1. David Ross Fryer. Thinking Queerly: Race, Sex, Gender, and the Ethics of Identity (2011)
  2. E.L. McCallum. Queer Times, Queer Becomings (2011)
  3. Elizabeth Freeman. Time Binds: Queer Temporalities, Queer Histories (2010)
  4. Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick. Epistemology of the Closet (1990). Click here for my discussion of Sedgwick’s book.
  5. Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick. Touching Feeling: Affect, Pedagogy, Performativity (2003)
  6. Ian Barnard. Queer Race: Cultural Interventions into the Racial Politics of Queer Theory (2004)
  7. John D’Emilio. “Capitalism and Gay Identity” (1983)
  8. Jose Esteban Muñoz. Cruising Utopia: The Then and There of Queer Futurity (2009)
  9. Judith Butler. Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity (1990)
  10. Judith Butler. Precarious Life: The Powers of Mourning and Violence (2004)
  11. Judith Butler. Undoing Gender (2004)
  12. Judith Halberstam. Female Masculinity (1998) and The Queer Art of Failure (2011)
  13. Lee Edelman. No Future: Queer Theory and the Death Drive (2004)
  14. Leo Bersani. Is the Rectum a Grave?: and Other Essays (2009)
  15. Lynne Huffer. Mad for Foucault: Rethinking the Foundations of Queer Theory (2009)
  16. Michael Warner. The Trouble with Normal (1999)
  17. Michel Foucault, trans. Robert Hurley. The History of Sexuality – Volume I (1976)
  18. Michel Foucault, trans. Robert Hurley. The History of Sexuality – Volume II (1984)
  19. Michel Foucault, trans. Robert Hurley. The History of Sexuality – Volume III (1984)
  20. Roderick Ferguson. Aberrations in Black: Toward a Queer of Color Critique (2004)
  21. Sarah Ahmed. Queer Phenomenology: Orientations, Objects, Others (2006) and The Cultural Politics of Emotion (2004). Click here for my discussion of Ahmed’s The Cultural Politics of Emotion.

III.B – Queer Materiality and Queer Cultural Studies

  1. David Savran. A Queer Sort of Materialism (2003)
  2. Elisa Glick. Materializing Queer Desire: Oscar Wilde to Andy Warhol (2009)
  3. Guy Davidson. Queer Commodities (2012)
  4. Heather K. Love. Feeling Backward: Loss and the Politics of Queer History (2007)
  5. Jaime Harker. Middlebrow Queer: Christopher Isherwood in America (2013)
  6. Kathryn Bond Stockton. The Queer Child, or, Growing Sideways in the Twentieth Century (2009)
  7. Kevin Floyd. The Reification of Desire: Toward a Queer Marxism (2009)
  8. Michael Moon. A Small Boy and Others: Imitation and Initiation in American Culture from Henry James to Andy Warhol (1998)
  9. Michael Trask. Cruising Modernism: Class and Sexuality in American Literature and Social Thought (2003)
  10. Michael Warner. Publics and Counterpublics (2005)
  11. Samuel R. Delany. Shorter Views: Queer Thoughts & the Politics of the Paraliterary (2000)
  12. Scott Herring. Another Country: Queer Anti-Urbanism (2010)
  13. Steven Bruhm and Natasha Hurley, eds. Curiouser: On the Queerness of Children (2004)
  14. Susan Stryker. Queer Pulp: Perverted Passions from the Golden Age of the Paperback (2001)

III.C – Materiality and the Sociology of Texts

  1. Andrew Piper. Book Was There: Reading in Electronic Times (2012)
  2. Benedict Anderson. Imagined Communities (1983)
  3. D.F. McKenzie. Bibliography and the Sociology of Texts (1999)
  4. Gérard Genette. Paratexts: Thresholds of Interpretation (2001)
  5. Janice A. Radway. Reading the Romance: Women, Patriarchy, and Popular Literature (1984)
  6. Jim Collins. Bring on the Books for Everybody: How Literary Culture Became Popular Culture (2010). Click here for my discussion of Collins’ book.
  7. Jürgen Habermas. The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere (1991)
  8. Kathryn Sutherland and Marilyn Deegan. Text Editing, Print and the Digital World (2008)
  9. Nicole Matthews and Nickianne Moody. Judging a Book by its Cover (2007)
  10. Pierre Bourdieu. The Field of Cultural Production (1993)
  11. Raymond Williams. The Long Revolution (1961) and The Sociology of Culture (1982)
  12. Ted Striphas. The Late Age of Print: Everyday Book Culture from Consumerism to Control (2011)

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Image above courtesy of Surachai / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Beyond “Words, Words, Words”: Soliloquies, the Graphic Novel, and the Great Shakespearean Divide

The following post is an excerpt from an article I am working on originally written for my class on Shakespeare: Editing and Performance, offered by Peter Holland at the University of Notre Dame (Spring 2012). This paper was presented at the 2013 Popular Culture Association/American Culture Association National Conference in Washington, D.C., on March 20th, 2013.

FAIR USE NOTICE: This blog post contains some copyrighted material  (samples from the comics adaptations used in this study) whose use has not been authorized by the copyright owners. I believe that this not-profit, educational use on the Web constitutes a fair use of the copyrighted material (as defined in section 107 of the US Copyright Law). No infringement is intended.

Beyond “Words, Words, Words”:

Soliloquies, the Graphic Novel, and the Great Shakespearean Divide

The fourth soliloquy in Hamlet, commonly referred to as the “To be or not to be” soliloquy, is considered to be the crown jewel of the play. It is not only the portion of Hamlet that is most referenced to in scholarship and popular culture, but it has become intricately tied with the concept of the soliloquy itself. When watching a performance of the play, it is the moment that we most anticipate as spectators, and its delivery has the capacity to either enhance or damage the overall perceptions, attitudes, and affinities of the play as a whole. This is precisely because this soliloquy not only encapsulates the core issues and rhetorical appeals of the plot, but also because it outwardly presents the most intense and direct codification of who prince Hamlet is, and more importantly, who he is not.

But this codification is more complex than it initially presents itself as being. Hamlet’s struggle is simply not a matter of choosing what to be or what not to be, but rather, it is also his struggle to define himself within an external world with demands of its own. Furthermore, the complexity of codifying this soliloquy is enhanced when taking into account its inherent disorganization and enigma, and the fact that readers and viewers tend to overestimate their familiarity with the speech. As Douglas Bruster argues in his treatment of this pinnacle soliloquy:

While Hamlet’s ‘To be or not to be’ soliloquy remains one of the central speeches of all of Western culture, it is also one of the most mysterious. There are reasons for this mystery. […] the speech as a whole is quite messy. And its beginning (the most orderly part of the soliloquy) seems so familiar that we think we know the entire speech better than we do. No matter how many times we hear it begun, though, it is easy for us to get lost in the middle and end. […] the speech turns on itself time and again, sometimes like the back-and-forth rallies in a tennis match, at others like the coils of a snake moving sideways through the grass.

This disorder and ambiguity increases the difficulty of determining the intentions of Hamlet’s monologue and its overall climactic role within the structure of the play. Moreover, it becomes tricky to determine whether the target of Hamlet’s words is either himself or an external force in the form of King Claudius: is Hamlet contemplating suicide in the fourth soliloquy, or is he debating between action and inaction towards his uncle? Once again, we find ourselves in a situation in which language fails to sustain an exact interpretation of Hamlet’s words, and thus, we rely on performative interpretation to point us toward a specific direction.

What is clear, however, is that the soliloquy is designed to challenge and shatter dichotomous views present within Hamlet’s perspectives, making clear that life does not consist of clear-cut choices, and that all decisions ultimately bear consequences. Keeping the literary, contextual, cultural, and structural importance of the fourth soliloquy in mind, it would be easy to assume that graphic novel adaptations of Hamlet would place significant aesthetic and creative effort into its depiction and interpretation. Given the correlation between rehearsal and the process of creating comics, it can also be assumed that a great degree of experimentation would be embodied in the manifestation of this soliloquy in comics format. In other words, seeing that the fourth soliloquy is arguably the epitome of English soliloquies, and seeing that a decoder has high expectations of this speech, the adapter and illustrator would do their best to exploit the possibilities of comics to concretize the struggles, paradoxes, and inevitable outcomes depicted in the playtext. Alas, as seen in the following panel, this is not always the case:

1

“To Be or Not to Be Soliloquy – Magic Wagon.” Illustrated by Ben Dunn. Rebecca Dunn, Hamlet – Graphic Shakespeare (Edina: Magic Wagon, 2009). 20. Print.

This panel is taken from Rebecca Dunn’s adaptation of Hamlet, an adaptation that is overall very short, abridged, and focused on plot-driven performative realism. But more than anything, the adaptation is very clearly a text designed to chew Shakespeare’s original text, partially digest it, and regurgitate the remains onto page.

Dunn’s adaptation is extremely plot-driven and focused primarily on giving the decoder a simple and straight summary of the tragedy. As can be seen on the panel, the entire fourth soliloquy has been condensed to a sequence of four external speech bubbles, and no effort is put into the concretization of the imagery imbued within the language. We simply encounter a depiction of Hamlet, with a stern façade and his hand on his chest, uttering a short series of words before the sudden arrival of Ophelia. There is little to no attempt to convey any of the aforementioned qualities and rhetorical appeals of this soliloquy, and there is nothing that demands close attention or scrutiny. The juxtaposition of word and image creates no resounding effects within the reader, and there is little difference between approaching this particular adaptation and approaching a summary of the playtext—except that a summary of the playtext arguably would not stifle the imagination as much as this adaptation does. Perhaps the intention of this adaptation was to try to make Hamlet more accessible to younger readers, but as evidenced by the depiction of this soliloquy, I assume that even young readers would find the text excruciatingly boring.

When the conventions of comics are invoked and employed effectively, and when the graphic novel makes effective use of the source playtext by focusing on performativity rather than the reduction of the plot, the results are exciting and fresh. In my opinion, the best adaptations are those that approach Shakespeare’s soliloquies not only as tributes, but as independent works of art with a distinctive style that instills particular emotions and decodings. Let us now turn our attention to how Sexton, Pantoja, and Babra approached the quintessence of Hamlet’s soliloquies in their adaptations, beginning with an excerpt from Sexton and Pantoja’s interpretation of the soliloquy:

“To Be or Not to Be Soliloquy – Manga Edition.” Adam Sexton and Tintin Pantoja, Shakespeare’s Hamlet: The Manga Edition (Hoboken: Wiley, 2008). 77-78. Print.

“To Be or Not to Be Soliloquy – Manga Edition.” Adam Sexton and Tintin Pantoja, Shakespeare’s Hamlet: The Manga Edition (Hoboken: Wiley, 2008). 77-78. Print.

Within Sexton and Pantoja’s interpretation, the absence of speech bubbles establishes the interiority of the speech. The overwhelming presence of black and shades of gray in this soliloquy can be interpreted in many ways; in a sense, the theme of this soliloquy is darker and more concerned with the topic of death and suicide when compared to the other soliloquies in Hamlet. Perhaps this use of color is also an illustration of how Hamlet himself is slowly descending into the darkness of his own folly and inaction. The interiority of this interpretation is emphasized with the fact that Hamlet does not look into the decoder’s eyes, and in the first panels presented in the excerpt, he has his back facing the decoder. This gives the sense of the decoder as an intruder who is overhearing the prince’s thoughts. Furthermore, it depicts a sense of aloofness, solitude, darkness, and impartiality, thus reinforcing the image of the character distancing himself away from his world, and from our interpretive purview.

The first panels of this soliloquy depict a shadowy Hamlet scrutinizing a dagger while thinking about the act of directly dealing with the troubles that haunt him. The act of taking arms against “a sea of troubles” is materialized with his holding of the dagger in front of his face, as if he were placing himself in a battle stance, ready to duel. Yet, as his thoughts pivot to thoughts of suicide, we see a clear and shadowless depiction of the character as he changes the direction of the dagger’s blade and points it to his neck. We then cut to another panel in which we are exposed to the handle of the dagger moving in a thrusting motion accompanied by a splatter of blood, reinforcing the interpretation of the soliloquy as a gesture towards suicide. Note that Sexton and Pantoja depict this soliloquy with a graphic and violent hue, highlighting physical images of death rather than metaphorical or subtle ones.

“To Be or Not to Be Soliloquy – Manga Edition.” Adam Sexton and Tintin Pantoja, Shakespeare’s Hamlet: The Manga Edition (Hoboken: Wiley, 2008). 77-78. Print.

“To Be or Not to Be Soliloquy – Manga Edition.” Adam Sexton and Tintin Pantoja, Shakespeare’s Hamlet: The Manga Edition (Hoboken: Wiley, 2008). 77-78. Print.

The graphic violence escalates as we shift our view to the next panel, in which we see Hamlet desperately clutching his own neck as blood flows through his fingers. The visible fear in Hamlet’s eyes and expression is complemented with his thoughts about the uncertainty of what comes after death. Note that the page depicts Hamlet being caught between a heavenly figure with wings, and a deathly figure below, thus highlighting Hamlet’s position between two oppositional forces salvation and eternal punishment; action and inaction. Notice that Sexton and Pantoja also made the choice to illustrate Hamlet as half-naked, which is an interesting aesthetic choice that further highlights a dualistic struggle: half of his body is covered with man-made clothing while the other half depicts a natural and nude man. With this in mind, the panel reinforces another binary perspective between the realm of man and the enigmatic realm of the afterlife; not only is Hamlet unaware of what comes after death, but he is also unsure of the effects that his death will induce in the mortal realm. All in all, we get an image of a man who is not only confused and conflicted, but a man unable to define himself in a world defined by choices, paradoxes, and binaries.

I will proceed to close my discussion on the fourth soliloquy by analyzing Neil Babra’s take on Hamlet’s crown jewel. But first and foremost, credit must be given to where credit is due. Before engaging in this project, I studied countless graphic novel adaptations of Shakespearean works, including excruciatingly tedious full-text adaptations of Romeo and Juliet[1], a version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream[2] clearly geared towards children, and even an adaptation of Romeo and Juliet[3] that took place in the future in which the Montagues are depicted as robotically enhanced cyborgs and the Capulets are depicted as genetically modified humans. Nonetheless, of all the adaptations that I read before settling on the study of soliloquies in Hamlet, I must acknowledge that Babra’s work was the most effective not only in terms of transmuting the essence of Shakespeare into a comics format, but also in terms of presenting itself as a standalone work of art. Let us take a look at how Babra interprets the soliloquy:

To Be or Not to Be Soliloquy – Sparknotes.” Neil Babra, Hamlet - No Fear Shakespeare (New York: Spark Publishing, 2008). 81-82. Print.

To Be or Not to Be Soliloquy – Sparknotes.” Neil Babra, Hamlet – No Fear Shakespeare (New York: Spark Publishing, 2008). 81-82. Print.

Babra’s illustration deeply emphasizes the interpretation of the soliloquy as Hamlet’s negotiation between living and committing suicide as a way of ending his troubles. It also stresses the many paradoxes and dual manifestations peppered throughout the speech. Seeing that this soliloquy is a deep struggle for Hamlet to find conciliation between his interior desires and external social/spiritual demand, we see the separation of Hamlet into two: the passive Hamlet and the inactive Hamlet, the Hamlet that suffers in life and the one that rests in death. The soliloquy therefore begins as a debate or a negotiation between the multiple and binary sides of the character in order to find a space in which he can make sense of his convoluted emotions and thoughts.

Babra depicts the monologue as one that begins with a physically external delivery and progresses into a subconscious and mental dialogue. While reflecting on the opening lines of the soliloquy: “To be… Or not to be,” Hamlet stares into a pool of water in which he sees his reflection as a skeletal corpse donning his clothing, thus illustrating the tension between living or ceasing to exist. As he proceeds to think about the tortures of enduring the pains and tribulations of life, he envisions Claudius as a grand and Cthulu-esque agent whipping him with tentacles as arrows pierce the flesh on Hamlet’s back, depicting life as difficult to endure and physically painful. When pivoting to the thought of suicide, emphasis is placed on a panel in which Hamlet is removing a sword from its sheath. We then observe the split of Hamlet into two bodies, where the active Hamlet proceeds to stab the inactive Hamlet in the chest with the sword. In an eerie move, a close-up of the inactive Hamlet’s stabbing shows the fusion between the living Hamlet and the skeletal figure, and in death, he flashes a wide grin, as if the end of life has granted him the release that he desperately craves for. The struggle and rigidity between living and dying is made blatantly obvious in the imagery, and it reinforces the binary tension that refuses to situate Hamlet.

To Be or Not to Be Soliloquy – Sparknotes.” Neil Babra, Hamlet - No Fear Shakespeare (New York: Spark Publishing, 2008). 81-82. Print.

To Be or Not to Be Soliloquy – Sparknotes.” Neil Babra, Hamlet – No Fear Shakespeare (New York: Spark Publishing, 2008). 81-82. Print.

Taking advantage of the possibilities of the comics medium, an elongated panel is used to give the impression of Hamlet falling into a pit, with his head in a cloud as to illustrate the notion of sleeping or dreaming. In another unnerving move, we then observe how Hamlet’s flesh begins to unravel and disengage from his body like the peel of an orange as the text displays his questioning of the dreams that come after death. The physical skin continues to peel away as Hamlet reflects on the enigma of existence after death, and how fear of the unknown prevents him from taking action in terms of self-slaughter. The inner essence of Hamlet is revealed in its entirety with the removal of his skin, and we observe him floating in the sky as a pair of celestial hands manipulate this unraveling of the flesh. On one hand, this may indicate the exposure of the soul and its judgment in an afterlife. On the other hand, the act of having one’s skin peeled away is an extremely painful and physically violent act, thus alluding to the pain that his indecision is provoking, and the possibility of punishment after committing the sin of suicide.

After depicting the troubles of humiliation, pain, embarrassment, and other follies in the physical world—which are so intense that they induce the image of Hamlet’s heart breaking—the page concludes with a panel illustrating his resignation towards self-slaughter: instead of taking arms against the sea of troubles, he puts his sword back into its sheath. Babra’s interpretation of the soliloquy not only depicts the tortuous consequences of choice and of being caught between a dichotomous split, but it also emphasizes how death manipulates the prince’s mental processes. This is important because death is a central theme of the tragedy as a whole. The play begins with the apparition of a dead king, it climaxes with a mental debate about living or dying, and, spoiler alert: it ends with the death of all the central characters. Dichotomies are ever-present in this soliloquy: the struggle between action and inaction, sleeping and awaking, living and dying, suffering and relief. There is no easy way of dealing with these binaries precisely because they are not able to encapsulate the intermediary position that Hamlet is positioned in, which in due course causes the peeling and unraveling illustrated in Babra’s interpretation. Ultimately, Babra’s adaptation was a magnificent effort to concretize this struggle and eventual externalization, and to demonstrate the tidal forces of this sea of troubles.

In this presentation, I offered examples of the rhetorical, analytical, and evaluative possibilities that close-decodings of Shakespearean graphic novels can offer. Bear in mind that my interpretations and decodings of the soliloquies in comics adaptations of Hamlet are in no way definite or conclusive, seeing that there are many other interpretive directions that one could take in terms of the images, their juxtaposition with traditional text, and usage of the conventions of comics to convey imagery and ideas. Nonetheless, I hope that my interventions of these works stress the overall aesthetic and semantic richness present within comics adaptations of Shakespearean works, and how notions of the soliloquy are translated, transformed, and permanently altered in this medium. No longer is the soliloquy abstract and subject to the partialities of language: the character’s mind, through the comics medium, literally becomes illustrated in ways that transcend the realm of the realistic and the physical. When it comes to soliloquies in comics, the wall between the character’s mind and the decoder is not shattered, but it is ultimately non-existent within the medium when and if the conventions of comics are employed effectively. Therefore, with the lack of a wall to block a full view of the character’s mind, the question that remains is how far are we able to take these elucidations of Shakespeare, to new interpretive heights. How will we envision the dreams that are to come with the inclusion of comics into the interpretive norm? That is the question, and I hope that I have provided some answers.


[1] McDonald, John, et.al. Romeo and Juliet – The Graphic Novel: Original Text. Litchborough: Classical Comics, 2009. Print.

[2] Shakespeare, William. A Midsummer Night’s Dream – Saddleback’s Illustrated Classics. China: Saddleback, 2006. Print.

[3] Work, Max, Stan Lee, et. al. Romeo and Juliet: The War. Dallas: Viper Comics, 2011. Print.

WORKS CITED AND CONSULTED

Babra, Neil. Hamlet – No Fear Shakespeare. New York: Spark Publishing, 2008. Print.

Babra, Neil. “On Writing and Line Editing.” NEILCOMICS– Hamlet. March 2008. Web. 21 Apr. 2012.

Bruster, Douglas. To Be or Not to Be. New York: Continuum, 2007. Web.

Dunn, Rebecca. Hamlet – Graphic Shakespeare. Illustrated by Ben Dunn. Edina: Magic Wagon, 2009. Print.

Eisner, Will. Comics & Sequential Art. Tamarac: Poorhouse Press, 2001. Print.

Erne, Lukas. Shakespeare as Literary Dramatist. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2003. Print.

Grant, Steven and Tom Mandrake. Classic Illustrated #5: Hamlet. Hong Kong: Papercutz, 2009. Print.

Knight, G. Wilson. “Hamlet Reconsidered.” The Wheel of Fire: Interpretation of Shakespeare’s Tragedy. 4th ed. Cleveland: The World Publishing Company, 1964. 298-325. Print.

Maher, Mary Z. Modern Hamlets and Their Soliloquies. Expanded ed. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2003. Print.

Melchiori, Giorgio. Shakespeare’s Dramatic Meditations: An Experiment in Criticism. London: Clarendon Press, 1976. Print.

Mott, Lewis F. “The Position of the Soliloquy ‘to be or not to be’ in Hamlet.PLMA 19.2 (1904): 26-32. JSTOR. 16 Apr. 2012. Web.

Newell, Alex. “Images of the Mind.” The Soliloquies in Hamlet: The Structural Design. Cranbury: Associated University Press, 1991. Print.

Sexton, Adam and Tintin Pantoja. Shakespeare’s Hamlet: The Manga Edition. Hoboken: Wiley Publishing, 2008. Print.

The “Privacy” of the Closet: From Jodie Foster to Manti Te’o

With Jodie Foster’s delivery of her so-called heartwarming yet “rambling” speech, the notions of honesty, disclosure, and privacy became the hot topics of the week. Rumors of Jodie Foster’s homosexuality had been looming in the media for years, and prominent magazines such as OUT even went as far as to posit that Foster inhabited a glass closet–meaning that many were aware that she was “out” even though she had never publicly acknowledged her sexuality. Although I’ll be the first to admit that Jodie Foster’s Golden Globe acceptance speech was somewhat disconnected and incoherent, it was definitely embedded with nuggets of brilliance and sheer emotion. Among these nuggets, there was one in particular that stood out from the rest:

“But seriously, if you had been a public figure from the time that you were a toddler, if you’d had to fight for a life that felt real and honest and normal against all odds, then maybe you too might value privacy above all else. Privacy.”

I for one can’t even begin to remotely imagine how intoxicating and suffocating Foster’s lack of privacy feels. True, to some extent, nobody living in the 21st century has  an idea of what true privacy feels like. Cell phones make it easier than ever for people to reach us at all moments. We constantly use Twitter and Facebook to let the world know where we’re at and what we’re doing. Even with the creation of websites and blogs, such as the one you’re reading right now, there is a certain degree of exposure that would’ve been virtually impossible a few decades ago. With every word that I publish in this blog, another chunk of my privacy is sacrificed. It’s now possible to Google my name, and immerse yourself deeply in my ideas and my work. I’m well aware of this.

But I’m not Jodie Foster, and I never will be. My ideas are out there for the world to see, but I really doubt that anyone would bother to know every minimal detail of my life, where I’m eating, what brand of clothes I’m wearing, who I’m dating… even if I publicly display this information on a social network. And I think that’s the major difference between Jodie Foster and the non-celebrity: while the average person has some degree of power in terms of what is or is not disclosed to others in terms of their personal lives, Jodie Foster lost that power years ago.

With that in mind, I can see why Foster desperately withheld any information in terms of her sexuality. Realistically speaking, it was one of the few private elements in her life that she was actually able to control.  Sure, people speculated. Other people definitely knew. But without her acknowledgement, the “public eye” was always blinded and unsure to some degree. And despite the so-called hypocrisy invoked with this blindness, I can’t help but envision how Foster found it comforting.

However, Foster was not the only person this week that has had to endure the slings and arrows that the lack of privacy hurls. When teaching my course on Multimedia Writing and Rhetoric today, we discussed the notions of ethics, honesty, and the virtues of rhetorical discourse. Unsurprisingly, the subject of Manti Te’o’s girlfriend hoax became the topic that these notions hinged onto. This hoax has been discussed in length by other venues, so I won’t delve deeply into what happened, but I will say this: my class and I generally agreed that there were too many discrepancies and gaps in the matter in order to make sense of it. I had skimmed through the original article on the hoax published by Deadspin, but I initially didn’t read it carefully enough to notice some of the more nuanced implications of what was discussed.

Manti

This afternoon, while discussing the Manti debacle with a friend while sipping on some coffee, she addressed the rampant rumors that the beloved football player deliberately devised the story in order to cover up a same-sex relationship that he is/was possibly involved in. This, of course, is due not only due to the lack of details and the inconsistencies in the story, but it is also due to several reasons that are pointed out in a blog post published by Andy Towle titled Gay Rumor Mill Ramping Up Over Manti Te’o ‘Dead Girlfriend’ Hoax.

I’m not here to discuss whether Manti Te’o is  or is not gay, because frankly, it is none of my concern. Sure, there are many gaps in terms of the information that has been disclosed to the general public, and there indeed is suggestive evidence that adds fuel to the rumors on Manti’s sexuality. However, what truly disturbs me is the fact that if Manti happens to be gay, he was outed in one of the most unfortunate ways possible. He was stripped of his own right to choose where, when, and who to share this information with. Rather than being offered the opportunity to step out of the closet on his own terms, the door to this closet was obliterated and he was yanked right out of it.

Let’s be very honest here: Manti is not only young, but he is also a prominent football player studying at the flagship of Catholic universities in the United States of America. Now, it is a widespread idea that Notre Dame is one of the most homophobic universities in the country, but I can honestly attest to the fact that this notion is blown out of proportion. Don’t get me wrong, there indeed needs to be progress in terms of how the university approaches some LGBTQ issues, but overall, I’ve noticed that the students, professors, and administrators at Notre Dame are nowhere near as close-minded as people deem them to be. But regardless of this fact, it wouldn’t make it any easier for Manti to come out even if he happens to be gay.

Unlike most of the student population at Notre Dame, Manti is a celebrity. People look up to him, people want to know his every thought and follow his every move. And when taking into consideration the fact that he’s Mormon, well, let’s just say that if I were in his shoes and I also happened to be gay, fabricating an imaginary girlfriend would probably seem to be a more feasible alternative than admitting the truth. True, perhaps this says a lot about the homophobic nature of many religions and of the realm of sports. But even more so, it says a lot about the notion of privacy.When it comes down to it, we have a degree of privacy that Manti will never have. This is very sad, and very true… but it is also quite expected.

Returning back to the notion of Jodie Foster, privacy, and the closet, Patrick Strudwick, a writer for The Guardian, expresses how he was slightly bothered by her Golden Globe speech because she chose her career over coming out years ago, an act that would’ve made it easier for future generations to come to grip with their sexual identity:

It is every gay public figure’s social responsibility to be out, to make life better for those without publicists and pilates teachers. Those who cry, “It’s none of your business! Who cares who I sleep with?!” shirk their public duty, and deny the shame that keeps the closet door shut. Do straight people consider their orientation private? You cannot skip the tough part of a human rights struggle. I long for being gay to be nobody’s business, to not matter, but we’re a long way off. You either do your bit, and in the case of an A-list actor, that means blazing a trail for other performers, or you remain concealed, bleating about privacy.

On one hand, I understand where Strudwick is coming from. After all, if high profile celebrities and figures don’t come out and remain within he confines of the closet, who else will set an example for people struggling with their own sexual identity? How can any change be achieved if prominent gay individuasl refuse to be examples? On the other hand, not every gay celebrity is Elton John, Ellen Degeneres, or Neil Patrick Harris. The journey out of the closet is a very subjective and idiosyncratic experience, reliant on forces that are many times out of the individual’s control. Sure, there is a price to be paid with fame, but does that necessarily imply that gay celebrities are obliged to disclose their entire lives, including their sexual identity? Does staying within the closet necessarily entail a degree of shame?

I believe Ricky Martin said it best when it comes to the notion of coming out: “When someone isn’t ready we must not try to force them out.” This notion applies to every gay person, whether it be a student, a worker, a Latino pop sensation, a star football player, or even an award-winning actress. Coming out is very much a private matter. For some people, it doesn’t get easier to come out. For some people, every person they come out to is a milestone.

Hopefully, there will come a time in which coming out won’t be necessary at all, but now is not that time. And while to some degree, we do need high profile individuals to be brave and set an example, we also have to recall that not everyone is a pioneer–and similar to the issue of privacy, this is something that should ultimately be respected.

My Syllabus for Multimedia Writing and Rhetoric – Notre Dame – Spring 2013

Here is the syllabus that I designed for the Multimedia Writing and Rhetoric course that I will teach during the spring 2013 semester at the University of Notre Dame. I think this will be the most daring and innovative writing course that I’ve ever taught. As you will notice, I include a lot of non-traditional assignments that really push students to take advantage of the possibilities of new media and current multimedia platforms. Students will write movie reviews, analyze and create memes, design an original product and create an infomercial for it, and they’ll even create their own audio-narratives. I really think this course will be fun for both my students and I, and I’m sure plenty of effective learning will take place!

I’m using a popular culture theme once again, but this time, we’re focusing on this theme from an ethical perspective. Students will not only explore the virtues of popular culture, but through their writing and creation of multimedia artifacts, they will discover the importance of ethics and virtues in the exchange and circulation of knowledge and information. As always, all comments and suggestions are more than welcome. Enjoy!

Literature + Computation = Amazing Results

1 word, 2 words, 150 words! So many beautiful words! Ah, ah, ah, ah, ah, ah!

As a graduate student in English, I guess it comes to no surprise that I tend to have an inherent aversion to math and anything related to quantitative studies. Even as I child, I was unable to understand why the Count from Sesame Street felt such orgasmic joy as he immersed himself into the realm of numbers. I always viewed language as a safe haven from the influence of the quantitative, but then came Algebra and decided to mix letters and numbers. Let’s just say that I was less than pleased with the combination.

During my undergrad studies in English linguistics, I came to appreciate quantitative approaches towards texts and language, but I never thought that I would deal with this combination as a scholar of English. However, thanks to a graduate introductory course that I am taking on Digital Humanities (or Humanities Computing) at the University of Notre Dame, I have recently come across some incredibly useful ideas (and online software) that really augment the possibilities of quantitative research within the field of literature. These ideas and tools facilitate what Franco Moretti calls “Distance Reading,” which basically denotes the analysis of hundreds, if not thousands or millions, of literary texts in order to get a better sense of meaningful changes and developments throughout literary history (see my review of his book Graphs, Maps, Trees).

I have recently been dabbling with the interpretation and creation of programming code (using Python and HTML) thanks in part to the Programming Historian 2, a step-by-step tutorial on how to create basic computer programs that can decode and search for basic patterns in digital texts. Nonetheless, the possibilities of the pre-existing tools available on the web are indeed much more powerful and seductive than the basic programs I’ve developed so far. I will focus my attention on two of the many tools I have surveyed as of now: Voyant Tools and the Google Labs N-Gram Viewer.

VOYANT TOOLS

According to their webpage, Voyant Tools is a web-based environment used primarily for the analysis of digital texts. This “environment” allows you to conduct different types of quantitative analyses (word counting, word frequency, etc.) with any text in practically any digital format (html, .doc, etc.). All you have to do is paste the text that you want to analyze or simply provide a web link to the actual text. The application then “reveals” facts, quantitative data, and statistics that are interpreted from the textual input. Not only can Voyant Tools demonstrate the frequency and distribution of particular words across the text, but it is also able to depict graphs and lists that graphically illustrate the prominence of any word in comparison to another.

In order to test Voyant Tools, I simply pasted the URL of the html version of Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray (made available via Project Guttenberg) onto the main text bar, and I clicked on the button labeled “reveal.” My browser then opened the following set of tools:

Now, it is important to note that I applied limitations on the incorporation of stop words into my data in order to limit the types of words that Voyant Tools used and interpreted (which simply means that I requested VT to eliminate “meaningless” grammatical words such as “the,” “a,” “are,” among others, from the interpretations of the data). The application processed the textual data, organized it, and depicted it in an array of useful formats.

The “Cirrus” section illustrates the most common words of the text in a visual cloud, and the size of the word is directly correlated to its frequency within the corpus. The “Words in the Entire Corpus” section lists all of the words that appear in the source text and lists how many times they appear. The “Corpus Reader” section depicts the textual input and highlights the appearance of a word selected within the frequency list. The “Word Trend” section graphically illustrates the frequency of a selected word from the beginning to the end of the text. Note how I selected the word “man” within the Wilde’s novel, and how the Word Trend section illustrates how the word increases in frequency as the novel progresses.

Overall, I think the research possibilities of this program are indeed noteworthy, for it may allow us to offer concrete evidence for some of the claims we make as literary scholars. For instance, if we were to argue that Victor Frankenstein in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein increasingly begins to view the creature as a human being, perhaps we could compare the frequency and distribution of words such as “monster,” “creature,” “devil,” and “wretch” with other terms such as “human,” “being,” and “man” in order to determine when and how the creature is labeled by his creator. Of course, there might be issues with these tools, especially when determining the context of these terms, and whether or not concepts are referenced to using different names. However, as Moretti once posited in his aforementioned work, graphs and lists provide data, not interpretation.

GOOGLE LABS N-GRAM VIEWER

The premise of the N-Gram Viewer is far simpler than that of Voyant Tools: using the collection of digital books found within the Google Books archive, N-Gram viewer allows you to trace the presence of particular words or terms within thousands (and even millions) of books across a specific span of time. All you need to do is type in the word(s) that you are interested in tracing, establish the years that you want to survey, and the literary scope you want to study (English texts, Spanish texts, American texts, etc.), and the app will trace a nifty graph of the presence of this term in books that fall within the parameters you established.

The coolest part is the fact that N-Gram Viewer is able to illustrate the prominence of more than one term within the same chart, allowing you to trace, for instance, the use of different synonyms or of complimentary concepts (e.g. “adult, child, teenager” – “gay, lesbian, bisexual, heterosexual” – “novel, poem, short story” – “Asian, Latino, Caucasian, African American”, etc). Below, you can see the search I conducted for the terms “gay,” “homosexual,” “bisexual,” “queer,” and “lesbian” using a corpus of English fiction between the years of 1850 and 2000. The results were as follows:

It is quite amazing to see these results illustrated in such a clear and concise format. Note how the use of the term “gay” begins to decline after the 1850’s, probably due to its increasing association with homosexuality rather than an emotional state of joy. It is after the 1970’s (which coincides with the establishment of a gay rights movement after the 1969 Stonewall Riots in New York) that the use of the term gay begins to increase dramatically in English fiction, leading to a peak of the term in the late 90’s (which happens to be the peak of the nationalization of gay media in television and popular culture). It is interesting to note that the presence of the term “lesbian” roughly begins to manifest and increase during the same time that the use of the term gay begins its ascent.

Of course, as with Voyant Tools, the N-Gram Viewer has issues, particularly when it comes to the shifting meaning of particular words, the prominence of a certain term to denote a particular concept, and the sampling of the books themselves (which according to Culturomics, only represents around 12% of all the books ever published). But regardless of these issues, I particularly enjoy the possibilities that these tools present within the realm of distance reading, and I’m looking forward to seeing the new tools that these applications will inspire.