Around the Department

Fourth-year Ph.D. candidate John Lurz blogs weekly on all things Berkeley English.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Professor Robert Hass's "Green Fire, the Still Point, and an Oak Grove: Some Reflections on the Humanities and the Environment."

On Thursday, March 12, 2009, Professor Robert Hass gave the first of this year's Faculty Research Lectures, the full text of which follows here.
Read full post....

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Professor Eric Falci and the Science of the Lyric

This past fall sophomore English major Sarah Watson enrolled in Professor Eric Falci's ENGL 180L: Lyric Verse. Reading the semester's course descriptions, she had been intrigued by the course's claim that much of the semester would be spent "sorting out what the title of this course means." When it went on to mention an exceedingly diverse list of poets -- from Sappho to Dickinson, Marvell to Ashbery -- along with a no less various catalogue of critical concepts -- chaos theory, cognitive science, ecology -- she wasn't exactly sure what she was in for, but she knew it would be fascinating. The wide-ranging concerns of the course actually coincided with Sarah's own academic orientations because, in addition to majoring in English, she is pre-med and tackles her science requirements with interest (if not always with total enthusiasm). Read full post....

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Teaching at San Quentin, Installment 3

This week we present a third-installment of graduate student Annie McClanahan's account of teaching at San Quentin correctional facility with the Prison University Project. Annie has contributed two previous posts on this topic, in which she addresses, first, the nature of the program in general and a short account of the class she most recently taught and, second, the nature of the prison itself as well as that of the students she teaches. In what follows, Annie speaks more pointedly on frequently asked questions about issues of safety and academic achievement specific to prison teaching.
Read full post....

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Out of the Classroom, Into the Community

In last week's post, we focused on the ways in which two current graduate students are

Artwork currently on display at the Alphonse Berber Gallery.

leveraging the new media of the blogosphere to disseminate critical thinking on history and literature in broad new ways. This week, we bring you examples of a different, perhaps more "concrete" kind of outreach by describing the efforts of the Department's students to get out into the community with their thoughts on art and literature by opening a new art gallery and participating in poetry conversations on the radio.

Read full post....

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Literary Blogging

What does it mean to be a public intellectual in 21st century America? And to what extent does the often intensely private work of an academic speak to larger issues in today’s world?

Aaron Bady blogs at

Two fifth-year English PhD candidates, Aaron Bady and Paul Kerschen, think often about these questions. Both Aaron and Paul are active bloggers – though with somewhat divergent styles and objectives – and they see the forum of the blog as a way to redefine the border between the private work of the academic and the public role of the intellectual.
Read full post....

The Literary World

Fifth-year Ph.D. candidate Aaron Bady casts his discerning eye over the republic of letters.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

A bard by another portrait...

Everyone is excited that we have a new picture of the Bard. And isn't he a looker! As reported in the NYT:

"His face is open and alive, with a rosy, rather sweet expression, perhaps suggestive of modesty...There is nothing superior or haughty in the subject, which one might well expect to find in a face set off by such rich clothing. It is the face of a good listener, as well as of someone who exercised a natural restraint."
Read full post....

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Literature on the Web: “a good book is the precious life-blood of a master spirit…”

In a TLS review, Jonathan Bate suggests that Milton has been a mirror which each era's biographers have used to reflect their professional self-image. "For Masson," he writes "it was sufficient to be clubbable around the Athenaeum. For William Empson in the following century, the professor of literature could be the naughty schoolboy throwing paper darts from the back row of the classroom (the Christian-baiting of Milton's God)." In reviewing Gordon Campbell and Thomas N. Corns' new biography, then, Bate notes that we see, in turn, "a Milton who would have been at home in the corridors of New Labour power or in the managerialized modern university. He is a nimble committee man, like some wily pro-vice-chancellor who proudly wears his radical credentials yet is prepared to write position papers to order and to modify his stance in response to subtle changes in the ideological direction of his leader." Bate doesn't much care for this approach, it seems, judging "an authoritative Life of Milton in which the pamphlet "Animadversions upon the Remonstrants Defence against Smectymnuus" is given three times as much space as Lycidas" to be only "symptomatic of an age in which professors in English departments have been 'making literature history.'" I have to admit, though, I don't mind seeing the pendulum swing this way a bit. It's not like anyone is going to stop reading "Lycidas" (or that long epic he wrote), and there are just too many gems buried in Milton's non-fiction prose to bemoan the fact that a little light is getting cast on the stuff he spent most of his life actually writing.

John Banville may think that civilization invented the sentence, but the death of writing does not - Adam Kirsch tells us - necessarily mean the end of writing: "Human beings wrote long before there were newspapers or books or even paper, and they will continue to do so when these have been replaced by pixels and bytes." In his Slate review of several new biographies of Samuel Johnson, Kirsch suggests that the age of the professional writer may be coming to an end, an ironic three centuries after "the greatest professional writer in English literature" declared that "No man but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money." Kirsch has a very low opinion of "a future when writing is something done casually, in brief blog bursts in one's spare time" and wonders whether "the kind of professional confidence and expertise that Johnson cultivated over a lifetime of paid work will appear as regrettably obsolete as books and newspapers themselves."

In that vein, it probably says something that Motoko Rich's NYT article doesn't focus on the literary merits of Jonathan Littell's 983-page novel The Kindly Ones - which are presumably great enough to justify "Publisher's Big Gamble on Divisive French Novel" - but rather on how amazing it is that an American publisher would take a risk on publishing a novel not only translated from French but also saddled with the handicap of having won France's most prestigious literary prize. Quel surprise!

In the same issue as it published fragments of the late David Foster Wallace's unfinished novels (and D.T.Max's tremendously sad account of Wallace's "Unifinished"), the New Yorker also had a review of Blake Bailey's new biography of John Cheever, and I couldn't help paying more attention to the by-line (the late John Updike) than to the substance of the review. I did, however, enjoy Bailey's estimation that he was one of possibly ten persons to have read through the the "forty-three hundred pages, mostly typed single-space," of Cheever's private journals, what he calls "a monument of tragicomic solipsism." But as the good people who are blogging Henry David Thoreau's journals (here and here), a sort of "this day in Thoreau's journal," there's nothing wrong with a bit of good old fashioned solipsism every now and again. Read full post....