Meet and Greet Monday: Ethan Robles

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Tell us about yourself!

My name is Ethan Robles. I graduate from DeSales University in 2014. Before my time with Lehigh, I worked in undergraduate admissions at Lafayette College. My experience with my undergraduate professors drove me in college and has driven my desire to continue my education. Outside of Drown, I am a creative writer, theater enthusiast, lover of horror and science fiction, amateur conspiracy theorist, comic con attendee, a lover of history, and podcast fanatic.

Why did you choose Lehigh?

Lehigh was the one school that seemed to care if I chose to attend or not. Many of the places that I applied were late to get back to me or indifferent about my acceptance. I felt welcomed here. The professors and the students were excited about the work they were doing. I wanted to be apart of that passion.

What is your favorite book outside your field of study?

I think the best I can do is top five. I can’t narrow it down. It would have to be Catcher in the Rye, To Kill a Mockingbird, Childhood’s End, Misery, and Choke.

What are you most looking forward to this year?

I’m looking forward to getting to know my cohort, meeting new professors, and jumping into new topics. I’m just really excited to be back in academia and doing meaningful work in literature.

 

 

 

Give Me a Break!: The Benefits of Taking Time Off During Grad School

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“I didn’t get in anywhere…”

I stared blankly at the final MFA rejection notice I’d received via email, and the sudden rush of nothingness flooded over me. Thousands of words, hundreds of dollars, tens of samples, CVs, and recommendations all culminated in eight. terse. rejections. As my cohort celebrated their doctoral acceptances or reveled in their new moves and career plans, I sat in a chair in the common room of Drown Hall utterly humiliated. Humiliated, but not necessarily surprised. Throughout the application process I recalled a sense of hesitation about the MFA. Something felt…forced. While I forged ahead with dreams of creaky desks and dust-coated corners and secondhand book stores with quaint cafes and the click-clack of an antique typewriter, I was unknowingly aware of a painfully pertinent truth: you’re not ready. It was only in the fallout of rejection that I allowed myself to admit this. With fresh wounds and humbled dreams, I began to contemplate what the next step would be. As I talked with colleagues and confidants through the confusion, it dawned on me that I had considered only the MFA as a viable option for a “legitimate” step forward. Despite my nagging indecisiveness about whether or not I even wanted to be a creative writer, I assumed that some kind of graduate program was better than none. In hindsight, I often wonder what my application process would have been like had I paid more attention to other options, other possibilities beyond the MFA. In particular, I wonder why I never considered taking a break, giving myself time to reflect on what I truly wanted before forging ahead. The two years I had in between my M.A. and Ph.D. gave me the clarity and confidence to step back into academia with new skills and provocative ideas.

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Meet and Greet: Shelby Carr

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Tell us about yourself!

My name is Shelby and I am a New Jersey native, but I have been in the Lehigh Valley for almost a decade. I completed my undergrad at Penn State University where I majored in English and minored in Women’s Studies. My areas of academic interest are 19th century American lit, women writers, and the glorious short story. In my free time I enjoy hiking, crocheting, and napping.

Why did you choose Lehigh?

I toured Lehigh as a high school student and was amazed by the campus. I knew I couldn’t afford school here, so I filed the experience away and forgot about it until I was toying with the idea of applying to the MA program. I was struck by the department’s focus on Literature and Social Justice and knew I had to apply. It also didn’t hurt that the faculty here is straight up awesome.

What is your favorite book outside your field of study?

What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours by Helen Oyeyemi

What are you most looking forward to this year?

I am already excited to teach English 2!

Gothic Reading Group: A Haunting

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Lehigh Culture & Community

Gothic Reading Group was probably the first social activity I engaged in as a 1st-year graduate student, and as such it played a really important function in making me feel like part of a community. Coming together with a small group of veteran grad students who loved spooky, weird stories like me was a highlight of my first year.

So it may seem odd to report that I felt rather anxious about reviving this group and leading it with my friend and colleague Kyle Brett. Walking down to Packer House, loaded with snacks, pondering the discussion questions I could ask, I was distinctly aware of how different I was when I first entered the group as a 1st-year student. From a busy course-loaded student to a post-coursework almost PhD candidate, I had changed a lot. In the critical parlance of some recent scholars, reviving this reading group made me come face to face with a previous self.

It is fitting (and perhaps ironic) that this experience of the self is very Gothic. Characters in Gothic tales are usually haunted by their past selves in some way, and struggle to reconcile it to the present or future self (sometimes they are broken in the effort). The Picture of Dorian Gray is a clear, more literal example of this theory: the portrait psychologically haunts Dorian with his past criminal self/ves. Whether they feature paintings, ghosts, or haunted houses, Gothic texts make us consider how we deal with our past selves and how they meet (or crash into) the present.

Take one of the stories we discussed at our first group meeting as another example. We read some short stories by the American writer Ambrose Bierce, and one text that we kept circling back to was “Chickamaugha” (1889). The story details the journey of a little boy through the woods. He begins by playing war, gets lost, and follows horribly wounded Confederate soldiers back to his now-burned plantation home. The graphic, bloody description of the soldiers (one is missing his jaw) and the dead parents (mom’s brains are bubbling and oozing out of her skull) grab your attention (and we did discuss them at length).

But what fascinated us more was the way that this story was a kind of American haunting: the little boy is not haunted by his own past or another version of himself specifically, but the reader is haunted by the ghosts of war. The gruesome realism forces the reader to consider how such a nightmare can be temporally reconciled with the present moment. Contemporary and modern readers question how they as individuals and as part of a cultural identity relate to historical selves that we would rather not discuss.

Even though it doesn’t feature any castles or incest like many European Gothic tales, Bierce’s work still engages with the concept of haunting, one that makes this genre so exciting and terrifying to read. And you can be sure our little reading group will eagerly devour these tales every month, in spite of any potential hauntings that may occur.

If you are interested in joining our group of daring readers, shoot me an email (meb213@lehigh.edu).

Meet and Greet: Cherise Yan Juin Fung

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Tell us about yourself!

Hi! I’m originally from Malaysia and came to the U.S. in 2012 to pursue my B.S. at Kutztown. My background is in psychology, although I also picked up minors in political science and literature. I am happiest when I’m eating (as illustrated in my photo) and being a hermit.

Why did you choose Lehigh?

I chose Lehigh because I loved the smaller size of the department and the social justice focus–and also because the department offered a great financial package (not gonna lie). I had also heard good things about the program from Colleen Clemens, a professor of mine at Kutztown who got her PhD here.

What is your favorite book outside your field of study?

Not sure if this is my favorite book ever “outside my field” (which I’m not really sure what that is), but I read Who Rules the World by Noam Chomsky this summer and really loved it.

What are you most looking forward to this year?

Growing intellectually and forming meaningful connections with people in the Lehigh community!

 

 

Fall: A Love Story

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It’s that time again, people. You know what I’m talking about. Somewhere there is a pumpkin latte brewing; shoe leather is being brushed and polished; and an argyle sweater is being resurrected from its storage box. That’s right: it’s fall, baby! And though I do love the marvelous array of color that fall brings, and my breath, in clouds, floating off on the crisp breeze, nothing says fall to me like the prolonged drone of a leaf blower.

Ah! What bliss! Who doesn’t love rising to the morning song of a leaf blower outside their window? Better yet if there are several. A chorus.

Because, screw rakes. Why waste an afternoon expending precious energy, getting moderate exercise, when you can stand in one place, maybe swaying  from side to side a little, serenading your entire neighborhood? And bonus: you get to use gasoline. Or diesel, depending on your model.

It’s time we recognized leaf blower operators as the real heroes of fall. Such defiance. “Suck it, wind!” They cry. “If you destroy our carefully crafted leaf piles we shall only return stronger to build them again. And again. And again. And again. And . . . .”

So here’s to you, leaf-blowers! You are as American as apple pie, the whirling inactivity of Congress, and the driving engine of consumerism. Drone on, leaf blowers, drown out our thoughts and blow us away like chaff.

How Does Department Service Serve Us?

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Advice / Lehigh Culture & Community

How Does Department Service Serve Us?

Love it or hate it, the fact remains that department and university service remains one of the three pillars of academic life, along with research and teaching. However important serving on committees may be to ensuring the efficiency of various departmental working groups, it is nevertheless a fraught issue. For example, in April of 2017, Inside Higher Ed published an article detailing research that indicated that women professors (and I’ll extend that to include graduate students and adjuncts) perform more department service than their male counterparts and yet, here’s the kicker, they are often not rewarded for their efforts. If individuals tend to view service as the “housework of academia,” perhaps it is not surprising that women are expected to happily perform more of this unpaid labor. Even in more gender balanced fields, women are still performing more service activities, in addition to the often unseen, but significant, amount of emotional labor that they do for students and colleagues.

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This Is About Gun Violence

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Politics

The intention of this post has shifted focus dramatically since I was asked to write an op-ed piece. My intention has continually shifted since I decided to write on the mass shooting in Las Vegas on October 1, 2017. When I first thought about moving beyond a visceral reaction to the deadliest mass shooting in American history, I thought about rhetoric. I don’t think it’s coincidental that this emotional to theoretical shift could have happened in less than 48 hours. The conversations I had been involved in concerning the shooting made similar moves. From shock or anger that this happened, was able to happen. To concern for people’s former and current students. To dejection that this keeps happening. To numbness that it’s so routine to our news day we ask “Can we really sustain any kind of intense emotional reaction anymore?” To calls for more gun control.

This American tragedy is stitched into the fabric of our lives and the rhetorical calls for gun control or for increased gun distribution become almost immediate response alongside the standard social media condolences.

When I first conceptualized the layout and visual themes of this post, I envisioned analyses of Twitter screen grabs and tumblr posts, all aiming to prove why arguments for gun control and political and social reform were ultimately “better” (meaning superior, more articulate, more victim focused, more compassionate, possessing more intellectual depth and engagement with social concerns and experiences).

But this morning (it’s currently Thursday, October 5th) as I was scripting this rhetorical argument out in my head, it occurred to me this wasn’t enough. Gun violence is everywhere in our society and mass shootings are incredibly common. And a white dude did this one. And a white dude usually does them (see this, this, this, this, and this for the data cited). This persistent issue of large-scale terror is racialized, and yet the language surrounding white male shooters is centered around anxieties of mental illness and its protective coating of legal defense. Meanwhile, black and Hispanic boys and men are “criminals” and “thugs,” undocumented immigrants are threatening the peace and security of American lives, and if you’re brown and you’re name is hard to pronounce, you’re a terrorist.

When I envisioned this post I saw myself critiquing news outlets and the nouns they used to describe suspects and perpetrators at varying levels of offense, emphasizing the way language use falls on racial lines. I planned on attacking how conservative outlets ignored and perpetuated this racial fear. Perhaps even holding up left and liberal, but still problematic, outlets for their acknowledgment of this linguistic injustice (you can see this in the hyperlinks I’ve embedded). I compiled quotes about the shooter, about how “the man who carried out the deadliest mass shooting in modern American history has largely remained an enigma” (The Washington Post), and how this language of mystery still shrouds the shooter behind anxieties of legally defensible mental illness even though he’s dead and needs no defense. Even in death his access is there. I intended to discuss how in the same article this shooter got to be “just like anybody else” to the man who sold him guns. I started searching for statistics on shootings to support a possibly different argument comparing statistics between mass shootings and racialized police shootings because of gun violence writ large.

And I found the Gun Violence Archive.

To date this year in the United States:

47,187 Total Incidents [of Gun Violence]

275 Mass Shootings

238 Officer Involved Incident: Officer Shot or killed

1,567 Officer Involved Incident: Subject-Suspect Shot or Killed

1,888 Home Invasion

1,534 Defensive Use

1,528 Unintentional Shooting

11,800 Number of Deaths

23,974 Number of Injuries

And I don’t know what the goal of this post is anymore. As of today, October 5th 2017, there have been 47,187 incidents of gun violence this year. You have to navigate through the list of incidents to the last available page, the 18th page, to find the record of the Las Vegas shooting. The deadliest mass shooting in American history. Will I be able to find it tomorrow?

I’m sitting here and I’m writing and I’m trying to think of how to end this, because I desperately feel like I need this to end, and the typical, summative, crystalizing conclusion is lost to me. Even to come back to the beginning, the routine of the American mass shooting, even to try and articulate that normalcy through the statistics I’ve reproduced here seems hollow and naive. I don’t know what to say, what questions to ask, because I don’t know how to process the sheer volume.

Understanding (Anti-)Capitalism(s) and the Possibility of Real Utopias

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Literature & Social Justice / Politics

Anti-CapitalistThis post is the second in an eight-part series on imagining alternatives to Capitalism. The first installment is available here. We invite you to join “Tackling T.I.N.A – An Anticapitalist Reading Group” for bi-weekly readings and discussions on this and related subjects. We meet every other Thursday at noon. Email Adam Heidebrink-Bruno (adh216@lehigh.edu) or Mareesa Miles (mam916@lehigh.edu) to see the schedule, join the email list and find out more.

Capitalism: they say there is no alternative. Of course, the business leaders and politicians who defend capitalist enterprise benefit greatly from the current economic system and have no self-interested reason to say otherwise. But for those of us at the short end of the stick— those who are on the impoverished side of the increasing wealth gap, those who are going hungry in the midst of plenty—for us, an alternative sounds pretty damn good.

But first, what is capitalism, really? The Oxford English Dictionary says it’s “an economic system in which private capital or wealth is used in the production or distribution of goods and prices are determined mainly by a free market; the dominance of private owners of capital and of production for profit.” In Keywords, Raymond Williams traces its use back to the sixteenth century, viewing it as “a form of centralized ownership of the means of production, carrying with it the system of wage-labor” (Williams 51). Basically, it involves a capitalist class that uses its wealth to invest in productive projects and a working class that sells its labor to the capitalists.

Unfortunately, this rudimentary definition doesn’t capture the nuances found in various capitalist countries around the world. As James Fulcher discusses in Capitalism: A Very Short Introduction, Capitalism is not everywhere the same. In fact, as Fulcher argues, it’s more appropriate to think of Capitalism in the plural: Capitalisms. Looking at the economic infrastructure of three Capitalist countries—Sweden, the U.S., and Japan—Fulcher finds significant differences. Depending on the particular form of Capitalism used, there can be drastic differences in taxation, union strength, labor rights, wealth disparity, poverty, employment levels, access to welfare, susceptibility to economic crises, regulation, and environmental sustainability.

There’s also Agrarian capitalism, Mercantile Capitalism, Industrial Capitalism, Financial Capitalism, Welfare Capitalism, Global Capitalism, Technocapitalism, Sustainable Capitalism, Crony Capitalism, State Capitalism, Casino Capitalism, Keynesian Capitalism, and—of course—Neoliberal Capitalism. I think you get the idea. This dizzying array of Capitalisms is difficult to navigate and often leaves the public fighting over which model is best. Liberals generally want more regulation and state intervention to ensure welfare for all. Conservatives generally advocate for a free-market approach, arguing that unobstructed competition and deregulated marketplaces will produce the most efficient—and ultimately most beneficial— economic system. Back and forth the tug-o-war goes without ever pausing to realize how terribly limited and two-dimensional such arguments are. Regardless of whether one advocates for Welfare Capitalism or Neoliberal Capitalism, he or she promotes Capitalism all the same.

Envisioning Real, Anti-Capitalist Utopias

Fortunately, there are other voices among the crowd willing to challenge Capitalism writ large. Erik Olin Wright, the author of Envisioning Real Utopias and the provocative Jacobin essay “How to Be an Anticapitalist Today,” reminds his readers that today’s alleged “Capitalist” economies are decidedly hybrid models. In fact, even ferociously proud Capitalist countries, such as the U.S., contain a well-developed (if underappreciated) Anti-Capitalist infrastructure. Worker cooperatives, public libraries, and open source collaboration (such as Wikipedia) are all examples of what Wright calls “Real Utopias,” places where “emancipatory ideals are embodied in existing institutions and proposals for new institutional designs.”

Real Utopias do not rely on the same logic found in their Capitalist counterparts. Worker co-ops dissolve the age-old conflict between capitalists and laborers by making the laborers themselves the owners of the enterprise. Thus, every worker has an equal voice in the management of the business thereby ensuring that the workers (themselves) are fairly compensated for their labor. Libraries, as Wright says, “embody principles of access and distribution which are profoundly anti-capitalist.” I love this observation. Libraries do not distribute their goods and services (books, computer access, meeting space, etc.) based off of one’s ability to pay, but rather “to each according to need.”

Ultimately, Wright argues that we need to tame and erode Capitalism rather than trying to smash or escape it. We can do so by committing ourselves to building up institutions like those listed above. Support your local libraries, participate in peer-to-peer collaborations, and seek out businesses that are worker-owned and operated. Or better: work at one. Advocate for local, state, and federal policies that reinforce Anti-Capitalist infrastructure. Identify what Real Utopias already exist in your local community. Notice what’s missing, too, and imagine new ones. Then, organize your neighborhood, workplace, and school to bring those absent Utopias into being.

Checking a book out from your local library won’t end Capitalist exploitation tomorrow, of course. However, becoming more comfortable with the egalitarian and Anti-Capitalist logic that undergirds free distribution of public goods can chisel away at the dominant Capitalist ideology that runs deep in the American psyche. And, like a river cutting through stone, today’s Anti-Capitalist infrastructure is already eroding Capitalism’s once mountainous terrain. Join us in opening the floodgates.

The Readings:

Fulcher, James. “Chapter 4: Is Capitalism Everywhere the Same?” Capitalism: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford University Press, 2004.

Williams, Raymond. “Capitalism.” Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society. Oxford University Press, 1976.

Wright, Erik Olin. “How to be an Anti-Capitalist Today.” Jacobin, 2 December 2015.

Meet and Greet: Dr. Lorenzo Servitje

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Lehigh Culture & Community

We are very excited to introduce a new face to the community this semester: Dr. Lorenzo Servitje.

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Mareesa Miles: What do you love about what you do?

Lorenzo Servitje: There are so many things I love about this kind of work. One that strikes me at this particular stage in my career is the communal aspect of furthering knowledge—be that in engagement with another’s work in writing an article, collaborating on a project, hearing the newest work at conferences, or having student’s respond to or challenge my questions and ideas in class or as they develop their own work. In the past few years I have begun to appreciate responding to readers’ reports (love is not exactly the right word here). It has shown me how much our work does not materialize in a sort of single-author vacuum. Most recently, I have begun to venture into blogging in public venues which has made me rethink how I organize and write. I look forward to seeing where engaging in this form of communal dialog takes my work.

MM: What drew you to apply for the Lehigh job?

 LS: As preparation for our MA exam, we had to write a short statement on where we would envision ourselves working in the future as academics. The job ad for Lehigh, especially the dual appointment with English and HMS, was uncannily similar to the dream job I had envisioned before taking my MA. I know the term “dream job” gets tossed around a lot, but when this ad was posted, and my inbox filled up with colleagues and mentors suggesting I apply, I immediately celebrated and panicked—the aspirations I carried with me throughout grad school had the possibility of materializing.

That said, prior to reading the job ad, I had not considered my work in terms of social justice. Before, the closest I got was biopolitical theory which was still in very abstract terms. Preparing my job materials and coming for a campus visit made me radically rethink the implications of my current project. I came to consider how Victorian literature, history, and biopolitics co-constituted the distributions of health at that time and created a legacy that continues into the present. How the way we think, talk, and practice medicine produces “regimes of truth” that become social determinants of health, so often on axises of race, gender, class, and ability.

MM: What is your favorite book outside your field of study?

LS: This is difficult to answer, perhaps Dante’s The Divine Comedy or Nabokov’s Pale Fire.

MM: Do you have a graduate school regret–something you did and wish you hadn’t, something you would have done in a different way, or something you didn’t do and wish you had?

LS: I have two regrets when it comes to graduate school: I wish I had taken the advice to enjoy my reading year—to engross myself in my topic and fields—rather than read for the proximate goal of the exam. Secondly, I wish I had practiced better work-life balance, specifically spending time with my family.

MM: What are you most looking forward to in your interactions with graduate students (in and/or out of coursework)?

LS: I am most looking forward to providing the same kind of mentoring I received as a graduate student: the close attention to research, introduction to professional networks, guidance for professional development, feedback on teaching, and the collaborative relationship to discover something new and communicate it.

MM: What draws you to interdisciplinary work such as in the medical humanities? Do you see this as the future of the humanities?

LS: What draws me to interdisciplinary work is it allows me to develop my passion for science and literature at the same time. For a long time as an undergraduate, I struggled with the choice. Even when I tried to compartmentalize the knowledge, I found myself writing arguments about literature using scientific and biomedical metaphors. When I had considered applying to med school versus grad school, I came to the realization that my interest in medicine was not working with patients; rather, it was a fascination with medicine as an idea and system of thought. In my work now, I still get to collaborate with MD’s and other biomedical professionals to help me develop my own work and, hopefully, give medical professionals another dimension to consider beyond the often algorithmic process of diagnosis and treatment.

As for medical humanities being the future of the humanities, I’m not sure if it is the future. I think it is part of a broader wave of the popularity of interdisciplinarity—DH and environmental humanities being part of this wave. I have certainly seen an increase in the number of jobs calling for this particular field. I am confident that it has a future—e.g. the number of med hum undergrad programs has quadrupled since the year 2000. The medical humanities opens up a variety of possibilities for working in academia, such as working at a medical school—which is very different in terms of both research and teaching for an English PhD. Moreover, the medical humanities is expanding in providing more careers for humanities PhDs outside of the tenure track job, such as work in hospitals, narrative medicine, patient advocacy, grant writing, just to name a few.

MM: What questions do you have for graduate students?

LS: First, I would ask what you like best about the program, and what, if anything, could be improved. Secondly, how can I help you?