Eves and Eyes


Holy Moly, do we ever live in one giant-but-not-so-giant-as-you-might-think closed system! Warm and dry thoughts for all of my east coast friends and family. You guys are throwing a great party over there. Yikes.

Istanbul, in a weak show of solidarity, is balmy as can be.

I'd like to wish those of you with a working internet connection a very happy Halloween. May you sustain nary a chiding belly ache.

[Audience looks around] "What just happened?" "There must be some context we're missing."
Tomorrow I'll descend into NaNoWriMo* and may or may not emerge again until December - and I'd rather not be plagued with guilt over this temporary abandonment, so here's an itemized update for:

Graduate Applications (based on the late December/early January humanities deadline):
  • At this point, duh, have your list sorted and professors contacted -
  • and your writing sample done (or at least have a completed first draft under the eyes of a trusted editor friend).
  • If schools want official transcripts, order them. The bureaucracy around these things is such that it can take anywhere from 2 weeks to over a month to sort out and send off. Generally, though, schools will accept unofficial transcripts (you know, the ones that you've invalidated through mere contact, protracted or otherwise) as a scanned pdf.
  • Ditto GRE (and related) scores, if you failed to maintain the sense of existence in time and space necessary to order them after you completed that three-hour migraine...
In November, we'll be contacting professors about letters of recommendation and sending them updated resumes or recent papers, and writing statements of purpose.

On November's Bookshelf
  • Auerbach's Mimesis
  • Borges's Collected Fictions
  • G. Lewis's translation of the Dede Korkut stories
  • Gabriel Garcia Marquez's Chronicle of a Death Foretold and The Autumn of the Patriarch
  • Marshall Berman's All That is Solid Melts into Air
  • and Julian Barnes' Flaubert's Parrot
So! The house is scary professional clean, the laundry is all done and drying, the fridge is stocked, and that's what's in the stew pot.

Cheerio, friends.

*For those of you who've had trouble donating to their awesome program, this should help. And! in the kickstarter spirit, I'm offering a super awesome postal surprise to the first 5 people who donate 10 USD+. So come support a worthy cause and administer that solid kick in the pants you know you've dying to lay on me ever since I was a little jerk-hole in middle school! WIN.


Election Season is Fast Upon Us!

Fall is great for so many things. Soups, sweaters, gourds, new vacuum cleaners. Doing your civic duty. Celebrating my favorite candy-laced holiday...

One day I'll be celebrating Halloween in a temperate locale, where one's costume choice isn't entirely dictated by the thinness of one's blood. Just you wait and see. Although I've managed alright in the past. Boris was a clever choice, 'cause you get to wear a fedora and a trench coat.

Best Chilly-weather Costume Ever
And who's to say Professor Trelawney doesn't wear great big baggy sweaters and scarves upon scarves upon scarves. (Hey whaddaya know! I spelled her name right...)

What else means Fall? Oh, that's right: (inter)National Novel Writing Month!

Who's in? You may not say it much, but I know how much you miss the fevered, adrenaline-soaked madness of exam week.  Those late nights at the library, the bitter anguish of an evening's work lost - just because your computer weakly refuses to condone your impiously motivated mortification of the flesh? Impious my ass! What better way to justify your existence than to make it miserable? The Pope knows what I'm talking about.

Well, it's Bayram, so Husbee will be home and we're looking forward to a quiet week of finishing writing samples, small flurries of translation, stocking up on coffee, and trying to get ahead of other commitments - 'cause November is going to Rock.

If you're not quite up for reliving a month's worth of that last week of thesis writing, but still want to feel involved and glowey - sponsor me! The money raised goes towards the school programs NaNoWriMo organizes, and of course adds fuel to the fire of shame that'll make sure I finish what I start.

Shame-fire is invisible! But effective!

Oh man. And here all I wanted to do was gloat about having sent in my absentee ballot...

Rock on, civic pride. In case you're not sure which way to vote, you can read my review of 'Why America Needs a Left' here.

Let's hear it for Fall!



Well shpedoinkle. I broke the vacuum cleaner yesterday and the Dorian-the-cat promptly upended a struggling houseplant behind the sofa.

In other news, having cleaned up the prodigious mess with a dust pan, the day is already feeling ever so productive.



When in Rome

Ah, Comrades! It's going to be a truly lovely year. What did I do this weekend? Why, I endured an epically uncomfortable seat for the pleasure of watching Tannhauser "just like the Ancients!"

It was amazing. You could see stars. (Of course, when I'm not in New Hampshire, 70% of the constellations I see are 'Orion's Belt', but never mind that).

The conductor was delightful. Let's hear it for the Ankara Devlet orchestra.

There was a minstrel singing battle. To the death, guys. To. The. Death. And please note: they all twirled their capes like they were to the manner born. Or perhaps, to the manor born. I've always wondered about that. In this case, both work. It was way regal ... she said with just the faintest touch of irony.

And poor Venus was a demon, with ghoulish minion nymphs capering about all excessively limber.

 Spoiler alert: Chaste Elisabeth dies at the end. Her soul leaked out with all the fervent prayer. Some of those pilgrims may or may not be horribly, blasphemously, jealous.

And on that note, a small burst of vaguely impotent moral indignation from the editor's corner. Get your compassion hats on!

This happens a lot: an author asks me a reasonably thoughtful question about my methods and I respond in kind with a note about the balance required in order to edit both for the author and for the reader, what I've found works best for the kind of writing the author is doing.

Aaand the answer, always, is a variation on a theme: "I had no idea how tricky editing could be!" and then something, always, about how it seems like every author should have an editor each for internal integrity, stylistic coherence, readability, and every conceivable audience.

Perhaps, you generously say, the author thinks this is a compliment. But do you know what this says to your editor? "Editing is not a profession; it's certainly not something that requires any particular skill or talent. I have no idea what you get paid to do, but I certainly had no idea that you earned it."

And all the effort that I put into trying to make sure that my simmering rage isn't dumped in your lap gives me an ulcer.

Please don't do that. Basic etiquette: pass it on. Teach your children. Imagine a new world, a better world.


Krikes Amighty, What a Summer

I hope everyone had a fabulous summer, completely devoid of melanoma, heat-stroke, and mosquitoes. By those (and other) criteria, mine was a proper blast. Let's hear it for my parents and for all those summer birthdays that make the whole season a veritable parade of cakes!

Ah, but now we're back and that giant calendar I patchworked to the bedroom wall reminds me that December (and its deadlines) is Just Around The Corner. It's cool - I didn't slack off or anything. Finished a promised paper, been doing some reviews, for funsies, and chugging away at the translation of Alanna. And of course, the resettling period is always nice for all those little domestic chores that suddenly present themselves after you've been away. I just now reinforced the hangin' holes in our shower curtain - and yes I did wound myself in the process, thank you. 

Oh no! Alert the authorities! TETANUS!

One last weekend away for a Wagnerian opera at a remarkably well-preserved amphitheater with Husbee's family (and yes, we've got our cushions packed - just like those crazy cushion-toting Ancients) before kicking ourselves back into high gear for the new academic year.

And guys, this is important. Who wants to learn English by hypnosis? 

Happy Fall!


And Meanwhile, on the Application Front

We're in that funny transition period between active school life and "what teachers do in the summer." And guys, it's not what you may have imagined, watching my middle and high school teachers pack up the classroom at the end of the year. We Are Not On Vacation.

Which is fine and all, but does require a sliiight adjustment.

Oh well.

No way man! 'Slight adjustments' means that I get to make new and improved schedules! To-Do lists! Guys, this is MY FAVORITE.

We've implemented bi-weekly "boot camps" (to ensure regular attention is paid to our personal projects) and among those projects is pinpointing departments to which we'd like to apply, and possible sources of funding. We've given ourselves until June 30th to research departments, professors we're interested in working with, and those elusive individuals and groups interested in sponsoring our endeavors.

This ought to leave plenty of time for department-specific research, getting in touch with relevant faculty, and writing stunningly crafted statements of purpose before the Fall Term whisks us back into the fray.

Go get 'em!


Webly Roundup

Husbee and I had a lovely week with Ms. Finn Senseney and her Mister, exploring the various architectural and culinary wonders of Istanbul (pictured here: the aptly named "wet burger" and the external east-facing wall of the crown prince's apartments in the Topkapı harem). While we recover from their visit, you all can glory in some of the webly things that have been making me joyous.

Want to make or break a habit? Like charts? Have I got a present for you!

A classically trained opera singer and her orchestra: Srsly Cannot Go Wrong. They're My Brightest Diamond, and Husbee hasn't yet complained that they're playing 24/7. If you're going to be in Amsterdam, they're performing on the 17th.

Are you a writer in need of a organization system for all your sundry submissions? Try Duotrope: a free submission-managing service complete with easily searchable listings for fiction, non-fiction, and poetry. And just when you thought there wasn't enough type-A in your life!

If the summer's superhero blockbusters have re-lit a fire they just can't quench, check out my suggested reading list, in which complex principles of math and physics are explored through the always engaging Marvel Universe.

My friend Wendy's excellent article "The Islam in Islamic Art History" can be found here, along with what looks like a great selection of other art historiography research. Mayhaps in that group y'all will come across another academic writer who has learned how to get a point across!

In honor of my new obsession with Amazon's Mechanical Turk program (I'm hoping I can make enough to cover application fees!), here is an article on the program's name-sake: the chess-playing automaton!

Have a great rest of your week.


Birthdays and Beacons

First of all, a great big Happy 60th Birthday to my father, kicking off Birthday Season in grand tradition. Diamond Jubilee got nuthin' on us!

And to celebrate both my father's retirement and the long-awaited end of the Spring semester, I want to share our summer anthem, courtesy of They Might Be Giants. Fair warning: it does actually get stuck in your head a bit.

Now let's see: I promised some beacons of excellence in academic writing, didn't I? Let it never be said that I don't deliver the goods! But no suggestions from you all? My faithful and most delightful readers? Have you really not once read something well-written and enjoyable for a class or research? Sounds like someone ought to go have a little chat with your professors, for this simply will not stand.

Well, I suppose that means you'll be all the more pleased with me for rounding these up for you.

In no particular order:
  • Douglas Robinson, on translation practice and theory. His work can mostly be found on his academia.edu profile. Bless him and whoever taught him how to share.
  • Donna Haraway, on feminist theory and the history of science. You can download a PDF of her article "Situated Knowledges" here.
  • Borges, though perhaps better known for his fiction, nevertheless is an excellent writer of non-fiction. His 'Selected Non-Fiction' used to be available on library.nu (sadly shut down), but perhaps the more industrious of you have found an alternative. Any news on the book-sharing front would be much appreciated.
  • Anne Fadiman, while not strictly an "academic writer," is the reigning queen of creative non-fiction. Her personal essays are clear, engaging, beautifully written, and incredibly informative. Makes for a great palate cleanser. You can listen to her reading an excerpt from one of her essays here.
I hope that will hold you for now, and if anyone has anyone to add to our list of Those Deserving of Praise and Admiration, please do share the wealth!

Happy Sunday, y'all.
Tune in next week for some tips and suggestions as we start the search for our perfect graduate program. Who said summer was for beaches? I'll be courting myopia, not melanoma...

If you just can't wait, here is an article by yours truly on how to get and stay in the academic loop (and thereby never miss yet another freaking deadline).



A Handy Mission Statement

 If you have not read George Orwell's essay "Politics and the English Language" I urge you to rectify the situation immediately (links provided below, no frets). Although of course I first absolve you of the oversight. The title is a bit misleading, allowing people who write in academia (and therefore, theoretically, not in politics) to think its wisdom and chastisement don't apply to them.

For our purposes, the essay might be more aptly titled "How to Communicate Complicated Thoughts Clearly and Effectively, and the Importance Of Doing So." 
The problems Orwell spots in political writing can and does apply to all academic fields: 
The first is staleness of imagery; the other is lack of precision. The writer either has a meaning and cannot express it, or he inadvertently says something else, or he is almost indifferent as to whether his words mean anything or not. This mixture of vagueness and sheer incompetence is the most marked characteristic of modern English prose...
That machete-sword thing he's unsheathing over there is for brutally killing, and thereby ending the writing careers, of anyone who persists in either laziness or incompetence. Death to he who uses language as an instrument for concealing or preventing thought. Grrr. Arg.

The Mad Hatter is an excellent specimen of literary delight, but heaven help you if you've been channeling him in your academic writing.

You can find the full text of Orwell's essay here, as beautifully formatted as it is on paper. I have no words for Mt. Holyoke's comparatively unreadable version, but you're welcome to click and gawp if you need a quick fix. By this weekend I'll have corralled a respectable collection of rigorous and aesthetically pleasing academic writing which I believe is working to reverse the process of general decline. If you've read anything that you think fits that general description, please leave a message after the beep.


The Sincerest Form of Flattery

Friends, I would like to share a peeve with you. A peeve of the petly variety, and one I believe many of you share.

Bad Writing.

Bad writing can be found everywhere, and is mostly avoidable. Come across a badly written blog? Don't read it. Or hate-read it, if your grammar sirens aren't paralyzing. A badly written novel stays on the shelf. Badly written poetry goes out of print.

Badly written academic work, tragically, is often unavoidable. It's on the syllabus, or it's related to your research. Or maybe it was written by someone in a department to which you'd like to apply, and like any diligent potential applicant you want to acquaint yourself with the work of potential advisors and colleagues.

Torture, as we of the Gitmo generation know, is illegal. And mean. And really just not all that effective. Which I suppose makes the vast majority of academic writing in violation of the Geneva Convention. Come on guys!

Academics, by all accounts, have to read a lot. And reading a lot, it's widely believed, is crucial to writing well. But the vast majority of the academic papers and books I've read during the course of my academic career have been convoluted wormholes of headache-inducing ineffective communication. And I don't just mean the professors suffering from Publish or Perish fever who don't edit their work and frankly don't give two figs about the suffering of their potential future readers. I mean Big Names. Like Spivak and Butler. Even poor Derrida is completely misread, and while I'll allow that some of that is laziness on the part of researchers who would rather read a paper about his writing than his writing itself - but only some of that recalcitrance is laziness. Some of it can probably be attributed to the sheer overwhelming volume of work, and the incredibly low bar set by so very much of it.

Where did we go wrong?

Well, I won't go into that. But I will go ahead and give you the silver lining (which I feel I should tell you is pretty glorious): having identified a problem, we have ourselves a cause! Even the most crowded of fields have wide swathes of unreadable research, and if you have the stamina and super-human decoding power necessary to synthesize and reformulate, you can raise that bar.

Stay tuned. The next installment will highlight the rare gem that is quality academic writing. Please, if you've stumbled across any particularly excellent writers in academe, do share. As many ways as it can all go wrong, there must be as many ways for it to be done right.


Webly Roundup

Husbee and I saw The Avengers last night for our lunaversary (Joss Whedon rocked that, naturally). Late night makes for a late start today, but Yea though I walk through the valley of mild sleep deprivation, I shall fear no self-recrimination! Am stubbornly bush-whacking through Apter's book, and chugging away at Alanna.

But if you need a break, here is a collection of excellent things from around the web to distract and delight.

Wendy MacNaughton's excellent illustrated epic of this year's 99% Conference.

Dead Duck Day is coming up!

Geoffrey Pullum makes a great point about a common grammatical misconception.

A professional portfolio site-building platform, free until you publish and 11 dollars/month afterwards. No knowledge of code needed!

The Paperless Post: good Samaritans trying to bring a little of the traditional post back to your e-communication. Mostly free, completely gorgeous graduation cards, change of address notices, party invitations, anything else you could possibly want!

The two grandfathers of Economic Theory engaged in a rap battle! Keynes vs. Hayek, round one and round two.

Have a great rest of the week!


And in the Batter's Cage...

We have Emily Apter's "Translation Zone."

From Princeton University Press:

Translation, before 9/11, was deemed primarily an instrument of international relations, business, education, and culture. Today it seems, more than ever, a matter of war and peace. In The Translation Zone, Emily Apter argues that the field of translation studies, habitually confined to a framework of linguistic fidelity to an original, is ripe for expansion as the basis for a new comparative literature.
Organized around a series of propositions that range from the idea that nothing is translatable to the idea that everything is translatable, The Translation Zone examines the vital role of translation studies in the "invention" of comparative literature as a discipline. Apter emphasizes "language wars" (including the role of mistranslation in the art of war), linguistic incommensurability in translation studies, the tension between textual and cultural translation, the role of translation in shaping a global literary canon, the resistance to Anglophone dominance, and the impact of translation technologies on the very notion of how translation is defined. The book speaks to a range of disciplines and spans the globe.
Ultimately, The Translation Zone maintains that a new comparative literature must take stock of the political impact of translation technologies on the definition of foreign or symbolic languages in the humanities, while recognizing the complexity of language politics in a world at once more monolingual and more multilingual.

I guess their blurb kind of gives away the punchline, but let's give it a go in any case.  Tally ho!


"Why Translation Matters" by Edith Grossman

"National literature" is a narrowing, confining concept based on the distinction between native and foreign, which is certainly a valid and useful differentiation in some areas and under certain circumstances, but in writing it is obviated by translation, which dedicates itself to denying and negating the impact of divine punishment for the construction of the Tower of Babel, or at least to overcoming its most divisive effects. Translation asserts the possibility of a coherent, unified experience of literature in the world's multiplicity of languages. (17)
So, yeah. Translation as diplomacy; translation as an inherent, inescapable truth of linguistic existence; translation, in the most meta way possible, as the key to redemption and salvation. 

This little book, when you come right down to it, is a blatant and well-presented challenge to literary critics: there is a shameful and ultimately harmful deficiency in the vocabulary available to discuss and engage with the myriad relationships connecting translations and translators with the work and author they've brought over into another language, including the various contexts and implied readerships full of "idiosyncratic, eccentric, and thoroughly unpredictable" readers. Grossman frames the challenge thusly:
Even if it is unrealistic to wish that every reviewer of a translated work were at least bilingual, it is not unreasonable to require a substantive and intelligent acknowledgment of the reality of the translation. [...] I do regret very sincerely that so few of them have devised an intelligent way to review both the original and its translation within the space limitations imposed by the publication. It seems to me that their inability to do so is a product of intransigent dilettantism and tenacious amateurism, the menacing two-headed monster that runs rampant through the inhospitable landscape peopled by those who write reviews. (32)
And with slightly less venom:
It has been suggested to me... that translation may well be an entirely separate genre, independent of poetry, fiction, or drama, and that the next great push in literary studies should probably be to conceptualize and formulate the missing critical vocabulary. (47)
She provides a Mr. James Wood as the lone example of "an uninformed reviewer who consistently pays serious attention to the real value of translation" - I will do some dutiful legwork and see if I can scrounge up some examples in the near future.

In the second chapter, Grossman delves into her recent, if nevertheless miasmic experience translating Don Quixote, allowing her example to highlight the incredible tension and balance necessary to produce a "faithful" translation. Succinct recap: "words do not mean in isolation" (71).

The last chapter is a similar treatment of a representative sample of her translated poetry, which I'll admit to skimming. I can't read Spanish, so comparing the texts would have been less than enlightening, and I'm well aware of the importance of rhythm, rhyme, and meter. But in any case, duly noted, and if I find myself contemplating a move from prose to poetry, I'll certainly revisit those last few pages.

And that does it for today, I guess. Time to shake the cramp out of my legs and go poke the kitty.


A New Season

Welcome to Exultation, friends! The Spring semester is drawing to a close and I'm celebrating the insidious approach of summer - with its promise of sunburn, heat exhaustion, and the otherwise free enjoyment of picnics, margaritas, and blissfully air-conditioned public libraries.

Oh, Ecstasy!

Here's the deal: I am staring - hands clasped in rapture - through June towards nine or ten months of gainful unemployment, with the odd editing project here and there. What shall I do with this glorious abyss, you ask? I thought I might take the time to begin working through a decade's-worth of accumulated books and just generally indulging all the little projects and interests that have been on the back burner - not to mention researching and applying to doctoral programs in Comparative Literature and English (oh the humanities!), and will share my circuitous struggles here for anyone interested. Grand ambitions, I know. So welcome to the chronicle of what I hope will be a delightful and productive period of chipping away at the backlogs. 

Fair warning: I live in Istanbul and share my days with the most marvelous cat, but I promise not to let her take over. Just one picture so you can all coo and we can just get on with it. Her name is Dorian, and she wakes me up around 5 most mornings with little jabs at my nose. It is to her that we can attribute any serious periods of productivity.

Incidentally, I'm starting with "Why Translation Matters" by Edith Grossman and a series of essays on Epistemology - acquired, ye gads, last Christmas and birthday-before-last (respectively) and as yet shamefully unread. If you have any reading suggestions (or want a reading buddy), I'd be happy to take them on.

Other projects currently underway are a translation into Turkish of Tamora Pierce's Alanna, the slow and painful acquisition of basic Arabic (with the ultimate intention of reading Ottoman Turkish), and small academic editing projects to indulge my pedantic side. FUN.