Tuesday, April 28, 2009

A Specter is Haunting Pennsylvania...

I wish I could be happier about the whole Specter switcheroo. Honestly, I think it is bad for us ("us" being the forces of truth and justice) in the long run. Sure, it's a great media narrative today, and I love reading articles about the permanent demise of the Republican Party as much as anyone else.


Let's think about the practical consequences. First of all, Specter is going to vote more or less the same way he always has, which is to say, as a conservative with brief moments of sanity. He's apparently still going to oppose EFCA, and hold up Dawn Johnson's nomination. I suspect that if Anita Hill were to show up in front of the Judiciary Committee today, he'd still do his best to browbeat and humiliate her.

Secondly, this means that it is going to be a lot more difficult to replace Specter with a real Democrat. Until this, there were two scenarios in play. Option A, Specter is defeated by Toomey in the primary, and just about any Democratic candidate wins in the general. Option B, Specter loses in primary, runs as an independent, a fairly strong Democratic candidate wins the divided vote. Now, we're stuck with him for the forseeable future: the Democratic machine from Rendell up to Obama has pledged to campaign for him.

The thing about Specter is that he could care less about his "ideals" and his marginalization within the Republican Party. I mean, the Republican Party has been in its current ideological state arguably since Gingrich and Company circa 1994, and certainly for the last nine years. In his last primary, conservatives were trying just as hard to unseat him. The Republican Party has not changed in the last decade; the only thing that has changed is that political conditions have aligned to finally push him out of office.

Now, Olympia Snowe on the other hand...that would be cool.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Academic Sweat

Philadelphia is going through a horrendous heat wave at the moment. Highs in the lower 90s, lows in the 60s. Summer weather, in other words, which is all fine and dandy if one doesn't have to look presentable five days a week in front of judgmental undergraduates. (Except for the ones who read this blog; I'm sure you're not judgmental. But your friends are.)

Most of the calendar year I love the costume of the male academic. The tweed, the argyle, the sweater vests (haven't gone there yet myself, but oh, I will), the ubiquitous elbow patch. One of my professors in graduate school once told me that back in the early radical days of New Musicology, he and his colleagues made an effort to dress somewhat stylishly, as a marker of difference against the old guard. I can appreciate that strategy, but as a member of Generation Y to their Generation X (or a "Millenial Musicologist," as Ryan would say), I personally embrace the quirkiness of all tweed, all the time. If I had the money, that is; good academic clothes don't come cheap, and I'm slowly building up the appropriate wardrobe.

On the other side of things, we all know that it has historically been difficult for women academics to find the right balance in their dress of projecting academic authority without looking like Meg Whitman. All joking aside, unlike the male professor who can just roll out of bed and don tweed, a woman runs the risk of fairly severe consequences for her career if the wrong choice is made. (See judgmental students, above.) But if there is one thing I envy about women's academic clothing, it's that it is much more flexible when it comes to temperature. Because as the thermometer climbs here in Philly, I've begun to dread the walk from my car to the music building. There just simply aren't many good ways to look like a professor without becoming a sweaty mess.

This is about to become particularly fraught as I've taken a job for next year at the College of William and Mary. It's a visiting assistant professor job, a one-year sabbatical replacement, and I'm thrilled about it. Not only is it actual full-time employment with benefits and a humane teaching load, but W&M has a long tradition of American music research that I will be honored to be part of. So as I say, I'm thrilled.

But...it's also in Southern Virginia. And I struggle enough to keep myself un-sweaty up here in Philadelphia. Five and a half hours south, and it's going to be grim.

Any words of advice? How does one maintain academic garb in the south? A former professor of mine in Los Angeles owned a white linen suit, but I can't really pull that off. Shorts are obviously out; I think it is written somewhere in the faculty handbook that a male professor's knees should never be seen. Short sleeves and a tie? Pretty soon I'd look like I worked for NASA in the 1960s. What to do?

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Figaro in Philly

Doing anything this upcoming Friday night, April 24, at 7:30 pm? Live in the Philadelphia area?

You should come see my little sister sing the role of the Countess in The Marriage of Figaro, in a production directed by Marc Astafan at Temple University.

Tickets and more information available here.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick

Axiom 1: People are different from each other

It is astonishing how few respectable conceptual tools we have for dealing with this self-evident fact. A tiny number of inconceivably coarse axes of categorization have been painstakingly inscribed in current critical and political thought: gender, race, class, nationality, sexual orientation are pretty much the available distinctions. They, with the associated demonstrations of the mechanisms by which they are constructed and reproduced, are indispensable, and they may indeed override all or some other forms of difference and similarity. But the sister or brother, the best friend, the classmate, the parent, the child, the lover, the ex-: our families, lovers, and enmities alike, not to mention the strange relations of our work, play, and activism, prove that even people who share all or most of our own positionings along these crude axes may still be different enough from us, and from each other, to seem like all but different species.

There's an old joke about academia, that the fighting is so vicious because the stakes are so small. Which is, of course, totally true. But Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, who passed away this weekend, was the rare critic who made the stakes much larger. I honestly can think of few other academics I have admired more. In my head I have an approximately 20,000 word-long blog post about how much her work and career means to me, but I think I'll stop here, leaving you with the first axiom from her epochal 1990 book Epistemology of the Closet. Roxie's World has a good roundup of memorials.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

The Polite Musicologist

I can't decide if this year's Job Wiki has been good or bad for our profession. I'm sure that for many of us the answer has been obvious--it's been dreadful. Have you seen it recently? The discussion sections have become a swirling rampage of doom and derision. The simplest questions have brought upon their posers a torrent of abuse. Snideness and terror run amok. False rumors are spread willy-nilly, useful discussions are summarily (and anonymously) deleted. Job postings were hidden until after the deadline date. The nadir was when one anonymous participant threatened to commit suicide if s/he didn't find employment by year's end. A few urged him or her to seek help, but really, what can you do?

Really, it's been brutal. I think most of us have ascribed the rising invective to the corresponding diminution of the market itself. No surprise to anyone, but the academic job market was a shadow itself this year. The Job Wiki has seemed like a pack of wolves fighting over the last measly shreds of a carcass.

But it's also our disciplinary culture. I've often heard it said that musicology is more polite than other disciplines, the reasoning being that because we are so small, there is less room to hide from an enemy than at, say, an MLA conference. There's a very small group of people out there who might be called upon to referee your grant application, or give you a job, or peer review your article, and it would be best not to have spit upon them previously. I also think that another factor is that unlike some other humanities disciplines, musicology is still foundationally organized around a nostalgic and romantic attachment to the canon. By which I mean, we were all once nerds who played in our high school orchestras, and despite some diversification, many of us come from very, very similar backgrounds.

Let's also be honest with ourselves. "Politeness" in our discipline is often of the barest superficiality. Because while it's true there's not a whole lot of, you know, cursing, or whatever, at our national meetings, there is I think a pretty fundamental lack of respect in our discipline. When certain other musicology bloggers refer to entire fields of scholarship as "Victim Studies", it might not be "impolite," per se, and might not rise to the level of vitriol on this year's job wiki. Nevertheless, that kind of comment betrays fundamental disrespect for his colleagues in the discipline who work in such areas.

Which goes both ways of course. I work in those very corners of musicology Jonathan often derides, and yes, in these corners I have often heard (and perhaps uttered myself when being foolish) disrespectful things about other scholarly approaches, and implicitly those people who practice them. Disrespect cuts across ideological divides in musicology. I think we would all agree that scholarship should ideally be a collaboration, or at least a conversation. But if you result to name-calling and willful ignorance, then any conversation is immediately shut down.

But at any rate, this is the sort of impoliteness that does actually pervade our discipline. We've all seen this at AMS meetings, when scholarly turfs are defended against interlopers and graduate students berated for lack of sufficient hommage to their forebearers. And even more frequently, whenever we roll our eyes at a research topic or approach, before even knowing anything about it. And it ends up having real consequences for people's careers; for how books are reviewed, papers accepted, hires made.

So back to the question: is this year's job wiki good or bad? Well, of course it is extremely unpleasant to read, and I find myself avoiding it more and more. But sometimes, I'd rather have the animosity out in the open where I can see it.