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Clarissa's Blog

An academic's opinions on feminism, politics, literature, philosophy, teaching, academia, and a lot more.

Archive for the month “April, 2011”

Grading Observations

I know that these observation will not surprise anyone, but I’ve been grading for two days and feel that I need to share.

Students are exceptionally good at memorizing stuff. They can reproduce huge chunks of my lectures verbatim. It is even kind of scary to read your own statements repeated back to you so flawlessly in several dozen exams. As somebody who can’t memorize worth a damn, I’m very impressed with this capacity.

Now, the part of the exam that requires expressing one’s own opinions or analyzing a passage from a text is a lot more painful. Many people prefer simply to leave this part blank. This is quite strange because one would think that expressing one’s opinion about the text one read and discussed at length (and a passage from which is provided in the exam) would be the easiest part of the assignment. That’s not how it is for the students, though.

Those who chose to answer the questions asking them to analyze an excerpt that was provided did one of two things: a) simply copied some part of the excerpt into the answer box, or b) found a more or less relevant quote from me among their list of memorized quotes and reproduced it.

Only two students out of those whose work I’ve graded up to now provided an actual analysis of the texts and wrote their own stuff rather than reproducing mine. Both of them are Latin American.

I still have 15 more exams left to grade, so we’ll see if this trend bears out in all of them.

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>Ernesto Sabato Died

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Ernesto Sabato, a famous Argentinean writer, died at the age of 99 today. Sabato may not have been the most talented Latin American writer (which is not surprising since the amount of literary talent in Latin America is overwhelming), but if I had to recommend a single Latin American novel for somebody to read, I would recommend Sabato’s short novel The Tunnel
I don’t claim that the literary quality of this novel is higher than that of many other amazing Latin American writers. However, the importance of The Tunnel resides in the profound insight it offers into the nature of machismo. (The feminist in me will always defeat the literary critic, the academic, the educator, and every other facet of my personality, and I confess this freely.) The workings of the mind of a woman-hater, whose main goal in life is to perpetuate his passionate belief in female inferiority, are described in minute and terrifying detail. As you look into the diseased mind of Castel, the women-hating protagonist of the novel, you realize exactly where the horror of machismo comes from. 
As I have written on various occasions, I was initially going to dedicate my life to the study of Latin American literature. Soon, however, I realized that I wasn’t going to be able to deal with how machista the entirety of Latin American literature is, so I switched to Peninsular Studies. So many extremely talented authors from Latin America celebrate and prettify male chauvinism that it just gets tiresome. Sabato, however, goes so deep into the mind of a woman-hater that all you can do as a reader is shrink away in horror. That, I believe, is extremely valuable because I cannot think of another Latin American writer of either gender who does anything even close to this.
On a personal level, The Tunnel was one of the first novels in Spanish I ever read. I was in my early twenties, and the novel really helped me to understand what informs and nourishes male chauvinism. Many things that I was seeing around me became very clear. Actions of some of the men I knew transformed from highly mysterious to crystal-clear in their machismo. I strongly believe that this novel should be required reading for all young women. There are aspects of machismo that, at a first glance, might even seem (and often do) attractive to many young women. Understanding how male chauvinism works would be an invaluable skill for the life of any woman.

>A Russian Joke

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A son of a Russian billionaire got married. On the next morning, the billionaire catches his son sneaking into the house. Since he knows his own son very well, the billionaire exclaims,
“You just got married yesterday and already you went out whoring! Do you have no shame?”
“Well, Dad, it’s like this,” the son explained. “I woke up this morning and looked at my bride who was sleeping next to me. She looked so beautiful, so peaceful and gentle, and I felt that I love her more than words could express. So how could I interrupt her sleep just to save a stupid hundred bucks?”

>The Benefits of Growing Up in a Non-Religious Environment

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1. Your body belongs to you. You can do whatever you want with it and not what some guy in a confessional or behind a pulpit decides.
2. You can eat and drink whatever you like whenever you like without feeling the need to consult some incomprehensible ancient book by people who have been dead forever.
3. There is no need to wake up early on Sunday and schlep to a building where equally sleepy and annoyed people engage in weird rituals together.
4. The idea that there can be anything wrong or shameful about sexual pleasure sounds bizarre.
5. Activities like enjoying food, procrastinating and expressing emotions freely do not lead to intense feelings of guilt.
6. In your romantic relationships, you consult your desires, not dusty tomes.
7. You save a lot of money because nobody hits you up for a donation every week.
8. You don’t have to waste hours of your life hearing some individual pontificate in a pompous and boring manner every week.
9. If you do kind and charitable things it’s because that’s what you want and not because somebody guilt-tripped you into it.
10. You don’t have to make a fool of yourself by questioning the most basic advances of science.
11. If you fall out of love, you can split up instead of forcing yourself suffer through a loveless relationship.

12. If you are a woman, you don’t grow up with constant reminders of how inferior you are.

13. If you are gay or transgender, you don’t get demonized and rejected for that by a group of people who respect somebody’s interpretation of some old book more than they respect actual human beings.

14. As an adult, you can evaluate all systems of belief and decide for yourself which one suits you best, which is always a lot more convenient than people having decided that for you when you were a baby with no will of your own. People who pontificate about the atrocity of arranged marriages forget how easily most of them contracted an arranged marriage with their own spirituality. Their parents decide for them on the basis of custom and tradition, and then they are condemned to be spiritual in a way that they might have never chosen if they had any say in the matter.

P.S. If you want to write a response on the benefits of growing up religious, feel free. All I ask is that you try to do it without mentioning the word “community.”

>Opinions About Ortega y Gasset

>OK, I just have to share it because it’s too good to be kept from people. One of the questions on the final exam was “Express your views about the political views of Ortega y Gasset.”

One of the students wrote in response [the translation is mine]: “Ortega y Gasset really understood the nature of democracy. He realized that the masses are stupid but they are still necessary for a nation to exist.”

Somehow, I just can’t lower the grade for this.

>End of Semester Correspondence

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I wonder why some students choose the end of the academic year to get on a prof’s nerves in the most inventive ways imaginable. It has to be pretty obvious that a professor will be extremely thankful to anybody who doesn’t waste her time in any way and might even cut such considerate students some slack. Apparently, most students don’t see it this way because I keep receiving emails from students that would try the patience of an early Christian saint. Here are some examples of what I’ve been dealing with in the past two weeks.
A) Dear Professor Clarissa, You said that today is the cut off day for the lab and I know that the lab is worth 25% of the final grade. I haven’t done any lab since the beginning of the semester and I’m getting kind of worried. Should I worry about it or is it OK?
B) Dear Professor, I’m writing to tell you that you are the bestest, most amazing prof ever. I absolutely LOVED your class this semester. Your lectures are always so interesting and fun!!! I know I missed 11 classes this semester (out of 24) but I know that if I’d been there I would have loved them. So I hope that you don’t hold my absences against me.
C) Hi. I’m wondering what my grade is at this point. Please send me what my grade is before the final exam. I need to know how much to prepare for the final exam. Thanks.
D) Dear Clarissa, I know you talked about the final exam in class today but I wasn’t listening. Could you tell me what it is you said?
E) Hi prof, I know I missed the oral exam today and I’m sorry. Is there any way I could do a makeup exam and submit it to you by email?
F) Dear professor, I know that I spoke a lot of English during the oral exam today and that resulted in a very low grade. I just wanted to explain to you why that happened. I really love Spanish and want to learn it but speaking English is so much easier! So that’s why I spoke it during the exam.
G) Hey Clarissa, thank you for giving us this great study guide for the exam in our literature course. I find it very helpful. The only problem is that I can’t find the answer key. Did you forget to hand it out or did I misplace it?
I’ve been trying to figure out which one is my favorite but it’s too hard to choose one. Which one do you like the most?

>The Weirdest People Out There. . .

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. . . are the ones who actually care about something as inane as the royal wedding. I read online that there are people who get together and organize royal-wedding-watching parties. I find this to be just mystifying. There is so much stuff going on in the world, so many important events, so many books to read, music to listen to, ideas to discuss. Who on earth has the time, the energy and the interest for some stupid ceremony commemorating a relationship of complete strangers? Strangers who haven’t even done anything interesting with their lives other than being born to a certain social group. I barely had the time to interrupt a fascinating discussion of class relations to let the judge do her spiel during my own marriage ceremony. Why would I want to waste my life on somebody else’s?

>Who the Hell Is Neruda?

>In answering the question whether Pablo Neruda received any international recognition, a student informed us that nobody knows who he is besides people who are really into poetry.

Serves him right, too. Neruda was a brilliant poet but that, in my opinion, is not enough to redeem him from his horrible machismo. Just take this atrocious beginning of his most famous love poem (translation is mine): "I like it when you are silent because it is as if you weren't there."

It's stuff like this that made me switch from Latin American to Peninsular studies. Spain's Garcia Lorca who created pretty much the only interesting and non-pathetic female character in the entirety of Spanish literature is incomparably better.

And yes, I'm trying to be provocative on purpose here.

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>Alcoholism and Gender

>I'm listening to senior presentations of graduating students in our department right now. One student (who is an absolute star in our program) stated that alcoholism is something that traditionally is associated a lot more with men than with women. I've never heard anything like that. Is it a cultural thing or something?

I'd really like to know if my readers also see alcoholism as more of a male affliction.
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>Running

>Because of all these meetings that are scheduled back-to-back I just entertained the entire university by running across campus. Running is something I do with the gracefulness of a wounded rhinoceros, so I'm sure that everybody who was outside enjoying the sunny weather really appreciated this spectacle. Well, at least I managed to make people smile on the last day of classes.

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