Online Learning Conference, Part II

The funniest thing at the conference was a comment made by a woman from the audience. There were so many questions and comments, so many raised hands in the audience, and so much interest from so many people that everybody tried to be brief. Not this person, though.

“My brother and I are very different,” she began. “Our mother decided to redesign her kitchen because, I mean, in a house that was built back in the 1950s, you’ve got to be ready to do some redecorating at least every half-century or so, if you know what I mean. So my brother decided to build a counter top for her, and he went to Home Depot. . .”

As she rambled on and on and on about the counter top, we sat there in astonishment trying to figure out how the story related to the subject of online learning.

Details about the counter top-building efforts of her brother poured out of the woman for a while longer. Some people looked like they were starting to doze off. 

“But there was, of course, one thing my brother forgot to do,” the speaker declared triumphantly, and we all perked up, hoping she was about to tell us that her brother had forgotten to submit homework in his online course on counter tops. “He forgot to ask our mother what color she preferred! Seriously, my brother is somewhat challenged in the sociability department, if you know what I mean. He just never knows what’s appropriate in the way he relates to people.”

The speaker guffawed loudly, finally giving the moderator an opportunity to come in with a desperately loud, “Thank you! And now for the next question, please!”

The next question was from my colleague who asked whether we were bothered by the possibility that online learning would make good communication skills even more rare.

Book Notes: Alissa Nutting’s Tampa

I read the following comment on a blog I follow last week and felt intrigued:

A lot of women’s writing that’s considered subversive falls within acceptable parameters —  she’s not really bad, her circumstances made her that way — and usually comes with a lack of power. The last book I read that subverts many of those tropes was Alissa Nutting’s Tampa, and I’d be lying if I said it didn’t make me uncomfortable because it was so unrecognizable.

I spent years studying female Bildungsromane, so I’m desperate – just literally, desperate – for a novel with a female protagonist who has any other goal in life than infantilizing herself. The problem is, as the linked blogger points out, any female characters in contemporary fiction who are not totally pathetic, only manage to find some strength as a result of trauma or something bad happening to them. So I decided to check out this novel to see if it was, indeed, unrecognizable.

The bad news: the novel is the opposite of unrecognizable. For those of you who are fellow Hispanists, I have 4 words: The Ages of Lulu. And now that my Spanish-speaking readers have already died of boredom and switched to another window in their densely populated browsers, I can tell everybody else what I mean.

There is this trend in contemporary novels about women where the female protagonist goes to extreme lengths in order to infantilize herself. Many people don’t notice that about these books, however, and consider it hugely subversive, “empowering”, and all kinds of sad crap because the heroine engages in tons of very outrageous sex. It’s like “has lots of sex” translates into “is powerful, feminist, and subversive” in many people’s heads. This is so 1960s that it bores me even to talk about it. 

So in Tampa, we see a character who is a pedophile and engages in endless, and very graphically and painstakingly described sex acts with 14-year-old boys. The reason why she does it is because she is terrified of growing up. Just like every other boring heroine of every other boring Bildungsroman from the past 3 decades. And so that’s what the novel is about. 268 pages of sex with boys. And then the novel mercifully ends.

I’m not unhappy I checked it out because I keep being told that my discipline is not real science because my conclusions are not falsifiable. And it’s not true. I don’t trade in “subjective opeeenions.” The only reason why I picked up the book was to see if it was going to prove me wrong. It didn’t but it’s not outside the realm of probability that it could. 

If you do decide to read the book, please do not tell me that it hurts the feelings of the pedophile community because of the incorrectness of its depictions of pedophiliac sex. I’ve faced my fair share of that argument in the discussions of 50 Shades of Grey.

Author: Alissa Nutting

Title: Tampa

Year of publication: 2014

My rating: 2 out of 10 (because it proved me right and there were a couple of apt observations about boredom that I enjoyed)