Then As Now

From Wallace Stegner’s novel Crossing to Safety about 1930s in the US:

I don’t know how English departments are now, for I escaped them years ago. But I know how they used to look. . . They used to look like high serene lamaseries where the elect lived in both comfort and grace. Up there, scholars as learned and harmless as Chaucer’s Clerk of Oxenford moved among books and ideas, eating and drinking well, sleeping soft, having three-month summer vacations during which they had only to cultivate their inclinations. . . Freed by tenure, by an assured salary, by modest wants, by an inherited competence, or by all four, they were untouched by the scrabbling and scuffling that went on outside the walls.

Sound recognizable? Some things never change, I guess. And just like now, back then some of them were

men of brains and learning and disinterested goodwill, but some were stuffed shirts, and some incompetents, and some timid souls escaping from the fray, and some climbers, and some as bitter and jealous as some of us were at being inadequately appreciated.

Obviously, I’m not talking exclusively about English departments and not even mostly about them. “Inherited competence” fits other disciplines much better.

P.S. Who knew the word “lamaseries” before today? Not me!

From the Margins of Thought

A Spanish academic has embarked on a five-year quest to rescue the works of female writers from the margins of European thought and give them the recognition they have been denied for centuries. Carme Font, a lecturer in English literature at the Autonomous University of Barcelona, has been awarded a €1.5m (£1.35m) grant by the European Research Council to scour libraries, archives and private collections in search of letters, poems and reflections written by women from 1500 to 1780.

I don’t have the energy to open the files with my critical sources right now, so I can’t remember the name of the literary critic who said recently that we are so obsessed with worshiping the margins that we’d deify any kind of crap if we heard it was marginalized. I’m sure it was somebody Basque but I’m blanking on the name.

Sorry, I meant, OMG, fantastic news! Only transnational organizations can be trusted to pour insane amounts of money into real scholarship! I have no idea what so bloody ever how one can spend two million bucks scouring archives for margins of thought but yip-dee-doodle.

Kids Change

Children change very fast. I discovered today that I no longer need to bring a huge backpack with books, toys, snacks, crayons, and stickers to entertain Klara even on an 8-hour-long airplane trip. I don’t need to bring anything at all.

Back in summer, we couldn’t go even through a 2,5-hour flight without all these accoutrements, so I brought the huge backpack that weighs more than the load of my sins today. But it wasn’t needed. We spent the whole flight playing vegetables or treats (we take turns naming vegetables, and the person who runs out first loses). At other times, she played alone or sang songs while I read. It was really great. Plus, she now waits for food and beverages. And she let me use the bathroom five times! Which is only fair since giving birth to her is the reason why I need the bathroom so often. (I didn’t tell her this part, obviously.)

If it weren’t for the fact that my connecting flight in Minneapolis was at the opposite end of the interminable airport, this would almost be a restful trip.