Yay for Merit!

I didn’t win this year’s award for Distinguished Research Professor but I’m still extremely happy because the person who won it is from my department and truly deserves it. Incredibly, she publishes more than I do.

I’m always happy when the system works and deserving people get recognized. Yay for merit!

By the way, I’ve had a very contentious relationship with this particular person. And I never have contentious relationships. And I’m still very sincerely happy because there are things that matter more than personal squabbles.

I deeply dislike people who say merit isn’t real. The colleague who won the award is… how do I put it politely? Let’s say she’ll never win anybody over through personal charm or connections. This award is a recognition of absolutely nothing other than hard work and academic brilliance. And that’s wonderful.

Book Notes: Javier Cercas’s Terra Alta

Hispanic literature is the best in the world, yet it hasn’t been able to produce a readable mystery / police procedural. I’ve read all sorts of mystery novels in Spanish starting from the ones published in the 1950s, and they all stank. Their main problem isn’t even the plot or the mystery itself. It’s the language. For some reason, nobody knows how to write a mystery in Spanish without sounding extremely pompous.

I don’t expect much from the genre. I’ll read any mystery novel if it makes me want to find out “whodunit.” But mysteries in Spanish didn’t meet even my extremely low expectations.

Until Javier Cercas’s Terra Alta.

Cercas had published a mega-bestseller in 2000 which gave rise to the boom of the Spanish Civil War novel that still hasn’t fully died out. Since then, Cercas tried himself in every genre and flopped dramatically every time.

I never gave up on him, though. If the guy can unleash a torrent of Civil War obsession, he can do a lot more. For 20 years, I read every excruciating word Cercas published. And this week I discovered that I’d been right to do so! Cercas has written the first readable mystery/police procedural in the Hispanic world. It’s sappy, and he sticks his Civil War obsession into it, but it works!

The reason why it works is that the language is very simple, basic even, and as a result Cercas avoids pomposity. Mind you, the novel is still very sentimental. But it’s eminently readable.

Javier Cercas has finally found his genre, and I hope he keeps writing in it. And I have found a mystery in Spanish that I didn’t hate.

What Can Limit Desire?

Scruton says that the liberal arts education is obsessively instilling the idea that all cultures are great and equally valuable and should be judged on their own terms. Except, of course, the Western civilization, which is uniquely evil and has to be constantly denounced. I’m in higher education and I confirm that this is exactly what it’s like.

However, Scruton says, you can’t build community on renunciation. Constantly denouncing the evilness of your culture and groveling at the feet of other (often bizarre and barbaric) cultures doesn’t help bind isolated individuals together and can’t put any limit on their endless desires.

If there’s no religion, no nation, and no culture to create any sort of boundary for the endless desires of alienated individuals, what’s left?

The response to this conundrum has been to foster identity attachments. That hasn’t worked. At the root of identity there’s nothing but the mythology of shared grievance. Grievance by its nature can’t limit desire because it’s all about unsatisfied desire.


I participate in several mentoring programs where established scholars help early-career academics to prepare an article for publication, organize a CV, edit a cover letter, practice for a job interview, etc.

My field is majority female. However, in all the years I’ve been doing this kind of mentorship stuff, 100% of my mentees have been male. I have no explanation for this phenomenon. I’m eager to mentor a female academic, and there are crowds of them in my field.

In desperation, we started a mentorship program for my 99%-female association of scholars. I’m not anticipating getting any applications.