When Did You Discover Your Dream Career?

The following question came up on College Misery:

When did you realize you wanted to teach for a career? Before you entered grad school or after your first TAship? Or, at another time?

It was obvious that I was going to be a) a teacher and b) a scholar of literature before I reached the age of ten. Everybody is a teacher and a voracious reader in my family, so all I wanted to do as a kid was to read and play school. When I was five, I would create notebooks for all of my dolls and write their homework in them. Some dolls were smart and did great but some made mistakes and got bad grades. I can’t really even remember a time when I didn’t have a red pen on me to mark students’ assignments.

At the age of nine, I read Aleksey Tolstoy’s play The Death of Ivan the Terrible and then Pushkin’s Boris Godunov. Both works deal with the same time period but in very different ways.

I was very shocked to discover that two works of literature approached the same events in such different ways. It was even more surprising to me that Pushkin, the most important Russian writer ever, was, in my opinion both then and now, vastly inferior to Aleksey Tolstoy (not to be confused with Leo Tolstoy), a fairly minor author. Of course, I immediately started to bug my father about this discovery.

“Daaaaaad,” I would whine. “But why does Pushkin say here on page 128. . .”

Eventually, my father got fed up and said to me, “Why don’t you just go ahead and write down everything you think about these two works of literature?”

So I did, and that was my very first work of literary criticism. Unfortunately, it hasn’t been preserved for posterity. ūüôā



A Great Post on DSK

Here is a quote from a really great post on DSK:

So, if the sexual relationship was consensual, and without a price, what on earth happened? A corpulent, ugly, squat,  62-year-old white male appears unclothed and half-shaved, with a bulging belly,  from a bathroom in the suite. A young, slim,  black  Moslem woman  becomes so aroused by this sight that she jumps him, and within nine minutes sodomizes him before leaving the apartment. No time to enjoy the afterglow of this momentous encounter. Both of them are out the door within seconds of his ejaculation.

If French voters are prepared to swallow this sorry tale, I have good news for them. I have a few very nice New York bridges for sale at heavily discounted prices. An offer no one should refuse! In a moment of weakness, DSK himself might even buy one. Or perhaps, in a moment of moral failure, he would expect to seduce one from me for  free?

This is the time to leave your ideological position on DSK aside and admire how well this is written. A review of a book by the author of this post is coming soon on Clarissa’s Blog. And if you are about to scream, “This was written by one of those out-of-control feminists!”, go to the blog I got this from and just accept that some things are so obvious that no reasonable person will dispute them.

A Really Nasty Search

This is probably the nastiest search that brought some jerkwad to my blog:

What kind of a freaking loser enters something like this into a search box?

I’m nothing if not accommodating, of course. Especially with people who seek knowledge. So here is a recipe for you, idiot: take your sorry little ass to the nearest police precinct and repeat your query to the officer on duty. I’m sure ample help will be provided to you.

Sometimes, I’m very sorry that WordPress doesn’t allow one to trace the IPs of people who come to the blog through searches. This user definitely needed to be identified.

Who Holds All the Wealth, Men or Women?

I said many times before that my primary identity is that of a feminist. I’m a feminist first and a professor, a scholar, a Ukrainian, a Jew, a Canadian, an autistic, a Hispanist, a blogger and everything else second. But I think that memes like the following one do nothing but hurt the cause of feminism because they appeal to cheap, meaningless outrage and not to facts and reason:

1%:¬†The¬†percentage¬†of the world’s wealth held by women, despite the fact that they comprise¬†40%¬†of the world’s workforce.

This just makes no sense at all¬†whatsoever. All these men who hold 99% of world’s wealth, are they single? Or gay? Do none of them have wives? Daughters? Mothers? Sisters? Or do they all live in countries where women are legally precluded from owning the¬†wealth¬†of their male family members? This should mean that the Americans, the Canadians, the Western Europeans, the Australians, the New Zealanders, the Russians, etc. are all out. Who’s left then?

As to the percentage of the world’s workforce that women (or men) supposedly comprise, anybody with even a minimal knowledge of economics must surely realize that this figure is taken out of thin air. Many countries (such as the countries of the Former Soviet Union, for example) run on an unofficial employment market. There is simply no way to determine legitimately who does or does not work and what wealth they do or do not possess in such countries. Take, for example, the case of the former mayor of Moscow who, according to all paperwork, is nearly indigent because he put his billions in his wife’s name to avoid criminal prosecution. Have such people been taken into account when calculating the gender breakdown of wealth?

By all means, let’s be outraged by gender inequality. Let’s be as outraged as we possibly can. But for the love of all that’s holy, let’s be outraged about something that is worthy of outrage. Not something that is so patently silly.

Was Stalin Aware of Romeo and Juliet?

I’m reading a new novel by Almudena Grandes, one of Spain’s leading authors. At the very beginning of the book, the narrator tells a story in which Stalin makes a reference to Romeo and Juliet. “This must mean the story is apocryphal,” the narrator immediately concludes. “Stalin couldn’t have been aware of Romeo and Juliet because his Russian was never very good.”

It is true that Stalin spoke Russian with a strong accent his entire life. This is not surprising since it wasn’t his language. However, poor knowledge of Russian has never prevented anybody from being familiar with works of Shakespeare. I have a strong suspicion that Shakespeare himself was not a fluent speaker of this language.

At the same time, having an accent, even a strong one, in no way precludes very high proficiency in reading in a language. Stalin was not only a poet, who in his youth managed to get published and even included into an anthology of best poetry in Georgia, he was also an avid reader, and not only in Georgian but also in Russian. His party nickname was “Koba”, after a character in a novel. After his death, Stalin’s huge personal library was recovered and is now available to researchers. Many a learned volume has been written on the extensive notes Stalin left in the margins of his favorite books.

It is important to remember, that even at the height of purges, Stalin almost never killed writers who wrote in Russian. He exterminated every single Ukrainian writer of note but Russian-language authors were cherished by him. Osip Mandelshtam, the greatest poet of the twentieth century in Russia (in my opinion) and a Jew, and Isaak Babel, another Soviet Jewish writer, were the only ones killed by Stalin. Mandelshtam wrote a poem criticizing Stalin and making fun of his appearance, and Babel had an affair with the wife of the NKVD chief. Save from these two egregious cases, Stalin protected Russian-speaking writers.

Stalin’s favorite writer, Mikhail Bulgakov (not a Jew and actually a notorious anti-Semite), wrote books that were very critical of the Soviet Union and also very complex in a truly Modernist way. Stalin loved Bulgakov’s work so much that he attended the performance of one of his plays dozens of times. He also protected Boris Pasternak (who was actually one of the greatest translators of Shakespeare into Russian. And a Jew). Pasternak’s name was put on a list of people to be arrested and Stalin himself crossed him off the list.

There is ample evidence that Stalin read very carefully every single work of literature that was nominated for the highest literary prize in Soviet Union, a prize that bore Stalin’s own name.

I’m not writing this to defend Stalin in any way. He was a bloody dictator and a horrible person. An ignoramus, however, he was not. He was an autodidact from an indigent family who spoke with an accent. None of these things, however, suggest that he was stupid or illiterate.

Another Tragedy at Yale

A Yale employee committed suicide last week:

Yale police are investigating what they are calling the apparent suicide of a school employee.

John Miller, the manager of community programs for the school of music and an alumnus of the school, died on Thursday morning. School officials said he fell from the fourth floor of Hendrie Hall at 165 Elm St.

As saddened as I am by yet another tragedy at my alma mater, I am not surprised. Nobody wants to talk about it but the truth is that the environment on campus is so oppressive that such tragedies are, unfortunately, doomed to happen all over again. There is no doubt in my mind that, yet again, we will hear about how this is an isolated incident that was caused by mental issues of a single individual and how this has nothing to do with the “extremely safe” Yale campus.

There are many things that are deeply wrong at Yale. I remember my years there as ones of constant, unrelieved depression. Only after I started working at my current university did I realize that one didn’t need to wait until becoming a famous tenured professor to avoid being humiliated and mistreated in academia. The contrast between the way in which Yale’s President Levin treated his graduate students and junior faculty members and the way our Vice-Chancellor here behaves towards us is glaring. Here, we are human beings worthy of respect and every consideration. There, we were nobodies. Unless we had ultra rich parents, of course.

What’s Up With Netflix?

Is anybody aware of what is going on with Netflix? Why do I suddenly get a dramatic email from Reed Hastings, the co-founder of Netflix that starts with the words “I messed up. I owe you an explanation”?

Has there been some scandal over Netflix recently that I missed? I read the email but it doesn’t explain what the big deal is. Or is it simply a PR move to attract attention to the company?