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Showing posts from August, 2015

The Palace of Rumor

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In Book XII of Metamorphoses, Ovid recounts the events of the Trojan War.  Early on, he explains how rumors of the Greek expedition preceded its arrival at Troy:

There is a place at the center of the World, between the zones of earth, sea, and sky, at the boundary of the three worlds.  From here, whatever exists is seen, however far away and every voice reaches listening ears. Rumorlives there, choosing a house for herself on a high mountain summit, adding innumerable entrances, a thousand apertures, and no doors to bar the threshold. It is open night and day: and is all of sounding bronze. All rustles with noise, echoes voices and repeats what is heard. There is no peace within: no silence anywhere...

Crowds fill the hallways: a fickle populace comes and goes, and, mingling truth randomly with fiction, a thousand rumors wander and confused words circulate. Of these, some fill idle ears with chatter, others carry tales, and the author adds something…

The 'petite mort' of time off

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Were this fall semester like any other, I would be just about now standing in foyer of the Student Center with a cup of coffee in my hand as colleagues milled about chatting before the buzz-kill of the first-day meetings.  Most would also be silently fretting over the list of things they have yet to do before classes begin on Monday.  This year isn't like that, however.

After 24 years of teaching I'm on a sabbatical.  And it's at once wonderful and disquieting.

For the next three months I can read, study and write with nary a stack of ungraded assignments or a committee meeting in sight.  It should be intellectual paradise, yet it seems so odd not to be facing a semester's worth of the familiar rhythms, stresses and challenges. 

Ask retiring colleagues what it feels like knowing they won't return in the fall and they often say, "Ask me then.  That's when I'll know."  I mean what is a sabbatical but a little foretaste of that first fall semester…

Frederick Douglass and the Perfect Selfie

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A recent  front-page story in the New York Times reported on a disturbing rash of suicides committed by seemingly put-together university students.  One slant of the article focused upon the role of social media in exacerbating the pressure to lead a perfect, high-achieving academic lifestyle. 
Penn University, for example, has had three suicides in the past 13 months, which lead it to conduct an internal review that found, among other things, the negative effects of something called the Penn Face: "An apothegm long used by students to describe the practice of acting happy and self-assured even when sad or stressed." 

The article also noted,
While the appellation is unique to Penn, the behavior is not. In 2003, Duke jolted academe with a report describing how its female students felt pressure to be “effortlessly perfect”: smart, accomplished, fit, beautiful and popular, all without visible effort. At Stanford, it’s called the Duck Syndrome. A duck appears to glide calmly a…