Friday, December 31, 2010

Happy New Year 2011!

Happy New Year to my wonderful, intelligent readers! I wish you all the happiness and joy in the world, my dear friends! I hope we will spend a lot more time talking, arguing, and exchanging opinions in the coming year. I love you all.

As usual, here is picture of the New Year's feast I prepared.
And it only took two days to make it.

How I Learned to Speak Spanish, Part II

When I was admitted to the university, I was 22 years old. I knew I didn't have the time to go the usual route of taking Spanish 101, 102, and so on. So I lied to my advisor, told her that I'd studied Spanish before, and enrolled in Spanish Intermediate Intensive. On the first day of class, when our Salvadoran teacher came into the classroom and started prattling in his very difficult Central American Spanish, I realized that I was in trouble. When he announced that we were going to do an overview of the Preterite and the Imperfect, I realized that I was in even bigger trouble because these words meant nothing to me.

I knew that I had to learn to speak and fast if I wanted to get that PhD within a reasonable amount of time. I was an immigrant, I had no money. Any exchange program was out of the question because of the conditions of my visa and money constraints. Besides, my underage sister was living with me, and I couldn't just abandon her and flee to yet another country. There was no money for a tutor or an immersion program. But there was something a lot better, though: the rich and vibrant Hispanic community of Montreal. I made friends with Spanish speakers from many different countries. That wasn't easy for me. I have Asperger's and meeting people is not something I enjoy (to put it very, very mildly). But I made the effort and started visiting all kinds of events where Spanish speakers were present.

I had a neighbor from Colombia who was going through a convoluted drama with her boyfriend. She would ask me over and narrate the story of her life for hours. (I am extremely thankful for the fact that so many Spanish-speakers love to talk.) At first, I understood about 5% of what she was saying. Obviously, I couldn't say much in return, so I just looked compassionate and nodded. As a result, she started presenting me to her friends as a very kind person and the best listener she ever met. So more people started asking me over to share their stories. And I had even more opportunities to listen, look compassionate, and nod. Later, when I learned to speak and we became best friends I told my very first Colombian interlocutor, "Look, you have to retell me all your stories once again because the first time around I didn't understand a word of them." I was extremely lucky in meeting her because Colombian Spanish is considered the most correct in terms of pronunciation, grammar, and vocabulary.
There was also a language exchange program affiliated with our university. These programs allow people who don't have money for language lessons to swap their language skills. Say, you want to learn Russian and I want to learn German. We meet, talk for an hour in my language and then for another hour in yours. As a result, everybody gets to speak and listen, the environment is casual and relaxed, and the learning process is enjoyable.
To compliment these activities, I also read in Spanish all the time. I had already arived by that time at what would become the basis of my language teaching philosophy: when talking and reading compliment each other, you get great results. So I read. I don't believe in adapted texts or easy solutions. So I decided to start with reading Juan Rulfo's Pedro Paramo. For those who know this book it must be very clear why that was an insane choice of the first book ever to read in Spanish. The first time I read this beautiful but extremely complex work of literature that not every native speaker understands on the first reading I had no idea what it was about. But I felt it was beautiful. So I read it once more. And the third time. And then something kind of became a little clearer. So I decided to read Miguel de Unamuno's Niebla. Again, those who know this novel are now thinking that I am a very crazy person because it's also a very complex book.
I also persecuted my Salvadoran Spanish teacher with questions. He would dread the sight of me appearing at his office yet again to announce: "I don't understand Preterito and Imperfecto!" He would explain for hours, bring print-outs, activities, transparencies. "Do you understand it now?" he'd ask, desperate for some good news. "No!" I'd respond brightly. Then, he would start all over again. Today, whenever I go back to Canada to speak at a conference, my teacher (who in the meantime went from being a graduate student to a tenured professor) always comes to listen. He sits there looking very proud and then comes up to me after the talk to ask, "So now do you understand the differences between Preterito and Imperfecto?" "Yes," I say. "But now I have to explain it to students who refuse to understand."
In short, I lived and breathed Spanish for this entire period of time. Within 18 months, I was teaching Spanish at a private language school. In 2,5 years, I walked into my very frist college classroom as a teacher of Spanish. (I'll blog about that experience one day because that course was something special.) And only 3,5 years since I started learning, I published by very first research article in Spanish. And not in some graduate journal, or anything like that. I published in Anales Galdosianos, a very prestigious, "real" scholarly journal. As I said, I'm very proud of my Spanish and I will boast all I want about it. :-)
It's been almost 12 years since I said my first words in Spanish. Of course, learning a language is a project of a lifetime, even if you are a native speaker. A language is a living entity, and we renegotiate our relationship with it on a daily basis. Learning a new language gives you access to an entire civilization, to a world of experiences, to a version of yourself that is completely different from what you are when you speak your own language.
For those who want to learn to speak a foreign language very fast and very well, I have the following suggestions:
  1. Speak. You don't need a pricey immersion program, a trip, or an exchange visit to learn. Of course, if you can afford them, that's fantastic. Have fun and enjoy this great opportunity. Many people, however, simply don't have the resources to afford anything like this nowadays. My advice to you is to find  in your town a language exchange program like the one I described. If it doesn't exist, start one. Find a Spanish store or a community newspaper and place an ad for a free exchange of language knowledge. There are many immigrants who would love to teach you their language in exchange for practicing English with you. What should you do, though, if there are no speakers of your target language who live in your area? Not to worry, today's technological advances have solved that problem, too. How many people in the world would love to improve their knowledge of English in exchange for practicing their language with you? All you need to do is find them and talk to them through Skype or any other similar program. Even though you might have no money, you still have a very valuable commodity: your knowledge of English. Make use of it in your language learning.
  2. Read. Reading in the target language is crucial because it builds up vocabulary and gives you what the Germans call "Sprachgefühl" (an intuitive understanding of how a language works.) When I was learning Spanish, I read for at least 6 hours a day every single day in my target language. As a result, I now have a vocabulary that is extremely rich. Not everybody has the time to read this much, of course, but reading at least a page a day will boost your language learning in a way that nothing else will.
  3. Tell yourself stories. Try to narrate to yourself in the target language things that you see around you. Funny comics, an encounter with friends, a list of things you need to do, a curious blog post you have read: try retelling all this to yourself in Spanish. It's best to do it out loud, of course, but if that's not convenient, tell it to yourself in your head. This will teach you to think in the target language, instead of trying to translate every sentence (a horrible practice to be avoided at all costs.)
Good luck!

P.S. I know that these last two posts sound extremely self-congratulatory, but come on, people, it's New Year's. A person should be able to celebrate her massive achievements on such a festive occasion. :-)

How I Learned to Speak Spanish, Part I

The reader Angie Harms. asked me how I learned to speak Spanish. Thank you, Angie, because I love sharing this story. First of all, I have to tell you that my Spanish is really fantastic. Learning this language is my proudest achievement, and I don't feel that I need to be modest about it. It always takes me a while to convince native speakers that I'm not one of them. And that I never lived in a Spansih-speaking country. And that my parents are not Spanish-speakers.

So it all started back in Ukraine when I was in my late teens. Suddenly, there were all those Latin American soap operas on television all the time. (Yes, it started with watching soap operas in Ukraine and culminated in a PhD in Hispanic Studies in the US.) When I watched them, I always thought, "Here is this entire civilization that I know absolutely nothing about. And nobody I know has any knowledge of it. How strange is that?" I was a university student majoring in English literature then but I decided that I didn't want to continue with that program any more. I tried learning Spanish on my own, with a textbook, but that was useless. There was not a single Spanish-speaking person in my Ukrainian town. Spanish wasn't taught at my university (even though it is the oldest university in the country.) There was no scholarship in Hispanic Studies in my country at all. And there still isn't, unfortunately.

In Canada, however, there was. (The only place to do research of the kind I like in Hispanic literature is North America. That's just how it is for now.) After we emigrated to Canada, I applied to the Department of Hispanic Studies of the country's most famous university. As soon as I was accepted, I made a visit to the wonderful person who was then the Chair of the department.

"I want to do a PhD in Hispanic Studies. Eventually," I said. "And it would be great to teach at this university. I really like these offices and would be glad to occupy one of them."

"So you like Spanish literature?" the kind Chair asked.

"Oh, I don't know," I said. "I never read a word of it, not even in translation."

"But you speak Spanish, right?" she said.

"No, not a word," I responded brightly. "But I will do a PhD in Hispanic Studies and learn." (Remember that video on the robotic prospective PhD student? As I said, that was me.)

The Chair is a very polite and proper British lady but at that point she laughed so hard, I was afraid she would hurt herself. And if you now want to tell me I made an idiot of myself during that conversation, I will let you know that exactly two and a half years after that conversation I started teaching Spanish at that very department. And one of the pretty offices I liked so much was mine (shared with some other people, of course.) And four and a half years later, I left the department to do a PhD in Spanish after receiving every single award that was ever offered by our program. (As I said, I'm very proud of this and don't see why I shouldn't be. I invested a truly Herculean amount of effort into this.)

(To be continued. . .)

Thursday, December 30, 2010

New Year's Preparations

As I mentioned before, New Year's is the most important festivity in my culture. It is the day when people exchange really magnificent gifts. It also requires several days of full-scale preparations. I've been cooking all day long, and this tiramisu with strawberries, raspberries and red currants is just one of the things I made.

P.S. Now I look at the picture, it seems like it looks a lot better in real life.

Sent via BlackBerry by AT&T

Lending and Borrowing Kindle Books. . .

. . . is finally possible!

A great New Year's gift from Amazon to all of us, Kindle-lovers: a Kindle-book lending program. Here is what Amazon has to say about it:
Eligible Kindle books can be loaned once for a period of 14 days. The borrower does not need to own a Kindle -- Kindle books can also be read using our free Kindle reading applications for PC, Mac, iPad, iPhone, BlackBerry, and Android devices. Not all books are lendable -- it is up to the publisher or rights holder. Titles that are eligible for lending, as determined by the publisher or rights holder, will have a message on the product detail page. Scroll down to the "Product Details" section and look for "Lending: Enabled."
You can now choose to lend your book to anybody you want, as long as you specify their information on "Manage Your Kindle Page", according to the instructions provided here. Finally, we will be able to share our books with family members and friends. For now, lending will only be available in the US.

Read more about the Amazon Kindle-book lending program on this great blog that keeps us informed of all things Kindle. Here is some important details of the program to keep in mind:
You can lend ANY book JUST ONCE and never again.  As in the physical world, understandably, your lent book can't be read while it's lent to someone else.  The borrower gets it for 14 days MAXIMUM and it disappears from their Kindle and cannot be re-borrowed.  There's no stay of execution on that 14-day loan.  And then the book is no longer lendable.
These restrictions are very reasonable and easy to understand. As I said on multiple occasions, the Kindle is a gift that just keeps giving. It's truly the best thing I have ever owned. And now we can enjoy it even more than before.

Can One Blog Too Much?

I noticed that I have published 95 posts just this December. Actually, this will be the 96th. Given that I'm likely to want to share every aspect of my New Year's Eve festivities with my readers (it is the most important holiday in my culture, so that's to be expected), there will probably be more than 100 posts in a month. That's more than 3 a day.

When I first started blogging, I made efforts to write only once a day. For some reason I thought that this was the way blogging was supposed to work. Gradually, though, I stopped caring about how much I write, and simply blogged whenever I felt like it. Now, however, I wonder if it's too much. Not for me because I really enjoy doing it but for the more regular readers. So if you feel that there are too many posts appearing and that gets annoying, feel free to tell me in the comments section.

Which Topics Interest You the Most?: Poll Results

So here are the results of our recent poll:
Feminism 55%
Academia 47%
Teaching 45%
Autism 30%
Politics 28%
Book reviews 27%
Other 5%
Nothing. This blog sucks 3%
Thank you, everybody, for voting. I really appreciate the active participation in the poll. I am still mystified by the "Other" response. I have no idea what I meant when I included it. So now I don't know what people who chose it meant either. If those who voted "Other" wish to mention those other subjects they are interested in, that would be great.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

A Netbook vs. an IPad

I love gadgets as much - possibly a lot more - as the next person. I was one of the very first early adopters of Amazon's Kindle. I don't feel completely at peace unless I can have the very latest version of my BlackBerry. I'm never as happy as when I surround myself with 2 computers, a Kindle, a BlackBerry, an IPod, and their numerous accessories. Still, I'm very puzzled by people who buy IPads.
My netbook cost me less than $200 at
one of Amazon's sales.
It has traveled with me everywhere.

For a fraction of the cost of even the cheapest IPad, one can buy a perfectly good netbook. Unlike an IPad, a netbook is a real computer. For one, it has an actual keyboard, not the clumsy on-screen keyboard that IPad has. Anybody who ever tried using an on-screen keyboard knows that there is no way one could write 30-page-long articles or long daily blog posts (just to give a couple of examples) on it. Of course, some people have started to buy separate keyboards to attach to the IPad (as you can see in the picture on the right), which turns it into the clumsiest device ever.

My netbook fits into most of my handbags. I can take it with me wherever I go. If I'm going to Starbucks to meet a friend, I can drop the netbook in my handbag and bring it with me to blog or do research or prepare my classes while I'm waiting for my friend.

Why anybody would want to go to all this trouble instead
of getting a convenient and inexpensive
netbook is baffling.
This would not be possible with a much bulkier IPad. The only way of carrying an IPad around is in a briefcase or a backpack. Remember that you will need to buy some sort of a cover to protect IPad's fragile touch screen. Not only is it an extra expense, it also makes the device even bulkier. Carrying it in a woman's handbag is simply out of the question.

Another hidden expense of an IPad is a stand. The device is quite big. Unlike a Kindle, for example, nobody can hold it in one hand for any amount of time. So you need to buy a stand to prop it up if you want to avoid overstraining your wrist. This, of course, means that you'll need to sit behind a desk to work on the IPad for any amount of time. While you can place a netbook on your lap and work away, this cannot be done with an IPad. And what's the use of a portable device that can't be used for any significant length of time away from a desk?

An IPad is more of a gigantic IPhone that can't make phone calls than anything else. It has all of the cute apps that will entertain you for a while. In fact, having an iPad will tie you to the iStore forever. If you are between the ages of 12 and 15, I'm sure you'll totally love it. If you are a bit more mature, though, you will soon realize that you can only use an IPad to read books if you find a way to prop it up, you will not be able to read anything on it outside because the problem of the sun glare is not resolved in this device in any way, you will not be able to write anything longer than a couple of sentences (or paragraphs, if you are very stubborn), you will need to wipe finger smudges off the touch screen every fifteen minutes (that's another expense and one more thing to trudge along with you on top of the covers, the attachable keyboard, and the prop-up stand - a box of screen wipes.) And this quite useless thing costs between $500 and $900. You could buy a netbook and 2 Kindles for the price of the cheapest IPad.

Whenever I see a person buying an IPad in a store, I stop and contemplate them with a sense of profound amazement. There must be a reason why they are buying it instead of a much cheaper netbook computer but I haven't been able to figure out what that might be. Any guesses?

Another Stalker Story

My stalker story that I published yesterday reminded my sister of her own stalker story, which she kindly allowed me to narrate here. Once, many years ago, out of a misplaced sense of cultural guilt she gave her phone number to a Russian guy. Soon enough she realized that appeasing qualms of pseudo-patriotic conscience wasn't worth putting up with his uncouth company. The guy, however, wouldn't take no for an answer in the best traditions of our patriarchal homeland.

My sister kept avoiding him, hanging up whenever he called, trying to explain to him that she wasn't interested - all in vain. Then one day I had enough of it and decided to pick up the phone when he called.

"Look, you've got to understand that my sister has no interest in you. None. OK?" I said aggressively. "You need to stop being such a pest."

"Really?" he drawled. "OK, so what about you? Are you single?"

An Eventful Blogging Night of an Insomniac

For the third night in a row I can't fall asleep. I take naps during the day but it's really not the same as sleeping through the night. I'm so exhausted, I'm on the verge of tears. And it's very weird, too, because I feel very sleepy and then around 10 pm something clicks and I'm wide awake. Until 10 am. After which I'm groggy all day long. This is getting so annoying that I even started thinking of buying some sleeping pills in spite of my intense hatred of any kind of medication. I've tried everything: taking walks before going to bed, breathing exercises, warm baths, Indian teas. Nothing works.

And you know what's funny? This is not the first time I got this stretch of insomnia. It happens whenever I'm really happy with my life. The moment when everything is really good and I'm content with every aspect of my existence, I get this. It's like I'm afraid to fall asleep at night because I might wake up to a different, much sadder reality.

In any case, this has been an eventful night for the blog. It seems that I wasn't the only sleepless person around. If you are one of those lucky people who managed to sleep through the night, check out the interesting new comments to the recent posts. Also, sleeplessness makes me write long posts to pass the time, so at least something good is coming out of this strange spell of insomnia.

And now, at 5:21 am, I will make yet another attempt to go to sleep. Wish me luck.

A Stalker Story

Since I can't fall asleep anyways, I will share with you my thoughts about stalkers. I'm rereading Ruth Rendell's brilliant Going Wrong, which traces in the most minute and stunningly realistic detail imaginable the progression of a stalker's descent into insanity and the unhealthy dynamic of his relationship with his - I cannot possibly say 'victim' in this case - fully participating enabler.

The novel touches me on a personal level because I've had a stalker once. I was very young at that time and kind of naive. This stalker wasn't some menacing-looking criminal type who lurks in the bushes and films you through your window. This was a very clean-cut, educated, talented, brilliant person who, from what I was able to observe, lived a perfectly law-abiding and normal life. That's why it was difficult for me to realize that his behavior towards me had crossed into stalker territory. Initially, this guy was one of a group of friends who met to practice Spanish together. He kept trying to spend time alone with me (without ever declaring any romantic intentions) but I made it as obvious as I could that I didn't want it. During one of the meetings of our group, I mentioned that I was going on vacation to Havana. I said that I was going alone because the purpose of the trip was to practice Spanish, and I didn't want to have anybody with me who would tempt me into speaking English. Everybody in the group was interested in my trip, some people started to offer advice and ask questions, so I passed around the brochure of the hotel where I was going to stay.

So a couple of days after coming to Havana, I got a note under my door, saying: "Your friend Mr. X called to say he will be arriving tomorrow. He will be staying in a room next to yours." To say I was floored is to say nothing. My acquaintance with X was very limited, and I felt that his actions were very intrusive. Next morning I saw X in the hotel lobby, looking radiantly happy.

"Surprise!" he announced when he saw me. 

"Why are you here?" I asked in dismay.

"Well, you described this hotel so well that I felt I wanted to see it too. Wouldn't it be great to spend some time together in Havana?"

"I'm sorry, X," I said. "But as I mentioned at group, I'm here to practice Spanish. I have a routine that I've established, people I've met. I haven't planned for you being here."

"No, it's going to be fun," he said, still as pleased with himself as ever. "You'll see."

Hotel Plaza in Old Havana where I stayed on that trip. It
doesn't look nearly as chic in real life. But it's close to everywhere,
and it's very different from regular tourist destinations.
So every morning X would place himself in the armchair in front of the hotel's only exit and stay there waiting for me to come down. Then he would attempt to guilt me into taking him with me on one of my walks around Havana. I conducted an experiment once and stayed in my room until lunch-time. When I finally emerged, X was still sitting in that chair, looking peeved.

"Where have you been?" he asked irately. "I didn't come all the way here to sit in the lobby all day waiting for you!"

"Why are you sitting here waiting for me when I asked you specifically not to do it?" I responded. "Please, go ahead, enjoy your trip, don't sit here waiting!"

"Well, how am I supposed to enjoy it if you never want to do anything together?" X inquired triumphantly.

A couple of times I saw X follow me around the city and take pictures of me from a distance. I was beyond myself with anger that I had spent all the money I had on what was supposed to be an educational trip only to have this older guy, who should have known better spoil it all for me. Once when X was following me around Old Havana, he saw me meet with a Cuban friend. When I got back to the hotel that night, X behaved as a betrayed spouse.

"Oh, so that's why you don't want me around! You just need to be free to run around with your Cuban lovers!" he exclaimed.

"Do you realize that you are acting crazy?" I asked, unwilling to justify my relationship with the Cuban friend to this virtual stranger.

"You are the one who's crazy, running around with dangerous Cubans instead of spending nice quality time with me," he said, reaffirming my belief in his tenuous hold on reality.

The next day, somebody stole X's wallet with all his money and cards. It's horrible to be happy over someone's misfortune but I have to confess that I was profoundly grateful to the unknown thief. X's meals were included in the trip, so he was in no danger of starving. All the loss of the wallet meant was that he could not continue following me around. Finally, I was free to roam Havana without feeling his presence behind my back.

When the trip was over and we were back in Montreal, X asked me to be his "official girlfriend." ("Official" yet, like I had been his "unofficial" girlfriend before.) I refused in a very kind (I'm telling you, I was very young) but firm way.

"How can you lead me on like this and then just dump me?" X vociferated. "Do you know that I dumped my fiancee for you? A woman who's been with me for 8 years! I left her for you! And now you are doing this to me?"

"How on Earth did I lead you on?" I asked, feeling completely absurd.

"Oh, so going on a romantic trip to Havana with me isn't supposed to mean anything?" he responded triumphantly.

This was when I finally realized that in spite of his scholarly achievements, university degrees, publications and accolades X was a very deranged individual and told him I never wanted to see him again. Then he took to calling me at home incessantly. He would hang up whenever my sister picked up the phone. And call back. And then call back again. And again.

And then I had enough. The next time he called, I picked up the phone and screamed at him, telling him I would call the police and have him deported from the country if he ever got into my field of vision ever again. And then he disappeared from my life for good. I was lucky because many other people find it a lot harder to get rid of their stalkers.

Please don't tell me that I could have done this a lot sooner, that I enabled him with my passivity for a long time, that I should have put an end to this whole insanity at the very beginning. I know all that. Of course, I enabled. Today, I would have acted very differently but that's what age and experience are for.

Reading Ruth Rendell's Going Wrong tonight made me remember this story. Every sentence in the book rings extremely true to me. It's uncanny to look at reality through the eyes of a deluded stalker after you have been an object of a stalker's actions.

Oblivious Students

Some students are really oblivious. This is an e-mail I have been graced with during the holiday season:
Hi. I want to take your course on Tuesdays and Thursdays. But it's either full or I don't have the prerequisites. Could you find out why I can't register and tell me? I would really like to take this course. Thanks. Jamie.
I don't even know where to begin enumerating everything that is wrong with this e-mail. First of all, I know that my last name is hard to spell, but surely any one can copy-paste it from the catalogue of the course offerings. From that same catalogue the student could have learned that I teach all three of my courses on Tuesdays and Thursdays. How am I to know which course "Jamie" is planning to take? Especially taking into account that I have never met "Jamie," and no last name for him/her is provided. Failure to provide his/her last name also makes it completely impossible to find out which prerequisites "Jamie" has fulfilled for the course s/he fails to mention.

The concluding statement about how much "Jamie" wants to take this mysterious course sounds especially funny in view of all the above-listed facts. Do I need to mention that I am not experiencing any burning desire to have this student in any of my courses?

It is my sincere hope that "Jamie" will get a clue sometime before graduation because the job market nowadays isn't kind even to people who are a lot more intelligent, respectful and responsible than s/he. 

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Why American Feminism Lags Behind

Amongst all developed countries, the US firmly occupies the very last place in terms of women's rights. Even Spain, which until 1975 lived under a fascist dictatorship that was extremely repressive towards women, has made such impressive strides in terms of women's rights that it's hard to imagine the US ever catching up. (You can read about some of Spain's feminist advances here and here.) Whenever I meet a student from Spain, I know that the perennial whispered question is forthcoming: "I don't want to offend but where are the feminists and why are they allowing for this to happen?" Try watching American television with a group of Europeans and you'll know what I mean. You will soon get tired of explaining how it is possible for a civilized society to demean women in such an egregious manner. Even Canada, which is so close geographically, is light years ahead. To give just one example, women have a guaranteed one year long maternity leave, and many men get paternity leave, as well.

There are several factors that prevent American feminism from living up to the standards set by other developed nations. One of them is, of course, the strength of religion in this country. Fundamentalist Christians destroy sexual education programs and replace them with anti-women abstinence propaganda. (If you are not sure why abstinence programs are anti-women, read Jessica Valenti's  The Purity Myth: How America's Obsession with Virginity Is Hurting Young Women.) Weekly Church services reinforce the idea of female inferiority on a regular basis. Organized religion is the enemy of female liberation. Remember that it was not until Spain managed to shake off the cloying religious propaganda of Franco's dictatorship that it started to make its impressive feminist advances. Any religion whose hierarchy is predominantly male is obviously going to be aimed at oppressing women.

Another factor that hinders American feminism is this country's traditionally poor record on social services. Societies that have no parental leave and where the access to day care is severely limited always end up turning women into domestic slaves who sacrifice their professional realization to child rearing. Workplace discrimination against women is still rampant, and nothing is being done to reduce it. This sad state of affairs, in turn, requires that a complex discourse justifying female underachievement in professional realms be created. As a result, we end up with anti-women propaganda pieces that present an expensive wedding and a bunch of babies as the greatest achievements women can hope for.

There are several other factors that prevent American feminism from flourishing, of course. Still, the two I mentioned here are key, in my opinion, for the understanding of this country's poor record on women's rights.

More Books by Rendell Available on KIndle

Dear fellow Kindle owners,

more books by Ruth Rendell have appeared in the Amazon's Kindle store. There are now some well-known classics such as Going Wrong, Tree of Hands, The Veiled One: An Inspector Wexford Mystery, The Killing Doll, Live Flesh, and a few others that you can read on Kindle. The prices are more than decent. None of these books are priced at over $9.99, and many cost around $7.

I check Amazon's Kindle store for new books by Rendell almost every day. As you know, it always takes a while for us to get European books in Kindle format because of copyright constraints. Still, it's nice to see that Amazon is making significant efforts to keep its promise to bring every book to us in Kindle format. Enjoy!

Monday, December 27, 2010

Inconsiderate Dog Owners

Dog owners are the most inconsiderate people in the world. With almost no exception they are completely oblivious to the fact that not everybody is as enamored of their pet as they are. What's more, they forget that not everybody is supposed to be.

The desire of many dog owners to inflict their pride and joy on unsuspecting and reluctant others often makes them leave aside any semblance of good manners. They generate a peculiar language of their own and expect everybody to understand it. To give an example, whenever a dog assaults a complete stranger in the street, a dog owner is likely to bestow a goofy smile on said stranger and announce in a voice filled with pride, "Oh, he's just playing!" Do they have no idea how strange it is to utter something like that? Do they expect that strangers should stop caring that their clothes and shoes are being ruined, while their progress down the street is being hampered, the moment they hear that the nasty animal is "just playing"? I wear a white coat in winter, and dry-cleaning it is a bitch. But, apparently, I am expected to feel joyous when a dirty, salivating animal puts its grimy paws all over my white coat. Oh, he's just playing, and I totally live to serve as a toy.

Another insane statement by oblivious dog owners that is supposed to assuage the anxieties of those who dislike being assaulted by dogs is "He's not going to bite! He just wants to lick you!" Oh, thank goodness! Because I've been walking around dreaming of being licked by some disgusting beast. Now I can rest easy, knowing that this dream has finally been fulfilled: I have been licked. Yippee. The worst part is that whenever dog owners see one's intense discomfort with being licked by their stupid pet, they laugh like it's the funniest joke in the world. It's as if dog ownership made them lose all civility and turned them into inconsiderate, blockheaded brutes who feel that they should be exempt from rules governing civilized human interactions. 

And have you tried taking a firm stand with these people and telling them that their dog has destroyed your expensive pantyhose and messed up your coat? Try it and you will see that every single time they have the gall to feel righteously offended. "But he was just playing!" they announce with so much indignation that a passerby might think you harmed their dog instead of the dog doing damage to you.

Another problem with dog owners arises when one visits them at home. Is it too much to ask that they warn people about the presence of dogs on the premises when inviting people to come over? You never know, your guests might be allergic, or phobic, or well-dressed, or simply uninterested in spending any time around dogs. Why not give people an opportunity to choose for themselves? And I really don't care if he's "just like another family member" for you. If you've got a family member who is likely to salivate over my clothes and tear my pantyhose, then, yes, you should warn me before I come over.

It happened to me more than once that I would come over to somebody's place in good faith only to be greated by three huge (or one little, there is not that much difference) animals. Then what I thought was going to be a party turns into a nightmarish experience where I sit there in my ruined clothes, covered in dog hair, with torn pantyhose, stinking of dog, calculating how much it will cost me to repair my damaged outfit and my ruined mood. To which the hosts respond with a look of having achieved nirvana: "Oh, he's just playing!" Now, this is just rude. And do you know they respond when you complain that their animal has torn your pantyhose? "Well, why do you have to wear pantyhose all the time?" I kid you not, I have heard this from people who are normally quite reasonable, well-educated, and polite. Once, I had a dog scratch my leg so deeply it drew blood. You should have seen the look of uncontrollable glee on the owner's face: "You should see my legs!" she gushed as if I had evinced any interest in said extremities. "They are all covered in scratches. Much deeper than this one!" Which, apparently, was supposed to make me feel bad about losing the my-scratch-is-deeper-than-your-so-the-doggie-must-love-me-more competition.

Of course, there are also complete freaks who actually arrive at a party with their dog without having given any advance warning or having asked for permission. I believe that these people, who sit their smugly while their dog inflicts damage on the hosts' furniture, barks at and salivates over other guests, and completely ruins the party, have some deep pscyhological issues. I haven't seen anybody who would have the bad taste of showing up with their pet without asking permission, but I have heard from reliable sources that such people do exist. Which is very scary.

I know that we are all supposed to find babies and puppies to be incredibly cute. The truth is, though, that we don't. It is an objective fact of existing reality that many people find dogs to be completely intolerable. Please, dog owners, mind your manners. Try to show some consideration for the preferences of others. It doesn't cost that much to ask people in advance whether they are interested in spending time with a dog, does it? 

A Very Boring Post Where I Complain About Minor Imperfections of Existence

This is going to be a very boring post, so feel free to skip it.

I'm sure all of my regular readers remember my endless complaints about how difficult my Mondays were, and how they left me completely exhausted. Well, the semester is long over, yet my bad Monday karma is very much alive. I have spend every Monday since the end of the semester in a varying degree of misery.

Take today for example. Last night, I had some jasmine tea before going to bed. For some reason, a cup of that tea made me as energetic as I thought only a gallon of strong black coffee could. So I spent the entire night wide awake. Then, we had a fire alarm at 8:45 am which meant getting dressed and going outside.

As a result of all this, I am now lying in bed like a XIXth-century lady with vapors, looking all pale and feeling completely exhausted. And last week was exactly the same, only it was something other than the jasmine tea causing the sleepless night, etc. Am I now doomed to spend every Monday this way? Or is there a way to get out of this unpleasant groove?
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What Is Your Favorite Book of 2010?

I started thinking about all the new books (70+) that I read this year, trying to figure out which one I enjoyed the most. My answer to this question surprised me: El corazon helado by the Spanish author Almudena Grandes. This book is 1248 pages long and could have easily been at least 200 pages shorter because it does get repetitive in places. Still, it's really good. Almudena Grandes first became popular when she wrote her pornographic bestseller The Ages of Lulu. Since then, the writer has been trying hard to prove that she can attract readers with anything other than graphic sex scenes.

Even though I have published scholarly articles on Almudena Grandes and used her work in my doctoral dissertation, I didn't really consider her to be a serious writer. Her magnum opus Corazon helado, El (Spanish Edition) (translated into English asThe Frozen Heart) finally managed to convince me that Almudena Grandes is worthy of attention as an actual artist. The novel is about the trauma of the Spanish Civil War as it is relived by the representatives of my generation. Even though this topic has been addressed by numerous writers, Almudena Grandes still managed to make her lengthy novel impossible to forget or confuse with any other.

I haven't read the English translation of this novel, so I don't know whether it's any good. It does exist, however, which is always a testimony to a novel's success.

Of course, unless you are really interested in the Spanish Civil War, I don't think I would necessarily recommend this novel to you. El corazon helado is also a beautiful love story, which, in my opinion, is an absolutely impossible genre to write in nowadays. Everybody who writes about love ends up being either vulgar or sappy. Almudena Grandes, for the most part, manages to avoid that. Seeing a good romantic story that is well-written and not all that cheesy might be a reason to read the book.

The reason why I'm writing about this book is that I'm truly surprised that it was the one I enjoyed the most out of the entire year of reading. There have been more important and better-written books, yet I still remember this one with the greatest fondness.

Which was the book you enjoyed the most in 2010? Please share your favorite in the comment section.

December 27th

Is the US the Best Country in the World?

A little while ago, I participated in a discussion with the folks at Opinion Forum about whether the US is the best country amongst developed nations. One of the authors at the forum mentioned that
The U.S. has one of the highest poverty rates among developed countries, about 22% of our population live in poverty compared with, say, Finland and Denmark whose poverty rates are under 3%. Further, about half of the 40 million students in public elementary and secondary schools in the U.S. qualify for free or reduced lunches. America has, by far, the greatest income inequity among developed countries as well. It also has the greatest demographic diversity, with more than 25% of public school students who speak English as a second language. Plus, we have among the highest rates of low-birth weight and among the worst health care among developed countries.
I brought to the discussion the following statistics (which, to put it mildly, were not liked by some of the forum's regular readers):
Satisfaction with Life Index puts the US in the 23rd place. This index is based on how citizens themselves measure their own happiness. If you want to contradict it, you’ve got to contradict all the Americans who voted this way.
According to the human development index, the US is not in the first place either. In 2010, it occupied the 4th place.
In terms of Inequality-adjusted Human Development Index, “which factors in inequalities in the three basic dimensions of human development (income, life expectancy, and education)” the US is in the 12th place.
According to the Democracy Index, the US is in the 17th place:
Obviously, there are many important factors in which the US lags behind other developed nations. I have written a while ago about how much worse working conditions are in this country than in most other developed countries:
  • 163 nations around the world guarantee paid sick leave; the U.S. does not.
  • 164 nations guarantee paid annual leave; the U.S. does not.
  • 177 nations guarantee paid leave for new mothers; the U.S. does not.
  • 74 nations guarantee paid leave for new fathers; the U.S. does not.
  • 48 nations guarantee paid time off to care for children’s health; the U.S. does not.
  • 157 nations guarantee workers a day of rest each week; the U.S. does not.
However, there defintely are areas in which this country is, at this point, ahead of all other developed nations. (You see, I wasn't going to drench you in negativity and fail to offer anything positive during this festive season. I wouldn't do that to kind readers who interrupt their partying to come to my blog. Remember that even drunk out of your head you are still welcome here).

1. First of all, there is the US system of higher education, which, I am absolutely convinced, is the best in the wrold right now. I wrote about it here, so I will not repeat my arguments. I will only add that whenever I consider looking for an academic position back in Canada, I get immediately discouraged by my memories of how nepotistic the academia is back there. Of course, there is nepotism and corruption everywhere, but it is a lot stronger in Canada than in the US. Believe me, I love Canada passionately, but from my own experiences and those of my friends, I know that it is a lot more difficult to succeed in academia on your own merits in Canada. There is also the pernicious tendency to coddle students to the degree where they believe no work needs to be done in college if you have learned how to whine well enough. What happened at the University of Manitoba is a case in point.

In terms of Western European education, I'm sorry to say that I cringe with shame whenever a European colleague in my field of Hispanic Studies comes to a conference and everybody discovers just how non-existent their Spanish is. I have met people who have worked for 40 years in the field of Hispanic Studies in Great Britain and France but who wouldn't be able to buy a loaf of bread in Madrid. (I've seen that in Canada, too, but never in the US.)

Eastern European education does not exist, so it makes no sense to discuss it. I don't know why I'm even mentioning them if we are talking about the developed countries here. In short, read my original post on the subject if you want to hear more about this.

2. The second area where this country is the best is access to consumer goods. (It would be really great if people refrained from holier-than-thou anti-consumerist speeches here. I am willing to bet that I have less stuff than any one of my readers. I moved so many times that it became impossible to accumulate material objects. I know what it means to live out of a suitcase. Literally. Still, I am willing to acknowledge that people need things. And it's good to be able to have access to things you need.) Whenever I observe my sister who lives in Montreal jump through hoops to buy pretty much anything she needs, I realize that I would find it very difficult to unlearn my American consumer habits and learn to live anywhere else. I don't want to waste the precious time of my life devising strategies of how to locate the stuff I need and get it shipped to me. Also, services are a lot better in the US than in Canada where a consumer often is greeted with a nasty, contemptuous attitude. From what I have been able to gather, Great Britain is comparable to the US in terms of its selection of consumer goods. But it's still not quite as good. The rest of Western Europe lags behind significantly.

3. Television is the third area in which the US is an undoubted world leader. Of course, American movies are amongst the worst in the world, but the television is a different matter altogether. It's really good here. I'm sorry if it hurts anybody's sensibilities but everywhere else in the developed world people sit and watch shows that are rip-offs from American shows. Once again, I hope to be spared sanctimonious anti-television rants. I like television. I grade students' papers, write research articles, plan my classes, and, most importantly, blog (like right now) while watching television. And I view people who have never seen a single TV show they liked with the deepest suspicion.

I haven't mentioned the regular things that people bring up when discussing where life is better, such as, for example, "the best opportunities." I don't know what that means and how it can be measured. According to Renan, patriotism is unreasonable by nature because it is based on people believing things that are patently untrue. National identities are always based on emotions for the simple reason that they cannot possibly be sustained on a reasonable level. It would be nice if people stopped being emotional about countries and started discussing these imagined communities in a dispassionate, logical way.

Sunday, December 26, 2010


A Christmas surprise from my neighbors
It's great to see that making snowmen is an international pastime. It's been a while since I've seen one.

I love a snowy winter. It is so much better than what normally passes for winter in this area. I hope it stays like this at least until March.

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Saturday, December 25, 2010

Supporting My Favorite Bloggers

I realized today that I will not rest until I read every single book Laura Lippman has ever written. It happens to me from time to time that I get this overpowering urge to read all books by a certain writer, and I know better by now than to resist it. So since it's winter break anyways, I decided to go ahead and buy the four remaining novels by this author. Nowadays, whenever I buy anything from Amazon (which is about twice a week since everything I need seems to be available on that site), I try to do it in a way that will benefit my favorite bloggers.

I don't know if you noticed, but many bloggers have an Amazon search box (or some kind of an Amazon widget) on their blog. Whenever you access the Amazon store by pressing on that widget, the blogger in question gets a percentage of your purchase price irrespective of what you buy. The good thing is that everything is completely anonymous, and the blogger never knows who you are, where you live, or anything about you.

It makes sense to do this if one is going to buy from Amazon anyways. It isn't like this huge company is going to suffer financially if it shares part of its profits with good bloggers. Some readers have been supporting my blog in this way, and I, in turn, do it for other bloggers. So if you are planning to buy anything on Amazon, consider accessing their site from somebody's blog. It's just one little extra step for you that's absolutely hassle-free and that will force Amazon to share their profits with hard-working bloggers.

P.S. On the left, you can see Lippman's book that I'm reading right now. I got so obsessed that I was literally shaking while purchasing the four books by her that I still haven't read. Seriously, I behave like some sort of a crazy addict around those books. Well, I think of all the addictions one might have, this one is the most innocuous.

Why I'm Not Travelling Right Now

People keep asking me why I stayed at home this holiday season. To put it very mildly, there is absolutely nothing to do in the little Midwestern town where I live. So why didn't I travel anywhere during these winter holidays? Well, consider the following:

August 2003 - May 2007 - I travelled From New Haven, CT and Montreal, PQ and back by a Greyhound bus exactly 22 times. (That's a total of 44 Greyhound trips. 132 transfers.)

July 2007 - August 2008 - I travelled from Montreal, PQ to Lafayette, IN and back by a Greyhound bus exactly 8 times. That's a trip that lasts only 32 hours, if you are extremely lucky and don't get delayed anywhere. Which never happens. So it's a total of over 512 hours on a bus in just one year. These were not short trips. I would stay between 6 and 8 weeks every time, so I had to bring all of my stuff with me.

August 2008 - May 2009 - I travelled between Ithaca, NY and Lafayette, IN and Montreal PQ about once every six weeks. At least. Thankfully, at this point  I was travelling by airplane. I was looking for a job, so I also had to travel for my job interviews.

May 2009 - December 2009 - I kept travelling between Baltimore, MD, Ithaca, NY, St, Louis, MO, and Montreal, PQ about once every three weeks. I was also on a job search, so I travelled to the MLA and the campus visits.

In those six years, I also moved between different states and different countries (which obviously included packing, moving and unpacking all of my stuff) 5 times. I have discovered that I'm reluctant to buy anything for my house here because whenever I see anything I might like to buy, I immediately imagine what a drag it would be to pack it.

Do you now see why I shudder at the sight of a suitcase after all that? I'm not saying travelling isn't fun, but staying put becomes very attractive after moving around as much as I have.

Why Didn't Anybody Tell Me Sooner?

Have you seen this episode of Sex and the City where Carrie discovers that she is the only person around who hasn't been backing up her information? And she is shocked to realize that even though everybody backs up their information, nobody thought to inform her that it needs to be done? That's how I feel about blogging. Until I discovered this activity myself in 2009, nobody ever mentioned it to me. It's like there was some huge conspiracy to keep me from it.

Come to think of it, there was somebody who blogged back in grad school. That blog, however, was the most inane thing you can imagine. The author kept retelling in excruciating detail every new episode of every single TV show she watched (and she watched all of them.) After reading it, I thought that this was what blogging was all about and forgot about it for years to come. (If you always thought grad students at Yale pass their time talking about Derrida and Baudrillard, think again. No, it was all TV shows, wedding planners, fruit bowls, and plasma-screen TV sets pretty much all the time.)

I wish, however, that I knew what fun blogging could be as early as Christmas 2004. That Christmas I came to Montreal for the winter holidays and stayed at my sister's place. My sister had to leave for the Christmas Eve and Christmas Day celebrations at her boyfriend's place. Montreal is tons of fun every single day of the year. Except on Christmas. The city more or less goes dead on December 24 and 25. Everything is closed, and if you forgot to buy the groceries, you will be stuck with nothing to eat until the Christmas festivities end. It's dark and cold outside and lonely inside.

Even though I never celebrate Christmas, I felt kind of lonely, stuck there in my sister's apartment with nothing to keep me company but an unfinished final essay on postcolonial geography in the writings of V.S. Naipaul. Canadian television really sucks in comparison with American television. This must be the reason why I have such an influx of Canadian visitors on my blog over Christmas. (Welcome, my fellow Canadians. Even though Canadian television sucks, you still live in the best country in the world.)  In Montreal, choices were so poor on Christmas Eve that I was forced to watch one after another three different film versions of the Christmas Carol, which, incidentally, is one of few works by Dickens that I don't like. (Here in the US there is a marathon of Law and Order: Criminal Intent running on Christmas Eve. Is that great, or what?)

Of course, if I had a blog at that time, I could have passed the time blogging and connecting with readers and other bloggers who don't celebrate Christmas, or haven't been able to celebrate for a variety of reasons. So I'm asking you: why, oh why didn't any one tell me sooner?

Friday, December 24, 2010

Trying to Make the Blog Load Faster

I'm trying to make the blog run faster by removing some pretty yet bulky gadgets. If you perceive any difference in the speed it loads in the coming days, feel free to mention it in the comments section. If there is no difference whatsoever, that might be worth mentioning, as well.

Clarissa's Split Pea Soup with Bacon: A Recipe

Recently, I have been sharing with people more and more often that cooking is my hobby.  Here and here I explained why I'm wary of confessing that I cook. This is not a hobby to feel good about when one receives e-mails from our university administration, saying: "It will be nice if female faculty members cook something for our Christmas party." Today, however, at the request of reader sarcozona, I am sharing my recipe for Canadian split pea soup with bacon (for lack of ham.) For me, cooking is a creative process and I change every recipe every single time because it's more fun that way.

1. Take one cup of yellow split peas and one cup of green split peas. Of course, you can take just one kind, but the soup looks a lot better and somehow more festive if two kinds are used.

2. Place the peas in 8-10 cups (according to how thick you like your soup) of bouillon. Lacking that, you can always use water (salted to taste). Using water instead of bouillon means you can be more generous with herbs and spices. Bring the peas in bouillon to a gentle boil, and let them simmer. They will stay simmering for 3-3,5 hours, so you will have time to prep all the other ingredients (and blog in the meanwhile) at leisure.

3. Take several rashers of bacon. Put them on a plate between two paper towels, and leave in the microwave for 4 minutes. Some people prefer to fry their bacon, but that leaves too much fat, whcih overpowers the taste of soup.
How come photos at professional cooking sites always
look so much better than the ones I make? Well,
at least I tried hard. :-)
Break up the cooked rashers into small pieces and add them to the simmering soup.

4. An hour into the whole process, it's time to think about herbs and spices. This is the place where experimenting and discovering new shades of taste is the most fun. Here are the spices I chose this time:

This is a hearty dish, meant to be eaten in winter. This is why I always choose sturdier herbs and spices to go with it. Feel free to experiment as much as you want, however. Peas and bacon are very strong, taste-wise, so there is quite a bit of freedom in how many herbs one uses in this recipe.I always keep tasting the soup and adding more herbs and spices as the time goes by.

5. Somewhere at the end of the second hour, is the time to add vegetables. Here are the ones I chose this time:
I dice the carrots first, then the turnip, and after that the potato, and add them to the cooking pot in that order. Vegetable can be cut in pretty large pieces, but all chunks should be of uniform size because otherwise
the texture will be too inconsistent.

6. As a huge lover of ginger and garlic, I then prepare a ginger garlic paste. It can be bought in a store but I don't really trust it because God knows what weird substances have been added to it. Making a ginger garlic paste is beyond easy. You just take equal amounts of gignger and garlic, add a little bit of olive oil, and throw it all into a blender. Blend until you are satisfied with the texture of the paste.
Cooking and blogging at the same time
is fun! I wonder why I never did it before.
If you are a vegetarian who left out bacon, I suggest you really consider adding ginger. Unless you hate it, of course. If making a paste is too much of a drag, it's perfectly OK to cut the gignger into tiny pieces and adding it to the soup.

7. It's up to you to decide when the soup has reached the desired consistency. If you like it chunkier, 2,5 hours will suffice. If you wish it smoother, leave it simmering for up to 3,5 hours. Some people, puree the soup after it's done, but I never do that. I lke experiencing the textures of all the ingredients, but that, of course, is a matter of personal taste.

8. I serve the soup with a salad because in winter I serve everything with a salad:

Some people add sour cream to the split pea soup but I find it a bit too much. Feel free to try it, though.

Here is a close up of the end result:

It could have been less chunky if I'd let it simmer a little longer.
But I was starving and couldn't wait to eat any longer.
I just tried it and it tastes delicious. ¡Buen provecho!

A Snowy Winter

I love looking out of my window and seeing mounds of fluffy snow. This is what winter should be like.

Now I will make real Canadian split pea and ham soup (the one that you simmer for 3,5 hours, not the nasty thing from a can), sit in front of the window with my soup, stare at the snow, and feel very Canadian.

I wish a had a flag that I could wave over my head in the process.

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Unpublishable Research

One of the reasons why I dislike the current format of academic publishing is that peer review often prevents truly innovative, original research from geting published. Anonymous reviewers cannot help judging the article on the basis of what they believe to be right. A piece that departs too dramatically from their preconceived notions, is judged by them as unfit for publication. As a result, the easiest kind of research to publish is the one that is based on a collection of accepted platitudes that are in vogue in the academic discipline in question at each given moment.

As of now, I have been able to identify three main blunders that an academic can make, rendering their research unpublishable. I have no doubt that, as time passes, I will keep discovering more of such areas.

1. There is a list of critical "authorities" in my field, whose work one should avoid contradicting in any way. Obviously, these are older, well-established academics who have supervised many graduate students. As a result, almost every peer review panel contains a former student, a friend, or a family member of such academic. It is weary work trying to figure out whose "words of wisdom" should not be disputed under any circumstances. There is also the danger of getting precisely the academic with whose ideas you argue to review your article. One might believe that an academic should be ecstatic that another scholar has read their work and has found it significant enough to merit a response. That, however, is not the case.
"This is a very well-researched and well-written article that makes an important contribution to the study of novel X," one reviewer wrote to me recently. "Nevertheless, I do not recommend it for publication because the author attempts to refute findings of scholar Y. Dr. Y is THE LEADING scholar in this field. It is UNACCEPTABLE that ANY ONE should question his scholarship." 
It went on like that for close to a page, but I will not bore you with the entire thing. Well, when a reviewer starts capitalizing words like a giddy teenager in his first chatroom, one can't help realizing that there is something deeply personal at stake here.

2. It is my contention that identity works like ideology. It can only exist if it's very existence is never questioned. It operates through constant reiterations of meaningless statements ("he needs to search for his identity," "her loos of her identity," etc.) that obscure the fact that this concept is completely without substance. Any weakening of the ideological edifice of identity produces a deep-seated anxiety in those who have come to accept it as a reality that always has been and always will be. Every time I see a reviewer begin to babble incoherently, I know that I must have stepped on their identity fixation.
"I don't understand what the author is trying to suggest. It cannot be that identity is unnecessary. Surely, no one will go as far as stating that. Then what is the point the author is trying to make? This entire piece leads us to question the very underpinnings of identity. Is that the author's goal? I'd like to believe it isn't," wrote another reviewer.
Sometimes, one can just feel the reviewer being genuinely upset over one's questioning of identity to the degree where one would like to ask the poor, tortured reviewer to pause and breathe.

3. Feminism is even worse than identity in terms of trying to publish research on this subject. There are two accepted truisms in feminist criticism that nobody whould dare question, no matter how much textual evidence you might accumulate contradicting these precious platitudes.

a) Platitude one holds that the massive gains of women's liberation movements in Western countries that took place in the 1970ies will result in transformation of literature written by women into "a celebration of womanhood" (whatever that is.) We have lived with these predictions of the imminent appearance of the celebratory genre for almost 40 years now, and they have proven to be false. Female literature en masse does not "celebrate" anything. (I'm sure a couple of novels here and there does, but it's absolutely not an overwhelming trend of any kind.) If anything, female writing in English and in Spanish (I don't follow anything else as closely) has become darker than ever. Mentioning that, however, (or worse still, trying to analyze the reasons why there is so much darkness in female wiritng nowadays) will render your researche pretty much unpublishable.

b) Platitude two maintains that feminism has lost its relevance for the younger generations because it failed to provide enough racial, ethnic, and class variety. This is one of the most wide-spread and insistent myths out there. Go to a feminist conference, and you will hear one scholar after another repeat this unintelligent statement with a glassy-eyed fervor that accepts no questioning. You can bring mountains of textual evidence (it isn't just a manner of speaking. I can, indeed, bring mountains of textual evidence) suggesting that time has come to move beyond this tired, meaningless platitude. However, whenever I send out an article suggesting that there are other venues to explore, I don't even get a review in response. I receive sheets of paper that say only (without as much as a greeting):
"We will not publish this." Or "we will not be able to publish this."
Why academic feminism got so stuck on an uninspired idea some unintelligent critic generated somewhere in the 80ies is a mystery to me. All I know is that there is now an unbridgeable gap between feminist criticism and actual literature that is being produced and read. Writers keep writing, readers keep reading, while the feminist critics keep ignoring all evidence that the tired pieties of the 70ies and the 80ies do not really work. And, of course, they keep holding back those scholars who are trying to move beyond this deadlock.