Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Tuesday Musings

Another busy week, but the quarter is nearly over, my second-to-last big reading responsibility now done, and only various exams to participate in or administer. As for the big class, three more class meetings, and three more authors to discuss: Donald Barthelme ("The Glass Mountain"), Theresa Ha Kyung Cha (Dictee), and Junot Díaz (The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao)--and the huge theoretical concept of post-modernity/post-modernism, which, when I drew a schematic of it on the board on Monday, drew thanks from several of the TAs.

I also went to two talks, my colleague Evan Mwangi's penetrating discussion of Ngugi's Maitagari on Monday, which led to a conversation about translation, local languages, and Kenyan censorship of Gikuyu texts versus their English versions; and then tonight a presentation on the legacy of Aimé Césaire, led by colleague John Márquez and featuring Aaron Kamugisha, Paul Breslin, Doris Garraway, and Barnor Hesse. Brilliant people, to put it simply, speaking with cogency and subtlety about a brilliant man. (Did you know that Discourse on Colonialism was one of the leading political texts of the 20th century? If you didn't or doubt it, I know Hesse can convince you.)

I may try to say more about both events soon, but tomorrow I'm on a panel with another brilliant colleague from my department, Alex Weheliye, in conversation with Daphne Brooks, from Princeton. We'll be taking part in a discussion on African American Studies and the disciplines, with this one being English and American literary and cultural studies.


The news of Teddy Kennedy's malignant brain tumor really saddens me. I know things look grim and it's too early to start memorializing him, so let me just say that I am glad I did once have an opportunity to vote for him, back in 1988, when he ran against Joe Malone, though one of my favorite memories of him was from 1994, when we'd moved from Massachusetts, and Kennedy, again up for reelection, faced a younger Mitt Romney. C-SPAN televised one of the debates that took place in downtown Boston, and we sat cheering, many states away, as Kennedy argued rings around Romney. The TV audience was cheering and applauding so much it sounded like a revival. Of course he won that election, as he has every one since 1962, when he assumed the Senate seat his brother had held before his election (and which a family friend, Benjamin Smith, kept warm for two years). It'll be hard to imagine a US Senate without Teddy Kennedy--but then I said I ought not start memorializing him now, and I won't.


What you reap, you sow. In many cases. In big-league global publishing, this is an old and bleak story, told quite succinctly and with brio by André Schiffrin, and it has yet to get any better or less ridiculous. Out with hatchet man Peter Olson, in with...

New Head of Random Comes from Bertelsmann Printing Unit May 20, 2008
Bertelsmann is appointing the head of its worldwide printing operations to replace Peter Olson at Random House, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Markus Dohle, 39, who heads Arvato Print, one of Bertelsmann's most profitable units, is described as "entrepreneurial" and has helped Arvato expand into such unrelated businesses as repairing cell phones, storing pharmaceuticals and running call centers and billing systems, the paper said. Dohle has a degree in industrial engineering and economics from a German university and has no publishing experience.

Hartmut Ostrowski, who became Bertelsmann's CEO at the beginning of the year, headed Arvato for five years and has "vowed to shake up [Bertelsmann's] slow-growing businesses." In the past year, Random sales fell 6% and operating profit was down 5%. Random represented 10% of Bertelsmann's sales and operating profit last year.

Olson blamed the depressed numbers on a lack of megasellers last year. This year already looks brighter: Barbara Walters's memoir, Audition, has a million copies in print already and forthcoming titles include a new novel by Christopher Paolini and a biography of Warren Buffett.

Ostrowski has said that he wants other parts of Bertelsmann, including Random House, to diversify as Arvato did. According to the Journal, "an area of interest" for Random is educational services.

Now don't you think this news will make Random House's editors, authors, and readers feel a lot more secure? Call centers, Buffett bios, "educational services".... (H/T Lisa Moore).


This is one of the snarkier obituaries I've read in a while. A name I vaguely recalled from childhood, he's probably totally forgotten now. (His white elephant of a personal monument, because rich people still have the power to commemorate themselves as they see fit, no matter how ridiculous the results, however, has been radically transformed.) That still wasn't enough for the New York Times's obituary writer to serve up a dose of corrosive Schadenfreude. Read it, you won't be bored.


  1. First off,

    I would love to see your modernity/post-modern schematic . . . need to jump start my cables. My brain in awashed in generative and variationist social linguistic theories and application . . . who knew?


    The random house announcement is not surprising to me. I sometime think that that multi-nationals give their publishing houses to corporate mavericks whose skills are proven in completely different environments . . . I have lived through such a revival and its subsequent downfall.

    Economics and engineering in the German university? . . . sounds shacky. The American market is larger than any European one, and we base our idea of competence on performance not on academic degrees. I guarantee he will have a problem connecting to people. The Americans will be stand-offish, and the German executive will be unwilling to change his mind once a decission is made.

    All of his decissions will be doubted from the very beginning as being out of touch with the American market, and as coming from an arrogant European with a silvespoon up his ass. Germans come across as being entitled to most Americans, and most Americans are thought of as not being sincere or sticking to one path in the road.

    Maybe I should sell Random House on my German-American business culture seminars I used to give at Bosch and Reader's Digest, Germany.

    Will look into it tonight.

    I heard about the beheading of Olson while reading the NY Times, but I had a fire to put out at school and had to stop.

    Thanxs for bringing it home.

    I wonder if Random House will find itself in the same position as Chrysler.

    I have been out of the loop too long.

  2. Littlemilk,

    I adapted it from Ihab Hassan's schema, but inflected it by discussion Frederic Jameson's, Jürgen Habermas's and others' notions of postmodernity/postmodernism, just as when discussing modernity and modernism (which I learned today was a coinage, with particularly negative, anti-modern valence, of the Roman Catholic church), I drew upon a range of theorists from Calinescu to Gilroy.

    How is all that linguistic study going?

    Random House as Chrysler: this would make a delicious article, don't you think, though no one associated with either would be glücklich. (Is that the right word?)

  3. Lingustics is going well. I had two courses this semester along with two courses dealing with teaching directly.

    One course was on how the English language works. It was logical and basic, ending in me doing my own lingusitic study with me ELL's (English Language Learners). I was interested in their orthographic representation of /w/. Most speakers are Spanish.

    The second course dealt with corrective feedback . . . or different ways of making sure that your students receive quality input and instruction. It dealt with mostly with issues of "interlanguage" and lingustic transfer. I wrote a detailed paper on fossilization in adult language learners. Children function much differently.


    And yes. Gluecklich is corret in terms of the word . . . syntax is a little off . . . but I am to pooped to think in German. I am too busy butchering the Spanish language.

  4. Littlemilk, these sound like fun courses, but a lot of work. But then schoolwork was always a joy for me, even when studying with our favorite professor, Mr. E.K.B. (whom I still adore, as you know).

    Good luck with the Spanish, or should I say, ¡buena suerte!