Thursday, December 26, 2013

New Lit Mag, Co-Founded by GW Alumnae, Calls for Submissions

The Knicknackery, a new literary magazine was started by Keren Veisblatt Toledano '09 and Sonja Vitow '09, former editors of GW literary publication le culte du moi.  Keren and Sonja wrote in to describe their new venture:

"THE KNICKNACKERY IS A COLLECTION OF SMALL, ECLECTIC THINGS. SO ARE WE. We’re looking for work that plays jump rope with boundaries. We want to be told a good story; that is most important. We want your strange, your off-center, your under-appreciated, your greatest experiment. We prefer to be haunted. We aim to create a collection of well-crafted misfits worth putting on a shelf. Give us stories that are heirlooms.

We are now accepting submissions for our first issues, which means our preferences for content are unestablished, uncertain, and a bit unwieldy.  Please send us your most exciting work.  Please allow up to three months to hear back from us before you query.  We aren't able to give much, but we offer token payment as we believe writers deserve to be paid for their work. 

Keren Veisblatt Toledano graduated from the George Washington University, with a B.A. in American Studies, and a focus in Mass Communication. She also holds an M.A. from Columbia University in Arts Administration, a field that concerns business operations around cultural institutions. She first fell in love with the English language when her mother used to force administer the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test to her, along with weekly terminology quizzes from Reader’s Digest. Her favorite words include crepuscular, avuncular and other suffixed “culars”.

She began editing literary magazines in high school, for The Laureate. From there, she graduated to editor-at-large of Le Culte du Moi, an experimental publication at the George Washington University. Her work can be found in Pank Magazine, The GW Review, UGallery Blog, Home Made Simple, and her personal website, The Walkup. She is based in New York City.
Keren's favorite knickknacks include leather-bound books, magnifying glasses, insect specimens, vintage liquor bottles, kids chemistry sets, magnets and paper knives.

Sonja Vitow graduated from the George Washington University with a B.A. in French Language and Literature, and minors in Spanish and German Languages and Literatures. She also has her M.F.A. in Creative Writing from Emerson College.  Sonja began writing poetry and fiction in the first grade. The previous delay had been not being able to read or write.

She began editing literary magazines as a teenager, most prominently her high school’s literary magazine, The Corinthian, a club she ran on days when the Scrabble Club was not meeting. At GW, she was editor-at-small of Le Culte du Moi with Knicknackery co-editor Keren Veisblatt Toledano. She is currently a reader for Ploughshares. Her work has appeared in Gulf Coast, NANO Fiction, Safety Pin Review, Meadowland Review, Punchnel’s, and is forthcoming in WordsApart Magazine. She is also the recipient of the 2013 Emerson College Graduate Poetry Award and American Academy of Poets Prize.

Sonja’s favorite knickknacks include her grandmother’s Buddha, a pebble-sized porcelain doll from her childhood, and a prolific rubber duck collection.

Co-Editor Keren Veisblatt '09
Co-Editor Sonja Vitow, '09

Thursday, December 19, 2013

A Chat with the Author: Professor Marshall Alcorn

Professor Marshall Alcorn's book Resistance to Learning: Overcoming the Desire-Not-To-Know in Classroom Teaching was published in September of this year by Palgrave Macmillan. Resistance to Learning has already received high praise and is the latest in Professor Alcorn's works that focus on education.
As our semester was winding down, GW English Communications Liaison Samantha Yakas asked him a few questions about his book and research as a whole.

Your newest book has been met with high praise. Professor Mark Bracher claimed "that no responsible educator or concerned citizen can afford to ignore" the analysis you present in your work. How have your own experiences in the classroom influenced the work?

My book discusses a few particular classroom interactions I had while teaching writing classes a good many years ago here at GW. As a teacher I value the give and take of discussion in my classes and I have the sense that students actually grow as thinkers as they come to enjoy responding to new and challenging ideas.  When I underwent psychoanalytic training I began to more closely observe how the reception to new ideas was facilitated more by an appropriate emotional climate in the classroom than by evidence, information, and rigorous logical presentation.  I found one class quite dramatic in its use of laughter to negotiate three stages of resistance to new ideas. After thinking about this class experience I worked in a focused way to reduce anxiety, avoid polarized argumentation and give emphasis to curiosity and tolerance for other points of view in classroom discussion.  I found this work useful.  It took me almost ten years to work out the details of this book as I began to see a cluster of particular kinds of emotional interactions--shame, pride, contempt and laughter--that could impede or facilitate the taking in of new and uncomfortable information.

Would you talk a little about how your previous work has influenced the creation of this book?

Professor Marshall Alcorn
Both books reflect my interest in how emotion interacts with reason when students take ownership of new thoughts. My current book, though, moves in exactly the opposite direction from the previous book. In the first book I wanted to describe how student “desires” interact with the subject matter of teaching. Teaching is often imagined as simply the imparting of information. I argue that teaching, in the liberal arts especially, makes emotional demands upon students; I believe we should recognize and accept these demands rather than ignore them. The earlier book met with more success than I expected; it won an award and generated a good many commentaries. A number of my friends, however, pushed me to take up a question that was contrary to the major focus of that book. They wanted to know what to do when students flat out do not want to think about what the teacher wanted to teach. That focus became the theme of the current book.

Jacques Lacan has been a strong influence in your past and present works. Why did Lacan particularly capture your attention? How has he held it? 

My own life has made me particularly sensitive to experiences of loss. I lost my mother at an early age and then later I worked as a Peace Corps Volunteer to manage the trauma of a devastating drought in the Bidar District  of South India. When I was in graduate school I found myself intrigued by Freud’s observations about mourning and loss. I was not happy with Freud’s general system and claims and my encounter with Lacan came at a time when post-structuralist theory was transforming many ideas in literary study. I found the work helpful as a integration of linguistic, cultural and psychoanalytic ideas.  My current book, however, has very few references to Freud or Lacan. Few people these days find psychoanalytic discourse engaging.  My own psychoanalytic institute now makes use of new research in neurobiology and cognitive science to understand various mental processes. In this book I have sought to develop my argument through evidence that most academics might find credible. It is not that I no longer find Lacan useful, but that having learned from him, I am seeking a different language to convey those ideas.

In your preface you state that you are not happy with the terms you have chosen ("the emotional assimilation of thought" and "the desire not to know"). Why did you eventually decide on these terms and what other terms did you play around with? 

The most obvious term for me to have used was denial. Neurobiologist V.S. Ramachandran uses the term denial in the cases of anosognosia he discusses. I really wanted to avoid that term. To me it has too quick a link to psychoanalytic jargon and does not offer any opening for reflective depth for thought.  A clinician whose work I used,  Wilfried Bion, developed the short hand formula, “L, H, and K” to describe how “K” or “knowing” is interlinked with “L” (loving) and “H” (hating) in the affective drive of thought. I slowly began to gravitate toward the term “desire not to know” that some institutes use for representing Bion’s term “–K,” an affect that works against knowing.  It was awkward as term, but also suggestive. The linking of a generally positive concept “desire” with a negative term,“not to know” seemed to have some promise.   Some readers I have heard from have been actually happy with this phrase. The term “emotional assimilation of thought” is a heavy phrase, and I worked with it early on in the project. So far it is the best phrasing I have for focusing sharply on the key problem I address.

You are currently working on a collection, An International Handbook of Trauma. How, if at all, has your new book influenced your project? Are you working on any other pieces?

For perhaps ten years the concept of trauma has been a major focus of my teaching and research.  I worked with the GW Department of Psychiatry and the Washington Center for Psychoanalysis to hold an international conference here at GW in 2010.  I have hosted many conferences over the years, but that conference was powerfully engaging and rewarding for me. The handbook project takes me into a new area of broad and practical thinking, producing a collection of essays that can be immediately helpful for many different professionals in particular situations. This is a direction I want to take at this point in my career. In addition, though, I find the concept of trauma increasingly interesting as a research area because even gently traumatized minds experience significant difficulty in integrating information. Trauma by definition means an encounter with difficult or unbearable or unimaginable experience and this means that this experience is registered (so researchers tell us) in dissociated fragments in different memory areas of the brain. In this sense, then. experiences of trauma help account for what I term “the desire not to know.” We take in readily only what we are already prepared to imagine. Unfortunately life offers many experiences that are on the one hand unimaginable, and on the other hand, absolutely necessary to understand. 

Work on the current book led me to conversations with people outside academia. One connection that I found very engaging was talking to my brother, Patrick Alcorn, a computer information specialist with SAS.  As we talked, we developed a framework for a paper that would have an audience in technology and business. In many ways the people most resistant to the ideas of my book are academics.  On the one hand many academics would agree that people do often act with a “desire not to know.” But on the other hand, academics are practitioners of a profession that is generally paralyzed by the thought that something other than reason and evidence may be necessary for communication.

Some of the ideas from my book came from talking about it with my sons.  At first they were very resistant to the idea that many people “desire not to know.” When I gave some examples, however, they could immediately see the truth of the claim and produced examples of their own. My own experience in writing the book suggests that my subject is something we characteristically think about with two parts of our mind that we never fully integrate. We may know that people are violently irrational, and yet in our next breath, just after we encounter a determined failure to take in information, we insist upon a persuasive rational argument and irritatingly seek to “prove” a point. What I am still trying to do myself is write is an integrated understanding of this dissociated condition. I find that every draft I write of the argument I make a little more progress in integrating dissociated ideas, but I also see where there is more work to do and more clarity to strive toward in formulating a better synthesis. After all my own desire to instruct in the “desire not to know” means that I must find a language offers possibilities for a “desire to know."

Saturday, December 14, 2013

GW English Alums on the Move: The Poetry of Yahia Lababidi

GW English Alum
Yahia Lababidi (BA '96)

Yahia Lababidi, an English major who graduated from GW in 1996, writes poetry and prose, some of it about his homeland, Egypt.   In a recent National Public Radio interview, Lababidi, who has lived in the United States for almost a decade, talked about his most recent collection, Barely There.  He read a poem about the political upheaval in Egypt and noted that "We have the military now, which looks very much to me like what we revolted against - police brutality and oppression. That was the whole point of our revolution. I think reminders are what these poems can do."

But while Lababidi's poetry sometimes turns to politics, his main political writing is in prose (some of it can be read here).  His poetry is more often aphoristic, philosophical, influenced by metaphysical writers like "Eliot, Rilke, Rumi. Poets who are also thinkers and concerned with the life of the spirit.  Lately, I derive much sustenance from Persian mystical poets, Sufis, but spiritual tourist that I am, the Tao Te Ching means the world to me, too, and I continue to return to it for Inspiration...  As an artist, I’m wary of tackling politics directly, and commenting on every twist and turn in the news."  (Readings of poems that have influenced Lababidi, as well as readings of some of his own poems, can be found here.)

Looking back on his time in our department, Yahia recalls "[Robert] Ganz, a free-spirit and independent thinker, whose classes I recall almost as a form of performance art in service to the life of the mind.  I'm [also] indebted to the more demure Prof. Carter, for introducing me to that Great Event of my youth, aka Nietzsche."  Asked if he has any advice for current English majors, Yahia writes:

Read, deeply and widely.  That's to say, feed your imagination a varied diet:
philosophy, mysticism, psychology, foreign traditions, ancient cultures,
science, the natural world, myths, pop culture, art in all its manifestations.
And as you read, try at every turn to test your responsiveness to the world,
as well as the elasticity of the language. There is no need to decide early on
what type of writer you are. Push against the parameters of your creativity,
and try your hand at as many genres, and genre-bending, as you can.
Meantime, of course, continue to live, attentively, so that you are one
of those people upon whom little is wasted.

Finally, if you're serious about the literary life, be prepared to sacrifice
and bleed.  If you have time to breathe and eat, you have time to write.
Write as if your life depended upon it because, in a sense, it does.  Past
word games, readers expect writers to lay their hearts bare, to say what
most other people cannot or will not say.  So, you need to practice
the courage of vulnerability, or being emotionally and spiritual naked,
 in public.  Nothing less is expected of you.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Transnational Queer Film Studies Symposium: Saturday

Some of the students in English 3980
on a rainy day in Prague
Students in Professor Robert McRuer's English 3980, "Transnational Film Studies and LGBTQ Cultures," had the opportunity this semester to participate in one of the department's most unique offerings.  The course was taught all semester here at GW while another version of it was taught simultaneously at Charles University in Prague by Professor Kateřina Kolářová.  From Nov. 6-17, the GW students in the class (along with one Georgetown student) traveled to Prague to meet their counterparts and attend together the Mezipatra International Queer Film Festival.  The students saw a total of eight films in Prague together, and met daily (sometimes with directors and others involved in the festival) to talk about and debate those films.

At one of the cinemas at Mezipatra, waiting
for a lecture by Professor Lisa Duggan of NYU

The GW students involved in this class will present their work in progress emerging from it this Saturday from 11 AM-4 PM in Rome Hall 771.  This symposium consists of three different panels and is free and open to the public.

Transnational Queer Film Studies Symposium
Saturday, December 7, Rome Hall 771
Free and Open to the Public

11 AM-12:15 PM Longing, Belonging, and Failing: The Queer Art of Conflict and Crisis
Timothy DeVita, “Good Doc/Bad Doc: Conflicting Representations of Doctors in AIDS Films”
Adam Schuler, “Identities in Conflict: Failing Masculinity and Nationhood in The Bubble
Jimi Patalano, “Family, Diaspora, and Belonging in Khashish Mumbai International Queer Film Festival”

1-2:15 PM Reorienting Queer Affects: From Earnestness and Safety to Horror
Linda Cui, “The Disorienting Nature of Humor in an Age of Queer Earnestness”
Gordon Gebert, “Don’t Worry, Being Gay Is Actually Okay: The Internet as Safe Haven for Gay Community”
James Walls, “My God She’s a Boy!: The Queer 80s Horror of Sleepaway Camp

2:30-3:45 (Queer) People Are Still Having Sex
TJ Brown, “Is 3 the Charm: Queer Polyamory and Normativity”
Michael Smith, “Fantasy Transformations: Gay-for-Pay Porn and Participatory Cultures”
Madeline Mador, “Pussy, Slut, Feminist? The Politics and Representation of Sex-Positive Feminism and the Queer X Show”