Summer plans

My last post feels like a lifetime ago, along with the positive hopeful attitude it reflects. The end of the the semester is always a sprint, but it has become much moreso now that I have taken on a faculty governance role that entails participation in faculty meetings and Board meetings. I feel drained, exhausted, and irritable. But soon it will be over, and I will be able to experience my first “normal” summer in many years — uninterrupted stretches of time to devote to activities primarily of my own choosing. Between the pandemic, buying a house, and then doing a ton of travel, this hasn’t happened in a while. Other than the pandemic, all of those things were net positives for my life, yet they didn’t represent the kind of recharge and regroup I’ve thought of as a normal part of my annual routine.

This summer, we’re planning only one trip, to the UK, taking advantage of a conference invitation. There I will be presenting some initial research drawing parallels between the Apostle Paul and the Qur’an — which I believe to be a genuinely novel scholarly niche I’ve discovered. Before the conference, we will hang out in Edinburgh, then we will spend a weekend in London before heading back home. And then, aside from a weekend trip or two, I will be settled at home for the entire summer — a prospect I am relishing.

Obviously I have to prep for classes somewhat over the summer. For two of them, that shouldn’t be a problem. I am offering Logic and Critical Thinking through the philosophy department for a second year in a row. The first iteration was successful, and I have good notes that should make an updated syllabus the work of an afternoon. I also have the unique opportunity to teach a half-semester Honors Seminar on Watchmen, covering both the original comics and the HBO series. Reviewing those works and some of the critical literature on them should not be burdensome. Finally, I’m offering Shimer’s seminar course on logic and math for the first time — something I only wanted to take on once I had the standard textbook approach to logic under my belt. A retired colleagues has offered to work with me on that and give me some guidance in how to organize and run the class, which due to the subject matter tends to be more structured than our typical free-wheeling discussions. I’m hoping that working through some Aristotle and Euclid at first hand will lay more groundwork for me to eventually return to Hegel’s Logic — I have a book on Hegel and Aristotle pencilled in for my winter break reading.

My biggest project will be a book on Star Trek, for a University of Minnesota Press series on franchise storytelling co-edited by Gerry Canavan and Ben Robertson. I plan for it to be a relatively short work, somewhere between the length of Why We Love Sociopaths and Neoliberalism’s Demons. I am taking a somewhat unusual approach. Most scholarly overviews of Star Trek focus on the foundational moment of The Original Series and the huge popularity and cultural impact of The Next Generation, then conclude with a decline narrative as subsequent spin-offs enjoyed less commercial and creative success. Often the last nail in the coffin is the hated prequel series Enterprise, which is regarded as a total creative dead end.

I’m taking a different approach and actually starting with Enterprise, viewing it as the beginning of a new era for Star Trek — an era in which it becomes much more self-conscious of its status as a franchise, more self-referential, and increasingly obsessed with returning to its foundational moments. My chapter outline is as follows (with an intro and conclusion, of course):

  1. Enterprise
  2. The “Novelverse” (a sprawling continuity that developed in the tie-in novels after the cancellation of all the shows meant that they were unlikely to be “overwritten” in the foreseeable future)
  3. The Abrams reboot films and IDW tie-in comics (since the production team initially chose not to have novel tie-ins for the new films, comics took on an unexpectedly central role in fan culture after being marginal for most of Trek history)
  4. Discovery (covering all four extant seasons, despite the bizarre 900-year time jump that happens in the middle)
  5. Picard (which conveniently ended its run mere weeks before I plan to start writing, providing something of an organic “stopping-point” for the streaming era of Star Trek)
  6. Homage Series (covering Lower Decks, Prodigy, and Strange New Worlds)

The goal is to use what I call “late Star Trek” as a model for the challenges and opportunities that franchise storytelling opens up, as well as the obstacles and deadlocks that model inevitably confronts. And since this is Star Trek, I will naturally have to address the ways that commercial imperatives distort or contradict the franchise’s anti-capitalist post-scarcity ethos and the unexpected directions this famously “optimistic” and even “utopian” franchise takes its social commentary. I have actually managed to keep up some semblance of a research routine even in these extremely busy weeks, so I have some good momentum here — and it’s obviously a topic I am quite passionate about and have been thinking about a lot.

My hope is to have a full manuscript to submit by the end of summer vacation, though I don’t think it would be a big deal if I wound up taking a little longer. And because I am a weird person with a unique lifestyle, this whole process does not stress me out or intimidate me in any way. I am genuinely looking forward to it. I miss writing, and this is both a “fun one” and a labor of love. If I don’t point out the genuine artistic achievements of Enterprise, who will? Literally no one, that’s who!

And more than that, I am hopeful that this will help me continue my journey toward feeling more like “myself” after some really hard years marked by a lot of stress and uncertainty and some pretty serious burnout. Some of those things will obviously continue — I have one more year of meeting-o-rama due to this governance role, and my Shimer colleagues and I are going through back-to-back years of evaluations to finally regularize our faculty status at North Central after a long probationary period — but I hope I can regrow some resilience through a period of relative solitude and self-directed creative work.

So there you have it! Maybe not the best blog post I could have written, but I feel like I have to put some points on the board to keep up with Beatrice’s Substack, to which all AUFS readers will definitely want to subscribe.

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