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.

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Summer: Phase 2

The transition from the independent Shimer College to the Shimer Great Books School at North Central College entails a switch from semesters to quarters — meaning that my summer break is approximately a month longer than usual. Between my work on Neoliberalism’s Demons (which is nearly complete at this point) and my faculty seminar on “The Verbal Art of Plato” (which will be taking place at the Center for Hellenic Studies in Washington, D.C., next week), I have done about as much as I could realistically expect to do in an average summer. Early August would normally be the time when my thoughts would turn more toward classes, faculty meetings, etc., but this year that stuff won’t be happening until September.

I suppose that I could have expanded my work to fill the time available, but instead I have effectively pulled a Cool Hand Luke and cleared out a space of freedom for myself. I’d like to use this time for something very different from what I’ve been doing recently, to get some rest and work out some different parts of my brain. I’ve thought of various reading projects, but what most appeals to me right now is finally getting a start on learning to read biblical Hebrew. I haven’t done a new language since Italian, and Hebrew is of course very different from the European languages I’ve tackled so far — fulfilling my variety criterion. I bought all the necessary books the summer before I started at Shimer, but never got much further than starting to memorize the alphabet. I could make it through at least a good chunk of the grammar book in August, and since my classes don’t start until noon for the fall term, I could likely spend an hour or so most mornings finishing up the grammar and starting to stumble through Genesis. People recommended that I learn Hebrew as a way to warm up for Arabic, and if I keep at it semi-consistently over the next academic year, maybe I could get a start on classical Arabic next summer. And with whatever time is left over, I could do some undirected reading and/or rewatch Star Trek for the hundredth time.

What do you think? What would you do if you had a block of time like this? What would you consider a change of pace or recharging type of activity?

Long-term goals

For the past couple months, I’ve been working on a couple projects that fulfill long-term goals. I’m going to finally have a published French translation on the books, which I have been hoping to do ever since I was thwarted in my attempt to publish the Derrida translation I did as my masters thesis. And I’m getting tantalizingly close to completing an edited volume, which hasn’t been a major ambition of mine but feels like the kind of thing every academic should do at least once.

This put me in mind of other longer-term goals that I have had in mind for a significant period:

  • Learning to read biblical Hebrew and classical Arabic — I bought all the books for Hebrew many years ago, but the can keeps getting kicked down the road. More recently, I was told that Hebrew would be a good stepping stone to learning Arabic, and being able to do at least some minimal “compare-and-contrast” work with the original text of the Qur’an would be cool.
  • Teaching a Natural Sciences course at Shimer — I really enjoyed the opportunity to take Shimer’s chemistry course as part of my training, and I’ve taught some evolutionary theory in an interdisciplinary course, so I think I could make a go at our lower-level Natural Sciences curriculum. I almost got to do the chemistry course this semester as an overload, but it turned out to be more practical to let one of the traditional science faculty do it. (A next step beyond this goal would be to teach the whole Shimer curriculum, but realistically speaking, the upper-level science courses are really hard.)
  • Gaining teaching competence in a non-monotheistic tradition — Being pushed to teach Islam a few years ago was a really great experience that stretched me in a lot of ways. While I hope I get to continue deepening my knowledge of Islam through teaching, it would also be an interesting challenge to take a step further out of my comfort zone of monotheistic/prophetic traditions.

What about you, readers? Do you have any very long-term goals that you keep in the back of your mind?

Pacing myself

I’ve been thinking lately about which projects I choose to undertake.

For instance, I look at the two projects I’m wrapping up right now — a translation of Nicole Loraux’s “War in the Family” (the essay Agamben discusses at length in Stasis) and Agamben’s Philosophical Lineage, the edited volume on Agamben’s sources. In the former case, I saw the opportunity to get a published French translation on the books while contributing to the field in a material way. In the latter case, I felt I had a good idea, I had never done an edited volume before, and I had a highly capable co-editor (Carlo Salzani, one of the hardest-working men in academia). Both were “might as well” kinds of things. I was in no position, either intellectually or practically, to embark on a major new research project before The Prince of This World had even appeared, so they seemed like good ways to bide my time. One benefit was that they were one-off projects — I am not going to begin a career as a major Loraux scholar (nor indeed as a French translator) or a serial editor of volumes.

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Fall Semester Plans

I have had my first faculty meeting of the semester, and classes start on Monday — in short, summer vacation is officially over. This semester, I am teaching the senior capstone course, which meets four days a week (syllabus), and we will have some work to do for the transition to North Central College, so I may wind up having less research time. And come to think of it, I need to develop a syllabus for the second half of the capstone over the course of the semester as well….

My one non-negotiable goal is to get the Agamben edited volume ready for publication. Chapters are already starting to trickle in, and I imagine we will have all but a few by the end of September. I am also planning to turn my “Neoliberalism’s Demons” talk into an article and allocating my augmented train reading time toward that end. I imagine that the notes I generate will also prove relevant for my longer-term project on the Trinity and governance. Finally, I just signed a contract for a new Agamben translation, but the book hasn’t been published in Italian yet (meaning that I don’t feel comfortable sharing details publicly, sorry) and so I don’t have a final text.

Editing chapters, taking reading notes, and working on a translation are all good tasks for afternoons when I feel drained after teaching. As for the writing, I imagine that an argument I have delivered a half-dozen times will prove relatively easy to draft once I sit down to do it. But we shall see! Maybe all I’ll wind up accomplishing is rewatching Star Trek: The Animated Series.

What about you, dear readers? What academic hopes fill your heart as fall approaches?

Summer to-do list

Summer has finally begun, as we had our last faculty meeting yesterday. My previous two summers were almost insanely productive. This year, as I am in a lull waiting for The Prince of This World — by the way, did you know it’s available for pre-order? — to come out, I am trying to take it relatively easy and let my brain heal up a little bit. The academic-related things I actually need to do this summer are as follows:

  • Finalize my travel arrangements for Australia
  • Write one lecture and revise another, for repeated use in Australia
  • Translate Agamben’s (very short) book The Mystery of Evil: Benedict XVI and the End of Days
  • Correct the proofs and do the index for The Prince of This World
  • Design a syllabus and place a book order for the Shimer senior capstone course
  • Write my contribution for the volume Carlo Salzani and I are co-editing, Agamben as Reader

All but the last item need to occur before I leave for Australia (mid-July). The last item will require reviewing some Agamben texts, and I’m figuring I can bring them along for airplane and other miscellaneous reading during the trip.

This is all quite manageable and far less than I have done in recent years, yet I feel overwhelmed, as though I won’t have a free moment all summer long.

What about you, readers? What do you have planned for the glorious freedom of summer, that blessed time when academics get time off work so that they can finally get some work done?

And miles to go before I sleep

This has been the busiest semester of the busiest year of my life. Every time I think I’m “over the hump,” I realize there’s another mountain of work. By the time the semester ends — a semester during which I’ve taken on a teaching overload — I not only need to complete my grading (including grading for Shimer’s first-year comprehensive exam, as a kind of bonus) but write two articles on which I basically haven’t even started and also put (hopefully!) finishing touches on my co-authored book on Agamben with Colby Dickinson.

Then over the winter break, I need to finalize a syllabus for my Qur’an course, a task that will include a lot of tedious detail work to make sure I cover the whole text in some kind of compromise between chronological and thematic order, and start getting up to speed on Shimer’s Social Sciences 4, also a new prep for me. In addition, I need to make at least some progress on my big Agamben translation, hopefully getting it to a place where I could send a major section to an Italian colleague who has agreed to look over it.

Then, of course, I need to actually get started on my long-promised devil book, presumably striking while the iron is still hot after having taught the material twice in the last calendar year (once at Shimer, once at CTS).

Continue reading “And miles to go before I sleep”

Academic productivity-related program activities for the fall

This semester, I fear I may be reaching a kind of saturation point for how much it is possible to do without being in a constant state of anxiety. In addition to my regular teaching and administrative duties at Shimer, I am teaching a graduate seminar at Chicago Theological Seminary and attempting to make progress on my translation. On top of that, I have agreed to do the following:

  • Attend a conference for the Association of Core Text Colleges on secular vs. religious core curricula, as Shimer’s representative (end of this week, paper already written)
  • Give a talk on Zizek and religion at Portland State University (Monday, October 13)
  • Write a chapter on the ransom theory of the atonement for a reference volume
  • Write an essay on religion and politics for a special journal issue
  • Write two reviews on devil-related books
  • Do various editing work toward the previously mentioned co-authored essay collection on Agamben with Colby Dickinson (which I had so hoped to finalize this summer, but alas…)

As an added bonus, I need to at least get a book order ready for a new course entitled “Reading the Qur’an” and for a Shimer core course I’ve never taught before (though the beauty of the Shimer system is that I can basically carry over what was done last time, which is my general policy for teaching those courses for the first time).

All of this is a little more manageable than it might seem, because my Shimer teaching schedule is fairly convenient — I’m done with classes by 1pm MWF — and I’m teaching two sections of a course I did just last year. And of course, some of this stuff can overlap with each other and lead more or less directly into the drafting of my long-awaited devil book. I should be largely “out of the woods” by the end of October, but in the meantime, certain activities (such as blogging) are taking a back seat, though other, more procrastinatory activities (such as Twitter) may suddenly become very prominent, for a short, intense time period.

One thing I’ve dealt with a lot more this past year has been travel, both for conferences and for personal reasons. In grad school, I used to absolutely dread trips, and I think a lot of that had to do with a feeling of vulnerability related to my abject poverty, etc., in addition to a bad track record for travel in my early life (either suffocating family vacations or oppressive church stuff — or sometimes both, as when we went to “camp meeting”!). Now I seem to be approaching more normal levels of stress, which is probably ineliminable for people without the sociopatic detachment of George Clooney’s character in Up in the Air. Yet that character’s approach to travel nonetheless remains a kind of ideal for me, and as I ponder it, I wonder if it’s because he’s actually the ultimate homebody who has made the generic trappings of business travel into a kind of omnipresent home. He’s so good at travel that he effectively never travels.

Other summer projects

My two major projects for the summer — my Islam syllabus and Creepiness — are now basically done. There will be further work on both (continued background reading on Islam and the process of editing on Creepiness), but they will no longer require the kind of sustained effort I’ve put in so far. I had been anticipating spending all summer working on both, along with the translation of The Use of Bodies, but there have been delays on finalizing the Italian text that have meant that particular project is on pause for now.

In the meantime, I have a few things to work on. The most exciting is a collection of essays on Agamben that I’m putting together with Colby Dickinson, which will amount to a two-person edited volume. Over the next few weeks, we’ll be reading each other’s contributions (which have mostly been previously published or presented at conferences) and giving some feedback, as well as putting together a proposal. I’ve also promised a couple pieces for a reference work on the doctrine of the atonement and hope to complete at least one (the shorter one, which is due in early fall), and I need to write up a syllabus for my Theology and Politics of the Devil course at CTS (for which I’ve “assigned” myself some fresh reading). Finally, I’d like to rework my Birkbeck talk into a sample chapter for The Prince of This World and put together a prospectus for a publisher. And until I head back to Chicago, I have the weekly Agamben reading group that just started.

I guess that sounds like a lot. The problem is that no single one of them is either as lengthy (or as fun!) as Creepiness or as urgent as the Islam syllabus, so I can picture myself wasting a lot of time deciding which to do first — and then repeating the procedure when I finish whatever I finally settle on and need to move on to the next thing. Somewhat more pathetically, experience teaches me that when I don’t have an overarching project to work on during the summer, I become bored and depressed. That’s one major drawback of being such a productive person: workahol withdrawal can be harsh.