Languages I wish I spoke better

It’s pretty much all languages besides English.  By order of my level of fluency:

  1. Tagalog (a.k.a. Filipino).  This one I have native fluency in, but my vocabulary is for crap.  Even in the Philippines, I mostly spoke in the dialect known as Taglish (Tagalog-English), and I’ve been losing little-used words.  Don’t get me wrong, I am perfectly comfortable in it, but it can be hard for me to avoid codeswitching in my speech (codeswitching is the technical term in linguistics for switching between languages inter- or intrasententially).
  2. Spanish.  This one I almost achieved fluency in after five weeks in Peru for an ethnographic field school.  I was so close I could feel it, and had I stayed just a bit longer in South America I think I could have gotten it.  Funny story,  I actually only took a year of Spanish back in undergrad (I think I got a B) and that was three years before the field school.  I’d half-assedly been reviewing my Spanish in preparation, but I was hoping to be able to get the help of other people in my group who were better speakers.  When I arrived at the airport, though, I couldn’t find the person I was supposed to meet and couldn’t remember the name or number of the hotel I was supposed to be staying in.  There was a taxi driver talking to me in Spanish trying to get me to take his cab, and out of desperation I managed to start producing sentences in Spanish.  I got the guy to take me to a decent hotel, then I managed to get a room and make a long-distance call back home to sort out the whole mess.  I hooked up with the rest of the field school the next day.  After that I was fine talking in Spanish for the rest of my time in Peru.
  3. French.  Canada is officially bilingual in French and English, and what that means for English-speaking children is that they must study French.  I resisted learning French, partly because I thought it was unfair to expect me to study it at the same level as my classmates when I’d never encountered it before (the educational system made no concessions to immigrant children in this regard), and partly because I’d begun taking up the attitudes of my Anglophone classmates regarding French (mainly, that it was stupid).  By the time I got to high school I started making an effort and actually got an A in French, despite me not knowing how to count past ten (by that level, you’re assumed to have already learned the basics, so you don’t get tested on them).  However, that was only for one year, the last year of mandatory French study, and after that I dropped French like a hot potato.  In retrospect, I wish I hadn’t, since there are all kinds of direct advantages to be enjoyed from French fluency, such as the greater number of scholarships one becomes eligible for and the greater number of job opportunities.  And I wouldn’t mind living in Montreal sometime, despite it being the dirties Canadian city I’ve ever seen (which is still rather clean compared to the Philippines).  I can still kind of get the gist of written French, though, and sometimes in Chinese restaurants I read the French side of the fortunes in my fortune cookies first just to see how much I still understand.
  4. Bahasa Indonesian.  I had this idea for doing ethnographic fieldwork in Malaysia and Indonesia for my Masters and I bought myself a Teach Yourself Indonesian book in preparation (the proposed project turned out to be too big for a one year Masters program like mine).  I only got a quarter of the way in and I haven’t cracked the book in over a year, so all I can remember is yes, no, and counting to ten.  Still, I’m hoping to do fieldwork in Southeast Asia for my proposed PhD project, so the book could still be useful in the future.  I’ll have to start doing the exercises again sometime.
  5. German.  This one I’ve never studied at all, but I could have.  After reading Heidegger in my high school philosophy class, I suddenly got the hankering to study German and signed up for it.  However, I was the only one interested in a school of (I think) 5 000 students.  My school offered to have me bussed to another school for my German lessons, but I decided I didn’t like Heidegger enough to put up with this inconvenience.  Again, in retrospect I wish I’d stuck with it, since it’s never a bad thing to have more languages under one’s belt.

How to Do Theory

I was looking through Blackwell Publishing’s website for its series on anthropology – The Anthropology of Globalization: A Reader, The Anthropology of Media, The Anthropology of the State, and so on.  Then I came across this book by Wolfgang Iser, How to Do Theory:

This succinct introduction to modern theories of literature and the arts demonstrates how each theory is built and what it can accomplish.

  • Represents a wide variety of theories, including phenomenological theory, hermeneutical theory, gestalt theory, reception theory, semiotic theory, Marxist theory, deconstruction, anthropological theory, and feminist theory.
  • Uses classic literary texts, such as Keats’s Ode on a Grecian Urn, Spenser’s The Shephearde’s Calender and T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land to illustrate his explanations.
  • Includes key statements by the major proponents of each theory.
  • Presents the different theories objectively, allowing students to decide which if any, they subscribe to.
  • Gives students a sense of the potential of theory.
  • Includes a glossary of technical terms.

The table of contents lists this:

8. Anthropological Theory
Basics of Generative Anthropology
An Anthropological View of Literature

Say what?  A lot of contemporary anthropological theory actually comes from outside anthropology (my work, for instance, draws quite a bit from Stuart Hall and Benedict Anderson, a smidgen more from Sasskia Sassen, and just a dash of Foucault), but specifically anthropological critiques tend to rely ultimately on familiarity with ethnographic literature.  Which is to say that an anthropological view of anything is in the end predicated on having a certain body of knowledge and not on specific analytical techniques, with the techniques used by anthropologists actually being quite diverse.

So what would a literary theorist tell readers to give them an idea of what an anthropological view of literature is?  Not only that, since the book is about How to Do Theory, what would the author tell readers to have them be able to conduct anthropological critiques of literature?  Suddenly I want to read chapter eight of this book.  Surely one chapter isn’t enough to list the anthropological knowledge even a third year undergrad should possess.

The imagined book

I mentioned on Rough Theory that I had read Francis Fukuyama, and I was specifically referring to his book The End of History and the Last Man.  However, I have to confess that I can remember absolutely nothing from the experience of reading it.  I know I read it since I have notes on it somewhere and one paper I wrote in undergrad cites it.  Evidently, I’ve read it in the past, but I can’t even remember what it was about.  Well, I know what it’s about because I’ve read reviews and it’s mentioned here and there in other articles and such, but I can’t pull out of my mind any knowledge of the book that specifically comes from my own reading.  I have a feeling I wasn’t impressed, otherwise reading the book would have made an actual impression on me.  What I remember from book reviews also leads me to conclude that I probably dumped the book from my long-term memory because I didn’t think it was that great.  I’m not too broken up about this situation, but it is rather curious.

Internet, do something!

I demand amusement.  Hop on one foot, punch yourself in the stomach, sing, do anything at all, but don’t let me get bored.  You know what’s more horrible than procrastinating and knowing even as you’re doing it that you’re steadily screwing yourself?  Trying to procrastinate and not having anything to do.  Woe and worry, sorrow and lamentation, fallen, fallen is Babylon the great.

Off to Youtube I go.

And for any new people who have just stumbled on this blog (all two of you): don’t worry, I don’t whine all the time, I’m just full of self-pity right now.  I promise to stop feeling sorry for myself sometime after I get my PhD.

Gone fishing

Actually, I’ve never gone fishing in my life.  Ever.  But I have been absent from this blog lately.

The biggest reason for my absence is that I’m actually writing up a storm right now on my thesis.   Well, perhaps a line a day isn’t really a tempest of writing, but compared to what I was doing before it’s a deluge.  Some days I write entire paragraphs, and on occasion whole pages.  I’m so close to finishing my first chapter I can almost taste it.  I even emailed what I had to my supervisor.  Mind you, this is the first actual piece of research-related writing I’ve ever given her.  Sure, she’s seen drafts, but now she’s gotten a glimpse of the real deal.  I can actually now imagine a finished thesis as a concrete object instead of some fantastic vision, an El Dorado never to be reached.  Frankly, it’s rather deflating to realize that the thing that intimidated me so much wasn’t so big in the first place.  I’ll have to revise my schedule for the holidays, but my work from now on is reduced to nothing more than bare numbers: a couple of hours a day, so many days a week, the time accumulating until the work is done.  No more existential crises from here on out.

Before, I could not imagine a time when I’d be done; now, such a thing seems more than possible: it seems a foregone conclusion.  Because of my writing, I won’t be posting as much.  I can only write so much in a day, after all.  But I’ll still be coming back.