29 July 2010

U of Toronto Centre for Comp. Lit. re-org is a terrible idea

“Who the hell cares?” is the reaction that 99% of the world would have to the reorganization of the Centre for Comparative Literature at the University of Toronto—if they knew about it. Basically the administration have proposed subsuming the Centre into a new School of Languages and Literatures, along with a jumble of East Asian Studies, Italian, German, Slavic Languages, Spanish and Portuguese, but there are also more subtle, worrying changes. It’s part of a larger trend of universities thinking about the bottom line rather than about how to make good teaching and scholarship happen.

01 July 2010

Joel Stein's racism problem (sigh)

In next week's issue of Time (it's already up on the web and has been making the rounds of the blogosphere), there is a painfully unfunny observation column by Joel Stein called "My Own Private India." It's a comparison between the lilywhite Edison, NJ of his childhood and the much browner Edison of today. (According to the 2000 census, Edison has the highest concentration of Indian-Americans in the country at about 18%.)

I wanted to write a detailed post to explain what exactly makes me so uncomfortable about the piece but Sepia Mutiny beat me to it in a post that is as hilarious as Stein's article is cringe-worthy. My advice, seconded by SM, comes down to this: If you're going to toe the line between racism and comedy based on race, which is exactly what Stein is trying to do, then you have to have a point (or get a free pass by being a member of the ethnic group you're satirizing). That's what seems to be lacking in Stein's essay--no one on the web seems to be able to figure out why he would have written something like this except that the author thinks it's funny, which isn't enough when talking about race.