I still remember the day I came to Turkey. While making a connection at London’s Heathrow Airport, I happened to glance at a newspaper headline announcing that a bomb in Izmir had killed several people. At the time I had no idea where Izmir was, nor why someone would choose to bomb it, but rather than taking it as an ominous message, I chose to downplay the significance of the event. I felt bad for the victims, but only in the abstract way that we all commiserate with things that do not directly affect us. Besides, I did not want to infect the optimism I felt at taking an academic job in Istanbul, where I had been asked to help found a literature department. I would engage in exactly this sort of hedging and deferral over the next ten years: overlooking bombs, tear gas, the senseless killing of youths during the Gezi Park uprising, the ousting of judges, and the government takeover of virtually every media outlet. But things finally reached a limit with the July 2016 coup d’état attempt by a faction within the Turkish military and the growing restrictions on academics and disturbing social demonstrations that followed in its wake.
I arrived during a relatively stable period in Turkey’s history, but the country has had more than its share of political, social, and economic upheavals throughout the 20th century, including three previous major coups. Being an expatriate in Turkey means sublimating doubts and anxieties over the rise of religious fundamentalism or the shrinking value of the Turkish Lira. I discovered that it is disturbingly easy to accept small changes like restrictions on alcohol sales or increasing government intervention and to think of larger looming problems, like the devastating earthquake that is slated to strike Istanbul or ISIS restoring the Caliphate, as vague possibilities that will never arrive. There is also a culture of postponement and acceptance in Turkey, buttressed by a native Turkish belief that “things will happen if God wills it” that makes it easier to dismiss the future in favor of the present. So I acknowledged disturbing possibilities, stored them somewhere in the back of my mind, and moved on. More… “After the Coup”
As a teacher of first-year writing since 1987, I have learned to share my passions with students. Sharing what really matters to you can lead to deep learning, but it can also involve emotional risk.
In a class that focuses on using research, writing, and re-writing to think about the connections between literary texts and our lives, I have chosen a theme I think about a lot: Deception. We read short stories in which characters deceive or are deceived. How many of these stories do you recognize? More… “Magic Class”
Fred Siegel teaches in the English and Philosophy Department at Drexel University. His writings have appeared in The Drama Review, Journal of Modern Literature, Kugelmass, When Falls the Coliseum, and Painted Bride Quarterly. He also performs magic shows in a variety of venues, and plays the role of “Fred” in the autobiographical performance, Man of Mystery. A copy of his doctoral dissertation, The Vaudeville Magic Act, 1880-1932, mysteriously appeared on eBay recently. He has lied for money in the Coney Island Sideshow (1989-90), and has been logging his dreams since 1993. He also does improvised performances with Comedysportz Philadelphia and Tongue & Groove. To read more, go to his Geekadelphia Profile.
In my most recent essay for The Smart Set, “What is Education for?” I argued that the tendency to equate education with mere instruction neglects the more fundamental purposes of education: initiation into a cultural or civilizational tradition, indoctrination into a public philosophy — in the United States, democratic republican liberalism — and inculcation of the manners which enable young people to grow into good citizens, good neighbors, and good colleagues.
In the liberal magazine Democracy Journal, Kevin Mattson was quick to respond. Mattson is a professor of history at Ohio University, a fellow at the liberal Center for American Progress, and a member of the editorial Board of Dissent. As my politics are those of a Rooseveltian social democratic liberal, and presumably similar to those of Mattson, to judge from his affiliations and his publications, I was curious to learn what his objections were. It turns out the divide between us has nothing to do with politics, in the conventional sense, but rather with our differing views of the purpose of education.
This past spring, I attended a championship story slam with a student I have advised and whom I know well. This student is a gifted writer and a funny, self-deprecating storyteller. I could easily claim that I thought attending the slam might give her insight about a research project I was advising her on. But the truth is that I simply thought she would enjoy the slam and might find an outlet for her own storytelling. The issue of engaging with a student outside of formal class time is, of course, a tricky one these days, especially if the professor is a male and the student a female. I will address the potential pitfalls as well huge opportunities of engaging with students outside of class in another essay. More… “Breaking Baccalaureate”
What do you tell parents of would-be poets who worry about their children’s ability to make a living writing sonnets? — Your father, Sierra Vista, Arizona P.S. Do you want me to send you that law school application?
It is perfectly natural to feel the worry you express, and especially if your child is nearing the end of her MFA program that offers no job placement upon completion, but I don’t think she is relying solely on her ability to write sonnets to make her living. The great Nobel laureate, poet and essayist Joseph Brodsky makes a bold and validating claim that, in my personal experience, I have found to be true: “The more one reads (and by extension, writes) poetry, the less tolerant one becomes of any sort of verbosity, be it in political or philosophical discourse,… More…
When Nana Takahashi arrived as our school’s new manager she had one good thing going for her: Things could not get any worse. An ongoing lack of English students meant we hadn’t come close to meeting our monthly business goals in nearly a year. Wooing new students was difficult with scuffed floors, flimsy desks and bare patches of wall where cheap wallpaper paste had lost the battle against Japanese humidity. Many of the students we did have had been scared away by my perpetually unshaven and hung-over British predecessor, who was finally fired for playing Fatboy Slim to a class of 6-year-olds.
I wasn’t doing much to help the situation. I’d fallen in love with Japan during a summer internship in Tokyo and a semester in Kyoto, and had decided to go back to teach English after graduation. The large chain of schools that hired me said I’d be going… More…