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debsinenglish
25 April 2011 @ 12:04 am
You guys: this is simply brilliant. Love.


Leon Rothberg, Ph.D., a 58-year-old professor of English Literature at Ohio State University, was shocked and saddened Monday after receiving a sub-par mid-semester evaluation from freshman student Chad Berner. The circles labeled 4 and 5 on the Scan-Tron form were predominantly filled in, placing Rothberg’s teaching skill in the “below average” to “poor” range.

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English professor Dr. Leon Rothberg, though hurt by evaluations that pointed out the little globule of spit that sometimes forms between his lips, was most upset at being called "totally lame" in one freshman's write-in comments.

Although the evaluation has deeply hurt Rothberg’s feelings, Berner defended his judgment at a press conference yesterday.

“That class is totally boring,” said Berner, one of 342 students in Rothberg’s introductory English 161 class. “When I go, I have to read the school paper to keep from falling asleep. One of my brothers does a comic strip called ‘The Booze Brothers.’ It’s awesome.”

The poor rating has left Rothberg, a Rhodes Scholar, distraught and doubting his ability to teach effectively at the university level.

“Maybe I’m just no good at this job,” said Rothberg, recipient of the 1993 Jean-Foucault Lacan award from the University of Chicago for his paper on public/private feminist deconstructive discourse in the early narratives of Catherine of Siena. “Chad’s right. I am totally boring.”

In the wake of the evaluation, Rothberg is considering canceling his fall sabbatical to the University of Geneva, where he is slated to serve as a Henri Bynum-Derridas Visiting Scholar. Instead, Rothberg may take a rudimentary public speaking course as well as offer his services to students like Berner, should they desire personal tutoring.

“The needs of my first-year students come well before any prestigious personal awards offered to me by international academic assemblies,” Rothberg said. “After all, I have dedicated my life to the pursuit of knowledge, and to imparting it to those who are coming after me. I know that’s why these students are here, so I owe it to them.”

Though Rothberg, noted author of The Violent Body: Marxist Roots of Postmodern Homoerotic Mysticism and the Feminine Form in St. Augustine’s Confessions, has attempted to contact Berner numerous times by telephone, Berner has not returned his calls, leading Rothberg to believe that Berner is serious in his condemnation of the professor.

“I’m always stoned when he calls, so I let the answering machine pick it up,” said Berner, who maintains a steady 2.3 GPA. “My roommate just got this new bong that totally kicks ass. We call it Sky Lab.”

Those close to Rothberg agree that the negative evaluation is difficult to overcome.

“Richard is trying to keep a stiff upper lip around his colleagues, but I know he’s taking it very hard,” said Susan Feinstein-Rothberg, a fellow English professor and Rothberg’s wife of 29 years. “He knows that students like Chad deserve better.”

When told of Rothberg’s thoughts of quitting, Berner became angry.

“He’d better finish up the class,” Berner said. “I need those three humanities credits to be eligible to apply to the business school next year.”

The English Department administration at Ohio State is taking a hard look at Rothberg’s performance in the wake of Berner’s poor evaluation.

“Students and the enormous revenue they bring in to our institution are a more valued commodity to us than faculty,” Dean James Hewitt said. “Although Rothberg is a distinguished, tenured professor with countless academic credentials and knowledge of 21 modern and ancient languages, there is absolutely no excuse for his boring Chad with his lectures. Chad must be entertained at all costs.”
 
 
debsinenglish
02 January 2011 @ 07:38 pm
I wish I could make this kind of shit up. Then they might hire me to write for television. However, this springs not out of my own imagination but out of the sophisticated intellect of one spectacular undergraduate, and forwarded to me by his professor. This is comedy gold for academics. Epic. Spectacular fail.

Hello professor Brown, my name is Stan Snowflake and I am in your Course 101.

I am emailing you because I just realized I missed the midterm. I already
missed the other test so I really can't afford to lose this one because I pretty
much bombed the first one.

Today, after your class at 3:35, which you let us out a little earlier than
usual, I could not wait until I got home in Main St. because today was the
delivery day of my Star Wars Force FX Lightsaber, and also I was really hungry.
by the time I got home, it was little past 4 o'clock. And I picked up my
lightsaber from the post office, went home, cooked dinner with my roommate, then
played with the lightsaber. It now was 7:00. Then I had to go Stop&Shop because
I ran out of food and I really needed to do shopping or else I would have
nothing to eat the next day. When I came back home, it was 8:30 and by the time
I put all the groceries and cleaned up the area, it was 9:30. Then we went to
the gym and worked out for about 90 minutes at Planet Fitness. By the time I got
back home, it was 10 minutes of 11, and I realized the 4th quarter of the
Celtics vs. the Cavaliers. There was only about 15 seconds left on the clock and
that the Celtics were winning by 3 points, and there was no way that I would
miss this critical point of the game. In the end we won. Then it was around
11:15 that I realized the test was due at 11 O'clock.

That is pretty much my story and excuse.
I am sorry for the long email and should have done my test before its due date
but as you can see, today was quite busy day for me.

Is there any way to make up for the late test?
Please?

Thank you.
Sincerely, Stanley
 
 
debsinenglish
27 October 2010 @ 12:32 am
Huh.  
I didn't think this was that funny, and I am not sure what to make of the fact that my advisor sent this along to our reading group.

http://www.xtranormal.com/watch/7451115/

The movie does make some good points about teaching undergraduates, and also about Harold Bloom.
 
 
debsinenglish
12 May 2010 @ 03:17 pm
As I am looking for ways to procrastinate writing papers, and as I have finished my grading in an attempt to procrastinate writing said papers, I want to take a moment to write a more elaborate set of snarky comments thoughtful critiques about the  dimwits maturity-challenged students from this semester.

For a while now, I have been very much anticipating writing a lengthy entry about the snowflake who complained that my class "didn't allow him enough freedom of expression" and focused too heavily on "grammar" and "academic language." Who thinks that my criticism of his work is not warranted, for he "writes every day, whether it be lyrics or poems or thoughts" and therefore "Now the content of his papers should speak for themselves" (yeah, that is where the grammar and academic style of prose part comes in).

Oh sweet snowflake, guess what? I don't care how many "lyrics" or "thoughts" you record in your diary every day. Somehow, I doubt that you are the freshman equivalent of Bob Dylan, or even Jakob Dylan. Frankly, I doubt that you have the talent of Melvin Dylanski, Bob's Klezmer-minded cousin from Long Island. Frankly, your whining and bitching about the fact that I expect you to behave like an adult, write emails to me that do not resemble a monkey's attempt at text messaging, and turn in essays that DO NOT SEEK TO SUBSTANTIATE ARGUMENTS BY MAKING INSULTING REMARKS ABOUT A CERTAIN ETHNIC COMMUNITY IN THE MIDDLE EAST (I believe the exact term that you chose to include on your research paper on overpopulation was "maybe Islamic groups in Iran should think about having less children that grow up to be suicide bombers") insults me. And guess what? The fact that I find this insulting does not make me anti-Semitic (I'm Jewish you moron), anti-American, or an instructor dead set on making my politics part of the course. And damn straight I'm going to call you on it.

My class requires you to write (gasp!) papers suitable for academic contexts. And in any case, my greatest wish in life right now is that you keep your melancholic laments about your yearning for the freshman ex-cheerleader with only minimally acne-scarred cheeks to yourself for the rest of my life, preferably yours as well. I am slightly amused that you find it insulting that I choose to "unlike some other instructors, keep [you] here for the entire class time" and ""criticize [your] paper." Guess what this complaint means: I DO MY FUCKING JOB, MORON, AND THAT MEANS TELLING YOU THAT YOU ARE WRONG INSTEAD OF NODDING AND SMILING AND TUNING YOU OUT WHILE DOWNING COPIOUS AMOUNTS OF XANAX  SO AS TO NUMB MY ANXIETY DEVELOPING IN RESPONSE TO THE UNEASY EXPECTATION THAT YOU AND YOUR GENERATION ARE IN LINE TO INHERIT THE ALREADY DETERIORATING COUNTRY. Seriously, I just threw up in my mouth thinking that you might, one day, meet someone, procreate, and produce permutations of you who might, one day, create a lineage of increasingly dull and unsophisticated spawn. Shudder.

And damn you for leaving me no choice but to craft entire sentences in all caps. Damn you for that too, asshole.
 
 
debsinenglish
11 May 2010 @ 11:03 pm
When I am awake sometimes I hate the monsters I teach. I could provide multiple horror stories from this semester, but I'm just going with one because it pisses me off at this particular moment in time. 

Precious is on the football team, which is why he is at school at all. I have had student athletes in my classes before and generally, they are hard workers, if not the brightest. I find that they do know what it means to work hard and they generally take initiative. Not this kid. He walks into my class at least 10 minutes late most sessions, has turned in every assignment late, he does not do the readings, and TEXTS ON HIS BLACKBERRY DURING MY CLASS. Since the class is highly based on in-class peer review (not my choice), and since I pair them in advance, when Precious doesn't do his work, he sits there staring out the window or scratching his balls for the entire time while his peer reviewer also now has the opportunity to stare out the window and scratch his/her crotch for approximately one hour and fifteen minutes.

I get that I'm boring. In fact, the class I teach bores me to tears, although I try to make it as interesting as I can. But I've taught this class four times and it is basic writing. It is a required course for those who got less than a 3 on the AP test or the equivalent on the placement test, so if they do have to take this class they have a hunch that they are surrounded by equally non-impressive writers for a class that is going to teach rudimentary skills.

At this point I teach the class in my sleep, which is A-ok because they take my class in their sleep.

Back to Precious. Precious drives me nuts because when he actually talks, he says interesting things, so I know he's not dumb. He's just totally checked out and thinks he has a free pass because he can kick a football thiiiiiiiiiiiiiis long.

Precious did not show up for the final requirement (again, required by the program, not my choice) which is a final conference. Since I think the assignment is pointless and I really don't want to spend my time conferencing with 24 kids who don't want to be there to find out what they think they learned over the semester (which seems to be the main objective of the assignment), I tell them that i will hold an all day drop in session in my office. All they have to do is stop by, drop in and drop off a final reflection letter to me. 2 pages. Double spaced. That's it.

Precious does not show up. I EMAIL HIM TO REMIND HIM TO TURN IN HIS REFLECTION, LIKE I AM SOME SORT OF BRITISH NANNY WITH AN UMBRELLA AND THE MAGICAL ABILITY TO TIDY UP AFTER HIM USING ONLY A SONG AND SOME FANCY CAMERAWORK BY DISNEY. No response, even though I tell him that I will accept the assignment late, taking 10% off each day, until Friday. Because I want to pass him. Because I don't want to waste my time filling out paperwork, or have to answer to the program later, after I leave or somehow become accountable for Precious getting kicked off the football team by his coach. Because it takes me more time to have to go to campus, file a fail form, and possibly deal with this after I leave than to get his ass to pass my class. And finally, also because I know my program will not stand behind me if he goes to complain that there is some loophole in my syllabus or some lack of clarity (despite EVERYONE ELSE IN THE CLASS GOT IT) about the requirement and the mistake is somehow my fault and then my teaching comes under scrutiny.

And you know what? Guess what I am going to do tomorrow? I am going  to find his cell phone number and call him to follow up and to make sure he gets the message, like I am his mommy and he forgot his lunch at home, and oops he needs to remember or else he'll go hungry!

And you know what? Precious isn't even the worst I've had this semester! I'll have to write about a certain special snowflake when I have some serious time on my hands. I can't stand this shit. Seriously. Balls. Pure balls.

ETA: Yes, I get it. I am part of the problem.

 
 
 
debsinenglish
10 May 2010 @ 02:48 pm
Bwah hah hah.

Awesome link of the day. I give you:

Bronte Sister Power Dolls.

 
 
debsinenglish
15 April 2010 @ 07:28 pm
The short version: I will be at UCLA this fall.

The long version:

I left Amherst on Thursday for New Orleans. As I wrote in the snapshots of the conference that I posted, the conference was terrific. I love conferences. I know that this love is not universally shared, but honestly, when I go I always come away so invigorated about my work, with new perspectives, a thousand new ideas, a brand new reading list, and of course new and wonderful connections. I went to some panels by some superstars and made some great connections. But I also went to some great panels with graduate students who I think are bound to become superstars. That was great to see. It is like getting a glimpse of the future of the discipline.

I connected with old friends, and made new connections. I absolutely loved moderating the panel. It went off almost without a hitch (minus the one day that we ran totally over time because of snowflake panelist, who demanded to present on a certain day that she was not schedule to present, thus requiring us to accommodate 5 presentations in a time slot only really scheduled for 4 at the most. She ran overtime, I had to cut her off, and we ran out of time and had to cut the discussion very short. Not impressed).

I will say that I had one significant disappointment: The conference was scheduled to take place in New Orleans. Now given the value and direction of literary studies, and the preoccupation of the discipline with issues of representation, it was striking to me to find that the issue of representation IN/ in response to the situation of New Orleans was absent from the discourse. I mean, it was uncannily absent. A secret entirely manifest, if you will. For me, it lurked just under the surface of every discussion, beneath every literary investigation that I took in. Certainly, my panel "Righting and Rewriting Wrongs," which sought to investigate how we may "right"--rehabilitate--the past, a history of violence, by "rewriting" it--taking that which lurks in the margins back within the body of the canon, seemed directly linked to the discourse of New Orleans.

On the last meeting of the panel, we had a fairly good turnout, a really thoughtful audience and we had bonded as a panel. Since snowflake panelist was absent, we had some extra time and I gave some closing remarks off the cuff. I rarely speak entirely impromptu, but it came naturally, and I am really happy. I have gotten a great response and some very nice emails asking me for my notes (which I don't have given it was impromptu) so I think it was successful. I think I will take up this issue and I definitely want to think about it further.

I talked about the need for literary studies to connect what we think with what we do, and how I felt that disconnect in New Orleans, how that connection felt spectral and that perhaps our task was to bring it to light. When we think about righting and rewriting wrongs as our panel had done, how contemporary literature seeks to amend (right) the past by rewriting it, producing new narratives and revising old ones, we might also think about how the past of New Orleans is right now being written, documented, and how the narrative we tell of it reflects and will also determine the way in which both that trauma is understood, and the way it is handled. How will we settle our debt to the past? How will New Orleans settle the material debt it has incurred? How will the nation settle its moral debt to New Orleans? Will we remember this trauma or will we willfully forget it? How will we convert it into the symbolic order? How will we represent it, and will we represent it? By writing of New Orleans, can we right it? And if we do, to what ends, and with what effect?

Anyway, lots of thoughts going through my mind. Sadly, I spent so much time making sure that which was going on inside the hotel went off without a hitch that I didn't really get to explore New Orleans. Yes, I realize the irony given what I just wrote. I did have time to walk around the French Quarter, and to get the sense that I was in a place with a tremendous energy, a space of intensely organic frenzy. One that seemed to recall an entirely non-American space/ environment. One that seemed to belong somewhere other than where it was. What I wanted to see was that which lurked outside the boundaries of the French Quarter. I got the sense that that which lurked outside was pressing on those boundaries, again, something urgently outside hanging over the confined within. I got a sense of spectrality, and I wanted to see the ghost towns. In my mind, I am always thinking of the uncanny. I cannot think of a space that evokes such a sense of the uncanny other than the perimeters of New Orleans. Except, perhaps, the terrain of Berlin.

On Sunday afternoon, I took off for LA.

In short, LA was phenomenal. Yes, as transfergrad and others have commented, the meeting between the potential cohort was satisfyingly awkward. Everyone was trying to gauge who was likely to accept, who had what other offers, etc. Everyone trying to impress one another. I hit it off right away with some faculty. Elizabeth DeLoughrey is magnificent. Although I think I can tell that she wouldn't be my advisor--now that I look at it closely and after I spoke to her about her current projects, it is apparent that we are after quite different things--she was incredibly warm. UCLA's campus is breathtaking. I hit it off with at least one current student.

I had some great meetings, and was very impressed with the department's organization. Coming from where I am coming from, I would have taken "not entirely dysfunctional" and run with it. But--surprise--the department seemed not only NOT dysfunctional but actually well run! People seemed genuinely happy! Like they wanted to talk to me!

Ken Reinhard and I talked up a storm and he ended up inviting me to an opera (he is currently doing a project on opera performance! AWESOME--I am totally an opera freak and am excited to hear that UCLA seems to tolerate alternative projects) and a dinner reception with a few speakers. I couldn't make it but by looking at the panel, I could tell that he knew exactly what I am after in my research and he had distilled my primary research questions. I can really see myself spending a ton of time talking to him and us working well together. Same with Michael North. I had a few "eh" meetings too, and until the last day I was a bit dubious.

At ACLA, I had heard this great speaker on "Creolizing Memory," who happens to be a professor of Comp Lit at UCLA. Her paper was breathtaking and after I approached her and told her I was thinking of UCLA. She told me to stop by her office when I was on campus.

On my final day, I went to see her. We totally hit it off. Her research is preoccupied with different spatial and temporal conditions, but we are looking at fairly similar theoretical frameworks. Her class (which is cross listed in the English department) offers precisely the material I want to investigate. And our conversation was thrilling. As I rose to leave her office,
i turn to her to say thank you, and it occurs to me to mention that I am also fascinated with the uncanny, to ask whether she had any suggestions for reading. And just as I open my mouth, she says to me:

"And in the back of my mind, when I am thinking, I am always thinking of the uncanny."

Uncanny.

Monday was a trip to the Huntington. Shakespeare's First Folio! A 1604 edition of Much Ado About Nothing! I'm not an early modernist, but I was duly impressed. The Huntington is gorgeous, and we had lunch in the tea room, followed by a stroll in the gardens. After, I slept for the first time in a week before the departmnet reception, which was appropriately awkward and also appropriately and celebratorily drunken.

Tuesday was my birthday. I hadn't slept well Monday night (I'm a chronic insomniac) and woke up to a million lovely messages from friends. I had meetings with faculty all day and walked around the campus. I didn't tell anyone it was my birthday (something unsavory to me about having strangers make a performed fuss about a day that they really honestly shouldn't care about) and then had a faculty dinner. I had some great conversations with some potentials, but I couldn't get a sense of who was likely to accept. I doubt they could get a sense from me either, since I certainly had no idea.

Tuesday night= AWESOME. So my brother, John and a bunch of my friends road tripped it down from the Bay Area to spend my birthday night with me. My brother was only in town for a week and he was going back to the Middle East on Saturday, so I was beyond thankful to have the opportunity to see him. And John is, well, adorably lovable. He will always be very dear. They got in at about 10:30 pm, which gave me just enough time to get some work done (since I'm still enrolled in courses here at UMass, a fact I tend to enjoy forgetting). They rolled in with tons of presents, birthday cake, and a good spirit. We hit the town and had a blast. God, I love my family. I am so glad to be back on their side of the country.

Wednesday I finished my meetings. At the last minute, I decided to skip out on my flight to Sacramento and drive back up to the Bay Area with my brother instead. I could drive to Davis from the Bay Area that night or the next morning, I reasoned. I figured it would be awesome to spend the time with him and since there's no real defined date when I will next see him, and since we hadn't really had time to catch up and have a deep conversation, I figured it was worth the extra driving time, which would in reality be quality time with him.

I get in the car, and he puts on his cd. He has just recorded a new album, and for my birthday he wrote me a song. It was breathtaking. I'll post the lyrics. I can't wait to hear it on the radio :)
He'll be touring and I will have to find a way to get to one of his concerts. The music is gorgeous, but the lyrics are what made me cry when I heard him sing (my sister is an artist by the way, the painter in the song. I am the writer):

I see her writing in the wind
And I begin to sing

I see her painting in the sand
And I begin to sing

The story told the painting done
Three children by the sea
Just words and colors but it’s real
As real as a dream

If you would see them
Then you surely would agree
California Hills of Spring

Three glowing children
Reunited in my dreams
San Francisco Tel Aviv

Another minute passes now
Or was it just a year?

We reunite and then we part
As quick as we were here

And when we go our separate ways
Do the memories recede?

And are the dreams of past replaced
By what we dream to be?

Spring’s whispering wind
Rebirth for Deb and Jess and Me
In California Hills of Spring

Three weaving roads
And you know just where they will meet
San Francisco Tel Aviv

And life’s new year
It Brings us here but soon we’ll leave
San Francisco Tel Aviv

So for now we can
Simply close our eyes and breathe
Knowing what we still will see

Each other standing by the sea
A stream of memories to be

It was a beautiful ride up the coast, toward home. With my family waiting, all of us together for the first time in a long time.

Next Up: Davis
 
 
debsinenglish
04 March 2010 @ 11:59 pm
So today, I woke up with the most pleasant surprise in my email: a potential adviser, whose work I (no cool way to say it) WORSHIP emailed me to tell me that she was on the admissions committee and loved my application. She used the word wonderful to describe my writing sample! She sent me a few links and described a few of her projects that sound awesome. She also welcomed me to email her with questions or set up a time to chat over the phone. I do have questions but i am hesitant to overload her with them. I also don't want to ask pointless questions to which I can find answers elsewhere.

I have been working on a response. Seriously, there are few people who I feel warrant this kind of time on an email but this one I want to get just right.

Would anyone be willing to take a glance at this?

Dear Professor HOTSHOT,

Thank you for your email and your kind words about my writing sample. Your remarks are particularly meaningful for me since your work in THE MOST AMAZING PIECE OF CRITICISM EVER WRITTEN: SERIOUSLY was in large part what led me to want to continue my work at XXXX. I feel very fortunate to have the opportunity to continue my studies at XXXX and to engage my research in conversation the exciting scholarship of the department. I certainly would be thrilled to do so under your guidance. I anticipate that I will attend the program for admitted students in April and very much look forward to meeting you and the other members of the department then. I am quite keen to meet the other prospective students and current graduate students at XXXX, and to learn more about how my work fits in not only with the research interests of the department but also that of my potential cohort.

Thank you for directing me to the XXXXXX Theory and XXXXX Studies website. It seems like this colloquium offers precisely the type of discourse in which I hope to engage. I noted that many members of the faculty listed on the website were also involved in the XXXXX and XXXX Studies housed at XXXX. Do the two work in cooperation with one another? Also, would it be possible for the department to put me in contact with some of your current advisees or other students who may share my research interests, perhaps some involved with the XXXX Theory and XXXX Studies project?

Part of my hope in pursuing my work at XXXX is that I will not only engage my research with that of great scholars but that I will also have the opportunity to work with skilled teachers and therefore develop valuable teaching skills. I am looking forward to a graduate experience that will allow me to TA for literature classes that match my research interests so I can learn to translate my research into curricula, and to become a mentor for other students. I would love to know more about how students are matched for TAships. I would also enjoy hearing your thoughts on graduate advising and mentorship. I know that the department has a well-defined model for graduate advising; this was one of the many features of the program that caught my attention. I would appreciate any thoughts or insights you might add to the information listed on the website.

I am also happy to answer any questions you may have about my scholarship, my application or my interest in the program. Please feel free to contact me at your convenience. I am available by either phone or email. You can reach me at XXXXXXXXXXX or at XXXXXXX@XXXXXX.

Once again, thank you for your correspondence and your support of my application. Thank you also for all of the insight your work has given me. I look forward to being in contact and continuing the conversation.

Sincerely,

XXXXX
 
 
debsinenglish
22 February 2010 @ 05:32 pm
Well, got my rejection letter from Stanford today. I can't say I am surprised although I must admit I am deeply disappointed. This means I am three notifications away from making a decision. It really won't be an easy one. My old mentors from Davis are emailing me letting me know how excited they are for me to come visit. I feel like there is so much positive energy around that place, so many good memories from my undergraduate years, a real feeling of homecoming. Not to mention research clearly in line with my own, and a care for me as an individual that I found sorely missing in my graduate experience thus far.

UCLA seems so foreign; I can't pinpoint what it was about my application that they thought fit. I can see a lot of potential but no clear match. But I know that there is a lot of room for me to grow. And maybe it is time for me to think about how I can expand as a scholar, not how I can just support what I already know and have done. Davis could support me but it could also confine me. Yet UCLA could allow me to grow in unexpected ways. Maybe it is time to move. Or maybe it is time to come home.

I suppose I should keep my mind open about the schools I am still waiting to hear back from. I just find it hard to even think about expanding out of California now that I have been offered the opportunity to be back near family and friends. Even the same time zone seems comforting.

I feel like I should be feeling a lot happier right now, so now I feel bad about feeling unhappy. Sigh.
 
 
debsinenglish
19 February 2010 @ 11:33 pm
Romeo and Juliet: The Vow, the Vowel and the Disavowal

Romeo and Juliet opens with the introductory warning, delivered by the Chorus, that “From ancient grudge break to new mutiny/ Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean.” Thus, the narrative resolution is spoken before the narrative; narrative emplotment has achieved constellation before the actual performance of that narrative begins. Indeed, the performance, the speech act itself is announced at the outset, providing the audience with a narrative framework for contextualizing each piece. As a consequence, each and any succeeding articulation absorbs meaning not only from the sequence of events that proceed it but also from the meaning projected onto past events with an awareness of how they lead toward or initiate that which must issue forth as a consequence of them. Introducing the play by calling to attention both the predetermined nature of the character’s fate and the performative nature of the medium itself, Shakespeare requires the audience to engage with the narrative as a performance. Language itself, the utterance, precedes action. The articulation determines fate; the speech act emitted by the characters configures outer fate awaiting them as they negotiate their narrative.

To consider the narrative of the play as immutably predeterrmined set of criteria is to call into question the very nature and even the existence of free will, a continually surfacing tension within the play. The title characters are bound to a social code that precedes them and subject to a set of social circumstances beyond their control. As the introduction by the chorus suggests, the narrative configuration in which they find themselves has an immutable quality. Their misfortune, also the result of inherited rather than self-induced signification, is assigned to them from outside rather than from within. Their struggle is thus perhaps to find a way to resignify themselves. Ultimately, they are unable to do so. This failure speaks back to a major anxiety of the Elizabethans: the question of the mutability of the self, the possibilities for mobilizing the self outside of the occupation or position of one’s birth, the possibility to step outside the confines of destiny.

The question of the vow becomes significant in this context. Vows play a central role in the play, emerging as utterances that require those who utter them to assume new identity by rupturing integral features of that identity. “Deny thy father and refuse thy name,” demands Juliet to Romeo, “Or if thou wilt not, be sworn my love/ And I’ll no longer be a Capulet” (2.1.76). To take the vow of love, to bind himself to Juliet, Romeo must renounce himself. Yet the retraction is, antinomically, itself a part of the vow. To vow is to promise to behave in a certain way in an estranged future, in which one cannot know the self. To pledge an eternal behavior of the self in the future is to necessarily break that vow, for the process of recognizing the “becoming” must necessarily acknowledge that the self that makes the vow is momentary, transient. To take the vow of marriage at a discrete moment in space and time is to refuse the possibility of the inevitable: the non-retractable process of becoming, in which the individual who makes the vow is no longer the individual who must keep the vow. Each acknowledgement of the vow must dis-acknowledge the inescapability of the past, which precedes the vow, and the inevitability of the future, in which one must keep the vow and thus betray the self. Within the play, Romeo agrees to disavow or retract his past as a Montague in order to pledge himself to Juliet. He asserts that he will “take [her] at her word…[and] be newly baptized” (2.1.90). His vow to Juliet and to their impending union requires him to disavow his past, the constellation of events and circumstances that gave birth to him. Equally, to vow is to evade the certainty that the self that takes the vow will not be the self that must keep the vow. This fidelity, this pledge of fidelity to Juliet, requires betrayal, for he must betray not only his own identity but also the person that Juliet has fallen in love with, to whom Juliet seeks to be bound.

Thus, I regarded the question of vow and the tension between the vow and the confession—and the juxtaposition of them in Romeo and Juliet—with some interest. To confess in the religious sense is to acknowledge the past in order to release the self from it. The confession avows or acknowledges the past so as to disavow or disengage the confessor from that past. To vow is to disavow the possibility of the becoming, to bind the self impossibly to coordinates in space and time in the past. Both the vow and the confession are performative speech acts that demand the presence of the witness in order to certify or validate the utterance. Thus, the act of speaking in Romeo and Juliet implies the participation of the audience, a contractual complicity of the audience in order to sign and countersign the utterance. In this sense, the performance of the vow and the confession, their audibility and the necessary receipt of that performance, the acknowledgment demanded of both of them, and not just the vow (avowal) or confession (disavowal) itself, completes the transaction. It is thus finally the articulation that binds Romeo to Juliet, and both to their fate within the narrative framework.

The question then becomes: do the opening remarks delivered by the Chorus take the form of the vow or the confession? That is to say, is the utterance offered by the Chorus a prophetic commitment to the predetermined future or a review of a narrative that has already passed? If it is a vow, then the aim of the play may be to orient the audience toward this implicit infidelity in every pledge of fidelity, a necessary renouncement with every affirmation. If it is a confession, then perhaps we can qualify the events that ensue as consistent with and bound to the redemptive impulse, an impulse to create from the tragedy that ensues a pedagogical value from the narrative that would redeem the uttered affirmation of tragedy.