Breaking the silence on a number of sacrosanct aspects of higher education - and now and then raising a clamour about some highly politicised issues - "Conspiring with Forms" is a critique of both the academy and the current discourse concerning its purposes and direction. Academic life is embedded among forms, says Terry P. Caesar. It is a milieu of customs and conventions, practices and pretences, all bursting with implications and hidden costs for the mainly mute and complicitous scholars who perpetuate them. Many of these forms are texts - proposals, letters of application and recommendation, dissertations, freshman composition themes, and prefaces and acknowledgements in books. It is impossible, Caesar says, to be an academic and not produce them or, more important, be produced by them. To discuss these texts, Caesar seeks to combine theoretical sophistication with subjective depth and a measure of urbane wit. Essentially, he turns some of the techniques of contemporary theory and criticism back onto the system from which they evolved. At the same time, he draws on his personal experiences, supplemented with excerpts from actual texts of his own and others. Speaking sometimes as a job or grant applicant, for example, and at other times as one of a committee passing judgement on such aspirants, Caesar explores the various personal and professional assumptions made in the writing and reading of academic texts. He exposes not only the constraints that discourage open discussion of texts among scholars but also some limitations and abuses of the critical/theoretical methods he uses. In this last regard, a most telling chapter, "Croaking About Comp", reflects on Caesar's 20 years of teaching freshman composition and on the widening gap between instructional theory and the mostly dreadful writing it tries to improve but may be helping to produce. "On Not Writing a Dissertation", which ranges over the years Caesar spent completing his doctoral thesis, touches on personal conflicts and recounts professional entanglements that will seem familiar to many readers. Other chapters deal with more nominally textual matters, yet they yield equally rich and disturbing insights. In "Drifting through the MLA", which has something of the air of a travel essay, Caesar comments on magnitude and insignificance, and the dynamics of conference-going, specifically, at the annual Modern Language Association meeting. In "Being a White Male", he discusses issues of gender and sexual preference from his own theoretically lamentable position. In perhaps the most provocative chapter, "On Teaching at a Second-Rate University", Caesar voices many unspoken truths about the not-always-implicit hegemony of "big name" schools and their faculties. Though "Conspiring with Forms" delineates at length a kind of self-imposed malaise hanging over the academy, the author himself emerges as one who refuses to relinquish his claims to agency, no matter how baffled or effaced he is by multiple positions, impersonal forms, and institutional hierarchies.
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Terry Caesar taught English and American literature at Clarion University and Mukogawa University in Japan. His books include "Speaking of Animals: Essays on Dogs and Others" and a memoir, "Before I Had a Mother." He lives in San Antonio, Texas.Review:
Caesar issues a most unusual and very welcome report from the soldiers in the ill-rewarded posts at the less prestigious colleges and ‘universities,' providing valuable data for a history of everyday academic life in late twentieth-century America.(English Literature in Translation)
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Book Description Univ of Georgia Pr, 1992. Hardcover. Book Condition: New. Never used!. Bookseller Inventory # P110820314218