WHY DO WE DO WHAT WE DO?: CONFERENCE PRESENTATIONS

I’m co-organising a three-day conference for which we have received proposals to present 31 round tables, 4 workshops and 146 papers. Yes, very successful. I happen to be coordinating the programme and, well, it’s very complicated because with 90 minutes sessions we need 8 simultaneous classrooms, which also makes it highly unlikely that panel attendance can be higher than a handful of listeners.

For reasons that I won’t go into, I’ve had to produce a more compact programme, supposing that the sessions would take 60 instead of 90 minutes. This means that participants in round tables should speak for between 5-10 minutes before proper debate begins and papers should be given in 15 minutes instead of 20, as it is traditional in the humanities. The problem is that conference delegates still don’t know about this… We’re three weeks away…

Seeing what a big difference 5 minutes make, I started wondering why 20-minute papers are the rule and whether anybody knows how academic conferences have come about. I’ve been asking my colleagues and none seems to know. Google led me to volumes by Anton Shone and Tony Rogers, though their focus are business and not academic meetings. I’m still in the dark…

I’ve attended conferences in which delegates were given only 10 minutes to present and that seemed very little for the expenses and the hassle involved in attending a conference. 20 minutes (around 2,500 words) can indeed seem 40 depending on the presenter’s delivery skills. And, then, of course, there are all those tiresome presenters who never bother to rehearse their papers in advance and spend their presentation regretting that they have to skip this and that, or simply taking everyone else’s time. 15 minutes, which must be around 2000 words, do not sound so bad.

Listening to papers can be, believe me, terribly dull though we very politely tend not to comment on this. Some people just seem unable to communicate (one wonders what they do in class!!), others tend to overuse PowerPoint trying desperately to make things more lively, and few manage to keep their audience’s attention for the full 20 minutes. Listening to three papers in a row takes one hour, by the end of which the first paper may have been forgotten. It is when attending conferences that I realise what students go through every day!! And, of course, I have seen my own papers send members of the audience into Morpheus’ sweet arms… None is an exception.

Some conference organisers are beginning to ask for shorter papers (the 15-minute kind) or, preferably, short presentations. Although I can talk non-stop in class for 75 minutes with just a few notes the idea of not having a written text to lean on in a conference unnerves me. Once, years ago, I decided that the paper I’d written was not good enough and improvised a whole new version in a conference, and I’m still shaking. Never again!!

My own solution to the mortal boredom of listening to papers is simple: use conference time to talk to people. Write the paper, upload it, and come to discuss it with whomever has bothered to read it. Turn the conference into a day-long coffee break, which is when, anyway, real contact is established.

Let’s just start thinking why we do what we do, instead of following a ‘tradition’ whose origins none seems to know about and that, in practice, is so problematic to maintain…

RETURNING TO WILDE ONCE MORE: LA IMPORTÀNCIA DE SER FRANK

We have included again Oscar Wilde’s delicious comedy The Importance of Being Earnest in our Victorian Literature syllabus and, luckily for our students, this has coincided with the successful production offered at Teatre Gaudí by the stage company Lazzigags Productions. Ivan Campillo, responsible for the new Catalan translation, is, besides, the director and also the mendacious John Worthing, who finds to his chagrin at the end of the play that he has been telling the truth all along.

Surfing the net, I learn that Ricardo Baeza seems to be the Spanish translator who came up in 1919 with the sorry title La importancia de llamarse Ernesto. Gosh. The Argentinean translator Agustín Remón went instead for the bland, unimaginative La importancia de ser hombre serio. Later Spanish versions tried to play with the pun included in Wilde’s title, and resulted in much better variations, such as Alfonso Reyes’s La importancia de ser Severo. This, however, has not caught on. As the Wikipedia author wisely notes, if in Catalan the usual title is La importància de ser Frank, since the Catalan adjective ‘franc’ means ‘honest’ as in English, one wonders why we don’t have La importancia de ser Honesto (which rhymes with Ernesto!) Or Perfecto, which would have amused Wilde indeed.

The gimmick of Campillo’s production is having a male actor, Ferran Castells, play both Lady Bracknell and the butler Merriman. The students who have seen the play were quite mystified by this. It is not, however, something unheard of, much less unusual. A review of a recent Chicago production (2010) notes that “Lady Bracknell, that caustic queen of Oscar Wilde’s comedies of obfuscation, tends to be played by men in drag. I doubt the doyenne would approve of this pervasive trend on Broadway and beyond —not that anybody ever asked the old buzzard” (my italics). Of course, Peter Pan used to be played by a young woman in drag, a habit inherited from old pantomime due to the titillation provided by the public display of female legs encased in tights. I am not sure, though, what kind of titillation is provided by a male-in-drag or drag queen Lady Bracknell. Is it because she’s outspoken and authoritarian that she’s thought to be masculine? Is it because she’s seen as a ‘queen’ in the gay sense of the word? How trite –I just can’t see a Victorian man saying her lines at all; this seems to be a gross misreading (or miscasting). Whatever the case is, Edith Evans was so good in the 1952 film version that I’ve managed to forget I’ve actually seen Judy Dench play the role in the 2002 version with Colin Firth and Rupert Everett. Odd, very odd.

I enjoyed Campillo’s version, in the end, because it proves that the text still works as a comedy, more than one hundred years later and in a quite different context. Campillo’s is quite a conventional production with an irregular tempo that should be faster yet I found it solid enough, particularly considering that, as for my students, for many members of the audience this is a first introduction to Wilde. I found the funniest moments still amusing even though I knew what was coming and that is high praise for the cast. We’ll see how the musical version of Els crims de Lord Arthur Saville works at TNC in a few months.

At Teatre Gaudí, my hair stood on end when I heard John explain that his ‘brother’ Frank/Ernest had died of a severe cold alone in Paris, for Oscar Wilde died there also alone (though of cerebral meningitis) in 1901 only six years after the play was first performed. Perhaps the bitter seeds of his disgrace were already there, in his protagonists’ imperious need to lie and lead a double life. Sadly, very Victorian…

A FUNNY EXPERIENCE: READING NEAL STEPHENSON’S REAMDE

I have spent whatever free time I’ve managed to hoard in the last ten days glued to the 1042 pages of Neal Stephenson’s last novel Reamde. The volume is not only very thick but also trade-paperback size, which means it is huge indeed. I’ve gone through Stephenson’s Snow Crash, The Diamond Age, Cryptonomicon (twice), The Baroque Cycle and Anathem, which what I can only define as glee, particularly for The Baroque Cycle and although Reamde is catastrophically bad in comparison to Stephenson’s best work, something of that glee has stayed in place throughout my reading it.

As a teacher of Literature I try to relax and enjoy the ride when I read for pleasure but with Reamde this has been difficult. Every TV-less evening I have spent plodding through yet another 100-page segment of this book I’ve been telling myself in flat contradiction that a) it is one of the silliest novels I’ve read in a while, b) Stephenson is too clever for that and it must all be a trick. Now that I’m done, I’m disappointed that the novel boils down to nothing at all, yet at the same time I don’t feel I’ve wasted my time, as I have enjoyed the long reading. It’s a very funny experience for the characters are flat, the plot the kind of James Bond-style global chase that airport literature is full of, and the style as transparently camera-ready as possible… yet, I found myself unable to stay away from Zula and Richard, and all the assorted secondary characters of their world, from the Chinese hacker down to the Russian mercenary passing through the Welsh jihadist.

As a reviewer said, this is not a Stephenson I’ll re-read. It is, though, perhaps the perfect Stephenson for our troubled times, since after putting up daily with the crisis-related depression that watching the news inevitably leads to, I just felt relieved to plunge into Zula and Richard’s life-threatening, exciting adventures. I believe this is called escapism and is what gives popular fiction its bad name. I wasn’t looking for that, quite the opposite, when I bought Reamde, for all the other novels by Stephenson are hard reading indeed. Yet it is my wild guess that perhaps Stephenson thought these are not times for deep thinking and chose to tell instead a simple yarn. Or this is just a bad novel, written by a bored writer who couldn’t care less. Occam’s razor…

Strangely enough, although Blue Mars is waiting enticingly on my shelf I’m sorry Reamde is over. Is that what Stephenson wanted? Or is it simply that, for all our sophistication as readers, now and then even Literature teachers just want to know what happens next? Might be that…

GILBERT & HEATHCLIFF: BROTHERS (AND BRONTË SISTERS)

Many critics have already suggested that the unfortunate Branwell Brontë provided the main inspiration for his sister Anne’s self-destructive Arthur Huntingdon in The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. He seems to have been also Emily’s bleak muse for the degraded Hindley Earnshaw, Cathy’s brother. In both cases, Arthur’s and Hindley’s, they are contrasted with a stronger man, and although the similarities between Gilbert Markham and Heathcliff, respectively, may not be obvious I think they should not be overlooked.

Yesterday we were reading in class the hair-raising passage in which jealous Gilbert attacks the man he wrongly believes to be his rival in love, Frederick Lawrence. The passage is brutal, surely more so because Gilbert himself narrates how he hits Lawrence in the head with the heavy metal pommel of his whip, abandoning the seriously wounded man on the road once he’s satisfied that Lawrence is not dying. I reminded my students that just a few days ago we read about Sikes’ murder of Nancy in Oliver Twist following a similar method: Sikes uses the butt of his pistol to batter Nancy to death. Yet while Sikes is an outright villain for whom Dickens plans the cruellest death, Gilbert remains the hero of the piece. A Victorian critic complained that he would have been the ruffian in any other novel, yet Anne, like her protagonist Helen, insisted that he is the hero. One wonders how Helen’s life improves in getting rid of an alcoholic, abusive husband to marry this (potentially) violent man. She, by the way, never learns of the attack as the gentleman Lawrence chooses, in a strange fit of masculine loyalty, not to sully Gilbert’s reputation.

It seems that Anne was thinking of Wuthering Heights when she imagined Wildfell Hall: both, as you can seem share the initials WH. I can’t know whether she was thinking of Heathcliff when her own Gilbert Markham was created yet the more I re-read The Tenant, the more I believe she did. Both are gentlemen farmers, to begin with, and passionate lovers hell-bent on getting the woman they love (both ladies, yes, happen to be married). Gilbert is, if you wish, a more civilised Heathcliff, raised unlike Emily’s orphan villain-hero, in a ‘normal’ early 19th century family complete with stern hard-working father, adoring mother, sweet sister and playful younger brother. Yet Gilbert also knows how to be ungentlemanly, as shown not only by his attacking Lawrence but also by his ugly treatment of poor Eliza, with whom he flirts shamelessly regardless of the consequences for her feelings when he drops her. If Heathcliff and Gilbert met they would possibly like each other, though I must note that as a reader and as the suitor of a richer woman, Gilbert also shares some features with Emily’s dark horse, Hareton.

Anne writes in her preface to her novel’s second edition, to defend herself of all the negative criticism received, that she wanted to tell “the truth.” Certainly, her account of Helen’s terrible marriage rings true but I’m not sure what she meant by offering Gilbert as an alternative: that there are no better men!? If we are to believe him, Helen and he have already spent twenty years together in blissful marital harmony when his tale begins; yet, as we don’t have her diary for this second marriage we can only wonder if this is true.

If I were she, I’d stick to my paintings and live the happy life of a rich widow but, then, happily for me, I’m not a Victorian woman.

POST OLIVER TWIST: NOT THE BEST CHOICE BUT A GOOD CHOICE NONETHELESS

Having taught several times Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations I had serious doubts that Oliver Twist would be a satisfying text to teach, being, as it clearly is, inferior to this other novel. Why change the syllabus, then? The usual: my colleagues’ worries that Great Expectations is too hard to grasp for second-year students (yes, a patronising judgement, perhaps). Also, Oliver is reasonably short, though I am sure my students would dispute this claim. We agreed to give it a try and, fine, it’s worked reasonably well. Considering, of course, that possibly one third of our two classes did not have the book… and just listened to us babbling about it non-stop.

I must say that much of the satisfaction I’ve found in teaching this novel comes from my colleague David Owen’s decision to apply for an MQD (‘better teaching’) grant, which he received; so did we as part of his group. The idea is that in order to improve our Literature teaching we are to focus on the narrator (whenever we teach fiction, of course), which will supposedly give our courses more coherence. This has certainly helped in Oliver Twist’s case, particularly in contrast with our current novel, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, as Dickens’s novel is a third person narrative in his typical flamboyant style whereas Tenant has two main first person narrators, in the style the Brontë sisters seemed to prefer. Karín Lesnik-Oberstein’s excellent article “Oliver Twist: The Narrator’s Tale” has provided not only a good model students can follow when writing their own papers but also valuable insight into the problem of why/how the protagonist of this book hardly deserves the name of ‘subject,’ being as he is mostly absent from the text.

Nonetheless, I miss Pip and Estella and, indeed, Miss Havisham in her tattered wedding dress. Every time Oliver opens his little mouth to speak in that impossibly sentimental language no living child has ever used, I think of little Pip’s tale of how he was scared stiff by the presence of that ogre in his native marshland… Oddly enough sunny Mrs. Maylie and her adoptive daughter Rose seem to mirror Miss Havisham and her own adoptive child Estella, a much murkier pair. They would heartily despise the Maylie women for being sentimental fools, which makes me wonder what happened to Dickens between 1837, when Oliver was imagined and 1860, when Pip was.

So, dear students, if you read this, just enjoy Great Expectations next summer. Perhaps, in the end, the best praise I can offer to Oliver Twist is saying that, if you loved it, happily for you there’s plenty of much better Dickens to enjoy.

JEREMY PAXMAN’S THE VICTORIANS: THE VICTORY OF THE PHILISTINES?

A dear friend gave me as a present Jeremy Paxman’s book The Victorians: Britain through the Paintings of the Age (2009), a very refreshing volume which is by no means a history of Victorian painting but a look at the Victorian age through its pictorial obsessions. The volume, it turns out, is a tie-in of Paxman’s own BBC 4-episode documentary series (also 2009). This, having much enjoyed the book, I had to see and, well, I’m just done. I can only say I have been thinking of my students all the time, envious that they can now use DVD (or YouTube) to learn about Victorian times in an exciting way that was not available to me or my peers back in the prehistoric 1980s.

Paxman is a journalist backed by a good team of documentary researchers but by no means an academic specialist in painting. Perhaps that’s an advantage in this case. His choice of paintings and artists is decidedly heterogeneous and eclectic, depending possibly too much on the Victorian issues he wants to illustrate and not the other way round. Dissatisfied viewers/readers can, of course, check more advanced introductions to the not too highly regarded Victorian painters. Yet, thinking as a non-British teacher of Victorian Literature for foreign students, and also as an individual simply interested in Victorianism, I found Paxman entertaining, didactic and quite ambitious in his wish to present an overall picture of Victorian Britain. I found also his method, and in general that of the BBC’s best documentary work, quite congenial with Cultural Studies, which is possibly why I found book and DVD rewarding.

Reading through a couple of reviews I realise that there is indeed a touch of the Arnoldian philistine in Paxman’s approach and in my own appreciation of it. Yes, John Ruskin, the leading Victorian art critic is disregarded, all questions of aesthetic criticism are dismissed with a simple shrug and, in the end, the message, which seems endorsed by the National Trust, is to go and see for yourself where the paintings are hanging in Britain. It’s a populist approach with no excuses, yet I wish we had something remotely similar in Spain (or Catalonia), where despite El Prado none seems to have thought of producing documentary work in the same vein. And what for, at any rate? To bury it in a corner of La2?

Paxman insists several times throughout the series that Victorian painting was the cinema of the time and, indeed, his last comments are to the effect that, somehow, cinema did away with the need to document contemporary life through pictorial realism (or wild illusion). Photography is present in the series, particularly as regards portraits yet I find it peculiar that he thinks of cinema as painting’s great rival. I should think that his series highlights in the end something else: the impossibility of ‘reading’ 20th century life through its pictures and, thus, photography’s final victory over the documentary value of painting (at least until the advent of video).

I do feel a bit of a philistine, yet being quite happy with the amount of new learning I have got from book and DVD I can only recommend them. Do judge for yourself.

COUPLE-RELATED VIOLENCE: THE MATTER OF SEMANTICS

I’ve been mulling this matter over since attending CIME 2011 last week. In that conference the expressions ‘domestic violence,’ ‘sexist violence,’ ‘gendered or gender-related violence’ and ‘male chauvinist violence’ were bandied about without much agreement on what this all-pervading type of violence should be called. I would certainly not call it a ‘phenomenon,’ as the media are so fond of doing, for this is not a new, temporary matter –a fashion– but a deeply-seated part of ancestral patriarchy. Two main problems in relation to the wobbly semantics of the term were often mentioned. On the one hand, ‘gendered violence’ is more widespread than ‘domestic violence’ and included crimes such as the mass rape of Muslin women by the Serbs during the 1990s Balkan wars; besides, the too neutral adjective ‘gendered’ conveniently conceals that most attacks are misogynistic while not all women share or have shared a domestic situation with their attackers. On the other hand, the focus on sexist heterosexual violence obscures the fact that abuse also happens in situations in which the couple or ex-couple in question is gay or lesbian. Too many problems for any of these terms to be effective.

It occurs to me that we’re simply speaking of ‘couple-related violence.’ I assumed someone would have already used this but quick Googling only throws up this passage of the California Civil Harassment and Domestic Violent Actions Research Guide from the San Diego County Public Law Library: “Generally, Domestic Violence refers to family and couple-related violence or abuse. Civil Harassment pertains to all other, non-domestic types of violence and abuse situations.” I’m no lawyer and I don’t want to get lost in the jungle of legal nuances but it occurs to me that the couple, of any variety, is the socio-cultural institution generating the violence we call so inaccurately domestic, gendered, sexist or male-chauvinist. Let’s then call it couple-related violence and make it clear that forming a couple, whether temporary or permanent, and ending it, are high-risk situations for anyone unlucky enough to attach her- or himself to an abusive partner. Obviously, it’s quite clear to me that heterosexual women incur a MUCH higher risk than anyone else but this denomination would also cover violence within non-heterosexual couples and the very small percentage of domestic abuse heterosexual men claim to suffer.

Having said this, let me explain what happened yesterday in the Catalonia Fantasy and Horror Film Festival at the lovely town of Sitges. During the projection of Lucky McKee’s film The Woman –which won an award for best screenplay… – the audience composed by mostly young men cheered and clapped at the sight of a particularly demeaning, violent scene in which the victim was the woman of the title. Alex Gorina and Jaume Figueras, the seasoned film critics reporting this on Catalan TV, were certainly scandalised. This misogynistic attitude was justified, though, by a veteran spectator who explained that Sitges audiences are very loud in their appreciation of screen violence of any kind; they weren’t being particularly sexist. I myself didn’t see the film but I can very well imagine what it must have been like for the women in the cinema to see their male couples cheering and clapping. They must have been certainly disappointed, perhaps scared that gendered violence would eventually lead to couple-related violence.

AMONG MEN…: A CONFERENCE ON RESEARCH AND ACTIVISM ABOUT MASCULINITIES

I’ve been looking forward to writing this blog entry for some time, as my expectations for CIME 2011, the Ibero-American Conference on Masculinities and Equity, were high. They have been fulfilled in that, to my great pleasure and relief, I’ve learned that there are many men fighting patriarchy with all their might (see www.homesigualitaris.cat for Catalonia and www.ahige.org, the Asociación de Hombres por la Igualdad de Género). My expectations have been if not exactly disappointed at least moderated by the tone of the conference presentations. Silly me, I expected from a gathering of mainly men (well, perhaps more than one third were women) something more radically men-centred. Instead, I’ve found myself in my habitual feminist territory, albeit enlarged, that’s true, by personal experience that I can’t access as my gender is different.

I know I may even sound testy but perhaps I expected a deeper interrogation of the tenets surrounding masculinity in Masculinities Studies. Let’s see if I can first understand myself what I mean. This discipline is derived from feminism and, as such, it is clearly anti-patriarchal, which, logically, means that the ideas discussed in the conference were all familiar to me. The utopian ideal was the same: let’s work for a masculinity founded on equity and not on hierarchical, power-based domination. Fair enough. The problem is that while I could see before my eyes many men deeply involved in this fight, the ‘others’ were missing and without them, I’m not sure the message, the project, is effective. The most serious quarrel arising was between gay men, as one speaker complained that all pro-gay associations were today shamefully assimilationist, which didn’t sit well with the gay activists sitting in the audience. No one, at least in the sessions I attended, disputed what others said.

I realise this concordance between feminism and men’s activism is very positive and possibly unthinkable a few years ago. My hair stood on end when Miguel Lorente, current government delegate against (so-called) gender violence and author of the excellent essay Mi marido me pega lo normal, revealed that judges and police officers working with him (he’s a forensic doctor) in cases of domestic abuse used to call him, jokingly, ‘traitor.’ I think this must be what I missed in the conference: the judge who sentenced this week that calling a woman ‘zorra’ is not an insult, not even when the word is inserted into a death threat; the plain male chauvinists and even the recalcitrant abusers. The ‘enemy,’ in short, who’s out there and growing in numbers despite all the resources poured on educating people. Of course, I realise that the ‘enemy’ could never have attended CIME 2011, yet without him there’s a certain circularity in the argumentation.

At any rate, I am very happy to see anti-patriarchal dissidence grow and look forward to many more CIMEs until they’re not necessary at all. That will be the day when patriarchy dies and gender becomes in terms of citizenship as secondary as the colour of our hair or the size of our feet.

POWER POINTLESS: TEACHING LITERATURE… BY READING

After one month lecturing in my computer-less classroom, I’ve got used to it and even find myself enjoying very much the absence of a screen. I’ve gone back in time, no doubt, to offer that kind of old-fashioned type of Literature teaching based on massive doses of (my) reading aloud. Dickens helps very much in that his Oliver Twist has many different performance registers –yesterday, I read his famous, sadistic set piece, Nancy’s murder by Sikes, and it was a real pleasure. I’m also bringing in secondary sources, not just a quotation visible onscreen, but complete articles and books, for my students to see and perhaps check out of the library. Students have also been asked to read aloud, as in primary school: one Victorian poem every day and a passage from a Victorian essay. This works reasonably well and is going to go on the increase as we move onto Anne Brontë’s The Tenant of Wildfell Hall and I hope it becomes sheer fun by the time we reach The Importance of Being Earnest.

Computers can be put to variety of uses in the Literature classroom: PowerPoint presentations, film clips from DVDs, audio files, and audiovisual documents of all types from YouTube. I am not saying I’ll never use them again at all; it’s just that this semester, and quite by accident, the absence of a PC in class is making me reconsider how and why we use them. Just yesterday I read an article about the growing resistance to PowerPoint, as, apparently, rather than take in information more easily people tend to miss it distracted by the colour and sound effects and, indeed, by the semi-darkness needed in rooms with too much light. And this referred to orders in high-risk military missions… One of my colleagues claims students watch PowerPoint as they watch TV, which is not quite what we want. I feel that PowerPoint consumes too much preparation time and is not used by students for, well, study, which is why I use it very sparingly and mainly to bring images to the classroom. Feature and documentary film clips, which I have used abundantly, can always be watched at home via YouTube, unless one wants in particular to analyse in depth certain scenes, say, in a course on adaptations. In any case, I just hate the whiteboard I am forced to use and its perpetually fading markers…

Also yesterday I saw the first ebook reader in my classroom. Some students, about 6 in a 60 students class, carry their small notebooks with the etext of Oliver Twist and an internet connection I hope they use well. But the ebook reader was a novelty. I’m sure that in much richer American and British universities most Literature student carry either a computer or an ebook reader, or both, but at my blue-collar university, paper is still the rule. Call me slow, but only yesterday did I realise that if everyone used a digital version of the set texts, finding the particular passage we need to comment on would be much easier. I’ve counted 6 different editions of Oliver Twist in class… and no, projecting the etext for all to see is NOT a good idea. Students should be able always to underline and make their own notes on their own copies.

It might even be more positive to increase students’ proficient use of digital technologies that the teacher does not use them in the classroom; rather s/he should recommend the use of particular resources at home or the library, and quite possibly students would use them more actively. There’s a great difference, I think, between being shown a PowerPoint presentation and being asked to check the very sources from which the teacher builds his or her presentation. And we would spend less time getting that PowerPoint presentation prettified…

HOW IT FEELS TO BE PRIVILEGED AT THE END OF THE MONTH

I have plenty of work to do today but I feel too depressed to start without letting steam out here first. This depression stems from hearing news the whole week through about the pay cuts that our fellow civil servants, the doctors employed by the Institut Català de la Salut, are being forced to accept. I know we’re next in line, again, after the 5% cut of last year. Actually, I’m told we’ve been about to get only 50% of our pay check this month, which would possibly mean ruin for many of us with dependants, a mortgage or both.

I didn’t particularly want to be a civil servant employed by the state. I wanted to teach English Literature at a Spanish university and that’s what it takes. I was lucky in that I was employed full-time since I was first hired 20 years ago, whereas younger teachers are hired, if at all, as grossly underpaid part-time associates. I’ve been, anyway, a ‘mileurista’ for 5 years before I got my doctoral degree and for five more years after that until the age of 36. 11 years in total to get tenure. When I got it, after two gruelling state examinations, my salary doubled overnight and since then, 9 years ago, whatever pay rises I’ve got have come from extras such as increments for each three-year teaching period or six-year research periods. I lost, by the way, the money for one whole six-year research period with the pay cut last year and, even with the extras, I’ve been steadily losing 3 to 5% of my purchasing power every year because I can’t remember when our basic salary was raised for the last time. Of course I’m describing a situation common to everyone in my profession. I get nicely by and reach the end of the month without major glitches because I (still) don’t have a mortgage, nor dependents. I have no idea about how, say, divorced teachers with 2 children and a mortgage manage.

Now that for the first time I find my monthly income threatened I have mixed feelings. I know that unemployed people will not sympathise with me but, then, I’m seeing civil servants made redundant –what a euphemism- in Greece and even France. And, remember, it took me 11 years of immense sacrifices to get here for the sake of a vocation consisting of wanting to educate young people; and my case is sooo… very common. Material rewards are the only way we have of measuring our value for our society, to which we give plenty. I’m sure Spain could do without me and even without all Literature teachers but if we take that road we’ll go back quickly to the dark times of the illiterate dictatorship or even worse. Maybe that’s the bottom line. What angers me most is that each civil servant is paying our of his or her pocket for mistakes made by others above us, the politicians whose salary is never touched. I still have a nice enough margin to reach the end of the month by buying cheaper clothes, restricting restaurant outings, etc. Yet I’d like to explain that 90% of the books I use for teaching and research come out of my pocket, and that attending international and even national conferences will be soon out of question, with or without Department or research project help. I’ve never counted this, but we teachers possibly reinvest around 10% of our salary on our professions. In contrast, a colleague in Finland tells me he gets income tax reductions even for painting his home office. They, of course, have the best educational system in the world.

Today 30 September is the first time I’m not sure the money for the next month will be in my bank account. It might not be there soon enough. Yet I MUST be in class, do my research, go on organising that conference. We’ve collectively believed that we’re much richer than we actually are and now that we’re slowly sinking into our actual poverty, I can only say ‘I told you so, the bubble had to burst.’ Doctors, teachers are already paying for the ‘privilege’ of giving society what any society needs: good health and good education. Pay less, we’ll still be there, do our best. But for how long? And who, in view of all this, will want to accept the sacrifices it takes to follow in our footsteps?