Mostly (not) on McSweeney's!

A blog for my academic ideas, more or less.

Dying breath

Dying breath

So before I gave up on the trappings of academia (given that I work four days a week non-academically and have a PhD to complete by next summer I’ve decided to abandon conferences/papers/any hope of publication to facilitate actually finishing) I wrote a short review article of the McSweeney’s website via the theme of ‘brevity’ for the Dandelion postgrad journal. It’s up on their site now, at the bottom of the page, fittingly. It annoyed me how tricky I found it to fit my thoughts into such a short space, and reading it back now it has little (although one or two moments) of the actual interest I have in the website as a pseudo-literary space. This is evidence of the PhD pressure constricting my thoughts, hence contributing to said abandonment of anything that is not the PhD itself.

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Some poems I’ve written “recently” and “published” on my Tumblr


Your Roast Potatoes.

Would you rather.

We are throwing a pot-luck party.

I have started sending other poems to magazines. This is excitary.

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Class on realism. Discussed narrative detail. ‘Crucial details’. Language articulating our perception of the world. Did an exercise to start where everyone wrote down their impressions of the room. This is my transcription of their keywords.

The rest of the class was OK. We spent a bit much time doing this. I worry about their textual analysis abilities. Most of them don’t really have any. I love textual analysis. Stylistics. Nouns and adjectives and their endless possibilities. Word choice as the crucial indicator of a writer’s personality?

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The Short Story

I’m teaching seminars at Goldsmiths this term on The Short Story. I think I’m going to have some fun with this course. We had our first class on Monday and I read them Arthur Bradford’s ‘Mollusks’ from the first issue of McSweeney’s as a taster for what I like and what one aspect of the ‘contemporary’ short story might be.

I asked my new students about their favourite writers, and if they made any distinction between novels and short stories in this regard. Turns out most of them did! There was a lot of mention of Bret Easton Ellis and Jack Kerouac from the guys, Angela Carter from the girls. Some other less common responses, too, like a Franzen fan and some Richard Brautigan and Lorrie Moore. I rambled about David Foster Wallace, as is my privilege/fatal flaw.

Next week’s class is still ostensibly an introduction to the short story, and we start in on the reading list proper the week after (we do Boccaccio and the medieval tale).

Which means I get to impose some of my own reading on them a bit before the reading list takes over. I’ve been thinking about what I’d like to do, and I think trying to push them in the direction of starting to make generalisations about short stories is best. I’ve been reading Richard Ford’s introduction to the Granta American short story anthology, and it’s less ornery than I remembered. I like Richard Ford but sometimes he can be a bit difficult to take. He says some good stuff:

I don’t know why people write stories. Raymond Carver said he wrote them because he was drunk a lot and his kids were driving him crazy, and a short story was all he had concentration for. Sometimes, he said, he wrote them in a parked car.

I think it would’ve been nice to have a beer with RF and RC.

Or maybe story writers–more so than novelists–are moralists at heart, and the form lends itself to acceptable expressions of caution: You! You’re not paying enough attention to your life, parcelled out as it is in increments smaller and more significant than you seem aware of.

I like his exclamation mark.

I’ve always liked stories that make proportionately ample rather than slender use of language, feeling as I do that exposure to a writer’s special language is a rare and consoling pleasure. I think of stories as objects made of language, not just as reports on or illustrations of life, and within that definition, a writer’s decision to represent life ‘realistically’ is only one of a number of possibilities for the use of his or her words.


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I started this job in November. I have not had much time to work on my PhD. I work four days in Oxfam. I teach one day at Goldsmiths. On one of the other days I tell myself I am going to do PhD work but mostly do teaching prep. On the other day I sleep and tidy my room and usually watch football games on television/via the internet/in the pub.

Doing a PhD part-time is hard. It is even harder when you work virtually full-time and are physically and therefore usually mentally exhausted when you finish work.

This is not meant to be a complaint.

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Filed under: mcsweeneys

About Me:

My name is Kevin O'Neill and I am in the fifth year of a part-time PhD in the English Department of Goldsmiths, London, UK. I used to teach undergrad classes there (now: not, because there are other PhD students who need teaching experience). I work (most of the time) in the Oxfam shop in Dalston because few people get paid to do humanities PhDs.

My research centres around the literary journal McSweeney's. My interest is developing into what McSweeney's tells us about two separate (but I guess related) fields: 1) literary institutions 2) American cultural production, more broadly. This blog was initially about my PhD but is now a more general thinking space.

See right for my flickr/twitter/delicious feeds, then below for other versions of me.

Email is looceefir on gmail.


June 2017
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