A Simple Tip For Drafting

It’s been a while since I last posted, but I just needed to share this stupid simple technique I’ve been using while drafting my dissertation chapters that has helped me a lot. You ready for it. It’s quick:

Change the scenery.

Yep. That’s it. If you’re drafting on Scrivener (like me), export your work to a different program. I find myself getting stale staring at the same screen all the time. Sometimes a change of scenery can re-energize my writing. Even better? Print it out and edit by hand. I almost always do this. There’s something very powerful about not staring at a screen all the time. That’s it. Just something that has been very helpful to me, especially recently.


Dissertation/Academic Progress 25-31 January

Word Count 25 January: 12,823

Word Count 31 January: 13,424

Other Academic Progress: Handed chapter to supervisor! Had meeting with supervisor! Made a research plan for upcoming archives research trip! Fell back in love with the exclamation point!

I think the Flaming Lips are an appropriate tune for this week.

Dissertation/Academic Progress 18 January-25 January

Word count 18 January: 12,326

Word count 24 January: 12,823

Other Academic Progress: Advised a prospective PhD student on applying to UBC. Pored over archives lists for upcoming research trip. This is hard work.

I forgot to add a music video this week! So, better late than never, please remember that groove really is in the heart.


The Sins Of The Cities Of The Plain by Jack Saul. This review is by John Cook


The Sins of the Cities

The Sins of the Cities of the Plain

by Jack Saul (Anon)

For anyone interested in this book (and it is freely available as a .pdf on the net) I offer the enclosed reference (https://graduable.com/2013/04/15/victorian-pornography-part-vi-jack-saul/) as an interesting and scholarly examination of just who Jack Saul may/might be. Briefly, there was a Jack Saul who appeared as a witness in the Cleveland St trial of 1885 as a prosecution witness presenting himself as a ‘maryanne’ and being very open about his lifestyle. The best guess is that this book was anonymous and Jack Saul was used as a pseudonym with instant recognition among the cognoscenti. It was used again in the 1883 ‘Letters from Laura and Eveline’ where Jack is Eveline. Group readers may remember looking at ‘Fanny and Stella’ based on the same material and period.

This original source material can be viewed as anything from a frank…

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Dissertation/Academic Progress 4 January – 10 January

Chapter Word Count 4 January: 11,183

Chapter Word Count 10 January: 11, 731

Other Progress: First week of class. Did some reading. Met my students. I will mold them after my own image.

Here’s a good song by a young singer/songwriter that is making a name for himself somewhere down in California to get your week going.

Who’s Accountable for My Productivity?: New Semester Edition


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Right, so, earlier today I opened my dissertation for the first time this year. I leave out the insignificant detail of the exact date it was last opened for obvious reasons. It just made me realize I’ve a metric shit tonne of work left to do before this thing is done and dusted. I like to think that I’m poised to have the most productive semester yet, with a research trip planned and other exciting advances in my field. This got me to thinking that, if I am to defend in fall 2016 (before the US puts Donald Trump in the White House, cementing the ultimate demise of that mighty empire), I’ll need to have a fire lit under my ass.

However, the supply of literary kindling and kerosene is in my possession so I’m going to do this pretend thing as if somebody is holding me accountable. Essentially, I’m turning Graduable.com into a progress tracker. I’ll probably not post much of any substance for the foreseeable future. Rather, I’m planning on posting my academic accomplishments for public scrutiny at the beginning of each week. Among academic accomplishments I include the following:

  • Any and all writing on my dissertation
  • Editing of same
  • CV work (editing, going to conferences, giving talks)
  • Article writing/editing
  • Reading/researching
  • Any academic blogging I might happen to do
  • Other things as they come to me

So, the pretend part is that I have to suspend my disbelief that anybody other than me (and my supervisory committee) care about my progress. Nevertheless, I will endeavour to post my successes and failures right here each week. Here’s to hoping the Valley of Shit doesn’t get me.



PS- Here is the song “Friday I’m in Love” by The Cure. I don’t know why this seems appropriate, but here it is. Maybe I ought to put this photo of Robert Smith judging me above my desk.



Exciting News About Jack Saul

A man by the name of Jack Saul is a large part of my research. He was an Irish prostitute in London and the subject of the 1881 ‘memoir’ Sins of the Cities of the Plain (although in that text he claims to be from Suffolk) and appeared again in the Cleveland Street Scandal trial a decade later. In the course of my research I could find no evidence that anyone called Jack Saul actually existed and wondered whether the name could have been some sort of invention. Well, it turns out that Jack Saul was indeed a real person and playwright Glenn Chandler has found archival evidence of this. I have been in touch with Mr. Chandler and I simply cannot wait to see what he has found.

For the time being he has given us a sneak peek at his findings as well as the musical he is planning about the life of John ‘Jack’ Saul. Have a look at the website he has set up in anticipation of his book and play.


Definitions of Pornography and Obscenity


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As I’ve been working my way through my dissertation I have, of course, come across plenty of definitions of pornography and obscenity. I thought one day I ought to start collecting them so, here they are. I am always adding to this list. I think it makes for fascinating reading. A note: the entries in the list are in chronological order, more or less, because that’s how I like to work.

I’m not too sure what I’m doing with this list or what I’m hoping it will show me, but I think it’s interesting nevertheless. It’s just one of those things that we do.

If you’ve got a definition you’d like to suggest, please send me the pertinent details: justin.ohearn@alumni.ubc.ca

“pornography (n.) – The explicit description or exhibition of sexual subjects or activity in literature, painting, films, etc., in a manner intended to stimulate erotic rather than aesthetic feelings; printed or visual material containing this.” (OED)

R. V. Hicklin 1868 ‘test of obscenity’
“I think the test of obscenity is this, whether the tendency of the matter charged as obscenity is to deprave and corrupt those whose minds are open to such immoral influences, and into whose hands a publication of this sort may fall” (Justice Cockburn, as part of the decision of this case)

Definition of obscenity – U.K. ca. 1959. Updated Obscene Publications Act. Argument for artistic merit.
“‘For the purposes of this Act an article shall be deemed to be obscene if its effect or (where the article comprises two or more distinct items) the effect of any one of its items is, if taken as a  whole, such as to tend to deprave and corrupt persons who are likely, having regard to all relevant circumstances, to read, see or hear the matter contained or embodied in it.’…The Act also provided booksellers with the defence of ‘innocent dissemination’ and publishers and authors with the defence of literary or other merit.” (Hyde 196)

“I know it when I see it” U.S. Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart, 1964.

“‘A thing is obscene if, considered as a whole, its predominant appeal is to prurient interests, i.e. a shameful or morbid interest in nudity, sex, or excretion, and if it goes substantially beyond customary limits of candour in description or representation of such matters.’ The Court went on further to define obscene matter as ‘material having a tendency to excite lustful thoughts.’” (Hyde History of Pornography 185) [1964]

“…it is the function of pornography to stun and numb the reader, and the function of erotic writing to wake him up” (Frye The Secular Scripture) [1976]

Definitions of obscenity – U.S. court cases.
“‘A thing is obscene if, considered as a whole, its predominant appeal is to prurient interests, i.e. a shameful or morbid interest in nudity, sex, or excretion, and if it goes substantially beyond customary limits of candour in description or representation of such matters.’ The Court went on further to define obscene matter as ‘material having a tendency to excite lustful thoughts.’” (Hyde 185)

“the written or visual presentation in a realistic form of any genital or sexual behavior with a deliberate violation of existing and widely accepted moral and social taboos.” (Wagner Eros Revived [1988] qtd. in Hunt 25 [1998])

“If we take pornography to be the explicit depiction of sexual organs and sexual practices with the aim of arousing sexual feelings, then pornography was almost always an adjunct to something else until the middle of or end of the eighteenth century” (Hunt Invention of Pornography 10) [1996]

“[Pornography is] not a thing but a concept…and imaginary scenario of danger and rescue.” (Kendrick Secret Museum xiii)

“First, what seems pornographic to one person will not necessarily seem so to another. Second, pornography is not monolithic: representation occurs in many media, and it adopts many forms and genres. Third, no group, gendered or otherwise, has a monopoly on sexual expression or representation. Fourth, our social, esthetic, political, legal, and economic attitudes toward pornography both affect and draw on complex responses to gender and sexuality. Fifth, pornography, an attempt at communication, conveys a host of messages, many of them contradictory. Some of those messages, in fact, are ancient.” (Slade Pornography in America)[2000]

“I use the word pornography as an umbrella term to cover a wide variety of representations including literature, drawings, and photographs…in spit of the single predominant theme, pornography takes a variety of forms and has a wide range of foci and uses; it does more than just titillate. I consider as pornography work that people wrote, published, printed, legislated, and collected as pornography…and varies as a culture and the symbolic meanings in the culture evolve” (Sigel Governing 4) [2002]

“By stipulating a universal definition of pornography, ‘pornography is,’ [Katherine] MacKinnon and [Andrea] Dworkin in effect ignore the historical process through which pornography as we now know it comes into being. In order to create a strong argument for the present, the antipornography feminists flatten pornography into a monolithic history of the oppression of women” (Sigel Governing 6) [2002]

“For clarity, my definition of ‘pornography’ is material that contains graphic description of sexual organs and/or action (for example, detailed descriptions of masturbation, or anal, oral and penetrative sex) written with the prime intention of sexually exciting the reader. Pornography is not merely a series of repetitive scenarios, but a particular way of writing to fulfil a particular function, to create the desired effect of physical pleasure…erotic (rather than erotica) material can therefore be defined as that which is descriptive of amatory or sexual desire made through insinuation. This is generally written to amuse rather than sexually stimulate, unlike pornographic material which is more explicit and carries that intension.” (Peakman Mighty Lewd 6 – 7) [2003]

“Attempts to define pornography, for example, are uniquely destined to fail by becoming an example of the very thing defined. There is no catalog of pornography, no legislation of pornography that is not pornographic in and of itself…the act of taking interest in any object undermines the subject’s difference from that object” (Doyle 9 Sex Objects) [2006]

“In plain language, for something to be pornography, it has to give clear details of people behaving in a sexual manner, especially by emphasizing their genitals (for women in our culture, this includes breasts). Second, it must concentrate on these sexual parts and activities for one main reason: to get people sexually arouse. Third, and most important, pornography should seem ‘dirty.’ Users are supposed to feel that the people who made it knew they were doing something immoral, and that by reading, looking at or listening to porn, consumers are also behaving badly. Pornography is shameful, a secret pleasure to be roped off from the rest of our lives” (Nathan Pornography 15) [2007]

“Whatever else it is, pornography is big business.” (Maes & Levinson Art and Pornography) [2012]

“I don’t think it’s worth defining. It’s that stuff that you find when you put ‘porn’ into Google. Why bother defining it?” (Gail Dines, anti-pornography campaigner, on BBC4 programme “Pornography: What Do We Know?”)

The Professor Is In: A Graduable Book Review


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Image credit: TheProfessorIsIn.com

I have been a reader of Karen Kelsky’s professional academic advice blog, The Professor Is In, for at least 4 years now. I’ve always enjoyed her posts and her guest posts but, above all, I’ve appreciated the no bullshit attitude to academia that is sorely lacking in other spheres. Because I have found the blog so useful in my own academic endeavours, I naturally said yes when offered a review copy of Kelsky’s new book, The Professor Is In: The Essential Guide to Turning Your Ph.D. Into a Job. This is where the puffpiece ends and my steely-eyed review begins.

Clocking in at 420 pages covering a whopping 60 chapters TPII, at first glance, might seem like an unnecessarily protracted tome. ‘There can’t possibly be this much ink to spill over applying to academic jobs,’ you might say. That is where you would be wrong. The book’s ten parts cover everything from the myths of academia that somehow persist in 2015 (i.e. that the tweed and cognac life of the mind-type jobs still exist–they don’t)* to navigating every aspect of searching for and applying to academic jobs and postdocs and ending with leaving academia behind like an abusive partner and striking out into other non-academic fields or forging ahead for yourself. Comprehensive? Check.

What struck me most about the book is just how well Kelsky articulates the ignorance of many established academics and universities to the struggles of the newly-minted PhDs, adjuncts, and grad students whose labour they exploit with little quid pro quo. She has a lot to say about advisors and the following passage is one that I feel many of my fellow grad students can relate to:

“Some advisors understand their advising responsibilities to end with the writing and defense of the dissertation manuscript. Other advisors who obtained their degrees and jobs in a far different era are devastatingly ignorant of the conditions of the new university hiring economy” (17)

I have many grad student friends who have advisor horror stories, but this advice isn’t really about horrible advisors; it’s really about how advisors do their jobs or, rather, how they don’t. And I think this is the main reason that paid services such as the one Kelsky offers have been successful, namely, students seldom receive the full support or advice they require to think ahead to after the dissertation. The takeaway from my reading TPII is that, yes, advisors and administrators at universities could be doing a better job. Yes, many seem willfully ignorant of the state of academic careers for emerging scholars. And, yes, even great advisors falter because they themselves often aren’t receiving the full support they require, but: grad students and new PhDs should not fall victim to the myopia of the ivory tower. For better or worse (it’s worse, definitely worse) grad students are in charge of every aspect of their academic careers and they sorely need a community of supporters and trusted mentors from both inside and outside their departments to give themselves the best shot at whatever comes after grad school.

Aside from the nuts-and-bolts advice given throughout the book (The Foolproof Grant Template, budgeting advice, how to dress for interviews, etc) the theme that Kelsky returns to over and over is that there are so many variables that are out of the applicant’s control in the world of academic hiring, we have to focus on those things that we can assert some control over when applying for jobs. Namely, the applications themselves should be as above reproach as humanly possible. This is where TPII comes in really handy. As I read through the book, I couldn’t help but feel more confident about my own abilities in applying for academic jobs. I am still somewhat on the fence about whether I want to enter the academic job market at all, but being reminded that I have at least some control over the process was refreshing to hear. Too much academic advice is polemic: ‘you’re never going to get a job’ (diffident negativity) or ‘of course you’ll get a job, you’re smart!’ (ignorant toxic positivity).

As thorough and encouraging as TPII is, Kelsky never shies away from telling the brutal truth about the current climate of academia. At times, the book’s ‘do this, don’t do that, this is wrong’ tone can feel overwhelming. This is why I would suggest reading it at intervals not longer than an hour or so at a time if you think that kind of thing would bother you. This is the part of the review where I tell you stuff about the book I disagreed with.

“If you’ve never cried before, during, or after a meeting with your advisor, something is amiss” (366)

This prescription really struck me as a bit off. Have I cried during this PhD? Sure. Was it because of something my advisor said or did? No. This is only my experience and I know many others have definitely had a good old cry because of something their advisor had (not) said or done. Maybe I’m the exception to this rule. I’m hoping not. I don’t think Kelsky is wrong to say this, though I take issue with the word ‘cry.’ It’s just not inclusive of the range of emotional expression. I think it would have been better if the sentence were worded differently. Maybe “if your advisor has never pissed you off/upset you/said something that made you emotional–in whatever form that takes–something is amiss.” It’s a little thing but it irked me a bit.

If you run into someone you just did a hotel room interview with, you don’t have to act like you are employed by an escort service and pretend you have never met them” (127, original emphases)

This soundbite is taken from the chapter on interviewing at conferences/in hotel rooms. Interviews which, from what I’ve heard, can be a truly awful experience. There were a few moments in the book that, like this one, were trying too hard to shock the reader. This was one of them. It didn’t happen enough times to make much of a difference in terms of the overall quality of the advice. I think it is perhaps symptomatic of keeping the straight shooter persona that shock moments like this appear. I don’t think the book needs trigger warnings or anything like that. In fact, if you’re looking to get into academia, TPPI should act as a general trigger warning that the modern higher education system doesn’t value you as much as it should (or even pretend to?) and if that sort of thing isn’t your bag, maybe try something else. TPPI even has a whole section on leaving the academy.

For me, as a grad student who can see at least some light at the end of the tunnel (I’m talking about a guy looking at his phone near the end of the tunnel kind of light), the thing that was most important for me was the reminder that the dissertation is just a stepping stone. It seems to me that the dissertation can rule and ruin many a grad student’s chances if they get too mired up in its perceived importance. That’s why it was nice to read:

“Nobody wants to hear about what your dissertation is. They want to hear about what your dissertation does” (80)

But the most salient advice Kelsky offers is one tiny imperative that says everything.

“Don’t accept advice at face value” (84)

So I guess this is the part of the review where I tell you whether to read the book or not? I would say yes, read the book. The setup is such that it can easily be used as a reference work. A lot, but not all, of the info in the book can be found on Kelsky’s website as well if you don’t have sixteen Canadian dollars. Oh, that’s the last thing I should tell you. Most of the advice is tailored to the American experience but much of it translates to Canada as well. We don’t have the same institutional hierarchy here (much as our ‘Canadian ivies’ would like us to believe) but we do have our R1s and whatnot so nothing is going to be foreign to the Canadian reader here.


*full disclosure: I wrote that sentence while smoking a pipe and sipping a fine pumpkin-flavoured whiskey.