Tagged: Mary Byrnes

The reaction to the Liver Mush Wager that my friend Mary Byrnes and I made in the fall has been very weird.  Mary and I never intended for our wager to be a big deal.  It was simply a goofy way of holding ourselves accountable to complete work that we had each already begun.  Our university’s PR office noticed my blog post about the wager in the fall, and this spring they pitched the story to Inside Higher Ed, who, obviously, ran with it.  Other than some slight misquotings, I have no issue with the Inside Higher Ed story.  The author, Kevin Kiley, does a fair enough job of capturing the spirit of our wager.  I do, however, want to respond to some of the comments that have appeared on the Inside Higher Ed website.

At the risk of feeding trolls (some of the comments), I want to respond, individually, to the nine comments that have so far appeared on the story.

Mush or mush

Posted by Tom Riley , Dean, Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences at NDSU on May 6, 2011 at 10:00am EDT

Liver mush is good. I hope the papers are not mush. I would love to know the rules for them. It is easier to publish on, say, ‘the graphic novel in virtual environments’ than on Shakespeare. I hope one of the professors is not into the contemporary graphic novel and the other a Shakespearean scholar–ouch! Of course, ‘Shakespeare in Virtual worlds’ might just get into print!

First, I’d like to say that I really respect Tom Riley for posting under his real name.  That is a quite ethical thing for Mr Riley to do.  I think, however, that his perspective is quite frightening, especially coming from a dean.  I think that the rigor of the venue determines whether a work is difficult to publish or “easy” to publish, not the topic.  That is, it would be easy to get a crappy Shakespeare article published in a crappy journal, but quite difficult to get any article published in a top Shakespeare journal.  Similarly, it probably would be easier to get an article on graphic novels published in a third tier venue than in a top tier venue.  All of the articles that I have completed thus far have been submitted to top venues.  They may not all be accepted for publication.  However, I seek out only publication in top venues, and I have not been farming out crap articles to crap journals—nor will I.  The academy has shown time and again, for several decades now, that graphic novels and other pop culture are as worthy of study as Shakespeare.  It is the quality of thought that goes into any project that determines whether or not the project is worthwhile, not the subject of study.

I have not simply cranked out junk work this past year to fulfill a silly bet.  I have followed through on meaningful projects that I would have undertaken with or without the bet.  The bet is silly and insignificant, and only a goofy means through which we have tried to hold ourselves accountable and on task.

brilliant plan!

Posted by Jeanne on May 6, 2011 at 10:30am EDT

Well done– I may adopt the livermush as penalty idea… and the notion of building a cross- discipline community to keep each other accountable is lovely. Keep up the good work.

I don’t know about “brilliant,” Jeanne, but thank you for recognizing our wager for what it is, simply a fun way to deal with the stresses of work.

Posted by Beth Gazley, Indiana University on May 6, 2011 at 10:45am EDT

Having just reached the finish line myself, I say good for you! Best wishes, and enjoy the journey.

Thanks, Beth!  And thanks also for having the courage to leave a comment under your own name.  Jaron Lanier would be very proud of you and Tom!

Posted by Betty Allen , Alumni at Western Carolina University on May 6, 2011 at 11:00am EDT

There are foods from various areas of the country that I know I would never try, so I understand their thoughts on livermush. In fact, if I am ever with people from places other than the area around Shelby, NC, and if there seems to be a lull in the conversation, I just might throw out the word livermush to get some sort of conversation going.

As far as I am concerned. . . I love livermush! I don’t need to know what is in it, I just know I love it. Having grown up in Shelby, I was exposed to livermush as a toddler.

Shelby is known for many things, and livermush is one of them. There is even a Livermush Expo in Shelby in the fall. Perhaps that would be the perfect backdrop to the end of this competition.”

Thanks, Betty, for your comment and for posting under your real name.  I love that a WCU alum came across the story and posted this.  One thing I have determined from all of this is that I must give it a shot.  I think it would be more successful, however, if it were perhaps promoted under a more appetizing name.


Posted by Jethro Jones , Reading on May 6, 2011 at 11:30am EDT

This article and story is offensive. Maybe next bet you can wager a plate of chitterlings!

Dear “Jethro,” I think your pseudonym is more offensive to rural sensibilities than our wager.  I was raised by a single mother in Appalachia.  I have killed and cleaned my own meat, and enjoyed it (see picture below).  I celebrate rural people and rural ways of life, which is why I accepted my current position, in a very rural community.  You may want to check out my other website: the Rural Image Cooperative.

re: Jethro Jones is offended

Posted by Neophyte prof , College of Tech at John Deere University on May 6, 2011 at 1:15pm EDT

Hmmmm…I certainly didn’t read the article with any sense of negativity toward any kind of diversity…or whatever the reader found offensive…sorry Jethro Jones. Not really sure why it was offensive…of course it could have been any food for that matter (mac ‘n cheese, cow’s tongue, fish eyes…many of my Italian ancestors ate things that I think are completely out of the question). The point of the article was clearly to show a healthy and competitive collegial partnership. As a neophyte I will certainly adopt this approach as I think (sans weird food penalty) it’s a very good idea.

One has to have a pretty thick skin to succeed in the academe Jethro. I don’t believe the intent was even remotely to offend.

Thanks, Neophyte prof.  What’s worrisome to me is that some readers think that Mary and I would have cranked out junk scholarship simply to satisfy this bet.  Really, people think that I would crank out junk writing to avoid a plate of liver mush?  Sorry folks, but I worked too damn hard to earn a PhD at a top university to throw my academic reputation away that stupidly or that quickly.

re: re: Jethro Jones

Posted by ztm , Alumni at Clemson University on May 6, 2011 at 3:30pm EDT

Hey Neophyte prof, JJ is trolling you. Calm down!


publish or livermush

Posted by A Dude in Academe on May 6, 2011 at 5:15pm EDT

The article is hugely offensive, but in academic terms, not cultural ones. The point of research used to be to discover new, important knowledge. The only motivation a scholar needed was a desire to improve humanity through discovery. Nowadays, though, much research is done for purely professional reasons–publish or perish (which translates to, “improve our rankings through scholarly productivity or you walk”). The fact that junior faculty need to resort to sadomasochism to get themselves through the tenure track sums up everything wrong with higher ed today.

It is telling that “publish or perish” is not enough to motivate these two; they need the threat of livermush to get them to work hard. This suggests that losing their jobs is not really that horrible a prospect (not enough to motivate their scholarship, anyway), but livermush is. Livermush, by the way, would seem to sum up everything that is wrong with our food industry today…

The Dude here is offensive.  I undertake important work, and my primary research is into how the intelligence community (the CIA and its sister agencies) uses rhetoric in its work.  My work seeks to address the intelligence failures of 9/11 and the mistaken WMD intelligence, and will hopefully contribute to improving analytical practice within the intelligence community and preventing unnecessary armed conflicts.  As you might be figuring out, I don’t scrawl that scholarship out on the back of diner napkins and send it off to journals.  I slave over it.  I research meticulously, and I do seek to create new knowledge.

And, given the budget situation here in North Carolina, I actually live in constant fear of losing my job.  This bet is a way to try to inject a little humor into an otherwise stressful process.  Chill out.

Posted by electronicmuse on May 6, 2011 at 8:15pm EDT

The contestants should throw all of their articles, and all of the livermush they are unable to eat in a 24 hour period down the longest set of steps on campus.

The literary “output” that travels the farthest wins.

“Fair is fair.”

Thanks for your advice, electronicmuse.  I actually took it. I took a sheaf of papers, all my research that I’ve conducted over the past year, and tossed it, and I mean really chucked it, down the biggest flight of stairs I could find (about 12 stories, in a dorm, and the undergrads gave me some very weird looks as I did this).  When I went down to pick up my papers, all of my ideas were still intact.  The research still held true.  My work was vindicated—it had survived a fall that would have killed most human beings.  Now, your flawlessly designed empirical experiment has validated a year’s worth of work.  I am much relieved.

All in all, this experience has reaffirmed what I already knew about the world.  There are lots of people with a sense of humor in this world, but there are also lots of humorless people in the world. And, I should probably give liver mush a try.

-Nate Kreuter

Nate Cleaning a Wild Hog

About a month ago I had the chance to visit two (one and two) very good friends in Detroit.  They, along with another a friend of mine here at WCU who is originally from Detroit, have frequently bemoaned the genre of Detroit blight porn that has been spearheaded by The New York Times.  Surely enough, Detroit faces more than its fair share of economic and related real estate woes.  But those woes go back much further than the current economic crisis.

More to the point though, my first ever visit to Detroit left me entirely wowed.  I had amazing BBQ at Slow’s, and wonderful red flannel hash for “blunch” at The Fly Trap, to name just two of many phenomenal and gluttonous dining experiences that were crammed into the four day trip.  I was stunned by the collection at the Detroit Institute of Art Museum, even though I only had time to take in a sliver of the museum.  And everywhere my Detroit hosts and I went it was obvious that artists of all varieties are using the deflated real estate prices in Detroit to undertake great projects and risks that wouldn’t be possible in other environments.

One of the oldest of these art projects is the Heidelberg Project (do yourself a favor and surf around the project’s website).  The project spans several city lots, and is named after the street where the project resides.  “Project” becomes a loaded word, for the economic crisis journalist-pornographers would certainly call the neighborhood a “project” in the pejorative sense, even though it has never really been a federal housing project.  But “project” of course really refers to the art project that the space has become, a site of re-used and recycled objects juxtaposed in ways simultaneously macabre, profound, and whimsical.  See my photo of a crucified stuffed rabbit below.  Stuffed animals like these are nailed up everywhere, to trees and abandoned houses, slowly mildewing and melting in the midwestern winters and rains.  Shopping carts sit in and atop trees.  A painted boat is filled to overflowing with more stuffed animals.  A lawn mower sits atop a massive pile of discarded shoes.  Inorganic garbage is repurposed everywhere.

I was pretty much completely smitten by the project, and almost had to be dragged away by my camera strap.  But in addition to my love for the ridiculousness and randomness and audacity of the project, I have to appreciate it also for how it reinvigorated in my own mind some longstanding quandaries of mine.  As a once avid photographer (whose interest in creating, and not just critiquing, photography has been reinvigorated by a photographer friend recently), I’ve always been troubled by how difficult it is to capture the scale and detail of an event such as the Heidelberg Project.  Details are easy, but capturing the “whole picture” is a bitch.  In anticipation of THATCampVA (THATCamp_SouthEast is now accepting applications too), I’ve been wondering what digital interface-gizmos I might down the line develop in order to try to represent such a massive project in photos.  I have no concrete ideas, let alone solutions, yet.  But something is definitely in the digital fermenting vat.

All in all, a great trip to Detroit, and one that, due to the sheer volume and visibility and audacity of its art projects, I will be mulling over for a long time.  It was great to see friends and to get the opportunity to meet some of their colleagues working in rhetoric and composition in the Wayne State Department of English.  Unfortunately, one of the rhet/comp folks I didn’t have a chance to meet was Richard Grusin, whose book Premediation: Affect and Mediality After 9/11 I have since read, and which I found to be completely-and-completely badass.  I highly recommend it to any rhetoricians interested in the digital humanities, and am already finding some applications for his theory of premediation in my own work.

Heidelberg Project

One of the big difficulties in transitioning from graduate school into the professorial ranks is, obviously enough, managing scholarship and scholarly productivity.  Publish or perish.  Even at “teaching institutions” such as my own, the expectations for scholarly production are–as I believe they should be–high.  Teaching and service are the day-to-day expectations, and somewhere along the way assistant professors in every discipline are expected to produce scholarship.

Most of the advice I have received about starting a tenure-track job has been along the lines of “don’t expect to get anything [scholarship] done your first year.”  And, “just figure the place out, then start cranking over the summer.”

Well, my type-A personality simply can’t abide.  I want to get cranking now, especially because a lot of article ideas that I had fermenting in the swamp that is my brain went unattended for too long while I was finishing my dissertation.  Those ideas need to climb out of the swamp and into the world, even if they turn out to be hideous beast creatures.  [Revision is the cure for the beast creatures that crawl out of my brain, lots of revision.] So, these first two weeks of the semester, I’ve been writing a lot.  And I’m very happy about that.

But I know that such enthusiasm and dedication can lag.  A new friend/colleague, Mary Byrnes, and I agreed upon an ambitious wager in an effort to force ourselves to be productive this year.  Mary is in her second year of her appointment here at Western Carolina University.  I drew up a contract outlining the parameters of the wager, which I have posted, partly to force us both to hold to the bet.  Liver Mush is the motivating force within the wager.

You can rest assured that the results of the wager will be posted here on 3 x 3 in Cullowhee around Memorial Day 2011.