Day 111: Lots of Things to Do, Including Hating Endemol

Dear all,

yes, it has been a while since I wrote something here. I have been insanely busy lately. I did, however, finish my article and will send it out after I am done writing this. I guess I will also quickly proofread it one last time. Thank god that got done in time. I have also been getting things together for my move. I did not really have the time to do any intensive packing, but I did get started on my books. Damn, do I have many books! This is not an attempt to brag. No, it is just that I packed six large boxes of books and I still have about 60-70% of my books on shelves. This is going to be really damn heavy to carry and I am not looking forward to it! I also began to look at clothes etc. You know how you tend to have that t-shirt that is full of holes, but which you have had for a decade or longer and you just cannot part with since you love it so much? Yeah, I have about 200 of those. I am one of those people who find it hard to part with things that have a sentimental value. Bad thing about this is that I quickly attach random items to past memories, hence I sentimentalize things quite easily. I have an old pair of underwear I once got from someone that is so past wearable that it is not even funny, yet I still hang on to it. For crying out loud. (I also have things such as a plastic toy truck someone gave me, a wooden giraffe, a football that doesn’t hold air any more, … — I don’t really look at these things but somehow knowing that they are in boxes somewhere makes me feel better than imagining them starting to hang around with a bad crowd of discarded items at some landfill–yes, these crappy items are my children). I think I really have to sit down, buck up and silently weep for a few hours while I throw away a lot of this stuff. I just won’t have space for it and, quite frankly, I have enough shite to carry. It is going to be a sad day.

In more positive news skunk has returned to Chicago and I will help him relocate to Pilsen this afternoon (from somewhere in Logan Square, I believe)–really need to get my article out before then, so I better hurry.

In this spirit, here just quickly my “I am not even surprised any more” of the day:

Endemol, the Dutch production company that brought us the beauty of things such as Big Brother or Fear Factor (there are so many more terrible examples from European programming people in the US may not even be aware of!) is now producing a show in which a fatally ill woman gets to decide who of the three candidates in the competition will win and receive her donor kidney. Bravo, Endemol! Thing is, I cannot really say that I truly hate Endemol for this. Rather, being edgy (whatever the fuck that means) is just so numbingly regular these days and our perception of it is just so bored and apathetic that I cannot really care. This is just a part of that whole fucked up, apathetic mess that has become our popular culture in which there is no difference left between romance and murder, narratives of social justice and the spectacle of dying people competing for a donor organ. It all feeds into the same careless, barely excited but constantly in need of stimulation heap of trash that are our emotions and convictions within affective labor in the context of consumer capitalism.

It’s sunny and warm today in Chicago.

Day 107: More PhD Comics

Today is a writing day again (surprise!). In fact, I need to get about 20 pages done to stay on track. Should work out, as I have everything meticulously planned and structured in the form of five multi-colored pages on my legal pad. Part indicating topics and structural connections, part excercise in procrastination, the vivid colors of my outlines have something of a fusion of Pollock’s chaos (fittingly often referred to as ‘cataclysmic landscapes’) with Rothko’s  desire for simplicity and Kandinski’s striving for order. I will make sure to hang on to them. They might be worth something someday (like a dollar about 150 years after my death because we will have run out of trees and paper will be a hot organic commodity).

Anyway: I have to write today and will hence cut this short. So here just a few more examples of my favorite PhD comics–they truly help me to fend of the occasional surge of desperation and intense existential anxiety.

http://www.phdcomics.com/comics/archive.php?comicid=686

http://www.phdcomics.com/comics/archive.php?comicid=672

http://www.phdcomics.com/comics/archive.php?comicid=718

http://www.phdcomics.com/comics/archive.php?comicid=856

http://www.phdcomics.com/comics/archive.php?comicid=860

http://www.phdcomics.com/comics/archive.php?comicid=810

http://www.phdcomics.com/comics/archive.php?comicid=786

http://www.phdcomics.com/comics/archive.php?comicid=842

Day 106: Judging a Book by Its Cover

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Yes, it is true. I am in the process of finishing up a Ph.D. in Literature and Literary Theory and I did it. Yesterday, I judged a book by its cover. This changes everything. As far as I know, having done something like this in my life will definitely prevent me from becoming President of the MLA.

Anyway, today will be a writing day. It just has to be. I have not been as productive as I should have been for the last few days, despite the fact that I need to get done the following: a chapter, an article, an intro for a collection pitch, my MLG conference paper, present this paper at the conference, keep organizing the MLG ICS (see previous posts), research for my dissertation director and write a short essay for a college textbook. All of this has to get done before June 25. But I have somehow been unable to focus on all of this, since my thoughts are revolving around the big move to my new place next Friday. I will need to rent a truck, possibly find someone who is kind enough to help me carry stuff, pack all my things (including a hell of a lot of books) and then actually do the moving. I did, however, get a call from my landlord yesterday who informed me that my apartment will possibly even have a floor by the day I move in. Wow! In short, it would be really easy for me to freak out right now. Instead I will go back to my baby-steps strategy and only focus on what is right in front of me. Today this means that I will have to focus on the article I am writing and try not to let myself get distracted by all the other thoughts that are racing through my mind. (Which tends to be difficult, since I am always trying to imagine a time when things will get better, but after June 25, which is when this batch of work needs to get done by, I have two other writing deadlines waiting for me (July 15 and July 30), the revision of the first three chapters, the struggle of finding a publisher for a collection, two more dissertation chapters, as well as ideally the attempt to send out some condensed chapters to journals before August. In August I have to begin preparing my fall classes, revise dissertation stuff and jump right into the job market, which means writing cover letters, polishing writing samples, organizing my portfolio, … so I really cannot think of any situation in the near future that will not have the potential to freak me out. Guess I will just have to suck it up. At this point I have directed all my dreams toward that magical time that I hope the summer of 2008 to be, which is when I would ideally have a completed Ph.D. and some kind of a job in hand and could take a month off work to travel. At this point I envision grabbing my backpack and hiking through the wilderness in some remote country all by myself for a month, refusing to shave, shower, talk and write (see example in picture above). We’ll see how the project “Midsummer Night’s Dream 2008” changes once it meets that ugly thing called reality. I will keep you posted.)

For all other freaked out graduate students who are not yet reading this daily comic, here a link: http://www.phdcomics.com/comics.php?n=866 . This particular one is also about Lost. In general the series of comic strips is quite therapeutic and makes freaking out seem more of a collective, hence tolerable experience.

Also, since I tend to fly long distances quite frequently, I was truly interested in this list of the 5o safest airlines in the world. I figured other people might be interested as well. Here the link (in German): http://www.rtl.de/ratgeber/reisen_914676.php . Here some of the results that might be interesting to people in Germany and the US:

top three: 1. Quantas 2. Finnair 3. Cathay Pacific

Other airlines of interest in the top 50 (and toward the places 35 to 50 the statistics are  already getting somewhat scary): 7. Ryanair, 12. Jet Blue, 13. Southwest (interestingly these discount airlines are doing quite well), 17. Lufthansa

This public service has been provided to you by Youlooksofreakyoutytoday Ithinkyouneedadistraction Inc.

Day 105: Season Finale of Lost et al.

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So the third season of Lost is over. We had good fun with John Locke becoming more and more, well, Lockeian (see Two Treatises of Government). That guy knows how to labor the land! (Locke joke? Anyone? Well, ok then–nevermind). Also we were able to further practice our fear of Others and exercise our conviction that the Western subjects we identify with are the good guys. Hey, after all the most romantic moment in the finale was presented as the Korean fisherman’s ability to speak English! Assimilation is just too cute (and apparently necessary in order to save a marriage, be considered a hero and, well, generally to get laid). Finally we managed to push the Asian subject into its intended role as part of the model minority. Wohoo! And the general fear of Others and Western logocentrism: important ideological practice in times of terrorism, no? It just provides us with a feeling of safety when we can divide the world into a binary system of negative oppositions. Us good. Others bad. Nice.

But let’s talk about the season finale. First: pacing. It was too rushed. Since they seemingly had left so many plot strings open for the finale they really had to rush through all of them to get to this season’s cliffhanger. Slightly reminded me of the remake of the classic film Long Hot Summer (the original stars a young Paul Newman, Ava Gardner and Orson Welles) starring Don Johnson and Cybil Shepherd, which tried to complicate the plot of the original movie (the original script was written by William Faulkner, immediately telling you how necessary a further complication was), ran out of time toward the end of the movie and actually forgot to pick up some plot strings. Makes for one of the funniest endings in film history. You have scenes of a village mob running excitedly into the woods in order to …well, we don’t really know. They forgot to get back to that. Anyway, back to Lost. Badly paced. We did not even have time to do what is expected from us as gullible viewers, such as being outraged that three people were shot. I was just trying to muster up some outrage to get into the spirit of the show (after obviously knowing that they were not dead) and they just ruined it by telling me the shooting was fake. Give me more time to buy into this stuff! This fast-paced stuff was almost ironically Brechtian in its inability to provide me with some much desired mechanism for escaping the real world. Same thing with Locke’s suicidal thoughts. Lasted about 5 seconds. Not even enough for me to say the stereotypical things that are expected of me. I only got to: “oh no, not John, he…”–and the suicidal thing was already over. Nice resolution here, though, via bringing back Walt. Definitely made me smile. Also remarkable in this respect: two black characters that had not even been in a single shot for the entire season had multiple lines in the finale. Seems like they are beginning to realize that killing off all the black people was a little strange (to put it mildly). My favority suspension-of-disbelief-enjoyment moment: Hurly’s rescue. Aah, good old cheering-for-the-underdog satisfaction.

But about the most important aspect: the ending. We have had three seasons of flashback narrative and we have three seasons to go until the end of the show. Will those three be flash-forward narrative? And: was there anyone who liked the flash-forward? Don’t really think so. It tends to appear as a move that limits the previous open-endedness and unpredictability of the show in dramatic ways. But then again, the future, as opposed to the past, is not necessarily static–meaning, we know things may change (see Desmond’s personal struggle). The thing that interests me, however, is the fact that people really hated the future narrative. It is not because it was negative. There were a lot of negative past narratives in the show. It is because it is a determinism arising out of the positing of a(negative) teleology, which again tells me something I have mentioned before about the ways in which we are currently willing to imagine potentiality. Rather than turning toward the future we tend to locate potentiality and jouissance in the past, an affective structure mediated through nostalgia that manifests itself in the escapist fantasies perpetuated by Lost. It is this play on our present psychological struggles surrounding the ways in which we articulate our existence to the changed structural temporality of our global environment (especially in a post-9/11 world) together with the introduction of a new Other that makes me quite excited about season four (and this is also the thing that makes the show for me a valuable object of study–i.e. a mediation of the current US psyche in a post-9/11 global situation). But this is all obviously just the beginning of a discussion I would very much like to continue. So write me your thoughts on Lost and on the finale in particular, especially those that deal with the show’s connection to contemporary forms of anxiety and desiring structures.

Oh: and, of course, send me some possible answers to these important questions:

Will Jack be able to redeem himself and change the future, which seems to be an effect of his tragic decision to make the call?

Is Charlie truly dead?

Kate or Juliette? (I am still very much torn here.)

What’s up with Jacob (and the re-appearance of Walt, for that matter)?

Who is (will/might be) in the coffin?

Day 103: Housing etc.

Just quickly (I am in such a rush lately): I got the apartment. I will go sign the lease tomorrow morning. Yay! Beginning June 1 I will be living in East Lakeview and you will be able to see me run up and down the lakefront bikepath.

Also, I talked about the first four completed chapters of my dissertation with my director and they are apparently not too bad. I obviously have lots of revision to do, but I am beginning to see light at the end of the tunnel. More specific reports tomorrow.

Also: tonight the season finale of Lost. Will John Locke survive and allow us to enjoy that growing, utterly enjoyable insanity (or sanity–depends on how you look at it) of his in the future? I may have to post some reflections on the finale here.

Day 102: Giant Cranes Hitting my House

Once again the weirdness that there is my life has resulted in a short, forced blogging-hiatus. So, what happened in the last few days? Well, just to conclude that segment: I got a haircut. It’s not really short and not terribly funky, but it is messy in a way I still do not know how to handle. Not sure of that is good or bad. I will color it soon.

Most of this weekend and of yesterday, however, I spent apartment hunting, which is really a quite annoying project. I thought it would be easier to find an apartment at this time, since so many students are on summer break, or are leaving Chicago. No such luck. The rental agencies are ridiculously crowded. Additionally, rents are really going up in Chicago at the moment. I was not able to find anything comparable to the apartment rents I encountered when I first moved here. After seeing a lot of really crappy places I made a decision yesterday and filled out an application for a studio in Lakeview. It is pretty large for a studio and (here’s the kicker) only one block from the lake and the park, which means lots of outdoor time for me in the summer. I also luckily managed to find a place in East Lakeview and stay away from the frattasticness of Wrigleyville. All in all I think I could really like this area as the setting for my last Chicago year. Seems relaxed with a lot of interesting coffee shops, bookstores, etc. Now I just have to hope that my application will be accepted. Everyone: think positive thoughts!

The other part of this weekend was dominated by the giant crane that fell on the house attached to ours. The Chicagoans among you have probably seen this on TV by now, but what essentially happend was this: the high rise next to ours is being remodeled. The construction company brought in  gigantic crane to lift the air conditioning units (several stories tall) on top of the roof of that bulding. As the crane lifted these large ac units the panvement gave way and the crane tipped over, hitting and effectively getting stuck in the building next to ours. In fact, the crane hit the building so hard that it (as well as the adjacent building on the other side) now have severe structural damage (and we are talking about large buildings here). The crowining achievement of this crane was its ability to also hit a gas main, which caused four downtown city blocks to be shut down, our buildings to be evacuated and the shutdown of the el train for quite a while. This happened on Saturday morning–they were just able to clear the debris yesterday evening. My personal favorite moment was when I got back from inline skating along the lake on Saturday evening and was told by a police officer that I was not able to get into my building. He advised me to just consider this a part of big city life and to go out and enjoy a nice night on the town. This made me worried about the ways in which the Chicago PD selects their officers, as this particular one clearly seemed to be blind. I stood in front of him in shorts and a T-shirt, sweaty, an old bandana on my head, on rollerblades, holding nothing in my hands apart from the now useless keys to my apartment. Nice night on the town? What do he expect me to do–pawn my rollerblades to rent a tux and have one drink in the Signature Lounge? I did not even have shoes, for crying out loud! Well, that situation also resolved itself a while later, as it had become clear that the different officers were busy watching the whole thing and did not communicate with each other (translates into sneaking back into the apartment). 

Well, that was this weekend. Here some pictures of the crane, TV crews, etc.–hope I can make them fit. I took these pictures while smoking on our fire escape (at that point we had not heard about the gas main yet).

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Day 97: Avoiding Nude Pictures

Today is the day! As I have announced a few days ago, this week marks the end of one of my s&m writing strategies. Just very quickly: I still have not decided what to do with my hair, so I decided to leave this up to someone else. Figured I would just let the hair-cutting-person (there are so many names for them lately) go nuts. To that end I will go here at noon. As you will see if you follow this link, this is a hair/tattoo studio, so I am hoping for some creative ideas on their part. I also hope that it is not mandatory to become part of that nude picture project involving their clients (well, not all of them are nude–but you’ll see what I mean–might not be such a good idea in respect to my future teaching activities). I will write more when I get back this afternoon. Have to get some more writing done before I leave.