Day 410: We are the WTO

I just saw a great documentary on an anti-globalization, anti-capitalist, anti-corporate greed group calling themselves “The Yes Men.” Here their website–really worth checking out.

Day 406: In Germany

Yep, I´ll be in Germany for spring break (you know, for the beach, beads, boobies, body shots, and such). It´s only a very short trip, but I haven´t seen my family in about a year and it may be another year until I get to see them again (I have to move in the summer, go to MLA over Christmas break, etc.), so that definitely makes the trip worthwhile.

I just got back from running in the snow, which made me a little sad–I noticed that I should think that it all looks quite beautiful around here, but after having sat around in an insane amount of snow for the last few months, I appear to be unable to create a positive emotional response to that sort of aesthetic. Eh, screw it–my grandmother is preparing a feast for us as we speak and I will drink a lot of beer and Schnaps this afternoon. Who cares about aesthetics then, I ask? (a question that may lead to an insight into Russian car design.)

Day 400: Thank You

As the process of writing my dissertation nears its end, it may be time to begin thanking those persons and institutions who made the whole process possible, bearable and occasionally even fun. Today, I would like to thank Chicago’s fantastic indie coffee houses. You have given me much joy, necessary caffeine, free wi-fi and a psychologically healthy work atmosphere for a long time now. You indiscriminately house the masses of poor graduate students and allow them to be “social” (i.e. fight isolation by having a common workspace), provide them with a living room (since most of us live in studio apartments) and in certain cases even feed us for free by giving away day-olds at closing time (at which point it is VERY clear that only grad students are left in the building). So, my thanks today go out to: Intelligentsia (on Broadway–used to be indie at least, still kinda is, but definitely has the best coffee), Dollop (a fantastic place with good coffee, good people and a great atmosphere for studying), Pick Me Up (not as great if you’re in it for the long haul in terms of studying, but good and cheap food), The Fixx, Filter (at least back in the day when you could still smoke there) and, of course, my current home Noble Tree (which is where I am writing this post while enjoying a large glass of Metropolis dark roast–aaahh…). In fact, here is a short segment on Noble Tree Coffee & Tea that was recently featured on Metromix TV (you can see me working a few times and my friend Eugene was even talked into commenting on their coffee/food). You can also see the video on Noble Tree’s chronology site: http://nobletree.tumblr.com/

Day 399: I Need To Vent

Not a lot. Just a little bit. About academia. Nothing dramatic happened. I was just a little upset by a number of talks I recently attended (well, upset may even be too strong–disappointed, rather).

I went to see a Franco Moretti lecture (on the history of the novel). Verdict: terrible! Bad, bad old-school literary scholarship and that from a person whose work I have admired for years (to be fair, I never considered him to be a cutting-edge theorists with truly radically innovative ideas–aside from the whole graphs and maps thing, which I will not discuss here, since there is a whole set of problems with this approach–yet, Moretti was still always my go-to guy for the good kind of historicism–I assume I don’t have to mention names in regards to the bad kind of historicism) .

Then I attended a Richard Godden colloquium (another person whose work I’ve admired for a long time and who has produced absolutely brilliant books in the past) in which we discussed with him some of his recent writings. Verdict: terrible+terrible! He was underprepared, the articles were full of theoretical errors (both in regards to Marx and Freud/Lacan) and the arguments presented were underwhelming at best. Upside here: he was at least a good sport about us questioning his work and engaged in a good discussion.

Immediately after the Godden colloquium, I rushed over to an event with Slavoj Zizek. At that point I was rather unmotivated, since Godden had disappointed too much and since Zizek, while often entertaining, had essentially been doing the same thing the last few times I saw him (i.e. semi-educated audience pleasing, “you’d think this is a true logical relationship, but it surprisingly turns out the opposite/reverse is how it works,” softcore Hegelian analysis with Lacanian fireworks for critical theory groupies). Surprisingly, however, Zizek delivered a long talk (almost 2 hours) that actually tried to engage rigorously with the problem of ethics (especially with Levinas) and, even more suprisingly, produced some actual cultural analysis (sadly, I think it is safe to assume that the only thing the autograph hunters that crowded the room remembered about this talk was Zizek’s reading of Rammstein lyrics and performances). “Cultural analysis? Duh!” some may say, “that’s what he does.” No, I would respond here. That is not what he generally does at all. Using culture to make a theoretical point is very different from using theory to make a point about culture and it precisely the latter Zizek did for once in this lecture.

Overall verdict of recent talks: a 33.3% success ratio is less than satisfying. So, all you critical theorists and cultural/literary critics who get paid a shitload of cash for your talks: step it up and deliver some effort and rigorous thought! This ain’t fucking Broadway!

***EDIT:

Ha ha! Wouldn’t you know it: the only segment of the talk somebody filmed and put on youtube is the Rammstein part (and that was a very weak example in support of his argument–soft-serve Zizek, if you will). Here the segment nevertheless:

Day 398: Materialist Epistemology

Consider the following sentence:

“Only those who transform reality (material and social) are able to gain knowledge of it.”

What’s wrong with this? (And, to up the level of difficulty, what is wrong with it, if you do not want to let go of the following: Hegel, Marx, the dialectic, the material formation of (self) consciousness)? Something is fundamentally bugging me about this and I think the idea of “general intellect” may get me there. This is the kind of stuff that makes me lose sleep (or, as happened today, makes me only realize that I have been standing under the shower for a long, long time, after I begin to notice that the water has started to hurt the skin on my shoulders).

Day 394: White Folk

People have been talking about this blog quite a lot–even in academia, which is why this entry may be quite fitting:

There are some entries that are rather haphazardly put together, but a number of them are witty and entertaining. Enjoy.

Day 390: Tadadadadadadadaaaaaaa

Yes, I play virtual brass instruments.

Also, I have a job. I got the contract in the mail yesterday and signed it last night in one of my favorite dive bars. While signing the contract felt great, we had another distinct hint of a doubled “reaching/deferring objet petit a” moment (the plan for this event was to get, well, ridiculously lit, but that was not possible due to the fact that I have a lot of writing to do this weekend). So the “lighting” will have to wait a few more days. Still, I slept great last night (a job and a few beers/shots help tremendously in the nightly effort to forget the fact that I haven’t slept in a real bed for over five years now–aaah, the crazy luxuries of the gainfully employed).

But, to get to the job: it’s a tenure track, assistant professor position at Saint Francis Xavier University in Nova Scotia, Canada. It’s a great job and my final decision to go there was incredibly easy to make. It’s a beautiful university with an excellent commitment to both teaching and research (their site contains info about their impressive past rankings), the teaching load is relatively low, which means that I will have time to write and publish, the students are extraordinarily bright, and the department is very young, energetic and exceptionally friendly. The English department has recently hired (and will be hiring) a lot of young, promising faculty (last year they hired a 19th century American scholar from Hopkins, this year they hired a 20th century British scholar from Cornell and they are looking to add two new people in two additional fields next year). In addition to this, the established faculty members I met are very welcoming, collegial and do really interesting work (the fact that I feel a strong ideological connection doesn’t hurt either). They flew me in for three days in early February and, despite the fact that the schedule for the campus visit (teaching demonstration, job talk, interview, …) was packed, it immediately struck me how pleasant this department made this visit, which, as you know if you’ve ever done campus visits/job talks, is a quite remarkable feat and thus immediately signaled to me that this department would be a terrific fit. Ok, now I guess it’s back to writing for me. Oh, I forgot: I’ll be teaching 20th/21st century American literature (and occasionally courses in literary theory and cultural studies). Oh, and something else: Nova Scotia is gorgeous!!! Nature! I’m so happy!