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 385: Ghosts

The New NIN project (Ghosts) is finally out. As usual, the album is accompanied by a very interesting web presence (I wrote about the online marketing of My Violent Heart before, focusing on the guerilla marketing and pseudo-astroturfing aspect of it–can’t be bothered to look for the link, though–very busy today–I’ll go see a lecture by Franco Moretti later–yay!). To enter into this specific maze (and for free downloads of tracks), see

Also, because my last post was about World Pillow Fight Day 2008, here an example of what happens when people actually put some effort into a music video. I rather like this one (which is a very rare thing for me to say about music videos). (Also, I find the “ghost” VERY attractive–especially with the hoodie–a somewhat less objective analysis of the video, I realize.) Band of Horses, “Is There a Ghost:”  Witness the specter of bourgeois ideology and its natural enemy, the emotional tie:

Day 338: Mediations Journal

I will also quickly do my part to advertise the grand inauguration extravaganza of the second series of Mediations, the journal of the Marxist Literary Group. Issue 23.1 is a dossier of contemporary Marxist thought from Brazil. Mediations is published bi-annually. The Fall issues are dossiers of non-U.S. material of interest; the Spring issues are open submission and peer reviewed. Mediations has circulated in various forms and formats since the early 1970s, and is now available free on the web. Both a web edition and a print edition, downloadable in pdf format, can be accessed at Featured authors in the current issue include Luiz Felipe de Alencastro, Paulo Arantes, Ina Camargo Costa, Francisco de Oliviera, Milton Ohata, and Roberto Schwarz (!).

Day 336: Some Kind of Monster

This weekend I had a LOONG discussion with a friend regarding monsters (we were both supposed to read/write at Intelligentsia…). Since we could not really come up with a lot of answers, here my attempt to take the debate to the streets:

1. If we assume that each specific stage of capitalism creates its own monster in cultural production (e.g. Industrial Revolution –>Frankenstein), what is the monster that corresponds to contemporary capitalism? (pre-emptory note: zombies do not count, since they do not qualify as monsters per se, since monsters must be freaks that stand OPPOSED to a norm, while zombies often are a way to represent this very norm itself in a freakish way).

2. What stage of capitalism does the alien in Ridley Scott’s Alien represent (the first movie–just by means of explanation: EVERY character in the movie is very specifically materially coded–class and otherwise–and the story itself is at heart an allegory for a transformation in international trade–remember what turns out to be the entire logic of the space mission–so how do we read that alien itself)? Bear in mind: this movie was released in 1979 (hence we must be very specific here as far as economic transformations are concerned).

Just wondering if people have any ideas.

Day 332: Insufficient Interpellation

As it turns out, there does not seem to be a sufficient amount of capitalist indoctrination and propaganda present in the European education system. Read this article (“Europe’s Philosophy of Failure”) to find out why and what the consequences of this terrifying status quo are/may be in the future.

BTW: I found the link to this article on the website of The Chronicle of Higher Education (some of you may appreciate the irony here).

I also quickly want to urge people who are interested in environmental issues and environmental policy to visit Climate Debate Daily, a relatively new and well-organized site (that is also “fair and balanced”–he, he). You can find the link to it listed in my blogroll.

Day 329: False Consciousness and Grad Student Dating

These are two issues that have very little to do with each other. The former interests me at present, while the latter seems to be a problem friends of mine are increasingly interested in. Evidently, there are books with tips that help real world people date us (grad students). There are things that puzzle me about both concepts.

False consciousness:

it is a concept in Marxist theory that is central to traditional Marxist thought but that has been widely challenged since the second half of the 20th century, initially and most notably by Althusser (formulating a theory of ideology that breaks with Marx and moved us toward Baudrillard and other post-Marxists). There are, however, Marxist theorists that maintain that there is value in the concept of false consciousness (such as Marcuse and Bloch–well, and some weird contemporary orthodox Marxists who shall remain unnamed). Let’s get at this logically: if false consciousness is defined as bourgeois ideology that supports the division of labor, the problem critics of this conception of ideology have is that it posits a Real and a way of stepping outside of ideology (Althusser broke with this in favor of a psychoanalytic model that limits itself to switching ideological positions). However, if class is assumed to be a special aspect of the division of labor (see Marx on class), then the corresponding form of (class) consciousness is indeed also an aspect of the division of labor and the definition of ideology becomes not structurally but merely semantically different. Hence, we can replace “false” with “conservative, bourgeois, capitalist, regressive” or other words and oppose to this progressive/liberating consciousness the way Marcuse does. This change in terminology, however, does nothing to change the logical structure of the conception of ideology itself and hence to me changes nothing about the initial problem of consciousness. Hence my question: is the assertion that false conciousness posits the idea of correct/real consciousness not a misreading of Marx’s account of ideology?

grad student dating (apparently this is a problem that transcends the limits of our English department):

from The Stanford Daily:

Eight simple rules for dating a grad student

It has come to my attention that despite our towering intellects, foraging skills and incredible resilience, grad students are not being asked out in droves by our younger counterparts.

At first I thought this was due to insurmountable differences, but recently it’s occurred to me what’s really needed is some kind of guide — a simple primer on how to capture the heart (or some other part) of your favorite graduate student.

One thing before I start: My use of male / female pronouns stems from my particular inclinations — feel free to mix things up, the same principles apply.

So here we go, in homage to W. Bruce Cameron, eight simple rules:

1) I’m sure you’ve heard that the fastest way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. Now that’s not actually true. There are faster ways, but I’m afraid they’re all NC-17.

Having said that, grad students are easily lured with food. Especially when it’s free. We don’t get care packages anymore, and we miss them.

Remember — it doesn’t matter if that best you can come up with is a sandwich. You still won’t find a more enthusiastic response to anything you do . . . and I do mean anything.

2) Don’t mock the cycle helmet. One day you’ll care about your head too.

3) Let us talk about work. As much as they may profess not to, a typical graduate student loves to talk about his work. More than any other topic, we want to explain what we do.

Whether this is because of our passion for our subject or because of some deep-seated need to justify our existence is open to debate . . .

4) Don’t be surprised if you don’t get to meet many of his friends. It’s not because you’re embarrassing — though that may still be true — rather, we don’t know that many people.

5) Be nice to aforementioned friends. Like I said, we don’t have that many, and we can’t afford to lose them. I understand that it’s difficult to communicate with people like me, as we tend to labor under the impression that everyone is as equally concerned with the missing minus sign on the third line down of the day’s calculation. Just nod and smile.

6) Offer constant reassurance that we’re not wasting our time. We’ve chosen poverty over jobs, school over growing up, and we constantly live in fear that we’ve made the wrong choice. Please massage our egos . . . and anything you else you choose.

7) Don’t go on about the crazy fun you’re having with your classmates. I’m sure that last night’s dorm party was loaded with the kind of crazy antics that wouldn’t look out of place in “American Pie 4: American Divorce,” but we don’t want to be reminded of how much fun life used to be.

8 ) Don’t keep us out too late. We’re old, and we need our beauty sleep.

Day 306: Bad Ideas

Bad Idea 1:

you decide to base your carreer decision not on concerns such as money, potential for fame, or marketability in social situations/pick-up lines in bars, but you go with your conscience and make an entirely ideological/idealistic decision. Hence, you choose academia and a life of the intellect, which you try to justify and desublimate from its lofty realm of what to MBAs appears to be splendid isolation from reality by formulating massive counter-interpellation based on the attempt to revive ideals such as critical thinking and social justice as the ultimate goal of your life. Thus far this seems like a good idea. What transforms it into a bad idea, however, is that the corporate university is being restructured in a way that it will be almost impossible to actually find a job that will allow you to do all these things. Becoming an assistant professor in marketing, engineering, biology… : easy. Becoming an assistant professor in the humanities: not that easy. Result: you train for the day that you will be able to start a carreer and make all your goals a reality and are then forced to sell out on alternative job markets, because capitalism quite paternalistically bars access to your object cause of enjoyment (which is not so much deferred as it is rendered illusory).

Bad Idea 2:

There are a few remaining jobs in academia for humanities professors each year, i.e. there is a slight chance of getting a job. In the field of English, choosing to specialize in composition and rhetoric (i.e. jobs in “writing across the capitalist curriculum” and “neoliberal service learning”), 18th and 19th century literature, etc. = good idea. Choosing to specialize in 20th/21st century literature, combined with a rigorous commitment to critical theory (however, not to deconstruction and poststructuralist postcolonial studies) and American Studies = bad idea. Just in case you were wondering, the chances of getting a job in this field are, depending on the position, between 250:1 and 350:1. Buying a sratch-off, low-win lottery ticket for each application you send out is therefore a good idea. If you get a job you’ll also win a few thousand bucks.

Bad Idea 3:

There is a German saying that says that sharing your pain with others means that you will only have to deal with half the pain. This may generally be a good idea and therapeutic to some degree. If, however, the only people you can share your pain with are living through the same pain, this turns into a bad idea. The equation in this case changes to: shared pain creates a closed set/system that escalates until everyone in the system reaches a state of emotional death, therefore consolidating the entropic equilibrium of disillusionment indicative of the closed system of the pool of humanities Ph.D.s on the job market.

Bad Idea 4:

Attempting to hold on to Oedipal, binary definitions of subjectivity meant to stabilize your emotional constitution. All such attempts will eventually reveal themselves as merely temporally stable, hence Oedipalism in the end also loses to the inevitability of job-market-induced entropy. An example: I had my mock job talk on Thursday (which went relatively well). After the talk I ran into a colleague who was waiting for his turn. My job talk had ended with the usual combination of encouragement and devastation (professors telling you that “you have a fantastic project and you will definitely be a professor–maybe not this year, but eventually–you know, it just such a crapshoot”) and I thus left the room caught in the usual combination of elation and utter depression. This mood, however, immediately changed upon seeing my colleague: haggard, shifty, his eyes barely able to look away from his feet that constantly, nervously and poignantly moved in place, he asked me: “so, have YOU heard anything? Have you gotten any calls?” “No,” I replied, then quickly adding, “but they just told me it’s still early. Most calls won’t go out until the 17th this year. There is still hope.” “Whatever,” he replied, surprisingly loudly, for a brief moment of strangely energetic spinal erection casting off that rock that up until that moment seemed to have weighed him down, “I can’t wait that long. I’m going nuts, man. Every time the phone rings I sprint across my apartment, knocking over all kinds of shit, just to find out that it’s someone else again. I don’t think I can last until the end of next week. I’m ready to walk into traffic, man.” That last sentences was followed by a nervous, desperate chuckle and the return to his previous habitus, that was simultaneously reminiscent of a Morbus Bechterew patient and an old rubber boat leaned against the side of a wall that was just punctured by the pocket knife of the small town’s richest family’s snotty 8-year-old. Thus, looking into his eyes that quickly returned to staring at his feet as if in a desperate attempt to hold on to the last remnant of a quickly fading idea of the potential for positive progress and movement into the future, I knew he was serious. The bad idea on my part was this: I felt strangely proud of myself for keeping it together so well, for not yet succumbing to complete depression, for dealing with this insane stress and existential insecurity so rationally. This was the binary I attempted to construct and hold on to. Turns out, however, that there was no binary, just temporality. Turns out he was just one day ahead of me.

Out of solutions, not even repression working any more at this point, the possibility of distraction by focusing on the insane amount of work I have before me (first grading then writing) disappearing increasingly, bad ideas appear to be all that remains at this point: heavy nightly drinking, followed by Tylenol PM to get to sleep, aspirin, a vitamin pill and coffee to clear the head for work in the morning…lather, rinse, repeat until head feels less/completely numb.

I managed not to smoke again, though.