The Dialectician’s Guide to Cultural Studies and Totalization

High and low culture are equally fascinating, but you can’t just do one or the other. You must do both.

– Mark Gerard Lawson

This may be the single most important advice not just for those producing culture but for those interested in and practicing the discipline of Cultural Studies. (And, of course, we should add that you always need to be aware of the dialectical interrelation of culture and the socioeconomic structure–and by that I mean neither a mediation nor a superstructural effect but a mutually productive relationship.)

Day 435: AY!

Wow, I’ve been really bad at this whole blogging thing as of late. (I mean even worse than usual.) I have been insanely busy and practically spent every day in its entirety at coffee shops writing. I’m just finishing an article (which I will be sending out tonight). Also, I hope there will be some time left for me to do laundry, since I have to get up at 4 in the morning to go to the airport where I have to get on a flight to Long Beach at 7 in the morning. I’ll be at the ACLA convention over the next few days. I organized a panel there and will be presenting a paper (along with some other UIC folks). There will also be a few MLG people there, so it should be fun. I am, however, slightly worried about the presentation I have to give, the main reason for which is the fact that the presentation has yet to be written (and in a way that doesn’t make me look like an idiot). Well, I guess I have a longish flight and one more night at the hotel for that. It’s more a matter of copying and pasting anyway. The talk will essentially consist of an abbreviated version of an article that should be coming out as part of an edited collection sometime soon. I’ll advertise here it when I know specifics.

Oh, and in the same spirit, for those read German: check out Sebastian Domsch’s Amerikanisches Erzaehlen Nach 2000. Muenchen: Edition Text + Kritik, April/May 2008. It’s not quite out yet but should be within the next few days–you can pre-order it. Yours truly has a chapter in that as well.

I’ll be back next week with reports from the Western frontier (of the culture industry).

Day 423: The Last Lecture

Here Randy Pausch’s by now famous “Last Lecture:” “Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams.” This may be difficult to critique, but let’s try. I’d be interested in hearing how people actually read this phenomenon–the book just came out a few days ago.

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 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 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 http://ghosts.nin.com/.

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 374: Depeche Mode

Yes, if you like them, you must have liked my blog recently (lame “Enjoy the Silence” reference).

Explanation: stuff is going on and I don’t want to jinx it. Also, chances for that stuff that’s going on to actually happen (i.e. produce results) are really slim, so I have to force myself not to think about it, which has the same effect as someone telling you not to think of an elephant (you think of an elephant–just in case that wasn’t clear). But: stuff may or may not be happening.

Other current projects that take up my time:

1. I am training for the first annual Summarizing Infinite Jest World Championship.

2. I am preparing the launch of my new line of merchandise–evidently you don’t have to be famous any more these days to release your own fashion/fragrance line (mine will include shirts with my confused faced as standard logo and a variety of lines that say things such as “Heisenberg may or may not have been here” — my current fragrance that will be released later this week is “Eau D’Espair for Men”–it will be part of a Humanities Ph.D. toiletry set).

3. I am advising a friend on the pros and cons of getting various Greimas-squares tattoos.

Just thought I’d bring you up to speed.