Day 347: It’s Bakhtin Time!

Yes, it is true: the dialogic imagination is in the house! (Maybe, if we’re all really lucky and keep our fingers crossed, the dialectic may even stop by–that is, as long as the dialogic does not deteriorate, as is common, into the logic of the carnivalesque).

Ok, enough pseudo-comedic references to weird Russians. The point of this post: the course blog for my Multiethnic U.S. literature class is off the ground (and, in case I have not yet mentioned this yet, my Intro to Multiethnic U.S. literature course this spring is now 25% more multi-ethnic–for the same price–what a great deal!). Students have posted their first response papers and now it is up to the online community to test their logic. What this means is, that I invite you to read some posts and comment on critical method, logic, ask further questions, or voice your criticism. This, of course, should not be competely devastating (remember: they are beginning literature students and this is a general education course), but, as you will see, there are problems with logic and underdeveloped arguments that need to be pointed out–i.e. students need to get into the habit of thinking through their arguments/analyses/logical frameworks in detail and more carefully before releasing them into the world. Any feedback will be greatly appreciated. The next set of papers on Octavia Butler will be posted by Monday.

to visit the site, click this link:


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.

Day 267: Good Night and Good Luck

I would just like to quickly draw your attention to cabbage’s latest post: MSNBC’s Keith Olberman’s special commentary on waterboarding–rhetorically not badly done and really worth watching. See it here.

Day 257: Mongolian Death Worm V. 2.0

Ok. I’m going to quickly come up for air here. Finishing and sending out applications number 23-28 today (if all goes well). Then will have to devote every free minute to my upcoming job talk (next Friday), which, as of yet, (euphemistically put) exists only in a rather postmodern state. But much like postmodernism had to find out, this kind of state of affairs does not actually provide what we could stably define as jouissance. Hence: gotta finish that sucker (i.e. clean up/make cohere/arrange in a linear narrative). To that end, I need to find a good picture of the Mongolian Death Worm. Also, I need to find a good map of the internet, as well as an old map that still shows the Buenaventura River (a river that did not really exist but was included in maps for quite a long time because people so desperately wanted it to exist). I like maps that clearly show that we do not in fact map our environment but instead the desiring structures (and consequently the forms of consciousness) via which we articulate our existence to what essentially reveals itself to be the simulation of a simulation (i.e. what B. calls a simulacrum of the second order). In other words, maps of the internet’s terra incognita function ideologically much like the persistent circulation of maps featuring the Buenaventura River or Native American rain dances (or tarot readings). Also, I discovered a way to summarize the first three chapters of my dissertation using only emoticons. I figure this way I can text-message my writing samples now and save some trees (since I like trees, as you may remember from previous posts). Ok, seems like I need coffee (had to pull two all-nighters in the last five days). Today is the weirdest day since yesterday.

Oh–here a picture of the Mongolian Death Worm:


Day 250: No Country for Old Men

I have no idea why I haven’t heard about this before: The Coen brothers directed an adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s No Country for Old Men (limited: November 9, wide: November 21). I am slightly scared to see the outcome of this gutsy project.

Personally, I don’t think the novel lends itself well to filmic adaptations. The outcome will doubtlessly focus more on the actual action of the novel than the psychological struggles, the political backdrop of immigration and globalization, which is juxtaposed with traditional US values, morals and narratives and the philosophical conflicts contained in the interaction between the characters–or so I fear. Maybe it is just because I am actually writing about the novel in my dissertation and fear that too many hack critics will write crappy CS criticism about the movie I will have to deal with when revising the dissertation for a publisher later on. In any case, the novel is fantastic. Especially memorable scenes include the final encounter between Chigurh and Llewelyn’s wife, in which Chigurh explains in painstaking detail the reasons that require him to kill her. In the novel this is a long, drawn-out scene that contains a very complicated argument regarding the attachment to universalizing teleologies, an argument that runs through the entire novel via the intersected passages that reflect the thoughts of the Sheriff on the “new world,” which is simply no country for old men. McCarthy’s novel, however, illustrates to us the pervasiveness of those desiring structures that are clearly outdated, but which at the same time appear to be difficult to supersede. Many of us, so McCarthy, are old men in a country that seems to travel faster through history than we appear to be able to.

Let’s hope the Coen brothers are able to at least capture a part of McCarthy’s extraordinarily sentitive and insightful exploration of the present US psyche.

Here a trailer: