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 292: Lars and the Real Girl

I just saw Lars and the Real Girl. What a beautiful little film. It’s been a long time since I had to hide my tears at the end of a film about a man who orders a sex doll online–and the best thing is: none of the parts of this previous sentence are ironic, sarcastic, or meant to be a joke. What a beautiful little film. Again, as so often, I am with Marcuse when it comes to the importance of the emotional tie. There is much sociopolitical potential in it. Love isn’t sappy. It’s radical. It’s progressive.

Hug somebody today. It may hurt at first (like frozen feet that begin to thaw when you get back inside), but you can work through it.

Day 151: 8 Random Facts

Ok, so this ‘random facts’ thing: I guess I cannot postpone it any longer and somehow something within me resists the idea of thinking about it (too much existential anxiety at this part of my dissertation process to allow for actual self-reflection–cans of worms, etc.)–so here it goes:

1. I used to own a restaurant, which I believe to be one of the most horrible things I have done in my life (financially, ideologically, professionally, etc.).

2. I used to be on the German B ‘Team-Nationalkader’ for swimming for a while, played first German division American football and hate jocks.

3. My breakfast this morning consisted of two cups of coffee, a ‘Camel Wides’ cigarette and a Power Bar.

4. I regularly fantasize about smashing things I see with a big sledgehammer (in fact, I have a very sophisticated imaginary process that involves judging the structural integrity of the object to be destroyed, which is followed by the imaginative selection between different kinds of hammers best suited for the job–i.e. maximum damage and most disturbing effect on onlookers–makes, e.g., waiting in doctor’s offices more bearable).

5. I LOVE animals, nature and generally dislike people, even though I am bad at being alone and have made it my job to study people (to put it more clearly: I feel myself drawn toward people but when I am around them I can primarily relate to them as objects of study, making me feel like a perpetual spy, often not by choice–I assume US conventions dictate some kind of medication-regimen for something like this–I love and hate it, however, which is what makes my job work for me–after all: studying contradictions is the essence of a critique of capitalism–well, that and the rejection of bourgeois individualism and egocentric self-indulgence, which can take the form of voluntary soul-striptease publicly displayed on a blog–sometimes I can be cynical–at least that’s what people tell me–oh, and I think Love can save the world–I am with Marcuse on the ’emotional bond’ argument here–even though I critically tend to side with anti-humanism [the Marxist form, that is], for obvious reasons).

6. I am terribly arachnophobic and it seems to be getting worse.

7. The Last Unicorn is one of my favorite movies, I have been watching it religiously (yes, religiously–this may in fact be the only religion my atheism pemits me to indulge in) since I was 5 years old and I don’t care what you think.

8. I often fantasize about running away but I don’t know where to.

So, there you go. Now, I guess, it is my duty to tag 8 more people to do the same. This is a rather difficult endeavor, as the blogging community I am a part of reveals itself more and more as a somewhat incestuous community and many of those within our network have already been tagged (so much for the internet and its potential for creating transnational networks that can create a multitude and total democracy–seems like we just digitally re-create small networks that exist in a similar fashion in real life). Trying to do my best I hereby tag: red crochet, shannon, erin, ben, caveblogem, natascha, joanna and, what the hell: William Gibson (I am sure he would get a kick out of this psychological clusterfuck).

Day 88: Rant–An Oral Biography of Buster Casey

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During the last two days I read Chuck Palahniuk’s latest novel Rant. It is certainly not as bad as Haunted, but far from as good as some reviews indicated. It’s the story of “Rant” Buster Casey, serial killer, sex virtuoso and rabies spreader, told through the point of view of a large series of characters (somewhat of an As I Lay Dying on a Black Widow poison trip in a postapocalyptic future). Not bad reading overall, but certainly not a great novel. Palahniuk is once again trying too hard to out-Palahniuk himself, if that makes sense (he sadly never truly got back to the Palahniuk of Fight Club, even though Diary was not all bad). The enjoyable things are the occasional nice Palahniuk-esque insights that still have the power to amuse me. Consider this:

Beginning with Santa Claus as a cognitive exercise, a child is encouraged to share the same idea of reality as his peers. Even if that reality is patently invented and ludicrous, belief is encouraged with gifts that support and promote the common cultural lies.

The novel also has an interesting marketing campaign. Check out this site. There is also a game included in this, if you click on the Black Widow. They’ll send you a “Just Married” bumper sticker, which is an allusion to an activity in the novel called “Party Crashing,” in which people put on bridal dresses, write “Just Married” on their cars, decorate them and then go out hunting for other player’s cars to crash into. From the novel: “the activity casually referred to as Party Crashing rejects the idea that driving time is something to be suffered in order to achieve a more useful and fulfilling activity.”

Marcuse for the Day:

To the degree to which freedom from want, the concrete substance of all freedom, is becoming a real possibility, the liberties which pertain to a state of lower productivity are losing their former content. Independence of thought, autonomy, and the right to political opposition are being deprived of their basic critical function in a society which seems increasingly capable of satisfying the needs of the individuals trough the way in which it is organized.

***EDIT: just wanted to express how funny I find the national outrage the ad campaign of an all-female Chicago law firm has sparked. The billboard features a well-endowed woman in lingerie and a naked, muscular man (both, of course, headless–Mulvey would love it) and the slogan: “Life’s short. Get a divorce!” Here an example of the conservative, religious right’s response, who apprently feel this is truly worth debating. Here a blog that features the ad.***

Day 86: I love Trees!

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Yes, thinking about Brecht and trees made me realize how much I like trees and how much I miss the forest I practically grew up in (during playtime, I mean, not because we are tree-dwelling people). Sadly, it does seem like the tree of wisdom has been turned into four IKEA bunk-beds of the Gutvik line (apparently happened sometime in 2000).

But thinking of the tree of wisdom also made me think about the Bodhi Tree, the Bodhisattva, or Chenrezig, of whom the Dalai Lama is supposed to be the current manifestation. The Dalai Lama is currently in Chicago and has already given a talk to a sold-out crowd this morning. He will be giving a talk to the masses in Millenium Park (Pritzker Auditorium) later today (from 1 to 4 I believe). Even though there are tickets available for auditorium seats I will be happy to just listen to him sitting on the grass for free (next to a tree, maybe). This also made me think of Kim Stanley Robinson’s latest trilogy again, which as a strong affinity with Tibetan Buddhism. One recurring assertion in these novels is that an excess of reason is also to be considered a form of insanity, which, at least in my Western frame of reference, seems to make more sense to me as a description for Fordist capitalism. But, hey, who am I to question a Lama (not the animal–I do like llamas a lot, though–they tend to have this facial expression of perpetual wonderment mixed with defiance [kinda like Billy Idol]–very sympathetic [in an animal, that is]). So my plan for today: write some more and then go listen to the Dalai Lama and maybe try to ask him what he thinks about my dissertation (I am still lacking a fifth member of my dissertation committee and cannot really decide who to select).

‘Dick Cheney for the Day’: well, you know that one by now.

‘Marcuse for the Day’ (an important assertion regarding the logic of dialectical materialism):

There can be no such thing as a total abolition of alienation. Dialectical materialism recognizes the inexorable struggle of man with nature confronting the human subject and limiting its freedom no matter in what form of society. It is not the question of abolishing alienation altogether but abolishing what I might call surplus alienation, namely the alienation exacted by the existing society in the interest of maintaining and enlarging the status quo.

Day 85: Utopian Trees and Counterrevolution

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Let’s see. Not a whole lot happened since my last post. I went to the university (haven’t been there a lot lately–being on leave will do that to you) and attended the end-of-the-year-banquet. I usually try to avoid stuff like that, but I won some things and had to be there. It does give you a nice feeling of community, which you usually do not get at this point in the profession (instead of associating your job with other people you exclusively associate it with your computer and lots of books). However, I felt kinda bad when the department honored a retiring professor, praising him in the most grandiose of ways–and I had not idea who he was. Never heard of the guy. Unsuccessfully, I tried to look around the room during the laudatio to see if some old guy was happily smiling. Finally, when he walked up to the podium I got a glimpse of him and realized that I might have seen him in the elevator once or twice. So much for that uplifting feeling of community. Eh, screw it. The department gave me a really crappy office this year, so they should not be surprised that I was never there and consequently ended up not getting to know a famous member of our department, who, without a doubt, was quite shaken when he realized that I did not know him. He did not look at me, but I could feel that he felt that I felt bad for not knowing him. So, this means that for anyone from our department who might be reading this: if you would like to avoid another tragic incident such as this one, you should do anthing you can to give me a better office for the coming year.

Ok, I admittedly exaggerated above–but at least give me a window!

Well, that was pretty much it. Well: there were two fires in the loop two blocks down from where I live. Nothing dramatic, though. Made me consider opening barbecue season this weekend. Bought some sausages. Oh, and Paris is going to jail. Cannot remember when I have last seen every news reporter announce someone going to jail with a self-righteous smirk on their faces. Everybody loves to attack her right now, but when she marries some pseudo-rapper, goes nuts and gets a Yul Brynner-memorial haircut everybody will blame those people that always attacked the poor little girl and made her life hell. Yes–shame on you, future you who is the past me!

Today’s ‘Dick Cheney for the Day’: see yesterday.

Today’s ‘Marcuse for the Day'(written in 1972, but quite nice in the present context as well):

Bertolt Brecht noted that we live at a time where it seems a crime to talk about a tree. Since then, things have become much worse. Today, it seems a crime to talk about change while one’s society is transformed into an institution of violence, terminating in Asia the genocide which began with the liquidation of the American Indians. Is it not the sheer power of this brutality immune against the spoken and written word which indicts it? And is not the word which is directed against the practitioners of this power the same they use to defend their power? There is a level on which even the unintelligent action against them seems justified. For action smashes, though only for a moment, the closed universe of suppression. Escalation is built into the system and accelerates the counterrevolution unless it is stopped in time.

***EDIT: got a new template. I like the black and red thing. Good political solution to the problems posed by free-market capitalism.

God is Change.

***

Day 84: The MLG ICS 2007

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Yesterday, we finished putting together what might be the final version of the program for this year’s MLG Institute on Culture and Society to be held at the University of Illinois at Chicago from June 20-24, 2007. It looks like it will be a truly swell time this year and if you find yourself in the Chicago area at that time, feel free to stop by, learn, contribute, discuss, etc. Here, in no particular order, a selection of (keynote) speakers that may persuade people to attend the institute and/or join our fine organization (the Marxist Literary Group–we are an MLA affiliate–the MLG has a long tradition of bringing together excellent scholars and producing and disseminating cutting-edge theoretical and critical work–and reputedly has the most popular cash bar at the annual MLA convention):

Ato Quayson, Neil Larsen, Jeffrey Williams, Walter Benn Michaels, Susan Willis, Fredric Jameson, Paul Smith, Peter Hitchcock and many more (including also skunk and yours truly as minor players in the game–not even rookies, really–in fact I am still hoping to be drafted this fall).

Regarding the draft: we just had a departmental meeting for those of us that are going on the job market this fall–and it scared the crap out of me. It is not just the sheer number of different tasks that have to be accomplished between now and, well, next March/April, but also what we were informed will be the psychologically devastating pressure of throwing yourself on the market, requiring us to apparently see this as humorous experience if we want to remain sane and refrain from killing ourselves. At this point, however, I still do not quite see the humor in the potential to have worked my ass off for years, sacrificed and kind of social life I might have had, bleached my skin down to uncooked turkey level by never leaving my desk apart from the occasional teaching activity…and ending up with no job, or a crappy adjunct position! I guess you have to be tenured to find that funny. So I will just force myself to take baby steps and concentrate on the little things that have to get done in the near future in order not to drive myself completely insane. This means that prior to September (when the job list comes out), or early October (when you begin to send out applications) I will have to put together hundreds of pages of shite, including things like a “statement of teaching philosophy” (which at this point only reads “I do not like my students to be capitalist dumbasses without critical thinking skills and the desire the look beyond the dominant ideology”–but I might revise that). Apart from all this paperwork that includes more weird stuff than I expected (and I expected a LOT of weird stuff) I will have to finish my dissertation (still a tremendous amount of work to do there), prepare two writing samples, ideally write some stuff for publication on the side, prepare my classes for the fall, give a mock job-talk, work on and market an edited collection of essays I am trying to get published with a friend/colleague, go to the Library of Congress for a month to do the archival research I need to complete before June 30, present at two conferences, move to a new place and deal with the fact that I will be turning fucking 30 in the beginning of the fall. I could so easily freak out right now. Doesn’t really seem like I will be able to quit smoking this summer. But whenever a meeting makes me feel this way I just loudly listen to the Aerzte’s “Hip Hip Hurra!” and everything is fine again (well, not really, but at least I can smile again and make myself focus on the next baby step I need to take). Today’s baby step is to finally finish that freakin’ chapter that has been hanging over my head. It is just too long and I have serious problems cutting stuff. But I will finish that today and then begin polishing the next chapter, which should be done by May 15 (since I have another writing deadline for June 1). So: baby step number one: I will need to get back to exploring in depth what it means for the philosophy of history when we compare getting eaten by a prehistorical animal 500.00 years ago to getting eaten by a dinosaur in 1993. I have a quite interesting argument about that, which I will waterproof now.

Today’s ‘Dick Cheney for the Day’

Fuck you!

Today’s ‘Marcuse for the Day’:

The fetishism of the commodity world, which seems to become denser every day, can be destroyed only by men and women who have torn aside the technological and ideological veil which conceals what is going on, which covers the insane rationality of the whole–men and women who have become free to develop their own needs, to build, in solidarity, their own world. The end of reification is the beginning of the individual: the new Subject of radical reconstruction.

P.S.: regarding the representative accuracy of the above picture: when I freak out in front of my writing I am usually wearing two ties.