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 359: Mad Crocs and Other Forms of Advertising–Crikey!

If you’re like me and drink a lot of coffee to stay awake, you may also run into the occasional upset/cramping stomach. In order to fight this, I have been increasingly turning toward energy drinks as a substitute for late-night coffee–works just as well for keeping up energy and alertness during all-nighters, yet spares you the stomachache (mostly, at least). Also, they are available as low-calorie versions, which is not a bad idea in the face of a general absence of physical exercise. One problems remains, however: these energy drinks tend to taste like moldy ass. In order to spare you some major disappointments, I will therefore provide you with the top five list of energy drinks that pack a nice punch, while still being not too brutal in taste (even though, I must confess, the ass-like taste of some drinks definitely does its part in keeping you awake). Hence, here the results of my totally non-Kantian, yet more than semi-disinterested taste test:

1. Red Bull Sugar Free (the classic, decent taste, nostalgically reminiscent of gummy bears, does its job)

2. Mad Croc Low Cal (more B-vitamins, yet too Guarana-y in taste–overall, not bad)

3. Radioactive No Carb (insane amounts of B-vitamins–5000% of B12–, caffeine and Taurine, also comes with Ginseng, Gingko, L-Carnitine…really does the trick, yet tastes like ass–reason for rating it number 3: it glows in the dark–and I am not even kidding–taste has many faces–and, before you write comments about the sense or nonsense of filling my body with chemicals, let me quickly go Kantian again and remind you that only a disinterested view will prevent the “degustibus non est disputandum” logic–but if you claim to have that kind of view and base your argument on it I will, of course, mock you for being a Rawlsean liberal by showing you the original position of one of my fingers–nicely, of course–just thought I should preventively mention this)

4. Monster Lo-Carb (decent taste, nice variety of vitamins etc. yet overall doses are too low–you’ll have to drink too much of it–which is probably why it comes in large cans)

5. Full-Throttle Low Carb (also decent taste and a variety of ingredients, yet it does not really have the effect it is supposed to have–closer to a sports drink with a little energy blend)

And now for the other part of this advertising post:

please help out some over-caffeintated academics by visiting the following, super-duper-fantastic websites: (the course blog of a class on multiethnic US literature is waiting for your comments) (the journal of the Marxist Literary Group–great new articles!)

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 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 153: Will it Blend? (and centipedes!)

Courtesy of Albert Hammond, purveyor-of-all-things-strange extraordinaire, comes this clip. “Will it Blend?” is one of the most successful viral marketing campaigns in recent years, using youtube to promote the new Blendtec blender. In the clips (and there are LOTS of them) Tom Dickson, founder of Blendtec, attempts to demonstrate the quality of his blender by, well, blending all kinds of shit. Among the most famous of his blending extravaganzas are: lightbulbs, glowsticks, marbles, cell-phones, a video camera, a now famous blending creation called “cochicken” (a can of soda and a rotisserie chicken), a broomstick, etc. The video you see below is the one Albert sent me and I do like it quite a bit: the i-Phone. This campaign has become so successful that “Will it Blend?” is now a searchable meme and apparently it is possible to buy merchandise, such as shirts that feature the slogan “Tom Dickson is my homeboy.” Furthermore, Blendtec also welcomes suggstions for blending performances. The two suggestions that are the most eagerly awaited but have as of yet not been attempted are the blending of a crowbar and the blending of another Blendtec blender. What a beautiful example of American craftsmanship and participatory democracy within consumer capitalism. The only question left for me to ask is: will it blend Al-Qaeda? Please all rise for the anthem.

And if you cannot get enough of the blending, here are all present blending experiments on youtube:

***EDIT: I feel as though I have been working within the confines of contemporary capitalist marketing strategies (the viral kind) too much, so I find it high time for a little hard-hitting Marxist cultural critique. For this purpose, I give you Monty Python’s “Communist Quiz.” I could not find it by itself, so here it is surrounded by a few other sketches I find quite amusing as well (to go straight to the quiz begin at about 5:30, or so).

***EDIT 2: today I found a centipede for the third day in a row in my apartment. Not only are they incredibly ugly and doubtlessly very dangerous (well, they are not really dangerous but I did reveal my arachnophobia and general fear of all things with more than four legs a couple of days ago, so this exaggeration should not come as a surprise), but they are incredibly fast and also act unnecessarily silly. I am ridiculously scared of them and don’t really know what to do except from killing them with my Norton Shakespeare (after having screamed into a pillow for about a half hour in order to work up the necessary courage)–at the same time I feel bad for them (they are animals, after all and despite their tendency to act unnecessarily silly they may not really deserve to die–unlike many politicians who, precisely due to the fact that they often act unnecessarily silly, do at least warrant an in-depth argument regarding whether or not they should be clubbed to death with a large anthology). Consequently, I am trying to find out if there is something like a centipede-repellent (a large rodent I could keep, maybe–a possum would be ideal, as the horizontal storage space in my apartment is limited but I am still able to expand vertically and could thus hang a possum from a small rack on the ceiling)? Maybe someone can help me with this. If not, I will just chalk it up the the joys of living in a crappy, tiny studio where the grad student of today can try to write the great literary critical work of tomorrow in the comfort of yesterday.

Day 137: MLG ICS 2008

Adding to yesterday’s “MLG 2007 Wrap-Up” post, today some things I forgot to mention, including info on next year’s institute coming from Sunday’s business meeting.

Following the success of this year’s institute the MLG ICS 2008 will be longer again. We might not get back to the initial lenght of the institute, which usually was somewhere between 4 and 6 weeks (someone rightly noted: ” I have no idea how anyone survived that”) but next year’s institute will be a seven-day extravaganza. The location has not yet been decided upon but the choice at this point is between UW in Milwaukee, MIT  in Boston and Chicago (not again here at the University of Illinois at Chicago but at Columbia). There has also been talk of bringing it back to the west coast in the next few years. People have also been discussing the idea of increasingly internationalizing the institute (we did have people from Romania, Italy, Canada, Japan and Germany this year), so foreign readers might want to look into this. The topic of next year’s institute will be “anti-globalization.”

One of the things I love about the institute is the increased potentiality of very simple statemets leading to highly theoretical discussions, revealing the in fact highly complex nature of an initially seemingly simple statement. My favorite quote regarding this came from Neil Larsen (in the context of the reading group on Saturday, I believe): “Capitalists are people, too. But they own stuff.”

My overall favorite quote came from Fredric Jameson. At the MLG barbecue (a longstanding tradition), which was held at the house of one my my dissertation directors, Jameson was overheard engaging in an intimate conversation with my dissertation director’s dog Rufus. I did not hear this myself but someone walked by this exchange that happened away from people and saw Jameson take Rufus’ head in his hands and heard him say: ” Hello puppy. Do you have rights? Foucault says you have rights.” I am not sure what Rufus’ response was but this is certainly one of my favorite MLG ICS 2007 mental images.

Day 136: MLG ICS 2007 Wrap-Up

The institute is over. However, much like reaching the object of your desire constitutes the disappearance of jouissance according to Lacan, the much fetishized end of sleeplessness, of dealing with annoying bureaucracy and of generally constantly worrying about doing a decent job organizing this conference ultimately reveals itself as lacking the previously imagined enjoyment. I am still completely exhausted but I woke up this morning and was bored. I do have a whole lot of stuff to do (I have to write and send in the encyclopedia entry today and then get back to articles and dissertation) but the sudden end to hyper-stress is somewhat of a let-down.

In part this may also be due to the fact that this year’s institute was fantastic and simply a great time I will remember fondly for a long time to come. Yes, as organizers we had to deal with a lot of annoying shit but that is always the case. The good thing about all this was that, as far as we know, it did not interfere with people’s fun. Generally speaking, it seemed as though people had a good time and in the end that is really all that matters (and already yesterday afternoon most of the annoying shit began to transform itself into hilarious anecdotes).

As far as the actual conference goes, the presentations were generally very interesting and the level of intellectual production was enjoyably high (with only very few exceptions that shall remained unnamed). Similarly, the Capital reading group was VERY productive and it was good to see so many people participate in it. The highlight of the conference was doubtlessly (as expected) Fredric Jameson’s seminar on the dialectic during which I was frequently distracted by thoughts such as: “I cannot believe I am sitting right next to Jameson while he is discussing the dialectic with us.” The talk he gave was essentially a quick run-through of his newest book Valences of the Dialectic, which, according to Jameson, might be out relatively soon. He said he will give the final draft to the publisher by this fall and the release should happen not too long after that. On a personal note regarding Jameson: he came up to me after my talk while I was smoking outside, told me that he liked my paper/project and gave me some additional ideas/references–my reaction was basically to smile, nod, say “thank you so much” about 12 times and try not to pee my pants with excitement (which might not have shown, since Intelligentsia gave us a leaky coffee container in the morning and so my pants had already been stained with roughly a quart of coffee since 7:30 am–but peeing one’s pants while talking to Jameson is probably still not a good idea)–in a way my reaction was very similar to my interaction with the tribunal I had to face in order to get the German government to allow me to substitute a 13-month alternative service for the mandatory 10-month military service–well, my reaction was similar but I have to say the talk with Jameson was ultimately a lot more enjoyable (and incomparably more meaningful to me).

I will now get back to writing and will probably pass out early tonight–I am still not quite caught up on sleep. I am sure I will think of more interesting info regarding to conference and may post this at a later point but I just wanted to write something in between today’s writing project since I didn’t get the chance to post for the duration of the MLG.