Blog Re-Launch Extravaganza (or something…)

I am currently considering re-launching this blog. I am, however, not yet sure whether or not I should change its content, layout, aim, …

The simple reason for returning to blogging is: I have time again. The last few months were crazy and only now are things beginning to calm down at least somewhat (well, maybe in 2 weeks I can really say that and actually mean it). I finished my Ph.D., I got a job, I moved to Canada (I drove a truck up here from Chicago–took me all of three days, 1750 miles and did things to my body that scared me a little bit), I live in a house in the woods, I go swimming in the ocean in the evenings, I read and write a lot and I just agreed to function as committee director for a student who wants to write her thesis on the Beats.

So, I will probably be unable to post daily, but I am hell-bent on getting back to this. Hope you’re all well. I’ll talk to you all soon.

Day 420: The Universal

A while ago I promised to return to writing about issues of critical theory. Yet, I have barely done so. In fact, I have barely blogged as of late. I am not sure why. There is a lot of stuff going on, but most of it is too mundane to bore people with. I am trying to find an apartment in Canada (I am moving at the end of June), I’m in the process of scheduling a date for my defense, I’m making final revisions to my dissertation (mostly unnecessary, yet I can’t just let it lie around), I am copyediting the proofs of a book chapters that will come out soon (I may send links, but then again that may conflict with me trying to keep this blog largely anonymous), I am writing on form, utopia, totality and universals, and I put together several conference panels. So, lots of stuff to do but this stuff is largely not very interesting.

Therefore, here the beginning of a return to issues of critical theory. A beginning inquiry into the nature of the universal:

Thought is the proper medium of the universal. This means that nothing exists as universal if it takes the form of the object or of objective legality. The universal is essentially ‘anobjective.’  It can be experienced only through the production (or reproduction) of a trajectory of thought, and this trajectory constitutes (or reconstitutes) a subjective disposition.

Subjection, in other words, is contingent upon the fact that the particular can only be thought (and represented) in reference to the universal. Subjection is, therefore, fundamentally connected to Marxist accounts of subjectivity (and ideology) that make reference to the necessity of ‘totalizing’ in ways that are always already dialectical (and not noumenal). Now, what does that tell us about the distinction between the terms ‘universal’ and ‘totality’? As we find it, the distinction between both terms in critical theory is often qualitative or even merely rhetorical. There is, however, a logical distinction that, I suspect, has something to do with the above. Thoughts?

Day 400: Thank You

As the process of writing my dissertation nears its end, it may be time to begin thanking those persons and institutions who made the whole process possible, bearable and occasionally even fun. Today, I would like to thank Chicago’s fantastic indie coffee houses. You have given me much joy, necessary caffeine, free wi-fi and a psychologically healthy work atmosphere for a long time now. You indiscriminately house the masses of poor graduate students and allow them to be “social” (i.e. fight isolation by having a common workspace), provide them with a living room (since most of us live in studio apartments) and in certain cases even feed us for free by giving away day-olds at closing time (at which point it is VERY clear that only grad students are left in the building). So, my thanks today go out to: Intelligentsia (on Broadway–used to be indie at least, still kinda is, but definitely has the best coffee), Dollop (a fantastic place with good coffee, good people and a great atmosphere for studying), Pick Me Up (not as great if you’re in it for the long haul in terms of studying, but good and cheap food), The Fixx, Filter (at least back in the day when you could still smoke there) and, of course, my current home Noble Tree (which is where I am writing this post while enjoying a large glass of Metropolis dark roast–aaahh…). In fact, here is a short segment on Noble Tree Coffee & Tea that was recently featured on Metromix TV (you can see me working a few times and my friend Eugene was even talked into commenting on their coffee/food). You can also see the video on Noble Tree’s chronology site: http://nobletree.tumblr.com/

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 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.

Day 357: New Computer

Last week, I forget when, but I think it was Wednesday or Thursday night, my notebook crashed. I tried to fix as much as I could with my limited knowledge of computers (erase potentially bad drivers to fix the blue screen crashes, run a system restore, etc. ) but to no avail. I took it to a computer repair place down the street the next day and they promised me to fix it within 24 hours. Oh, that means I must have taken it in Thursday, since I needed it back by Friday (I was supposed to give a practice job talk for my committee at 2 p.m. on Friday). Of course, it turned out that the problem could not be fixed (which meant that my job talk had to do without the pictures and videos I had intended to include). Ultimate diagnosis of the status of my notebook: completely fried! Apparently, it overheated and literally fried my entire harddrive. Hence, for the last few days I have been running around sans computer and have to say that I have not felt this helpless and unproductive in years (no internet and not even a word processor that would allow me write and correct my job talk/handout). The technological overkill has brought us a terrible beauty, indeed.

Long story short: I had to buy a new computer (I bought a really basic notebook for now and hope to be able to buy a nicer Mac once I have more money in my account–should that ever happen). Positive effect: I finally have an English operating system and version of office (which means that I, too, can from now on outsource much of the spell-checking process to regions outside of my brain). Negatives: I have to get used to a qwerty keyboard, which is not a big deal, and I am still hoping that my files from my old computer can be recovered somehow, which IS a big deal (I did not back up my music and pictures–big mistake). Luckily, the nice people at the shop were able to rescue most of my dissertation (which, of course, I had backed up 300 times anyway).

All in all, I am happy to be able to write again (even though Word 2007 still weirds me out a little).

Day 333: The Last MLA Post for the Next Ten Months

Even in times of postmodernism, it seems as though irony will not have to fear for its life as long as the MLA continues to host its annual convention.

I just got this link from a friend–it’s an alternative MLA site that lampoons, impressively accurately, this year’s program, MLA behavior and even, also quite accurately, the floor plan of one of the headquarter hotels. I also love the alternative Chicago poster–this would have been a lot more fun, had they adopted it as the official convention poster. Go Chicago! here the link:

http://www.mlade.org/

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 326: Back Again and Almost Sober

Yes, I have re-emerged from the swamp of self-pity and alcohol abuse I was caught in for about a month (which climaxed spectacularly over the course of Christmas, which I exclusively spent with myself, the movie theater, bars, beer, shots, and, for good measure, the occasional Irish car bomb) and have entered the (ironically quite Bruce Willis-ean “with a vengeance”) “fuck it, I’ll keep working my ass off and show you what you passed up” stage. The last I have to say about what transpired in the last two to three months is this: you thought 2 girls 1 cup was disturbing and emotionally scarring? Try 400 Ph.D.s 1 job! You can catch it annually at the MLA convention.

As far as blogging is concerned, this site will from now on return to its roots and accompany me in the next three to four months as I finish revising/writing the last two chapters of my dissertation (we are at the moment looking at 8 chapters, excluding intro and conclusion, of which about 6 1/2 exist in more or less completed stages). Concretely, this means that I will not be posting about whiny job market and personal life shite any more (part of the elaborate process of repression I have developed in order to replace perpetual inebriation–for practical reasons: it’s a lot cheaper) and will instead return to posts on (critical) theory and contemporary issues in literary/cultural studies.

hope everyone’s well out there and had a good start into the new year–cheers,

 cj

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.