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 341: Multiethnic Literature

This semester I am experimenting a bit with alternative teaching and writing formats in my course on Multiethnic Literatures of the U.S. I have created a course blog that will be (at some point–hopefully) pretty much completely student-run. Students are signed up as contributors/authors and will post short responses, as well as longer critical essays on novels. The point of the blog is to ensure that students don’t simply write each paper in one long all-nighter every four weeks. Instead, I want them to be responsible for taking care of and respond to outside comments on their writings (and to each others’ posts). This will hopefully get them into a regular writing routine, which, so I hope, will result in more carefully framed research questions and more complicated critical arguments.

I therefore invite all of you to visit this blog and participate in the discussions, since even very brief comments, ideas and, criticism will help them think through problems more critically. To that end, this blog will not only focus on literary and cultural issues, but also invites students and outside readers to discuss the social and political problems that are mediated by cultural production. The general topic of my course this semester is “race, diversity, neoliberalism.”

You can visit the blog here:

Check back often for constantly updated student writing (the first batch of papers will be posted next Thursday)–we all greatly appreciate your feedback. Also, feel free to spread the word about this, send the url to people you know, or maybe even advertise the blidget (the blog is also available as a blog widget for your own blog, facebook, etc.)–this would help us a lot and hopefully ensure that we get some outside comments. Thanks–cj

Day 336: Some Kind of Monster

This weekend I had a LOONG discussion with a friend regarding monsters (we were both supposed to read/write at Intelligentsia…). Since we could not really come up with a lot of answers, here my attempt to take the debate to the streets:

1. If we assume that each specific stage of capitalism creates its own monster in cultural production (e.g. Industrial Revolution –>Frankenstein), what is the monster that corresponds to contemporary capitalism? (pre-emptory note: zombies do not count, since they do not qualify as monsters per se, since monsters must be freaks that stand OPPOSED to a norm, while zombies often are a way to represent this very norm itself in a freakish way).

2. What stage of capitalism does the alien in Ridley Scott’s Alien represent (the first movie–just by means of explanation: EVERY character in the movie is very specifically materially coded–class and otherwise–and the story itself is at heart an allegory for a transformation in international trade–remember what turns out to be the entire logic of the space mission–so how do we read that alien itself)? Bear in mind: this movie was released in 1979 (hence we must be very specific here as far as economic transformations are concerned).

Just wondering if people have any ideas.

Day 275: Another Conference

Last week’s conference went relatively well. The presentations on the panels I organized turned out to be very interesting, the people were nice, and I actually got some valuable feedback on my own presentation. No rest for the wicked, though, as the next conference is coming up this weekend. I will be giving a presentation and moderating a panel on Friday, which means that I should really get my talk together. This, however, is being complicated by two things: 1) I am still sick as a dog (whenever I begin to feel better, I have to pull an all-nighter, or spend a few days with only three or four hours of sleep per night and the flu comes back because my body seems to be too tired to kick it out completely) and 2) I am beginning to wonder if giving a paper on the end of biopolitics (as a valuable/contemporarily suitable hermeneutic principle) was the best choice for a paper at a conference where biopolitics is the dominant analytical paradigm (the Project Biocultures conference). But then again, the organizers felt they should include my paper, so I guess I should not worry about this too much. Upside: it is rather unlikely that no one will want to ask questions/have comments after the talk.

Other than that there is really not much new to report that does not revolve around my efforts to get rid of my cold (I am taking vitamins, airborne, drink lots of fluids, and even eat fruit (yes, fruit–me!), but I still seem to be unable to get healthy–I have been trying to do things my sports coaches would have advised me to do back in the day, hence I tried to “run it out” by the lake for the last three days, but surprisingly this did not work either–I may try rubbing some dirt on it a little later, usually a coach’s second universal remedy.).

Day 261: Job Talk

This Friday I will be giving my mock job talk. Our department makes us do this to prepare for the real thing. Strangely enough, I am more freaked out by this one than by the real thing. I have no problem talking in front of large crowds and have done so at dozens of conferences. However, there is something unsettling about a room filled with all of your professors, friends and colleagues, who all expect you to do well (especially my diss director will not be happy with anything less than a stellar presentation)–but I guess that’s good and really forces me to work on it. Sad part: I haven’t had time to work on my talk yet (I’ll start immediately after I’ve posted this). I need to get together a 1-hour, ca. 25-30 page talk and I can’t quite decide what I should talk about. This is in part due to the fact that a) it is at this point increasingly difficult for me to tell which parts of my diss people might be interested in and b) whatever part I choose, I will have to cut it substantially and therefore be again confronted with the question which parts are the most interesting ones and which ones I should cut. My dissertation is sadly not  a traditional one, since it is not separated into what you would consider clearly separate chapters. It is more of a large, complex logical argument for a new hermeneutic system for the study of contemporary culture and of postmodernism (which I argue are significantly different), which develops over the progress of the chapters. It is hence difficult to select a section for a talk without summarizing all previous chapters (and I cannot use chapter one, since writing sample and job talk have to be different). Eh, it’ll work out somehow.

Other than that there is not much new stuff to report. I have to get a haircut today (and possibly shave off that big beard I’ve been growing as an index of my hermit existence) and I need to start figuring out what to wear (I will actually have to wear a suit etc.–yuck–well, I got some nice ones earlier this summer).  I hope that I will have made substantial progress on the talk by tonight, so that I’ll be able to leave the house for at least a little while to go see the Boystown Halloween Parade (which will be on Halsted, hence only a block away from my house)–I hear it’s, well, fabulous!

A propos Halloween. I actually decided to leave the house on Saturday night for a Spanish department Halloween costume party. My friends and I decided to get up early, worked away as long as we could, then met at a coffee shop to figure out our costumes. The costume store we went to gave us nothing, really. Just a lot of slutty costumes for girls who decide to fight sexual repression for one day a year and jump on the chance to look like hookers in training and a lot of lame (mostly overly masculine) costumes for men. Even Bakhtin would be sad to see the US-carnivalesque deteriorate into simply a low-budget softcore porno for a nation of otherwise sexually and morally repressed people. In any case, the store did not have what we were looking for and the Spanish Inquisition idea turned out to be too expensive. Hence, we decided to have a pow-wow over the greasiest Chicago beef we’ve had in a long time. Result of brainstorming: we’ll dress up as Sigmund Freud, carry a Slip n’ Slide and hence be a bunch of Freudian slips. We figured that way we would at least win the prize for the lamest, most grad-student-y costume (which everyone else either greets with: “what???” or “Oh, my God” followed by shaking of the head that simultaneously expresses disgust and pity). Actually, the initial plan also included a different costume for our vertically challenged (i.e. short), Italian friend Eugenio, who, we thought, was perfectly suited to dress up as objet petit a. Sadly, he did not share our excitement about this possibility. But, long story short, we dressed up as Freudian slips, which sadly excluded the Slip n’ Slide (turns out, they are quite difficult to find in the fall/winter), which was replaced with actual women’s slips we decided to wear (nice satin/lace combination). Despite the fact that they were very comfortable and we got a lot of support from the people in Boystown (which is where the party was), wearing short, satin-y women’s underwear turned out to be quite cold in all the wrong places, but then that’s probably just one of the many potential problems you’ll face when you dress up as Freud in women’s underwear. (Oh, I just remembered, as the night progressed we also developed a dance that included a burlesque-show component of Freud meets Trotsky–“we will bring your perrrrmanent rrrrevolutionnnn.”–but that is something I should probably not describe in too much detail.)

Ok, back to job talk. Freutsky out.

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 238: In the Country of Last Things…

…is an absolutely fantastic novel. One of Paul Auster’s less well-known works, this little book may just be his best one (as far as I am concerned). Turning away from the all too recognizable obsession with postmodern philosophy bordering on the openly Derridean that characterized the New York Trilogy (which he pulls off admirably in City of Glass, yet slightly less so in the following two novels and which becomes somewhat of a nuisance in later novels such as The Music of Chance), with Last Things Auster has produced a novel that does not quite abandon the project of interrogating postmodern subjectivity, however, it represents it in a refreshingly original light. Plus, this post apocalyptic, quasi-epistolary novel is so beautifully crafted that one is willing to forgive occasional retreats into the poststructurally-inconsequential. Maybe it is the post apocalyptic genre that allows authors to construct images of heartbreaking beauty and anguish while representing our present at the same time in ways that are more poignant and more meticulous than those produced by straight-up realism. I only have very little time to write this, but if you like Paul Auster and if you also liked Octavia Butler’s Parable series, you will certainly fall in love with this remarkable little book (and also find a suprisingly substantial amount of food for political discussion). Just in terms of Auster’s bibliography: this novel follows the New York Trilogy and is succeeded by Moon Palace (it is hence part of Auster’s late-80s oeuvre).

***EDIT: wow, the Chicago Marathon turned into a catastrophe. I went outside at 8 this morning to watch it for an hour and already at that early point in the day felt for the runners, due to the heat. I just heard that they actually stopped the race after one death and more than 350 hospitalized runners (the numbers are still climbing). Here the story posted immediately after the cancellation, which includes several videos of the race and its aftermath (I assume the story will be updated and the numbers corrected):