Day 399: I Need To Vent

Not a lot. Just a little bit. About academia. Nothing dramatic happened. I was just a little upset by a number of talks I recently attended (well, upset may even be too strong–disappointed, rather).

I went to see a Franco Moretti lecture (on the history of the novel). Verdict: terrible! Bad, bad old-school literary scholarship and that from a person whose work I have admired for years (to be fair, I never considered him to be a cutting-edge theorists with truly radically innovative ideas–aside from the whole graphs and maps thing, which I will not discuss here, since there is a whole set of problems with this approach–yet, Moretti was still always my go-to guy for the good kind of historicism–I assume I don’t have to mention names in regards to the bad kind of historicism) .

Then I attended a Richard Godden colloquium (another person whose work I’ve admired for a long time and who has produced absolutely brilliant books in the past) in which we discussed with him some of his recent writings. Verdict: terrible+terrible! He was underprepared, the articles were full of theoretical errors (both in regards to Marx and Freud/Lacan) and the arguments presented were underwhelming at best. Upside here: he was at least a good sport about us questioning his work and engaged in a good discussion.

Immediately after the Godden colloquium, I rushed over to an event with Slavoj Zizek. At that point I was rather unmotivated, since Godden had disappointed too much and since Zizek, while often entertaining, had essentially been doing the same thing the last few times I saw him (i.e. semi-educated audience pleasing, “you’d think this is a true logical relationship, but it surprisingly turns out the opposite/reverse is how it works,” softcore Hegelian analysis with Lacanian fireworks for critical theory groupies). Surprisingly, however, Zizek delivered a long talk (almost 2 hours) that actually tried to engage rigorously with the problem of ethics (especially with Levinas) and, even more suprisingly, produced some actual cultural analysis (sadly, I think it is safe to assume that the only thing the autograph hunters that crowded the room remembered about this talk was Zizek’s reading of Rammstein lyrics and performances). “Cultural analysis? Duh!” some may say, “that’s what he does.” No, I would respond here. That is not what he generally does at all. Using culture to make a theoretical point is very different from using theory to make a point about culture and it precisely the latter Zizek did for once in this lecture.

Overall verdict of recent talks: a 33.3% success ratio is less than satisfying. So, all you critical theorists and cultural/literary critics who get paid a shitload of cash for your talks: step it up and deliver some effort and rigorous thought! This ain’t fucking Broadway!


Ha ha! Wouldn’t you know it: the only segment of the talk somebody filmed and put on youtube is the Rammstein part (and that was a very weak example in support of his argument–soft-serve Zizek, if you will). Here the segment nevertheless:


Day 383: Almost

But still not yet. We’re still in the Blochian phase of things. I am still holding my breath. However, the Blochian phase is really not so bad. After all, forward dawning is not just the location of utopia but also the birthplace of desire and enjoyment (or so I’m told by people who evidently are not as chronically impatient as I am–but I can see what they mean–it also explains the link between pleasure and pain when considered from the perspective of the paradox of desire). Less cryptically: the contract is in the mail. It will get here by the end of next week. Only then, once my signature is actually on the paper, will I allow myself to celebrate, and only then will I reveal what has happened/is happening/will be happening. Should the contract get here before next weekend and should all go well and should I have signed it by next weekend, all of Chicago’s north side better put on a helmet, because this boy has a lot of celebrating in him that needs to get out (for a detailed discussion of why this is necessary see Bataille’s discussion of the concept of squandering excess for an economic system in The Accursed Share, Vol.1) . But until then the official part line remains: no congratulating and no celebrating yet. I’ll keep you posted.

Day 285: Shock Video Craze

Dear all, I dearly wish my return from a brief blogging hiatus could take place under less traumatic circumstances. As I always do, I got up this morning, made some coffee, sat down in front of my computer, and checked my e-mail. One of my friends sent me a link to a website featuring a video he urged me to see. I did. I died a little inside. My day is ruined and my breakfast is standing beside me unfinished. What a cruel start into what could have been an enjoyable and productive weekend. As it is, I will spend it not writing and running but most likely under the covers in the fetal position, silently weeping.

Reason: there is apparently a new global craze revolving around internet shock sites people are forced to watch while their reactions are being filmed and subsequently posted on youtube. The site that kicked off this new trend…well, you know what: I will not provide the link here. Instead, I will provide the link to a collection of reactions to the video people posted on youtube. If you really want to see the video, you can surely figure out the web address on your own. But let me warn you: even though I am trying to look at this from a safe critical distance and actually find the video interesting (as well as the reactions) from a purely psychanalytic standpoint, it is hard not to be “slightly” taken aback. Have you seen Pasolini’s Salo lately? No? Well, then look up the site for a quick recap. Let me know how it went.

Here some reactions–enjoy:

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 234: Freud on Yo Mama

Well, Freud on your mother in law, to be precise (which is still a pretty funny sentence within a Freudian framework). Reading Freud’s early writings is good fun in two regards: 1) his insights are based upon relatively simplistic anthropological and ethnographic observations (which makes me wonder why they are not more popular with Sociologists–after all, their work could be described in the same way with an added fetish for empiricism) and 2) these observations are of the weirder kind, as they must necessarily form the basis for Freud’s psychoanalytic apparatus that is, after all, more interested in rare or even obscure psychological occurences/crises and their relation to the function of the norm. In any case, this all works very well for the purpose of gently introducing undergraduates to Freud as a funny, readable guy before throwing them into the really complex and challenging stuff.

Case in point: Freud on mothers in law, taken from Totem and Taboo:

 … on the Banks Island these prohibitions are very severe: a man will not even walk behind his mother in law along the beach until the rising tide has washed away her footsteps. But they may talk to each other at a certain distance. It is quite out of the question that he should ever pronounce the name of his mother in law, or she his. … On the Solomon Islands, beginning with his marriage, a man must neither see nor speak with his mother in law. If he meets her he acts as if he did not know her and runs away as fast as he can in order to hide himself. … Among the Zulu Kaffirs custom demands that a man should be ashamed of his mother in law and that he should do everything to avoid her company. He does not enter a hut in which she is, and when they meet he or she goes aside, she perhaps hiding in a bush while he holds his shield before his face. If they cannot avoid each other and the woman has nothing with which to cover herself, she at least binds a bunch of grass around her head in order to satisfy the ceremonial requirements.

The significance of all this is: if repression forms the basis not only for consciousness and socialization but for the very arrangement we refer to as civilization and if the prohibition of incest (also in non-blood, more customary/social forms, as illustrated here) is fundamental to the repressive creation of consciousness, then smiting your mother in law is actually an exercise in preserving the very foundations upon which modern civilization rests. Good to know, no? (Well, this is not really what Freud claims, yet I believe it is important to point out these logical connections.)

In other news: the job market is robbing me of my last nerve and my dissertation keeps getting longer. It may, in fact, at this point have evolved into a Foucauldian discourse, which, as I attempt to repress and limit it via categorization, escapes this form of exercised power and grows precisely BECAUSE of this exponentially. Imagine my consternation upon realizing that my Marxist baby grew up to be a Foucauldian. Problems with fathering everywhere!

Day 225: Glimpses of the Real

I had a relatively productive weekend. I got a lot of studying done, made revision outlines for my job material and read the latest volume of Ex Machina (not bad but no Y). I took a break last night to drink some beer and watch the Bears lose (in retrospect not the kind of relaxation I had hoped for). My only problem this weekend surrounds a question of (political) subjectivity in a situation of the presence of a total discourse of the Other that cancels out (logically) any discourse of the Other (which is supposed to be good). Yet, this creates serious problems for the project of thinking political subjectivity itself and tends to represent to me a kink in the symbolic that may give us a (terrifying and paralyzing) glimpse of the real. The logical problem is much like this well-known kink in the symbolic, so riddle me this:

Consider, the dilemma of someone trying to create a catalogue which includes only those catalogues which make NO mention of themselves within their own covers (in other words, a catalogue would be selected only if it did NOT include its own title in the list it provides of other catalogues). Should that person include the title of the catalogue he or she is making in the latter’s list? If he or she does not decide to include it, then it too will be a catalogue which does not contain itself as an entry and which therefore should be included. If, on the other hand, he or she decides to include it, then it will be a catalogue which DOES include itself as an entry and which therefore should not be included. What is the catalogue maker to do?