Tuesday, May 31, 2005
(7:37 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
SloterdijkI took Critique of Cynical Reason with me today, for the train, for a meeting that was cancelled. I did manage to get my Regenstein access back, and I am even in discussions with one of my temp agencies about a potential part-time indefinite gig that would cover my basic living expenses. I have unconsciously made it my goal to have only those living expenses that can be covered by a part-time job.
Anyway, there are many other aspects of today that made it seem somehow appropriate that I was hanging out in Hyde Park for no particular reason -- and that I just happened to pick up the Sloterdijk because none of the stuff I "need" to read felt like good public transit reading. This is a good book. Tomorrow, if there are no objections, I may post a generous chunk of the introduction. Already, it's wonderful, disturbing book -- absolutely true, in a way that will change absolutely nothing. It will allow me to savor the exquisite asceticism of declining to congratulate myself.
UPDATE: But honestly, I am increasingly convinced that things are going to collapse. I got to the party called "America" about a generation too late. The God of Capital, who led us out of England, is punishing us for gutting our manufacturing base by sending out money into exile in China. Pension funds, like those of the State of Illinois, are as good as garbage -- thank God someone had the foresight to use some of that fake money to keep CTA from doubling rates and halving service! T-Bonds, once the securest of all securities, are going to become junk bonds. Europe was Greece to our Rome for a while; now, how pathetic, we're going to be Greece to the Asian Rome (not pathetic that Asia will be Rome, but that we're going to be the old defeated land, good only for adding a veneer of "culture" to the proceedings of Empire). Within my lifetime? Well, why not? And why am I upset? Don't I believe that America is an evil hegemon (a tautology if there ever was one)? Yes, but by Jove -- America is my evil hegemon. All my money was printed by America, for example. I'm not going to try some stupid rearguard action to shore up American power, like invading Iraq to keep the Chinese from getting the oil they need to drive us into the ground, or putting some kind of bumper sticker on my car. It's just hard, you know? You get used to things being a certain way, then by the time you get to the point where you're thinking about the future, you realize that all our stocks of "future" have already been exhausted -- that every possible future outcome has bets attached to it, which every single person is going to lose.
The solution? Or at least the response? I think I know, actually. I think. There is a guidebook for what you do when the whole thing is coming down. But that stuff's scary -- it's easier to just pretend that the people in charge (in this case G. W. F. Bush -- the end of history if ever there was one) will figure out a way to put off the end by another fifty years. That's all I need, really. If they can buy me another fifty years, time enough to save up some money and put myself behind a good sturdy wall, then maybe I can close my eyes and pretend that things will be "this way" forever.
(4:10 PM) | Old - Doug Johnson:
BUYcott: Get yer gas at CitgoA Venezuela update: Why didn't I know this before now? Venezuela owns Citgo. Buy your gas there. It'll piss off Pat Robertson. Find the station nearest you here.
(9:52 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
Tuesday Hatred 3Snob that I am, I added Le Monde to my Bloglines feeds. Some days I'm not in the mood to read all my news in French, and some days I just give up if I come across a word I don't know and can't figure out from context -- after all, breaking out the dictionary for some online article seems like disproportionate effort -- but it's a nice way to give myself a little practice with French each day, as I work my way through the increasingly complicated and intimidating German tongue. The annoyance here is that they have the same bullshit news we do. In fact, I would say that if we were to put a feed of the New York Times "front page" side by side with Le Monde's, we would find that Le Monde has much better and more thorough coverage of the Michael Jackson trial, Paris Hilton's various romantic encounters, the competition between various video game systems, and what this whole "blogging" trend is all about. (I also put Libération on my feeds, but I rarely read the articles from it because it comes after Le Monde in alphabetical order and seems to largely duplicate the content.)
I read Ted Jennings' book on Paul and Derrida in the copy-edited version -- a pile of 500 double-spaced pages, with all the original text that Ted had, then with some of it crossed off or with additions underlined. Detail-oriented freak that I am, I found it quite interesting, particularly in two points: first, when Ted had tried to avoid a split infinitive, they always changed it to create a split infinitive where none previously existed; second, when he tried to avoid ending a sentence with a preposition ("the passage with which we are working"), they always changed it to have the sentence end with a preposition ("the passage we are working with"). This is Stanford University Press, not some fly-by-night organization, so we must assume that the copy-editor was working with a set of defined standards -- and the thing I hate is that after so many years as a grammar and usage fundamentalist, during which I subjected hundreds of undergraduates to my preferences (or is it, "that I subjected hundreds of undergraduates to my preferences during"?), now I'm forced to admit that the standards Stanford is applying are absolutely right. Mentally, I usually mentally translate "correct" structures such as non-split infinitives and ostentatious avoidances of final prepositions into their "incorrect" form, which feels more natural and easier to understand. I will add that it is very annoying to read an entire book in printed-off, double-spaced form.
The Ante-Nicene Fathers volumes are simply impossible to read. They are large volumes, the same dimensions as an encyclopedia, with two columns and incredibly small print. I work at it for an hour and get through ten pages. For example, I have 100 pages left of Irenaeus. Normally I would think, "Oh good -- an afternoon of solid work, and I'll be ready to move on." In this case, however, I can only think, "Oh man -- three more weeks to go."
Now, thankfully, Irenaeus has become actually interesting -- I'm in book 4, the part where he's talking about the Eucharist, and the way he weaves together language of sacrifice and of giving all you have to the poor is really fascinating (the first use of the word "sacrifice" that I've been able to affirm in a long time!) -- but it is still a long road. I'm excited to write out my quasi-lecture notes on Justin and Irenaeus, though. And once I'm done, I'm sure that Clement of Alexandria will be every bit as awesome as everyone has always told me he would be. The pay-off, of course, is Origen, then a long dry spell to get to the Cappadocians. I told Ted that the PhD program should require a class on "Apostolic Fathers through Scotus" (assuming that the Reformers and beyond would take care of themselves in a Protestant seminary), and he said, "But you're the only one who would want to take it."
As an aside to the hatred, I have come up with a tentative list of classes:
Contemporary Hermeneutical Approaches (PhD required course, approximate title)
Nietzsche and Kierkegaard (or vice versa)
Patristics (directed study)
either Frankfurt School or Agamben and Nancy (both directed study)
20th Century Theology (PhD required course, suicidal reading load)
Paul among the Philosophers (Kotsko required course)
Introduction to Phenomenology with Marion at the Div School
Augustine, Niehbur, Malcolm X (tentatively)
The annoyance here, perhaps mentioned before, is that I had it mentally planned out that 20th Century would come along in the final semester of my coursework based on the normal cycle of when the required courses are offered, but they're changing some things and are offering it two years in a row while they figure out what to do with some other course that is apparently not working out like they had hoped. Since 20th Century Theology is a required exam area for everyone in the non-Bible part of the program and since the course is designed to prepare for that exam, it would also be good to have it at the end of my coursework for that reason alone, setting aside the huge workload (which, of course, no one is expected to "actually do" -- just try their best). I suppose that will be another semester where I'm living off loans.
I have to do 14 courses total, so I'll definitely be right on schedule to get done with the coursework in two years. Then a year for exams, and then I've promised myself that I'm not going to be one of those neurotic people who want the dissertation to be the most perfect and astounding work of scholarship ever produced in their field and who therefore take forfuckingever to get done. Two years tops, then if I'm not done, I'm walking away and becoming an insurance salesman, specializing in claims potentially involving "acts of God" (since I need to put my studies to work somehow).
The female cat (henceforth called Slutty Cat) is in heat again. Sociopath Cat doesn't like Slutty Cat much on a normal day, but when she's trying to hit on him, it's a day full of hissing and scratching. Stoner Cat is more than happy to oblige her, but he's neutered, so it doesn't really work. What we need is a nice virile cat whom we can trust to use a Kitty Kondom.
Monday, May 30, 2005
(10:43 PM) | Anthony Paul Smith:
I graduate from college in a week.My room was in the basement of my parent’s house. It was always messy, paper everywhere, clothes scattered on the floor, CD's lying here and there. For some reason here was a bottle of Tabasco sauce sitting on the elaborate headboard of my bed (my parents had given me there old bed, a huge queen size with dark wood and a large mirror). I remember the reason, I had bought it from the local Wal-Mart one Sunday night after church because the local diner my friends and I always went to had some cheap knock off of Tabasco sauce. I liked to eat my ham and feta omelette with real Tabasco, and so had bought this. I wonder where that bottle is now.
My Danelectro guitar had recently been replaced by a Fender Telecaster, which was lying against my amp. I played in a folksy band at the time, somewhat silly really. Just me and a bass player, who was really very good. We said we were going to try and keep the band going, but of course we didn't.
Recently C.S. Lewis and I had gone through a falling out. In his The Weight of Glory he had an article entitled "Why I Am Not A Pacifist" that I found to be very badly reasoned theologically. I certainly wasn't a pacifist of any respectable stature, but I had recently gone through the odd experience of signing up with Selective Service after reading The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien and had decided that I would never fight a war for American interests. C.S. Lewis be damned, no matter how much I had loved him, after that moment I would never again read his non-fiction. Still haven't.
I had only four tattoos of the time. A half-sleeve of a sacred heart, a praying Jesus, a crucified Jesus, and praying hands wrapped around my left arm. I knew I would get more, now I have 24 or so.
I had never heard the names Derrida, Deleuze, Heidegger, Guattari, Foucault. I had heard the name Nietzsche and it always scared me, like I knew it would be my undoing. I was always very worried about losing my faith. How can I explain that and give justice to the experience of this? It was a strange and vague notion that I didn't really believe anything I thought I did. I didn't believe in a God who was mad at me for whatever I was doing sexually, but I also was scared of what would happen if I admitted that I didn't believe in this God. Worried that, at every moment, both those where I had my faith and those where I would lose it, I would also be lying to myself. Could it be any other way?
That was four years ago when I graduated from High School, from what I can remember and can think to share, now I wonder what it would be like to experience that all over again and what lies before us.
(2:27 PM) | Anthony Paul Smith:
Memorial Day: A Refund.
The day may be fast approaching when African Americans will be compensated for the pain and suffering that their ancestors were put through during the time of slavery. If and when this happens I hope that we may begin a new campaign to win a refund for the sacrifice paid to this country in defense of what my ancestors thought was to be a land of freedom. I think it may be fair to say that this country is not quite what my grandfather fought for during WWII, or any number of relatives who came here from Ireland, Germany, and Italy. I would like the United States Government to refund to me, as heir, the price of their sacrifice for freedom so that I may relocate to another country. I figure
(1:25 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
The Ultimate False CognateThe German noun die Jalousie means "Venetian blind."
The French noun la jalousie can mean either "jealousy" or "Venetian blind," and it can also refer to a plant called the "sweet-william." So be careful when translating.
UNRELATED UPDATE: A balance transfer apparently just went through. There's nothing quite so beautiful as a credit card whose balance reads "$0.00."
(9:28 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
Memorial Day QuestionWhen is the last time an American soldier died defending America and thus preserving our freedoms? By my count, it was 1945. But ever since, I don't think many of the wars have had much to do with defending American freedoms at all.
For instance, I'm not sure that a single one of the many, many soldiers who have died in Iraq have died "defending America and preserving our freedoms." Then there was the obvious case of Vietnam -- Americans would have been just as safe from foreign attack and just as "free" had we declined to become involved in that country's revolution. The people who fought for our freedoms in that war generally were not in the military, or else they are people who had served in the military and could not bear the thought of continuing the atrocities they had witnessed.
Insofar as there have been American soldiers who died in defending America from foreign attack and preserving America's independence from foreign conquerers, then of course we should remember and honor them. But too many American soldiers have fought valiantly and died in the service of a cynical foreign policy, sold by means of a cynical manipulation of the fears and genuine patriotism of the American populace, with imperialism rather than mere independence as its goal. We should remember that, too, on this day. We should remember the lives wasted by corrupt leaders of both political parties, who send their pick of our young adults to be killed, maimed, or in any case changed forever, then smear anyone who objects as non-patriotic, as though the surest way to dishonor someone was to wish that they were not in a situation of mortal danger.
We should remember that if "freedom isn't free," then neither is imperialism -- and that far too many of the much-vaunted "sacrifices" people have made in military service have been offered not on the altar of the self-determination of their own country, but on the altar of Empire. The true enemies of freedom are those who lie to the citizens of a proud country in order to give themselves a free hand to extract and exploit its vast resources in order to oppress and destroy other lands. If we're going to have a day for remembering, that is what we should remember.
Sunday, May 29, 2005
(9:42 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
Hey ladiesWear glasses. If your vision is impaired, just wear glasses.
Here are the people who have contributed to or been mentioned on this web site who look better with glasses than otherwise:
- Hayley Smith (wife of Anthony Smith)
- Tara Smith (no relation)
- Tina Fey (posted under the pseudonym "Kamala the Ugandan Giant")
Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.
(1:53 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
What?I really can't figure out what David Brooks is getting at here. My instinct is to say that it sucks, but it does seem to be saying things that are never said in the mainstream media, so that's a virtue, right?
[UPDATE: echidne at Eschaton has an idea. I didn't like the substitute crew a couple summers ago, but this time around, the substitute crew for Atrios is quite excellent -- at least in terms of the kind of blog Atrios is trying to do. They provide the link-rich format, with a little less of the characteristic Atrios laziness. So they should just take this praise from someone who gets 0.01% of the traffic they do and put it in their back pocket.]
More news from the New York Times editorial page: Thomas Friedman thinks we should shut down our little gulag at Guantanamo. What a fucking brave thing to say! Wow! Talk about putting your fucking balls on the line! When they start charging for access to the op-ed page, in short, I will not be among those who pay the fee.
(12:44 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
RereadingDiscussing books one has never read is something of a blog cliché, particularly for this blog. This time, though, I would like to discuss books that one regrets not rereading. For those of us who are "academics," I am particularly interested in works that are not relevant to one's "work," but that one still wants to reread simply because it feels important to understand the work for its own sake. Such regrets seem to be inherent to the academic condition itself -- less than a regret of not having gotten around to something, since we do become efficient text-processing machines over time, we are faced with the regret of not having gotten to linger.
Here are some books that fall into that category for me:
- Thomas Pynchon, Gravity's Rainbow
- The non-religious Žižek works, particularly Tarrying with the Negative
- Agamben, Homo Sacer
- Various works of Edmund Spenser
- The Old Testament
- [ADDED: Piers Plowman
- Sir Gawain]
Friday, May 27, 2005
(8:26 PM) | John Emerson:
You’d normally expect a book of wise sayings, stories and jokes by a Christian bishop from thirteenth-century
A man goes to the dentist to have a tooth pulled. The dentist says it will cost $50. “I won’t pay $50!” says the man. “Tell you what,” says the dentist. “I can’t go below $50, but for the same price I’ll pull an extra tooth.”
Mâr Gregory John Abu Faraj Bar Hebraeus (1226–86) was the head of the Jacobite church in Mongol Persia, and one of the great writers and scholars of the Syriac language (which is very closely related to the Aramaic actually spoken by Christ and his disciples). He was learned in Greek, Arabic, and Persian, and even today has half a dozen books in print in Western translations.
Why does a rooster lift one leg when it crows?
-- Because if it lifted both legs, it would fall down.
The Laughable Stories is actually a mix of wisdom literature and jokes. The Mongols were the first universalists and the first multiculturalists, and Bar Hebraeus (whose family was originally Jewish, as his name indicates) included wisdom from the Zoroastrians, the Hindus and Buddhists, the Jews, the Muslims, and the Christians. He also includes many jokes about morons and lunatics (“demoniacs”).
A man saw a moron eating dates, pits and all. “Why are you doing that?” the man asked. “I can’t afford not to -- I bought them by the pound and I paid for the pits too,” replied the moron.
“A man was caught having sex with a ewe, and the judge ordered them both to be stoned to death. Someone said “I understand that the man must be stoned, but why the ewe? She is a dumb animal, incapable of conscious choice in such matters”. The judge sternly replied, “It is important that justice be strict and unvarying. In such a case I must always order the ewe to be stoned, even though she were my own mother or my own sister.”
Bar Hebraeus’ Chronography, one of the major sources on Mongol Persia, is also multi-cultural, relating the histories of the Hebrews, the Chaldaeans, the Medes, the Persians, the pagan Greeks, the Romans, the Byzantines, the Arabs, and the Mongols (called "Huns"). Another historian in Mongol Persia, Rashid ad-din, also wrote histories of
A lunatic lifted his eyes to Heaven and asked “Was this the work of a wise Being? O Lord, You have created a multitude of men. But behold, You kill half of them with hunger. How much better would it have been if for every hundred souls You had made just one, for then all men could have lived happily and in abundance.”
Bar Hebraus’s Christianity, as befits his Greek studies, seems to have been of an urbane, rational sort. It seems unlikely, however, that the demoniac’s plea above was meant to be taken at face value. Or this one either:
A moron was saying his prayers in church when he heard the priests saying in their prayers that Christ was crucified to redeem Adam’s sin. “That is unjust”, said the moron. “He who committed the sin should have been crucified.”
The Aramaic Bible of the Eastern Christians is called the Peshitta. It is usually thought to have been translated from Greek, though it would seem more plausible that it was the other way around, as is argued here (WARNING: it’s a pdf file, and not only that, the author gives signs of mild looniness). On the other hand, here is a warning against the fundamentalist-millenarian "Hebrew Roots Movement".
The Laughable Stories by Bar Hebraeus, translated from the Syriac by E. A. Wallis Budge, Luzac, 1897.
The Chronography of Gregory Abu Faraj the Son of Aaron, The Hebrew Physician Commonly Known as Bar Hebraeus, tr. E. A. W. Budge, 2 vols. Oxford, 1932.
(A longer version of this is up at my other site.)
(8:14 PM) | John Emerson:
I'm a man of wealth and tasteMost of you have probably already met me in the comments, but anyway.
My name is John Emerson, and my website is Idiocentrism. I was incarnated as the left-liberal polemicist Zizka for a couple of years, but Zizka will soon be terminated. Awhile back Adam offered me posting privileges here, and I was glad to accept. I had intended to post before now but was interrupted by Madame Bovary -- a book which I found gripping, but horrifying from beginning to end.
I'll have a post up in a few minutes. Eastern Christianity (Jacobite, Nestorian, etc.) is one of my interests, though if it ends up boring you, I will probably still be able to find something that doesn't.
(2:10 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
This whole timeI had no idea there was such a huge difference between block ("real") cheese and Processed Cheese Food. There is no going back.
(12:04 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
An Index: What is desired therefromI am working on my index of this book:
My work has prompted reflection on what we want from indices. When I began work last night on the index, Anthony said that it was good for me to make an index, because he trusted me to make the right decisions about what should go in there. He and I both agreed that indices are usually deeply disappointing, and I think I know why. What we want is not a list of all the places where Jennings discusses "grace," but where he refers to Afghanistan, or something like that. In the same way, in an index of a Žižek book, we really don't care about everywhere that he talks about the phallus, but instead where he makes an offhand reference to elevator buttons. The key is that our way of remembering the passages we are looking for is to associate them with the strange and seemingly irrelevant details.
The index feature in the back of The Atlantic Monthly approximates the effect I'm after, in that it seems to be something of a satire of an index -- but I'm contending here that a thoroughgoing satirical index that does the exact opposite of what we normally expect from an index would in fact be the best possible index if the goal of an index is to help one to find passages.
(Another possible post: how it is that the formatting of The Atlantic Monthly seems to have had a much bigger impact on my life than the content; whether this is the case for others. Everyone remembers the cool format of the David Foster Wallace article much better than they remember anything that's actually been written in the magazine in the last four years.)
(7:15 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
Friday Afternoon Confessional
When I was a kid, I was always glad when my mom was working. I got a whole afternoon, open and free. I usually did my chores rather quickly, out of a desire never to be told to do anything, and I always felt as though those two or three hours were a time in which I could really do something. Again. Yes, we keep coming up against this same theme. So when my mom would come home, I would inevitably turn off the TV and act as though something was really happening in the house. As I got older and continued this habit, she came to suspect that I was watching pornography on TV, but she was wrong, because there was no pornography available on basic cable -- I ran a few pretty thorough checks.
The point of this story is that it is basically turning out the same with Anthony and Hayley. When they come home, I try to look busy. Anthony usually comes home around 5, it seems, sometimes earlier, so on those very frequent days when I'm home all day, I often take a computer break from 4:00 to 5:30, because I don't want them to find me at home sitting on the computer. Apparently in my mind, they'll think that whatever I happen to be doing when they get home is what I've been doing all day long. And it's very important that I not be idle, in order to redeem this time during which I'm not working -- even though, after registering with three or four temp agencies, sending my resume off for at least twenty different jobs, and putting my name in for Monster.com, as well as mining every possible "connection" I can think of, it is arguably not simply "my fault" that I am not working on any given day.
You may or may not be tired of that specific line of complaint. I definitely am. Yet in a certain sense, I'm glad. A lot of exciting stuff is happening in my life right now, or is at least on the horizon. There's the Derrida translation, the blog book, the possibility of the CTS student-run journal -- plus I'm starting a new phase of my academic career and making all kinds of new connections and starting to develop some confidence in terms of getting my work out there in the public eye -- and if I also got this awesome summer job that could be challenging (or else allow me time to read or blog on the clock) and would allow me to meet most of my financial targets before classes start up, then I would seriously start to worry that I was going to get run over by a bus. In a way, I'm also glad that there doesn't seem to be much on the horizon romantically at the moment.
Imagine -- a guy who pulled himself up by his bootstraps to become an academic up-and-comer, who stumbled into a job custom-tailored to his needs, who has a steady girlfriend -- who could bear to be hated that much? I've always hated "that guy," from deep within my soul. To be "that guy" is unthinkable to me. All my life, the status of "that guy" has been by definition a usurpation -- just as it is impossible to "earn" a million dollars in a year, no matter what one does, so also it is impossible to "earn" the charmed life, the attention of all the girls, whatever. A guy with a beautiful girlfriend is by that very fact probably an asshole -- and if he's demonstrably not an asshole, then he's incredibly boring. The person with the good job is the one who is the person most skilled in sucking up; the one who could actually do the job best is off languishing in some soul-crushing line of work.
Weakness -- I am, after all, a Christian -- weakness is the sure sign of moral virtue. My suffering, such as it is -- never quite enough, I'm afraid -- is in itself God's favor to me. The formula for moral superiority is to have a sense of entitlement, and thus a sense of deprivation, sublated into resentment of those who have that to which one is entitled and a conviction that the possession of such goods is evidence of moral inferiority. I'm hoping to use the parable of the shrewd manager as a lever to get me past this neurosis, but it's hard. I'm becoming a bad person, an ambitious person, a person with confidence and passion. With every good thing that happens to me, it just keeps getting worse.
Thursday, May 26, 2005
(2:14 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
TortureSlate has put together an interactive feature on the use of torture by the United States (via Oscar Chamberlain at Cliopatria). In the section "Taxonomy of Torture," one of the techniques is compared to one of the trademark practices of the Spanish Inquisition.
I hope that when it comes time to pick a new sovereign, he will decide that the state of exception is over.
(9:59 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
Yesterday, I had a day off. I did not do much during that day off, other than look repeatedly at my bank balance and various credit card balances, work through a couple chapters of my German book, and play Street Fighter II: Turbo (with little success). Late in the afternoon, I decided to put my tendency to daydream to work, developing a tentative list of courses to take next year, together with some desired courses for the following year. That went well, although I could already tell what I was going to be doing all next summer: finishing up incompletes from my ridiculous courses.
Self-Indulgent Personal Post
Then I thought, What about this summer? Do I have much to do this summer? Turns out: yes.
- There's the blog book. I have set a really bad example for all my fellow contributors by not having written my abstract yet; that is planned for today. Then I have to collaborate with Jared to write the proposal (unless I can just slip him a 20 and he'll do it himself), then write my chapter, then work with Jared to coordinate those "bloggy conversations" in the margins.
- There's the possibility of a student-led online journal at CTS. Nothing is really for sure yet, but we had our first meeting. Ted came up with a good title for it -- Theology after Theory. Various questions such as how to convince people to write for it, how to get attention, whose attention we actually want, how big a proportion of the materials should come from CTS people, etc., were discussed. We resolved that we would have a review section in which any cultural artifact could be reviewed, and we resolved to meet again. I realized that I have been using the concept of "my Internet noteriety" to solve problems of audience and contributors in ways that are (a) unrealistic and (b) potentially alienating for other CTS students who might start to suspect that they are just being dragged into a project that's finally just a vehicle for me. So overall, it was a productive meeting, in that it helped me to see a lot of aspects of the project that I had not thought through sufficiently.
- I have to write a review of Jean-Luc Nancy's La Déclosion : La Deconstruction du christianisme. This requires me to read a rather large book, in French. Even if I'm getting to be pretty confident with French, I'm obviously still a lot slower in French than in English.
- I have to do an index for Ted Jennings' forthcoming book Reading Derrida/Thinking Paul. Last night when people were busy being impressed with my Derrida publication, I added, "And I'm also doing an index for a book with Stanford University Press!" I suppose that just to suppress the actual number of tasks I need to perform, I will note here that I also need to do some kind of work on the Derrida translation before it goes to press, at least copy-editing, if not another thorough revision.
- I want to obtain a reading knowledge of German. I'm already a third of the way through the book by chapter numbers, and closer to half by pages (not sure why that would be). I also made a major investment yesterday: a German dictionary ($5.99). I think I'm going to see this through. (Those wondering why I would bother buying a cheap dictionary need wonder no longer: first, it is highly recommended by the author of the book I'm using; second, I find it helpful to have a smaller dictionary just for reading and to deploy a larger dictionary only when one is actually preparing a translation.
- I want to make a major inroads into the Patristic literature. I have already read the major works of Justin Martyr and am close to finishing Irenaeus. I'm going to enroll for a directed study on the topic next semester, and Ted has suggested that my written work should be to develop some thorough notes that could easily be incorporated into a lecture. This makes sense, since my goal in doing this reading is to be able to teach a really good course on History of Christian Thought, and since it seems like there's so much I would have to learn, aside from just reading the texts, before I could write a paper on Patristics that would be of any use to anyone (including me).
Far from being an obstacle to achieving these goals, I'm starting to think that getting at least a part time job is going to be necessary, to avoid the time wasted worrying about money and the background radiation that translates into sloth even when I'm not consciously thinking about money. And of course, I'm also sleeping far too much -- some nights, up to eight hours! -- and I can get out of that lazy habit as well.
(But when one has this many tasks assigned for a summer, all bets would be off were one to get a contract to translate a major work in Francophone Paulino-philosophical studies. We could refer to that possibility as the so-called "nuclear option" of this summer, in that all of my free time would be instantly obliterated within a three-month radius.)
I don't regard this as self-indulgent, because like all bloggers, I am a fascinating person and every aspect of my life is fascinating to the public at large.
Wednesday, May 25, 2005
(11:25 AM) | Brad:
Disciplinary Discourse as One Big Bitch-FestWell well ... the one and only Christopher Hitchens has decided to weigh in on the absurdity of the modern (American) literature departments. Is it just me, or is complaining about the lack of relevant discourse in volumes like The Johns Hopkins Guide to Literary Theory or conferences like the annual MLA circus akin to complaining that the political process as seen on C-Span is boring and ineffective?
More to the point, though, so many of the criticisms of the literature departments seem to imagine a pedagogical world that I doubt ever existed -- keeping in mind that the study of literature, as an academic discipline, is a pretty new invention. In the later-'50s to mid-'60s, for example, you had the height of New Criticism, whose practitioners were told by the average reading populace that they read too much into things -- that Melville himself, for instance, didn't think as much about what he wrote as did the average literary critic. Prior to that, you had various source critics pouring over the classics. They were revered as being highly trained and doing something very important ... but, in the tweed-coated academic sense that intimidated the average reading populace. And now, post-'60s literary critics are poo-poo'd for reading everything but the texts in question, and, the elitists that they are (so says Hitchens), acting as though they are saying something about and for the average reading populace but not really doing so at all. Too often, the perspective of the popular press, when they (for example) attend the MLA conference, is that the study of literature should be on par with the reading rooms / parlors of old, where one could sit around and talk about great books and one's love of literature. Too often, the perspective fo the academic contrarian, when they sneer at the rhetoric of whatever is in vogue at the time in their discipline, is that the study of literature should be anything different than what currently is -- i.e., rather than doing something different, they spend far more time critiquing the status quo. If you have tenure, do something with it, I say!
But, then again, literature departments are not above reproach: a discipline not being, ahem, disciplined, is, um, no discipline at all. Just like a German is not truly a German unless s/he is really into scat. If literature departments were not doing what the average reading populace either did not understand or didn't like, or if there was not always a contrarian effort from within to take things a different direction, would they wither on the vine? That's not a rhetorical question ... I'm genuinely curious. If anybody has any recommendations re: the 'sociology' (right word?) of disciplinary development, I'd be interested to know.
(8:28 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
Credit CardIs there any possible relationship between the recent reform of bankrupcy law and the seeming increase in the number of credit card solicitations I've been receiving? I know that the intention of the legislature was primarily moral, to help encourage hard work, thrift, and responsible use of credit, but I just worry that a few unscrupulous credit card companies might use more aggressive, or even outright predatory, lending practices now that they know that it is more difficult for individuals to declare bankrupcy.
My suspicions stem from my own personal situation. As many of you know, I have been unable to work more than three days every two weeks. I have turned to subsistance farming at this point, and I fear the ferrets might have an "accident" soon. Once I am done with the PhD, if I fail to find an academic job, I will have the same earning potential as a high school dropout who agreed to a plea bargain to reduce the charges to manslaughter. Yet I quite often find multiple credit card solicitations in the mail. Free balance transfers are nice -- in fact, I applied for a card with a very low interest balance transfer within the past week or so. I'm grateful for all of this help, but it manifestly goes against the "pull yourself up by your bootstraps, hard work leads to freedom" mentality that infused the souls of our loving Republican overlords when they passed the bankrupcy bill.
That said, I have updated my Amazon Wish List, so feel free to buy me something.
Tuesday, May 24, 2005
(3:51 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
Spurious CommentsReportedly, The Weblog's resident troll is visiting various blogs and commenting under my name. His style is quite recognizable -- for a lot of samples, click here.
We've tried everything to get rid of him. Banning his IP doesn't work, because it's easy to change one's IP. Recently I gave Anthony administrative rights to the comments, and he has taken special joy in editing Mr. Troll's comments to make them positive and even fawning. The indignity of having positive comments about me attributed to him was evidently so great that now he has gone on the offensive.
If you are infected with this embittered young man's comments, I apologize. I have not made any comments since 12:00 Central time (GMT -6:00) today, and I will make no comments on any other blog for the next week, to allow you to identify and eliminate him. This is a major sacrifice, since I just mentioned that I need to go comment-whoring, but it's a sacrifice I'm willing to make for the greater good of the blogosphere.
UPDATE: I think it's humorous and ironic that he is now universally known as "my troll." His claim to fame is that he harasses me and my friends. He should be leaving complimentary comments about me, since I made his reputation! Anthony's editing jobs are doing nothing but bringing the "is" in conformity with the "ought."
UPDATE : Anthony points out in comments that Mr. Troll often puts "theweblog.com" as his URL. Don't tell him, but that's not actually the URL of this site.
(1:25 PM) | Dave Belcher:
Books, Books, Bibliophilia, Consumption, IdolatryI have recently picked up some really great books for pretty damn cheap.
First of all, during my first visit to Powell's Bookstore in Chicago, I picked up the following:
1) Michel Foucault, Society Must Be Defended (Hardback), $10.00
2) Luce Irigaray, Marine Lover of Nietzsche (Hardback), $15.00
3) Karl Barth, The Gottingen Dogmatics, Vol. 1 (Hardback), $24.00
4) Juan Luis Segundo, Theology and the Church: A Response to Cardinal Ratzinger and a Warning to the Whole Church (Hardback), $6.00
5) Catherine Keller, Apocalypse Now and Then (Paperback), $6.00
...and I think I'm leaving a few out; this is also after passing up on some really great books one cannot find in most bookstores.
Then, just this past week, at a tent sale at Cokesbury Bookstore (United Methodist Bookstore), I got ~$500 worth of books for less than $30.00. Some of those titles included:
1) Allen Fitzgerald, Augustine Through the Ages: An Encyclopedia (normally $75.00, I got this for about $5.00!)
2) J.M. Coetzee, Writings
3) Luther, Commentary on Romans
4) Joerg Rieger, ed., Methodist and Radical (Ted Jennings has a piece in this one)
5) L. Gregory Jones, Embodying Forgiveness
this is leaving a lot out...
If you aren't worried about the loss of your soul, or, for that matter, if you are convinced along with Deleuze and Guattari that with all of your attempts to subvert the capitalist symbolic order--deterritorialization--comes an inevitable reterritorialization, and thus you opt for Baudrillard's notion of "consume all the more" to throw the system into hyper-drive, then I reccomend that you visit your local Powell's (or whatever other cool used bookstore you have in town) or hunt down a good book tent-sale.
(9:37 AM) | Dave Belcher:
Why is Everything I Want to Read in French?For example,
It was rumored that Badiou's sequel to L'etre et l'evenement (Logiques du Monde) would be out around June some time. However, Being and Event hasn't even been translated yet! Both are apparently "forthcoming." And what about the book that Badiou references as one of the two books to read on St. Paul--Stansislas Breton's book on Paul? Adam, we're all still waiting on that translation!
It seems I'm out of luck. I have to learn French.
Monday, May 23, 2005
(12:06 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
Tuesday Hatred 2How long can I keep numbering them? I don't know. Now that I've numbered this, I wonder how many confessionals we've had, though.
Here are a few things I hate:
- I hate how grumpy I get when I haven't eaten properly. (This general topic is addressed fairly thoroughly in this Unfogged thread.)
- It is almost literally impossible to keep up with an Unfogged thread. I tried for a while, but it's really frustrating when you get up and do something else for twenty minutes, then come back to find that the number of comments has grown from 19 to 85. I like to have a lot of comments, but that is seriously unmanageable. (This is completely contrary to the spirit of this Tuesday series, but I'm actually quite pleased with the pace of comments on this site -- it's just right.)
- I'm young and naive and don't know how things work. Like today I was totally taken by surprise when my temp agency called and woke me up at 8:30 and apparently thought there would be a good chance I could get to the Loop by 9:00. I had no idea that degree of readiness would be expected of me. I called them back later, and they said that they only get one or two jobs a week that are such short notice, so I'm not going to plan my life around it, but this whole temp thing is so tenuous, and I really don't want to alienate an agency through my ignorance and end up having to spend another morning signing up for yet another temp agency.
- I wish I took better advantage of my unexpected days off. I helped a friend move Sunday and was completely dehydrated by the end of the day, then I had bad allergies today, so I can excuse myself for basically just sitting around the house today, but most days, my health poses no obstacle, and I still get to like 3:00 in the afternoon without having done much of anything other than the dishes. I actually have a lot that I wanted to do this summer, even beyond the German and the church fathers, and I'm not making much headway.
- Since I "graduated" from CTS, my privileges for the Regenstein library at U of C expired Friday. The CTS librarian told me that she doesn't want to "push it" with the U of C people, since they're doing a pilot program where CTS people can have circulation privileges at the Regenstein for free, whereas before we had to pay for access. I hoped to do some research for the Nancy review (the book arrived today in the mail -- characteristically beautiful in the understated manner of French books), perhaps translate the Sartre text on Passolini that Scott McLemee suggested to me, and generally make use of the resources of one of the greatest libraries in this part of the country for the summer. I can get everything I need through inter-library loan, but it's just not the same! Maybe I'll figure something out -- I haven't even been down there since my privileges expired.
- I take traffic statistics too seriously. For instance, this week, The Weblog's traffic dropped off pretty dramatically, by 50 visits a day. It's still above 300, which is not bad at all, but still, I'm searching for answers. What did I do? Am I not writing good stuff? Did I write something that alienated people? The real answer is that it's probably just the fact that Bitch PhD is on vacation (so the people who would check here to see if she had posted are not checking here), combined with the fact that I haven't managed to finangle a link from a big site in a couple weeks. Nothing a little comment-whoring can't fix.
I was feeling really good when it was over 400 right before the election, but that was, you know, right before the election, when people were following all kinds of media sources much more closely -- I wonder if the liberal/left-wing end of the blogosphere suffered a hit after Bush was reelected? For a while it seemed like the big-name liberal bloggers were dominating all the rankings, with only Instapundit consistently representing the right wing, but that bubble really burst once people realized that reading blogs that favor one's preferred candidate does not necessarily make one's preferred candidate win. I never really read Daily Kos anyway -- except right before the election! This is all coming together.
- I always take a book with me when I head to bed, and I never read more than a paragraph. Often I put it on my nightstand and don't open it at all. I don't know why I do this. Ever since I worked a few summers mowing lawns, I haven't been able to stay up late reading. I enjoyed the work, but obviously it took a lot out of me if I haven't recovered three years after the fact.
- [UPDATE: Ben Wolfson sent me this link, scornfully saying that I would be interested. I tried to resist, but it was impossible -- I now know how to fold a fitted sheet. It's easier than you'd think!]
(11:56 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
The Awful German Language[UPDATE: A somewhat related question -- does anyone know how to pronounce the name Sloterdijk?]
This weekend, I got out of my routine of German-learning, and it is proving difficult to get back on the wagon, especially with the new issue of Harper's sitting on the coffee table. Perhaps, at some deep level, I don't want to learn German. This is, after all, a second attempt, and I have gotten only a little further than on the first. French is an elegant language, which has given birth to much of the writing that is dearest to my heart -- Derrida, of course, and so many, I had not thought death had undone so many.... Greek, as well -- that is a language. A whole other alphabet, bizarre conventions for accents, and perhaps the greatest writing in the history of the world (by definition, insofar as "history" is Western History) -- we have Plato and Paul, together with thousands of lesser figures.
But German. I don't know. I was talking to a Polish woman on the train once, about the new pope, and she said she didn't like him, partly because she didn't like German people. I asked her why, fascinated to learn of this intra-European fetishization of small differences; she said, "The Second World War." Oh. And the authors -- so many greats, of course, obviously, Kant, Hegel, Schleiermacher, Nietzsche, Barth. But what have they produced lately? Not quite the key for the contemporary cutting edge (French, at least for a couple more decades), not quite the repository for timeless truths (Greek) -- not a good position for a language to be in. The German tongue should be forever grateful to the earnest German professors who steamrolled their way through every body of knowledge, although it should also be forever resentful of the lack of wit and verve with which so many did it.
German, it would seem, is always the language that one learns because one has to. It is a language that is assigned, perhaps a nerdy language. Overearnest, overserious. I reflected last night, playing the piano with a French text sitting at my bedside, having been a subscriber to The New Yorker for years: I am cultured now. I have arrived. I have met all the requirements for being considered a cultured person. But replace French with German, and the whole thing falls apart -- not as badly as if I'd learned Spanish, but still rather far down in the hierarchy of cultural prestige. The weirdness of a Kafka or a Benjamin simply can't compete, in terms of culturedness, with the coolness of a Camus or a Derrida. And not even Nietzsche -- sarcasm tending toward insanity is, it seems, the best we can hope for from the German tongue, the apex of its achievement.
I am reminded of a passage from Don DeLillo's White Noise, which I will gladly quote for you now:
My struggle with the German tongue began in mid-October and lasted nearly the full academic year. As the most prominent figure in Hitler studies in North America, I had long tried to conceal the fact that I did not know German. I could not speak or read it, could not understand the spoken word or begin to put the simplest sentence on paper. The least of my Hitler colleagues knew some German; others were either fluent in the language or reasonably conversant. No one could major in Hitler studies at College-on-the-Hill without a minimum of one year of German. I was living, in short, on the edge of a landscape of vast shame.And so am I, my friends. I am not seeking after glamor or fame here. There is nothing glamorous about learning such a language, such an awful language. I'm not even going to do the obvious thing here and close with a German phrase. You deserve better than that.
The German tongue. Fleshy, warped, spit-spraying, purplish and cruel. One eventually had to confront it. Wasn't Hitler's own struggle to express himself in German the crucial subtext of his massive ranting autobiography, dictated in a fortress prison in the Bavarian hills? Grammar and syntax. The man may have felt himself imprisoned in more ways than one.
I'd made several attempts to learn German, serious probes into origins, structures, roots. I sensed the deathly power of the language. I wanted to speak it well, use it as a charm, a protective device. The more I shrank from learning actual words, rules and pronunciation, the more important it seemed that I go forward. What we are reluctant to touch often seems the very fabric of our salvation. But the basic sounds defeated me, the harsh spurting northernness of the words and syllables, the command delivery. Something happened between the back of my tongue and the roof of my mouth that made a mockery of my attempts to sound German words.
I was determined to try again
(9:48 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
Kafka, "The Penal Colony"[Note: This was originally posted last summer on the now-defunct University Without Condition site.]
“Is a life’s work such as this”—he indicated the machine—“to be destroyed because of the commandant and the influence his women have over him? Should this be allowed to happen? Even by a stranger who has only come to our island for a few days?” (140)In the Penal Colony is, among many other things, a meditation on the foreigner—the place, or non-place, of the foreigner. What does it mean to be a solitary observer in a foreign land? From the very first paragraph, it is uncertain: he “appeared to have accepted purely out of politeness the commandant’s invitation,” he was “not particularly enthralled,” “he paced back and forth behind the condemned man with almost visible indifference” (125-26, emphasis added). The whole thrust of the proceedings is unclear, a matter of conjecture—the officer works on the apparatus “perhaps because he was a devoted admirer... or because, for whatever other reasons...” (126).
The officer himself is radically out of place, wearing a full-dress military uniform, and we might ask what exactly we are to think of this colony, in what precise sense it is “penal.” Where do the mobs of children come from? How could the “old commandant” become famous (if he ever was famous beyond the officer’s dream world)? And what of the women? The officer has nothing but scorn for the new commandant’s women, but the old commandant had women of his own—women are an easy target for the advocate of a ritual that is clearly sexually charged, involving plenty of male nudity and horseplay, with even the stripping ritualized (“naked of course” ).
The colony was a penal colony in the sense of being a society completely devoted to punishment—the liturgy of punishment. Its closest parallel may well be the Aztecs, as described by Bataille: “Consumption loomed just as large in their thinking as production does in ours. They were just as concerned about sacrificing as we are about working.” In a story where the burning sun beats down from overhead, rendering the officer’s full-dress uniform a burden, an irrelevant throw-back, Bataille’s comments on the sun are particularly appropriate: “The sun himself was in their eyes the expression of sacrifice. He was a god resembling man. He had become the sun by hurling himself into the flames of a brazier” (46). I can’t prove philologically that Kafka knew of Aztec culture, but it’s not necessary—the association of the sun with sacrifice seems to be in our bones, as illustrated by the repetition of a driving sun with a meaningless, decadent sacrifice in Camus’s Stranger, an empty gesture, also performed in a tropical colony, hearkening back to when life meant something. For Camus’s protagonist, at least the punishment, voluntarily taken upon oneself, is still meaningful—for the officer, it is completely empty:
“usually it’s some harbor works, it’s always some harbor works!” (146)
So much to do, so many things—how to justify devoting so much energy to public executions? How could one ever choose to maintain an insular community, focussed on the Old Man, when there are harbors to build, commerce to engage in, foreign observers—scholars, even!—to invite? “No longer can I ponder possible developments for the system, I spend all my energy preserving what’s left” (140). The gears are not the only thing that’s squeaking. We are assured that in days of old, the condemned man always learned of his sentence during the second six hours; but now, with the machine in such a dilapidated state, when no one comes to hear the “wheels of justice,” can we be sure that the same will happen? Much less to this doglike, frivolous prisoner? The “exceptional machine” (125) of sovereignty does not work in isolation, and one wonders why the officer never laments the lack of audience in quite the right way, why he never sees that the vast crowds are all incorporated into the apparatus.
But is everyone really as disincorporated as they seem? There are silent supporters all through the island, and in over three months, over a hundred prisoners are executed—close to a prisoner a day. Here, in miniature, we have a clear example of Hardt and Negri’s insight into the “postmodern condition”:
We might say that postmodernism is what you have when the modern theory of social constructivism is taken to the extreme and all subjectivity is recognized as artificial. How is this possible, however, when today, as nearly everyone says, the institutions in question are everywhere in crisis and continually breaking down? ... The omni-crisis of the institutions looks very different in different cases. For example, continually decreasing proportions of the U.S. population are involved in the nuclear family, while steadily increasing proportions are confined to prisons. Both institutions, however, the nuclear family and the prison, are equally in crisis, in the sense that the place of their effectivity is increasingly indeterminate.... In the general breakdown, then, the functioning of the institutions is both more intensive and more extensive. The institutions work even though they are breaking down—and perhaps they work all the better the more they break down. (196-197)If I can take the officer at his word, then it would seem that even more prisoners are being executed now than under the ancien regime (after all, there was a pause of at least a day between executions, enough time to gather a crowd)—perhaps that is what has contributed to its advanced state of dilapidation. The new commandant, a man familiar with commerce, with liberal “European” ideas, gets to distance himself from an unjust system—all the while getting his executions on the cheap!
Good liturgy is expensive, by definition. It takes time. The low-church style of the New Penal Colony gets everything done much more quickly and efficiently, all while maintaining an enlightened appearance, calling in a foreign scholar to denounce the system he has staked his power on. The very definition of decadence—he has become womanly in the Lacanian sense, knowing that there is no hard core of meaning beneath the surface. But you have to become a woman to be cured.
“The traveler wanted to do something, bring the whole machine to a stop if possible, because this was not the exquisite torture the officer had wished for; this was out-and-out murder.” (155)
Do we notice that the traveler never really does anything? The bulk of the story is of course taken up by the officer’s elaborate fantasy of how the traveler will save his precious system, and the officer’s death is brought on by the traveler’s assertion that he will say something that he never in fact says, in a meeting he never in fact attends. Here the virtual has real effects—life and death effects—and all the power is in the hands of the foreigner, the scholar, one with no special expertise in legal matters. In the world of the Old Man, no words were necessary in order for people to know the wheels of justice were turning, but in the new decadent world, where everything is allowed to decay disgustingly, words mean something. Perhaps words only mean something when justice is not self-evident—perhaps the truly just world is the world that is not ruled by the all-powerful father, but by the whispers of the women and the convictions of the foreigners.
We may ask whether the execution was ever anything but out-and-out murder and whether Kafka’s story presages a world in which the obscenity of punishment becomes ever more clear; we may well tremble at the thought that the Old Man will rise from the dead, even as those around us chuckle at the thought; we may ask, further, what the role of the foreigner and the woman is in a time of the decay of sovereignty—and just how much prodding it might take to make the institutions implode.
Bataille, Georges. The Accursed Share. Vol. 1. New York: Zone, 1991.
Hardt, Michael, and Antonio Negri. Empire. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 2000.
Kafka, Franz. The Metamorphosis and Other Stories. Trans. Donna Freed. New York: Barnes & Noble, 1996.
(9:40 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
A New Group BlogThere is a new group blog out, entitled Long Sunday. The contributors are as follows (Name, Previous Blog):
Herself, Alphonse van WordenI figure that we will probably be driven out of business here at The Weblog within the next couple of weeks.
Mark Kaplan, Charlotte Street
John Pistelli, Commonplace Book
CR, Cultural Revolution
Carl, Fort Kant
Jodi Dean, I Cite
IT, Infinite Thøught
Alain Wittman, Long Sunday
A Disgruntled Postal Worker, Long Sunday
Christoph Wimmer-Kleikamp, Observing the Observer
Matt Christie, Pas au-Delà
YH, Young Hegelian
Sunday, May 22, 2005
(8:20 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
My Big NewsI have told many of you in private already, but out of fear that some technicality would keep it from becoming a reality, I have avoided announcing it "publicly," on the blog. The technicality could theoretically still happen, but here it is anyway: University of Chicago Press will be publishing my translation of Jacques Derrida's "Literature in Secret: An Impossible Filiation" in an expanded edition of The Gift of Death. I just found out this week, so I don't know when it would appear, etc., though I will of course keep the entire world notified.
I may now also rework the "commentary" section of my thesis to create a nice little article. Another minor bonus: CTS will possibly accept this in place of a formal language exam, as proof that I am conversant in French.
In related news, the "blog book" is proceeding apace. If the pieces are consistently as good as Discard the Name's, which I read last night -- and I'm sure they will be -- then this will surely be the greatest philosophico-religio-political essay collection ever compiled by bloggers.
Saturday, May 21, 2005
(4:59 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
CleanlinessThis past week, the house has been more cluttered than usual, and I think that made me more irritable than usual. I have never had any roommates who were not prone to clutter, so I hope that no one will take that as a passive-aggressive attack on Anthony and Hayley. I am excessively anti-prone to clutter. When I get into a car that is full of stuff, where things have to be swept onto the floor to make room for passengers, I literally do not understand what could have caused that situation. My car has nothing in it at all, aside from a CD wallet and some change, and a couple "emergency" type items behind the seat -- a flashlight, a road atlas, a blanket.
It would never even occur to me to leave things in the car to pick up "later," because in my experience, "later" (for those who habitually defer simple tasks that take two seconds to perform) is synonymous with "when things are so messy that I can't stand it and have to take a couple hours making a big production out of cleaning." This definition of "later" virtually guarantees that one will not "learn one's lesson" and develop habits oriented toward general tidiness -- understandably, one associates any kind of cleaning- or tidying-related task with what a huge pain in the ass it was to clean out your car for hours. One naturally wants to avoid such a huge pain in the ass, so -- "later."
I read about a self-help plan in The New Yorker called "Getting Things Done." It included a simple principle, similar to what I'm advancing here -- don't put off small tasks until they become a huge mountain. Yes, it's relatively unimportant whether one's dining room table has a couple things sitting on it that you just forgot to put away, but if you get into the habit of parking stuff there and only putting it away "later," your table is going to be constantly cluttered and will not be a welcoming space for when you actually want to do something on the table (such as press your tits on it). So get in the habit of putting stuff away. And stop just throwing stuff on the floor. And when you put the groceries away, don't leave the bags sitting on the table and the floor. And don't leave your mail distributed throughout the entire house. And don't just leave empty envelopes on the coffee table. And I could go on.
One does reach a point of diminished returns. I did that today. Anthony and Hayley were gone, so I did what I have always done, during my entire adult life, when I have lived with a lot of different roommates, none of whom were as tidy as me -- I cleaned up. Not thoroughly, not "anally." The shower was not cleaned today, for instance. I did not "dust." I flipped over the futon cushion so as to hide the huge mounds of cat hair, rather than remove the cat hair (by the time I decide to flip it again, the cat hair will have fallen off the bottom side -- a good system, until the time comes to sweep under the futon, which I saved for "later"). The windows remain unwashed.
This whole process just took a couple hours -- sweep and mop the floors, brush out the toilet, do the dishes, no big deal. I also washed the towels and the floormats and made the sink sparkling white. I have kept up to the second on my e-mail and on everything that comes in on my RSS feeds. I keep expecting that once all these little tasks have been achieved -- once the dishes are all done and put away, once the dining room table is cleared off, etc. -- this space for doing the "real stuff" will open up. It hasn't, though. All I'm doing is small stuff, or more accurately, all I'm doing is walking back and forth through the house, looking for small stuff to do. I've now taken it upon myself to drink "enough" water, by health-nut standards, which makes me have to pee a lot -- something to do!
I was led to believe that the tidy habits that were incessantly grilled into me as a child -- for instance, my mom demanded that my dad and I sit down when we went to the bathroom, to reduce splashing, and she really would have preferred it if we would wipe out the sink after each time that we used it, and my grandma was even worse, though now that I live far away and never see them and are never seen by them, both of them have lightened up considerably in the face of reality -- made me morally superior to other people. I thought, therefore, that some kind of reward would follow from the appropriately tidy behavior -- like maybe my house would start to feel like this really great place to get some work done. It doesn't, though. A really super clean house feels like a place where you do nothing, because no one lives there. The point is to keep everything put away, touching it only to remove the dust that inevitably gathers.
This is why I should never live alone. I need an inherent obstacle. I need to live with some "slobs" (and who, compared to me, is not a slob? The only people who could possibly view me as a slob are my mom and grandma, who are now slobs according to the standards that they imposed on me), so that the project of totalitarian cleanliness never appears to be feasible. So Anthony and Hayley -- and Pippin, Maizie, Sid, Soren, Zarathustra, and Meep -- and Jared, Jesse, Justin, Richard, Kari, Brett, Tara, Kevin, Robb, Mark, Adam, Kyle -- I hope you don't take it personally that sometimes I have bitched about the messes you leave lying around. I always make sure to reproach myself for it afterward. This is all part of the process -- I think this is something I can get over, with some help.
(2:35 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
A couple recommendationsJohn Emerson has solved the problem of reality. You will be surprised by his results. You will be even more surprised, and delighted, to learn that he has signed a contract to blog here as a part-time consultant. He estimates that his first post will appear here some time within the next week or so.
Le monde has published an article entitled «L'univers des blogs, ses habitants, ses rites, son langage». I know that the majority of you can't read it, but the point here is that the article exists: Le monde is publishing stories about the blogging phenomenon. Last week, they were also covering the continued progress of the video game console wars. I remember a New Yorker article about how Le monde is really going downhill -- and I think that I speak for all twenty-somethings when I say that I'm really tired of witnessing the slow decline of nearly every once-treasured cultural institution (Saturday Night Live, The New Yorker, The Paris Review, the United States Constitution, etc., etc.). What do we get in their place? Oh yeah: McSweeney's. Thanks. And even that is in decline now!
And I guess there's someone hanging around here who thinks The Weblog is in decline, too! Well, screw that. We didn't used to be better. We were always exactly this bad.
Okay, so the important aspect of the story in Le monde is that the French term for Internet user is internaute, which looks to both me and Ben Wolfson as though it is formed by analogy with "astronaut."
m2 of The H was O has a characteristically insightful and incite-ful post on the recent death of Paul Ricoeur. Why does it seem like towering French intellectuals always die on the weekend? Why?! Anyway, my call is that the response of the press to Ricoeur's death will be much more sympathetic than its shamefully ridiculous coverage of Derrida. I predict absolutely no vitriol. I mean, we're talking about the guy who came up with the ideas of "hermeneutic of suspicion" and "second naïveté" -- he's become part of the language!
 I would ask, now that all the lovable H is O characters have been either destroyed or banished to The H was O -- is the inevitable decline of The Weblog over? Was that the problem? Did F. Winston Codpiece III have to be sacrificed on the altar of everyone's "expectations" of what The Weblog "should" be?
 I quietly note that the comment thread in which I got into a fight with F. Winston Codpiece III was perhaps the greatest bit of bloggery that has ever happened, ever. See, here's the joke -- I am/was F. Winston Codpiece III! Get it? (I never was any character who had "Kamala" in his name, nor was I the short-lived F. Winston Codpiece IV.) I was having an argument with myself, in which I deeply insulted myself under an assumed name! Wow. Good stuff. But that's when the bitching began in earnest. My question: If Fafblog can write nonsense and everyone loves it, why can't The Weblog?
 I think I know the answer: everyone has come to expect that The Weblog will be characterized by posts on religio-philosophical topics, together with personal stories from me, of varying degrees of seriousness. I'll admit it -- it's a good formula. It has served us well. We're back to it now. If you liked that "The H is O"-style stuff, there's a page where they do nothing but. But for whiny cerebrality, this is your best destination.
(9:10 AM) | Anthony Paul Smith:
Paul Ricoeur est mort.La Monde reports that Paul Ricoeur died yesterday. It doesn't seem like any U.S. papers have picked this up yet, which may be a good thing considering the shameful job they did with Derrida's death. For those of you who can read French there are quite a few other articles on the La Monde website under the heading "Lire".
[I see that Nathanael D. Robinson of Cliopatria caught this before we did.]
Friday, May 20, 2005
(11:59 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
Weiner: At LastDespite my having no preconceived notions whatsoever about what Matt Weiner would be like, he blew all my expectations out of the water. Bitch PhD was everything I dreamed she would be and more. Ben Wolfson was the exact same as he's been every time I've hung out with him. I say this because I have just returned from an historic meeting with those three people. It was fun. I also got to check off on my mental score card that I went out this Friday night, so everybody wins.
Plus, before I met with them, I went to Europa Books, where they were having a clearance sale on French books. I picked up S/Z by Roland Barthes and Leçon sur la leçon by Peirre Bourdieu, for $4.00 total. They also have three copies of Irigaray's Speculum de l'autre femme, which is huge, and another Bourdieu book that is also huge. I would have purchased them as well, bringing the grand total to $8.00, but my bag was already full to overflowing as it was. That's one advantage of the suburban lifestyle, being able to put stuff in your car and thus not having to worry about carrying around your purchaces for the next six hours.
If I go to Europa tomorrow with an empty satchel and see that you bastards have snatched up all the cheap Irigaray, I'm going to be extremely angry and may quit blogging entirely.
On another note, they also had copies of the exact same books that I purchased or considered purchasing on the normal-priced shelf, ranging from $12.50 to $45.00 -- apparently they were hoping that people would look at either the normal shelf or the clearance shelf, but not both. Is that technically legal?
(8:36 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
The Friday Morning Confessional
This is the only Friday Morning Confessional. Next week, we will go back to the Afternoon format. For this week, though, I am facing up to the fact that I have posted this in the morning almost every single time and that when I have failed to post it early enough, I have always received e-mail asking what the problem is.
Times are changing, of course. We now have the Tuesday Hatred, a new incarnation of The Hate List for the 21st century. Will confessions of the form "I confess that I find X really annoying" be a thing of the past now? Will people save complaints for Tuesday and misdeeds for Friday, or after at least a year of continually stretching the bounds of what counts as a confession, have we reached the point where it is impossible to place any kind of limit on what can be "confessed"? I confess that I don't know.
I confess to reading this site in its entirety, in one sitting. The premise is that people make postcards telling their biggest secrets, and the site author scans them and posts a new set every week. Ogged was right -- it's hard to stop reading. It reminds me of how much I enjoyed the Griffin and Sabine books.
I confess that at this point, I wouldn't mind if I had a different job every week this summer. It's not just that I'm so desperate for money that I will take whatever comes my way. Right now, though, it feels good to go in, do some defined job, and collect my money, without having to deal with all the dumb stuff of working in an office -- cliquishness, petty politics, etc. This is especially the case given that I am unlikely to find a job that requires me to be anything more than an interchangeable cog in the office machinery. Let's say that I'm really good at using office applications on the computer, or I type exceptionally quickly, or I file things away more efficiently than anyone who's ever worked in the office -- big deal. And there's no way I'm going to be paid enough in a job like that to make me feel like I'm a valued and integral part of the work. Thus, I feel like there's no reason that I should be eager to put myself in a position where I could potentially be bitched at by the same person for more than a week.
At the same time, I confess that if I found decent-paying steady work that would allow me close to full time for the summer and the option to work part time for flexible hours during the schoolyear, I would absolutely take it.
Maybe the point of this contrast is that I don't want to be working at someplace long-term through a temp agency. When you work a job for long enough, it starts to creep into your head even when you're off the clock -- and why should I put up with that, and will all the dumb relationship stuff in an office environment, when the company I'm working for doesn't want to assume the risk of paying me directly? I see no reason to let some business become a big part of my life when the ability to fire me at the drop of a hat is so precious to them that they are willing to pay a substantial amount over and above my wages -- although there's little to no chance that they would ever pay me directly what they're paying the temp agency to make use of me. It's helping me to get by for now, though, so one should probably not attach too much weight to these complaints.
Thursday, May 19, 2005
(6:45 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
Douglas Feith is an idiotThe New Yorker recently ran an article on Feith, which was actually pretty even-handed. The title, however, apparently irked Feith, as evidenced by his letter to the magazine, which appeared in the May 23, 2004, issue. To wit:
The title of Jeffrey Goldberg's article about me alludes, I suppose, to the famous line "A little learning is a dangerous thing" ("A Little Learning," May 9th). This tickled me. As it happens, I spent a delightful portion of a recent vacation reading the Alexander Pope poem from which that line comes.This from the first and only Under Secretary of Defense to have been called, on the record, by a general, "The fucking stupidest guy in the world." I don't even know where to begin. He was reading Alexander Pope while on vacation? Who brings the Norton Anthology of British Literature to the beach? I am startled by the sheer mediocrity of a man who would spend his vacation musing over Alexander Pope. I am trying to think of a poet the choice of whom would indicate more slavish devotion to the "great books" mentality, but I simply cannot: Pope is just boring. Rhymed couplets suck. Dragging out the "Essay on Criticism" to come up with some too-clever-by-half letter to the New Yorker, to dispute an article that was actually astoundingly generous to him considering the source -- that really sucks. He was probably on the clock when he wrote it, too. My tax money would have contributed to the writing of that letter, in a scenario in which I had ever made so much money that I actually would have had to pay federal taxes.
The poem, entitled "An Essay on Criticism," has advice both for those who do and for those who criticize. Pope tells the former to curb their pride ("So vast is art, so narrow human wit"), respect ancient wisdom, and eschew "false eloquence" [juxtaposition in original -- Ed.]. As for critics, he warns:But you who seek to give and merit fame,I have pondered your editors' choice of title. Were they sneering, or making a self-deprecatory joke? Are they familiar with the Pope poem, or only with the disembodied line? Did they shoot at me and catch the arrow in their own backside? A little learning can be a dangerous thing.
And justly bear a critic's noble name,
Be sure yourself and your own reach to know,
How far your genius, taste, and learning go;
Launch not beyond your depth, but be discreet,
And mark that point where sense and dullness meet.
Douglas J. Feith
Under Secretary of Defense for Policy
(I quietly note that my first published work was a letter to the editor of the New York Times, criticizing Douglas Feith for opining that the lesson of 9/11 was that terrorists wanted to obtain weapons of mass destruction. I contended that that was the exact opposite of any lesson that could be rationally drawn from the events of that tragic day.)
(3:14 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
Histories of Christian ThoughtI have a receptionist job right now, where I am allowed to use the Internet and read between phone calls. As a result, my project of reading through the early church fathers is proceeding much more quickly than it otherwise would. As I read, I thought back to the presentations of the two historians of Christian thought whose works I have read: Justo Gonzalez and Jaroslav Pelikan.
In the section relevant to my reading today, Gonzalez seems to be making excuses for the extreme boredom that the reading of Irenaeus invetiably produces, which fits in well with his overall scheme of offering us a "history of major figures in Christian thought." Such a scheme is, in my opinion, confusing and potentially even misleading. Pelikan, on the other hand, deals with major topics in given eras and brings in thinkers based on what and how much they contributed to each debate. The result was a more coherent storyline and, I think, a much better understanding of the arguments at stake. Ironically, though, Pelikan refers much more frequently to primary texts, often at great detail, while Gonzalez litters his work with footnotes on secondary works (including works not available in English), mixing together a history of the scholarship on the particular Hero of Christian Doctrine and a history of what he actually did -- this is inappropriate for a survey text, particularly given that most of those who read multi-volume surveys of the history of Christian thought don't have a deep acquaintance with the topic or any particular stake in the scholarly infighting surrounding Justin Martyr. I read Gonzalez for a class after already having read Pelikan, so I had a decent background and was able to follow it, but I could imagine nothing but befuddlement for my less experienced classmates.
In short, I recommend that if you are looking to read a multi-volume survey of the history of Christian thought, go for Pelikan, not Gonzalez. I say this only after having sold two out of three of my Gonzalez books on Amazon. I have just now decided that I'm going to earmark some of those massive profits for the purpose of assembling a full collection of Pelikan, of whose work I sadly own only one volume (and that only because that particular volume was on reserve in the library during the semester when I was reading the others, and I didn't want to sit and read it in the library only).
Wednesday, May 18, 2005
(8:31 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
The Post-OpticonThe model of the panopticon, proposed by Bentham and popularized by Foucault, is no longer operative. It is broken. It undoubtedly still has effects -- wide-ranging effects, as does every broken thing -- but they are neither intended nor predictable.
Only in retrospect is it clear how essential the presense of a real person was in the panopticon. Simply knowing that some person was watching was the most important factor, starting the process of internalizing some presumed ethic. A person, by definition, wants something -- even if the prisoner or student misperceived what the guard or the teacher wanted, some kind of desire was operative.
Not so with the camera, perhaps. A camera wants nothing from me. It only wants to see, and it is able to fulfill that in itself. It is utterly indifferent to what fills its field of vision. Even assuming that there is a security guard somewhere watching the camera is not the same as having an actual living being see you with his own eyes. Indeed, the security guard is one of the most universally derided figures in our societ, a fat, balding, lazy failure, knodding off at the crucial moment in almost every movie in which security cameras play a role. He wants to be a cop, but then, cops are also proverbially fat and lazy, craving their donuts -- miserable people held up by their symbolic authority and nothing more. The admirable cop is the cop on the verge of retirement, taking on that one last case that could mean never attaining to that bliss of rest and relaxation, as though a screenwriter has to place a vast expanse of rest in front of the cop as a reward to distract the audience from the vast expanse of rest usually presumed to be behind the cop, punctuated by the occasional power trip of pulling over one out of the twenty people scoffing at the speed limit at any given point.
There is no one watching, just the watching itself -- and if there is someone watching, at some further remove, it is a pathetic person. Yet what if, still today, we are internalizing the demands of the one supposed to be watching us -- that is, the camera? What happens when a society is disciplined by the camera, disciplined into becoming the good citizens of the camera kingdom? It's as though we're cutting out the middle man here -- instead of emulating some presumed subject, we are emulating the real itself, the sheer unbiased observation of the real. And the real is, we all know, cruel. It is harsh. It is violent. We all know this. "Truth hurts," for example.
I'm sorry that I'm so tired that I can't connect this better, but: Everyone wonders why those American soldiers would tape themselves doing such horrible things in Abu Grahib. Perhaps we need to ask ourselves whether they were only enabled to do such things by the taping itself. What if the camera is what produces not cruelty itself -- it has always existed -- but the cruelty peculiar to our time?
(1:06 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
Internet Book-BuyingJohn Emerson has a post on Internet book-buying, giving his own tips on buying foreign-language books in particular and soliciting other tips. Here's a point of particular note:
I’m especially interested [...] in finding out why shipping from Europe seems to be both slower and more expensive than shipping from other equally-distant parts of the world, such as India and Australia. (Or is it just my imagination?)I have found the same. Amazon's Canadian site is a good option for French books, but they seem to be a few months behind. I ordered Nancy's book on Christianity from Fnac, which seems to be the primary online French bookseller, but the shipping is destroying my soul, and then it is sometimes taking a break and allowing the exchange rates to destroy my soul.
So once you're done leaving tips for John, someone please chime in and answer me this: if I were looking to get a good solid overview of Nancy in two or three books, where should I start? I have to write a review of his newest book, and I feel like knowing something about him would help in that process. (Don't tell my editor that I asked this.)
Tuesday, May 17, 2005
(11:33 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
Tuesday HatredThe Hate List is no longer the main gimmick of my web site -- now we do this daily blog update thing instead in a misguided attempt to draw in readers. I do think that the concept of The Hate List is sound, however, and it is a shame to let it go to waste. That's why I am introducing a new recurring series here at The Weblog: Tuesday Hatred. I calculated that doing it on Tuesday would allow people to participate more fully, having gotten past the usual Monday mountain of work (for those who work), but still holding those Monday annoyances fresh in their mind.
I am finding that unemployment sharpens the senses, in terms of noticing annoying details. So here goes:
- I always send my car insurance in the day after I get the bill, because I am paranoid. Last month, the check apparently got lost in the mail, and I overnighted them a premium check (because I'm paranoid) to make sure that everything would be "cool." This month, my check cleared within just a couple days of sending the payment. The annoyance: there is still no explanation for what happened to last month's check.
- I used to get a lot of tickets for arrogantly parking my truck on the street. I appealled every last one of them, and I also appealled a ticket I got for not having a City Sticker while I was in the grace period. This was three months ago, and I still have not heard back from them about a hearing. I am hoping that it just got lost in the bureaucracy, but there's really no way of knowing for sure.
- Similarly, when I moved, the cable company switched out my previous cable modem for a newer model, but I forgot to keep the receipt for when they took the old one, so I got a bill for $150 for failing to return their modem, when in fact I did return it to them. I complained and asked them to try a little harder to track it down, and they said they'd get back to me once the situation was resolved. Since I haven't heard back from them in three months, I guess the situation is resolved, but it'd be nice if they would have called me and said, "Oh, we found it -- sorry to try to defraud you of $150."
- The ferrets usually have these little platforms in their cage to make it a multi-level environment and give them room to move, but I guess Hayley has taken them down for cleaning or something -- anyway, just now they were wrestling in the litter box, because they really don't have many other options for where to wrestle. Not only is it disgusting, but it's also noisy, because they're rustling up all the ferret litter. Overall: the ferrets are going to need a bath.
- Oh, now they're worn out, so they're actually taking a little nap in the litter box. I guess it's not that big a deal, since ferrets apparently only like to shit in the corner anyway -- there's always a huge pile right in the corner and this vast expanse of unused ferret litter. That alone should count as its own bullet point.
- I hate those bus stops where there are six different possible buses that could stop there, because you see a bus off in the distance, and there's a chance that even then, your hopes could be dashed. I also hate how the Armitage bus stops running at 7:30 -- it doesn't really affect me directly, but it just seems petty.
- I hate that my cell phone often doesn't ring when I'm walking around outside. I used to think it only happened when it was extremely cold out, but it recently happened when it was a perfect spring day, right in the middle of the Loop -- if there were decent cell phone coverage anywhere in the world, surely it would be there.
- I basically hate talking on the phone in front of people, at all.
- I hate being asked questions, about anything, ever. Even if it's a simple matter of just making conversation, asking what I'm up to, where I'm headed, I get this weird anxiety like I'm being interrogated.
Once, when he was training me to analyze the x-rays, one of the chiropractors at the office where I used to work was looking over my shoulder to make sure that I was doing it right -- totally reasonable -- and I was just paralyzed, unable to start doing it. He said, "Oh, I see, you're nervous because I'm watching you." I said, "I just don't like to be seen doing anything." He said, "Yeah, I've noticed." I found that strange. I would probably be happiest in a job where I was locked up in a room and no one interrupted me -- then when I got off work, I'd be feeling sociable and talkative.
- I hate that I feel like I'm walking on clouds when I get a three-day temp assignment. It's playing directly into the "new economy," of course -- I'm pleased with whatever pittance my corporate overlords send my way. It's like that old Onion article where the fast food worker is in charge of mopping the floor, and he gets a new mop, which is actually really nice and lets him get the floor cleaner with less work, but then he feels pathetic for being happy to get a new mop.