Saturday, May 31, 2008
(8:17 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
The Advantages and Disadvantages of Computers for LifeI have been tempted of late to post things about my dissertation, presumably on AUFS (if someone could explain to me why I created a blog whose name I cannot easily type or pronounce, that would be great). The point here would be to "think out loud." I have already indulged in such behavior via various electronic communications media (of the one-on-one style) with my advisor and Brad. Attentive readers will note that I did not even mention the existence of my Zizek book until I had already submitted the manuscript, and I found that one-on-one style electronic communication provided adequate feedback. Why I think that I should adopt a different model that I am likely to find frustrating for an objectively more important project is unclear to me.
There is a point to this post, however, and that is to indicate the deleterious effects of computers on the composition process generally. In a discussion with my advisor about the writing process, he said that his shift to the computer also led to a shift away from rewriting toward mere editing. As a result, he felt that one of his books had a markedly worse prose style than previous books had.
It was difficult for me to relate exactly, since I have been using a computer to compose papers ever since I had any serious papers to compose. When I was writing my Zizek book, though, I did find that in order to make progress, I had to be able to tear out and write fresh material. My strategy was to have a file (entitled "Remnants") open at all stages of the process, as a receptacle for any significant deleted blocks of prose. I told myself every time that I could reuse the chunk at a later point, but I never actually did. Nevertheless, the ruse worked -- I could delete text without the sensation that I was destroying what word-processing documents almost always feel like to me: the final product.
Perhaps that's what I'm thinking about when it comes to writing blog posts about my dissertation -- it will enable rewriting. At this stage, I would be writing and rewriting something more like a revised proposal (which I need by the fall) or an introduction. There's something about starting fresh several times, testing out what works and doesn't -- that's something that's been lost, at least for me. It's ironic, because word-processing should make everything "easier," but they seem to make everything more carved in stone. Maybe that's not the case for people raised strictly on computers, but for me, the typed version was always the final version.
In the case of the Zizek book, I was able to short-circuit that effect somewhat simply by composing in single-space rather than double-space, a convention I have adopted for subsequent writing as well and that I can't believe I'd never thought of before. Another more radical option might be the kind of no-frills text editors that Steven Poole discusses here -- or perhaps even the no-frills text editors provided by blogging services. The advantage of the former is, of course, that they lack comment functions.
Friday, May 30, 2008
(5:24 PM) | Brad:
Adorno Devotional (+ The Rebirth of Friday Night Jazz!)Adam has given up his Minima Moralia devotions, to the detriment of his eternal soul, but we all knew he was lacking in that regard anyway, his ego having arrived long before his soul and barring the way for anything resembling a rival. But that doesn't mean we have to!
(And for an ironic tweak of Adorno's nose, a throwback to a nearly forgotten Weblog tradition, Friday Night Jazz. Let's ring in its rebirth with my first love, Mingus: Freedom and Haitian Fight Song.)
Abstract utopia is all too compatible with the most insidious tendencies of society. That all men are alike is exactly what society would like to hear. It considers actual or imagined differences as stigmas indicating that not enough has yet been done; that something has still been left outside its machinery, not quite determined by its totality. The technique of the concentration camp is to make the prisoners like their guards, the murdered, murderers. The racial difference is raised to an absolute so that it can be abolished absolutely, if only in the sense that nothing that is different survives. An emancipated society, on the other hand, would not be a unitary state, but the realization of universality in the reconciliation of differences. Politics that are still seriously considered with such a society ought not, therefore, propound the abstract equality of men even as an idea. Instead, they should point to the bad equality today, the identify of those with interests in films and in weapons, and conceive the better state as one in which people could be different without fear. To assure the black that he is exactly like the white man, while he obviously is not, is secretly to wrong him still further. He is benevolently humiliated by the application of a standard by which, under the pressure of the system, he must necessarily be found wanting, and to satisfy which would in any case be a doubtful achievement. The spokesmen of unitary tolerance are, accordingly, always ready to turn intolerantly on any group that remains refractory: intransigent enthusiasm for blacks does not exclude outrage at Jewish uncouthness. The melting-pot was introduced by unbridled industrial capitalism. The thought of being cast into it conjures up martyrdom, not democracy. (from §66)
(3:40 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
The Awful German LanguageFor a long time now, I've been using Adorno's Minima Moralia as a German reading text, with limited success. Yesterday I returned it to the library and decided to use one of the German texts that I own. I have a pretty good selection of texts by Nietzsche, Kafka, and Benjamin, a volume of Rilke's prose (incl. Malte Laurids Brigge), and Heidegger's Gelassenheit (trans. as "Discourse on Thinking"). (I also have the German text of Phenomenology of Spirit on-hand, but I'm not even going to try that, as it took me over an hour to read the table of contents.)
Following in a long-standing tradition, I am polling the readership of this blog to determine which is the most appropriate text for me to attempt to read at this time. The poll options are limited to authors; recommendations of particular texts can be made in comments. Readers are also invited to make arguments in favor of abandoning the attempt to gain a functional reading knowledge of German.
[The poll is no longer working for some reason and is causing the page to load slowly. Thanks to all who voted, even though now I can never know the results.]
(11:37 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
Friday Afternoon Confessional: The Actual AfternoonI confess that I slept in late this morning and didn't have time to pre-post the confession last night -- so all those morning sinners out there were cruelly deprived.
I confess that last night my quest to use as many different L stops as possible was significantly advanced when I fell asleep on the train and woke up at the elusive Francisco Brown Line stop, from whence I walked home. I confess that despite my many rambling walks through the neighborhood, I was not prepared for how disruptive the river was to my route home.
I confess that at the Seminary Co-op member sale, I bought Bergson's Matter and Memory, Deleuze's Bergsonism, and Lacan's Seminar XVII. I confess that at Powell's I didn't buy, but strongly considered buying, an essay collection by Gerhard Ebeling, a "very short introduction" to Mormonism, an intro book on quantum physics, and -- for reasons I can't fully understand -- an anthology of selections from John Calvin's Bible commentaries.
I confess that at some point, I need to buy a new pair of jeans to replace the ones with the crotch tear and some new shirts.
I confess that I should probably just post this so people can confess.
Thursday, May 29, 2008
(9:35 AM) | John Emerson:
It comes from the topCadre here may not be too interested in this kind of thing, but I am.
From Glenn Greenwald:
JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I think the press corps dropped the ball at the beginning. When the lead-up to the war began, the press corps was under enormous pressure from corporate executives, frankly, to make sure that this was a war that was presented in a way that was consistent with the patriotic fever in the nation and the president's high approval ratings.
And my own experience at the White House was that, the higher the president's approval ratings, the more pressure I had from news executives -- and I was not at this network at the time -- but the more pressure I had from news executives to put on positive stories about the president.
I am a big fan of the media critics Atrios, Brad DeLong, Eric Alterman, and above all Bob Somerby. For years (in the case of Alterman and Somerby', for at least ten years) they've been documenting the shallowness, inaccuracy, dishonesty and ultimate Republican slant of the media -- especially TV and radio, but also including such highly respected publications as the New York Times and the Washington Post.
However, they tend to be too willing to slip into the "Heathers" or "Villagers" explanation. Supposedly the media are staffed by a bunch of silly, shallow, people who only talk to each other and who, for example, did what they did to sabotage Al Gore's Presidential run because he annoyed their silly little high school sensibilities.
I've always believed that it was a management problem, and I think that Greenwald's post confirms that I've been right. This does not mean that the Heathers are not silly people, and it doesn't mean that they're not culpable. But the people whose names we see are quite literally hirelings and lackeys (albeit very well paid hirelings and lackeys). They give management what it wants.
Greenwald gives several more examples, and there is a long list of reporters whose newspaper careers ended or dead-ended because of excessively accurate reporting -- Seymour Hersh is the most eminent of them. (To Greenwald's list of recent suppressions, I'd like to add the case of Lara Logan, who tried to start an email campaign to keep her bosses at CBS from suppressing a story).
Every time that I make the claim that management is responsible, rather than individual reporters, the reflex "conspiracy theorist" accusation shoots back at me so quickly that I have to ask myself whether my statement even reached the cerebral cortex at all. All I claim is that management manages, and that reporters can be hired, fired, promoted, and demoted, but people come back at me with abstruse theories proving that management does not, and can not, manage. And that I'm the crazy one, and not them.
As for management's motives, I have no way of knowing that. My present guess is that the owners and managers of the big media favor war and low taxes (and the ending of the estate tax, which is a major factors for the few family-owned publications: see here) and are responsive to the normal kinds of favors that the federal government can hand out. They are not right wing on other issues, but the Bush administration really isn't either -- by now they've double-crossed most of their conservative ideological constituencies by now. (That is to say, nativists, cultural conservatives, fiscal conservatives, and above all little-government conservatives.)
I'm sure that organized winger pressure is a factor too, but public opinion isn't the reason: the big media have always been more hawkish and more anti-tax than public opinion. I much bigger factor is advertiser pressure, since advertising pays all the bills for TV and radio, and most of the bills for newspapers. Advertisers all have their own political agendas and have never been shy about pushing them; furthermore, a substantial proportion of high-end advertising is institutional advertising (e.g. for oil companies) intended to promote a company, and not to sell any specific product.
Of course, Chomsky and company said all this twenty years ago. Maybe we shouldn't have been tuning those guys out all that time.
Wednesday, May 28, 2008
(5:41 AM) | it:
Wednesday Sex: Schopenhauer - hurrah for lesbians and contraception
Schopenhauer's notorious piece 'On Women', published in Parerga and Paralipomena (1851), along with the whole chucking-woman-down-stairs thing, has cemented unhappy Arthur's reputation as something of a lady-disliker in the minds of many.
He certainly says some funny, terrible things: 'only a male intellect clouded by the sexual drive could call the stunted, narrow-shouldered, broad-hipped and short-legged sex the fair sex'. However, a more careful reading of the essay reveals a subtle cry for female emancipation, and of an end to the historical reliance of women on men for the latter's financial and cultural capital. I am not kidding.
Subject as women equally are to the will, that icky vitalist impulse to blindly perpetuate life (oh, you know, suffering), the 'super-abundant beauty and charm' possessed by young women (compared by Schopenhauer to the wings of the female ant that fall away after mating) is nature's ruse for tricking men into the horrors of 'childbed'. If, however, there is no reproduction, indeed no longer any link between 'natural' desire and the sexual act, then the spell of nature is broken – the contraceptive pill, by virtue of its powers of chemical confusion, not only diminishes libido ('out, damn will!'), but burns the sticky umbilical bridge that necessitates a link between the wild thing and a screaming thing nine months later (we should perhaps at some point tap up Meillassoux for an argument about sexual causation).
Schopenhauer notes that in order for women to entice strong young men into tricksy tupping, they must use all their powers of dissimulation (it is to be found 'in the stupid one almost as often as in the clever one'). If the will historically can no longer smuggle itself through on a tidal wave of lust, it is perhaps only then that we can tell the truth. The true is always wrenched from the bawdy teeth of nature, as the Enlightenment never tires of teaching us.
Schopenhauer also half-invents generic humanist feminism when he claims that women are 'altogether more involved with the species than with individuals'. The bourgeois, atomised male gets his arse kicked by the Gattungswesen of femme-genericity. Oh yes.
And the lesbians? Schopenhauer resents women who rely on men for cash and class, stealing their enjoyment for years upon end (just as Schopenhauer himself had to pay compensation for twenty years to the seamstress he pushed down the stairs - Obit anus abit onus [The old woman dies, the burden is lifted]). Removed from the heteronormative need to ingratiate oneself into the male wage-packet, lesbians (plus all women with a sufficient income) need not, in principle, compete with other women, nor bother men at all, except perhaps for mutually interesting comradeship. Understood historically-materialistically, Schopenhauer's claim that 'The European lady is a creature which ought not to exist at all' (my italics), is quite right. All hail the non-reproductive species-being of a paradoxical Schopenhauerian feminism!
Tuesday, May 27, 2008
(1:35 PM) | Brad:
More PlayoffsThis is a few weeks old, but I had to balance out my love for Chris Paul with a Kobe clip I've been meaning to post:
Paul is great, and he might challenge the throne in the near-future, but is there anybody more feared in the NBA than Kobe? Sports Illustrated says no. If you're at all interested in basketball, it's a great piece.
Where do Weblog sports fans come down on the all-encompassing question that is Kobe?
UPDATE: I guess there is one competitor to Kobe's throne.
2-Year-Old Donkey Called Up To Pro Donkey Basketball League
(10:54 AM) | Brad:
Tuesday HatredI hate how long it is taking me to revise a single, rather short essay. The revisions were requested at the end of February, and I've been without a job since April. I've no excuse, except my hatred of revising essays written over a year ago.
I hate how often the Catholic Church stands between me and, at the very least, an interview. I hate how I simply do not understand intelligent people's appreciation of the Catholic Church, in the face of everything absolutely woeful about it. I hate the surprisingly common sentiment that leaving one's native tradition is a sign of defeat, when the true sign of defeat is being there in the first place.
I hate my ambivalence toward skyrocketing fuel costs. Sure, it might cause fewer people to drive and/or spur the development of alternative energy ... but isn't it just as likely to remove restrictions on burning the sky with liquid hydrocarbons from coal? I hate that I've no faith in capitalism to save itself from ecological collapse.
I hate the dog who always attacks mine during our morning walks. It's not that my dog can't handle herself if I gave her the opportunity. Or at the very least put up a valiant fight. But the other dog's owner shrieks and cries every time, as though she's never seen her dog froth at the mouth at the sight of mine and have it pull away from her frail grasp with a demonic lust for husky blood. I hate that next time I may simply release my dog, and may the better bitch win.
I hate that I've never loved.
(8:01 AM) | Dominic:
A veritable sackload of doucheNoted douchebag* Lee Siegel reveals that his motivation for the astroturfing douchebaggery that got his douchebag ass** suspended from the New Republic was that he was "tired of being labelled an elitist, weary of being bullied, but most of all angry at being insulted as a 'douchebag'...".
*What is a douchebag anyway? Is it something to do with vaginas? I asked the nearest person to me with a vagina, and she said she wasn't sure but that it might be something they had in America, like the French have bidets. Would calling Siegel a "bidet" have been as offensive?
** Is this correct usage? Might one conceivably use a douchebag on one's ass?
Sunday, May 25, 2008
(8:38 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
ComparisonsMany people compare The Sopranos to The Wire and Deadwood, but it seems to me that there are also interesting comparisons to be drawn with Twin Peaks. A scan of Google results for both shows together indicates that critics at least thought of the two shows together -- though most of the results seem to be comparing the later seasons of The Sopranos with the weak second half of Twin Peaks season 2 -- and that makes sense given that Twin Peaks was probably the best known "high quality" television series before The Sopranos.
If I were a better blogger, I would of course carry out this comparison in more (i.e., any) detail, but I just wanted to put the idea out there.
(10:44 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
Citation Management SystemsAre they worth the effort?
Saturday, May 24, 2008
(9:22 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
Altered LogoThanks to Jared Sinclair for his altered version of The Weblog's popular "Wite Out" logo.
Friday, May 23, 2008
(12:00 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
Friday Afternoon Confessional: ExcessI confess that I watched the first season of The Sopranos last week, and despite claiming not to be addicted to the show, I am now thinking of downloading season 2 rather than waiting for Netflix. I confess that I am tempted to write one of those "comparing premium cable serial dramas" posts, because the blogosphere hasn't seen enough of those.
I confess that Katie Dunneback and Sarah K. are not my sock puppets.
I confess that I stayed out until 4 on Wednesday and slept through most of Thursday. I confess that I have tentatively pencilled in Monday as the day I'll stop just goofing around and start working on my dissertation. I confess that "goofing off" has included revising a paper and sending it to a journal, because I apparently have some kind of illness.
UPDATE: I confess that Zizek and Theology is now available for sale in the UK. Since the Amazon discount is only 75 pence currently, you might as well just buy it directly from Continuum's site.
Wednesday, May 21, 2008
(12:54 PM) | John Emerson:
Wednesday SexMy internet schtick over at Unfogged is the "no relationship policy". What I have proposed is that instead of moping around about being single, or beating your brains out going out on "dates" and so on in the hope of de-singling yourselves, and instead of grumbling about your unsatisfactory relationships, you should just declare victory and remain single. Any problem can be solved merely by declaring it to be a goal, and I've been suggesting that people should use this method.
When I say this, people invariably ask themselves "Is John really serious about this?" And as Lacanians, you all know the answer already: "How the hell would John know if he's really serious about this?" It is true, however, that I've been single for about 30 years and that for the last 20+ years that's mostly been by choice. At one point I just looked at what I wanted (too much) and at what I was willing and able to offer (not enough), and I realized that the odds of a happy match were not good.
I came to this understanding after I had broken up with a woman who was devoted to me but who, I became convinced, had no real idea who I was or what life with me would be like. I could have easily done a successful bait and switch, but I suspected that it would all turn bad in the end, so I decided that, given my situation and nature, singleness was my best actual option. And I really do think that people should consider this option, though it's not for everyone and I don't think that is the best of all options.
In the present conjuncture, singleness represents failure and abnormality, and success and normality are the crux of American life (along with home ownership and remodeling). Domestic partnerships (and now gay marriage) will soon allow almost everyone to be normal and successful, and to devote themselves to home ownership and remodeling; but if normality and success are themselves the problem, as I believe, all that means is that it is now up to nominally heterosexual males to provide America with the weirdo failures it so badly needs.
Certainly Luther was to blame for this. Before Luther, sex was not an obligation, but a guilty pleasure for weak people incapable of celibacy; but after Luther you had conjugal duties and fear of homosexuality. And as Arendt pointed out, before a certain point (probably around 1750 or 1800) people were worried that they'd be overwhelmed by desire and that it would ruin their lives, but after that point people worried that they'd dry up and run out of desire entirely.
And why not? Sex had become an obligation.
This is one of Nietzsche's themes, more or less, but I think that his etiology was all wrong. Priestly celibacy didn't reach laymen, and most of them didn't really feel guilty either. There were two different normality-options, hierarchally-arranged. Nietzsche's heroes were all lay Christians: Polish noblemen, Renaissance swashbucklers, etc. Nietzsche wrote about the world he knew, and his real villains should have been Luther, Kant, the German scientific university, utilitarianism and economics, and Prussian (and maybe Roman) law.
As we see in Foucault, sexual repression and asceticism were not necessarily Christian, and their goal was not necessarily repressive. It was often voluntary, and the goals were self-control and liberation from the whipsaw compulsions of desire -- and from the infinite obligations that came from marriage, parenthood, and community membership.
Next came the human sciences. Matter is the substance of physics. Life is the substance of biology. What is the human substance? Rationalists and empiricists said Mind, but there were many problems with that. Race, the economy, physiology, culture, nation and sexuality / desire were other suggested candidates. The reduction of humanness to desire led to an enormous output of sexuality literature, as Foucault documented. (There was a huge production of digestion-literature too, from Nietzsche through Bertand Russell and Kellogg Bran Flakes to Whole Foods and You Are What You Eat.)
Sexuality writers differed about what sexuality really was and what should be done about it, but they all agreed that it was very very important. There was a proliferation of discourse mandating sexual repression or expression and developing analyses and ideologies. Psychoanalysts claimed to be able to know you by knowing your sexuality, and they claimed to be able to cure you by tweaking your sexuality. Or you could know yourself by knowing your own sexuality, or free yourself by freeing your sexuality.
Except that you couldn't. Sexuality was never all that. And by now the marriage obligation of sexuality has been overlaid by the liberation obligation, the feminist obligation, the upper middle class obligation, the global warming obligation, the various rainbow obligations, and so on. Yet it's still supposed to be wild and crazy and fun, a world of freedom where you can escape the limitations and impediments of everyday reality. Random and free and completely unimpeded, but a source of security too. You will be loved for your own imaginary true best self and rewarded for your hidden wonderfulness -- with the love of a supermodel who can afford you.
But most lottery tickets are losers.
Tuesday, May 20, 2008
(5:00 AM) | bitchphd:
Tuesday HatredLet me begin with the most salient hatred, which is this: I hate the fact that, having agreed to hate, I am actually feeling untroubled this evening.
There are, however, many things worth hating, even if that hatred is, for the moment, a rather abstract hatred.
I hate the fact that I have somehow become one of those people who owns way too much crap, especially clothing. I hate that I have become someone who owns groups of clothing in more than one size. I hate that, while cleaning my son's room for the last two days, I've been forced to confront the fact that he has *way* more books and crappy plastic toys than any child needs. I hate having to decide what to do with all his stuff: donate? yard sale? I hate the idea of a yard sale. I hate that this paragraph of hatred makes me sound like an affluent suburban mommy, or that it reveals my affluent suburban mommyhood. Whichever.
I hate worrying that my son's recent emotional upsets over growing up might be signs of Something Terribly Wrong With Him rather than, perhaps, unusually self-aware and articulate expressions of normal feelings. I hate that part of affluent suburban mommyhood includes worrying about crap like this.
I hate important things, too. I hate everything about our current government, for instance. At the same time, however, I hate that that particular hatred has become so very normal that it's faded into the background, to the point where it almost can't be described as "hate" except for those rare moments when one reads a news story that's even more heinous than usual, or when one accidentally happens to hear the president's smug, shrill little voice on the radio or tv.
I hate the fact that I want another beer, but suspect that I may have just drunk the last one. I hate that if I want to find out, I'm going to have to stand up and go to the kitchen.
I hate knowing that this is probably the lamest hatred, ever.
[UPDATE: Tuesday Love is now available.]
Monday, May 19, 2008
(10:47 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
File ManagementI would like it if there was some operating system with the following two features:
- In-place renaming of files -- I can "save as" another filename during editing, leaving behind an old version of the file. I can rename the file when I'm not editing it. Why can't I rename it while editing it?
- Keeping track of moved or renamed files -- On things like the drop-down menu of recently opened files, it shouldn't return an error message when you click on something moved or renamed. Instead, it should have at least a good guess at what file you actually intended. Even better, files should be flagged with where they're referred to, so that when they're renamed or moved, those references can all be updated.
Sunday, May 18, 2008
(9:00 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
COBRAWhich came first -- G. I. Joe's enemy, or the extremely expensive insurance that allows the unemployed to bridge their coverage from one job to the next?
Saturday, May 17, 2008
(2:29 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
Which is better?Magnolia or There Will Be Blood?
Bonus video: Aimee Mann performing "Wise Up" live (consider this my vote).
Tangentially related thought: Someone needs to create a YouTube video that makes it look like characters from The Wire are reenacting the "Wise Up" scene from Magnolia. A skilled editor could probably find scenes where it actually looks like the characters are mouthing the words. (Imagine how touching it would be for Marlo to be saying the final "So just give up.")
Friday, May 16, 2008
(12:00 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
Friday Afternoon Confessional: ABD Again and Lookin' to ScoreI confess that I have passed my oral exam and have now attained to the status of "PhD candidate," colloquially known as "ABD" -- as certified by my advisor, the faculty of the Chicago Theological Seminary, and the big Other. I confess that the conversation about my proposal was very helpful. I confess that while I was waiting for the results of their deliberations after the exam, I began to hope that I had failed so that I could do a completely different proposal.
I confess that even though some of my fellow students are putting together a party in my honor for Friday night, I still felt like no one in the world cared about me when I had nothing to do on Thursday after the oral -- or more precisely, not enough to do after the oral, since I went to the pub with my advisor immediately afterward. I confess that I dread the world-historical feeling of loneliness that will surely set in when I finish my dissertation.
I confess that I paid a $3 ATM fee for no good reason. I could've easily cancelled and gone to another ATM that I know has a lesser fee.
I confess that I used a new route home today to artificially inflate the number of L stops I've used. My usage was "sincere" in that this route dropped me off at a point equidistant to two bars I like -- though in the event, I of course did not end up going to either of those bars, due to my complete isolation from all other human beings, etc. I confess that I was satisfied the other day when a friend of mine in Evanston dropped me off directly at the Howard stop, to remove any ambiguity as to whether I could "count" it.
I confess that I'm using Super Memory software to learn Greek vocabulary, but I'm worried that my ability to identify the equivalent of flashcards won't translate into the context of trying to read a text. I confess that I am a flashcard skeptic.
I confess that I decided to ignore the poll results and read Blood Meridian.
Thursday, May 15, 2008
(10:38 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
The Latest from Sad KermitAnthony sent me the following video of Kermit performing "Needle in the Hay," together with a reenactment of the scene from Royal Tannenbaums:
If any of our readers are current college students who play acoustic guitar, I encourage you to learn this song and play it in the quad.
Wednesday, May 14, 2008
(11:23 AM) | Brad:
WowFor those who've missed the "Play of the Playoffs" thus far:
(12:30 AM) | Ray Davis:
Wednesday Sex: A Pornstructuralist ReaderSome years ago, I sampled a selection of pornographic fiction. As you might expect, it tended either toward the episodic or toward something not much like porn. Alexander Trocchi wrote the exceptions. Although his ambitious works sloshed like bags in a stagnant river, hacking out smut roused an otherwise dormant gift for long narrative: 1955's White Thighs and 1956's Thongs are built like novels.
In terms of genre, the one is dom/sub; the other's S&M. But White Thighs' perky dungeon is a far cry from Pat Califia's pragmatic naturalism and a closer cry to the fantasy scenes of 8 1/2, and I think we can agree that Fellini's neighborhood, distressing as it is, is best labeled vanilla male heterosexuality.
More abstractly, the two novels differ by the merest shift in motive force. Lust generates story by making us stupid. From that rich bubbling crude of gloryhallastoopid, White Thighs slightly emphasizes coupling's imperious loss of will:
"They have no more problems. They don't exist. Each day they become more like the animals they always longed to be.... no wonder they love you, Saul!"
Whereas Thongs slightly emphasizes the more solipsistic telescoping loss of proportion:
"Once the leap out of the self has been made, it is an anticlimax to go back."
1955 was a good year for wicked books. Like sibling Lolita, White Thighs roots its perversion in childhood ecstasy-trauma; like The Talented Mr. Ripley, its hero ascends consequence-free on wings of amorality. But don't let those comparisons or Trocchi's "poet"-studded blurbs mislead you. While he's capable of a telling image, here he mostly coasts by on rampant members and pulsing bellies. In his rush, the author once even seems to lose track of just whose implement he's tracking: "the one who was ever present in my belly like a dark pencil of lust."
The virtue (you should pardon the expression) of White Thighs lies not on its verbal skin but in its architectonics. Trocchi's coasting accelerates consumption as well as production; the weighty hyperfocus of a Marco Vassi would have slowed and finally fractured the book. Desire's absurd muddle of control and abandon — we want the other to want that we want that they want that this that was — is here split into an efficient cycle of surrender, disappointment, and manipulation that drives the story steadily upwards — I picture a rotary engine surrounded by flaps of sticky plastic — to a shaggy-dog punchline. I almost never draw the book from its shelf without finishing it; I almost never put it back without a smirk.
Thongs is another story, more ornately worked and ranging farther. After the traditional "John Ray Jr" prologue, it launches from a grotesque Glasgow slum with a thoroughly anti-erotic razor battle between a thug and his son; it bumps down onto a Spanish estate on the way to a new Golgotha.
Masochism-unto-death (with a female protagonist, ça va sans dire) is a common enough conceit for artsy porn, and the Black Mass and other parodies of Catholic ritual are common enough ornaments, but Trocchi elaborates and entwines them to uncommon extremes:
"Each Pain Cardinal has six Grand Painmasters under him, and they in turn have each twelve Painmasters or Painmistresses under them. Thus, you see that you are one of eight hundred and sixty-four Painmasters or Painmistresses.... If you were chosen as a Grand Painmistress while I was still in your service, you would have the choice of taking me with you as your secretary or of accepting the secretary of the ex-Grand Painmistress. In one sense his services would be an advantage since he would be already acquainted with all the customary forms pertaining to his master's office, but that can be learned and I don't suppose it's necessary to point out to you that a man who has risen with you is likely to prove more loyal."
From those elements, he builds an up-from-the-gutter success-with-regrets story, a reworking of the ancient struggle between orthodox hierarchy and mystic saint (with a Last Temptation-like twist in the tail), and an enduring stroke book for those who seek strokes. Not restricted to the three-chord riff that drives White Thighs home, Thongs' varied transitions all recircle to its fixed idea of consummation — an idea fixed in the reader's mind long before the heroine's, thanks to that prologue. If I finally find I have less to say about the later novel, that may be because it's more articulate on its own behalf.
He buried his face in my neck. What a child! Should I mother him? Is that what he really desires?
I thought not.
Tuesday, May 13, 2008
(1:26 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
Zizek and Theology: The British InvasionIn only a very short time, Zizek and Theology will be available in the United Kingdom. My editor already reports receiving physical copies of what is apparently a very handsome volume.
(Americans have to wait until July, for reasons that have never been entirely clear to me.)
UPDATE: No need to guess at the book's appearance -- my copies just arrived in today's mail. Looks great to me. Here are the (very generous) blurbs, which I am only just now seeing:
"With remarkable lucidity, depth, and presence of mind, Adam Kotsko provides the most sustained engagement with Zizek's theological materialism to date. His study precisely and compellingly locates this dimension within the philosopher's intellectual itenerary from its beginnings to the most recent work, and lets the reader experience the force and necessity of its emergence." -- Eric Santner, University of Chicago
"Concise yet luminous, Kotsko's introduction serves to clarify what is at stake in Zizek's engagement with theology. The clear explanation of Zizek's development and psychoanalytic theory provides an excellent context for exploring the implications of Zizek's intervention" -- Philip Goodchild, University of Nottingham
(12:00 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
Tuesday Hatred: The Fear AgainI hate the recent flakiness of my internet connection. All of my most commonly-viewed pages end up getting hung up on the last 1% or so, leaving it eternally "waiting" -- and this is often after multiple attempts to load the page at all. I hate how angry an underperforming computer makes me, particularly early in the morning. I hate how groceries are getting steadily more expensive.
I hate that Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas was so boring that I could only watch a half hour of it. I hate that the post-strike episodes of House feel so phoned-in. After the first part, the two-episode season finale seems like it could be interesting, but also seems really rushed.
I hate that I seem to have shifted from a couple days of idle relaxation to a feeling of non-motivation and boredom.
Saturday, May 10, 2008
(10:54 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
ReadingOnce I'm ABD, I'm thinking of taking a couple weeks to catch up on my reading. In particular, I'm thinking of reading some novel that I never managed to get to back in my English major days (or in a couple cases, that didn't yet exist in those days). As a service to you, my faithful Webloggians, I have distilled my decision-making process down to blogpoll form, and you can determine my fate. (Please don't laugh at the books I haven't read yet.)
(10:23 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
The Death of "Toughness"As is well-known, Democrats frequently go along with Republicans on foreign policy issues out of a desire to look "tough." As is also well-known, Democrats other than Lieberman never get any credit for such positions.
Hillary Clinton's campaign is the culmination of the quest for "toughness." Not only does she embrace right-wing foreign policy positions for the sake of "toughness," but she also began to base the entire rationale for her candidacy on how "tough" she was in her struggle against Barack Obama. Indeed, many liberal candidates expressed a grudging respect for her and wondered if perhaps her "toughness" would actually make her the better candidate.
Yet crucially, "toughness" didn't work! Barring some miracle, she has lost the nomination -- in fact, she effectively lost it two months ago. The whole charade of "toughness" took place as a desperate gambit after the battle had already been lost.
Friday, May 09, 2008
(8:34 AM) | Adam R:
Friday Afternoon Confessional: Hijacked VersionI confess that I am posting this with no authority. I claim authorship as my moral right, but it was not given me to post today's confessional. I sincerely hope that whatever plans have long been in place for this spot will succeed my post, even abolish it if deemed appropriate. I'll live.
I mean, fo' reals, I got shit I'm not going to confess here. Real, meaningful shit that is blowing me up with shit. I confess I'm a wretch. That'll have to do for the probing honesty you're going to get from me. Because I'm too sad to tell you.
Really, though, what I wanted to say is that I saw this at Ryan Call's new blog:
I think I might derive too much from this.
Wednesday, May 07, 2008
(4:22 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
ABABDI just finished my last exam. In addition, yesterday I sent my advisor the draft of my dissertation proposal that will be the basis for my oral exam next Thursday. Assuming I passed all the exams, I can think of no other way to describe my present status than ABABD.
Even with the extra AB, it feels pretty damn good.
(12:00 AM) | Dominic:
Wednesday Sex: Alpha and OmegaIs there a parallax effect in sexual attitudes, caused by a fundamental inequality between two distinct classes of person?
Consider the fables of sexual happiness set up by Houellebecq, in which a lifelong sexual loser finds love with a desirable, vivacious, obscurely unhappy sex maniac who will do absolutely anything to please him. A law of nature is posited in order to be broken: someone whose previous sexual experience is entirely composed of rejection, humiliation and sordid failed attempts at gratification with other unhappy persons is suddenly ennobled, granted the keys to the garden of earthly delights. It is like passing from one side to another of the screen separating the viewer from the pornographic movie: the world's great "no" to the loser is transformed into a ceaselessly renewed "yes, at once!".
The transformation is a "local truth", confined to the immediate vicinity of the beloved: the wider world remains hostile, contemptuous, structured through and through by the invisible line that separates the desirable from the undesirable. Happiness for Houellebecq is an "island", a zone of exception where the normal rules of social hierarchy are suspended and one's desires can be fulfilled without having to demonstrate one's status, or display one's credentials. His lovers visit sex clubs together, or frolic in the sand dunes, expanding the freedom they have found with each other to include others. There is something saintly about them.
Houllebecq's vision of happiness requires of women specifically that they cease to discriminate between desirable and undesirable sexual partners, whilst continuing to make every effort to be desirable, and not undesirable, to men. It is not as if there are not plenty of disgusted, contemptuous descriptions of old, saggy, emotionally mean or mentally inferior females in Houllebecq's tales: women who fail, or refuse, to give pleasure to men, to stimulate or accommodate them. Houllebecq dwells with morose delectation on every particular of the sexist schema within which his characters are imprisoned; but his imaginary solution to the impasse at the heart of that schema is for one party simply to roll over and let the other have whatever it wants.
What is this sexist schema, and where does the impasse arise? Houllebecq's novels assume, and propound, the premise that nature prescribes sexual competition between males for the attention of females. Male social hierarchy is organised around sexual access to females: the "alpha" male both monopolises resources (food, money, markers of status) and maximises his reproductive opportunity. Females co-operate with this system by awarding reproductive opportunities to those males who look like a good bet in terms of nourishing and defending future offspring. What makes females desirable to males however is not status but fecundity: the female sexual attributes that Houellebecq's male characters continually salivate over are all markers of reproductive health. (Nubility in this system is nothing other than fuckability, the state of being of "prime" child-bearing age). A male is undesirable if he is not materially successful, or if his place in the male social hierarchy is low; a female is undesirable if she is old, unhealthy or sexually unaccommodating.
It's clear that this system hasn't much to offer to non-alpha males, or non-conformist females; but the trouble is that the non-alpha males persist in finding well-formed females desirable, and ill-formed females persist in fantasizing about alpha males; indeed, they have to in order for the system to work. In reality? Who knows: this is ideology we're talking about here. And as ideology always does, it says two incompatible things: i) there is a natural order which matches sexual partners one to another according to a system of rank ("there's someone for everyone"), and ii) the system of rank operates by making everybody desire precisely those who are out of their league ("you shall go to the ball!" - and Houellebecq does indeed rewrite Cinderella with a male protagonist). Attempts to game this system, in the manner of Neil Strauss, only affirm its ludicrous premises.
To return to my initial question: do the kinds of inequality that Houellebecq first naturalises and then miraculously suspends (in a manner that actually completely validates the underlying logic of the system) actually exist in the real world in such a way that they result in a parallax view of sex? I've often felt that people talking about how constrained they feel by monogamy, for example, must belong to some entirely other sexual universe than the one I live in: a universe in which you're actually missing out on something by only having sex with one person. (One whole person!) For me, the familiar claim that no one person can completely satisfy one's diverse sexual needs just screams MASSIVE SENSE OF ENTITLEMENT. But this is wholly unfair of me: I like having more than one friend (while I'm not gregarious, I do like to hang out every once in a while...), and would probably feel a bit hard-done-by if even my best friend in the whole world were the only friend I had; and some people feel that way about fucking, too, and it's an entirely contingent and uninteresting fact about me that I mostly don't. Someone who found it difficult to form and sustain lasting friendships would probably find my alleged need for a wide and varied circle of friends similarly vexing, and suspiciously self-centred.
But still, there's that whole-other-world effect. I was once very briefly in a situation when I might if I chose have split up with one woman and taken up with another - or, if I'd been really crafty about it, managed to keep them both on the go at once (can't think of anything worse, actually, but some people would I suppose have relished the challenge). I think that was the only time in my life when I was ever in the position of having that sort of decision to make (in the event I vacillated, which is never good). It's incredibly difficult for me to imagine what it might be like to be continually faced with such dilemmas, but I've known people who were, and whose working assumptions about sex and relationships were simply incomprehensible to me. The thing is: they weren't necessarily the most attractive, or rich, or socially impressive people I knew. Some of the most mind-rendingly complex psycho-sexual configurations I've ever heard described were - apparently - swarming around the persons of some of the plainest and most unprepossessing people I've ever met. So it's not - pace Houellebecq - alpha-maledom or super-breeder status that makes for this kind of differend. In that case...what the heck is it?
Tuesday, May 06, 2008
(4:43 PM) | Adam R:
I WILL SMASH YOUMichael Kimball, the novelist, and Luca Dipierro, the artist, are collaborating on a documentary that features dozens of people smashing things that mean a lot to them. I participated. I smashed my favorite hymn. It came out about how I expected.
They used my part as the trailer.
(1:35 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
Calling All Computer People!I found a macro that converts sentence capitalization to title capitalization -- a crucial step toward maintaining my sanity as I assemble the bibliography for my dissertation proposal, as the Regenstein library lists all titles in sentence capitalization. It even skips over words not usually capitalized and does the first letter of the selected phrase regardless.
For optimal convenience, though, it should do two things: detect a subtitle (i.e., capitalize the word following a colon regardless) and strip the space that the Regenstein puts before all colons. How do I make it do that?
(12:00 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
Tuesday Hatred: Then There Was OneI hate that I still have one more exam to look forward to. I hate being afraid to start my dissertation because I'm afraid to be finished. I hate that I've been letting go of language maintenance for the sake of exams and how frustrating it's going to be initially when I start back up.
I hate Unfogged commenter James B. Shearer, and I hate the misguided liberal tolerance that allows him to keep posting there.
I hate not hearing back at the promised time about a potential job.
I hate that I'm unlikely to find work for the summer and don't really want a job anyway, so I should take out another student loan. I hate that if I do take out a student loan, there will be no real reason for me not to take some kind of language class to learn how to actually speak something other than language -- I have enough trouble socially interacting in English.
I hate my general boredom and anhedonia. I hate not knowing what I want from people, and I also hate not knowing what they want but assuming I must be letting them down in some way. I hate running into people I didn't realize I never wanted to see again, and I hate situations that trigger negative associations -- especially when the negative association itself leads to a vicious circle of self-beratement.
I hate lapsing back into the despairing attitude that went out of style on The Weblog some time in 2005. I hate feeling that my best days of blogging are far behind me -- to be precise, I hate that I care that I don't care about that. That last clause is a testament to what it's like to have about 14 levels of self-reflexivity floating around at all times.
UPDATE: All you need is Tuesday Love.
Monday, May 05, 2008
(4:07 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
OMG OMG OMG!!!Blogger now lets you schedule posts! Just change the timestamp to the future, push publish, and it lists it as "scheduled" and explicitly promises to post it automatically!
Since I learned this by accidentally hitting "post" for the Tuesday Hatred, I should say: I hate being excited about a feature they should've implemented years ago.
Sunday, May 04, 2008
(5:42 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
A Nearly Empty To-Do ListI have reached the point where I can no longer bear to do further preparation for the third of my four exams tomorrow. Naturally I am now daydreaming about what I will do with myself when this process is completed, and it seems to me that, barring any rash commitments in the next few days, my academic to-do list will contain only three items:
- A brief review of an introductory text on philosophy of religion
- A conference paper on Jean-Luc Nancy
- My dissertation
Saturday, May 03, 2008
(11:44 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
A ThoughtWhat would be better at a high school basketball game than the pep band breaking out into "Head Like a Hole"?
Friday, May 02, 2008
(12:00 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
Friday Afternoon Confessional: Little Boxes on the HillsideIn a recent confessional someone accused me of eating "children's cereal" and I took umbrage. I confess that one morning this week I opened up my box of Frosted Mini-Wheats to find a glowing Indiana Jones-themed spoon.
I confess that taking a qualifying exam while crippled by allergies is sub-optimal.
I confess that the conclusion of the second season of Weeds -- which I confess I watched in one sitting, as a "reward" for the aforementioned day of taking an exam while crippled by allergies -- dispelled my doubts. I confess that I went straight to my room and began downloading season 3, upon seeing the massive cliffhanger with which season 2 ends.
I confess that I had nothing to do with the advent of Wednesday Sex, but I approve.
Thursday, May 01, 2008
(10:25 AM) | Adam Kotsko: