Thursday, October 27, 2005


I have recently watched a few episodes of the tv show "Intervention." And I will not be watching any more.

the subtext of this show, which profiles addicts and documents the moment, in a "intervention" by family and friends, when they decide to seek help, is actually really disturbing. the discourse of addiction in this country ignores the most important thing: that Americans may be, on the whole, addicts, thanks to our inability to relate to anything except in that we can consume it. instead, we have a tv show like this, which tells us that if you eat, sleep, drink, take drugs, watch tv, play video games,exercise, have sex, shop, or use email to feel better about yourself, you are an addict. and you are sick and inadequate and you need help.

upsetting subtext: if you do anything that makes you feel better, it's bad. you are only "okay" if you feel good all the time "naturally." extend that logically: if you need to make any kind of effort, since "addictive" behaviors have been defined to include everything human beings might do except breathe, to feel good about your life, you are defective.

the converse being: since that's impossible, you can be provisionally "okay" if you narrativize your defect via psychiatry and/or the 12 steps, thereby identifying yourself by way of that defect and making yourself easily re-assimilable into the social fabric that makes these rules.

that is, you are either an addict or an addict who agrees to "specify" yourself. sinner, meet repentant sinner. or, i guess, you are perfectly happy all the time without any help. in which case you are a scientologist. and that's a whole other post.

i agree with this NOT AT ALL. real, life threatening addiction is bad enough, and real enough. i don't need to be reminded of the short distance between myself and, say, Courtney Love everytime I eat a doughnut.

don't you think that a power structure that bases its power on convincing us that we are all defective is a little suspicious? so we are either defective or normalized and, either way, totally subject to this discourse of normalization.

come to think of it, this whole structure sounds a lot like scientology. and my critique of it sounds a lot like Foucault.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

my dear colleagues

i have a request:

i had a professor who asked us once to stop prefacing or summing up everything we said with "that's just what i think." he said that this made it sound like we didn't believe that we were saying anything important. plus, he said, it's kind of annoying. if you don't believe you, who will?

it's good advice.

i have noticed that a few people on one of the listserves i am currently on have the habit of discounting what they write in nearly every post, beginning or ending with things like "that's just what i think," or "just my thoughts." this bothers me tremendously. what you think is not "just" anything.

because i value what you're saying. i think the rest of the class does too. so stop telling us not to.

and i will try to follow my own advice, as well.

it's official

as of today, 26 October 2005, at 6:45 pm:

i believe i have officially seen every episode of "Law and Order." And "SVU."

what a relief.

here's to you, shashi

This is meant as a partial answer to your question about the Foucauldian paradox. I recently read and wrote on _The History of Sexuality_, and this is part of what I got. So it's contextualized in terms of queer sexuality, but maybe its applicability also proves that "queer" has less to do with sexuality than it does with a kind of position in relation to power.)
“Resistance,” Foucault writes, “is never in a position of exteriority to power” (95). Hence, finding resistance as a reaction to “renouncing sex” actually takes part in, and reinforces, the deployment of sexuality. “Queering,” if I read Foucault as he intended, is more than the establishment of a sub-altern subject position marginal or exterior to power. Resistances, then, if they are formed in reaction to the power deployed by sexuality, “form with respect to the basic domination an underside that is in the end always passive, doomed to perpetual defeat” (96). What it might mean to actually “queer” this relation, following Foucault, would mean situating resistances to the deployment of sexuality as “the odd term in relations of power… inscribed in the latter as an irreducible opposite” (96). This passage is crucial to my understanding of queer theory. First, it seems wholly possible that the term “queer” grew out of Foucault’s use of “odd” to describe the locus of resistances within power structures, “odd” by way of being normative sexuality’s “irreducible opposite.” I also take into account here my own experience of “irreducibility studies” as a postmodern theoretical praxis especially useful for examining gender, sexuality, and bodies. “Irreducible” speaks to a relationship between figure and ground that creates the sort of “odd” space where we might find “queer.” We may then relate Foucault’s discursive definition of “queer” to body and gender studies by way of his insistence that, thanks to this “irreducible opposition,” there is no “single locus of refusal” of renouncing the deployment of sexuality. There is, instead, a “plurality of resistances” that correspond to the plurality of bodies, the plurality of loci of gender within these bodies, all of which “exist in the strategic field of power relations” (95-96).
To my mind, this speaks to the kind of postmodern identity politics that inheres in queer theory in a relationship not reducible to cause or effect. Writes Foucault: “one is dealing with mobile and transitory points of resistance, producing cleavages in a society that shift about, fracturing unities and effecting regroupings, furrowing across individuals themselves, cutting them up and remolding them, marking off irreducible regions in them, in their bodies and minds” (96, italics mine). The very nature of “queer”’s “queerness” is inseparable from the interplay of bodies and historically located selves. Queer signals a shift in the field of power relations that opens a gap in the figure/ground relationship of bodies to history so that the “grid” of power laid out by the deployment of sexuality can be “dismantled” by a plurality of sites that no longer allow it to obtain (131). In less coy terms, we can think of this in part as Foucault does, by way of the multiplicity of sites of resistance that did not challenge but instead destabilized the traditional “right of sovereignty”; queering introduces the odd middle term of irreducibility, and with it a logic within which sovereignty no longer produces power and which “the classical juridical system was utterly incapable of comprehending”(145). The “life-based” political structure that “queering”’s brand of destabilization led to strikes me as the undeniable inscription of identity politics within queer resistance; in other words, “queer” could be in part defined as the politics of identity – which seems obvious until we dismantle and reexamine the elements of identity and politics and bodies and selves a la Foucault. Hence, queer theory can be read as much more than just “gay people talking about something,” or “ theorizing in terms of gayness.” Instead, we can start to read queer, queerness, and queering in their own terms of creating a position within power, bodies, selves, and identities for the irreducible opposite.

Bodies, folks. Bodies. As Elizabeth Grosz points out, "We need to understand not only how culture inscribes bodies - a preoccupation of much social and cultural theory in the past decade or more - but, more urgently, what these bodies are such that inscription is possible, what it is in the nature of bodies... that opens them up to cultural transcription, social immersion, and production...." (Nick of Time, 2).

Sunday, October 23, 2005

blog as arcades

"it's a poignant mix of poverty and desire, laced with an aesthetic of the cool" (Sirc)

my blog replaces my living-space as what fills up with the cultural detritus from my rag-picking expeditions.

Friday, October 21, 2005

our holy mother

it's been awhile since i've bought Madonna as a musician. but i am about halfway through watching her new documentary "I'm Going to Tell You a Secret," and i'll tell you this: i totally buy Madonna as a performance artist.

she seems to have assembled a team of dancers, costumers, set designers and media artists to her specifications and then orchestrates one hell of a show. beautiful multi-media constructions and film clips play on an assemblage of enormous screens behind her constantly moving stage. the dancers are perhaps the most incredible part. i can't take my eyes off them, and then the way they interact with the set and with each other adds another dimension. it's all totally spectacular and over theatricalizied, like the whole show is screaming "yes i am manipulating you!" and it's stunning. everything about the show, from the colors in the film clips to the religious imagery to the movements of the dancers, is oversaturated; i keep wanting to call it a sort of hyper-aesthetics. maybe this forces a kind of hyper-subjectivity on the part of the viewer, which seems to be what Madonna has always been aiming for. love her or hate her, she's consistent. and it speaks to hyper-subjectivity that she's consistent in her reinvention. is it the inflection of chance upon evolution, on transformation, that she's producing?

the film itself, directed by Jonas Akerlund, is similarly striking. the opening montage is particularly beautiful, and proves that this guy is so talented that he can use color and editing and film manipulation to make Madonna reading from the book of revelations not only palatable but affecting.

so, okay, i like Madonna again. Hel-lo Pontiac!

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

that thing

when Kathleen Hanna wrote : "Kurt smells like Teen Spirit" on a wall backstage at an Olympia punk show.

_The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill_: "you act like a hard rock when you really are a gem".

(parenthetically, the Real Roxanne, which, technically,was before my time.)

cultural moments, ladies. can i get an additional "hell yeah"?

Monday, October 17, 2005

johnny, my love

(Please note: any similarity, real or imagined, to actual men named John is purely coincidental.)

Get out of the business.

I remember exactly where I was sitting the first time I heard Liz Phair say "c**t" (please don't be alarmed at my uncharacteristic delicacy regarding this word. my mother reads this blog).

I was sitting at the kitchen table in the double-wide trailer my friend Bobbie had rented from her mother. It was 1994. Spring. "Exile in Guyville" had recently been released. Sitting across the table from me was a guy named Noah. He was taking bong hits from a glass bong. Having never been a pot smoker, I was not. Liz Phair dropped "c**t" in a sing-song voice in the middle of the song "Dance of the Seven Veils." She implored some unknown Johnny to get out of the business. "I only ask because I'm a real c**t in Spring" -my friend stopped mid bong hit. The whole world changed.

It was a historic moment in my life. Picture me, aged 18: hair bleached beyond white, wallet on a chain. I'm guessing that I was wearing baggy jeans, an a Goodwill tee-shirt, and Vans. From that moment on, I wanted to be Liz Phair. Suddenly, it was okay to be bad. And smart. And to want a boyfriend. And to be a smart bad girl who wants a boyfriend. Who is insecure AND arrogant. To be a cursing, makeup wearing feminist who wants to have kids. When I was 18, this kind of possibility was enormous. It is now.

And voila. As soon as I heard Liz Phair say "c**t," I set out to conduct my life to the soundtrack of "Exile in Guyville." And in the ensuing 12 years, I have more or less lived a song-by-song response to the Stones' "Exile on Main Street." That one "c**t" defined a cultural moment that resonated far beyond its shock value; I stretched it out by growing into it.

To my mind, "Exile in Guyville" is one of the best and most important records of my generation. I was defined and defined myself, even when I didn't realize it, by way of its tracks, which were themselves defined in opposition to c**k-rock's monopoly agressive, expressive sexuality. Liz Phair's "c**t" let her claim vulnerability for herself.

And Johnny, it's worth noting, is still in the business.

tabloid nation

the british. join in their witty love of celebrity gossip at Lucky Cracker.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

i hope she has a back-up plan

i read today on yahoo "news" that mary-kate olsen has dropped out of college.

like this is news. the olsen twins are, like, billionaires. what was she going to do with the degree, exactly?

now i am an academic. far be it from me to encourage young people NOT to go to college. more kids in college = more jobs for me. but if i had olsen-twin-kind-of-money, i could actually go do the things college would teach me about.

here's a partial list of suggestions i'd offer to little mary-kate.

- cooking lessons. with alain ducasse.
- learn to speak, in this order: french, romanian, icelandic, arabic.
- two words: punk rock.
- how many people actually get to see mt everest, victoria falls, or patagonia?
- and make sure you take pictures of everything. then:
- write a book, which is what most of us would do if we didn't have to pay the bills. just don't write poetry. you're no jewel.
- see all those people in various parts of the world who are skinnier than you? they wish they weren't. help them.
- chateau. vineyard. garden. rhone valley.
- read up on the 50s, 60s, 70s. rich people used to be so much more interesting.
- greek shipping heirs: who needs 'em?

projecting? me? no way. i LIKE ramen noodles and wine from a box.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

thoughts from a nap

one: my neighbor seems to use his leaf blower for several hours a day, everyday.

two: hurling sheep over a fence seems a cruel thing to do. what am i going to do with the sheep after i've broken their front legs? what about the farmer whose job it is to graze them? should i be treating sheep so irresponsibly?

three: "turkey in the straw." "turkey in the straw." "turkey in the straw." my home should be free of this noise, especially since i do not enjoy ice cream.

the world's way of telling me i should be doing work.


Michael Berube posted an insightful commentary on blogging in the academic world last week. This is not the first time he's addressed this topic. As more of us young academics are blogging, more of us young academics are also going on the job market. And the prevailing wisdom holds that the job market, at least the one that involves tenure, doesn't necessarily like our blogging. We have a couple of choices here: publish a "serious" academic blog that tows the party line (the problem: that line is vastly different for different departments) or publish an anonymous blog and say whatever we want. And make sure that NOBODY finds out it's you.

That's not much of a choice. In the worlds of academia and cyberspace, I have no cultural capital

So at the same time as we are being implored to figure out ways, whether through our research or our teaching or our integration into the community, to assert the importance and continuing relevance of foundering humanities departments everywhere, we are being denied the cultural capital with which to do so. My generation is supposed to be, in large part, made up of the risk-takers who are showing up just in time to reinvigorate our disciplines. But we're not actually supposed to be taking any risks. I always fall on the side of responsibility. When I started blogging, I decided to attach my name and pictures because I am a big believer in not saying anything publicly that I am not accountable for. My blogging friends also seem more or less to follow this, even those who are more anonymous than I am. It's my choice to put what I want on my blog; when I attach my name to it, I write what I want with full knowledge of the consequences. On one hand, it's a good exercise in responsibility and accountability for those taking part in some kind of public discourse.

On the other hand, that responsibility is really overdetermined. I find myself considering my accountability to the job market, not to myself or to anyone who reads my blog, unless they are considering whether or not to grant me tenure.

I have found myself, of late, reconsidering anonymous blogs. I still don't see the point. If you want to say a bunch of stuff that you refuse to be held accountable for, why are you saying it? Why should anybody care? For example, I occasionally check in with powerprof at Just Tenured (sorry, no links when I'm using my mac). Powerprof writes about, roughly in this order: dates she has been on, dates she is going on, her screwed-up relationships, her struggle with bipolar manic-depression, sex, drinking, and shopping. Everybody in her world has a pseudonym. She goes to great pains to retain her anonymity, all the while writing things I wouldn't tell my best friend. I am of two minds about this. One: god, that's really self-absorbed; do you really need to spend hours each day talking about yourself? Why not just write some bad confessional poetry?

BUT. Two: I wish I could do that. Powerprof has a community of readers who don't care that for all they know she's a fictional construct. They comment, support, and offer advice. She is more a part of the on-line community than many "serious" bloggers. No, she's not doing anything to reinvigorate her academic field, but that might be because in large part, she can't; she can't even really tell us what her field is. I don't dream of a world where Powerprof could reveal her true identity since, I don't care what she does, she's writing about really personal things. So I guess it's largely irrelevant to a discussion of blogs in academia. Yet this woman clearly has some cyberspace capital. She's anonymously rewriting her identity as free from overdetermination. And she's a newly tenured professor.

In _Rhetorics, Poetics, and Cultures_, James Berlin writes that he would "propose the necessity for provisional, contingent metanarratives in attempting to account for the past and present" (77). This is part of Berlin's strategy to make English studies culturally relevant in the academy by way of an investment in his "social-epistemic rhetoric." To my mind, a blog, whether by an identifiable author or an anonymous entity, provides a "provisional, contingent metanarrative" for the academic humanities. It seems like this would be indispensable to the future of our cultural relevance, which includes the ever-shrinking number of tenure-track positions. It's just that it seems like in order to attempt these kind of metanarratives in a way that isn't always already overdetermined by our desire for those positions, we have to completely dis-identify with said academy.

Again, this isn't to suggest that Powerprof would ideally be able to write what she writes with a "real name." The only thing that makes her blog relevant to academia is its title. But that she writes this blog under that name demonstrates her complete disidentification with the hand that feeds her, all the while remaining under the sign of academia. In that sense, it's sort of a fascinating exercise, akin, somewhat, to Theresa Ebert's concept of "resistance postmodernism" as later discussed by Berlin. "Resistance postmodernism" is available to academics as a way to challenge social totality and to reinvigorate our disciplines by offering a materialist praxis for critical and social theories. It is also available, to me, as a critical metanarrative of the academy and the possible ways to ensure the continued growth of the humanities that must necessarily include their being traversed by cyberspace's "differences." Totality, writes Ebert, is "an overdetermined structure of difference... thus always self-divided, different from itself and multiple; it is traversed by 'differences within,' by differance" (Berlin 81).

Does the question of academic blogging, even the most responsible kind, point to the failings of the university to consider itself a postmodern entity, to integrate itself into the historic context of poststructuralist logic that it both espouses and exists within? Ebert: "If totalities are structures of differences and thus multiple, unstable, changeable arenas of contradictions and social struggle, then they are open to contestation and transformation. But such transformations are themselves contingent on analyzing the ways in which the operation of power and organization of differences in a specific system are _overdetermined_ by other systems of difference, because systems of difference are also situated in social formation– which is itself a structure of differences made up of other systems of differences, including the social, economic, political, cultural, and ideological" (81).

Have we disconnected from disidentification? Am I supposed to teach one thing, while my very existence AS A TEACHER depends on its opposite? I have no idea. I haven't even started my dissertation. But when I am writing this, I am worried about who will read it.

Monday, October 10, 2005


i think not.

james berlin, late theorist of rhetoric and poetics, studied this week in my teaching practicum

james ruddy, my dad, alive and well and managing his cats

can i get an amen

twisty faster offers this timely suggestion for helping a friend navigate grief, crisis, or disaster:

"... she is trying to tell you, "this shit is fucking fucked up and I'm a fucking mess," and she just wants you to fucking believe her..."

Friday, October 07, 2005

the interior, the trace, part two

"... such nihilism is the innermost core of bourgeois coziness... to live in these interiors was to have woven a dense fabric about oneself, to have secluded oneself within a spider's web, in whose toils world events hang loosely suspended like so many insect bodies sucked dry. From this cavern, one does not like to stir."

the interior, the trace, part one

from Benjamin's _Arcades Project_, probably the biggest and most well-used piece of furniture in my home:

"The confrontation with furniture in Poe. Struggle to awake from the collective dream."


i had the occasion recently to ask two friends about the Jewish holidays falling this week and next. they kindly forgave my non-Hebrew ignorance of such important events as Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur because, for one thing, i come from the least ethnically diverse place on earth and, for another, i'm genuinely interested. my friend J's explanation of Yom Kippur led us into a discussion of atonement. behind all the platitudes about forgiveness and amends that we live with every day is a more problematic idea of atonement that posits it as a communicative act between two people. from what i understand, there is, in the Jewish tradition, a great deal of importance put on the verbal act of atonement. in some ways this seems similar to christian confession or the discourse of penitence.(i capitalize the J and not the c because, as a christian by default, it's up to me whether or not to properize my religion. it's not up to me whether or not to properize somebody else's). but the way that Foucault analyzes the discourse of penitence and its institutionalization both signals its difference from atonement and also points to significant problems with apologizing. "the confession is a ritual of discourse in which the speaking subject is also the subject of the statement," writes Foucault in _the history of sexuality_. but in terms of the christian confession's role, and the penitent's position, in the deployment of sexuality, this is precisely the point. and that's part of the problem - not to oversimplify, but, according to Foucault, that's how the hell we got into this situation in the first place: "this discourse of truth finally takes effect, not in the one who receives it, but in the one from whom it is wrested."

on one hand i appreciate the implicitly communicative aspect of atonement, and it seems to me that, as with many things, the Hebrew sensibility is markedly more forward looking, even more "modern," than prevailing christian ideology. that in the Jewish faith there is a day set aside to atone for your sins, ideally verbally and directly to those against whom you have sinned, emphasizes the importance of human relationships in instilling good in the world (i am trying hard to stay away from actually talking about a divine being here, because that is something about which i am wholly unqualified to speak). i like that. and i think that this idea has crept into secular uses of atonement in a way in that differentiates it from the more christian "forgiveness."

BUT. practical uses of atonement tend to assume this kind of communicative act in a way that doesn't recognize the difficulty of overcoming the fact that the "speaking subject is also the subject of the statement." and so we have the modern-day, secular apology, which seems to THINK that it takes part in a discourse of atonement when really it's often no more than a confession, taking effect in the one from whom it was wrested. that is, atonement actually takes work to do right, because if it is not enacted as the communicative dynamic that it's meant to be, the apology and the forgiveness are two separate acts, and the burden for the desired result falls not upon the sinner but upon the abused. and then it takes an almost-divine kind of grace on the part of the abused to be able to forgive the sinner. well, christians would say, that's exactly the point. i'll take that, but it seems a bit archaic for actual praxis and, as Foucault might argue, is that not what the hell got us into this mess in the first place?

in more practical terms: apologies are designed to make the apologizer feel better. for most people, apologizing has become an easy way out of being able to treat others however they want, to sin freely, as it were. look at the 12 steps of AA. one of the final steps (i believe, although never having actually "worked the steps" i am perhaps not as familiar with them as i ought to be) is admitting your wrongs to the people you have wronged and making amends for these wrongs. although AA is deeply entrenched in christian mythology, these steps seem to be trying to put the more ancient idea of atonement to work. except that practically, consider this: these steps, as with all of the 12, are meant to work in favor of the alcoholic. to require a person to further their salvation by calling up the ex-friend/girlfriend/boss that they threw up on/cheated on/stole from ten years ago shows absolutely no regard for that ex-friend/girlfriend/boss who I ASSURE YOU is not waiting for an apology. but they are put in the position of knowing that they are jeopardizing the addict's entire recovery if they don't comply. i personally wouldn't want to be responsible for anyone's relapse and probable death, even if it was someone who had done me wrong. and to my way of knowing, this is the predominant version of atonement circulating these days. i can't speak for my Jewish friends, but i know i wouldn't want my sacred tradition kicked around like this. just call it what it is: confession. apologizers don't actually want to DO anything, they're just hoping for a few hail marys and let's move on so that they don't have to feel bad. or so they can get their 6 month chip and not die from cirrhosis, or whatever.

my point is this: i like the idea of Yom Kippur. i really respect a day for atonement. i wish my religion had something more theoretically rigorous and well-meaning to offer than a fat man in a red suit and rabbit who delivers eggs. but atonement is a lot more difficult, and, like any true act of communication, more important than our common conception of it. if you're not going to somehow atone the right way, i say don't bother. the sinner feels better, but the abused feels worse, not least because of the added pressure she feels to forgive. how to truly atone is another question. i'd start answering it by saying that maybe to truly atone the sinner should shoulder the burden for the guilt; she should not apologize as an easy way to feel better. you sinned, you should live with it in your life. maybe your future actions will be in part determined by the fact that it is there next to you every day. whatever happens then is sure to be more than just passing the buck in the lamb of god's clothing.

before i get too preachy. just saying.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

getting frankified

i just found this picture of my friend Frances putting make-up on me at my "girls-only" 30th birthday:

at the end of the night, we all looked like hookers, except Frances, who looked like a princess.

Monday, October 03, 2005's okay, i guess

please join me in sending a huge shout-out to my parents on their 25th anniversary. got married for the right reasons, stayed married for the right reasons. still perfect for each other after 25 years.
big ups for that.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

ear infection

i just saw an ad on tv for bon jovi's new cd. the single, "have a nice day," may be the worst song i have ever heard. it joins the ranks of music i find really offensive that includes:
- "rich girl" by gwen stefani (actually, i find gwen stefani's whole being, at least her artistic being, horrible. she's the worst.)
- "invisible" by clay aiken (see previous).
- any inane r&b song that refers to a woman's ass as "that thing." not because it objectifies women, although it does, but because it sounds stupid.
- "that's what i like about you." who sings that song anyway?
i plan to add to this list as time goes on. i also hope for input from anyone else who cares to weigh in.