Friday, March 31, 2006

in defense of pretentiousness

i haven't been too into blogging lately. i have been angry about a lot of things, and i want to prevent my blog from becoming nothing more than an outlet for my rancor. despite what some of you think, i don't enjoy being angry. so i have been trying to channel my anger more productively, as my therapist might say. although he also agrees that my outrage at so much of the idiocy i must suffer is justified.

still. who likes being mad?

today the summery weather had some kind of a strange effect on my attitude. it reminded me of one of my favorite memories from grad school, a memory of an event that happened on a day a lot like this. but i am getting ahead of myself.

all week i have wanted to say something about pretentiousness. like the changing of the seasons, it is with predictable regularity that a number of graduate students express their outrage at what they perceive as pretense among their fellow students. unfailingly, these graduate students assume that they are the first to have to suffer such insult and they proceed to offer their dissatisfaction to the community at large, thinking, perhaps, that they have uncovered some secret of academia, the secret shame of our universities, and now it may be snuffed out so that they can continue their studies unimpeded by such tomfoolery. either that, or they think that they have finally figured out the secret to making the people who are smarter than they are look bad.

well, graduate students of the world, i have news: we're pretentious.

in the same way that this complaint is nothing new, the ability of the rest of us to see it for what it is - an expression of insecurity - is long-practiced. because, for one thing, many of us have tried this one. and we realized that, as intellectuals, criticizing other intellectuals for being too intellectual is a good way to make sure that nobody ever listens to you again.

and that's because, when one argues this, one is not really saying anything. it's like criticizing supermodels for being vapid. we use jargon? well, yeah. we're learning the vocabulary of theory and criticism. in any specialized field, there is a specialized vocabulary. some folks call it a "discourse," and, predictably, one's success in this field depends upon one's ability to master it. we're pretentious? in this case, meaning that we "pretend" to know things that we don't, this charge is also a precisly the point. that's how humans learn. just as graduate school exists to model the profession for us while we engage in the training necessary to undertake a career in scholarship, so we are not expected to emerge, fully formed, as scholars on our graduation day. remember the "old" logic of students as empty vessels, the one that we so vehemently disavow in our progressive pedagogical training? remember it? same idea.

a large part of what we do is based on the functions of communication within social systems, that is, discourse and narrative. if learning about this didn't entail being inside that discourse and sometimes straining, even breaking, the narrative, none of us would be here. so what's your complaint again? should we throw up our hands when we read, say, Adorno, and say "this doesn't make sense," or dumb it down in some disingenuous attempt to expose difficult texts as nothing more than trickery? to the end of what? being liberated? fidning the "truth"? has the ridiculousness of this path become clear yet?

instead, as i often tell my students, we should slowly lower our hands and ask "how can i make sense of this?" or "what kind of sense does this make?"

3 years ago, at the end of my first year in graduate school, a group of us proposed an English Department flag football challenge. We had 4 shared offices, and we split into teams based on office affiliation; 103 and 105 Neville Hall was to battle 107 and 109 Neville Hall. Since all but one person from 107 pussed out, a few professors and my boyfriend at the time - Josh - stepped in to play with my team, 109. Dr. Laura Cowan represented for the NPF; Professor Dick Brucher brought the Shakespearians; Pat Burnes, our esteemed head of Composition volunteered all 5 feet of her 60+year-old self. Laura's husband - who turned out to be a valuable player, showed up with their 2 young sons. Every corner of literary studies took its place on the field.

poetics was noticeably absent, Steve Evans and Ben Friedlander having cited the absence of football as one of the main reasons why they got into poetry in the first place.

what does this have to do with anything? well, pale, pasty, weak English grad students aren't generally strong football players. nor do we traditionally know anything about the game. we decided to take to the field to do something that we knew would be a farce. we were collectively, communally. and humorously expressing our weakness, highligting our inadequacy, and getting it all out in the open.

our team lost, despite such stellar plays as the "windowless monad," the "negative dialectic," and "difference." Brooke cracked a rib; Josh broke his nose. Deb Levine showed up with gatorade and beer. Stefani Bardin took pictures. Justin from 105 sacked professor Cowan, a move that ended with both of them lying flat on the field, crippled by laughter. never was the charge of "pretentiousness" levelled again. how could it be? we were all a bunch of shameless idiots, and we all knew it.

with that, i propose a game of flag football, english department style, on the Wayne State field. 10th floor versus 9th. we'll bring the pretentious jargon; you guys bring the beer.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

both sides of the gun

oh, ben harper.

you had me at track one.

Saturday, March 18, 2006


i am in the bathroom brushing my hair.

through the floor, i can hear my downstairs neighbor throwing up in the bathroom directly below me.

happy day-after-st.patrick's-day, neighbor! can i offer you a jello-shot?

Thursday, March 16, 2006

itchy and scratchy

i'd like to thank the women who made the wine "for women" for giving me hives.

listen, i know you didn't mean to do it. and your wine was quite good. i enjoyed drinking it. but after the first glass, i started to get a little scratchy and red around the neck. since we were talking about school, and since the anxiety wrought by school frequently gives me hives, i initially attributed this outbreak to my well documented allergy to stress.

well, not so much. school-hives usually limit themselves to my body. whence the itchy redness spreads to my face, i know i'm dealing with a real allergy. that's where the wine comes in. i don't love having an itchy, swollen face. so i won't be drinking this wine again. no offense.

worst part is, i can't take anti-histamines. my body doesn't do them; in fact, benadryl makes me hallucinate. the last time i took it for hives, i thought that my apartment walls were composing ambient techno for my enjoyment. not such a bad hallucination, but still. any deviation from straight-up lucidity is too much for this girl.

so i have to sit it out, which is a shame because i have border's coupons that need to be used today on books i need to buy. so if you see me at border's on woodward and maple later: it's not contagious.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

i know

listen, i know i'm a little late to the gate on this, but :

if i could be like this, i wouldn't want to be new.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

69 (part deux)

dear those-of-you-who-found-my-blog-by-googling- "69";

you're suckers.


ps i bet you could find some really good porn by googling "head."


has anyone else noticed how difficult it is to google H.D. ? in the end, you have to reconvert her to Hilda Doolittle, which seems, a) kind of self- defeating and b) a little violent

google won't accept the "." but try it without the "." its all high-def, all the time.

i'm beginning to wonder if this is some kind of anti-flarfist conspiracy. or some kind of indication that flarf was, like, totally historically prefigured... Kasey Mohammad, i'm looking in your direction....

(which you won't know unless you google yourself... this is turning into some kind of a mad anxiety-inducing cluster-flarf... i think i need a xanax...)

Sunday, March 12, 2006


3 things in life that are very satisfying:

a new shower curtain

a new toothbrush

a new vacuum, one that's red.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006


all this talking about berrigan and murmurs and revisionist avant-gardes has got me thinking about the way i take, title, and archive my photographs.

a beginning set, titled, maybe:

"Sundown. Manifesto. Color and cognizance."

(self portrait with john and ethan in the bathroom at central park west/2005)

(brooke at the lake house, maine/2004)

(casey at dinnertime in royal oak/2005)

(alex on julie's birthday in orono/2004)

(darren at gilbert street, orono/2004)

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

"there is no such thing as a breakdown"

(ryan listening in ithaca/ 2005)



"to gentle, pleasant strains
just homely enough
to be beautiful
in the dark neighborhoods of my own sad youth
i fall in love. once
seven thousand feet over one green schoolboy summer
i dug two hundred graves,
laughing, 'Put away your books! Who shall speak of us
when we are gone? Let them wear scarves
in the once a day snow, crying in the kitchen
of my heart!' O my love, I will weep a less bitter truth,
till other times, making a minor repair,
a breath of cool rain in those streets
clinging together with slightly detached air."

Berrigan and Woolf:

(LXVI and "A Room of One's Own")

"it was summer. We were there. And THERE WAS NO
MONEY. you are like...
skyscrapers veering away
(Moreover, a book is not made of sentences laid end to end, but of sentences built, if an image helps, into arcades or domes)
a B-29 plunging to Ploesti
sailboat scudding thru quivering seas
trembling velvet red in the shimmering afternoon
darkness of sea
(The rooms differ so completely; they are calm or thunderous; open on to the sea, or, on the contrary, give on to a prison yard; are hung with washing; or alive with opals and silks; are hard as horsehair or soft as feathers)
The sea which is cool and green
The sea which is dark, cool, and green
I am closing my window. Tears silence the wind.
'they'll pick us off like sittin' ducks'
(At any rate, it is a structure leaving a shape on the mind's eye, built now in squares, now pagoda shaped, now throwing out wings and arcades, now solidly compact and domed like the Cathedral of Saint Sofia at Constantinople)
Sundown. Manifesto. Color and cognizance.
Then to cleave to a cast-off emotion,
(For all the dinners are cooked; the plates and cups are washed; the children sent to school and gone out into the world. Nothing remains of it all. All has vanished. No biography or history has a word to say about it. And the novels, without meaning to, inevitably lie)
(clarity! clarity!) a semblance of motion, omniscience"



"It was as if someone had let fall a shade. Perhaps the excellent hock was relinquishing its hold. Certainly, as I watched the Manx cat pause in the middle of the lawn as if it too questioned the universe, something seemed lacking, something seemed different. But what was lacking, what was different, I asked myself, listening to the talk. And to answer that question I had to think myself out of the room, back into the past, before the war indeed, and to set before my eyes the model of another luncheon party held in rooms not very distant from these; but different. Everything was different. meanwhile the talk went on among the guests, who were many and young,some of this sex, some of that; it went on swimmingly, it went on agreeably, freely, amusingly. And as it went on I set it against the background of that other talk, and as I matched the two together I had no doubt that one was the descendent, the legitimate heir of the other, Nothing was changed; nothing was different save only- here I listened with all my ears not entirely to what was being said, but to the murmur or current behind it. yes, that was it - the change was there. Before the war at a luncheon party like this people would have said precisely the same things but they would have sounded different, because in those days they were accompanied by a sort of humming noise, not articulate, but musical, exciting, which changed the value of the words themselves. Could one set that humming noise to words? Perhaps with the help of the poets one could."


more from the continuing accident that is my life....

All I Really Wanted Was Indian Food

But thanks to a water main break at American Masala, the next thing I knew I was at a sushi restaurant in the suburbs.

I ordered a lot of sushi, thinking that, if I didn't finish it, I'd take it home and eat it later. The waitress asked me if I would really be able to finish it all, and when I assured her that I could handle it, she replied "OK. That's good, the baby needs it."

For a second I looked around for "the baby." Then I realized what she meant.

This was one of the first points of etiquette that I remember my mother teaching me. One day in 1980, when I was 5, my mother and I were headed over to "Holly's Hair Barn" to get our hair done. I remember we were getting Princess Di cuts. In the car, my mother said to me: "I think Holly might be expecting, but I'm not sure. I don't want to ask her, because if it's just that she's gained weight, it will be really embarassing. You should never say that a woman is pregnant unless you are sure, because she may just be fat, and that's rude." Holly was, in fact, expecting, and the Hair Barn closed shortly thereafter.

Let me repeat : You should never say that a woman is pregnant unless you are sure, because she may just be fat, and that's rude.

If a 5-year-old knows this, shouldn't everyone ? At any rate, I tipped her well, by 1980 standards.

Monday, March 06, 2006

tales from high maintenance

yes, friends. even in the world of grad school there is still room for vanity.

some highlights from my recent adventures in grooming (which, sadly, did not include highlights):

- never purchase new bath products when you have a cold. you cannot smell anything when you have a cold. three days later, you might realize that your new shampoo smells like Nair. i'm just saying, is all.

- eyebrow waxing was cut in my recent budget revisions. it seemed a small sacrifice until i woke up this morning, looked in the mirror, and SAW my eyebrows. which needed to be combed. time to start rolling those pennies.

- last night, my skinny friend Trish informed me that we would be spending a lot of time at the pool this summer. de-lightful! but here's the rub: Trish is 7 months pregnant, which means that she will be delivering right before bathing-suit season. the possibility (okay, probability) that i will be sitting at the pool next to a woman who has recently given birth AND who looks better in a bathing suit than i do is, well, frankly distressing.

it is now officially time to get my slug-ass in gear. i have so many limitations when it comes to exercising that i have had to think really hard to find something that i can do. for one thing, i'm clumsy. so nothing that requires balance. also, i have zero patience or endurance, so no jogging. i think sneakers are really uncomfortable. whatever it is, i have to be able to study while i am doing it; it needs to be cheap; it can't take up a lot of space; it must be done at home. so no gym, no treadmill, no exercise bike, no bow-flex, no nordic-trac. and did i mention that i'm totally lazy?

ladies and gentlemen, let me introduce to you: the medicine ball. it's round. it's soft. it's unlikely that i can hurt myself with it. it weighs six pounds. it costs $7.99. and i can roll a ball as well as any 2-year-old.

stay tuned for tomorrow, when i will surely be complaining about the medicine-ball-related injury that i have somehow sustained.

Saturday, March 04, 2006


welcome home, small pink sock!

i will wear you today!

what a relief to know that chaos' reign in my home has come to an end.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

jello, bitches

i really need to clarify:

just because 2 out of the 3 (maybe 4, since Jill didn't weigh in, but she didn't eat any Jello either) people in a given classroom allegedly are rumoured to be from upper-middle-class upbringings doesn't make the like or dislike of Jello a class issue.

my mother, for example, likes Jello very much. and if you looked up "upper middle class" in the dictionary, there might be a picture that looked like this:

(oh and as an added bonus, my handsome and wonderful brother, Jamie, the partial reason why I am so dissatisfied with men - nobody measures up.)