Wednesday, November 17, 2004
Hyphenation is the trend nowadays if you want to get ahead in academia. This realization led me to undertake an intense personal voyage of discovery to uncover the roots my conformist parents had suppressed. Yes, I'm proud to stand up and call myself a Manx-American. My self-hating parents didn't even know where the Isle of Manx was. Undeterred, I consulted a map and after much searching (those coffee stains confused me) I finally found the land of my forebears. Such a tiny place, even smaller than Rhode Island, but a proud and mighty people lived there probably. Theirs was undoubtedly a history of tragic oppression ( I hoped). With thoughts of becoming the Manx Alex Haley, I immediately began looking to see which imperialist oppressors had raped my homeland. Aha, the usual suspects! English scum and those Scots bastards. "Braveheart" was a lie. I vow never to eat shortbread again. But then tragedy struck. I could see from the map that the Isle of Man lay to the west of England and Scotland, but I know from my studies that colonialist oppression always travels eastwards. Oh, Edward Said, if only you had gone round the compass and written "Occidentalism", "Australianism" and "Septentrionalism" too! Then your anti-imperialist writings would have formed a magnificent tetralogy (a bit like "Star Wars" if George Lucas had stopped after "The Phantom Menace"). But no, it was not to be. I was stumped. Then long buried memories of school geography lessons welled up from the depths of my psyche proustianally. Was not the earth round? Indeed, it was. Though I generally regard logic as a mere instrument of bourgeois hegemony, I made a rare exception and applied it to my reasoning. The earth is round, therefore the Isle of Man must be to the east as well as the west of Great Britain. It just takes longer that way. It must mean we all oppress ourselves too. We're all self-subjugating orientalists at heart. Deep. Overjoyed, I eagerly sought out my favourite citations from Said and began the thesis that would make me famous…
Tuesday, May 11, 2004
Sunday, May 09, 2004
Current listening: Mongos Valadyosh: Mongos Mongos Ra! (late, great art-noise experimentalists from Tanu-Tuva who sang all their lyrics in Tocharian A)
Current mood: smug.
Sunday, April 18, 2004
Hey, I've only just noticed this post by Harry at Crooked Timber:
This is a request for help. A student came to me with Will Durant’s list of 100 necessary books which he (the student) thinks needs updating. He, the student, wants to know what books the educated person should have read, that have been published since 1970. I am just about the worst person for him to come to, since unlike all my CT colleagues I am narrowly read and utterly lacking in erudition in subjects other than cricket, children’s TV, the history of the far left, and my professional interests. But you, the readers, are a different matter, and I have access to you. So, submissions, please, of the two books you think every educated person should have read, published 1970 or later. Your reward will be in heaven…I hope it's not too late to come to their rescue. Anyhoo, these are my recommendations:
The Exquisite Melancholia of Persimmon Leaves by Iskander Karamanoglu. The story of an albino Kabardian dwarf at the court of the pasha of the Sanjak of Novi Bazar and his tragic, unrequited love for a lemon tree. Magical in its realism, yet realistic in its magic. Beautifully translated from the East Rumelian.
A Million Billion Trillion Squillion Gadzillion: An Introduction to Really Big Number Theory by Larry Krailsheimer and Morton Garalnick. Forget string theory, this is the cutting edge of mathematics. Awesome, paradigm-shifting, looks great on your shelf.
What is "What"?. A translation of Jacques Derrida's Qu'est-ce que c'est "qu'est-ce que c'est"?. Derrida questions the very nature of our questions and thinks we should be posing new ones such as whyre? (pourquoú?) and whow? (quimment?). A book that challenges the foundations of Western logic.
Wednesday, March 03, 2004
It was a nice sunny morning and I was sitting there contemplating the void when these sociology undergrads in No Logo logo tee-shirts come over with their old hippy activist professors in tow and say: "Hey, wanna come on our anti-war protest in New York on Saturday, Howard?" Well, my suspicions were immediately aroused. Because I've read Marcuse and I'm very wary about people trying to exploit students. Then they said they had a bus and it was going straight from campus, we wouldn't even need to go into Providence, and it was free. This forced me to reappraise my dogmatism so I said yes (provisionally). Plus everyone else was going. Anyway, Saturday came and we all got on the bus and the ride there was a nightmare, I'm telling you. They were all singing these lame protest songs and ranting slogans through the microphone (like Rumsfeld was on the back seat of the bus) and I just had to laugh at the naivety of it all. They know nothing about politics. They haven't even read all the way through "Empire" and I told them all how they were right-wing dupes and utopian socialists and they should be into the catharsis of revolutionary violence not Joan Baez and their songs were giving me a headache. Which didn't go down too well (what is it with some people and sneers? I don't get it, they loved Elvis). So I thought I'll show you. When we got to NYC, I didn't go to their crappy protest. I snuck off to have a look at The Vinyl Countdown, the new outlet for alternative and hardcore on 33 and 45. It was great. They had the whole Shimmydisc back catalog on vinyl (!!!) so I just had to buy it all plus that album of No-Wave folk ballads Lydia Lunch made with Steeleye Span on DAT (only 30 copies made and I've got one of them. Heh.) Well, it was getting kind of late and I thought I'd better head back to the bus or people would be waiting for me so I had to heave all the vinyl there myself cos no one in the shop would help me on account of the post-contemporary alienation of our society. So I'm sweating and struggling with this heavy load and I finally make it back to the bus and I realize, uh-oh, they're still pissed at me. "Hey, we didn't see you at the march, Howard." And they're standing there with their arms crossed (like I'm impressed)."Yeah, well I changed my ideological position. Some of us aren't stuck in the rut of Stalinist dogmatism." That showed them. But my principled stand had clearly gotten to them and when I wanted to put my stuff in the baggage compartment of the bus they had a hissyfit. "There isn't enough room. We need it for our papier mache effigies", they whined. "Yeah, well if you get rid of one of them you can squeeze my stuff in. Ever heard of compromise?" (I said this real slow, em-phas-iz-ing ev-e-ry syl-lab-le, like when you're talking to foreigners.) "No, I'm telling you, there's no space, Howard." " Hey, you've got your Bush puppet, what do you need a Blair one for too? Have you seen the guy on TV recently? He looks pretty sick to me*. You won't be needing that effigy much longer. Dump it here." Well, they continued to deny my perfectly valid request when along comes Professor D*****g and she starts backing me up. "I think Howard's ideological fluctuations are most interesting", she says very flatteringly and she pats me on the back. Repeatedly. I get a funny feeling about her. She's kind of old (at least thirty, I'd say) and weird but she might be able to help me in my implacable progress through academia so it's worth keeping her sweet even if this means dumping Terri and all the hassle that implies (yawn). Must weigh up the options. Anyway, by that time it had been raining pretty heavily for a good half hour and their Blair puppet had kind of melted. The bus driver said he didn't want a wet Tony in his bus so they had to dump it there, no matter what the environmental implications, which meant long faces and no one talks to Howard all the way back to campus. Like I care. Losers. Christ, they're so puerile! **
(*I know all about British politics - especially the Labor party- because I'm half-English - or half-Manx at least. My uncle teaches at Romford University. He once had a post published at Crooked Timber - well a comment really. Until it was deleted. They didn't want it showing up the rest of their stuff).
**(I know I didn't write this in proper academic style. But I was too mad at the injustice inflicted on me to look up the polysyllabic equivalents on my spellchecker).
Monday, March 01, 2004
Howard has insisted that we reprint some entries from his undergraduate diary for the benefit of our readers and posterity. He feels that allowing selective access to this journal, which he modestly entitles "The Growth of a Critic's Mind", charting his intellectual development with all its peaks and troughs, its triumphs and its tragedies will be an immense boon to future generations of scholars. Here's the first excerpt (note: all names have been changed to protect Howard's career):
May 29: Outside had been quite literally "outside" my conceptual universe for several months as I struggled to make my way through Foucault's "Archaeology of Knowledge". The revelation it had nothing to do with TV's Time Team had been an onerous one for me and yet, like Antoine Roquentin in Sartre's "Nausea", I had not flinched before the rigors of this intellectual endeavor. Having triumphantly conquered this challenge and my inner demons to boot I was exhausted yet exhilarated. I decided to devote my mental powers to other things and go buy some milk since my mercenary roommate was reluctant to lend me "any more" of "his". Crossing the door was certainly a transliminal experience (assuming we are permitted to talk about "experiences" any more- I'll have to check with my supervisor). Inside/outside, I thought. Now I understand the polarity. Deep. The sun was in the sky, hanging there like an overrated lightbulb in some dreary bourgeois household (like my mother and father's, for instance."Wasn't that a lovely dinner party?" "Yes, it's a shame the Hapgoods couldn't make it." "Yes, terrible shame, still, never mind. By the way, we really must do something about this lightbulb. It's quite blinding". Me trying not to puke!). There were shops and houses and trees, all coexisting in astonishing multiplicity and totally beyond the bounds of language and the power structures we impose on them. And squirrels, like little gray things running around grayly but very fastly too. What does Derrida say about squirrels in De Grammatologie? I forget. Bet it's deep though. There were even some people there. I was aware I was in the presence of the Other and acted accordingly and (I hope) responsibly. I was trying very hard not to other them and thinking about what Derrida said about squirrels when I saw this guy beating up on a girl. It was totally gruesome and awesomely "realistic" (I know that's a problematic concept but bear with me) . I got some kind of impression he was mugging her. Anyway she was screaming and he was pulling on her handbag and just hitting her and there was blood everywhere. And, get this, nobody was doing anything to stop him. Nobody. Not that there was anyone around, but even so…I must have stood there for fifteen minutes watching him punch her teeth down her throat and nobody came to help. Finally, it occurred to me I had to do something. I realized I had borne important witness to the alienation of post-contemporary society. I now had an excellent topic for my next paper and rushed back to my room to get it all down on my computer. Oh yeah, I looked up Derrida and he says nothing about squirrels in De Grammatologie. Deep.
Friday, February 20, 2004
This is cool:
Logic and Rhetoric has gone the way of the way of the five-paragraph high school essay. It's time for entering students to start writing like they're at a university. And Associate Professor of English and Comparative Literature Joseph Bizup, who created and is now the director of University Writing, is attempting to invigorate not just student term papers, but the entire Undergraduate Writing Program.Quite right. Logic has no place in the modern university and I have no doubt that Foucault and Said are the perfect role models for students hoping to outgrow it.
So far, many students seem pleased with the change. The new course, which was tested as a pilot course last year, is now beginning its second semester as a first-year Core requirement for Columbia College and SEAS students. Unlike L&R, for which student writings were supposed to be the only class texts, University Writing focuses on the interaction between reading and writing through assigning academic texts, including Edward Said's Orientalism and Michel Foucault's "Panopticism," and encouraging students to explore with their own writing the methods employed therein.
(*Although this hasn't stopped him from suing me for sexual harrassment in order to publicize his latest book, "Post-Modern Carn(iv)alities: Jean-Francois Lyotard, Maurice Chevalier and the Hermeneutics of the Void".)