The Unconscious is Out There

Music: New Order: Waiting for the Sirens’ Call

One of the (still current yet aged) debates in film studies concerns the relatively universalist claims of the Althusserian/Lacanian theory of spectatorship and the more or less “sociological” stress on particularized communal histories and the way these inform the experience of this or that community of viewers. There is no easy rapprochement between the two perspectives; one simply tries to give everyone a fair hearing. Of course, I still lean toward the more structuralist (modernist) accounts, but this is less because of deep conviction than politics: determinism frequently has as much persuasive force as transcendence. The two go hand in hand, and when I’m asked to survey the past century of socio-political change, I see them as much more central than the truth of multiplicity. In other words, the project of the posts may be making its way to truth in a qualified sense, and I buy all of that stuff, but Hegel gets the work done in the last instance.

Now, toward a new universalism: the contemporary media circus around the trial of Michael Jackson is a fascinating civil peda(philic)gogy in the logics of the unconscious. Although I’m painfully aware in the vested and scripted interests of the Infotainment Empire, the sheer amount of anecdotal evidence has already condemned the man as a pedophile (even if he gets off he’s still a dead one, in the end of things). It also condemns the rest of us “curious straights” as unquestionably perverse, watching it unfold like a glorious, tiny-genital train wreck. I’m reminded of some comments Zizek made many years ago, long long before this trial (1996):

When a couple of years ago, the disclosure of Michael Jackson’s alleged ‘immoral’ private behavior (his sexual games with underage boys) dealt a blow to his innocent Peter Pan image, elevated beyond sexual and racial differences (or concerns), some penetrating commentators asked the obvious question: What’s all the fuss about? Wasn’t this so-called ‘dark side of Michael Jackson’ always here for us to see, in the video spots that accompanied his musical releases, which were saturated with ritualized violence and obscene sexualized gestures (blatantly so in the case of Thriller and Bad)? The Unconscious is outside, not hidden away in any unfathomable depths—or, to quote the X Files motto: ‘The truth is out there.’

Indeed, this case is habituated and to some extent very uncannily separated from the horror of the alleged abuse. When compared to the molestation scandal that most recently rocked the Catholic Church to its (strap) boots, the sheer mundane-ness of this bizarre trial (now routine on the morning news) is to be expected. Jackson’s dream team is nothing if but a “dream machine,” the counterpart to the nightmare of priestly indiscretions. The latter is ruthlessly repressed while the former is allowed full play. In this respect, we cannot but watch the Jackson trail in relation to Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, as equally controversial, but the sadism to Jackson’s dreamy masochism. Again, the universalism of “the gaze” as dominated by the patriarchical view finds footing here: Jackson exposes the limits of the gaze at the same time as his stardom reinforces it; he is a feminized object that attracts the passionate fan(atic)s of ladies and effeminate boys worldwide. Indeed, his innocence is hitched to this fantasy, and even his transgressions are tacitly permissible because of the instability of his sexuality and ethnicity (he’s not quite white, but certainly not black. If Mel Gibson was caught molesting children, then the true horror lurking deep in the psyche would surface, and the media coverage would be anything but mundane. Indeed, the time is ripe for a Gibson scandal.

More Musicalicious

Music: New Order: Waiting for the Sirens’ Call

Spring and autumn seem to be the two most important music release times for my special kind of eargasm. I must admit this has been an especially good year for exercising my pop organ, and the next few months are full of treats. Let me take a moment to highlight some surefire gems:

First, proof enough that Sub Pop still have their shit together is Frausdot’s Couture, Couture, Couture, one of the better of the return-to-the-eighties-waver bands that make all us Cure/Depeche Mode/Echo and the Bunnymen fags wet our pants. The title track, “Dead Wrong,” is so damn right (in sentiment, gloom-and-doom-tongue-in-cheek lyrical pussyfoot irony) that I couldn’t resist putting it on this year’s Philophobia compilation.

Aside from the new Beck album (which needs no introduction), on tap for release tomorrow is Bravery, another fun New York 80s-guitar thing (think The Killers, Interpol, The Rapture, and so on), but with a much smarter edge and slightly more “queer” than the rest. The self-titled debut is a solid album from start to finish. Speaking of queer, in the same idiom but even more “gay” (we put that in scare quotes deliberately you see) is Elkland, who have been opening for Erasure on the new tour, whose new album rocks with synth and that progressive bass thing that New Order does so well. For fun QuickTime video of the “Apart” single from the new album Golden, click here. That’ll be out on the 19th, along with the new Nine Inch Nails single “The Hand that Feeds” and . . . Martha Wainwright’s first full length! Finally! This chick can kick some folk rock shit! I’ll never forget seeing her jam at one the best live shows I’ve seen in the past decade: Rufus Wainwright, Teddy (fucking!) Thompson, and Martha played with a small number of musicians at a show in Minneapolis one time, and we were simply blown away. She has the coolest, smoky belly voice and a saucy attitude (check out the single “Bloody Mother Fucking Asshole” for a good taste). She’s already got some play in the UK (of course, everyone goes there first), and I’m really looking forward to her self-titled debut!

Of course, the new Fischerspooner is on its way as well (but I’ve already written about that). And did I mention New Order has one on the way as well? I’ve already listened to it today twice through; if you liked the last one, this one will not disappoint.

YAY! for pop music.

Onward Christian So(u)ldiers

Music: Fields of the Nephilim: Dawnrazor

Last night on the evening news a NBC reporter told the story of a ten year old boy who was detained by the police for attempting to trespass an invisible line separating Terri Schiavo’s deathbed from the throng of evangelical Christians. Schiavo, a severely brain-damaged woman who has been kept alive for over fifteen years on life support, recently had her feeding tube removed by order of numerous courts. Most scientists and doctors who have been affiliated with the case have testified that the person formerly known as “Terri Shiavo” is not Terri Shiavo, but rather a mindless animal just two blinks shy of a vegetative state.

Bible in hand (the King James version, unquestionably), the father of the trespassing boy noted he was very proud of his son for standing up for Jesus. He just wanted to bring her a cup of water, he said. He marveled at the empathy of his son, who was obviously upset that Shiavo “was thirsty.”

The righteousness of evangelical fascism never ceases to disgust me; the young man, worked up into a religious fantasy, obviously knew such a gesture would return such loving recognition. Of course, for him (and his father), the gesture has nothing to do with Terri Shaivo at all. Rather, it’s about someone’s right to tell me and others who think differently that we are going to hell.

I also think it’s terribly distressing that the real issue here is the Pauline/Cartesian doctrine of the soul, usually veiled in “the sanctity” or “sacredness” of life lingo, but no one mentions that. Despite its status as the number one headline on newspapers and television for almost two weeks now (seconded only by the bizarre circus orbiting Michael Jackson), not one reporter has mentioned the “soul.” This hot fuss concerns weather or not spirit inhabits the bodies of flesh and blood human beings; some clearly believe Shaivo’s soul is somehow trapped in an ailing, mindless human body, that her soul desperately wants to hang out with the peeps a little longer. Apparently life is suffering (certainly the Pope thinks so).

Soul-speak is dangerous because souls are odorless and invisible. Claiming to have one that is “saved” allows you to condemn the blemished souls of others. Indeed, claiming to harbor a more enlightened soul gives you license to kill those bodies harboring the evil spirits, the so-called terrorists.

Evangelicalism is exploding, and the longer this president is in power, the more I think those of us who are deemed soulless are fucked. Regardless, may this damaged human being, worthy of the dignity of death, rest in peace.

Reanimating the Dead: Robo-Huey and the Political Uncanny [excerpts]

Music: Peggy Lee: Black Coffee and Other Delights

If fascism came to America it would be on a program of Americanism.

— Huey Long, attributed

I want to begin by reading two performances, or “twice performed behaviors,” in the Louisianian imaginary.1 The first is a staged pose in celebration of new, college supported enhancements of the Department of Military Science at Louisiana State University. On the cover of the bi-annual newsletter of the College of Arts and Sciences titled Kaleidoscope: Enhancing Creativity, dean Guillermo Ferreyra appears, with a rather toothy smile, brandishing a Kimber .22 caliber target rifle, along side the chair of the Department of Military Science, Mark A. Caruso, who is dressed in military fatigues. The rifle was one of fifty purchased by the college in support of the revival of the ROTC’s competitive marksmanship program (the “Rifle and Pistol Team”), perhaps the closest cousin to the lesser recognized, unsupported, yet successful, competitive program of symbolic warfare housed in the Department of Communication Studies: collegiate debate. The politics of representation here is characteristically Louisianian: the activity of debate, which claims the motto Kenneth Burke assigned to rhetoric and argument, ad bellum purificandum, might seem to many a more suitable representation for the goods internal to a collegiate institution. Instead, the instrumentality of war and its Real implement, the gun, was chosen to symbolize the aspirations and creativity of the college and the diversity of its achievements in the past semester. Prima facie, the deathly threat of “the dean with a gun”–which should strike fear in untenured faculty everywhere–tacitly reinforces the new, aggressive (or shall we say preemptive) vision of the college to reclaim the coveted “Harvard of the South” status.

The compliment to the “dean with a gun” image is the performative politics of a new exhibit at Louisiana’s Old State Capital building, which is now a state museum: in a darkened room on the west side of the building, a golden statue of Huey P. Long stands behind a podium. Behind the bronzed politician a series of heavy, velvet blue curtains drop to the floor; in the line of his gaze is the kind of floor-standing radio popular in middle class households in the 1930s. The scene is reminiscent of those in many of David Lynch’s uncanny noir films, in which a seemingly inanimate person is seated in a cold, mysterious, and richly colored room. When one enters the exhibit, an invisible beam of light is broken, the already dim overhead lights dim further, and the previously frozen statue Long comes to life in playful banter with an unseen radio announcer, whom the automaton patronizingly refers to as “radio boy.” I do not wish to describe the exhibit in too much detail, because in my capacity as a Red Stick ambassador I want to encourage those of you who are intrigued to visit the museum (I don’t want to spoil your fun). But I will tell you this: the robotic demagogue speaks on a variety of topics, all of which boast about Long’s many political accomplishments during his short, political career: from an expressed fondness for LSU’s football team, to his repeal of the poll tax, to his program for free school textbooks, to his initiative to pave Louisiana’s roads, the robot of Long, whom I affectionately call Robo-Huey, re-enacts the presumed oratorical style of the historical Huey to the delight the curious spectator.

The express rationale of those in the Louisiana Department of State for building a robot of the most famous and powerful demagogue in United States’ political history remains somewhat of a mystery. For Louisianians, Long is a much cherished and hated figure, and historically his influence on the governance of the state is undeniable. Given the country-wide fascination with his figure (perhaps signified no more strongly than by the multi-million dollar remake of All the King’s Men, which is happening as I type . . . Sean Penn as Huey? That’s simply ridiculous . . . ), it is understandable why those interested in Louisiana tourism would encourage another exhibit on Long. Yet this one is unquestionably strange because it features a half-million dollar robo-man. Further, unlike the friendly, animatronic figures of theme parks that Walt Disney dreamed up over half a century ago, Robo-Huey is intended as a bronzed statue come to life, he represents a deliberate attempt to provoke an uncanny response among spectators. Robo-Huey is thus more directly a descendant of the automatons dreamed into existence by Jacques Vaucanson in eighteenth century France: like the mime, automatons were originally scientific marvels, figures that one assumed were statues until they startled the spectator by moving.[2] Given the historical origin of the robot in the fear of the inanimate dead coming to life, the creation of Robo-Huey is designed to produce a confrontation death. Like the exhibit itself, which is articulated to another that enshrines the mystery of Long’s assassination, the advertisement of the exhibit leads the reader to Huey’s death:

Huey Long once described himself to reporters bet by saying, “I am sui generis (one of a kind), just leave it at that.” Senator Long was truly one of a kind. He was the most eccentric, controversial, and successful politician Louisiana has ever seen. He knew what he wanted to do and he saw to it that it was accomplished, whatever it took. . . . Long had his eyes on the presidency, but was shot by an assassin on September 8, 1935 . . . . Before he died two days later, he was said to have uttered, “God, don’t let me die. I have so much to do.”

Despite the obvious messianic overtones of this promotional rhetoric, the fact remains that Long is dead-long dead. Rather than serve as a melancholic testament to Louisianian’s inability to mourn the loss of a much beloved and hated son, Robo-Huey, precisely because he is automaton, reassures the spectator that Huey Pierce Long is dead. Yet it only does so by threatening his impossible return; it is deliberately posed as both a comfort and threat, erring on the side of comfort. Today, I want to suggest we should not be so comforted.

Despite their obvious dissimilarities, I want to suggest that the image of the “dean with a gun” and the performance of Robo-Huey are linked to the threat of killing machines. From a psychoanalytic perspective, I argue that a homologous, ambivalent desire animates these performances in the processes of “surrogation,” the mournful dialectic of remembering and forgetting that Joseph Roach suggests helps people to reckon with the trauma of death and the unbearable meaninglessness of atrocity through the provision of surrogate love objects.[3] Both Robo-dean with his machine and Robo-Huey as the machine are scripted, functioning mechanically and animated by elements in the Louisianian political imaginary. By “political imaginary” I mean to refer to a collective reservoir or myth, trope, symbol, image, and so on, which provides the rhetorical material for identitarian, or representational, politics.[4] By imaginary I also mean to refer, however, to the psyche and psychical structures that inhere in collective consciousness, which are recorded materially in terms of the performance of the archive (documented or textualized records) and the repertoire (embodied performance).[5] Robo-Huey, I suggest, is the performance of death par excellence, and a closer examination of what he represents helps us to see better the uniqueness of the Louisianian political imaginary as one that explicitly embraces an aesthetic of death. I will conclude by suggesting this aesthetic also has national representatives.


In his masterful study of Louisianian politics, Wayne Parent notes that “in almost every category of state politics studies . . . Louisiana is usually marked by an asterisk denoting a peculiarity or exception to the general rule.”6 Whether one refers to the 1991 gubernatorial race in which the racketeering Edwin Edwards defeated his opponent David Duke with a barrage of bumper stickers urging Louisianians to “Vote for the Crook,” or to the demagogic legacy of the Longs, the rhetoric and oratory dominating what in any other place would be termed “politics” is anything but “usual.” Parent locates the uniqueness of Louisiana’s political culture in a number of factors, but perhaps none more important than those concerning the complexity of immigration patterns, Louisiana’s geographical location and abundant resources, and the states’ long and complex history with issues of whiteness, race, and class. My concern is to provide at least a partial articulation of the psychical factors informing this motley political culture and, by extension, its choice of self-representational discourse or “rhetoric.” Just like a neurotic or psychotic in therapy, the “case” of Louisiana, and in particular, Huey Long, yields unique insights into the often repressed or simply ignored dimensions of political rhetoric and oratory: the colorful, the bizarre, the seemingly irrational. I will contend, however, that the seemingly bizarre participates in a political rationality that is more familiar than is often supposed. Indeed, an analysis of Louisiana’s many colorful symptoms reveals deeper structures that also reappear the contemporary national scene. Louisianian political rhetoric just makes it easier to see.

Although time prevents a thorough examination of the argument, one aspect of Louisianian culture that is markedly unique is its ambivalent embrace of death, a kind of aesthetic best captured by the term “gothic apocalyptic,” or perhaps “romantic apocalyptic.” As one new colleague from Colorado recently put it, “I’ve never lived anywhere in the world where people simply don’t give a fuck.” At the time she made this observation, she was referring to the rampant littering behavior along Louisiana’s highways, the sheer amount of buildings in disrepair, the markedly high rate of smokers, and the relatively flippant attitude toward the pollution of petrol-chemical industry and high cancer morbidity rates. In less colloquial terms, my colleague has identified what some would describe as a “death culture” that manifests itself in explicitly licensed enjoyment and relaxed responsibility. In his book on the cultural performances of London and New Orleans, Cities of the Dead, Joseph Roach describes New Orleans as a kind of living sepulture, a thriving tomb of funerary rites that embraces life by directly facing and embracing a death that has somehow already arrived. In short, unlike any other culture in the United States, Louisiana is yoked to death; “not giving a fuck” in some sense means having already succumbed to death, if only allegorically.

Only when one recognizes the Louisianian imaginary as “gothic” or perversely (and I would add delightfully) morbid do its apparently strange cultural performances begin to make sense. For example, the apparent lack of forethought behind the decision for the dean to pose with a rifle for an academic publication goes much deeper than macho, phallocentric masculinism (which, after Huey will forever be Louisiana’s claim to national prominence, if only because of the New State Capital Building looks like a GIANT cock). The apparent mindlessness of the representation of academic performance is scripted in the uncanny, an experience of doubling that subjects one to performances and perserverations frequently beyond conscious control. The dean had to it. He had to hold it. He had to shoot it. He had to be seen with this machine, of which he was supposedly in control. Indeed, “control” is precisely the fantasy offered by weaponry; the truth of the matter is that, excepting sociopaths, killing is always already scripted in the service of something larger than one’s self. More importantly, I suggest that the “dean with a gun” image was pre-scripted precisely by the gothic apocalyptic, the same ambivalent desire animating the funerary march of Mardi Gras as a parade of so many mindless, human machines of consumption, gathering on the eve of their demise. It’s all about the horrible sublimity of the end, you see.

That the legacy of the LSU College of Arts and Sciences is so deeply associated with the agrarian ideology of the literary elite is, perhaps, even more reason for the appearance of a killing machine as a symbol: you cannot resist change; one is dead to the corporitization and instrumentalization, the scientifi-cation of the academic enterprise. In this respect the cover of Kaleidoscope participates in the so-called “culture wars,” a wordy melee among those who would protect the literary canon, those who advocate postmodern theory, and learned by-standing reporters (mostly from the New York Times) bemused by the whole affair. Indeed, the mechanistic and mechanical is a menacing trope among those inside the academy who resist the rigors of “pomo” thought as so much mindless jargon. As Catherine Liu argues, traditional literary studies has a rather long tradition of denigrating the mechanical and the machine, especially among those critical of highly theoretical accounts of literature, such as that of Paul de Man.[7] Bennington notes that “literary studies habitually” uses

the language of machines in a negative way, deploring the mechanical and the technical as the death of values attached to life, form, inspiration, and so on. At best, a ‘technical’ use of concepts is accorded uneasy neutrality, without ever being allowed to become the heart of the mater. Machines repeat, and repetition means danger-compulsion and death.[8]

The cover of the newsletter directly confronts this conceit, but also in a manner that is classically Louisianian. The archetypal the dean is cast as a death machine, a representative of the Borg. Here our dean was merely submitting to his pre-scripted role in the academic fantasy, but in a way only tacitly permitted, if not demanded, by death-chic of the Louisianian political imaginary. He had to do it; he’s the dean (which, we all know, is a bureaucratic automaton, a traitor to his home department, and so on).

As Freud and Liu remind us, whether in the language of dreams or the consciously constructed cultural fantasies of literature and film, in the symbolic and its double, the imaginary, there are no accidents. The weapon is an uncanny machine, a semi-autonomic mechanism with moving parts that, in the hands of the soldier, is an instrument of death. As a machine, the weapon calls our attention to the dialectic of control, to our fantasies of Cartesian ambivalence about possessing and possession: he who controls the machine controls the universe; he who succumbs to the machine–to the Borg, if you will–suffers death. If we might better paraphrase what “not giving a fuck” means for Louisianians, it might be this: “suffering death is just alright with me, suffering death is just alright, oh yeah.”

When we think about the rifle and the danger it connotes, that danger is one of automatism. Those in the room may remember the first time (if ever) he or she had held and/or fired a gun: there is, at some level, at least a tacit fear of the accident. What if this thing accidentally goes off and it’s pointed at me? I must admit I am personally terrified of firearms because of those suicidal fantasies most of us have entertained: what if I lose my mind and shoot myself, at some level, on purpose? This tacit fear, usually projected into the power to destroy another human being, is none other than the threat of mechanistic automatism, otherwise known as the robot. What if the weapon becomes so automatic that it becomes autonomous, that this machine of human instrumentality subjects me to my own creation? Worse, what if I am but a mere machine, an automaton? Lest you think I’m making much ado about nothing, let me remind you that the threat of losing control of the autonomous weapon is rife in Western culture, perhaps no more so than in film: in Blade Runner, a hero named after the philosophical paranoiac par excellence, Rene Descartes (“I feel, therefore, I am not a machine . . . right?”), must track down and destroy renegade human robots, or replicants, who have turned against their human masters (Liu’s analysis of this film in Copying Machines is terrific!); in the Terminator films, androids are determined to destroy the human race, and only a time-traveling rogue assassin can help the humans avert the secular apocalypse; in the Matrix films, everything–even the Messiah–is Memorex; and let us not forget the important way in which fantasies of machine possession are rife in the political imaginary, as The Manchurian Candidate makes plain. For these reasons, I submit that Robo-Huey is literally a political weapon, a uncanny machine that threatens to overtake us even though we recognize this would be impossible. To better make this case, however, we must turn briefly to a psychoanalytic account of the figure of the demagogue.


Understood psychoanalytically, I have been suggesting that both the figure of the dean and the demagogue are machines animated by elements in the Symbolic, and more particularly, the political imaginary–social roles, scripts, and mythic constructs that provide real people social functionality. To say that deanship and demagoguery are, in part, social scripts performed by flesh and blood individuals is not to suggest that these roles are some how a fated and deterministic, nor is it to suggest that individuals who mimic deanness and demagogery are mindless robots. Individuals are robotic only to the extent that at some level structures-albeit socially constructed ones-run the show more than we would like to admit. After all, we accuse our fellow human beings in the so-called private sector as mere “drones” for “The Man” anyway, so who is to say you and I are not similarly scripted?

Understanding the agency of symbolic elements becomes easier when we grapple with the psychical structures of neurosis . . . [cut of a bunch of psychobabble about hysteria and obsession].

If one accepts-even only tentatively-this description of the psychical underpinnings of demagoguery, then one can understand how the automaton is the logical extension of the transferential power of the demagogue: like all phallic objects or objects that move on their own accord, the demagogue represents absolute and complete autonomy; he demands our affections by denying a need for them; he engenders love by promising but never completely fulfilling the promise; he is, in effect, his own god. Let me return again to the promotional rhetoric of the Robo-Huey exhibit:

Huey Long once described himself to reporters bet by saying, “I am sui generis (one of a kind), just leave it at that.” Senator Long was truly one of a kind. He was the most eccentric, controversial, and successful politician Louisiana has ever seen. He knew what he wanted to do and he saw to it that it was accomplished, whatever it took. . . . Long had his eyes on the presidency, but was shot by an assassin on September 8, 1935 . . . . Before he died two days later, he was said to have uttered, “God, don’t let me die. I have so much to do.”

Suddenly the slight mistranslation of sui generis as “one of a kind” makes much more sense: that which is entitled to its own category is ultimately the charismatic obsessive neurotic, whose transgressions can only be disciplined by destruction. Huey P. Long was and is an autonomous, political machine; it is only fitting that he has been petrified into a kind of living death.

The decision to revive Huey as a automaton can be read as a process of surrogation or substitution, a process that deliberately forgets as much as it remembers. Joseph Roach explains that

Into the cavities created by loss through death or other forms of departure . . . survivors attempt to fit satisfactory alternatives. Because collective memory works selectively, imaginatively, and often perversely, surrogation rarely if ever succeeds . . . . the very uncanniness of the process of surrogation . . . may provoke many unbidden emotions, ranging from mildly incontinent sentimentalism to raging paranoia. . . . [in times of tension between generations and over alienation] improvised narratives of authenticity and priority may congeal into full-blown myths of legitimacy and origin.[23]

Of course the figure of Long is the phoenix from the flames of the Lost Cause. But, he is also an object of derision that somewhat startlingly becomes less threatening as surrogation devolves over time into caricature. Instead of depicting Huey as a despot, he is described as Robin Hood. Instead of describing him as arrogant and narcissistic, he is characterized as strong-willed and determined. Instead of calling him a fascist, he is a populist. Perhaps because memory of Long’s political machine is choosey, Robo-Huey is deliberately less life-like than his contemporary animatoric cousins, as if to keep spectators from too closely identifying with his ravenous love of political might. He is not a cheerful mouse, nor a long-haired pirate, nor a breathing granny gazing into a crystal ball. He is a statue come to life, not so much a robot as we know it but the living dead. Unlike other, more familiar automatons, Robo-Huey continuously reminds us of (his?) death.


Freud defines the uncanny in general as a compulsive obsession with the traumatic, when obsession is defined as the simultaneity of a wish and counter-wish. The uncanny is an aesthetic phenomenon involving an event and a feeling. The event is the failure of repression, and the feeling is a variation of negativity (fright, horror, dread, and terror are variously used to denote the feeling). The failure of repression and the “uncanny effect” results when either a “primitive belief,” which we have previously repressed, finds confirmation in experience, or when something familiar to us (including a feeling) that we have previously repressed recurs.24 The experience of the uncanny is caused by with two failure-events in particular: First, an experience of doubling, such as with a doppelgänger or an unexpected mirror image, can invite terror (which Freud speculates is the double of feelings of unity before the ego separated itself from the world). Second, the “eternal recurrence” of the same-repetition of the same character traits in different people, or a recurrence of similar events (deja-vu) -can invite an uncanny effect, which Freud asserts reminds us of the instinctual compulsion to repeat. It is not surprising that the uncanny object Freud singles out as provoking both failures, the strange object of surrogation par excellence, is the automaton: the machine that is not only a double of me, but one that is a mindless me repeating mindlessly.

Insofar as Robo-Huey is inescapably yoked to the political imaginary, we can postulate that he participates in a larger discourse of the “political uncanny,” the idea that certain figures on the national political scene are “robots” or puppets animated by a larger, governing will. Again, this is precisely the fantasy animating Hollywood thrillers like The Manchurian Candidate and Invasion of the Body Snatchers, but we can also locate the ominous doubles of the repetition machine in public dreams like the 1999 theatrical hit, Wag the Dog. In this memorable film, which would seem almost inseparable from the real-life exploits of former president Bill Clinton, a character played by Robert Deniro, “Mr. Fixit,” is paid to fabricate a fake war in Algeria to divert the public’s attention from a presidential sex scandal. The obvious Orwellian overtones aside, what is mildly uncanny about the film is not only its double in real life political spectacle, but its accurate depiction of the political machine as an autonomous abstraction: politics is a coordinated apparatus comprised of different moving parts, and none of the moving parts have any sense of what the other moving parts are doing. Presumably, Mr. Fixit is orchestrating the whole, but the film constantly tempts the viewer to question how much he is controlling this machine: once set into motion by someone, the symbolic seems to take care of itself. The weapon, in other words, fires on its own accord.

The troubling part of this fantasy is that it is also an undeniable reality. The troubling part of this fantasy is that the political machine, like the invention of the automaton, is ultimately rooted in the capacity of humans to reason. Instrumental rationality-if only gleamed from the mundane advent of serialization-fetishizes or mystifies the collaboration of its working parts. This is, in fact, the deathly aesthetic of the automaton, which in Europe arose during a time when proto-engineers were obsessed with hiding the many working parts of machines, as the face-plate of a clock is apt testimony. The mass appeal of documentaries like The War Room or even Fahrenheit 9-11 is that they promise to remove the face-plate, they promise to disclose how the autonomous political machine works, and frequently in the interests of no one but the machine itself. What troubles contemporary historians of technology and human perception like Paul Virilio, however, is that the fetishized aesthetic of the political machine runs cover for a an even more troublesome war machine, a kind of self-driven apparatus that led many to characterize Operation Desert Storm as a “Nintendo War,” and recent efforts in the Middle East as parodic replay, “Operation Desert Storm: Reloaded.”

In sum, I am arguing that Robo-Huey is no mere toy, no mere spectacle designed to amuse and delight tourists. He represents simultaneously that which we fear is coming and that which has already come to pass: politics is on the side of the aesthetics machine. Or as Walter Benjamin once put it,

“fiat ars-pereat mundus,” says fascism, expect from war . . . the aesthetic gratification of sense perception altered by technology. This is evidently the consummation of l’art our l’art. Humankind, which once, in Homer, was an object of contemplation for the Olympian gods, has now become one for itself. Its self-alienation has reached the point where it can experience its own annihilation as a supreme aesthetic pleasure. Such is the aestheticizing of politics, as practiced by fascism.[25]

Benjamin urged that, in response, we should rigorously and ceaselessly politize art, even that which passes for the detritus of the rabble in popular culture. This is why we should be more startled than amused by the Robo-Huey exhibit. After all, the Office of the Secretary of State has developed an educational outreach curriculum about the exhibit, with lesson plans for grades K-12.


[1] Richard Schechner, Between Theater and Anthropology (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1985), 36-37.
[2] See Catherine Liu, Copying Machines: Taking Notes for the Automaton (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2000): 76-105. This book fucking rocks!
[3] Joseph Roach, Cities of the Dead: Circum-Atlantic Performance (New York: Columbia University Press, 1996).
[4] My understanding of “politics” here is rather broad and Foucauldian, meaning that it concerns questions of identity, representation, and power; politics is always a struggle of meaning.
[5] See Diana Taylor, The Archive and the Repertoire: Performing Cultural Memory in the Americas (Durham: Duke University Press, 2003), esp. 1-52.
[6] Wayne T. Parent, Inside the Carnival: Unmasking Louisiana Politics (Baton Rouge: LSU Press, 2004), 2.
[7] Liu, Copying, 1-20.
[8] In Liu, Copying, 23.
[9] Evans, An Introductory Dictionary of Lacanian Psychoanalysis (New York: Routledge, 1996), 194-195.
[10] There is actually a third: phobia. However, phobic structures are not subject structures like obsession and hysteria, and operate rather as a kind of threshold for obsession, hysteria, and perversion. See Fink, A Clinical, 163-164. Lacan the neuroses from psychosis in that both the hysteric and obsessive subject structures form a question: “Am I a man or a woman?” and “Am I alive or dead?” respectively. See Jacques Lacan, The Seminar of Jacques Lacan, Book III: The Psychoses, 1955-1956, translated by Russell Grigg (New York: W.W. Norton, 1993), 195-182.
[11] For a description of the symptoms of obsession, see J. Laplanche and J.-B. Pontalis, The Language of Psycho-Analysis, translated by Donald Nicholson-Smith (New York: W.W. Norton, 1973), 281-282.
[12] Bruce Fink, A Clinical Introduction to Lacanian Psychoanalysis: Theory and Technique (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1999), 122.
[13] Fink, A Clinical, 124.
14 Incidentally, obsessives are particularly prone to the Virgin/whole dialectic, another reason why Mel Gibson will eventually be destroyed, at least symbolically, for his epic The Passion of the Christ (2004).
[15] For a description of the symptoms of hysterical neurosis, see Laplanche and J.-B. Pontalis, The Language of Psychoanalysis, 195-195.

. . .

[23] Roach, Cities, 2-3.
[24] See Sigmund Freud, “The Uncanny,” translated by David McLintock. In The Uncanny (New York: Penguin, 2003), 123-162.
[25] Walter Benjamin, “The Work of Art in the Age of Its Reproducibility,” second version, translated by Edmund Jephcott and Harry Zohn. In Walter Benjamin: Selected Writings, Volume Three, 1935-1938, edited by Howard Eiland and Michael W. Jennings (Cambridge: Belknap/Harvard University Press, 2002): 122.

Rhetorical Evangelicalism

Two years ago the first meeting of the “Alliance for Rhetorical Societies” gathered in Evanston, Illinois to discuss a number of issues over the course of four days. One of the issues was framed as a question: “how ought we to understand rhetorical agency.” Each participant was assigned to a 10 person discussion group, who met in a closed room to hash out answers to this and similar questions.

Last summer, Cheryl Geisler composed a report on these meetings (you can download it here as a pdf file). To my surprise, my position paper was cited in this report as advocating some sort of postmodern nihilism. My collegue Chris Lundburg (whom I met as a result of his very smart critique of something I wrote) and I composed a response to this report. With hope, it should be published in Rhetoric Society Quarterly next fall. I’m pasting in an introduction to tease the academically inclined . . . . [meanwhile, I’ve got to get my butt to the doctor; this three-day “hangover” must not be a hangover]

“Ouija Board, Are There Any Communications?”Agency, Ontotheology, and the Death of the Humanist Subject,or, Continuing the ARS Conversation

Joshua Gunn and Christian Lundberg
University of Texas at Austin and Northwestern University

No, I was NOT pushing that time.
–Morrissey, “Ouija Board, Ouija Board”

The Second Great Awakening of the nineteenth century marks an activist shift in Protestant religious practice in the United States, a turn from Calvinist fatalism toward an active, evangelical conviction in the capacity of humans to act morally and secure their own spiritual salvation. This conviction in moral agency catalyzed a growing belief in spiritualism, the idea that mere mortals could talk to the souls or “spirits” of dead people if they concentrated hard enough or employed the appropriate technological extension of the human sensorium. In the obvious idiom of the telegraph, originally nineteenth-century communiqués from the dead came in the form or “rappings” or “knocks” on tables or walls, which a given “medium” would count to discern if they denoted a “yes,” a “no,” or a letter of the alphabet (Braude 10-31). Excepting toddlers and accountants, counting is a somewhat tiresome exercise of agency, and so it was only a matter of time before a number of enterprising individuals would develop the “talking board” to ease the labor of mediation. Most familiar to us as Parker Brothers’ “Ouija Board,” a talking board was originally a device whereby one placed his or her hands on a heart-shaped planchette, which was then presumably directed by a spirit to glide across an alphabet painted on a wooden board, spelling out messages of requited love and approaching danger.

As a technology ultimately inspired by the Second Great Awakening, the Ouija Board illustrates the anxiety surrounding our many fantasies about human agency, particularly in respect to communication as a transcendent, or even transparent event (see Gunn, “Refitting”; Peters 63-108). However ironic, the belief that one or another could literally speak with the souls of the dearly departed reflects an evangelical subject enthusiastically wedded to a humanist gospel that has elevated agency to the status of the godly, lording over the material and spiritual universe. This transcendent sentiment, sometimes discussed as “ontotheology,” was heavily critiqued by Heidegger, who lamented that “it seems as though man everywhere and always encounters himself,” even beyond death (Heidegger, “Question” 332). Such a narcissistic “ideology of agency,” born of grief, a fear of death, and dreams of divine omnipotence, manifests itself in a technology of instrumentality that treats even our spectral doubles as mere objects or extensions of the human subject’s will (ghosts as Bestand, “standing-reserve”). From a Heideggerian vantage, the folly of spiritualism points to a critique of the humanist agent as autonomous, the so-called “transcendental subject” rooted in the philosophy of Kant.

The practice of a séance directs our attention to a problem implied in (but also somehow beyond) the transparency or transcendence of the moment of communication: the instabilities of the Cartesian self, or the self-transparent and self-possessed subject of thoroughly conscious intention (the cogito; see Descartes). Using a Ouija board, for example, demonstrates that while the exercise of agency takes place in the movement of the planchette, the status or existence of the agent who originates the action is undecidable. Consider a story from a March 28, 1886 edition of the New-York Daily Tribune, which underscores the way in which the uncanny talking board séance calls our accounts of our own and others’ agency into question:

You take the board in your lap, another person sitting down with you. You each grasp the little table with the thumb and forefinger at each corner next to you. Then the question is asked, “Are there any communications?” Pretty soon you think the other person is pushing the table. He thinks you are doing the same. But the table moves around to “yes” or “no.” Then you go on asking questions and the answers are spelled out by the legs of the table resting on the letters one after the other. Sometimes the table will cover two letters with its feet, and then you hang on and ask that the table will be moved from the wrong letter, which is done. Some remarkable conversations have been carried on until men have become in a measure superstitious about it. (quoted in “History of the Talking Board,” par. 6)

As anyone who has “played” with a talking board will attest, the fun orbits suspicion: either one deceives, or is deceived by, the co-medium, or one is relatively unable to locate the seat of agency: is my partner moving this thing? Am I moving it without knowing it? Is it possible that some unseen spirit-a passed relative or worse, an evil genius-is moving the planchette (and therefore, us)? Although the somewhat admittedly perverse practice of talking to the dead is born of Kantian and Cartesian convictions, it nevertheless creates the possibility for an uncertain and unsettled subject position or disposition.

Indeed, the Ouija’s capacity to demonstrate the unsettled subject becomes apparent as soon as one thinks about the variety of possible assumptions underlying the talking board séance. One could play the game presuming that living human subjects move the planchette, and that they do so either by conscious choice, unconscious choice, or in an act of mutual deferment to the conscious or unconscious movements of their partner. The players could also presume that there is an unspecified ratio of cooperation in moving the planchette between human subjects who sit at the table and dead subjects from the Beyond. Players could also invoke the idea of possession by a spirit who temporarily inhabits one or more of the players at the table and directs the movement of the planchette (viz., “channeling”). Yet, each of these options seems mildly inhospitable (the strongly inhospitable being that of packing up your Ouija board and going home). The idea that the game is solely played out among the living is inhospitable toward the spirits who may wish to join the living in communion; the idea that the spirits “possess” the body of one or more people at the table is inhospitable toward the participation of the living subject who is dispossessed. Finally, the ratio seems a hospitable compromise, but also contains the inherent inhospitality of specifying just how much influence living and dead subjects are allowed to have on the play (“sorry dead spirit, my turn to move the planchette”). Perhaps hospitality toward living and the dead implies that we give up our anxieties about the game and just play, never certain who will be manifest in the communion of the game, and never sure just how they will be manifest. Such an agnostic disposition does not imply that the players should ignore the moves of the planchette or the flows of the spirit; it simply means that players should pay attention to the movements of the game without prefiguring the meaning of the movements, reducing them to an absolutist causal account. This disposition openness to the Other-to an unconditional “what if” -is what Derrida eventually described as the posture of hospitality (see Caputo, Prayers; Derrida, Specters).

In joining the sometimes overly serious conversation concerning the question, “how ought we to understand the concept of rhetorical agency?” we would prefer that the answer was more hospitable to those of us who find “post-” theory useful, truthful, or productively troubling. We favor an uncertain posture towards the flows of agency and “agents” implied an open disposition toward the séance, a posture that embraces a restless and roving insecurity as an antidote or even perhaps a subversive supplement to any civil pedagogy. Although Cheryl Geisler rightfully notes that the discussion question of rhetorical agency often melds the ontological (what?) with the ethical (how?), she and others nevertheless seek to infer the former by presenting the latter evangelically, stressing the fundamental necessity of moral activism for civic salvation and charging those with poststructural and/or posthumanist sympathies as advocating a nihilistic brand of Calvinist passivity, often erroneously dubbed “postmodernism.” In what follows, we argue that the humanist/evangelical discussion of agency in Geisler’s report, published in last summer’s issue of Rhetoric Society Quarterly, suffers from three, interrelated shortcomings: (1) the report repeatedly confuses the subject or agent and agency; (2) this confusion lends credence to a conflation of posthumanism and “postmodernism”; and (3) such a conflation contributes to a misleading account of agential fantasy as a mere “illusion.” Insofar as few would deny agency “exists,” we suggest the debate over status of the humanist subject is actually one-sided and phantasmic, serving to disguise the ghost of ontotheology.

How to Do Things With Words [edited]

The wedding ceremony seemed to go well, and many folks complimented the ceremony as “unique.” The bride and groom recited vows that were written in a rhyming, Dr. Seuss-like style, while I wore a large Cat in the Hat hat (photos forthcoming). Folks seemed genuinely surprised and entertained. I noted only a few grandmotherly types seemed displeased. It was fun, and I hope to do some more hitching of a similar sort (I certainly dispensed a number of business cards).

I’ve been thinking a great deal these past four days about the institution of marriage, obviously. As Carole Pateman points out, the institution is an especially heterosexist one (e.g., tracing the history back a hundred years, we find that marriage is basically the male “sex right” in regard to the body of woman). At the same time, of course, there is much to recommend a solemn (and good humored) obligation to support another human being; I can think of no more noble a thing than the promise and follow-through of supporting another person “in good times and in bad times” for life. It’s a difficult promise, as over 80% of marriages apparently end in divorces. As I noted in the homily, “electric word life, it means forever and that’s a mighty long time, but I’m here to tell you there’s something else . . . .”

Need I name this something else, again?

Yet reading their faces I have a confident hope for the newlyweds; they seem very happy.

After the wedding, I had the fortune to hang with the newlyweds and friends, and suffered the good company of perhaps one of the most beautiful women in the world (I regret I am smitten, but that is too personal to write about in a public blog; I’ll just have to leave you voyers in a state of wonder, as I am myself . . . . ). We went to see her Hotliciousness work the cat-walk at Marrazils or however the heck you spell and say the name of that over-priced yuppy bar. The Baton Rougian notion of a “fashion show” was, well, laughable (through the duration women painted with brown paint and wearing body-hose posed as writhing slabs of meat on the salad bar; this is more than the gaze! It’s outright cannibalism!

After a sad parting with my date, I came home I decided to go back out to combat depression, hooked up with Shappy, Rog, Jen, Reedalicious, and notable others for more no-good behavior at the yuppie bar, and apparently a party afterward (I dimly recall being humped by a pug-faced doggie at an apartment off of Lakeland Drive), and then I really got my hang-over mojo on. It hurts today, but all in all, yesterday was quite the day, an epic of the electric word in technicolor, a full life drama that makes me think, damn, now this was an increadible day, all about love, death, about the undone and the done, speech acts, interpellation, and everything in between. I need more of these sorts of days. For the first time in months, I feel “awake.”

Love (and) Letters: None, Except for Heroin Addicts, Want to Die Alone

Music: The Grateful Dead: One from the Vault

I’ve been doing some reading in the philosophy of love this week in preparation for (ad)ministering tomorrow. I’ve been thinking about the countless weddings I’ve been to since I was old enough to carry my father’s camera bag and trying to remember what I liked and what I didn’t like. Catholic weddings can be beautiful, but often the homily is so guilt-ridden that I’m certain the newlyweds feel like the “wedding night” is akin to opening the seventh deadly seal: “from her little box comes all woe, and despite what we’re told about Pandora, Dante had it right: ‘Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.'” I think I was more moved by the modesty of Tracy and Doug’s wedding. The preacher (who happened to be Doug’s father) told a story about bees and honey that, while I didn’t quite follow it, was certainly meaningful to the bride and groom. I hope to take a similar tack.

Yet the literature on love (Platonic, agape, and everything in between) is dour. I revisited Sartre on love in Being and Nothingness:

Everything which may be said of me in my relations with the Other applies to him as well. While I attempt to free myself from the hold of the Other, the Other is trying to free himself from mine; while I seek to enslave the Other, the Other seeks to enslave me. We are by no means dealing with unilateral relations with an object-in-itself, but with reciprocal and moving relations.

He continues that “conflict is the original meaning of being-for-others,” and that love is born of this sour fruit. I remember thinking Sartre’s theory was profound in high school; heck, it even explained a lot of my often gloomy relationships in college (this battle of the “we” and the independence of the “me”). I’ve moved on, thankfully, from the Sartrean view (akin to “two hypnotists battling it out in a closed room,” as someone somewhere once said). I do believe to love is to reckon with conflict, contrary to the Walt Disney definition. But then, I’m convinced that subjectivity is also inherently contradictory—beside itself.

Love may not be a struggle; perhaps love is the coordination of contradictions and a cultivated cautiousness. There is comfort in coordination and cultivation, but I think that we must be careful to distinguish the care of this practice with the “poor little State- and Church-begotten weed” of marriage (as Emma Goldman once wrote) on the one hand, and “soul-mate” mysticism on the other. Regrettably, I think many young people believe marriage will produce love, and that the love produced will be something akin to ESP. Apparently statistics show (according to my colleagues who study this stuff in social scientific ways) that approximately 80% of hetero-marriages end in divorce.

It is difficult for me to dispense advice on what makes a successful marriage because I’ve never been married and, well, not sure I’ve ever came close (worse, “I don’t know what love is . . . I want [someone] to show me; I wanna feel what love is, I want [someone] to know me . . . .” Foreigner, yes, yes, thank you, and for the double entendre too). And like many if not most people in this culture, I harbor a secret desire, like the rest of us, for that impossible, intrauterine harmony. If there is a kernel of truth in Sartre’s theory, it is simply the regrettable fact that I am not you (my regards to Robert Smith). Without alienation and strangeness, there are no fantasies of familiarity.

Death underwrites marriage. Love, seems to me, is something else entirely.

Turkey Crossing

Music: Curve: Cuckoo

On the other side of birthday festivities, I have a host of thankful feelings and just a smidgeon of hangover left. Hit the former Icabod’s with Rog, his boy Alan, Jen, Paul, and Jess. I regret I spilled the gift “car bomb” all over the bar, but this was quite a lucky stroke (my, how I would have hurt with all that sugar in process the next day). Paul was a rock star for giving me a ride home.

I spent Sunday with a hangover and Sarah Michelle Geller; last night is was a beer with Patricia Arquette and her amazing medium-licious powers (I’m getting hyped about my upcoming sitting).

There is a mound of must-finish work, including a paper on Robo-Huey, the animatronic tribute to the Baron of the Bayou, for the upcoming Southern States Communication Association conference, and a wrap-up of the rhetorical agency essay with Chris. Speaking of the latter, Chris worked up some fantastic points about agency as a “possession” that I think works nicely with our Ouija board allegory. Again, I promise to post some tidbits once I get a chance to fix some of my authorial gaffs.

Huffing the Dreaded Fumes

Current Music: Archer Prewitt : Wilderness

“Way of the Sun” by Archer Prewitt is one of those songs that you cannot get out of your head after one listen; I’ve had it on repeat for a while and will have to give it up eventually and move on. It’s one of those gentle, acoustic guitar with Hammond organ and heavenly vocals sorts of songs. About a third way through the song, a chorus of “Ave Maria” appears, a sort of vocalic sample, which sends the listener to the moon. The whole album is much along the same lines, and (along with the latest Low album), the perfect way to set a sweet mood (or, apparently, to help put one to bed).

I’m taking the time this morning to write about the events of the past week, since I may want to remember some of this stuff in the future. I find that as the semester speeds toward a climax, I’m trying process as much of Baton Rouge culture through my experience organ as I can stand. I’ve only been home one night of the week (last night, a Friday, but a much deserved reprieve from people).


Yesterday I was invited to join the Baton Rouge High Twelve Club for lunch by a colleague who works in my building. It is a nation-wide organization open to Master Masons, which basically meet to eat and hear “papers.” I’ve been invited to give a paper in April, and I look forward to sharing some of my academic work to a wider audience.

I was also invited to join a number of brothers for the monthly meeting of the Lodge of Nine Muses, who recently received a dispensation (or prelude to charter) by the Grand Lodge of Louisiana. This lodge is modeled after the famed Neuf Soeurs Masonic lodge in pre-Revolutionary Paris (with heavy hitters like Voltaire and Benjy Franklin), who sought to revive the Cult of the Muses in displays of reasoned discourse. The lodge will be capped at 33 members (something which I have a little problem with), and is what my boy Rog would call “old school”: the ritual is conducted in candle light by folks wearing tuxedos; a research paper is given; and then the members retire to the Camelot Club for a banquet at the top of the Bank One tower with lovely views of downtown Baton Rouge. My colleague Darius Spieth gave a talk on the Sophesians, a clandestine Masonic spin-off obsessed with the culture of Egypt after Napoleon’s crazy campaign. It was a lovely evening with good conversation and company (“fellowship”), and I was especially impressed with the intellectual rigor of the discussion. If I were not moving, I’d probably petition the group (with the hope that they really wouldn’t turn away a worthy brother if membership started to bulge at 33).


Caught dinner with my boy Julius and his fiancé Amy, then went to see a musical at Baton Rouge’s Little Theater. I really enjoy their company, and am feeling increasingly more comfortable officiating at their nuptials next weekend–though I have a feeling their respective families don’t quite know what they’re in for (he he he; I will probably take a swipe at Walt Disney in my remarks on the solemnity of hitching). Anyhoo, the tickets to the musical were a kind gift; regrettably, the musical was pretty bad (think Waiting for Guffman). Although the play was intended for a righteously (if good-natured) heterosexist audience, with all sorts of jokes about “boy meets girl” and the like, at least two of the four were irrepressible queens. I was amused at the audience reaction, who didn’t quite realize they were watching a drag show without the dresses.

Speaking of drag, in exchange for my services, the happy couple bought me some time with Mary Jo McCabe , a renowned medium who’s latest book, Cracking the Coconut Code, has given me every assurance that she’s no mere cold-reader, but the real shit. I cannot wait to see her intuition at work, and I’ll have to play it straight.

I’m DJ-ing my first Bat Mitzvah this evening: the soon-to-be-young man sent a list of favorite bands. I regret most of the songs of his favorite bands would give grandma a heart attack, so, along with Rog (who will assist this evening) I’ve been in search of the clean, radio friendly versions of tunes. I’m afraid there is no Bat Mitzvah-safe version of Three Six Mafia’s “Ass and Titties,” or Lil Boosie’s “I Smoke, I Drink.”

After the gig, plans are afoot to see Lindsay’s band Liquid Sole (not to be confused with the Chicago-based Liquid Soul) at the North Gate Tavern. I hope I don’t have to drive.


Tomorrow I shall be forced to face the fact I am starting to leave the fumes of entry into the third decade: when you turn thirty-two, thirty-five is “closer than it may appear.” I’ll try to keep driving without running people over on the way to you know what.

The (Ab)used

Music: This Mortal Coil: Blood

Much goodness going on, but I regret not having the time to post about it. Briefly: (1) the last party I am hosting in Baton Rouge is an April Fools’ Party; (2) co-author and I have come up with a pretty smashing critique of the write-up on “rhetorical agency” in the last Rhetoric Society Quarterly–and I’m really looking forward to seeing it in print (I’ll post parts of it later); (3) I have my teaching assignments for next year at the University of Texas: one section of “Rhetoric and Popular Music” in the fall, and then a small undergraduate “Rhetoric of Religion” class in the spring, and a graduate seminar in “Psychoanalysis and Rhetoric”; (4) I’m uncertain if I should be thrilled or dismayed by the very recent appropriation of goth chic by glossy, commercialized boi-punk.

Regarding the latter: last week I saw two videos, one by The Used and the other by My Chemical Romance. The music is certainly catchy, and the gothic boys are certainly cute, but (as with Marilyn Mason before he grew into the intellectual stead of goth) there’s little attempt to pay the appropriate subcultural dues.

What are those dues? Well, for one, there are the wrinkles us first and second generation grufties are now dealing with. But there’s also the, uh, sense of isolation and abject lostness . . . . these kids are way too happy.