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spirit of service

January 29th, 2007 by slewfoot

Music: U.N.K.L.E.: Psyence Fiction (1998)

Today I just finished writing my first-ever “blurb” for a very good book on psychoanalysis and writing pedagogy (or “postpedagogy,” as the author prefers): Thomas Rickert’s Acts of Enjoyment: Rhetoric, Zizek, and the Return of the Subject, forthcoming from Pitt this year. Y’all go get it: it’s really an earnest and brilliant attempt to bring theory into the classroom, but in a way that doesn’t devolve into what I term the “pedagological retreat.” The “pedagological retreat” is a style of argument in rhetorical studies that dismisses the abstraction of theory as “idealist” and justifies ignoring it in the name of the “children.” Y’all know what I mean, cause we see it all the time.

Anyhoo, such blurbage is on the heels of a completed review of Grindstaff’s Rhetorical Secrets: Mapping Gay Identity in Contemporary America, as well as a completed review of an essay for a journal yesterday. This kind of labor got me thinking about what constitutes “service to the field,” not in terms of what counts toward tenure, but in terms of my obligation and responsibility as a scout in Camp Rhetorical Studies. What do I owe the field in exchange for my “knowledge” and professionalization? I have a job, of course, and in part that job is a consequence of certain key scholars having a faith in my work and viability as a rhetorician. What is the proper return gift for this faith? Or is my thinking about the field as an exchange of gifts simply wrong-headed?

I hope not. There’s no way to escape “exchange”—I just hope to avoid the factory metaphors as long as is possible.

Nevertheless, although I am often frustrated by so-called blind reviewers in my field, and although I am often really annoyed by the lack of humor in what is, by most accounts, a culturally conservative discipline, I am often more annoyed by the arrogance and dismissive attitude of some colleagues in my field who make it a point to belittle rhetorical studies and the work done within it. Part of that attitude translates into a kind of gatekeeping meanness: “I am Mighty Reviewer, and on the basis of my superior knowledge I shall bar this crap from ever besmirching the pristine pages of this Sacred Journal.” Service to the filed in this mode becomes sadistic. To echo my former DGS: “there’s room for everbody!”

In my view, the spirit of service is socialization in two senses: first, creating a sense of community and belonging; and second, helping to show others how to be a part of the community by example. Although I do not agree juniors should be reviewing books, I think that practice is a laudable service to the field. Nasty reviews are simply uncalled for. The same goes for reviewing essays: why the nastiness when you can be blunt but constructive? I think all the junior folks should not continue what some of our elders do with this meanness, but see service rather as constructive support.

Recently I was in an argument with a person from another field. She said she believed it was her job to gate-keep as a reviewer, to separate the shit from the gold, and that’s what she did, with great pleasure. Our field is so small, however, that I just don’t think we can afford to do this. I see my role as a reviewer as: (a) to determine if something can be worked into a publishable thing, which, frankly, is 80% of the time; (b) determine if the editor or me has the time to work with a revision; and (c) socialize scholars into the field. A and B could be understood as gatekeeping, but I don’t think that’s the purpose—the purpose is more pragmatic. The C point, though, is part of my service in a small field. It’s not like we’re an MLA-style mega-discipline in which one resorts to gatekeeping for pragmatic reasons.

Finally, I think the spirit of service is exemplified by a number of my colleagues by (a) nominating stuff for awards without having been asked to do so; and (b) emailing folks and telling them you dug their latest article. Many years ago Dana Cloud emailed me to express her appreciation for something that I published, and I was really touched. She was critical, but took the time to tell me. A few months ago a new colleague in Colorado did the same. Those kinds of shout-outs really go a long way toward giving the hard working juniors in our field a sense of belonging. Since Dana’s missive, I, too, have made it a point to email the authors of articles I enjoyed—even if I disliked them.

repeat conference proposing: a (re)draft

January 27th, 2007 by slewfoot

Music: Cliff Martinez: Kafka: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (1992)

Panel Proposal for the Performance Studies Division of the Annual Meeting of the National Communication Association, Chicago, 2007

Panel Title: Re-communicating (Re)views: Using Intellect to Faithfully Create Sites of Disciplined and Ethical Health Through Acting, Connecting, Looking Back, Moving Forward, and Most Especially Reaching Around: Repetition-Yet-Again, Five Years Later: A Retrospective


In the spirit of interdisciplinarity, this panel articulates performance to recent theoretical developments in cultural and rhetorical studies through the concept of repetition, and in this repetition of the panel, more specifically in the idiom of “retrospective.” More than a mere idiom (philosophical or otherwise), repetition captures a central, neurotic movement in the ideational (or discursive) histories of both bodily (e.g., performance studies, theatre) and more somatophobic (e.g., philosophy, rhetoric) disciplines. In her own way, each panelist will explore how mimesis and imitation continue to haunt innovations in performance and rhetorical theory, and how a return or a “reaching in” to our own repetition compulsion helps to unravel the coherence of (our academic) identity in two important senses: (1) identity as it is constituted in “subjectivity” (e.g., Butler’s notion of performativity as the essential precondition for all politics); and (2) identity as it is debated in object theory (e.g., descriptivism vs. anti-descriptivism). In order to underscore the anxieties of/about repetition, and in particular in order to do so in relation to the economic mandate to “perform—or else!” (McKenzie), the object under investigation is the convention panel itself—currently in its fifth iteration—understood as a repetitive, performative pedagogy of academic identity.


In his Difference and Repetition, Gilles Deleuze framed the problem of repetition as a problem of representation. Because of various Western conceits, which we can trace back to Plato’s condemnation of mimesis in both its poetic (rhetorical) and performative (theatre) modes, repetition has been construed as a relationship between two similar, equal, or identical forms. Deleuze suggests that we treat repetition as “difference without concept,” meaning that repetition becomes absorbed into the same and similar instead of being understood as a distinct (viz., “different”) iteration (xv-xvii). Yet, in our contemporary age of “cynical ideology” (Sloterdijk), people know very well that there is no pure or absolute form of repetition—that, in fact, each iteration is different if only for temporality and therefore quantitude—yet we continue to behave as if repetition were of the same. Consequently, Deleuze argues that any variation in repetition leads to a suspicion, that something is being hidden or covered over in the iteration. Although Deleuze’s insights are primarily philosophical, we believe that this “suspicious sense,” as it were, goes directly to the heart of our collective scholarly performance.

At issue, then, is a performative misrecognition of the different (or pure difference). Slajov Zizek suggests that the “suspicious sense” is the symptom of misrecognition, and that combined they sustain an “ideological fantasy”: “What [people] overlook, what they misrecognize, is not the reality but the illusion which is structuring the reality, their social activity. They know very well how things really are, but still they are doing it as if they did not know” (32). In the last twenty years, this kind of perserveration or seemingly autonomic “doing” of bodies has become deeply wed to an ideological fantasy of scholarly life, and our suspicion has been grafted onto the reality of what Jon McKenzie has characterized as an organizational, cultural, and technological performativity increasingly governed by the instrumental logics of Capital.

Translated into the more mundane project of the panel itself, we contend that professional performances have become increasingly “survivalist” or “apocalyptic” in tone, and that the suspicious sense is being grafted on everything from tenure standards to the death of disciplines (e.g., the eclipse of performance studies by rise of theory in theatre departments; the murder of rhetoric by cultural studies, and so on). One consequence of this mania is that alternative forms of scholarly presentation have been rigorously excluded in most NCA divisions, excepting those more open to performative alternatives (e.g., the Performance Studies Division and the Ethnography Division). Indeed, it is this policing of performance that routinely arouses the suspicion that a given conference panel will be “more of the same old thing,” and it is precisely the suspicious sense that continues to sustain “more of the same old thing.” By exploring the repetition dynamic, this panel promises to be very different.


In the 2005 and 2006 repetitions of the panel, we introduced the video “remix” work of Dr. Patricia Suchy, which was shown in tandem with the panel itself. For the fifth anniversary of this panel, in the spirit of an anniversarial reunion, Dr. Suchy will assist in isolating the greatest moments of past iterations which she has captured on video. Panelists will be asked to reflect on these moments, discussing their feelings as well as the invention process behind their conference papers. Audience members will also be asked to reflect on their past experiences with the panel and share their feelings as well. We have contacted two well known television hosts and psychologists, Drs. Keith Ablow and Phil McGraw, in the hope that either would be willing to help moderate our retrospective. If they cannot commit, Dr. Stormer has agreed to host and moderate our retrospective.

Finally, our fifth year anniversary will be the debut of the “Repetition-Yet-Again” franchise. During, before, and after the retrospective audience members will be encouraged to buy commemorative t-shirts and autographed glossies from our merchandise booth. Additionally, CD-ROMs will available for purchase that contain a Repetition-Yet-Again Panel kit, on which franchisees will find the complete text of all the panels papers, the panel proposals, and other documents so that the panel can be presented at regional communication conferences across the country.


Host: Nathan Stormer, University of Maine

Retrospective One: “99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall, or, Drunk with Posts” Aric Putnam, University of Minnesota, Twin Cities

1. The Dada Version: Post. Post. Post. Post. Post. Post. Post. Post. Post. Post. Post. Post. Post. Post. Post. Post. Post. Post. Post. Post. Post. Post. Post. Post. Post. Post. Post. Post. Post. Post. Post. Post. Post. Post. Post. Post. Post. Post. Post. Post. Post. Post. Post. Post. Post. Post. Post. Post. Post. Post. Post. Post. Post. Post. Post. Post. Post. Post. Post. Post. Post. Post. Post. Post. Post. Post. Post. Post. Post. Post. Post. Post.

2. And for the Suspicious: This essay sympathetically explores the recurrence of the prefix “post” in performances of academic identity. “Post” has done exemplary duty modifying “fordist,” “modern,” “structural,” “national,” “feminist,” and “Marxist” and in so doing served as the vessel in which we’ve bottled our conversations about disciplinary identity. Will there always be another “post” on the shelf, or is it time for harder stuff?

Retrospective Two: “Repetition, Rinse, Repeat: On Wooden Paneling,” Joshua Gunn, University of Texas at Austin

According to Freud, repetition compulsion is governed by something “beyond” the Pleasure Principle—namely, the death drive. Combining ethnography, auto-ethnography and a smidgen of self-critique, this essay examines the plight of the typical panel-goer at an academic convention, particularly in relation to the following question: If the practice of panel-going is not governed by pleasure, then what performance of death are we repeating? The answer, I suggest—with a nod to object-relations theory—is an unseeming religiosity of surplus, an encounter with a strangely wooden “objet (petit) a” unique to NCA.

Retrospective Three: “Ms. Pacman and the Vagina Dentata” Chani Marchiselli, University of Minnesota, Twin Cities

In addition to frustration and privation, castration is one of the three forms of “lack of object” identified in Lacanian psychoanalysis. This paper examines how frustration (the imaginary lack of a real object) and privation (the real lack of a symbolic object) are repeatedly eclipsed during academic panel sessions by a symbolic lack of the imaginary object of communication. As a fundamentally monological–and therefore homosocial–forum, the panel form encourages endless phallic resurrections—ghosts of what is not, ghosts of the previous convention, ghosts of the illusion of mastery, knowledge, and the rest of it. This paper argues for an embrace of “lack” and the promotion of universal rountabling.

Retrospective Four: “The Interminable Return of,” Christopher Swift, Northwestern University.

Repeating the insight associated by numerous scholars with the early writings of Friedrich Nietzsche, namely that all language is “rhetorical,” has come to occupy the status of a confirmation of faith in our discipline. But even this thinker of the eternal return of the same developed beyond such an abstraction, already tired in the nineteenth century, much more quickly than we have. The very discourse of the eternal return performs a transfiguration of discourse rather than simply writing about it. This paper attempts to follow Nietzsche’s model.

Respondent: Michael S. Bowman, Louisiana State University

Repeat Attendees: Jake Simmons, University of Southern Illinois, Naida Zukic, University of Southern Illinois

Stunt Doubles: David Terry, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and Michael LeVan, University of Southern Florida

Videographer, Gaffer, and Key Grip: Patricia Suchy, Louisiana State University

Butler, Judith. Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity. New York: Routledge.

Deleuze, Gilles. Difference and Repetition, translated by Paul Patton. New York: Columbia University Press, 1994.

Kripke, Saul A. Naming and Necessity. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1982.

McKenzie, Jon. Perform or Else: From Discipline to Performance. New York: Routledge, 2001.

Seid, Michael and Dave Thomas. Franchising for Dummies. New York: For Dummies, 2000.

Sloterdijk, Peter. Critique of Cynical Reason. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press,1988.

Zizek, Slavoj. The Sublime Object of Ideology. New York: Verso, 1989.

defiant petunia

January 26th, 2007 by slewfoot

Music: Lehrer News Hour

I captured this image today (click for a bigger version) as I returned home from work—or rather, I came home, was shocked by seeing a flower, got my camera and returned to immortalize it in pixels—because of what Jung termed “synchronicity.” I am not much of a Jungian, so I do not believe in the validity of synchronicity, but I do believe that psychically we make the connections all the time, and that these connections are meaningful in ways that have material effects. This bloom (actually, there are two) emerged from the petunia after a week-long deep freeze. I haven’t read up on petunias, but it seems to me this plant should have died with the 20-degree temps and ice-storm drama of last week. Regardless, I’m inspired by the petunia!

The homology: this morning my father called to report that my grandfather has left us. He is still physically alive, but because his heart has given out, all his organs have failed and there is significant brain-damage—so much so that the doctors are 90% sure he is not coming back. The Gunns met to decide what to do yesterday, and they decided to take him off of life support. My father said that they expected him to go quickly, but apparently he is hanging on. He will not come to consciousness ever again. We wait. What troubles me the most is that the family has decided not to have a memorial or service. My father called to insist that I not come home. It was a hard conversation.

It bothers me that there is no symbolic gathering to mourn him. The rationale is that “Papa” was strident about not wanting one, but dammit, it’s not for him; it’s about him, for us. It’s for my father. But it’s not my decision and I need to respect that.

You know, I don’t want to be cliché and am not really looking for shout-outs by posting this, I just feel it would be ok (it’s my blog, and I’ll cry if I want to!), and I’m not sure there’s a point to it all except that the point is superficial but nevertheless deeply felt. It’s just an everyday thing, seeing this flower and relating it to the situation (Papa hanging on—as stubbornly as he was in life, but always with laughter). Those kinds of connections, however maudlin one might label it, are important to me.

Bleh: it’s been one of those days.

sea men

January 25th, 2007 by slewfoot

Music: Labradford: Mi Media Naranja (1997)

Not too long after I recommended that junior scholars should not, in general, review books, I agreed to review one. I was asked to review Davin Allen Grindstaff’s Rhetorical Secrets: Mapping Gay Identity and Queer Resistance in Contemporary America for Rhetoric & Public Affairs, the most culturally conservative journal in my field. I originally declined, citing a litany of previous promised deadlines. I was told, however, that they believed I was really the right guy to review this book and, having read it twice now, I think I know why (aside from the conceptual focus on “secrets”): this is a performative text that many of the more traditionally inclined rhetoricians may not know what to do with. At least that’s what I’m telling myself, as I like to think of myself as open to unusual texts!

The challenge of reviewing this tome is that I do get it, but I’m just not sure how to impart that the book is both an argument and a peformance itself, that the author is trying to perform his argument, and often in strong, homoerotic, highly sexual narratives. [LATER EDIT: E! cautioned that people have a strong distaste for reviews in which the reviewer attempts to prove “she gets it”–they come off as condescending. So, I am taking much care NOT to do this]. Some of the conservative (er, homophobic) readers would hate it. So how do I (a) give a positive review that mirrors, in some way, its clever approach to advocating for public desiring; but (b) do my job of identifying who would and would not appreciate the book. I mean, book reviews are supposed to generate the right audience for a book. And then I have another mission of (c) convincing those who would originally dismiss the book because of its subject not to do so, but to look deeper.

My solution was to begin with the cum-shot. My read of Grindstaff’s book is that it performs jouissance, and I think the “shock” of the exemplar gets at the public/private issues that ground the book. It is also pleasurable for me to, you know, be the first explicitly figural money shot in a conservative journal. I do not want to exempt my desire from the review either—I want to play with the author too. One wonders, however, about the politics of journals versus books: Grindstaff writes of explicitly sexual stuff in his book, but there is something about a book that makes it “more ok” than in journal articles, or at least this is my perception. So here is a teaser preview of the review; stay tuned for the full version late this semester or this summer (and probably edited, if not outright censored):

One of the many pleasures of reading Davin Allen Grindstaff’s study—or I should say, one of the ways in which the reader is suspended between an erotics of pleasure and pain—is the subtle and not-so-subtle ways in which the author displaces the cum-shot to the off-screen of the book’s preconscious. At the literal and figurative center of Rhetorical Secrets: Mapping Gay Identity and Queer Resistance in Contemporary America, Grindstaff argues for an “ethic of fluidity” premised on “semen’s ability to function as synecdoche for male subjectivity,” but in a way that embraces its connotations of danger and contagion as an emblem of possibility (85; also see 131-132). Inspired by the work of Michel Foucault, Grindstaff writes that since antiquity semen has been yoked to male subjectivity in ways that implicate a troubling tendency toward (ideational) solidity and containment as a way to stabilize—or better, dam-up—male identity, a tendency that is no more obvious than in filmic pornography: either solo or with a partner, the male “pulls out” to spurt or squirt his “junk” or “load” deliriously into the air or—as is more frequently common—onto the face of a motionless yet ravenously passive lover. Although it is unclear if the cum-shot has since become a common, private practice in the everyday bedroom, most critics agree that “visible ejaculation” was originally a pornographic, filmic innovation “to ‘prove’ that the sex is ‘real'” and provide a sense of closure to a given scene. Insofar as the meaning of the cum-shot for spectators remains contested, however, Grindstaff’s argument about the synecdochic virility of the figure of semen would resist the cum-shot as a “closure” or the solipsistic scene of male self-identification (e.g., “I am cuming!”) in favor of exposing the paradoxical, open, and relational work of subjectivication betokened by ejaculate as a synecdochic figure of both cathexis and elusive mutability (e.g., “every-body, my body, your body, our body, cums!”). In other words, in Rhetorical Secrets Grindstaff is careful to describe the ways in which the figure of semen both rhetorically establishes and upends masculine subjectivity at the bodily and embodied scenes of enjoyment: “The body is more than merely the residence of one’s sexual identity,” Grindstaff concludes his study, it “is also a collective entity, responsive and responsible to others.” Signaling a Deleuzian allegiance, Grindstaff advocates a public “desiring” of multiplicity and both/and, which is the queer community’s “most powerful form of resistance” and the better route for cuming together as a queer body politic (156).

I’ve opened this review deliberately with the cum-shot because the shock it will invite in some readers helps to underscore the publicity of pleasure Rhetorical Secrets advocates as well as the liminal, performative place Grindstaff would seduce readers to go. Although male ejaculate is the topic chapter four alone, those who are easily offended by the “public” discussion of presumably “private” events may not take pleasure in Grindstaff’s study, and in particular, the deliciously erotic, first person narratives of the author’s intercourse with Melville’s Billy Budd (42-55); such readers may be repulsed by the arousing ways in which Grandstaff describes how a muscle-bound stud in a phone sex advertisement “fucks me with his eyes” (119-123), or turned-off by the (very) close reading of Allan Gurganus’s yearning yarn of a bloody and polymorphous “hooking” ho-down (139-148). Yet to ignore the monograph because of these hard-core hermeneutic hook(ing)-ups would be a mistake, for the significance of Rhetorical Secrets is precisely its willingness to publicize the heterosexist assumptions of propriety that render gay male subjectivity a “performative contradiction” in a way that is enjoyable for the queer and “straight” alike. In other words, Grindstaff’s book is not only for those interested in learning about the rhetorical construction of gay male identity. Rhetorical Secrets also endeavors to explain how that identity is discursively produced by and among those who both deny and promote homophilia. Everyone’s desiring is implicated the project of gay male identity, and Grindstaff achieves this insight not only argumentatively, but in the way the text is “performed” itself: after a many paged, highly theoretical discussions, sometimes the reader suddenly finds him- or herself in bed with Grindstaff as he slides to first person descriptions of his thoughts and feelings about bodies in homoerotic encounter. This said, in addition to detailing the basic argument of the book, it is important to foreground the author’s explicit commitment to the performative dimension of identity and politics and the way in which the book issues both desirous invitation and erotic repulse as techniques of self-evidence.


[i] Joseph W. Slade, “Flesh Need Not Be Mute: The Pornographic Videos of John Leslie.” Wide Angle 19 (1997): 129.

[ii] See Richard Dyer, “Gay Male Porn,” Jump Cut 30 (1985): 227-229; and Cindy Patton, “Hegemony and Orgasm-Or, the Instability of Heterosexual Pornography,” Screen 30 (1989): 100-112.

blogcast the first

January 23rd, 2007 by slewfoot

Music: American Idol and the 2007 State of the Union Address

As American Idol wraps up I’m preparing to watch Bushie II’s annual address. It occurred to me I might do a kind of stream-of-consciousness blogging as I watched and listened to Bushie II, let’s call it a blogcast. I’m sure the term means something else to someone else online, but that’s what I’m going to call this: a blogcast. Here are the rules: 1. I will type exactly what comes into my head as I listen (as quickly as I can—I’ll probably not be able to write it all down); I am only allowed to edit with a spellcheck; 3. I must post my blogcast within fifteen minutes of the end of the speech (so as to give myself time to reflect, but to avoid being “spinned” by the after-speech chatter). This should be fun!

T-minus 6 minutes: I’m thinking I should have listed beforehand the generic norms of State of the Union addresses (which are well known among my ilk, the Rhetoricanians). Oh, here we go.

There’s Laura, nice dress. At Randall’s I was in the forever long line—you know, I get in the freakin’ slow one—and the cover story for a tabloid was that Bush walked out on Laura in the “worst fight of their marriage.” She looks pretty happy though.

Cider is too hot. It doesn’t need to be boiling to dissolve the packet. Why are the justices always at this thing? Cider still too hot; I can’t tell it’s sugar free, though, so that’s good.

Rick sent that photo of Bill Clinton’s head on Hilary’s body today. Man, that was creepy. Lots of red dresses tonight. What’s with the red dresses? Red ties too. Condi is a twit (ok, that’s not what I’m really thinking, but some censoring is necessary). Campbell Brown is a commentator now? Jeeze: I thought she only did soft pieces on the weekend. I like her voice—it’s very confident and smart. Why do they put Katie Couric on the nightly news? She does not appear as smart to me. But better than Rather—I know he was a Texas boy and all, but what an ass.

Room full of presidential wanna-bes. Brown says they will be cautious with their eyebrows because any furtive shows will be “on Youtube forever.” Hugh. That’s interesting to think about: easy access gaff capturing. Oh my god: that barbaric yawp of what’s-his-face, chairman of the DNC, Dean. Right. Someone was telling me McCain will not be the next president because he will land a gaff as he has consistently done in previous runs that gets him beat up. But Bush is a veritable gaff-a-ram and looks like Alfred E. Newman, so . . . . Maybe McCain is just not impotent enough?

Bill Livingwood announces Bush—it would be so kick ass to have that guy do my answering machine message. Bush is wearing a light blue tie. Ah-ha: contrite, indeed. It’s not red, which is telling. This is going to be a very interesting rhetorical gesture. I expect he will do something unexpected. Oh my god: my grandfather kind of looks like Bush after he dropped all that weight. Eek. NBC is good, but I should try Fox’s coverage just to look at the framing. I bet they are getting relentless shots of Laura and her red dress.

Oooh, there’s Palosi—not wearing red, but a sedate “sea foam” (I learned that color name from a commercial). Clothing signifiers are important. “Ready to go?” he asked. “Let’s do it!” She calls to order, five knocks.

His mouth looks like a tiny cave. Oooh, shout-out to “Madam Speaker!” Uproarious. A gracious gesture, and comes off as sincere. Good move.

Man his speechwriters and coaches have really worked Bush over since the first presidency. Gerson was on television this morning talking about the challenges of this speech. Why did they cut Gerson (or why did he leave)? The speeches are not as good, but I suppose more godless, which is good. What is his lapel pin? Is that . . . American flag. I’m a bad listener? I am more interest in the bling than what’s coming out of his mouth (cause it’s empty!). “Work to be done,” “responsibility,” “crossing the aisle.” So he opens with a “w00t, you go girl” and then “we gots ta werk tagetha!”

Ok, now were into “it’s the economy stupid” stuff: balancing the budget is out of his mouth first. Yay! Everyone’s happy. And we can do so without taxes? Boo. And monkeys will fly out of my butt. His little mouth kind of reminds me of a butt—except when he licks his lips. Then it reminds me of a mouth. Good hand gestures. His ears are kind of Vulcanesque. Do my students critique my looks like this? Hopefully my lectures are more interesting. It’s hard to make them love Isocrates, but I think my comparison of Helen of Troy and Paris to Jessica Beal and Clooney got them thinking. Can Ted Kennedy’s face get any redder? It looks like a festering pimple.

Fixing Medicare and Medicaid. Do I pay that? I couldn’t find it on my pay stub. Social security was there but I didn’t see Medicare.

Oh shit, here’s a hot button: “No child left behind.” He’s calling it a success? WTF? We’re staring to get the product of no child left behind in college now. They can take tests! But write? Think critically? Appreciate the arts? Math and science skills–please, Congress, don’t reauthorize this measure!

Cheney has a little lapel pin too—what is it? A flag. Reform for health insurance, baloney. Oooh, bright green tie: who is that guy? Cheney does sort of resemble Jabba the Hut. Maybe he thinks Pelosi is chained to him. Watching the back of Bush’s head must be akin to eating those little squid things Jabba eats. Grants grants grants. Blah blah blah. Expand health savings accounts. Hey! I have one of those. I don’t see any discernable benefit, however. It’s supposed to be a tax shelter, but I think I have to spend more to see a difference. Therapist charges $300 a session. Shit. I couldn’t believe that when I saw it (I get whacked with $40). You know, I should think about getting into that gig. Though I think if I ever said “Lacan” aloud I’d be banished from the APA or something. Didn’t his patients have a high incident of suicide?

Securing the boarders, hoo-hah. Temporary worker program. Hmm. Will help us “track” them in our relentless search for terrorists. Keeps ’em legal, helps us weed out the evildoers. Melting pot, assimilation. Ooooohhh: miscegenation trope alert! Quick, get your Charles Sumner Playbook! Well, immigration reform is good—maybe all those rallies last year made a difference? At least on the “public screen” as DeLuca and Peeples put it.

Ooh, the secretary of energy looks like a Boston Baked Bean. Red red red! What’s up with the red dresses and red faces (is my TV not adjusted?). Red noses. He wants new energy strategies. His eyebrows got excited with the mention of “wood chips.”

Isn’t it great Rick Santorum is not to be seen!

More on cars and gas and stuff, reducing dependence . . . oh, more calls for more drilling. My friend Meredith is a lawyer for a drill company. She says it’s all my fault for encouraging her to go to law school. I said ACLU, not oil drilling companies. Her father is the CEO, though, so I have to give her some slack. And this IS Texas, after all. Water sip. Cheney sips too. Like the repetition panel: we all drink at once. Supreme Court justices have their hands folded in their lap. Do they ever get up to applaud? I cannot see. They probably do not. Ah, I see now. They sit there, seemingly dispassionately.

Uh-oh, switch to terrorists. Guarding the homeland (must we use that term? it’s so . . . Nazi!). “To win the war on terror, we must take the fight to the enemy.” Uh-oh. Is he going to drop the “Iran” bomb? “The enemy knows the days of comfortable sanctuary . . . are long over.” Now he’s listing accomplishments of anti-terrorist activity, uncovering plots . . . we owe thanks for those who dedicate their lives to finding the terrorists and stopping them. “Shoreless ambitions of the enemy,” we’re constantly at war, he says. Well, it’s a reassertion of the state of exception. The room is quite as Bushie is giving a lengthy description of “the terrorists.” They want to spread their “totalitarian ideology.” He’s moved on to discuss Shia and Sunni extremists . . . “wicked purposes,” they want to kill Americans.

“. . . it remains the policy of this government . . . to find these enemies and protect the American people,” via any means necessary. Aye, my hand is getting tired. Condoleezza looks like an alien. She needs some sleep or something. Well, I keep waiting for the other shoe to drop, it sounds like a build up: all this chat about evil and wicked “enemies” coming to kill us. So, is there a specific policy proposal coming? Now it’s the greatness of Afghanistan and Iraq and their democratic reforms. Hoo-hah. Oh, I see: the enemies are adjusting their strategies as a result of these successes. Ok, so what you gonna do? Is this the rationale for “the surge?”

Pelosi is blinking way too much. She must be upset.

Cheney doesn’t blink at all. Perhaps is black and soulless, unfeeling heart.

Yeah, he was building up for the Surge. Here comes the case: clearing and securing neighborhoods, the city, and taking out the “roaming death squads.” The language sounds like a Hollywood script: roaming death squad. Why don’t they pull in Willie to write them an “Old Shoe” song?

An odd thing: if you focus on Bush, Pelosi begins to resemble (out of focus) Laura, it’s like Laura up there supporting him. This is odd—some preconscious appeal . . . she should be making bad faces, you know, for subliminal effect. What if Laura and Georgie are fighting? The political unconscious is at work there: of course they are, Laura is that American Public that supported this Bozo. The figure of Laura is very important to the imaginary of this presidency (duh, of course), but especially to this speech. I wonder if this is in HD? Everyone’s noses look runny and red . . . pissy democratic faces around with the comment we need to succeed in Iraq.

Ok, I’m getting worn out. It’s like a broken record . . over and over the same yah yah. I’m getting a headache, literally. Cider is empty. Boo. How did people do it in Lincoln’s time? Didn’t their butts get sore sitting on tree stumps or whatever?

Something about nuclear weapons—I missed it. I was becoming embodied to myself. Oh, it’s Korea. Team America was not as funny as I thought it would be, but I liked the “America! Fuck yeah!” song, that was pretty good.

Commitment to HIV/AIDS eradication; Bush has a good record on that I recall. 1.2 Billion for malaria. Good call. Yeah, the justices are sitting all stoic like. Makes you to go tease them, like one of those stuffy British soldiers with the funny hats.

Heroic kindness . . . oh, here comes the show and tell. This is a new innovation in State of the Unions. We started seeing it in Reagan’s speeches, but Clinton really amped it up in his “town meeting” shout-outs to folks. Now it’s standard in all State of the Unions. Someone up in the gallery—sitting next to Laura. At some point there’s going to be a solider with his arm blown off or something.

“Baby Einstein” company . . . a shout out to an entrepreneur. Yehaw, “you too can do it!” Up with Oprah y’all! There are no structural impediments to your success! Who next? Oh, to Harlem. Nice, follow the lily-white lady with a black hero. Guy saved someone’s life—he’s clearly moved for the recognition. Blowing kisses and glad-handing like crazy. Oh! Here’s the blown up soldier! I knew there would be one—although it’s his legs. Doh—but he just stood up. Clap clap. Sorry dude, it does suck but, don’t you feel a bit, er, odd at this particular State of the Union?

He’s wrapping up . . here’s the pitch: “state of the union is strong.”

Ok, television off, pee break, a summation, then I’ll post.

Hmm. So with a tinkle-time to reflect, my summation of the speech is this: (a) it wasn’t terribly good, seemed even to veer into apologia territory—in tone, especially; (b) the women were really doing a lot of red, while the men’s ties were much more muted, suggesting—interestingly and I think I could argue convincingly—a admission of symbolic castration; (c) Bush is thinking about his legacy, and he/his handlers were playing the race card by trotting out all those people of color (and especially in terms of the immigration reform stuff); (d) there was a palpable sense of “it’s over.”

As the words of our political speeches get less and less important, it would seem (initially) that image politics are more important: the dress, the lapel pins, Bush’s little mouth, the Laura presence, the color red, and so on. Yet tone was important tonight, and more communicative. The tone was subdued and somewhat deferent. The imagery communicated a tone—one that elevated the feminine in respect to “power” and one that muted the masculine. Oh, it’s 9:17—must post.

note to self

January 22nd, 2007 by slewfoot

Music: Japan: The Other Side of Japan (1991)

Just because I have my earpods in my ears and cannot hear myself fart does not mean that others are wearing headphones or do not hear my farts at the coffee shop. One should not fart in the coffee shop.


January 21st, 2007 by slewfoot

Music: Sigur Ros: Takk (2005)

A little more than a year ago Jenny sent me a sticker to affix to my vehicle, a fetching ITMFA logo. The logo is part of a larger, humor-driven campaign calling for an impeachment of Bushie the Second, which was (I think) initiated by Dan Savage of Savage Love fame. We have Savage to thank for one of the best contemporary neologisms of all time: “the santorum.” My question today—which is always appropriate because Sundays are the days when I think about politics because of all the talk shows that are on in the morning—my question today is: do we have Savage to thank for a coming impeachment?

My bud Christopher and his girlfriend Tracy are visiting from College Station this weekend. When Christopher came down I was watching Ted Kennedy grouse about “the Surge” to what’s-his-face (Russert?). Christopher said the resolution is more important than I realized. He said the talk in College Station is that the seemingly toothless Democratic resolution to oppose the surge is a set-up for a coming impeachment. “The talk” is that the Democrats want to draw on Bushie II’s phallic resolve to make the case that he doesn’t “listen,” and then to use the prolonged failure in Iraq (including the coming atrocities) to garner “public” support for an impeachment bill. Once impeached, the president will be effectively saltpetered.

I am naturally skeptical about this talk, however, after Christopher said this everything that subsequently came out of Kennedy’s mouth made much more sense. Oh, goodness: Are we headed for an impeachment? That will be so much more interesting this season than American Idol or Trading Spouses (although Marguerite is back!). I would really love me some impeachment drama for evening television. Fun! fun! fun!

another heady post

January 19th, 2007 by slewfoot

Music: Pinback: blue screen life (2001)Per the request of Debbalicious, this post is mostly to get rid of the old man’s rotting face photo two posts ago. While I’m at it, though, I want to share that this morning I awoke to a mucus fiesta in my head! I was a bone-i-fied blockhead, like, I had this vision of thought that the other side of my face was one big, undifferentiated slab of booger yuckiness.

I was a blockhead yesterday too, and last night I had a toddy before I went to bed (that is, a shot of whiskey, a shot of lemon juice, and a tablespoon–ok, two tablespoons–of honey, topped off with piping hot water). This depressed me because this “remedy” is high in carbs and I started a low carb diet to lose last semester’s six pounds on Monday (and I was doing so good!). Stupid cold. Anyway, I mention the toddy because it works! Alas, I could not have a toddy this morning as that would not be good for the 9:00 a.m. meeting (two more meetings to go, too).

So, as the office execs were listening to me hack and snort and blow this morning, they recommended Mucinex. Said it worked wonders. Said the stuff was magical. On the way home for lunch (and a load of laundry–guests arrive tonight) I picked up some Mucinex. It was twelve freakin’ dollars! I kept looking for that New Jersey working class booger cartoon on the carton, but the Mucinex box doesn’t have that guy. Once I stopped looking for the working class booger (WCB) I found the box.

I’m now back in the office in preparation for meeting number two. Oh my god: the Mucinex works great! I’m clear, not runny! No cough. It’s expensive, but that stuff is AMAZING! Joshie Juice endorses the Mucinex. It de-solidfies his juices. Yup.

american grotesque

January 17th, 2007 by slewfoot

Music: American Idol

The university has decided to hold class tomorrow—to my surprise. I predicted they would at least open at noon because all the elevated fly-overs are now closed (I’ll have to take an alternate route to school tomorrow). But they were reporting that the city was out of de-icer? They’re opening at 10:00 a.m., which means my 11:00 a.m. class will meet. I’m now scrambling to put together my outline for the class (I’m trying powerpoint for the first time . . . deity help me).

As I work on this task I’m listening to the Fox hit American Idol, which, at this point, is a media phenomenon that cannot be ignored. As I learned reading Variety, all the other networks literally throw up their hands when scheduling against the show, which is currently running four hours a week on Tuesday and Wednesday nights. The competing networks consider the Fox hit somewhat of a fluke, while Fox uses the show to launch others (the drama House was catapulted after it was scheduled following Idol). This is the 6th season.

Why the heck has this show lasted so long? First, I think it is because you can do all manner of things while you watch it. It moves very slow, and everything that happens is mostly predictable. You can go pee and nothing significant has transpired. Second, there is the ruthless, sardonic framing of freaks, geeks, misfits, and idiots that pretty much is the formula for the first part of the season. A young man with a touch of that Trekkie quality (he holds his waist nervously), with red hear, bulging blue eyes, and bad teeth confidently but cluelessly massacred some boy band song. They let him sing for a full three minutes because it was so terrible, and also because the young man was visibly unaware of how bad his singing was: “What the bloody hell was that?” says Simon. Simon is visibly angry. There is an awkward pause. A confident voice returns: “That was me.” Another long pause. The young man then gives in. “Was that not good enough?” The judges proceed to tell the man he is terrible.

Now, the show tends to revolve around the fact that Simon is a “mean judge” and says harsh, terrible things. He does, actually (he said to one guy tonight he looked like a creature from the jungle with “big eyes”—he implied bug-eyed natives, but fortunately the young man went for the more innocent, “he said I looked like a monkey”). But what is really sardonic are the shots and the jump-cuts that elevate Simon’s direct cruelty to a kind if indirect severity. After the young man above leaves the room, Ryan Seacrest approaches him and asks how it went. The young man replied not very well, and this was all he had to say. Seacrest stares at him, he stares back, and they just keep shooting in a prolonged scene of clueless humiliation. The sheer length of the shot is uncomfortable, then a jump cut to a head shot of the young man speaking definitely, then back to the stare contest.

For the most part tonight’s program was cruel, although not in ways that I had expected. Instead of poking fun at their singing, all sorts of things are insinuated about intelligence, looks, class, fashion sensibility, gait—and anyone that is in some way physically awkward (there was, for example, a woman who had the appearance of Down Syndrome) will be featured. American Idol seems, in other words, to function by identifying its own “terrorists” against which to define the normalcy of the televisual audience.

As a fan of Jerry Springer and court television shows, I very much understand the enjoyable logic behind of negative definition. I watched in horror as an obviously mentally handicapped individual was ballyhooed as a freak (Paula seems to swoop in at the end to recover and provide some modicum of recognition/love). What seems missing in Idol is something like informed consent: a lot of the folks who are made fun of do not seem aware that they will soon become objects of derision. One might argue that because the show is in its fifth season, “they know what they are getting into.” But it’s clear some of these folks are incapable of discerning the social cues—incapable of understanding how they are being humiliated. Does humiliation require self-awareness?

Regardless, because the producers prey on ignorance, American Idol is a mean show.

hegel undead, or, critical rot

January 17th, 2007 by slewfoot

Music: The For Carnation: Fight Songs (1995)

Last Friday a very engaging graduate student from the Radio, Television, and Film program dropped by to talk about zombies. He is writing a thesis on Night of the Living Dead that employs Fredric Jameson’s protocol in The Political Unconscious: in the horizon of chapter one he will conduct a close, narrative analysis of the film itself; in chapter two, his horizon will be historical context, and in particular, reading the figure of the zombie up against a cultural imaginary of concentration camp imagery; and he’ll nest the third horizon in chapter three—but hasn’t determined what that will be (cart before the horse issue, you know). He doesn’t need me on a committee or anything, he simply wanted to discuss zombies with someone who gave a shit. It was a fun discussion.

One of the things I mentioned was that in writing about zombies, we need to justify the figure as a privileged “monster” of our time: why is the zombie more important than the vampire? Is there a resurgence in zombies? My friend Laura might argue, for example, that the cyborg and/or virus are the monstrous figures of our time, not the zombie. So I recommended Jodi Dean’s most excellent Aliens in America as a good example of how one might justify a cultural figure for organizing a study. I also thought of Jean Comaroff’s stuff on the coincidence between industrialization and the rise of the zombie figure in South Africa.

I also shared with him my argument for the importance of zombies, and it goes a little something like this: like many monsters in the popular imaginary, zombies are figures of social critique. Their purchase, however, is the consistently conscious way in which zombie fantasy marks itself as a critique. In the early days of zombie film (say, 1920s-1940s) zombies critiqued capitalism by amplifying it’s threat to the nuclear family and implicating fascism as the terminus of instrumentality (a point that coincides with the work of the Frankfurt School during the same period). In the so-called “Golden Age” of zombie film, and largely as a result of George Romero’s innovations in the genre, zombies critiqued gender, race, and class issues. Today, zombie films continue to critique all these things (most pointedly race and class in Romero’s Land of the Dead, the latest undead flick to make a splash).

Of course, any critique of zombie films will have to contend with the doubling of ideological labor: with regards to the notion of “cynical reason,” arguably zombie films, by critiquing the postmodern scene, are actually doing the work of interpellation. This will be my and Shaun’s point with the film 28 Days Later, which is careful to show the close relation between paternal sex right (Pateman’s notion) and the institution of marriage, which would seem to be an extension of the military order. This “critique” works to obscure the neo-primitivism of the film (that is, the British fascination with black women as fetishized sex objects, and by extension, imperialism) that surfaces in the way the female lead is cast. And worse, after the critique is actually made, the film ends by unraveling it: the nuclear family is reunited at the end, man’s centrality in that order established (the telling dialogue is a crack made about a “cock,” which we learn as the camera widens refers to a chicken . . . yeah, right).

Talking with the student, however, it occurred to me that perhaps the purchase of the zombie is that the figure represents the key move of any critical gesture, and one premised on a fundamentally Hegelian understanding of self-consciousness: does not critical theory presume a retrojected pre-given subject? That is to say, to theorize subjectivity and its relation to ideology, the symbolic, and so on, it seems that—for reasons demanded by informal logic at the very least—one must posit a priority in the way that Lacan suggests one must posit a mythic plenitude in his notorious graph of desire. Before interpellation or subjectification, there is a “mass of the pre-text, namely, the reality that is imagined in the ethological schema of the return to need.” Zombies represent the underside (that is, the horror, as opposed the presumed joy we tend to retroject) of this fluxus, the counterpart to the human infant. To say that rhetorical studies has some “zombie trouble” is not, then, only the one-dimensional Burke-ificaiton of ideology critique sans the unconscious, nor is it reducible to the fear of determinism. Rather, the zombie trouble of rhetorical studies in some sense is the unwillingness to admit of the necessity of a mythical gestures in the act of critique, that I must at some level posit the unreal in order to make claims about “the real” (in the everyday sense). Zombies are horrifying because they are both gross and, at some level, testify to the nothing that is pre-interpellated existence. We tend to assume—even in Lacanian scholarship—that the mythic plenitude of the prior, the place of the pregiven, is harmonious, blissful, and so on, when it is in point of fact just as horrible: it never existed.

Perhaps in this respect Camber Van Beethoven better diagnoses zombie trouble as both a predicament and a command: “Never Go Back.”

But it’s just as you feared

Never go back

If you see me sitting around

Thinking the same old thoughts over and over again

Or going back to old ways I’ve long ago abandoned,

Please, tell me

Never go back