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bandwagoning with badiou

November 29th, 2007 by slewfoot

Music: Will Ackerman: Passage (1981)

This week graduate seminarians in the subjectivity course read Alain Badiou’s Saint Paul: The Foundation of Universalism, while I read a bunch of other stuff in addition to help us all contextualize Badiou. To my embarrassment, I actually didn’t finish the actual assigned book, but ended up “skimming” (if one can really do that with Badiou) a number of the middle chapters. It’s a rare problem I have, but on the heels of NCA catch-up and then with two job candidates visiting this week (and a host of other unmentionables) time slipped away. Levinas is on tap for next week, and I’m starting reading today!

To summarize Badiou’s project as I currently understand it would be difficult, but what is pertinent to the course is his theory of subjectivity. Apparently, for Badiou, the so-called poststructural project has demolished the self-transparent, substantive subject but, in so doing, has created problems in regard to agency on the one hand, and identity on the other. So, exhibit A for the former problem is Foucault, who cannot locate a seat of agency except only insofar as one can discern a site of resistance. Exhibit B for the latter is Derrida and Levinas, whose profound respect for radical alterity leads us to ignore any positive project of equality. Badiou’s solution to these issues is to focus on the problem of agency first, and then the issue of identity (apparently forthcoming in a follow-up to Being and Event next October).

As I gather (I should stress this is all from secondary sources and a brushing up against the collection Infinite Thought and an incomplete reading of Saint Paul) Badiou’s “question” concerns the relationship between ontology and subjectivity, and before the latter can be discerned (in tension, of course), we must understand the former, hence, Being and Event, only recently translated in English, and apparently a royal mind-fuck of set theory. For Badiou subjectivity is emergent from an event, an unexpected rupture in the realm of Being, where everything is accounted for. Now, I gather that set theory provides Badiou with a logic that helps to formalize more mundane observations about “the new in being” (being being, of course, “the situation” and the “state of affairs,” the “elements” of which we can formalize and mathematize such that we can understand the multiplicity of being in terms of a set, and in a way that does not close-up everything in pre-givenness or in the Big Wait).

When I was reading this, I couldn’t help but to remember a provocative post by Ken on Badiou: was Badiou fucking with us? Is this “ontology = set theory” a joke? Although I didn’t mention it in class, I framed my lecture as a kind of answer to Ken’s blog question. I told the group yesterday that the only way I could understand what Badiou is up to with “set theory” is by way of Lacan, who also, for a brief period, thought that set theory provided a way to formalize psychoanalytic principles in a precise way, but “without mathematization.” As I gather (and this to a large extent from Fink) Lacan was always critiquing notions of wholeness, completeness, and what is presumably a prescientific notion of yin-and-yang: that there is some direct correspondence, perhaps formal or only homological, but a parallelism of sorts nonetheless, between human representation and the world in itself, that underlying the she-bang is this “the,” the whole, Jungian mandalas and so forth. Lacan bitched and moaned about the way in which psychoanalysts kept relying on this old fantasy of wholeness and completeness (e.g., a “sexual relationship”), and he thought one way to avoid the tendency was to reduce his own axioms “to the letter”—that is, a meaningless letter, symbols that were nothing more than placeholders, an “X.” The groovy thing about this “formalization” of principles was that it allows one to play around with the letters, seemingly oblivious to their meaning, and then derive new principles from the new logics that emerged: set theory for Lacan promised a new form of combitory invention, as it were. Lacan thought that set theory allowed for this kind of logic in a way that doesn’t sew everything up in advance and, thereby, collapse onto the fantasy of reconciliation and wholeness.

Badiou, a student of Lacan, unquestionably employs set theory for a similar reason, though I cannot say I quite get this reason yet (which means I’ve not quite got my labels figured out). It’s difficult for us to say that one can formalize with out mathematizing (that is, without getting into issues of the measure), so certainly this is one reason why Badiou embraces mathematics in name. And, if it is the case that one does not want to represent the event (since this would be impossible anyway), I can kinda see how set theory allows one to give an account of the realm of being while also making room for the accident, the new, the . . . well, what Lacan calls the real.

Nevertheless, when we move uneasily from this approach to ontology back to the subject, I’m still fuzzy about where this gets us: are we simply talking about the existence of of possibility, of formally using contingency to avoid a totalizing determinism (e.g.,. that “truth processes” are always already shut-down)? These are rhetorical questions, of course, more about my lack of reading and understanding than anything Badiou-lovers might help me with.

Although I do not think Badiou is a joke (if only because his political views seem pretty darn earnest, and because a friend who attends the EGS says Badiou is one of the handful of heavies that sits among the students [apparently Agamben is the snooty one]), I do wonder about the lack of any reference to the fetishization of theory in Badiou. Lacan is always self-mocking, or at least, seems to make fun of his theoretical enterprise at the same time as he arrogantly makes fun of others. Reading Badiou, you get the sense that no one could possibly agree with him because he’s so different—I dunno. There just seems to be a clamoring for Badiou that is like the next new indie band (you know, Zizek is like Of Montreal—he sold an essay to Newsweek and so, like the band who sold-out to a car company, he’s so 2005). In this I’m sort-of in agreement with Ken and Catherine Liu: why do we need another French philosopher? Where is he getting us, at least in terms of cultural critique?

Well, I think embedded in these questions is a partial answer: Badiou is principally a philosopher, and I’m a critic. Same deal with Deleuze. These guys are about sharpening thought, honing thinking. And I’m trained to “apply or die.” I guess there’s some underlying bitchiness, then, that to “do theory” in my field I have to do philosophy. I majored in it, but then left that field for a reason . . . .

I suppose another part of the answer to “why Badiou?” is that he takes on politics head on, and for every critique he offers he poses an affirmative, forward-moving solution. That is refreshing to read. Even so, I’m reading Badiou because I know others in the field are reading him, and if I want to participate in disciplinary conversations I need to at least have some brushing. I dunno why I’m blogging except to say that “staying current” in theory is sometimes exhausting; and it’s never a theorist that I’m really excited about or interested in. You know, like Larry Rickels. Why can’t we just read Larry? Why does it have to be Badiou? Larry is fun, fresh, takes on big problems, but leaves-off the critique of global liberalism and universal human rights for a while.

Eh, I’m rambling. Maybe just reading Badiou on the evils of the world—ok, on the non-Goods, since evil doesn’t exit—has kind of got me down.

I must now finish reading a dissertation on lynching.

the brilliant pass

November 26th, 2007 by slewfoot

Music: Tears for Fears: The Hurting (1982)

I’ve been thinking more about the subject of signifier and subject of jouissance and how these map onto professional life. Fink is such a clear and beautiful writer, so let me let him do the reminding:


the subject of the signifier might be termed the “Levi-Straussian subject,” in that this subject contains knowledge or acts on knowledge without having any idea that he is doing so. If he is asked why he built a hut in his village in such and such a place, his answer seems to have nothing to do with the fundamental oppositions that structure his world and effectively order his village’s layout. . . . This is the same kind of knowledge discovered in hypnosis, and in the end it seems not to require a subject at all, in the usual sense of the term. (Lacan to the Letter 143)

I would call this the “scripted subject” or the subject of the living dead, the dead subject if you want, the pure subject of language sans affect, Damasio’s example of Phineas Gage. This subject is animated, however, by the subject of jouissance, that which makes humans uniquely human and not zombies or animals of instinct (that is, that which makes us the living dead and not the dead-come-to-life). Both sides or “faces” of the subject are necessary for something “human” to emerge, however, there is no good way for them to relate in any direct sense (this is why psychoanalysis privileges “speech”—it is the locus of the meeting of these two faces or facets).

Two posts ago I cited Fink approvingly in his critique of academic fields, like that of sociology and political science, as ignoring the subject as jouissance in favor of this disembodied knowledge, this subject of the signifier. I cited Burke as my field’s exemplar of this willful disavowal of the affective: Burke’s understanding of “motive” is, effectively, a script. What are missing are the engine and the fuel. In this respect Burkean theories of rhetoric aspire to linguistics by cutting out the enunciator and muffling affect (except by name). And this brings me to what I shall term “the brilliant pass”: overlooking the sins of certain professionals because of their intellectual gifts; outrageous affective transgressions are “allowed” since the signifying traces of their (unconscious) knowledge are simply too good to pass up.

There are facile references to Heidegger here, of course, Burroughs and Althusser. But I’m thinking more locally about the discipline formerly known as Speech-Communication. In the shift from Speech-Communication to Communication Studies in, more or less, the last decade we see the problem: speech, the meeting place of affect and the signifier, got cut out for wider, academic respectability (a shame, to be sure). Yet this move also reflects that willful blindness to rampant assholism in the field: mean-ass scholars who gut and gore with verbal quips are given license to do so because of their intellectual gifts (gifts that appear fully formed on the page, like a slug plucked from Zeus’ head). In other words, the subject as jouissance is allowed free reign in exchange for coin of “knowledge.” Professionally, we don’t police enjoyment and the economies of aggression that continue to circulate victims (emotional and, alas, sometimes physical).

Put more crudely: people presumed to be brilliant get a pass for acting-out. It’s difficult not to see the valorization of the “Levi-Straussian subject” at work in the professional domain here, that what gets emphasized as “knowledge” in the journals is the same thing that gets emphasized in social spaces. This tendency is no more obvious than at the awards ceremonies at professional conferences: look what gets honored; borderline pedophiles, well-known misogynists, and generally difficult people are honored with the “good peeps” alike, without any attention to the “energies” these people also inspire and exude. That’s too bad.

loveless

November 23rd, 2007 by slewfoot

Music: Patrick Wolf: Wind in the Wires (2005)

As many of you know, holidays for academics are times to get “caught up” on work . . . so I have spent today, and will spend the better part of the weekend, doing “work.” I get scare quote-y with “work” because even though I do a lot of it, it’s kinda fun (and shouldn’t that scare anyone?). It’s also often a solitary fun, something the only child-cum-adult appreciates, but something that is also a little alienating, which is why it is good to have a little fun with other people on working holidays (owie; my head is still hurty from last night . . . good times, but hurty times).

The title of today’s post is topically trine, in part an homage to the last, great album by My Bloody Valentine (the only thing better is Blonde Redhead’s most recent masterpiece), in part my holiday expectations for intimacy, and—you guessed it—in part a reference to Lacan. So here is the problem for the weekend in a gif(t), Lacan’s sexuation formulae. I know, I know: I’m supposed to pretend I know what it means. Before two days ago I had no effin’ clue, and a reviewer of my work was calling me on the carpet for not having a clue, and so I’m working on my un-cluelessness. Suffice it to say sexuation (the choice of sex-identification) concerns where one aligns oneself in respect to phallic jouissance, here represented in the bottom quadrant of the chart, the third register of sexual differentiation (the first two at the top are previously introduced formulae). It’s complicated, and I’m not sure it’s satisfying in a way that helps me organize the world better, certainly not satisfying in any way that will appear in my work except in footnotes, but we’ll see. I have more reading to do. Oh, and I have to say that Lacan oddly comforts me in his arrogance: “After what I just put on the board,” he begins the seminar in which he introduces this chart, “you may think you know everything. Don’t.”

I like that opening sentence for a number of reasons. For starters, Bruce Fink translated it from the French, so it’s probably close to what was said in spirit and letter. Second, the contraction “don’t” is deliciously ambiguous: don’t what? Do not know everything or do not think you know everything? Or is this a more vernacular omission: you don’t know everything, you don’t know Jacques! But, the beauty of the statement is that it means independent of what it is set against, the impossibility of writing the difference between the two sexes. On the one hand is an ethic (of humility and hubris; you cannot have one without the other), an ethic I try to teach myself: give up! That is, lets give up on the quest for mastery—of having this or that definitive reading on Lacan, for example—and instead see knowledge in the form of an unanswerable question. On the other hand, that statement is meant to denote a certain deadlock or impasse, a “parallax view” if you’re down with the latest Zizek idiom, a certain embrace of lovelessness: that grand rapprochement, it ain’t coming.

You don’t understand this chart? Give up! Ben Gibbard figured it out (and then forgot he did after Transatlanticism, cause you have to admit Plans kinda sucks with its happy “I Will Follow You Into the Dark” sentiments). I think I’ve finally reached that point, now, where Eastern religious thought makes more and more sense. As does my penchant for writing love letters.

I have folders full of love letters that I have written, that I started writing on a typewriter when I was 14. I remember writing the first ones to C-W, my first true love (she still sends me valentines, but there is never a return address), I remember writing a tortured one at two in the morning after being turned away from her apartment by her brother because she was in bed with another young man (a magazine model, of course), and my mother catching me in there typin’ and cryin’, and then she decided to go to bed and let me alone because I was determined to hammer out this relationship, to write a relation, to impress the impression, that dogged teenage reckoning with . . . disjunction. Like the romance in The Age of Innocence, the fruitless attempts to write a relation are either with the promise of love, or its disillusion, but never in the sustained fantasy of having it (desiring therein is truly dead). Lovelessness is the real deal; a reason to live; a reason for Daniel Johnston to stay alive.

I think I know everything. Don’t.

the maudlin machine revisited

November 22nd, 2007 by slewfoot

Music: The Reindeer Section: Son of Evil Reindeer (2002)

Last night I watched the season finale of Phenomenon, a “reality” competition for illusionists. One of the strange “wow” moments of the show was when Criss Angel revealed he had (apparently) predicted Nine-eleven as a part of a mentalist trick. It was, as Peter Jackson might agree, in bad taste, but there was some attempt to channel affect about that dreadful event into holiday spirit.

This morning the executive producer of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade gleefully announced the highlight of the parade is the Virginia Tech marching band, which lost one of its players in “the tragedy.” “There will be a missing man formation,” he said with a twinkle in his eye, as an all-smiles Matt Lauer and Meredith Vieira nodded in anticipation.

So, to put on my rhetorician hat: what do we do with this stuff? How does one contend with the commemoration spectacle as a rhetoric? In previous years I tried to capture the condensation of affect via the memorializing spectacles in terms of “the maudlin machine,” a term that tries to capture the attempt to generate brand loyalty and kick-start the drive to consume through a kind of commercial, melancholic interpellation process (also see this post). The maudlin machine is a mournful dispositif that articulates people into a temporary group structure in a manner that is perilously close to kitsch (think of a Thomas Kinkaid painting; that’s what the apparatus produces, but in the form of “truth”). Although there is unquestionably an ambivalence to Virginia Tech’s appearance in Macy’s parade today—that is to say, some people need that band marching to mourn, namely, the people of Virginia Tech—the cheer with which the parade’s producer announced the “missing man formation” made me throw-up a little. As a rhetorician, how do I deal with my reaction, as well as the desired reaction (people watching the parade to see such a maudlin display)?

The trouble is that rhetorical studies is impotent to explain the dynamics of the maudlin machine. This morning I was reading Bruce Fink’s Lacan to the Letter, and found a good language for expressing rhetoric’s impotence in terms of Lacan’s many subjects. Fink explains that in Lacan’s theory, there are many subjects (viz., paradigm selves) and Lacan slides among them fluidly, which can be quite confusing. Fink proposes three are the most important: the subject of the signifier; the subject of jouissance, and finally, the subject of enunciation (the latter is Fink’s formulation). Let me explain each of these to help me detail the impasse of rhetorical theory when dealing with things like Criss Angel’s evocation of Nine-eleven on a magic show.

The subject of the signifier refers to that structuralist subject, the one that speaks through me (the subject of the unconscious), the subject of language and representation. As we know from Freud, representation is always posed against affect in stark way but also in a way that requires it. I’m reminded of Antonio Damasio’s example of Phineas Gage in Descartes Error: this man gets a pole through his head and loses his capacity to emote, which has devastating effects on his ability to reason. In other words, Gage became merely the subject of the signifier—a guy who did things without knowing why he did them, and he did them . . . well, “to the letter.” Gage lost the subject of jouissance and the drives, the subject that couples representation with feeling.

The problem with most domains of knowledge, says Fink, is that they tend to exclude the subject of jouissance and focus almost exclusively on the subject of the signifier. Linguistics is the perfect example (as is Lacan’s early work): what gets ignored in the study of linguistics is the “subject of enunciation.” That is, there is a person with a tongue and lungs and breath and so forth who says, “I am Sam.” Linguistics can only focus on the “I,” but not the flesh and blood person. But that flesh and blood person, this enunciator, is where both the subject of the signifier and the subject of jouissance is located. Psychoanalysis is a privileged discourse, therefore, because it works to achieve effects at the level of jouissance, but can only do so via the subject of the signifier (there is no direct route to enjoyment via representation). This is why psychoanalysis is both literally and figuratively located in the “speech situation.” Speech is the meeting place of these two subjects (or three, if you wish).

When we consider, then, the maudlin machine we are met with both representation and affect. Rhetorical studies would have me focus entirely of the surface spectacle, on what the producer of the parade said, for example, and not the enjoyment of his saying it. Hence, this choice quote from Fink:


While psychoanalysts obviously have to grapple with the heterogeneity of the subject [viz., the impossibility of establishing some direct relation between the subject of jouissance and the subject of the signifier], it seems to me that many other fields in the humanities and social sciences have to come to terms with these two faces of the subject in theory building and praxis—no doubt different ways that psychoanalysis due to the different aims that inform each field.


In short, in looking at suasive phenomena rhetoricians have really only dealt with half the picture. When making arguments for the study of psychoanalysis, I often catch myself saying that rhetorical studies does not have a theory of desire; what I mean by this is shorthand for this reckoning with the two subjects (or two faces). This argument is sometimes met with “but we have that in Burke,” to which I have to bow and nod my head. Burke’s career was a systematic exorcism of the subject of enjoyment from the domain of rhetoric.

on gossip

November 20th, 2007 by slewfoot

Music: Hilmar Örn Hilmarsson: Angels of the Universe (2001)

I cannot help myself; I rationalize after “it” exits, this “it” that goes on to circulate like a beautiful accident, sometimes the name of an obsolete scholar who has, as Michael Stipe once sang, “said it up; said too much,” sometimes the deed of another who cannot help herself either. But always at the core of that self-same conference speaker there is an identifiable body and a voice goes from it, from me, as well as the delusion that this “it” can somehow be controlled for meaning, purpose, representation.

“What I say goes,” muses Steven Conner, “for you, [my voice] comes from me. For me, it goes out from me. Between this coming from and going towards lie all the problems and astonishments of the dissociated voice.” The problem is gossip. The astonishment of this post is coming to terms with the fact that I am one. The catalysts to my gifts of the tongue, my charismata, are bourbon, exhaustion, and the inescapable desire to connect with other bodies. In some sense gossip is an answer to the question of desire, “Che Vuoi?”, because it is always about another, a third party, and an attempt to mediate with the Other as an immediate interlocutor. Would you like me to be the knowing one? Very well then, I can produce the nugget.

What is curious about admitting one is a gossip is the etymology of the term, which is a noun: “One who has contracted spiritual affinity with another by acting as a sponsor at a baptism,” says the OED, again, a mediation (this time, in terms of The Angel). In Lacan-o-babble, over the course of some four centuries the position of the gossip seems to have shifted from something closer to the analyst’s discourse to that of the university discourse (I think we would be in error to describe the contemporary gossip as party to the hysteric’s discourse, insofar as the secret knowledge of the gossip is about justifying the gossip’s existence as such, whereas the knowledge of hysteria is the source of jouissance). I’m not so sure this distinction is all that helpful except for pointing out that in either case—then or now—the gossip claims to represent another party (whereas the hysteric demands knowledge): then, the dialogue partner for The Angel; now, some absent other for whomever one is speaking to. Let us term the gossip of old the Godparent, and that of today the Circulator. What does the difference tell us (tell me?)

Obviously the difference represents the ravages of secularization, a shift in the way in which folks forge representatives of the Big O. Previously the Godparent and the baptized were subservient to some larger divine. The Circulator, however, is subservient to knowledge, is a node in a network, what Avital Ronell terms a “human switchboard”: precisely when one has succumbed to the delusion of self-transparency and control, the secret knowledge comes out with a vengeance, as if one is speaking in tongues. In a sense, the contemporary gossip, the Circulator, unwittingly lets The Angel in. It is a prophecy of sorts—but almost universally a prophecy we both enjoy and despise.

Why despise? Because, of course, gossip—like speech—is associated with body, earth, woman. Babble, speaking in tongues, speech as such.

Reflecting still on the academic conference of last week, I continue to feel guilt for having become at many moments a Circulator—as were we all, to greater or lesser degrees. This is how a culture is sustained. And we are foolish to think we are in control of the culture; it would seem it is quite the other way about. As a thing or a verb, gossip sustains our the culture of Communication Studies as an ecology, a multi-noded environment, a kind of gaze- and projection-zone that all cultures that sustain the academic discourse require. There is no academy without gossip; and there is really no knowledge without our unwitting theological prostrations.

reflections-on-communicating-worldviews-faith-intellect-ethics

November 18th, 2007 by slewfoot

Music: O’Hare Muzak “Don’t Disturb This Groove” (dunno the artist)

As I sit here in the airport Chili’s, I’m feeling nostalgic and somewhat wistful, and because I have a couple of hours before my plane boards, I thought I’d take a few moments to reflect on my conference experience this year: reflections-conference-chili’s-airport.

First, however, I would like to mention that Nancy is among the most unpleasant servers I’ve had in some years. I am wearing a cowboy hat, which makes me conspicuous, so they hid me behind the server’s station, crammed into a corner on a very small table, next to another very small table, and I put my cowboy hat on the neighboring table, and Nancy angrily ordered me to keep all my stuff to “my” table. She does not smile. She slams down plates and glasses. She is having a bad morning.

I, however, am having a slow-moving but nevertheless relaxed morning. I’m slightly hung-over, which oddly makes the moo-moo-I’m-a-cow routine at the airport less irritating. Finally, I am no longer hungry. With departure imminent but many hours off, I am caused to reflect on this morning’s panel, “(Re)Communicating Worldvies: Repetition, Yet Again: Five Years Later: A Retrospective [title abbreviated for brevity],” to which no one came, except for a wayward soul from Tokyo, who was a friend. We didn’t sell any more of the t-shirts, and we have a but load of our “panel-in-a-box” sets (we decided to franchise the panel this year). So, dear reader, if you’d like to submit the panel yourself, you can get the deluxe set (t-shirt + DVD) for $15.

Some vivid memories from this past week include the “parties,” where I found free booze and lots of smart, prospective graduate students. I laughed until I cried having drinks with Tom Frentz and Joyce Rushing (the saucy bartender had us howling). Rooming with the Shaunnesy: that comment about shampooing conditioning your back hair was priceless. (Oh my god! They’re playing Billy Ocean! “When the goin’ gets tough . . . . “). I remember getting off the elevator unsure about which room a group of friends was in, only to find it rather quickly by following the strong stench of burning oregano (I mean, it was ridiculous!). I remember some rather good papers; Julia Wood is so good. I finally met Phaedra Pezzulo (I’m a fan—and I think she thought I was a leetle nutty in my fandom). I remember taking lots of photos (check back later for more of those). I remember the effing shower: a small stall and a bolted shower head that sprayed you hard and directly in the face. I remember the Oasis People (thank god for Rosa).

And I remember a polite but promising kiss at the elevator.

a beautiful mess

November 16th, 2007 by slewfoot

Music: Blak Audio: Cexcells

Day three of the National Communication Association conference in Chicago. Tired. There are parties to attend here in a few. It’s great to see old friends, to ruminate and recall. A common theme that has come up is about so-and-so, you know, what ever happened to her/him? How is such and so? The theme is the answer, said so well by my roommate: “A beautiful mess.”

There are so many beautiful messes walking about these conference hotels. We discuss their tragic beauty over drinks, over coffee, over dinners and in the hallways. I worry that I am someone’s beautiful mess. If so, I hope the stress is on beauty, since I did cut my hair and shave (as for the mess, is it as well hidden as I presume?).

One thing that goes so well with the theme of “the beautiful mess” is the cover of the conference program, which, alas, I cannot locate online to present to you, dear reader. It is a swirl of disembodied body parts—mouths, eyes, teeth—and various faces coded ambiguously ethnic, like a sort of fleshy black hole, leading to a center that resembles . . . well, it resembles an anus (the hues are browns and reds). The art is perhaps some of the worst I have yet to see on an academic conference program. Just inside the program cover is an essay, presumably by the artist—it is unclear—under the title of the conference, “Faith-Intellect-Ethics: About the Program Cover” (I honk for hyphens, don’t you?). The essay begins thusly:

How did the world begin, swirling matter arranged by intelligent design or ignited from a cosmic explosion? What about me? Am I a divine creation or the result of a big bang—two cells colliding in the night? Around these questions of birth, creation and existence, fragments of humanity orbit, sucked into a vortex of dialogue, thought, and feeling

I am reminded of my post about how other fields see communication studies from the outside. It is true I would not want my colleagues in political science, psychology, and English studies to see the cover of my own professional organization’s program. Nor would I want them to read the accompanying essay—or at least I would not want them to read “Am I a divine creation or the result of a big bang” without my and my roommates passionate delivery and reenactment of this mind-blowing rumination on the meaning of it all in our William Wegman heavy hotel room. (If you are reading this, dear artist, yes, your folks banged you out; it’s gross, I know).

What this world needs now is a new drug, a new organ, not a folk singer or those who aspire to be. What my world needs right now is irony, not cynicism, and it would secrete the kind of critical self-awareness that ends in laughter, not the tears of self-importance.

day two: electric bugaloo

November 15th, 2007 by slewfoot

Music: The Smiths: Louder Than Bombs (1987)

I’ve secreted away to my room for a breather from the overwhelming sound of a elementary school cafeteria (I think this is what Francis Bacon also terms “the marketplace”); after a while thousands of people talking at once is an overwhelming sound, a bodily assault on the senses.

And I’m sort of high, off the heels of a very good panel Adria organized based on our haunting seminar from last year. Everyone was prepared, read clearly and articulately, and just so good. And it was, as panels go, fairly well attended. I gave a brief response, and there were good and interested questions. I also felt very strange: these are more or less both my students and my friends, and I consider them as my colleagues. But I had one of those maternal “I’m so proud” attacks, a warmth in my otherwise cold and steely heart. It was nicely done.

Had lunch at the art museum with two of my most favorite people in the world: Bob Scott, my advisor, and Angela Ray, one of my count-on-one-hand best friends. At dinner I was noticing how warm and soulful their eyes seemed to me, like I was oddly at the end of a much-needed umbilicus . . . recharging.

After that, did the graduate fair. A good servicey thing to so and I met a few prospective students (they’re so articulate! When I was looking for grad programs I know I sounded so, like, dude, and you know).

So it was a nice second day at the conference. I’m meeting friends for dinner, and then later this evening I have plans to see some Chicago blues with the home team. This is lovely: what conferences should be. I think in two days time, though, I’m going to be exhausted.

and so, the circus . . .

November 14th, 2007 by slewfoot

Music: Duran Duran: Red Carpet Massacre

It’s colder in Chicago, a welcome chill. No screaming babies, no snakes, just a few friends on the plane. Wore my cowboy hat; man from India tried to crush my hat with his suitcase, hasty thrust in overhead bin: “You can have my girlfriend, just don’t crush my hat,” says my tall colleague in jest. Watched Battlestar Gallatica on the notebook (they seek the tomb of Athena or some such thing). Cram in a shuttle to sit in a traffic jam (don’t forget to owe Katie and Dana for the ticket, the tip, . . . the love). Hotel Essex: oh no, oh no. This place is a dump. Or it was. Not any more. They refurbished. Fear of scabies abated. Must have music. Radio: play. Hang clothes. I’m here earlier than I expected. Get registration out of the way. Cross street to Hilton. Pre-registration: “You need your name tag.” “I left it in my room; do you have a roster?” “I’m afraid not.” Sheesh. Back through lobby. Pass some guy I had a good time with two conferences ago, forget his name. Pass chair of small liberal arts school who I interviewed with five years ago. She doesn’t recognize me (good). Up to room for name tag. Back to Hilton, get conference program, friendly faces whose names I should know (I’m reminded of a McDonald’s commercial that I despise in which two men who work at the same place lie to avoid each other; are people really that secretly cynical?). Should sweep through bar on way back to see if anyone is here yet. No sooner than I walk into the door, “Josh! Josh!” It’s a friend and respected mentor, at a table with a host of mentors (one generation older, now they are the “guard”—which is weird to think about—but thankfully true). Loving hug, chit chat. I try to sell “Repetition, Yet Again” t-shirts. No one is impressed with t-shirts. “Hey, you gonna blog the conference?” friend/mentor asks. “Depends if I can find free wifi,” I says. Red head spitfire mentor/colleague in the corner still mad at me, taking long drags off of cigarette and laser-eyebeam surly looks. How long will she hold a grudge? It’s not about her. She still loves me, just mad; must ignore laser-eyebeams. Lots of smoke, asthma trigger. Ugh oh. Should leave to puff asthma medicine. Spy dear friend; go over to hug and kiss. Yay, more love! (conferences are for love, not ideas). Still wheezing. Should leave smoky bar. Back to room, open lungs on the way. Up up up. Play radio. The new Duran Duran is good, a touch of Justin Timberlake but still enough of that Roxy Music continental cheese. Ice machine. Spot of bourbon. What-ho? Free wifi. Should I go back, be social? Over stimulated. Blog post.

chicago ho!

November 14th, 2007 by slewfoot

Music: Calvin Harris: I Created Disco (2007)

Today’s blog title does not refer to the last entry, but my impending travel. The bags are packed and loaded into the car, and I’ve an arsenal of coats and overcoats and scarves for weathering freezing temperatures in Chicago. In an hour I depart for the airport to endure one of my least favorite activities (right up there with mopping, plucking eyebrows, and eating deep-fried pig scrotum): getting through an airport. Every time I go my bags are too heavy and I have to unload something. Every time I pass through security something sets off the metal detectors. Every time I am seated in front of or next to a small child for whom the changes in cabin pressure are too much to bear quietly.

I would say that I like to travel, except that I don’t. I like to be in different places; it’s getting to those places that is the issue. And, this is the first time I’m leaving Jesús for an extended period of time; I’m worried he is going to drive the neighbor crazy and pee in her house.

I’m very much looking forward to seeing friends I’ve not seen in a while! It’s exciting to think about. I’m coming into O’Hare at 2:30/3:00 p.m. If you’re a friend or simply just want to be and spy me in the “ground transportation” area, grab me and let’s share a cab. And somewhere I will definitely be Thursday night: the Mem Shannon show at Buddy Guy’s Legends!

I’ll try to blog during the conference. Much of that depends on whether there is free wifi signals. In a conference area, that is probably not very likely, but one can hope.

Anyhoo, I’ll see four of five of you readers here in a day!