Today I dared to walk into my stereotype: Jeff Albertson. I hope, pray Goddess, I don’t resemble this character, at least too much, but I did walk into a comic shop today. I haven’t been in a comic shop in many, many years. In fact, I remember my last visit to a comic shop being before I was able to drive. I must admit, however, I was captivated today; I must have been in the place for two hours.
As a pre-teen and young teen, I did covet the comic book. I read Hellblazer (I have the first five issues, mint), Captain Carrot and the Zoo Crew, Blue Devil, Dare Devil, and Dr. Strange. I was a big fan of Crisis on Infinite Earths and I read all of my cousin’s Ghost Rider comics (he went away to the Marines, and I devoured his complete set). And as a kid, I remember making my mother buy me Mad, Cracked, Conan and Creepy. The latter were Savage rags, black-and-white throw-always that were super cheap and that my mother always caved into buying (because they were cheap). I remember vividly being an eleven-year-old and reading Creepy in my parent’s living room while noshing on cherries and spitting out the pits.
I was also a subscriber to Fangoria magazine, a monster movie rag, since it’s inception. My earliest memories as a kid were watching monster movies with my dad late at night. I remember watching the original debut of Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot on television and identifying with the character who was into “monsters” (his little brother bit him and made him into a vampire). I also remember watching Dark Shadows with my dad, to my mother’s objections. I collected monster masks and was really into gory make-up for Halloween. Yeah, I was that kid. This is probably not surprising to those of y’all who know me.
So, today I revisited my past by going into a comic shop. It was filled with people . . . uh, like me. I was sort of surprised. Dudes in their 30s, with goatees, with beer guts and long hair. What? What? I felt a little strange, because this was a world I have not visited for many, many years . . . and yet, there were people who resembled me there, mulling over comics about zombies and . . . men and women in tights . . . .
Why was I there? Well, I had recently learned that my childhood mainstay, a rag called Creepy, was now being anthologized and reprinted in hardback collections. . Learning this news was like a giant black hole: I could not resist. I picked up a volume. I read. I almost cried reading the back issues, again.
I don’t have anything to say of profundity, except that reading these back issues of my childhood reading reminds me of where my values were formed. Perhaps there’s a paper is this, I don’t know. But reading these old “creepy” stories reminds me of my youth, and the values that were certainly instilled in me as a young person. The values advanced, however subtly, by these comics are “liberal” by today’s standards—progressive. It’s weird to read these comics, but I see now at 36 years of age how the left-ish lean of these tales influenced me. Huh. Comics did mold me. I guess I’m pleased to see the politics underwriting these “tales of horror” were progressive. And, just, wow. Who knew?
I have spent the last three days reviewing the proofs of two, separate journal articles slated for publication this fall. Both essays are with different journals at different publishing houses. Both essays are co-authored. I am frustrated with these publishers. Somehow, between the last, revised MSWord edition I submitted and the typeset version, an incompetent person—or gremlin—decided to do a little editing.
I am angry. It has taken me almost a decade to learn how to write competently. Lord knows “Sloppy” should be my middle name, as I am always making mistakes (and fortunately, increasingly better at catching them). I am uncertain if the improvement in my own writing has caused me to notice errors more, or rather, if it is the case that publishers are hiring people to typeset and proofread that are increasingly incompetent (and have you looked at the abstracts of our work on EBSCO? Who writes those? Eighth graders?). Regardless, I resent the fact my co-authors and I slaved over our final drafts, only to have a host of new errors and mistakes to correct—costing me, thus far, a full day’s work (eight hours). By the time I’m finished making corrections, I suspect I’ll have lost most of my weekend. How do these mistakes happen? Why so many? How come our discipline’s publishers make the most inane/idiotic author queries? Here’s a sampling of what I’m correcting today:
Both articles have co-authors. Both sets of proofs are missing co-author contact information, even though I sent it. One proof is missing the co-author entirely; on that same proof, my name is listed as “Gunn Joshua.”
In one proof, someone rewrote our abstract. The sentences do not make grammatical sense. For example, some well-meaning editor wrote: “And idealist understanding of agency in which a subject can fulfill needs and desires . . . .” My co-author and I did have a verb, and did not start a sentence this way.
“Almost a decade ago anthropologies Jean and John L. Comaroff & Comaroff (1999) advanced the . . . . ” Uh, what? We didn’t write this.
“. . . proper manipulation of thoughts and symbols (i.e. language).” Um, my co-author and I had written “(e.g., language).” The difference is important. “i.e.” means “that is,” such that the line would make symbols and language synonymous. They’re not, which is why we went for “e.g.” This kind of editorializing is infuriating.
All our numbers, written in word if below 20, were changed to numerals—but inconsistently. So, for example, “two” appears as “2,” but “three” remains “three.”
“For simplicity, we can reduce these characteristics to three interrelated components: (1) wish fulfillment . . . ; (2) social constructivism; and (4) radical individualism.” Um, shouldn’t that be “(3)” . . . yes, or maybe the press prefers “(three).”
One author’s query: “Divya, make this consistent.” Who is Divya?
One author’s query: “Paolo Virno, 2008 has not been included in Reference List, please supply publication details.” Um, no. Why? Because Virno is referenced in someone else’s piece from 2008. Do the proofreaders actually READ the essay they’re typesetting?
Numerous author’s queries state that we have not cited such-and-so and author in the text, when we clearly have. Apparently they don’t have a “find” feature on their typesetting software.
Oh, I could go on with my complaining, but I think readers get the drift at this point. Correcting errors my co-authors and I did not make is very tiresome and should not happen. Unfortunately, increasingly, it seems par for the course in this gig. Worse: they always say you have to return corrections in three days. Just this last December 23rd I had a publisher do this to me. I didn’t send it back in three days; a fat man in a red suit got in my way.
In yesterday’s weekly radio address, President Obama reacted to “a range of ‘outrageous myths’ including that illegal immigrants will be covered, that abortions will be funded by taxpayer dollars, that so-called ‘death panels’ will be formed to decide who receives treatment, and that reform will lead to a government takeover of health care.” Obama’s reaction was much more measured than Barney Frank’s response to a young woman who suggested the current health care reform plan was a reenactment of the Nazi “Action T4” plan (if you have not seen this, watch):
The woman is apparently a member of Lyndon LaRouche’s “political action committee” and was wielding one of their publicity posters featuring Obama with a Hitler-esque moustache. In a number of statements, LaRouche has argued the Obama administrations health care play is “exactly the infamous ‘T-4’ policy imposed by Adolph Hitler in 1939, for which the Nazi regime was tried and condemned at Nuremberg.” I confess I have not read the proposed plan in its entirety—I have classes to research and prep—but I am fairly confident the new plan is not an “exact” copy of Hitler’s secret memo, nor is it the same policy as this young woman maintains.
Of course, the “death panel” idea is not limited to conspiracy theorists such as LaRouche; Sarah Palin infamously suggested her “down syndrome baby” might be euthanized because of certain provisions in the plan, extending a critique made by Betsy McCaughey over a decade ago in respect to the Clinton health care plan. Palin withdrew her statement the next day, however, that seems to have done very little to diminish the truth effect of such statements.
As James Fallows confessed last week, these outright mendacious statements seem relatively impervious to fact-checking. In our contemporary world of instantaneous information and dissemination, it is possible to research and correct the record in a matter of minutes. Fallows had assumed, he said, that folks like McCaughey could no longer get away with the shocking statements that derived their truth effect from the shear recency of publicity: immediately such statements would be corrected. He says, however, that he was wrong. Case in point: despite the fact Palin immediately withdrew and corrected her statement about the death panels, other politicians and citizens continued to believe the lie.
Frank is right: attempting to have a conversation with people who believe Obama is evil is akin to having a conversation with a dinner table. Nothing will be set or rearranged. Somehow, something as benign as health care has become an issue as intractable as abortion. This means, then, that the health care overhaul has traversed the relatively simple, fact-based formation of beliefs into the domain of values, deeply held beliefs that are anchored by equally deep affects. Why do people believe in patently false things, even when brute facts are brought to their attention? The answer is because it’s really not about simple beliefs, which are easily altered with facts. It’s about values and a soul-deep commitment of faith.
For example, sitting at a table with the health care plan in front of her, McCaughey attempts to convince John Stewart the death panel is actually in the plan, flipping through pages frantically, stuttering, and in general appearing flustered. It is painfully obvious there is nothing of the sort in the bill, a point exploited by Stewart in his humorously smug manner. It’s not obvious, however, that McCaughey is lying—she really seems to be sincerely committed to her fears. Are Palin, McCaughey, Grassley, and others deliberately spreading mistruths? Or are they actually talking about something else? Is this mendacious rhetoric, in other words, all craft and no conviction?
I think it is a little of column A and a little of column B, which is why Obama’s radio denouncement—and all the talking heads you want—cannot completely eliminate the idea that the health care plan will lead to “death panels.” Let us look closer at the way in which Palin went “viral”:
The America I know and love is not one in which my parents or my baby with Down Syndrome will have to stand in front of Obama’s “death panel” so his bureaucrats can decide, based on a subjective judgment of their “level of productivity in society,” whether they are worthy of health care. Such a system is downright evil.
What are the “god” and “devil” terms here? We have “baby,” “down syndrome,” “death,” “bureaucrats,” and “evil.” On the side of god is an innocent human life, a baby. The baby’s innocence is signaled by the qualifier that he has “down syndrome.” In the same sentence, we have the idea of “death” and “evil.” Where else do we typically see these god and devil terms? Of course, we see them in pro-life discourse: abortion is the murder of innocent human life. Palin evokes the very same terms, and therefore the same value set, that mobilizes the so-called “right” in political contexts. In other words, the false idea of the “death panel” is simply another way of reasserting a pro-life value set. We’re talking about abortion, folks, and I don’t mean “abortion” as an argument about a medical procedure, I mean anti-abortion as a signifier for a certain kind of subject position that is widely known: Christian, pro-life, pro-gun, pro-death penalty, and so on. No one will ever get rid of the “death panel” topos because it’s really not about death panels at all.
When I go home to visit with my parents, I’m often astonished by the political scripts that exit their mouths. We all have our “scripts,” me too. What’s astonishing about their scripts is that they are all claims with no evidence, and often I cannot even understand what the underlying warrant or reasoning is (at least other than a certain set of values). Having recently picked-up cable television, I’ve started watching a lot of the so-called news stations and can see where my parents are picking up these “scripts.” They are ardent watchers of Fox News, a cable program designed to reinforce a certain form of political subjectivity, a form very easily demonstrable when watching, for example, how they edited Frank’s exchange with the LaRouche follower (no mention is made of the fact she compared Obama to Hitler). Frank is right: reasoned discussion is not possible when you are confronting a series of claims, anchored to certain values and feelings, based on a faith in their truth effects.
Finally, there is this: some people literally believe that Deity enfleshed Himself, was born unto a virgin mother, lived as a carpenter, then had himself nailed to a cross so that he could bleed to death and, thereby, atone for all the imperfections of humankind. None of this is based in fact, but the values hitched to this story are so deep-seated that it does not matter.
One of my favorite coffee table books is Mel Gordon’s deliciously fascinating Volumptuous Panic: The Erotic World of Weimar Berlin (Los Angles: Feral House, 2006). From it, we learn various tidbits about prostitutes. Since prostitution was illegal, these skilled professionals had to signal their vocational offerings with their fashion choices. Of particular interest are the “boot girls,” who were dominatrices that used the following “code”:
black boots (stifling the impulse to write “highway broads”): Will crop your ass lying down.
brown boots: will try to choke you wearing boots or stockings.
blue boots: she’ll get busy with a strap on.
scarlet boots: she’ll humiliate you by making you wear a dress and then poke fun at you.
black laces: short-whip spankings.
gold laces: did you say you wanted poop on your chest?
white laces: ruff ruff, you get to wear a collar!
white ribbons on the top of boots: you get to start off as the dom, but the tables get turned by the end.
Of course, they couldn’t have possibly known about my favorite: purple laces and a small padlock. And don’t ask me what that’s code for; if you don’t already know, then there’s no sense in telling you.
Music: The Jayhawks: Tomorrow the Green Grass (1995)
Through a bourbon-sot fog I remember the first time I saw Quintron and Miss Pussycat. About six or seven years ago I was touring the French Quarter with Jenn the Master Piercer (again) and she was berating me for not having hung out at the Shim Sham Club. Amazingly, we somehow managed to walk from Decatur street near the Marigny where all the bartenders gave her—and therefore me—free drinks to the Shim Sham (now One Eyed Jacks). The Shim Sham originally appears as a small, hole-in-the-wall bar in the middle of the Quarter; it had a rock-a-billy aesthetic with devil imagery all over the place, with a few naked women on velvet thrown in for added taste. I remember thinking something like, “what? Came all this way for a small bar with four tables, devils, and pin-ups! Cripes!”
But I was fooled. The “front bar” is just a tiny waiting room, what was apparently the lobby of a former opera house. Jenn pointed to some double-doors with two large, porthole windows at the top. She said it was a live music and burlesque venue now. “Wait! Is that Quintron?” she said with excitement. A bouncer near the portholes confirmed it was Quintron, and invited us to go in because “the show’s almost over” (gosh, I miss the free-drink/free-show attitude of New Orleans! They’re so anal here in Austin about their cover charges). So we walked in and it was like a scene right out of the Wizard of Oz, you know, the one when Dorothy walks out of the house in Munchkin Land and discovers Technicolor and little people with flowers on their heads for the first time?
Except it wasn’t The Wizard of Oz. Instead, it was more like walking into Lynch’s opening sequence in Mulholland Drive. The entire room was painted in red and blue light. On the stage was a very sweaty man with shaggy hair, half-naked, banging himself into a frenzy on a series of organs set into an old car-grill. A contraption made out of a coffee can and a light bulb created a rhythmic drone (apparently Mr. Quintron sells these things as “the drum buddy”). A woman dressed in a 50s-style pink dress with a pomm in her hair, large breasts, and with matching maracas shook away like she was a possessed. Behind them was what appeared to be a weird, Cronenberg-esduqe television set (I learned later it was an enclosure for a puppet show).
And then, there was the music. It was soulful and dominated by organs, but also a bit droney. It reminded me of mid-period Jim Thirlwell (Foetus) , except with much more maracas percussion and much less grunting. Every now and then, Miss Pussycat would scream something, like with the B-52s. In fact, Quintron and Miss Kitten probably invite comparisons to the B-52s the most for sonorous and aesthetic reasons, but Mr. Quintron’s voice is much too soulful. It’s like church music on acid. It’s like David Lynch goes to church.
Upon first encountering Quintron and Miss Kitten, I was totally confused. Just at the point I thought I was “getting it,” hundreds and hundreds of multi-colored balloons dropped from the very, very high ceiling on the audience. People went nuts and starting popping them left and right. Quintron started audience surfing and Miss Kitten was screaming something about being a “swamp boogie bad ass.” It was utter pandemonium in this opera house, and I thought perhaps Jenn had dosed my drink with acid, cause I just wasn’t sure what I’m seeing was real.
Since that day, I’ve seen the duo (who are also husband and wife) multiple times. I drove to Houston once to see them. But something named Katrina, and the Rita, hit New Orleans and this most amazing musical institution had to call it quits for a while. Then, my friend Macy (whom I had hooked on Quintron) said she was driving to Austin to see the band. I immediately got excited.
Last night I saw Quintron and Miss Pussycat play, and it was truly an evangelical revival. I swear half the audience consisted of displaced and now Austin-homed New Orleanians. I spread the gospel, telling friends that they should go to the show. I pleaded with a group celebrating Matt’s birthday party they should attend the show. I managed to convince two beautiful and obviously brilliant friends they should attend. They are now die-hard converts to the Quintron and Miss Pussycat experience.
Here is a gallery of last night’s saving experience. Here’s a video, but it simply cannot capture the magical spirit of a live show:
As most academics know, summer is for writing. This summer I had high hopes to work on four projects: a solo-authored essay and three co-authored essays. Well, I at least got the first one done and out, but the other three I am just now getting to (sorry Adria, Chris, and Ken). Part of the problem is that I traveled a bit, but the biggest albatross that got in the way was the tenure packet. I knew it would be work; I didn’t realize it was so much work, and that hours upon hours and still yet hours would be spent policing periods, colons, and “table rows.” Hell hath no fur(r)y like an anally retentive bureaucrat.
In any event, I managed to bang-out a beginning to a new essay I hope my co-author and I can wrap up in a few weeks. I think it’s possible (though I don’t know what he’s got going on). I plan to draft as much as I can next week and punt it over. I’m leaving town to get away with some friends for a few days, so while the fire is hot—it’ll have to wait. A teaser:
Sixth Myths of Psychoanalysis: A Post-amble for Rhetorical Studies
In my opinion, psychoanalysis can only be studied at the university at research level. Some of my colleagues disagree, but I think that students only reach the point when they can approach analytic thinking at the end of their studies. There is no point in teaching students to construct main psychoanalytic concepts after high school, because they have nothing to go back over. Analysis is retrospective, it demands a return. It constructs in deconstructing.
In an interview with his translator and fellow psychoanalyst Martin Stanton, Jean Laplanche provocatively denies a direct link between psychoanalytic training and research. He claims “a doctorate in psychoanalysis is . . . the same thing as having a doctorate in letters,” for “no one thinks a doctorate of letters entails the right to be a writer.” At some level, Laplanche is expressing cynicism toward the various credentialing psychoanalytic institutes that hamper academic research by imposing the prescriptive demands of the regulated clinic on to those whom they credential. At another level, however, the famed “critical archaeologist of Freudian concepts” disavows any “distinction between the clinical and the theoretical.” Such a distinction is instrumental and prescriptive, establishing the “social aim” of the cure when there is much more to the enterprise than the clinic. Laplance clarifies: “I think that all research in psychoanalysis touches on two or more of the following realms: the theoretical, the clinical, psychoanalysis outside of the realm of the cure, and the history of psychoanalytic ideas.” While psychoanalysis is unquestionably a therapeutic practice that emerged in treating clients, producing results (not always preferred results) for those suffering from psychosomatic symptoms, it has also emerged as a metaphysics (“metaphsychology”), a social or cultural theory, a mode of critique, and a way of understanding the self and others. It is both a perspective on the human subject as well as a method of interpretation. Jacques Lacan even maintained that psychoanalysis was an ethic.
Despite these many “realms,” as Laplance puts it, the entire enterprise of psychoanalysis is often dismissed by its distracters on the basis of a widely held-yet nevertheless erroneous-myth: science (whatever this is) has disproved psychoanalysis as a clinical practice. In response to such a statement we answer with two questions: “whose psychoanalysis?” and “which clinical practice?” Such an instrumental generalization presumes precisely the scientistic values, as well as the monolithic discourse, that Laplance urges us to reject. Moreover, within the context of the theoretical humanities, such a myth subordinates interpretive and analytic discourse to the values of prediction.
Even taken at face value, that suggestion that all of psychoanalysis has been scientifically disproved is false. For example, although there is disagreement among scholars as to whether Freud was best understood as a medical scientist, a social theorist, or both,6 the debate between those who find his understanding of the interpretation of dreams compelling and the proponents of more recent neurophysiological models is far from over,7 as recent theories have worked assiduously to reconcile the two.8 And although a large number of Freud’s assumptions-the hydraulic model of the nervous system and feminine sexuality, to name a couple-are by contemporary standards demonstrably false, as John E. Gedo has argued, Freud’s analytical technique, his concept of the unconscious, his understanding of repetition compulsion, and his insistence on the importance of early childhood experience have all been clinically and even scientifically validated to various degrees (e.g., PET scans for the existence of non-conscious brain activity).9 Much of what Freud asserted as scientific conjecture turned out wrong, but not all. Moreover, a focus on Freud’s early scientific aspirations completely ignores his shift to cultural and social theory and critique in his lesser read works, such as Civiliztion and Its Discontents (1930) or Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego (1921).
The insights of psychoanalysis are not reducible to what neurophysiology or brain research bears out, then, but nor do they contract to Freud either. Rather, in this essay we endeavor a retrospective of the abuse and neglect of psychoanalysis in the field of U.S. rhetorical studies to encourage further, less reticent research from both psychoanalytic and post-psychoanalytic perspectives. Our thesis is simply that a psychoanalytic perspective is useful for critical work. Unfortunately, it has been misunderstood among rhetorical scholars, and it is difficult to advance any positive claim without a ground-clearing. To this end, then, we present a “post-amble” or retrospective prologue by first discussing the reception of psychoanalysis in rhetorical studies, suggesting why its insights have been slow to up-take in the field. Then, we proceed by addressing six of the most prominent myths one reads or hears (usually informally or in a classroom setting) about psychoanalysis. Finally, we conclude with a summary of what we think are the most compelling reasons a psychoanalytic perspective is useful for critical work.