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Archive for December 2008

infrastructure

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From the NYT, one minute ago:

WASHINGTON — President-elect Barack Obama committed Saturday to the largest public works construction program since the creation of the interstate highway system a half-century ago as he seeks to put together a plan to resuscitate the reeling economy.

[…]

Although he put no price tag on it, he said he would invest record amounts of money in the vast infrastructure program, which also includes work on schools, sewer systems, mass transit, electric grids, dams and other public utilities. He vowed to upgrade computers in schools, expand broadband Internet access, make government buildings more energy efficient and improve information technology at hospitals and doctors’ offices.

The post-election performance has been mixed tending toward depressing-per-expectations, but this I’ll take. Others are very unhappy and for just the right reasons.

Alan D. Viard, an economist at the American Enterprise Institute, told Congress recently that public works spending should not be authorized out of “the illusory hope of job gains or economic stabilization.”

“If more money is spent on infrastructure, more workers will be employed in that sector,” Mr. Viard told the House Ways and Means Committee. “In the long run, however, an increase in infrastructure spending requires a reduction in public or private spending for other goods and services. As a result, fewer workers are employed in other sectors of the economy.”

Yep! We’ll take it!

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December 6, 2008 at 8:39 pm

saturday morning glimmerings

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For half a second after picking up today’s IHT, I misunderstood the relationship between the top headline and the image below it.

Or I wanted to misunderstand it. Of course the image doesn’t have to do with apartment blocks in Detroit doing Che instead of Santa and his reindeer this year but rather is an illustration for just another internally incoherent piece about Cuba and socialism (not up for link for some reason…) Still, still, thrilling when the paper gives you the chance to imagine a different sort of Saturday morning.

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December 6, 2008 at 9:39 am

melancholic intensity and short form writing

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Philip Lopate on Susan Sontag on Walter Benjamin in The Threepenny Review:

Benjamin was […] another exemplar for her of “the freelance intellectual.” Finally, he was a negative model in the difficulty he had finishing books. “His characteristic form remained the essay. The melancholic’s intensity and exhaustiveness of attention set natural limits to the length at which Benjamin could develop his ideas. His major essays seem to end just in time, before they self-destruct.” Her own essay on Benjamin runs a mere twenty-five pages. She later said, by way of explaining why she no longer gave her main energies to essay-writing, that some of the essays in Under the Sign of Saturn had taken her six months to write. From my perspective, this means she should have persisted in essay writing; it was just getting to the proper level of difficulty.

Just as the “literature of the no” (more to come on this) encourages one to romanticize one’s own lack of productivity, reading something like this is suggestive in probably just the wrong way. The ultimate intensity would take the form of aphoristic captions underneath single photos on an underread blog? But why do they require books? No one reads them anymore anyway!

(BTW I think everyone should subscribe to The Threepenny Review, by the way. It never ceases to amaze me that when I write in for address changes or to resubscribe and the like, it’s always Wendy Lesser herself who writes back…)

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December 2, 2008 at 12:48 pm

Posted in benjamin, distraction

bathrooms without toilets

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Go look. Funny! Will add MM to the linklist on this!

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December 2, 2008 at 1:31 am

agamben again

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I’ve been a bad amateur theorist for the past several years. * Attribute it to all-too-close-contact with a whole coterie of noxious lacanians, lording it over peasants like me with late-night phonecalls and backchatter and tenure threats. Whatever. But somehow I missed the fact that Agamben has gotten back to the interesting question (rather than the boring one, the s/o/e and all that schmittian jive). See No Useless Leniency for more information. I just ordered the book.

Agamben argues that he is not condemning pornography per se, but rather the neutralisation of the possibility of allowing erotic behaviours to idle, their profanation. What is reprehensible is to be captured by power, not the behaviour in the first place. This kind of idling can be found in the the indifferent gaze of Chloe des Lysses – a lack of complicity with the spectator, and a refusal of the brazen.

But this kind of profanation appears only temporarily, as the “solitary and desperate consumption of the pornographic image” (!) (“In Praise” 91) blocks this kind of possibility of profanation. The disgrace, according to Agamben, lies not in pornography itself, but in the apparatus of the fashion show or the pornographic shoot, that turns the sphere of pure means into a separated site of pure consumption.

“The unprofanable of pornography – everything that is unprofanable – is founded on the arrest and diversion of an authentically profanatory intention. For this reason, we must always wrest from the apparatuses – from all apparatuses – the possibility of use that they have captured. The profanation of the unprofanable is the political task of the coming generation.” (“In Praise” 92)

Ah, that’s just the sort of thing that gave this blog its Agamben-inspired name! Maybe I’ll rename the site profanatory intention.

* Really, I can’t even fake the pose. Those who know me know that I am Just-Another-Sweater-Bedecked English Professor Lecturer, far too gnomic and literary even to simulate it. Still, I am a JASBEL (interesting!) who appreciates a properly dialectical question when a properly dialectical question is raised….

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December 2, 2008 at 1:10 am

Posted in agamben, porn, theory

oneiric overground

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The London Overground is a very strange thing indeed. If you’ve only ever visited London, it’s likely that you’ve never used it. While the Underground generally plunges straight from the fringes into the center – the exception being the Circle line and those that share its tracks – the Overground remains content to wander around the northern and western extentions of the city. When it actually makes contact with the center, say at Euston, it almost seems accidental, the result of a wrong turn somewhere along the line.

The stations are the best part of the whole thing. Unlike on the one hand the Underground’s claustrophobic narrowness, constant busy-ness, and iconic look, or on the other hand, the National Rail stations with their trunkline hugeness, the Overground stations are uncannily quaint and often very quiet. Trains are rare on weekends, twice an hour at best.  And the stations are rural looking!  They have the look of some sort of regional rail system built for a not-too-densely populated place. (Another post to be written – what better topic for a proud New Jerseyan like me – about urban woods, roadside woods, the things that you imagine go on there and the things that really do…)

In fact, there is something about the Overground stations that makes me what to call them the sort of station that appears in one’s dreams. (Do I really mean my dreams or one’s dreams?) They look like scene settings for the softer sort of nightmare, the ones that feature maddening repetition and anxiety-inducing confusions, rather than the threat of violence, the threat of real injury. The sort of station where disturbing cinematic effects should be staged – the train with no driver or the train with faceless passengers, the passenger who is always there waiting for a train that never comes, the experience of waiting for a train but having them each one skip your stop, miss your platform, over and over and over and over and over.

It bears mentioning, too, that the Overground can have a disorienting effect on your psychogeographical gestalt. Since it cuts across rather than down, it bridges distances swiftly that ordinarily seem quite vast. Crouch Hill to West Hampstead seems like an impossible distance to travel by bus or underground, but passes in minutes on the train. As if the layout of the city has been compressed, folded – or even that the Hampstead Tunnel itself has opened a rent in the continuity of the city.

It is a bit like dreamwork, the work that the Overground does. Displacement, condensation – the spatialization of time (or is it the other way around?) And it is no wonder, given the contours of its route, its avoidance of the terminals. After all, Freud long ago spelled out the deal when it came to trains that never quite make it to the center city.

Perversions are sexual activities which either (a) extend, in an anatomical sense, beyond the regions of the body that are designed for sexual union, or (b) linger over the intermediate relations to the sexual object which should normally be traversed rapidly on the path towards the final sexual aim.

Both the dream and the perversion smear and blur fetishism, temporalize it, prolong it away from teleology and thus propriety. Wayward mass transit systems like the London Overground, weed-choked and slow, take us places but never anywhere near the goal. In doing so, they re-think for us the city, the psychological directionality that it dictates, the desires it desires us to hold and those we hold that it normally resists.

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December 1, 2008 at 4:32 pm

Posted in design, uncanny