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Archive for February 24th, 2009

paris review interview with sdb, then awp interview with… me

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Ouch, I find the following, which I’ve liften in-full from the blog Daily Routines (which you really should go look at – it’s a very interesting site), a little bit painful to read. It’s a fragment from a Paris Review interview of 1965 in which Simone de Beauvoir discusses her work habits.

INTERVIEWER
People say that you have great self-discipline and that you never let a day go by without working. At what time do you start?

DE BEAUVOIR
I’m always in a hurry to get going, though in general I dislike starting the day. I first have tea and then, at about ten o’clock, I get under way and work until one. Then I see my friends and after that, at five o’clock, I go back to work and continue until nine. I have no difficulty in picking up the thread in the afternoon. When you leave, I’ll read the paper or perhaps go shopping. Most often it’s a pleasure to work.

INTERVIEWER
When do you see Sartre?

DE BEAUVOIR
Every evening and often at lunchtime. I generally work at his place in the afternoon.

INTERVIEWER
Doesn’t it bother you to go from one apartment to another?

DE BEAUVOIR
No. Since I don’t write scholarly books, I take all my papers with me and it works out very well.

INTERVIEWER
Do you plunge in immediately?

DE BEAUVOIR
It depends to some extent on what I’m writing. If the work is going well, I spend a quarter or half an hour reading what I wrote the day before, and I make a few corrections. Then I continue from there. In order to pick up the thread I have to read what I’ve done.

INTERVIEWER
Do your writer friends have the same habits as you?

DE BEAUVOIR
No, it’s quite a personal matter. Genet, for example, works quite differently. He puts in about twelve hours a day for six months when he’s working on something and when he has finished he can let six months go by without doing anything. As I said, I work every day except for two or three months of vacation when I travel and generally don’t work at all. I read very little during the year, and when I go away I take a big valise full of books, books that I don’t have time to read. But if the trip lasts a month or six weeks, I do feel uncomfortable, particularly if I’m between two books. I get bored if I don’t work.

I quite literally, a week or so ago, made a promise to myself and those directly affected by my demeanor, that I would never again complain about not having enough time to work. A few things had dawned on me at once:

  1. It might well be true, that I “don’t have enough time to work,”  it isn’t likely to change any time soon so I might as well get used to the situation.
  2. I don’t have time to work because the academic term is on and I will be able to work properly during the summer.
  3. I spend, at some points, as much time complaining about work time as I do actually working.
  4. The time when I am working is negatively affected by a general and pervading frustration about worktime, leading me to, say, have an hour to work and not use it appropriately because “I won’t get anything done during a single hour and besides, there’s no real work time anyway so I might as well not start.”

So, I’m definitely not complaining right now, as that would be breaking an important promise. But still, SDB’s routine does sound rather utopian, doesn’t it? How about the four hour break in the middle of the day for friend seeing? And the “two to three months” of vacation when, since she’s gotten so much written during the intervening period, she doesn’t write all all but reads “a big valise” worth of books?

Mmm… Anyway, I know I shouldn’t complain. I’m going to spend tomorrow writing a book review, as Wednesday is “research day,” when it can be (i.e. when I’m not teaching graduate seminars or undergoing grueling administrative endurance tests….) as there’s no undergraduate teaching on those days. But that stuff from SDB is something – I’ve changed my mind, it’d be incredibly nice not to work in a job sort of way.

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February 24, 2009 at 10:35 pm

what is the cost of me in boiling cups of tea?

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Relatedly, I was in a someone’s office the other day making up some collaborative document or other, when there was a bit of information we needed from the internet. He turned to his computer, then hesitate, and then said to me, “You know the amount of energy it takes to google something, right? I am trying not to if the information is otherwise at hand.” Oh, right, this must be what he was talking about. At the moment, though, the statement, the possibility that the statement was true and that life itself and research and thought was about to crystalize into a permanently chaining thermodynamic equation of inefficiency and guilt made things flicker even more vertiginously than a few moments before.

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February 24, 2009 at 7:31 am

Posted in distraction

the impoverishment of experience

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From a grimly funny post at Socialism and/or barbarism, this is from Adorno’s Negative Dialectics:

This law is however not one of thinking, but real. Whoever submits to dialectical discipline, must unquestionably pay with the bitter sacrifice of the qualitative polyvalence of experience. The impoverishment of experience through dialectics, which infuriates mainstream opinion, proves itself however to be entirely appropriate to the abstract monotony of the administered world. What is painful about it is the pain of such, raised to a concept.

Having woken early by dream jolt, and having read this passage again, I wondered just now what Adorno’s dreamlife was like, given the not unfamiliar pattern of feeling (or non-feeling) described above. I had no idea that the following existed when I asked Google my question of the morning, but at the low price of ₤6.75 (second-hand, shipping included) I’ll find out in a few days. The publisher’s webpage promises that “Brothel scenes, torture and executions figure prominently.”

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February 24, 2009 at 7:28 am

Posted in adorno

i am a crisis of capitalism, i am the epic fail, i will keep my mbp

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still life with macbook pro, gerhard richter should clip and paint this, especially since I tastefully removed the K-1664 can before I took the shot

This is meant to be, I guess, dialectically related to the previous post. I would have slammed them together, but the thetical numbers didn’t look good with all of the pictures in the way:

The aura of my Macbook Pro has changed since the start of the economic crisis. The machine used to look like the latest iteration of an unceasing chain of ever-better machines, proceding from the ancient IBM Thinkpad I took with me to college (didn’t even have an ethernet slot, so I was off the internet just when the fun was starting) through some junky and less junky Dell desktops and laptops purchased through my grad school’s arrangement with the company, toward my first Powerbook and a MacBook force-gifted to my wife when I decided I needed more umpf, to this baby that I’m typing on right now and then beyond, to the thinner, better battery-life devices that I’d have next, that I’d be buying right about now. The general plan had been to keep them until there’s a year or so left on the extended warranty, buy a new fancy new cutting edge device, and then sell the old one carrying the remaining cover on eBay. But I’d sometimes even jump the gun on that plan, if the getting was good.

Gradually, over the last several months, something has slipped. I’ve started viewing my MBP not as an evolutionary space-holder, simply waiting for it’s faster, better descendent to come along and take it’s place on my kitchen table, but rather as a long-term tool, something that I’ll keep around until it dies. I’ll last past the end of the warranty; I’ll pay to have it fixed. It’s hard drive is maxed out and I spent a large section of the night deleting old duplicate photographs to make more room. (We loved you Mr. Pepys, 2003-2004 RIP, but twenty pictures of you licking your sister and hiding in an empty cereal box and gurgling at birds through the window in Brooklyn are probably all that we can carry with us into the future, given the fact I’ve only got 400 MB of space left!) Obviously it won’t be my computer for life, these things are engineered to be that, but it feels that way for now – which is a new and historically symptomatic way for me to feel, all things considered.

Of course, this reaction is entirely knee-jerk and over-ambient. I haven’t lost money in this thing (well, my TIAA-CREF account has been shredded, but there were only like $8000 in there anyway. My only investment strategy was to bet against my better instincts…. It’s like putting money down against your hometown team in the Superbowl – either way you win, sorta…. I’ll just work until I die, I suppose….) and I could still afford to keep up my stupid mac-loyalty and pre-obsolescent replacement plan if I really wanted to. *

So the question of the previous post remains: what would it take to turn my silly performance of austerity, emblematic of the behavior patterns that are leading the Italian restaurants to ply you with free booze, into something that could actually reap left-benefit. I watch myself in these things because I am normal enough, in some important ways, to work as my own canary in the c.m.

* I know. I bought the eee. But the eee is not a computer, it is a secondary device. And it cost one-sixth of what I’d pay if I were to upgrade the MBP. The point holds, I think. Unless it doesn’t.

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February 24, 2009 at 12:05 am

Posted in me, simplicity