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Archive for February 2010

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Jesus is New Jersey ever looking all Bruegelly today. Homesickishness. This photo from the NYT today is from South Orange, not far from where I grew up. It’s just at the foot of South Mountain reservation, reference previously on this blog here and here

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February 27, 2010 at 9:15 pm

Posted in new jersey

ads in sum

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Spending my Saturday rushing a bit to write… a paper that in a sense will encapsulate quite a bit of the argument of this blog over the years. (I mean especially when I was writing posts about things rather than simply being moody and attitudinal…) Luckily, looking back through my posts on the topic, I’m finding quite a lot of the paper pre-written. Perhaps I’ll post some bits of it up here, new stuff, as I go along and you can reassemble my talk at home…

But for now, let me repost one of the greatest ads ever made, something I know I’ve posted about four times already:

As I’ve said before, the ad

crosses a nascent geopolitical conflict with an aesthetic tension – a tension, actually, between two unreconcilable aesthetics: the collectivized bodies-as-machines of the Chinese against the pouty individualized hotness of the Americans. (Isn’t this, in a sense, the work that international athletics almost inevitably performs? Jesse Owens’s sole black body against the Riefenstahl logic of Hitler’s review platform etc… War by other means – by means that come closer to the aesthetic register than any other…)

Until today, I hadn’t considered the very opening shot – where she is woken up by the shaking glass of water – is playing on a disaster / crisis trope that’s very 2003. Something’s happened out there… And indeed it has – but not the thing that most media were trying to get us to worry about circa 2003. And it further occurs to me today that there’s something more to it than I wrote in the earlier post that brings into the picture something quite uncanny. The conflict, yes. And while the ad is focalized through the Americans’ experience of the confrontation, at the same time it’s utterly clear that the ad isn’t taking sides, isn’t picking a winner… Or, really, if there is a prediction in play, it has to go with the Chinese, who can do all that while the Americans have nothing to counter it with but attitude and haircuts. All this mirrors the fact that the corporation that produced it is hedging its bets between its old marketing base and the booming new markets of Asia, their burgeoning new urban middle classes. The ad was in fact shown both in the USA and China in the run-up to the 2003 Women’s World Cup, thus the dual language titles at the end…. The very fact that Adidas could and would make an ad for both markets is significant subtext of the ad itself, and informs the unsettling strangeness of its content. We still see the world through your eyes, America, but the fact of the matter is that this might be about to change.

Anyway, exciting stuff. Perhaps I ought to write the hard stuff now about Marcuse and Marxism and Bernays and the rest. Tempting to fill up the entire thing with unmediated ad clips that simply tell the whole story I’m trying to tell… Hmmm… Not avanty enough for that, I don’t think. And my wife’s going to come to the paper, at least if the babysitter accomodates, so I’d like to make it, you know, good.

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February 27, 2010 at 1:42 pm

Posted in ads, america, china


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He is walking somewhere, in the dream: it has come to walking. He has to jump a low fence, at one point, to get back to the sidewalk. A man is tottering randomly down the street, alternately trying to cross it and not. His legs seem to be crippled, and the jeans that he wears are slightly baggy,  too large in both the waist and the inseam.

He tries not to recognize the man, walks past him, then stops to look back. It is his father, or at least someone who looks like his father, who approaches and says simply “You are dying.”

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February 26, 2010 at 11:26 am

someone smelled anglophobia, but it’s more complicated than that…

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Every once in a while, a work-permit American gets the sense that things are slightly, well, retrograde when it comes to good old political correctness, academically speaking, in the UK. But then the American reads an essay by an American visiting student, and remembers how uselessly sanctimonious everything is back home. Jesus! And how politically and personally confusing! The student will think from my comments that I’m some sort of weirdly rightist lecturer in English, when all I’m trying to do is to get her to make things slightly more difficult for herself…

Teaching is somewhat difficult, at times…

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February 25, 2010 at 1:18 am

Posted in academia, america

nearly silent – the greek general strike

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I rather like the video attached to this BBC piece about the general strike against austerity measures currently going on in Greece. Just a string of things not happening, and it’s even as if the reporter is speechless in solidarity. But the ambient musak in the airport continues to play…

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February 24, 2010 at 11:10 am

Posted in austerity, crisis

still available for the finals

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The English guy doing hockey for the BBC coverage of the Olympics can’t stop himself from commenting on every dropped stick or abandoned glove. He’s absolutely spellbound by equipment loosed from its owner. This fascinated me too… when I was six years old and my father would take me regularly to New Jersey Devils games. My father refused to respond and so I quickly learned, rightly, to stop talking about it. It’s not important.

I should have called the BBC last week and offered my services. I’ve been told I have a lovely radio voice, and I suppose the loveliness would hold for television. I promise, unlike the guys they have doing it, I’d even learn the names of the players for both teams. Some German skates over, tries to take the puck from Crosby, oooo look there! Someone’s dropped their stick! That’s going to interfere with play! Someone’s going to trip if they’re not careful! And there’s another German, skating around with the puck and trying to shoot it into the net….

But I’ll admit that I’m happy to be watching it at all, and on my computer no less, when in an unreceptive country. But some of my earliest memories involve trying to get to sleep at night with the calm cadences of the hockey broadcasts my father was watching in the living room dully droning through my bedroom door… And so I’m sensitive to wrongness on this front.

… and it looks like the Canadians will be playing Russia tomorrow, which purists know is more important and more interesting than when they play the USA.

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February 24, 2010 at 3:32 am

Posted in sport, sports

into the seine with all of us, malcolm gladwell first

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From Anne Applebaum’s review of Koestler: The Literary and Political Odyssey of a Twentieth-Century Skeptic by Michael Scammell in the NYRB. In this passage, she’s coming to the end of a redescription of a rather riotous evening that Koestler, his girlfriend, Sartre, Beauvoir, Camus, and Camus’ wife spent together in Paris:

Scammell, whose fine-tuned sense of irony serves him well here, describes that evening’s conclusion:

“They broke up at dawn. Alone with Sartre, Beauvoir sobbed “over the tragedy of the human condition,” then leaned on the parapet of a bridge over the Seine and said: “I don’t see why we don’t throw ourselves in the river.” “All right,” agreed Sartre, “let’s throw ourselves in,” and began to cry himself. In another part of the city, Koestler too burst into tears as he stared into the Seine. Then he disappeared into a pissoir and shouted to Mamaine, “Don’t leave me, I love you, I’ll always love you.” They got home at about eight o’clock and slept all day, except for Sartre, who stuffed himself with pep pills and dragged himself off to the Sorbonne to give his lecture. It wasn’t possible even for an existentialist to address the students “sans moi.””

Leaving aside its entertainment value, that particular passage raises some interesting questions. We are not so many years removed from 1946, in the grand scheme of things. Yet much has changed since then, starting with the rules of acceptable public behavior. It is simply not possible to imagine any three prominent contemporary American public intellectuals—say, Malcolm Gladwell, Niall Ferguson, and David Brooks—indulging in a night on the town such as that one, let alone weeping over the human condition and threatening to throw themselves into the Seine at the end of it. Hollywood starlets and pseudo-celebrities behave that way in our culture, not serious people.

Oooof. Now I’m weeping and thinking about throwing myself into the East River, next time I’m there. If that’s a representative roster of NYC intellectuals aujourd’hui, and christ maybe it is, then yes, the human condition is truly fucking not well.

There’s something else that’s funny to say about this, but I’m not going to say it. Perhaps I just came to the party late. Right! Back to work then!

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February 18, 2010 at 10:32 am

Posted in collapse

free professional advice!

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‘Tis the season of fielding PhD applications… The following advice only applies to those applying in the UK, and I explain why this is the case below…

I am somewhat astounded how many I see that front a high (or somewhat high) concept “idea” but then have almost nothing to say about actually existing novels, collection of poetry etc. It seems clear in many cases that the novels that are mentioned might not have even been read. I understand the difficulty involved – one needs the time of the PhD to do in depth research into the way ideas manifest in the literature of period X or Y. But on the other hand: good ideas for literary critical projects generally arise out of the reading of works themselves, not the imposition of an externally developed lens.

So if you’re thinking about putting in a proposal of this sort, make sure you’re solid on the authors / books that you’re going to discuss before you type up the abstract. If you’re not ready, you’re not ready yet… Take another year, there’s no rush. Might seem obvious, but really does separate out the tenable proposals from the flimsy ones, this issue.

(I say UK PhD applications because the US version is quite different.  Since you’re going to do 2 – 3 years of seminar work before composing your abstract, you can be more vague – probably should be more vague – on this point…)

(Oh, and it of course makes less and less sense to do a PhD in the first place every year, so caveat emptor and all that. Then again, it’s unclear that there’s much else to do nowadays, so if you can get funding to do it I suppose why not, right?)

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February 14, 2010 at 2:50 pm

Posted in academia

vampirising the vampires, or trolling the trolls (i could never figure out the difference)

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Nice when a review can help out. Mark Fisher’s Capitalist Realism never uses the phrase “pseudo-marketization” or any variant thereupon. You can go amazon and search it this way and that and you’ll never find it. Neither will you find reference to “simulation” in this regard in his book. But these phrases have become touchstones, really the centerpieces, of interviews and talks in the wake of its release. It’s even more prominent in the talk I just linked to, but here’s some copyable print:

But the phrase ‘pseudo-marketisation’ is crucial — what we have in public services is an absurd simulation of market mechanisms rather the market as such, a kind of worst of all worlds scenario in which a simulated market goes alongside continuing surveillance and monitoring from state bodies.

Well, here’s me on the book, from the day of its official release back in December:

It’s not even the standard story about privatization that Mark is ultimately telling here, though it’s a related story. Rather, Capitalist Realism is ultimately focused on something else – the ways that public institutions that haven’t and likely won’t be privatized have been forced (have been forced to) to participate in simulated markets, where a rigorous regime of testing on a set of metrics replaces the invisible hand of the market. It’s a governmental gambit driven at once by a desire to reduce funding across the board and to convince voters that they are taking the efficacy of public institutions very seriously. Since it couldn’t / can’t actually expose some public institutions to market forces through opening competition or privatization, New Labour established (and continues to establish) pseudo-markets, fake market-like games, for public institutions to compete in in order to obtain funding.

Glad to be of help, I suppose. But perhaps in exchange for providing usefully clarifying language, he could agree to drop the gray vampire / troll stuff from now until the end of time? Because when he says that…

Grey Vampires don’t feed on energy directly, they feed on obstructing projects. The problem is that, often, they don’t know that they are doing this. (That’s one difference between them and a troll – trolls usually aren’t under any illusions about themselves, they just find spurious justifications for their activities.) There is very definitely a type of person who is a Grey Vampire – I’ve encountered a few, and, once their shield of sociability and charm falls away, they become revealed as horribly, tragically cursed, existentially blighted. But the Grey Vampire is also a subject position that (any)one can be lured into if you enter certain structures. Part of the reason I can’t hack it as an academic is that, in a university environment, I invariably find myself pincered between the troll and Grey Vampire positions. That’s why I sincerely admire anyone who can pursue a project in the academy.

… but then proceeds to co-opt the selfsame (ugh) vampire’s contribution without reference, it all starts to look a bit nervous and shifty, no?

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February 14, 2010 at 4:38 am

publish or perish

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Definitely don’t want to be glib about or otherwise make light of a terrible story, but there’s probably not a junior academic out there who didn’t drop an underbreath No shit… or some variant upon hearing about the murders at Alabama-Huntsville.

The shootings opened a window into the pressure-cooker world of biotechnology start-ups, where scientists often depend on their association with academia for a leg up. Ms. Bishop was part of a start-up that had won an early round of financing in a highly competitive environment, but people who knew her said she had learned shortly before the shooting that she had been denied tenure at the university.

On Friday, Ms. Bishop presided over her regular neuroscience class before going to a biology faculty meeting, where she sat quietly for about 30 or 40 minutes, said one University of Alabama faculty member who had spoken to people who were in the room. Then she pulled out a gun and began shooting, firing several rounds before her gun either jammed or ran out of bullets, the faculty member said.


Mr. Garner said Ms. Bishop was first been told last spring that she had been denied tenure. Generally, the university does not allow professors to stay on after six years if they have not been granted tenure, and this would have been the final semester of Ms. Bishop’s sixth year.

The university does have an appeals process, and people who knew Ms. Bishop said she had appealed the decision.

Ms. Bishop was quick to talk about her tenure worries, even to people she had just met. A businessman who met her at a technology open house in January, and who asked not to be named because of the close-knit nature of the science community in Huntsville, said, “She began to talk about her problems getting tenure in a very forceful and animated way, saying it was unfair.”

Believe me, I know it sucks to complain about the business when I’ve got (for now anyway) a really good job at a really good place, but the truth of the matter is that the stress only gets worse the further along you make it. Any line of work that can leave a 42-year old Harvard PhD basically completely out of the game after a six years of apparently solid teaching is bound to make people go mad. It’s clearly getting worse on the tenure front, as university administrations cynically use the “tenure hurdle” to keep costs down.

If only this story would make university administrations take pause to consider their policies on promotion. What they’ll do instead, I’m sure, is dump a ton of cash into the coffers of “career transition” consultants and campus security forces.

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February 13, 2010 at 7:16 pm

Posted in academia

public transport – beginning, middle, end

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He feels three things on his way home, late Friday night.

First he feels menaced at the bus stop because there are packs of drunken youths around and for some reason (because he is big, something else – because he looks like the sort of guy that it would be worth fucking up – little do they know how worthlessly with the grain of things it would be) is absolutely sure they’re going to come over to where he is and start something. He has learned not to smoke at bus stops at night – it only draws the attention of kids like these.

Later, he feels frustrated when another group of youths board his bus and argue with the bus driver about Oyster Cards and fares for about ten minutes, delaying the journey. Something in him has always made him feel like it’s his duty to intervene in situations like this – but again, he seems to be the right sort to fight it out with, and four on one is no good. Thankfully, a middle-aged woman with a strong West Indian accent shouts them down for having no respect for their elders and they leave. One of them spits on his window as the bus pulls away.

Finally, he feels disgust with England mixed with a overwhelming sense of fear when, as the bus nears his stop, the driver slows down because a man has fallen over dead drunk, legs on the sidewalk, head on the street right where the bus is meant to go. Some kids – themselves drunk – run up and lift the guy onto the bus stop bench. He does fucking nothing, walks home.

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February 13, 2010 at 1:27 am

the nyt continues its campaign against low testosterone levels in male writing

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Interesting: Joel Agee’s roiphes Peter Handke’s new Don Juan: In His Own Words in the NYT this weekend:

For all its engaging and delicate ruminations, and despite its bold, humorous claim to be “the definitive and true story of Don Juan,” the book left me wanting to hear again Mozart’s treatment of the same theme. That music has everything Handke’s prose lacks: brio, verve, declarative intensity, a vast range of emotion and, last but not least, brilliant, joyful virility.

It’s starting to look like a concerted, and very strange, campaign that the NYT is conducting against all manner of literary flaccidity and impotence. Odd. Just ordered the novel anyway. Why isn’t it being published in the UK?

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February 13, 2010 at 12:16 am

Posted in handke

in print, then…

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Huh. A revised version of this post was just accepted for publication in a decent academic journal. First time I’ve ever done that, “properly” published something from on here…

Bittersweet stupidity… Nice to get things published, but if they aren’t REF acceptable (and this isn’t, as it’s too short) I just get in trouble for writing unpurposefully…

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February 10, 2010 at 3:29 am

Posted in academia, movies

repetition, repression, modernism

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The first story in Gertrude Stein’s Three Lives, “The Good Anna,” is a something like a translation of Flaubert’s “Un coeur simple” adjusted for the advent of the discipline of psychology. Instead of saying once “Elle avait eu, comme une autre, son histoire d’amour,” it says it again and again and again and again, establishing its version of the  phrase (“The widow Mrs. Lehntman was the romance in Anna’s life” and variations thereupon) as an index of psychological blockage rather than literary irony. In Flaubert’s case, it follows, the phrase registers low bovarisme – the pathetic or bathetic implication of life in literary models. In Stein’s case, the phrase registers tautological euphemism, when we keep saying the same thing for lack of ability to say the next thing, the true thing.

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February 7, 2010 at 5:13 pm

Posted in flaubert, stein


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He was a strange and complex man. He had peculiar tastes. He was never at peace with the world.

The only way to know that you were his intimate was if he treated you as roughly as he treated himself. If, at certain pitched moments, he savaged himself and you at the same time and to the same degree, then you knew you were in, for better or worse.

This, you knew, has how love, or whatever it was, worked with him. The fact was that he was at once incredibly tolerant of and incredibly impatient with human nature. His optimism was abyssally pessimistic, and vice versa. At privileged moments, his speech would take on the dark lyricism that comes of such cross-wiring, such implicit contradiction. At other moments, he would remain silent, which amounted almost to the same thing.

You would have stopped, if you knew then what you know now, and said “But when and where did I sign on for that? Can you produce a contract? A duly notarized document?”

“Certain processes and functions,” he would have responded, “are as implicit in human relations as the tree is implicit in this garden, the squirrels in these trees, the train on those tracks.”

“This is a cross to bear,” he would have said. “But haven’t we all got to have one?” he would have asked.

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February 7, 2010 at 4:51 pm

Posted in Uncategorized