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won’t hold together

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1. Today was a good day. The park with my wife and daughter, lunch at a nice place and outside because it’s finally getting warm enough to do that. She had a bit of a tantrum about riding in the stroller from the park to the cafe where we ate, but it subsided. I looked in the bookstore, but there weren’t any magazines or books that I wanted to buy.

2. Later, I watched a hockey game, read a few pages of an advance copy of William Gibson’s Spook Country while my daughter played in the backyard. My wife got home from shopping – bearing hot dogs – and I fired up the grill for the first time this year. Very dad-ish, yes? My daughter has never had a hot dog, and wouldn’t eat one this evening, despite the fact we lathered it in cheese. I think she is thrown by the name. She loves dogs, and periodically would say “ruff-ruff” as we ate them and laugh a bit, but still refuse to eat them.

Whenever I grill hot dogs, I wince at every bite worried that I will encounter a raw spot inside.

3. We watched the Sopranos this evening. I think it was the first good episode of the new and last semi-season. When the jokes work, you get the sense that Chase is writing (whoever is listed in the credits), and that the episode, in turn, will work.

And it did. And in particular, it returned to one of my favorite themes of the show, and a theme very close to my heart. The ambivalence of Tony’s relationship to his son – and his semi-son Christopher – pivots on a deeper ambivalence about masculinity, violence, class transition, and self-improvement. And shame. To put it this way seems very abstract – sounds like guild speak, no? Try it this way instead: Just as he wants Christopher not to be an alcoholic but finds something deeply distasteful and unmanly about his success in not drinking, he would like his own son, Anthony Jr., not to repeat his mistakes, not to go into the “family business” of profitable violence, but can’t help hating his son for his, what, effeminate softness and affluent idleness. He wants, in short, his son to be tough like him without experiencing the situations that make that sort of toughness possible or even necessary.

I grew up with just this sort of mixed message from my own father, and I bear the fruits of it today in spades. I’m not going into to detail, but trust me on this one. (Themes like this, generally not well aired in mass culture, are the reason that this show has a lock on a demographic that is both unusually wide and extremely narrow at once…) It is, I think, an experience that a lot (most? all?) children of men (and women?) who “came from nothing” and “fought their way out of poverty”… and whose children live very different lives – and live in very different neighborhoods – than the one that they have lived.

My father took his first steps to making his (and mine) in the world through violence, though of a different sort that the Sopranos. He was a hockey and football hero from a shit town and from an imploded and very poor family, and likely channeled lots of his own father’s abusiveness into his athletic performance. These skills (this violence) made, in the long run, a successful career path open to him, and it was one that structurally resembles that of the various enforcers and captains on the show… (hint: if my work is strangely preoccupied with labor issues – downsizing, deskilling, intensification, Taylorism – you do the oedipal math to figure out where he ended up…)

4. Things become even more interesting when Anthony Jr.’s invigorating turn to the dark side occurs not through committing an act of violence himself, but through watching (as, of course, do we) someone else perform an act of particularly gruesome violence on another person. The last few episodes have been slightly-preoccupied with the question of who has “popped their cherry,” in terms of ultraviolence, and who hasn’t. Anthony seems to have joined the club – but somehow, now, all it takes is what might be called televisual participation rather than the real thing.

5. After the show, I scroll through the rss reader and come to this. Let it be said I do not recommend clicking through to view the videos. I have a pretty high tolerance – both viscerally and ethically – for viewing this sort of thing, and lord christ has there been a lot of it to view the past several years. Just being honest, I generally find those deeply resistant to viewing this sort of material to be a bit quaint or even hypocritical. I generally back up into a rationalization about the necessity that the impact of violence around the world register – register, perhaps, in particular upon people like me, who write about culture and politics for a living. I have viewed military attacks on civilians, beheadings, and of-course the state run executions of VIPs.

But this one stopped me in my tracks. I viewed the first linked video, which seems to be the gruesome aftermath of the whole affair. The second video, I am guessing, is really the first in the sequence – a lot of yelling and not much to see except for tight-packed men’s shoulders. In the third, we finally get what we are here to see. She is quickly pulled, head locked under a man’s arm, into the center of the crowd. A crowd, of course, of men. She is standing, she is screaming, and then she is not. She has been pulled to the ground, or hit by something and then fell.

This is where I turned the video off. I did not want to see her head get crushed by stones. There are, it is terrible to report, a total of 6 videos in the sequence. I can’t even imagine what happens in the next three in the sequence. Or I can very much imagine it, but this time, don’t want to see it. I can’t really explain why this one is different from the others, the ones that I made it all the way through. It is nightmarish.

6. I have nightmares every night. In fact, I think I only have nightmares. I can’t remember having any other sort of dream for the longest time. On some level, I think, I take this as a normal facet of adult-life. It does not, on the surface at least, affect my waking behavior. I am not even particularly troubled by this fact. I am not even sure that I dislike having nightmares. Obviously, the question becomes are these things that I am dreaming actually nightmares at all?

In fact, it wouldn’t at all be fair, but if you were to tell me that you often or even occasionally have dreams that are not nightmares, I would almost automatically think, on some level, that you were a something of a simpleton.

And I now suddenly realize that this is a good explanation of the origin of my particular academic interests. I write about the necessary relationship between fictional form and social disorder. I also, more recently, have been fascinated by texts that attempt to work beyond this seemingly essential relationship.

7. I have posted on these sorts of videos and images before. The dead children during the bombing of lebanon, etc etc. After partially viewing the stoning, I went outside to have a cigarette and thought about what I might write about this one. I can’t remember now what I said about the previous ones. Any angle I might try to take, and the head swims. To politically particularize this is to lose the visceral reality of it, to mine it for an abominable use-value. Not to politicize it is perhaps even more horrible – to see this event, and all the others like it that happen all the time, both in view and out of it, “clickably linked” or not, as ineffably random or simply markers of a depraved and in-actionable “human nature.” I do not know what to say, and so I say this. Which is abominable. I could have remained silent, which is abominable. And, worst of all, perhaps, is to resolve all of this into a clever, safe crux – which is exactly what I am doing right now as I type these words. My own inhumanity chases me at exactly the speed that I type these words now. The more I say, the worse it gets… But to say nothing would be worse. And there’s the crux, the cleverness, the barbarism, the intensified barbarism of the self-conscious critic of snuff again. A knot that only tightens as you type.

8. I wonder how many of you clicked through and viewed the videos, and of those who did, how far you got with them.

9. NB: I provided you with the link, but ordered you not to follow it. I hoped that you wouldn’t see it, yet I advertised its contents. I want you, my reader, to be both humane and hard, aware and not. I want you both inside and outside of the dark chamber at once, don’t I? And then I link you away to distract you from the problem at hand….

Have you followed the link? Which link did you follow? Did you follow it down to the end?

10. I am not sure that this post, in a sense, isn’t above all else a reenactment, a fan-fiction repetition, of Christopher’s situationally-complex paean to l’art d’être un père that he offers, drunk once again, toward the end of tonight’s episode of the Sopranos.

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Written by adswithoutproducts

May 7, 2007 at 12:09 am

Posted in meta, teevee

burnout

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Well, sorry about that. The not posting I mean. The end of the semester has been particularly, insanely actually, rough for me this time around.

Relatedly, on the way home today I caught an NPR discussion on “burnout.”, from which I think I currently suffer, yes, just enough that I’ll say no more other than to note that it never ceases to amaze me, the American ability to discuss in depth workplace stresses while sidestepping, definitely yet subtly, any possible mention of political economy. All pills, all self-management, all Getting Things Done, all callers with advice to share gleaned from company-provided psychotherapists. All academics drawn from the ignoble branches like institutional psychology and related academicizations of “human resources,” for whom the issue is never, of course, the sanity and welfare of the burned-out worker, but the productivity losses for the corporation that come of it…

But never ever a matter of those old, obsolescent terms: intensification of labor and deskilling. No… anything but that….

I am, currently, most definitely in violation of my union’s rules. I have taken up a serious amount of extra work without due compensation. Obviously, I’m not talking about the very much expected extra work that comes with an academic career. I wish there was a union rep in the department who would step in and force me to comply with the contract, etc etc etc…

And of course, there’s the saddest and sickest issue of all: that I’m actually way more healthy, in a certain sense, in this condition than I am when the burden of incessant unrewarding work is lifted. Joy of Stress indeed. A few weeks ago, when things were going more smoothly, I was something of a mess. Now, there is no time to poke my head up and worry. My wife wanted me to go see a therapist. Now, I fall asleep on the couch from 7-10 every night, before resuming work, rather than clutching her sleeve and pouring out my unsolvable problems and irremediable issues. Sad. Sick.

Sorry. End of bellyache. For you, not for me. Regular service will resume shortly.

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Written by adswithoutproducts

December 1, 2006 at 1:56 am

not blegging for compliments, really…

with 5 comments

So, yes, we’re at a bit of a crossroads with this site, clearly. I’m not really updating it anymore. Dylan youtubes don’t count.

In short, I’m trying to decide what to do. The three (or, perhaps four) options.

1) Keep going with this site, redoubling my efforts. Update like I used to, back in the day.

1a) Keep going with this site, but just like I am now – trying not to worry about the frequency of my posting. Pretend / believe that this is just a dry spell, and that I’ll become vigorous and prolific in bloggery again soon, or at least at some point.

2) Start a new and fully-anonymous site. (Enough folks know who I really am, that this is only semi-anonymous…)

3) Quit the game altogether, as my time might be much more profitably spent on, say, reading real books and writing real books and articles and suchlike.

Decisions, decisions. I think I’m going to start a fully-anonymous site – obviously, you won’t hear about it here – and see how that feels for a bit, while keeping this one in a limp. Full-anonymity is tough work though – when you live in a place like the place where I live, the ip addy is enough of a giveaway that even visits to and comments at other sites could spoil the secret.

Obviously, the big question is why am I so worried about anonymity? The job, the career, of course has a lot to do with it. But more than a fear of discovery, and the possible ramifications of it, I know that the more people there are who know who I am, the less (and less adventurously) do I write.

In my other job, the real one, you see, I’m a terrible perfectionist. Hours hovering over the sentence – headachy bouts of real-time self-editing, that sort of thing. The blog releases me from that. The style (?) of my writing here is developed over, well, as close to a lifetime as someone my age could have spent in the on-line world – mostly anonymous, always on the same topics. I started when I was, what, 15 or 16, with bulletin boards on Prodigy (!) – which is, almost exactly, half my lifespan.

(I hadn’t ever done the math before. That’s rather stunning. I’ve been messing around on here for half my life… I doesn’t seem like half my life. But there’s aging for you… Accelerates, apparently, the passage of time. Viciously.)

In short, the public persona meets pseudo’d bb nut at the crossroads. (Not “public persona” as in famous, jesus, no. Just the part of me that publishes or tries to, holds a job, teaches classes…) The former bristles at the sloppiness of the latter, he willingness to hold forth on topics that aren’t his, his willingness to engage in questionable arguments sure to yield nothing good… In particular, the former carries around with him a phobia about materials being read in less than optimal state – materials that fall somewhere short of the explosively intelligent…

On the other hand, well, there are the friendships I’ve formed on here, the very obvious pleasure that I take in interacting with everyone and being interacted with. Along the lines of what Scott is talking about here, I guess. I may go to the MLA panel that he’s talking about. I think that I’m not alone in being almost stupidly excited by the idea of it…

I probably keep in better touch with people that I’ve met on here than most (not all but most) of my good, good friends from grad school, who have scattered, just as I have… Blogging provides a degree of social stability amid the flux of early-career academic itinerancy, when all those people who you saw on a daily basis for five or six years, lived just above you or around the corner from you, dissolve into postdocs and assistant professorships, leave the field under their own power or on a stretcher, stay behind for “one more year” back at “the department” and so forth…

It’s so complicated… Humpfff…

Anyway, I’ll work it out. There may or may not be a new, nearly empty, anonymous blog out there in the left-cultural-academic b’sphere. We’ll see which – or whether either – wins…

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Written by adswithoutproducts

October 31, 2006 at 12:11 am

Posted in blogs, meta

crickets

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Deeply sorry that there’s been nothing here of late. Beginning of the semester, that’s all….

….well, aside from the fact that I’ve been a bit anxious about the fact that this site has degenerated into a forum where I say rude things about silly stuff in the media and/or make relatively useless statements of disgust about geopolitical events.

Not sure what to do about that. I’m hard at work on things not conducive to blogging, so there’s little else for me to say. With luck and a better attitude, this will change relatively shortly.

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Written by adswithoutproducts

September 2, 2006 at 12:12 am

Posted in meta

care bears in the dive bar

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(Another in a short series of hyperventilating, hypocritical posts, wearing my worst bits right there on the sleeve, about a serious subject: the decline and fall of the american cultural sphere. I visited the bookstore today, and almost passed out from the preciousness of the novels on offer…. Of this sort of post on my part, one might justly refer to Eliot’s description of Othello’s final speech:

What Othello seems to me to be doing in this speech is cheering himself up. He is endeavouring to escape reality, he has ceased to think about Desdemona, and is thinking about himself…Othello succeeds in turning himself into a pathetic figure, by adopting an aesthetic rather than a moral attitude, dramatising himself against his environment…

Ouch. Got me pegged:)

I miss NYC on an hourly basis. I’m sure there are times that I’m really missing my kidless life in NYC, and that many of the more attractive elements of the city and my life there would prove to be more frustrating than anything else now that I wouldn’t be, you know, doing the 4 AM plastered F-Train thing now and again. I can’t see any good films here; I wouldn’t, if I were still there, be seeing any good films, eating much good food. You know the deal.

But there are also times that I miss NYC even given the fact that I’m now a parent, even because I’m a parent. Miss, for instance, Cobble Hill Park, where my little one spent what outside time she spent during her first two months of life. (She was born just a block or two away…)

And the promenade. The Central Park Zoo, the carousel there, etc… Oh, and I’ll even cop to a healthy strain of snotty snobbery about the folks with kids that live on my street, their lack of acculturation, the fact that most of them grew up here and have never left and go to something called “the lake” during the summer rather than say, Shanghai or Buenos Aires, where I would go were she a bit older.

But then, every once in a while, I get an anti-nostalgic swift kick in the ass from something that I read.

Welcome to the age of the rocker mom. Kids who might otherwise have their parents ferry them to the soccer field are now being enthusiastically chaperoned to dive bars. Rock, once the realm of outcasts and dangerously attractive miscreants, is practically a curriculum choice. In Park Slope, after-school classes are offered at private and public schools, and Willie Mae Rock Camp for Girls (an offshoot of Rock ‘n’ Roll Camp for Girls in Portland, Oregon) is in its second year. On the syllabus are the classics: Ramones and Clash and Pixies songs that youngish parents revere, and that their offspring have been hearing since birth.

Rather than being cause for rebellion, grown-ups are rock mentors. Several, in the great tradition of Jack Black, have even become coaches, teaching teens and tweens the rudiments of rocking that normally take several alienated years to fumble through. Nowadays, punk isn’t just sanctioned by parents and school teachers; it’s good, clean fun.

The Care Bears—singer-guitarist Sophie Kasakove, 11, bassist-singer Lucio Westmoreland, 11, and drummer-singer Isadora “Izzy” Schappell-Spillman, 10, all classmates at Park Slope’s Berkeley Carroll School—couldn’t be better poster children for this burgeoning movement if they’d been carefully pre-auditioned for a reality show. They wear standard rocker gear—jeans, Converse All-Stars, Black Sabbath T-shirts—but they’re also polite overachieving kids, cramming in band practice between art class, homework, and Hebrew school.

Oh good Christ.

And look. I’ve been around the block a few times. I know that this article is just a hyperbolic distillation of a certain tiny subset of NYC – actually, very specifically, Brooklyn parents. I know that this sort of thing is written to provoke exactly the sort of reaction that I’m having right here for you to read.

But still. There is a heady dose of that sort of crap to be had back in the City. And I further know for a fact that my dad spent a good part of his life silently hating me for the “opportunities” I had – the fact that I, for instance, had my education paid for and didn’t have to “earn” it via a football scholarship like him. I lacked, and likely still lack, authenticity in his eyes. He is probably right – but, hey, that’s the dialectic. He’s not read his Thomas Mann and never will.

Flashforward to me. This probably belongs on Kotsko’s tuesday hate thing, but I hold a not so secret antipathy for those who have intellectual, culturally sophisticated parents – Young American Authors whose fathers are Old American Authors. Young colleagues who’s parents are featured in the Norton Anthology of Theory (once lived a couple doors down from one of those….) That sort of thing is so deeply woven into me – this really visceral dislike for those were reading the Brontes at 12, who grew up in either Cambridge, and who call mom for advice (and contacts) when it’s time to write a book proposal.

I am, you see, authentic, or is it organic, as far as this goes, or so I tell myself. Obviously, its all a projective show, I know. But, god, can you imagine? The Care Bears, the writhing on the floor irony of their group’s name dribbled from dad’s coffee cup, lapped up less than furtively by the daughter. She’ll end up an investment banker, you know. Or, well, more likely the way things work, prominently featured on iTunes.

The band then turns to Bob Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower,” sung by Lucio. His dad—Rip Westmoreland, son of William C., the late Vietnam-era general—is a vintage-guitar collector, so Lucio’s playing a Fender Precision bass approximately three-fourths his height and four times his age. His voice, currently in the midst of dropping, cracks a little on the knotty lyrics and melody, but that’s not what halts the song.

…snip…

“[Care Bears’] taste in music is sooo much better than when I was their age,” says [Lucian] Buscemi, son of actor Steve. “We haven’t really helped out with the way they play, but I guess we’ll help them become more known by recording them.”

No, I know. They’re baiting me with this crap. Written just for me, and the rest of us who walk around feeling like “the rest of us.” Steve Buscemi’s kid records William Westmoreland’s grandson. Perhaps all four could come together to produce a hybrid of Ghost World and Apocalypse Now, in which a moody strange guy with a hesitant taste for younger women holes up with his record collection just on the wrong side of the Cambodian border. Soundtrack by the kids.

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Written by adswithoutproducts

August 26, 2006 at 12:10 am

Posted in america, meta

buying / renting

with 2 comments

So I am contemplating a move over to my own site / WordPress. But holy shit is it ever time sucking, playing around with this stuff. Can’t decide… I’ve bought my domain name… But I’m very worried that, really, at base, typepad is good for me because it does everything that I need it to do with a minimum of difficulty. Anyone want to chime in, pro or con?

UPDATE: I think the grand WordPress experiment may have come to a close on my end. It’s a lovely little bit of software, and I actually succeeded in launching a site, importing my posts from here (minus images, as they’re tough to untangle), and I learned a ton about how this crazy internet thingy works. But I think I’m going to stick with Typepad. For a few reasons:

1. While I was relatively successful playing around the ftp uploading and even a bit of code editing, I can’t see wanting to do that on anywhere near a regular basis. And I think you’d have to.

2. I really like the backside post composition in typepad. Between the on-line imputs, and Marsedit, I’m all set, and I’d hate to leave those behind. WordPress would theoretically work with Marsedit, but it seems very complicated to get it to work correctly…

3. My ultimate goal was to start using my own domain name, which should still work under typepad. I’ll set it up soonish

In sum, while it’s nice to head into Open Source territory, right now it would simply add a layer of obsessive complexity to my life which I really don’t need… So typepad it is.

Luckily, I only bought a month of hosting from a small orange for $5. What a deal. And I do recommend it as a host if you’re looking for one. But I’m not going to be out all that much cash for my little vacation into the world of web formalism…

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Written by adswithoutproducts

June 24, 2006 at 2:14 am

Posted in blogs, meta

the telescopic sublime / criticism in 3D

with 3 comments

As I work on my “real” writing, I increasingly find myself looking to embed images within my text, just like when I’m tapping away at adswithoutproducts. (Obviously, I could insert images – like, I know how to do that in Word – but I work in a field, literature, that doesn’t let you get away with gratuitous illustration.

And then there’s the burgeoning world of video. No one gets to put that in their book…

For instance, I am working today on this famous passage from A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man:


He turned to the flyleaf of the geography and read what he had written there: himself, his name and where he was.

Stephen Dedalus

Class of Elements

Clongwoes Wood College

Sallins

County Kildare

Ireland

Europe

The World

The Universe

That was in his writing: and Fleming one night for a cod had written on the opposite page:

Stephen Dedalus is my name,

Ireland is my nation.

Clongwoes is my dwellingplace

And heaven my expectation.

He read the verses backwards but then they were not poetry.

And at one point as I worked on it, I found myself momentarily thinking that I would embed this into my text ((Via here):

But of course I did not, I could not. I will have to make do with a footnote and a link that will assuredly look strange to anyone who is not a blogreader. Blogreaders, I think, would get the not quite non-sequitur-ness of the gesture.

Now see, if was writing for an appropriately electronic medium, a freeform one that’s not, say, just a repository of print-type articles, the stub of a new book might have grown out of this right-angle point of contact with my first. The Joyce material might have proceeded along down the page while a new line of thought, taking up the topic of these particularly modern anti-narrative narratives like Stephen’s list, like the Eames’s film, these synchronic stories which gesture at a new fictionality both impossible and absolutely necessary, dictated by changing world conditions, the erosion of forms, technological emergences, etc…

Perhaps I would have dropped what I’ve been doing with the work that includes the Joyce chapter and taken up this new line. Or maybe both at once. Working in this fashion – a fashion that’s a bit closer to blogging than the academic mongraph, or perhaps would be a hybrid of both, would give a whole new meaning to the notion of scholarly oeuvre. One work per life time, branching 2 dimensionally, and then 3, and so on. And it would end up – or start out – looking something like this:

(which is a visualization of adswithoutproducts, from here, via here)

So while this might sound like a circa mid-1990s paean to the radical new possibilities of HTML for criticism and imaginative works, it’s not. That has all been said before, many, many times. Rather for me this youtube epiphany makes me realize that the technology is already getting old – we are getting used to it, it’s becoming second nature. And it’s starting to show, as is bound to happen, in the way that I work, but more importantly the way that I think.

UPDATE: It dawned on me only after posting this that the issue I’m working through with the Joyce quote above actually has quite a lot to do with the issues I’m working through in this post. The subtle registration of the important question very young Stephen has asked about the “poem,” the experiment that he has conducted, and what his author’s ultimate answer to that question will be… Stephen’s question is about the limits of conventional form and the conventional temporalities that these forms drag along with them…

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Written by adswithoutproducts

June 15, 2006 at 11:12 pm

Posted in blogs, design, joyce, meta

convolutes

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OK, so I’ve just spent an awfully long time messing with the categories on this site. No more generic typepad categories. And I’m going to take them seriously from now on.

This site, among other things, is a place where I drop thoughts about some projects I’m working on / going to work on / would love one day to work on. You can follow along with these projects, as they unfold, through the categories from here on out.

For instance, try out consciousness….

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Written by adswithoutproducts

April 5, 2006 at 1:33 am

Posted in meta