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Archive for the ‘occupations’ Category

on molly crabapple’s latest piece for vice

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Can we have done with Molly Crabapple at some point soon? The self-appointed house artist of Occupy Wall Street (who cashed in even faster on the left-hip quotient of her radical turn than the most pessimistic of observers of the movement would have guessed for the most cynical of its fellow-travellers) keeps writing these articles about the Photoshopping of models and other female celebrities as some sort of neo-feminist form of détournage. She now writes for – among other things – Vice. I imagine that I don’t need to go into the politics of that. But here’s the latest example of what I’m talking about. Here we go:

To these feminists, Photoshop is to blame to unrealistic body standards, poor self-esteem, and anorexia in teenage girls. The campaign against Photoshop is the perfect cause for white, middle-class women whose primary problem is feeling their bodies do not match an increasingly surreal media ideal.

Ah, right. It’s the fat, lumpy bourgeois ladies that are angry about this – presumably not the ones who used to be topless models. But there’s something that we’re missing about Photoshop, and it’s something to do with out failure to understand Ahhht… Crabapple continues:  

Photoshop, the belief goes, takes a true record of a moment and turns it into an oppressive lie.

But fuck Photoshop. Photos are already lies.

I’m a former model and current artist. I’ve learned this every second I’ve stared into the camera’s insect eye.

As we learn in the course of her piece, all photos are lies, therefore participation in the increasing deceptiveness of the form is actually a form of liberation for women, for young girls. The ability to tweak your Instagrams (leaving aside whether it’s a great idea to build up an endless collection of tweaked selfies, pragamatically or self-confidence-wise) is cast as a guerrilla action on the part of young women, canny as they are (clearly, according to Crabapple, as canny as her) in the arts of ironically-distanced self-presentation.

Retouching is post-hoc glamor. Pixels shellac images like makeup on a face. From Photoshop to Instagram, each tech iteration has made retouching more democratic—and more despised. The self-facing phone cam is a master class in how posing affects perception. Media concern-trolls Photoshop’s effect on teen girls. Meanwhile, teen girls use iPhone retouching apps to construct media of themselves.

A teen girl knows the lies behind photography best. When she takes selfies, she’s teaching herself what were once trade secrets. Now she’s the one who angles, crops, and blurs.

Just in case the argument isn’t clear, and you’re not sure which side you’re on, Crabapple drops the bomb – as it were – near the end of her piece.

To get a “true” photo, you need to remove artifice. This means removing art. Art’s opposite is bulk surveillance. Drones, CCTV, ultra-fast-ultra-high-res DSLR, our fingers stroking our iPhones or tapping at Google Glass.

Ok then… So if Photoshop = Art and Art is the opposite of surveillance, to deny the magazines the right to crop women into hourglass magnificence is, what? To advocate the bombing of family get-togethers in Pakistan? Or, at the minimum, to back the imposition of some sort of Airstrip One style CCTV regime?

That is to say, if I’m a little worried that my now eight-year-old daughter is going to start to feel chubby, and thus unselfconfident, and thus worthless, and thus not even in line to become – for instance – an NYC downtown art celebrity due to her incessant bombardment with women as unrealistically rendered as those in the magazines on the supermarket shelves, I’ve supported some sort of Drone War on women – or in fact, implicitly, the Drone War itself. Or is the point that, when she’s inevitably confronted by these insecurities, I should just have her download Photoshop Express onto her iPad and inflate and deflate as needed, until she has the sort of body that buys her a place at the marketplace of culture commerce today?

At any rate, in Crabapple’s rendering of it, the camouflaging of flab, or small boobs, or a pasty face, seems to be tantamount to the secreting of the children away from the Hellfire missiles that drop from the sky in parts far distant from the lower Manhattan where she lives. I guess that’s the sort of conjunction that one has to make to get on with one’s hypocritical existence as the former artist-of-Occupy, on the “entrepreneurial” side of the movement of course, peddling on with the Vice pieces, the bogus art, and, most of all, the position as yet another of our new radical class of post-feminist confidence women.

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May 7, 2014 at 8:35 pm

Posted in magazines, occupations

jobs for all

with 17 comments

Jameson in the NLR in 2004 on full employment and utopia:

Marx’s anti-humanism, then (to use another term for this position), or his structuralism, or even his constructivism, spells a great advance over More. But once we grasp utopianism in this way, we see that there are a variety of different ways to reinvent utopia—at least in this first sense of the elimination of this or that ‘root of all evil’, taken now as a structural rather than a psychological matter. These various possibilities can also be measured in practical-political ways. For example, if I ask myself what would today be the most radical demand to make on our own system—that demand which could not be fulfilled or satisfied without transforming the system beyond recognition, and which would at once usher in a society structurally distinct from this one in every conceivable way, from the psychological to the sociological, from the cultural to the political—it would be the demand for full employment, universal full employment around the globe. As the economic apologists for the system today have tirelessly instructed us, capitalism cannot flourish under full employment; it requires a reserve army of the unemployed in order to function and to avoid inflation. That first monkey-wrench of full employment would then be compounded by the universality of the requirement, inasmuch as capitalism also requires a frontier, and perpetual expansion, in order to sustain its inner dynamic. But at this point the utopianism of the demand becomes circular, for it is also clear, not only that the establishment of full employment would transform the system, but also that the system would have to be already transformed, in advance, in order for full employment to be established. I would not call this a vicious circle, exactly; but it certainly reveals the space of the utopian leap, the gap between our empirical present and the utopian arrangements of this imaginary future.

I can understand the anarchists’ resistance to the “jobs for all” demand in terms of their resistance to state-based solutions. I can’t, however, understand the casting of a demand like this one as “moderate,” “liberal,” or “Obama-ist.”

(And, yes, I understand that the OWS demand wouldn’t be “Jobs for All, Everywhere,” per Jameson’s paragraph.)

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October 23, 2011 at 12:40 pm

bella ciao

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It is lovely, the sorts of things that keep on happening in London. Especially when the students are around. Like this:

Should have filmed it in landscape, but even in portrait, one starts to have a little bit of faith…. Spirits remain relatively high…

For more on the song in question, in case you don’t know it, see this

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April 4, 2011 at 10:12 am

Posted in occupations

re- !!!

with one comment

Well, a good night last night. Within the course of an hour or so I was a) recruited to pitch for a London baseball team and b) took enthusiastic part in a (re)new(ed) occupation at my university.

The personal and the political, as it were. I know where my glove is, but I hope I can find my cleats…. And hope the rotator cuff doesn’t blow five minutes in….

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February 25, 2011 at 4:03 pm

Posted in occupations, sports

what i, too, learned from the occupations

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Excellent blogpost on one of the most interesting things to me about the student occupations… That is, “consensus decision-making.” Am marginally more anarchist than I used to be a few months ago. The meetings were boring, but despite that I would stand watching in rapt fascination.

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February 24, 2011 at 11:49 am

Posted in occupations

against the really free school

with 43 comments

Ah, feel vindicated today. During the UK student occupations, I accepted any invitation I received to address student occupations and did my best to come up with something good to say to them… Even though that increasingly amounted to saying something like “Christ, you guys know better than I do at this point… Look at what you’ve done!”

A few weeks ago, I received an email encouraging me to come up with something for the Really Free School. After thinking about it for awhile, I decided to ignore the request… But not without feeling a bit guilty for not pitching something in, especially since the aspects of this movement that have provided opportunities for me to usefully participate have gone into remission for the moment. But reading this this morning, I realize that the hunch I had – that I’m on a different side of this from them – was right. Here’s the post in full:

!Education’s Napster Moment

As a result of the emergence of a virtual marketplace that encourages the forming of community and the sharing of ideas, we have inadvertently been equipped with the tools needed to undo the current rules of engagement.

Ours is the first generation to be given the toolset by which to produce, collectively organise and display our message/ideology/product to a global audience; an audience that, like you, has an equal opportunity to subvert the current trajectory of our education system.

Universities are collapsing. Not as a result of dramatic cuts but because they represent an outmoded model for their primary function, the exchange of knowledge and research. The education industry is about to experience the same death blow to its infrastructure and profit model that Napster issued to the music industry back in 1999.

Everyone within our generation is aware that the construction of ideas and the execution of research has shifted its locality to a sprawling virtual space that is open to collective input.

Let us not draw out the death rattle of our institutions by allowing concessions to be made and minor battles to be fought and ultimately lost – instead let us accelerate the pace of their demise.

Abandon the institution and declare it’s death, the point at which our apathy for the current state of play is declared, the better. With this change we will be able to destabilise the mediated control of our social trajectory, causing a genuine crisis for those that stand to profit both politically and financially from our existing system. It is the institutions and those that control them that need us.

Create a real crisis, torrent your syllabus, duplicate your id cards and give them to strangers, scan your entire library and post it on AAARG, distribute maps of your university online, relocate your seminars to a space outside of the institution. Invalidate the universities existence, so that together we can begin to build fresh foundations on its grave.

Invite anyone and everyone to participate, saturate your institutions and make them a true open space. The path to knowledge does not end on the day of graduation.

This document was put together on the spur of the moment as a direct response to this situation, its ideas are not fixed. Instead it seeks to act as a provocation or suggestion that we should consider the complete reformation of what we currently have. More money/Less cuts cannot cure the decline of our institutions. We have now a unique opportunity to create something new, independently and autonomously.

Wow – sounds like someone’s been reading Kpunk et al – at least before Kpunk et al’s dextrous sidestep into allegiance with the generally non-accelerationist protest movement late last year. (Short version of my critique: saying “They’re not as apathetic as I wrote” is not the same as saying “Perhaps the embrace of apathy is not the right way forward…” Harder to admit that your argument was wrong than your diagnosis…) But that is some pretty hardcore accelerationism cum depressive despair in the blogpost, per what we’ve seen from the likes of the left-theoretical blogetariat. I am fully in-line with the desire to open university admissions, to grant as much access as possible, deheirarchize institutions etc. (If CUNY wants to go back to open admissions and offer me a job, I’d be there in a second, despite the fact that I do indeed get on very very well with my hand-picked and quite brilliant students where I am now…) The only reason I don’t want anyone to video and release my lectures for free on the internet is that I’d have to rewrite my lectures every single year for fear that some or most had heard it all already. Trust me, I have enough work to do as it is…

More seriously, I am absolutely sure that the way forward is not the abandonment of what vestiges of socialized education remain in the UK or anywhere else. I think it’s safe to say that they’re missing an absolutely enormous, gaping difference between the napster-fucking of the music industry and doing the same thing to what is left of publically funded university education. In short, most of us don’t care in the least about the survival of, say, Sony. We don’t care about cutting into to their profit margins, we don’t care if they go under, and we might even have faith that if they and their competitors no longer existed we would still be able to find good or even better music without them.

On the other hand, I’d like to think that we do care about the continued existence and viability of not-for-profit and (let’s hope) state funded educational centres. At this point in history, there are far better targets for anarchistic rage than the ISAs that administer higher education, at least in the humanities and social sciences. (At the moment, I am being force-interpellated by institutional pressure – from a University Press – to add more Badiou etc into my book. That’s not exactly the stuff of Christian conservatism…)

I used to talk to someone who from time to time would kick around the idea of dropping out (or being evicted from) regular academia and “taking it on the road” – giving talks and passing the hat. She also was a sometimes theorist of the sort of university without walls idea that is behind the RFS communique above. When we talked about it, the thing that I always said was that sure, it’s a nice idea, but if I were her I’d just plan to give, say, the porn talk over and over again and probably forget about giving the Hegel lecture quite so often or even at all.

Some of education isn’t fun – it can’t be fueled by people hitting “like” on some social networking website. I’m lucky. I get to teach the attractive stuff from the modern period, the stuff that just about everyone wants to read. But I am incredibly grateful that my students are forced to read lots of other materials that, given the choice, they likely wouldn’t. Lots would skip Chaucer if they could, and much else besides that they complain about to me but ultimately they need to have in order to understand – and in particular to see the limitations of – the hip fun but ultimately sort of narcissistically angled stuff that they get to do with me.

I have no moral qualms with downloading music or television. I will say however that my ability to do so doesn’t necessarily lead to the best use of my time. This morning for instance, feeling in a bit of a rut, I finished up the newest season of Mad Men rather than reading Peter Hallward’s excellently lucid book on Badiou, which I started yesterday. Perhaps you see the problem? The infinite availability of what I like isn’t necessarily a conduit to my successful continuous self-education.

And of course there’s another side to this. Destroy the university and no one pays me anymore. I spend an awful lot of time and energy on teaching – most months, almost all of my time and energy. The students seem to want me to do it. Maybe it’s their interpellation by their ISA of choice, but they’d be pretty upset to run the seminars on their own or if I just put my syllabi and lectures on-line. But if no one’s paying my fine but meagre salary, I’d obviously have to find something else to keep me in hotdogs and buns. Call it me defending my financial interests, but even given the rough job market I’m pretty sure I could find something amazingly more lucrative to do for a living than this.

I think it’s become clear – it seemed very much so at the occupations last year – that faculty are no longer viewed with suspicion. We’re all on the same side here… Save of course for those who go over to administration, which is another matter altogether and something that I sure as shit will never do. At any rate, I’d bet six cans of Grolsch that within a few months, Cameron et al rolls out some sort of Big Society e-learning initiative. When you’re coming up with ideas that happen to be exactly the same as those of the party in power, it might be time for a bit of an decelerationist moment. If so, maybe the folks at the Really Free University could be hired in to administer it.

Scattered post – sorry about that. Anyway, glad I didn’t go. This is not something that I support. I hope there will be many opportunities in the near-term to give talks at occupations whose interests and aims I share.

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February 16, 2011 at 12:25 pm

Posted in academia, occupations

more on penny / politics / grub street… but not from me

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Just wanted to point out a good site that’s been posting some very interesting stuff lately especially in regard to Laurie Penny’s recent work in The New Statesman. Here’s a link to the site, here’s a link to the first part of the article in question, and here’s the second part. Go take a look – much more intelligent and interesting than anything I have to say about the matter, and written by one of the occupiers herself.

I have a bit to say about the actual New Statesman article in question – and in particular the accompanying photospread – but I’ll wait until it’s online so that everyone can read along.

(Side point. How the hell does the author of get her site to look like that? Rather gorgeous, really. Will have to ask the next time we’re in The Boston together…. I’m also taken with the annotated reading list – maybe I’ll start doing that.)

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January 31, 2011 at 4:45 pm

Posted in grub, occupations


with 21 comments

I don’t get it. Here’s Laurie Penny today in the NS:

“No sex. No drugs. And no leaders”, the New Statesman‘s cover story this week, tells the intimate story of the winter student uprisings of 2010, putting human faces to the mob that has so terrified the right-wing press. It is the longest and most high-profile feature I’ve worked on to date, but that’s not the only reason it’s been so difficult to write.

Over the past few months I have become, and remain, deeply embedded in the student movement in the UK and Europe. Many of the young people who feature in the piece – on whose activities I’ve been keeping meticulous notes, and who are of a similar age and political attitude to myself – have since become as close to personal friends as observational subjects ever can be. It’s not a question of going native so much as finding all the other natives have suddenly come out of the forest to take on the invaders. This has stretched my objectivity to its limits. I have had to work and rework the article to make sure I was constructing an accurate portrait.

The trajectory of journalistic dispassion is fraught with misunderstanding and lies. Even if utterly dispassionate, objective journalism were an obtainable or desirable standard, I would gladly set that standard aside until such time as I found myself no longer working in a world that contains the dangerous reactionary partiality of the Daily Mail, the Sun and the rest of the Murdoch Empire. It is, nonetheless, important for liberal writers to retain distance where corporate flunkies refuse to, less our romanticism – and left-wing politics are, at heart, always romantic – be mistaken for propaganda.

Hmmm… Someone explain to me how this sort of navel-gazing judiciousness jives with her tweets and facebook updates about “snogging boys” down at the UCL Occupation back in December? Very hard to understand.

If a male journalist was tweeting about getting off with girls at the Occ, he’d be fired no? Dunno, maybe I just take it all too seriously.

(Look, I’d stop. But you should see the volume of email and the like that I get encouraging me to continue….)

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January 26, 2011 at 9:24 pm

Posted in occupations

the university as “heritage industry”

with 13 comments

The talk that I never quite gave but should have at the occupations would have been the one that directly discussed the issue that is most directly upsetting me about the current direction of the universities – mine, obviously, in particular, but lots of others in the UK too. It’s an issue that should be upsetting UK students too, though it’s something that perhaps the faculty can see more clearly at this point because we sit through endless departmental and extra-departmental meetings dealing with the issue.

Problem with this topic is that it’s very easy to misconstrue and to misconstrue in the very worst of terms. It is what we might call a Daily Mail bridge-issue. Because of this, let me just say that my ideal of the university would be one that admitted students from anywhere – anywhere in the world – regardless of ability to pay. I suppose according to merit, though sometimes I have complicated thoughts about this issue.

But the fact of the matter is that my university – like many others like it – is clearly and determinately attempting to shift its academic provision away from home students toward international students. While it seems very clear that home students will pay more under the new dispensation, they still, even at £9000 / annum, won’t cover costs. International students pay much more, and, from what I can tell, may soon pay significantly more than even the increasingly indebted home students. I really shouldn’t go into the exact details about how this is happening – in general, a turn from BA programmes attractive to UK undergraduates (and in many cases extremely difficult to get into) toward MA programmes attractive to Americans and other non-EU students is one of the clearest steps. There are other things – establishing interdisciplinary BA programmes that will directly draw down our single honours intake, not so tacit pressure to take PhD students from abroad etc.

Just to be clear: I don’t per se blame my university – or any university – for implementing these changes. We are in a funding crisis, and no one in this country has the sort of endowment to survive these changes by play through according to the old rules. I blame the coalition government – as well as the previous government, to an extent – for the current state of affairs and the necessity of implementing changes  that, incrementally, seem to be bent on turning very good academic institutions into mediocre “heritage industry” semi-corporations, inevitably full of “MA Tourists” taking up the teaching time that used to be spent on brilliant and often enough very deserving undergraduates.

Like the student occupiers’ complaint about fees, this issue is extremely vivid – not at all an amorphous gripe about potential outcomes or vague political positions but an everyday reality of my life and those whom I work with and teach. Again, I wish I had gotten a chance to explain this at length at some point during the occupations. Let’s hope – or anticipate – that the opportunity will come again and soon in 2011.

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December 20, 2010 at 3:36 pm

Posted in academia, occupations

when students start to teach

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Cheering front-page article in the Guardian today:

The UK faces the prospect of widespread and co-ordinated industrial action in the new year, with the leader of the largest trade union today warning that it is “preparing for battle” with the government over its “unprecedented assault” on the welfare state

Len McCluskey, the newly elected leader of Unite, says union leaders will be holding a special meeting in January to discuss a “broad strike movement” to stop what he described as the coalition’s “explicitly ideological” programme of cuts. Writing in the Guardian, McCluskey praises the “magnificent student movement” that has seen tens of thousands of young people take to the streets to protest at the government’s plans for post-16 education, saying it has put trade unions”on the spot”.

“Their mass protests against the tuition fees increase have refreshed the political parts a hundred debates, conferences and resolutions could not reach,” he said.

Love that last paragraph. As I’ve said before – here and elsewhere – I’m an enormous skeptical person when it comes to political protest. Somehow, though, from the start this seemed to me to be a different sort of thing. Perhaps it’s because some sort of tipping point in the slow yet rapid constriction of neo-liberal reform had been reached; definitely it’s because of the amazingly focused and intelligent – and above all else, determined – efforts of the students that I was interacting with that I felt so engaged by this one.

A few days in, I started to have a sense that something like the article above was quickly becoming possible. One of many important moments: a several day-long intermittent conversation with a young (i.e., har, my age) RMT officer in the smoking area of the occupation I was involved with.

Something’s definitely happened. I used to worry that Xmas would be the end of it. Now, I have a sense that this is only a much-needed break (what a manic month, jesus) and that everyone that I knew who was involved is deadset on its continuation and in fact its acceleration. And there, despite the UK’s current Snowmaggedon, it is on pg 1 of today’s paper.

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December 20, 2010 at 2:59 pm

Posted in occupations

1968 toujours

with 10 comments


In the context of numerous student occupations of their universities
and mass demonstrations, the seminar Marxism in Culture has organised
a special session on 17th December at the Insitute of Historical
Research, Senate House, 5.30. All welcome.

‘Cultures of Occupation and Demonstration: 2010/1968/1917’

Warren Carter
Gail Day
Steve Edwards
Esther Leslie
David Mabb
Nina Power
Alberto Toscano.

As far as I understood it, MIC had invited some of the actual students to speak at this event… I guess the invitation has been rescinded. Apparently, instead, the students who’ve led the most successful student occupation / demonstration in decades are supposed to show up and listen to their olders and betters lecture to them about 1968. Can’t wait, I’m sure…

Update: Sorted. See the comments. Was an oversight, apparently, on the part of the organizers. Can’t wait to hear the students speak in a different context. The new roster, as far as I know it:


Sofie Buckland

Warren Carter

Steve Edwards

Esther Leslie

David Mabb

Alberto Toscano

and other Students from the Occupations.

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December 13, 2010 at 11:18 am

Posted in academia, occupations

pennyred / thedailymail

with 15 comments

Noticed that Laurie Penny has taken down some of the breathless and blood-soaked tweets. It was getting towards “Someone’s frontal lobe is lodged in my hair! Eeeek!” So probably a good idea. As someone in the LRB posted, it’s unlikely that she can run and tweet and be beaten at quite the pace that she’s let on. Somehow she was a direct witness of every interesting thing that happened anywhere and everywhere amidst the protests Thursday

Funny thing is: everyone, everyone now has a story about LP fucking them over / fabricating a quote. It’s become a trope of occ and post-occ meetups. They call her, now, “The Daily Mail.” Just desserts.

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December 12, 2010 at 11:43 am

Posted in occupations

the boston manifesto: a side effect

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So the occupation that I’ve been involved with has ended after a majestic run and I’ll have to find something else to do with my spare hours. Lots to say about it all once I’ve calmed down a bit. But one final wonderful side-effect: they / we had an “after party” at the Boston, a block or so from my place, last night. The Boston is the ultimate source or at least the venue where so many of the life-crisis horrors that I’ve obliquely chronicled on this blog over the last year or so occurred or at least occurred to me. It would be hard to describe what an intimate relation I have to the place, which has served for me as a sort of outfolding in the world of the infolded shit in my head.

But last night in that place I was surrounded by students that I’ve come not only to respect in a new way (lets say ethically rather than simply intellectually) but also to love a bit. One is continually faced, in this business, with the question why bother. It’s hard work, and hard in ways that other work isn’t. But this has made me remember why it’s all worth it and so Monday, despite the fact that I can’t stop off at the Jeremy Bentham Room after work and despite the fact that Higher Ed is generally heading into the shit, I’ll go in happier and more sure of what I’m doing and why I’m doing it.

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December 11, 2010 at 4:13 pm

Posted in academia, occupations

the chalk that is not one

with 3 comments

Oh dear. What have we here. From an email I just received:

In other news, Luce Irigaray is in UCL and won’t come to see us because the chalking has upset her so much.

Run, academics, the new kids are behind you…

I admit, I get pretty excited when I see chalk at the university too, given the proliferation of fucking dry-erase whiteboards.

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December 5, 2010 at 9:56 pm

Posted in academia, occupations

finally, an ad without products

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Finally they’re coming. You have no idea how happy this makes me… A lifetime of learning and teaching, and then you get to see something like this:

A few fleeting glimpses of yours truly in there… And, um, my protest mullet.

Dog days are over…. Couldn’t have picked a better song to go with it…

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December 5, 2010 at 9:45 pm

Posted in occupations