Thursday, December 28, 2006

Technical Difficulties, Please Standby

It has been over two weeks since my last There are external reasons for this, the last few weeks have pretty much consisted of the following: a nasty little cold, grading, and a brief trip to beautiful Cleveland, Ohio for Christmas. So I have not had a lot of time. I also have not had much inclination. All of the grading has left me without much by way of ideas, in fact I pretty convinced that reading sixty papers by college freshman on Marx's 1844 Manuscripts has sucked all of the ideas out of my head.

Could some please explain why Marx has the magic ability to turn your average fairly intelligent college student into an odd ideological mix of social Darwinism and neoliberalism babbling on about human nature and the survival of the fittest. To cite my favorite quote from Emma Goldman, "Poor human nature, what horrible crimes have been committed in thy name! Every fool, from king to policeman, from the flatheaded parson to the visionless dabbler in science, presumes to speak authoritatively of human nature. The greater the mental charlatan, the more definite his insistence on the wickedness and weaknesses of human nature. Yet, how can any one speak of it today, with every soul in a prison, with every heart fettered, wounded, and maimed?"

OK, that was a bit of a digression, I really did not intend to write about Marx, or Goldman for that matter, but rather to write about not writing. As I said, there are quite a few external reasons as to why I have not written much of anything as of late. However, I have also been avoiding anything resembling introspection for awhile. Not to say that this "blog" (yes, I still find it necessary to put scare quotes around the word even as I engaged in the practice) is that introspective at all, there is a great deal about my personal life that I avoid writing about here. Or, more to the point, part of the reason that I started this "blog" is to give myself something else to do in the wee hours of the night than to think about the sad and serious events that have affected my life as of late. Lately, however, I have been avoiding even the minimal reflection that blogging demands. In the past few weeks I have filled the time left over after grading by reading several novels, Dashiell Hammet's Red Harvest, China Mieville's Iron Council, and A Long Way Down by Nick Hornby, watched a season of Veronica Mars, as well as several films from the good, My Man Godfrey, to the bad, Enemy of the State, to the just plain ugly, Terminator 3.

All of which is to say that introspection can be overrated. Sometimes you have to peer into the dark recesses of your soul, and sometimes you have to spend the dark hours of the night wondering who killed Lily Kane.

Well since this is quickly becoming a post about nothing, and not in that hip postmodern way, I thought that I would conclude by relaying a bit of tragic news (oh, goody). I am afraid that tragedy has befallen America's greatest Marxist hip hop group The Coup. You can read all about it by following the link.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Hearing Your Own Accent

After having spent the weekend in London, I found this article in The New York Times on the connotations of the English Accent. It was an odd bit of synchronicity, since while I was there I found myself wondering what an American accent sounds like. Or, more to the point, how my accent sounded to them.

The English Accent, or should I say accents to include the various class versions, Cockney etc., not to mention the accents of Great Britain, is such a staple of American pop culture--signifying everything from snotty rebellion (The Sex Pistols) to dignity and education (Rupert Giles, etc.) Now I wonder what my accent signifies to them, American brashness and idiocy? If there is one thing that being awake at three in the morning in a hotel room in London teaches you, is that the British are exposed to a great deal of American pop-culture. During one night of jetlag and pre-conference jitters, I flipped through several American movies (Jaws 2, The Perfect Score, Mr. and Mrs. Smith) not to mention The Simpsons and other programs. Like much of the world the British are drowning in the dregs of our pop culture. Have you seen The Perfect Score (or The Breakfast Club versus the SAT)? There is no reason for that movie to exist. Then again it was on at three in the morning, so it is not like anyone was watching it.

It is perhaps an impossible task, to hear one's own accent. To not only hear it as an accent, but as an accent layered with various cultural and political connotations. It is not like the British walk around and think that they sound so intelligent and dignified, or maybe they do.

By the way Jean-Jacque Lecerle is a really funny guy, who knew?

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Get meta with me

Thanks to s0metim3s for posting a link to this great little essay by Etienne Balibar, cleverly titled "Sub specie universitatis." As the title suggests much of the article, the first part at least, deals with the institutional conditions of thinking within the university. Or, more to the point the tension between the specific site of the university, or rather specific universities with their institutional and political conditions, and philosophy's claim to be the universal grasped in thought.

The piece is interesting for two reasons: one, it is Balibar, and I find nearly everything he writes to be engaging and interesting (how is that for pathetic academic-fandom?) and, second, it deals with the question of the institution of philosophy, which is both philosophically interesting and completely practical at the same time.

On the speculative side it seems to me that one of the many philosophical tasks that Marx left in his wake, namely from the identification of philosophy and ideology in The German Ideology, is thinking philosophy in relation to its constitutive outside. As Pierre Macherey writes: "Hence this notion that Marxism was the first to explore: philosophy is not an independent speculative activity, as would be a pure speculation, but is tied to "real" conditions, which are its historical conditions; and this is why, let it be said in passing, there is a history of philosophy, which can be retraced and understood"

The academization of philosophy, a process by which outsiders to the institution of philosophy (Spinoza, Marx, Nietzsche, Benjamin, to name just a few) are made into respectable objects of study, around which careers can be made, also raises some real practical issues. For example, I always try to incorporate some contemporary philosophers in my intro to philosophy class. This inevitably leads to some objections from students who find the whole practice of citing and referencing to be at odds with their idea of philosophy (the search for the meaning of life, or whatever). Now these objections could be dismissed as naive, but I do not think that they are. I think that we have to offer our students something more than a future of commentary if philosophy is going to continue to exist.