Sunday, December 31, 2006

fotojournalism

Even at the Seattle Aquarium, where the mysterious world beneath the sea is exposed to us, where marine habitats glow in dim luminescence, where alien-like creatures swim, slither and waddle behind murky panes of glass, not everything is as it seems.

Not pictured: the line of irritated mothers and screaming children shooting hateful looks as they waited for me to finish channeling my inner-octopus (re: generic super-excited) face.

Not pictured: a small girl, most likely separated from her mother, trying to get the attention of these surly, disgruntled teenage volunteers.

Not pictured: The other children at the arts and crafts table, who were complaining that I was hoarding the only working gluestick. Also not pictured: my fish-hat, which obviously turned out way better than theirs.

Happy New Year's,
erc

Saturday, December 30, 2006

fighting the man (which man?)

Regular readers will note that the last few days have been particularly fruitful ones for this blog, in terms of quantity (apparently, no one wants to comment when I brag about my mad crossword skillz). This is, of course, in no way correlative to the dearth of e.r.c.'s social life; my days at my grandparents' house are filled with activities, including, but not limited to: reading back issues of Good Housekeeping, playing electronic yahtzee, watching Man Vs. Wild, eating saltine crackers, spending hours deciding whether or not its worth my effort to put on pants. It usually isn't.

I was meaning to post an article by Walter Benn Michaels several days ago, but, like most Chronicle of Higher Ed. pieces, the original article was only temporarily available to non-subscribers. Fortunately, you can read "Why Identity Politics Distracts from Economic Inequalities" here.

If you click on that wikipedia link, you'll see that WBM is an academic of the Todd Gitlin variety, convinced that identity politics have supplanted the greater problems plaguing this country--namely, class inequality. This is the anti-theory stance he repeatedly assumes, and one that he advocates in the Chronicle piece; Benn Michaels attempts to justify the article by grounding it in Princeton's recent decision to "build up its African American Studies program." While he agrees that department-building does attract some students of color and talented faculty, he argues that it fails to address the real causes underlying the racial disparity in America's top universities.
But there's a more-important sense in which even African-American studies is a kind of blackface, a performance not only of blackness but of race itself. Asian-Americans are overrepresented in elite colleges like Princeton; African-American students are underrepresented. But no one's as underrepresented in those colleges as poor people.
His
numbers--less than 16% of Princeton's class of 2009 came from family incomes of less than $50,000--drive an argument for need-based (rather than blind) admissions process. He adds, albeit unconvincingly, that ethnic studies programs are still necessary, as they have the potential to remind us of the "limitations" of race.

Huh?

I agree with Benn Michaels on one count--I think admissions needs to grant more privileges to the financially disadvantaged (a piece I wrote last year). But, while I do agree that class is a significant issue in higher education that needs to be reconsidered and prioritized, I take issue with his insinuation that considering race (building departmental programs, promoting affirmative action) detracts from the fight against the financial inequality that plagues such institutions. His causal logic is inherently flawed, especially in a context (this nation and its education system) where race and class have been and continue to be so inextricably connected.

Benn Michaels claims that he wants to forge allegicances between the issues of class and race; this ambition reflects the situated diagramming I posted about last week. But his repeated valuation--his insistence that class supercedes race, and that both terms are inherently competitive--suggests a hierarchy rather than an coalition.

His argument reminds me of the brand of reductionist Marxism that Moyra Haslett critiques in Marxist Literary and Cultural Theories (my stocking stuffer--thanks, Mom!). While, like Benn Michaels, Haslett bemoans "the disappearance of class as an issue from contemporary commentaries," she admits that "one of the most significant problems with Marxist theories has been their insistence on the primacy of socio-economic class at the expense of other forms of social division."
Marxist theory urges us to consider the way in which the ideological is determined by the economic, but it reminds us that the terms are far from mutually exclusive. Benn Michaels should, I think, consider this relation.

Friday, December 29, 2006

first new year's resolutions

Yesterday, I asked myself: "Is the NY Times Thursday crossword getting ridiculously easy? Or am I just getting ridiculously smart?"

Then today's puzzle owned me.

1. New Year's Resolution #1: Strive for (or at least project) a greater degree of humility.
2. New Year's Resolution #2: Master Friday crossword.

Generation Y-r-u-famous?

I don't like change. When I was ten, I was loathe to trade in our family's Mac Performa for a PC (mostly because I was afraid I wouldn't get to play Odell Down Under anymore). When I was 13, I wisely refused to abandon my Lee flared jeans (which I had to beg my mother to buy) when Jnco's came into vogue. I wore the same hairstyle--a pair of braided pigtails, trailing down my back like the twin ropes of a swing--from ages three to eleven. I ate the same lunch--a grilled cheese sandwich and a choco pie--throughout elementary school. Today, I own five black v-neck sweaters, seven tubes of the same reddish-lipstick, and four pairs of black flats.

I suspected this resistance to novelty might explain my irrational distaste for youtube, but then I thought about my enthusiasm for other forms of artistic democratization--music sharing networks, graffiti, blogging--and reassessed my hostility. Sure, I don't love watching video (or television programs) in blurry definition, but I did watch sixteen episodes of The Office on my computer in three days.

The Office, however, is a genius show, manufactured by the brilliant Ricky Gervais and a talented cast. With youtube, any schmo can become a star--Lonelygirl15 has a longer wikipedia entry than James Baldwin (although wikipedia itself is a product of the people, albeit one to whom I have sworn undying allegiance).

Herein lies the source of my stubborn antipathy. Even when music (filesharing), writing (blogs), dance (public performance), and the visual arts (graffiti) are democratized--when the middle man is removed, creation, production, and publication are compressed, and the arts acquire a sense of rawness and immediacy--they still necessitate some combination of talent and innovation in order to sustain an audience. No one is willing to sit through comically bad music, read awful writing, or look at crappy artwork for that long. But with video, that last, most current, most exploitable medium, millions are mesmerized and amused by crap that would draw blank stares if aired on the television. Low definition, it seems, breeds low standards.

If Generation X grew up on The Real World, where cast members were pre-selected for charisma and their daily existence was edited and moulded into compelling art, Generation Y is growing up youtube--unfiltered, uninventive, unimaginative.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

vital humours

Things that other people seem to find really funny, but I generally do not:
1. Will Ferrell--especially Anchorman
2. Quoting popular movies--especially Anchorman
3. Engrish (or, for that matter, jokes that rely on Asian stereotypes, except for those that expose Asian/Black dynamics or Asian women talking about their mothers)
4. Dane Cook
5. Jokes about the difference between men and women
6. The film Thank You for Smoking, which was boring and uninspired

Things that I find really funny, but other people generally do not:
1. The long clues in crossword puzzles that comprise the overarching theme and are usually double entendres
2. Puns in conversation
3. Bitchy waitresses, bored clerks, bickering siblings
4. Poorly-timed photographs
5. Products that replace the letter "c" with "k," or substitute "ex" with "X"
6. Ruining the ending for others

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

group think

Many people have alerted me to this piece in the Dec/Jan New Yorker, which is about "rap's new drug obsession"--cocaine. Critic Sasha Frere-Jones justifies the creation of the genre by insisting that its existence is more than topical. Rapping about dealing coke, he claims, forces lyrical experimentation, compelling hip hop artistes like Clipse and Young Jeezy to write "complex poetry: songs that simultaneously broadcast and hide their meaning." So double meaning and allegory assume a sense of urgency when underwritten by illegality: Therein lies the real connection to a poetic tradition.

Musical genres are funny things. I've never felt comfortable answering the question, "What sort of music do you like?" The category "indie rock" feels simultaneously pretentious and prosaic, so I usually try to veer into the overly specific ("ugly-bearded-weirdo-singer-songwriters).

Allmusic.com has some interesting lists of genres. Here are my five favorites:

1. Quiet Storm: "Urbane sophistication and subdued soulfulness"; pants-dropping R&B
2. Truck-driving Country: "hard-driving" honky tonk from the '70's
3. Happy hardcore: post-rave music for drugged-out clubgoers
4. Songster: a blues tradition that evolved in the South after slavery
5. Madchester: psychedelic 80's brit rock

On a related note, I thought of two new band names I would consider if I sang or played an instrument. "Dr. Mina and the Free Radicals" and "Literary Allusion."

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

A Christmas Story

12/26/2006

9:00 am: Wake up. Forgot to take contact lenses out. Day already ruined.
11:30 am: Take a walk with Dad (pictured) around Seward Park, which abuts Lake Washington. We pass a group of eight people playing flag football, and Dad insists that, with my "throwing arm," I could have started a girls' team in junior high. He is dead serious.
12:00 pm: Dad asks if I have a boyfriend. Reply, "No." Long pause. "Good," he says.
1:30 pm: Back at the house, we learn that we will eat dinner at 4 pm. "Really?" says Isaac.
3:30 pm: Christmas dinner is served. 5 out of 8 dishes involve mayonnaise.
5:00 pm: Nap while lying in a fetal position by the heater.
7:30 pm: Finish Muriel Spark anthology, read first 100 pages of The Year of Magical Thinking.
9:35 pm: Mom, Dad, and Isaac are laughing hysterically at a gameshow called "Deal or No Deal." Watch distractedly for a few minutes; it is retarded.
9:55 pm: Mom screams, "NO DEAL!"

Saturday, December 23, 2006

home for christmas

Grocery shopping in middle America.

Grandma: (ticking off a list) Let's see...cole slaw, canned fruit, saltines, white bread--
Mom: (interrupting) Is there an organic aisle?
Grandma: (shudders) Mina, dear, is there any favorite food that you'd like me to buy for YOU?
Me: Um...diet coke?
Mom: Look! Shiitake mushrooms!

ladykillerz

On the plane trip from New Haven to Seattle (or rather, Hartford to Chicago to Seattle), I read Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray for the first time. Dorian Gray, in addition to meeting both qualifiers I set up in the last post--engrossing ideas, beautiful language--forges an interesting relation to The Elementary Particles, written almost exactly a century later. In the web of readings I posited last week, this fiber of connectivity would be the shared trope of the libertine.

In Houellebecq’s novel, Bruno, his middle-aged, modern incarnation of the figure (oh, how far we have fallen from Wilde’s aesthete and Donne’s wordsmith to Houellebecq’s paunchy, sex-obsessed loser) is only able to self-actualize by transcending materialism; Bruno's bildungsroman is structured as a romance narrative, albeit one that is enabled in strip clubs and orgies.

Nearly a century earlier, Dorian’s (Bruno's philandering forerunner) acquisition of subjecthood—his progression from a flat, impressionable pretty boy into a nuanced character—proceeds in the opposite manner; Dorian strives to dwell in materialism rather than rise above it—to supplant his awareness of his metaphysical decay with an attempt at a fully sensory existence.

He felt keenly conscious of how barren all intellectual speculation is when separated from action and experiment. He knew that the senses, no less than the soul, have their spiritual mysteries to reveal (106-7).

From Wilde to Houellebecq, then, we see the evolution of the modern libertine. But both authors are situated at different intellectual moments; for Dorian, the material can never truly escape the metaphysical, even if it is painted over, tucked away in the attic, and obscured behind a sumptuous tapestry. For the 21st century degenerate, however, materialism is both totalizing and meaningless; while his wish to fully reduce everything to its elementary particles (Lord Henry's assertion that "life is a question of nerves, and fibers" 171) has been achieved by science, he is inexorably aware of the limitations of corporeal pleasure (in Houellebecq's novel, violence is the next frontier beyond sexual bounds, but this too is marked off).

What does the libertine do, then, when both the sensual and metaphorical worlds are bounded from each other—when sexuality loses its significance, and meaning is impossible to attain elsewhere? Materialists of both centuries are confounded by the impossibility, and by the same fear:
'Death is the only thing that ever terrifies me. I hate it.'
'Why?' said the younger man, wearily.
'Because,' said Lord Henry passing beneath his nostrils the gilt trellis of an open vinaigrette box, 'one can survive everything nowadays except that.' (168)

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

value rubric

I've never been intimidated when people ask me to name my favorite novel. Granted, I can't limit my answer to just one, but there's definitely an elite faction of novels in e.r.c's library, which includes Graham Greene's The End of the Affair, Coetzee's Disgrace, Denis Johnson's Jesus' Son. And then there's the upper echelon--the "top shelf"--where Nabokov, Fitzgerald, Joyce, Pamuk, Roth, Bellow, Kundera, Barthelme, etc. sit, perhaps discontentedly.

I've usually tried to whittle the qualifying difference between the A and B Team down to a simple pair of values: the quality of the prose and the quality of the ideas. I read Graham Greene and I'm overwhelmed: stunned by the mastery of his prose and and inwardly moved by the ideas the works convey.

With this prose/idea rubric in mind, I've been thinking about the last two books I read, A.S. Byatt's Possession and Michel Houellebecq's The Elementary Particles. Both belong on the upper shelf; both fail to uphold both of the characteristics I attribute to great fiction. Possession, which won the Booker Prize in 2006, tells the story of a pair of scholars who uncover a long-hidden relationship between their respective figures of study; in the arduous process of literary excavation, the male-poet-expert and the lady-poetess-expert fall in love. Academia has never looked so sort-of-sexy.

Byatt's elaborate, Tolkien-esque fabrication of the poets' verses and letters (the novel is stuffed with carefully constructed, chronologically accurate excerpts) is admirable. One can easily get lost in the lush, beautiful language, which--paired with a tolerable literary-mystery and love story--propels the plot forward at a breakneak pace. But while the back cover declares that the novel is one of "ideas," I found a surprising dearth of conceptual intrigue. Both scholars in the novel claim to be more motivated by text rather than biography, but there's not a lot of textual analysis, and a whole lot of biographical unraveling.

The Elementary Particles, Houellebecq's (am I spelling this right?) detached, ostensibly nihilistic (apparently the New York Times called the novel "repugnant", intermittently lurid tale of a pair of French brothers with antithetical social disorders has the opposite problem: it is a novel of ideas, but not a work of enchanting prose.

These ideas, though, are fascinating. Houellebecq is obsessed with the question: How does the post-materialist man handle day to day existence? Once war has been conquered by religion, and religion has been conquered by science, and science by unknowability, humanity is left floundering in a post-structuralist pool of uncertainty, where it is unable to reconcile its physical needs (sex, existence) with its metaphysical ones (love, philosophy).

But, as with Byatt, Houellebecq attempts to anchor the novel with a device
that carries no real weight; this device is, per the novel's title, the scientist brother's (Michel) studies, which culminate in a post-humous retrospective on his discovery of the "elixir of life"--man's ability to reproduce asexually, rupturing the connection between sex and selfhood. The theoretical implications of this idea, when tied with the physical/metaphysical conflicts that drive the plot, are truly compelling. Claiming, however, that Michel discovered that love "was possible" (252) feels contrived and irreconciliable with the shallow scientific claims of the novel.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

it's a funny situation

This semester, one of my final term papers referenced an excerpt from Donna Haraway's 1991 book, Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: The Reinvention of Nature (click on the link, there's a great chart on wiki). Since reading this stuff, I've been obsessing about information science--specifically, the possibilities yielded by attempting to diagram different critiques of the same text.

Stan linked me to the site of a Yale Professor Emeritus, Edward Tufte, who has written a great deal about the visual presentation of information and statistics. Tufte's stuff is primarily concerned with how the aesthetics of mapping information facilitate the interaction between the creator of the diagram and its audience; I'm more interested in the relationships between the positions that are mapped--in the case of literary analysis, the disparate "readings."

Haraway comes up with a wacky little drawing of a "bush," which, she claims, yields a de-centered presentation of readings that offers "a diagrammatic model for indicating how feminist theory and the critical study of colonial discourse interact each other" (111). Or, in simpler terms, how different readings of the same text are connected/different. While her description supports her non-hierarchal theory of situated interpretations, the literal map of the "bush," like the physical referent it signifies, implies a root--an overarching starting point that she calls "experience"--which branches into multiple binaries. By virtue of this totalizing concept and the hierarchical structure it connotes, the "representational technology" (112) of her paradigm fails to to disrupt the system of reading she's trying to unravel (i.e., a linear anthology, or a structure that overtly attributes "correctness" to some readings). The bush implies fixed situations, a universal origin, and unidirectional affinities and differences; essentialism is an intrinsic attribute of each of these tropes.

I know very little about informatics/diagramming, but it seems to me that a practical paradigm of situated readings that better adheres to the theory's epistemological standpoint is a web of positions--a diagram that refutes order, origins, and binaries in favor of plurality and relational meaning. Such a diagram better reflects Haraway's desire to represent "an open, branching discourse with a high liklihood of reflexivity about its own interpretative and productive technology" (112). The utility of a web is derived from examining the fibers that stretch between its points--the affiliations and experiences shared by variant positions--and in investigating the nature and magnitude of the spaces between them, or the different perspectives produced by disparate contexts.

In using such a model, affinities and differences are recognized--not perceived as impenetrable. This poses, I think, a practical paradigm that addresses Stanley Fish's attitude towards tolerance, which I discussed earlier.


In laymen's terms, here's what I mean. My family is about to spend three weeks together (a biannual phenomenon). Naturally, this leads to a great deal of conflict; we all have very disparate tastes, dislikes. Consider, however, the web of situated positions I've created: You might notice that several Kimes's share affiliations--my brother and I both enjoy The Office, my parents like frappucinos.

Exploiting such differences--while either addressing or avoiding placing pressure on differences--can lead to a mutually favorable situation. Feminists and postcolonialists can construct coalitions from such bonds; my family can stave off fighting for a day or two if there's enough white wine to go around...

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

parents' visit part deux

Yesterday afternoon, my parents flew up to New Haven for their second visit of the year; since they've moved back to the States (yes, writing "the States" makes me feel like a huge tool), my mom has taken to phoning me several times each week, often with "reasons" such as:

12/10 (5:45 pm) she wants to know if she should bring zip loc bags, or
12/10 (7:30 pm) sweat pants, or
12/10 (8:45 pm) canned goods. Yes, she knows I'm not a hobo. No, she won't call again.
12/10 (9:30 pm) am I sure I don't need zip loc bags?
12/10 (10:25 pm) forgot to say "good night!"
12/10 (10:45 pm) last question--what should she wear to the ceremony? oh right, we already talked about this.

The "ceremony" was my phi beta kappa induction which was, to say the least, hilarious. The highlight was probably learning the PBK handshake, which basically involves making the "trekkie" symbol and awkwardly forking another member's hand with your own. We also learned that Skull and Bones may have been started by kids who didn't get into PBK. Sweet: Instead of getting $20,000 and a lamborghini after graduation, I have the satisfaction of a vaguely sexual handshake and a swell GPA.

My mom loves taking pictures at inappropriate times (see: countless images of our family in parking lots, gift shops, waiting in line for national landmarks, etc) and has no qualms about asking random strangers to indulge her. To deter this habit, I've begun making my SUPER EXCITED face in every picture she asks people to take of us. At the ceremony, at Battell:

Unfortunately, this scheme has fireballed:

12/13 (7:30 pm) dad and her got home safe, don't worry!
12/13 (8:00 pm) could I email her the pictures?
12/13 (8:12 pm) thanks!
12/13 (8:15 pm) is glad that I'm "finally smiling" in pictures

In addition to the ceremony, we also dined at Roomba (3 stars/5) and Union League (4.5/5), and visited the newly restored Yale Art Gallery, gushingly reviewed a few days ago (apparently, Kahn is up there with Obama for the Times). While the review is a bit mawkish--"Everything here feels warmly alive"--the writer is right: the combination of artificial and natural lighting in the museum is amazing. For me, highlights included the print exhibit on the top floor (featuring some lovely, playful Jane Hammond and Kiki Smith works) and the Anselm Kiefer, Manet, and Gerhard Richter pieces. The modern and early european collections are pretty incredible.

Man, I'm lucky to be here.

Monday, December 11, 2006

my favorite NY times headline ever

"Turtles: Slow, but Built to Last."

Sunday, December 10, 2006

2006 winds to a close

The New York Times Magazine releases their "Sixth Annual Year in Ideas," a list of 74 literal and conceptual novelties that arose in 2006. Some of the pieces are a bit obvious--"living with guys makes women more likely to eat bagel bites and Easy Mac"--but some are quite interesting. My favorites:

1. Negativity Friendship. Apparently, bonds are more likely to be forged over a tall glass of haterade. This might fall under the "obvious" category, but it still confirms the universality of something I've long observed in my own relationships. There are, I think, gradations within this category for different subsects of humanity. Intellectuals unite over disliking ignorant or equally pretentious people; stupid people connect via their hatred for authority figures and inanimate objects; supervillains collaborate to fight x-men, kids enjoy foiling cereal-loving leprechauns together, etc.

2. Misery Chic. The Times calls celebrities out on their Africaphilia, insinuating that many of their chariable acts may be more performative than helpful. Adopting children from Namibia, a visually demonstrative act (the contrasting skin tones are a publicist's dream!) is like putting a band-aid on a gaping wound.

3. Olfactory Cuisine. Chefs are manufacturing scents in order to enhance a dining experience. Whatever, man, I've been arguing for years that Subway has special vents installed outside of the store that pump out the weird artificial bread smell. I also contend that, if the UN could somehow figure out a way to emit the smell of Cinnabon in areas ravaged by conflict and genocide, world peace would ensue.

4. Reverse graffiti. The masses embrace Keat's theory of negative capability; the government tricks artists into doing their dirty work.

On a related note, dictionary.com has opened the polls (until Friday) for voters to select the word of the year. The website has also released the list of the "most looked up words" of 2006, which range from the ironic/depressing ("naive") to the surprising ("quixotic").

When I was young, my father told me (while driving me to soccer practice) that his favorite word was "morbid." In response, I told him that mine was "delightful" (we had just passed a billboard advertising Sunny D). This year, I'll be casting my vote for "dictionary.com."

Monday, December 04, 2006

e.r.c goes m.i.a.

Dear peers, readers, Mom:

If you're looking for me between now and Friday afternoon, when my senior essay is due, you can find me here:



















That would be the 7th floor of SML, in a frigid cubicle.

If you're wondering to yourself, "How did that cracked-out looking hobo woman wearing five layers of clothing, surrounded by empty coffee cups and gum wrappers, get into the stacks?," you've found me.

<3 elmrockcity
p.s. please send gum, diet coke

Thursday, November 30, 2006

SORRY THIS LINE IS CLOSED

Nothing makes me feel more murderous than waiting in line at the post office.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

hodge podge

My inability to lay down new AMPA receptors and initiate long term potentiation in my hippocampus is rapidly diminishing; prefrontal cortex refuses to hold any working memory (or inhibit distraction), and I seem to suffering from a minor bout of anterograde amnesia.

Studying for the last Brain and Thought exam is sapping my will to live.

While cramming today, Jamie and I had a brief discussion about amnesia; more specifically, whether we would rather have retrograde amnesia (the loss of memories of all events before the brain damage) or anterograde amnesia (the inability to form new memories, e.g. Memento). I came to the following conclusion: I'd prefer to suffer from retrograde amnesia now, and forge a new identity, but I would opt for the anterograde form of the illness once I'm very old.

While this naturally invites obvious questions about the nature of identity, it's important to remember that, in both cases of amnesia, nondeclarative memory--the unconscious procedures that guide existence--is retained, as is prefrontal cortical function, which guides our affective behavior.

I've been meaning to post about this piece (per usual, thanks Matt), which discusses similarities between Ian McEwan's Atonement and a 1977 memoir published by Lucilla Andrews, a WWII nurse and romance author. I didn't love Atonement; the tightly-wound eroticism of the beginning reminded me of Austen (as I've said, porn for nerdy pre-teen girls), but I completely lost interest in the latter half. Still, dude can write.

The Times presents a nice little pictogram of the similarities between passages from each novel (McEwan has admitted to borrowing information from Andrews' memoir, for "research" purposes); the resemblances seem to be mainly technical details, which McEwan plucked from Andrews' text in order to ensure the historical accuracy of his descriptions of nursing and illness.

The current fascination with plagiarism (sup, Kaavya) and authenticity in literature (James Frye et al) ought to spawn a good deal of scholarship over the determinants of originality, accuracy, and intellectual property. Such characteristics are both genre-specific and inherently ambiguous: reiterating concepts/facts in theory or research is different from replicating them in poetry and fiction; copying language and stylistic devices is more suspect in the latter than it is in the former. In McEwan's case, for example, one's immediate reaction is to disavow such theft as superficial: we don't admire "high" literature for its accuracy to history or its factual content, we admire it for its prose and ideas.

While, like everyone else, I'm not very impressed by this latest literary scandal, I'm irritated by reactions like Lev Grossman's (who wrote an irksome piece about the next great American novelist this summer) in Time; focusing on a comparison between McEwan's "greatness" and the pettiness of the faux pas is an injustice to the question of literary ethics, and does nothing to address the nuances of intention and authorship.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Gifts pt. II


If you're wondering what elmrockcity wants for Christmas, here's a hint (a longer wishlist is forthcoming, and will most likely include a handheld parmesan grater). Along with JM Coetzee and Zadie Smith, Julian Barnes is one of my all time favorite contemporary writers; very few authors, I think, are so deft at marrying formal innovation and readability.

Here's a fairly inconsequential piece about him.

And, on a related note, here's the Times' 100 Notable Books of 2006. I'm thrilled to graduate and finally read some.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

the gifts that time forgot

As part of my current obsession with evaluating my true likes and dislikes (latest realization: I don't like swimming, donuts), I've started to reassess the pleasure I derive from receiving gifts. Growing up, I would hear my ass-kissing peers say things like, "Giving presents is just as fun as receiving them!" and mentally sneer, knowing that it probably meant their parents were giving them educational video games or make-a-dreamweaver arts and crafts kits.

Suddenly, however, I buy it (metaphorically and literally). Giving gifts really is better; it may be because I'm picky, or because there's too much emotional pressure to convey gratitude without causing awkwardness, or, to get all Marxist, because I've come to a point where I recognize the greater worth of maximizing social relations.

It also might be that, the older you get, the less people care about giving you good stuff. Over the years, I presented my parents with some real crapola: mugs/t-shirts that declared them the "World's Best ___," handmade drawings, books of coupons for "ONE CAR WASH" or "48 HUGS!" But I always bought into their expressions of delight, their promises to save them forever.

Until now.

This evening, before heading out into the cold night, I went into my parents' closet to look for a scarf:









Suddenly, I came across this very special pillow that my brother and I made for them, with a photograph of us and Grandma! LYING IN THE BOTTOM OF THE CLOSET.










Is that a YALE MOM hat sitting in the corner, never worn?!!!










Are those the Monopoly-themed pajama pants I bought for my dad one Christmas??!











And, finally, I was especially shocked/dismayed to learn that my mother had not been wearing this faux-velvet, plush crown, clearly intended for the world's best mom to declare, "I Rule!" (see front of hat).












Yes, I'm aware that I look like the guy from A Clockwork Orange in this picture.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

intolerance for tolerance for intolerance for...

After a few days of academic detox (re: puttering around my parents' house in my dad's oversized sweater with a Flock of Seagulls' do), I finally decided to get back to work, laying down a solid 8 pages on the Senior Essay. Similarly, I decided to resume blogging about things other than pictures of myself from grade school and pasted aim conversations...

Loyal readers (I see you, Mom) may recall my discussion of Martin Amis (and Ian Buruma's) scathe of postmodernism--or, at least, its political utility. About a week ago, Matt (jkelsofan) emailed me a Stanley Fish piece from the Chronicle Review about a new book by Wendy Brown, Regulating Aversion: Tolerance in the Age of Identity and Empire, that touches on many of the same issues. Because Fish's argument is so well articulated and compelling--there are some problems, which I'll discuss later--I feel the need to summarize his, and Brown's, points about tolerance, liberal pluralism, and pomo.

He begins with a discussion over the fatwah--a phrase I'm still trying to work into every day conversation, as in, I wish I could issue a fatwah against [insert TA name]--against Salman Rushdie. The issue introduces the question of the difference of values; namely, the difference of values in terms of free speech.
Ignored was the possibility that what appeared to be an entirely negative and unprincipled act might be the product of an alternative set of principles — preferring community to individual rights, positive morality to respect for all points of view, truth to tolerance, the sanctity of God to the sanctity of choice.
Principles
, Fish suggests, are always context-bound; as the forerunners of Western values, he throws Locke, Kant, Rawls onto the table. By placing tolerance--the acceptance of difference--in the latter half of the aforementioned East/West value binaries, Fish questions its objectivity. Tolerance is preached as a liberal value, but what, asks Wendy Brown, does it mean?

Fish agrees with Brown's critique of the a priori conception of tolerance, which, like any value, is structured by social mores. The naturalization of differences produces a self contradiction:
...it does more than that: It legitimizes, and even demands, the exercise of intolerance, when the objects of intolerance are persons who, because of their overattachment to culture, are deemed incapable of being tolerant. Live and let live won't work, we are often told, if the other guy is determined to kill you because he believes that his religion or his ethnic history commands him to.
The problem of tolerance, then, isn't that--like Amis suggested--it legitimizes moral injustice and human rights abuses, writing them off as "difference" (I don't think this is, as Jamie wrote in his comment on the post, an issue that extends very far beyond academia). The problem is what the liberal West does under the banner of pluralism when we conflate divergence with impenetrability--when it "cannot itself tolerate persons or practices that do not respect the boundaries and distinctions...it presuppose." Such as, in the case of indignance over the fatwah, free speech.

Fish and Brown differ over the solubility of the tolerance/intolerance binary that she deconstructs. This is where Fish's argument gets trickier to read (you can tell he's getting worked up over the meta-levels of the problem). Do systems of values always entail either 1) a belief in their specificity--free to be you and me--or 2) a sense of universalism--free to be me? Fish sees an insolubility:
The fact that her analysis does not (and in my view could not) deliver a program for improving the world (or even a set of reasons for rejecting liberal tolerance) makes it no different from any other effort (always doomed) to derive a politics from the discourses of postmodernism, anti-essentialism, and anti-foundationalism.
He pinpoints the inescapable problem of post-structuralism: anything beyond inrreconciliable difference--nothing more than awareness, which he dubs "the theory mistake"--requires an essential subject--some valuation. You can either preach tolerance, which surreptitiously discounts the "non-tolerant," or preach intolerance, which overtly discounts others, but, inevitably, you're always preaching something.

This is, I think, where he errs: If viewed as a totalizing system, postmodernism is, as Fish says, insoluble with political action (which requires some totalization, the acceptance of at least one value (i.e., murder is bad). However, postmodernism is not without utility: The awareness of difference, or situated knowledge, increases the efficacy of political action. For example, the case of anti-feminism outside of the West: countering such a system necessitates a universal value (gender equality) but is best achieved with localized mechanisms (such as alternate interpretations of the Koran). Because of its serviceability as a lens, or tool, we should remember not to throw postmodern thinking out with liberal pluralist or Theoretical bathwater.

And now, back to pictures of myself in elementary school.

Parents House Edition #2: A story that will make you pity me




















When my mom wouldn't buy me $110 Doc Marten sandals in 7th grade, I bought the cheap Payless kind and tried to hot glue yellow thread around the sole.

Monday, November 20, 2006

aim brilliance

minafosho: a figure who is often conflated with demeter
minafosho: so the 2001 edition is wrong
minafosho: publisher's error
minafosho: are you wikipediaing
Jkelsofan: good catch
Jkelsofan: nope, though that's often what that pause means
minafosho: yeah for me it is
minafosho: pause = dictionary/wikipedia/google
Jkelsofan: right
Jkelsofan: don't want to fuck up a smart joke
minafosho: truth

******************

minafosho: you know the "nerdy laugh"
minafosho: like, ehugh ehugh ehugh
Jkelsofan: yeah
minafosho: I can't type it on aim
minafosho: it's sort of a snort/laugh
Jkelsofan: yeah, I know what you mean
Jkelsofan: hnyhh
Jkelsofan: hynnh
Jkelsofan: eh
minafosho: too difficult


Parents House Edition #1: Me as a baby




















Gross, lose some weight.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

sunday morning "musings"

Being home is wonderful; there's coffee whenever I want it, a bathroom that's not molding, and the pitter-pattering of my parents walking around, picking things up after me. While skimming the first draft of my senior essay this morning (after destroying the wapo crossword), I noticed that I used the word "ideology" eleven times. This is obviously problematic, and it reminded me of my 10th grade English teacher, who had a list of "dead words" that we were not supposed to use.

It's kind of like how most Yale professors hate the word hegemony. Oh, the sweet, sweet irony.

Here's my "dead word" graveyard:
1. Musings. Shut up.
2. "Hot," when used to describe anything other than a spicy burrito.
3. "Siiick," when used to describe anything other than me after eating a spicy burrito.
4. "Deconstruct;" Unless you're referring to ripped clothing or an absestos-soaked building, do NOT use this word in class unless you understand it, for the love of Derrida.
5. "Party" as a verb.
6. OH MY GOD; I CAN'T WRITE BECAUSE MY PARENTS COME IN EVERY FIVE SECONDS.

Stimulus for comments: Do people agree with me that any rap song that features a siren is instantly siiiiick?

THE GAME

...is an over-rated rapper. In other news, Yale apparently won the GAME against Harvard this year. According to the nasal girl who sat behind me on my flight home that night, the Sons of Eli "rushed the field"--Yale students are so CRAZY!
So, Yale's five-year streak of getting whooped is broken. And my four year streak of not actually attending the game stays alive.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

boom

I just did a victory lap around my computer: page twenty of my senior essay is finished.

Around page 18, I paused and read Benjamin's "On the Concept of History/Theses on the Philosophy of History," which I haven't read in a while. If you've never glanced at it, take a look--it's pretty incredible.

XVI
A historical materialist cannot do without the notion of a present which is not a transition, but in which time stands still and has come to a stop. For this notion defines the present in which he himself is writing history. Historicism gives the ‘eternal’ image of the past; historical materialism supplies a unique experience with the past. The historical materialist leaves it to others to be drained by the whore called ‘Once upon a time’ in historicism’s bordello. He remains in control of his powers, man enough to blast open the continuum of history.
p.s. Re: my Dowd-rant, it's LEGIT with Benjamin does it, okay?

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

clipz

Here is the latest piece of mine to spring up at FSB, about a hairdresser who made her fortune by retrofitting RV's into hair salons and parking in places like Google and ebay. It was printed in the beginning of the Nov. issue.

As with most of these itsy-bitsy clips, I'm more proud of coming up with a viable idea (this emerged, I think, from reading local business journals) then the content itself. I'm surprised and pleased, however, that so many puns have consistently made it through drafts..

Here's another one, about "off-beat schools" that entrepreneurs might be interested in attending. Again, very little content, but a ridiculous amount of googling and research.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

back in the valley

This year, I decided to vote in Connecticut instead of Arizona, the state I attended high school in. Jim Pederson vs. Jon Kyl--who is full of shit--ended up being closer than I anticipated. Tonight, R. JD Hayworth just conceded to D. Harry Mitchell, the candidate my brother was endorsing. Janet Napolitano won handily.

Here's how the other issues panned out:

-Immigrants got the shaft. Prop. 100, "No Bail for Illegal Immigrants," was soundly defeated, English was readily voted the "official state language," and Prop. 300--"Limit Education Services for Illegal Immigrants"--passed. All of these issues won with over 70% of the vote.

-Smoking was banned in restaurants and bars. Whatever.

-Voters decided not to set aside state trust lands, which are used to fund public schools. Both initiatives came in with a less than 5 point difference. Interestingly enough, Arizona is consistently voted as having one of the worst public education systems in the country; last year, we came in at #50--behind Mississippi.

-A ban on same sex marriage was defeated, by less than 3 points. Just when things were looking down...

-And, perhaps most importantly, Prop.204--a ban on small cages for pigs and calves--passed. Somewhere, the abusive owner of a pot-bellied pig just shed a tear.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

sunday morning haterade

This rant isn't exactly breaking new stewing-ground, but I feel compelled to add my name to the register of haters: I hate Maureen Dowd.

I don't hate her points--many of which, while basic, are sound--but I detest her prose style. It's everything I don't want to do as a writer: she's overbearing, solipsistic, indulgent. For example, this recent Times column on the fall of Donald Rumsfeld and the role of the first Pres. Bush in the administration brings nothing new to the table, other than a family-sized helping of shlock. Her pieces are one-note sputterances, buried beneath mounts of colloquialisms and faulty analogies:

Mr. Gates, already on Mr. Baker’s “How Do We Get Sonny Out of Deep Doo Doo in Iraq?” study group, left his job protecting 41’s papers at Texas A&M to return to Washington and pry the fingers of Poppy’s old nemesis, Rummy, off the Pentagon.
Dowd-advocates might argue that she brings the verbal playfulness and wit of entertainment or arts writing to politics, making issues more accessible to the public. I think this is a discredit to good features journalism. A deft pun, sprightly figurative language, or a clever analogy is like a flash of cleavage or a hint of upper leg: a journalist should only reveal her goods with caution and discrimination. Dowd's heavy-handed style lets it all hang out. Rather than being pleasantly surprised by instances of literary or humorous prose, her reader is left wading through the text in search of the argument.

And then, of course, there's the problem of her flawed, one-dimensional feminism, as evidenced in yesterday's piece on the wave of "female influence" that's accompanied the Democratic victory:
Nancy Pelosi, who will be the first female speaker, softened her voice and look as she cracked the whip on her undisciplined party, taking care not to sound shrill. When she needs to, though, she says she can use her “mother-of-five voice."
Rather than trumpeting Obama's appearance on The View or taking sly sexual jabs at "flaccid" George W. Bush, perhaps Dowd should consider the anti-feminist, heteronormative subtext of such statements.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

doing the ill na na

Forgoing a planned trip to NY last evening, I instead watched the movie Take the Lead with my friends Adam and Carina. Overall, an excellent decision; the dancing was enjoyable, the post-and-concurrent film analysis was stimulating, and Antonio Banderas--perfectly cast as the Spanish dance instructor with a heart of gold and a penchance for la salsa--was magnifico.

In a fem-theory class I took, we read a popular piece from the 80's by the critic Jane Radway about the ideological implications of Midwestern ladeez' penchants for reading romance novels. In a slightly condescending tone (who could blame her--most of her subjects had two first names and Christian Coalition memberships), Radway points out the ways in which readers' responses are structured by their stringent expectations (a strong hero, a feisty protagonist, a fair amount of explicit sex). Failure to adhere to these plot expectations produces an unsatisfactory reading; the often inevitable sense of identification with a character, however compels the readers to finish the books anyways. Basically, once you feels a connection to the bodice-ripping orphan, you have to close the narrative loop--if only to find out that she/you ends up losing her flower to the hunky Scottish warlord.


I feel the same way about Urban Dance movies. For me--and Adam and Carina, if I may presume to say--there are a few expectations that facilitate our satisfaction:

1. At least one strong romantic relationship that is somehow consummated in the film. This doesn't have to mean sex--although who could forget the scene in the amazing Save the Last Dance--but I can't feel good about a film that lacks some sort of fulfillment. For example, when Aaliyah (RIP) and Jet Li don't even make out in Romeo Must Die, I'm sure I wasn't the only audience member who left feeling frustrated (and, as an Asian, spurned by the Hollywood asian-hate machine).

2. New Vocab: See this post's title (from Take the Lead); Antonio Banderas is also told that he is "getting his flirt on." I also learned tonight that "punk-ass" is a versatile verb; it can mean anything from screwing yourself over to screwing others.

3. A dope montage--usually set to a rap song that came out the week of the movie's release--can make or break an Urban Dance movie. This usually means juxtaposing snooty ballroom dancing scenes with hot breakdancing sequences in the ghetto. There are two types of montages: the upbeat ones where the various characters dance together in different settings (the streets, the basketball court, the hallway) and the redemptive ones where the characters dance alone or sit alone thinking on rooftops.

4. A dose of the nitty-gritty: the "real" subplots shouldn't overwhelm the romance, but, since it is an UD movie, the U part needs to represent--this may involve the jarring sacrifice of less attractive comic
relief characters (see: Step Up) or the presence of a deadbeat dad. Or street basketball, which always signifies danger.

5. A happy ending that usually sends the heroes to Julliard, college, or to a performing arts school. See plot diagram (will enlarge).

Unlike Radway's romance readers, however, I don't usually feel compelled to finish a film if I'm unsatisfied (fortunately, when it comes to UD movies, I'm almost always sat-is-fied). Perhaps it's due to a lack of identification: when watching Take the Lead, I was terribly perturbed at the end when all of the main characters broke the rules in the big competition. So annoyed, in fact, that I couldn't fully enjoy the erotic hip hop tango sequence at the end, nor the BIG kiss between America's Next Top Model's Yaya and a hero named Rock.

Whether this is due to a lack of heartlessness, an incessant sense of obedience, or displaced identification onto the snooty, square white characters, I can't--and don't really want to--determine.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

durfees part II

11:25 a.m (after I purchase coffee)

Friendly new Durfees' employee: "Thanks, sugah...come again and GET some!"

The only other thing she could have possibly said was "Come again, son," which means she confused me for a boy. Admittedly, a more plausible alternative.

Monday, October 30, 2006

update on the asian fetishist

The treasure I unearthed on craigslist a couple weeks ago has reappeared--several times:

Seeking the Exotic and the Polyglot - 25 (October 17): About me, I'm a grad. student at Yale. I'm 25, 5'7", longish brown hair, green eyes, athletic. My hobbies include travel, foreign language and culture study, martial arts, cooking, reading, horror movies, video games, being verbose and having terrible taste in music.

Horror Movie Fans (oops...) - 25 (October 23): About me, I'm a grad student, 25, 5'7", longish brown hair, green eyes and athletic. Interests include martial arts, cooking, eating, travel, foreign language, video games, bad music and of course, horror movies.

'Av a Spot of Tea, Guvna? - 25 (October 29): I'm a grad student, 25, 5'7", longish brown hair, green eyes and athletic. Besides drinking tea and being pretentious, my hobbies include martial arts, travel, foreign language, cooking and music.

Please note the SUBTLE differences in each post; I also highly encourage you to view the second, as it is particularly humorous. Cue: montage of each version of grad student, talking to a camera while James Blunt plays in the background.

I was a bit surprised to see that the tenth most e-mailed article on the Times website this morning was about a retired professor who just completed a translation of the Aeneid. It's a pleasant piece, so I felt compelled to link it. Ruining the ending:

Virgil worked on “The Aeneid” for 10 years, and Mr. Fagles took almost as long. When he was done with it, he said, he went through a period of mourning, having lost what had become in effect a daily companion. And he still can’t decide which of the epics is his favorite.

“Some days are very Iliadic,” he said. “You’re in a war. And some days it’s all about getting home; you’re like Odysseus. It all depends on what side of the bed you get up on.”

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Lists

Top 5 Names I wouldn't mind naming a female child, if I had one:
1. Rose
2. May
3. Sophie
4. Zoe
5. June ("Junebug")






Ten things I would like to do before turning Twenty-five:
1. Quit chewing a pack of pink Orbit bubblegum a day.
2. Successfully sustain a houseplant.
3. Read Ulysses, Gravity's Rainbow, and Anna Karenina.

4. Publish articles that are longer than 500 words in magazines I admire.
5. Learn how to cook fish without killing myself.
6. Fall in love and prolong the state for more than eight months.
7. Feel proprietary towards New York.
8. Take a trip somewhere with my father.
9. Purchase a fur coat.
10. Develop a habit of eating alone in fine restaurants.

4 Celebrities I vaguely resemble:
1. Winnie from the Wonder Years
2. Keanu Reeves
3. Michelle Branch
4. Phoebe Cates

Monday, October 23, 2006

elm rock stalker

As I sat in Book Trader today, trying to ignore the rhythmic grunts of the homeless man sitting next to me, it occurred to me that New Haven is FULL of celebrity look-a-likes. So, in the tradition of Gawker Stalker, I'm going to start publishing Elm Rock Stalker.

If you click on the picture, it will enlarge:
How did I miss this provocative Time cover, for Joe Klein's cover story on the possibility that Barack Obama might run in 2008?

My attention was to drawn to the piece by an AP article today, coverage of Obama's Sunday appearance on Meet the Press.

''Given the responses that I've been getting over the last several months, I have thought about the possibility'' although not with the seriousness or depth required, he said. ''My main focus right now is in the '06. ... After November 7, I'll sit down, I'll sit down and consider, and if at some point I change my mind, I will make a public announcement and everybody will be able to go at me.''
I mentioned Obama in my post last week about the political viability (and problematic nature) of promoting candidates' marketable qualities--character, physical appearance, etc. The Time article isn't incredible, but there are interesting bits about Obama's "strategic" characteristics--his bipartisanship, his cross-racial appeal, his burgeoning cult of personality. Klein's analysis is particularly fascinating when he attempts to unpack the rationale for Obama's intense popularity.

In terms of "Obama as text" (sorry, sorry), I'm talking about Klein's reader-based criticism: analyzing the figure not by his own actions, but by the response. Might B.O be facing the "death of the author" dilemma--is his intention supplanted by its interpretation? Kind of a stretch, but check it:

"He's working a very dangerous high-wire act," Shelby Steele told me. "He's got to keep on pleasing white folks without offending black folks, and vice versa." Indeed, Obama faces a minefield on issues like the racial gerrymandering of congressional districts and affirmative action. "You're asking him to take policy risks? Just being who he is is taking an enormous risk."

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

airing out my grievances

While walking into Durfee's Convenience Shoppe (that is exactly how Yale spells it) yesterday morning, I was deterred by two new additions. Please keep in mind that this criticism is by no means directed at the shoppe's employees--who, contrary to popular belief, I have always found to be quite affable--but rather at the unseen hand of Yale middle management, no doubt responsible for these heinous accruals.

1. The appearance of a Purell hand sanitizer outside the entrance. To a convenience store? Really? This extraneity--no doubt paid for with pennies plucked from my unanticipated contribution to the Senior Activity Fund--can only mean one thing: Durfee's is legitimizing my petty theft of candy.

2. The sale of an $8 bag of dried, organic pineapple rings. Look like anuses (anni?). Enough said.

3. The new sign placed on a post outside, which reads:
con‧ven‧ience[kuhn-veen-yuhns] Pronunciation Key - Show IPA Pronunciation
–noun
1.the quality of being convenient; suitability.
2.anything that saves or simplifies work, adds to one's ease or comfort, etc., as an appliance, utensil, or the like.
3.a convenient situation or time: at your convenience.
4.advantage or accommodation: a shelter for the convenience of travelers.
5.Chiefly British. water closet (def. 1).
I hate it when advertisers, copywriters, idiot HR people making powerpoint presentations, etc. use "the dictionary definition" as a resource. And I can just imagine some shrill manager hanging up that sign, pointing at the definition and reading it aloud to the cashiers, then crossing his arms, smugly pleased with his idea and his access to a dictionary.