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.