Monthly Archives: November 2006

Fetch Me My Lacy Underwear

As soon as I put up this notice, I will call my favorite spa and schedule a manicure. For Saturday, I should think. The following Saturday, when I am in town, I think I will buy lingerie. While it is true that normally, I buy things like trees, clippers, and ladders, and while I covet Mexican tile, old cypress, and air tickets more than I do clothes, I do also covet clothes, shoes, and manicures.

I bring these things up because someone has gone to the Hedonistic Pleasureseeker’s site and posted a critical and actually, downright mean comment, signing Z and giving my URL. But HAH, they were not logged in as me, so the name “profacero” did not flash up, nor did either of my pictures – my true picture, from my Blogger ID, or my stand-in picture, from my WordPress ID.

I hereby apologize to the Pleasureseeker, and announce to one and all that I am not that easy to impersonate. While it may be confusing to some, I very much doubt that I am the only person who reads Heart on politics, Hedonistic on pleasure, and Belledame for general incisiveness (after all, she has an axe). Ah, yes: a radical feminist opposed to pornography – a straight sensualist – a sex-positive lesbian – my, oh my, how does it all fit together?

Each of these writers is being who they are, and being bright and articulate, and not apologizing for it. None are particularly middle-of-the-road, nor do they place the project of pleasing the whiteman at the center of their lives. That must be the problem. Both of my grandmothers, however, and all of their sisters, said it was the solution.

Axé.

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Remember This?

On the question of how to resolve departmental disputes, Stephen Bess said, “Wouldn’t it be cool if everyone could just battle it out on the cardboard like breakdancers and pop-lockers in the 80’s? Sure, a few people would get hurt on those difficult moves, but nothing too serious. It would be funny too.” I agree.

When this video came out, I was in school. The song is ridiculous and the music is bad, but we were fascinated by many music videos then, because they were new.

It was a difficult semester. One evening I asked my roommate a rhetorical question: “What are we going to do?”

“Walk like an Egyptian,” he said.

Years later, it is again the end of a difficult term. I am walking like an Egyptian now.

Axé.

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Janteloven

Now we will look at part of the Wikipedia’s article on Janteloven, namely:

“The Jante Law (Danish and Norwegian: Janteloven Swedish: Jantelagen Finnish: Janten laki Faroese: Jantulógin) is a concept created by the Norwegian/Danish author Aksel Sandemose in his novel A refugee crosses his tracks (En flyktning krysser sitt spor, 1933), where he portrays the small Danish town Jante, modelled upon his native town Nykøbing Mors as it was in the beginning of the 20th century.”

The Jantelov or Jante Law has ten rules:

  1. You shall not think that you are special.
  2. You shall not think that you are of the same standing as us.
  3. You shall not think that you are smarter than us.
  4. Don’t fancy yourself as being better than us.
  5. You shall not think that you know more than us.
  6. You shall not think that you are more important than us.
  7. You shall not think that you are good at anything.
  8. You shall not laugh at us.
  9. You shall not think that anyone cares about you.
  10. You shall not think that you can teach us anything.

The Jantelov, thus, works to preserve conformity. Its rules have generated great interest in Scandinavia ever since Sandemose first articulated them — he rang the proverbial bell. Copies of the Jantelov, and discussion of it, are all over the Internet (unlike some other, no less esoteric texts and topics I searched for today).

There is much to say about Janteloven, and much has in fact been said. It has positive aspects: for instance, it interdicts entitlement. It stresses cooperation above competition, and it can be a relief from that persistent, capitalistic pressure to always excel, all the time. It requires respect for all, not only for the most “respectable.” It has been rewritten in a much more encouraging tone, as a recipe for teamwork.

Some say the Jantelov no longer describes Scandinavian society, more open and cosmopolitan now than it was in Sandemose’s day. Lars Pind wrote a thoughtful post [in English] about his struggles with Janteloven, however, in the 21st century. Cognitive therapists have struggled with the effects of Janteloven, and have written a still hortatory, but less depressing version for use in their practices. And only three weeks ago there was a retreat for women recovering from Janteloven’s ravages, led by someone named, I believe, Windhawk.

Then there is a radical anti-Jantelov [with an English version], which I like. It appears to have been written by a gay Norwegian pantheist. Norway, I am told, is even more dourly Protestant than Denmark, and Sandmose based the Jantelov on the Ten Commandments. It just would take a pantheist to sort all of this out.

Axé.

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All Children Blew Minds

To me, today, as it does many days, but especially in the last week of classes, No Child Left Behind means sitting in review sessions explaining study techniques and reading strategies I learned in a public elementary school of medium quality. We are doing things like finding topic sentences.

I am also explaining, and explaining again, that a spelling error on the final examination will matter less than does a misunderstood concept. This is one of the worst ravages of No Child Left Behind. These test and detail oriented students are so oriented towards watching their backs that they cannot absorb what stares them in the face.

Axé.

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Terça Insana

“What housewife has not felt just a bit lame upon arriving at the supermarket? What housewife has not, at times, lacked the strength to lift her hand high enough to reach that slightly more expensive product?”

I am quoting Dona Edith, a character in the São Paulo comedy series Terça Insana or Crazy Tuesday. This is not a television series, no; it takes place in a club.

The video is in Portuguese and contains biting, sometimes broad humor about growing up not just poor, but starving. Attached to it are links to videos of more Terça Insana sketches. Yes is it black humor … but Brazil is a poor country.

Axé.

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The Empress

You are The Empress: Beauty, happiness, pleasure, success, luxury, dissipation.

The Empress is associated with Venus, the feminine planet, so it represents, beauty, charm, pleasure, luxury, and delight. You may be good at home decorating, art or anything to do with making things beautiful.

The Empress is a creator, be it creation of life, of romance, of art or business. While the Magician is the primal spark, the idea made real, and the High Priestess is the one who gives the idea a form, the Empress is the womb where it gestates and grows till it is ready to be born. This is why her symbol is Venus, goddess of beautiful things as well as love. Even so, the Empress is more Demeter, goddess of abundance, then sensual Venus. She is the giver of Earthly gifts, yet at the same time, she can, in anger withhold, as Demeter did when her daughter, Persephone, was kidnapped. In fury and grief, she kept the Earth barren until her child was returned to her.

I was as surprised by this as I was by my result on the Dante’s Inferno Hell Test, but perhaps it explains some things. Now you, too, can discover which Tarot card best represents you. I am grateful to the Guyanese Terror for having led me to this test.

Axé.

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Three Banes

Bane (bān), n.

  1. Fatal injury or ruin: “Hath some fond lover tic’d thee to thy bane?” (George Herbert).
    1. A cause of harm, ruin, or death: “Obedience,/Bane of all genius, virtue, freedom, truth,/Makes slaves of men” (Percy Bysshe Shelley).
    2. A source of persistent annoyance or exasperation: “The spellings of foreign names are often the bane of busy copy editors” (Norm Goldstein).
  2. A deadly poison.

[Middle English, destroyer, from Old English bana.]

In many institutions teaching, research, and service are ranked in that order, although with my R-1 mentality, I tend to value research first. This having been said, I will now expound briefly upon three banes of my academic existence.

1. Those individuals who claim a primary interest in teaching, when what they really mean is that they like to pontificate, wield power over students, and avoid learning anything new themselves.

This is a relatively small Bane, as it need not affect my own life, except when such individuals also become really lazy teachers, doing an actual disservice to their students, with whom I then have to deal in some manner; or when they rise to positions of power, from whence they are able to oppress researchers.

2. That standard advice whereby one should spend as little time and effort as possible on teaching, since it is not rewarded, and focus all energies on research productivity which will “move you up and out.”

Out in this context means out towards the wider world, not necessarily toward a different job – just out to a broader perspective than that of one’s usually dysfunctional and claustrophobic department.

This appears to be pragmatic advice, and I fully understand the spirit in which it is given. However, it is a major Bane. I object strenuously on two grounds. It is irresponsible to students, and it doesn’t work. If you have classes to give, they will inevitably take up a certain amount of your time. It is possible to save time on any given day by letting up on something, in some manner. However, the bottom line is, it is less stressful and time consuming to do a decent job, and to plan for that. You then come away refreshed, unworried, and even inspired. “At least we got through it” is a draining thing to have to say. It is the kind of statement which makes me want to watch the television I do not have. “Well, now that’s done!” is more chipper. If I can say that, I am also motivated to use the gym membership I do have. “That was fun and interesting,” on the other hand, is the sort of reaction to class that makes me want to sail home and write.

3. Arguably the worst Bane of all is the perception that service and administration are worthless. People seem to believe that in order to prove their identity as intellectuals, they should be unable to accomplish anything practical at all. This means in practice that others must carry this burden for them. I do not know how these individuals imagine that the great universities were built, if not by up to date intellectuals who could in fact think practically about how an institution of learning, or a worthwhile degree program, could be effectively designed and run.

I could, of course, say a great deal more about all of these Banes, and tell colorful anecdotes about each. Perhaps I shall do so one day. In the meantime, I will point out that many of the better Professori are good at all of these things. They go together, b****** (as my students would say, outside of class).

No, no, go not to Lethe, neither twist
Wolf’s-bane, tight-rooted, for its poisonous wine . . .

While the Banes I have discussed here may be in some senses Three Capital Banes, there are others. And all Banes are based upon fallacies. It is, for example, a fallacy that all institutions are equally problematic. It is a fallacy that it is possible to do exactly the same things at all institutions. It is also a fallacy that all meritorious individuals can work themselves “up and out,” except after the manner of the bodhisattvas. (It’s the economy, for one thing. And to get a dollar, you have to have one. And gaps, once created, often tend to expand. Note, however, if everyone left, we would only create gridlock around Harvard Yard, and reap illiteracy elsewhere.) The fallacies that “speaking up” can get you fired just like that, and/or that it is pointless as it will get you nowhere, are particularly widespread.

Bane


1. That which destroys life, especially poison of a deadly quality.

2. Destruction; death. The cup of deception spiced and tempered to their bane. (Milton)

3. Any cause of ruin, or lasting injury; harm; woe. Money, thou bane of bliss, and source of woe. (Herbert)

4. a disease in sheep, commonly termed the rot.

Synonym:
poison, ruin, destruction, injury, pest.

Origin:
oe. bane destruction, as Bana murderer; akin to Icel. Bani death, murderer, OHG. Bana murder, bano murderer, murder, OIr. bath death, benim i strike.

Finally, with respect to the putative, eternal battle of teaching and research, or teaching versus research (and I will remind you, Carnival and Lent go together), what about asking a different question, about marking time, going through the paces (and publication, by the way, can be like that; I speak from direct experience) versus engaging intellectually in some way or another. It could be a magnum opus one year, an interesting seminar another, and a creative administrative stint at yet another moment. In the end, they still go together, and one way or another, is good enough for me.

Axé.

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El Indio Gitano, o El Moro

This cantaor is Bernardo Silva Carrasco, originally known as el Moro, but later, as el Indio Gitano. I do not like the dancer’s bunchy dress, but there are very good dresses now for flamenco dancing, slimmer and not so stiff. Observe the long fingernails of the guitarists, and the watery deep sound of the strings.

Axé.

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Why I Do Not Need a Pistol

I

“Officers on the scene had reason to believe that an altercation involving a firearm was about to happen and were trying to stop it,” Michael Bloomberg said.

Right, so they fired 50 bullets into this unarmed novio and his two friends.

Novio and friends brushed against someone’s shin with their car, and hit another car, causing minor damage. They had just left a club, and it was after midnight.

When I lived in town, I went out every night. That’s right, every night. Not in a very decadent way. Nothing starts until nearly midnight. Like many people, I would work most of the evening, and then stop in somewhere. I would leave again after the first set, so I could be at the office early the next morning.

I have had people put dents in my car three times, and brush against my shin as they left their parking places at least once. Not all of these events took place in the best of neighborhoods.

None of these dent-leavers had insurance, and some did not have drivers’ licenses. At least one was a crackhead. All of them were very exasperating. Words were exchanged. Cars roared off in the night – and from the look of the vehicles, back to the projects.

I may just be lucky not to have suffered a scratch myself, but doubt it. If I had pulled a pistol in any of these incidents – on a cobblestone street, in the tropical night – do you honestly think I would have improved matters?

II

There are certain occasions upon which I actually do feel I need a pistol, namely, certain kinds of department meetings. Our campus, however, is a firearms free zone. Some faculty act so crazy to each other that the man across the hall from me – actually a very relaxed person, but also an old Southern boy who knows how to shoot – laughs and says, “Damn! If they are going to go on like this, I wonder if I should bring my .38!”

I have a costume I wear to these meetings. It involves some old cowboy boots, the most macho of whatever jeans I happen to own at the moment, and a jacket – actually, a Donna Karan suit jacket in summer, and a trenchcoat in winter. Completing the ensemble is a cowboy hat. One day the hat will be made of black felt in winter, and of straw in summer, but now it is made of brown suede. This outfit is a fetish. Being a fetish, it works every time.

The hat, I only wear from the house to my office. There, I toss it onto the desk with careless expertise. I pick up my imaginary pistol and place it in my waistband, underneath my coat. Thus armed, I stride out to give some non-random marauders a piece of my mind.

Axé.

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Daily Mail

I

Got trolls? Worse yet, anonymous trolls, or trolls with names, but fake URLs and go-nowhere e-mail addresses? One of mine today suggests that I volunteer for service in Iraq. Another believes this site dispenses unauthorized academic advice. Perhaps these discreet souls would like to read a note – signed, with an authentic return address – from an actually brave person:

El Chipote Encampment, Via San Fernando
12 July 1927

To: Captain G. D. Hatfield, El Ocotal

I am in receipt of your communication from yesterday, and I understand it. I will not surrender and I am waiting for you here. I want a free country, or death. I am not afraid of you; I rely on the patriotic ardor of my companions.

Patria and Freedom
A. C. Sandino

Come to think of it, we might send a similar note to the authors of the Iraq war.

II

The day is so beautiful, the earth is so cool and fresh, and the flowers are blooming so well, that it is hard to believe it is not spring. The postman has come, and I have received two books: my friend’s prize-winning poetry collection, and our friend’s excellent English translation of it. I will be speaking of them at the prize ceremony next month, and I am touched to have been asked.

I did not know that this edition of my friend’s book had an afterword by José Emilio Pacheco, from whom I took a class long ago. On the first day, he said that to be a poet was to serve the language, and this was what he considered himself to be doing. The language, and, as he says in the afterword I have at hand, “the perpetual poem.”

Axé.

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