Monthly Archives: October 2007

Écrasez l’Infâme

1. Now it is Hallowe’en and I have a pumpkin and a black Cat. I admire the Cat who admires Birds; we both dislike Rats. We are lighting candles, pouring out rum for the saints, and reading Voltaire.

2. In news, Shakespeare’s Sister has an excellently reasoned critique of Clinton and Obama that everyone should read. I know about it thanks to the Redstar Perspective. And WoC PhD points out that Dodd does not think immigrants should have driver’s licenses.

3. Zuky, meanwhile, recommends electing Cynthia McKinney on the Green ticket, a very interesting idea. And Kyle Janna has a beautiful post about living under the trees.

4. I wore red today but I wear red every Wednesday. And Prison Radio sent me a postcard about Mumia Abu-Jamal and it had a Macintosh apple on it along with Apple’s favorite phrase “Think Different.” Is he now sponsored by Apple Computer? If so, is this not postmodern?

5. Having at last understood it, I am still amazed by Reeducation. To have an ordered personal life was controlling. So was taking charge of your career. To be able to put things in perspective was unfeeling. Confidence was arrogance. One’s own perceptions were necessarily wrong and one’s own decisions, ill-advised.

6. All of these precepts are enormous errors; they are also oddly reminiscent of the slogans of Big Brother. I dislike all slogans except those to which I am spontaneously attracted, such as Freedom Now and Écrasez l’Infâme.

7. Écrasez l’infâme is currently my favorite phrase. From WikiQuote, that “unreliable source” which I nevertheless like:

  • Quoi que vous fassiez, écrasez l’infâme, et aimez qui vous aime.
  • 1762 letter to Jean d’Alembert; written in reference to crushing superstition; the words “écrasez l’infâme” became a motto strongly identified with Voltaire.

Axé.

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In Costume

This post is dedicated to Melissa, the thesis writer.

Jennifer said in a comments thread here some time ago that “reality” is made up of stereotypes to a greater degree than we commonly think, and I found this quite perceptive. The degree to which stereotypes determine our perception and our experience it is our theme for Hallowe’en, the year’s best day.

This post was originally a long text in which I unraveled for myself the fact that a great deal of the poor advice which has been pressed upon me in my life was actually projection based on a stereotype: I was a young woman, for which reason I must be lost somehow or doing wrong. It took me decades to comprehend that the great amount of earnest advice I was offered did not correspond at all to the person I actually was.

Having written all of that out and understood it, I do not feel like publishing the plodding text. I do have some observations, however, on other ways in which I have been perceived. As blog author, for example, I was originally taken for a Latino man. Then when I revealed I was a woman, many readers thought I was Black. At that point I said I was white, but I discovered later on that at least one group of readers thought I was Latina.

It still fascinates me that when I did not identify in a category I was male and nonwhite; when I identified a gender category I was still considered nonwhite; all of this was on the basis of the content of the blog. But if I remind anyone that I am Anglo I then sometimes get lectures about how I have probably never considered that as such I am complicit in the system of white supremacy. I also got a long lecture from some bloggers at one point about how, since I am a professor, I must be committed to certain forms of elitism and alienation. If I disagreed, I was in denial. My intellectual orientation and education were forms of coldness.

And in real life I was for almost seven years, unbeknownst to myself, the official lesbian in one of my departments because:

1. I have strong opinions
2. I spend a lot of time in New Orleans
3. I wear a lot of black
4. I do not wear spike heels, only chunky ones
5. I do not discuss husbands, boyfriends, or lovers in class.

I had thought the reason I was on all of the queer studies dissertations was that I was open to them, and there were at that time no actual gay people or queer studies experts in that department. I discovered that I was considered gay when a student mentioned it to me directly and I said I was not. I had not been faking a lesbian identity but she felt that because of the five characteristics listed above, I had been. She was very angry and put a more “honest” straight woman on her committee in my place.

Axé.

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Sustainability Quiz

Mes chers lecteurs et lectrices, this quiz is not a game. It is the best quiz ever, a Sustainability Quiz. My responses indicate that if every member of this planet lived as I do, we would need an additional 4.9 planets to sustain us. I must tone things down instantly. I will walk to work and stop keeping lights on in two and three rooms at once, as I do now. I will discover more green things to do. Perhaps I shall grow pumpkins. Brought to you by the Redstar Perspective.

Axé.

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From the AAUP

My representative says:

The AAUP recently published a bar graph (Trends in Faculty Status, 1975-2005, All Degree-Granting Institutions, National Totals) showing trends in faculty status nationally. The following table summarizes the same information.

full-time tenured: 36.5 (1975), 33.1 (1989), 21.8 (2005)
full-time tenure track: 20.3, 13.7, 10.1
full-time non-track: 13.0, 16.9, 20.1
part-time: 30.2, 36.4, 48.0

SREB has some data on part-time versus full-time instructional faculty at four year public institutions* in Louisiana that is not broken down by tenure status. It shows that total part-time faculty and teaching and research assistants in 1995-96 was 24.6 percent and the same figure in 2005-2006 was 48.6 percent. It appears from this that we were behind the national trend (and all Southern States but Mississippi) in 95-96 but we had caught up with national and regional trends by 2005-06. The dramatic increase was in teaching and research assistants which went from 16 percent of the total in 95-96 to 36.3 percent by 05-06.

* Please note that this group of institutions (four year public) is different from the “all degree granting institutions” in the graph which is of course a much larger group.

I was shocked to see these figures. Are they a problem? asked the representative. Well, more T.A.s and R.A.s means more funded graduate students, so that is good. But there were well over 50% tenured and tenure track faculty in 1975, and just above 30% of the same thirty years later. Is that a problem? My vote is that it is a problem, and not only for labor reasons. But then I am a traditionalist in such matters.

Discuss. If it is not a problem, why is it not a problem? What views of the nature and mission of a university must be modified or jettisoned for this not to be a problem?

Axé.

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Nuclear Brazil

“On July 10, Brazilian President Inácio Lula da Silva announced his intention to fulfill one of the Brazilian Navy’s ultimate dreams: to launch a nuclear-powered submarine. This idea was originally hatched during the era of military rule from the 1960s to 1980s but floundered due to a lack of funds and priority status. It has resurfaced at a time when there are disturbing signs that much of the subcontinent may be falling into an unintentional arms race.”

Read the whole story.

Axé.

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Dedra Johnson

“[An] aching debut…[with] echoes of I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings…” —Publisher’s Weekly

“Reading Dedra Johnson’s Sandrine’s Letter to Tomorrow, I was fully in the presence of the mind, heart, and soul of a richly rendered, fascinating fictional character. I knew I was also in the presence of the brilliant voice and sensibility of a major new American writer. This is an important novel by a true artist.” —Robert Olen Butler

“Dedra Johnson has caught something wonderful in Sandrine’s Letter to Tomorrow. She writes brilliantly about childhood, New Orleans, the intricacies of a vexed family life. Sandrine is a remarkable debut novel that will catch your heart.” —Frederick Barthelme

“A native and current resident of New Orleans, Dedra Johnson received her MFA from the University of Florida, where she was a finalist for the Hurston/Wright Award for College Writers. Sandrine’s Letter to Tomorrow was a finalist for the 2006 William Faulkner-William Wisdom Creative Writing Award.”

There will be readings in New Orleans and elsewhere, in November and beyond.

Axé.

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De la Psychologie

This is an interesting personality test and it is not a blog game, it is serious. I took it and it had some suggestions as to why I did not fit in with Reeducation. I am very intellectually oriented and very unconventional. I have a high level of access to feelings and a low level of neuroticism. In Reeducation one was assumed to be very conventional. Not to be was to be “in denial.” And it was required to choose between intellect and feeling. One could not possess both. And one could only prove one’s access to feeling by demonstrating signs of neuroticism.

Reeducation was purported to be professional psychology but the present test is also based upon professional psychology. I of course like this very much. What made Reeducation so difficult, as we know, is that I was too calm and too skilled at putting things in perspective. The lack of crises in my life meant I had too much control over it, and my lack of histrionics meant I was “cold.”

I had to learn to take every adversity very seriously, in order to show that I was in fact capable of feeling hurt and discouraged. The prohibition against putting things in perspective, the requirement to feel almost constant pain, and the insistence that one should take the smallest slight to heart and consider what one might have done to deserve it, made life very, very stressful.

Now I do things in my former, savage way, whether that makes me seem “cold” or not. Life is so much easier. And as everyone in their right mind knew in the first place, I am hardly cold. I am a child of Iansan and my color is red. And a genuine Psychological Test rates me High on Feeling. Hah!

Axé.

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Self-Tagging “Your Ideal Field” Meme

I discovered my favorite intellectual question at age three: is language necessary to thought, that is, must one have language in order to have thought, or can thought precede language? I wanted to believe that thought came first, but my observations indicated that language so strongly informed thought, that what preceded language might not be classifiable as thought but as sensation and intuition.

I went into literature because this was the university curriculum which would permit me to advance the furthest in language acquisition. I have sometimes wondered whether this is the right field for me, given my practical skills, my activist bent, and my logical and sociological orientation. I have decided that it is because I get to live in departments where people can think metaphorically, whereas in other departments many people cannot.

Axé.

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In Church

I need to write the journalistic article I discuss here and two academic articles, and I need to do these things very soon. But it is Sunday and everyone in town but my pagan self is in church confessing, so I will confess, too. I dislike a post to which I will not link and the long comments thread it generated because it is a quite gratuitous attack on a friend of mine who had a very tough life until she was at least 25 if not much longer and who is now expected to say Oh dear, I am privileged! to a puritanical and even inquisitorial crowd.

One of the ways in which I am privileged is that it has always been clear to me that I was. In our modest neighborhood other families washed out sandwich bags to use again the next day and ours did not. At school I was one of the white ones who spoke native English, and I was therefore not ostracized the way some people were. I could afford to give pieces of my lunch away to others living in situations of “food insecurity.” We had to push-start our car until we got a good one when I was seven, but we always had good health insurance. We did not shop at Good Will or even very often at discount stores, and I went to Europe three times before I was eighteen.

On television Black people were being dragged away by police, and I was not; I leafleted Safeway for César Chávez but that was on behalf of the people working the fields, which I was not. And in the parts of Europe where we lived when I was very young, we sat in cafés and ordered espresso. Poverty stricken children with mangled and twisted limbs would ask for the empty sugar packets, in which they considered that there was a taste of sweetness left. Half-starved Portuguese workers hiding under truck floorboards, trying to smuggle themselves out to France, were discovered at the Spanish border and arrested. This scene looked more tenebrous than any I had witnessed in the United States, in part because there was nobody on hand to take pictures.

I am also privileged insofar as I know who my relatives are. I am descended on both sides from Roger Williams and from Tench Tilghman on one. A great great grandfather, exiled from St. Petersburg by the Czar, had a Ph.D. from the Sorbonne and his correspondence with Karl Marx is archived in the Kremlin. A great great grandfather on the other side was a United States Senator from a state of which his father had been Governor. His wife’s father, my great great great grandfather, had a plantation there which has been described in print by Frederick Douglass. Another famous ancestor of mine is Henry Ward Beecher. His sister Harriet wrote another classic text, whose sentimental Christianity we discussed in the living room when I was in middle school. One of my grandmothers graduated from the Pratt Institute and the other from the University of California. Her sister was a Socialist and her brother was a carpenter and a Wobbly. My father still has his hammer and I am going to inherit it.

My grandmother the Pratt Institute graduate married a man directly descended from that slaveowning family. He had a small insurance company which he did not lose even in the Depression. My grandmother the Berkeley graduate, who had grown up on a farm in Montana, married a man whose father had abandoned the family, then  strawberry farmers in Glendale, California. My grandfather, the youngest in the family, left school in ninth grade to work as a lineman for the telephone company. His older brother left MIT where he had been a freshman that year. Their sister graduated high school. She worked all her life and her savings are responsible for my father’s Ph.D. and mine. I have a tenured job and I am a homeowner, and if I look younger than I am it is because I am the product of many generations of privilege.

My house has central air conditioning, which adds to my carbon footprint and contributes to global warming. The system needs new duct work, which I do not have the savings to pay for since I am a professor in a low wage state. Yet I could do it easily with a home equity line of credit. I am not because my parents are giving it to me for Christmas. And out of convenience I am not a tax resister. Even if I were, as long as I continue to contribute to the United States economy, which I do just by buying food, I am responsible for this, which I do not consider to be canceled out by my years of work on things like this. The next time anyone wants to come down on someone because of “privilege” they should come down on someone like me who has never spent a day hungry.

Axé.

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A Very Nice Post

…from WoC PhD. Excerpting:

“When an atmosphere of trust exists in a department, students are more likely to come to class prepared to learn and to take accountability for their actions, conflicts are likely to be at a minimum, and real problems that arise can be handled with maturity and proper sanction. Without trust, everything is a battle and everyone is trying to get their piece.  Sadly working in the latter environment will happen to you at least once in academe but maybe this article will help you and others shift the odds in the direction of the former.”

Read on; the entire post is excellent, including the piece she quotes.

Axé.

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