Monthly Archives: November 2008

Christina Crosby

Now we will take notes on Christina Crosby, “Writer’s Block, Merit, and the Market: Working in the University of Excellence,” College English 65:6 (July 2003): 626-645. Perhaps I shall cross post these notes at my seminar.

* Why do professors have trouble writing, and suffer with it?
* Because by writing they enter into a complex network of relationships that engages them in a process with a multitude of ends. These ends may interact with each other, contradict each other, and so on. An important problem is that university professors now have to conform more and more to the logic of the market.
* There is a book by Keith Hjortshoj, Understanding Writing Blocks.
* Crosby, like Hjortshoj, is interested in the effects of the logic of capital on writing. She is reconceptualizing writer’s block not in terms of work ethics, psychological problems, or in social terms, but in terms of the logic of capital.
* Like capital, writing is required to increase. And the profit motive intensifies as capitalism advances.
* But since writers are in language and engaged with other writers and texts they have an ethical obligation which is fundamentally at odds with the dictates of capital and the imperatives of the work ethic.
* Writing is an open ended, relational process which engages one with others. This creates an ethical obligation not entirely congruent with the social relations necessary to production for the market. Writing and teaching are subject to capital, but not reducible to market logic. Herein lies hope for the blocked writer in the contemporary university.
* Robert Boice tells us to use Anthony Trollope’s work ethic. But note that Romantic theories of artistic autonomy form a counterdiscourse to Trollope’s methodology.
* Trollope recommended discipline and pointed out that it made him money.
* But inhibiting blocks are not cured with discipline, and there is much bibliography on this. TAKE NOTE OF THAT … I AM APPARENTLY FAR FROM THE ONLY ONE WHO HAS SAID BOICE DOES NOT ADDRESS BLOCK.
* Crosby points out that Boice reiterates Trollope almost to the letter, although without Trollope’s judgmentalism. Both Boice and Trollope have as their organizing concept the market. The Romantic counterdiscourse rebels against this but is also imbricated in the market. (Crosby has very interesting information and bibliography on this.)
* In academia one is writing to create knowledge, not to produce as many saleable novels as possible, and we are living on salaries, not honoraria … and yet we are judged by [essentially] market criteria.
* There is a book by Bill Readings, The University in Ruins, which criticizes the contemporary “University of Excellence” (which is follows a corporate, not a traditional university model).
* In the “University of Excellence,” Readings says, teaching is the administration of information. THIS POINT IS KEY AND IT IS ELABORATED UPON ON PAGES 641-42 of Crosby’s article.
* Writing is part of teaching and part of thinking, and if we reconceptualize it this way instead of in terms of production we will free ourselves.
* She says thinking and writing are not part of [instrumental reason]. This is the problem, she suggests. She implies we should stop insisting upon that kind of practicality and rationality, in which (she does not say, but I do) inheres a dangerous tendency to meaninglessness. Instead of thinking in terms of production, she implies, we should think in terms of participation.

Axé.

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The Rankin Family

It is the weekend, so we will sing! Here is the Rankin Family on Fare The Well, Love.

I am singing that I am back from the Lousiana State Penitentiary at Angola, and that the visit was not too depressing this time somehow. The Death Row guards are always so nice, and so glad to see you. The food for visitors is, as we know, the very best of old Southern cuisine.

When I started to go to Angola with my friend Maureen, we would arrive early, before the rush, and leave ahead of the rush. Being as I am I now arrive after the rush and leave on the last bus. Many other people also leave on the last bus.

The disadvantage of leaving on the last bus is that as you pass the different cell blocks to pick people up, you see them come out. Most visitors are somebody’s mother and they are bright and animated while they are on the cell blocks, but they walk out crying. Seeing this is the hardest part of visiting Angola.

Maureen and I used to go up to Angola from New Orleans. We would arrive home exhausted and get over the visit by going out with a group of lawyers related to us and drinking heavily, or by renting large quantities of videos and downing entire six-packs of Diet Coke.

Now that I go to Angola by myself and no longer live en ville, I always think I should arrange to go out with friends in Baton Rouge on the way home. I never actually do this because these friends have nothing to do with Angola, and the change of worlds would be too extreme. Instead I make a beeline for the library at LSU and wander aimlessly through the section of new journal issues. Then I drink a double espresso at Highland Coffees and head over the river to Maringouin.

Getting processed in this time I was the only white person in my group. The only other middle class people were a family of three from Shreveport, who had started driving at 6 AM. “Yes, it is very interesting to visit here,” I agreed. “But I am always sad when I leave.” “Yes,” said the father, a younger person than I. “You have to go out to dinner to get your mind off it.” “Yes,” I said.

Axé.

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Word Processing Survey

What word processing software do you use? Do you like it? Why and/or why not? Do you use Open Office? If so, in what language and with what keyboard? Do you find that MSW opens your .rtfs from OO correctly? Have you used NotaBene or AbiWord, or any other current word processing program? Did you like them?

Axé.

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C’est si simple

At Thanksgiving Maman, meaning Grandmother, made comments in French about the sillier of the grandchildren, who voted for McCain. Grandmother is a nice white lady from the bad old days. She is convinced those days would have returned had we not voted for Barack.

*

It was in the late eighties that I became a professor and in the nineties that I lost my way in life generally due to the nature of academia and Reeducation. These problems arrived simultaneously and it is difficult to disengage them from one another, in part due to their similarities.

The academic aspect of these things, I understand. I lost my way because I committed to a large project I could not actually support. These were the reasons I did so:

1. Men and Academia: this is your only chance, do not waste it.
2. Academia: assume others know better than you do. Write what they want and sign your name. You are paid for this.
3. Women: it cannot be that you disagree with this, it must be that you fear you cannot do it.

Given these objections I attempted to apply Boicean methods to the project. That failed since what had really happened was that I had considered everything except my own professional opinion, which was objectively  acceptable: that is a lovely project, but it is not what is in my research program now.

I undetstand these things. It was in fact wise to say NO to that project, but pressures from corporate and popular culture made it too complicated to do so.

Reeducation is still harder to understand but everything I have discerned about this experience boils down to the idea that it was NOT ACCEPTABLE to be an intellectual, or to meditate, or to have authority in one’s own life. This was eerily similar – the same, in fact – as what I was being told elsewhere, including in academia, and that is how the two things are interrelated.

But it IS acceptable to be an intellectual, and to meditate, and to have authority in one’s own life. I have written an entire weblog, or codex, explaining why in great detail. Yet I must remind myself of these things every day. It IS acceptable to be an intellectual, and to meditate, and to have authority in one’s own life.

Why did I not manage to say no to that project in the first place? Because it was at the time not acceptable to be an intellectual, or to meditate, or to have authority in one’s own life. But it IS acceptable to be an intellectual, and to meditate, and to have authority in one’s own life.

Axé.

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Frisian Implications: World Without Context

Thanksgiving was charming but also sad, insofar as the cars of the hosts are not reliable. In the absence of public transportation they are not easily able to leave their rice field. We need public transportation, Barack!

I

I am interested in my argument with the Dutchman first, because (a) it starts with the use of a racist term and then continues on to (b) insults to my English and intellect, to (c) the insistence that I imagined (a) and (b). My pointing out offensive language did not get an apology but an escalation. And it took me several blog posts to process this and to realize that this friend is not one such. People will say that I have spent too much energy on this, I am sure, but I say it is all a study so that I will be able to understand this sort of event more quickly next time.

The final curlicues to my war paint on this matter moving toward theatre of the absurd. My questions for the Dutchman, were I still speaking to him, could be:

A. If it is legitimate to decide, in a foreign language, that words can mean what you would like them to mean, why not also decide to change grammar and syntax to go along with that? How far toward a private language is it worth going?

B. Since you have chosen to resist U.S. English by resurrecting terminology which has fallen out of use, why is it precisely certain racist terms you wish to resurrect? Why not the use of thee and thou, or any number of other archaic expressions? If you prefer to create neologisms, why must these participate in the old game of adding to “racial” taxonomies? Why not invent some new words for different shades of green?

C. If I should accept your decision to call African-Americans by terms not used here in polite company, can I assume you would find it acceptable that I call you and your associates by names offensive to you in your languages? What is the special responsibility of African-Americans in the hegemony of U.S. English, that you should be resisting it by calling them offensive names? If I am a Catalan speaker oppressed by the hegemony of Castilian, should my first strategy of resistance be to use offensive terminology about my interlocutors when speaking to and about some less privileged class in Castile?

II

My student, meanwhile, suggests something much more interesting: that the idea of teaching a language without cultural context is part and parcel of the general effort to free oneself of context that pervades the current culture at large. We also teach language without grammar, he points out, writing without reading, and reading without history. There is “too much information a vailable” so we learn none. We don formulae. The intention is to avoid engaging with anything, because engagement might arouse passions, or affect one in some way, and to be affected is to be transformed, which involves effort.

The result of this refusal to engage is emptiness. Emptiness can be remedied by engaging in something with an aim to progress. But if you engage, you must engage a context. Thus it is the disengagement from context which empties the spirit, leaving the mind blank yet hungry. And the hungry mind engages in video games, shopping, infotainment, and para-religiosity, as it searches for activity. Yet it is the engagement with context which activates spirit. That is why context, or history is necessary to the development of spirit.

This speech by my student was quite interesting and it was thematically related to this weblog or codex. The Mayans grind corn for practical purposes and as a meditation, all at once. Mundane acts are also divine ones, and the worlds are not separate.

I am not the only one who has these ideas but I think some differences between the context-free mode of thinking and mine are that it is interested in being happy, whereas I am interested in working on a project and I see happiness as a byproduct; and that it is interested in enjoyment whereas I am interested in progress. I think happiness and enjoyment are byproducts of these things. That makes me sound like a real Puritan but I think I am just a meditator, and that meditation is actually the opposite of freeing oneself from context.

Axé.

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De vida en vida

Hermoso paraíso de salud. In Reeducation I would look at other people going about their lives and think: they are not less imperfect, or more guilty than I, yet they are not being interrogated, and they clearly feel free. I admired them as they swung their shoulders, looked forward and sideways, and walked right along.

I wondered for many years how I might get out into life again, but it was on the other side of the glass. I had passed as through a mirror into a distorted universe.

Later on the glass almost dissolved several times. I would almost walk through, but it would grow thicker and grayer – or I would be pulled back from this edge by someone else, and the glass would go dark.

Now I walk many days on the true side of the glass, with no burden, and I do not know how I got here.

Years of chiseling and I remained inside. One day suddenly, I saw that I was on the outside of the glass, walking in the universe. I can hardly believe it, but there it is.

*

Comment from Student: An addiction is something you insist upon having in your life and which causes you great problems. I learned instantly: I am addicted to not sleeping enough. This habit is limiting me and that is why I do not want to do it, but it is also why I do it. I have been looking for a solution to this problem, but the solution is the perception of what it is. I am going to stop it tout court, not coax it or interpret it, stop it.

Comment from Student: When you are a fulfilled person, your wounds or secrets affect you in a positive way. When you are not, your wounds or secrets affect you negatively. I learned instantly: Reeducation insisted that your wounds or secrets affect you negatively. I had to learn to limit myself again, so that they would. I said to the student: That is interesting since in popular discourse it is expected that these should affect one negatively, and that one should reveal both to have them healed. The student said: Of course. Those in power do not want us to have secrets, because secrets are revolutionary, and because people with wounds that affect them positively are revolutionary.

Axé.

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Un día sobresale

UN DIA SOBRESALE

De lo sonoro salen números,
números moribundos y cifras con estiércol,
rayos humedecidos y relámpagos sucios.
De lo sonoro, creciendo, cuando
la noche sale sola, como reciente viuda,
como paloma o amapola o beso,
y sus maravillosas estrellas se dilatan.

En lo sonoro la luz se verifica:
las vocales se inundan, el llanto cae en pétalos,
un viento de sonido como una ola retumba,
brilla, y peces de frío y elástico la habitan.

Peces en el sonido, lentos, agudos, húmedos,
arqueadas masas de oro con gotas en la cola,
tiburones de escama y espuma temblorosa,
salmones azulados de congelados ojos.

Herramientas que caen, carretas de legumbres,
rumores de racimos aplastados,
violines llenos de agua, detonaciones frescas,
motores sumergidos y polvorienta sombra,
fábricas, besos,
botellas palpitantes,
gargantas,
en torno a mí la noche suena,
el día, el mes, el tiempo,
sonando como sacos de campanas mojadas
o pavorosas bocas de sales quebradizas.

Olas del mar, derrumbes,
uñas, pasos del mar,
arrolladas corrientes de animales deshechos,
pitazos en la niebla ronca
deciden los sonidos de la dulce aurora
despertando en el mar abandonado.

A lo sonoro el alma rueda
cayendo desde sueños,
rodeada aún por sus palomas negras,
todavía forrada por sus trapos de ausencia.

A lo sonoro el alma acude
y sus bodas veloces celebra y precipita.

Cáscaras del silencio, de azul turbio,
comos frascos de oscuras farmacias clausuradas,
silencio envuelto en pelo,
silencio galopando en caballos sin patas
y máquinas dormidas, y velas sin atmósfera,
y trenes de jazmín desalentado y cera,
y agobiados buques llenos de sombras y sombreros.

Desde el silencio sube el alma
con rosas instantáneas,
y en la mañana del día se desploma,
y se ahoga de bruces en la luz que suena.

Zapatos bruscos, bestias, utensilios
olas de gallos duros derramándose,
relojes trabajando como estómagos secos,
ruedas desenrollándose en rieles abatidos,
y water-closets blancos despertando
con ojos de madera, como palomas tuertas,
y sus gargantas anegadas
suenan de pronto como cataratas.

Ved cómo se levantan los párpados del moho
y se desencadena la cerradura roja
y la guirnalda desarrolla sus asuntos,
cosas que crecen,
los puentes aplastados por los grandes tranvías
rechinan como camas con amores,
la noche ha abierto sus puertas de piano:
como un caballo el día corre en sus tribunales.

De lo sonoro sale el día
de aumento y grado,
y también de violetas cortadas y cortinas,
de extensiones, de sombra recién huyendo
y gotas que del corazón del cielo
caen como sangre celeste.

–Pablo Neruda, Residencia II

Axé.

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