Category Archives: Banes

Mejoré, but this morning…

Tension physical pain headache fatigue sorrow regret anger nostalgia depression desire claustrophobia frustration oppression … these were some of my feelings last night and this morning.

Then there is this:

When I was teaching — especially at the University of Oregon and the University of Texas — my experience was always defined by limits. How many copies I could make; how much space I could take up in the shared grad student office; how little money I had for research. That’s not a problem inherent to the engaged and in-depth study of a discipline; rather, it’s born of the fundamental insecurities of academia as a contemporary institution.

Humanities academia is defined by lack and thus by its fraternal twin, desire: for jobs, sure, but also for systemic change, for less exploitative treatment of graduate students, for a staunching of the gradual adjunctification of the workforce. Operating in an atmosphere increasingly defined by limits and fear, it was no surprise that the atmosphere often felt toxic, competitive, and imbued with paranoia.

I had wonderful and supportive academic friends. But so much of what we talked about was undergirded with anger and despair. It was so difficult to keep ourselves buoyed by hope and altruism when the walls seemed to be falling down around us.

I taught at Oregon and did not find 10,000 photocopies a quarter stingy. Especially coming form Louisiana where we got none. But I understand the larger point. Limits and fear, anger and despair, the walls falling down around us. Also: looking in through the glass like the little match girl, at the people who get to do the jobs we, too, trained for — and who are the ones who say we betray the field when we say we can imagine a research job in another one.

They think we should be willing to suffer anything just for the sake of staying in field, and at the same time they say research is first; they do not allow anyone to leave the field because of also feeling that research is first.

Trying to be grateful for the porridge that is Spanish 4 when it was what one went on after the M.A. not to have to do again, and in fact never had to do again even in graduate school. One would rather have done something else, and has not found it is possible to become a major scholar when one’s days are filled with Spanish 4: although it is not as bad as one fears, at least not in those semesters in which one has a “smart” classroom and the students say it is so very much better than Spanish 1, 2, and 3.

I went to a dissertation defense yesterday and met with my research student, and they were good events and good things to do but they threw into relief the life I actually want and have to turn my face from. When I am able to resign myself to language teaching and recreational art I stay content enough, I am glad not to be homeless for example, but when I catch glimpses of the things I wanted I feel sad.



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On being “positive”

I made a few comments elsewhere, that these are nice instructions for living but are not psychology. I wanted to say more, but it would not have been polite, as it was on the author’s sister’s Facebook page and she is a colleague. The author holds a chair and is famous and powerful, but his work is superficial.

For instance, the fourth chapter of his book emphasizes that your mental health will improve if you can see your own faults. People do not do this, says the author. They do dishonest things and try to get away with them, and they blame others for their problems. I, on the other hand, find that only immature people behave this way.

I also find that when one is dealing with immature people, or abusive people or criminals for that matter, especially if they have legal or institutional power over you or seek to harm you, seeing your own faults is not to your advantage: you must insist on your rights. They will only take your balanced view as a sign of weakness.

I find it disturbing that major figures in psychology make pronouncements like this, and I think it is the height of condescension to assume the kind of unconsciousness and immaturity on the part of the audience that the author does. Yet many admire this kind of dictum. Does it really seem so wise to them … how is it that they, adults, are surprised to hear they might have any faults at all?

Also problematic is this author’s love of the cognitive-behavioral hypothesis. You are to recognize an irrational thought you have, and replace it with a rational one.

However, if you are in an irrational state it is hard to see this, and replacing an irrational thought with a rational one is not an easy procedure. In fact it is virtually impossible to do without analysis. You can exercise self-discipline and control behavior at a superficial level, for a limited amount of time, yes — but you will not solve your problem.

I am in fact not sure the author has ever met anyone committed to their irrationality. If he had, he would know that they will defend this, and that suggestions of more rational ways of looking at things will increase and not decrease their frenzy.

It is true that that some of the people who are most severely self-critical are also the most defensive and entitled. This can be seen a a cognitive distortion, but it has to do with egotism and rigidity and is not a mere error in logic. This condition requires a far deeper kind of treatment than our author is willing to countenance.

I really do not know what to say about all of these books. It is as though they had been written by and for people from another planet. I was born happy. I lived by the sea and was not baptized, so I never joined the circle of guilt and sin that seems to circumscribe the lives of so many. (My guilt complex comes from somewhere else, as we know, and it is not this religion and perfectionism based one most people appear to have.)

It seems to me that much of the “positive psychology” (see also discussions of “resilience”) that is touted now is:

(a) a reaction to the kind of faux analysis I once underwent, where one was asked to be unnecessarily negative;
(b) a throwing-in of the towel: people have given up on the treatment of mental illness but are not admitting this, but rather saying they have discovered it can be cured with vitamins;
(c) a cultural manifestation: have Americans, or “Westerners,” really never received basic instructions for living?

What do you think?

There is more I disagree with. For instance, that on my deathbed I will wish I had spent more time with family and less time at the office. I have always been encouraged to work less. There is so much I wanted to do, that I have not done, because I have tried to obey the kind of heartfelt instructions the author, who has allowed himself to achieve at high levels, purveys.

That is to say, I have sacrificed a great deal for the sake of some of the tiresome, mainstream ideas this author repeats. For me to be happier I need to work more, and think more deeply. I am glad I have the longevity genes I need to make up for the time I lost trying to fit in with the life strategies of people who do not have a life’s work or major projects they really love.

The fifth chapter of the Happiness book seems the most interesting. It appears to recognize that material conditions do contribute to happiness, and that adversity and even trauma can lead to wisdom (or to destruction, depending).

The sixth chapter says love is companionship and not passion, a commonplace I have decided I disagree with utterly. And all of the author’s writings, like those of so many other Americans, appear to be riddled with the idea of work: you “work on” your marriage, “work on” your happiness, and so on.

I find it ironic that all these psychologists who say one should not work so hard, not dedicate oneself to a life’s work, also think that daily life, relationships, connections and pleasure must be thought of as work.

Finally, I am completely convinced that most psychological problems have to do with sociopolitical issues (e.g. heteronormativity, racism, more), material deprivation (we do not live on air), and various forms of abuse. You cannot wish these things away with positive thinking, although living as well as one can is important.

Once again I will repeat that I am not against this author’s general advice for living. I myself was raised to decide to enjoy the days. Many appear not to have been.



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Jonathan Rees

I should read him more, and I should have seen this sooner.

To borrow some inflammatory language from Marc Bousquet, the second is a waste product of the first. If the MOOC providers are like meatpackers, then the flipped classroom is how they’re going to get us to eat their offal.

Now, we should look at this. I am quite sure Daphne Kollor is looking at the upcoming devastation of Louisiana universities with great anticipation.


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Michael Pollan

“The brain is a hierarchical system,” Carhart-Harris said. “The highest-level parts”—such as the default-mode network—“have an inhibitory influence on the lower-level parts, like emotion and memory.” He discovered that blood flow and electrical activity in the default-mode network dropped off precipitously under the influence of psychedelics, a finding that may help to explain the loss of the sense of self that volunteers reported. (The biggest dropoffs in default-mode-network activity correlated with volunteers’ reports of ego dissolution.) Just before Carhart-Harris published his results, in a 2012 paper in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a researcher at Yale named Judson Brewer, who was using fMRI to study the brains of experienced meditators, noticed that their default-mode networks had also been quieted relative to those of novice meditators. It appears that, with the ego temporarily out of commission, the boundaries between self and world, subject and object, all dissolve. These are hallmarks of the mystical experience.

In Carhart-Harris’s view, a steep price is paid for the achievement of order and ego in the adult mind. “We give up our emotional lability,” he told me, “our ability to be open to surprises, our ability to think flexibly, and our ability to value nature.” The sovereign ego can become a despot. This is perhaps most evident in depression, when the self turns on itself and uncontrollable introspection gradually shades out reality. In “The Entropic Brain,” a paper published last year in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, Carhart-Harris cites research indicating that this debilitating state, sometimes called “heavy self-consciousness,” may be the result of a “hyperactive” default-mode network.


Regarding depression, which I appear to have, yet not have by “choice” as some think it is had, or as a permanent, organic problem, as do others, but as the result of an injury sustained in treatment for the effects of abuse and trauma and then treatment for the injury that did not heal it — this is a good description of it.

In Reeducation we were, precisely taught to turn the self on itself and substitute research and recreation time with self-destructive introspection. That created this debilitating state or “heavy self-consciousness.” If you suppress reason, as we were ordered to, but also repress intuition and try to follow instructions aimed at making you “functional” in a conventional way, then you do in fact place, and maintain the sovereign ego in a despotic position.

Be that as it may, the description above is good, and the article from whence it comes is fascinating.


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On abusive relationships

1. “Your university is abusive toward [you],” said someone who does not know the place, and was just basing this on a few comments I made.

That is why I have difficulty starting to work, why my first instinct is flight (no, not fight), and why no amount of advice on time and task management helps. I just have to steel myself before entering a torture chamber is too dramatic a way to put it, perhaps.  (I am borrowing it from a friend who long ago caught me preparing myself mentally for a family visit and who said in horror, “It is as though you were preparing yourself to enter a torture chamber.”)

What can I do about it now? In part, focus on every person involved who is not a torturer. Look at them, respond to them. (This, I think, is why the  prisoner I try to care for wants me to be there for him to look at when he is executed, and it is a useful principle generally. I am trained to look at the torturer, knowing they are the one I must manage, but the way in which the situation has changed is that while the torturer remains there and holds some cards, the power of the others has grown and can be cultivated further.)

2. Someone else described as “horrifically abusive” a scene which in my family would not have gone as far as this one did, but which I would have considered a family interaction as much to be expected as any other – i.e. the kind of scene I was always well advised to be braced for, because one never knew when it might be unleashed. In my family, though, it would have been described as a scene in which my mother was suffering and could not control herself, and that we had to submit to because she was suffering; and that we had brought upon ourselves by being who we were, or by not performing well enough the roles she needed us to perform in her presence, or by having desires or interests that diverged in any way from what was valued, or respected, or admired, or not feared or resented.

I have difficulty saying this and even seeing it, because there were certain days and I believe, even seasons and years when it was not this way or not predominantly this way. Also, I may have been the person who bore the brunt of things, so when I was told I was crazy to believe I had experienced what I had, it may have been true that others did not experience the same thing, or were compensated for forgetting it in ways I was not.

3. My analyst says I have two identities, one for safe situations and one for unsafe situations, and I should try to use the one for safe situations in unsafe situations. Where I disagree with this is that it presupposes that unsafe situations are actually safe, and that it is only I who imagine they are not.

What to do about that needs further thought. Just because one cannot make the unsafe, safe is not a reason to be careless — you would not do this on the highway or in a bad neighborhood, for example. Still, holding onto power, and remembering that what one considers reasonable probably is that, are useful rules in bad neighborhoods or on the highway, and perhaps everywhere.


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Sur la mauvaise volonté

El mal que aqueja nuestro departamento, según mi estudiante, c’est la mauvaise volonté. Laquelle? –ai-je demandé. Bien, a-t’il répondu: c’est le narcissisme d’un chef, et l’égoïsme de l’autre, que hacen que todos se odian y se agreden entre sí.

Es importante reconocer esto. Mi analista, el real, el de carne y hueso, dice que tengo yo dos identidades –la fuerte y la débil– y que debo asentarme mejor en la fuerte, así rapido acabamos.

Qué más quisiera yo. Pero es que el ambiente no apoya eso.



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A flash I had

…about the introjected torturer. About the feeling of being imprisoned. You must go back in your box, back in your cage. The way I dissociate ever so slightly with this.

Important: who has imprisoned me? I do not think it is the university.

I think it is family and friends who imprisoned me here after convincing me I did not deserve to be here and should leave.


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