Category Archives: Da Whiteman

Some things I learned at the conference

I learned a number of the things one normally learns, about new work, ideas, books. I learned that I have to actually write the proto-article I presented on: it is time to write it, and the thinking will come in the writing. Here are some of the other things I learned.

My projects are many and complex. They are like those of the stars and people who get invited to be keynote speakers. This is why I always end up in conversation with those people. And someone told me that it involves having the kind of thick education that many professors don’t have anymore.

Anyway, the reason I don’t develop my projects well enough is that they need R1 time and confidence, ideally, or barring that a more positive or at least less hostile work environment; and also that I’ve always been taught to be tentative, to limit myself, not to jump in with both feet. Jumping in with both feet is something within my power, as well as leading myself from the head and not pushing myself from the back (this last is what those who say their problem is not liking to write do). And standing up against mistreatment.

Also, I remember that in Reeducation I was not only accused of being too logical, but having excessive powers of concentration and focus. I kept saying these were just my academic training, and that I needed them, they were a tool of my trade, but my Reeducator was looking for pathology and thought he might be able to tackle me with an OCD diagnosis. I was afraid of this because I was afraid of the drugs I would have to take, and tried to show that I could destroy or disable my powers of concentration and focus on my own, without drugs (thus also proving I was not wicked, and trying to earn the right to something more like psychoanalysis).

The other part of Reeducation was academia and in it I was shocked to find myself, first, in a teaching-and-pampering situation and next, in a research-first situation where research wasn’t an intellectual endeavor but a measurable production endeavor for the university as industrial complex. It took me a long time to understand these situations and my lack of comprehension of them.

I think that for my article on neoliberalization these things are important. I remember some of the first signs of it when I was a student. We took them seriously but did not understand them as completely as I do now (and it’s not a question of hindsight; the information existed but we did not have it). I think that the whole time I have been a professor is the time in which this destruction has been happening. We’re accused of not having stood up to it but in my case it has been not understanding it, or at least not understanding it immediately. I have only become really able to understand it recently.



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On primitivism and aristocracy

I do not agree with everything in this Appiah article on primitivism but there are some very interesting references in it.


I have been in Utrecht for a week and it has changed me greatly. I want to live here. I looked at some notes I made the first day and I know so much more about the town now, and the Netherlands are so much more familiar now.

I have learned something important: the idea that was imposed upon me, that one should finish the Ph.D. in a field like letters, and then decide what to do with one’s life, is an aristocratic one, was what aristocrats actually did. It is not an odd neurosis of mine that one must first prove personhood via the Ph.D. and ideally tenure in a top place in a humanities field before going on with one’s life, finding ones true field and vocation — it is an aristocratic ideal that was actually communicated to me as a requirement.

This is very interesting. Parents who want children out of the nest, on the one hand, but want to tie them to it hand and foot, on the other. I had some other psychoanalytic insights as well, about early infancy.


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I spent an afternoon in Amsterdam

It was so anti-inspiring when I really need to be inspired and I already live in such an anti-inspiring place. Throwing away the chance at small amounts of inspiration for the sake of participating in socially acceptable oppression just felt terribly self-destructive, like so many things I have done in life because they were correct and were expected but that have done me so much harm.

Amsterdam reminds me of Maringouin. It is a tourist simulacrum you are made to feel guilty for not loving, while in fact its colonial operations continue, the slaves are beaten, the master of your house rapes you, and the masses gamble in venues corresponding to their class and station. This is the very strong impression I had of the place.

Yes, I have been there before and been to the museums, and yes, I realize that this place produces a great deal of culture. (I understand, I promise, I am sorry, I really am, but just please, please don’t hit me any more.)

UPDATE: There are apparently a lot of drug tourists there, and this would be a good reason why I was so claustrophobic. AND it turns out that I am not the only person who does not understand the Amsterdam fetish.

HOWEVER: What I’d like to do is get a good grasp on the history of the place and its place in world history.



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Writing is the act of saying I

Joan Didion, again. “Writing is an aggressive, hostile act.” Trysh Travis:

[In] graduate teaching, this means helping students figure out what they are arguing about complex and multifaceted topics with which they tend to have, in clinical mental health terms, deeply codependent relationships. . . .

. . . bell hooks calls the process “coming to voice”. . . . Confidence in their own authority allows them to say both “this is my argument” and “that could be my argument, but it is not.”

Making such claims is scary; they entail a lot of responsibility. Traditional feminist pedagogy — indebted to the ethics of care — provides an easy jumping-off point for discussing the responsibility an author has to sources and audience. . . .

But we lack a feminist discourse that grapples with the fact that, as Didion explains, writing is “. . . an invasion, an imposition of the writer’s sensibility on the reader’s most private space.” To be clear, that aggression inheres . . . in the act of clearing space (in one’s head, on the page, in the scholarly conversation) for one’s own vision and voice.

Writing in standard academic English, “the act of saying ‘I’” always already occurs over and against the voices of others. Writers dialogue with some of those voices, but to most of the others, they must say, “That could be my argument, but it is not.”


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On procrastination and block

Jonathan has a theory on procrastination which applies rather well but I have more ideas on it. My thoughts are not yet well formed but one is that there is a great difference between procrastination and block. I have been greatly frustrated by trying to use techniques designed to fight procrastination on block. I think at this point that Jonathan’s theory straddles the two. That is why it is tantalizing: it gets at something, but not quite.

Here are some of my fragmentary thoughts: procrastination can be tackled rationally, with techniques like Tanya’s, but block comes from the unconscious and has to be dealt with at more or less a psychoanalytic level. When I was blocked on that infamous manuscript and thought I was procrastinating, I kept having dreams that, if I had been willing to read them, meant that the project had to be dropped so that I could live.

The idea that is nipping at my heels, and that parallels both Jonathan’s theory and mine, has to do with addiction: I’ve heard that one is addicted not to “feel good” but to limit oneself: first through intoxication and yet more importantly, through hangover or withdrawal and the search for more drugs. Desired is the hangover and the limits it imposes. Why does one want limits? So as not to see beyond the horizon. Beyond the horizon are vistas you cannot yet tolerate, or that some introjected authority does not wish you to see.

You do not want to start because you do not believe you deserve to finish, suggests Jonathan (he calls this procrastination, although I would say this kind of procrastination is tinged with block). You both want and do not want the project, and are not aware of the full dimensions of this conflict, say I (this is outright block). In both cases, you are hanging onto limits.

The antidotes for askesis and acedia, as I found out by reading the early church fathers and Aquinas, are charity and love. This fits Jonathan’s theory (and I should unearth and share the piece of creative nonfiction I published on that). Charity and love, when lacking, are hard to find or build, but it is they and not discipline or strategy that stop procrastination. What stops block is deeper work, that involves seeing things you would rather not.



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“I’m allowed to feel disappointed”

This is worth thinking about. Something I have procrastinated about is leaving academia. In a way, I feel I was pushed out when I started my first job, which had nothing to do with the kind of job, or life I was interested in. So my career change already happened to me, and when I think of career changes it is to begin doing something that more closely resembles the kind of work I was interested in and thought I could find in academia. I have been reticent about asking certain questions, but something I did discuss with friends and family was leaving. They were all horrified and convinced me not to, and I stayed because I was told I owed it to them, they would suffer too terribly if I left (that is another reason I feel trapped and do not work well). This, actually, shows why I do not ask enough questions–I am not accustomed to receiving non-destructive answers.


The Precariat & The Professor

Talking with Jill yesterday about disappointment and the post-ac hustle, I was reminded of Kate Ragon’s chapter for The Precariat & The Professor, “Pleasure & Paradoxes of Organizing in the Corporate University.” We come to academia for a variety of reasons, but so many of us arrived here because we are idealists, we are dreamers– we believed the university was the contemporary City on a Hill, the last remaining one, in fact. Swallowing the bitter pill of the university’s reality is only the beginning of disappointment, which compounds, whether you get on the tenure track, work contingently, or leave for other, better things: Kate Ragon, like Erik Strobl, writes of the frustration of attempting to organize academics who think union labor is somehow below them. Jill, on the other hand, writes of being disappointed that she’s disappointed in herself for willfully walking away from a university who exploited her knowledge…

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On change

“Bien regarder, je crois que ça s’apprend.”
–Emmanuelle Riva in Hiroshima mon amour.

“Change comes first at the societal level, not at the level of the individual. You work to change society, change the relations of production, and this work changes you.” My Marxist boyfriend said this one day in Berkeley during Reagan’s second presidential term, when we were exasperated at the vagaries of the hippies. That was long ago but I remember it because it was true.

I forgot for a long time because of learning to survive the university as it took its entrepreneurial turn, while we were trying to earn tenure in the belief that things still were as they had been. (The vocabulary was still the same, and policies and practices were changing but on their face the changes were small, and most of us lacked the perspective necessary to accurately interpret the shifting panorama.) The cant was that we should work on ourselves, and manage this regardless of circumstances, since the real relations of production had to be irrelevant to rising stars. One was not to recognize the obvious truth that such advice–liberal/conservative propaganda, actually–was only appropriate in situations where the real relations of production were working, at least adequately, for you.

Similarly, change at the individual level does not come from changes in habit: that, again, is liberal/conservative propaganda. Changes in habit flow naturally from deeper change. Deeper change is change in relation to self, in relation to the means of production, in relation to meaning.

All of these things are deeply and definitely true.



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