Category Archives: Theories

Last sunset in Lettland

There is so much to do here that is of interest to me, and it is so beautiful. I want to come back, and soon, but one does not know when that would be. After my dear month in Mexico City in 2012 I said I would be back within the year. I have not been back since.

I had two arguments by e-mail, one about whether I should rush to apply for a Fulbright here (I shouldn’t, I should just sail steady and keep an eye on Baltic Fulbright offerings) and one about whether I should have a product placement blog on travel in hopes of getting vouchers for tours and cruises. I reacted to this with horror and then, more composed as I sat on a city bus in my new dress, feeling poised, realized what the fight-or-flight reaction had been:

1/ Traveling in the way that I do is the space in which I allow myself, and am allowed to be fully myself, to have utter integrity. I don’t want to give this up because then there would be nothing left of me at all.

2/ Traveling to me is deeply personal. I want to do the things I want to do. I don’t want to perform travel to please others, or be obliged to feign enjoyment. I’d honestly rather do sex work to support independent travel, than go on “free” cruises and tours and then blog about them. I would go on cruises and tours and write about them, even write positively about them, if I were also PAID to go on the excursion and for the writing, but that would be a completely different situation. And if I monetize my travel experiences in some way, benefit financially from selling my stories, I want to be the one who decides what stories I tell.

3/ It strikes me that there is something really perverse in commodifying yourself and your experience to promote a commodity, and masking this activity as a travel narrative. It also strikes me that the travel companies really win here–they get advertising they hardly pay for, and the person they underpaid considers it a gift.

In any case, some things from today are:

a/ The Great Cemetery of Riga, and other important cemeteries one could see; in the great cemetery I discovered the memorial stone for Kristian Jaak Peterson, founder of modern Estonian literature, compared to Pushkin and Goethe, who lived 21 years and mastered 20 languages;

b/ An earlier conversation in which I learned that the Latvian national epic was composed in the nineteenth century like Martin Fierro, and it involves a pre-Christian hero. He fought for the old gods against the catechists, and could kill bears with his bare hands.

c/ The conversation with the old man waiting for the bus. I will write about him in more detail later. I must remember to discuss the languages he speaks and why; his anti-Communism (and dislike of political news on television); his experiences in Siberia and the Red Army; his love for Estonia and fishing; the parades he had seen with both Hitler and Stalin on the very street where we were waiting for the bus.

d/ The open-air ethnographic museum, my thoughts on peasant life and the Wild West, my appreciation of these insufficiently respected people.

Axé.

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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.

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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.

Axé.

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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.

Axé.

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Disappointing statements

“You are not in graduate school any more, so your job is not to do research any more. To do research would be arrogant.”

“The research you do does not bring large grants into the university and for this reason, it is not research.”

“The courses that make the most money for us are the basic ones that fulfill the general education requirement, so it is in those you should take interest.”

Precursor:

Jorge Schwartz: “Ai, minha filha, o que você faz aqui?”

That last one has a context I could explain, but do not have time to do now. I think it bears thinking about, as it has to do with that book. Everything related to that book has to have a psychoanalytic lens shone upon it, the refusal to write that came from the unconscious.

I will one day look down the other side of this mountain, and be free.

Axé.

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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.

Axé.

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.

Axé.

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A terrible beauty

It is said you cannot psychoanalyze yourself but I am forced to do it as I have found it to be the best available option. That is why I have this weblog.

There were two breakthroughs this week. It is a breakthrough when you find a simple answer. The first was actually one I had in the 1990s but that took some time to get consolidated; it is about recognizing and rejecting abuse. If I feel strange (panicked, horrified, sad, greatly diminished, and so on) it is a reaction to abuse which must be identified, recognized, and refused. If I do this, I straighten right up, and if I do not, I remain in that state for a long, long time.

The next has to do with my acquired fear of certain kinds of writing. It is about the feeling that this is something you must do, but also must not do; it is required of you but not yours; you are not really worthy of it, although you must do it to prove worth. (These are of course a series of double binds.) But the answer is (of course you are worthy and) this is you. (Anyone can see that language and writing are me, it is ridiculous to question it.) Take it on, assume it, take your place, because yes this is for you, this is you.

In psychoanalysis it is said that seeing the problem is solving it. In behaviorism you must learn how to solve it and form habits around this, and all of that is hard work but it is superficial and will not stem the tide, or free you from the undertow of the past and of every unconscious misconception you have. In psychoanalysis the work comes first, in learning to really see. Because just seeing generally is not accurate enough. You have to hit not just the target, but the bull’s eye. It is when you do that that problems fall away and you change magically. The apparatus that was draining you falls away, and new energies are liberated. It is as in the Communist Manifesto (“All that was solid, melts”) and also “Easter, 1916” (“All is changed, changed utterly”). Everything is easy.

I am quite pleased to have seen the things I have seen, and to know the things I know.

Axé.

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