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Monthly Archives: May 2008

At random intervals, every now and then,  §

triumph appears, dripping from the lobes of my brain. Words, beautiful words, are made to haunt the page—made to do so by me through feats of black magic that seem as mysterious to myself in restrospect as they so obviously seem to others.

I don’t understand how it works at all.

Then, there are the temporal deserts, the vast expanses of time space in which nothing in particular is seen, heard, or felt to come forth from tangle of prickly notions that sift endlessly through the densely smoky atmosphere of my mind.

Inevitably and often not at too desperate a length, I begin to suspect that the well has run dry, or that if it hasn’t happened to have run dry at this moment, it certainly will do so eventually as a matter of fate or even simple bookkeeping.

Then, most often surprisingly, the cycle beings again anew.

There are obvious questions to be asked here.

1. Will the end eventually come? Will some idea be the “last idea,” some phrase be the “last phrase?”

2. What, precisely and in the meantime, are the enabling circumstances for such production? Invariably from the apex of each peak I “discover” through supposed self-observation a new set of necessary factors, a new environmental and habitual checklist, a catalogue of superstition by which to forcefully bear my next work of value… but in each case, of course, these turn out to be mirages at best, comical acts of idiocy at worst.

3. To what extent is it prudent to rely on this regime of unpredictable productivity for a career of any kind? Might it not be wiser to grow potatoes or to inject rivets, occupations whose career trajectories tend not to be subject to the ebb and flow of epiphenomenal factors and phantastic forces?

4. What the hell is with the God damn writers’ block most of the time?

Thoughts on getting (and not) things done  §

I am here at school for the first time in some time in order to actually work on something academic. Nevermind that I am having trouble making myself focus. There is a small headache going on, and the room is cold, and it is not a particularly friendly work area. I had to come to the building at 55 West 13th Street because the building at 65 Fifth Avenue is being retired and wireless is therefore not working there anymore.

This building has its own odd properties. I am sitting, for example, in an abandoned and rather freezing cold kitchen full of echoes. Set down a pen on the steel for-eating tabletop and the sound will reverberate through the area. Nobody else is here because it’s summer break and the school empties out during the summer—in large part, I suspect, because it is in general full of difficult environments.

That’s the trouble with the New School—great people, but always confused, always in a state of waywardness. An entire university with virtually no quiet study spaces. The two or three that exist are unwired and devoid of furniture, or are (like this one) equipped with empty counter refrigerators and unmanned soda fountains and dining equipment, rather than being quiet and warm with study desks. The one on the lower floor of 79 Fifth Avenue looks like something out of a movie—like a lounge on a spaceship. The walls glow orange and yellow and everything is antiseptic white and the furniture is sculpted and shiny and uncomfortable and nobody ever goes there.

The New School seems always to manage to dispense with whatever its occupants manage to cobble together that actually works in the interest precisely of replacing such things with whatever happens to be new, even if “new” represents an undefined quantity of dubious utility.

I really couldn’t say whether all of this just “goes with the territory” of being “The New School,” but the permanent state of crisis here is legendary and as I sit in a cold, empty kitchen that is being forced to double as a “study area” today because it is the best place on campus in which to actually work, I can’t help but wonder.

Getting back to the inability to focus, I am losing my habitual academic practices. The reading of books, the writing of papers, the familiarity with highlighters and thinking and the extraction of quotes and the chase for references… These are things that need to be practiced if they are to be brought to bear at a moments’ notice and I have not been practicing them.

My life is a bit too unfocused these days and really has been since I returned last summer. In part, this goes along with “being done with coursework.” It’s one thing to enjoy a state of affairs in which the entire world is giving you a pass because you are a “student attending class,” but once class is over everyone seems to want you to be able to justify yourself in terms of overall productivity (i.e. “contributing to society”) from the start, despite the fact that there is a several year period after courses but before earning a Ph.D. during which you really need to have time to develop your abilities and bring them to bear on your own projects so that you can successfully launch an academic career and make good on the investment(s) that society has made in you.

In my case, I am struggling to make this last part happen on a reasonable timeline and at a reasonable level of quality. We’ll see.

Eom.  §

Eom, eom, eom, eom, eom.


Sometimes  §

I think I am the only person on earth who can see through it all.

There must be others.

Everyone should be an anthropologist.

Most anthropologists aren’t even anthropologists.

Human nature.

But what does that make me?

Society  §

There must be some way to protect society from rogue (i.e. damaging) individualism while at the same time allowing for some measure of individual agency. I suppose that has always been the problem—deciding where individual agency ends and harm to others begins. I fall on the side of the latter; any harm to others is too much.

Maybe that makes me a totalitarian. Maybe China has it right, more than I realize. All I know is that the things that people so unreflectively take as social goods here so often seem to me to be absolute social ills.

The older I get, the more I feel as though I think like my father. When I was younger, I thought he needed to finally mentally “arrive” in America. The older I get, the more I think that he was and is right about a great many things.

Maybe what 4,000 years gets you is wisdom. The west doesn’t strike me as having ever been particularly wise, much less so America, which is only a couple hundred years old. Sometimes I think that what China has as a collective is the wisdom to know what must be done even though it is painful and to know when to self-sacrifice even if it feels oppressive. The wisdom that comes from thousands of years of struggle with such problems and that comes from having to manage the largest population on earth.

I have to say  §

that I really don’t care much for western culture. It makes me tremendously sad when I encounter it directly or have to reflect on it. Cosmically sad. It’s just… ugly. Heartbreakingly so.

I just heard a U.S. official  §

on NPR say that “it’s time the Iraqis start paying their fair share for the rebuilding of their country.”

Only an American could embrace such twisted imperialist logic.

“Dear Iraq,

We are distressed to learn that you are refusing to pay for our recent unilateral destruction of your country. Please do not endanger yourselves further by delaying payment.”

This is the new American business model, perfect for a nation like ours with tremendous debt and almost no remaining productive base: blow countries completely apart of our own accord, then charge them at gunpoint to be put back together again before they can emerge from utter shock to complain about it.

Wednesdays in May  §

It’s a funny life, this.

I’ve got a lot of people to catch up with.

The sun is out and people seem to be made of spring.

Subway drivers have permanently impaired senses of balance and relative motion.

There are two kinds of theory critics.  §

There are those that reasonably adept at and fascinated with the process of finding the degree to which a given metaphor articulates its object in a way that is markedly incongruent (though often in culturally obscure or unnoticed ways) to the object’s nominally elaboratable structure. Then there are those who just can’t stand metaphor of any kind. These are those for whom the examination of parallels is nothing less than the implicit act false identification. For them, the world is infinitely, radically populated by singularities.

I prefer the former.

Taking a brief walk in the rain at night  §

always has the effect of reminding one of the fact that there is rain and there are nights.

I live in a world of text. In fact, I live in a world of metatext and hypertext—text about texts and texts that reference other texts. My world is shot through with metaperception and metaconception and hyperperception and hyperconception and very little… well… pavement.

Don’t get me wrong—I love academics. I love, most specifically, philosophy and theory, two things that cannot be too shot through with pavement as a matter of professional practice the way these disciplines have been vocationalized. And vocations are what modernity is made of, no getting away from that.

I love to think. I do. But sometimes I feel as though I spend rather a lot of time thinking about texts that are about texts that are talking about dirt and pavement and the meat that walks on them… when I’d rather (just every now and then) be that meat walking on them, not thinking quite so very much.

I suppose what I’m trying to say in the most clumsy way possible is that despite the continual feeling that I have an utter lack of knowledge in comparison to those under which I study and that I have will spend the rest of my life trying to “catch up” to all the knowledge I wish I had, there is also a feeling somewhere inside me that even more than knowledge I lack experience. My feet have been on the ground in relatively few places for my liking; I have seen relatively few natural or man-made “wonders,” I have spoken to comparatively few people from various corners of the Earth.

“Comparatively” not necessarily in relation to the average low-information American voter, but certainly in relation to my own wishes, my own idle dreams.

I remember being a kid and visiting my grandparents. They had every issue of National Geographic on a very long shelf, stretching all the way back to the dark bits of the twentieth century. I used to read and read and read and read every time we visited.

I was convinced that despite the fact that I felt I could already smell and taste and hear what I saw in the pictures, I would smell and taste and hear them even more when I went to those places, when I met those people, when I engaged in those journeys.

Hasn’t happened yet, for the most part.

Too much time in books and papers.

Which I do love, more than anything but my wife and family, I think.

But time is, nonetheless, always running out… a little more each day.

This couple of weeks  §

is gonna be crunchy. Then things will settle down / stretch out into the summer time in a rather nice way, methinks.

We were at a very nice quasi-academic (well not really, just with academics) function last night and it made my day and week and maybe even my month. When I am distracted for a few weeks on end and stray from my research and from my faculty I lose track of the absolute pleasure that I take in being a Ph.D. prospective at The New School for Social Research.

Best not to forget such things.

It is raining, unambiguously raining, in New York today.

April’s changes  §

have had a huge impact on my life: practices, places, connectedness, health, sanity, productivity—everything.

I need to re-establish balance.

Most annoying internet connection in the world  §

belongs to T-Mobile via Starbucks. It just took me 45 minutes to connect. First I had to pay $10 for the privilege of talking for the next 24 hours… only to find that I still couldn’t. Strike 1: no Linux compatibility. Windows 2000/XP/Vista only. Only they don’t say this anywhere. You figure it out by exploring the captive DNS area where you continually don’t see a login prompt even though you just bought an account.

Finally, in the FAQ area, you notice that there are questions about the “T-Mobile connection manager,” which you know you don’t have. You finally find and follow a link to download it after seeing the system requirements and rebooting into XP. The download starts and it’s 40MB but the connection is only giving you 10-15K/s. Oops. So it’s only an hour-long download just to use the connection you just bought.

Finally you download and install it. And of course the first thing it does is fuck up Windows XP’s network management, because of course T-Mobile Connection Manager, like all other ugly American products, wants you to be a captive to them and nobody else. So choosing T-Mobile is like choosing a religion or a spouse, only T-Mobile is ugly and you want to kill it most of the time.

But you play along anyway and let it sloooowly install and fuck up your Windows installation forever more, in ways that will no doubt send back data about everything that you do even as it prevents you from connecting to any non-T-Mobile networks.

And finally it’s in, and… Your login doesn’t work. So if you’re clueless you just give up, hand T-Mobile your $10 and your computer and go home crying. Or, if you’ve noticed that there are dozens of T-Mobile branded SSIDs floating around this one “hotspot,” you start trying to connect to them one-by-one. Each of them pops up its own style login prompt. Over and over they fail with different and unique messages.

Eventually one works. And then the fun begins. You’re logged in, but the T-Mobile connection manager keeps blasting huge, shiny, graphics-heavy “windows” shaped like wristwatches and iPods and whatever else onto your screen just to keep telling you you’re connected and that T-Mobile is “friendly” and happy. These make it almost impossible to fugging work.

Score a big ZERO for Starbucks and its connectivity. In 2004-2005 I spent a lot of time connected at Starbucks, giving both them and their connection partner money. But like so many technology firms heavily invested in lock-in (read: “customer ‘loyalty'”) and intellectual property, they are happy to fucking CHASE THEIR CUSTOMERS AWAY AT GUNPOINT.

Enough said. I’ll try and get some work done. From Windows XP because Starbucks hates Linux. With giant pink non-window-shaped popups haunting my newly broken Windows XP installation.

Thanks, Starbucks and T-Mobile.


Nice little essay  §

You can’t prove a negative?