Gerry Canavan

the smartest kid on earth

Posts Tagged ‘Sylvia Plath

Friday Morning Links!

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* ICYMI! SFFTV CFP: “When the Astronaut is a Woman: Beyond the Frontier in Film and Television.” At the link there’s also details for SFFTV’s year-round reading period.

* Climate Scientists Warn That All Super Mario Levels Will Be Underwater by 2025.

* On academic mobbing.

* Okay, but it’s only barely half.

Duke University’s non-tenured faculty have reached a tentative agreement in their first union contract, which includes higher pay and longer-term teaching appointments.

* Yours, Mine, but Not Ours: Why the politics of national security means that we’re all living in failed Hobbesian states.

* Ethnic cleansing remains the one arena of policy where this White House can focus. Emboldened by Trump, U.S. Border Officials Are Lying to Asylum Seekers and Turning Them Away.

Judge Derrick Watson is soft on grandparents, grandchildren, brothers-in-law, sisters-in-law, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, and cousins.

Trump Lawyer Marc Kasowitz Threatens Stranger in Emails: ‘Watch Your Back , Bitch.’

* I sincerely hope the lawsuits associated with this pronouncement bankrupt Anthem.

* Game of Thrones fan fiction getting serious now.

At the end of the second Obama administration, there seemed to be more time and world in which to noodle around with those questions than there is today. In this new age of anxiety and emergency, existential threats seem very close indeed. Our own game of thrones has taken a terrifying turn. Winter is other people.

It is ridiculous how beyond debate the collusion case has become and how little it matters anyway.

* It’s going to pass.

* Why Are We So Unwilling to Take Sylvia Plath at Her Word?

SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING (dir. John Hughes, 2017). This will definitely hold up in court. I hope this is still legally binding. At this point I’d at least hear them out. When you stare too long into the abyss. From A to Z.

“I set a goal to only eat meat that I killed and helped butcher myself” is the most Hannibal Lecterish thing this guy has ever said. So far.

* The war on drugs goes speculative.

* Income Inequality Will Survive the Nuclear Apocalypse.

And Here’s Your First Look at an Insanely Detailed Model of Disney’s Star Wars Land.

Star Wars Day Links! Yay!

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* A brief history of the Star Wars Expanded Universe. Star Wars Minus Star Wars. Is Luke Skywalker of ‘Star Wars’ inspired by Wisconsin war hero? Star Wars and Jihad. May the toys be with you. Me talking Star Wars at Salon. The only review I read, which seems 100% right to me (very light spoilers).

They Might Be Giants Look Back on Every Album They’ve Ever Made.

* This is maybe the most “Cold War” story of all time.

My suggestion was quite simple: Put that needed code number in a little capsule, and then implant that capsule right next to the heart of a volunteer. The volunteer would carry with him a big, heavy butcher knife as he accompanied the President. If ever the President wanted to fire nuclear weapons, the only way he could do so would be for him first, with his own hands, to kill one human being. The President says, “George, I’m sorry but tens of millions must die.” He has to look at someone and realize what death is—what an innocent death is. Blood on the White House carpet. It’s reality brought home.

When I suggested this to friends in the Pentagon they said, “My God, that’s terrible. Having to kill someone would distort the President’s judgment. He might never push the button.“

* Running the Red Cross like a business.

* This seems true, at least as FYE as it is usually conceived goes, but all the same it’s not necessarily a great argument for FYE practitioners to make.

The Humanities as Service Departments: Facing the Budget Logic.

“If tenured faculty teaching high-demand courses can be fired without cause, as they were at St. Rose, then tenure no longer exists,” Lemieux said.

UMass brass cash in despite budget woes.

* 10 Revealing Tidbits We Found in Football Coaches’ Contracts.

* The law school collapse continues.

Milwaukee’s Push to Move the Homeless From the Streets Into Permanent Housing. U.S. Department of Justice agrees to review Milwaukee police. Milwaukee to pay $5 million to settle suits over illegal strip searches.

Today NASA Begins to Take New Astronaut Applications. Do You Qualify?

* My life story: Tsundoku.

* Yet another trailer: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.

The Trouble With Calling Jessica Jones an ‘Antihero.’ Show Me a Hero: Thoughts on Jessica Jones.

* Academic librarians: what do they do all day?

* Sylvia Plath — you know, for kids.

Where the jobs are(n’t), 2015. The other me who went to grad school in philosophy instead is pretty unhappy right now.

People Who Curse Have Better Fucking Vocabularies, According to Science.

The DEA warns that drugs are funding terror. An examination of cases raises questions about whether the agency is stopping threats or staging them.

* Followup: Report: Las Vegas Review-Journal’s Mystery Buyer Is Right-Wing Billionaire Sheldon Adelson.

* Another followup, from years back: Cop Who Sought Photos of Teen’s Erection in Sexting Case Commits Suicide Moments Before Arrest.

* I understand why they made the decision they made, but I don’t think this paradigm is really sustainable: All LA Schools Closed After Hoax Threat.

* An Unbelievable Story of Rape. Difficult but very powerful read.

A record 409 scripted TV series were produced this year, according to FX. Almost too many, don’t you think?

* Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal doing the Lord’s work on Schrödinger’s cat. BONUS.

Hear 6 Classic Philip K. Dick Stories Adapted as Vintage Radio Plays.

The Strangest, Most Spectacular Bridge Collapse (And How We Got It Wrong).

* Did the utopian pirate nation of Libertatia ever really exist?

* And your daily dose of total institutional breakdown: Embattled state’s attorney refused to prosecute cop who admitted to perjury. Prosecutors have hijacked America’s criminal justice system while no one was looking. LAPD found no bias in all 1356 complaints filed against officers. And maybe the worst just in sheer audacity: Denmark passes law to seize jewelry from refugees to cover expenses.

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Monday

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* Today in my classroom: Freida Hughes’s poem “My Mother.” I used this at the tail end of our discussion of Sylvia Plath today and found it really useful as a way of interrogating just what it is we do as critics.

This American Life Features Error-Riddled Story On Disability And Children. Of course, it was a Planet Money piece.

Think about it: MOOAs are the perfect solution to the rising cost of higher education. We take superstar administrators and let them administer tens, maybe even hundreds, of thousands of faculty at a time. The Ivy League and Nescac colleges could pool their upper management as could, say, Midwestern state colleges that start with “I” or “O.”

If the administrators cannot compete and be effective online, then it’s time to get out of the way for the people who can. After all, no student ever thought it was worth $55,000 a year for time in a room with a particular dean or vice president, but we might be able to convince them, at least for a while longer, that the educational experience of the classroom is worth it.

Median Salaries of Higher-Education Professionals, 2012-13.

Committee tasked with creating standards for for-profit colleges folds under industry pressure.

* “It is difficult to identify a single instance where an emergency manager has succeeded in turning around the financial fortunes of a city or jurisdiction.”

* And thus began the great Georgia-Tennessee War.

The Great Melting: Polar Ice Across The Arctic And Antarctic.

* Today in dystopia: White Student Union at Towson University will conduct nighttime campus patrols. What could possibly go wrong?

5 Products That Should Fear Google’s Next Killing Spree.

The Google I was passionate about was a technology company that empowered its employees to innovate. The Google I left was an advertising company with a single corporate-mandated focus.

* Today in fanboy supercuts: Watch all six Star Wars movies at once. It actually is sort of revealing.

There’s a dark cloud hanging over the science of climate change, quite literally. Scientists today have access to supercomputers capable of running advanced simulations of Earth’s climate hundreds of years into the future, accounting for millions of tiny variables. But even with all that equipment and training, they still can’t quite figure out how clouds work.

Matternet Founder Paola Santana Wants To Replace The Postal System With Drones.

* Out of sight, out of mind: the story of every known victim of drone bombings in Pakistan.

* The University of Maryland at College Park doesn’t have a copy of the contract it signed to join the Big 10, The Washington Post reported. The Post filed an open records request for the contract, and was told that the university didn’t have a copy. The Big 10, which is not subject to open records requests, keeps all such copies. Maryland officials said that not keeping a copy was in line with Big 10 policies, which are designed to reflect that most of its members are public universities, subject to open records requests.

A growing body of evidence shows, however, that we have grossly underestimated both the scope and the scale of animal intelligence. Can an octopus use tools? Do chimpanzees have a sense of fairness? Can birds guess what others know? Do rats feel empathy for their friends? Just a few decades ago we would have answered “no” to all such questions. Now we’re not so sure. Experiments with animals have long been handicapped by our anthropocentric attitude: We often test them in ways that work fine with humans but not so well with other species. Scientists are now finally meeting animals on their own terms instead of treating them like furry (or feathery) humans, and this shift is fundamentally reshaping our understanding. See also: Clever Hans the Math Horse.

* Presenting the invisible bike helmet.

Wal-Mart Stores Inc has sued a major grocery workers union and others who have protested at its Florida stores, the latest salvo in its legal fight to stop “disruptive” rallies in and around its stores by groups seeking better pay and working conditions.

* “Do you know that unless you’re willing to use the R rating, you can only say the ‘F’ word once? You know what I say? F*ck that. I’m done.” And it’s new to me: Jimmy Kimmel’s unnecessary censorship.

Great Moments in Rejection Letters

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Written by gerrycanavan

November 19, 2011 at 12:18 pm

Infinite Summer #3: No Matter How Smart You Thought You Were, You Are Actually Way Less Smart Than That

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(This one turned out a little longer than expected.)

There have been two references so far in Infinite Jest to “the M.I.T. language riots of B.S. 1997,” a reference so slight it hardly seems worth the trouble of tracking down. The first we find in James O. Incandenza’s massive filmography on pg. 987n24, linked from pg. 64:

Union of Theoretical Grammarians in Cambridge. B.S. Meniscus Films, Ltd. Documentary cast; 35 mm.;26 minutes; color; silent with heavy use of computerized distortion in facial close-ups. Documentary and closed-caption interviews with participants in the public Steven Pinker-Avril M. Incandenza debate on the political implications of prescriptive grammar during the infamous Militant Grammarians of Massachusetts convention credited with helping incite the M.I.T. language riots of B.S. 1997.

Forty footnotes later, on 996n60, we get this about “the near-new M.I.T. student union” (184):

Replacing the old neo-Georgian J. A. Stratton Student Center, right off Mass. Ave. and gutted with C4 during the so-called M.I.T. Language Riots of twelve years past.

Glossing over the difference in capitalization, taken together these two footnotes place the “present” of the novel as exactly now: 2009.

We don’t know much about what has happened in the intervening decade, and as was discussed in the comments to the last post I don’t think Infinite Jest is productively read as predictive fiction. (Instead it should be understood as always twenty minutes into the future.) We get, for instance, a quiet reference to the Kemp administration on pg. 177, a moderately reasonable prognostication for DFW to make in 1996 (though Jack Kemp was widely considered a failure as Dole’s running mate at the time)—but it’s paired with a no-chance-in-hell Limbaugh administration that is clearly satiric. (Both references are somewhat suspect, in any event, as they originate in-dialogue from a character at the Ennet House who euphemistically admits they have “some trouble recalling certain intervals” during these periods. So maybe it’s a joke within a joke.) We know Vermont has become the Great Concavity—where feral hamsters rule unchecked!—and that videophones have come and gone, and that broadcast television has ended in favor of TPs, apparently some sort of on-demand service not unlike Netflix.

But we don’t know much, because these sorts of predictions just aren’t the point.

So enough of that—back to the M.I.T. language riots. This is an allusion to Don DeLillo’s Ratner’s Star (1976), a novel which shares some affinities with Infinite Jest, including a boy-genius plotline, multivocal narrative, deep suspicion about the reliability of both personal subjectivity and bureaucratic institutions, and intense theoretical interest in the inner workings of language. The riots are covered in their entirely on pages 31-33 of Ratner’s Star in a short bit of dialogue from J. Graham Hummer, “widely known as the instigator of the MIT language riots”:

“Tell us about the MIT business,” Mimsy said. “I’ve never heard the details.”

“There are no details.”

“Did people really throw stones at each other and overturn cars and the like? I mean was there actual killing in the streets?”

“I was simply trying to assert that what there is in common between a particular fact and the sentence that asserts this fact can itself be put into a sentence.

“And this led to rioting?”

This weird, obscure moment, which could be slotted into Infinite Jest itself without a tremendous amount of revision, introduces the problem of cognitive reflexivity that structures a lot of both Ratner’s Star and IJ. It centers around what is in essence, the Gödel paradox, the problematic fact that statements-about-statements are themselves statements, that there is no self-consistent exterior vantage point from which we can look objectively at our own subjective experiences of the world—that as soon as we attempt to think or speak about the way we think and speak we become hopelessly lost in paradox, in indecidability, and in confusing and shadowy incompleteness. And I hope it isn’t too much of a stretch to assert that this is exactly the problem we face when we confront addict subjectivity:

That most Substance-addiction people are also addicted to thinking, meaning they have a compulsive and unhealthy relationship with their own thinking. That the cute Boston AA term for addictive-type thinking is Analysis-Paralysis.

…That 99% of compulsive thinkers’ thinking is about themselves; that 99% of this self-directed thinking consists of imagining and then getting ready for things that are going to happen to them; and then, weirdly, that if they stop to think about it, that 100% of the things they spend 99% of their time and energy imagining and trying to prepare for all the contingencies and consequence of are never good. That this connects interestingly with the early-sobriety urge to pray for the literal loss of one’s mind. In short that 99% of the head’s thinking activity consists of trying to scare the everliving shit out of oneself… (203-204)

The strange compulsion towards endlessly looping cognitive reflexivity—thinking about thinking about thinking about thinking…—leads in the end to that terrible desire that is central to addiction, the desire for one’s consciousness to be obliterated altogether:

…a little-mentioned paradox of Substance addiction is: that once you are sufficiently enslaved by a Sustance to need to quit the substance in order to save your life, the enslaving Substance has become so deeply important to you that you will all but lose your mind when it is taken away from you. Or that sometime after your Substance has just been taken away from you in order to save your life, as you hunker down for required A.M. and P.M. prayers, you will find yourself beginning to pray to be allowed literally to lose your mind, to be able to wrap your mind in an old newspaper or something and leave it in an alley to shift for itself, without you. (201)

This is, that is, the desire for suicide that haunts so much of Infinite Jest, that in the wake of 9/13/08 threatens to consume the book altogether. Reading The Bell Jar is like this; knowing that Sylvia Plath committed suicide a month after its publication destroys our ability to believe its assertions of an apparently happy ending for its Sylvia-stand-in, Esther. Knowing what happened to DFW—what he did to himself—deeply unsettles our ability to believe “[t]hat no single, individual moment is in and of itself unendurable” (204), which seems now, in retrospect, less like truth, and more like the prayer of a person who hopes they might someday believe it.

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There is a charge / For the eyeing of my scars, there is a charge / For the hearing of my heart—/ It really goes. / And there is a charge, a very large charge / For a word or a touch / Or a bit of blood / Or a piece of my hair or my clothes.

Art from Sylvia Plath’s childhood and teenage years, including “illustrated childhood letters that Plath wrote when she was seven,” is to be published in October. I really think Bookninja has the right attitude about this sort of thing—let’s just dig up her corpse already and be done with it.

Written by gerrycanavan

August 15, 2007 at 1:23 pm

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