Posts Tagged ‘theory’
* A nice endorsement of Octavia E. Butler from Steve Shaviro. Some bonus Shaviro content: his favorite SF of 2016. I think Death’s End was the best SF I read this year too, though I really liked New York 2140 a lot too (technically that’s 2017, I suppose). I’d also single out Invisible Planets and The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2016, both of which had some really good short stories. In comics, I think The Vision was the best new thing I’ve seen in years. There’s a lot I bought this year and didn’t have time to look at yet, though, so maybe check back with me in 2019 and I can tell you what was the best thing from 2016.
* Duke warns professors about emails from someone claiming to be a student, seeking information about their courses — many in fields criticized by some on the right. Some Michigan and Denver faculty members have received similar emails but from different source.
* I don’t think Children of Men was ever actually “overlooked” — and I’m shocked it was considered a flop at a time — but it certainly looks prescient now.
* From Tape Drives to Memory Orbs, the Data Formats of Star Wars Suck. Remembering Caravan of Courage, the Ewok Adventure Star Wars Would Rather You’d Forget. Anti-fascism vs. nostalgia: Rogue One. How to See Star Wars For What It Really Is. And a new headcanon regarding the Empire and its chronic design problems.
* The seduction of technocratic government—that a best answer will overcome division, whether sown in the nature of man or ineluctable in capitalist society—slides into the seduction in the campaign that algorithms will render rote the task of human persuasion, that canvassers are just cogs for a plan built by machine. And so the error to treat data as holy writ, when it’s both easier and harder than that. Data are fragile; algorithms, especially when they aggregate preferences, fall apart. Always, always, power lurks. The technocrats have to believe in mass politics, believe for real that ordinary people, when they organize, can change their own destinies. Whether that happens depends on the party that gets built, and the forces behind it.
* Four Cabinet nominations that could blow up in Donald Trump’s face. Fighting Mass Incarceration Under Trump: New Strategies, New Alliances. Why Donald Trump Might Not Be All That Good for Art. How Journalists Covered the Rise of Mussolini and Hitler. This all certainly seems on the up-and-up. And today in teaching the controversy: Nuclear diplomacy via Twitter is a bad idea.
* The arc of history is long, but Google Search will not longer return Holocaust-denying websites at the top of page one.
* It wasn’t just your imagination: more famous people did die in 2016.
* “Whoa,” said the gangster/minotaur, awed at how close he’d just come to losing his forearm. He was beginning to understand that this wasn’t the relatively straightforward world of street-level dope dealing anymore; this was Dungeons and Dragons.
* I’m glad somebody finally paged KSR: “Why Elon Musk’s Mars Vision Needs ‘Some Real Imagination.'”
* “People worry that computers will get too smart and take over the world, but the real problem is that they’re too stupid and they’ve already taken over the world.” This is how computer scientist Pedro Domingos sums up the issue in his 2015 book The Master Algorithm. Even the many researchers who reject the prospect of a ‘technological singularity’ — saying the field is too young — support the introduction of relatively untested AI systems into social institutions.
* One teaching artist sees it differently. “There will always be bad artists with a lot of money who want to go to art school,” she said. On the Future of the MFA.
* There’s More to Life Than Being Happy: On Viktor Frankl and Man’s Search for Meaning. Relatedly: The World’s Happiest Man Wishes You Wouldn’t Call Him That.
* Degree programs in French, geology, German, philosophy and women’s studies are suspended, effectively immediately. Eight additional majors within existing departments, six teaching programs and four graduate programs have been shut down. The university is planning a teach-out program for currently enrolled students. Tenured faculty members in affected programs will be reassigned to different departments. The future of the campus’s nursing, dental education and medical imaging programs is still under discussion. Degree programs in environmental geology and environmental policy were cut previously, in July.
* Advice for how to use Twitter as an academic. Of course, as everyone knows, the only winning move is not to play.
* From David M. Perry: “My non-verbal son communicates through ‘Hamilton.'”
* Dylan, Christ, and Slow Train Coming. Teaching the controversy: Kurt Vonnegut in 1991: “Bob Dylan Is the Worst Poet Alive.” Imperialism-in-Artistry: Bob Dylan’s Nobel Win Is Proof Adichie Is Right about Beyonce. Local Boy Makes Good. But not too good: The Nobel Prize Committee Have Given Up on Trying to Get in Touch with Bob Dylan.
* The notion that American literature might have an imperial bent—that it might be anything other than a string of lightly co-influential works of “imaginative power,” and might itself reflect our national desire to dominate—is lost on its critics, both right and left.
* Another gerrymandering primer. I’m inclined to make a joke about Obama’s proceduralism even ruining his post-presidency but this really is a major issue worth throwing his weight against.
* Atlas Obscura: The Land of Make Believe.
* And then there’s this one: Earlier this October, at a ceremony at the Royal Courts of Justice, London paid its rent to the Queen. The ceremony proceeded much as it had for the past eight centuries. The city handed over a knife, an axe, six oversized horseshoes, and 61 nails to Barbara Janet Fontaine, the Queen’s Remembrancer, the oldest judicial position in England. The job was created in the 12th century to keep track of all that was owed to the crown.
* Thank god the Mac version isn’t ready yet: Civ VI is out.
* A dark, grittier Captain Planet: Leonardo DiCaprio wants to make a Captain Planet movie.
* Hungerford makes Infinite Jest represent how commercial publishers and their enablers in the mainstream media engineer a novel into a canonizable success. The market is corrupt, she says. But is it any more corrupt or distasteful than the publication and marketing of her university press book? “Post 45” is a scholarly association; Hungerford is one of nine Board members. Two other Board members are the series editors for the “Post 45” imprint. The “Advance Praise” for Making Literature Now includes effusive comments by two people whom Hungerford praises in the book, a blurb by a former colleague at Yale, and other comments so hyperbolic that they appear to have been written under the influence of laughing gas. Hungerford put out a misleading trailer for the book in the Chronicle, excising the misogyny charge that’s essential in her closing chapter, perhaps because she feared anyone who had read Infinite Jest would see through that charge and not order Making Literature Now. Her title is grandiose because her data is extremely limited. Rather than the survey that the title implies, Making Literature Now is literary tourism combined with two takedowns.
* And marrying the last two links: One in Six Eligible Voters Has a Disability.
* Let history be our judge: Pepe the Frog, an explainer.
* Researchers at the Karadag Nature Reserve, in Feodosia, Russia, recorded two Black Sea bottlenose dolphins, called Yasha and Yana, talking to each other in a pool. They found that each dolphin would listen to a sentence of pulses without interruption, before replying.
* CFP: this xkcd.
* Going viral this week: extinction illusions.
* Nice work if you can get it: Wells Fargo won’t claw back $125m retirement bonus from exec who oversaw 2m frauds.
* Stories that should be more exciting than they are: We Were Wrong About Where the Moon Came From!
* I read Jason Shiga’s Demon as a crowdfunder — it’s great. Check out the first volume when it comes to print next month.
* Special providence: Catfish Falls From The Sky, Hits Woman In The Face.
* The organizing economic metaphor of all of Against Everything is artificial scarcity. The concept usually refers to the way that monopolistic sellers exploit their excessive market power to restrict supply so they can raise prices. Greif’s view is more capacious and idiosyncratic: He describes a culture where the affluent, at sea in a world of abundance, engage in the elaborate restriction of their own demand (to kitsch diners, ethnic food, inappropriately youthful sexual partners). This turns what could be unfussy gratification into resource-intensive performance. On one level, this is about making a technically meaningless life more diverting, but it also gives our atomized selves the comfort of belonging. It serves to differentiate “people like me” from those other, worse people—those without access to the most current information, say, or simply the economic means to act on it. What gives n+1’s economistic turn its authority and novelty is the way Greif and his colleagues show that the market is not, as someone like Gary Becker had it, a bazaar untainted by sinister, irrational notions (discrimination, exploitation, class prejudice), but a site where those things are given free play under cover of neutral utility-maximizing exchange. They have taught us to speak the softer insights of theory (with its sensitivity to symbolic difference and its hermeneutics of suspicion) in the hardheaded but incantatory vernacular of the powerful.
* The New Yorker remembers the Wilmington coup of 1898.
* And I’m catching up late, but man oh man, Bojack Horseman is a good show.
I begin my review in this conflicted, confessional mode because both Tally and Wegner do; both foreground their personal relationships with Jameson, albeit with considerably more confidence and grace than I feel able to muster, situating his writing within the context of teaching within the university system to which he has dedicated his life. Jameson’s very public profile and reputation as “America’s most famous Marxist” actually makes him something of a rare exception in this regard: he is one of the leading members on the relatively short list of scholars who have been more influential outside their classrooms than inside them. For most of us the classroom is where the lion’s share of our work happens, however much our egos might prefer things to be otherwise. For most of us the classroom is the work.
I have a short review essay (weirdly personal by academic standards, at least by mine) about Jameson as thinker and Jameson as teacher, pegged to Robert Tally and Phil Wegner’s recent books on his career: “Doktorvater.”
This paradox returns us also to the question of what it means to be Jameson’s student, whether metaphorically as his reader or literally as his dissertation advisee. Early in Tally’s book he paraphrases other critics who see Jameson as “embrac[ing] all things—but, like a python, squeezing the life out of them” (20). What resists this totalizing enclosure in Tally’s treatment is Jameson’s foregrounding of the productive tension between history as a nightmare and the future as possible utopia, located in the present as a site of struggle—a critical perspective that remains vital and alive insofar as it is always both urgent and irresolvable. Wegner’s version of this same problem comes in his conclusion, where he quotes Evan Watkins’s observation that Jameson’s work is “an ‘anomaly’ among that of the ‘masters of theory’ for the simple reason that ‘you can’t follow this act.’” (Wegner 213). “Jamesonian” has simply never caught on as an adjective in the mold of Hegelian, Marxist, Freudian, Foucauldian, even Žižekian—even as many people (some of his many former students and dissertation advisees among them!) are clearly doing “Jamesonian” analysis. Rather than unfinishable, from this perspective Jameson’s project looks too finished, too complete: he ate the whole elephant, and left nothing behind for the rest of us. Wegner’s answer is to return to the question of fidelity and betrayal: to attempt to simply do Jameson is itself a betrayal of the Jamesonian ethos, and turn him into a “discourse of the university,” another kind of too-close, python-like suffocation. The alternative is to see Jameson not as a master or a mapmaker so much as, again, a teacher, who one day leads us to the gates of the school and then hurls us out into the world to find our own way. “Maybe you can’t do this for yourself,” Wegner quotes Watkins. “It’s not exactly clear what it might mean to ‘follow Jameson’s direction.’ But it is always possible to learn from his work how to do what you do far better and in more historically responsible ways” (qtd. in Wegner 213). As a conclusion to a two-hundred page exegesis, this is perhaps somewhat deflating—you mean this was all a dead end? a road to nowhere?—but for Wegner it seems something more like a rousing call to arms, a “joyful possibility” that speaks to Jameson’s “inexhaustible richness,” resulting in an exuberant final benediction: “May we prove equal to the task!” (213). Jameson’s very irreproducibility, his singularity, can become the engine for our own critical production, so long as we betray him right.
Sorry I’ve been so quiet! Between summer teaching and wrapping up a few big projects it’s been a very busy couple of weeks. Here’s every tab I had open!
* Graduate students in literary studies may often feel despair, even deadness and meanness, but an excess of cool seems like an especially implausible explanation. Far more damaging are bad mentoring, crippling overwork, social and geographic isolation, and the absence of opportunities to join the profession after spending a decade training. For too many graduate students, whether critical or postcritical, earning a PhD is the end — not the beginning — of a promising academic career. The skepticism that threatens graduate students and young faculty members results, therefore, not from the skepticism of academic theorists but from the skepticism of legislatures, administrators, donors, austerity-loving think tanks, and taxpayers. The Hangman of Critique.
* Jeff Vandermeer: Hauntings in the Anthropocene.
* Cleveland Police Are Gearing Up for Mayhem at the GOP Convention. Case Western in the News: Changes to campus operations during RNC. What’s a University For? Meet the Student Fighting Case Western U. for Shutting Down Campus to House 1,900 Police Officers.
* “Secretary Clinton Is A Different Person Than Donald Trump,” Says Bernie Sanders in Ringing Endorsement. GOP Establishment Relieved After Conventionally Abhorrent Beliefs Make Way Onto Presidential Ticket.
* Now, Baton Rouge. A 538 Special on Gun Deaths in America. The Tamir Rice Story: How to Make a Police Shooting Disappear. “One group is responsible for America’s culture of violence, and it isn’t cops, black Americans, Muslims or rednecks.” No lives matter. And from the archives: A Manifesto from People Reluctant to Kill for an Abstraction.
* Donald Trump’s Deals Rely on Being Creative with the Truth. Donald Trump Heads Into The Convention With Barely Any Campaign At All: Many of the numbers listed for his state offices don’t even work. Did you ever have to make up your mind? Donald Trump’s Announcement of Mike Pence in 18 Tweets. “Trump’s campaign logo mocked on Twitter.” He’s Really Pretty Bad at This. Being Honest about Trump. Jeb! We Play the Trump Board Game So You Don’t Have To. Republicans Keeping Their Dignity. Teach the controversy: Is Trump Working for Russia? Understanding Trump Supporters: The Machine of Morbius. Back to the Future in Cleveland. The Last GOP President?
* Donald Trump Said Hillary Clinton Would ‘Make a Good President’ in 2008. Donald Trump should talk about Hillary Clinton’s email all the time. Here’s why. Pollster Frank Luntz: GOP has ‘lost’ the millennial generation.
* There are about 20 households where she now lives. Like Susie, most of the residents in Snowflake have what they call “environmental illness”, a controversial diagnosis that attributes otherwise unexplained symptoms to pollution.
* Education Department’s proposed rule for student debt forgiveness could threaten traditional colleges as well as for-profits, particularly over its broad view of what counts as misrepresentation. College and the Class Divide. Wicked Liberalism.
* As a result, in one of the richest countries that has ever existed, about 15 percent of the population faces down bare cupboards and empty refrigerators on a routine basis.
* Black Dishwasher at Yale University Loses Job After Shattering “Racist, Very Degrading” Stained-Glass Panel. Yale Rehires. Broken window theory: Corey Menafee and the history of university service labor.
Ghostbusters more than any other film highlights the growing devaluation of public-sector jobs at the hands of privatized for-profit entities operating for mercenary reasons. The protagonists of this movie spend their time removing unwanted, unpaying residents from spaces they occupied their whole lives (and longer) and placing them into a form of prison at the behest of the current owners who can get more rent from more affluent persons and don’t like the neighborhood being ‘brought down’ by those now-undesirable who lived there first. Not only that, but budget cuts have forced the New York Public Library to retain the dead as current employees, cutting into what should have been their final retirement, and the entire crux of the film comes from belittling and mocking elected officials’ uselessness in the face of corporations who can solve the city’s problems for cash and without all the useless regulation tying up the mayor, firefighters and police. Ghostbusters is essentially Blackwater for the dead, cleaning up the town of its unwanted past, making life safe for the corporate oligarchies.
* Prepare to cry: Appleton teen makes heartbreaking decision to die.
* To recap, the idea behind the Reverse Turing Test is that instead of thinking about the ways in which machines can be human-like we should also think about the ways in which humans can be machine-like.
* “He noted that further research is needed”: Women Wearing Low-Cut Tops In Application Photos Are 19 Times More Likely to Land a Job Interview.
* Am I a man, dreaming he is a Pokémon, or am I a Pokémon dreaming he is a man? Here’s All the Data Pokémon (Was) Leeching From Your Phone. Resist Pokémon Go. And as Adorno said: To catch Pokémon after Auschwitz is barbaric.
* OK, just take my money: Nintendo’s next assault on nostalgia is a mini-NES with 30 built-in games.
* Canon Police: Sulu’s Sexuality. But, you know, let’s not lose our heads. J.J. Abrams Won’t Re-Cast Anton Yelchin’s Role in ‘Star Trek’ Movies. For Some Baffling Reason, This Star Trek Beyond TV Spot Spoils the Big Twist. But the next one will be good, we swear.
* That piece I’m writing on Star Wars and canonicity will just never, ever be finished: Grand Admiral Thrawn Joins Rebels and the New Star Wars Canon.
* The headline reads, “Gonorrhea may soon be unbeatable.”
* Cancer, or, death by immortality.
* And Mightygodking pitches the dark, gritty Sesame Street reinterpretation you didn’t know you needed.