Saturday, July 24, 2004

Ira G: Digging the Scene on the Great Lawn

Here's Ira, digging the scene on the Great Lawn, listening to the music being performed at the Frank Gehry-designed Jay Pritzker Pavilion. Among the musicians we heard were Kelly Hogan, Andrew Bird, and Koko Taylor. The weather was damn-near perfect that day, and the crowd was large, but not claustrophobically huge. In short, it was a fantastic outing.
Ira in the Park
Originally uploaded by erasmus.

Millennium Park: Believe the Hype

I'm posting a few pics from our visit to Chicago's new Millennium Park, which is located just north of the Art Institute in the area that was formally an industrial wasteland containing old train cars. The park opened to the public last weekend (July 16-18) and more than lived up to its hype. Despite the predictable cost overruns, I left feeling a bit better about the 8.75% sales tax (not to mention the ridiculous 'sin taxes' on booze) we pay here in Chitown. This picture of Daniel, Ira, and me sitting on the Great Lawn was taken by Adam Richer.
Daniel Ira Eric
Originally uploaded by erasmus.

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

Outfoxing Faux News

Just a note to self to track down and screen Robert Greenwald's documentary, "Outfoxed," which exposes the extent to which Fox News is a massive propaganda machine. While this information about Fox is nothing new, many students seem to have little ability to discern propaganda from journalism. Based on the account of the film in "How to Make a Guerrilla Documentary," "Outfoxed" may make it onto a future syllabus, e.g., American Literature and American Culture or a composition class, in a segment devoted to media analysis.

Saturday, July 10, 2004

Beta Version of Zizek Interview Online at ebr.

My interview with the renowned philosopher Slavoj Zizek is now online at ebr, though it's not yet been 'officially' published (that'll occur in August). Because it's a beta version of the essay, you can't yet search for the article in the ebr database and must link to it directly.

So, here's a link to the article:Liberation Hurts: An Interview with Slavoj Zizek.

A condensed version of the interview will appear in print in the minnesota review n.s. 61-62 (2004): 79-93.

Zizek & Rasmussen
Originally uploaded by erasmus.

Wednesday, July 07, 2004

Postmodern Pathos: Denis Johnson's Jesus' Son

It's been and will continue to be an emotionally rich day. Daniel, my stepson, arrived from Sweden and was waiting for me when I came home from class. Right now he's napping, and Ira and I are listening to a jazz CD by the Gavleborgs Ungdoms Big Band (GUBB) on which he plays. On "Congo Square," track six, that's my son performing an alto-sax solo. Later today, I'm heading to Seth and Maeve's place to celebrate Seth's birthday. Hopefully, Daniel will be rested enough to join us. All of this is exciting, and last night I didn't sleep much in anticipation of today's events, so I suppose I shouldn't be surprised by the extent to which I was affected by the following passage from Jesus' Son Denis Johnson's powerful short-story collection.

"His blood bubbled out of his mouth with every breath. He wouldn't be taking many more. I knew that, but he didn't, and therefore I looked down into the great pity of a person's life on this earth. I don't mean that we all end up dead, that's not the great pity. I mean that he couldn't tell me what he was dreaming, and I couldn't tell him what was real" (10).

I was reading this section, which describes the narrator's (known only as Fuckhead) response to a car crash that he has just witnesed, and damn near broke down when I came to the line "that's not the great pity." I could feel the tears welling up behind my eyeballs, and had to gulp down a huge breath in order to finish the sentence. In retrospect, I suppose the moment was slightly embarrassing, though at the time I didn't feel so self-conscious about the public display of emotion. At the time, I was too overwhelmed by the eloquence of Johnson's prose to feel embarassed by my sudden near loss of compusure. What's somewhat embarrassing (though that's not the right word here because I'm also grateful that my work, i.e., literature, is still able to move me) or makes me feel self-conscious is that I don't know if I can adequately explain why I was so affected by this passage. And as an English teacher, it's my job to explain why and how words work the way they do.

I might begin, I suppose, by noting the irony at work here. For one, I was reading this passage aloud in an attempt to explain why I'd included Jesus' Son, a work that is both naturalistic and romantic, in a work on postmodernism, art and aesthetics. After all, the stories aren't especially concerned with representing features often identified with 'postmodern' culture, e.g., electronic simulations, cybernetic organizational structures, etc. Moreover, if postmodern art and literature is thought to display a lack of affect, the passage's concern with pity and my response to it would seem to suggest that Johnson's short stories are anything but afffectless. But these thoughts came after the fact. I began reading the section in order to follow up on a student's suggestion that Jesus' Son displayed the ontological uncertainty that Brian McHale and other literary critics have found to be a distinguishing feature of postmodern literature. The student suggested that the fact that Fuckhead was a drug addict and that many of the episodes recount moments of his being on drugs made it difficult to determine what really happened. I agreed with her take, to an extent, pointing out that while drugs are certainly a means of inducing 'ontological uncertainty' the irreality of the novel was not a function of the narrator's drug use. Rather, the drug use was better understood as a symptom of a more fundamental irreality.

In any case, I came to class with a cluster of passages from the novel, including the one quoted above, which occurs in the first chapter, "Car Crash," that explicitly dealt with the ways different characters had difficulty discerning what was really real. I'd highlighted, marked, and even read aloud the passage to Ira last night, but was nonetheless blown away by the way Fuckhead so perfectly registers what I'd call the core of postmodern pathos, that is, the recognition that language (and other mediating technologies) can never adequately articulate or re-present the Real, but always leave us fumbling in our fallen reality. My students had already heard me give glosses on Derrida's critique of logocentrism, so I didn't go there, but I think that this passage might've made them feel the poignancy of his deconstruction of metaphysics. Derrida and Johnson's writings both suggest, though in very different ways, that the ethical challenge of our time is to somehow remain faithful to our spiritual yearnings for transcendental experiences, while remaining aware that such yearnings are, in some sense, impossible, illusory and even dangerous.

Jesus' Son is a post-metaphysical novel about salvation. It closes with Fuckhead, now working in a nursing home, coming to terms with being in this world, learning to live in and be at peace with a reality that will never be fully redeemed. "All these weirdos, and me getting a little better every day right in the midst of them. I had never known, never even imagined for a heartbeat, that there might be a place for people like us" (160).