Friday, December 30, 2005

Snowy stroll through the park

Gripped by cabin fever and tired of typing away at our computer screens, Ira and I took a leisurely, snowy stroll through Gävle's main park this afternoon.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Cornhuskers Comeback to Defeat Michigan

Last night before reluctantly heading to bed, I e-mailed my sister the following message:

just under 90 minutes until gametime. I’ve been wearing red all day, as has daniel, though he left to play hockey hours ago & hasn’t returned, but will probably head to bed soon. it’ll be 2 a.m. here when the game starts, & I would have to watch the few-minutes-behind updates on that could make for a long, tense night.

I saw that Bo Ruud won’t be playing at linebacker b/c of a broken arm – that sucks. still, I think nebraska will surprise & win by 3 or 4.

Go Big Red!

So, this morning I'm elated to learn that my beloved Huskers didn't disappoint and that my Alamo Bown prediction was spot on: Nebraska 32 Michigan 28

I hope someone recorded the game. It's been an up-and-down season for Nebraska, but the last two games - victories over Colorado and Michigan - are paraticularly sweet, and I want to be able to remember this Alamo.

All I've seen of the game is the highlight footage from The last play was nuts. It looked like a rugby game out there. Given Michigan's history of luckily squeezing out victories in the final seconds of games, the Huskers should be counting their lucky stars that the Wolverines didn't win on a fluke.

Now, will Nebraska be ranked when the season ends? Despite losing the Kansas and some lackluster victories at the season's beginning, I think they are deserving of a place in the top 25.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Student Recovers Stolen Thesis

As the title indicates, this tale of a stolen master's thesis ends happily, if improbably: Student Finds a Stolen Thesis by Thinking Like a Thief. Let it serve as a reminder to (quoting Adam Richer, Mac Guru) back that shit up.

Make multiple backups daily and store them in several locations: on your laptop's hard drive, on an external hard drive, on a key drive, on a CD or DVD, on the university's server... (Yes, Ira, I am talking to you.)

After reading this, I'm going to be sure NOT to carry my portable key drive in my laptop back. That way should (fingers crossed) I somehow lose one, I will have the other. When I fly, it makes me nervous when I pack my backup hard drive in the same carry-on bag as my laptop, but I don't see that I have much choice. I am wary of packing it, or any other electronic device, in my checked luggage.

Friday, December 23, 2005

I Heard the News Today, Oh Boy...

Eliot Weinberger: What I heard about Iraq in 2005. Appalling, obscene, perverse. What will it take to put an end to this shit?

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Homeland Security Interrogates Student for Interlibrary Loan Request

The student, an unnamed senior at the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth, requested an interlibrary copy of an unabridged version of Mao Tse-Tung's The Little Red Book. I wonder what triggered the alarm which led to an unexpected visit at his parents' house, where he lives, from the Department of Homeland Security? Was it that the student had travelled to South America?

The student ordered Mao's book to do research for a paper for a history class taught by Brian Glyn Williams, a professor who specializes on Islamic studies. Williams' class focused on fascism and totalitarianism. No need to look too far in the historical past to learn about those topics. Apparently the Big Brother Bush regime, which has admitted to and stridently defends its practice of spying upon domestic citizens, is intent upon transforming the United States into a privatized police state.

Chilling, truly chilling.

Will Congress please impeach this president before its too late.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Who and What Defines America?

Harold Bloom can be a bit boorish at times (constantly scapegoating poststructuralist theorists for the declining status of the arts and humanities in our ever-more-corporate universities) but this essay, Reflections in the Evening Land, in which he turns to canonical American literature for insight regarding "our national self-destructiveness," is brilliant - one of the best things I've read by him in some time.

Bloom doesn't say anything particularly new, but he is eloquent in describing the toxic reign of the Bush regime, which "daily fuses more tightly together elements of oligarchy, plutocracy, and theocracy," and makes some important points worth airing in clear and simple language: "'Democracy'" is a ruined word, because of its misuse in the American political rhetoric of our moment."

At the age of 75, I wonder if the Democratic party ever again will hold the presidency or control the Congress in my lifetime. I am not sanguine, because our rulers have demonstrated their prowess in Florida (twice) and in Ohio at shaping voting procedures, and they control the Supreme Court. The economist-journalist Paul Krugman recently observed that the Republicans dare not allow themselves to lose either Congress or the White House, because subsequent investigations could disclose dark matters indeed. Krugman did not specify, but among the profiteers of our Iraq crusade are big oil (House of Bush/House of Saud), Halliburton (the vice-president), Bechtel (a nest of mighty Republicans) and so forth.

All of this is extraordinarily blatant, yet the American people seem benumbed, unable to read, think, or remember, and thus fit subjects for a president who shares their limitations. A grumpy old Democrat, I observe to my friends that our emperor is himself the best argument for intelligent design, the current theocratic substitute for what used to be called creationism. Sigmund Freud might be chagrined to discover that he is forgotten, while the satan of America is now Charles Darwin. President Bush, who says that Jesus is his "favourite philosopher", recently decreed in regard to intelligent design and evolution: "Both sides ought to be properly taught."

I am a teacher by profession, about to begin my 51st year at Yale, where frequently my subject is American writers. Without any particular competence in politics, I assert no special insight in regard to the American malaise. But I am a student of what I have learned to call the American Religion, which has little in common with European Christianity. There is now a parody of the American Jesus, a kind of Republican CEO who disapproves of taxes, and who has widened the needle's eye so that camels and the wealthy pass readily into the Kingdom of Heaven. We have also an American holy spirit, the comforter of our burgeoning poor, who don't bother to vote. The American trinity pragmatically is completed by an imperial warrior God, trampling with shock and awe.

Yes, the current state of the nation is enough to make Walt Whitman weep.

... so I should savor Sweden while I'm here for the holiday. Ira brought home a Christmas tree today, the first I've had at home in years. We'll have to heat up some glögg and decorate the tree later.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Blurb Writing

This evening Lori Emerson, ebr's current book reviews editor (a job I once held, which is a lot of work) e-mailed me to ask if I would write the blurbs for several pieces I've written that will be published soon. Lori suggested it would only take me ten minutes, as opposed to an hour for her. If only. I'm an obsessive reviser and find that the word constraints that blurb writing impose only intensify my impulse to repeatedly rewrite. After a couple hours, I came up with the following blurbs. We'll see if they appear this way on ebr.

1. “What Would Zizek Do?: Redeeming Christianity’s Perverse Core”: Jokes play a fundamental role in Slavoj Zizek’s philosophizing. Is Zizek joking when he extols the virtues of Christianity to the Left? Eric Dean Rasmussen analyzes Zizek’s pro-Christian proselytizing as attacks on modes of PC-ness – political correctness and perverse Christianity - that sustain an undesirable neoliberalism.

2. “Putting the Brakes on the Zizek Machine”: Eric Dean Rasmussen traces the contours of Hanjo Berressem’s rigorous, bi-tempo reading of Organs without Bodies, which finds Zizek’s philosophical buggering of Deleuze to be wanting.

3. “Liberation Hurts: An Interview with Slavoj Zizek”: A post-9/11 discussion between Zizek and Eric Dean Rasmussen concerning liberation as a an act and a state of awareness. Topics include: biopolitics and belief, ideology and infinitude, violence and vulgarity, and the parallax view required to perceive various posthistoricist paradoxes.

Dissertation Work with DEVONthink

Since break began I've been working long days, rising around 6 a.m. and reading, researching, and writing until almost midnight. I'm still jetlagged, so I take a nap in the afternoon and time off to cook and eat, but having submitted grades the other day I've been a diligent dissertation worker.

Having read a glowing review of DEVONthink Pro, a database-based information-management program, in the New York Times, I recently downloaded a trial copy of the software. When the trial period expires, I will definitely purchase the program as it has been incredibly useful for organizing my academic files. I can download academic journal articles from UIC's databases and import them into my database's organizational structures.

For a rhizomatic thinker prone to forgetting or misplacing ideas that rapidly come to mind, the software serves a crucial purpose. It helps me to reign in conceptual 'lines of flight'. I just wish I had more time to learn about and make use of all its organizational features. Perhaps I'll write about the software in a future post. For now, this Macworld review DEVONthink Pro 1.0 will have to suffice. It contains a link to the DEVONtechnologies website.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

An indispensable Guide to GOP D.C.

A word of advice to travelers destined for D.C.: watch yourself in Washington. Republicans rule our capital city (for now, anyway) so to avoid getting lost in the crooked city make sure to pack a copy of The New Republic's Rough Guide to GOP D.C.. Remember, power corrupts. Be wary about associating with right-wing politicos and avoid engaging in activites that might get you embroiled in a scandal.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Rachael Rips Sunoco Refinery For 'Abnormal Releases'

This is a shout out to my activist friend Rachael Belz - one of the leaders of Ohio Citizen Action, a 100,000+-member strong environmental group. She can be seen here protesting pollution by Sunoco Inc.

Let me take this opportunity to let Rachael know that I'm always impressed by her idealism, which does not remain at the level of theoretical abstraction (something we politically-minded academics tend to fret about in moments of existential crisis that tend to occur at the end of the semester when students' final papers and exams may prompt us to question the effectiveness of our pedaogic efforts) and gets things done in the world! You go grrrl! Kick some corrupt corporate ass!

(Thanks, Jim, for sending me this article).

Follow this link to learn more about Ohio Citizen Action's campaign to get the Sunoco Refinery to clean up its act.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Dirty Secrets in the War on Terror

In the global war on terror, the unofficial motto of America's intelligence agenies is "The end justifies the means." For an overview of the extralegal powers the Bush Admistration has granted the CIA as it wages a largely covert war read "On the Trail of the CIA."

There's no point in making a moral case against state-sponsored kidnapping, torture, and murder - all techniques apparently used by the CIA and authorized by the Bush Administration. It's apparent that the US intelligence agencies operate according to a morality that it beyond good and evil. But perhaps some people in the US government with the power to dictate policy in the CIA will insist that, in the long run, these violent abuses of power will serve to undermine US interests around the globe. These days who can take seriously the US's claims that it is fighting for freedom? It's disturbing to see America become (some would say this is nothing new) everything that it purports to be fighting against.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Branda Bocken Makes Washington Post

I was doing a Google search on Gävle and was suprised to see that the recent burning of the Christmas bocken made the Washington Post: Vandals Burn Swedish Christmas Goat, Again. Ira identified a couple inaccuracies in the AP report. She said Gävle is 180 km north of Stockholm, not 150 km, and that one of the men seen running from the scene of the crime was not just wearing a Father Christmas mask, but an entire costume. Moreover, the other man was dressed as a gingerbread man.

In any event, I'm pleased to report that the town has since erected a new bokken. We'll see if it remains standing throughout the holiday season. I'll try to snap a photo to post here before it burns.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Beckettian Elements in Pinter's Nobel Lecture

Michael Billington's report on Harold Pinter's Nobel lecture begins by noting the Beckettian aspects of Pinter's powerful performance, particularly the way Pinter appeared to literally embody the deteriorating subject found in so many of Beckett's texts. The figure of Pinter, confined to a wheelchair, legs draped with a blanket, juxtaposed with an image of himself as a younger, healthier man, reminded Billington of Hamm from Beckett's Endgame.

As Ira and I watched pre-recorded lecture (broadcast in prime time on Swedish television), we remarked on the Beckettian aura surrounding the entire event as well. We were thinking primarily of Pinter's dramatic pauses and his effective use of silence and ironic understatement to punctuate a gripping speech that made its polemical points in a measured manner. But Billington is right, I think, to find physical parallels with Beckett. The lecture, for instance, was filmed in a hospital where Pinter has been staying due to leg pains, which remind one of the suffering endured by the protagonists of Molloy. This is not, of course, to suggest that Pinter's mind has suffered the sort of deterioration that afflicts Moran and Molloy.

I wish Pinter's Nobel lecture had taken place a week earlier so I could have screened it for students in my class, who had to write their final papers on Beckettian elements in one of the postmodern novels we read.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Pinter on Art, Truth and Politics

I arrived in Sweden today, making it to Gavle in time to watch Harold Pinter deliver his pre-recorded Nobel lecture, titled "Art, Truth and Politics" on SVT. Pinter's speech was brilliant - a measured argument asserting that art, especially literature, exists to present the truth - which is largely absent from politics. I'm eager to read a transcript of the speech, which was powerfully delivered. I expect to address several of its points in my dissertation, in which I am discussing the relation between aesthetic affects and political effects in postmodern literature. The first portion of Pinter's speech explained how, as a writer, he works to reveal the truth through language. The second portion of Pinter's speech focused on how politicians use language in the service of power, which requires that language be used to keep people in a state of ignorance.

Pinter chose to use his speech to educate his audience about American foreign-policy abuses since World War II, particularly the widely overlooked fact that in this period the "US government supported and in many cases engendered every right-wing military dictatorship in the world," including "Indonesia, Greece, Uruguay, Brazil, Paraguay, Haiti, Turkey, the Philippiines, Guatemala, El Salvador and, of course, Chile."

It's admirable that Channel 4 broadcast the speech, which was highly critical of Tony Blair's support for US foreign policy in Iraq and elsewhere, in the UK. Perhaps PBS would air such an address in the US, though I'm sure it would generate much controversy and lead to the typical calls for abolishing state support for public broadcasting. I certainly cannot imagine American networks airing such an address. Despite the lip service paid to free speech in the USA, the greedy execs who program our commercial media networks are far too cowardly to broadcast an address by a literary artist, particularly one daring to suggest that the US "has exercised a quite clinical manipulation of power worldwide while masquerading as a force for universal good." It's fine for a Noam Chomsky to document statements in books published on small, independent, preses, but nobody in the mainstream media wants to take responsibility for documenting the numerous abuses the US government has committed in recent history.

You can watch Harold Pinter's Nobel Lecture for the 2005 Literature Prize online at

Friday, December 02, 2005

Class Photo: English & American Fiction, Fall 2005

Today was the last day of classes at UIC. Here's the official class photo for my English and American Fiction section. It was an interesting group with a number of standout students. I had several students whom I spoke with regularly after class who indicated they would stay in touch. I hope so. Over the course of the semester the majority of the students made considerable progress as readers.

In the pic, just over 2/3 of the students are present, which isn't too bad a turnout for the final day, I suppose. Perhaps I should start taking a beginning-of-the-semester and an end-of-the-semester class photo for comparison purposes? The only problem is that the class roster is always in flux for the first few weeks of classes.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Hey, Patriots, Read Any Interesting Lately?...

...The FBI wants to know.

More updates on the Surveillance Society and how the U.S. Government is waging the War on Terror on the domestric front.

Read all about NSLs (national security letters), which override existing privacy laws and enable the FBI to add hitertho off limits personal information to its data banks.

No promises that you'll feel more secure.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

White House Defends Presidential Seal From Parodists

It appears that President Bush can't stand getting grilled by The Onion. White House lawyers have contacted The Onion in an effort to stop the satrical newspaper from posting the presidential seal on its website, where it features a parody of President Bush's weekly radio address.

Given the Bush Administration's poor record on differentiating between news and propaganda (more accurately, on passing government-produced propaganda off as fair and unbiased reporting) this attack on The Onion is not unexpected. Perhaps the team at the White House feared that The Onion's Bush parodies were too 'reality-based' and, thus, could be legimately confused for an official statement from President Bush, whose actual statements suggest that he has been inhaling too deeply for too long from the ideological fumes fed to him by his Right-wing handlers.

We'll have to wait and see whether Bush turns this case over to the trial lawyers that he loved to attack during the 2005 campaign...

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Vets for Common Sense Oppose Torture

I've been too busy to blog lately, but the site could use some new content, so I'm posting an e-mail message I received this morning from an old buddy of mine who is a Sgt. in the U.S. Army. Since this was a personal message, I'll keep his name anonymous and leave it up to him to identify himself if he wishes.

Listen up, maggots!

Veterans for Common Sense - a non-partisan group of vets and fellow travelers who share a deep concern about our nation's politico-military conduct - continues its petition campaign to demand a genuinely independent investigation of our country's use of torture, extradition, etc. in Iraq, Afghanistan, Gitmo and elsewhere around the globe.

Peruse the link below, read the letter and background. If you concur, add your name to the list and forward to anyone else you think might be interested:
Veterans for Common Sense

Drive on,

Last night, I watched the Frontline documentary The Torture Question, which made it disturbingly clear that the torture at Abu Ghraib occurred as a result of new rules regarding the treatment of detainees that were implemented at the Guantanamo Bay facilities. Watching the show, I was sickened to see evidence of the abuses committed by representatives acting on behalf of the United States and to learn that such abuses were condoned by Donald Rumsfeld and others in the Bush Administration.

It will be interesting to see whether the House passes and Bush vetoes the Senate's anti-torture resolution, which was a necessary gesture to the rest of the world that the American people do not support torture. In any case, it's good to know that soldiers and others in the military community are organizing in order to express their opposition to torture. It seems like a 'no brainer' but these are strange times. Ultimately, I suspect, it will be captured U.S. prisoners of war, in Iraq or other future sites of conflict, who find themselves subject to torture with the U.S. government unable to make a legal or moral case against such treatment since the Bush Administration has indicated that it regards the Geneva Conventions obsolete in its vision of a New World Order.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Wayne C. Booth R.I.P.

Glad to see that the New York Times featured a fairly lengthy write-up about the death of the literary critic Wayne C. Booth Monday morning. (Glad too that they didn't do a hatchet job on him the way they did to Jacques Derrida.)In my opinion, Booth's A Rhetoric of Irony is a book that every contemporary literary critic should read. His distinction between stable and unstable ironies provides a useful heuristic for beginning to unpack the paradoxes involved in attempting to interpret modern and postmodern texts that present readers with communicative aporias that seem to endorse a nihilistic vision of a meaningless universe.

Monday, October 10, 2005

How Recent Neoliberal Novels Justify Free-Market Inequalities

Writing in The Boston Globe, Walter Benn Michaels explains how American universities and colleges play a crucial role in promoting a neoliberal world view regarding inequalities. By promoting the virtues of 'respecting the other,' an ethos borrowed from multiculturalists, and creating the illusion that they are meritocracies, these institutions of higher education enable students and alumni to justify the extreme material inequalities in American society. As Michaels notes, "The imaginative world of neoliberalism, then, is a world where it's OK for a few people to be rich and a lot of people to be poor but where it's definitely not OK to make anyone feel bad about being poor."

The bottom line is this: "for's prejudice not poverty that counts as the problem." Moreover, this lack of concern about eliminating or reducing poverty is displaced by a concern (whether faux or genuine doesn't really matter) about eliminating or reducing class prejudice, a position that left-wing and right-wing egalitarians both share.

Michaels' article begins by examining how two recent novels about contemporary life at America's elite schools, Curtis Sittenfeld's Prep and Tom Wolfe's I am Charlotte Simmons can be read as products of the neoliberal imagination. His analysis is particularly good at identifying why the authors chose to set their books on college campuses:

Schools loom larger in the neoliberal imagination than they did in the liberal imagination because where the old liberalism was interested in mitigating the inequalities produced by the free market, neoliberalism-with its complete faith in the beneficence of the free market-is interested instead in justifying them. And our schools have a crucial role to play in this. They have become our primary mechanism for convincing ourselves that poor people deserve their poverty, or, to put the point the other way around, they have become our primary mechanism for convincing rich people that we deserve our wealth.

Michaels skewers neoliberals for making classism, understood on the multicultural model of failing to respect cultural differences, appear to be the core problem. By making this move, which not only accepts poverty as a given but also naturalizes material inequalities, neoliberals have effectively become conservatives.

On this model, then, class is turned into clique and, once the advantages of class are redescribed as the advantages of status, we get the recipe for what we might call right-wing egalitarianism: Respect the poor. Which is also, as it turns out, the recipe for left-wing egalitarianism.

If in 1950 Trilling thought there were no conservatives or reactionaries, we might say today that there are only conservatives and reactionaries. Where the neoliberal right likes status instead of class, the neoliberal ''left" likes cultural identity, and its version of ''respect the poor" is ''respect the Other." That's why multiculturalism could go from proclaiming itself a subversive politics to taking up its position as a corporate management technology in about 10 minutes.

Today, what Trilling called ''diverse social classes" has turned into what we just call diversity. And diversity gives us what we might call the fantasy of a left politics-a politics defined by its opposition to racism, sexism, and homophobia and hence by the idea that what we should do with difference is not eliminate it but appreciate it.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Blood Money and Biogeographical Ancestry

I'm posting this link for I, who is teaching an American Literature and Culture course that focuses on issues of race and nativism in 1920s American fiction. Her class just finished Willa Cather's The Professor's House, which deals with, among other things, the ideological appeal that a vanishing race, namely, the ostensibly authentic indigenous Indian or Native American culture that had disappeared, held during an era in which immigration became a particularly contentious issue.

The article demonstrates that notions of racial purity still inflect debates about American Indians. It describes how black Indians who have been denied tribal citizenship by one of the Five Civilized Tribes of Oklahoma, the Cherokee Nation, are turning to science in order to establish their claims to a tribal identity. The whole scenario offers yet another example of the detrimental effects of conflating racial and cultural identities. Or, as Walter Benn Michaels might put it, in American discourse appeals to cultural identity have displaced or replaced appeals to racial identity. But don't be fooled: the logic of exclusion tends to work more or less the same when it comes to defining people according to racial or cultural critera that posit some allegedly authetnic norm.

The black Indians, are descendents of former slaves of the Cherokees. These slaves gained their independence in 1866 and most of the Freedmen were assimilated into the tribes without many problems. That changed in the 1980s with the passage of legislation authorizing tribes to construct, you guessed it, casinos on Indian reservations. The prospect of sharing in casino profits and government reparations paid to some tribes for the seizure of their lands has resulted in an enormous increase in people claiming Indian ancestry in the past couple decades. Not surprisingly, perhaps, some tribes are denying citizenship to people who are direct descendents of Indians.

How this will all play out remains unclear. The Bush administration has sided with the Indian tribes against the black Indians, claiming that the government has no mandate to meddle in Indian affairs. (Anyone else wonder why Bush Sr.'s administration didn't take that position with regard to the use of peyote in tribal ceremonies?) The Supreme Court has tended to agree.

However companies are marketing DNA test kits, which cost from about $100 to $300, that provide users with their genetic profile. While this information can't establish whether a person's ancestors belonged to a particular Indian tribe, it can indicate their "biogeographical ancestry" based on what percentage of their genes come from where.

For details, read Brendan I. Koerner's Wired article, Blood Feud.

Editorial note: It's great to see Wired, a magazine whose quality fluctuates, publishing more than celebrity profiles of tech investors and entrepreneurs or hype about new high-tech gadgets targeted at status-conscious hipsters.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Political Riposte to 'Anonymous'

I first posted this as a riposte to comments that were left in response to my Signifying Marks (Friday, September 30, 2005) entry. Since it's so damn long compared to my recent posts, and since I won't have time to do much blogging in the next few days, I thought I'd upgrade it from a riposte to a main entry, where it might be read by a few more people...

Dear Anonymous,

Thanks for your concern. I still have grading to do and reading and writing to do this evening before I head to bed, so this has to be quick and dirty…

This is my personal website, not the course website, so you can stop worrying about me making students read my blog. I assure you that I have no desire to teach student my personal political beliefs. I'm concerned first and foremost to teach them about literature. I teach at a public university and most students went to public schools. The sad fact is that far too many of them are unwilling or unable to read and analyze texts. (Why that might be is a question that'll have to wait for another day.) I primarily teach fiction - modern & postmodern novels - and my job is to teach them how to read closely and make coherent arguments about these texts.

Political topics, of course, come up in class, but I don't see how it could be otherwise. Most top-notch literary writers, from Shakespeare to Pynchon, write texts that are engaged with the pressing political issues of the day. When politics (however defined) does come up in class, I do by best, for pedagogic efficiency not least, to keep my personal political beliefs hidden. My agenda in such instances is to try to get students to understand how and why, say, Nicholas Mosley or George Orwell (to name writers often identified directly with the political Right and Left) make particular ideological claims in their writing.

We're going to start Graham Greene's The Quiet American soon, and I'm sure that the current war in Iraq will come up. Why? Because the Iraq War is mentioned in the book's "Introduction" by the American writer Robert Stone. However, I do not intend to make the Vietnam/Iraq parallel a focus, though I will probably spend time discussing why Greene was regarded by many as a conservative and why some critics complained that The Quiet American was, if not anti-American, than unfair to America's anti-Communist foreign policy in Southeast Asia.

But you probably could care less about the politics of literature and the literature of politics. It's the 'politically incorrect' dog image on my blog and the possibility that I made students go to my website to view it that inspired your wrath.

I'll have you know that when we discussed this image in class I began by saying that the point was not to make a political point, but to talk about formal analyses of signs and what is gained by following Saussurean linguists and treating the sign as being comprised of two components: the signifier and the signified. This image was useful for a variety of reasons, not least because of the visual pun involved (see wally's post above). However, the main focus of our discussion was about the question of intention and whether or not is was accurate to describe - as the person who posted this image online did in jest - the dog's urinating on a sign (and I stressed that it could just as well be Kerry, Nader, Tony Blair, etc.) as an act of 'free speech.' I could say more about our discussion of meaning, belief and semiotics, but there's a Discussion Board for that on the Blackboard course website, which is only accessible to registered students in my English and American Fiction class.

Because UIC is strapped for cash, classrooms aren't equipped with monitors for computers. I passed around a blurry black and white xerox of the image at the beginning of class while taking roll, but our discussion was primarily based on a quick description of the image. I did inform students that they if they wished they could look at the image on the Blackboard course website, but I did not direct them to my blog.

Have I directed students to my blog? Yes, but it was for purely pragmatic reasons. At the beginning of the semester a fair number students were not yet 'officially' in the campus computer system, which meant they could not access the Blackboard course website on UIC's servers. Therefore, I posted my syllabus and the booklist on my blog. I made a point of letting students know that this was my personal site and that the views expressed there did not reflect those of the university. I remember they laughed at that. Did I secretly want them to read my posts and decide to speak out, say, against government-sponsored torture? No, I wanted them to know what was on the syllabus: where my office is, what the campus policy on plagiarism is, and what they had to read for the first week, etc. You get tired of hearing the same questions over and over in the first week.

Did any political indoctrination occur as a result of students visiting my blog? I suspect not. Did any of them decide, say, to join Amnesty International or protest against torture at Abu Ghraib? I highly doubt it. Did any of them read anything at all? Maybe. I have had a couple students approach me about 'indie rock' music. Perhaps they saw the links to Paul Westerberg, Sonic Youth, Bloodshot Records, etc. on my blog? I hadn't given it a thought until reading your post.

Would I like students to read my blog? Sure, but I don't actively seek them out. Like most bloggers (I suspect) I like the idea of someone else reading my posts. Why else would I do it? (I know Dr. Johnson would label me a fool for not writing for money.) I post online and although it's really a labor of love for me, it's nice to know that one has an audience, however small that audience might be. Since I don't get many comments on this site, it's kinda exciting to hear from you. Even though your tone was nasty (anonymous posts tend to be more vehement I've noticed) it was funny to hear you refer to the "liberal element in Chicago" and my "asinine abuses of power."

But a teacher's job is never done, and I've spent far too much time on this riposte so I've got to sign off.

While you’re here in the blogsphere, I do have some advice for you. Since you’re someone who is concerned about ethics, and someone who believes in speaking his or her mind, you might reflect upon the nomination of Timothy Flanigan to the post of Deputy Attorney General in the U.S. Department of Justice. As Senator Barack Obama has noted: “Mr. Flanigan’s alleged involvement in the crafting of the White House ‘torture memos’ and his relationship with indicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff raise significant questions regarding his fitness to serve in the No. 2 post in the nation's top law enforcement department.” Perhaps, after further inquiries on your part, you’ll want to speak up and let your political representatives know that you object to Mr. Flanigan being approved for the position of Deputy Attorney General? It’s your choice, of course. Should you choose to voice your opinion, whatever it might be, on this or any other ethical issue, I encourage you to have the courage to express your thoughts in your own name (Call it an intuition, but I’m assuming that you live in a society where free speech is protected and are indeed a U.S. Citizen; if you prefer to be ‘Anonymous’ in, say, China or Iraq, it’s understandable). Your ideas and opinions will carry more weight with a signature attached.


The Python that Ate the Gator: A Parable About Gluttony

Even Aesop himself couldn't top this story, which might just be the best example of gluttony that I've ever encountered. Park rangers in Florida's Everglades National Park discovered the remains of a 6-foot long dead alligator inside a dead Burmese python. It seems that the python tried to swallow the alligator whole but then exploded. For those alligator chasers out there, you can check out a truly gross photo of the carcasses at the link above.

Kids, keep this story in mind the next time you're tempted to go back for yet another round at the all-you-can-eat buffet. [Loud Belch.]

Friday, September 30, 2005

Signifying Marks

The following image appeared in Marissa Frattini's photo galary at She titled the image Free Speech Canine Style. I received a link to Frattini's image in an e-mail with the header "Good Dog." Obviously, both Fraattini and the sender of the e-mail found great significance in this picture. Regardless of your political beliefs, the picture's humor should be obvious. But why, exactly, is it funny?

I want to argue that at a fundamental level the humor is based, like so much humor, on confusion between an agent's intention, that is, the meaning he (the dog here is clearly a male) intended a speech-act to have, and the significance that others attributed to his speech act. A key theoretical issue raised by this issue is whether or not the dog's urination can be considered an act of free speech.

I'll be using this picture to help my literature students better understand the difference between a signifier and a signified, which I hope will enable them to make sense of all the humor that is dervied from scenarios that require readers to consider the materiality of communication in Samuel Beckett's Molloy. I expect we'll begin by considering Molloy's claim that he understands his mother's profane parrot better than her "clattering gabble."

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Might Blogging Help Solve the Publishing Crisis in Academia?

My hunch is no, if one thinks that blogs could somehow replace scholarly books. However, I predict that once the majority of academic journals are available online and once the next generation of scholars gets comfortable with accessing electronic archives, we might see a shift in emphasis from the book to the article. I hope so anyway. Given that university presses are cutting back on the number of acadmemic titles that they publish each year, I think its ridiculous to expect assistant professors in the humanities to have published at least one and, increasingly, two books in order to get tenure. A few strong articles should suffice to establish the young professors' merit

Scott McLemee's piece, A Dogged Pursuit, is more about the fact that university presses have established blogs. It remains to be seen whether these blogs will function more or less as electronic catalogs, or if they will become a discursive site in which the ideas in the books are debated and discussed. I'm skeptical about whether the latter can work well due to the obvious conflict of interest involved. After all, the university presses want to promote their books, and its not true, particularly when book buying is concerned, that all publicity is good publicity. Besides, don't journals and reviews already cover the books anyway?

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Skeptical About Angrefristloven?

For the benefit of those readers who may think that I've become excessively pro-Scandinavia in my socio-political world view, I'm reprinting the following comments of mine. I posted them in response to Jill Walker's question: does iTunes have to respect angrefristloven?, a Norwegian "regrets deadline law" intended to to protect consumers from impulsive purchases outside of a shop. You'll have to read Jill's post or go to law school in Norway to get the specifics about this situation.

My comments, unedited (except for removing an emotive icon that I impulsively used):

A law to protect consumers from impulsive purchases?!?

Now, in general, I like Scandinavia's commitment to maintaining the welfare state in a neocon/neoliberal era where 'free-market' values means Big Corporations rule, but this sounds a bit excessive.

(1) Isn't the impulsive part half the fun? I mean, in retrospect, I probably didn't need my Edgar Allan Poe action figure, my squish Bush stress reliever, my numerous ape artifacts, or the various band t-shirts purchased at the end of a fantastic set, when my ears are ringing & I'm soaked in beer. Come to think of it, I probably didn't need that last beer (though we'll confirm that) tomorrow morning. But, as G. Bataille might put it, what's life w/out a little excess expenditure?

(2) At the risk of sounding like my Dad: Whatever happened to responsibility? Or learning from one's mistakes? I'm all for the government stepping in to help consumers in cases of fraud, but I don't expect Uncle Sam to help me get the money back for the two garish King Kong ties I bought on e-bay but never wear (actually, only one is truly hideous and has never been worn; the other made an appearance last Halloween)...

(3) Please tell me the generous no-questions-asked return policy doesn't apply to underwear purchases.

Cue the Sid Vicious: "Regrets, I've 'ad a few. But then again, too few to men-tion..."

Note: After posting my smart-ass remarks in the wee hours of the morning, I see that I skimmed over the part about the law applying to purchases outside of shops, so some of my examples are clearly irrelevant. I assure everyone that I normally am not so cavalier with my blog comments, but I consider Jill a friend. And even though we've never met, the fact that she's dating Scott entitles me (by an obscure piece of Chicago legislation) to give her extra shite.

By the way, Jill, Happy Birthday!

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Poet Declies to Dine at White House

The Nation has published an eloquent letter by the poet Shannon Olds to Laura Bush in which she explains to the First Lady why she is declining to read at the National Book Festival, attend a dinner at the Library of Congress, or eat breakfast at the White Houuse. Here's the close of the letter:

But I could not face the idea of breaking bread with you. I knew that if I sat down to eat with you, it would feel to me as if I were condoning what I see to be the wild, highhanded actions of the Bush Administration.

What kept coming to the fore of my mind was that I would be taking food from the hand of the First Lady who represents the Administration that unleashed this war and that wills its continuation, even to the extent of permitting "extraordinary rendition": flying people to other countries where they will be tortured for us.

So many Americans who had felt pride in our country now feel anguish and shame, for the current regime of blood, wounds and fire. I thought of the clean linens at your table, the shining knives and the flames of the candles, and I could not stomach it.

Nicely put, Ms. Olds. Obviously such symbolic gestures are invisible to the President, who was oblivious to the chaos and misery in New Orleans until his aids finally sat him down in front of a TV, but one wonders whether the First Lady is aware of the suffering that her husband's adminstration has contributed to directly through its reckless policies. If so, does she have anything resembling a guilty conscience?

Read Sharon Olds' letter in its entirety online at The Nation: No Place for a Poet at a Banquet of Shame.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Materiality of Language/Text/Communication in Beckett's Molloy

Reading notes from Beckett's Molloy, one of my all-time favorite novels...

A. Trope/Theme: the materiality of language/text/ communication

B. Annotated list of relevant passages:

1. Incomprehensible marks: When Molloy receives back the pages he writes, he cannot comprehend the marks that are written there (3). The other's writing appears to him as meaningless traces. This is the first indication we get that Molloy's relationship to language is peculiar, to put it mildly. For the rest of the novel, we know to be alert to issues pertaining to signification and interpretation.

2. Freedom to obliterate meaning: Reflecting on his sense of freedom, Molloy acknowledges that he doesn't know what the word "free" means. Nonetheless, he suggests that this is the word he intends to apply to his condition. Here, Molloy associates Freedom with destorying or blackening texts, reducing them in both instances to meaningless matter. He speculates that he is free "to do nothing, to know... the laws of the mind... of my mind, that water rises in proportion as it drowns you and that you would do better, at least no worse, to obliterate texts than to blacken margins, to fill in the holes of words till all is blank and flat and the whole ghastly business looks like what it is, senseless, speechless, issueless misery" (10). Given the violent turn of events near the close of part I and how they transpire, the manner in which Molloy associates freedom with meaninglessness here becomes quite ominous in retrospect.

(Political aside: Freedom = meaninglessness. Is it just me, or has that equation become frighteningly apparent in the policy and rhetoric of a recent president who is notorious for his inarticulate speech and oxmoronic claims?)

3. Molloy's coded communications with his mother: Molloy doesn't listen to his Ma's constant “clattering gabble" and attempts to communicate with her by "knocking on her skull" (15). However, because of his mother's short-term-memory loss, which makes her unable to count reliably, the code Molloy develops, in which the number of knocks on the head corresponds to a basic concept, fails. In the end, Molloy finds "a more effective means of putting the idea of money into her head": "thumps of the fist, on her skull" (15). That is, brute force or violence becomes the means of 'understanding.'

4. Failed interpellation by the policeman: Apparently in violation of an anti-loitering ordinance, or some law intended to maintain "public order, public decency," Molloy attracts the attention of a policeman who asks him for his papers. Molloy responds by thrusting bits of newspaper that he carries with him to "wipe [him]self...when [he has] a stool" (19) under the policeman's nose. Instead of presenting documents that would establish his official identity, Molloy, who at this point in the text is still nameless, provides the representative of the Law a text that is literally meaningless waste, i.e., old shit-smeared papers.

In a sense, however, Molloy's gesture speaks a sort of truth. He is, from the perspective of mainstream society, nothing but shit or waste.

5. Impermeability of the TLS: Like many homeless people, Molloy uses old newspaper as insulation to keep himself warm in the winter months. He notes that the Times Literary Supplement was "admirably adapted to this purpose, of a never failing toughness and impermeability," even to his farts (30). Here, as McLuhan put it, the medium is the message, meanging what...? Beckett's choice of this particular intertext must be intentional. He is thumbing his nose at the British literary establishment. But this scene is more than a literary joke. It's important to note how use trumps meaning in Molloy's relationship to the TLS. Dare we describe Molloy as a pragmatist?

6. Icy words: Reflecting on how he "had been living so far from words so long," Molloy recalls how, at the time, he had been unable to recall the name of his town and his own name. This period appears to have been near the beginning of Molloy's deteriorating relationship with language: "even then, when already all was fading, waves and particles, there could be no things but nameless things, no names but thingless names" (31). (This "waves and particles" remark intrigues me. I want to connect it to the cosmological 'perspectivism' that is a principle of modern physics). But Molloy suggests that his ability to remember the past has been compromised"...what do I know now about then, now when the icy words hail down upon me, the icy meanings, and the world dies took, foully named" (31). For Molloy, language has become akin to a meaningless force of nature that batters his body and threatens to overwhelm him.

7. Lousse's parrot: The bird speaks expressions that, obviously, it doesn't comprehend (38). The parrot doesn't intend to say anything meaningful, it simply repeats sounds. (Not unlike a student who aspires only to parrot correct answers.) Nonetheless, Molloy claims he understands the bird better than Lousse. In what sense might this absurd claim be true?

8. Writing as decomposition/blackening pages (74): …

Anyone with further additions, please post 'em!

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Tuesday Morning Joke

Q: What is George W. Bush's position on Roe v. Wade?

A: He really doesn't care how people get out of New Orleans.

Courtesy of my sister, the Political Science professor.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

The Alleged Failings of Rushdie's Shalimar the Clown

I've been following the reviews for Salman Rushdie's new novel, Shalimar the Clown and the bulk of them appear to be negative. Is that because it is simply mediocre work of literature, or is Rushdie being evaluated according to inflated standards that were established by the tremendous critical claim his early works, e.g., Midnight's Children received? Writing in The Nation, Lee Siegel notes that recent Rushdie reviews have presented a common narrative about Rushdie's artistic trajectory: the fall from an artistic state of grace. Siegel then proceeds to argue that the critcial consensus is correct: Rushdie has lost his subtle artistic touch and "seems to be writing novels that insisently annoate and reiterate what he believes to be a priori truths about life." And the main a priori truth that Rushdie reiterates concerns connectedness, the extent to which our lives are intertwined with others.

Unfortunately, Siegel suggests, Shalimar the Clown fails to present us with believeable characters and as a consequence never achieves the level of intimacy necessary to illuminate Rushdie's vision of the world's connectedness.

Siegel's damning judgments include the following:

"Alas, there is not a single real, intimate moment between characters in this book; not a single scene or situation unfolding according to its inner laws, away from the disheveling hurry of the novel's judgments and opinions; and barely any dialogue."

"Rushdie hastily comments on his characters and their milieus from the outside; he never gives them an inner life out of which they can act and speak for themselves."

"Max, for example, seems less a character than somebody's ego-ideal: i.e., the construction of a flawless self-image in response to feelings of humiliation and shame."

"But Rushdie himself apparently doesn't believe that we're all connected, because he portrays some of the people in this novel's world as if they lived on an alien planet."

"But so confused is this book beyond its complacent clarities, beyond its easy, all-embracing, platitudinous politics that its story finally undermines its theme. (Even the name "Noman," seemingly heavy with all kinds of significance, drifts through this mess of a novel into a portentous meaninglessness.) By attributing, as Rushdie does, the central violence in Shalimar to jealousy rather than to ideology, he is unwittingly affirming that people's stories are not alike; that whereas ideology funnels diverse thoughts and feelings into a single, pinpoint intensity, experience--for example, the experience of jealousy--shapes each person in a different way. Only tyrants delude themselves into seeing people and places as one undifferentiated mass, to be manipulated at will. Only tyrants, that is, and writers whose egos have been scarred and then inflated by the fury of tyrants."

The last remark, actually the final paragraph of the essay, interests me most, because the underlying claim presented here - that Rushdie presents us with a post-ideological vision in which people's differing beliefs about what's true or false are effectively rendered irrelevent - is one that Walter Benn Michaels makes against many 'postmodern' texts, both fictional and nonfictional.

The artistic challenge facing today's novelists, it would seem, is to write narratives that are genuinely dialogic, i.e., that present us with characters who [Internet connection acting funky; will save & follow this up later]

Thursday, September 15, 2005

How to Write a PhD Dissertation: Get Down Words on Paper That are 'Good Enough'

To complete a PhD dissertation one should abandon aspirations of greatness, decide to finish the damn thing, and simply write. Easier said than done, especially if the ABD harbors perfectionist tendencies that can trigger crippling bouts of writer's block. Brian Bialkowski suggests repeating the following mantra in order to stay focused on what matters most: words on paper, words on paper, words on paper, words on paper....

And don't forget to remind yourself that "nobody is really going to care about what you write." Is that last reminder a blessing or a curse? Being told that what you're working on doesn't matter, to anybody, sort of takes the motivation away. Unless the ambition is simply to get the degree.

Three other 'secrets' that Bilakowski provides for the ABDs of the world out there.

1. The first great secret about finishing is that there is no great secret.

2.Stop telling yourself that the dissertation has to be great, that it has to redefine your field, that it has to be such a wonderful piece of scholarship that you will be able to trigger a bidding war between publishers the day after your defense

3. Repeat “words on paper” to reign in your wandering thoughts and commit to writing

Note to self: Get back to your research and writing.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Please Don't Call It Postmodern Science

Read Andrew O'Hehir's excellent piece on the science wars, i.e., how Republicans have politicized science in order to assist corporate interests and appease the religious right. By politicized, I mean that conservatives have contested the truth claims made by the scientific community in order to advance a parisan agenda that benefits an elite few. They argue, for example, that because no absolute proof exists for ideas such as global warming, it is merely one hypotheses among many and should not influence our public policy.

One aside: As an observer in the humanities with an interest in rhetoric and postmodern literature, I just wish that 'postmodern' (as in postmodern science) wasn't the modifier chosen to describe the pseduo-scientific pap that the conservatives in the anti-science camp spew. I suppose the author equates associating postmodernism with relativism, an equation that is not entirely unjustified. Without launching into a lengthy and complicated genealogy of postmodern thought, I just want to observe that some of America's foremost postmodern fiction writers - Thomas Pynchon, Richard Powers, Samuel Delaney, and Kurt Vonnegut immediately come to mind - and are distinguished by the extent of their scientific knowledge and their ability to integrate complex scientific ideas into their writing.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Reyonds Writes on Post-Punk

File Under: Must Read. Simon Reynolds is one of the best rock critics around, and his account of 'post-punk' (don't call it New Wave) is officially on my 'wish list.' Chances are that it'll have to wait for some time. Fortunately, Andy Beckett's review Another Tribe provides an overview.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

I Want to Believe in the Young Literati

This week's New York Times Magazine section features a profile of the latest wave of literary journals written by A.O. Scott. The article, titled Among the Believers focuses primarily on The Believer and N + 1 both of which are based in Brooklyn. Reading about these publications filled me with both admiration and, I'll admit, envy. My admiration is based on my sense that the group of young editors and writers working on these publications are sincere about creating a space for eclectic and thoughtful literary writing (a term I won't try to define here) that doesn't slavishly follow publishing-industry trends. I say sense because I don't read these publications regularly, though I occasionally read articles from them, typically online. I remember being very impressed by Marco Roth's memorial essay on Derrida, Derrida: An Autothanatography, for example, which deftly blended personal ancedoctes with smart glosses on deconstructgion. It's heartening to find my generation of writers successfully integrating academic theory and philosophy, which is almost always denigrated when the mass media dains to refer to it, into non-academic publications. More importantly, it's fantastic that young writers are talking about the need to create an impersonal forum for debating ideas.

My envy comes from a sense that these young writers are engaging with many of the same ideas that I am in my PhD program. The difference is that they get to have a lot more fun doing so. But that's not the true source of my envy. To put it bluntly, my envy is class based. When I read this article, I first wondered how these young literati managed to support themselves and to pay for the magazine. Then I read about their backgrounds. Almost all of them attended the same prestigious East Coast Universities (Harvard, Columbia, etc.) and appear to come from rather privileged backgrounds. There's nothing wrong with that, but it did make the whole scene seem rather insular and somehow inaccessible. It's kinda like learning that the Beastie Boys and The Strokes were all rich kids. I don't hold that against them, and I respect the way that they seem not to take their class privileges for granted. Nonetheless, what they've achieved seems diminished somehow by the fact that they've had a huge safety net (financial and cultural capital) that has protected and enabled them to focus their energies on art, literature, philosophy and other things generally devalued in our profit-driven society. Is it possible for people from poor and middle-class backgrounds to devote lives to such pursuits?

Without launching into a lengthy litany about funding for the arts and humanities, let me conclude by stating a sincere concern of mine: I fear that due to market pressures, pursuing a career in the arts and the humanities is increasingly becoming an option available primarily for members from the wealthy classes. I hate to think of a world in which the study of history, philosophy, literature, etc. was regarded as a luxury and not a necessity. Unfortunately, I think America is moving ever closer to such a world. So, let's hope that the young generation of thinkers, wherever they may be, can start to reverse this trend. We don't want an intellectual oligarchy.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Terrorism and the Novel

Just came across Dangerous Characters, an article by novelist Benjamin Kunkel on terrorism and the novel. Kunkel aims to characterize the figure of the terrorist in the terrorist novel, both pre- and post-9/11. At present, I've just skimmed the essay, but want to post it for future reference. Students in my English and American Fiction course will be reading DeLillo's Mao II, probably the most influential terrorist novel (if such a genre can be established) from the postmodern era, in a few weeks, and this essay should help us to identify some of the key issues concerning the relationship between terror and fiction.

Solich Scores First Victory as Ohio Upsets Pittsburgh

Ahhhh, college football season is here again... While the scholar in me detests the way athletics trump academics on too many college campuses across the country, I grew up in the Husker Nation and bleed the Big Red. College football remains the only sport that I follow passionately.

Ohio 16, Pittsburgh 10. What - an - upset. And this one is particularly bittersweet for us Husker fans. Sweet because Frank Solich, Nebraska's former head coach who is truly a class act, just won his first game as the coach of the Ohio University Bobcats. The underdog Bobcats, who have had 29 losing seasons in 35 years, defeated the Pittsburgh Panthers, the defending Big East champions, in overtime.

I'm truly happy to read about the outpouring of support for Frank Solich in Ohio. He deserves it, especially after the shabby treatment he received from Steve Pederson. Husker fans, too many of whom endorsed Pederson's judgment about Solich, know what I'm talking about.

The bitterness comes from the fact that Steve Pederson, Nebraska's arrogant athletic director, fired Solich after the 2003 season, when NU went 9-3. Pederson's reason: While Solich had compiled a fantastic number of wins during his tenure at NU (58-19 in six seasons) and had even played in the National Championship game (NU lost to Miami 34-14 in the 2002 Rose Bowl) he couldn't win the big ones. Nebraska, which dominated in the 1990s, was regularly losing to the likes of Oklahoma and Texas, its Big 12 rivals.

In 2004, under new head coach Bill Callahan, who brought with him a West Coast (passing) Offense, Nebraska suffered through its first losing season in 40 years.

Reading of Solich's victor, coming on the heels of Nebraska's lame victory last week over Division I-AA Maine, it's impossible not to cringe at Steve Pederson's decision to fire Solich as head coach of Nebraska and wonder where the Cornhuskers would be now had Solich remained at the helm. Next week Nebraska plays Pittsburgh, where Steve Pederson served before coming to NU, which will be hungry for a victory. It's painful to say, but I'm not convinced that Callahan's Cornhuskers are ready for the challenge.

But enough looking ahead. Tonight NU plays Wake Forest. And these days its especially true that NU can't afford to overlook any of their opponents.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Bush: One of the Worst Disasters to Hit the U.S.

It's been a grim week. While the Bush Administration's response to Hurricane Katrina has been a comedy of errors, the enormity of the diaster, coupled with the incompetence and corruption that intensified its devastating effects have made it hard to laugh much lately. However, this image, which I first found via a link on In These Times, did manage to make me crack a wry smile. The caption is from a TV capture from Sky News Ireland.

Do ya think the caption writer intentionally penned this double entendre? In any case, this dose of Irish irony went down as smooth as a pint of Guinness. Speaking of which, it is Friday...

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

The Post-Katrina Era Must Be Progressive

The linguist George Lakoff argues that the Katrina tragedy was exacerbated by the right-wing values that the Bush Administration has put into practice and that the Post-Katrina Era must see a return to progressive-liberal values. Lakoff suggests that the majority of Americans actually hold progressive-liberal values (empathy for others, that we're all in this together, equal protection for all, etc.) as opposed to the right-wing conservativism that (a winner-takes-all capitalism, extremist individualism that valorizes selfishness, and an animosity towards government, unless it can be used to benefit one's private agenda). Note: The glosses in parentheses are mine, not Lakoff's.

I'd like to believe that Lakoff is correct about the values held by most Americans, but I'm not so sure. As Bruce Springsteen sings in "Nebraska," a song narrated by Charlie Starkweather, a mass-murderer who, to my knowledge, was the last person executed by the state of Nebraska: "I guess there's just a meanness in this world." America is a violent culture, and I suspect that more Americans have a sadistic streak than many of us would like to acknowledge.

I fear that too many Americans have embraced right-wing individualism to such an extent that they can feel empathy only for a small circle of friends and family members. I remember a conservative in St. Louis whom I met a few years back. His son had contracted AIDS through a blood transfusion, and although this man was well off he could not pay for all the medical expenses. Fortunately, he qualified for financial support. His son remained alive only because of government largesse. Although he thankfully accepted the government support, he remained steadfastly opposed to universal health care. He was, to put it simply, an elitist who had no compassion for people whom he did not know personally.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Congratulations Raffet and Rita!

Raffet and Rita Exchange Vows
Originally uploaded by erasmus.

Attention friends: I'll be posting more photos from the festivities surrounding Raffet and Rita's wedding in days to come.

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Download your Bullshit and BUSHshit Deflector Today

Here's a link to (file that under domain names that I wish I'd registered) that was sent to me from my folks, back in Nebraska. Mom and Dad are 'red staters' only in the sense that they strongly support the Big Red, i.e., the Nebraska Cornhuskers. (At least Mom does. I think Dad's support for the Huskers has waivered some since the foolishly fired Frank Solich. But that's material for another entry, on another day.)

At you can download, for free, your very own Bullshit Deflector! or a BUSHshit Deflector!, should our dishonorable Commander-In-Thief be making any appearances in your vicinity.

Best to get yourself a few pairs. These days its not safe to be without protection. Just ask the members of our armed services in Iraq who are sent into missions without proper armor for their vehicles or their flak jackets.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Ladies and Gentlemen, Please Rise and Don Yr Bullshit Protector for the President of United States

My good friend Jim, a.k.a. T. Dogg, and the man behind the Bully Bait, sent me the stirring image you see here along with the accompanying caption:

August 21, 2005 | Bill Moyer, 73, wears a "Bullshit Protector" flap over his ear while President George W. Bush addresses the Veterans of Foreign Wars.

Monday, August 22, 2005

ENGL 105: Assignment for Class #2, Aug 24

Begin keeping a reading journal that you write in before each class. Your first entry will be for: Class #2, 24 Aug 2005. You can type your journal entries or write them longhand. It doesn't matter to me, so long as you bring a hard copy to class. I want you to have your writing on hand for reference during our class discussions. If you don't type, write legibly (do as I say, not as I do, right) so you can reread this material at a later date.

Your entries don't need to be polished, so don't worry too much about grammar and spelling. Of course, these aspects of your writing are important, but for your journal entries they needn't be a major concern. The point of these journals iis for you to get your initial thoughts and responses down on paper in rough form. I guarantee that doing so will improve your thinking, enhance your appreciation of the readings, and your improve your performance in this class.

Here's what you're to include in your first journal entry:

1. Quote(s) of the Day
a. Type or write our a quote from each of our three main readings (Poe's "Berenice" and "The Premature Burial" and the first chapter, "What's Real?" from Culture and the Real).
b. Then, comment briefly on each of the quotes. You might explain why you selected the quote, try to paraphrase it in your own words, or use it as a springboard for your own reflections.

2. Word of the Day
a. Pick one unfamiliar word from any of the day's readings. Write down the sentence in which it is used.
b. Then, look the word up in the dictionary and write down the definition that seems most applicable.

3. Short Answer
Write a concise (4-5 well-crafted sentences should suffice, though you're free to write as much as you wish) summary or gloss of Poe's story "The Premature Burial." In your account, comment on the uncanny elements in Poe's tale. You might use one of Belsey's short glosses on a film (Last Action Hero, eXitstenZ,The Purple Rose of Cairo, etc.) or a novel (Julian Barnes' England, England) as a model.

The Brief Reviews database in the Movie section of the Chicago Reader may also provide you with some useful models for your writing. It takes practice to be able to concisely encapsulate a complicated narrative in a few sentences. I highly recommend reviews by the critic Jonathan Rosenbaum. If nothing else, you might get some ideas for films to rent the next time you have a free evening.

4. Question Write down one question raised by any of our readings that you would like to see addressed in class.

When the Going Gets Weird...

Taking a moment out of the first day of the semester to remember Hunter S. Thompson. I would've loved to have been present at Woody Creek for the final send-off for the good doctor's explosive final send-off.

Note to students in my ENGL 105 (English and American Fiction) class...

For readers who are enrolled in my ENGL 105 (#11133/20596) class:

As I mentioned in class today, I will not be distributing a printed copy of the course syllabus until the class roster is more stablized, i.e., the end of the first or the beginning of the second week of class.

Therefore, in order obtain information about this course and its requirements, you will need to log in to the Blackboard Course Website. Get in the habit of doing do now, because you are required to check the Blackboard daily throughout the semester.

For the benefit of those of you who are new to UIC and may have not yet received your UIC NetID and password, I'm posting a substantial portion of the syllabus below. If you have access to a printer, you may wish to print this post out for reference in the next few days.

First, here's the reading for the first couple of weeks of class: The bulk of the readings come from The Selected Writings of Edgar Allan Poe.

M, Aug 22: Course Introduction

W, Aug 24: The Uncanny and Literature--read "Berenice" and "The Premature Burial" from the Poe and the "Preface" and "What's Real" from Belsey's Culture and the Real. Also finish reading the handout on "The Uncanny" which we read through in class.

F, Aug 26: Poe's Perverse Narrators--read "The Tell-Tale Heart," "The Black Cat" and "The Imp of the Perverse"

M, Aug 29: Poeisme/Modernism--read "The Fall of the House of Usher" & "The 'Crypt' of Edgar Poe" by Joseph N. Riddel

W, Aug 31: Doubles and Doubling--read "The Purloined Letter" and "The Shadow's Shadow: The Motif of the Double in Edgar Allen Poe's 'The Purloined Letter'" by Liahna Armstrong.

You'll need to READ ALL ASSIGNED MATERIAL AT LEAST TWICE, otherwise you won't get it. So, start early, dig in, and enjoy.

Now, the syllabus...

Terrifying Detections:
Fiction and 'The Anxiety of The Real'
From Poe to Postmodernism

Eric Dean Rasmussen
English 105: English and American Fiction
Fall 2005, University of Illinois at Chicago

Section #11133/20596 2:00 p.m.–2:50 p.m. MWF
215 Stevenson Hall (SH)

Office hours: W, F 1:00–1:50 p.m. and by appointment
Office: 1945 University Hall (UH)

Course Description

This reading-intensive course offers a selective introduction to modern and postmodern literary fiction written in English during the 19th, 20th, and 21st centuries. While the texts we read are probably too disparate to constitute a distinct sub-genre, they all posit a situation that raises a fundamental question: What’s real? In turn, this deceptively simple question generates more profound questions concerning the nature of reality and our ways of knowing. This class, then, will focus on some of these ontological and epistemological questions and the attendant affects, particularly an ‘anxiety of the real,’ that are represented and reproduced textually.

Using Edgar Allan Poe’s tales of rationation and terror as a starting point, we will examine the narrative tropes and techniques deployed by subsequent modern and postmodern writers who, like Poe, project a fictional reality that is both mysterious and familiar, terrifying and yet all too human. These fictions play with readers’ expectations, foreground the extent to which our experience of reality is thoroughly textualized, and—through their narrative experiments—suggest different models (grammatical, politico-legal, and philosophical) of the human subject.

This class will help you to understand what narratives are and how they are constructed, how narratives act upon us and vice versa, how narratives are transmitted, and how a narrative’s significance (though not its meaning) can change when its medium or cultural context changes, and why all these topics are relevant to our sense of reality. You will learn to identify and respond to the ways in which our experience of reality emerges in, through, and because of our engagement with language.

Through the study to a diverse range of fiction you will obtain a pragmatic introduction to literary criticism that will equip you with intellectual tools designed to enhance your ability to comprehend a range of narrative forms, including, perhaps, your own life story. By applying yourself in this class, you will become smarter, more thoughtful readers of a range of texts, fictional and otherwise.

Course Goals
As an introductory course in literature, students who pass English 105 (English and American Fiction) are expected to meet several key requirements:
• Read and analyze several works of prose fiction written in the English language, with an emphasis on identifying and responding to the literariness of the text.
• Understand how 20th-century authors hailing from England, Ireland, Russia, and the United States have approached and contributed to the English literary tradition.
• Master a basic literary critical vocabulary that will enable you to better read, write, and think analytically about written texts, particularly literary fiction.
• Develop an informed, general understanding of issues in and approaches to modern literary and cultural criticism by reading a range of fictional texts analytically, identifying their significant conceptual concerns, and discussing key critical issues concerning these texts.
• Demonstrate a proficiency in the art of literary studies by learning productive methods for reading prose fiction, framing relevant questions, marshalling evidence, constructing arguments, and writing thoughtful analyses of literary texts and the cultural work that they perform.
• Enter into intellectual conversations about significant topics in literary studies and establish positions within those debates.
• Participate in classroom discussions and activities and present readings of texts to the class.

Readings and Texts
We have five primary texts in this class: (1) books (2) handouts (3) the Blackboard course website and hyperlinked Internet documents (4) the manuscripts you write during the semester, and (5) films and videos.

Books can be purchased at the UIC Bookstore or most respectable booksellers, e.g., Powell’s, Barbara’s Bookstore, Border’s, Barnes and Noble,, etc.

Be sure to purchase the same editions of the books that I've posted here: Books for ENGL 105

The Quiet American. Dir. Philip Noyce. Perf. Michael Caine, Brenden Fraser, Do Thi Hai Yen. 2003. DVD. Miramax, 2004.

Log in to the Blackboard course website. Then, click on the 'Course Information' button on the left of the screen. This will open up a page where you'll find a folder titled 'Course Materials.' Herein you'll find a list of the tools you'll need to do your coursework.

Eric Rasmussen, your instructor. Please come see me during my office hours if you have any questions about the class, are seeking advice about your research or writing, or just want to chat a bit. During the semester, I recommend meeting with me at least once. If you absolutely cannot come to my office hours, explain your situation to me. We can try to schedule an alternative time we can meet. You can also reach me by e-mail or phone. I will generally be able to respond briefly to your e-mail queries messages within 24 hours.

In all course-related e-mails, please address the subject line as follows: ENGL 105: Your Subject. All messages with ENGL 105: in the subject line are automatically forwarded to a folder that I check regularly. Without ENGL 105: in the subject header, my e-mail software’s SPAM filtering may block or route your incoming message to the trash. Always include your full name in the body of the e-mail message.

Classmates and fellow students. In class, you will occasionally work together in small groups. I also encourage to use the online discussion board and e-mail to communicate about the course and to peer-review your writing. Try to befriend one or more of your fellow students. You can learn a lot by discussing the course material with others. And if you miss class, they can fill you in on what was covered.

Richard J. Daley Library Reference Desk. Second Floor, at the top of the escalator. No appointment needed. Access the catalog from off-campus at:

Blackboard Course Website. As a participant in this class, you are expected to check the course website daily for new content. The course website can be accessed via UIC’s Blackboard webpages at

Take time early in the semester to become familiar with the site’s organizational structure. In particular, learn how to navigate through the website using buttons to link to Announcements, Course Information, Course Documents, Assignments, Books, External Links and the course Discussion Board.

Using your personalized user name and password, log on to the course website at English 105 is listed under the "Liberal Arts and Science: English" category in the Blackboard CourseInfo online catalog.

Academic Computing and Communication Center. For help with technical computing questions, such as setting up your UIC Netid account so that you can log into Blackboard, visit the ACCC’s website:

Writing Center. 100 Douglas Hall (312.413.2206). Writing-center tutors are available to discuss your assignments, review your drafts and collaborate with you at any stage of the writing process. Each writing-center session lasts up to 50 minutes. To schedule an appointment, phone in advance or drop by in person. You are required to workshop at least one paper or writing project at the Writing Center during the semester. For more information about the Writing Center, visit the following URL:

SCAILAB (Student Computer Aided Instruction Lab, pronounced sky-lab). Adams Hall 110. The stafff can help you get the most out of the computer resources available at UIC and provide technological troubleshooting and support. Some classes may be held in the SCAILAB, so you may have an opportunity to become familiar with the resources available there. If you need help For more information about SCAILAB, visit the following URL: .

Attendance and Participation
Attendance. To successfully meet the course requirements, it is essential that you conscientiously prepare for each class, regularly attend class, and actively participate in class activities. With the exception of extreme medical emergencies, I do not distinguish between excused and unexcused absences.

You are allowed three absences before your overall grade is lowered one-half letter grade (five percentage points) for each absence. If you miss eight or more classes, you will automatically fail the course. Period.

If you know you will be absent, e-mail me in advance, letting me know not to expect you in class and when you will likely return to class.

If you miss a class, contact a classmate to learn about what you missed and send me an e-mail notifying me of your absence. In the e-mail’s subject header type Engl 105: Absence #.

Tardiness. Make it a point to come to class on time. Do not be tardy as it disrupts the class and you will miss important information. Three tardies count as one absence.

Participation. A substantial part of your grade is based on participation, so make it a point to contribute to class discussions. If you are confused about anything, ask questions. If you are shy and don’t like to talk in front of others, make an extra effort to post regularly to the online discussion board and come to my office hours. If you fail to contribute to the class, your grade will suffer as a result.

A student who submits a paper which in whole or part has been written by someone else or which contains passages quoted or paraphrased from another’s work without proper acknowledgment (quotations, citation, etc.) has plagiarized. Maintain your integrity when completing assignments and be overzealous to give credit where credit is due. If you are unsure about what constitutes plagiarism, look it up in the index to The Craft of Research (available in the library) and/or ask your instructor. Ignorance is no excuse.

Students who are found to have plagiarized work may be subject to various disciplinary actions including a failing grade on the particular assignment, failure of the entire course, and possible expulsion from the University. For more information about the violation of Academic Integrity and its consequences, please see the webpage maintained by the UIC Department of Student Judicial Affairs at the following URL: .

To pass this course, you must submit all assigned work, attend class regularly, and actively participate in course activities, both in and out of the classroom. Turn in your work on time. Assignments turned in one class period late will be lowered by one letter grade. If you turn in an assignment three or more class periods late, I will provide feedback, but will assign a failing grade. However, an ‘F’grade (say, 50% is far better than 0%). Unless you make special arrangements with me, no assignments will be accepted more than two weeks after the original due date.

Study tips
• For every hour spent in class, expect to spend, on average, at least 3–5 hours out of class reading and working on your assignments for the following class. Budget your time wisely and don’t be lazy.
• Read primary texts at least twice—once, in order to get a general sense of what the reading is about and a second time to begin analyzing the details and taking notes.
• Follow Poe’s pratice: take notes in the margins of your books. Highlight and mark passages that we discuss in class or that are of particular interest to you as you read. Your annotations and marginalia will be invaluable when studying for tests and quizzes and preparing for writing assignments, as they will enable you to quickly identify key passages. You may have access to your books during some exams.
• Look up words and terms that are unfamiliar to you in a college-level dictionary and write their definitions down in the margins of your books or in your course notebook.
• Check the Blackboard course website daily for new material, announcements, postings, links, etc.
• Always bring all of the assigned readings and hard copies of your written assignments with you to class the day that they are scheduled to be discussed. You will need them on hand to refer to during class discussions and for quizzes.
• It should go without saying, but always bring a highlighter, pens, and a notebook to class.
• Follow the advice given in “The Fundamentals of Effective Study” and “Key Study Skills” from Managing Your Mind: The Mental Fitness Guide by Gillian Butler and Tony Hope (Oxford UP, 1995). On reserve in the library.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Victory Ride

Victory Ride
Originally uploaded by erasmus.
A shot Ira took from the Southeast section of Montrose Harbor at the tail end of our first joint bike ride in Chicago. On Friday afternoon, we rode our new Dahon folding bikes down the LSD bikepath to the park in Streeterville just behind Navy Pier. It was about a 10-mile ride roundtrip and was completely exhilarating. Ira had been skeptical whether our little bikes could go very fast, but we had no problem keeping up with traffic. We had to pass numerous bikers along the way. Basically, the only bikers who passed us were the Men in Spandex on racing bikes who blaze up and down LSD and high speed.

We saw the Chicago skyline from a new perspective and took in lots of interesting sights and sounds along the way. For example, we witnessed a parodic parade of processioners, maybe 30 people in all, who were bearing a banner that read "Abbie Hoffman Died for Your Sings" and chanting something that I couldn't discern as we whizzed by. One of the people was bearing, in lieu of a cross, a huge scale, the kind you find (if you've got health care) in a doctor's office.

Our bike ride was much more enjoyable than my first, on Wednesday during rush hour, when I rode my bike home from Rapid Transit Cyclery in Wicker Park. I took Damen north to Montrose. Although Damen is a designated biking street, the bike lanes are not marked the entire ride. It was pretty intense. It went well though. Only one ass in an SUV yelled at me from his vehicle.

We bought folding bikes because we don't have room to store regular-sized bikes in our apartment and we don't want to risk having our bikes stolen. I had a sweet Specialized mountain bike stolen from the basement of my 'molehole' apartment on Paulina where it was chained. Coincidentally, sometime early Saturday morning our upstairs neighbor's moutain bike was stolen from just outside our bedroom. The bike was locked to the wooden banister below our window, and the noise of the thief breaking the wood awakened Ira and me. I had a momentary thought that it could be a bike thief, but when I didn't hear any more noise I fell promptly back to sleep. In retrospect I probably should've yelled out the window or something. A bit disconcerting. At times this big, dirty city can be really tiring, but it sure looks pretty in the picture doesn't it.

In Finland's Footsteps

Here's another article that asks whether the U.S. might not be better off adopting some form of the Scandinavian welfare state. This time Finland is the country that is examined for comparison, and the author, Robert Kaiser, notes the various perks that the Finnish state provides: free child care, effectively free higher education, the best schools in the world (judged by the achievement of students on standardized tests), universal health care, etc. There's much to admire, and perhaps envy, about life Finland, no question about it. Regardless of your purported ideological position on the role of the government and so forth, it's hard to imagine that anyone could claim that Finland is anything but one of the must successful democracies in the world. After all, this is a country that is committed to equality, which means making material inequalities disappear.

But after admiring the Finn's commitment to inequality, here's the conclusion Kaiser reaches regarding whether American might try following in Finland's footsteps: "I found Finnish society beguiling on many levels, but in the end concluded that it could not serve as a blueprint for the United States. National differences matter. The Finns are special and so are we. Ours is a society driven by money, blessed by huge private philanthropy, cursed by endemic corruption and saddled with deep mistrust of government and other public institutions. Finns have none of those attributes."

Plug yr nose people, you don't want to inhale too deeply when the air is reeking of nationalistic, identitarian bullshit. Kaiser presents us with a classic right-wing, conservative, greedhead argument (it's a dog-eat-dog world in America, things ain't ever gonna change, so love it or leave it) couched in the most facile identitarian language of the p.c. pseudo-left (no need to take a position about which system is actually better for the majority of the people who live in it; the U.S. and Finland are both 'special,' so let's celebrate our 'difference'). Kaiser's logic boils down to this: America could never become more like Scandinavia because of fundamental differences in national identity. Ameican society is basically greedy and corrupt, and Americans are paranoid about their government and public institutinos. But this decadent situation, apparently, isn't so bad because some of the rich are philanthropists. My guess is that Kaiser probably thinks of himself as a reasonable, realistic, moderate.

Ira's been missing Sweden lately. I don't want to show her this article, but know that I must. In other news, I may finally break down and get a cell phone. Will it be a Nokia (Finland) or an Erikson (Sweden)?

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Recombinant Culture and Literary Remixes

In a short essay for Wired magazine, William Gibson characterizes our current historical moment as "a peculiar junction, one in which the record (an object) and the recombinant (a process) still, however briefly, coexist," although the latter is rapidly becoming the cultural dominant. Gibson's observation and his corresponding claim that our new recombinant technologies are redefining what it means to be human are, of course, familar assertions in postmodern and media studies.

I'm archiving this piece for future use in the classroom because it concisely introduces several ideas, not all of which I agree with entirely, in no-bullshit prose: (1) Burroughs' innovative cut-up method differs from plagiarism (2) from the perspective of a recombinant artist "[m]eaning...seemed a matter of adjacent data," and (3) the notion of copyright and intellectual property that developed in the 20th-century has become obsolete, a burden to new creativity.

Thanks largely to arguments presented by Walter Benn Michaels, I've come to believe that idea #2 is wrong because it confuses intentional meaning with signifying effects (see his The Shape of the Signifier). And as Burroughs' writing about his use of the cut-up method makes clear, the juxtapositioning and arranging different texts (or data) is an intentional act that is not purely random.

Sunday, July 31, 2005

Why We Fight?: Historicizing the American War Machine

Ira and I just watched Why We Fight an excellent BBC-produced documentary about U.S. militarism and the rise of the military-industrial complex. Although the film won the Grand Jury Prize at the 2005 Sundance Festival and was directed by an American, Eugene Jarecki, I don't think it has had a very high profile in the States. Maybe it hit some of the art-house theaters and I just missed it. With the recent attacks on PBS, I suppose it won't be screened there anytime soon.

That's a shame, because it really deserves a large audience. Ira found it less emotional and more analytic than Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11, a film with which it will undoubtedly be compared.

I hope Why We Fight comes out on DVD soon, as I'd like to screen it in one of my American Literature and Culture classes. Jarecki's project is to historicze America's post-WWII militarism. The film, which takes it title from a series of Frank Capra-directed propaganda films from 1942 that were used to really support for the war against Nazi Germany, features a useful prologue featuring footage of President Eisenhower's farewell speech. It's always good to remind people that it was a Republican president and a 5-star general, not a 'libreal pinko peacenik,' who first warned about the dangers of a militarized economy.

An aside: I didn't know that Ike opposed dropping the atomic bomb on Japan. The film contrasted Eisenhower's anti-bomb position with Truman's decision to bomb Hiroshima and then Nagasaki. Was Truman really such a hawk. The film suggested that Truman deliberately ignored Japanese attempts to surrender so that he could drop the bomb and send a message to Stalin. Readers who are more knowledgeable in military history: Is this an accurate?

In short, the film was very disturbing for a variety of reasons that I won't go into now. What seemed clear from the interviews was that the Bush Doctrine and its policy of pre-emptive strikes will continue after this administration leaves office.

One final note: Jarecki's previous film was The Trials of Henry Kissinger, a film that I believe was based on Christopher Hitchens' book. I'd love to hear Hitchens' response to this film. Why does Hitchens believe Kissinger should be tried as a war criminal but Rumsfeld, Cheney, and company were right to invade Iraq? Surely he would have to concede with one of the film's key points: the Iraq war was never waged on behalf of the Iraqi people.