Monday, February 21, 2005

Hunter S. Thompson Kills Himself

Woke up and logged on to learn that Hunter S. Thompson has killed himself. The epigraph to Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is from Dr. Johnson: "He who makes a beast of himself gets rid of the pain of being a man." And when 'becoming animal' no longer works, what then?

I know Hunter had suffered from various physical ailments recently, but wouldn't be surprised if the mental torment of witnessing America move farther and farther to the right, transforming into Greedheads, Inc. contributed to his decision to commit suicide. His last book, was Hey Rube: Blood Sport, the Bush Doctrine, and The Downward Spiral of Dumbness, which seems to encapsulate our current cultural moment quite nicely.

So, this evening, let's raise a toast to the good Doctor and his Gonzo legacy...

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Zizek's Back: On "The Not-So-Quiet American"

Much of this essay has appeared in Zizek's Iraq, The Borrowed Kettle, but it's still a wake-up call. Perhaps we American academics are by-and-large too timid to engage in such direct critiques of our government, wary of calling unwanted attention to ourselves in a time of war, but damn, I wish more of us were writing pieces as lively, vital and to-the-point as Zizek's latest--"The Not-So-Quiet American."

The essay closes with a nice example of how to deploy the Hegelian logic of the totality when doing a cultural critique and the piece itselrfis filled with fascinating information, e.g. Jeanne Kirkpatrick's distinction between "authoritarian" and "totalitarian" regimes, which the U.S. used to justify its support of ruthless dictators such as Saddam Hussein, and Saddam's use of Whitney Houston's "I Will Always Love You" as an election-victory anthem. I wish I knew how to get word to Zizek that this tune happens to be a favorite of Patrick Bateman, the protagonist of Brett Easton Ellis's American Psycho. Does anyone know if Dubya and Cheney had an official campaign or victory tune for the last election?

Sunday, February 13, 2005

Solipsists Against Smoking

George Blecher's argument in "Healthier in lungs, poorer in spirit" is one we've heard before, but which bears repeating.

The efforts to curb smoking are symptomatic of a larger Puritanism that promises us all the 'pleasure' of being safe and protected. As Pynchon might put it, Americans are seduced by the false promise of being exempt from the ravages of time and, ultimately, death. As Zizek would say, it's the logic of the chocolate laxative. Yes, you can have the substance, but deprived of the 'harmful' ingredient that makes it pleasurable.

One of the great ironies, of course, is that while smoking and smokers are attacked in the name of better health, we still have no national health-care plan that would provide coverage for every American and the Bush Administration and its Repug allies are plotting to cripple Social Security, which will only make the situation worse. Blecher is aware of this, as he notes America is "profoundly anti-social" and increasingly "altruism takes a back seat to solipsism."

Smoking or not smoking isn't the issue. It never really was, since as every non-smoking New Yorker knows, he inhales the equivalent of two packs a day just by breathing. What concerns me is the picture of who we perceive ourselves to be: self-involved children pretending that we can escape death by playing God the Doctor and Personal Trainer. Though smoking may not have been good for us, the camaraderie that went along with it made this journey more fascinating, and its end perhaps more bearable.

Camaraderie, as a value, in America? These days, it sounds like wishful thinking.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Another Year Older and Deeper in Debt

I don't generally feel old, except when I get those statements from the Social Security Department indicating how much I've paid into the system and how much I can expect to receive per month upon retirement. The amount wouldn't cover expenses today, let alone in thirty (ha!) or forty years. And since Bush the Younger is set on destroying Social Security altogether, perhaps I shouldn't worry about that. Of course, 'not worrying' or being cynical about the possibility of doing anything is precisely what Bush and those conservative ideologues in the GOP who want to do away with social services altogether are counting on.

But this is dreary talk for a birthday. After receiving an excellent wake-up gift from Ira, Tom Wait's last CD, Real Gone, and then Amazon e-certificates from my parents and Claire (Vollman's 3500-page treatise on violence is suddenly looking affordable), I decided to 'indulge' myself. I allowed myself a respite from grading papers and (for now, anyway) The Phenomenology of Spirit. Instead, I took a bus downtown to go to the Art Institute, where I planned to reread some of Beckett's Molloy, which I'm teaching in my English and American Fiction course. (Beckett, of course, was neither English, nor American, but the course title is obviously outdated, so it doesn't matter). Emilio, a fellow Hegel seminarian, happened to be on the bus, and we ended up talking about, big surprise, Hegel. Our task: to figure out how to make all the time we've devoted to studying Hegel worthwhile, that is, how to apply it to our research interests. We both seemed to conclude that while Hegel's dialectical logic could be useful, deploying it seemed to be something of a 'long cut,' i.e. similar insights could be obtained by pondering less opaque thinkers.

At the Art Institute, I rather quickly looked at some photos by Tokihiro Sato... (typed a lot more, then lost it; dunno if I'll get around to recreating the rest of my lengthy post, detailing lunch with Ira at the MCA, etc.)