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.