A Blog About Non-Blog Writing

It’s not like I haven’t been writing this semester. On the contrary, I have been writing constantly: grant applications, letters of recommendation, vision statements, lectures for two grad seminars (and more lectures — note to self: don’t ever again assume you can re-use old lectures from graduate seminars), the Derrida obit, endless small items for the tenure file, reviews of journal and book manuscripts, comments on theses finished and in progress (both MA and PhD), this blog, countless emails, an ad for an RA, and countless other tiny bureaucratic documents. Carrie has too. We bought a whole box of printer paper at Bureau en Gros in August, and we’re down to our last ream.

But since the beginning of fall, I haven’t been writing in the academic sense of putting together prose for publication. Well, until the last couple weeks. You’re supposed to get a pass for about a year when you book comes out, which I didn’t take, and you are supposed to get a pass when you move. But I didn’t know I was moving until May, which meant that all sorts of promises were in place for fall under the assumption that i would still be in Pittsburgh. That led to me bailing on two conference commitments (highly unusual for me). And it’s slowed down my writing tremendously. Not realizing how foolish it was, I had promised three people an essay for an edited volume on the voice, to be published in French. They’d been kind enough to invite me to a conference that was otherwise almost all in French last spring, and I am new enough at this business to feel quite honored when someone wants my work to translate it and publish it in another language.

My paper is on recordings of Osama bin Laden’s voice — which, if you read the paper this morning, you know is a current issue. Now that I have a complete draft, I’m pleased to say that it’s decent. I have plans to revise it thoroughly (as usual, I didn’t even get to half the stuff I wanted to cover) and publish it in English as well. As you can see from the blog, I had hoped to finish it off last weekend but couldn’t.

GOOD LORD IT WAS TOUGH TO GET TO THIS POINT. First of all, there are endless distractions and obligationsrelated to being in a new place, being in this place, and not being in the old place, which meant it was hard to get long spans to write. This is not supposed to be a problem as I’ve adoped what I call the “academic Atkins diet”(1), which is a practice of writing where you do an hour or even half an hour a day instead of the binge-purge model of so many academics. One of my teachers once compared academic life (or at least the writing part of it) with peasant life: periods of intense productivity puncturated by long periods of leisure or torpor. Anyway, I have discovered that my plan works best for projects in progress or that have reached a certain critical mass. If I’m under a deadline (or, uncharacteristically for me, way past a deadline in this case), it’s not all that satisfying to see my work inch along. There’s also Endnote, which is wonderful when you cite something the second or third time, but a real pain the first time you cite something. And there were endless newspaper articles, clippings and printouts from websites that needed to be entered into the bibliographic database and then put in my paper. All this is to say that for the last two weeks I have been struggling to get this essay down and to move it forward — partly struggling to find the time to think and write well, and in the absence of that time, struggling to switch gears quickly to get into my writing space while I have the moment. This adds unpleasant pressure to the whole thing, and there were moments when I had serious doubts as to whether I could finish the piece before winter break. It really was a practical problem (I can’t remember the last proper “writer’s block” I had), but it’s hard not to experience it on an emotional roller coaster. Our writing is so tied to our senses of self as academics. Or maybe it’s just me. Like a reverse-metaphysics-of-presence or something. Now that it’s a touch-up away from the button, I of course feel much better. But it’s been stressful, to say the least. I can’t wait for the course release in the winter term so that I can get back to my own work a little bit more (yes, I originally typed “spring” and then fixed it).(2)

And now, looking at the next two weeks, I’ve got two other deadlines approaching. Luckily, it’s for much smaller stuff.

(1) I called it the “academic Atkins diet” because it comes from kind of trendy advice books and has all sorts of names. But the technique is good. I got a ton of writing done last winter doing it for an hour a day. The method probably deserves its own entry but in the meantime, let me say this (which was originally going to be a Bad Subjects essay) about the real Atkins diet. I hate the Atkins diet. I realize that people have lost weight on it. Good for them. But American food culture is so messed up that it has finally found a way to attach a negative moral valence to bread. Bread! Also, there’s the whole anti-vegetarian backlash associated with it, the shameless and deceptive branding by the big food companies, and all that, But that’s for another time. I’m pleased in Montreal to find less Atkins mania.

(2) Carrie took her course release in the fall, and has therefore managed to get more of her own work done. I’m jealous, but after years of me having the lighter teaching load, it’s been a long time coming for her.

If You Want to Get Out of the US Before It’s Too Late

This just in, courtesy my new feminist radio research friend Sarah:

http://www.marryanamerican.ca. It’s a noble cause. If things go, er, south next Tuesday, I expect to be getting a lot of calls from American friends about jobs at McGill. I will refer them here.

And Greg D. points me to this tidbit from The Onion:

Onion Election Graphic

I have nothing clever to say right now. Good night.

Forget Cassettes

opened for Trail of Dead (along with IQU) last weekend. I picked up the CD but only today had the pleasure of unwrapping it and listening to it.. It’s got that lovely indierock mix of tightness and rawness. You can check them out here.

Sound Studies tomorrow. Semiprofound sound fact #356:

In The Victorian Soundscape, John Picker writes about Charles Babbage’s campaign against London Street musicians. For those who don’t know, Babbage was a famous 19th century mathematician and inventor of something called the “difference engine” which was something like an early general-purpose computing machine. With a little historical license, some have called him the inventor of computing. I’m not going to get this across clearly because it’s been a long day and I’m tired, but here you have the “father of computing” opposing math and music: Babbage said that street musicians made it impossible for him to do his calculations — to compute. I want to write something about the later attempts to eradicate “noise” in cybernetics as a metaphorization of this earlier urban bourgeois sensibility. And something else about the opposition of computational precision and music. I’ll get it right, but not tonight.

Another Obit

British DJ John Peel, whose many “Peel Sessions” contain some of the best tracks by my favorite 70s and 80s bands, just died. He was a hugely important force on Radio 1, and a couple people have lamented to me that they think Radio 1 is doomed without him.

A Theory of Canadian-American Interpersonal Communication (1)

It’s more of a hypothesis, really. Anyway, the theory was developed after several drinks at a divey bar in Mile End sometime around 2am last night by three Americans and a guy from all over. It goes like this:

Canadians, in general, will ask incredibly personal questions in a matter-of-fact way that will cause one to spill one’s deepest, most personal stories. For Americans, this will seem like self-disclosure, confession, or expression of a deep confidence. For the Canadian in question, this will seem like idle conversation. Possible explanations:

1) Americans hold onto stuff emotionally in a way Canadians do not.
2) Americans have a stronger sense of entitlement to happiness, and so are less matter-of-fact about unhappy events in their lives.
3) Americans have more ressentiment.
4) Canadians generally don’t have the same Protestant ethic regarding material, interpersonal or professional success.
5) Canadians are more rooted and therefore more emotionally stable.
6) Our sample is screwed up somehow.

That’s incredibly general for someone who just showed up two months ago, but it was a collaborative work (the exact nature of my contribution is unclear, other than writing it down and prompting the discussion) and it’s interesting enough to go with for awhile.

In other news, I appear to have a social life. Three nights in a row, I actually stopped working after dinner (or right before) and went out for edification, rock, and socializing in various combinations.

I was going to do a whole separate entry about the …and you will know us by the trail of dead show, and the title was going to be:

In the Name of All That Has Rocked or Ever Will Rock

but the show did have a disappointing side. They didn’t play much from Carrie’s two favorite albums, Source Tags & Codes, and Secrets of Elena’s Tomb. Nevertheless, the live show ranged from fierce to savage, and they do the two-drummers thing very well (avoiding the too-many-drummers effect I like to call “shoes in the laundromat”). We both liked the guy that sang more than the guy that screamed a lot, but they were all awesome performers and the show was well worth the price of admission. Highly recommended if they come to your town, and you seriously enjoy rocking. The show was bookended by awesome Jamaican food (cheap! The Corridor) and a surprisingly good raspberry beer at a microbrewish bar, and good company.

The other major event of the weekend was the [CTRL] conference, which was entirely organized and put on by Communication grad students at McGill, Concordia, and probably U of Montreal and UQAM as well. Rather than doing a grad conference, they just did a full-on conference and got people to come in from all over. I didn’t attend much (too much other stuff to do) but I enjoyed moderating my panel, and hanging out with people at the after-party. This was also bookended, with bars on both ends. Luba Lounge was cool with its posh chairs and froofy martinis, but there was something about the tough-guy rap playing that was disjunctive with the otherwise chilled out atmosphere. It’s like I needed some gold jewelry and then could spout stupid-sounding lines (at least when they come out of my mouth) like “we’re kickin’ it gangsta style.”

I’m hopelessly behind in my work, but since that would have also been the case had I stayed in, I’ll take the mental health that comes with a social life.


At some point in graduate school, I realized that I could be happy living almost anywhere as long as I had good friends and a good work situation. What I have discovered since moving here — and three nights out this weekend really brought it home — is that while that statement is true, there is something very special about living in a world class city for the places that you can go and the things you can do, all other things being equal.

(1) title edited from “a theory of Canadian interpersonal communication” to more accurately reflect what I’m talking about.


I reported the existence of vegetarian haggis to Carrie, who at first made a face. Then she said “you only want to make it because you think it’s funny.”

Then I showed her the recipes. Now she’s intrigued.

Procrastinating My bin Laden Essay(1)

Yesterday, I attended my first ever McGill University lecture, a History of Science talk by Peter Dear, which was that splendid sort of talk where the author does close, careful readings of somewhat esoteric texts to make an interesting argument. I won’t bother you with the details because it’s the experice that was worth mentioning. Afterward, we retired to Thompson house for drinks. Thompson House is that very strange animal — a graduate student union in a lovely old, well, house. Drinks are relatively cheap, and it’s just a nice environment to hang out with people and chat. Apparently, faculty can crash it, which was news to me. I even discovered that Cornelius(2) has become an “associate member,” which I guess is like the “professor’s auxiliary.” I was eventually persuaded to go out for dinner. The whole thing was an absolutely wonderful experience, exactly the kind of thing one imagines academics are supposed to do: listen to papers, discuss ideas, and then dine, drink, and let the conversation range a bit.

Anyway, as it turned out, the selected joint was called au Pie du Cachon, which means “the pig’s foot,” known for its fine meats. This poses a problem only insofar as I am a vegetarian. Usually when this happens, the place comes up with some solution for vegetarians, which ranges from awful to decent. I’m happy to report the waiter was kind and the solution was more than decent. Anyway, I only tell you this because the fact of my vegetariansim — combined with the fact of people sitting next to me eating duck, steak tartar and blood sausage — occasioned an interesting conversation(3) about food, which included two main topics: vegetarianism and weird (to me) meat-based food from the Europe. I raised the issue of Haggis, as I am wont to do in such conversations, only to learn an astonishing fact from Nick Dew(4).

Vegetarian haggis exists.

Now, I have relied on the haggis as a staple of food humor for many years. I believe it was Mike Myers who once said that “all Scottish cuisine was created on a dare.” This was done with the expectation that I would never have the occasion to actually eat haggis. And the whole concept of stuffing an animal’s stomach full of food and then eating it is kind of funny. But then Nick says “oh yes, it’s quite good. And most of the stuff inside is vegetarian. You’d just need a different pouch.” So I go online and discover the following items:

–a company that sells prefab vegetarian haggis
–a recipe to make your own vegetarian haggis

I would merely direct you to my google search on the topic.

I am seriously considering making a vegetarian haggis. It looks time-consuming, so it’s probably a winter break thing. But I’m always up for a challenge.

Other fun fact: I discovered yet another NFL fan in Montreal. I will not name the fan in order to protect the identities of the innocent. We have the critical mass for a super bowl party now.

OK. Back to work. I am seriously trying to finish this short essay on the circulation of Osama bin Laden’s voice in the Western media. I plan a longer version too, but we mustn’t be greedy.



(1) I am now numbering footnotes so I can include more. Doing it by hand sucks, but the word processor on which I wrote my undergrad summa thesis also did not have a footnote function, so I did those by hand as well. What a bloody hassle! There must be a way to do it right. I am advertising for an undergrad RA next week and I am going to list xhtml as a desired skill.
(2) Cornelius Borck, my colleague in Art History and Communication Studies.
(3) this very blog also came up later in conversation
(4) Nick Dew, a historian who is my colleague on this History and Philosophy of Science Committee. Actually, Cornelius is on that, too.