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.

Template Talk

This blog is officially back in effect.

I have decided, after careful consideration, that the New York Times has only ever published two basic articles about cultural theory, from which an almost unending series of variations are possible. Op-Ed pieces authored by Stanley Fish do not count.

1. “Theory is stupid.” This article debunks cultural theory by purporting to demonstrate that theory a) is stupid, b) is pompous, c) leads to silly paper titles at the Modern Language Association or d) is a sham or otherwise is a sign of the excesses of academics, who aren’t real intellectuals like hard-headed, clear thinking journalists.

2. “Theory is dead.” This article argues that while theory was once important in the humanities and some social sciences, the good people are all dead, their American acolytes have run out of ideas, and that young scholars are back to “serious scholarship” where people really study stuff and ground their claims more carefully.

You can also have a mix-and-match arrangement. When the Sokal Affair broke, for instance, the NYTimes claimed that the hoax demonstrated that theory was a) a sham and b) dead.

I only say this because Derrida has led to a flurry of newspaper articles. The best example of #1 so far is Jonathan Kandell’s asinine front-page obit. The best example of #2 appeared yesterday and is entitled “Theory of Everything, RIP.” What does it all mean? Commenting on the Sokal Affair (back when it happened), Bruce Williams at the University of Illinois said it best: these people represent the last professional class fraction who believe — or are required by occupational norm to act as if they believe — in naieve empiricism. I like that explanation, though I have no idea if it’s true. Best I’ve heard yet.


It was 40 hours in 4 days on the tenure file, and I don’t mean finishing up unfinished articles. It’s just a bear to assemble, though it might have been easier to do if I’d been more organized (some stuff was at home, some stuff at the office; guess sthat happens when you move). Still, it makes a sufficiently loud sound when you drop it. I’m not celebrating yet*, as once the departmental committee has a look, they can ask for changes. Even if they don’t, there’s another nine copies to make and place between dividers in 3-ring binders. It’s like arts-and-crafts class, only the stakes are higher.

Tomorrow, in addition to class prep and marking (as they say up here), I intend to get a little academic writing done. It’s about time!

* My friend Greg Dimitriadis (who is no doubt reading this — name check!) used to give me crap about celebrating every little accomplishment. I’d send off a paper to a journal for review and say “let’s go get a drink” and he’d be all like “what’s the big deal?” apparently not realizing that it is merely a pretext to socialize.

I’m starting to get interested in this footnote function. Do other people put footnotes in their blogs? Has anyone written an xhtml routine to insert footnotes into a blog? this could be cool.

Sleep, Beautiful Sleep!

I figured out that this weekend, with Carrie’s dad and partner in town, I slept more than any three day period since moving to Canada. I really needed it, and actually the whole thing was quite relaxing, though I am trying not to think about all the stuff I have to do for myself and other people.

Today, before taking them to the airport, we wandered up Mont Royal (the mountain status of which I would question after living in Pittsburgh) to check out a beautiful view of the city and also discovered that it’s an awesome park. The park is open until midnight every day. That’s wild. I used to love taking late night walks in Minneapolis and there it was dicey because the parks were officially closed. Here, it’s legal, safe and lighted. Carrie’s psyched because there are cross-country skiing opportunities in winter. It’s definitely one of my new favorite places in Montreal. Wish I had a picture to show you. The view of the city was indeed stupendous, and it really gives a sense of how big Montreal (and the metro area) are. What a cool city.

As readers may know, philosopher Jacques Derrida died on Saturday. There was a really petty piece in the New York Times on him. I’m not a big deconstructionist, but I think the guy had some interesting stuff to say. I’ve worked up an obit for him that will go up in a day or two on the Bad Subjects website. I’ll link when it’s ready to go.