Who’s Your Master of Low Expectations?

Actually, I thought they both were. Kerry didn’t look like his Republican caricature, so the dems call it a success. But he missed a couple opportunities to really put it to Bush, especially when Bush said he knew how hard war was from watching it on TV. How come that didn’t make the highlight reels?

Bush looked alternately pissed off, defensive and pathetic. He’d clearly rehearsed his opening remarks and it was downhill from there. You can’t criticize him for not being on message, though.

Still, the fact that we expected so little out of each of them makes it kind of a draw. Which is too bad. But then, it does appear that Bush has found a way to make it difficult to debate a stupid person.

It was awesome to watch the debate with Canadians, though. When Bush started talking about not signing on to the International Criminal Court, the looks of horror on everyone in the room were priceless.

In the good old USofA, when the president says “we didn’t sign on because then they could have tried some of our people as criminals” to some (like the people with the big US OUT OF UN banner near our old Pittsburgh house) he must sound like’s protecting god and country. Here, people just recognize that it’s evil.


In other news, Will Straw (namecheck!) took us to this nice little place with 15 kinds of poutine beforehand. Poutine is comfort food, good on cold nights when you’re really hungry. The bottom fries get soggy, but by then the cheese has melted so it’s more, well, like nachos but with fries. Same concept, though. It was good in that soft food sort of way. I had a strictly don’t-ask-don’t-tell relationship with the sauce.


I’ve been at this for weeks now and not a peep about recording. Still none, as I’m waiting for a new computer for the studio. In the meantime, I noodle on my instruments inbetween writing sessions and class prep, and a new copy of Tape Op arrived in the mail yesterday. It is definitely the best recording magazine anywhere. It’s also the only one that’s a) political and b) moderately feminist. Which is quite an achievement in an industry where they still sell microphone preamps with breasts in other magazines, and many writers still assume their audience is all male. I only skimmed it in bed, but there’s an article about a woman who made an album with just an old PC and a library card, and the end column (usually an oped about music) has been given over to urge people to vote in the US election. How cool is that?

Royalty is Silly

Sometimes it’s better to just come out and say things, don’t you think?

Alternate title: “Governor General: What’s Up With That?”

The Globe and Mail ran a story about the Canada’s Governor General today, which is apparently a vestigal position left over from when Canada was a proper British colony and all that. The Governor General, like all heads of state, appears to serve a mostly ceremonial function (which involves spending a lot of money), except that she also has some kind of constitutional power. Now it may sound a bit “pot calling the kettle black” for an American post-2000 election to go on about unelected officials presiding over political matters of import, but this whole office seems just ridiculous. Canada is no longer a colony. There’s even a flag and anthem and stuff. And it’s not even vestigal royalty (which is silly) but the vestigal appointee of the vestigal royalty (though the PM now appoints the Governor General, so when she delivers a message from the “crown” it’s not really like that, you see). Very derivative, and very vestigal all at once. This is now at the top of my list of Weird Canadian Things.

Speaking of Weird Canadian Things, Carrie and I will shortly dine on poutine for the first time. And then watch the presidential debates with some friends. I’d promise to report back but we all know how good I am about writing about things I promise to write about. There was another column today in the Globe and Mail saying that Kerry’s big challenge will be to not look too smart. It’s bizarro world, where debating stupid people (yes, I mean Bush) is difficult for smart people. Then again, it is hard to argue with stupid people. For more on why it’s a good idea to say mean and hostile things about Bush, please consult Steven Rubio.

The good news for today is that I finished a draft of the SSHRC application. the bad news is that I’m sure I’ll have to revise, and it’s full of typos. Such is life.

Funny how I never get to the promised backstory, isn’t it?

Sorry for the long (in blogtime) hiatus but I am just way overcommitted right now. Two grad courses is a LOT of prep time, and this SSHRC application is a never-ending vortex of additional statements, half-page summaries and so forth. Plus, there’s the semblance of retaining a domestic life, letters of recommendation and sleep.

Luckily, there is also chocolate, for which you can thank the following rantings.

Another One From the Archives

Friedrich Kittler’s, this time, in Gramophone, Film, Typewriter

He’s quoting an 1913 essay from Karl Abraham, one of Freud’s disciples. Abraham instructed his patient not to write down his dreams (only psychoanalysts may write down dreams!) and so the patient instead stumbles over to his phonograph (phonographs at this time, it will be recalled, could record as well as play back).

…he ingeniously tries to save from oblivion the dreams he considers important. He own an apparatus for recording dictations and proceeds to speak the dreams he considers important in the bell-mouth. He Characteristically, he forgets that for the last couple of days the machine has been malfunctioning. As a result the dictation is difficult to understand. Patient is forced to fill in a lot from memory. The dictation had to be complemented by the dreamer’s memory! the dream analysis proceeded without notable resistance, thus we can assume that in this particular case the dream would have been retained even without any recording.

The patient, however, was not convinced by the experience and instead repeated the experiment one more time. Follow a dream-filled night, the machine, which in the meantime had been repaired, delivered a clearly audible dictation. But according to the patient its content was so confused that he had difficulties enforcing some kind of order. . . .

Kittler reads this as part of his several-age schhtick on the almost political opposition between the psychoanalytic and phonographic projects, but I’m just more struck by the machine breaking down (hmmm, sense a theme?) as a mnemonic for consciousness. In my reading, Abraham is exactly wrong, not because as Kittler suggests, he is in competition with the device, but because the interaction with the device, the exteriorization of the dream, is precisely what stimulates insight in the patient. Even the struggle with the more “faithful” (OH PLEASE SAVE ME FROM THE NEVERENDING DISCOURSE OF FIDELITY) reproduction of the fixed phonograph is a call to engagement, if not an “incitement to discourse” as Foucault would have it. But then of course, the whole thing’s taking place in a psychoanalyst’s office, which along with the Catholic confessional, was ideal-typical for Foucault’s whole schtick about the incitement to discourse. Mmmm. A big analytical circle we have here.

Maybe it’s just this: on first reading, the broken version of the phonograph seems to make manifest the actually process of communication, when in fact, the the fixed version actually does a better job, because its perfection, after all, is a total sham. It’s all the more artificial, and all the more engaging. Take that. lo-fi purists! Turns out the better copy is the worse copy, and therefore “better” at engaging the listener.

I feel better for getting that off my chest. And you?

Alarming Developments

We live in a “bad” neighborhood according to the tenants’ insurance mavens, so in order to be insured, we had to install an alarm. the installation was this afternoon, which of course puts a dent in the workday, but what can you do? I’ve never had one before, but they sure do seem like a pain in the butt. They also encourage paranoid behavior. And I mean that structurally. We mustn’t give out our code to anyone. Must create lots of unique codes for all possible classes of people who might enter or pass through the domicile. Must worry about how potential burglar will come through windows in order to place glass break detector and/or motion sensor. It’s all a ruse as part of our deal on insurance. Actually, the one thing that’s cool is the connection of the fire alarm to their main monitoring system, which might possibly save our cats’ lives in the event of a fire (and of course more of our stuff, too). Even that sounds paranoid, but there’s something about being a documentary scholar that has always had me freaked out about fire. I mean, paper is so, well, flammable. And there goes whatever project I’m working on. Of course, in grad school, I remember that an ethnographer friend shared the same fear, and so deposited some discs in our place that contained all his interview transcriptions, just for safe keeping.

You know what they say about data: it (sic) doesn’t exist unless it exists in three different places.


So Steven Rubio says I should get an RSS feed for my blog, which I’d love since it would lead to more search engine hits and of course make his life easier. Here’s the thing: I barely know how to code this stuff. I just modified a b2 template for this page, and then buried the url in a frameset so you wouldn’t have to type something long and ugly. Plus I get that weird header. All the instructions I’ve found online are way too advanced for my skill level. Anybody have a like to “rss for dummies” or somesuch?

Things and Updates

Thing 1: I went to a reading last night. Well, it was more of an effusion than a reading (they didn’t actually read from the book, but rather told us about it. very nice) for the book Racism, Eh? which is a title that caused me to do a double-take when I first saw it. My colleague, Charmaine Nelson is one of the editors (along with her sister, Camille Nelson) and it looks really good, especially for a clueless American who has even less of a clue about race relations in Canada than the language politics. Charmaine is one of a group of awesome new colleagues I am extremely happy to have.

Thing 2: On the readings front, Bad Subjects just had a major reading in San Francisco. Wish I could have been there. In lieu of that, you can read Charlie Bertsch’s account and Kim Nicolini’s seriously-bummed-out rebuttal. Charlie’s also got links to the book itself, which I’m too lazy to include right now. Carrie and I are thinking about doing a reading in Montreal (I would also like to start recruiting locals to write for us), but we’ve got to find the right independent bookstore and promote it accordingly. In any event, I should probably say a few things about the BS book and my involvement in the organization here, so I will. But not today.

Thing 3: I have *so* got to put together a links page it’s not even funny. Or at least a blogroll. Or something. But again, not today.

Update 1: The SSHRC application is a real killer. Every time I finish something, I feel really gratified. Then I realize there’s a whole other set of materials I have to compile. Eeeg.

Update 2: You know that whole entry about the Airport Express skipping? Well, once was quaint, but last night it started cutting in and out to such a degree that it was distracting me from composing my SSHRC budget. (Yes, I know I shouldn’t be composing budgets on Friday nights, but as the Russian reality TV show says, “THIS IS AN EXTREME SITUATION!”). So I guess there will be another call to Apple tech support. Either that, or I’m just going to return the thing and spend the money on some other way to get music from my computer to my stereo.

Okay, onto executing my duties. There’s always the possibility of an afternoon blog break, though.

more Canadiana

ok, not really. Yesterday was my first faculty meeting here. I learned a lot about what’s going on in the department (and some of the cool things my colleagues are doing) but I also had a “foreigner” experience. At one point I had the occasion to pronounce the letter “z” out loud (no, in retrospect, I have no idea what the context was). Now, Americans know that it is pronounced “zee” but up here, it’s pronounced “zed.” So I say “zee” and all of a sudden 14 pairs of eyes are on me and the laughter begins.

This was funnier than it may sound, especially when I followed up with “oooo! look at the quaint American!”

I’ve been on the other side of that kind of thing about 1 million times in US, but this was my first experience as the foreigner who says funny words. It was, well, cool.

Today and tomorrow are dedicated to wrapping up a draft of my SSHRC application (pronounced “shirk” and short for Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council). It turns out in a bizarre twist of fate that the Canadian humanities have become much more entrepreneurial in the last few years than their American counterpart. SSHRC provides what to American humanists would be impossibly large grants, though they are mostly for funding research assistants (which is particularly important in our department because we have so few teaching assistantships available, though I’ll have 2-3 in the spring*). SSHRC grants are about building research projects and research teams. You can buy equipment, books, and travel as well, but most of the sum is for student support. As someone who’s tended to do quirky archival research, this does pose a question of how I conceptualize tasks such that RAs can do it. They can’t look at old magazines and have weird interpretations for me (well, they can, but then I’m not doing what I’m supposed to do). I find that the process requires me to systematize my research. Now whether the actual grant, if I were to get it, would have that effect on my work patterns is unclear. But certainly at this stage, the emphasis on “methodology” (which ought to be called “method”) has that effect.

The other effect, of course, is that I become something of a manager if I suddenly have a team of research assistants. On the other hand, I’m used to supervising TAs and came to feel that it was one of the more pleasant parts of the job. It made teaching more collaborative and gave me someone to kvetch with about the project. Perhaps this would be the same? I don’t know. I’ve always says that the “holy trinity” for academics is money, time off and research assistants. If I’m successful, I’ll report back on that.

Carrie’s off in Buffalo giving an invited lecture, who would theoretically mean that I hole up here and get tons done, except that there are cool things happening tonight and tomorrow. I wonder how many weekends the party streak will last. The social life here is so good that I feel like I’m in grad school again. The middle of grad school.

* Every US school I’ve been at calls the second semester “spring semester” even though it begins in January. It’s actually quite Orwellian when you think about it, because you have given something a name even though it is decidedly not that thing. Here, they call it “winter term” which is entirely accurate since it begins in January and ends in mid-April. The thing is that I’ve been saying “spring” for 15 years now, so I’m programmed. Last night a colleague (shout out to Ting Chang!) and I were discussing belief over dinner. She was saying the constitutive act of belief was a leap of faith and I was saying that I thought belief was the result of repeated activity (especially ritualized activity) over time. My unwillingness to call it “winter term” even though a) that is the correct institutional name here, b) that is the correct description of the season which accompanies the second academic term of the year and c) the fact that I AGREE with and LIKE the description seems to have no impact on my reflexive habit of calling it “spring.” Hopefully, I can beat that out of myself by winter. The euphemism is going to be especially annoying on the next -40 degree night.

From the archives

well, Lisa Gitelman’s collection anyway (Scripts, Grooves, and Writing Machines). I ran across it again as I was prepping for tomorrow’s sound seminar. This is one of my favorite quotes of its type, though I’ve got a good mental radio one I’ll dig up someday.

Letter from Ike Leonard Isacson to Thomas Edison, sometime in 1914:

Dear Sir,

I am a patient, in the hospital for Insane, at Elgin, Illinois. I am not Systematized. The Idea is. I must be a System. I wish you will please Install a System for me. Hoping to hear from you. I remain. Very respectfully,

Ike Leonard Isacson.

Gitelman notes that Edison scrawled “Noans” (short for “no answer”) across the top of the postcard. She’s struck by the accidental profundity of the statement, and so am I, though neither of us has any idea what it means.

Mmm, a “theory” blog

First things first. The party last night was awesome. Good conversation and good music.

There’s a raging debate in the “comments” section of Michael Berube’s Blog about Tom Frank’s new book. I even dropped a line there. It’s turned in to the standard debate about the populism of cultural studies (and left treatments of popular culture in general), which I just think is such a nonstarter these days. Yes, there are some great moments in Frank’s work on Kansas, but I don’t think Frank’s critique of cultural studies as populist (ongoing for quite some time now) is very well-researched or grounded in the history of the field. Yes, there are lots of populists running around (many in fields other than cultural studies) and yes it’s silly to read buying as transgression, but even John Fiske backs off that line in his last book.

Let me put it this was: it’s like saying physics is bankrupt because some idiots claimed they had figured out cold fusion over a decade ago. The nature of academia is that fields produce both good and bad work, and on that score cultural studies is a pretty standard field. One judges a field by its best work, not its worst.

It’s time to question the proliferation of self-congratulating critiques of cultural studies populism. I mean, I don’t know any serious scholars who are publishing that sort of thing or have in close to a decade. Maybe I run with the wrong people, but Fiske’s books are looking mighty dated these days. Let someone take on the faux populism of cultural history, which is alive, well and apolitical, and then we’ll see the fur fly.

Frank simply that he believes in his own authenticity more than he believes in other people’s, and his writing on popular culture consistently looks down on other people. He needs his critique of cultural studies so you don’t see him looking down on the very same people. I’m not a populist either — I think it’s a morally bankrupt position — but there’s a difference between challenging people and the positions they hold and condescending to them.

As a side note, the above debate on Michael’s site led me to another academic who blogs — Catherine Liu. Hers is both interesting and one of the coolest-looking academic blogs I’ve seen. Not like I have time to redesign this thing right now. Extra points for Liu: she’s interested in machines, and she teaches in my old undergrad department: Cultural Studies and Comparative Literature at the University of Minnesota, for which I still have fond memories.