Bad Blog

Bad Subjects’ new blog is up and running, except that Geoff Sauer (our webmastermind — webmaster doesn’t really explain his involvement) switched to a BBS engine so that we can respond to each other and be more interactive. The result? It looks exactly like a BBS, but populated by Bad Subjects editors.

Here’s the text of my last post there, since it belongs here, too:

“I really want to write an op-ed, but I don’t know what to say. It is utterly horrific and the grossest, most public display of state violence by the U.S. that I can recall in my lifetime. The hubris behind the level of explicit brutality is really something. And for all the talk of “learning from Vietnam,” U.S. military strategists have apparently forgotten that razing a village or city doesn’t make the resistance go away or the locals love you more. I mean, do they really think that after all this murder they’re going to have popular support in Iraq, or that they’ll be able to get out with a puppet government in place any sooner?

That is all I have to say.”

Chicago Redux

Hoo boy, you travel, you get busy, you catch up. It’s a real elaborate process.

NCA and Chicago were a blast in that we got to see lots of old friends, including a couple friends who no longer live on the continent. I presented one paper and served as a respondent on three panels, and I attended no others. I’m sure they were good, but these big conferences are always more about meeting people for coffee, meals and drinks than they are going to panels. The format encourages the attitude: 10 minutes to give a paper, and most people don’t practice before they perform (I practice my presentations, not my responses), which means that the presentations are a bit of a mess. The book award came with a plaque which looks surprisingly good. Once I figure out how to hang it on my wall in the office, I will. Will says I’m “going McGill” on him, but hey, it’s my first academic prize. It was weird to be at NCA and not be at Pitt. A couple Pitt grads asked me where the “McGill party”(1) was going to be and I had to inform them that Carrie and I were the only two McGill professors who even knew NCA existed.

I’ve been to Chicago a million times, so I didn’t worry much about seeing the city. We were stuck down in the loop on Michigan Avenue, which is pretty touristy, but I did get out to see some friends AND to see this very cool exhibit. The first room was most of the standard free speech stuff, but the second room got into areas of labor, race and sex radicallsm that I wasn’t previously aware of. I totally want to visit the Dil Pickle Club now. Anyway, I recommend visiting the exhibit if you’re in Chicago between now and when it closes. Extra bonus: we got the tour from one of the curators, my old GEO comrade and good friend Toby Higbie — who is also the author of a cool book on hobos (yes, the Toby who now has twins). I will say only this: the man was remarkably awake.

As an aside, they had a record from the Chicago Women’s Liberation Rock Band. They have some interesting cred as predecessors of Riot Grrrl and other challenges to male domination in rock music. In fact, it’s the earliest explicitly feminist challenge to male “rockism” (as they now call it) that I know of. Unfortunately, their music, is well . . . how shall I put this? They were not quite as good as some of the feminist musicians who followed them. MP3s are available on their site, so you can judge for yourself. Maybe I just caught a weak song. . . .

To be fair, nonfeminist men also make bad music. For instance, this track.

(1) It is standard practice at NCA for departments to throw parties, either in suites or in convention rooms. Some of these parties have free food and free alcohol, other’s don’t. (Departments with jobs encourage candidates to come to their parties to meet faculty and students, though sometimes the faculty are drinking and the enounter is loud, crowded and awkward for the candidate.) Usually, large packs of friends move from one party to the next in search of free food and alcohol. In the past, I’ve usually gone. This time, we had so many people to see that we bailed on the parties. Plus, Pitt was interviewing people for my old job (though the job description is now a rhetoric position), so it seemed like a good idea to steer clear and let them interact with their candidates with me out of the way.

Upcoming: NCA

I don’t know if I’ll get to blog tomorrow night, so tonight might be the last for a few days as I head off to the National Communication Association (NCA) conference in Chicago. Highlights will include seeing lots of old friends, including Toby and Z0R (no, that’s not her real name), who had twins since I last saw them. I present a short paper that was supposed to be excerpted from the introduction to the book I thought I’d finish last summer as of last January (Abject Media). But now that book’s on the backburner (in favor of a shorter work on digital audio that seems a bit more timely and due to be finished next summer), and so it was a scramble to get the talk together. On the other hand, since I’ll have all of 10 minutes, I don’t think it’ll be a big thing. It never is. I also won an award, or rather co-won it: Critical and Cultural Studies Division Book of the Year, which is the only award for which I’ve had the presence of mind to submit The Audible Past. So that’s cool. I have mixed feelings about NCA, but CCS has been a great oasis in that organization.

Tonight’s cabride home (hey, I make a decent wage, sometimes I just want to get home!) was interesting because my driver knew my landlord. Talk about a small world. He was remarkably appreciative of my terrible French (turns out I get it wrong on my voicemail message at work — must rerecord) and we got to talking. Pierro the driver used to own a clothing store a couple doors down from the store my landlord owned in the early 90s. “That Stephane, he’s a go-getter — he’s in his 30s and look at him: two stores and he owns a loft!” I’ll have to say hi. I’m hoping that Stephane will drop by tomorrow to do something about the heat — if you can believe it, it’s too hot here. All the locals tell me it’ll be just right in February.

News of the Weird:

My graduate seminar for next fall will be entitled “Seminar on Repetition Seminar on Repetition.” I hope the syllabus will be clever enough to warrant the title. It’s a sort of “topics in sound studies” thing — definitely a new thing for me.
I keep getting queries about my old job at Pitt. Is that normal when someone moves? What am I supposed to say (besides “forget about it if you’re in an academic couple”)?
I got the best excuse for a late paper ever today, but I can’t reveal it in a public forum such as this — gotta protect the innocent!
Bad Subjects is about to set up a collective blog in which I will participate. It’ll be weird to blog in two places, but the collective voice there is an interesting experiment.

My Life is An Ad for Apple Computers and Chinese Food

One thing I didn’t mention in yesterday’s post was that my new Apple finally came in. It’s going to be the heart of the new studio, so I was pretty psyched to bring it home after slogging through dossier assembly. When I went to the store, the guy who got my order for me said something to the effect of “that’s a pretty fast computer, eh?” (it’s the dual 2.5gig, so yes, it is fast). Then while he went down and got the computer, another guy said “that’s a pretty fast computer, what are you going to use it for?” So I told him that it was for audio. Then, I’m in the elevator, with the computer on a hand truck and the guy next to me, also an employee of the McGill bookstore (or computer store) is looking at the box kind of funny. I ask him what he’s looking for, and he asks “how fast is it?” I tell him and he says “that’s a pretty fast computer.” It’s like I had a sports car in the box or something. I didn’t really think of it that way, until the third guy asked me. I just figured if I’m running processor-intensive software, I might as well have the fastest machine available (I write on a 2002 dual gig machine that is still faster than I need, but it used to be the main audio computer).

Yes, the machines are cool. But enough of that. I’ll report back when I’ve actually done some mixing, which will be a couple weeks (setting up audio software and getting the configuration just right among components and standards is a PITA).


Last night, we had dinner as La Maisson Guang Zhou in Chinatown, which had a nice vegetarian section. The place reminded me of some Chinese places I’d eaten in New York both in style of food (thinner rather than thicker sauces — the hot and sour soup wasn’t too salty and had a nice kick) and in decor: the plastic tablecloths were not elegant, but they were sanitary. . . . It was our first trip to Chinatown since moving here (Charles and Haidee took me when I visited, though). We walked around after dinner and checked the place out. It’s not that big, but it’s pretty cool — espeically because of the pedestrian mall — and from the window gazing, it looks like lots of places have vegetarian options, and some of the (then closed) grocers also looked intriguing. I know that Torontonians scoff at this Chinatown and rightly so if you’ve seen Toronto’s. Pittsburgh wasn’t bad on the Chinese food and grocer front (including, for a few months, a killer Zen Chinese place), but there’s something special about a proper Chinatown.

As we walked back to the metro, we got a glimpse of old Montreal, all lit up. It looked really cool. We then went on to watch The Forgotten (at the Forum) which had the makings of an awesome sci-fi-ish thriller but instead descended into sucking. As usual, I took a childlike fascination with the subway. I love spending a night out and not using the car.

More Tenure

As I said somewhere below, this is the semester of applications. The latest and most baroque is tenure. Tenure is like the holy grail in academic ideology. Though in point of fact professors are dismissed for political reasons more often than you think (at least in the U.S., I don’t know my Canadian cases well enough), tenure is the place where we hang the cloak of academic freedom. It is supposed to be the excuse for perennially low academic salaries as well — job security for revenue is the trade you’re supposed to make. The job security thing is probably overblown as well (especially in my case, since the real holy grail there is permanent residency, which will be another couple years). Ultimately, the biggest reward of tenure is that you are no longer probationally in the profession. It is the line between “junior” and “senior” in academic chronology, and it signifies, above all else, that you got through and got tenure. Tenure is a thing that is supposed to represent all these other social goods in our world but somehow in the machinations of professional ideology and everday life becomes an “in-itself” (1).

The experience of assistant professorship varies from person to person. Tenure was never the big thing for me — it was getting the book out, finding a place where Carrie and I could both be happy, enjoying my time in the classroom, etc. Tenure was supposed something that would happen as a natural outgrowth of my work as an academic. For others, the tenure track is more like, well, a track where one sprints toward the finish line, or a seething personal hell of anxiety and doubt. But the end is the same no matter how you experience the middle: a massive pile of documents must be assembled into binders. That is what I did for like 7 hours yesterday. For all of the affect attached to tenure, the final step in the process is incredibly banal: “If it’s book 2, tab 17, it must be that report I wrote up for the graduate curriculum committee in 1999.” “Ten copies of everything, please.” When I finished assembling the files, I used a hand truck to get them to the proper offices. I broke the hand truck in the process. The drama tunred out to be that I almost dropped four boxed in a puddle.

Moving papers and separators into binders in the proper order has left me with this bizarre sore feeling in my shoulders. When I described it to Carrie, she said it sounded like bagging groceries: “people in stores get repetitive stress injuries all the time.”(2) I’m not injured, but the remaining stiffness when I lift my arms up above does serve as a reminder that whatever else it is, the work we do is always a form of labor, and perhaps there’s something poetic about actually feeling my final contribution to my own tenure process. At least until later today or tomorrow, when I won’t feel it anymore.

It would be bad form for me to say much about my prospects of a positive outcome, so let me just say that I am optimistic. Most of all, though, is the feeling of relief that whatever I do today, tomorrow, the next day, it does not any longer “count” for tenure(3). The files have been delivered. One of my professors, John Lie (now a sociologist at Berkeley with a very interesting FAQ), told me when I was in grad school that the main challenge in this business is to remember why you got into it in the first place. We spend so much time internalizing the norms of the profession for the dissertation and for the assistant professorship that it’s easy to forget the bigger motivations. I haven’t actually forgotten: I went to graduate school because at the time I really wanted the life of a graduate student. Since that is, strictly speaking, no longer possible or entirely desirable (read books, anguish over ideas, have cool conversations, stay up late, yes please; abuse body, live slightly above limited financial means via debt, participate in weird interpersonal dynamics, personal and professional anxieties, no thank you), I guess it’s time to reflect on what he said. Assuming, of course, a “positive outcome.” More news on that in April . . . or July. And there’s plenty to do in the meantime.

(1) While that may seem odd, it is worth pointing out that the rewards of the profession are, ultimately, the opportunity to do the work. All the talk of tradeoff around salary and freedom or security is just that. Ultimately, this job is worth doing because you love the work (and apparently impossible to do if you hate the work). In a world filled with crappy, alienating jobs, that’s a big thing.
(2) And academics get repetitive stress injuries from working on the keyboard all the time.
(3) Technically I can add to my local file until March, but since maybe one article and maybe a book chapter will come out between now and then, it won’t change the look of the file (as if, say, I had a book coming out during that period). Also, I suppose that if I committed some heinous act to offend upper administration, that might also “count.” I think I’ll try to avoid both kinds of “addenda” to my file.

More Election, More Canadiana

I honestly don’t know if I have anything else worth saying about the election. Maybe it’s because I read my friends’ blogs before I write my own, so a lot has already been said. I think it’s quite difficult for commentators on the left to get a grip or even a reasonable perspective. There are now lots of murmurs about how Kerry really won and it was some underhanded trick or failure of poll technology. I have no idea if those stories are true, and even if they are, they still don’t get to the crux of the matter: millions of people voted for Bush. Period. It is true, as always, that he was elected by a minority of Americans (because of the nation’s poor voter turnout in comparison to other democracies, even in this election which is being touted as a success). Politically speaking, the only option for the left is to pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and get back to work.


Following a talk by Ian Hacking about the resurgence of Cartesianism in new technologies(1), I found myself at Thompson House having drinks with my grad students (and others) Wednesday evening. That morning, the Sound Studies class had suspended normal operations in order to discuss the election betweel 10 and 11:30AM. So in other words, we were talking about it like it was going on even though Kerry was conceding during our conversation. How very Walter-Lippmann-Intro-to-Public-Opinion of us. Still, it was the right thing to do, because there was a sense of urgency at the time, or at least a need to “process” (as they used to say in my Women’s Studies classes) and the sonic relations of buildings and instruments could wait. That evening, over drinks, much of the talk was of the election(2), and it was definitely one of those weird “American in Canada” moments. I would get asked whether I was happy to be here given the election results (note: I would be happy to be here if Kerry won, too). I would get all Michael Moore on them and say things like “your conservative party is kind of like the democrats” “you have universal healthcare” “The Globe and Mail is far to the left of any mainstream US newspaper” and they would laugh at me as an American who idealizes Canada (I don’t. All of my statements in this sentence are true, but I know the place has its own problems, which are discussed in other entries). They they’d prove me right by saying “I can’t believe people are opposed to abortion in the U.S.” “I can’t get my head around that healthcare system”; they would deride the education level of Canadians, but I would point out that on average it’s higher than Americans. The burden of Canadian identity is its often negative relation to the US (ie “we’re not America!” — though it is also sometimes erased, as in those moments when Europeans don’t distinguish among North Americans), but this was one night that seemed perfectly reasonable. Carrie and I went out for dinner afterward — we were hungry and wanted something fast. It was a perfect night for poutine.

(1) Hacking is an excellent academic perfomer and pleasingly contrarian. While I was already convinced of the thesis that people (industry, press, inventors, some scholars etc.) who talk about new technologies tend to bring back Descartes mind-body split (which was one of his main points), he never got around to telling us why we should talk about new technologies in that way.

(2) In the banal good news column, I have become aware of more Canadians interested in American Football. We will have a quorum for a group viewing of the NFL Sunday ticket and the Super Bowl. I have also learned of more interesting music stuff happening locally. Word is that there is a real, operational local indierock scene. I am intrigued.