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.

Book Meme

Aesthetics of Cultural Studies

Friend, former bandmate, political blogger and — oh yes — Paterno Family Professor of English Michael Berube has just edited a new book called The Aesthetics of Cultural Studies, including essays by yours truly, Steven Rubio, Rita Felski, Laura Kipnis), and a cavalcade of other clever people.

And here’s a story to go with it:

Back in February 1999, I was a fresh(er) young PhD interviewing at the University of Pittsburgh for a job in the Communication Department. A number of my then-future (now former) colleagues are interested in aesthetics of various sorts. It’s a thing in rhetorical studies. Anyway, on the interview I found myself in one person’s office being asked whether I think aesthetics is making a comeback. We chatted about it, and I said that if it’s really coming back into vogue for academics to make judgements, I’m all for us trying to figure out the good and the true, but I draw the line at the beautiful.

I still do (go to a conference and look at how we all dress before you challenge me on this one), but I’ve since rethought a few other things — which led to my essay for the book. The other fun thing about it is that I directly rip off Hayden White (“The Burden of History”) at the beginning.

The apartment is relatively clean, parents are asleep and so is Carrie. I wish I was, but hey, at least it’s a chance to blog. I don’t mind waking up thinking about stuff, but I’d rather that it were at like 11am.

Excitement at Chateau Frontenac

Okay, so I just finished the third draft of my SSHRC application, incorporating comments from two grant officers and three colleagues. I think it’s very close, apart from the probably 1 million typos in it. Ah well. After I proof it out loud and impose on Carrie, Tuesday, it will go to the Research Grants Office, and that will be that. In terms of word count, it’s probably about the same as a 40 page paper and it has completely absorbed my September and part of my October. Two years ago, when I started seriously looking at digital audio as an object of research I had no idea that I’d have the kind of resources at my disposal that this grant would give me. Of course, one of the things about SSHRC is that they like to trim applicants’ budgets, but I can’t help being excited just by the possibility. And while McGill’s success rate is quite good in comparison with the rest of Canada, it is by no means a sure thing. But it’s impossible not to dream while putting the application together and it’s probably better in terms of making the writing engaging for reviewers.

With finishing off the tenure file next on the docket, you could say that this is the fall of applications.

In other news:

Carrie’s dad and his partner Diane arrive tonight for the thanksgiving weekend (yes, American readers, Canada has a different thanksgiving), and Sunday we’ll do up a full-on vegetarian feast. It also means a couple of VERY BADLY NEEDED days off for yours truly. We’ll see what it’s like to have guests in the loft. We still don’t have that digital camera to show and tell, but there’s a hole in the wall that separates our bedroom and the living room: the only truly private rooms in the place are the bathroom and the studio/guestroom.

Canadiana/Franglais Update:

Wednesday morning’s cabdriver (what, me late for class? never!) was a retired Montreal police officer, who was very active in his union (which he called “the brotherhood”) and spent 10 winters as a snowbird in Florida until health insurance costs got too high. I got in and even got through a couple exchanges in my broken French (which was an accomplishment). The guy was super chatty and had lots of stories to tell, but my favorite exchange happened at the end:

Him: “You gonna stay in your neighborhood?”
Me: “At least for awhile. The neighbors are nice, the price is right, and although it’s not as hip as the Plateau, it’s a nice place to be.”
Him: “The Pleateau is bullshit. I grew up there. It used to be cheap and for working people. Now it’s not.”

“The Plateau is bullshit.” That’s a combination of words you don’t hear too often in Montreal. Wish I could catch that guy’s cab every time I needed a ride.


OK, off to the obligatory pre-parental-guest vacuuming.


It has come to my attention that the last few blog entries have been cranky. This is out of character and needs to stop. And so, I’ll just provide a poem for you tonight which sums up my feelings about the VP debate.

In quantity of intelligence
Bush competes with the weevil
Cheney’s much smarter
But three times as evil.

Thank you and good night.