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.

Broken When It’s Brand New

So there’s this thing about stuff failing, or at least not quite working. It’s affected academics, especially since Bruno Latour’s Aramis: Or the Love of Technology, and in music of course you’ve got the whole glitch movement (and truthfully, I’m stuck on the edges of it, preferring the more polished versions like Telefon Tel Aviv and Prefuse 73 to Squarepusher and Autechre, though I suspect they’ll grow on me). And then there’s just, well, any digital technology you can imagine.

A couple days ago, coming home from that very drink mentioned in my last post, Carrie and I picked up an Airport Express. We already have an Airport Extreme network at home for DSL, and both thought it would be cool and convenient to stream music from ITunes to the nice, tasty stereo speakers on the other side of our “great room” (which is so big that it’s both office and living room). Well, of course Airport is famous for being a plug and play technology, which means that I follow all the idiot-proof directions and menus and then get a blinking yellow light from our new Airport Express. Call Apple support, and pretty quickly exhaust the tech’s knowledge (to his credit, he goes to ask for help rather than bullshitting me as other techs sometimes do). We reboot, reinstall, reconfigure a few times. Finally after a little over a half hour of talking with him and being on hold while he checks with someone, he gives up and say to call back tomorrow when someone with more specialist knowledge can help me. Can’t blame the guy, he really tried. So I hang up, look over at the Airport Express and the cruel bastard now has a GREEN LIGHT. I go to ITunes and the missing output menu is now there so I can send music to my speakers. The bastard worked, but only after torturing me and this guy for awhile.

So tonight I’m using it while Carrie gets ready for the party we’re going to (more young academics, more stories). And just once, I hear it choke. The music’s streaming fine one minute and then, it chokes off. That’s how I’d describe the sound. FFFFWWWWOOOOOOOP! Then PFFWWWWOOOOO back into it. It’s like a split second, no big thing. But there is it, it’s a glitch. And after all this, I kind of like it, I kind of want it to happen again. Preferably *almost* in time with the music. But of course Mr Express will not oblige me.

Reminds me of a moment when I was packing up the studio to move to Canada and deciding what to keep and what to lose. There was an old Digitech PDS 2550 (I know that’s the wrong number — it’s a BIG YELLOW PROGRAMMABLE distortion pedal from the 1980s, that I used a lot in the late 1980s and early 1990s) which has just stopped working right. It’s intermittent. Sometimes works, sometimes doesn’t, likes to cut in and out, abruptly change settings, etc. One of those things I’d been meaning to get rid of for some time. Well, this time I looked at it differently. I wanted to bring it along and use it (to record, admittedly, not to gig) BECAUSE it was broken. In a world of increasing audio precision (which is not to say fidelity) in the analog and digital realms, here’s that element of spontaneity, randomness and eventfulness staring me in the face, in the form of a scratched up, broken, worthless yellow distortion pedal.

Is it the glitch-hop/IDM/glitch-rock in my ears, my own interest in abject media, or just another excuse to keep some old crap around? I have no idea, but I’m waiting for my home music network to exhibit its shortness of breath again.

Language and Hockey Politics

At this very moment I should be working on my SSHRC application. More about those another time.

So last night I’m at a bar with a bunch of other young faculty in Montreal (it’s a thing here, very cool) and I meet another American who just moved to Canada. Like me, he’s fascinated with the language politics stuff as well. And like me, he’s been reading about it and asking people about it. Unlike me, he’s already completely gone off the deep end. And by deep end I mean “militant anglo” (is that a position?). Well, he’s had a few drinks (probably) and may be overstating things for the sport of argument, so cut him some slack. But it was a new one for me. His reasoning goes like this: Canada is a bilingual country, but Quebec is a monolingual province. Everything has to be in French here, English signs must be smaller than French ones, and there are language police (this is true — though from a survey of signs I’d say they’re pretty lax). The provincial government generally only offers forms in French. Now, I have been looking at it as “my problem” as in, I’d better get to learning French, then. He sees it as a matter of oppression: our right to operate in English is being violated. His evidence was that the UN has sanctioned Quebec for international human rights violations. “Do a google search on united nations, quebec, and human rights violantions and you’ll see.” I wish I’d asked him what he thought of the situation of Spanish-speakers in the US, who mostly are required to operate in English. But it didn’t occur to me.

His point is well-taken with forms and the like, but I wonder about about the bilingualism of the country in fact, as opposed to in law. For Tuesday night’s World Cup of Hockey championship, for instance, the anthem was all in English. I thought that was weird, since at least here at sporting events, you get the truly odd (for a monolinnguial American) experience of some French and some English. Sure enough, the Globe and Mail had a letter to the editor the next day complaining about that fact. And of course, there’s the example of the Francophone speaker in an Anglo province I mentioned in a previous entry.

Ah well, as they say at the end of bad social science artices, “further research is needed.”

In other news, today’s business section tells me there’s lots of hand wringing about how Ford will sell monster trucks cum SUVs to Canadian men now that there might not be a hockey season. Something tells me that we don’t have to worry for Ford. . . .

Okay, back to thinking about digital audio.


Awesome band, just stumbled across them. Lots of free mp3s.

I’m particularly taken with “Mo” at the moment.

Finally hooked up a record player given to us by a friend. It works! Vinyl is back in effect. It’s 80s night here, featuring Love and Rockets and the Cure.

Other news:

I’m not so sure about this “category” thing on the blog.

Awesome teaching day

Canadians love meetings (one colleague tells me it’s a “democracy in bureaucracy” thing)

After filing requests last week, various listservs were created for me. Looked at “soundstudies” (for my seminar of the same name) and thought, “gee, maybe I should go public with this after the semester ends.”

I am a member of the pakora peoples.

It’s TV time. Over and out.