To PhD or Not

“Do it!” Eirik and Miranda said unequivocally.

AJS asked, “What if there is another route towards being a public intellectual?”

Pepe said that PhD programs are not nearly as fun as MFA programs. That the writing you do is “boilerplate.” He told me that PhD students have a lot of dental issues resultant from stress, but said it still beats any job.

JR said universities aren’t so much sites of active learning as they are “scholarship factories.” (We talked about speed reading.)

Mustafa said the academe will always try to reinforce disciplinary boundaries, which isn’t separate from the ways that universities are historically colonial institutions.

Katherine said the question of whether to pursue my curiosities in a PhD was related to the questions I have about how to be in service to others.

Cathy said I first need to formulate questions that are academically intelligible.

Irene said she supported my journey.

Peter (via Ethan) cautioned against PhDs in departments which rely on graduate students to do all the “grunt labor,” and spit you out with a degree after five or six extractive years. And I was like, Yeah, I already know about that.

I talked to Nina about making a YouTube channel instead of going to school, as if those two were interchangeable: methods of actualizing an audience, some incentive to research and articulate that research. We also talked about how making a YouTube channel could be a part of whatever happens next.

In an email to Miranda, I wrote, I’m currently swarming in the mild chaos of drafting my personal statement and trying to pin down a working set of research questions that’s academically intelligible, but I think I’m getting there. Broadly speaking I hope to study the circulation of knowledge about the body and care practices outside of scientifically legitimated channels–especially how the connections between mind, body, and context might be differently understood on radically different terms than biomedicine. And in what ways that difference requires a negotiation with spirituality, or an attempt to identify the forms it takes in this neoliberal context. This would be my academic way of trying to think about why institutional medicine isn’t more medicinal, and also the potentialities and risks or losses in the separation of autonomous care-taking practices (like herbalism etc) and biomedicine (particularly psychiatry). 

Miranda wrote back, This is a great time to be embarked on these studies–anytime would be a great time–yet particularly now of course with this public health crisis the etiology of which is inextricably politically, socially, economically, ontologically, metaphysically, historically, culturally, and ecologically meshed. 

Ethan said the more he thinks about it the more sense it makes to go to school. He thinks I should apply, even though it’s geographically inconvenient (among other things).

I often go to bed thinking it all sounds like a great idea, and then wake up hung over from that confidence. But the more I think about it the more sense it makes, like I’ve been circling around these questions for years, and now that they’ve almost come into view as “academically intelligible” it feels wasteful not to go for it. Or like there’s something I could offer by doing so, which made me think about Katherine’s identification of the questions I have to ask myself: what does it mean to me to be in service? And what kind of service are we talking here?

Racial Justice Resources for Self-Education

“For my part, if I have recalled a few details of these hideous butcheries, it is by no means because I take a morbid delight in them, but because I think that these heads of men, these collections of ears, these burned houses, these Gothic invasions, this steaming blood, these cities at evaporate at the edge of a sword, are not to be so easily disposed of. They prove that colonization, I repeat, dehumanizes even the most civilized man; that colonial activity, colonial enterprise, colonial conquest, which is based on contempt for the native and justified by that contempt, inevitably tends to change him who undertakes it; that the colonizer, who in order to ease his conscience gets into the habit of seeing the other man as an animal, accustoms himself to treating him like an animal, and tends objectively to transform himself into an animal. It is this result, this boomerang effect of colonization that I want to point out.”

— Aimé Césaire, Discourse on Colonialism (41)

Amidst the global uprising and the newfound widespread public discourse around the ongoing traumas of white supremacy, I was taking a required MFA course on modernism and aesthetics, in which I encountered this excerpt of Césaire. I’ve been thinking a lot about the ways that colonization and white supremacy shape monsters, and how actively learning to undo or avoid reproducing its damages (its complicity with the destruction of other lives) is a way to become more fully oneself, rather than to withdraw or subtract oneself — a false binary between liberty and self-suppression which is in toxic circulation around the pandemic and the push towards racial justice. (Becoming more fully oneself can also include the acts of quieting oneself, and listening to the stories of others.)

I’ve been laying mostly pretty low social media wise these days, mainly due to the exhaustion that sank in as this academic year wrapped up, but felt aware of an urge to perform the ways that I was also personally undertaking the work of reckoning with these matters — something that seems a bit antithetical to undoing the deranged dialectic of white supremacy. I’ve been hesitant to be too visible or performative for that reason, but I did want to offer some guides and readings that I have found helpful (both in terms of participating in this moment, and in education myself around race and racism in slower, long-term ways). They are below.

Resource + Action Guides

Please get in touch if you feel one of these guides is no longer trustworthy or there’s something else you feel should be represented on a compilation like this. Also this is a shit-ton of information, just saying.

Articles, Podcasts, Panels, Etc

  • “The Fire This Time: Race at a Boiling Point,” Panel on 6.5.20 with Angela Davis, Robin D. G. Kelley, Gaye Theresa Johnston, and Josh Kun; moderated by Herman Gray.

This reading/listening list is scratching the surface of what’s out there; hopefully you find something that’s helpful. These conversations have been going on for a long time and will continue. I am working to believe that the work I do within myself–and continue to do beyond this moment of upheaval–is an important part of this necessary healing and transformation and unlearning the patterns of white supremacy–escaping the boomerang effect of colonization that Césaire described above.

Sundae Theory — “What Will the New Body Be?”

For Sundae Theory reading February 3rd 2016, a gathering hosted in West Olympia for which readers were given the prompt “What Will the New Body Be?”

Medicine

Like medicine, academic study is expensive and institutional, though it requires little in the way of equipment or a fixed physical location, as least to address the most surface-level maladies. We do occasionally permeate its membranes, though we are often left outside, looking elsewhere, while carrying small fragments of traditionalism.

Continue reading “Sundae Theory — “What Will the New Body Be?””

Aesthetics Bibliography — Spring 2015

A long list of media, read and unread, which pertain to aesthetics. Philosophical aesthetics, art, popular culture, and the impact of reproduction upon poetry and image. Included here for archival purposes, mainly because they provide useful terminology for the study of pop culture and/or literature in the present. Do they matter to read? Maybe. (Asterik = yes.)

Continue reading “Aesthetics Bibliography — Spring 2015”

Medium

“[M]edium proceeds from an older philosophical usage (at the latest since Hegel and Herder) referring to an in-between substance or agency — such as language, writing, thinking, memory — that mediates and constitutes meaning; it resonates no less with esoteric and spiritualist connotations pivoting on an embodied medium’s capacity of communicating with the dead.”

Miriam Hansen, Cinema and Experience (Berkeley: University of California, 2011), 108.

Image taken from University of Chicago website — https://cms.uchicago.edu/news-events/miriam-hansen-memorial-lecture

Why Read Kittler?

Friedrich A. Kittler. Gramaphone, Film, Typewriter. Translated by Geoffrey Winthrop-Young and Michael Wutz. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1999.


The “Translator’s Introduction” (xi-xxxviii) helpfully catalogues (and complicates) media studies in the present, situating Kittler amidst his contemporaries and predecessors. Marshall McLuhan,  Vilém Flusser, Paul Virilio, Arthur Kroker, Jean Baudrillard, and Régis Debray are a few names, as well as Foucault, Adorno, Brecht, Benjamin.  Twentieth-century debates revolving around Marxist claims about use-value are parced as they pertain to media technology (xv) (highlighting the link between ideology and medium). Forays into Lacan beginning around page xvi are baffling and intriguing to me. “Nowadays, Kittler noted disapprovingly, even newspapers regurgitate Lacan’s famous dictum that the unconscious is the discourse of the other, ‘but that this discourse of the other is the discourse of the circuit is cited by no one.'” (xix)

Linguistics and modernism, see page xxvi:

“This alternation between foreground and background, and the corresponding oscillation between sense and nonsense on a basis of medial otherness, a logic of pure differentiality — which on a theoretical level was to emerge in the shape of Saussure’s structural linguistics — typifies the discourse network of 1900. The transcendental signified of Classical and Romantic poets has ceded to the material signifier of modernism.”

Bolz and Lacan — “[…] what Bolz calls a ‘media theory of the unconscious,’ appear as the ‘theory’ or historical effect’ of the possibilities of information processing existent since the beginning of this century.” The translators continue, “Kittler continues to pay sustained attention to the coincidence of psychoanalysis and Edisonian technology, and includes a suggestive discussion of ‘psychanalytic case studies, in spite of their written format, as media technologies’ (89), since they adhere to the new, technological media logic positing that consciousness and memory are mutually exclusive.” (xxviii)

On Nietzsche, Kittler, and “brackets” — pg xxix-xxx

“Building upon Benger, Jochen Schulte-Sasse has for one taken Kittler to task for conflating the history of communication technologies with the history of warfare while ignoring the network of enabling conditions responsible for breakthroughs in technological innovations.” (xxxvi)

Reactionary postmodernism; technological progress and fascism, see page xxxvii


“Gramophone”

But first, a quote from the 1985 preface:

“[…] number series, blueprints, and diagrams never turn back into writing, only into machines.” (xl)

-Transposing understanding of human consciousness upon technological apparati, and Guyau, pg 33 — Writes Kittler, “Phonographs do not think, therefore they are possible.”

-“A brain physiology that followed Broca and Wernicke’s subdivision of discourse into numerous subroutines and located speaking, hearing, writing, and reading in various parts of the brain (because it exclusively focused on the states of specifiable material particles) had to model itself on the phonograph –– and insight anticipated by Guyau.” (38)

-Quote from Rudolph Lothar’s The Talking Machine: A Technical-Aesthetic Essay (1924): “But the capacity for illusion that enables use to ignore boxes and interference and furnishes tones with a visible background requires musical sensitivity. This is the most important point of phonographic aesthetics: The talking machine can only grant artistic satisfaction to musical people. For only musicians possess the capacity for illusion necessary for every enjoyment of art.” (46)

-Quoting Rilke, in regards to Turing and Churchill, a division of “‘the one order of sense experience from the other.'” More on WWII around this area, too. (49)

-Machines and magic; philosophy becoming “delirious,” pg 77.

-In relation to kooky story about Goethe’s larynx, “And once Pschorr has train wheels ‘defeat his victorious rival, Goethe’s larynx,’ the engineer has finally beaten the author.” (78)

-Poetry as archival technology. (80)

-“Lowbrow and highbrow culture, professional technology and professional poetry: the founding age of modern media left us with those two options. Wildenbruch’s third way was eliminated. ‘So listen to the sound of what I declare, and Ernst von Wildenbruch’s soul will be laid bare,’ the imperial state poet rhymed, as if one could simultaneously speak into technological machines and claim an immortal name. From sound back to poem, from poem back to soul–that is the impossible desire to reduce the real (the physiology of a voice) to the symbolic, and the symbolic (an articulated speech) to the imaginary. The wheel of media technology cannot be turned back to retrieve the soul, the imaginary of all Classic-Romantic poetry.” (82-83)

-“Freud introduces his ‘Fragment of an Analysis of a Case of Hysteria’ with the audacious avowal that his written ‘record’ of hysterical speeches has a ‘high degree of trustworthiness,’ though it is ‘not absolutely — phonographically — exact.'” (89) In this same vein: “The psychoanalyst’s love of non-sensical speeches has no written or cryptographic equivalent. As if well known, only printed works of literature, not illegible commonplaces, solicit interpretations.” (92)

-What is “n+1″? (pg 111)


More synthesis ought to proceed these ear-marks, but one thing I can say off the cuff is that Kittler’s work has allowed me to consider the how the connection between aesthetics and representation also necessitate considerations of media (and medium); I find his excavations of the historical and material rooting of these links to be mostly delightful and aphoristic, and to appropriately explore literary and historical canons to serve as demonstrations of his arguments.

Attempting to Translate “The Mass Ornament” (TBC)

Siegfried Kracauer. “The Mass Ornament.” In Mass Ornament: Weimar Essays. Translated by Thomas Y. Levin. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1995, 74-86.

An excavation which proceeds sectionally, as does Kracauer:

1.

In the first paragraph of this essay, Kracauer sets his readers up for the analysis of popular culture that is to follow, kneading us into a receptive mode through which we might grasp the significance of studying synchronized dancers:

The position that an epoch occupies in the historical process can be determined more strikingly from an analysis of its inconspicuous surface-level expressions than from that epoch’s judgments about itself. Since these judgments are expressions of the tendencies of a particular era, they do not offer conclusive testimony about its overall constitution. The surface-level expressions, however, by virtue of their unconscious nature, provide unmediated access to the fundamental substance of the state of things. Conversely, knowledge of this state of things depends on the interpretation of these surface-level expressions. The fundamental substance of an epoch and its unheeded impulses illuminate each other reciprocally. (75)

Earlier in the spring I stopped after this mysterious first paragraph, wondering how I might apply Kracauer’s explanation of “reading the surface” to my own continuing curiosities about a domain of popular culture which, by its own declaration, pertains more to health and fitness than it does to passive entertainment. Already a few questions emerge here: what does it mean for an expression to be inconspicuous — is it by definition what we are so accustomed to that we overlook its meaning? How useful is the translation of marginalia to decipher the moment when it seems possible that only retrospectively can we decipher its era, when inevitably our own judgments interfere with our ability to discern such relevancy in fringe or frivolous expressions of culture? Continue reading “Attempting to Translate “The Mass Ornament” (TBC)”

“My New Roots”

Sarah Britton. My New Roots. New York: Clarkson Potter Publishers, 2015.

A highly-stylized and comprehensive presentation of a synthesis between slightly contradictory tendencies of veganism and the ancestral diet, carried through tales of local-food celebration with a slight nod to grain-free cuisine and its creative applications of chia seeds.

A design-school graduate-cum-holistic health coach re-locates from New York City to Coppenhagen and finds work at a vegetarian restaurant upon discovery that her American nutrition certificate will not get her a job in Denmark. With continued blogging about her creative successes in the kitchen, “requests for cooking classes and lectures started pouring in.” (7-8) Of the tendency which suggests eating healthy, whole foods is a sure-fire way towards health, as she states an inspiring anathema for health calibrated by the pleasure of eating wholesome and carefully-constructed foods: “I get many emails from readers asking for the nutritional breakdown of my recipes, and I can happily tell them that it doesn’t matter because every one of those calories is good for them. Health is the natural consequence of using whole foods, organic ingredients, and conscious cooking techniques. What you eat becomes something to celebrate, instead of something to scrutinize. For me that means abandoning diets and embracing this way of eating as a lifestyle, because that is exactly what it is. It is quite simply the most liberating way of eating and living.” (11) This expression of the incidental nature of eating well is respectably inclusive, though subject to the foibles of false claims of ideological neutrality. “It’s not about what the food is or isn’t. The bottom line is, it’s delicious and it just so happens to be good for you.” (11)

Continue reading ““My New Roots””

Aesthetics and Politics (Verso, 2007): Expressionism

Adorno, Theodor, et. al. Aesthetics and Politics. London, New York: Verso, 2007.


 

Presentation I: Bloch Against Lukács

“The pivotal issue of the exchange – the relationship between Expressionist art and social reality – is not easily arbitrated. [Ernst] Bloch’s defense of Expressionism avoided direct confrontation with the aesthetic premisses of [Georg] Lukács’s attack. Circumventing his opponent’s assumption that the proper function of art was to portray objective reality, in organic and concrete works from which all heterogeneous material, and especially conceptual statement, was excluded, Bloch chose instead to insist on the historical authenticity of the experience that underlay Expressionism. It was thus left open to Lukács simply to remind him that the subjective impression of fragmentation was theoretically groundless, and to conclude that Expressionism, as an art that typically misrepresentated the real nature of the social whole, was invalid. The effect of Bloch’s démarche was to distract Lukács’s attention, and his own, from one of the most crucial issues in the exchange between them. Driven by the ‘impressionistic’ character of Bloch’s defence to emphasize the unity of the social whole, Lukács failed to register its essential point: that this unity was irreducibly contradictory. In this way, an opportunity to debate the problems of the artistic presentation of contradiction – the absent context of Bloch’s remarks on montage, and a stubborn crux in Lukács’s realist aesthetics – was missed.”

(“Presentation One,” 14)


 

First essay in this compilation is an essay by Bloch (1932, subsequently re-published with slight modifications in 1962), translated by Rodney Livingstone.

Close to the heart of this argument between Bloch and Lukács seem to be deliberations about populism in art. At worse, did the idealism and/or emphatic subjectivism of Expressionism facilitate the solvency of Fascism in the era in which this debate occurred? With a less sinister edge, was its emotionalism bourgeois, and thus responsible for perpetuating art forms which are increasingly irrelevant to broader culture?

Tracing historical contention around the significance of Expressionism, Bloch references figures unfamiliar to me, which may be relevant to my own interest in aesthetics (for example, arguments about Antiquity and classical art – Ziegler, Winckelmann, on pages 25-26). An extrapolation of Bloch’s defense of Expressionism might be something of a broader defense against fundamentalism in aesthetics, refuting “Permanent Neo-classicism” and the censorship that is inevitably placed upon artistic experiments when they are given the mandate of carrying on the classical lineage of art as such (20). Questions about the role of art, and the need for propaganda, are raised here by Bloch (20-21). One particularly pithy, and sarcastic, passage: “The result [of such Neo-classicism] is that there can be no such thing as an avant-garde within late capitalist society; anticipatory movements in the superstructure are disqualified from possessing any truth. That is the logic of an approach which paints everything in black and white – one hardly likely to do justice to reality, indeed even to answer the needs of propaganda. What are the Marxist presumptions of this argument (perhaps regarding the role of the work of art towards a revolutionary movement) which are more and less meaningful to my own excavation of the role of art (and aesthetics) in the present?

See pages 25-27 for a brief foray into kitsch and historical debates about popular art. (Bloch defends Expressionism against allegations of elitism, citing folk art that served as inspirational.)

 

“Cereal, Indefinitely” — Aesthetics and Redemptive Habits (Spring 2015)

Beginning with a field trip to a campus cafeteria and then taking a hair-pin turn into some contemporary cultural lifestyle trends, I try to examine what a trifecta of neon fitness gear, artistanal donuts, and bone broth can tell us about how the redemption of “happiness” is represented in the ethereal space of popular culture and public expression.

As the connection between physical and emotional health are simultaneously hyperbolized and distorted, food stands as a talismanic escape from abjection in ways that are more and less fulfilling: pseudo-nostalgia and misleading entry-points into an escape from the bodily degradation which proliferates in our present moment. I linger a bit in the trends themselves, visiting some staunch ice-age ideologues and contemporaries. And then yet another hair-pin turn into aesthetics, letting Theodor Adorno and Walter Benjamin be like puppets for the promise that seems more compelling than a totally distorted commodity-primitivism, while also attempting to complicate the boundary between their proposals.

Click the link below for a June 2015 iteration of this ongoing project, complete with typos:

 

Cereal, Cover