Category Archives: academia

This Is The Other Thing I’ve Been Doing Instead of Posting…

It’s another paper. This one is about how the Canterbury Tales can be read as a postmodern text. If you read it (and why would you?) you’ll notice a few shared concerns with the other one, but not really. The main point of correspondence is that I like John Barth.

I know this cheating, but you’ll just have to live with it until I feel like writing something for the old Drift. I’ll probably show some pretty pictures later, or maybe abuse youtube again. In the meantime, here’s this:

Storial Thynges: Postmodern Chaucer

 

Can we read The Canterbury Tales as a postmodern text? It is at first disconcerting to imagine a poet who wrote centuries before the pre, much less the prefix-less Modern age, as somehow being part of the postmodern tradition. Continue reading…

This Is What I’m Doing Instead of Posting…

It’s a paper. Read it if you like John Barth, Freud, or Existentialism and Nihilism expressed as an Academic Love Triangle. If you do like those things, God help you…

    Nothing stays buried. This is the central lesson of psychoanalysis and the most important thing Freud has to teach us about the way the human mind works, especially as it exists in fiction. The characters we have discussed think that they can banish those things they do not want to deal with from their thoughts and so from their lives. But all they have done is to remove them from the immediate vicinity. These unacknowledged drives and unspeakable desires will continue to lurk just outside their awareness, like an unruly man whose “ill-mannered laughter, chattering and shuffling with his feet” cause him to be forcibly removed from a lecture hall, and like that banished lecture-goer they will continue to make a ruckus that disturbs the mind until they can be reconciled with the other aspects of the characters’ psyches.”[1] Continue reading…

Intelligent does not equal Wealthy? Scientific American Shockah!

Apparently Ohio State has discovered that while there is a correlation between IQ and income (or earning power), how smart you are has very little to do with the amount of wealth you have. Aside from student loans and the cost of education, there is a much higher credit card debt reported by those with higher IQs. The article in Scientific American doesn’t get too much into the whys and wherefores, but I have to wonder how much of it has to do with the rampant marketing the credit card companies aim at college campuses. How many bright young students at Large State University have found themselves racking up some killer debts after having been unable to resist the siren song of the free t-shirt giveaway with a credit card application? I know that I got myself into some trouble during my heady days as a wandering undergrad; trouble that I am just now fully crawling out from under. I’m in my mid-twenties and have little debt, but no personal savings and zero wealth as they define it in the article. And it all started with a naive attitude toward the way credit cards work. I’m not saying that people who run up massive debt are absolved of personal responsibility, helpless victims the diabolical Plastic Barons. But I do have concerns about the way college students are captive audiences and so aggressively marketed to.

Some thoughts on e-1337-ism

Bill Maher has an article up on Salon going over one of his “New Rules” in which he mentions that 150 graduates of Regent University have been hired by the Bush administration. For those of you who don’t know, Regent is the oh-so-prestigious law school run by funda-nut Pat Robertson. Maher goes on to attack the school as being on the lowest rung of the ranking ladder, a law school for people “who couldn’t get into the University of Phoenix.” and then attacks the way in which the concept of elitism has come to be demonized.

He makes some good points. Chief among them, that in most areas we want the elite, from sports to warfare we admire those who have the natural talent and discipline to drive themselves to excel in their chosen fields. But not in politics. For some reason, we have a tendency to want our leaders to be folksy and accessible instead of smart and competent. Now I’m not saying that people who have the word “State” on their diplomas are incapable of leadership, or that only the wealthiest of wasps understand the needs of the country. But I like the idea that of the philosopher king even if it doesn’t always turn out for the best. I want the geekiest of the geeks to fix my computer when it is broken, I want the greasiest of wrench monkeys to fix my car, I want the tweediest of coats to teach me in school and I want the smartest people in the world working on the problems of how to govern.

I agree with Maher that there is nothing wrong with looking to the elite, and I’m pretty sure you won’t find very many of them under the tutelage of Robertson who functions as a kind of caricature of fundamentalism gone awry. But I don’t think we necessarily need to keep the justice department staffed with the top 1% of Harvard and Yale. The real problem I have with the fact that this administration recruits so heavily from Regent is that it yet another mowing down of the church-state barrier in favor of a fundamentalist Christianist agenda. If Regent were a place of serious academic chops instead of a bible-thumping diploma mill, there might be more justification. It seems clear to me that the primary reason for hiring so many Regent alumni has far less to do with their legal acumen than their religious convictions.

I’ll get back to talking about comic books and mixed martial arts later…

The Lexi-Sean: Improving the English Language One Word at a Time 4/03

These are words I would like to see used more often, little nuggets of semantic goodness that I feel are falling into the linguistic cracks where I scoop them up and deliver them to you.

Furl, verb. 1. to gather into a compact roll and bind securely, as a sail against a spar or a flag against its staff.

“What are you doing?” “Oh, nothing. I’m just furling my underwear.”

“Quick, furl that extension cord before someone tries to use it as jumprope.”

“Quick, furl that jumprope before someone tries to use it as an extension cord.”

“I love it when the restaurants furl the napkin around the silverware. Classy!”

“He’s an expert bungee furler. Learned it in the Philippines, he did.”

See if you can’t use “furl” today. It’ll probably get you laid.

The Lexi-Sean: Improving the English Language One Word at a Time

These are words I like to use, and that I think more people should say as often as possible.

Eyeball– Verb; 1. To inspect or look at something, usually with a higher degree of scrutiny than is desired or necessary, especially when accusing someone of staring at you too intently for their own good. “Are you Eyeballing me, boy?” (The “boy” is optional, but really adds flavor.) Or “Stop Eyeballing everyone that passes by and pay attention to playing your viola.” 2. To estimate a measurement based solely on ocular information. “Are you going to use a measuring cup to add the proper amount of milk to your oatmeal? No, I’m just going to Eyeball it.”

If you can, you should use this word today. It will make you happier.

What I’m Reading on the Bus: Where Three Roads Meet

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Barth is the Godfather of Postmodern fiction, having been doing it longer and better than almost anyone else in the genre. Without him we would have no Wallace, no Eggers. Personally, he ranks at or near the top of favorite writers, a Zeusian skyfather of meta-fictional narrative who doles his mightiness out to use Mere Readers from his spot on his Authorial Olympus. I remember being assigned his short story “Night Sea Journey” from Lost in the Funhouse when I was a lowly undergrad. I puzzled over the piece for the better part of a day until I realized I was reading a story about Sperm. The hero is a single sperm cell, taking his own mythic quest to that place where All Stories End. I was hooked. He’s been one of my favorite authors ever since.

Like all good postmodernists Barth writes meta-fiction or fiction about fiction. His protagonists tend to be writers, molecularly thinly veiled caricatures of himself and they tend to be in the process of writing. The story itself usually becomes the story of its own creation. It can get a little confusing, but the books are enjoyable enough to be more than worth the effort it takes to get through. He also tends to play with mythological themes by bringing Joseph Campbell to places he thought he would never go. Barth gives us the Hero’s Journey in a number of different forms, and plays it out different ways.

For someone who talked at great length about the “Literature of Exhaustion” and the Death of the Novel, Barth seems to be having fun. A great deal of it. His prose is energetic, and full of rollicking wordplay. He’s always nudging and winking at the Reader, but the sheer exuberance with which he does so belies any pretension and keeps me from getting annoyed with him. He’s like a really smart, slightly off-kilter Grandpa who’s trying to entertain a truly precocious grandkid.

Where Three Roads Meet is his newest work, thought it’s been out for a while. It consists of three interlinked novellas. (At least I assume it does. I have only read the first two and cannot say for sure how the third ties in.)

In the first we find a triad of grad students, a dramatic tripod with a Barth stand-in and engaged couple as legs. Complications ensue, and a love triangle develops that threatens both their habitation arrangement and the jazz trio they comprise.

In the second, a tale is waiting to be told. The story is a first-person narration from a Story, a Heroic Myth to be precise. This Story has been told many times, a Story with a Thousand Places. As the Story is sitting by the side of the road waiting for the action to begin, it is picked up by a Storyteller. This older man of Barthian bent gives the untold tale a ride in his Dramatic Vehicle. When a Reader shows up, Complications ensue.

If that sort of thing doesn’t sound appealing, there’s not much I can say. John Barth is not for you. Go read some Hemingway or something a little more grounded in reality and straightforward in its lack of irony. But if you can accept a certain degree of postmodern gamesmanship and can appreciate the mastery of craft it takes to be so cheekily self-aware and not devolve into cutesy, clever-for-cleverness’-sake-itude you should give Barth a try. Where Three Roads Meet is not as bad place to start, although it does reflect his age (he’s getting on in years) and while still full of exuberance, Barth is thinking more and more about final things and the way stories end. As he approaches his own closing sentence, this is understandable.

You might want use this as a barometer to measure the your stomach for Barth: “Click” is a story he wrote for the Atlantic Monthly in December 1997.

 

See Also: A Paper on Freud and Barth, Written By Me.

An old paper on Islamic Democracy

In the current climate of international politics, there is a great deal of speculation regarding the governance of Islamic states. Many traditionally Muslim states have operated under theocratic rule, a difficult concept for the West to swallow. The American control of Iraq is purportedly only to hold the place of power until a democratically elected regime can take the place of the occupying force. But is there, as some critics have speculated, some aspect of Islam that makes it inherently hostile and incompatible with Western notions of democratic rule? This is the question which John Esposito and John Voll have tried to examine in their book Islam and Democracy. Published in 1996, this book explores the different ways in which Islam relates to democratic principles and ideas. Arguing against previously held explanations about the nature of Islam and the very definition of democracy, this book explores several cases where Islamic movements operate to a varying degree of success in the area of popular representation. Continue reading…