Wednesday, February 28, 2001

Hmmm . . . I'm a [New Aquarian]. I particularly agree with these Words to Live By: "There is no being, only becoming." (Personality survey via [this post].)

      >> 3:15 PM

Went to a reading by [Randall Kenan] this afternoon. He read from his novel-in-progress about two men who were kidnapped as boys. I read his A Visitation of Spirits. I'm not sure if it's because his novel is hard to grasp or if I was in a haze when I read it, but I can't remember much what it was like. I liked what he said about teaching creative writing today, though. He said teaching makes him articulate what he knows and believes about writing. Otherwise, how he writes would remain more intuitive.

I think the main goal/process of my life will always be a continual search and struggle to articulate myself, feelings, ideas, etc. It's strange that I just don't feel as if I am ever articulate. A large impediment is the difficulty I have communicating with people orally. Class discussions are incredibly hard for me to enter because I rarely make my thoughts intelligible to others. Last week in J's class, for example, I was part of a group of students who were to steer the day's discussion. Everyone in the group put in their say, with at least some feedback from other class members. Then it came my turn. I tried to say something about Austen's obsession with the mechanisms of actions and how that related to his discussions of performatives. But all I got was silence. Blank stares. Frustration. But Monday when we met again for this class, the professor came up to me to say that he was going to let me start of class, to give me another chance to articulate my thoughts without the burden of having to "stimulate" conversation. And so I babbled for about a minute, and he managed to excavate from my words the ideas I was trying to bring up.

Anyhow, am trying to think of a paper I could give at a [student conference] here in April. The topic of the conference is open. I would like to do something about why I/we study literature. And a lot of such a paper would focus on why I think it's an important question for all English majors to consider. But I'm afraid it would come across as too "personal."

      >> 2:59 PM

I keep seeing these notices in the library, "THIS BUILDING MONITORED BY CLOSED-CIRCUIT CAMERAS." Seems so insistent. I guess they're trying to warn away thieves and assailants, but is there something more? Are they admonishing "inappropriate" behavior in the more secluded areas of the library? I know university libraries and stacks particularly are notorious sites for naughty encounters . . .

      >> 11:31 AM

Tuesday, February 27, 2001

Argh. Lost the tinted clip-ons for my glasses. When I put them down on a folding surface at the laundromat, I knew I would forget to pick them up on my way out. But I didn't want to bend, scratch, or break them in my pockets. Anyhow, I realized after I had returned home and set out again for the grocery store that I had left them behind. But when I went back, there was no sign of them. And the people working in the laundromat claimed not to have seen them.

So much time spent on errands today. But I've been putting off simple things like grocery shopping and laundry. If I just do the work every week . . .

Talked to J today about some possible paper topics for class. I'm thinking of looking either at speech acts and their relation to other acts (such as violent ones), especially in the context of the law (i.e. anti-discrimination laws, hate speech issues, etc.). The other thing I've been thinking about is the visual work of language. How does written language differ from spoken in its construction of meaning? Specifically, this project would be a comparative one -- looking at ways languages are constructed, whether words are based on phonetic alphabets or other symbol systems.

Thinking also about how my dad can be fun to talk to sometimes. I called home on Sunday evening to see how my parents were and how their trip to Thailand and Taiwan went. As long as my dad isn't trying to impose his views on me, offer unsolicited advice, or decrying decisions I've made in my life, he seems actually happy to talk to me and even supportive at times . . .

      >> 4:15 PM

Have you heard the news about the House Education Committee? Republicans back in early February decided to move oversight of historically black and Hispanic colleges to a subcommittee on "Select" education that would also oversee juvenile delinquency, child abuse, and other social programs. Other colleges and universities would fall under the aegis of a subcommittee on "21st Century Competitiveness" that would also oversee science and technology issues.

Now, this is just an alarming move on the part of a party that insists education is a priority for everyone. We talked about this news in my class last evening. As usual, the others were incredibly smart in trying to figure out what this splitting of historically black and Hispanic colleges away from other colleges would mean in terms of funding, etc. And the picture is not pretty. BUT, did anyone mention anything about what might or should be done? Noooooooooooooo. And I felt too intimadated to say anything because everyone was so (melodramatically) lamenting the state of the US under W. One person mentioned that the article we read concerning this news indicated that Democrats were going to boycott the committee assignments. But is that really going to make a difference? I'm a bit hazy on how House committees work. While self-silencing can be a protest tactic, is it really the best way to go about challenging this move by Republicans to separate off HBC/HHCs?

In any case, I was so tired last night, too, or else I would've made more of an effort to interject my concerns into the discussion. As usual, the class tired me out even more than I already was because everyone talked incessantly about minutiae without considering larger issues addressed by the writers we read. I went to sleep early. Zzzzz.

      >> 6:08 AM

Sunday, February 25, 2001

I must be avoiding sleep. I'm sitting here in a warm apartment. The radiators above me are pounding out a slightly jerky rhythm. Thump. Thump. Clank. Thump. Clunk. Sometimes more muted, sometimes more stridently metallic. Thump. Clunk. Thump. Thump. It vibrates through the floor and walls. Feel it pulsing under my feet . . .

Hmmm....late nights, do you look at porn on the web, or do you [read] about it?

      >> 11:47 PM

Been meaning to mention that this Wednesday afternoon past I joined some graduate students and faculty on a march to deliver a petition for teaching fellow pay raises to the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. The petition contained an analysis of graduate student expenses put together by [AGES] and signatures from students of numerous departments on campus requesting a raise in teaching fellowship remuneration to approach a living wage. As it is, graduate students must spend an inordinate amount of time on extra jobs or take out costly loans to get through degree programs.

In any case, the march was organized by the nascent teaching fellows and adjunct faculty [union] at [UNC Chapel Hill]. It was a strange march, actually. We marched silently across campus to the administrative offices. Then we requested an audience with the dean to deliver the petition. We quietly filed into her office. Three representations presented the petition and concerns of graduate students. The dean assured us that she was sympathetic to the financial difficulties and needs of graduate students, but could offer no institutional support without consulting the provost first. Then we left. All in all, a very different kind of march/protest than what I've experienced before. But I guess this was a first-encounter with the administration. Still, there was some sketchy move on the part of the administration to institute a meager pay-raise over winter break -- when students and faculty were not around to negotiate or discuss the raise -- when students had been assured that such discussions would not occur until January or February. I guess we'll see what happens.

      >> 11:26 PM

Saw Hal Hartley's [The Book of Life] Friday evening with some friends. Strange little film. Was a little disturbed by P's mimicking of [Miho Nikaido's] accent after the movie. He said he loved the way she said simple things. Is this exoticization? I don't know. I'm troubled by representations and stereotypes. Where is the line between individual characterization and stereotyping? Reviewer [Dennis Lim] writes,

As Jesus— a world-weary, moody, thoughtful type, not to mention a softy at heart— agonizes over the fate of mankind, Satan (Thomas Jay Ryan, none other than Henry Fool) is amusing himself a few blocks away by convincing a compulsive gambler (Dave Simonds) to surrender his girlfriend's soul in exchange for a winning lottery ticket. Further simplifying this already crude parable, the woman in question (Miho Nikaido) is "terminally good"— she decides to spend her newfound millions dispensing soup to the homeless.

Where does the "idea" of a terminally good WOMAN end and the portrayal of a complex figure begin? Or is that not the tension involved? Grrr . . .

Jumping around these ideas, I've been thinking lately about hate speech and discrimination, hate crimes and violence. My class on the philosophy of language has steered me to these thoughts because of the sticky relationship between words and actions. The current controversy around Eminem is only the most recent example of the debates that arise from this conflict. Groups like [GLAAD] have protested Eminem's albums and his nominations for awards at the [Grammys] because they believe his profanity-laden invectives, often against women and gay men, should be stopped before it incites impressionable youths to violence. [Richard Kim] at [The Nation] has pointed out in ["Eminem--Bad Rap?"], however, that "Because the lines between critique and censorship, dissent and criminality, are so porous and unpredictable, attacking Eminem for promoting "antisocial" activity is a tricky game."

Just now looking up the Kim article, I came across another piece he wrote: ["Eminem: Grammy's Homecoming Queen?"]. Reminded me of the awful [speech] by the president/CEO of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences. The call for toleration of provocative lyrics was so simplistic, as if the right of white suburban teenagers to expressions of their supposed-emasculation were the defining right of all people. . .

So where do I stand in all of this? It's hard to say. The work of groups like GLAAD I can't help but feel is important. I think there is a lot of truth to the idea that words can wound, that representations are violent. But when does incitement stop being the driving force of crimes? How much can you say without being responsible for what people take from your words?

      >> 5:51 PM

Saturday, February 24, 2001

Hurrah! Finally finished the paper that was due last week. Surprised even myself since I'm still having difficulties making any statement, let along a whole string of sequential statements comprising an argument. At least, I hope my paper is coherent though it most likely is not very. But at least now it's a material reality -- words on paper -- and not just a nebulous existence in my mind.

      >> 8:12 PM

My friend T pointed me to [this article] about vending machines in London that sell pamphlets of books and stories. Quite an interesting idea. The stated motive of the distributor to make the commuting public realize they like to read these stories is great, too. I suppose it's the usual marketing problem of trying to increase interest in certain literature combined with issues of canon formation and trying to establish the circulation of some writers and works as more worthy of reading than others.

      >> 9:31 AM

Thursday, February 22, 2001

Mmm....bright red [Hawaiian Punch]. Non-carbonated, caffeine free heaven.

Walking through [Student Stores] yielded some thought-fodder in the form of overheard conversations. (Yes, I am an eavesdropper.) At one cash register in the back of the store, two women and one man were discussion long-term relationships. At one point, the man asked the woman who was questioning her relationship whether or not she had cheated on her boyfriend. She said no. Then he asked her if her boyfriend was cheating on her. And she said not to her knowledge. So the guy said what else does she need? Isn't that what marriage is? And even though he said it jokingly, I think to some extent that was his understanding of marriage. Kinda sad. I think this points to two lacks in the way people talk about and conceive of relationships: (1) what does a relationship really involve and (2) what is the role of sex in relationships? This is something I've thought about before. If I think about stories of love and relationships, I can think of courtship stories, dating stories, wretched-marriage stories, divorce stories . . . but nothing really jumps to mind that would indicate elaborations of successful long-term relationships. I guess one could try to extend courtship and dating stories forward, but I also think that there's a change in how relationships play out once you get past that initial does-this-person-like-me-oh-yes-we-do-like-each-other-yay deal. And (2) is just a big ol' mess to even begin to think about...

But the other thing I overheard was a conversation in which a guy asked a girl if she were a feminist. She responded no way. Which is always strange for me to hear anyone profess themselves to be NOT a feminist because the work of feminist critique and thinking to give women equal agency in the world seems so common-sensical to me. But I guess not....And I know there is a definite backlash against self-proclaimed feminism, often because of associations of feminists with lesbians.... Blah blah...

      >> 2:02 PM

Wednesday, February 21, 2001

Had some engaging conversations with C and E today about writing and negotiating the professionalism of graduate school. Realized I have a strong Romantic bent in terms of how I conceive of writing. Though I don't subscribe whole-heartedly to other Romantic ideals, am very much in-line with writing and thinking as key components to the constitution of a self.

      >> 9:30 PM

Have a possible idea for my master's thesis. Won't deal specifically with "literary" works, though, so I'm not sure if it will fly. Title: Manifestos and Visions of Feminist and Queer Interventions.

      >> 5:54 AM

Tuesday, February 20, 2001

Talking to my brother on the phone now. He's hating work. It's depressing. Eight-to-five. Feels like a caged-animal. Sits in front of a computer. Doesn't talk to anyone. Too tired to do anything when returns home. Eats dinner. Goes to sleep. Total irrelevance and non-stimulation of work.

Reminds me of why I decided I'd try out academia -- at least the material I work with is intellectually stimulating, if not at times utterly despairing.

      >> 6:21 PM

Coffee. A chill morning. Blue skies. Reading outside. The murmur of students passing by. Clock tower marking quarter past.

      >> 10:00 AM

Foiled again! Am I the villain in a melodrama, always kept from my work by the forces of good? I was sitting down to read and study after dinner last night, diligently eschewing both music and television, when my stomach started hurting. WHY? And so after a while struggling with trying to concentrate with the pain, I just went to lie down. And of course, there went the evening. Zzzz...

Sutures out of my back this afternoon. Then I should be whole and free to go.

      >> 6:40 AM

Monday, February 19, 2001

Why do I feel like a kid on a bike with training wheels in a sea of people swarming by on ten-speed bikes and crossing critical terrain on mountain bikes? Today in the class for which I read [this passage] by Charles Altieri, I raised the issue of doing the critical work I think is necessary for my intellectual project in the face of institutional / departmental / degree requirements. Unfortunately, I didn't make myself very clear and the professor took my concerns to be of doing what's required of me when my interests lie elsewhere. I am all for the particular requirements of this program. I think it is entirely relevant for me to be doing survey readings of English and American literature. But my problem was with his and other people's insistence that critical work is a separate project from studying up on the old literature. His understanding is the one I hear a lot -- get your tenure, and then you're free to do what you want. But my contention is that I don't want to put aside the questions I want to address in my intellectual work for a time when I am no longer constrained by the demands of the institutions in which I work (having to teach certain courses, for example). I guess it's too much to imagine expanding the fields of knowledge and knowledge production in which we all work to cut across established disciplines. I'm not entirely clear on what I am doing or what I want to do, but it just seems to me like there's this artificial distinction being drawn between critical / theoretical work and the work of traditional literary scholarship. There's also this sense that they're mutually exclusive and in fact fundamentally antagonistic. But for some reason I don't think so. . .

I don't know. Argh.

And the act of expressing my concern in class was sooo hard. My voice quavered, my hands were trembling. Crazy.

      >> 6:00 PM

Sunday, February 18, 2001

So I'm going to post a bit of the e-mail exchange I've had over the last few days with one of my professors (the one for whom I should've turned in that paper on this Thursday past). I've just been blown away by the level of engagement of the response, not that I really expected to get a terse reply . . . just that it seems this professor has obviously thought about the problems I've been having with the study of literature. (As before, my words are non-italicized; the professor's are italicized.)

. . .

To: daffy duck
Subject: Re: critical impasse


I am sorry that the struggle has to be so painful and unproductive. I don't suppose that it will help to know that these questions continue to be at root the most significant questions out there--questions that we all too rarely touch on in our discussions but which nevertheless should be driving our work.

Milton's writings, whatever we may think of them, do engage questions of effect and intent, just as they presume active readers and material consequences. I would welcome whatever interrogation of these issues that Lycidas might elicit. I would also welcome a strategy for making this class more attentive to these kinds of concerns.

It is my conviction that we must never forgo literary study as a viable alternative or dismiss critical work for evasive or insular ends. Rather, we must be attentive to how and why literary studies matter, and to how and why we might continue to make them matter both in our own critical work and in our teaching. We should think about what we can do within an institutionally sanctioned and supported academic profession that takes as its subject literatures of the past, and recognizes those literatures as both worthy to be discussed and significantly different than those we create at this moment. We should consider as well how we arrive at rubrics for acceptance or dismissal of our own methodological regimes and what it is that drives the debate about those rubrics. While this has not been the basis of our discussion in this class, it should be and it can be.

We may want to consider why it is that concepts of change are so often related to and dependent on literary forms. We may want to interrogate terms like ethical judgment and disciplinary consensus, to think about what we mean when we make truth claims for and in our work.

I want to insist as the only standing base-line principle in this course should be that we need to scrutinize why we need to scruntinize. We need to read and we need to think because we are living in a world where positivism still carries force and where causality howsoever benighted or dependent for its origins on the ends that it anticipates still matters, Where movement from one state to another still exemplifies the way things are done, the way that policy decisions occur, the way that we lead our lives and make our choices.

It seems to me that the literary debate too often erases the very grounds that we should be attending to most. But this needn't be so. Focusing on either the product (historical evidence and/or our representations of history through that evidence) or the producer (the historical past and/or those who study it), we forget to think about the process--how we move between sites, histories and motives and what it is that drives us to do so.

Not very coherent this, but I say it only to acknowledge that there is a place in literary study for questions of method and relevance if only we make some effort to take them up.


On Fri, 16 Feb 2001, daffy duck wrote:

Prof. M,

I'm not sure if it's a methodological struggle or what exactly, but I'm only this week beginning to figure out that I am having some sort of problem with understanding what it is I am doing as a student of literature, an issue that's been building up all semester. I guess it's something that comes up for me every once in awhile, but this time in particular it's taken on this greater impact because I'm unsure what it ultimately means for me to pursue further graduate studies.

I've been having problems with what I've been seeing as a lack of critical inquiry into what literature, texts, theories, DO accomplish. It seems to me that most of what I've been reading this year and the way discussions proceed in classes focus on what things DON'T DO, how they fail, or what assumptions we can question so as to undermine a conclusion. And while I am entirely sympathetic to a critical stance that doesn't accept things as stated or given, I've been feeling a sense of hopelessness in this lack of synthesis, the missing piece of articulating what we can take away from someone's writing or what "we" want to do with our own writing.

I don't know how much any of this applies specifically to Milton or your class, but what I've been encountering in other contexts has made it impossible for me to focus on what I can do with constructing an argument, or writing a paper. I find myself sitting down to read a poem or a tract and focusing only on finding the holes in arguments, and I end up missing what that poem or tract DOES do. And even when I try to make an argument for the shortcomings of a work, I find myself always second-guessing what I'm doing because my mind refuses to allow for coherent arguments.

I'm not sure if any of this makes any sense. I'm still only in the early stages of writing this paper on Lycidas, but I think I'm finally getting to a point where I can come to terms with my critical impasse. I think the deadline really is what forced me to start thinking about why I've been feeling uncomfortable with literary criticism lately, though. I would've approached you earlier about difficulties with writing if I had an idea of what the difficulties were (and they're still largely unclear to me). Sorry for the bother. I hope my turning in the paper late isn't too much trouble for your hectic schedule.

I think my paper topic will actually help me figure out some of these issues. Although Milton isn't exactly someone I identify with as a writer, I think his understanding of what it means to be a poet, and the way he deals explicitly with that meaning, has everything to do with what I am trying to figure out about what it means to write papers.



Unfortunately I am not on campus today or Monday (it's a teacher workday for my kids, and I have no childcare). Can we talk via email or by phone?

Is it a Milton criticism problem or is it a larger methodological struggle?


On Fri, 16 Feb 2001, daffy duck wrote:

Dear Dr. M,

I unfortunately have still not been able to write my paper. I've been struggling this past week with questions of criticism and have been at an impasse about how to approach writing a paper. I do have a general sense of what I want to write: a paper on Milton's conception of the poet's vocation in Lycidas. But aside from a paragraph and a couple pages of notes, I haven't been able to make an argument.

If you're around today (Friday), could I possibly stop by your office to go over my difficulties? I'm hoping that I can get through this sense of confusion about literary criticism soon. I feel like I've been on auto-pilot these last two weeks or so, only going through the motions of reading and attending class...


      >> 5:50 PM

Saturday, February 17, 2001

I'm back, or at least on my way back to the land of the here-and-now from that hazy, miasmatic state. Have a lot of backlogged and current coursework to do.

[This quote] about the thinking ideology of Ralph Waldo Emerson has me intrigued. I'd like to look more into Emerson's work. I must confess I've never really come across any of it before. I have vague notions of what people think of him -- transcendentalism, a God within everything, and an emphasis on beauty. Whether or not any of these really apply to him I'll have to see. (I latched on to this particular quote because of the "consistency" bit -- something on which I had [previously] commented and about which my friend Better Fangs :F? had e-mailed me. According to her, Emerson writes, "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.")

(Thanks also to [Shyaku] for his kind words and astute observations about writing.)

      >> 3:39 PM

Friday, February 16, 2001

So it's Friday afternoon / early evening. I'm sitting here at my desk. Still haven't written the paper that was due yesterday morning. All these issues I've been having with the work of literary criticism is weighing on my ability to write. But it might not be so bad after all. It's helped me decide to focus on what John Milton does to write into existence the life of a poet. Milton is an interesting example because he was seemingly so confident about what his calling in life was, to write an epic poem. Anyways, I'm looking at one of his earlier poems, [Lycidas], for how he imagines the poet, drawing on pastoral allegory to link the poet with pedgagogical implications and theological ideals.

      >> 4:45 PM

Sometimes I feel so adolescent, wallowing in a strange existential angst. Luckily, when I can get myself to read, things come up that make me realize there are possible solutions to my quandry. For example, [this passage] I just came across might just get me past my critical impasse, my inability to think about the study of literature anymore and certainly my severe writer's block.

      >> 8:45 AM

Thursday, February 15, 2001

Sometimes it all just seems too much for words. And the thought of trying to write down these destructive, ego-deflating ideas -- voices ricocheting back and forth in my mind -- is more than daunting; it veers towards total mental and motivational paralysis. Even blogging, of late a source of release for getting down in writing some of my thoughts, no longer seems so effective a therapy. The form has its own limitations and expectations, something that is perhaps not as restrictive in a private paper journal without the insistence of publication. The dejection, hopelessness, of these past few days has made my weblog seem more a burden than a gift. At times I wondered whether I would even bother to return to posting.

But still, even as I compose these words off-line in my word processing program, I know that the prospect of posting these thoughts on my weblog is what gives me the impetus to tackle the ideas in writing. More than just giving material form to my unarticulated malaise, to see these words on-line will give them, give my thoughts, a sort of validity (social?) that I struggle to attain in all aspects of my life.

And this is in fact the simple explanation of my current depressed state. I am bound up in this sense of non-existence, yet again, a feeling of not-quite-invisibility these days, but of non-significance. While in the past I used to suffer away in loneliness, I now find myself trying to engage a public outside. But sadly, my attempts seem mostly failures, my presence in the world a mere shadow or minor annoyance to the harmony of friends and lives.

I am not sure what has precipitated this self-devaluation turned obsessive searching for outside validation. In part, it must be my recent forays into the business of initiating contact with people. And while I have not been generally rebuffed, I have neither been able to sustain communication with anyone. These attempts were perhaps spurred by my recent discussions with my friend Eric about our perceived difficulties with engaging friends and acquaintances in easygoing conversations and contact. It seems always an effort just to get someone to go to lunch with me, and I rarely get invited to lunch or dinner or a drink unless I happen to be around when people are planning something -- at which point I am invited seemingly as an afterthought -- hey why don’t you come along? But no one here has really yet called me up to hang out, to grab lunch, etc. And while Eric and I concluded our discussion with the observation that these things are self-reinforcing, positive feedback in either direction, I still feel that my attempts are never really reciprocated. I sit alone, in the end, while others form networks of friends outside my presence.

The point at which these matters seem to claw at me inwardly and cruelly, though is when I do tag along with other people’s plans, when I do try to join in on the fun. They smile, they insist I stay, but the sense I get sometimes is that I am an interloper, the guest who has stayed beyond his welcome. I am not claiming victimization or total innocence in the situations. I know I am a generally quiet presence. I get the feeling that these people are just uncomfortable with my silence. Do they think I am not enjoying myself, that I am burdened by their presence? But if so, why would I bother being there? Why, when people do invite me along to a bar or dinner, do I usually accept unless I had specific plans beforehand?

It’s the little things, the seemingly insignificant glances, gestures, words, that throw me off. At dinner last night, one woman’s talk of a party at her place, the general invitation to all at the table except with a careful avoidance of looking directly at me (though at everyone else), and at the end of dinner, a group photo, except I was quickly conscripted as the photo-taker, carefully written out of the documentation of the evening (though it would have been just as easy to grab someone at the next table or the waiter for a complete photo). And though the woman with the camera thanked me sincerely for taking the photo, she could not explain away that sleight-of-hand to disown me from the group of friends important enough to belong in her picture. I don’t want to be too hard on her because she is generally friendly, though definitely the one I know the least of the group last night. But I just think, if I were the one with the camera, I would be all too conscious of how someone might feel, being the only one left out of the picture. (And to her credit, the woman I am closest to in the group made some noise after I took the photo to get a picture just of me, but no one heeded those words.)

These examples might seem to more socially-experienced people paltry reasons for feeling disregarded (perhaps too strong a word -- merely unregarded, though I wonder really which is better). But there are a multitude of others, and it is the combined weight of them all. I feel that I am perhaps too “sensitive” to these acts, what people do or say. Maybe it’s my literary critic’s mind trying to make sense of the details, of possible intentions and feelings, of effects and interpretations. But the facts remain. My phone is silent. My e-mail inbox lonely. My contact with possible-maybe friends limited to classroom interaction. (And is this all really any different from my high school days, when I saw my so-called friends only during school? -- but at least then they called on the phone, and the reason I didn’t see them much outside of school until my senior year was because my parents were not keen on my being out in the world unsupervised, especially after dark.)

I want to be loved. I want to be well-regarded. I want to be thought-of. I want to be contacted. I want to be acknowledged as a presence in people’s lives. And though I do not want to be hated, thought of as an enemy, etc., even these realities would give me more validation than that of a cypher. I am tired of always merely existing as marginal. And yet I remain firmly committed to the importance of observation, silence, and the valid existence of those who don’t always make a splash, a noise. But how to be recognized without needing to draw attention, to be the center of talk? How to expand what people consider in interactions?

Do I matter? If I were to be plucked from this existence, erased from the world, would anyone notice? And if their memories were all altered to reflect a reality in which I never did exist, would anyone feel something, though undescribable, missing? Would anyone’s life be radically different?

I guess this is all a very self-centered, self-aggrandizing view of things. I want to be a part of people’s lives. I want to influence others, just as they influence me. I want to create a life out of this existence, together with other people. Is it even possible?

      >> 11:58 AM

Monday, February 12, 2001

Am feeling trapped by the question of the relevance of my life pursuits, especially my decision to enter graduate school. Seems that every once in awhile this issue comes up. This time perhaps it also stems from my sense that some of the discussions I've had in one of my classes have been pointless pickings at irrelevant details. Why have we been assigned particular readings? What is the point of studying knowledge projects, knowledge formations? What does disciplinary study enable us to do? And while I think most people believe these are important questions always to ask, in practice there often seems to be a severe disjuncture between the asking of those questions and an all-encompassing critical attitude towards objects of study as the relevance of study. Dissecting arguments in articles, poking holes in others’ work, seems to be the point of reading in some classes. Often, students ignore the work that a particular article does do, so quick to assert their control over the material by seeing beyond it.

This is where at times I want to take a step away from the seemingly prevalent attitude of criticism (in the negative sense, finding what’s wrong with arguments, stances, perspectives, the world) and to embrace instead an idea of what works, what is good about what people do. The world obviously goes on, and society goes on, in many ways successfully. And while I’d be one of the last people to argue that things should be as they are, that the status-quo is good (or as one of the characters in Voltaire’s Candide believed, everything happens for the best), I would be completely devastated if I truly believed that every ideological move, every institutional instantiation of ideas, is inherently flawed, evil, or destructive. I want to rescue from the shattered idealism of an always-critical world the moments of hope and humanity that keep things going.

I don’t know if I really want to say this, but it seems to me like a lot of this taking for granted of what works in the world seems to me an indication of the particular material / economic privilege of people in academia. (I know I’m somewhat conflating criticism of arguments in articles and criticism of the way things are in the world, but I think the major thrust of the type of criticism I am thinking of is the same -- a need to find fault with objects of study that overrides examination of what works in those theories, institutions, policies, etc.) This is not necessarily to say that I have a more enlightened attitude towards acknowledging my privileges, but that what I see as an attempt to assert one’s importance in a discourse by attacking others’ work misses possibilities for collaborative work, for advancing theoretical investigations, for developing practical solutions to living injustices. There just seems to be such a large ideological blindspot in many theoretically well-informed scholars’ projects -- one in which substantive change can come from academic scholarship, but never sees the light of day because acknowledging particular points, institutional practices, or others’ work means dealing with the world on contingent bases, realizing that there is no absolute evil out there, no bugbear on which to pin the problems of our world…

      >> 7:47 PM

Am feeling a bit nauseous.... ? Not sure if it's because I'm hungry or because the cereal and milk I had this morning is playing games with my stomach. Am afraid to eat my bagel and yogurt....

This morning my car was covered in frozen drops of water -- little bumps of ice dotting the entire outer surface. I had to pull hard on the handle to open the door, breaking the seal of ice with a satisfying crunch. It took about fifteen minutes to defrost the windshield and other windows of the car. Good thing I wasn't in a hurry. The roads were fine, though. I didn't come across any icy patches or even any indications that there might be icy areas.

. . .

In ["Tom Cruise and his gatekeeper"], Jeannette Wells examines Cruise and privacy, bringing up issues of control, right to know, image spin, and rumors. This section brought up the idea of privacy and secrecy as a way of manipulating things "behind the scenes":

Pat Kingsley and other celebrity protectors argued that Tom Cruise’s personal life — his religion, his romance — were nobody’s business. “Where is it written that stars are public figures? That the press has a right to know?” Kingsley said. “If they were elected officials, I could see it. . . . But where is it written that the star’s life is news?” Cruise’s life was news, some journalists countered, because he used his tremendous clout behind the scenes to advance his agenda.

Wells goes on to write about Cruise's reported pushing of ClearSound technology, a development of the Church of Scientology, in productions. When met with resistance, he supposedly worked to undermine the opponents' future work. So it seems like there is still at the core of reportorial revelation this idea that the light of truth will prevent underhanded dealings and correct past misdeeds. And what's not to like about such a vision? But what makes me uneasy about it is that there is some sort of truth or a generally agreed upon judgment of what is at stake. In the case of Cruise and his supposed manipulation of what studios use for sound technology, it seems quite clear that he is bad because he is trying to foist a particular, not-necessarily-best, technology on others. It becomes a question of competing interests.

But what about cases in which what is "hidden" is generally considered bad, immoral, hurtful, but not for reasons of interest of malicious intention? Take for example sexual orientation. Why is it that outing is such a dreaded act? To out someone means to destroy his or her career, life, image. But is the revelation of this "truth" a revelation of a person's ideological motivations, of their interest-based actions? Maybe, maybe not. But I think the point is that the moral judgments that restrict public understanding and discourse about sexuality make the revelation of homosexuality in celebrities or other public figures a particular act, one that is meant to hurt the figure's standing in public opinion. (Of course, you have people like Signorile who advocate the outing of public figures as a way of counteracting these intentions -- the reasoning being that once you show people that all sorts of people are gay, the shock and disgust will eventually fade?)

      >> 8:42 AM

Sunday, February 11, 2001

Am finally feeling much better. Only a slightest bit of chest congestion (go [Robitussin®] go!) lingering. And I'm awake! I should be in bed now, but being awake is such a nice feeling after days of near-constant sleep.

Might not be able to get to campus tomorrow if the [ice storm] does materialize overnight. I guess I'll go to bed now and set my alarm for 6:15 am. Maybe the morning news (or a power outtage -- though I'd not like that at all) will tell me that getting around the Triangle will be impossible or at least not worth the effort. Don't know quite what to hope for here. Being trapped in icy conditions would be no fun, but getting to lounge around inside (with some heat, I hope) all day would be nice. G'night, little ones.

      >> 11:24 PM

The thought of parents writing e-mail has got to be one of the funniest things. It must be the strange juxtaposition of the parents' summary of the day's events and the advice they always seem to want to give. And all in a written context that just seems foreign to communication with parents (at least with mine). [The Daily Dean's] post from a few days ago made me think of the e-mails I get from my dad. For example, shortly after the supposed winter storm of early December, he wrote:

Subject: storm

Heavy storm ?
Affecting anything ?

Can you tell he loves John Wayne?

And just a couple of weeks ago, he sent me this message:

we are leaving on 2/3/01 and coming back on 2/24/01.
have you left your Donald Duck T-shirt at home this time ?
it's my pajama mow.
happy new year !!

Hmmmm. There's something peculiar about the randomness of subject-matter in that message. The informative first line is followed by a rhetorical question about a t-shirt of mine that he then claims is his new sleepwear. And then the closing exclamation, wishes for a happy new year. I wonder what was going through his head when he composed the message. Did he ever have composition teachers grilling him about connective words and phrases, even flow of ideas, orderly progression?

["patience get a hold on me / tell me what the hell am i doing / i'm losing my sense of it / i'm tap tap tapping out what time i've got"]

      >> 10:39 PM

Mostly asleep these past couple of days. Want to make those chocolate chip cookies, but don't have enough flour (could've tried whole wheat flour?) or fresh eggs. Ice cream, candy, yum yum.

      >> 8:19 AM

Saturday, February 10, 2001

Grrr. Argh. It's upward bound. Usually my colds start in the head, moving down to settle in my chest with coughs and a sore throat. But this time, it started with chest congestion, a tightness that spread to soreness and coughing, then now it's putting pressure in my head, trying to explode it, pressing on my eyes, ears, cheeks...

I slept practically all day yesterday. Have been taking TheraFlu. (Yuck...tastes like hot cherry-flavored cough syrup.) I think the medicine has been easing my pain a bit. But it also makes me incredibly tired...

Woke up this morning and decided I need to find out more about this poet Mei-Mei Berssenbrugge. Can't find her work in the local university libraries, though. Hmmm... (Uh oh...the baby's talking in his sleep again...)

      >> 4:55 AM

Friday, February 09, 2001

"I wish for a Duck for Dirk, and My Secret Agent Lover Man for me, and a beautiful little house for us to live in happily ever after." -- [Weetzie Bat]

      >> 2:05 PM

Thursday, February 08, 2001

Oh yeah, I was about to get really upset this afternoon when I saw the latest Ricky Martin album being sold along with a free "limited edition" single of Ricky's duet with [Christina Aguilera]. This has happened to me before -- missing out on certain songs because I bought albums before these songs were added. My brother got me Sound Loaded for Christmas. But of course back then they didn't have the duet single yet. I was going to write a nasty letter to the people at Ricky's record label and lambast them for making it impossible to get the duet single without buying another album (the single is not available for purchase) when I saw at the music store counter on an advertisement for the limited edition single in tiny print a note saying that if you already have Sound Loaded, you can mail in the brown sticker on the album and your address so that they can send you the single. I am a happy camper.

      >> 9:47 PM

The local anesthetic has definitely worn off. Feels like I have a needle stuck through my back. At least I'll be able to sleep through the pinchiness (just took a short nap, such sweet oblivion). I'll probably be moving about stiffly for the next few days. I'm trying not to move the left side of my upper body much at all because the wound only hurts more if I stretch about.

My favorite state of consciousness is being half-asleep and dreaming. Early morning is usually the best time for this stuff. I like that feeling of "knowing" that I am dreaming, of having one foot in bed, the other in a dream world encounter. Sometimes I weave in stuff that's going around me (Joe getting ready for work, for example) into my dream. I need to look into dream research again. There's just so much that seems to go on in the brain in dreams and especially in that weird state between dreaming and waking. I think if I were ever to write a novel, the ideas would come from the thoughts that circulate in my mind in this state. I like the extreme randomness of connections I make between things, people, ideas. I think I do a lot of my metaphorical parallelizing analysis while dreaming.

      >> 8:55 PM

Feeling a little wound-y. Had the mole removed from my back today. The dermatologist said that it did look irregular. The melanocytes were proliferating strangely. The mole has been sent off to a pathology lab for tests. They'll let me know end of next week if there's anything I should be concerned about.

Until then, I've got two stiches (sutures?) in my back. It's feeling a little stingy right now. I hope I don't rip out the sutures and bleed profusively. That would suck.

. . .

I got Bjork's Selmasongs today while I was wandering around Durham and Chapel Hill in my car, unable to do work before my doctor's appointment. Listening to it now. I think I'm sufficiently distanced from Dancer in the Dark to get through the album without spiralling into despair. But who knows? I'm only on track 2, when all is still well and good.

      >> 4:49 PM

[Shyaku] has brought up an interesting perspective on how one can keep a public journal:

I think it all came from my longing of a trustworthy world. It's a trend I noticed in my writing a while back, the stories are boring and bland because you could trust everyone. I've always longed for a world where everyone could be trusted to at least be polite when you need some peaceful time. My subconcious takes this notion and applies it to everything I say or do. Thus, through a silly and naive longing for a better world, I've evicerated myself for all of you to see.

I must say that this feeling of a "trustworthy world" is similar to what I must harbor in the back of my mind as I set out to expose myself to the world. But part of me takes this utterly carefree attitude that even if the world isn't trustworthy, there's nothing anyone can do about what I say that would completely devastate me. Of course, I know that's not entirely true. Enemies could possibly turn my friends away by quoting stuff I've said on-line (out of context). I should try to ask Will if I can see his paper from last semester -- I think he wrote about privacy on the Internet. I know we talked one day about this idea that if we just let everything out into the open -- no secrets -- that there would be nothing anyone could use to hurt us. But that idea seems untenable in so many ways, too. It seems to oversimplify these discussions of privacy to issues of power, how we use information to manipulate, threaten, coerce, blackmail others.

      >> 6:14 AM

Boiling ginger root. Yummy yum yum. Ginger tea with honey tastes, smells, feels good. Hope have time to drink it before I have to leave for s-c-h-o-o-l.

      >> 6:06 AM

Wednesday, February 07, 2001

Questioned today. Are you gay? While I was working in the [lab] this morning, this graduate student in linguistics I've been chatting with often this semester saw me working on Valentine's Day cards for [psionic's] [V-day project]. At first, she seemed surprised that I was making cards. And then a little later, she noticed that a lot (in fact, all) of the names on the cards were men's names. So she wondered what group of on-line guys would be sending each other Valentine's Day cards. Hmmm.... Well, I said, one explanation could be that we're just all gay. And she said, yeah, that helps to explain it.

But I was really wondering about the limits of same-sex interactions between men. Why is it that men in general can't exchange Valentines? After all, this project is really about sending out love to friends rather than professing romantic love to a particular love interest. But would women not in relationships send each other Valentines? It's a strange kind of act, to send out Valentines, I think. Does it imply a touchy-feely personality? Is that why my linguist friend was surprised that a man would be sending out Valentines to other men? And why does being gay explain it all away?

Shortly after my comments about the group, she asked me if I am gay. And she was surprised by my answer. Hmmm.... Goes to show how much people really do presume heterosexuality unless proven otherwise. And all this despite the fact that I've been told many-a-time that I am a flamer. Along the lines of the green empath, owner of a karaoke bar, in [Angel]. Well, maybe not that much.

      >> 4:10 PM

My roommate from college e-mailed me earlier this week. He asked me, "You don't mind having the whole world see those thoughts?" I guess not. Although "the whole world" is really only a small number of people. But it makes me wonder again what the qualitative difference is between keeping a journal on the web, keeping one in a word processing file on your personal computer, or keeping one in a paper book. Also, what are the levels of secrecy in these different formats? Do people keep paper journals that they share with friends or leave around for anyone to read? What about writers who publish stuff from their journals (as journals)? And what about posthumous publication of the private journals of famous figures? Why is it ok to violate their "privacy" once they're dead?

I actually have difficulty being in the same room with someone who is reading something I wrote. I especially cannot stand having someone read over my shoulder while I am writing (sorry Joe). But once I'm in another room, not there, I couldn't care less. In fact, I do want my friends to read my weblog. Just not while I'm around.

So the question for me isn't about privacy, letting my thoughts out there into the world. You can do what you want with what I write. But I do have problems with the presence of a reader (or audience). And I wonder why that is such a hard thing for me to deal with. I seem to be deathly afraid of people's initial reactions (facial expressions, verbal or otherwise aural exclamations, etc.) to my writing. It's exactly like my fear of talking in front of people because they necessarily are taking in what I say, evaluating it, judging it -- and what if they just think I am utterly stupid? Or tune me out because they don't care for what I am saying?

Yesterday in one of my classes I surprised myself in entering the discussion at various points. My first foray into discussion was horrible. I couldn't quite say what I wanted to say. I made many attempts at speaking a thought, backtracking continuously until the words coming out of my mouth were senseless. But what is amazing is that a few minutes later, I spoke up again, this time more successfully (I think) engaging some ideas and my classmates. It was also nice today when a classmate of mine said that I did a good job talking in class yesterday. Sometimes I wonder if there are people in my program who read this weblog, and thus know that I have this severe insecurity with speaking in public. But they are being very encouraging. And that's comforting, even though I know that their encouragement is probably stemming not from the fact that I am really articulate and interesting in class, but that they can somehow see that it takes a lot of working-up and courage for me even to say something in class, even to ask a question.

      >> 3:10 PM

Good morning!

My mom once told me that I should start off each morning, upon waking up in bed, thinking about all the blessings in my life. While still in the dark, lying down under the covers, let the good thoughts roll in. When I remember her advice, it helps me get up on the right side of the bed.

      >> 5:37 AM

Tuesday, February 06, 2001

So I'm putting up a valiant fight against some sort of cold / chest congestion thing. For awhile I thought I was just allergic to something (was around a ferret and two cats the other night), but now I'm sure it must be something more. I hope it's not a very severe or debilitating cold. Go away.

I'm letting myself indulge for a couple of hours today in reading the various weblogs I follow. Might even write some notes to the various authors.

      >> 12:28 PM

In [an article] over at The Nation on-line, Katha Pollitt points out an uneven mobilization of support for pro-choice and anti-choice organizations. I don't know if I would completely agree with Pollitt's assertion that the anti-choice movement has a ready-made base of support (for example in certain Catholic and fundamentalist churches). There are two things I would argue are important here: (1) media coverage of pro-choice and anti-choice messages and actions, and (2) what various organizations for and against abortion do to pursue the supporters. I think the important thing about some religious organizations' work in anti-choice campaigns is not so much in the fact that they already have a constituency to reach out to, but that they work at reaching out to these people to spread their ideals. And I guess that's what Pollitt really points out. Where are the people who do support pro-choice legislation? Why are they largely invisible? Given the numbers of women who have gone through clinics for abortions, there should be a substantial mass of people who support women's right to abortions. Maybe someone needs to start one of these e-mail petitions or send out sample letters to be sent to senators and representatives...

      >> 11:58 AM

Monday, February 05, 2001

Cultural consumption. FOX's Sunday night lineup: King of the Hill, The Simpsons, Malcolm in the Middle, and The X-Files. (I felt like I was coming down with a cold, and thus justified the veg-fest.) I haven't watced The X-Files in ages, but I was struck again by how interesting the show can be. (And the fact that Skinner looks just like [John].) I liked the creature in the episode -- a mythical healer who literally eats people's diseases. Kinda gory -- he has to eat the afflicted person alive, and then he vomits up this goo that solidifies into that person, whole and healthy. But the most interesting part of the show was how this creature was in fact bound tragically to a community of people.

The creature takes on the illnesses that he consumes, becoming more and more hideous as people summon him for his miracle-work. He suffers immensely, but cannot escape the people who call on him to heal them. For awhile, he was presumed dead and able to rest at last. But soon he was found to be alive and conscripted once again into his healing service. The crux of the episode was that the people of the community did not care that they were inflicting unimaginable/immortal pain on the creature by transferring their bodily illnesses to it. Agent Doggett, like Fox Mulder, recognized the creature's pain, however, and sought to free it. The people of the community killed Doggett for attempting to take away their panacea-creature. But in gratitude, the creature ate up Doggett and restored him to life. The irony was that the creature "took on his death" and was thus finally freed from his enslavement to the community. It was a tragic ending, but one very well-suited to my particular interest in Romantic suffering, pathos, etc. And I liked the postscript ending in which Doggett sits in front of a blank case report file, trying to figure out how to present his findings... But he can't, and Skinner finally comes in and argues that it's best to keep the happenings a secret, just between the two of them.

This episode was particularly resonant because I'm reading Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations right now for class, trying to figure out what Wittgenstein is saying about the experience and communication of pain.

Blogging has almost become a vice for me. I have to set limits for myself on when I can blog (i.e., after I've read the Wittgenstein for today). Who knew I could get myself to this state -- when just a few months ago, I could hardly get myself to write a few words a day?

      >> 8:26 AM

Sunday, February 04, 2001

Can you even?... Watched [The Perfect Storm] last night on video. Is it possible really to see this movie and think of the men in it as heroes? All I could see was how the Clooney character was a madman, all his crew were fools, and the Coast Guard rescue team was a thrill-seeking group of men who were heroic at first, but quickly became fools as well. It's not that I don't think braving the storm didn't take incredible amounts of courage, but given the way the film portrayed the dangers and the men's knowledge of that danger, it just didn't seem plausible that any sane men would enter the storm.

The film really reminded me of old Westerns with John Wayne and the construction of the outcast male hero, always misunderstood, always prodded by "civilization" to remain on its edges. There is the same dichotomy of male-female worlds, with women as sexual objects and domesticating forces. The men are the actors on the world stage, bringing home the bacon in an environment that makes it difficult for them to be both family men and workers. In this scenario, the Mark Wahlberg character embodies the place of the young, naive hero who struggles between settling down with his woman and chasing after fish.

The fact that the movie is based on a true story only makes me wonder just how much these narratives of masculinity are truly operative in the present (events happened in 1991). (Sidenote: I must admit I've never read Melville's Moby Dick, but I couldn't help but wonder if this movie took some of its cues from that well-respected work of literature -- the crazy captain Ahab/Clooney intent on his maritime pursuit and the mythic goal of finding the whale/fish...)

. . .

In other news, just came across a New York Times [article] on the Wen Ho Lee espionage case. It's called, "The Making of a Suspect," a surprising title given how the Times was [instrumental] in breaking the news and spreading accusations of the espionage and Lee's alleged involvement in the case.

Apparently, the Times is trying to redeem itself by conducting a review with more research into the development of the case. Matthew Purdy writes, "This review showed how, in constructing a narrative to fit their unnerving suspicions, investigators took fragmentary, often ambiguous evidence about Dr. Lee's behavior and Chinese atomic espionage and wove it into a grander case that eventually collapsed of its own light weight."

And yet, it's still surprising how little responsibility the Times takes for its presentation of the admittedly shoddy evidence for espionage. The article claims that the faulty information came from federal investigators too intent on accusing Lee. But what's worst about the article is it's insistence that the ultimate guilt for the outrageous case lies with Lee himself. "In a tale laced with cross-cultural subtleties, the arcana of atomic science and the feints of the intelligence world, the most indecipherable character is the man at the center."

Purdy goes on to paint a portrait of Lee as a classic inscrutable Asian immigrant. Lee's personal history is questionable in its exoticism, an apolitical attitude based on experiences with Japanese colonialism and Nationalist repression in Taiwan, and the fact that he supposedly embraced all things American, despite a persisting accent. (Wonder what Mari Matsuda says about accent discrimination -- I know she has done some work on how perception of accents skews accounts and perceptions of witnesses, victims, etc. Note to self: Mari J. Matsuda, "Voices of America: Accent, Antidiscrimination Law, and a Jurisprudence for the Last Reconstruction," 100 Yale Law Journal 1324,1333-48 (1991).)

The underlying analysis of federal investigations shows how Cold War ideology still drives the work of intellgience officials. Trulock, the head of intelligence in the Energy Department, even admitted that he shifted his focus from Russia to China in the 90s because it was the only way he could get the attention of the Clinton administration, by creating a new enemy.

And not to argue for the development of nuclear missiles, but it seems entirely to me entirely unfounded that these intelligence officials are so insistent that China must be stealing American missile secrets because they are making major strides in their work. The thinking goes, it took America decades to figure out x. Obviously, since China figured it out in half the time, they must be cheating. But isn't it also true that scientific knowledge circulates? China working in 1980 to figure out a physics/mathematics problem has a lot more knowledge and background than America in 1950. (And here of course, is the military argument that scientists shouldn't be allowed to circulate any knowledge to foreign "enemies" because of knowledge's possible uses in developing more weapons.)

      >> 9:51 AM

Saturday, February 03, 2001

"Marc!" he shouted as he waved his hands at me. I was at the front of the [Blue Corn Cafe] with Joe waiting for friends when this guy called out to me. Sort of. I was confused at first because I am not Marc (or Mark, or Marq, or Marrc...). But the guy thought I was someone else, yet me (ah, Bertrand Russell would have a field day with this case of referential mis-naming). See, this guy went to high school with me in California. There was a classmate of ours named Marc which was probably why he called me that name, although we looked nothing a like. We haven't seen each other since... oh, 1996 or so. But we knew we were both in the area (he has been here since he came to [Duke] for a B.S. and M.S.). I called him when I moved down here almost a year ago, but we never got together. Obviously we were close friends.

In any case, I didn't know quite what to do. He had called me the wrong name. So I didn't go over to talk to him. Instead, later when we were leaving the restaurant, I tapped him on the shoulder and said, "See ya later," although the likelihood of either of us contacting each other is close to zilch.

. . .

After dinner I went with this group of people to a [Hoof 'n' Horn] presentation of The Who's Tommy, the concert version. It was a fun diversion. I'd never heard or seen Tommy before. Not sure I quite caught on to everything that happened. It was difficult to hear the words of the songs most of the time.

      >> 7:36 AM

Friday, February 02, 2001

My old roommate in Brooklyn now works at the [Center for Economic and Social Rights]. "As one of the first organizations to challenge economic injustice as a violation of international human rights law, CESR believes that economic and social rights -- legally binding on all nations -- can provide a universally accepted framework for strengthening social justice activism."

      >> 3:32 PM

Questions and issues I am trying to come to terms with now: [Pathetic fallacy], cause-and-effect narratives, and more generally narratives that insist that things, people, events mean something are satisfying. They provide cohesive wholes, ways of ordering the universe and happenings into sensible progressions. But the world is not nearly so orderly. There are always different narratives, partial explanations, contingencies. My knowledge of perspectives, ideologies, etc., must necessarily always be incomplete. But how then, do I make sense of things?

Fragmentation, dehumanization, extolling of material wealth as spiritual/mental well-being. What is it that we want out of life? Again, perhaps there is no unifying answer or even a set of reasons-for-living. I can see how some pursuits, like single-minded seeking of high-paying jobs, can really leave out other aspects many people find central to life: human connection, care for the environment, etc. But what is the answer to people who seek certain things at the expense of others? What is the basis for our consideration of various goals as admirable, others as materialistic, others as shallow? Spirituality is often the answer, but that is so ambiguous, undefined. Where are we going as a people? Where do I want to go as a human, as a person, as me in this world?

I suspect it is time for me to return to my paper from last month in which I tried to figure out some of these issues by way of Lawrence Chua's Gold by the Inch. His novel is very bleak, but I think it asks this very question, what do we do, what do we turn to, in the face of global capitalism's dehumanization of people for profit? And I guess I'm not alone in wondering, what do we do with our criticism? What do we do with exposing inhumanity? "Enlightenment" as the solution no longer seems valid or effective since these ideas about how capital, racism, etc. work to destroy people are out there, circulating. In short, what are some things we can do to make progress in creating a [better world]? And not just in a public arena, but also in a private, individual one?

      >> 7:25 AM

Consistency is the work of fools.

      >> 5:20 AM

I can't help it. When someone asks me, "How are you?" it forces my mind to take stock of my situation. There is always at least a little beat before I realize (and only recently) that I should say, "I'm fine. How are you?"

You see, I have a hard time with this particular social convention. And I think it's completely pointless. A simple "Hi Duck" would do just fine to greet me. Especially in passing, it's much easier to exchange hellos than hello-how-are-you-i'm-fine-how-are-you-i'm-fine-that's-goods. And if I want to say something in particular or really want to know how someone is doing, then I will ask. BUT ASKING necessitates a conversation, stopping, taking the time to talk. And often that's just not what people want. Example: yesterday, I open the door of the stairwell and encounter a woman I had a class with last semester. We smile and exchange pleasantries. But it becomes clear as she continues through the doorway and down the stairs, that she didn't really mean to ask me how I was doing or cared enough to stop for a chat.

So I've decided I'm forgoing trying to accustom myself to this particular convention. If people ask me how I am in greeting, I will still try to answer fine-how-are-you (and learn not to take these greetings as indications of more substantive conversations to come), but I will no longer try to get myself to greet in that way. All you'll get from me is a simple hi, hello, hey. And a smile, of course.

All of this coming from ideas that are floating around my mind about friendships, contacting friends, etc. It's coincidental that my good friend just wrote me about these very concerns. What pushes a friendship? What forms, molds, reinforces, bonds? Why do I feel often that I have to take most of the initiatives in getting together with friends? Why doesn't my phone ever ring?

      >> 5:09 AM

Thursday, February 01, 2001

Post-teen angst. Sometimes everything just sucks. The world is bleak. There is nothing good, nothing to look forward to. Keep everyone away. Socializing is just unthinkable.

I just want to be a lump in bed. Sleep will make it go away.

      >> 3:36 PM

Just skimmed through Christopher Hill's A Nation of Change and Novelty: Radical Politics, Religion and Literature in Seventeenth-Century England. As a historian, Hill is strongly supportive of the study of literature and culture in the writing of historical narratives. I like his insistence that history is not about describing what happened (static events), but about explaining how things happen as a result of constant tension and debate between the peoples of the region under study. As a literature person, I am particularly happy that Hill gives literature an important countervailing role in the elucidation of historical narratives.

      >> 6:21 AM