Tuesday, September 30, 2003

[Two Boys, Joined Skulls, One Goal: Two Lives]:

Though their skulls are fused, the boys appear to have separate brains. But they share major veins that drain blood from the brain, and dividing those vessels will be risky and delicate, a procedure best conducted a step at a time in several operations, their doctors say.

What parts of you make you an individual? Medical technologies increasingly complicate as well as attempt to shore up the definitions of individual sovereignty we have come to understand. Organ transplants between people as well as ones from animals to humans blur the lines between what belongs to us and what defines us as our body parts. The case of separating conjoined twins, though, is always about re-establishing those borders, naming shared body parts as separable and distinct.

      >> 1:00 PM

Monday, September 29, 2003

For my fellow Cho fans:

["'Where's My Parade?': On Asian American Diva-Nation" by Rachel C. Lee]

      >> 11:01 AM

Sunday, September 28, 2003

I think with Elia Kazan's death, it's official that this is the year of death. It is a bit odd, though, that I remember having a conversation just a couple years ago about the seeming-sudden rash of celebrity deaths. My friends and I thought that it had something to do with a coming of age, reaching a point when we just knew enough about the world around us that these announcements would actually mean something. But even still, there seem to be some years, some months, that are particularly filled with the deaths of influential thinkers, artists, politicians...

      >> 7:42 PM

Saturday, September 27, 2003

Is ethnic studies only for "ethnic" students? This is a question that many people answer with a simple yes. If we run with that answer, then it is easy to say that ethnic studies classes only need to exist in proportion to the number of students of those particular ethnicities enrolled. This is the argument by demographics, one that was in fact crucial to the institutionalization of many ethnic studies programs in universities in the 1960s, but which has its limitations as a theoretical groundwork for the actual project of ethnic studies (what actually gets taught in classes). And particularly in areas like the South (where I am), it is completely inadequate towards mounting a project of certain ethnic studies programs. These are some issues that I think are particularly relevant or revealing when people (especially opponents of ethnic studies) pose the above question:
  1. The relationship between cultural knowledge and belonging. In other words, it is important for ethnic students to study their "own" culture. Some of the most interesting work coming out of ethnic studies, often influenced by poststructuralist, feminist, and queer theory work (those three are overlapping though not identical -- sometimes contradictory -- terms), in fact questions this easy correlation between a person and her "people's" history and culture. Is this kind of knowledge necessary to the constitution of an ethnic self? Yes and no -- it is the kind of knowledge that enables a person to become aware of certain modes of being in society as an ethnic/racialized person. But it is also not necessary for such a person to become aware in other ways of being ethnically and racially different -- everyday interactions tend to bring out these differences (not just through racist encounters, but also though mundane interactions with others).
  2. The importance of ethnic studies for the project of a university education as a whole. Of course, US multiculturalism in the last few decades is a result of the institutionalization of ethnic studies programs. It still remains a major assumption, though, that ethnic studies -- celebrating cultural diversity -- is something that only provides new content to a curriculum. There is no sense that the ways of thinking ethnic studies provides might be central to rethinking the staid, disciplinary projects of English studies, of sociology, of political science, of philosophy, and more. Perhaps the assumptions through which we constitute the very means of study are at stake here?
  3. Ethnicity does not apply to whites. A central assumption of ethnic studies has always been that ethnic subjects are different from a dominant, majority group (whites). This tendency has elided the importance of the constitution of whiteness as a racial group that is ethnic in particular ways that don't encode power relations the way ethnicities for other races do. Being of Irish ethnicity or German ethnicity, for example, carries different social weight in the US than being of Chinese ethnicity or Vietnamese ethnicity.

      >> 12:36 PM

Quick rant (I must run to the post office to mail off Joe's birthday present, a month overdue)....

On the radio this morning, I heard the annoying dj's railing against Hispanic students who were rallying for more Latino studies at Duke. I don't know much of what actually happened, but his obvious disgust for the complaints of the students was very scary.

This is the deal with doing any kind of ethnic studies work in the university. There are at least three distinct issues -- clearly interrelated, but nonetheless importantly separable -- (1) developing ethnic studies curricula, (2) hiring minority faculty, (3) representing minority students. Each of these issues is important. However, I would have to say that issue number one must remain the most important if we are to understand ethnic studies as an academic project rather than a community-development project.

Ethnic studies in general has always dealt with this productive tension of knowledge production (mostly issue one) versus community activism (mostly issues two and three). It is central to ethnic studies yet also a difficult position to inhabit. The dj on the radio this morning was clearly against addressing issue number three above. He said that minority students just complain about not being represented in the university, that they need to stop bitching and just get on with their lives. He said that the kinds of courses offered at universities don't somehow link up to or discriminate against various groups of people. But of course, that's what ethnic studies argues -- that knowledge production (particularly in the social sciences and humanities) is heavily weighted towards particular perspectives and always has its blind spots. Ethnic studies work is in one sense a corrective endeavor, seeking to give a fuller account of, say, American history. But this is not all.

In line with this kind of antagonism to calls for ethnic studies is the idea that it doesn't matter what the race/class/gender background of faculty is. Knowledge is simply knowledge. But it isn't. Also, there is the question of representation (especially at state universities). If thirty percent of the state population is black, the faculty should somehow reflect that percentage. In many cases, it doesn't. So the question is why? What are the material, institutional forces that determine who becomes professors and who doesn't? Are there social barriers to people of certain races in attaining professorships?

Much more to say on this, but later....

      >> 10:07 AM

Thursday, September 25, 2003

1) I don't want to be treated like I'm normal. I have a disability. I shouldn't be penalized for not being able to do the work like everyone else.

2) I can do the work. I will do the work. I'm not stupid.

Dealing now with a student who hasn't shown up to class in the last three weeks. She wanders in with five minutes left in class today... We have a talk afterwards. She cries. She threatens. She contradicts herself mightily. She admits to not having done any of the reading for class yet. She doesn't understand why she shouldn't be able to take this class and pass.

It's a whole big mess. There is a sick mother (cancer), a long commute (two hours each way), a disability (seizures -- though they apparently only happen during chemistry class?), a child to take care of, and so on. In other words, this woman need not be in college right now. But she insists. She must graduate so that her dying mother can see her walk at commencement. She must get her degree. She's just trying to get her degree (why do we keep getting in her way? we're supposed to be educators).

I think what's really sad is how she's struggling to reach this goal -- getting an undergraduate degree -- when all it seems to signal for her is as a sign of achievement (the ability to say, "I have my degree"). She has no clear sense of what the degree will do for her (professionally, that is) or how it might actually change her life. It is just something that will magically open doors for her. She does not seem to recognize that getting the degree might involve some sort of work that might interfere with her other (home) life. She is not prepared to do the work. And yet she keeps claiming that she can, she will, do it.

I don't understand why the university even readmitted her. I can see how she might have strong-armed some poor admissions officer. But really. Someone with a lot of power should have just sat down with her and explained to her what readmission would entail, helped her figure out if she indeed needs this degree now.

      >> 2:20 PM

Tuesday, September 23, 2003

I've been swallowed whole by this semester, chewed up, even gargled.... but I fear I will never be spit out.

[California Moves to Ban Unsolicited E-Mail Spam.] Woo hoo! Go Cali! Spammers should be shot on sight. I should learn more about this whole situation of spam and e-marketing. I'm sure there are legitimate worries about banning spam (beyond the mere logistics, that is). But for now, I'm content just to fume at spam and spammers. There is just no redeeming value to spam. It must go.

I'm badly in need of a haircut, but I'm not sure I can squeeze in an appointment for another month at least.

The new postdoc in the English department in Asian American literatures is awesome. Just had to say that. I hope she stays around and gets involved in bringing more interesting Asian American studies work to campus.

      >> 3:03 PM

Sunday, September 21, 2003

Yeah, so I caught [MTV's Wuthering Heights] on TV last week. It was god-awful. I mean, I didn't expect it to be particularly faithful to Emily Brontë's novel. But I do like adaptations, revisions, movie-ifications, etc. because they give us a sense of how another writer, an actor, or a director envisions the ethos of the originary text. (This is one of the arguments in that book I mentioned before, Brontë Transformations -- that looking at adaptations isn't an act of figuring out which ones are most "faithful" to the original, but rather that each adaptation is an act of interpretation and translation, and it is revealing to see what people "get" from a story. In the case of adapting "classics" or other works from differing times, places, and cultures, too, this kind of work is interesting for how it creates meaning across contexts.) But MTV really just butchered Wuthering Heights.

Of course, one of the most enduring aspects of the novel is its portrayal of Catherine and Heathcliff's tortured, forbidden love. And this is what the MTV movie version picked up. But it is the only thing it picked up from the novel. For MTV, Wuthering Heights is a "classic tale of passion and jealousy." It is a classic tale, however, that has nothing to do with any of the issues that made the novel so interesting. This version extracted the problem of star-crossed love from the very complicated situation of familial love, parochial isolation, social obligation, and intergenerational conflict that was the background for the love affair in the novel. Where is the sense that the sanctioning of Catherine and Heathcliff's love is more than just the jealousy of a loser brother? Where is the sense that this kind of fiery love is both destructive (for the lovers themselves as well as the society in which they live) and intensely rich (a sort of demonic salvation?)? They completely left out one of my favorite characters, too -- Heathcliff's son, Linton (?), the sickly, spoiled boy whose sense of entitlement fueled a cruel marriage to the younger Cathy.

And one of the other arguably central questions in the novel was completely left out as well -- the amazingly complex, mediated narrative of Catherine and Heathcliff's story. Recall that we get the story of this tortured love through the generations from an outsider who hears the story (while recovering from a deathly sickness) from a servant with personal ties and interests in the lives of the main actors. The novel raises the question of narrative coherence and reliability as it connects to the creation of social understandings (what we understand of our social world, the people in it, what kind of people they are, etc.).


I also watched Robert Rodriguez's [Once Upon a Time in Mexico] last week. I was incredibly tired, though, so most of the movie I spent trying to keep my eyes open. I haven't watched the other two guitar-playing gun-slinger mariachi movies in awhile, either, so my sense of the myth of el mariachi is vague. I don't recall the earlier two movies being so overtly concerned with US intervention in Mexican politics. I wish I knew more about Mexico. (One of the groups in my International Studies class is going to do a research paper on Mexico. I guess I'll be learning more....)


A couple of nights ago Rob and I also went to see [Underworld], the vampire and werewolf movie. Yay vampires and werewolves. The movie was alright. Nothing spectacular. As with many of these things, there are so many aspects that could be very interesting, but were left undeveloped at the expense of a trite love story. I mean, okay, poetic star-crossed love stories can be really cool. Let's have this story of warring werewolves and vampires. And let's have a vampire and a werewolf fall in love. Ooo, the dangerous, transformative potential of love. But whatever.

Anyways, one of the things that could've been explored, as Rob pointed out, was the throw-away detail that centuries ago, the werewolves were day-servants, a slave class, to the aristocratic vampires. How interesting that might be as a story -- two "species" of immortals, one once subjugated by another, the two now sworn enemies.

Another aspect of the story that is interesting (though certainly not unique, especially in the last couple of decades -- think of [The Forsaken] or [Blade]) is the explanation of both vampirism and lycanthropy as viral diseases, transmitted through the blood. Clearly, scientific advancements in genetics and in response to the AIDS crisis have contributed to a general understanding of how diseases operate. What is going on when we take these old myths of vampires and werewolves and explain them as viral diseases?

And also of interest is how Underworld brings up the question of other transmissions in the biting/birthing of werewolves and vampires. In the movie, particularly strong images can be transmitted from a werewolf or vampire to the human bitten. Do the viruses that causes vampirism and lycanthropy also transmit memories? How does this little detail resonate with understandings of genes and the attributes that are transmittable through them? Does transmitting memories conflate ontology with phylogeny?

It was sort of laughable how the movie visualized the blood-genetics aspect of vampirism and lycanthropy, though. Imagine drops of blood attacking each other. That is the conflict between viruses. Again, this is an interesting question -- how to visualize a science of genetics -- because actual science can be remarkably un-spectacular (un-specular), something not visible but rather inferrable from static data (the lines on a [gel electrophresis], for example).

      >> 2:22 PM

[Oooo look!] Jake's so cool. I'm stealing him from what's her name, Mary Jane. Some people think he's a one-dimensional actor, able only to play the brooding adolescent on the verge of manhood. But I think he plays this character better than anyone else has in decades. His characters project a certain depth beyond the brooding. There are glimpses of lost innocence (boyhood) and glimpses of potential (the hopes and dreams). Or maybe I just think he's hot.

      >> 11:43 AM

A Penny in a Pile of Poop

I don't even know if I get the Fox Movie Channel, but in any case, I didn't catch the marathon screening of Charlie Chan movies and the panel discussions by Asian American activists, actors, scholars, authors, and such about the presence of Chan in American popular culture. There are [transcripts] of the roundtable discussions floating around, though. I think it's great that in response to the controversy over deciding to screen all of these Charlie Chan movies, the FMC did decide to air conversations about the movies. Five minute talks, though, hardly do justice to the complexities of questions of race and representation, though. As this transcript shows, the discussants really have only begun to broach the topic. It seems that in any discussion of racial representation (or other types of representation), there has to be an initial period of getting out on the table the problem of stereotypes and negative portrayals. But of course the more interesting thing about dealing with racial representation is a whole set of other questions about the role that media play in cultural constructions -- why, for example, minority groups feel a need to seek out "positive" portrayals in the first place; what claims movies and the media make about racial groups based on what gets shown (and what doesn't); how humor plays into interpretations of representations; and so on....

      >> 8:07 AM

Friday, September 19, 2003

I've been in this weird no-space lately, somewhat depressed, somewhat antsy. I think lurking behind every thought is this sense that I have so much work to do -- two classes (I'm teaching) to prepare for every Tuesday and Thursday, the drudgery of 1-5 work Monday through Friday at my part-time job, the exams that are looming over my head. And yet, I'll often spend so much time not doing anything productive in terms of finishing these tasks. There are always so many other things I want to do, books I want to read that aren't on my exams list, movies I want to watch, events to attend (like [NC Pride] this weekend)...

It would be really nice to just unplug one of these days, do nothing and really feel at peace.

      >> 12:29 PM

Monday, September 15, 2003

[Conjoined Twins Await Rare Surgery]:

Both boys kicked and laughed during their physical therapy session, and Aguirre said that although the twins are fused at the head, they have already developed distinct personalities.
"They are very different. Each one is an individual. Clarence is a jolly person and Carl is a very quiet person," she said.

      >> 6:10 PM

Saturday, September 13, 2003

It is so weird and oddly frightening to me when I realize how out of touch with the news I would be if not for my haphazard reading of weblogs and livejournals. I swear, I only hear about what's going on in the world through other people's postings.

      >> 5:56 PM

Friday, September 12, 2003

I think my hairline is receding....

      >> 10:19 PM

I'd have to agree with [daily dean] that two guys kissing is hot. What's interesting is that there are photo galleries on the web of [boys kissing] as well as a livejournal community dedicated to [kissing boys]. Moreover, at least some of the people who enjoy these pictures are not gay males. (I found these links, in fact, through on-line female friends...)

      >> 7:44 PM

Sunday, September 07, 2003

I just discovered the speech commands on my computer today and have spent at least an hour playing with them. I played a game of chess via speech commands on my computer (no need to click and drag the pieces!). I opened a whole bunch of applications and closed them (without touching the mouse pad!). It's been grand. What will they think of next? I think as these speech commands continue to improve -- though these are quite great and I only have to repeat myself once in awhile -- more and more people will be talking to their computers. "Computer, quit this application."

      >> 7:49 PM

Saturday, September 06, 2003

Ok Mr. Essay. I say prepare to be written! -- SpongeBob SquarePants

I spent the entire morning watching TV. I caught about an hour of SpongeBob. It was great. In one episode, he had to write an 800-word essay on what not to do at a stoplight. He procrastinated. He hallucinated. Five-minutes before the essay was due, he had written only the title, his name, and one word -- "The." But in that last five minutes, he wrote out a list of things not to do at a stoplight and got to class on time to turn in the 800-word essay. But then the teacher told him that the assignment had been changed because she had to cancel class that day. Instead of the essay, they were going to take a field trip to a stoplight next week. I love SpongeBob.

In another episode, Patrick's parents visited. They commented, "He [SpongeBob] lives in a pineapple? What kind of person lives in a fruit?" Oh, if they only knew...

      >> 8:00 PM

A couple of things I need to get a roll on....

1) I've been mulling over a project on recent adaptations of Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights, one of the best books ever written. I'm particularly interested in the meanings it's taken on, how people make use of the characters to make meaning in their own lives. The Brontës have long been pilfered (lovingly and not) for their novels (in fact, there's a scholarly book called Brontë Transformations about adaptations of Brontë novels). Because of their recurring appearances in cultural productions, these novels make a particularly interesting set of objects for study. Maryse Condé published a novel a few years back -- Windward Heights -- that was a rewriting of Wuthering heights in a colonial Caribbean context. In just a couple of weeks, MTV will premiere their set-in-the-present adaptation of the story. [I can't wait!!!!!!!!!!] It's apparently going to be a musical, too! (And starring [Erika Christensen] who had that hilarious line in Swimfan -- YOU LOVE ME I KNOW IT!!!!)

2) I still want to look into the lives of Chang and Eng Bunker, the conjoined twins from the early nineteenth century from whom we get the term "Siamese twins." I want to look specifically at their reception in the American South when they settled here in North Carolina after years of touring the world as freak show attractions. One of the immediate questions I have is how they managed to integrate themselves into the binary racial landscape of the South. But of course, I'm also interested in how conjoined twins hold a certain sway over the popular imagination, raising questions about the boundaries of the self (and the proprieties of coupled sex). Two novels published in the last few years -- Chang and Eng and God's Fool -- first spurred me to consider why the figure of these long-dead celebrities might seem relevant today. The recent, emotionally-charged news coverage of Iranian conjoined twins [Laden and Laleh Bijani] and their failed attempt to separate is just one more example of how the idea of conjoined twins is doing some sort of work generating cultural meaning today. This one quote from the above-linked news article summarizes some of what is at stake in thinking about conjoined twins:

The slim chance that they might be able to lead normal lives, have a career and even have boyfriends is worth everything to them. Laleh, who is much quieter than her sister and wants to be a journalist, put it succinctly at a recent press conference.
'We want to see each other face to face - to see each other without the mirror.'

I've also seen advertisements for a forthcoming movie by the Farrelly brothers called [Stuck on You] about conjoined twins. (And recently watched the Polish brothers' [Twin Falls Idaho], also about conjoined twins....)

All things to think about....

      >> 4:30 PM

Thursday, September 04, 2003

[Yale University and Workers' Unions Are at It Again]:

The walkout, the second at Yale this year and the ninth since 1968, has strained tempers at the start of the school year, shutting down most of Yale's dining halls, disrupting freshman orientation and causing some teachers to move classes off campus. In their first days on campus, many freshmen encountered picketing, angry chants and sit-ins in which more than 100 people were arrested.

I remember the spring semester of my first year at Yale, the dining hall workers and clerical workers went on strike. I remember trekking out to the local grocery store and convenience stores to buy bread and cheese. I remember wondering how the negotiations were going. I remember talking to other students, many of whom were angry because their meal plans were disrupted; many others, though, were delighted by the $12/day we received as a refund for the missing meals. I remember seeing workers picketing with signs.

      >> 8:32 PM