Sunday, May 31, 2009


I haven't had a chance to write in Spanish for quite a while. My doctoral dissertation and the article I started writing right after finishing it were both in English. Now I began a new article - this time in Spanish - and I cannot describe how good it feels.

Spanish writing style is, naturally, very different from English. The sentences are much longer, often with several subordinate clauses. Knowing how to manipulate them well, instead of knowing how to eliminate them altogether, is a mark of good writing in Spanish. There are many indefinite and passive constructions in Spanish. Complicated, elaborate sentences are a good thing. I feel absolutely free to heap on as many adverbs as I like.

For some strange reason, this style of writing feels incredibly natural to me (I'm a native speaker of neither English nor Spanish.) Of course, I don't go to the lengths of some of my students and colleagues who write in the form of the royal "we" and construct 18-line long sentences. There can be too much of a good thing, as well.

So, dear readers, if you feel in the coming days that my writing is becoming elaborate, bombastic and verbose, now you will know where it is coming from.

Watching and Wishing

According to Gail Collins, an incredible audience of 9,8 million viewers watched the opening of Jon and Kate Plus Eight, Season Five. For those who don't know, this show follows Jon and Kate's strugglee to raise their twins and sextuplets.

I've seen the show a couple of times. It's one of those cute shows that you put on when there is absolutely nothing else on or as background noise while cooking, talking on the phone, or surfing the Internet. Why, then, such a sudden and huge interest towards the show?
The reason, of course, is all the tabloid gossip about Jon's cheating and the couple's marriage breaking up. I strongly believe that the reason everybody is so excited about Jon and Kate's marital troubles is not simply "love of scandal", as many journalists suggest. Neither is it a desire to revel in somebody else's misfortunes.
In my opinion, all the attention towards the show is a result of many viewers' desire to experience (albeit vicariously) what they wish for in secret. Many people are sick of their relationships that they maintain solely for the sake of children, money, property, or a misguided understanding of comfort. Watching the collapse of a marriage apparently sealed forever by eight children and a TV show would provide such people with a space where they could play out their own fantasies of liberation.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Chauvinism in Advertisement

I've just seen an incredibly sexist billboard here in Lafayette. It shows a picture of a huge diamond ring accompanied with the following statement: "Gentlemen! It's time to start her engine."

This is, without a doubt, very offensive to women. It is, however, even more offensive to men. The advertisement clearly suggests that men can only get sexual ardor in exchange for very expensive pieces of jewelry.

So my question is: if this kind of rhetoric is equally offensive to men and women, then who promotes it? And why? There must have been a group of people somewhere who got together and decided that this billboard was a good idea. What could they have been thinking? Or have they lived the lifestyle of buying sex for money and calling it "love" and "relationship" for so long that they can't see it for what it is any more?

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Emotions and the Supreme Court

I really hate all of the discussions about whether emotions have a place in the Supreme Court that originated with the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor. It's supposed to be liberal to defend the right of emotions and empathy to form a part of the process of justice. The discussions started, of course, when conservatives began berating Judge Sotomayor for being too emotional and even too temperamental to be on the Supreme Court.

What is really annoying here is the blindness that liberals demonstrate yet again in the way they read this conservative discourse. "Emotional" is the conservatives' way to refer to Sotomayor's gender, while "temperamental" is a way to refer to her Hispanic origin. By taking this language seriously (and refusing to see its chauvinistic and racist undertones) we participate in it.

This is not about emotion versus reason and temperament versus its lack. This is about gender and ethnic discrimination. If we continue engaging in this kind of discussions, we will soon find ourselves arguing about whether it's ok to hire women since they are "more likely to cry" in the workplace.

I'm a Conservative

According to Nicholas D. Kristof, whatever I might have thought about my political convictions has been profoundly wrong. New studies (I just love how there are "studies" to prove any kind of stupidity nowadays) demonstrate that being a conservative is inscribed in my "neural responses."

So what are the indicators that finally revealed my well-hidden (even from myself) conservative nature? According to Kristof, it's the fact that I wouldn't beat up my Dad and my tendency to feel disgusted by public washroom faucets. Another tell-tale factor is that I would never drink from an acquaintance's glass and would hate if anybody drank from mine.

So this is it, my friends. We can stop asking people about their stance on important issues such as abortion, gay marriage, torture, the economy, etc. in order to find out their political convictions. Just ask them how often they hit their fathers (I guess, beating up their mothers or siblings does not have an equally strong political dimension) and try to force them to touch bathroom taps. Every father-beating bathroom-faucet-licking individual is necessarily a liberal. See how easy this is?

Friday, May 29, 2009

Money and Relationships: Another Silly Article from New York Times

It seems that as long as the New York Times exists I will never run out of topics for my blog. One would think that their policy of publishing op-ed pieces by college professors is a good thing. Somehow, however, they manage to choose the most ridiculously ininsightful professors in the country. One salient example of this is an article titled "Married With Bankruptcy" by a Johns Hopkins professor of sociology Andrew J. Cherlin. Sociology as a field of knowledge is noted for offering extremely simplistic conclusions about its subjects of research*. This op-ed piece is more proof of how irrelevant sociology has become (and even more proof of the overall irrelevance of the New York Times).

The article starts with a bit of whining about "our sky-high divorce rate." From my point of view, this sounds extremely emotional and completely unscientific. What does the author mean by sky-high? What's wrong with the divorce rate? Why is it necessarily a bad thing? If you pretend to be a scientist, then maybe it would be useful to leave aside this kind of preconcieved views and deal with data.

The author proceeds from an assumption that economic crises have the capacity to "destroy the inner life of many married couples" and "generate a . . . backlog of couples whose relationships have been irreparably ruined." This, I believe, is just plain silly. If a relationship and its "inner life" (whatever this sociological term might mean) can be ruined by money or its absence, then I somehow doubt that it was a relationship worth saving anyways. A financial crisis can bring to light some problems that already exist in a relationship and, in this sense, it sounds like a positive thing.

*I will never forget the following state-of-art definition of identity provided by a group of known sociologists: "Identity is something that somehow binds certain people together." It literally took these researchers years (according to the preface of their book) to come up with an important conclusion that identity is something.


This week I started watching 24 for the first time. It's definitely not my kind of television, so I never watched it before. Now that I have seen several episodes, I am extremely confused. If anybody who reads this knows it, maybe you can help me with this confusion.
From what I have seen this far, it seems that the show has an extremely subversive potential. It depicts the work of Counter Terrorism Unit against all kinds of terrorists. The main point they seem to manage to transmit is that the US government officials are so horrible that even the meanest terrorists pale in comparison. Surely, that can't be what the show is actually trying to do? Especially taking into account that the show is broadcast by Fox, and we all know how progressive these people are.
At the same time, this kind of a message makes it hard to watch the show. If the US government and the terrorists it is trying to combat are equally disgusting, then what's the point of watching? You really stop caring who wins in the end. Is there something that I'm failing to see here?

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Coffee Shops and Guns in Indiana

I love the Midwest. I always have very strange experiences here. Yesterday on the way from the airport, for example, we drove next to a place called "Pistol Range" that announced "Public Shooting Saturdays and Sundays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m." I'm trying not to attach any Kafkaesque interpretations to this.

Right now, five armed men entered the Starbucks where I'm writing this blog. I assume they are police officers (based on how relaxed everybody's reaction to them is) although there is nothing in or on their clothes and baseball hats that would actually identify them as such. Two of the men keep futzing with their guns, touching them in an almost caressing way. None of the other patrons in this coffee shop seem to mind or even notice. I, however, can't bring myself to relax. I don't remember ever being in a room with one gun, let alone five.

At the same time, as unsettling as this experience might be, it is not nearly as scary as my memory of being accosted by a group of street preachers here in West Lafayette last summer. I was having coffee at a streetwalk coffee shop, when this guy came up to me and staring at me in a very intent way asked: "Are you ready to die??" It took me some time to realize that he was a street preacher offering salvation and not a crazed killer.

A School without a Voice

The university where I spoke at a conference over the weekend recently closed down its departments of foreign languages and literatures. It had never occurred to me that a school could do that and still call itself a "university" (instead of a polytechnic or an institute, for example).
It's shocking to imagine that there would be an actual university (located in the capital of Canada, to make things even more bizarre) that would eliminate any possibility that it students might have to familiarize themselves with other cultures. Is this the future of higher education? Has the goal of universities now become to create complacent little robots who don't think, don't speak, don't wander or wonder but rather just produce and consume ad infinitum?
The war against the humanities started as soon as Bush ascended to power. At Yale, Bush's crony President Levin is in the final stages of implementing the program of changes that will effectively destroy the humanities at that school. I know what happens there from personal experience but I can only assume that the same changes are being introduced in other places. Unlike Carleton, Yale will not go as far as eliminating its language departments altogether (at least for now). It is, however, doing everything it can to make them as poorly funded, irrelevant, and powerless as possible.
I understand how certain forces could see what I'm teaching my students as dangerous. The main thing I'm teaching them is not to speak Spanish or distinguish between realism and naturalism. In my courses, students learn to read critically, think for themselves, formulate their own opinions, argue, and express themselves orally and in writing. Carleton University has decided it doesn't need any of this. Who will be next?

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Ross Douthat's Fit of Virulent Chauvinism: Is It Time for the New York Times to Close?

New York Times is doing all it can to lose the last shreds of credibility with the readers. In his article "Liberated and Unhappy", Ross Douthat relies on the findings of some quasi-scientific chauvinistic study to prove that feminism has made women miserable. It is evident to anybody with half a brain that studies asking people whether they are "happy" are worthless. They have no scientific value whatsoever and can be manipulated to support any kind of prefabricated conclusions. Different generations define happiness in different ways. If Douthat read Friedan (or anything on women in the sixties) he would know why in the 60ies, before feminism gained ground, women overwhelmingly responded that they were "happy." Ignorance, however, is bliss and allows Douthat to promote his chauvinistic beliefs unfettered by even most basic knowledge.

Douthat, however, needs this "study" to prove his point that independence and being able to pursue a career makes women unhappy. His hatred towards women seems inexplicable until we look at his picture. This was definitely the boy who went to the prom alone. Today, it is obvious that he needs women who are financially dependent because no woman would give the time of the day to a man like this for free (an unattractive, uneducated woman-hater). This is why he spews his rage against women from the pages of the battered NY Times.

The article is so full of idiocies that it's impossible to enumerate them all. Women are unhappy, Douthat suggests, because after the divorce they are "stuck raising kids alone." Apparently, he believes that divorced fathers do not participate in raising their children. Also, it is impossible for this raging chauvinist to imagine that women might meet someone else after they get divorced.

Well, what can be said after this quasi-journalist, if he cites Sarah Palin as an example of an overburdened working mother.

This article demonstrates very well why print journalism has outlived its purpose. NY Times gives space on its pages to plagiarists, chauvinists, hacks, and fools. I hope it finds itself forced to close down for good very soon.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Collective Identities

People often ask me why I am so interested in collective identities as a category of analysis. I believe it's because I don't have any and feel very content living without any collective identification. So people who abdicate parts of their individuality (or even give their lives) in order to promote an attachment to a collectivity perplex me. Here is my position in relation to different kinds of collective identities:
  • Gender identity: I love being a woman and believe that it is the best thing in the world (of course, I have never tried being a man, so my view must be a little biased.) However, the kind of femininity I practise is far from mainstream. I feel different from many other women much more often than I experience a solidarity with them. I identify myself as feminist but my feminism is very different from what it is generally considered to be in North America today. I have been told by "real" feminists that I am actually a male chauvinist in disguise. My theoretical findings on women's issues are often not very palatable to other feminist scholars.
  • National identity: I strongly believe that any kind of patriotism is profoundly unhealthy, but many people talked about the insidious nature of nationalism before me, so I won't repeat their arguments.
  • Linguistic identity: I don't have a native language. This has both positive and negative consequences. I could never engage in any creative writing because for that you really need a language you feel as your own on a very profound level. On the positive side, I move between different languages and different cultural spaces all day and every day. This is a very enriching albeit arduous way of being. Language is not just a way to organize words into sentences. Living in a language means adopting the whole civilization that comes with it.
  • Professional identity: I love being a scholar and an educator. I do, however, find it difficult to meet colleagues whose view of the profession and our goals within it would coincide with mine.
  • Local identity: In the past 10 years I have moved 8 times. And this summer I will be moving two more times. It is obvious that with this way of life it is hardly possible to preserve a strong sense of attachment to any locality in particular.
  • Political identity: Some of my political views are so far to the left that some people might consider them radical. For example, I believe that women should have a right to abortion on demand at any stage of pregnancy whatsoever. At the same time, my political beliefs also rely on certain concepts that are considered to be deeply conservative. For instance, I am a strong believer in individual responsibility. As a result of these seemingly contradictory views, I have never been able to identify with any political party or program.

Hispanic Neo-Baroque

This post is inspired by the sessions on Hispanic Neo-Baroque I am participating in today.

Main principles:

  • There is a common Neo-Baroque space (which is cultural, artistic, and ideological) shared by Spain and Latin America.
  • It represents a peculiarly Hispanic approximation to modernity.
  • It is an improvement on the Enlightened worldview since it manages to bring together the modern and the pre-modern, the mythic and the scientific, etc.
  • Neo-Baroque inspires a culture of questioning and resisting neo-liberalism.
  • It also poses a challenge to the English-speaking Protestant imperialist and hegemonic ideology of the US.
  • The Baroque has been historically marginalized in its capacity of an Occidental discourse, so now it is capable of giving a voice to subaltern groups.

My critique:

  • There is nothing more Baroque than neo-liberalism and nothing more neo-liberal than the Baroque.
  • Instead of giving a voice to the marginalized groups, it makes the representation of these groups more palatable to the affluent consumer of the 1st world. Novels by Garcia Marquez, Almodovar's recent films, Brazilian City of God cutesify painful realities of the Hispanic world in order to make them less threatening to a US consumer. The inhabitants of the favelas, the horribly abused Latin American women, etc. are prettified and voraciously consumed by the jaded Western readers and viewers. I have yet to see ANY liberating potential in these cultural products. If anybody can provide me with examples of how this art and/or ideology can be liberating, I would be very grateful

Reasons for my critique:

  • As I wrote before, I completely disagree with the male-chauvinistic belief in the failure of the Enlightened project. Offering any alternative to it, especially one as politically toothless as Neo-Baroque, bothers me.
  • I specialize in Peninsular literature and I simply do not believe that today Neo-Baroque art is either prevalent or mainstream in Spain. There are some feeble attempts to work with the Neo-Baroque but they belong, for the most part, to those who want to transplant peculiarly US cultural phenomena into Spain (Rosa Montero's Temblor is one example.) By theorizing Hispanic Transatlantic Neo-Baroque we, in my view, theorize something that does not exist. And this is profoundly unscientific.
  • In spite of the liberating agenda we might attempt to ascribe to the Neo-Baroque, the only kind of cultural products it has created so far are the products that mark an extreme degree of conformism. The Neo-Baroque art's greatest originality lies in how inventive and creative it is in coming up with more and more ways to conform to the system of world domination that has been and remains especially oppressive towards the Hispanic people.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Couples' Blogs

Now that I have a blog, I often surf other people's blogs to see what everybody is writing about. In my searches, I found this weird creation: a couple's blog. The weirdest thing about them is that about 90% of them are written exclusively by women. Which prompts the question: why are they presented as "our blog" and the owner(s) introduced as "we"? Can these women not see themselves as a complete whole outside of the relationship? I mean, this is supposed to be a personal diary. If you write it completely on your own, then what does this format contribute to your writing? Don't you have any thoughts that you can claim as your own, without involving a partner (who evidently is not even participating in the writing)?

Unfortunately, many women do this on other areas of their lives as well. Somehow, they feel that having a significant other precludes them from participating in any one-on-one activities with their friends. I have often observed female friends who get together and for some reason bring their unwilling boyfriends and husbands, who are obligated to look for some common topics of interest.

As much as I love my partner, I feel perfectly justified in having my own intellectual life, my own blog, my writing, my hobbies, and my friends. By being a complete and interesting human being in your own right you can contribute all the more to any relationship you might have.

Conference at Carleton U, Part II

I never thought I would enjoy this conference quite as much. First, I was approached by somebody who has read my articles and used them for his research. There is nothing an academic loves more than having her name recognized. It is so rewarding to hear people (well, one person for now, but I am ever hopeful for more) say "So you are the person who wrote those articles about identity."

Then, a publishing house offered to review my book for publication. They said my topic is "just what we might need."

Another positive thing is that there is wireless in all conference rooms and I can blog during boring presentations. This is especially useful during those sessions where the first and the last talks are really interesting, while the two that come between them are a huge yawn.

The campus, of course, leaves a lot to be desired. It seems that nobody here has heard of air conditioning. I had to prowl all over the campus to find one air-conditioned room. It has now become my refuge between sessions. The only food we have access to without going all the way downtown consists of burgers, hotdogs and donuts. I love hotdogs but there is a limit to how many you can stand eating in three days. Even this paltry choice of food disappears after 6 p.m. Which is right before the end of conference sessions. I finally located a cafeteria that might have a widero choice of food, but of course they had closed down 10 minutes before a arrived.

People at this school surely haven't heard that equal rights entail equal responsibilities. If they want visibility and profits attached to our conference's presence on their campus, they should make efforts to make our stay bearable. Knowing of our association's egalitarian stance they feel that no effort is needed. And this is wrong.

Next year, the conference will take place at Concordia University in Montreal. There, we will not have to depend on anybody's inept organizing. The only problem will be that people will skip presentations in favor of enjoying the beautiful city.

Academic Careers

A very talented student wrote to me to ask my advice about going to graduate school. Discussing this with her, as well as being at a professional conference at the moment, made me think about my own goals as an academic.
Unlike many of my colleagues, I could never feel appropriately enthusiastic about the issue of tenure. Securing a tenure-track position made it even clearer to me that tenure is not one of my goals. I am not planning to modify my research or teaching practices in any way in order to advance it. I am even less inclined to engage in contact-building (or networking, as people in the corporate environment would term it) that many of my colleagues cite as the main mechanism of advancement in our profession.
Another professional activity that it bores me to even think about is grant-hunting. Unlike people in sciences who absolutely cannot do without grants, in the humanities we can do perfectly good research free of cost. We don't need labs, research assistants, equipment. Of course, it is often very helpful to go to a certain far-away library in order to gain access to its archives. Honestly speaking, however, our salary is more than enough to undertake such a trip. And if you think that spending your salary in this way is a waste, then, buddy, you are SO in the wrong profession.
I wouldn't (and haven't in the past) say no to a grant if it comes my way with very little effort on my part. Investing time and energy that can be dedicated to research into pursuing grants is what I am not planning to do.
I am also very much oppoosed to any kind of group activities both in research and in teaching. Yet again, we differ a lot here from sciences where people cannot avoid working together. In the humanities, such projects might work for some people (although I have yet to see it happening) but I see them as a huge waste of time.
What I want to do is inspirational teaching and great research. These two activities are, of course, indissolubly linked (at least, in my understanding of teaching and research). Before I saw Terry Eagleton in person, I would have said that I wanted to be like him. Teachers, however, cannot be fully effective unless their life is something that you can admire.
In order to come to a stage where I will possess enough knowledge to do the kind of research I want to do, I need a lot of time and space to read and think. Instead of bustling around trying to get noticed by "important" people, participating in all kinds of unproductive group endeavors, hustling for grants, memorizing the tenure requirements, and so on, I plan to do anything I can to free up as much time as possible for activities that I find intellectually enriching: reading, writing, talking to interesting (as opposed to useful) people, blogging, or staring at the wall while my brain processes the information it receives.
It might turn out that I will never be capable of doing the profound and important research that I would like to do. But at least I will have a great time.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Conference at Carleton U, Ottawa

My conference takes place at Carleton University in Ottawa. The choice of location for this annual event is part of an egalitarian effort of our association. The goal is to hold a conference at every single one of Canadian universities in turn. It is, of course, a failed project. Some universities are located in places where nobody wants to go. Some schools don't have the capacity to accomodate this enormous annual congress of Humanities and Social Sciences. This is the kind of fate that expects any attempt to impose equality by force.
Of all the places I have visited so far for this conference, Carleton University seems the worst in what concerns organization and facilities. Ottawa is beautiful this time of year but we have to be stuck far away from all the fun in this sprawling inconveniently located and geographically confusing campus. I want to hope that the substance of presentations will be worth spending three days on this very uninspiring campus.
The question I always want to ask is why in North America campuses are located so far from anything we can call "life"? The students come out of college with no experience of living in a real grown-up environment. It becomes so much more difficult for them to adapt to less infantile environments than campuses. It is also so much harder to develop intellectually, emotionally and in any other way when you are stuck in this boring artificial enclosure for years.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Complexity of Presentation

My recent visit to Essence restaurant in downtown Montreal reminded me of an important maxim: the fussier the pressentation, the poorer the content.
This restaurant serves food on some of the most inventive plates I have ever seen. They come in the weirdest, most unexpected shapes and sizes. Arranging them on the table without knocking anything down takes some effort. The food, however, is bland, tasteless, and a bit stale.
The same happens with conference presentations. In literary criticism, the best presentation is one that needs nothing but words to bring across the point. Words are what we analyze, so we should dominate this medium pretty well. The presenters who rely on handouts, slides, powerpoint presentations and other extras, usually have very little substance to their talks. Since they don't have any real information to convey, they use these supplemental materials to hide the vacuity of their presentations.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Canadian Banks

Before yet another example of popular chauvinism distracts me, I want to write about the ever-painful experience of dealing with a Canadian bank (National bank of Canada, in this case).

An ATM swallowed my debit card, which forced me to get a new one. As a result, my online banking ws blocked and I came to my local branch to reestablish online banking. The following dialogue ensued:

Me: I would like to reestablish online banking, please.

Teller: No.

Me: Yes, please.

Teller: Why do you need online banking?

Me: I use it to pay bills online.

Teller (looking at me like I told her that I use it to travel to the Moon): Pay bills? Which bills?

Me: My bills.

Teller (with profound condescension): You don't need online banking for that. You can pay them through the ATM.

Me: I live in the US for the most part, so I really need online banking. I have been using it for the past 8 years and I would like to keep using it.

Teller: Why do you live in the US?

Me: For work. Could I get online banking please?

Teller: It's blocked.

Me: I know, I would like to have it unblocked.

Teller (acting like she heard this request from me for the first time): Why?

This went on for a while longer. Another teller became involved and put me through the same round of interrogation. In the process, tellers 1 and 2 kept exchanging mocking glances and rolling their eyes in my direction. The discussion continued until I remembered my agressive Soviet roots annd demanded access to MY money which is in MY account.

I have to add that my account with this bank is not and never was in default. I never owed them a dime. I've been a loyal customer for a long time and there is always at least some money in my account. In the US, the bank tellers fall over themselves to greet me and be as helpful as possible. But then again, there is no banking monopoly in the US and people can switch their bank as often as they want.

Chauvinism in the Media

It's not like I only want to blog about chauvinism. I have many other things to say on a variety of topics. Right now I was actually going to write about the failings of the Canadian banking system (which sucks something fierce compared with the US banks). As soon as I go online, however, I encounter a barrage of chauvinistic garbage that I simply have to address.

The most recent monstrosity is an article by somebody called Carol Sarler and titled "Why bosses are right to distrust women who don't want children... by a VERY outspoken mother (and ex-boss)" published in the UK's Daily Mail. The author is evidently one of those people who take it as a personal insult if anybody dares to make a life choice different from theirs. This author's rage against childless women (yet again, notice that she doesn't talk about childless men, just women) makes me think that she is profoundly jealous of what she imagines to be such women's lifestyle.

The article starts with a disclaimer that rhetorically represents a certain sign that what follows will be inspired by the very sentiment the author claims NOT to have. "Much as I like to trumpet the importance of a woman's right to choose all things at all times" says Sarler and immediately proceeds to bash women whose choices she doesn't like. Mothers, she claims, have "an essential humanity" that childless women apparently do not possess.

A little further on, Sarler proceeds to describe vividly her fantasy of the childless women's lifestyle which obviously leaves her green with envy and frothing at the mouth: "It's not the mothers, for a start, who are going to turn up late and hungover after a night on the razz; they'll have been up, dressed and alert for hours, having cooked a family breakfast and delivered their children to school. On time. It's not the mothers, usually, who run the office bitch-fest. They're not there to compete for the attentions of the male executives; they're there to get out of the house; they're there because they genuinely enjoy some adult company; and they're there because they have mouths to feed other than their own and shoes to buy for someone else's feet." None of this, of course, has anything to do with whether one does or doesn't have children. Sarler is clearly fed up wiith having mouths to feed and someone else's shoes to buy, cooking a family breakfast and driving to school.

Observe the nostalgia that inspires her entire rant. How much would she like to wake up with a hangover and flirt with the male executive, go out and buy some shoes for herself, have somebody cook her a breakfast and drive her to work for a change. Sarler never stops to think that having children has nothing to do with precluding her from doing all these things. For many women, being a mother does not mean becoming a sexless, boring, subdued machine, who is never allowed to have any fun.

Imagine what Sarler might have to say about mothers who dare to do all of the things that she condemns for childless women. And all this from a self-proclaimed defender of women's right to choose.

Chauvinism in Popular Literature

I love mystery novels. Since my favorite authors haven't published anything new recently, I had to turn to John Grisham, one of my stop-gap mystery writers. For the most part, his books are painful to read because the language is beyond primitive. It is fun, however, to observe the chauvinistic slips of tongue that seep into the novel and seem to be unplanned on the author's part.

The protagonists of Grisham's latest paperback The Appeal, are Mary Grace and Wes Payton, a lawyer couple that takes on a huge chemical corporation. After a gruelling trial that lasts for months and leaves both Paytons exhausted, Mary Grace and Wes come home to their two children, a boy and a girl. While Wes settles down on the sofa for some well-deserved rest, Mary Grace (who worked on the case as much if not more than her husband) heads to the kitchen to make dinner. She takes her small daughter into the kitchen as well, leaving the son to chill out with his father. The daughter soon leaves, which makes the narrator observe that she didn't YET have any interest in cooking.
The whole scene sounds absolutely monstrous to any one but a complete chauvinist. What is even scarier, though, is the casual nature of such patriarchal throwbacks. It's so easy to get lost in the intricacies of the plot and fail to notice these seemingly innocuous scenes and comments.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009


An utterly bizarre article has been published in Newsweek defending the Americans' right to drive cars from big bad liberals. The author attempts to argue that cars liberate us from the controlling governmental forces: "Long before climate change became another excuse for disparaging America's "automobile culture," many liberal intellectuals were bothered by the automobile. It subverted their agenda of expanding government—meaning their—supervision of other people's lives. Drivers moving around where and when they please? Without government supervision? Depriving themselves and others of communitarian moments on mass transit? No good could come of this."

How anybody can manage to convince himself that a culture where one does not even have a choice whether to learn to drive or not is liberating will always be beyond me. Somehow, this author has deluded himself into believing that a life where you absolutely HAVE to acquire one extremely expensive and dangerous metal can after another, constantly worry about gas prices, spend money on repairinng this idiotic piece of garbage, pay for insurance, waste time thinking, worrying and bothering about parking is a life of freedom.

And the funniest thing is that after producing such profoundly stupid pieces of quasi-journalism these people keep wondering why print media are about to disappear. After the news of Dowd's plagiarism and ridiculous articles like this one, I can't wait for the last print newspaper to die. People who write this stuff are either completely brainless or in the pocket of the automoile industry. No wonder that the public doesn't need their "news" and "opinions."

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Slavoj Žižek's Violence, Part II

The best part of Žižek's Violence is his brilliant analysis of the concept of tolerance. He shows us the scary possibilities implied in the blind worship of unconditional and unthinking tolerance:

"What lurks at the horizon. . . is the nightmarish prospect of a society regulated by a perverse pact between religious fundamentalists and the politically correct preachers of tolerance and respect for the other's beliefs: a society immobilised by the concern for not hurting the other, no matter how cruel and superstitious this other is."

The reason why we "tolerate" seeing Muslim men who lead women behind them on a piece of string, as if these women were dogs, is not respect for a different cultural tradition. The only truth behind this "tolerance" is contempt, lack of respect, and the desire to infantilize the menacing Other. How would you react if you saw a Western couple interact in this way? Would you sneer? Give them a piece of your mind? I know I would. But when somebody we can easily identify as the Other does things that offend our sensibilities, we are supposed to avert our gaze in an utterly hypocritical show of our worldiness and sophistication.

Otherness is always scary. Tolerance allows us to deal with our fear by treating the Other as a wayward child who is allowed all kinds of pranks we will never put up with if they came from an adult.

Sexist Advertisement

Everybody seems to be starting their own collections of the most disgustingly sexist advertisement ever. So here is mine. Today this kind of stuff is less blatant. Which is a mixed blessing.

Interior Design

One of the things that really interest me is interior decoration. Transforming the space where you live into an aesthetic experience is very rewarding. We cannot help but influence our surroundings and they, in turn, leave their impression upon us.
In this picture, you can see an example of one of the most beautiful living spaces I have ever seen. The people who live here didn't employ an interior designer; they just followed their own taste.
The main thing you notice about the room is how much space it offers. The colors transmit the feeling of cool air and calm refined atmosphere any time of the day. Absence of ornaments and bric-à-brac allows the beautiful piece on the wall to command our full attenion. The lamp above the white table is a piece of art in itself.
The greatest skill a creative person can master is knowing where to stop. Luckily, the owners of this place dominate this skill perfectly. There is nothing excessive in the decor, no detail to distract our attention from the perfection of the whole.

Sunday, May 17, 2009


Can somebody explain to me why getting oral contraceptives is so painful in the US? I swear to God, it's easier to buy heroin than the contraceptive pills (prescribed to me by my doctor, by the way).

Yet again, my pharmacy refused to sell them to me because "it is too early." I have engaged in the frustrating discussion of "too early for what?" with them too many times already. Apparently, if you want to buy your pills earlier than usual (for example, in case you are travelling), you are screwed.

For people like me, who will be travelling quite a lot this summer (and moving between two different countries as well), getting the contraceptive pills is next to impossible. I cannot possibly organize my travels so as to find myself next to the same CVS pharmacy in the small window of opportunity when I am permitted to acquire my pills (which, let me repeat, have been prescribed to me by an actual doctor).

And buying an extra pack, for emergencies? Don't even think about it. The access to the pill is restricted as much - or more - than the acess to the diamonds of the British Crown. This control over the pill is utterly unreasonable, of course. It's not like anybody will get high on them or develop an addiction. This is nothing other than one more attempt to police and control women's bodies.

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Eating and Gender

On my way to the airport, I heard about the following weird study on the radio. This study determined that when women eat in the company of men, they try to eat healthier food. When women eat in the company of other women, however, they tend to indulge and eat whatever they want.

All of this sounds completely wrong. From my observations, women are much more likely to eat less and healthier food in the company of other women simply because women notice these things more. Too many women are weight-obssessed. Men, on the other hand, are less likely to notice what happens on another person's plate.
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Saturday, May 16, 2009

College Diplomas: Latin or English?

New York Times published an op-ed piece today by Christopher Francese, a professor of Classics at Dickinson College. Frencese argues that we should stop handing out college diplomas written in Latin and switch to English. From what I could understand from this article, the only reason for this suggestion is that some employers might find the language of our diplomas to be "foreign and illegible."

I disagree entirely with this suggestion. The standards of college education are slipping with every passing day. At the very prestigious Ivy League school I've been teaching, I had a student who wrote "poor" instead of "pour", confused the plural with the possessive, and saw no difference beetween "their", "they're", and "there." And all this, only a year before graduation.

In my opinion, there should be some minimal level of knowledge that everybody with a college degree should share. So, if figuring out what your own diploma says is too tough for you, then maybe you don't deserve that degree.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Science and Religion

John Gray (as quoted by Žižek) makes the following interesting observation about science and religion interchanging their roles in contemporary society: "Science alone has the power to silence heretics. . . Like the Church in the past, it has the power to destroy, or marginalize, indepnedent thinkers... For us, science is the refuge from the uncertainties, promising - and in some measure delivering - the miracle of freedom from thought, while churches have become sanctuaries of doubt."

As paradoxical as this might sound, there is a lot of truth in this statement. If you ever tried mentioning the words "theory of evolution" to a biologist, you'd know that the experience is not much better than mentioning the words "the right to an abortion" to a Christian fundamentalist. People get very aggressive and start screaming "It is not a theory!!" in a way that shows a lot of emotional involvement with the subject.

Jose Ortega y Gasset, a Spanish philosopher, warned against an excessively narrow specialization of scientists in the 20ies of last century. I wish thinkers like Žižek were familiar with and incorporated into their work not only the French and the Spanish predecessors but also some Hispanic philosophers. But this is cultural hegemony for you.

Žižek on Love

This is Žižek on being loved as a traumatic experience: "Being loved makes me feel directly the gap between what I am as a determinate being and the unfathomable X in me which causes love." The guy is brilliant, people.

Slavoj Žižek's Violence, Part I

Slavoj Žižek is one of my favorite contemporary philosophers. I cannot recommend his 2008 book Violence strongly enough. It's incredibly well written, so that any reasonably educated person can read it without struggling with arcane references and obscure terms. There is very little Lacan, whcih is great, because we have to admit that Lacan has been dead and buried in any possible sense of the word a long time ago. (For me, the first attribute of a chauvinist is a fascination with Lacan. Thankfully, Žižek seems to be getting over this sad limitation).

The approach Žižek takes to violence is nothing short of brilliant. Trying to analyze violence is always difficult, he argues, since our unavoidable emotional response to it does not allow for a detached rational analysis. This is why he proposes that we "cast ... sideways glances" at it, which will allow us to achieve a "dispassionate conceptual development of the typology of violence." This is exactly what Žižek proceeds to do in his book.

The kind of violence that interests Žižek the most is, of course, that which "pertains to language as such, to its imposition of a certain universe of meaning." With this statement, Žižek brings our attention back to the issues of ideology that for some time have been buried under the proclamations of a "post-ideological" era.

The Slovenian philosopher has no patience with liberal communists and their castrated self-congratulatory agenda: "The delicate liberal communist - frightened, caring, fighting violence - and the blind fundamentalist exploding in rage are two sides of the same coin," says Žižek. "We should have no illusions: liberal communists are the enemy of every progressive struggle today." His critique of these people is strong, direct, and to the point. Žižek tells us that there is no difference whatsoever between the traditional left and the traditional right: "Both the old right, with its ridiculous belief in authority and order and parochial patriotism, and the old left with its capitalized Struggle against Capitalism are today's true conservatives fighting their shadow-theatre struggles and out of touch with the new realities." Nobody could have this better. I have to say that I experienced almost physical pleasure when I read this.

Žižek 's book offers an incredibly profound understanding of the workings of ideology. Those who believe that the debates about ideology have no place in contemporary society should turn to the analysis presented in Violence. According to Žižek: "Verbal violence is not a secondary distortion, but the ultimate resort of every specifically human violence. . . Reality in itself, in its stupid existence, is never intolerable: it is language, its symbolization, which makes it such." There couldn't possibly exist a stronger and more timely vindication of the activities of any philosopher, thinker, and literary critic. Bravo, Žižek!

Thursday, May 14, 2009


Because of my post on the amazing Mochica art, some unenlightened people banned my blog from online catalogues for being "pornographic." Now I feel like I need to add even more indecent images:

If we recognize Goya, Michelangelo, Rembrandt, Morisot, and Botticelli as art (and not pornography), then why shouldn't we extend the same courtesy to the Mochicas?

Elaine Showalter and the Decline of Feminism

I used to like Elaine Showalter but recently she started turning more and more sententious (or maybe she was always this way and I just failed to notice.) In a recent article on feminism, she rightly (although belatedly) states that "American feminism seems to be in trouble." According to Showalter, there is little hope that feminism will turn into a mass movement once again because it lacks a clear goal which "must be concrete and attainable, even if its ideological underpinnings are complex or contradictory."

Well, how about that? Suddenly we discover that feminism doesn't have a clear goal anymore. Unlike Showalter, however, I feel that my feminism does have a clear goal. How about "emptying gender of social, economic, emotional, intellectual, and any other kind of meaning"? Imagine the world where being born with certain physical attributes would not mean anything and you'd be free to choose how to live, think, feel, have sex, etc. irrespective of gender. How is this not a clear goal?

Of course, I shouldn't have expected much from Showalter's article anyways, since it starts with talking about "the “Sex-and-the-City” feminism of girlfriends, white wine, and shopping."

Gender vs Ethnicity

I wish our attitude towards gender started approximating the way we treat ethnicity. This is not to say that racial and ethnic discrimination do not exist. Unfortunately, they do. We have, however, learned to feel bothered by racism in public speech. If only we could feel the same outrage about the kinds of discourse that marginalize women.

Imagine, for example, a study similar to the one I discussed the day before yesterday. Only instead of women imagine the article talking about, let's say, the Jews. Just think about this headline: "A Study Proves That Emotional Intelligence Is Necessary for Jews to Have Good Sex." As a Jew, I can tell you that this would be very disturbing. As a woman, I am just as annoyed by the proliferation of articles, TV shows, or pseudo-scientific studies that go out of their way to create the vision of gender as an immutable, God-given set of characteristics that you cannot escape.

When this is done for the purpose of controlling female sexuality, it is even more disturbing. The saddest part of this, though, is how eager many women are to support this. The reason is obvious. Presenting women's emotions as the dominating force in their lives infantilizes women. And an infantilized, immature image can be very useful. For instance, it helps to shelter you from responsibility.

Betty Friedan

I LOVE Betty Friedan. It's scary how what she said decades ago has become so relevant all over again. Here are some of my most favorite quotes from her (there are many more but I don't want to occupy the entire page with this post):

It is easier to live through someone else than to become complete yourself.

I was at a meeting two years ago in Beijing, and I passed a bunch of women who were marching in a protest. Their signs were probably saying something I wouldn't have agreed with at all. But I was so glad to see women marching. And it's happening all over the world.

Men weren't really the enemy - they were fellow victims suffering from an outmoded masculine mystique that made them feel unnecessarily inadequate when there were no bears to kill.

No woman gets an orgasm from shining the kitchen floor.

Instead of fulfilling the promise of infinite orgasmic bliss, sex in the America of the feminine mystique is becoming a strangely joyless national compulsion, if not a contemptuous mockery.

Strange new problems are being reported in the growing generations of children whose mothers were always there, driving them around, helping them with their homework - an inability to endure pain or discipline or pursue any self-sustained goal of any sort, a devastating boredom with life.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Emotions and Female Sexuality

So I wanted to distract myself from the bad mood I was in and decided to read some articles unrelated to academia. But this must be one of those days when the universe is conspiring to annoy me. So I found this new "study" that "proves" that "Women who are more "emotionally intelligent" get greater pleasure from sex."

I'm so sick and tired of this patriarchal propaganda. The next thing we are going to hear is the same old hugely offensive silliness that "for women, sex is about emotions and intimacy, while for men, it's about the purely physical."

This so-called study is about denying us the right to have sex just for the physical pleasure. Once again, women who separate sex and love or sex and emotions are somehow wrong.

The reaction of feminist sites? They celebrate it because for them it means that "women have brains." This is too ridiculous.

Wikipedia: A Professor's Curse

For years, I have been begging my students to stop relying on Wikipedia for all of their research needs. And they still do it. I appeal to their reason trying to explain how easy it is for anybody to add completely spurious data to any Wikipedia article. But they never listen to me and keep quoting Wikipedia with annoying regularity.

Now that the story about a student who duped tons of people around the world through lying on Wikipedia came out, I will have to make copies of this article at the beginning of each semester and hand it out to students.

"Standing Still" Report

So the Associate Professor report by the MLA just came out. And the findings are very uninspiring:

On average, it takes women from 1 to 3.5 years longer than men to attain the rank of professor, depending on the type of institution in which they are employed and
regardless of whether they are single, married, or divorced or have children.

Respondents in private independent institutions report the longest period of time spent at the rank of associate professor for women (9.6 years) and the greatest discrepancy between women and men in length of time before the promotion to professor—9.6 years, compared with 6.1 years for men, a difference of 3.5 years, or 57.4%.

And there is more.

Percentage of Male and Female Professors 'Very Satisfied' With Measures of Job Satisfaction

Work Condition Men Women
Authority over content of courses 92.3% 85.9%
Authority over what courses you teach 72.1% 61.1%
Time available for class preparation 41.6% 24.0%
Authority over non-teaching duties 42.6% 32.1%
Time available for work as adviser 38.8% 28.1%
Time required for work as adviser 38.5% 26.5%

MLA's Conclusion: "Men report greater job satisfaction than women in almost all cases; women at the rank of both associate professor and professor feel less authority, autonomy, and control over their work lives than men do."

Maybe this is what we, feminists, should talk about instead of this endless blabber about weight and Sex and the City.

Ukranians Rule! (Los Colorados Video)


It feels very weird to be complimented on your article by the actual author whose novel you analyzed. We repeat so often to our students that literary criticism is not about what the author "wanted to say" that it becomes next to impossible to see the writer as a real person. In this sense, it must be much easier to write about the authors who are already dead. Cervantes is unlikely to get upset about anything you might write about him.
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Feminist Concerns (Continued)

I've been thinking about my post on feminist concerns when I realized what all these topics have in common (remember, these are the issues that appear with a daunting regularity on feminist websites). These top concerns of the today's feminists are ALL about the body.

I'm not suggesting that these body-related concerns should not be discussed. Today, for example, there is an important discussion of Eating Disorders at Feministing. It does, however, get pretty tiresome to see articles about weight every single day. A question to ask here is whether denouncing the weight hype so insistently and loudly ends up contributing to said hype.

The preponderance of discussions that concentrate on female physicality reinforces the vision of a woman as nothing more than her body. This is precisely what feminism originally opposed (Simone de Beauvoir's Second Sex is a perfect example). One of the main characteristics of a patriarchal society is a constant struggle to police and legislate female bodies. It doesn't make a whole lot of difference to me, though, whether my body will be policed by men or by fellow feminists.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Feminism and Sexuality

At a recent feminist conference about sexuality, Ricci Levy, Woodhull Freedom Foundation Executive Director said the following:

"Imagine a country where you are just as comfortable talking to people about sex and what you like as you are talking about chocolate. That would be what sexual freedom would look like."

This telling quote is just too hilarious. Sexual freedom is about TALKING? How sad is it that people substitute having sex with talking about sex with such ease? Of course, Feministing where the quote appeared has nothing but praise for this statement.

Mochica Ceramics

The great Mochica culture existed on the Northern coast of Peru between I-VI centuries. They are especially famous for their knowledge of hydraulic engineering and their amazing mastery of the art of ceramics. They are especially famous for their beautiful erotic pottery.

More Montreal This is St. Mathieu street in downtown Montreal where I lived with my sister for five years. (I hope none of my students knock on the door of my office right now because I'm actually in tears because of seeing this picture.) St. Mathieu is one of the streets that was always in construction. After I moved away, I had to learn to fall asleep in a silent place.

And this is the building where I lived last year:

It is right on the corner of Sherbrooke and Parc La Fontaine. I lived on the eleventh floor, and the view of the city was incredible. This is my favorite bar and cigar lounge. For some weird reason, I really like this place. They have 100 different kinds of martinis and you can smoke there. People say that Crescent Street is touristy and no true Montrealer would confess to liking it. But I actually do. This is the place I would go to have fun when I was an undergrad student many years ago.

More on Feminist Websites

Another thing I noticed about these websites is that expressing an interest in being attractive to men immediately turns you into a patriarchy-lover. (Yet again, how this coexists with the defense of Cosmo and Sex and the City is beyond me).

This is what I dislike the most about this current brand of feminism: it's just as prescriptive and limiting as any patriarchy. There is a certain way of being a woman that is right and any variety is wrong. Didn't feminism start out as a movement to afford women more - instead of less - choices? Why are we limiting ourselves to one correct lifestyle, one right point of view, one magazine to read, and one TV show to admire?

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I can't believe I am finally going to Montreal. It is, without a doubt, the most wonderful city in North America. In summer, it is particularly great with sidewalk cafes, all kinds of festivals, and crowds of people enjoying life. Of course, half the city will most certainly be under construction, so the noise and the dust will allow me to have a true Montreal experience.

I only have a few days to spend this summer in the most amazing city ever. The gastronomical program I have to accomplish is huge. Living in a small town, as I do now, really limits my range of culinary experiences.

There are also many places in Montreal that are dear to me and that I would love to see for the memories they hold. This corner of Decelles and Edouard Montpetit, for instance, might seem incredibly ugly to many people. But to me this place means a lot.
This is next to where I first lived when I came to
Montreal eleven years ago.

Many freshly arriving immigrants settle in this area. Some of the streets around here are downright nasty. The building where we lived, however, was not bad at all. I will always feel fond of this part of town.

McGill College Street is one of my favorite places. I spent so much time there while studying and working at McGill. There are two big bookstores in this street, and I can't wait to visit them again.

Feminist Concerns

I've been spending quite a lot of time browsing through feminist sites and getting more confused with every passing day. Never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined what passes for feminism today. So I made a list of the most pressing feminist concerns (according to the amount of attention paid to them in the feminist media):

1. The absolute winner is a defense of "natural" home births. Women who choose to give birth at a hospital or even have (the horror! the horror!) a scheduled C-section are presented as the devil (at worst) or not really women (at best).

2. The second favorite topic is weight. I read some version of the sentence "Society stigmatizes every woman who is bigger than size 2" a scary number of times. As a woman who has been wearing size 12 for years, I can say that this statement is a wild exaggeration. Not only do I not feel stigmatized for my weight, I would never agree to being a size 2.

Another popular chant within this issue is that excessive weight doesn't cause health problems. I have seen several very well-argued and detailed articles proving that even weighing 300 lbs does not harm you in any way. Since I'm not a health professional and know nothing about the subject, I'll reserve my opinion to the time when/if I know more.

3. Defense of male circumcision. Sometimes, it even transforms into a defense of female circumcision (a polite term for female genital mutilation). Yes, I kid you not, feminists today do not necessarily condemn FGM. Some are ready to accept this practice as a perfectly acceptable alternative way of being female.

4. Defense of breastfeeding until the child is at least 2. Yet again, women who can't/choose not to are presented as a lesser kind of women.

5. The right to fake an orgasm I already discussed in this blog.

6. The right not to shave your legs (I mean, seriously? Still?? No more important concerns have surfaced in the decades we have been discussing pressing issue?)

7. Cosmopolitan magazine as an embodiment of the new type of feminism. Anybody who has ever opened this silly rag would know how stupid it is to equate it with feminism. This admiration of Cosmo and Sex and the City as feminist contradicts the whole "fat is beautiful" rhetoric but nobody seems to care.

Visiting these feminist websites and blogs has left me confused and disoriented. If this is feminism, then I'm definitely something different.

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Saturday, May 9, 2009

MLA Experiences

If you thought I was done narrating my MLA experiences, you were really wrong. There are too many of them. And as much as I suffered in the process of actually living them, it's kind of nice to remember them now.

This was part of my most horrible MLA experience.

Interviewer 1: (Asks me some question).

Interviewer 2 (under his breath): God, here he goes again with the idiotic question.

Interviewer 1: Did you just call me an idiot?

Interviewer 2: If you insist on asking the idiotic question all over again, then what does that make you?

Interviewer 1: So you are saying I'm an idiot?

Interviewer 2: Yes, I guess I am.

Interviewer 1: You know what? YOU are an idiot.

Interviewer 3 (leaning in to me, in a whisper, visibly embarrassed): I'm so sorry, we all had a very long day. Please don't mind us.

Me: Oh, it's ok. (An uncomfortable pause with Interivewers 1 and 2 glaring at each other). So... should I answer the question?

This is What a Feminist Looks Like

Today I decided to continue my social experiment that consists of wearing my "This Is What a Feminist Looks Like" T-shirt in different geographical areas. I initially bought it because a friend told me that people always made nasty comments to her when she wore it. Of course, that immediately made me want to buy the shirt and provoke polemics in this way. This hasn't happened yet but I'm still hoping.

In the happy hippie town where I live right now, the strangers' reaction was extremely positive. I have never had so many women smile at me and try to make eye contact before.

In the less relaxed town I lived before, I had to discontinue wearing it because somehow it was seen as a pretext for most men to come up to me and strike a conversation (e.g. "So you are a feminist? I like feminists. Would you like to go out for dinner with me.")

Now I can't wait to try it in Missouri.

Politicians Kill the English Language

I've been correcting too many students' papers this week. Now I can't stop discovering mistakes everywhere. Just look at this exchange between Louis Caldera (the idiot who scared New Yorkers by flying very low around the city) and the White House:

Caldera: "I have concluded that the controvery surrounding the Presidential Airlift Group's aerial photo shoot over New York City has made it impossible for me to effectively lead the White House Military Office. "

And the White House press release: "The President has asked his Deputy Chief of Staff Jim Messina and Defense Secretary Gates or his designee to jointly review the organizational structure of the White House Military Office and the reporting relationship of its components to the White House and the Air Force."

Splitting the infinitives? Has anybody been to college? This is the most basic mistake in the English language.

With the huge numbers of unemployed English lit MAs and PhDs, I'm sure the White House and the Military Office could hire a couple of qualified people to write their press releases.

The source for the statements:

Friday, May 8, 2009

Television vs Cinema

I like television as much as I dislike cinema. Here is a list of some obvious advantages that TV shows have over movies:

1. TV is unpretentious. It doesn't claim to be anything more that what it is: cheap, silly, popular entertainment, a bubble gum for the brain. As a contrast, think of all the horrible films that claim to be art. Everything by Woody Allen or that horrible American Beauty monstrosity, for example.

2. TV allows you to be in control. When I watch Dr.Phil and he annoys me, I scream, swear, and throw things at him. During the presidential election debates I participated alongside Obama and McCain. This is very liberating and totally unlike the movie theatre where you have to swallow any stupidity being thrown at you from the enormous screen.

3. TV is humane. It gives you bathroom/snack/phone/e-mail/etc. breaks. Of course, if you watch a film on DVD or PPV, you can stop it. But it's not the same. On television, breaks are seamlessly woven into the general canvas of the narrative. In this sense, a film can be compared to somebody so garrulous that you have to physically shut them up. Television, however, is a much better conversationalist, since it steps back regularly to give you a chance to participate in the exchange.

4. It is way easier to find an interesting TV show than a movie.

Slumdog Millionaire

I don't like movies. It is such an artificial, domineering genre that renders the spectator completely powerless. Watching films in a movie theater is the worst experience ever. You are sitting there, in the darkness, with the enormous screen blaring at you. You can't stop it, pause it, rewind it. You can't get up and walk around, talk to people, call on the phone, go online, or even use the bathroom as much as you might want to. All you are allowed to do, is to sit there and absorb the message.
This is why I only get to watch movies after they appear on pay-per-view. Slumdog Millionaire generated a lot of buzz this year, to the point where people were mentioning it (with admiration) at several of my job interviews. I'm really glad that I didn't see it before campus visits, though.
I finally found time to watch this film and all I can say is: God, what an awful waste of time. I can't even say that it's bad. A bad movie gives you something to talk about. You can discuss with your friends just how much it sucked and why. You can analyze the particularly bad parts. Slumdog Millionaire, however, does not even allow for this harmless kind of fun. It is boring, repetitive, the characters are as dead as the story. And please don't tell me it's Bollywood. I know Bollywood films and I really like them.
It is self-evident, of course, that the current recession is the biggest reason behind this film's popularity. People enjoy watching this kind of desperate poverty because it makes them feel better about their own economic situation. Also, the whole "it's fate/destiny/kismet" rubbish always becomes popular during economically tough times. When people feel powerless, they turn fatalistic.
Are there any good movies currently out?

Thursday, May 7, 2009

MLA Dialogues (Part III)

This is the extremely intimidating hotel where I had several of my interviews last year (Fairmont San Francisco.)

Now, the worst ever MLA experience happened to me the year before. Neither immigration nor divorce have traumatized me quite as much. Here is a tiny little part of this horrible interview:

Employer: I see from your publications that you are interested in nationalism. What is your approach to national identity?

Me: The essentialist approach to national identity...

Employer (interrupts me with an exasperated look): Oh, so you are one of THOSE!

Me: I'm sorry?

Employer: You are an essentialist!

Me: No, just the opposite!

Employer (waving his hand in my direction): Enough, enough! I don't want to hear any more of these essentialist theories.

Me: I was only trying to say that the essentialist approach has long been intellectually and ideologically bankrupt...

Employer (obviously not listening and still very exasperated): Let's just move on to the next question.


MLA Dialogues (Part II)

Employers: How do you feel about MRSDFEW (or some other weird acronym)?

Me: I'm really sorry, I'm not sure what it is.

Employers: Please understand that we do not insist on your participation in (weird acronym). We would just like to know whether you might be interested.

Me: If you could tell me what it is...

Employers: You have to realize that we will be asking about many different things, and nobody expects you to say "yes" to everything. So you can just tell us if you are not interested in (weird acronym).

Me: If only I knew what (weird acronym) is, I could definitely tell you whether I am interested or not.

Kindly interviewer: It's OK, you really don't have to participate in (weird acronym). (Turns to the other interviewers). Guys, you are stressing her out, she obviously isn't interested in it.

Me (in quiet desperation): I would sooo love to find out what (weird acronym) is...

Employers: Well, let's move on to a different question.

A lot of time has passed, and I still have no idea what the weird acronym stands for.


MLA Dialogues

The job search process in my field is weird, confusing, and inexplicable. Every year, job seekers meet with their prospective employers at one giant job interview venue: the MLA conference. The interviews take place either in hotel rooms (where you experience the torture of drowning in a soft armchair, while attempting to look professional) or in a huge ballroom (where the incessant din of hundreds of other candidates being interviewed makes it hard to hear anything.)

Some of the conversations I had as part of the interviews were strange bordering on scary. Here are some of them:

I enter the huge ballroom and approach the table where my potential employers are sitting.

Me (suitably chirpy): Hi! So nice to meet you!

Employers (looking collectively spaced out): Hi. . .

Me: I've really been looking forward to this interview.

Uncomfortable silence. One of the interviewers can't stop looking around. Another one is literally falling asleep. The third one decides to contribute to the conversation:

Employer #3: Hmm....

Me (feeling desperate): So... You must have a lot of work at this MLA.

Employer #1: Who?

Me: You.

Employer #3 (suddenly interested): What?

Employer #2 (waking up): Is she here yet?

Employer #1: No, let's keep waiting.

Me (feeling very invisible): So, how about that weather!

Employers (looking even more spaced out than before): We are waiting...

Me: I'm sorry, what are we waiting for?

Employers: The Chair. She will be back soon.

We spend the next 5 minutes in uncomfortable silence.


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Wednesday, May 6, 2009

More Student Feedback

It makes me so happy to know that the students enjoyed my classes so much. This is what one of the students writes:

This class made me enjoy learning and thinking again. Your teaching style is ideal because it allows students tohave opinions even if they differ from what is widely believed. I am glad that I had the opportunity to meet and know you. You have inspired me beyond what I can express.

I think I'm going to cry...

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

God Wants Me to Be Healthy

Today on my way home from the office, I decided to get some takeout food. I hesitated between a pizza place and a sushi place located next to each other. As soon as I reached these restaurants, however, I saw a huge group of policemen running into the pizza place. Apparently, there was a criminal there they needed to apprehend. As a result, I couldn't buy pizza and had to go for the sushi.

God wants me to eat healthy, people. I might, however, still go out for pizza late at night, since I will be writing my presentation for a conference I have to attend until morning.
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Faculty Meeting

The biggest drawback of being a professor is having to attend faculty meetings. This is the most depressing activity I can imagine. I have no idea why I went to the last departmental meeting of the year. It makes no sense for me to go since I am leaving this fine educational institution for good in exactly 10 days. Still, I went. God, what a huge mistake! These are the things I found out:

1. The field of French literature is experiencing "a slow death." (We are a Romance Languages department, so I can only imagine what is going on with German and Russian, for example.)

2. The entire faculty will undergo a 15% cut. The enrollments, however, will continue to grow. (You can guess what it means to have fewer teachers and more students.)

3. All language departments will be conflated into one department. Basically, the eventual goal is to have one professor of each language (including classics, excluding English.)

4. We will have to stop creating new courses and keep teaching the same courses year after year (this measure is particularly supported by old professors.)

5. The entire university will move towards a trimester-based system. This, of course, takes away the best thing about our profession: free summers. When people are supposed to do research remains unexplained.

If/when these measures take effect, I will immediately leave this profession. As much as I love teaching and research, it makes no sense to stay under these conditions. This is ridiculous.

If this is what is happening at one of the richest and most prestigious universities in the US, you can imagine what is going on in other places. And the worst thing is, everybody is buying this sack of lies about such measures being caused by the recession. Wake up, my friends, these measures started being implemented at least 3-4 years before anybody heard of the recession.

Living Arrangements

When I accepted a tenure-track position in a tiny Midwestern town, it never occurred to me that I might end up with no place to live.

There is almost nothing to rent. Now I understand why a huge part of my campus visit was an excursion with a real estate agent. For me, buying a place is out of the question. First, because my credit is not just bad, it's nonexistent. Second, because I am profoundly ideologically opposed to buying real estate.

The couple of places that are for rent are a) ridiculously expensive (the rent is higher than on the East Coast) and b) right on the highway. And I don't drive.

In all probability, I'll have to ask my department to put a cot in my office for me to avoid sleeping under the bridge.

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A Finer World

"If ever there was a pious myth and a piece of credulous superstition, it is the liberal-rationalist belief that, a few hiccups apart, we are all steadily en route to a finer world" (Terry Eagleton).

It doesn't bother me when Terry Eagleton gets into this tired anti-Enlightenment rant. As a group, privileged middle-aged white men have been steadily losing in power and prestige. When Eagleton says that progress is a myth, he talks as a representative of a particular collective identity, one that has suffered a significant decline. If things continue developing in the same direction, being male, white, and rich will entail no advantages whatsoever. As much as I respect Eagleton (and believe me, I really do), observing him in real life made it clear to me that he has been making full use of these advantages and will not give them up easily. Hence the "progress-is-a-myth" agenda. Eagleton and Co must believe that if they repeat this mantra often enough, there is a chance that the pesky consequences of said unexisting progress will disappear.

Now, what really bothers me is when people saying such things don't stop to think that the only reason they can say anything - that is, engage in the production of a public discourse - is the very progress they are so happy to berate.

I will never forget the sad spectacle of a Latina scholar, speaking at an extremely conservative Ivy League school about the evils of Enlightened thought. You'd think that a Hispanic woman might have a different perspective on these things than people who historically kept women like her in the role of perennially abused, disenfranchised and despised servants. Not so. She seemed happy enough repeating the age-old anti-progress lamentations of old white men without stopping to think about the ideological and political considerations behind this rhetoric.

The argument I have heard most often from the eminently self-righteous Enlightenment-bashers is: "Progress is bad because it has put humanity on the verge of extinction." Oooh, verge of extinction, scary. As a woman, I have to say, however, that I don't believe the world where I'm not considered a valid human being is worth preserving. If the downside of the historical processes that gave the downtrodden a voice and a presence is "the verge of extinction," then so be it.

Eagleton is right when he says that we ALL are not en route to a finer world. For me, the world gets better with every passing day. For Eagleton and the like, it evidently isn't.

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Monday, May 4, 2009

Student Responses

This is what one of my students wrote about my course:

"I really enjoyed your class this year, and I appreciated more than anything that it forced me to remember that school doesn't have to be "all stress;" it can be fun, too."

This is the best thing I can possibly hear from my students. It's great to know that they didn't associate my course with stress and suffering. As painful as it is to let the students go at the end of each semester, this profession is extremely rewarding.