Monthly Archives: April 2014

Les mathématiques

Et cette série m’ennuie; il me semble que je l’ai déjà écrit, dans ce même codex. My intellectual formation, comment elle s’est donnée, on le sait. And: did one need my life to become me? My friend Nicky has a formation very like mine but did not come to it by the same paths at all. What is the question to which this series responds? Is it one I have not yet answered? Je me le demande.

Nonetheless we will persist a bit, having already covered the first perceptions, about language and the research orientation. Now we have foreignness, most specifically shifting cultural and cognitive systems: my favorite book has always been Eva Meets Noriko-San. In the first grade we studied SNCC and the incipient war in Viet Nam, and I was interested in contemporary history; I spent the third grade on study abroad in Madrid and liked the large city, the high, dry air, the museums, the streets. In the sixth grade we studied Latin America; I learned to do research and started writing my famous papers.

In third grade I had also started studying mathematics. Nobody I knew understood it but me, and I soon learned how to go to office hours for consultation on difficult problems. I became good at math; it is also because of math that I became an independent learner, since nobody understood it at home. I am still one of the few people in humanities I know who appreciates engineering and likes mathematics; this difference may be fundamental.




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C’est quoi qui m’a formée? Et si c’est tout?

I have written these things down before,  but in Spanish and more interestingly, in the style of Altazor (or so I imagined). But très rapidement, I created my research program when I was two or three.

At that time I was acquiring language and noticing that it was changing me. The world was coming into sharper focus, I was able to see and say more things about it every day, but I was losing contact with something else, with intuitions, with the material, with knowledge I had had and that did not fit into language, with a glowing light I knew I would not see again until life’s end. I wondered, then: does language form thought, or thought language? I wanted thought to precede language, but I could see that language actually selected perceptions and went on to form thought around these.

I wondered whether others had considered these questions and was moved to ask my mother, but then changed my mind and decided the better person to ask would be my father, as he tended to be the more conceptually oriented or the more abstract thinker of the two.

He said that this was not a settled question but a research field, and that to find an answer to it I would have to undertake advanced research and, probably, learn French since some of the work on my question had been done in French.

I decided I would undertake such research since it would clearly support my broader goal, which was to know everything.  I was delighted to find that French was a language like the two I was already aware of, Spanish and English–and that beyond French there were many further languages.


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On undergraduate research

I think it is so foregrounded now because there is so little of it. In the past research was done in most undergraduate classes but now, instead, select undergraduates undertake supervised research projects while others do not learn research skills. Thus does the neoliberal university say it is doing more when it is in fact doing less.



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I went to California on some difficult business and it was so beautiful, it was like being on vacation regardless of the circumstances. Driving to the airport I crossed the Golden Gate Bridge in April sunlight and it was a normal day. The man next to me on the plane from San Francisco to Dallas was Mexican living in California, flying to São Paulo on business and since that conversation I have been fixated on the idea of having a nice job in southern Brazil. Something is happening.

That night and the next at dinners here we talked about it. One colleague says this is the craziest place he has ever worked and another says my teaching problem here is not a problem of me but of the others; they do not bring research into teaching but tell stories, or give tests, or deliver Derrida in a nice package, but do not bring questions into teaching or show learning as a process. Knowledge is not knowledge but status and power, and information is imparted but not skills. This was quite illuminating.

People assume that if you do a Ph.D. professor is your dream job but I always thought of it as a starter job … that I ended up liking a certain version of, enough to keep it forever. But the job model for me is: high level research and collaboration in large organization with large impact, urban life and a lot of interesting work related travel. Graduate school was like that but the professor jobs I have had, have not been.

For now what I am going to do is put my foot down about being serious, and also undertake a great deal of self care. We were taught to sacrifice but it turns out that without a great deal of self care we cannot be who we are asked to be, give what we are asked to give.

And our lives are more interesting than we realize, someone said, and we are all massively dissatisfied and on the market but at least we are not at a sterile place like Princeton; et chacun vit comme il peut.




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d por d

¡Dulzura por dulzura corazona!
¡Dulzura a gajos, eras de vista,
esos abiertos días, cuando monté por árboles caídos!
Así por tu paloma palomita,
por tu oración pasiva,
andando entre tu sombra y el gran tezón corpóreo de tu sombra.

Debajo de ti y yo,
tú y yo, sinceramente,
tu candado ahogándose de llaves,
yo ascendiendo y sudando
y haciendo lo infinito entre tus muslos.
(El hotelero es una bestia,
sus dientes, admirables; yo controlo
el orden pálido de mi alma:
señor, allá distante… paso paso… adiós, señor…)

Mucho pienso en todo esto conmovido, perduroso
y pongo tu paloma a la altura de tu vuelo
y, cojeando de dicha, a veces,
repósome a la sombra de ese árbol arrastrado.

Costilla de mi cosa,
dulzura que tú tapas sonriendo con tu mano;
tu traje negro que se habrá acabado,
amada, amada en masa,
¡qué unido a tu rodilla enferma!

Simple ahora te veo, te comprendo avergonzado
en Letonia, Alemania, Rusia, Bélgica, tu ausente,
tu portátil ausente,
hombre convulso de la mujer temblando entre sus vínculos.

¡Amada en la figura de tu cola irreparable,
amada que yo amara con fósforos floridos,
quand on a la vie et la jeunesse,
c’est déjà tellement!

Cuando ya no haya espacio
entre tu grandeza y mi postrer proyecto,
volveré a tu media, has de besarme,
bajando por tu media repetida,
tu portatil ausente, dile así…



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That alleged best profession in the world

Let us see, now:

I liked graduate school and it was good for me but my perceptions were distorted because I kept hearing one should not like it; that it was unwise and also uncool to stay in it; and also that I would not be competitive on the job market and so should definitely not stay in it.

BALANCE: I liked it.

Professor job #1: hated it, knew it right away, wanted to quit and go into business or do another degree, retrain. Could see that now that I had been at that place, an elite SLAC, I was tainted, could never recover and get to a public R-1. Could see that only a public R-1 was for me; I might as well go into almost anything else if I were not destined for that … anything with a large organization, fast-paced, high-powered, something international, something high level.

BALANCE: I am not like most professors — they are teach or die; they want to be saved from large, impersonal organizations, they do not know what else to do. I like large cities; they think it is snobbish to like these; eso a mí me tiene sin cuidado.

Professor job #2: I liked it, but could not admit this because everyone else hated it and to be cool you had to hate it, and be trying to get to a similar, but better place.

BALANCE: I liked it. AND this was the place where I came up with my law school plan; did not implement that right off because I liked the job I had. I should not have thrown it away, but I did because of Reeducation. I got irritated with people who said I did not know what I wanted: I said, of course I know, it is a certain kind of academic job, and if I cannot get that, a certain other kind of job in business or government or the non-profit sector, capisci?

Professor job #3: horrified by it, but imprisoned in it. My having it satisfies those individuals heavily invested in my being a professor, but does not satisfy me at all nor meet my financial needs.

WHAT I WILL DO: Start fighting back in job #3, it appears. It would seem that given my willingness to do other things I should jump, and I may, but the thing to do in any case and starting now is fight back in job #3.



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Piedra negra sobre una piedra blanca

Me moriré en París con aguacero,
un día del cual tengo ya el recuerdo.
Me moriré en París —y no me corro—
tal vez un jueves, como es hoy, de otoño.

Jueves será, porque hoy, jueves, que proso
estos versos, los húmeros me he puesto
a la mala y, jamás como hoy, me he vuelto,
con todo mi camino, a verme solo.

César Vallejo ha muerto, le pegaban
todos sin que él les haga nada;
le daban duro con un palo y duro

también con una soga; son testigos
los días jueves y los huesos húmeros,
la soledad, la lluvia, los caminos…


García Márquez died today, and José Emilio Pacheco earlier this year, and there have been others.


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