Monthly Archives: April 2015

Milan Kundera

I woke up in cool sunlight thinking what it would be to be in California or New Orleans with a research day rather than Maringouin with a low-level teaching day ahead. Yes, it is different, very different, and it is false that all academic jobs are the same or that all are inspiring.

Before coming to campus I clipped the bushes, gathered up branches, raked leaves. I rode my bicycle.

I am not a Kundera fan and neither, it appears, is this critic but there is great value in slowness. This is true in all seasons, but it is especially true, I think, in spring.



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What a student said

“I really feel I learned in your class. You are a great teacher.”

I tend to think I am not, or should not be, yet that if I am not, I am in danger; or if I am it is because I have put in effort that should have been placed elsewhere. I am clearly not over all the terrorizing and scolding and warning I had to undergo.

I was constantly considered to be conspiring to do things wrong or to remain in academia while incompetent, or to spend too much time on the wrong thing. It was not that I was in fact acting incompetently. It was that one might, to anyone, at any time, appear vulnerable to accusations of this. That was what counted. For some it was important that you look stressed, or that you not be seen relaxed.

Later on it was recommended to do superficial work and to rush through it. Successful people did this, it was said. But I had never liked rushing, even though I am not slow, and I like to take time to think about things.

Others would rush to grade papers or mark up xeroxes in the ten minutes between classes. I would sit in the sun and stare out at the distance. It meant I had a few minutes’ work in the evening or early morning, before leaving home that they did not, but I was also less tired when I got home and I had my thoughts in order. I still disagree that there was anything wrong with my method.

Most recently my terror has to do with being accused of having inappropriate teaching goals — but I cannot find anything in the literature that would indicate this. I am trying to de-terrify myself.


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What a colleague said

…the first day I came to work here. “You radiate confidence and self-respect and it is though the wind had blown in with another kind of air, startling, disconcerting.”

Now years later a graduate student said: “It is important I not be critical as I am at the beginning of my career, whereas you are close to the end of yours.”

The end of mine. I, who am also waiting for that good tenure-track job.


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Vino el día

I woke up in sunlight thinking of what it is to walk across a large university campus with energy. I thought of what it would be like to go to the library first thing — to a library with holdings. I listened to the radio in the car and they were interviewing a doctor who works at the Centers for Disease Control in Washington, and thought about what it would be like to work for a large, urban research organization on an important project. I put on dark glasses as I came up the staircase as I could feel my eyes glistening. How is it that I have discarded myself in this way, I thought. Pero, ponte el sol.

The students say that the character Paulina was treated like a low being, a non-person, and for this reason lost her profession and ambitions. I do not know whether it is the amenities I keep naming that I need or whether the actual problem is the authoritarian atmosphere. To have the signal states of mind be calm and pleasure or excitement, as opposed to agitation and obstruction or fear. Morale is low, they say; perhaps this is what they mean.

I am not pleased today but my mind is clear; I think I have been wracked by more anxiety than I know for more years than I know; anxiety is made of anger or is a way of experiencing it. It is brought on by acting against one’s better judgment, or having orders for shorter term survival that one knows to be antithetical to flourishing in the longer term–and that are nonetheless one’s orders.


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Trois jours de beauté

Et une semaine de bonté, peut-être.

Là, tout n’est qu’ordre et beauté,
Luxe, calme et volupté.


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Filed under Arts, Bibliography, Poetry

Questo, e questo; París, y 4, y 5

Hoy le ha entrado una astilla. Me viene, hay días, una gana ubérrima, política. These are the poems I would like to present this week.

That pain that is so often just below the surface. “You are in crisis,” someone said. “You are so calm and meditative,” said another. “You are in a panic,” said a third. But it is that pain just below the surface, that I want to pull out.


Hazards of professordom were said to be publication requirements and snow, but the malevolent environments were not mentioned. And it was the malevolence, not research or weather, that made me want to leave. But my mother hated me for what I had done already, and if I did another thing like that, another career, advanced degree, I might never be able to make it up to her. The story might go something like that. I was to repeat her unhappiness; I have done. I should end that.

If I worked at a place that had sabbaticals I would be coming up for one right now. It would be a collegial place, with research resources, and sabbatical would not mean salary reduction. I would still go to campus and the town would be friendly, and I would take small research trips.

That is really all it is. A marginally collegial environment including marginally collegial collaboration (as opposed to war) on teaching, and research time. And calm — I really do not like jerking from one political crisis to the next, as we do. That is really all I require. Yet it is a great deal.


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¡Cima de la delicia!
Todo en el aire es pájaro.
Se cierne lo inmediato
Resuelto en lejanía.

¡Hueste de esbeltas fuerzas!
¡Qué alacridad de mozo
En el espacio airoso,
Henchido de presencia!

El mundo tiene cándida
Profundidad de espejo.
Las más claras distancias
Sueñan lo verdadero.

¡Dulzura de los años
Irreparables! ¡Bodas
Tardías con la historia
Que desamé a diario!

Más, todavía más.
Hacia el sol, en volandas
La plenitud se escapa.
¡Ya sólo sé cantar!

–Jorge Guillén, 1928


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Stamani in un urna d’acqua

It is true, professors are flowers and have to have sun, water, nice soil and time to read. You cannot jail someone below ground, sentence them to sacrifice and penitence, set them on a time-clock and expect a good result, even if the advisors say that is what is needed.

I caught a glimpse of what it would be to be here in Maringouin, right here at Vichy state, but in a department whose customs did not include ill will and where one had autonomy but also collegiality. I caught a glimpse of what it would be to have that, and at the same time not carry so much guilt about having been research oriented and done the Ph.D.

About that: my father did not think it was a good idea in general, and also did not think I, in particular, would be able to “live in snow” (Ann Arbor, Madison) or publish. I was always tentative about the degree for this reason. But for my mother it was much more traumatic because it meant I was not doing at all what she wanted, was not the kind of person she wanted. She really tore herself apart over this. And I hurt them so much by having the interests I had. In some later years I thought of them hourly with guilt and pain.

If I could do things over again the one thing I would do is turn down my aunt’s offer to pay for college. (This is not about graduate school now, but about college.) I had about $2,000 from another relative, that I later used for study abroad, but I could have taken it and run away to trade school. With the trade in hand, I could have paid myself to go to the very college I went to — it was quite inexpensive. Then my mother would not have had grounds to say I had taken money that should have been hers, and my father would have respected me because I would have paid for college myself.

And the family would not have hated me then, and I would not be considered to have hurt them. I would feel very different now if I had had the presence of mind to do these things, to protect myself at the outset from the years of recrimination.



Filed under Da Whiteman

Wendy Brown

Still, if we are slipping from liberalism to fascism, and if radical democracy or socialism is nowhere on the political horizon, don’t we have to defend liberal democratic institutions and values? Isn’t this the lesson of Weimar? I have labored to suggest that this is not the right diagnosis of our predicament: it does not grasp what is at stake in neoliberal governmentality—which is not fascism—nor on what grounds it might be challenged. Indeed, the left defense of the welfare state in the 1980s, which seemed to stem from precisely such an analysis—“if we can’t have socialism, at least we should preserve welfare state capitalism”—backfired from just such a misdiagnosis. On the one hand, rather than articulating an emancipatory vision that included the eradication rather than regulation of poverty, the Left appeared aligned with big government, big spending, and misplaced compassion for those construed as failing to give their lives proper entrepreneurial shape. On the other hand, the welfare state was dismantled on grounds that had almost nothing to do with the terms of liberal democracy and everything to do with neoliberal economic and political rationality. We are not simply in the throes of a right-wing or conservative positioning within liberal democracy but rather at the threshold of a different political formation, one that conducts and legitimates itself on different grounds from liberal democracy even as it does not immediately divest itself of the name. It is a formation that is developing a domestic imperium correlative with a global one, achieved through a secretive and remarkably agentic state; through corporatized media, schools, and prisons; and through a variety of technologies for intensified local administrative, regulatory, and police powers. It is a formation made possible by the production of citizens as individual entrepreneurial actors across all dimensions of their lives, by the reduction of civil society to a domain for exercising this entrepreneurship, and by the figuration of the state as a firm whose products are rational individual subjects, an expanding economy, national security, and global power.

That is here. In a book from Princeton. And she has a new book.


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How to work and live

Everyone advises and pontificates, and what they say is wrong from the point of view of anyone with any discipline, any hedonism, any love for life and any sophistication. So I will give the anti advice.

Advice: don’t read, write. Truth: reading is research. Do not try to produce without doing research.

Advice: only work is important, it matters not where you live. Truth: it does. Live where you like and how you like, and change jobs to do it.

Advice: only academic jobs are worth doing. Truth: they are not. Most academic jobs are like K-12 or community college jobs, not like the jobs your professors have. If you want a job like theirs and do not have it in academia, you should work for a research organization, go into publishing, things like that.

Advice: work is not really important, living and surviving and having Fun are. Truth: if you got into this kind of work, then yes work is important. It is the most important thing after setting, pleasure, love. Do not let people tell you otherwise — don’t let them tell you that it is “perfectionistic” to be interested in your best work, for instance.

Advice: House cleaning and yard work are forms of procrastination — like so many other basic activities. Truth: They are not. They come first. Just because you are a professor does not mean you do not deserve a pleasant and calm environment.

Advice: When you work, set timers and rush. Truth: If that is how you feel, perhaps you would prefer to get onto an assembly line. I keep track of time, of course, but I have a clock, not a timer; I am not an oven.


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