Monthly Archives: June 2017

A terrible beauty

It is said you cannot psychoanalyze yourself but I am forced to do it as I have found it to be the best available option. That is why I have this weblog.

There were two breakthroughs this week. It is a breakthrough when you find a simple answer. The first was actually one I had in the 1990s but that took some time to get consolidated; it is about recognizing and rejecting abuse. If I feel strange (panicked, horrified, sad, greatly diminished, and so on) it is a reaction to abuse which must be identified, recognized, and refused. If I do this, I straighten right up, and if I do not, I remain in that state for a long, long time.

The next has to do with my acquired fear of certain kinds of writing. It is about the feeling that this is something you must do, but also must not do; it is required of you but not yours; you are not really worthy of it, although you must do it to prove worth. (These are of course a series of double binds.) But the answer is (of course you are worthy and) this is you. (Anyone can see that language and writing are me, it is ridiculous to question it.) Take it on, assume it, take your place, because yes this is for you, this is you.

In psychoanalysis it is said that seeing the problem is solving it. In behaviorism you must learn how to solve it and form habits around this, and all of that is hard work but it is superficial and will not stem the tide, or free you from the undertow of the past and of every unconscious misconception you have. In psychoanalysis the work comes first, in learning to really see. Because just seeing generally is not accurate enough. You have to hit not just the target, but the bull’s eye. It is when you do that that problems fall away and you change magically. The apparatus that was draining you falls away, and new energies are liberated. It is as in the Communist Manifesto (“All that was solid, melts”) and also “Easter, 1916” (“All is changed, changed utterly”). Everything is easy.

I am quite pleased to have seen the things I have seen, and to know the things I know.

Axé.

Leave a comment

Filed under Banes, Da Whiteman, News, Resources, Theories

Sobre la china poblana

At one time we were all trying to convince my brother to write a dissertation on the china poblana who is such an odd cultural figure. I never actually looked up research on her but now here is an article sent by a friend. There is also a book chapter, more than one actually, by Kathleen Myers. I should teach this matter in cultural studies and I think I might gain new and fascinating perspectives of my own from studying it.

Axé.

Leave a comment

Filed under Race book, What Is A Scholar?, Working

A rough draft (response to Jonathan)

I know people say procrastination is perfectionism but I don’t know how in the world they came up with this idea. I know perfectionists and they don’t procrastinate, they’re just meticulous and over-critical, over-fussy.

I first “procrastinated” twice in graduate school, when I had paper ideas that were not actually viable. Studying on quarters there was no time to change, so I tried to force the papers to take their planned shape anyway. They were hard to write because they were not working, and I called the stalling and thrashing about, “procrastination”. I think it was something else. I wasn’t putting off work, I was avoiding the work that was actually needed, because if I did that work I would not finish by the deadline.

I was also accused of conspiring to procrastinate in graduate school, when I estimated twenty weeks as the time needed to research and write an article while also doing other things. The professor said that would be procrastination. I should not write a publishable article, just write some essay, in ten weeks. Again, I don’t think this was procrastination: I think it was good planning (ten weeks of reading and ten of writing was what I wanted). I made a deal with the professor to give me two quarters of B instead of one quarter of A. I wrote the article and it was published in a good place. People laughed at me as well when I said I could write a dissertation in a year at the rate of six pages a week (they wanted seven very rough pages a day, but I don’t make progress when I write that rough). They were floored when I actually did it (they had also yelled at me every day when they saw me not at the desk, because I was working a job, so they could not believe I was making progress).

My next big procrastination episode came with a book contract that asked for major revisions to the manuscript, requiring major research, that I wasn’t sure would lead in the direction either I or the press actually wanted, to be done in six months when I would also be teaching three courses new to me. I knew it was not realistic but signed on anyway, due to fear of being accused of conspiring to procrastinate (conspiring to be lazy, I suppose, which is a sin). I could not figure out a feasible project plan because there wasn’t one within those time constraints. I wanted to ask someone about it but did not dare due to fear of the pain of being accused of conspiring to procrastinate.

Instead, I just waited to not get tenure. Note what the actual procrastination was: I did not procrastinate on work, but on asking the question I needed to ask. I thought about this clearly at the time. I preferred to have something bad happen for a good reason, not finishing the book, over the possibility of abuse and a false accusation of conspiring to procrastinate. (I also wanted someone to volunteer the suggestion that I ask the needed question, and would fish for this, but was not clear enough about it because I was so fearful that I might instead get an accusation of conspiring to procrastinate.)

People did not understand why I was not devastated, but rather pleased, over the tenure decision. The decision came from a high administrative level, not from those who knew me. The paperwork said everything was excellent except for the non-finishing of this project, and that the university would reconsider if the project were finished within the year. I was pleased because everything was true: nothing false, no apparent bias, nothing trumped-up. The only thing that was wrong was something I knew was wrong and could agree to. This was immensely satisfying because what was wrong was a real thing, not something unjustified or worse, justified but invisible to me–and most importantly, not a character flaw, only a project not finished.

Note, then, where the procrastination is in all of this: it isn’t in not working, it’s in being afraid to ask questions. In the case of the two seminar papers I struggled with, what I really needed was to visit office hours and say I was struggling with the topic and the argument. I was afraid to do this because facing the actual problem could put me past deadline, and also, one was supposed to be willing not to be a perfectionist. I did not think the professors in question would have these reactions; I thought Zeus or Yahweh would. In the case of the book, I again procrastinated about asking the right question. I was afraid because once again, what I wanted to ask was heretical and I feared either immediate execution or torture of a type that would cause permanent disfigurement and disability. It was better to simply freeze.

Note what I have been afraid to ask: (a) can I let the research on the project take it where it will? (b) can I have a reasonable deadline, so that I can concentrate on the work itself? Note that the only constructive answers to these questions are a form of yes. But I not only expected negative answers, I also expected extreme violence and devastating abuse as a result of asking. Note also that when I was accused of conspiring to procrastinate, I went right ahead and did what I was planning, and got an article and a dissertation.

Procrastinating on work, having outright bad work habits, is only something I got into later. I could not understand it. That was when I came up with what you have in this post: it is a form of self-punishment and a separation from self. (One of the ways I have thought about it is as an overdeveloped superego, tied to an underdeveloped ego, that makes one want to retreat into id.)

For me, I still need to refine the theory, because if it is just this odd choice of askesis over the feeling of accomplishment, if that were a sufficient answer, I’d snap out of it. (Note that I procrastinate on many things, on everything that is a required activity, including also work on house and yard, and I only have healthy relationships to art work, political activism, and program design/institutional grant-making. *Because in these activities I do not feel there is some terrible super-ego watching me.*)

So in tentative conclusion: yes, procrastination is self-destructive yet feels good, or feels constructive in some way. But to understand why this is, one must refine the theory. Practical example: in my first academic job I would always stay up too late, because I hated the job and wanted to maximize the time in which I had gotten away from it for the day. Going to bed only brought the next day closer, when I would have to go to the torture chamber again. So once more, for me, procrastination is self-destructive but feels like self-protection, or like *the only way available to grab some space for the self to just be, as opposed to be subjugated to être-pour-les-autres*.

This, actually, could be an important insight. What if procrastination is pleasant because it is the en-soi? What if working should be the pour-soi, but is often the pour-les-autres? What if it is only easy to work if one can be sure it can be pour-soi?

Finally: I could also write about another form of procrastination in which I have engaged, about changing careers, but this post is already long. I would rather end with a newer insight, gained as I wrote this post: I have always procrastinated about speaking for myself, due to fear of extreme violence. The example that came to me while writing is from a conversation with a professor on my Ph.D. examination committee. The exam had been good and she had been surprised: “Don’t take this the wrong way, please, because I didn’t think you would fail, but I didn’t know you were this good. You are always so tentative, so careful, so unwilling to fully engage. What you have done here was brave and you should continue: you can have a brilliant career, I know this now.”

I have of course not had, because of Reeducation in all its aspects. But notice what the professor pointed out: I had always procrastinated about developing my ideas and asserting them. I did not explain to her that I had decided to do this for the examination because as I studied, I realized it would be the only way to pass: if I did not stand on my ideas, I would not be able to organize my thoughts, because there was too much information to retain and organize. So I came out with my ideas, did not procrastinate, because I thought that the best way to avoid failure or death. But in many other instances, I procrastinate because I wish to avoid death.

Axé.

10 Comments

Filed under Banes, Da Whiteman, What Is A Scholar?, Working

Antropologías del sur

There are all these books, new books, amazing South American anthropology and theory books, that you can download from the Antropologías del sur site. There is also a really smart post about writing productivity.

I keep forgetting that I am slightly dissociative, or slightly withdrawn. I forget because it is almost imperceptible, and then I don’t understand myself when it happens. I have had a new and unexplained attraction to small children lately, and I wonder if the one I am looking for is me.

I have thought about access to self, and bringing more ego to things. If I address this small person directly, bring them along with me, it might help. It would be someone to get objective for, to be sweet to, to be positive for.

Axé.

Leave a comment

Filed under Bibliography, What Is A Scholar?, Working

Neoliberal and other subjects

General broadcast: you have to have a self and self-respect every day, and treat yourself as well as you do your pets and children. I constantly forget to do this, and it does not set the best example.

I tend not to have enough ego because in Reeducation I withdrew so far, I could not think. I dreamed at the time that I was having myself frozen so I could live inside a metal box, until it was safe to come out again. The alternative still seems to be sometimes the role Hattie diagnoses in one Meg:

She insists on falling apart, because she is trapped by all those crazy, murderous male egos, her brothers, and their manipulative guilt-tripping alcoholic mother. . . .

And Henry Giroux struggles when he writes and gets depressed over the state of the world, and I find it helpful that he says this. He is struggling in his study, and we can struggle, too.

What kind of world can we imagine? Hobsbawm knows. He also published his last book at 94, never left the Communist Party, and was yet another person who, as a child, was a German-speaking Jew, before events intervened. The Right is the enemy, but liberalism is the problem, he says.

Another person who talks about the relationship between the subject and the neoliberal state is Wendy Brown. Here is the text. The state is a market state, the university is a market university, and we are market subjects (formed by the market and the market state, furthermore). Read:

…neoliberalism normatively constructs and interpellates individuals as entrepreneurial actors in every sphere of life. . . . A fully realized neoliberal citizenry would be the opposite of public-minded; indeed, it would barely exist as a public. The body politic ceases to be a body. . . . Other evidence for progress in the development of such a citizenry is not far from hand: consider the market rationality permeating universities today, from admissions and recruiting to the relentless consumer mentality of students as they consider university brand names, courses, and services, from faculty raiding and pay scales to promotion criteria.Or consider the way in which consequential moral lapses (of a sexual or criminal nature) by politicians, business executives, or church and university administrators are so often apologized for as “mistakes in judgment,” implying that it was the calculation that was wrong, not the act, actor, or rationale.

Of course, one of my papers has to do with the formation of subjects by the state. This article on free speech and liberal society has something to do with state and subject, that I might articulate.

Liberalism sees racism as something political, and therefore contestable. It is not. It is a systemic and historical fact with material consequences, whether they be economic or threats of bodily harm — something at the core of Taylor’s book and research. But liberalism operates in a world of ideals, not material reality, and it cannot help but conceive of racism in terms of free speech. It’s something that can be mitigated through reason or debate, that is, through the central tenets of free speech and the marketplace of ideas. But just as neoliberals mystify government complicity in and control over markets, liberal idealism mystifies racism via free speech, and obscures the fundamental fact that there are limits to free speech.

Let us see: racism has material origins and is constitutive of the state, not a blemish upon it or an idea up for debate. It is a systemic fact. My paper is not on free speech, or on speech — or is it? The problem seems to be that one important role of liberal discourse is to obscure race as systemic fact.

Axé.

Leave a comment

Filed under ALFS presentation, Race book

On wing-clipping

This life is more ascetic than one I would lead, but it has the meditativeness I like and the activity. Other people swear by the 15-minute block and perhaps it is because of having been invaded and trampled upon so much, but I don’t like crammed schedules and do like time to meditate. My difficulty with work is not bringing enough ego to it. Not thinking one was allowed to be present with the work, as oneself.

I also never know whether I am bored with my topics, or only want to escape abusive environments. There are fields I have always wished to be in, and topics I have always wished to devote myself to. I long for them, for a non-abusive environment, and for just having or being able or feeling safe to put the requisite amount of ego toward a project, all at once. But I need to bring enough ego to things, regardless.

I had written some notes on the back of a grocery receipt, which I have misplaced or lost. I have other notes, also about having clipped wings. The image that came to me involved having new parts of my body cut off, so I would never be larger than a kindergarten size.

In research, one was not to be original, but obedient. In teaching, acceptable. In Reeducation, as with part of the family, one was not to be an intellectual at all. And now, memos saying “we do not support research in your field” are something I should simply burn, I see.

How to grow clipped wings? How to learn to place enough ego where it is needed? I might say: I will protect you from the clippers, little Z.

Axé.

Leave a comment

Filed under Banes, Working

Eh bien

The current firestorm is useful insofar as I now know whose so-called expertise not to trust. (Yes, one should always look at all policy documents, review them, seek the wisdom therein but that is something we can all do.)

I am told I am not competent enough, or trustworthy enough. I don’t sacrifice enough, take enough risks, or stand up enough for what’s right. These particular insults, to me, are salt in old wounds and that is why it is rough.

The truth, though, is the opposite. And I sacrifice too much, and give too much ground to others’ views. Who originally made these accusations to me, who carved those wounds? The things said were not true, little Z, and I will not let them be said to you again.

Axé.

Leave a comment

Filed under Banes

Mail I am not sending

I am being mistreated and am trying not to engage. I would send mail saying:

Just to keep you informed, K and I decided, for Fall, to:

a/ let situation A unfold as it will.
b/ support B if they want to work toward C.

c/ support B if they want to work toward D.

I wanted us also to create E, but I don’t think we will. I regret that, but I hope we can make it a regular event starting next year.*

About R, it is you who misunderstand. I have thought very carefully about all you have said. I also have a great deal of experience and expertise of my own here, and my conclusions are in line with those of other experts.

*Update! We are creating E!

Axé.

Leave a comment

Filed under Banes

On W. G. Sebald’s Austerlitz

Reading Austerlitz has been a major experience in my life, for the literary quality of the novel which I hope to discuss another day. What I have to say now is not why I am so impressed with the novel. Still, it is odd that the year’s events have placed me in a Sebald-like position.

I did not expect my father’s Y-DNA to be Ashkenazi (I thought this heritage was only on his paternal great-grandmother’s line), and I did not expect the alleged Belgian origins of our name to be in and near the Pale of Settlement. I did not expect to find the names of my 2d great grandfather the immigrant, and his father (b. 1797), and his father (b. 1773), to be recorded in the list of the Czar’s Jewish troops, Mitau-Jelgava. I did not realize that the Baltic countries were where the Final Solution was carried out the most completely, nor that I would contemplate the names of probable cousins in the lists of the dead. There were even people with my name at Theresienstadt.

From September to March I discovered all the Russian documents, which are not mysterious, but only new. From March to now I have been looking at the Latvian traces, which are far closer to me, but also much more shadowy. If I were W. G. Sebald I would illustrate these comments with a reproduction of the reproduction of the passport I found (but have misplaced) of a cousin in law, as it was turned in to police, Riga 1941.

Getting intimate with the Holocaust: the first step was realizing, by reading the Russian papers (which I must read with Google Translate, which makes me the decipherer of a distant world, as is the character Austerlitz) and realizing that some relatives of ours had been shot by the Gestapo because they were Jews and living in Crimea, which was occupied. I knew there were Jews in the family, but had not thought of this. The next, larger step was realizing how Jewish the family really was, including my direct ancestors (not just cousins by marriage, or people in other branches). This led to looking for more remote ancestors in Jewish databases. I learned that the records I was looking for, from the 18th century and earlier, had been burned, and the reconstruction focused on the twentieth century dead. It was in those lists I saw my name.

Axé.

3 Comments

Filed under News

Sur le corps

The March 2006 PMLA (121:2) is one of those I kept, to study, and am no longer because those articles are now available online and: you must clear out bookshelves if you are to see what you have.

I kept it because it had articles about the body and corporeality, including one on Descartes and another on Frederick Douglass and transnational blackness. So: transnational blackness was a Thing in Douglass’ time; there is a great deal more in this article. On Descartes: there is a Cartesian body, but it is not the mechanical one subject to coercion (Foucault). It is an aesthetic body (“aesthetic machine”).

I wonder. I was making these notes so I could recycle the journal, and remember to read online later. But perhaps these things are of interest for the current presentation, which has Descartes, blackness and the body in it.

Axé.

Leave a comment

Filed under Bibliography, News, Race book