Friday, February 29, 2008

I Know Where I Stand

Today I got my official rejection from Stanford University for a postdoctoral fellowship. I say 'offical' because I've been expecting it for a while. I think at this point it can be safely said that Stanford has completely and utterly rejected me. As of today, I've been turned down by them for three postdoctoral posts, an administrative position that facilitated their Humanities postdoctoral program, two library postions, and a Sports Media job that I once accidentally applied for through their website.

Palo Alto may or may not be the city of the future, but definitely not mine.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

On Catastrophe

I recently finished Thomas Pynchon's Against the Day, and for some reason I found it resonating in weird ways with Cormac McCarthy's most recent novel, The Road. They are, of course, very different novels; and, indeed, were written by very different authors. But I was struck by how each, in their own ways, own up to a world facing catastrophe.

For Thomas Pynchon, the catastrophe (most notably, WWI) has yet to happen, but it looms throughout his novel. Indeed, the full weight of what is to come manages even to pierce the time-continuum and forcibly project emissaries of a futuristic world upended by humanity's self-made destruction. His is a meditation on technological and economic aspirations that instrumentalize individuals, their labor, and most fundamentally, the very core of existence, time.

For Cormac McCarthy, the catastrophe has already taken place. A piercing white light in the distance, a self-made disaster once again, is all that is disclosed about it. The effect, however, is clear—the body itself has become instrumentalized as food for the cannibalistic gangs of survivors.

While both Pynchon and McCarthy offer insightful critiques of the self-destructive tendencies of contemporary culture, they do so most powerfully in their evaluation of human sociality & love. What I found most interesting, though, and given my disposition this is hardly surprising, is that neither are concerned to demonstrate some semblance of hope. Like the great theoretician of catastrophe before them, Theodor Adorno, they do not suggest that relationships, be they familial or otherwise, might save us, either from what comes or what has already come. In many respects, they treat sociality & love like Adorno might aesthetics (music, in particular): as an immanent power trangressive to existing regimes of instrumentalization. This, we should note, despite its fragility, contingency, and transience -- they are, to my reading, both very careful not to idealize love. By all accounts, such love is useless (e.g., in The Road, the father's walking to the coast with his son only extends their being together, not the the hope for their ultimate survival) and/or capricious (e.g., in Against the Day, most noteworthy relationships are at first glance nothing but gratuitous, random sex; not to mention either short-lived or misdirected), but ultimately highlights a level of intimacy that goes against traditional expectations and norms. It is, in effect, out-of-place and/or inconvenient; when it is not doomed to failure, it survives only in misery.

For all of this, and perhaps cause of all this, Pynchon & McCarthy present love as not fully appropriated for profit and instrumentalized debasement. On the contrary, its vagabond, moribund, untenable status are marks of its survival, and of its status as a remnant of what is possible before and after the catastrophe. In this it manages to transcend those all-encompassing powers whose authority extends even to their own self-willed destruction -- that of a world so intent on surviving a certain way that it is willing to kill itself trying, through the ultimately suicidal violence of it means of production (& consumption) and the waging of its wars. In short, Pynchon and McCarthy can be said to intimate a kind of alternative ontology of survival, resistance, and existence: one that cuts across classical individualism and humanism, and brings us closer to the sense of a subjectivity that is a sociality, of a being-with others.

[Cross-posted elsewhere.]

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

An Election Rant

Congratulations, California voters! Your retrograde, wistful memories of the 90s, those heady days of a boom economy that sought nothing short of sucking the world's resources dry, welfare cuts, and NAFTA has in all likelihood subjected us to a four or five month contest over whose dick is bigger, Hillary Clinton's or John McCain's. Good times. Let's at least hope that she'll be so busy proving to everybody she's as ready to blow up Iran or Syria as she is to pull troops out of Iraq that she won't have time to spontaneously cry on cue.

Seriously. This country's collective imagination is appalingly dim. Assuming Hillary wins the general election, America is seriously okay with two families churning out four presidents -- in less than a twenty-five year span? And don't give me any crap about Hillary representing sound ideas. She's winning elections because she's a Clinton, plain and simple. Clinton supporters love to give Obama supporters a hard time for the flimsy content of their candidate, and this criticism is fair; but, at least Obama's devotion is based on an infectious personality, not nostalgia. The difference is that Obama is selling himself, or some vision of himself as a community organizer, along with some vague, liberal messianic vision, and Clinton is selling a return to rearguard politics, where Democrats gleefully win their few petty victories, protect abortion with a Supreme Court appointment, etc. Me, I'll take the vague messianism ... because, as seen with Reagan, if people buy into it, it gains a force of its own, and it takes on a life of its own, and it motivates a foundational shift in our conception of politics that I think is necessary.

Now, I'm not saying Obama represents my ideals, nor do I care even to call him "progressive," as I only care about progress to the extent that it actively constructs a future -- not the moving toward a utopic end. His cries of "unity" and such are stirring rhetoric, but it must not be the ultimate purpose. More preferable is the unity of an ecosystem, with its separate parts & species, living and non-living, working together -- and not always in apparent harmony. But an active ecosystem is not one that simply survives; indeed, there may be no such thing. An active ecosystem is built on nothing less than creativity.

I support Obama, and indeed voted for him today, only because I think he is the only remaining candidate capable of constructing a space for a community from whom something genuinely creative might take place beyond (and, perhaps, in spite of) his presidency. Hillary's appeal is to her success, much of it nothing of consequence, as a hard-knuckle liberal who will go toe-to-toe with the dreaded conservatives. It has been fun, but time is running out on this cynical charade that is American politics. I don't realistically see it lasting in its present spectator-sport form another fifty years, and really see nothing to gain in the long-term from the battles. The whole experiment around which it is based, quite literally, is running out of gas.

My hope for a Obama presidency extends beyond what bi-partisan legislation he can ram through on health care. His policies, in all likelihood, would be nothing to write home about. The idea, though, is that all movements have a spark; and they all have a figure around which they initially rally or relate, even if often for no reason that can be rationally argued. In Obama, and at this point, only Obama, do I see a president that maybe, one can but dream, whose personality ignites a desire to re-learn how to build and participate in communities; and, relatedly, to re-train ourselves how to think beyond the material constraints of our resources and environment (these limits will become increasingly obvious, possibly even as early as the first term of the next presidency -- and they represent a reality that, I fear, both McCain and Hillary would rage against militarily); and, in spite of himself, a re-dedication by these communities to re-take & re-vitalize politics as a creative struggle that unites professed Democrats & Republicans only by virtue of extending the horizon of possibility beyond what either have to offer.

Maybe this means Obama, if he somehow won, would have ultimately to sacrifice himself as a politician -- i.e., for his followers to betray him, by believing in him. Maybe so. But, I'm okay with that.

Monday, February 04, 2008

They Wanted It More

It's a well-worn cliche, but it's definitely true of last night's Super Bowl. The Giants just seemed to want it more. With good reason, everybody is going to focus on Eli Manning's absolutely stunning pass to David Tyree with a minute left. Right now I cannot think of a more exciting sequence in a Super Bowl -- not in my lifetime anyway. The closest I could come up with were from the final minute of Super Bowl XXXIV: McNair's amazing third-down scramble Kevin Dyson reaching for the endzone in the Titans' losing effort against the Rams. Some might cite Joe Montana's strike to John Taylor against the Bengals in Super Bowl XXIII, but that drive had the feel of inevitability to it. You trusted Joe (or, in my case, feared him) ... but, Eli Manning?

It shouldn't take too long for the NFL mythologists to come up with a name for Eli's escape & heave and Tyree's catch. That play, in dramatic fashion, typifies the Giants' will to win the game, to make it their own -- to stomp to death the apparent invincibility of the Patriots. Any other game this season, the Pats score that touchdown with less than three minutes, follow it up by getting a fumble or interception, and ice the game with Brady taking a knee (or tossing another touchdown for good measure). Not this time. What else can you say? The Giants wanted it more.

I should've known. The signs were all there from the start. The pass rush that would not stop, for starters. Have you ever seen Brady hit so many times? This side of sleep, and even then I suspect he might be robotic enough to sleep standing, the only time he's been horizontal that much would be during far more intimate moments with Giselle. But then there was also curious play-calling. Quick strikes to Welker were there all game, so I'm not entirely sure why they didn't incorporate more slants like that w/ the other receivers. Or, for that matter, why Faulk can only make a play on third down. Or why they played the first half like it was twenty degrees and snow on the ground. Having said that, you have to credit the Giants' secondary. They played two straight games to perfection -- except for that mess of a Moss touchdown in the fourth quarter. But the decision that I still don't get is why Bellichek went for it on 4th & 13 from the Giants 31 in the middle of the third quarter. A 49-yard field goal in a dome is too long? How many 10+ yard pickups did the Pats have all game, and the odds were good that they'd get one there? The field goal wasn't automatic, sure, but you hit it and Eli's heroics result in an overtime. I didn't understand it then, and I really don't understand it now.

The one sign I didn't realize until after the game, the one that really exemplifies the Giants simply wanting this game more. Early in the second quarter, the Giants' side of the field, Ahmad fumbles the handoff and the Patriots' Pierre Woods falls on it. Any other game this season, the Patriots get the ball and score a crushing touchdown and go up 14-3. This time, by the time the bodies cleared, Bradshaw had regained the ball. In the ensuing melee, Bradshaw had somehow managed to flip Woods onto his back and rip it away. That, in itself, says enough, indeed everything, about the game.

The only lingering mystery is a medical one: who is Tom Coughlin's skin doctor? After their game in Green Bay, I thought he was going to be permanently disfigured by frostbite. Who knew that skin grafts healed so quickly now.

Saturday, February 02, 2008


This might be old news to people more YouTube savvy than me. I saw it last year, and it creeped me out. A friend of mine said it best about when he suggested that the only thing that has really changed is that commercials today tend to have a better soundtrack.

Friday, February 01, 2008

West Coast Hoops

This is a week of confessions. Here's another: I've given up completely on college basketball. I've not watched more than five minutes of a NCAA basketball game this season, and may not even bother with the tournament. In its place, I've discovered the NBA.

If you've not been a NBA fan in the past, I can't blame you. But let me say this -- there's no better time than now to get into it. We're looking at a special era. Two icons in Kobe & LeBron, a renaissance in incredible point guard play (be it Nash, Deron Williams, Chris Paul, Baron Davis, or the ageless Jason Kidd), and in teams like the Warriors, Mavericks, Celtics, Suns, Hornets & Trailblazers there is a new-found emphasis on actual teamwork.

A recent West Coast transplant from Ohio, being in a position to reall be a NBA fan is kind of new to me. It was a happy coincidence that K. & I were moving out here right when the Golden State Warriors were making their epic run against the Dallas Mavericks in the playoffs last year. Watching the games from our roadside hotel rooms, eager but unsure of what awaited us in the Bay Area, we knew we at least had basketball to look forward to. The Warriors have not disappointed.

They really are in the best position this side of winning a championship. A good team that can beat anybody on any given night (as witnessed by the spanking they gave the Hornets this week), and even take a series if they're hot, but not a team that anybody expects to say so hot as to win it at all. Expectations are reasonable, and the style of play is balls to the wall fun. I defy anybody to watch the Warriors play and not enjoy themselves. Purists will scoff, sure, as Baron Davis jacks up a three-pointer during a three-on-one fastbreak. But I bet even some of these right-thinking basketball fans would come around to at least appreciating the energy with which the team plays. It helps, too, that they're style of play really lends itself to close games that neither team are ever out of.

For those of you not following but know something about basketball. The West is so tightly bunched up right now, in terms of talent and in the standings, that the addition of Chris Webber to the Warriors is actually expected to make a significant difference. Bizarre. Well, that is until the Lakers trumped it completely, to the point of making the addition of Webber laughable, by trading for Pau Gasol. The only thing to get in the way of the Lakers making the Finals now is Kobe's ego.