amor mundi

Using Technology to Deepen Democracy, Using Democracy to Ensure Technology Benefits Us All

Thursday, July 02, 2015

Teaching, Libanius and Augustine

It's the last day of summer intensives at last, and something of a Coda for "Patriarchal Conventions and Convictions in Greece and Rome." Leaping forward centuries from republican Rome and the Rome of the Claudian and "Good" Emperors, we arrive at the crisis of a Christianized Rome in works separated by roughly fifty years, Libanius, friend of Julian the Apostate, defender of Greek sophistry and paganism, and Augustine's contemplation of the sack of Rome by the Visigoths in 410. One fears and decries a silencing of culture, figured through the inaugural trauma of the silencing of Socrates, another contemplates the ruin of the earthly city of Rome and discerns an eternal city of spirit and renews the philosophical contemptus mundi to which the vita contemplativa will remain devoted until the Renaissance.

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Last Long Teaching Day of the Summer

This morning I deliver my last lecture for my "What Is Compelling?" summer intensive: a discussion of two selections from Judith Butler, one from Undoing Gender on mourning and one from Precarious Life on the Levinasian identification of discourse with the injunction "Thou Shalt Not Kill." Later today, I'll be lecturing on Petronius' Satyricon the reductio ad absurdum of the patriarchal agency that is assertive/insertive, in which the targeting of all the world for penetration renders the penetrator target for penetration, in which the satisfaction of potency collapses into impotence, in which possessiveness dispossesses, in which to be alive is always to be dying. A last long day, sure to be lengthened by a slew of last-minute last-ditch gambits and reckonings in extended office hours, and then one more lecture tomorrow to complete my second intensive. And then, of course, another geyser of grading.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

UPDATED: Zandria Robinson Fired From University of Memphis for Saying Obviously True Things About Racism in America?

I agree with Zandria Robinson that there is no substance to "whiteness" apart from white supremacy. I say so in my classes and I won't stop saying so.

If, like me, you are legible as a "white" person in terms of the irrational rationality of race in America, you can be anti-racist but you cannot be not-racist: you are a beneficiary of white supremacy and positioned by whiteness to incarnate racist biases. There is no way to be "white" and also "right" when it comes to race in America -- this is a demanding and uncomfortable and often quite heart-breaking recognition -- but surely you will have noticed that to be "black" in white-supremacist America is also demanding, uncomfortable, and heartbreaking? There is no way to be right under racism. Racism is wrong. And the wrongness hurts.

It is surely a measure of white-privilege to fancy that you could opt out of racism in a way that would not cost you something, that you could simply decide your way out of racism by understanding it a bit better. You better believe that black people understand racism a whole lot better than white-allies do, and you certainly don't see that understanding rendering them immune to racist violence, exploitation, and bias. This sort of thinking is almost as bad as would-be anti-racist white folks who seem to expect to be petted and praised for trying to do what they say is the right thing, rather than simply trying to do the right thing because it is the right thing, or who expect special immunity from criticism when they fail to do the right thing because they say they are trying to do the right thing, rather than simply trying harder to do the right thing because they say they are trying to do the right thing.

Robinson's recent comments about the Confederate and US flags are easy for me to sympathize with as well -- I said some roughly similar things in public here. Nothing I am saying now is the least bit original or exemplary on my part. I try to be an ally to people of color in white-racist America but I cannot say that my efforts have ever been worthy of attention or are the least bit extraordinary. They are at best a matter of common decency with a bit of historical awareness thrown in. I don't expect to get fired for saying these sorts of things in teaching contexts -- as I very regularly do -- and nobody should. I don't expect to get a lot of grief for pointing these things out in writing here and there, though this is not the emphasis of my work or my politics.

As far as I can make out, it is nothing but obscene that Zandria Robinson has lost her job over her unpopular but useful public critiques, if that is what has happened here. I can't see that many people have even been paying attention to this apart from a lot of howling reactionaries (anti-civilizational Daily Caller and David Horowitz witch-hunting and book-burning for free-dumb types) who decided to organize to attack a vulnerable academic in anti-intellectual America for trying to teach her students to question their worldviews a bit in the service of equity-in-diversity. I hope she is supported by academic and activist communities and rises to new heights from this attack to continue her work.

UPDATE: The University of Memphis is now saying that Robinson was not fired but has left for a better position -- but their earlier announcement seemed to be shaped in response to right-wing pressure in a way the lead much of the right-wing to celebrate her leaving as a great victory. There would appear to be more to the story than we know now. I sure do hope Robinson was not fired and that she is already moving on to do better things with more support.

Teaching, Suetonius and Seneca

The emperor Claudius becomes a gourd and Caligula badly misbehaves later today in "Patriarchal Conventions and Convictions in Greece and Rome." These pieces are usually a lot of fun but I'm just crawling toward the finish line at this point.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Janelle and Jidenna Perform

Janelle and Jidenna of Wondaland at the BET Awards. To be honest, I worry that "Yoga" is awfully derivative for Monae (it has it's moments, tho, Monae's genius can scarcely help THAT)) and that "Classic Man" indulges problematic respectability politics. But I can't lie, I like both tracks, rather like I still liked 90s Janet, and both of these performances are good and infectious.

Teaching, Octavia Butler

I'll be teaching Kindred in "What Is Compelling?" today. My lecture centers on the literal and the figural in the novel, opening onto the larger theme of the surviving-woman as against the more conventionally sfnal "efficacious-man" in Butler's work. The lecture only takes us about halfway through our three hours -- I plan to open the floor to student discussion in order to allow the richness of the novel to have its play. This is a bit risky this late in the term -- if they haven't read the material the talk will go dead pretty quickly, I'm counting on the quality of the novel to have grabbed them through to the end however busy they were otherwise. We shall see.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Guilty Pride Pleasures

Something I have been doing at Amor Mundi for several years now...

"Is This A Dream?"



"I've Been Angry And Sad About Things That You Do"


"Blood. And Brains. And Buzzazz."

The Parade Passes By

I re-post variations of the following bit of grousing more or less every year on Pride Weekend, and it is if anything more relevant than usual in the aftermath of Friday's Supreme Court decision to mandate marriage equality in all fifty states on a day of mourning for the massacre in Charleston in the aftermath of a long couple years of too long delayed too long denied public recognition of systematic white-supremacist police brutality and terrorist violence stratifying any easy legibility of meaningful pride celebration for lgbtq folks of color and all queer allies and fellow-citizens in our vital cities, our fraught refuges, our diverse havens...

As readers of Amor Mundi know, my partner and I have been together for over thirteen years now. But we aren't gay married because we disapprove of marriage as a vestige of human trafficking and as an irrational acquiescence to damaging Hallmark card fantasies of romantic completion. And yet we both fought for marriage equality and are cheered by its successes because our exclusion from the institution damages the lives of queer folks who feel differently than we do (even if for bullshitty reasons), and because that exclusion remains an injustice supporting other worse injustices, and also simply because it seems more forceful politically to oppose norms from which you are not already excluded and the refusal of which costs you something.

Appalled by the deathly demoralizing anti-democratizing energies of corporate-militarism as I am, I grasped nonetheless the indispensability of ending the Clintonian gargoyle "Don't Ask Don't Tell" and the ban of queer folks from serving openly in the military for reasons similar to those that make marriage equality victories good -- but, again, I cannot say the jingoist cadences inevitably framing the victory felt particularly enlivening to me personally. Ending employment discrimination against queer folks seems to me a more substantial goal that will help many truly precarious people in this country while imposing a constraint on many truly pernicious people in this country -- and hence I cannot say that I am surprised to find it the assimilationist goal that still most stubbornly resists accomplishment. I don't like kids enough to wallow in gay adoption victories, and while I am all for Families We Choose, I wonder why the Chosen Families we celebrate must always be so drearily conventional.

But even if, as I say, I fully recognize the indispensability of demanding the availability of legibility on conventional institutional terms, lest illegibility marginalize so many of us in ways that literally ruin and end lives, I personally believe that a life more fully lived demands selves made of both prose and poetry, freedom requires both answerability before the eyes of power as well as the questionableness out of which different worlds are made (read Fanon if that doesn't make sense to you yet).

Yes, I am one of those grumps you hear about who think that having too much Pride in assimilation to the institutional norms of reprosexual corporate-militarism is more than a little fucked up. While Pride originated in the righteous impulse to defy the hurtful shame imposed on wanted queer lifeways by mean, fearful, ignorant majorities, I think there is plenty to be ashamed of in the complacency, conformism, and consumerism Pride celebrates.

Especially now that I'm pushing fifty I more or less want Pride to get off my lawn. It is like a crowd of vacant consumers and squalling kids hard to distinguish from a food court in a Tornado Alley suburban mall even with the interchangeable shirtless guys and sequins shorn of their magic by too much sunlight. I do know that there are plenty of older folks who draw a real measure of strength and support from Pride, and yet I do think Pride is something youthful at heart, and in a way that registers both the fabulousness and foibles that can characterize youth in dumb overgeneralized stereotypical ways I won't make many friends getting into in any depth. But the hazy ambivalent fondness I still feel for Pride, while feeling at once quite contented that Pride is no longer the thing for me, is something like the hazy ambivalent fondness I feel for my own time of youthful adventuring.

I marched with my friends in Queer Nation in the Pride Parade in Atlanta half a dozen times at least, in the early nineties, and that really felt like something. Perhaps it was because we didn't seem quite as respectable as the Pride tag insisted we should be aspiring to be, for one thing. I marched in San Francisco's Parade just once, the summer after I moved here, in 1996, and it already felt terribly belated and pro forma. I wasn't really part of any movement anymore, and that left me feeling like I was at a County Fair cruising a loud crowd for dick and funnel cakes. That's been nearly twenty years ago now. I must say I felt quite a lot of sympathy for the Occupride moment in 2012 -- but I heard about it on the news after the fact. There was some political alchemical spark there, some joyful noisy resistance, some futural opening onto elsewhere that felt truly queer. To connect with that kind of queer futurity, I might even drag my tired old unrepentant queer ass onto the street again one day.

Rally In My Head

The New Economy Is the Old Plutocracy
"The Tech Future" Is Feudalism
Disruption Is Reaction
Big Data, Small Minds
Luddite Is All Right
Digitality Meet Dustbin

My Higher Power

Although I do not believe in God, I do believe in a power greater than myself. I believe in history. History is a gravity that beggars individual agency, history is the change pressured by collective work, history is unknowable, unpredictable, and yet history yields its measure of grace. That and beauty and the struggle for equity-in-diversity are more than enough faith for me.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Working on the Weekend

Grading a pile of student writing right now and also prepping a new lecture on Octavia Butler's Kindred this weekend for Monday, so the relentlessness of these summer intensives at Berkeley have really only continued to amplify as the weeks have accumulated... but only one week remains and freedom's prospect is palpable. Teaching has played havoc on my blogging this summer, I know. I hope I haven't completely lost my small but loyal readership...

CNN Is ON the ISIS Dildo Menace Story

Friday, June 26, 2015

Teaching

Workshopping final papers again, this time for "What Is Compelling?" Seeing the light at the end of the tunnel for these summer intensives at long last. One week to go, then a mountain of grading, then a real summer break.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Free As In "Free, Just Pay!"

Do please enjoy the micromoment of microlife afforded by this micropayment.

Workshopping

This afternoon we will be workshopping the final paper for "Patriarchal Conventions and Convictions in Greece and Rome." They'll be brainstorming thesis claims, sharpening them up, anticipating objections to the claims, coming up with key textual supports, thinking through terms on which they depend strongly enough to require explicit definitions. The workshop has many separate steps, involves moving around into many changing small groups and requires them to explain their paper's project so many times to so many people that many of them will actually know what they are doing by the end. Most of my work happens up front. No rest for the weary, tho', I'm grading, grading, grading in free pockets of time -- and still behind. How long, how long will this purgatorial passage persist!

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Tex Lex

disruption=looting
innovation=repackaging
risk-taking=upward-failing
acceleration=precarization
sharing=sharecropping

Long Teaching Day, Arendt and Quintilian

This morning we have arrived at the Arendtian lecture in my "What Is Compelling?" course -- natality against mortality, power as potentia rather than capacitation, violence and instrumentality, redemption from the deaths/drives of the human condition, forgiveness as deed, why Eichmann should/shouldn't hang -- and then later in "Patriarchal Conventions and Convictions in Greece and Rome" we have arrived at the rhetorical summit, Quintilian's pedagogical overcoming of the Socratic complaint against sophistry, politics as play, child-centered learning, an inkling of feminism, and a fully contemporary account of the figural. Will be on campus teaching forever. Will end as I now begin, dead tired.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Done In

You might be "done" with voting for imperfect Presidents, but the Presidency is not done acting in your name and impacting your life.

Unpleasant

America's neo-confederate rump is farting.

Fermi's Truism?

There are no signs of terrestrial civilization despite the abundance of apparently intelligent humans on earth.

The Things

The aspiration as well as the work of "The Internet of Things" has never been otherwise than to mediate the reduction of people to things.

More Futurological Brickbats here.

Too Old To Be "On"

"Off" feels altogether more apt and soothing.

Teaching Juvenal

Teaching the Roman satirist Juvenal today in "Patriarchal Conventions and Convictions" at Berkeley -- Caesar's imperial revolution has prevailed over Cicero's republican revolution and the critical/rhetorical public has been driven underground to flower in perverse ridicule. Less than two weeks remain of these summer intensives, and yet preparing for and psyching myself up to and delivering these relentless daily multi-hour lectures is like slogging through a swamp. I haven't performed this incessantly since I was a musical child-star in the dinner theatre circuit in Kentuckiana (ask me sometime).

Monday, June 22, 2015

Confederate Flag/US Flag Twitterscrum

De-twitterized:
When people respond to demands to take down/protest the Confederate Flag with demands to take down/protest the US flag I am troubled. The gesture reminds me too much of those who respond to #BlackLivesMatter by piously intoning "all lives matter." That is to say, it feels like a reactionary circumvention of a vital protest in the form of a pretense to greater radicalism, an evacuation of specificity through the ascent to a self-congratulatory universality. Of course there's plenty to protest about the domestic abuses/rights violations and foreign wars/imperialism waged beneath the US flag, but the US flag is an ambivalent signifier, invested in a history of protests, that include taking it up in demands to redress legitimate grievances. The Confederate flag is an unambiguous signifier of white supremacy, however, very much including when it is a signifier of "heritage." Take down the Confederate flag and take up the US flag, if only to burn it in public, I say. The difference makes a difference.

Teaching

This morning in "What Is Compelling?" I will be lecturing on Fanon's "Concerning Violence" and Ta-Nehisi Coates' "The Case for Reparations." Raced bodies as bearers rather than sites of representation, zoology and history, Manichean de-politicization, the architecture of white supremacy (walls and redlining), the colony-qua-concentration camp (beyond Foucauldian disciplinarity), some ambiguities of redemption, and Fanon's ambivalent humanism. I'll be handing back their graded mid-terms as well. Back home this afternoon, I have to get right back to grading papers again, I'm afraid. The avalanche pours on.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Failing Some Pretty Basic Tests

GOP candidates on climate change: "I'm not a scientist."
GOP candidates on white-supremacist violence: "I'm not a human being."

For Charleston

Easy

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Heaven's Not A Place On Earth

"The Future" of the futurists has nothing to do with history. "The Future" is Heaven. "The Future" is Hell. "The Future" is Eden. "The Future" is Rapture. "The Future" does not, nor will it ever, exist.

More Futurological Brickbats here.

Teaching, Grading

It's the weekend, but I'm grading mid-term exams and short student papers today and tomorrow. Summer intensives never let up, if anything the work accumulates and amplifies from beginning to end. Four weeks behind, two weeks to go. Last week was especially tough, as I was working through a bone-wearying head-stuffing cold, but I am feeling the burst of energy that follows when you shunt off a bug, and I am arriving at the place in my syllabi when I am teaching Fanon, Arendt, and Ta-Nehisi Coates in one class, and Quintilian and Roman satirists in the other, work that I care about so deeply, and so, buried under a snow-drift of grading and reading as I am, tired and strung out as I am felling, I can't deny that there is some real exhilaration around here. Blogging low to no, tho, for a while still.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Teaching, Atheism and Nonviolence

The least study of the theory and history of nonviolent resistance turns up its conspicuous connection to religious belief. Some of the earliest formulations of the notion appear in foundational Buddhist and Christian texts, the examples of nonviolence readiest to hand tend to have religious movements in tow, Tolstoy, Gandhi, King, Day, Nhat Hanh, and on and on.

The premise of my Berkeley summer intensive course "What Is Compelling?" is that persuasive discourse is a site for the nonviolent adjudication of disputes, not because it is an "outside" to violence -- the naive distinction of persuasion and violence disavows, after all, both the threat of violence that inheres in so much persuasion as well as the deeper trouble that any testimony to violation secures its legibility as such only through a circumscription of norms that constitutes an epistemic violence of its own, rendering other possible testimonies to violation illegible -- but because rhetoric, with its definitive focus on the traffic between literalization and figuration in signification attends to the terms on which these legibilties are conferred and volatized and hence provides the opening for dispute over the ongoing constitution of violence and hence competing claims in dispute that would be nonviolent.

This premise is, whatever else, separable from questions of theology. For me personally, as an atheist and both a scholar and activist of nonviolence, this separability is hardly surprising, but for me that doesn't quite get at the connection at hand, because my interest and commitment to nonviolence was not only preceded by my arrival at atheist conviction but was provoked and shaped by that atheism. Obviously, mine is not the only path to nonviolent commitment -- nor, would it seem, the usual one -- but it is my path, and hence a possible one. For me the arc of the moral universe does not bend toward justice, but bends from just us: that the world is what we make of it and that all we have is one another seems as firm a foundation for nonviolence and the democratization with which it is connected as any faith to my eyes.

That is why it is striking to me how rarely this connection is elaborated in such terms. The Levinasian distinction of discourse from violence (with which the influence of Judith Butler has given me affinities) is leveraged explicitly on the Biblical injunction "Thous Shalt Not Kill"; the Arendtian account that has (unsurprisingly) long been an influence is a formalism (I take quite seriously, on literally her terms, her assertions that "nonviolent politics" is a redundancy and "violent power" a contradiction in terms), regard her assimilation of violence to instrumentality useful but incomplete, and note that when the account is fleshed out, things get theological quite soon after all: forgiveness is a "miracle," political action "redeems" political cycles of retribution, natality resonates with its Augustinian genuflection to "a child is born unto the world," and Eichmann must hang. The Foucauldian supplement of productive power is still mucked in the red thread of disciplinarity, the repressivity of which is (at least chronologically) continuous with the formulation of the power without a Kingly head (it got chopped off, you know). Zizek's little book on violence is some help, perversely enough, but his usual glib recourse to "Lacan" is, I don't know, Jesuitical.

We take up some of these questions in class today, but in a way that reflects my frustration, reading essays claiming pretty much everything but what I would want to myself: various religious believers asserting that atheism supports and implies violent politics, various atheists asserting that religious belief supports and implies violent politics, and strategists of nonviolence who circumvent questions of faith in a way that also divests nonviolence of an ethical dimension.