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Clarissa's Blog

An academic's opinions on feminism, politics, literature, philosophy, teaching, academia, and a lot more.

Archive for the day “May 16, 2011”

Ernesto Laclau’s On Populist Reason: A Review

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I have to confess that I’m extremely disappointed by Laclau’s 2005 book On Populist Reason. One thing you need to figure out before you start writing is what your audience will be like. Are you trying to address the specialists in your field or do you want the book to be accessible to any reasonably educated person? Once you have decided who it is that you are writing for, then you need to make sure that both the ideas you express and the language you use to transmit them are on the same level.

In On Populist Reason, Laclau seems to have forgotten how important it is to know your audience. He uses extremely complex, jargon-ridden writing style to transmit ideas that are beyond basic. If I am to struggle through the author’s convoluted sentences and displays of erudition, I expect his argument to lead me to something better than the kind of trivialities that Laclau offers in this book.

Laclau begins his study of populism with an overview of the existing definitions of this concept. He points out that  the perception of populism as something that is a priori negative is the only reason why such definitions only succeed in demonizing populism in terms that are as negative as they are vague. Instead of analyzing populism, political theorists attempt to demonstrate how much they condemn it and then allow this condemnation to taint every conclusion they make. Laclau attempts to move away from such facile definitions and offer a more profound analysis of populism. However, he fails at that task quite spectacularly.

More often than not, it felt to me that Laclau was talking to people he considers to be deeply unintelligent and unaware of the most basic tenets of political theory. He does it in the kind of language, though, that would prevent these ignoramuses from following his line of reasoning. Here is one of the many examples:

The complexes which we call ‘discursive or hegemonic formations’, which articulate differential and equivalential logics, would be unintelligible without the affective component. . . We can conclude that any social whole results froman indissociable articulation between signifying and affective dimensions.

This statement concludes over 100 pages of a very convoluted discussion and does nothing more than announce in this extremely technical language that communities are bound together not just by reason but also by emotions. Well, duh. This idea has been studied, discussed and argued ad nauseam for over 100 years now. There is hardly any need to convince those of us who are capable of reading Laclau’s texts of something so banal.

In a similar way, Laclau offers a very plodding discussion that is supposed to lead his readers to the earth-shattering conclusion that – believe it or not – populist movements can exist both on the Left and on the Right of the political spectrum. I am sure that there are people who are unaware of this fact but these are not the same people who can get through 40 pages on floating signifiers.

I have also discovered from On Populist Reason that in the US populism has been hijacked by the Right that, against all reason, managed to convince farmers and blue-collar workers that the Republicans represent the interests of the regular folks as opposed to the Democrats who supposedly only defend the rights of the long-haired East Coast elites. I know that you must have already yawned twice as you have been reading this paragraph. We all know this, we have all heard this said a gazillion times. Why Laclau believes that it needs to be pointed out yet again is beyond me.

The book is filled to the brim with inanities of the most disturbing kind. On page 177 (close to the end of the book), we find out that in order for the populist appeal to be effective, there have to exist some problems in society. A society where institutional stability is complete, will not respond to populism. But, of course, perfect societies do not exist, so this situation is completely hypothetic. “Surprise, surprise!” I wrote on the margins when I read this. For the most part, this was my reaction to the entire book.

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Coco Louco Restaurant in St. Louis: A Review

Now that I have discovered N. Euclid Ave in St. Louis, I can’t stop going there. It even reminds me of Montreal a little in spite of being as empty as the rest of the city. And that’s the highest compliment I can pay to a city. So yesterday we went to a Brazilian restaurant called Coco Louco. In the reviews I read before going there, people almost unanimously agreed that the food there was fantastic while the service was abysmal. In my experience, however, the food at Coco Louco could be a lot better while service was impeccable. (It’s not like I’m doing this on purpose, people, but I never manage to agree with the popular opinion on anything.)

As you can see, the restaurant was pretty empty.
It was a Sunday, of course, but I
find it impossible to believe that there are
people in this city any day of the week
Our waiter’s name was Benya and he turned out to be a Russian-speaker. That’s one of the things I love about this country. You go to a Brazilian restaurant in the Midwest and get served by a Russian-speaking waiter. How cool is that?
As for the food, one thing that I can recommend highly is the appetizer plate for $14. Here it is:
The appetizer plate contains these great meat and cheese filled pastries that are called “pastel.” The best kind is the beef pastel. It as so good that we ordered several extra ones to take home with us. As for the main courses, I wouldn’t say that the ones we tried are really worth the price. I had the red snapper that you can see on the picture here:
It is quite good but it really didn’t feel like it was worth the $27 the restaurant charges for it.
Then, there was espeto mixto wihich is different kinds of meat grilled on a skewer. Brazilian cuisine is almost as famous for its meat as the Argentinean, but this meat was quite a disappointment. It was simply mediocre and unworthy of the famed name of Brazilian meat. You can see the skewer with some remnants of the espeto mixto on the picture here:
The dessert was really good. It’s a mango mousse and we got it on the house. Here it is:
Overall, we had a splendid time because we always enjoy discovering new restaurants. The food, however, didn’t really do justice to the great Brazilian cuisine. If the weather is nice next weekend, we will probably go back to St. Louis, and I will share with you a review of an Indian restaurant they have on N. Euclid.

>China and Internet

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You know what I just noticed? I’ve had visitors from pretty much all over the world on this blog. Just today there was one visitor from the Palestinian Territories, one from Cambodia, four from Serbia, two from Saudi Arabia, one from Tanzania, thirteen from Indonesia, one from Bahrain, and so on.
I haven’t had a single visitor from China, though. Not just today but ever. I don’t remember ever seeing a single visitor from China here. Are all these reports about the growing popularity of the Internet and blogging in China just lies? I know that Facebook, YouTube and Twitter are banned, but are people even prevented from using Google?
The saddest thing, of course, is that now, when the US owes over a trillion to China, nobody will even try to mention human rights violations in that country.

>The Ugliest Cake Ever

>Is it just me or is it the ugliest cake you have ever seen, too?

I wonder what the cake is supposed to symbolize. A jail for Snickers bars? I’m also curious what a psychoanalyst would say to a person who actually gave this monstrosity to their mother for Mother’s Day. 
I found the picture of the ugly cake here. There are many other repulsive cakes on that blog but this one is the definite winner.

Vegetarian: Clarissa’s Vegetable Ragout

Recently, I felt a craving for a good, colorful vegetable ragout. However, a long Internet search didn’t result in a single recipe that didn’t look boring or monochromatic and didn’t include either meat or canned vegetables. So I had to invent my own recipe. Some of the ingredients of this vegetarian ragout were things that I’d never tried before, like eggplants. (Yes, I’d never eaten eggplant in any form in my life.) I really loved the result and decided to share it with my readers.

Here is what my Vegetable Ragout ended looking like:
I’m folding the detailed description of how to make it under the jump break to spare those who aren’t interested the trouble of scrolling through endless photos of diced vegetables.

These are the main ingredients I chose for my ragout but you can, of course, change any of them. I selected three kinds of baby potatoes (yellow, red and black) because it’s very important to have a colorful ragout, juicy heirloom tomatoes, zucchini, yellow squash, baby turnips, baby eggplant, young carrots, garlic, ginger, and a bunch of cilantro.

Peel several cloves of garlic and crush them. Heat some olive oil in a large pan and place the garlic in the oil. In the meanwhile, cut your baby potatoes in half and place them in the pan, too.
Every step of this recipe looks colorful
and delicious. And it smells fantastic, too
Dice the turnips and the young carrots making sure that the chunks are not too small. If you cut them too small, they might become mushy, which is something we are trying to avoid. Vegetables in a ragout should be cooked but still preserve some firmness. Otherwise, we can just make a puree and be done with it. Then, add a bay leaf and some coriander seeds, if you like them. Dice ginger in very small cubes and add them to the pan.
The white chunks are pieces of baby turnip
Cut baby eggplant and add it to the pan. You don’t have to spread it around the way I did, of course. I just did it to make sure the photo is pretty, that’s all. During this entire time, the pan has been on medium-high.
In the same manner, cut the zucchini and the squash and throw them into the pan. Now it’s time to add herbs and spices (the choice is really up to you) and start making the sauce. Put 1 tablespoon of coarse-grained Dijon mustard and 1 tablespoon of tomato paste into the pan. Mix everything up. Add as much or as little salt as you want. (I’m trying to avoid salt altogether, so I added none and the ragout still tasted heavenly.) This is how your ragout will look after you complete this step:
Dissolve a tablespoon of flour in a cup of cold water and add the mix to the ragout. This will thicken the sauce. Close the pan with a tight-fitting lid and let the ragout simmer until the vegetables are almost ready. Then, dice the tomatoes and add them to the ragout. Also, add fresh cilantro. This is how the ragout will look at this point:
Mix everything up, close the lid, and leave the ragout on slow for another 10 minutes. And here we have it:

>Copyrighting Blog Photos

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What I find very weird is that many people go to the trouble of posting angry warnings that all photos on their personal blogs are copyrighted and shouldn’t be used without the owner’s permission. I’m not talking about any kind of artwork here. Just regular, completely unprofessional photos everybody snaps on a daily basis. I don’t know what possesses people to feel so protective about stuff that they choose to post online. 
As for me, if I post a photo on my blog, this means that I want people to use it. If somebody finds my clumsy pictures useful for any purpose, that’s great, I’m happy. Free exchange of information is the best thing about the Internet. 

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