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Clarissa's Blog

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

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In the meanwhile, look who had a fantastic time helping Daddy:

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Book Notes: Zygmunt Bauman’s Retrotopia

People often say that in my blog reviews they don’t recognize the books I’m reviewing because the books don’t contain much of what I say. This is precisely why I call these posts notes and not reviews. These are the ideas that the books I read prompt me to develop. Other people are likely to have a very different response to the books. 

This is Zygmunt Bauman’s last book, and it’s impossible not to look at it for answers to all the questions he posed throughout his long life as a philosopher. The answers, however, are elusive because all of the serious problems we face are generated globally while the only political instruments we have are very local.

Societies of consumers train their denizens to believe that if anything goes wrong in your life, that’s your fault for not being productive, effective and well-managed enough to avoid the blows of faith. You tell people that somebody has cancer, and they immediately look for reasons to blame the sick person, even though it has been proven that most cancers are caused by random genetic mutations. 

This is a lonely existence, made even lonelier by the destruction of categories around which people could unite to build up their identities. (Identity, after all, means identical to somebody.) Biological categories like sex, ethnicity and race have fallen victim to the consumer need to see oneself as the Creator, and, as a result, they no longer exist. All that’s left as a still-valid identity category is culture. 

Culture hasn’t been as messed with by the proponents of the individualist “me, the Creator” ideology because it’s not as anti-consumerist. Nobody is declaring that “cultures” don’t exist, like they do for the strictly biological categories. 

The reason why people will increasingly cling to the identity category of culture instead of creating a cosmopolitan, global identity is that such a global identity, by its very nature, cannot exist. Identity demands an Other. We don’t exist as a group if we can’t figure out who doesn’t belong to it. And belonging somewhere is an absolute necessity in the world of liquid flows and gaping narcissistic wounds. 

At this point, I’m sorely tempted to add that instead of the flimsy category of culture, I’d love people to consider practicing the old-fashioned identity category of class but I don’t want to be too boring. 

Common Good Sacrifices

I used to teach a summer course that was very popular and helped students fulfill a graduation requirement. The course always went well, students loved it, everything was great.

And then the university tried to feed us shit and pretend it was mango puree. We were told that if we don’t get a certain number of students enrolled in the summer course, you won’t get paid the full salary but only 1/2. Of course, you don’t know in advance if you’ll fall one student short, so you have to take a bizarre gamble and, if students’ summer funding doesn’t come through, give your labor for free. 

I never ran the risk of not getting enough students in my course but I refuse to participate in a demeaning system designed by dumb freaks who never sacrifice their salaries “for the common good.”

The Eurovision Controversy

So the next Eurovision will be held in Ukraine. Back when Russia annexed the Crimea and invaded, Ukraine passed a law barring the Russian artists who have gone to perform in the occupied territories from traveling to Ukraine. This was done because it had become fashionable among Russian artists to travel to the occupied territories and not only engage in propaganda wars but, in some cases, to entertain themselves by shooting at live targets (human beings, I mean) and gleefully disseminate videos of this hunting on TV and YouTube.

So in order to stick it to Ukrainians, Russia dug out a wheelchair-bound singer and announced she was the Russian pick for the Eurovision. Ukrainians were left with the choice of either breaking their own law or refusing to let in a disabled person, which would make them look really bad.

This is such a petty, manipulative thing to do, especially since nobody in Russia ever showed the slightest interest in the rights of the disabled. Russia is in the midst of the most unhinged neoliberal eat-or-be-eaten outbreak, and the disabled are even being referred to as “subhuman” and “not real citizens” in school textbooks. But now all of a sudden the Russian media are howling with outrage over Ukraine’s reluctance to let in a disabled collaborator.

The pettiness of the whole thing beggars belief because Russia has massive problems with its economy. The public services are collapsing, the precious historic center of Moscow has been razed to the ground to make place for parking lots and supermarkets, dissidents are jailed and raped in prison, drug addiction is devastating the youth. But they are obsessed with fucking over the silly Eurovision just to be a nuisance. 

Eurovision 

I was so against the Eurovision’s bearded lady, but I tried to remember some of the Eurovision performers from the past few years, and other than the bearded lady and the Russian babushkas, I can’t remember anybody. And I only remember the bearded lady’s beard, not the song. So in the end, it’s just the babushkas whose Eurovision song I can still recall. 

Oh, and there was also this amazing Greek woman called Elena many years ago. Her Eurovision song was the bomb.

By the way, does anybody want me to blog about the current Eurovision controversy that’s raging right now? Or is nobody here into Eurovision?

Bad and Good

The really bad thing about this conference is that something is very wrong with the room where most of the Spanish literature sessions were held. Whenever I was there, my ears would become completely clogged, like when you are in an airplane that takes forever to descend. And it wasn’t just me. Everybody else said they suffered in that room. 

I have no idea what it was but I completely lost hearing in one of my ears. And I have to get on a plane tomorrow, which won’t help. 

On a positive side, I’ve been hanging out with a dear friend from grad school and he showed me a Salvadoran restaurant and introduced me to something wonderful called “pupusas.” For those of you with dirty minds, it’s a dish. It’s great to have a friend who is not a million miles away. 

To Sympathize or Not?

Everybody is talking about this article by Frank Rich but I think it’s dumb:

But for those of us who want to bring down the curtain on the Trump era as quickly as possible, this pandering to his voters raises a more immediate and practical concern: Is it a worthwhile political tactic that will actually help reverse Republican rule? Or is it another counterproductive detour into liberal guilt, self-flagellation, and political correctness of the sort that helped blind Democrats to the gravity of the Trump threat in the first place?

What is the alternative here, seriously? To keep repeating, like dumb donkeys, that “we only lost by a few thousand votes” when both houses of Congress and most of the states have been going steadily Republican for years? 

Yeah, totally, let’s not pander or self-flagellate. Let’s hope that everybody who doesn’t see the beauty of Democratic worship of consumerism at any cost just dies out and we’ll all joyfully embrace the wonders of consumerism together. Sounds like a great plan.

I don’t want self-flagellation. I want change. I want the party of Democrats to stop, think, and change course. Last week, I finally applied for US citizenship. I have decided that the only way I will vote for Democrats is if they recognize that the opioid epidemic and the creation of an enormous army of “surplus people” are two great tragedies of this country at this time in history rather than a matter of consumerist personal choice. 

CV Clinic 

I helped two graduate students at the CV clinic: a woman from India and a young man in Early Modern English. 

It’s sad that so many grad programs do nothing to help students work on their CVs and cover letters. I’d gone on the job market with a 7-page cover letter and I’m shocked that anybody actually wanted to interview me after that. 

In the case of the Indian woman, it’s to be expected that she wouldn’t have anybody at her school who’d know the conventions of North American CVing. But American students who don’t have their CVs in order can only be blamed on careless and uncaring program directors.

The Way Not to Write About “White Teachers”

I hate posts like this one. First of all, I resent having the word “teacher” qualified in any way when describing my profession. I’m not a white teacher, female teacher, heterosexual teacher, mother teacher, etc. And if anybody referred to me as any of these in person, I’d end the conversation right away. 

Also, I find the idea that teachers need to be exhorted en masse not to refer to students using the N-word to be quite insane. I’m sure there is a couple of freaks running around who’d want to do that. But this problem is not endemic to the teaching profession. There is zero need to tell teachers not to “frustrate yourself by trying to figure out why black people can say the N word and white people can’t.” Teachers are frustrated by low pay and erosion of union power. But to imagine crowds of teachers fuming over their incapacity freely to use racial slurs is insane. 

The whole post feels like something aimed at a bunch of Russian tourists from Irkutsk and not American teachers who hardly need this type of platitude recited at them.

Refreshing

This conference is surprisingly well-organized. For one, in the exhibit hall (a place where everybody ends up) there are tables dedicated to different research interests (Spanish Literature, 21st-century Literature, Caribbean Studies, etc). People can sit down at “their” table in an unobtrusive, non-embarrassing way of meeting colleagues. 

There is also a CV clinic where tenured professors help graduate students and adjuncts to improve their CVs before going on the job market. I’m mentoring at the CV clinic this morning because job seekers deserve as much help as they can get. 

And unlike the big MLA, this smaller chapter does give out paper programs at the conference instead of mailing them to people months in advance. (It’s a ploy to make money, and what a shitty one!)

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