Confessions NOT on a dancefloor

March 22, 2012 § 6 Comments

1)      I used to be a Hanson fan.

There, I said it.

No. I have to tell you that it was the best of times, it was the worst of times. I was an active member on a Hanson fan forum! I got mad at my sister when told me that Taylor Hanson looks like a girl! I read Hanson fanfic! I wrote Hanson fanfic! I thought Taylor was misunderstood by the world and the hambrained Hanson-haters and only needed to get to know me in order to live a happy and fulfilling life! I made friends on the Hanson fan forum, friends with whom I exchanged postcards, letters, mixtapes, mix CDs, posters, books, and phone calls! Actually, this last thing was the best thing of all. I haven’t talked to any of them in about 12 years, which suddenly makes me feel sad.

Taylor Hanson married someone else and had someone else’s babies, and life went on.

I was reminded of this because I just read this great piece on Rookie. The part that made #lolsob:

Though I am way too old to believe that my teenage fantasies will save me, I still find myself taking comfort in them. A few weeks ago, I stayed up all weekend watching Hanson videos on YouTube and I came across a clip of Taylor forgetting the lyrics at a concert and then endearingly asking the audience to help him, and suddenly I was all, What a magnificent person, I wonder if he and his wife are going to get divorced, even though they have four kids. He would probably be more intrigued and fulfilled by someone really creative and unhinged like, um, me.

(Jenny, who wrote that piece, writes a really great blog called Fashion for Writers. And it just occurred to me that we’re both using the same WordPress template, as are a few other WordPress blogs I frequent, and it’s always a little bit embarrassing, like going to a party and finding out that you and a bunch of other people you really admire are all wearing the same outfit. Or another way of looking at it: There is only one decent WordPress outfit theme and we all have to use it.)

The Hanson brothers

2)      I haven’t properly read Marx. I read The Communist Manifesto but I think it’s the least you can do and not something you’re allowed to brag about. So my project for 2012 is to get through Capital, with David Harvey’s help. (A sub-confession: this is 2011’s resolution, brought forward.) And about 20 minutes into David Harvey’s introductory video, he makes a joke and I do not laugh: “One of the best things about reading Hegel before reading Marx is that makes reading Marx pretty easy. So get yourself a dose of Hegel before you do Marx and everything will be okay.” I DO NOT LAUGH because-

3)      I have not read Hegel. Not even a sentence, I don’t think. Maybe a phrase. Maybe I’ve glanced at some Hegelian words. (Do I need to read Hegel before Marx? Should I go back to the Greeks? Perhaps reread Shakespeare? WHEN DOES THE PROJECT START AFTER I’VE READ EVERYTHING EVER WRITTEN HOW THE FUCK HOW HOW HOW FOR THE LOVE OF ISSUS OF BARSOOM I HAVEN’T EVEN READ ADAM SMITH UNLESS EXCERPTS COUNT WHY DO I NOT KNOW A DAMN THING WHAT HAVE I BEEN DOING WITH MY LIFE WHAT DO I READ WHEN HOW HOW)

The Karl Marx

4)      Instead of starting on Capital as I had planned to, I read Edgar Rice Burroughs’ A Princess of Mars last weekend in preparation for John Carter because I had no say in the matter. (The choice of movie, that is.) I think I liked the book, despite taking the time to laboriously type notes in my Kindle along the lines of, “Bahaha!” and “LOL!” and “For fuck’s sake!” Books that you can simultaneously mock and enjoy possess a certain form of power. I love that John Carter has gone to Mars but all the rules of heteropatriarchy still apply. I mean, that’s just how our world the universe works. I just got such a kick out of this hypermasculine wish fulfillment fantasy that is also one of greatest sci-fi classics of all time or something.

5)      I watched John Carter and I think I liked it and maybe you might like it too IF YOU IGNORE the nice Disney-liberal sheen, when John Carter tells some Confederate soldier dude, “You started it. You finish it!” and soldier dude goes, “Oh-ho, gone all native have we?” and John Carter replies, “No, damn the Apaches too,” or something to that effect and we’re meant to relate to and agree with this hunky embodiment of rational (white) male subjectivity, who is an Individual and who sees the robbing of American lands from the natives as a fight among equals, you know, damn you all to hell all of you I AM JOHN CARTER AND DO I NOT LOOK GOOD WITH MY DIRTY BLONDE LOCKS and when the Therns talk about how the human race is overpopulating itself and fighting to the death because THERE ARE SO MANY HUMANS and you’re meant to think OH THAT’S WHAT WAR IS ALL ABOUT NOT REALLY ABOUT GEOPOLITICS AND POWER MATRICES IT’S BECAUSE THERE ARE JUST TOO MANY OF US WELL WHY DON’T WE GET RID OF A FEW and maybe it should be the Tharks because they’re not aesthetically pleasing like John Carter of Earth and Dejah Thoris of Barsoom who are PRETTY PRETTY PEOPLE AND NOBLE AND GOOD AND PRETTY AND REALLY WOW GREAT BODIES TOO and the Tharks are just so strange looking aren’t they and none so noble as a human as Tars Tarkas and Sola, because the rest of them are brutes but hey John Carter’s loins say save Helium and Dejah Thoris and so, for that purpose, let us harness the labour of the Tharks to fight on behalf of Helium even though John Carter told Sola earlier that she is the only Thark worthy of the honour of her father’s legacy of kindness and nobility but that’s okay coz none of the other Tharks heard him say that and now they’re all really excited to fight for him even though they called him a white ape earlier, the brutes, but John Carter was really exemplary in dealing with all that hatred and racism from the uncivilised Tharks and you see the lesson here? John Carter may have benefited from white supremacy on planet Earth but he went to Mars and he was discriminated, just like the rest of us, DO YOU SEE, he just triumphed and showed the Tharks the way by staying true to the course and so if you can ignore all that, then yeah. It was pretty enjoyable, and you might like it.

The script was co-written by Michael Chabon.

The lovely people of our various planets

6)      The only book by Michael Chabon I have ever attempted to read: The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay. The attempt was unsuccessful. I really, really, really did not like it. (Related question: What fuels the Chabon-mania? I do not understand. Do I really want to? No.)

7)      I willed myself to stay away from Twitter for a few days and I did and those few days became a week and then I was scared to go back there but then I went back and all my time is gone, again, because I read and wrote more in my spare time than I would have while tweeting, retweeting, and madly favouriting, which is what I’m doing now, having gone back. How do people hold down a job, be married, make babies, write books, write poetry, direct films, sing songs, play musical instruments, go to the gym, bake a fucking cake, and STILL ACTIVELY TWEET AND BLOG? I don’t know.

8)       I can’t stand Don Draper. I finally watched Season 4 of Mad Men and I realise that we sat through a whole season of smugbum privileged pricks just so that we could enjoy what was engendered by the various hypermasculine charades: interaction between Peggy and Joan, for like 5 glorious minutes, in the final episode. In general, I just don’t know about the adult characters this season. I’m #TeamSallyDraper all the way. I’m really sad that she has Father Issues and that her Father is Don Draper. (In summary: #nodads.) I’m amazed at how quickly Betty became the wholly unsympathetic witchmother/wife. I felt like her character was made to stand in for much of the audience’s rage and disgust over the treatment of Carla although neither Don Draper or Betty’s new husband Henry Francis gave a shit about Carla until she was fired. (And then, specifically on Don’s part, it was about how it would affect him when he takes the kids with him to California.) Yes, they’re all racist, the show vaguely and quickly assures us, but Betty is just a little bit worse for being so bitchy about it. Meanwhile, Don Draper carries on with the DonDraper Guide to Life which goes along the lines of, Secretaries: use or marry. “You don’t want to start giving me morality lessons, do you? People do things,” says Don Draper to Peggy, in reference to him sleeping with his former secretary while drunk and not taking any responsibility for the fallout. Oh, but he TRIED! How he tried! He attempted to write a letter, wrote one sentence, and threw the letter away because words on a lousy letter cannot bear the significance of the complexity that is Don Draper. Meanwhile… next episode! (File this under: “How Don Draper’s Creators Allow Don Draper to Get Away with Shit.”) Seriously. I cannot stand Don Draper. (Does Betty say the same thing? I think so.)

9)      Since reading Joan Riviere’s “Womanliness as a Masquerade” a few months ago and identifying myself as one of the intermediate types, I keep asking myself, What went wrong during the oral-biting stage? This is the question to ask (your)myself. And this made me realise that although I’ve read quite a bit of Freud I haven’t quite properly read Freud, either, and even less of the feminist critiques/engagement with Freud, and WHY DO I NOT KNOW A DAMN THING WHAT HAVE I BEEN DOING WITH MY LIFE WHAT DO I READ WHEN HOW HOW

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March 14, 2012 § 6 Comments

I came across the piece “Coca-Cola in Africa” a few days ago and was reminded instantly of one of the many observations I made while travelling through multiple cities and towns in Sri Lanka: Coca-Cola is everywhere. Well, not everywhere everywhere, but almost. This post on the ubiquity of Coca-Cola in Kenya (both in branding and in business) is interesting because it frames it within the “corporate responsibility” framework, which no doubt is one way of looking at it. Meanwhile, in full-on responsible mode, Coca-Cola will do the heroic thing of changing its recipe to avoid giving you cancer.

As for Coca-Cola in Sri Lanka, people I asked didn’t really have an answer for the prevalence of the brand name everywhere beyond, “Well, it’s Coca-Cola!” (The people I asked being mainly extended/distant relatives. Clearly, I need new relatives.) No matter, back in 2010 Coca-Cola was “excited” by Sri Lanka’s potential. Post-war economies are so exciting, etc.!

Also, I thought I took plenty of pictures of Coca-Cola in Sri Lanka, but I could only find three. Clearly this was a case of “I need to take a picture of that Coca-Cola sign and I am going to do it right no–OOOH LOOK AT THAT BIG SHINY BUDDHA!” because I have about a kabillion Buddha pictures but not enough Coca-Cola signage.

Coca-Cola in Colombo

Coca-Cola in Jaffna

Coca-Cola in Trincomalee

Also, Panadol branding everywhere. Again, I thought I had taken pictures of Panadol-everywhere-in-Sri-Lanka but it turns out I have only one:

Panadol in Jaffna

I always thought that you shouldn’t mix your Panadol with your Coca-Cola, but the good folk of Yahoo! Answers say, no, go right ahead.

Apropos of nothing, a goat, pretending not to know me.

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January 15, 2012 § 2 Comments

This melancholia or shame can exist throughout a life in a variety of arenas (Sedgwick also describes its workings in the therapeutic setting). But it’s also a constitutive element of being a student. Being a student is — perhaps structurally — an incredibly rich, contradictory, and volatile place to be. Once you’ve flipped into being a professor, it can be astonishingly easy to forget this fact. I’m reminded of it, however, every time I see the familiar red crawl of a blush creeping up the neck of one of my students while she is giving an oral presentation, or when I run into a student in a public place and quizzically observe his discomfort, and so on. As Sedgwick has taught us elsewhere about blushing in particular, and about shame more generally:

the pulsations of cathexis around shame … are what either enable or disenable so basic a function as the ability to be interested in the world … Without positive affect, there can be no shame: only a scene that offers you enjoyment or engages your interest can make you blush.

Sedgwick’s work on shame — inspired by psychologist Silvan Tomkins — teaches us that that rush of blood signals our interest, our investment, our care. And, if we’re lucky, we care a lot.

Of all the things I’ve read over these few weeks, these last two sentences have hit me the hardest. 2011 was my year of shame, or my year of wrestling with shame. And Maggie Nelson writes beautifully and with a great amount of honesty, the kind of honesty that makes you ache, about shame and care in Bluets. Now that I’ve read Nelson’s review of Sedgwick I’m thinking that these were the two themes that underpin that book. Bluets was about love, of course, but you can’t have love without shame and care.

I’m slowly learning that part of growing up and allowing love to happen (in whatever form) is intrinsically tied to allowing yourself to care (often, too much) and not quite giving a fuck about the shame that comes with it.

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Shake your head, it’s empty

October 10, 2011 § 5 Comments

There is nothing worse than a “dear readers, I’m sorry for my silence…” post, because it’s at once presumptuous and kind of smug (you assume you have readers lying in wait for your next word), but it’s also kind of true, because you wouldn’t have a blog if you didn’t hope to have readers. Or even, you know, a reader.

Dear reader(s), I’m sorry for my silence. I have nothing to say. This is would indicate that my mind is empty, but my mind has been far from empty. It’s filled – somehow, it seems filled to breaking point. In that kind of chaos, writing seems to require more effort than I can scrounge up – particularly disheartening since I’ve been informed that I apparently write for a living. Except the writing-for-a-living thing that I mainly do is really the vilest form of writing known to man: copywriting.

I am a bit alarmed. Writing is how I make sense of the world. I am able to make sense of nothing. I am able to retweet and reblog on Tumblr and click ‘like’ on various posts but I can’t seem to write.

This sums it up for me:

In the meantime: shake your hips, move your feet.

I’m so glad that I’m an island now. Pa-pa-da-da.


Kakak Killjoy!

March 22, 2011 § 2 Comments

I’m happy to note that I’m now contributing to Kakak Killjoy, a feminist webzine with a (largely, but not limited to) Malaysian slant. It’s a blogging collective comprised of some truly excellent contributors. It’s brand-new at the moment, so do stop by and take a look, leave a comment or two, or contribute an article if your feminist itch is strong enough that it needs some scratching.

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(Minor) guilt

March 10, 2011 § 5 Comments

This is a review I wrote for Pop Matters on Heather Havrilesky’s Disaster Preparedness. Short version: why did she write it? (No one knows.) I thought it was a bit of a nasty review and I felt guilty for writing it but then I got tired about feeling guilty and realised that the people who should rightfully feel guilty are the ones writing crappy books and publishing them and thereby wasting paper and killing fucking trees.

In other news. I’ve been feeling extremely guilty about posting irregularly on the blog, which makes me laugh because:

1) I’m always whining about how there are all of two (or three) readers of this blog, and while this is not strictly true, there is nothing about page views that indicates high traffic, much less a moderate one. I was looking at someone else’s blog the other day and they were talking about how their page views dipped from 20,000 to about 15,000. Okay. Mine’s the kind of blog that Nicholas Kristof might consider “backward”, maybe?


2) This blog is a blog. Yes. It’s voluntary. I write when I want to, when I’m trying to figure something out, when I have something worthwhile to say. Or even if I have nothing worthwhile to say but want to say something. So this compulsion to post – like I’m competing with the amorphous Blogosphere – and if I don’t post, someone’s GOING TO BEAT ME TO IT – is ridiculous. Someone, somewhere, is always beating me to it. Add to that the guilt. Always the vague and shifty sense of guilt. I was raised Hindu. Perhaps it’s the Hindu guilt.


I was reading Franco Berardi’s  (BIFO![i]) ‘Cognitarian Subjectivation’ and he said some things in there that just makes utter sense. You might think that the essay is not in English, but it is, and the tongue-twisty words are okay, really, it’s okay; my pea-sized brain made sense of it, and no one else should be afraid. It’s always important to let people know you have a pea-sized brain before they figure it out and get all weird on you.


Here are some choice quotes from Bifo’s article:

Semiocapital puts neuro-psychic energies to work, submitting them to mechanistic speed, compelling cognitive activity to follow the rhythm of networked productivity. As a result, the emotional sphere linked with cognition is stressed to its limit. Cyberspace overloads cybertime, because cyberspace is an unbounded sphere whose speed can accelerate without limits, while cybertime (the organic time of attention, memory, imagination) cannot be sped up beyond a certain point – or it cracks. And it actually is cracking, collapsing under the stress of hyper-productivity. An epidemic of panic and depression is now spreading throughout the circuits of the social brain. The current crisis in the global economy has much to do with this nervous breakdown.

Panic? Check. Depression? Check.

Info-producers are neuro-workers.

I know, right?

Panic, depression, and a de-activation of empathy – it is here that we find the cognitariat’s problem. Precarious cognitive workers are forced to think in terms of competition. You can become friends with another person on Facebook, but genuine friendship is difficult under conditions of virtual isolation and intense economic competition.

After reading Berardi, there is a strong need to flush oneself down the toilet. Because THE FUTILITY OF THE WORLD!!! But Rob Horning does a much better job of parsing Berardi’s arguments here, so you should read that. (But thank me for showing you the way!)

In the meantime, every time I feel guilty about not updating the blog, I’ll just mutter this to myself:

The refusal of work – which is better defined as a refusal of the alienation and exploitation of living time – has been the main engine of innovation, of technological development and knowledge.

Except I started this blog as an antidote to work. It’s not supposed to be just like work!

I know, right?

[i] I have Bifo’s book The Soul at Work. Once I attempt to read it I will write about it here. Meaning I’ll chuck some quotes in here and leave it and hope someone will wonder along and help me figure it out.

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theory and stuff

January 12, 2011 § Leave a comment

In an interview with Paul Taylor, after all the Zizek-fawning (I’m being unfair – there are good things said about Zizek, although I’m decidedly ambivalent about Zizek these days), Mark Thwaite asks him a couple of questions on writing and reading theory, and I found Taylor’s answers quite unexpectedly nice:

MT: Do you have any tips for the aspiring writer of theory!?

PT: I find writing theory both an immensely rewarding and exasperating experience. At the risk of sounding bonkers and/or an early candidate for Private Eye’s Pseud Corner’scomment of the year, I’d describe it as both nothing and everything. What I mean by this is that in the greater scheme of things this sort of writing seems to be something of a fluffy luxury, on the other hand, I’ve had enthusiastic emails from readers as far apart in geography and culture as Peru and India. You never know how and where your ideas will make an impact and you can add to that the sheer absorption of being “in the flow” whilst writing – although as the same character who I’ve just quoted from Salamander says, “The Mohammedans say that an hour of reading is one stolen from Paradise. To that perfect thought I can only add that an hour of writing gives one a foretaste of the other place”.

More positively, although theoretical texts will never appear on advertisement hoardings, on the other hand, they avoid the fate of best-seller writing that goes in one eye and straight out the other. By contrast, I have been contacted by ex-students who have described how they have had their whole world-view changed by a theoretician that has successfully burrowed deep inside their heads. So, this time not wishing to sound like Gandalf, my tip to aspiring writers is to value theory’s understated power. Since writing theory has its own unique rewards, they should try not to be too downhearted at its marginalized social status. It may well prove to be bad for your peace of mind and perhaps even your professional life (in the narrowest greasy-pole-climbing sense) but it produces an ineffable buzz that money just can’t buy.

MT: Anything else you would like to say?

PT: A character in Ray Bradbury’s dystopian novel Fahrenheit 451 describes how “the word ‘intellectual,’ of course, became the swear word it deserved to be”. I would suggest that the current furore over student fees shouldn’t distract us from the real origins of the wider, underlying problem. These were already evident in much earlier signs of gangrenous cultural attitudes. Think back to when, as Education Secretary, Charles Clarke openly questioned the innate value of medieval history degrees and, largely unchallenged, universities were subsequently shunted from their self-explanatory location in the Department of Education to their newly non-titular status within the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS). This acronym reveals, more succinctly than I could ever hope to express, the brutish reductionism of people educated to know better. It also vividly demonstrates the stubborn value of implacably critical theory. So I would finish by saying… turn off your gizmo, go to a solitary place, pick up a book, and learn, learn, and learn!

I like that Taylor still seems to be madly in love with reading and writing theory. I’m not in grad school, and it’s often a daily question for me if I made the right decision not to go, and a daily question if I should go, considering my sort of absurd love of academia. But I also note that most people in academic invoke theory with extreme hatred or resentment, and I don’t ever want to become the kind of person who hates theory because she was forced to read theory or because someone else used theory to make her feel stupid for years on end. And that sounds like grad school in a nutshell, if all the twittering grad students are to be believed. I mean, all the mansplaining that went on in undergrad philosophy classes? I’m guessing theory in grad school is mansplaining-central. Except with women, too.


“I have been contacted by ex-students who have described how they have had their whole world-view changed by a theoretician that has successfully burrowed deep inside their heads. So, this time not wishing to sound like Gandalf, my tip to aspiring writers is to value theory’s understated power. Since writing theory has its own unique rewards, they should try not to be too downhearted at its marginalized social status. It may well prove to be bad for your peace of mind and perhaps even your professional life (in the narrowest greasy-pole-climbing sense) but it produces an ineffable buzz that money just can’t buy.”



So I would finish by saying… turn off your gizmo, go to a solitary place, pick up a book, and learn, learn, and learn!

Yes. I sense an ambivalent relationship with “gizmos”, and I feel that. Also, this “learn, learn, and learn!” thing is something I really feel. Grad school or not.

Read the entire interview here.

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