Landscape organizes everything within sight.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Random notes from a lecture on the neuroeconomics of trust

Oh yes. 

Paul Zak

Who’s more trustworthy?
    Children: women.  Facial expressions. Eye contact, body language
    Many cues doen’t exist in institutions where strangers interact
    Civilizationa [gesellshaft] as non-face-to-face relationships
    How did they evolve in kin-based groups?

To trust or not to trust as worldview
Madison: “There is a degree of depravity in mankind which requires a certain circumspection and distrust”
Blanche DuBois in Streetcar Named Desire: “I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.”

% per country who think others are trustworthy – 66% in Norway.  10% in Brazil, Columbia, Turkey, and Peru

    happiness correlated with trust levels  (direction of correlation later)
    self-recorded depression negatively correlated with trust.

Environments in which trust cultivated
    Trust reflects environments: Social, economic, political, legal environments
    Low trust a powerful indicator of poverty
    Investments (like legal contracts) have a drag on them when trust is low
        Then growth can’t happen

Individuals decide to trust
    Given a constant environment, how do individuals come to trust each other?
    What happens in the brain when I decide to trust John?

Trusting strangers unique to human beings
Subjects in lab cannot articulate why they make trusting decisions
Calculative trust doesn’t appear in lab

Origins with mother?

Oxytocin in animals – hormone that makes fish want to approach other fishes
    Very hard to measure, very labile, degrades quickly.
Areas of the brain associated with emotion accumulate oxytocin
    All done out of conscious control
    Kinda a gestalt
Try to get brain to make lots of the stuff

Vernon Smith’s lab – measuring trust
    Requires individuals to make monetary sacrifice to trust stranger
    Correlated with prayer, trust of president, trust of other people
    Leave yourself open to exploitation because you expect some benefit
    Hallmarks of schizophrenia is being withdrawn;

    Receiving a trust signal causes oxytocin to rise
    Trust begets trustworthiness
    Oxytocin correlates with trustworthy behavior

Trait vs state – how to measure oxytocin processing as nature vs nurture
    Violations of trust
    Measure five exceptions who keep everything – 2% “bastards”
        Brain dysfunction?
        Social phobics?
        Turn out to be emotionally labile, sexually very active
            Oxytocin creates higher levels of bonding
            Believe others are trustworthy
            Rate themselves as very trustworthy
        Nasal spray
            People on exytocin don’t have fear of interacting with strangers
            Dw1s Don’t expect to get things back
            Dw2s don’t change – already trusting. 
            Just like fish
        Massage therapist
            Increases trust levels 300%

On/off switch?
    HDT – circulates both in men and women, biologically inactive most of the time
    Women are more distrusting, but more generous
    The less you send a guy, the more dht.  Men resent it. 
Women don’t have a physiological response. 

Current research – where in the brain

Women who are ovulating are less trustworthy.  Progesterone stops trust.
Oxytocin produces dopamine so physically feels good.

Still a problem with social vs economic trust.   – swiss Presbyterian farmers have a psychotic relationship with money but a high degree of trust. 

Wilhelm Reich crackpot psychologist says that armored and unarmored man perceive and react to the world differently, hold their bodies. Differently.  You seem to have provided the physiological proof of this theory.  The extension of his thought is the theory of an “emotional plague” which transfers from person to person.  Can only be prevented by careful selection of educators and media figures.  What do you think?


test: attention and trust. More trust more attention.  Ragmenting attention by lack of trust. 

Problem: same conclusions already reached by philosophers and psychologists without need for blood test.  So having a odel for why – based on hormones – tells nothing.  Merely provides an easy answer to the why question (it’s always evolution) and the solution question (more drugs)

These people are dangerous.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Summer Camp Soliloquy

There are LOTS of evolutionary biologists here
    arguing about lemurs and chimps
    which of course prove that communism was doomed to fail

They are creating a very big machine here
    political scientists who can frame their arguments
        according to the best advice of linguists
    economists who can argue in terms of cognitive psych
A talented generation
    of cunning thinkers
       dedicated to liberty
          also to free trade
(the gentleman who could not be convinced that mill towns and the company store really existed: "that worker must have been stupid."  but i have evidence!)
(and then there are others who are fighting the good fight; free african americans not by unionizing but by ending the war on drugs...)
I'm afraid that the progressive think tank movement, thirty years behind, will never
accomplish anything competitively similar. 
Cash in your chips now; we'll all be libertarian in the future.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Here also is an inside.

Down in Dealey Plaza the tourists mill about.

I am far from where we live, and I have not learned how to forgive,

but I will wait, I will wait, I will wait. 

The Mountain Goats, "Blues in Dallas"

I've done a lot of talking to strangers recently.  A couple of brilliant, anonymous responses to my Craiglist postings for dead authors, maybe a cup of coffee later on.  Last night, strangers at the restaurant.  An old couple struck up conversation, and after forty minutes of telling my suit-clad friend about the boards of hospitals and the AT&T phone company mergers they started talking to me.  About what they really wanted to talk about.  My opinion on psychic phenomena.  They had both had a string of strange experiences.  She said "mere synchronicity."  He was worried about his eternal soul.  They kept making a joke of it, and then returning. 

Virtuality is about vulnerability: Reich says that armored man and organic man not only hold themselves differently before the world, but their permeability is also entirely different in substance; the armored man will never know, because he can never observe. 

I think always on Derrida's phonebooth in the Postcard: the new (male) Heloise calling the new (female) Abelard, wondering, will this message get through?  How strong is this connection?  Has the line gone dead?  Which words *did* you hear?  But Derrida is no nihilist: he keeps calling. 

So do the Craigslisters, bless them, marvelous mode of communion; I count on my list of personal salvations from Sartrean suicide the Missed Connections page, the furtive glances listed on the N-Judah every morning.  Some of the glances connect, sometimes.  Sweet gleaners of the fields among the lillies.  I am startled by how deeply I love them. Kierkegaard: the man of God is like any other man; he gets up, he goes to work, he loves his wife; it is only that he has always already thrown his confidence into the void. 

The linguist in me begins to wonder if 'projection' is merely a throwing too far -- throwing again and again without waiting to see if those infinite glances into the universe went anywhere. 

All conspiracy theories, all over-abundant lonelinesses, all paranoias, are ultimately about a lack of confidence that the ache to connect will ever achieve an arch across the void. 

I will wait,
I will wait,
I will wait.

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Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Natural Disaster


The winds coming can be heard from far off. 
You see the clouds getting sickly and purple with excitement on the horizon:
To them it’s just like a roller coaster.
Swooping, cold, bright speed, lights, squealing winds. 
Now as it approaches you can see the things it picks up and throws down again:
    Weeping cows, red umbrellas;
small shacks, chokes of fence still clutching the ground.
The storm doesn’t know what it wants.

Then there’s an awful silence.
You don’t know what happened, you couldn’t feel the walls being
torn from around you,
your letters, sheets, towels flying around
Too embarrassed that your world was so poorly made.
    It collapsed so quickly.
What can you do?  This is a fact of nature.
You feel the scream cramp in your lungs.

The next morning you think:
Where is my mobile home?  Where is my fucking life?
You say: I’m out of here! I’ll hit the road!

But the roads have all been blown away.

The storm is gone.  You want to cry.

(poems from some time in early 2005)

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Natural Disaster II.




When I was a boy the flood came early one morning and the town was gone.

We waited for the politicians to give us something to gnaw on.


Nurses and retirees unloaded big boxes.

They smiled passing sandwiches in cellophane.

We are still waiting for them to tell us why it happened here.


My father did not hold me as he stared at the far-off sky.

It is a season that returns, he said.  Men wander beneath the sky,

And from heaven, no food, only spirit. 


Vagabonds from his childhood memories,

Now he was one of them, a pile of work laid low.

All his show a family, hungry and helpless.


He thought these poverties were gone, but now they’re back,

Like in Egypt, I guess, when the Red Sea parted,

What was taken away was restituted whole. 


Some stayed hoping for such a providence,

The Nile’s flood restored its farms.

They were coaxed by things another season told them. 


But we heard nothing. There was nothing we could see of home there.

So we turned to the road.

We are anointed as pilgrims again, a holy calling.





They misunderstand this, who apologize

Too much for what is and what can’t be.

People, at least, are mobile.


It’s only that there is nowhere left to go towards.

In another country, now, and calloused,

Grown accustomed to the weather, the rough sleep,


Now the land’s dried up, and we’ve dried out too.

Sometimes we steal things: chickens, milk in bottles.

I know you are scared of me, but there’s nothing else for us here,


Just water now and then,

Which comes from heaven. 

And men steal water sometimes too. 


It isn’t the having of water that counts. 

We aren’t fish.

But you know men die of thirst.




I am on the road now and I see others,

Fit men, lit up by the window, staring into the street-lights.

I know they are waiting too.


Some sickness like the first that knocked us out

Is blowing through them so cold

No clothes or house can keep them in. 


Their paths are unclear.  They wait

For signs they can’t see. 

The city is their prison,


Its streets their endless labyrinth. 

But what do I know? It might be safer

That way.  They are happy sometimes,


And I am too. Unlike them I am

made of road and wind. I see things in the weather

They do not. The weather changes first at the horizon,


Where the road begins.  I come in the night while they sleep,

and set off before they wake.  There can be no slumber

for those who belong to the road.




When I see them cursing their wives

Or rising daily to the dismal monastic skyscrapers

I know they are unlike us altogether.


Love cast us out. Love woke me up and hurled me out of bed.

Fearing love, I still give thanks, each footstep,

For the road itself alone.


This is because it must be.

There is no coming in but the one,

And no way but by going the whole way round.

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Sunday, June 18, 2006

Postcard from San Francisco: The International City

I walked outside my back door this morning to hear the French coverage of the France-Switzerland match and glimpse a lasso swinging.

I live in one of those victorian working-class row houses -- three families to a lot, stacked in front of each other; work lots of backyards with nineteenth-century wooden fire escapes down the back, used for the most part for drying laundry. Ours has laundry flapping around basil plants and succulents.

Our backstairs neighbors include a Franco-British family, which had apparently invited over every other Frenchman in San Francisco. Cattycorner dwells a retired Mexican couple who hold barbeques in their back yard every Friday afternoon in the summer. The Mexican family typically plays ranchero ballads, which come soaring over the fences while the men, in enormous cowboy hats and neckerchiefs, sway.

The French family have a spreading fig tree, under which their daughter plays.   The Mexicans have a large dirt back yard, edged with neat rows of vegetables: cabbages, epazote, beans, cucumbers, tomatoes, eggplant, and peppers. Their sons are over practicing throwing the lasso. 

I was yelling over the fence at the French family, attempting to egg them on behalf of Switzerland (alle la Suisse!!). I made no impression whatsoever over the loud cheering and focussed consumption of Stella Artoises.  But it has definitely attracted the attention of the lassoers, who keep winking at me as I sit typing in the sun.

Happy Sunday!

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Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Signs and Wonders, for Real

A year ago, I suffered one of the most formative religious experiences of my life.  Swimming along the coast of an isolated beach in Thailand, I was attacked by a mammoth jellyfish.  As my eyes swelled shut and my body began convulsing with poison, I was hauled by boat from beach to beach and island to island.  Safe at the hospital, I was pumped full of morphine, where I stayed, for three days, not sure I'd ever regain the sight of both eyes. 

Floating outside of my body, watching my corpse slung in a wheelchair, I had something of a revelation.  I'd never done drugs of any form, and the morphine startled me by making visible and palpable experiences of out-of-body travel I had dismissed as so much new-age junk. The journey to Thailand had been spiritual in nature, and I spent most of the three days contemplating a life of disability, contemplating what my eternal soul would do if this body ended up without much to show for itself; asking answers from God, and strangely feeling like all those answers were answered in a form of prayer more like open dialogue. 

For the last month I've been traveling on another sort of spirit quest, off in search of  my own identity.  In bed, reading by lamplight, I put down the tome of Jung I'd been using as some sort of palliative. I had lapsed into a funk that could only be solved by prayer.  I went into a deep meditation and out again, asked for a solution to anxiety, forming slowly very slight directions: leadership.  Social change.  True identity.  Externalization of the internal and sacred.  So I put in one of those "hey also you know how I'm superstitious and this is all irrational in the first place if you wouldn't mind could you give me a sign?" requests, and dropped it.  Sleepily reopened Jung.  Reading about fishes.  Fishes among the Cathars.  The Leviathan.  The Satanic fish and the fish of Christ.  Yeah ok whatever I get it, I said to myself, paraphrasing my favorite moment in David O. Russell's masterwork of postmodernism defined, I Heart Huckabees: Everything is like everything else and then it's also its own opposite.  I rolled my eyes at my beloved Jung.  Bored, flipping through the Armenians and Greeks on carbuncles, I flip through the pages until my thumb rests on the page where it feels like it's been creased.  I must have left it lying open face down at a random page.  I turn to it, and the skin on my neck turns a degree colder. 

A certain twenty-year-old patient of Carl Jung had experienced great anxiety about his graduate student career.  He did not know what to do with himself.  One night he had a vivid dream, one of those "big dreams," in which he was lost in a forest, and came to a pond.  In the middle of the pond was a floating, enormous puddle of light: an enormous red jellyfish.  He awoke and immediately understood that he would become a scientist. 

Jung's gloss: the jellyfish represents the concentrated, individual expression of the great ocean of the collective unconscious, rising up into history to challenge the conscious ego.  It represents, simply, the soul.

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Rigorous Intuition: Missing, found

I just got an email from Jeff Wells.  I'm reporting here in case any of you have come to me looking for him.

Blogger, for some reason, has eaten Jeff's megapopular and extremely well-written blog.  He can no longer post new content.  Blogger support offers no response.

As a last resort, Jeff is blogging away on RigorousIntuition 2.0.

Missing June posts are here:

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Friday, June 09, 2006


It could be that existentialism gets rid of the identity problem. What matters isn't so much answering the question as committing to a course of action — you are what you do.

Or, to paraphrase Kierkegaard, The man of God is like any other man; he loves his wife, he goes to his job. He is not more successful or ambitious in any of these parameters than other men. It's only that he realizes that none of this matters.


But in fact, this identity crisis is a little more about choosing exactly what I want to perform — it's an economic maximization algorithm, not a eulogy for lost time, although that's how it comes in. Proust starts out with nostalgia and ends up analyzing the entire cosmos. Jung claims in an end we can't have any problems with our soul because the soul is microcosm of the entire universe. All interior problems are also problems we have figuring out something out there.

Six years ago I graduated college with an uneasy double recognition: I had a solid enough theoretical, linguistic, and languages background to whiz through any comp lit program to a PhD; I also had enough friends outside of literature to realize how peripheral my concerns about performance, deep narrative, and construction were unless they could be immediately applied to large groups in a political interaction.

How to get from phenomenology to poli sci? In three easy steps? 1) intern in an advertising corporation so that you learn everything about self-presentation and the body as an image; 2) take on the identities of experts in three other fields while at cocktail parties in another country, thus learning how different people respond to other kinds of expertise; 3) drop out of two phd programs in a row, gradually learning about what people study when they study politics; 4) become a political activist and write the damn dissertation anyway.

Part of the identity crisis is that I'm just writing this narrative now. I've been writing it all along, but I keep on losing it and having to rewrite. Yay! I've finally made it to step 5!! Now what ever happened to the performance techniques I learned in steps 1-2?

I'm trying to be very specific with the jealousy I feel: jealousy without attachment, so that it takes the form of curiosity and desire.

That said, I have come to the conclusion that I am fucking jealous of my dear friend the sociologist of the internet who gets interviewed by the NYT on a practically daily basis. In an attempt to discern her success (why her and not me? why not my proud and depressive friends in LA writing their novels? why not any of the rest of us?), I've launched into an archaeological exploration of the character of her success. First, she's in a more relevant and novel field (do historians ever become experts before age 50?) -- about this I can do nothing but wait. Second, her internal analysis of her own success is a natural personal talent at performance - she can describe perfectly what it is she means to do, what group she studies, what she can say about them. Her descriptions are narrow and precise. This is, in general, a good rule for success, and something our advisors force upon most of us. However, in her case the statement appears to be inaccurate as a diagnosis of her success relative to that of her contemporaries. She's not the most coherent person I know. She darts into fields in which she has no knowledge with less knowledge than the more academic of grad students. Her statements about culture are neither more accurate or more well-backed-up than those of her contemporaries; rather most grad students are cowed from making statements about the world external to their field of study, and she has made the contemporary world her field. See above. Hers is not more coherent as a logical enterprise than anyone else's. Third, if her statements are not in themselves particularly coherent, she performs a coherent identity with perfect skill. Queer-punk-candy-raver since high school, she announces with dress and demeanor a confidence in her identity as liminal. Strangers know who she is. She isn't threatening, so she can bear to express her self-confidence as cheerfulness. The social butterfly of the academic realm, meeting and greeting everyone; friend to all, enemy to none. Immediately recognizable, easy to find at the tip of every tongue. This is true success.

I remember performing a coherent identity. I even reckon I'm performing something much more in line with a great deal of experience than I was when I was an undergrad.

However, I am not liminal. I'm a straight white woman. I can be edgy, but my talents and inclination and experience don’t offer anything new to the field of liminality. I've done women’s studies and queer studies; they ultimately fell into that category of phenomenological knowledge about the soul that I wanted to broaden by understanding the political spectrum of many interacting identities. I've made my political and academic identity as the person who understands what the middle class was doing, how people act in public space, how mass culture operates. I situate myself as an edge observer of the arena.

Whatever I perform, it won't be liminality. It could be grave and certain; it could be nurturing. It won't be naively cheerful about a world that will recognize that they cannot tell me what to do - straight white women get told what to do all the time, and those who aren't perform something other than cheerful naivete. How do you perform the edge observer? How do you indicate that you are always looking dead center at the arena? One way is to do what one does anyway; to listen. The one listener in the room. Frankly, that performance isn't very effective in a world where everybody thinks of themselves as an expert and a personality; you listen, they don't even notice. Until, perhaps, much later.

Another answer may be the medium of the performance. In a cocktail party I'm egregious by being invisible. I'm curious only to the other deeply curious. A Boing-Boing type blog with its need for constant amusement doesn't pick up on why I'm interesting either. I suppose a seminar would work. Or a book. Cafe conversation works very well. I suppose that finding some emergent dissatisfied group for which to speak would also work well - existentially dissatisfied twentysomethings? Phenomenologists without real jobs?

I don't know - what do you think of the performances around you? Who
does a Bob Edgar start talking to first? And is it really true that none of us, unless liminal by sexuality or race, will have a chance to speak in public before we're fifty? Dostoevsky novels, after all, are really about existential angst as the last resort of the "useless man" for whom society has offered no role.

Finally, quick apology to my friend, who *does* read blogs. I am "using" my friend, taking her own reasons for her success in order to come up with my own path in its sovereign difference. I am treating her as a transitional object, the way an infant tears apart a stuffed bear to figure out how the boundaries of objects work. It would be a very sick, fucked up thing if I did it with any sense of fixation or stuckedness or nonexistential conception that it mattered.

All of this is also a monastic practice. Or an excavation of the soul. It is far less important that it works than that I learn something about myself through running up against the world.

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Thursday, June 08, 2006

Breasts in the year 1972

He rescues her from the farm where she is doped in drugs and being sold as a piece of flesh among the cattle.

Once they are safe in the city hotel, he gives her a dress whose bust is entirely sheer.  Totally unaware of social mores, having been raised in an all-girl orphanage apart from the world, she is totally unashamed of her nudity.  A hero in the classical style, he is nonplussed.  He answers her questions as she dresses.  They enter the hotel restaurant to the shock of the older women patrons.  An older man patron ogles her until he turns around, glaring not at the patron but at the patron's elderly female partner, who blushes.  Our couple is finally left alone.

As the film progresses, we begin to understand the political landscape in which such different perspectives on nudity and the female body are possible.  The Anglo-Saxon residents of the countryside are taking back political power, having realized that the cities are falling prey to inter-immigrant warfare.  Immigrant women -- including those of Irish descent -- are considered chattel to be raised in a state of nature. 

Women in a state of nature are totally unihibited with respect to their bodies.  This perspective characterizes both the slave women sold as cattle and the women of the highest caste married to the political rulers, but not the middle-class women in between. 

The Anglo-Saxon women are happy to have the immigrant women sold off into the sex trade; they themselves maintain classical aristocratic power, seducing multiple partners, playing them off of each other, and securing their future in the form of gold reserves in Swiss accounts, yachts, and factories. 

One film's slice of the world, circa 1970. 

I am watching this film: Prime Cut, starring Sissy Spacek, Gene Hackman, and Lee Marven. 

And I am wishing that I had a seminar on gender interested in these questions. 

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Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Identity and the expert.

My identity is not where I left it.

I woke up this morning feeling weak and wan; that confused feeling of three weeks is still there. 

So forgive me for not returning your emails whenever I failed to return them over the last six months.  Forgive me for not blogging over the last month.

I've been having an identity crisis. 

Here's what happened.

Three weeks ago an old friend from college stopped by for a drink.  We
were discussing the culture of gambling and the toll advanced
capitalism on our well-educated ambitious twenty-somethings.  We 
looked at some pictures from the paper I had written as a reflectly --
a paper on the history and evolution of the casino. 

Amongst the pictures, we saw some images of me three years ago.  A
first-year going on second-year PhD student at Berkeley, traveling
through Germany with my then boyfriend, the British barrister with his
political connections.  At the time I was trying to imagine what it
would be like to live out my days as a politician's helpmeet, or
a fellow-politician, or a political academic, rather than as someone whose immediate sense of self depended on winning the theoretical battles of academical journals, as I had long expected it would.  Here I was, doing ethnology for real -- I was giving fabulous parties; I was getting to
know the savants of British think tanks; I was charming; I was learning what charm really meant, and how power flowed around it.  The booki I could have written.  Or the life I could have lived. 

Here is a picture of me laughing.  My friend from college (straight as a speeding bullet) said,
"That is a very beautiful, a very natural laugh.  It must have been
hard work to get that laugh so perfect." 

I had an identity crisis.  I am having an identity crisis.  As I look at that picture my stomach
feels empty, as if there is a balloon of air centered in it.  This is
the space where I hold questions.

 Every morning I wake up and find
it still unfilled.  Every hour I say a prayer that fragments will fill
it with something fresh, mobile, alive, alert, and responsive to the

I was taken aback by that photo, because it is very unlike me now. 
Here I am, with legwarmers, hair uncut for a year, and some local punk nonsense blaring the background. 

Who is this person?  What do people think when they see the ripped and torn sweaters, the pile of books?  While I was in disguise before, men used to ask me whether I was the type of girl who owned thirty pairs of shoes.  It always made me laugh.  I've never owned more than five.  Here I am, the girl with the immense bookshelf.  I listen to bands.  I drink with the boys.  I eat raw, organic food.  I talk to strangers. 

That empty stomach part of me is, in
a certain way, jealous of the scholar of casinos, the ethnologist (by participation) of elites, and hungry to perform *something* again. 

Sometimes it makes me jealous of my friends.  You know, the grad student who gets interviewed by the New York Times.  The ones with the famous blogs.  The ones with the predictable fashion sense.  I go to the Zeitgeist bar down the road, and lurk at the table where
the goths are discussing lingerie, and the hipsters discussing tattoos,
and the bikers discussing some fight down the road, and the academics
discussing some book. 

Strangers know who they are.  They don't know who I am. 

I miss performance.

What was that place, where the theological questions of comp lit (who what where why
the universe, gender, privacy, capitalism -- why and how its
seductions, what form, what kind, what shape) had taken on such
substance that they were being lived out in my day-to-day interactions
with politicians, lawyers, bartender, hostellers, retirees, innkeepers,
history, the present, and the future.

Some part of me wants, that is, to be a scholar of the present.  A
cultural critic.  A public intellectual.  An eternal prophet.  I know
that I'm a dilettante.  I know the world has little practical use for my kind of expertise. 

What is left for me to perform?

In praise of synthesis

The conversation about casinos was the first time in six years - long before grad school - that I had shared with another person that constant whirring of gears in the back of my head -- that place where the critical backdrop of the Harvard lit department infected my mind with deep mythologies, metonymy, metaphor; identity, formation, disintegration, synthesis; cultural analysis of so strict and perfect a form that I blushed to talk to other academics about mere hegemonies and resistances to power.  This is something I am, but it is something I refuse to perform. 

Why alienate an audience by talking to them about the complex tissues and formations of their existence?  How much better to present them with some crystalized jewel of experience, some rarified observation they could not reach themselves but appreciate in its perfect and transportable form?

Grad School has been, for me, about becoming a good listener: about learning to understand the languages of architects, geographers, political historians, psephologists, political scientists, career military, economists, marketers.  Each has its own language, its own data, its own way of working with the data, and its own products it quests after.  I have been made sensitive.  I can recreate some projects but not others.  Again and again I find myself isolated as the only listener in the room -- the only person outside of an expertise.  The only person forging a bridge.  To be in such a position is an artifact of  twenty-first century expertise. 

A different kind of expertise.

Is that good enough?  Shall we keep these experts together?  What have they to say to organic identities, real individuals whose depth exceeds the bounds of one profession?  What of the worn out?  What of the consultant or lawyer who doesn't wish to work 80-hour-weeks?  What of the mind whose perameters exceed the structure of the discipline? 

Will the expert of the twenty-first century still be like these masters of fact, these twentieth-century potential gurus of economics and psephology, each striving to be better than his peers in a particular sphere?  Surely the powers that be need someone to interpret what each field really means to say -- the relevance of one expertise to the rest, the relevance of the fact to the whole.  Increasingly this ability is a rare one.  But where will the cross-disciplinary masters of the universe be found?  Where will they find the other listeners, the other dilettantes? 

I look at the picture of myself three years ago and my mind reels.  Here I am in a smelly sweater in the Mission district, coming home from beer at the biker bar down the street.  I am comfortably in my own skin now, and I was comfortable then.  I could go and talk to barrister and politicians this evening if I had to, or scoot down to the docks with a hipster and talk union politics with the longshoremen.  Sure.  It's certainly *different* than the talent set of your average politician or hipster.  Does that do me any good?  Does it make me happy? 

Looking there is almost painful.  It's hard to concentrate on.  I don't have an answer, and I'm ready to stop asking these questions. 

I'm holding these facts around me -- not so much proud of diverse experiences as confused as to where to place them.  How do you perform the fact that you've been other places?  How do you articulate to the stranger that you have valuable talents precisely because you're the one stranger in the crowd who will say nothing but only listen? 

I'm picking up these pebbles of experience from the seashore and walking around with them in my palm, unsure of what to make of them.  I don't know if they're for use.  Maybe there's a class of experience that's purely spirtual, and not for use.  Maybe there's a class of knowledge that can't be summed up by any expertise.


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Cultural criticism in the 21st century: the split identity, the collective hope

A manifesto: the new cultural critics, and what we are doing.

I (like so many of my friends) am far too anarchic to give way to any single profession or discipline of knowledge. 

Left to our careers for too long, each of us becomes depressed; have I a single friend from college who hasn't been on antidepressants throughout grad school? We say, "I don't know about that."  Or, "I guess there's no telling."  Or, "I suppose that's just what has to be done."  We narrow our ambitions to the present.  We work on becoming neuroscientists, economists, and historians, fully aware that no one will deign to interview us or publish our ideas about the world until we have reached the age of fifty.

Talking together, our brains fizzle with explanations, anecdotes, avenues for curiosity.  We start to explain the world and its experience from each of the multiplce experiences each of us has collected. 

I experience these two worlds through a tension between dilettantism on the one hand and the part of me that has, recently, accepted an apprentice instead in a certain profession -- the Discipline of History -- by which I conceded to discuss points of knowing and details of the craft with other academics.  It means a certain removal from the world, and a certain distance from the aesthetic facts of any one piece of production. 

So this part of me that wants to interpret is still adrift.  I don't quite know what to do with it.  I would like very much to bottle it and sell it -- an IQ for hire -- a public intellectual on demand.  I don't know quite where to go with it; the columns are dying, the culture of print bores me (aside from the occasional distracting article in Harper's or Cabinet).  Are those where one goes?

Another alternative: what if we had a wiki?  A cultural studies wikipedia of culture and identity -- a sort of second Arcades Project -- the aim always being the interpretation of the present.  Tag by tag, article by article, gloss by gloss, piecing in a story or anecdote here and another there, saying "here is what happened to nudity in the 1960s:" example.  "Here is what happened to the discipline of psychology." 

Oh for a Smart Mob for the young intellectuals, so full of observation and mythology.  Oh to do to culture what Freud and Jung and Lacan did, reading closely, part by part, all the phenomena of every-day life. 

Oh to combine them into a machine that would give us answers: real solid facts, if not about some eternal, collective soul, about the changing, sensitive soul of the experience of this last century, about how we came to be where we are, and why we are here and not there, and where it is we are going. 

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Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Fearmongering and its antidote.

From this morning's Columbia Tribune (Columbia, Missouri):

Joe Kline, senior pastor of Faith Baptist Church in Columbia, said a
federal gay marriage ban is needed to protect society. Allowing gays to marry could lead to "eventual extinction," Kline said. "It might sound crazy, and people don’t like to hear this, but gay couples cannot reproduce. Ultimately they - not in all cases, but in many cases - they don’t reproduce, so they have to recruit others to live their lifestyles. … If we don’t protect the sanctity of marriage and of the home, then our country is in big trouble."

Gays are evil because they don't reproduce -- riiiiight.  Don't you just love it when conservatives hand you the weapon with which to smack them back down? 

What a way for some intelligent senator or pundit to counter every conservative statement on the "protection of marriage and the family" -- "I hear sir that you are interested in preserving the species, in making sure that every man, woman, and child in these United States spawns as frequently and as profusely as possible.  But have you considered in the least the setting into which you send these aggressively, abundantly generated babies?  Do you send them to loving and responsible homes?  Do you send them to responsible societies where they will have the barest chance to rise above squalor and misery?  Will you  encourage more babies and regardless of whether families and cities have any homes left to house them?"

"You, sir, are the danger to the sanctity of families and the homes.  You are the voice encouraging wanton abuse of children, the intervention of the state in the family household, the regulation of the home by the federal government, even striking down the legislation of the states themselves.  You are a danger to the nation and every single one of its sacred institutions."

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This morning's email.

Dear Senator Reid,

I write you with concern about a framing disaster in one of your recent press releases. 

The Houston Chronicle story on gay rights today reported:

"Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid, of Nevada, said the purpose of bringing up the gay marriage ban was 'to divide our society, to pit one against another.'"

"One against another," when it falls on Christian ears, invokes the words of Matthew 10, where Jesus proclaims, "I came to set brother against brother [not to bring peace]."  Despite your obvious intention to address the Administration's warmongering, the Evangelicals who read your words will be once more convinced that Democrats are their enemies, pledged to overturn church institutions. 

A better phrase to use would be "each against each."  To moderates, libertarians, and conservatives, Hobbes's words suggest a pointless, violent state of nature, which cries out for real leadership rather than mere fear-mongering:

"The proposed gay marriage amendment is nothing but a foolhardy campaign to pit each against each, undermining the order, justice, and liberties reserved by state government on behalf of its citizens."

With best wishes,
Joanna Guldi

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