Saturday, March 31, 2001
Have been very physically tired a lot lately. Don't know exactly why. The mental strain and emotional pains probably had something to do with it. Also haven't been eating very well the past week. (Lots of chocolate . . . ) But I'll keep on plodding along. So much I want to read, digest, understand in my classes and for my papers -- all coming to an end (at least in theory) in a month!
>> 2:32 PM
Thursday, March 29, 2001
>> 6:03 PM
Went to the first film screening of [Race Reels: Screenings of Black Genre Films of the 30s and 40s]. The film was a Western: Harlem Rides the Range. I'm not a big fan of Westerns and I was not terribly impressed by the film. But it was interesting nonetheless to see such a genre film. Jane Gaines introduced the film and mentioned that these types of all-black cast films were in part meant to do the work of racial uplift, showing the country that African Americans can indeed make films just like white Americans. And do a Western this production company certainly did. There were even some good comedic moments. But also the same kinds of elements and moments of mainstream Hollywood Westerns that irk me: marginalization of women as love objects (in this movie, the woman was literally only a stolen photograph until the very end when she shows up so that the hero could rescue her from the bad guys) and an unproblematic valorization of physical might. The only other Western I can remember in some detail is The Searchers, that John Wayne movie people seem to discuss fairly frequently in the context of the creation and protection of a female domestic space by the "alienation" of the lone ranger figure (John Wayne character) on a dangerous frontier. Central to that story was the foreign threat of the Indians. I suppose that element was missing in Harlem Rides the Range -- a conflict between "Americans" and savages. Harlem Rides the Range seemed also insistently to create an all-male space in the open plains. There were no women to take care of the men. As J noted, there was subsequently a homoerotic undertone to the film. In one scene, the hero sings / serenades the rest of the men as they prepare for sleep all together in a single room.
J spoke briefly before the screening, describing the purpose of the Race Reels series and the [John Hope Franklin Research Center]. He was so sexy. He speaks in public well, articulating his ideas straightforwardly and with a pleasing tone and level of audience-engagement.
. . .
Received my teaching fellowship contract this afternoon. It's all pretty much a formality -- the application process, etc. I will be "allowed" to teach a first-year composition course each semester of next school year. I guess I need to decide definitively if I will be here next spring . . . I hope the Writing Center is flexible enough to allow me to teach just in the fall.
>> 5:36 PM
here comes the rain again
falling on my head like a memory
falling on my head like a new emotion
i want to walk in the open wind
i want to talk like lovers do
want to dive into your ocean
is it raining with you
talk to me
like lovers do
walk with me
like lovers do
talk to me
like lovers do
here comes the rain again
raining in my head like a tragedy
tearing me apart like a new emotion
i want to breathe in the open wind
i want to kiss like lovers do
want to dive into your ocean
is it raining with you
eurythmics, "here comes the rain again"
>> 5:11 PM
Wednesday, March 28, 2001[U.S. Court Bars Race as Factor in School Entry]
The final sentence of this article:
"The effects of general, societal discrimination cannot constitutionally be remedied by race-conscious decision-making," he [Judge Friedman] wrote.
I think there is something profoundly disturbing about this idea that the only way to counter societal discrimination based on race is to ignore race. It just seems so willfully ignorant to me. How can you deal with a problem by ignoring it?
>> 9:16 AM
From the [NY Times] re: a rate increase for utilities in CA:
The rate increase will generate about $2.5 billion a year for Pacific Gas and Electric, unit of PG&E and $2.3 billion for Southern California Edison, a unit of Edison International. While those revenues will help the utilities buy power on the wholesale market in the future, the commission made no provision for paying off about $13 billion in debt accumulated by the utilities as a result of past wholesale costs. That issue would be left to the governor and state legislators.
>> 8:06 AM
I love him but should I?
I'm often wedded to a notion of love that is unconditional, but I also realize that in practice, I can't sustain a totally self-subsuming attitude. I feel neglected. I feel taken-for-granted. I feel betrayed. And I respond with a mix of anger, confusion, sadness. And then I realize that maybe loving someone unconditionally doesn't mean yoking myself to an unresponsive relationship. I will always care for him, but do I have to do so at the expense of my desires?
And why is it that I do love him?
Well, J is a beautiful man, in many respects. He has a sense of calmness, surety, resolve -- something I feel I lack almost entirely. He is smart, charismatic (when he chooses to be, around certain people), remarkably engaging. His face -- the features, the smile -- melts the rigidity of my heart; I just want to hold him when I see him. He has a moving voice, resonant and assured. He cares for me, too; albeit often in a distracted kind of way. And he'll hold me when I ask . . . I suppose these are rather vague and abstract descriptions. The specifics elude me now, partially due to a lack of sleep, partially because I am still wary of thinking about all of this. (Shyaku's [post] 03/27/01 is beautiful. "My Funny Valentine" is one of my favorite sappy love songs, too, and I just love his descriptions of his dreams about a happy relationship. Those are the things I love about me and J, the everyday presence and comfort that I sometimes forget. I remember chatting with Shyaku on AIM a couple of weeks ago and writing to him that I was ecstatic J was finally back from a day away.)
From the [Buffy] episode I Only Have Eyes For You:
Buffy: Impulsive? Do you remember my ex-boyfriend, the vampire? I slept with him, he lost his soul, now my boyfriend's gone forever, and the demon that wears his face is killing my friends. The next impulsive decision I make will involve my choice of dentures.
Willow: Okay, the Angel thing went badly, I'm on board with that, but that's not your fault. And anyways, love isn't always like that. Love can be... nice!
(Quotes from the inimitable [BuffyGuide].)
>> 6:44 AM
Tuesday, March 27, 2001
>> 11:13 PM
. . .
Went to the John Edgar Wideman reading this evening. Wideman's this year's Morgan writer-in-residence at UNC. It was a big event, big crowd. Wideman read from his current work-in-progress, Hoop Roots, a meditation on basketball, identity, community, and various other concerns. The structure is part personal narrative, part fiction, part poetry, etc. Wideman indicated that he is consciously recalling W. E. B. Dubois's structure in The Souls of Black Folk. After the reading, a reception held at The Carolina Inn. Very loud in there. I stayed for over an hour nonetheless. The most delicious white wine I've ever tasted, delectable chocolate truffles and chocolate cake. Oh, what heavenly desserts. Many professors of the English department were in attendance. Quite a few students as well.
A moment: I stood chatting with two black male students. The photographer came up and asked these two students if they wanted to take a picture with Wideman. I, left behind. What politics this? The deliberate construction of images for a paper (I suppose, though perhaps the photographer to archive images of this event for the Morgan fellowship) -- why two black male students? Why not the two black women standing next to me? Why not me? Is it this concern with superficial multiculturalism? A need to portray in the media a fiction of plentiful black students? But again, why not the women? And what of me? The lone person of Asian descent at the reception (and no small event -- maybe a hundred people there). Out of place? What does this observation say about the racial diversity of the evening, department, university?
>> 10:22 PM
"Please, some one hit me till I'm blue and red and the puss oozes from my tender flesh. I need to feel that something is real." -- [star seiya]
Ummm . . . Shyaku? Can't say that I'll hit you till you're oozing so that you can feel something real . . . but maybe I can write some sense into you? (Ha ha. Right.) Sometimes it does seem like we're all going through troubling times. But there is always hope, or happiness, or something like that. I don't know what it is, but there is something that keeps me thinking, keeps me trying to figure out what is going on around me, what I can do, what I want to do, what it all means. Finding out what gives you pleasure is one possibility. More generally, it's finding out what engages you, what keeps you from closing yourself off to the world, to life. That something is why I think I write, why I want to write. And to some extent it's why I want to draw, though that avenue holds much more terror for me because my parents beat it into me that I have no talent, that if I were a true artist (especially a musician or visual artist), I would've shown my talents as a prodigy at age three. But you know what, that's just wrong. Writing has helped me get by this way of thinking that I'm not good enough, that everyone is always already better, because it is a process very much concerned with development, progress, continual excelling. Maybe it's creativity. Maybe it's passion. Expression. Life. And that's what I hold on to as I spin out my life.
>> 1:32 PM
Today I actually walked past the anti-abortion "exhibit" outside. I didn't look closely at the pictures, but just took in the whole presentation. It's clear that whoever is putting on this protest against abortion has a lot of money. The color photos are huge -- over six feet in height. There are maybe a score of them put up on a metal scaffolding, creating a fence-like structure in the quad. And then to see the pro-choice demonstrators standing quietly by this menacing fence, holding hand-written messages on poster board -- very disconcerting. A little bit aways, a small table in The Pit holds information for birth control options, the space marked out by posters with hand-written messages -- a sense of smallness next to the glossy visuality of the anti-abortionists.
The tactics of the anti-abortionists are rather strange, too. I'd heard about the likening of abortions to genocide, as if those who are trying to take away the right to abortions don't participate in a real kind of genocide of the urban poor by taking away financial, economic, and legislative support for inner cities. But these inflated images of aborted fetuses -- juxtaposed to images of Nazi concentration camp graves -- radically extrapolate the violence of bloody bodies from their causes. And again, they are also disingenuous, plying the viewers' visceral revulsion to the images as "abortion" when, as one of the pro-choice demonstrator's message explains, the large majority of abortions take place well before the fetus develops larger than the size of a dime.
. . .
"it has pushed me to record more dreams, delusions, and to begin pushing what is clearly to be the quasi-ficticious nature of this form of blogging, the online diary. paradox of telecommunications that it is, it has generated no few personal conundrum as it has lent an advantageous way to explore and connect thoughts." [little minx]
Some interesting thoughts on blogging and the excesses / pressures of the personal in web journalling. And still, I think there is something to what some would consider the utterly personal, that which others would not be interested in reading. Perhaps I want to hold on to the mundane writings of a personal journal because I believe in the importance of writing as a way of living. Writing, thinking, living, coming to terms with the world. The beauty of Internet communication as it's been, for me, has been in its fundamental basis in the written. The multimedia explosion will soon change that reliance on the written, maybe not necessarily for the worse. But I think about how writing suddenly became an integral part of personal communication (e-mail, especially), wonder what that means for how we communicate with each other, how we connect with each other. Some thoughts I hope to explore in my proposed composition course for first-year students . . .
Image from lunch: R talking about writing a paper, fingers tapping away at an imaginary keyboard. Maybe ten years ago, would he have mimicked putting a pen to paper?
>> 1:16 PM
Monday, March 26, 2001
>> 10:49 PM
>> 10:23 PM
. . .
Donít mean to be cryptic, but some things I canít even allow myself to describe in explicit detail. In other news, spoke with my mom briefly yesterday. She wanted me to make plans for a visit this summer -- she and my dad want to come to North Carolina for a week. But she also pushed, wanting to know who I live with, what he does, how we know each other. And I wish I could just tell her, but a strong fear compels me to keep silent. The words are simple. The action not entirely new. Not sure why I canít just answer her questions. Perhaps because I know she doesnít want to hear my answers.
>> 7:32 AM
Sunday, March 25, 2001
I need to get going on this presentation I've thrust upon myself for the [student conference] next week. It's now titled "Thinking Literary Studies." I have to figure out what specific things I want to address in this ten minute talk, though. I do still want to bring up some larger issues related to literary studies that students often don't think about (most notably, the increasing movement towards emphasizing science and technology as the realm of higher education and the devaluation of liberal arts). I did talk briefly with one prospective student (the one I took to the train station) about this awareness of what it means to be a graduate student in English on a track towards a professional academic career. I don't think I want to be in a program where the students are hyper-competitive about making themselves marketable for their career, but at the same time, UNC-CH seems at times a little too laid back about the importance of thinking ahead. Anyways, I suppose that's what I'm trying to figure out in this conference presentation: what I need to think about, what we as graduate students should keep within our horizons, as we make our way through the rigors of graduate school towards academic professionalism.
Wondering when people will notice I shaved my head.
>> 10:38 AM
Friday, March 23, 2001[Slander] is so amazing. I want to be just like her when I grow up (heh), able to articulate my uneasiness with things, to think things through, but most importantly, to have a strong sense of what I believe. In a recent entry, she recalls the recurrence of "warring internal dialogues about academic culture." She definitely is able to see how she is at odds with her department, the academic work of her program, etc. -- and yet is able to take those points of opposition in the stride of what she sees as her project in pursuing a doctorate and a teaching / academic life. (To keep as references when I need to think things through: [political subject] and [academia sucks]. Note to self: Slander has explicitly said she is "completely impatient with literary criticism" -- wonder what she means, if she in fact finds literary criticism to be a pointless project, something not worth pursuing. I guess importantly I wonder how she defines "literary criticism.")
>> 10:37 PM
In any case, now off to dinner for prospective students at a professor's house. Time to put on a happy, social face. And this is the thing, just because I'm feeling down doesn't mean I can't and don't go to social events. I can still schmooze, hang out, chat, laugh. But I remain detached, as if my mind is split in two -- one taking care of the immediate interactions with people, the other sitting inside, brooding alone.
I wish there were an easy solution to feelings of disconnection, isolation, alienation.
>> 4:18 PM
Lately I've been noticing that people talk about me. It's a strange feeling because I don't think I've generally been in social situations enough or in contact with other people so as to generate material for gossip. And not necessarily gossip in a negative sense, but just talk about what I am doing, what I am planning, what I said to someone else. Conversations now start out with, "I heard you were going to be away in the spring" or "what are you writing your paper on for the [conference]?" when I hadn't told these particular people my plans. I'm still not quite sure what to make of this observation. It's not a bad thing that people are finding out things about me indirectly (and what about this blog journal? many people who don't speak or write to me directly know things about my thoughts, my life, my plans). But I guess I am still a novice at negotiating a social world, the knowledge that circulates in it, etc. I only know how to think about and interact with others directly, through one-to-one conversations, e-mail exchanges, etc.
Maybe it's time I begin to make myself comfortable with other ways of communicating: talking in class, talking in groups at bars, and so on.
>> 2:00 PM
>> 6:53 AM
Thursday, March 22, 2001
I was at Duke last night for a performance by Patricia J. Williams ("Diary of a Mad Law Professor") and Oliver Lake. They are working on a piece called "Skin." I don't know how much the piece worked as a conceptual whole for me. I liked the content of Williams's spoken-word material. Ruminations on pre-millenial-turn anxiety and the invisibility of racial force in institutional and disciplinary structures (one focus was the Human Genome Project, science, eugenics, etc.). Lake's saxophone/flute playing was very interesting. I'm not much of a music person, but I could definitely feel/see/understand one aspect of his playing as embodying stifled voices, pained expressions.
And this morning, waking up and getting up was like prying myself off the bed. Gravity was insistent. My body a dead weight on the yielding surface of the mattress.
>> 10:40 AM
Wednesday, March 21, 2001
>> 10:53 AM
Tuesday, March 20, 2001
Communication seems to me a very important part of what it means to live. Of course, successful communication is necessary for us to live as social beings, to negotiate each others' needs, desires, actions. But on another level, the very act of communication seems to be tied to a sense of validation. Communication requires reaching out and receiving, transmitting a message and reading or interpreting one. Each step, each aspect of communication is messy, full of possibilities and alternatives. And each aspect seems also always incomplete, perhaps because the possibilities are endless.
Not very coherent, this, but just reflecting a bit on the state of sociality, on the ways the Internet facilitates communication in some ways, hinders in others. On the different material, sensorial presences of communication media. And part of it all, perhaps, reminded of that movie/novel Contact -- the desire to reach out to the stars, to speak to other "intelligent" beings . . .
G'night. Sleep tight. Happy dreams.
>> 8:30 PM
Come again another day
Got a closed carrel in [the library] today. Smells kind of funny in there, perhaps musty from lack of use. The floor was scattered with the dried carcasses of flies. I hope there isn't something particularly toxic in the little room.
Have spent most of the day moving from desk to desk, room to room, building to building. Keep trying to find that spot where I can do some reading, but nowhere seems to fit today. A strange sense of dislocation, my mind neither here nor there. Maybe it's all the caffeine I've been taking in lately.
>> 8:00 PM
I wish the phone would ring
Except in my case, I also wish my alarm clock would ring, or beep, or make whatever noise it does, whatever it's called. I must have not turned on the alarm clock last night, although I know I fiddled with the buttons and switches. I woke up this morning, thought it looked rather light out, looked at the clock, and realized it was fifteen minutes after the time I had set for the alarm. I think there might have been times I've actually turned the alarm clock off without being aware of it, but I don't think today was one of those times. I wasn't that tired. Like I've said before, one of these days, I'll have to go read up on sleep and dream research. The idea of a circadian rhythm is fascinating, too. Aside from light and sound cues, how do our bodies know when we've had "enough" sleep? I know I could sleep indefinitely, so maybe my rhythm is broken. Morpheus, I'd like a refund, please.
>> 6:59 AM
Monday, March 19, 2001[Does it quack?]
[Shyaku] writes, "As much as I hate it, I've found myself trapped in the stereotype of the gay male blogger." I guess there's often this impulse not to want to be easily categorized, easily described. Being told who you are has this strange sense of delimiting you, of circumscribing you and therefore in some odd way supposedly mastering you. As long as some aspect of you remains mysterious, hidden, or not-understood, you have a way of slipping away from that conceptual grasping.
Stereotypes are particularly nervousness-inducing categorizations because they lay such broad strokes of definition. Listing certain attributes thereby describes the stereotyped in its totality. And that's where the problem comes in, when we take stereotypes as indications of the totality of a person or thing rather than as common points in additionto the specifics of that person or thing. And so perhaps many of us might fall into the stereotypical gay male blogger profile, but that profile hardly says anything about what we write about, how we approach our writing on an individual level, who reads our writing, and how they do or don't establish relationships with us. In any case, I am trying to understand the difficulties of stereotyping, what we can do to combat them without capitulating to their work of dehumanizing, limiting, objectifying.
>> 6:31 PM
At least one of my classes has been cancelled for today. I wish I had checked my e-mail last night, though, so I would've known to save my $6 by parking in the commuter lot instead of the city lot. Oh well. I'll have an hour off to wander about campus. Or to study diligently.
Where can I find a good cup of coffee in this town? I bought two cups of coffee this morning, and neither has been very good. Am I actually developing a discerning taste for coffee? Or are my taste buds just uncooperative today?
>> 7:05 AM
Sunday, March 18, 2001
>> 1:00 PM
Saturday, March 17, 2001
>> 7:35 PM
In his call for Asians to "break out" of stereotypes, he is really calling for an embrace of a particular type of cultural presence -- some would call it "all-Americanness," others "whiteness." In essence, he wants to erase these markings of racialized difference by assimilating to an idealized "neutral" personhood. What he doesn't see is that such "neutral" persons are not by any means without race. They are in fact carefully race-d as the norm, what fits within a unified conception of what it means to be white and American. So, in his call for Asians to disperse, to assimilate, to become "normal," he is far from being "color-blind" -- he in fact endorses a specific conception of race, cloaked in terms of ideological neutrality.
>> 6:49 PM
Sad: J gone to Virginia until tomorrow afternoon. Nobody wants to be lonely.
>> 2:23 PM
Friday, March 16, 2001["Pedro Zamora's Real World of Counterpublicity"] in which Muñoz focuses much more on how a performance can make its way through institutional structures and channels. Wonderful reading of Zamora's work and its presentation through the lens of The Real World.)
The point here is not to moralize about how such an image might be harmful, for it is my belief that it is a futile project to deliberate on the negativity or positivity of images within representational fields.
I wish I could disavow the importance of juggling negative or positive images. I think Muñoz's work is very thoughtful and generative, but I wish he would allow himself to deal with the messiness of representational force. Looking at artists like Richard Fung is important, and I agree with what Muñoz writes about Fung's re-articulation of self, but what about images and representations of people that are more pervasive? It would be interesting to think about why some artists' work is acceptable for "mainstream" circulation while others' aren't, despite obvious counter-hegemonic material in both. Muñoz's work is more concerned, however, with the position that the artist articulates in allowing for readings of self and identity outside those prescribed.
There is another aspect to the work of artists, though. I would suggest that there is something about the reading, the reader, that makes and defines the object of study, the text. So, it matters what the audience of a work is. I don't think I want to argue that therefore the only truly subversive work can only travel an underground existence, but it makes me wonder. I think Spike Lee's Bamboozled haphazardly addresses the problem of cooptation, of a larger institutional structure assimilating dissenting voices, etc. In a related vein, Karen Tei Yamashita's Through the Arc of the Rain Forest takes a look at how corporate capitalism subsumes "authentic" (i.e., not originally concerned with making money) projects in its constant search for growth and profit. Neither of these works, however, offers any sense of how to change those effects, to resist cooptation or to transform larger structures of power.
But back to the question of positive and negative representations. I think Muñoz's (and as he explains, Michele Wallace's) uneasiness with critiques of images as good or bad is in those critiques' uselessness in changing representational practices. After all, there must be "bad" characters in stories, to take a simplistic example. But I still think these critiques, or more precisely, these discussions, about how representations can be negative, are always important. I don't advocate censorship or "political correctness" in the pejorative sense that stymies the production of cultural texts, but unless we continue to talk and write about what various representations do, we will never be able to understand representations, gazes, etc. And by extension, we would not be able to change what we don't like about how we are viewed.
>> 12:42 PM
>> 8:24 AM
Thursday, March 15, 2001
I'm not quite sure what to make of [The Cyborg Manifesto], though. Simply regarding the "material" as obsolete seems too naive. Need to look at [Donna Haraway's Cyborg Manifesto] again because I think she does something much more interesting there, imagining what a cyborg reality would mean in terms of the material, the social, the political, etc. (rather than as a utopia outside these discourses).
. . .
From the dictionary:
manifesto n. (pl. -os) a public declaration of policy and aims, esp. as issued before an election by a political party, candidate, government, etc.
Hmmm . . . wonder why "platform" seems to be the preferred term for political parties, candidates, etc.
>> 4:11 PM
Wednesday, March 14, 2001[unconstitutional] by the US Supreme Court (how did I miss that ruling?).
But yes, this article, ["Welcome to the World Wide Web. Passport, Please?"], in the NY Times touches on the same trend to restrict access to (and by extension presentation of) material on the Internet. A quote:
Suddenly, the seemingly borderless Internet is ramming up against real borders. The imposition of jurisdictional laws could mean that online publishers decide either to keep some material off the Internet entirely, for fear of criminal and civil charges filed in different countries or even different states, or to install online gates and checkpoints around their sites, giving access to only certain viewers.
It's the clash of cultures again, that sticky conflict of morals, judgement, respect. But the newness of the Internet, its promise for changing the way we as people of the world communicate, seems to be lost to proponents of restriction and censorship. It seems that some people are incapable of imagining the possibilities of fruitful exchanges across jurisidictions. I risk sounding like an extremist in advocating the free exchange of ideas (a la Mill or even Milton -- ideas will battle themselves out in a free market and the best, most moral, will win), a position I have doubts about embracing outright because implicit in it is a certain, usually conservative, hierarchy of values and pronouncements on what is moral or righteous. After all, I still believe in the necessity of anti-discrimination laws, including injunctions against hate speech. But how can we reconcile the possibilities of the Internet, the structure of informational exchange it provides, with our values without chaining down the Internet to old rules and restrictions? How can we move past differences to a common ground?
. . .
Talked briefly with the cashier at [The Bull's Head Bookshop] on campus. I was picking up Barbara Smith's [The Truth That Never Hurts] and Kate Millett's Sexual Politics (both on sale in celebration of [Women's History Month]) and the cashier asked me what program I was in at UNC. I guess it seemed odd to him that someone during spring break would be on campus buying these particular books. So we chatted a bit about our academic interests -- turns out he's in the Comparative Literature department working on francophone and anglophone Caribbean literatures. I talked about my interests in anglophone Caribbean literatures and he mentioned a few people in the English department who would be good to approach about work in such an area. The parking meter was running so I couldn't stay to chat longer, but I do plan on looking him up to talk further about what he's writing about in his dissertation and how he's been finding graduate study here. I like friendly people.
>> 11:30 PM
I know it's incredibly self-destructive for me to think about how some people I know have done so much in their lives, made recordable, material changes. Their movements through institutions, their friends' lives, life in general, seem to be full of meaning, of progressive action. On the other hand, I seem to slip by quietly always silent unable to catch people's attention (not wanting their attention?) just another nameless face.
Yesterday I was thinking about some students I admired in college, mostly younger than me and yet already leading discussion groups, organizations, rallies as first-years, forging ahead in their roles as leaders of social change. As I was searching the web to see if I could find traces of their lives, what they are doing now, what they have accomplished, I came across a bio of one acquaintance. I saw her around last year in NYC (she was a friend of my roommate). She was a paralegal, doing grunt work long hours each week. But in this bio, I discovered that she has enrolled at Columbia's School of Journalism while deferring enrollment at Boalt School of Law (UC Berkeley). That drive in and of itself makes me feel small; I barely know what I am doing in grad school, often feeling as if I am spinning my wheels in an attempt to create something worth calling a life. But more than that, I read in her bio of all the things in which she was involved while in college, organization after organization, visible campaign after campaign to make the institution more diverse, more equitable, more aware of its failings in providing its students, faculty, other employers with compelling educations and work environments. All these things I remember watching vaguely, filtering information through the papers and the occasional organizational meetings into which I wandered.
From where do these people get their energy, their conviction, the knowledge to deal with complicated issues? How do they keep from that paralysis of uncertainty? How do they make those steps to act even in the fact of seeming-futility or outright resistance?
And here I sit, trying just to keep my thoughts in line, struggling to follow arguments, others' words.
. . .
Watched Edge of Seventeen last night. It was difficult movie to watch, I suppose partly because it was well-done. But I was playing up the drama of the narrative, telling J that I was scared or sad at all the moments when you just knew what was going to happen, and it wasn't going to be good. I remember when it came out a year or two ago in theaters, Edge was reviewed in all the papers along with Get Real. J and I saw Get Real in NYC together, but never managed to catch Edge of Seventeen for some reason. I think Edge of Seventeen was a more moving movie because it didn't have an easy or happy resolution. The protagonist's coming-to-terms with his sexuality and the beginnings of his coming-out process are incredibly painful (for me perhaps because I can identify with the situations, reactions, etc.). The writers of the movie shy away from making the protagonist "good"; they depict him in all the confusion, self-centeredness, and messiness of a teenager's decisions and actions in an imperfect world. The other characters, too, are complicated in the same respect, not simply accepting what happens or believing what they say or do in certain moments; that delicate negotiation between being in a moment and what you would do if you had more time to think about your actions . . .
>> 11:49 AM
Tuesday, March 13, 2001
>> 2:50 PM
The concepts of race, gender, and sexuality and how we various groups of people talk about them are incredibly complicated. I don't think I will ever be able to come to an "understanding" of how differing perspectives imagine race, gender, and sexuality, how they impact each other and the people they are meant to describe. But this difficulty doesn't mean that I can just give up thinking about them, that I can be un-problematically "color-blind" or "gender-neutral" or "private" (don't ask/don't tell). Attempts to claim neutrality only ignore the very real effects of racism, sexism, and heterosexism. I hope this acknowledgement of the conservatism (i.e. capitulating to status quo) of "neutrality" doesn't mean that we are stuck in constant warfare over racial and sexual self-determination. I do think, however, that such acknowledgement means a constant negotiation between different meanings of race, gender, and sexuality -- with a move towards greater cross-categorical understanding and respect. After all, most people realize that these categories are to some extent (at least) "socially-constructed" -- that there is not a clear definition of what makes a person black, for example (is the child of a black woman and a Chinese man black?).
I come to these thoughts on a periodic basis, never with any definitive conclusion because such rigidity cannot possibly deal with all the myriad situations in which conceptions of race, gender, and sexuality play out to the detriment of certain members of our community. That there are classes of people -- blacks, latinos, women, gays -- that bear the brunt of the violence, face the most limited possibilities for self-fulfillment, etc. because of how others think of them is the reason why we must continue to work against these negative associations.
I agree with [Shyaku] that what Tim Wise does in his commentary is not quite "right" in saying that school shootings are a white matter (see [previous post]). But Wise's comments do not really argue that these shootings are a white crime so much as point out that there is a disturbing public conception of crime as a black phenomenon. The question, "How could such crime happen in a white neighborhood?" implies that such crime only happens in non-white neighborhoods. Why is it that crime writ large is a black problem, but crime in "all-American" towns suddenly becomes a psychological investigation of the mental state of white shooters? Blacks commit crimes, are criminals. White teenagers are troubled, teased to the point of violence. Why is there such a push to absolve white teenagers of their crimes, but very little effort to think of blacks as something other than criminal, broken, corrupt? When is there a justification for a crime rather than just an excuse? Where does the responsibility lie? These questions are all important to the elucidation of institutionalized racism, the criminalization of color, and understandings of economic and situational factors that keep many blacks below the poverty line. They are in fact the questions that concern criminal law, defining the various degrees of murder, for example (murder, man slaughter, negligent homicide, etc.). When is murder really murder? When are there extenuating circumstances? And I think Shyaku is right that you basically have to yell at people sometimes to get them out of racist modes of thinking, to get people to understand that there are inequalities between how blacks are treated as criminals vs. whites in similar circumstances.
The issue of gender tends to foreground ideas of essential characteristics, biological differences between men and women. And while it may seem that women can get away with sexist words against men while men can't say sexist things about women, I think the situations really are more complicated. And again, what is of greatest importance are actions and words that challenge hierarchized thinking about gender on a large scale. While in some cases, this may seem like allowing for men to be bashed by women, for example, it really is about moving away from this either/or, a man-thing or a woman-thing thinking. I readily call myself a feminist because I believe in what the women's liberation movement strived for a couple of decades ago -- the eradication of gender bias in personal and political interactions. And where does the struggle between men and women put gay men and lesbians? The struggle for gender equality is not the same as the struggle against heterosexism, but it is very much linked. As Shyaku points out, just because one is gay (and male) does not make one not a guy. But that such thinking even crosses our minds shows us how much sex and sexuality are not completely distinct phenomenon. For example, common emasculating taunts draw on the concept of labelling the taunted faggots.
And then there is the whole issue of sexual harrassment, talking about someone's homosexuality, and discrimination suits. I don't know what's really going on with [psionic's] situation, but it does seem like a complicated mess. As he points out, his company considers "outing" (defamation of character?) a sexual harrassment case. I like to think that I'm living in a much more gay-friendly world/country than it seems is out there, so I often forget about the difficulties of being out at work. More than the fear of being fired, I have to remind myself that a major issue with being out at work is also negotiating personal relationships, working and non-, and relating to others professionally. I know that thinking that being out at work as necessary is a very privileged way of thinking. I can insist on being out at work (or school) because I don't have to hold down that job in order to survive, to make a living. And there are always more things to consider than "being true to oneself."
Hmm.... I guess this post kind of loses its steam rapidly after the first few paragraphs. Oh well. It's spring break. Can't hold a thought in my head very long. Picked up Siobhan B. Somerville's [Queering the Color Line] yesterday. Looks like a fascinating thesis -- "Siobhan B. Somerville argues that the emerging understanding of homosexuality depended on the context of the black/white 'color line,' the dominant system of racial distinction."
>> 10:42 AM
Monday, March 12, 2001
A few years ago, U.S. News ran a story entitled: "A Shocking look at blacks and crime." Yet never have they or any other news outlet discussed the "shocking" whiteness of these shoot-em-ups. Indeed, every time media commentators discuss the similarities in these crimes they mention that the shooters were boys, they were loners, they got picked on, but never do they seem to notice a certain highly visible melanin deficiency. Color-blind, I guess.
White-blind is more like it, as I figure these folks would spot color mighty damn quick were some of it to stroll into their community. Santee's whiteness is so taken for granted by its residents that the Mayor, in that CNN interview, thought nothing of saying on the one hand that the town was 82 percent white, but on the other hand that "this is America." Well that isn't America, and it especially isn't California, where whites are only half of the population. This is a town that is removed from America, and yet its Mayor thinks they are the normal ones - - so much so that when asked about racial diversity, he replied that there weren't many of different "ethni-tis-tities." Not a word. Not even close.
Feel free to [e-mail] me for the full commentary if you're interested.
>> 7:45 AM
I was definitely pulled in by Yamashita's novel (read most of it in one day). As she explains in an author's note at the beginning, the novel is like a Brazilian soap opera, a novela. The events funnel together, are in total concordance. It's definitely an example of a story that is connected and causal. What I liked best about the story, though, was its dealings with this idea of necessary constant growth, especially in corporations. And ultimately, this desire always to expand finds itself without grounding, without stable foundations, and collapses. It's not that Yamashita advocates a return to the land, an agrarian way of life, the good ol' days, but there's a definite need to understand the bases of our desires to grow, to make more money, etc.
I liked Hartley's Flirt more than I liked his Henry Fool or Book of Life (though I must confess I did not like those so much at all). The concept of Flirt is very interesting -- a story plays itself out in three different locations, each instance about a year apart, in different countries. As the construction workers/philosophers in the second segment explain, the film probably fails in its explorations of the impact of the situation on a story. But it's a worthwhile experiment and instructive failure nonetheless. How much does a story's progression have to do with the surroundings, with character personalities, etc.? And what does it mean to conclude a story? The first two instances of the story in Flirt were very open-ended for me. The last was oddly truncated, brought to an unsatisfying but apparently significant closure when the woman returns to her boyfriend who was to have departed. In this case, the story diverges from the other two in which we assume that the significant others have departed as planned. Will have to talk about this movie with R who lent it to me (and is a huge Hartley fan).
Oh yeah, and saw The Simpsons last night. Very strange episode. Over-the-top. There's defintitely a detachment from "realistic" events sometimes. Maggie shooting nails at Homer. Homer nailed to a wall, oddly without bloody wounds. Lisa and the bully. Lisa's discovery of an olfactory trigger to bully behavior. Was there another plot line? That was the other thing, seemed as if the plots were entirely unrelated. As if the writers felt no need really to make a coherent episode?
Also took at short fifteen-minute jog yesterday. That was about as long as my knees and my lungs would allow me to go. Sigh. So far from the days when I would jog for an hour each morning . . . And I'm sore today, too. Ugh.
>> 7:37 AM
Sunday, March 11, 2001
Forgot to mention that I finally got a pair of black shoes. I went to Crabtree Valley Mall yesterday (the main reason for the jaunt out to Raleigh). And let me tell you, it was one frightening experience. To see the mass of cars going in and out of the complex, to see the full parking lots. And all the people! My claustrophobia (once inside) and people-phobia were definitely creeping up on me. Luckily Joe was with me to keep me sane. And now I know where many Triangle residents go on a Saturday afternoon -- apparently, this mega-mall. While it's wonderful that there is a centralized location to find needed things, it's also sad to think that public space is very much structured around shopping. Children, teenagers, adults, mid-aged people, older people -- they were all ambling around inside with a bag or two of loot, chatting and browsing, bonding and buying. When we went downtown a little later, the streets and city parks were deserted. There really are very few places just to hang out. Not even coffee houses (which are a business after all).
>> 6:24 AM
Saturday, March 10, 2001[novel] coming out in June. [Shyaku] came across Gaiman's [blog]. Interesting concept. From the first entry:
June the 19th 2001 is the publication date of American Gods, a book which despite the many shelves in this office filled with books with my name on the spine, feels an awful lot like a first novel. (Perhaps because it was the first long work I've done without any collaborative input from anyone, and that wasn't first something else.) And this, in case you were wondering, is the occasional journal on the americangods.com website. I thought the journal could count us down to publication, and see us through the US and the UK publication and tours for the book in June and July.
I first suggested we do something like this to my editor, the redoubtable Jennifer Hershey, about a year ago, while the book was still being written (a process that continued until about 3 weeks ago). She preferred to wait until the book was on the conveyor belt to actual publication, thus sparing the reading world lots of entries like "Feb 13th: wrote some stuff. It was crap." and "Feb 14th: wrote some brilliant stuff. This is going to be such a good novel. Honest it is." followed by "Feb 15th. no, it's crap" and so on. It was a bit like wrestling a bear. Some days I was on top. Most days, the bear was on top. So you missed watching an author staring in bafflement as the manuscript got longer and longer, and the deadlines flew about like dry leaves in a gale, and the book remained unfinished.
Gaiman writes about the publication process, mentions copy-editing, for instance. Also refers to a journal he keeps (not the blog) in which he thinks about his writing. Some more words:
I started a journal entry today that turned into a 1500 word rambling essay on the start of American Gods, how it began, how the characters got their names, and why, in my opinion, some books and some stories have genders. So I've put it aside and will look at it tomorrow to see if it makes any sense or not... if it does I'll post it here. If not, consider yourselves lucky to have been spared it...
>> 8:23 PM
Today to Raleigh; saw [NCSU] and downtown. Went to [White Rabbit Books] for the first time.
>> 8:00 PM
Friday, March 09, 2001[this] is just so wrong. I cannot understand people who insist on seeing feminism as a castrating, man-hating, pseudo-scientific project. This Christina Hoff Sommers person seems to condense all of these issues very pointedly in decrying feminism's work to challenge gender norms. Her take is that gender difference is normal and good, that women and girls are not constrained by gender expectations. In fact, she argues vehemently against gender studies work because she says men and little boys get trampled by angry, militant, man-hating feminists. I'm surprised she didn't start railing against lesbians and homosexual men.
There are a few other related issues that really rubbed me the wrong way, though. One is Sommers's insistence that gender studies and women's studies is a decidedly anti-empirical "pseudo-science." This argument is entirely disingenous because part of gender studies' work has been to re-examine the bases of accepted scientific practice, to probe the ways in which such practices do mark and distinguish gender difference. Another issue is Sommers's repeated citing of "facts" about women doing better than men (as with statistics of rising enrollment of women in colleges). There are so many other factors to be considered in these "facts." An obvious one is whether there are percentage-wise more women of college-age than men in the country. Another is what kinds of schools these students are attending -- Sommers makes an off-hand comment that there are more women at liberal arts colleges, implying that this is a "good" thing even though she obviously thinks the humanities are stupid. Which leads to the other issue -- that of the ideological nature of knowledge projects. Sommers claims that all women's studies and gender studies projects are ideologically corrupt because they hate men. But she hardly acknowledges the fact that all projects and theories have an ideological bent, that her work, despite it's "objectivity" and "empiricism" is as much rooted in an ideological vision of gender relations, hers a particularly conservative one that reifies the status quo and ideals of masculinity as belonging solely to men.
Argh. I just want to throw things.
And even though I might have issues with Carol Gilligan's views of an inherent moral compass within women (cultural feminism makes me uneasy), I have to applaud the counter-hegemonic work that such feminism does, attempting to address the problems of uneven treatment of boys and girls under a gender-normed regime.
>> 7:38 AM
Thursday, March 08, 2001
Over dinner last night, J and I came to the conclusion that depression for us takes the form of detachment. It's a step away from the stuff of life, definitely from the pleasure of feeling a part of things, active and connected. And I guess it's a different form of depression than utter despair. While it tends to push me towards inaction, it isn't the same as wanting to end it all or to destroy a something else outside me. In a way, such destructive actions would probably stem from a similar sense of powerlessness, ineffectualness, non-connection. But there is some sort of qualitative difference, must be, since I have never felt overly violent or destructive. All this depression-talk also in light of encountering a classmate of mine who keeps mentioning that she is clinically depressed and therefore misses class often whenever we talk. I don't want to belittle her, condescend, etc., but it seems like she uses that term, that excuse, far too readily. I feel this way because it doesn't seem as if the depression is really a governing factor in her life. Of course, this is probably because depression is not always visible, especially in social contexts. I know when I'm feeling down and enter a social situation, I project a perfectly content, even happy, persona. And it's troubling to me in some ways because I feel duplicitous, even if I am not explicitly saying that I am happy. But in some ways, putting myself in contact with others when I am depressed does lighten my mood. I don't know if part of it has to do with the projection of happier feelings that somehow sticks and changes my attitude.
Oh, and I saw that new TV show, Some of My Best Friends, last night. Very cliched, but might have some interesting developments.
>> 5:55 AM
Wednesday, March 07, 2001
But because I wasn't able to fulfill these wants, I was at least temporarily dejected. And I was reminded why I probably have been consciously working to strip myself of expectations. It's never successful, of course, but I know I find myself at times trying or pretending that I don't want anything in particular -- say, for dinner -- so that I won't be disappointed if I can't have what I want. It's strange how my mind works.
Now I'm thinking it's better at least to know what I want. This could be part of my desire to articulate my thoughts, my desires. Nebulousness, while attractive in some senses, can be debilitating when I feel at a loss, adrift, not knowing what it is I want out of my day.
>> 11:41 AM
>> 9:08 AM
>> 9:00 AM
Monday, March 05, 2001
I was watching the [Weather Channel] this morning and thinking about the impact of representations. The difficulty in determining whether a representation is harmful/insidious or not -- whether it is a stereotype or not -- always depends on a larger context. (In fact, all representations are limited in what they are, and cannot help but be limiting to individual identities.) In some ways, the individual instances of representation don't even matter. These things move at such a different discursive level.
In any case, I was watching the Weather Channel and noticed that the audience addressed by the meteorologist was decidedly the nuclear family. There was talk of how mom and dad wouldn't like the snow in the Northeast, but the kids would love it. In another way, the meteorologist was also reinscribing values of adulthood and childhood, responsibility and play. And while I don't think this person was wrong or harmful or anything like that (intentionally or not, that would be another set of issues), it did make me think about why people do get up-in-arms about the weight of representations. Asian Americans want to see positive representations of Asian Americans in the media and in entertainment. Same with gay people, African Americans, Native Americans, Latinos, etc. These representations would have to do the countering work against a heavy weight of dominant representations of these facets of identity.
>> 6:49 AM
Sunday, March 04, 2001[this article] on relationships via [crankygirls]. I like the line, "The city is powered on the unfulfilled yearnings of all the modern, hyperlinked, supercommunicating people who canít communicate anything!" Celia Farber addresses the inability of people to say things to each other that aren't either total rejections or professions of wanting to be with the other for the rest of their lives. I definitely agree with this sense of extremity in the language people speak about love. There is very little in-between, no way of easily negotiating a relationship without breaking it off or jumping right into marriage (or commitment or whatever). This all again points to what I think of as a lack of understanding how to make a relationship go, to make it exist on a day-to-day level. In my mind, it's a constant process, an always-making of the relationship. (Partially why I have such a problem with the idea of marriage as a one-time profession of eternal commitment, as if that is all that's needed to sustain love forever.) And all this is exacerbated by a "habitual emotional muteness" (in Farber's words) that plagues people all over (women as well as men). It always seems to be such a game, to pretend emotional distance from possible relationships in order to inflame the interest of the other (I am often disturbed by stories of "playing hard to get").
>> 10:33 AM
Saturday, March 03, 2001[lyd]: This is [a news story] about Chinese diver Fu Mingxia who wore pants with sexist and obscene English words to a Coca-Cola-Sprite sponsored press conference. While I think it is ironically funny that something so simple could trouble the corporate image, one that also deals in a "common sense" about corporate sponsorship of Olympic (and other) athletes, the story also raises the issue of global, transnational corporations' reach. What is the effect of a giant like Coca-Cola doing press conferences in China with an Olympic star? Is the lingua franca of international exchange really the language of economics and images/marketing?
>> 8:02 AM
And so here is the problem (again): what is a culture? What is representation? What is stereotyping? Is how lyd presents the "broken English" of his father's letter (purportedly transcribed faithfully) a racist thing? Is it even if lyd seems steeped in the particular "Asian Pride" milieu of California (as far as I know)? What does it mean to be "Asian American"? This last question in particular is one I haven't been able to puzzle out. On the one hand, there is the superficial argument (meaning the argument about appearances, biological phenotypes, etc.) that I am already wholly determined by my race in interpersonal relations. And yes, I can perhaps mess with those understandings, manipulate them, but that is still the basis of racial knowledge. On another hand (there may be more than two here), there are the cultural trappings of being Asian -- ethnically specific traditions, mannerisms, decorations. But where do I stand in that case? I am only slightly more attached to the culture of my parents than someone like Joe is, though having grown up in their household. And it's not that I reject their "culture" or ways of doing things, but that I do not do things exactly as they do (which is not to say I do things exactly as a "white Westerner" would).
The complexities of these questions is what unnerves me and makes me not think about being Asian American. And still, being faced with simplistic renderings of the experience of race can be profoundly troubling. Here again is that issue of representation in the public eye, particularly in entertainment media like movies and television shows. Why are the only consistent representations of Asians or Asian Americans rooted so much in the comic value of stilted accents, outrageous and/or peasant clothing, an exoticism (often complete with silk robes, incense, the non-diatonic music of Chinese instruments)?
Times like these I wonder how I would be, what my understandings of race would be, if I had gone to UC Berkeley where I would not have been the random Asian American amongst students of other races. Would I have been a member of many Asian American organizations? Would I be more politically active? More socially active? How would I relate to other people, both of Asian descent and not?
And all of this is not even to begin touching on the ideology of "Asian American" as opposed to "Taiwanese American" or even "Chinese American." Nor does it address the problematics of thinking diaspora -- what about Taiwanese in Canada or Australia? Elsewhere? In Taiwan? What is my relationship to people there? The conflict between mainland China and Taiwan?
I was glad to have lived last year with J in Brooklyn. His family was also from Taiwan, but of a different "class" (not necesssarily in the economic sense -- his family left China during the Cultural Revolution as part of the wave of Nationalists who took control of Taiwan under Chiang Kai-shek -- part of the group of people who terrorized other Taiwanese like my family, instituting a reign of violence, terror, and political repression). The interesting thing is that J is very much invested in holding on to a Taiwanese identity and a solidarity with people of color in the United States. I would love to talk to him about how he came to such a political and social perspective (he did grow up in Berkeley, CA).
>> 7:51 AM
So we talked yesterday and now we have a plan of action that is slightly less frightening than the stark alternatives above. The school had suggested to Joe that he could start next spring semester instead of this fall. If that is indeed possible, he could stay here through the end of December. I could try to finish my master's degree by the end of December (or at least have all but the thesis itself done, with the possibility of completing the thesis long-distance). Then, we could move together in January and not have to be apart at all. The two things I think we both realize we have to work with is 1) Joe taking the job and 2) me finishing my degree. There's just too much crap that Joe has gone through in applying for these jobs and also with his current job for him to forgo this opportunity. And I, too, have put too much into my program simply to abandon it now.
One other thing I'm hoping for is that I can take time off officially from my program, even after I finish the master's, so that I can return to the doctorate. If I decide after a semester off that I really want to continue on with the doctorate, I can jump back in the following semester and still be on par with my class (not that it would make such a big difference at that point since we'd all be taking classes at our own pace, working on our exams separately, etc. -- but the people I know would still be around and I wouldn't need to feel left behind or left out, something that can easily plague me).
So that's the plan for now. It'll be a lot of work, but I think it's worth it. It'll still be hard thinking that I won't be here next spring while facing my classmates and professors this coming year. But maybe I will just end up staying here through the full two-years of work. In any case, I'm feeling less paralyzed and scared now. Seems like these happenings are more positive, filled more with new opportunities than missed ones.
And when I move to MO, I'll continue to do the work with literature and theory that I've started here. I have shelves and shelves of books I need to read anyways. But I will also be able to focus a bit on creative writing since Joe has said he will support me for the most part. I will probably take at least a part time job to give my life some structure but also to save up money to start paying back those loans or to make coming back to graduate school easier financially. (It's so strange that I'm thinking so far ahead now. I forget how deeply mired I am in the work of this semester, how much I have left to do for all my classes.)
>> 7:10 AM
Friday, March 02, 2001
I don't want to imagine what things are going to be like next year. Where will I be? What will I do? It's likely that Joe will be moving to another state for a teaching job. And I'm very happy for him that he got the job. But that leaves me with this strange empty feeling. Like the ground has dropped out from under me and I'm falling, falling endlessly. The little bit of ground I was struggling towards in regards to what I am doing in graduate school has disappeared, too. Is any of it important enough for me to pursue if it means I have to be away from him?
What defines me? Would it be best for me to move with Joe to MO? What would I do there? How about all that I've worked for here in NC these past nine months or so? The people, the courses, the relationships, the thinking . . .
>> 11:12 AM
>> 9:02 AM
Thursday, March 01, 2001
>> 5:51 AM
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