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Verbose Venting


It is time again for a new page of handy-dandy thoughts from yours truly. Why, you may ask, is a new page necessary? The answer, dear reader(s) is that the prior page (rantecdotes) was getting rather long, and since I want these pages to load quickly (enough) for those few visitors that I get, I figured it in my - and your - best interest to start a new page. First, before getting on to new text, let me explain the photo to the right (click on it for a larger version). It is a Life magazine cover from April, 1996. The article dealt with a pair of conjoined twins in the Midwest. (Note: This picture is posted without permission from Life magazine, but used here under claims of fair use)

The week in review: It was, all in all, a good week, and one which I felt I might comment upon here. Unfortunately, various activities, etc., have kept me from doing so until now—now that a new week is beginning. My expectation was to have a relatively light week after returning from spring break (not that I went anywhere, but still); but that was not to be.

On monday I went in around 10 a.m. to work on the Macs before going off to Serbo-Croatian, my one class of the day. I then returned to the comptuters in the afternoon; out of four dead IIcx boxes I made two working IIcx boxes - not much, but at least something. However, I ended up sticking around for Kaffeestunde (at least the food was good) and chatting with a few undergrads. Even then, I could have been out of there by around 4:30, but I ended up spending time talking to Kim and Laura. We finally left, but that only ended us up in the library, where I checked out 11 books. I got home around 8 or so and fixed dinner; not much in the way of "work" got done.

Tuesday was meant as a productive day; I only had one class (again). Michael Taylor (from Utah) was visiting, so I stuck around and went out to lunch with him; I was late to class as a result, but that’s okay. Then, at 2:30 there was the “Town Meeting,” which meant I was fated not to leave until after 4:30. However, even after that, I stuck around to help Steakley with his computer and chat with Kim and Laura; we ended up going to dinner with Michael Taylor that evening (at Hüsnüs) around 6—we got out around 8:30. Good dinner (lamb curry for me). Afterward, Laura and I went to Starbucks—I’ve never been there since I don’t drink coffee—and got steamed milk (quite tasty, actually). However, we were, um, “approached” by a drunken old Vietnam vet who insisted on telling us his stories; a difficult situation out of which to remove oneself, but frankly, neither of us had any interest in his tales, so at some point we found an excuse to leave. The result was basically that we spent the next hour chatting and drinking our milk outside, where it was a tad on the chilly side. So, I got home around 10 p.m.

In contrast to Mon. and Tues., on Wednesday I have two classes. I got into the department earlier enough again, and I even attempted to leave at an early enough hour in order to get some lunch, get home, and do some work. But alas, it was not to be—instead, I heard my name called shortly after I started walking down State Street, and I ended up spending the next several hours enjoying “Happy Hour” with several students from the Slavic Dept. (um ... 2-for-1 margaritas, $2 hamburger and fries ... yum)—when we left City Bar, it was amazingly windy outside, which I rather enjoyed—if only it had blown harder.

I was off to the library again on Thursday; on Wednesday Prof. Feger had told me that I’d be presenting on Über das Marionettentheater on Friday. Oops. After collecting a handful of books on Kleist, finding the Hungarian Lit. section (PH section on 5 South—very nifty) and getting a few books, and committing my own little act of disorder/chaos (reference to/from the Town Meeting), I headed over to Memorial Union to join the Union rally. I ended up finding a used-book sale, but nothing was really worth buying, even for $.50. We marched up to Bascom Hall, chanted/yelled, and had a good time. Then it was off to class and a midterm exam. After a brief stint in the department, I was off to have lunch on State Street, where I ended up running into Rebekah. We chatted a while, and then her SO—David—showed up from Chicago, so we had lunch at Milan’s. I actually got home before 5—however, I wasn’t too productive.

Friday was the “big day” this week, as I had two presentations (Kleist and one on Hungary) and I hadn’t done my reading(s) for my seminar. Luckily we only watched a film in Serbo-Croatian. Despite a thoroughly boring evening, I had a pretty good day; I even had a nice walk around State Street and Capitol Square in the evening. Saturday morning I woke up later than expected, so I didn’t make the first sessions of the grad student conference/colloqium, but that gave me time to do a bit of e-mailing. In the process, I found out that the UC-Davis German Dept., um, “borrowed” from my pages here for the Department of German. No big deal, but mildly amusing. The conference itself was very interesting and worthwhile—better than anyone expected, I think. Afterwards we went out to dinner down on Regent Street, and I got to chat with Alan, another visiting student, and—of course—the other people there. Another useful day. In contrast, today has been spent inside, except for a brief run to the grocery store in the morning. 4 hours were spent online to no real end. Chatted with someone with the nick “Irishtears” (17596310). However, I have started this page, so something has been done, at least. Plus, Leena called, so my day hasn’t been entirely without human/humanesque contact.

—March 21, 1999

First day of spring, part II: I’m back again, even though I’ve already written a few words today. Regarding the conjoined twins pictured above, it’s been almost 3 years since I originally saw that photo; one would have to ask, what has happened to those children in that time? Are they still “around”—or has either one or even both died? What thoughts—this isn’t something I’d ask about most other people showing up on a magazine cover. Why this desire to invade other peoples’ privacy and turn them into objects of our gaze? Most sets of conjoined twins are seen only by way of medical photos—fetuses or new-borns, the former in jars, the latter on an examination table. These are often the more grotesque examples, since almost by definition, those that survive beyond birth are those that are “most normal” to start with. Indeed, the normalcy of the above-pictured twins was a focal point of the Time article about them. They could go swimming or to school. They enjoyed “normal” activities. On the one hand this is done as a way to say “Hey, don’t stare at them, they’re just like us, they’re not freaks”—something in this age of “tolerance” we should always do, right? On the other hand, by pointing out how “normal” they are, we are merely fitting them into our context—we’re making them normal for us. It seems to be a damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t situation for the observer. If you point something out as exotic, not only do you have a limited perspective, you are creating an “other” out of that which you perceive. If you, on the other hand, point out the similarities between yourself or your context and whatever you are observing/studying, you are merely enforcing the subjective nature of perception, for you can only understand that which is within of your horizon of experience. Why not examine an object as it is? Why do we have to relate it, compare it? Let’s just resort to objective observations! Alas, this is not an option, as many will tell us, for there are three possibilities here. First, if we merely observe and remark about that which we perceive, we gain nothing more than a view of the surface; we don’t actually learn about the object, only our perceptions of it. Positivism in a way. Another critique is that whenever we attempt to be objective, which means we are talking about the object and its true qualities, not our own perceptions (somehow “objective”—a word which in casual usage has very little meaning—seems to imply impartiality and a sense of truth that is universal), we are in fact bringing along a (perhaps invisible) set of presumed truths. Common sense (which is not that common, nor does it usually make sense). Background assumptions. Personal biases. However you want to term them—some would argue that even the claim that cool, rational thought, in contrast to firey, subjective emotion, is merely an assumption, a belief we’ve held onto since the Enlightenment, for example—hence, our attempts at being objective are all for naught. The final option (we’ve left out—being the good pomos that we are—claims that there is a know-able objective reality that can be easily gotten at by way of simple observation and reflection) is that our knowledge is neither merely superficial and hence meaningless on the one hand, nor merely relative and subjective on the other, but that the subject-object dichotomy split must be broken down, and we must consider the new “object” in conjunction with its observation by the “subject”—see Karen Barad’s work on “agential realism” for more information.

I have misgivings about this approach, but let us assume its usefulness for the time being. It is not merely a reformulation of a dialectic, for whereas a dialectic starts from a thesis, is complemented by an antithesis, and results in a synthesis which itself may become a further thesis, this model gives up the subject and object as such, both of which are at least synchronically static, and instead turns us towards the question of boundaries, process, and even instability. The usefulness of this view in the realms of literature and the arts is readily apparent, for it offers a structural approach to the grotesque, for example, while at the same time being perhaps flexible enough to bypass the rigidity of formalism and take the concerns of post-structuralist methods into account. Such an interest in boundaries and interaction is at the heart of much of western music; melodies are defined not by the notes, per se, but by the movement from note to note—a note on its own tells you nothing about what follows or what has already come. Such a superficial analysis, though ... and are there not styles of music that are more interested in the quality of an individual sound than its place in a melody or harmony? Could we not then claim that the appreciation of those sounds is still relative to the listener, or humans in general, and hence, are we not back at looking at interaction and boundaries? Perhaps these musings are nothing but empty contemplation—however, they do (a paragraph up or so) at least (I believe) allow me to make of claim of fair use regarding the Time magazine photo—something has, indeed, been accomplished.

—March 21, 1999

[ Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 ]