Friday, January 17, 2003

Laundry Day

Seems that today is laundry day, in that I've spent so much time cruising the blogroll that I can't just focus on one topic. Kinda like ADD for the blog-addicted. So, here's a laundry list o' things that are rant-worthy. Tiny little mini-rants, to get it out of my system and help me ease into a weekend of beta fish buying and movie watching. Anyhoo, here we go:

1. From Critical Mass: the New Age of Puritanism has arrived, shepherded in by none other than dingbat liberal feminists, who, instead of actually taking the responsibility for themselves that they claim is their right, want to use the legislature to protect them from themselves by declaring men some sort of hazardous biological waste. Here's a nice virtual bitchslap for Jennifer Reisch, the Abigail in this modern Crucible.

2. From A Small Victory: Delinking hissy fits in comments. Look, if you hate a blog, LEAVE. DELINK. WHATEVER. But don't delude yourself into thinking that channelling a mid-80s Valley Girl and posting a huffy self-righteous "You are SOOOOO off my read list" is going to have any effect whatsoever on the blogger. Maybe it makes you feel superior, but here's a news flash: It's not about you. Get thee to your own blog and stay there, you narcissistic shit.

3. From Pretty Much Everywhere: War, SUVs, and the vitriol of the stupid. At this point, I think the only way to resolve the whole war debate will be to just have the damn thing and get it over with. Then, we'll be able to better judge war's effectiveness as a part of our foreign policy. Everyone okay with that? Thought so. Moving on...

SUVs. Should stand for Shut Up, Vapidhead! Note to the preachy: you might be better served in the anti-SUV cause if you didn't actually OWN one. Or four. Or whatever--I know math isn't your strong suit, so don't worry about it. Here--have another Zima.

The vitriol of the stupid--see here. Or here. I could go on, but really, why? If we're lucky, their heads will literally explode. Problem solved.

Well! I feel refreshed and ready to take on the weekend.

Thursday, January 16, 2003

I Had Such High Hopes

For the relaunch of the Oxford American, which once upon a time was my fave magazine. Of course, like everything else I enjoy, it tanked for awhile, but now it's back and we received our first issue this week. I was all excitement--I'd forgotten that I'd sent in my "resubscribe me in the event you get some cash" card, so it was like a happy mailbox surprise. Until, that is, I began to actually READ it.

Let me give you a little history--for a while, hublet and I had a subscription to The New Yorker. We thought, in our misguided youth, that it would be a useful way to keep up with new and interesting literature, film, etc., and that the essays and articles were well worth reading. Over time, though, I realized that the magazine was merely taking up space in my home, that reading it had become a chore, and that the content was predictable, insufferably smug, and not at all thought provoking. Reading The New Yorker was like hanging out with the same tiresome group of upper-crust snobs every night--eventually, all talk turned to how fabulous the club members were, and how idiotic, deluded and beneath contempt the rest of the world was. The stories were all the same--modernist pieces of angst exploration and navel gazing, with the occasional appearance of poorly written magical realism to "shake things up" and prove editorial hipness. The poetry, well, wasn't. And the overweaning attitude accompanying all of this was that if you didn't fall all over yourself raving about the annointed literary hoi polloi, you were a hick, a rube, and frankly, not worth thinking about.

I will admit that perhaps part of the problem was that I was approaching The New Yorker from an outsider's position. It's called The "New Yorker," after all, not "The Literary Magazine That Will Appeal to Southern English Majors Who Favor the Middle Ages and Who Only Visit NY Occasionally and Then Only for a Weekend." But really, that excuse didn't wash. Folks outside of NY read this magazine, not for the "goings on about town" section, but because The New Yorker touted itself as a cultural force. It had become the literary equivalent of the Emperor, and I could no longer escape the fact that it was quite naked (and kinda out of shape, now that I think about it). So, we let our subscription lapse.

Then we stumbled across The Oxford American, sort of a southern version of The New Yorker--fiction, music, essays--which was always a pleasure to read. The yearly Music Issue (with free sampler CD) alone was worth the price of subscription. Wasn't as pretentious, either. We were happy. And then the changes began.

At first, it was just futzing about with the design. The masthead went from folksy, friendly type to hard straight lines and bold faced sans serif type. The interior layout resembled that of Movieline magazine--slick and hip, and if things like legibility were impaired, well, it was a small price to pay for coolness. The content began a subtle swing, as well. I started to notice that most of the featured stories (which always had a flavor of the south that's hard to describe unless you're familiar with southern literature as a whole) were becoming southern fried versions of New Yorker stories, which is to say, they dealt with the south, but with an underlying contempt for the region--you could be a southern writer, but you had to be ironic and postmodern and kind of sheepish about it; I mean, they had slavery here, for chrissakes! The burden of being a good liberal writer in such a tainted atmosphere must have been ponderous, indeed. I wondered if the authors couldn't get published unless they had the good sense to be embarrassed about their southern heritage. Then the magazine went under, and I was strangely relieved.

And now it's back, with a "rant" (even so-titled, how very cutting edge) about the reverse racism of the term "white trash." Convoluted bizarre non-logic aside, I am beyond pissed off about the content. It's exactly the sort of thing a sociologist from NYU visiting Mississippi on a fact-finding mission would publish (after spending all of 5 minutes chatting with a waitress at the Waffle House) as proof that he "knows the region." Southern literature has grappled with issues of race, slavery, and poverty for well over 100 years, and in thought provoking, sometimes offensive ways. We have a handle on our history--we live it, sometimes relive it, every single day in all of its messy violent reality. We have been the battleground for civil rights since the Civil War, and I'm sorry, but the au courant white liberal guilt and southern self-loathing evident in "publishable" modern southern literature isn't gonna further debate, erase the sins of the past, or solve anyone's problems. It's kowtowing to post-modern lit crit sensibilties, plain and simple, and as a southerner, it just pisses me off.

We have a culture and a literary tradition all our own down here, and the fact that it isn't based on "What Would The New Yorker Do" is a POSITIVE. Otherwise, we're just watered down wannabes, which is what I fear the "new, improved" Oxford American may become.

Wednesday, January 15, 2003

Quotable Huh?

Where would I be without the Chronicle of Higher Ed to amuse me? Well, I'd be bored, for one thing, but my blood pressure would probably be much lower...
On to the fun! Here are this week's examples of scholarly logorrhea (dead tree version only, so quotes will be longish--nature of the beast, I'm afraid):

In the fall issue of Social Text (link is to a review of the journal, not the article itself--sorry for the confusion), leftist perspectives on September 11:

...the works are 'devoted to opening up both the analysis and the interventions, to complicate the terms of good and evil, under the shadow of which we are supposed to think our world and operate within it.'

Of note: the co-writers of this dreck are professors of art/public policy and cultural studies, with nary an english degree between them, apparently. Not that it matters--Stanley Fish is behind this project, and he's never been terribly concerned about things like clarity.

Don't think too hard about how one opens up analysis--to what? Analysis? So we're opening the thing itself to itself--do we then need to open up that analysis to more analysis? That should be illuminating. And good and evil need complicating? Sure, if by "complicating" you mean "turning any existing definition upon its head in order to either make an argument that the folks who died somehow deserved it or to engage in cutesy mental masturbation and demonstrate our intellectual street cred." And we're supposed to "think our world" "under the shadow" of "terms?" Well go right ahead. I prefer to think about the world while I actively engage in living in it. Thus far, my experiments in "thinking my food, clothing and shelter" have been unsuccessful, but your mileage may vary.

Here's the other item that I found befuddling, especially considering its context. In an half-page ad for Luce Irigaray's (Nooooooo! Sudden flashback to theory class, sorry) new tome, The Way of Love (sounds kind of "Xena and Gabrielle do Hinduism again" to me), there's and endorsement for it from Elizabeth Grosz. Here's what it says:

...No other thinker has managed to illuminate the challenge and the mystery that the other, the other of sexual difference, brings to all encounters, and to all knowledges...Irigaray opens up philosophy to the mystery of sexual difference, a mystery inscribed in but covered over in all of Western thought."

This is an ad, and we're supposed to intuit the subject of the book from this glowing (I think) endorsement, which tells us, among other things, that there's sexual difference in the world, and that sexual difference may color thought (maybe--still not terribly clear on the subject of the book. I wonder why that is?). Thanks, but I think I hear Patricia Cornwell calling. I wonder if her sexual differences color her books? Oh, who the hell cares?

Tuesday, January 14, 2003

Arrogance, Thy Name is Scholarship

From this article about the recently "discovered" writings of Tolkien on Beowulf:

A common opinion among modern scholars of Beowulf is that Tolkien misunderstood the poem, despite studying and teaching it his entire life and drawing heavily on it for his own fiction, referring to the poem in letters as "among my most valued sources." For example, Frodo's relationship with Sam in the Rings trilogy mirrors that of Beowulf with his companion Wiglaf in the poem.

But modern theorists believe Beowulf is best understood as a study in iconography, rather than as a tale of moral struggle. Its greatest insights, they say, are about how we describe the heroes of the past, not about how we triumph over evil.

Riiiiiigghhht. And all that stuff at the end, about Beowulf's eventual decline and the results of greed leading to sorrow and death is merely an Anglo-Saxon version of our posthumous deconstructions of historical figures like Jefferson. Hey, modern theorists? You Can Bite My Fat White Ass. Study the time period. Take a moment to research the ancient tropes of the warrior code. Now re-read the freaking poem. Notice anything, like, oh, I don't know, Judeo-Christian morality? Now pull your head out of Derrida's ass and listen to me:

Just because "modern scholarship" has declared certain subjects "unfashionable" or "simple-minded" does not mean that these subjects do not, in fact exist, or that anyone who dealt with them before you must be wrong, due to his or her unfortunate situation in the timeline. Tolkien was not a moron, and neither is anyone who finds moral themes in this poem--know why? Because they're IN the poem. You don't have to be a christian to recognize the content, people, and mentioning it in polite society does not make you some sort of religio-fascist.

Modern theorists and scholars are so concerned with "making their mark" on the discipline that they have completely lost sight of, well, reality, not to put too fine a point on it. Stop trying so hard to be revolutionary and to prove your intellectual superiority, and focus on the damn task at hand, which is reading and understanding a great literary work. There's enough there to keep any intelligent person busy for quite some time. Yes, it's been done to death--but so what? It's not like the world as a whole has suddenly reached the limit of knowledge re: Beowulf. See those freshmen? They've never read it. You want their only encounter with Beowulf to focus on your cynical deconstruction of morality to the detriment of the poem itself?

Oh, wait, what am I saying? Of course you do. Beowulf isn't nearly as morally complex as, say, Amiri Baraka. Hey theorists? On second thought, I retract my ass. You can bite Beowulf's instead.
Rogue Singing Vegetables Have Eaten My Brain

I suppose I should be glad that the boy has thrown over the hellspawn Fisher Price Little People in favor of the VeggieTales Silly Songs Collection, but frankly, I'm not. The problem is not that the songs are vapid or stupid or anything, it's that they're so dang catchy they stick in my head. Hublet and I find ourselves bursting into spontaneous choruses of "Oh Where is My Hairbrush" as we perform our morning ablutions. I fear for my job if this continues--yesterday, I had to physically restrain myself during a meeting in which a rather corpulent co-worker spent a good deal of time mashing himself into the ergonomic chair from suddenly singing: "A great big squash just sat upon my hat! A great big squash just squished my hat real flat! He squished my hat, he made it flat he crushed my snack now what of thaaaaaat?"

As the meeting droned on, my internal monologue went something like this (my thoughts appear in italics):

Corpulent Co-Worker: So, vis a vis the marketing strategy, what's our timeline?

Me: Well, we're kicking off with the pre-marketing brochure at the groundbreaking, A great big squash just sat upon his hat! A great big heavy squash squished his hat so flat he squished his hat he crushed it flat he mashed his snack now what of thaaaaaaat? ahem, with the giveaways. As soon as the construction site is underway and we get the webcams operational and the 360 tour online, we'll start the mailings. Now tell me everybody, whaddya think of that?

CCW: Great. Now, onto budget.

Me: Barbara Manatee--manatee, manateee! You are the one for me--one for me, one for me.

CCW: What do you think?

Me: That's doable. I just need to make sure we don't go over the limit before the end of this fiscal year. We are the pirates who don't do anything, we just stay home, and lie around. And if you ask us, to do anything....we'll just tell you...we don't do anything!

CCW: Well, it's getting near lunchtime. Any last items to cover?

Me: You are his cheeseburger, his precious cheeseburger, he'll wait for you-ooo, oh, he'll wait for you-oo, oh!

After the meeting...

CCW: I think that went well, don't you?

Me: Sure thing! Now tell me Mr. Nezzar, now whaddya think of that?


Monday, January 13, 2003

This Man Must Be Stopped. No, Really. Now.

Aside from the fact that John Edward's only actual qualifications for a presidential bid are:
a) He's a southern democrat, and
b) He's telegenic

He's also a dangerous moron. See this article from NC State's student paper, check out the reader comments at the end.

His proposals all sound pleasant, but that happy ringing you hear is the sound of All The Money In The World being spent on education policies that won't work, because as soon as he moves away from the idea that the schools need more money and into the realm of teacher quality and accountability, the NEA will obstruct his ass all over the place. End result? Your cash down the tubes, another generation of ill-educated students inexplicably earning diplomas, and more stories like these (link is to an Acrobat file) from the public school system.

Self-Absorbed, Much?

Funny nugget about how Madonna & Co. have banned TV from their home because they want "to avoid seeing any unpleasant news stories about themselves." Yeah, I can see how that 24-hour bash Madonna station can get tiresome. Coupla notes here for the big M:

1. It's not actually all about you.
2. You might avoid bad press if you stopped being Geena Davis to Guy Ritchie's Renny Harlan.

Just a thought.