a culture crisis

for the depraved

Tag: critical thinking

Judith Butler on Hard Intellectual Work

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So, I thought I wouldn’t post anything for a while, but in the midst of researching for a paper, I found this gem. It’s taken from Gary A. Olson and Lynn Worsham’s essay “Changing the Subject: Judith Butler’s Politics of Radical Resignification.” I have my own thoughts about this, but I will leave it to you to form your own. Just know, these are important words. You have to let them sink in in order to feel their full weight.

‘[Judith Butler] reminds us in the interview below that rigorous intellectual work is necessarily extremely hard labor. Becoming a critical intellectual in- volves “working hard on difficult texts,” and it entails “undergoing something painful and difficult: an estrangement from what is most familiar.” It is precisely because intellectual work is so demanding, so painful, that “not everybody wants to undergo it.” Perhaps the very pain of intellectual work is one cause of the upsurge of anti-intellectualism that the academy is currently experiencing. Butler wonders whether there is “guilt” about being an intellectual because we simply don’t know “what effects, if any, the intellectual (especially the intellectual in the humanities) can have on the larger social world.”‘

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On Being Busy, and the Maintenance of Sanity

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(source: For a Little Mystery)

I have been thinking lately that busy days do not merely constitute the continual performance of some action or other with little to no physical rest in between. Of course we are busy on days where we get up quite early in the morning, prepare something or other for dinner prior to heading out the door for work, and then, while at work, exhausting ourselves physically and mentally. And then of course, we leave work to pick up the kids (I have no children, but parents do this, don’t they?) and drive them to soccer practice – or something like that – and then when that’s over, we head home to finish whatever it was we prepped for dinner that morning. And then, since many of us bring work home, we do that for some time, and, well, you know the rest of the story. Voila, the busy day, par excellence.

But is it? This example of busyness must sound exceptionally familiar, resembling each of our lives in some form or other, relatable in some capacity. People know this type of “busy.” And it is certainly a type of busy. But lately, I have been thinking about different orders of busyness, different kinds, different levels…

I suppose, then, my point is that “busy” is not necessarily, nor exclusively, a physical state. Perhaps this is self-evident, but lately I have learned never to assume the self-evidence of even the most simple of claims.

(I teach a literature course to science students, and while I thoroughly respect the sciences and the value of such knowledge, other kinds of knowledge, knowledge that I understand as sheer common sense, is taken as the most revolutionary and radical kind of thinking… It’s a little sad actually. This is, of course, not the case with all science students. Don’t worry, I’m not homogenizing you all. But at least in the demographic consisting of the students in my class, very few of them understood concepts such as ideology and gender, nor issues like colonialism or even contemporary American politics. Writing and critical thought proved to be an “unfair” expectation of them, as one student shared with me, and that is just sad. A few of them threw around sexist remarks without even knowing they were sexist. “Obviously only women wear makeup, and if you wear makeup you’re either a woman or want to be one.” Well, no. “Obviously only females who can be compared to men are those that can be viewed as equals and in the same category.” Not sure exactly what that means, but once again, no. One student didn’t even know the word “patriarchy.” All to say, critical thought is required in all disciplines and I have learned not to assume that everything is self-evident. In fact, I had to break down, piece by piece, to one student the reasons why one’s enjoyment of makeup does not categorically mean that this person wants to be a woman. That, my friends, was a frustrating day. In any case, I digress…)

I am currently in the middle of my essay-writing period, and despite the fact that I have an incredible amount of work to do (I can’t even over exaggerate how much work I have) I have been ignoring it. I am currently ignoring it in order to write this entry (thank you blog for helping me procrastinate!). In fact, I’ve been filling my days with watching endless hours of Mad Men, and apparently I can’t tire of Don Draper’s attitude nor of Sally’s exceptional charm.

Seriously, look how cute they are:

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(source)

But in any case… I have been doing nothing for about 6 or 7 days now, performing no action other than eating and Netflixing (and showering too, I’m not that quite that lazy), and yet, I feel as though I am busy. Very, very busy.

There is this constant worry to get things done, and to be fair, perhaps I am busy insofar as I have very much to do and the workload is only getting heavier the more that I delay, but that isn’t really my point. It is not so much that I am busy, but rather that I feel busy, as though I were doing something, many things actually, but really I’m merely planted in front of my computer.

Lately, I have been experiencing a kind of worry – a constant worry, actually – and I think that this feeling, this generalized anxiety, perhaps, is that busyness. My mind is always working, whether I am physically performing actions or not. It is on overdrive, overworking itself, refusing to rest, running on and on with a will of its own, irrespective on how much I want to simply relax. It strikes me, then, that I continue to delay, to relax by way of doing nothing (you know, just Mad Men-ing), in order to alleviate that sense of busyness, and I don’t think that I realized that until just now. Literally, just prior to typing it out…

But I don’t know that it’s gone anywhere. Nor do I know if it’s gotten worse. I can’t quite tell right now. But I think that writing this out has been helpful, if for nothing other than allowing me a space in which to sort out what it is that I’m thinking about. But now the trick is getting work done… I think I’m just going to have to force myself to get down to it (though I’ve tried that, but this is where I’ve ended up). Though, it is not the end that matters, but rather the process that led up to that end.

This past year, I’ve been working towards achieving a certain state of mindfulness and mental awareness, and I think I’ve done well in that respect. I keep reminding myself that it is crucially important to actively maintain my health. That is to say that if I am to be healthy, I must be the one to ensure that I am so. That’s not to say that this is something I must do alone. That’s rather silly, actually, and not always possibe. Nor is it the case that, if I happen to have difficulty with it, it necessarily means that I have failed. No. But it is something that I need to take part in, or else it cannot be achieved. I have to help myself be healthy. I’ve done this before, but then again, I’ve never felt this generalized sense of anxiety before, so I am not quite sure how I am going to approach this. But the important thing is that I will approach it.

Thanks for listening.

J.

Generation Jobless: An Institutional Problem

Generation Jobless: A Documentary – CBC – Doc Zone – Episode – Generation Jobless.

First off, watch this documentary. Or rather, watch it if you are one or more of the following:

1. 20-30 years old with a university education and are sh*t out of luck trying to find a job in your field

2. A soon-to-be university graduate in utter fear of being the above

3. An info-junkie who is simply interested in things that probably don’t concern them

4. Annoyed with the world and in the mood to blame things on the institutions and, of course, capitalism, the creator of all our problems. (Also, this happens to be me sometimes… or most of the time lately – don’t judge).

5. Bored and chilling in your room with your cat (No, I am not a cat person. That would be you — yes, you there, hanging out with your cat as if that’s a lovely thing. (If you can’t tell, I am not a huge cat person – more on this later)).

Cue the Comments:

This video has recently been on my “recommend to friends” list. Perhaps because its contents directly relate to my life and the life of many of my friends as soon to be graduates from a graduate program in the humanities (See: Thesis Hatement – Slate Magazine). While the video comments on many aspects contributing to the generation of, not just unemployed, but underemployed graduates, there is one particular bit that frustrates me most.

The fact is, this lack of communication — or rather, actively ignorant communication– between institutions, not to mention the immensurately unconscionable greed of capitalist industrialists (they are everywhere these days – literally polluting the population with their ideological reifications), has created an economic landscape that reproduces the conditions that subject us to its power, and what’s worse is that we partake in the reproduction. We propagate a discourse of autonomy and individual responsibility, tell ourselves that it is up to us (and only up to us) to ensure that we secure a position that will sustain and support our lives, blah, blah. And if we don’t manage to do this, we are the only ones to blame. We didn’t send out enough resumes, we didn’t work hard enough in school (what’s an A- worth these days), we didn’t volunteer and intern enough (as if interning is a viable and feasible option – see video). All to say, if we aren’t succeeding, then we aren’t trying hard enough.

But let’s briefly take a moment to shake ourselves out of this hideous lie.

Go ahead, shake yourself out of it, spirit fingers and all.

Now that you’re somewhat more alive then you were some seconds ago, let’s chat about a few problems surrounding such a discourse of individual responsibility. It is made up, or “fictitious,” as Pheobe from Friends would have it (season 3!). By whom, you ask? By your resident  capitalist shirker, who, to be fair, comes in all shapes and sizes, but in this particular case is probably your university president, potential employers (though they aren’t quite that, since next to no one is in fact (ethically) employing) and, of course, your faculty dean. Your president and your dean can accept as many students as they can muster into your program, jut out as many graduates as possible, all in the name of higher enrolment and higher funds. Your potential employer can then go on to outsource jobs, offer jobs to less qualified people (they don’t cost as much because, of course, people are commodities), or they can offer the position to your mom or dad or aunt or uncle (what up, baby boomers?!), or they can offer you a position and seriously underpay you …

Insert oozing sarcasm here: But sweetheart, if you don’t get that job, it’s your fault.

Recall, capitalism is only maintained through its capability to produce commodities, but it must also reproduce the social relations governing production that subtend the material relations of the system even as they are products of that system through the internalization of ideology. Translation – Universities produce commodities, those being the university graduates. But they must equally produce the rhetoric that the to-be-graduates internalize in order to buy into the institution in the first instance. And once we buy in, graduate, as commodity, is consequently reproduced. Ah, the circle of life capitalism.

I recently attended a conference in which a friend of mine presented on the problematics of the institution’s appropriation of therapeutic discourse in order to manipulate students into internalizing the construction of individual responsibility to achieve economic success. This might be the worst part of this whole jobless nightmare. The purpose of therapy is to help you deal with your life, to help you through stress, to make you feel better (we can chat about this in more detail later). How perverse is it, then, when capitalist institutions manipulate a discourse meant to help alleviate the very real burdens of stress, both mental and physical, in order to trick you into buying into a system that will in fact reproduce and propagate this stress?

I won’t name which university website this came from, but note the problematic, singularizing language inherent in its discourse:

And ironically, nearly every North American university mental health centre is seriously lacking.

In the end, economic success is not something that is attained by the individual. If there exists the individual, and the individual only, then there is no economy. The space of economy is fundamentally and necessarily communal. Without community, there is no economy. We exist in a condition whereby the act of the one inflects the life of the other – this is the nature of society. And considering that our institutions are a part of our communities and thus partake in the economic exchange — for better or for worse — ask yourself: is it really all your fault?

P.S. I think this video is only viewable in Canada, but I’m sure it’s posted somewhere else on the web, if you are now oh so compelled to see it!

The Crisis of Capitalism.

 

Food for (critical) thought. Capitalism is a problem. Let’s talk about it.

For Not Nearly Enough People Have Heard This

This is the clip that I listen to most often, perhaps, of all the clips I have listened to (ever). I must account for a significant amount of those views. If you haven’t heard of him, Alan Watts is a philosopher well-known for introducing Eastern philosophy to Western culture.

RE: the above video

There was a time when I tried ever so actively to practice such “nothingness.” A nothingness that is “really like the nothingness of space which contains the whole universe.” I think it worked for a little while, and I was quite content. Happy, even. That is not to say that I am no longer content nor happy, but only that life got busy, and I forgot. I forgot these words and how much value they held for me. It took so long for me to understand “nothingness,” to know it in its positive capacity, but as it turns out, it seems that this is all I ever want for my mind these days (that is, when I have time to think about it).

In the end, I chose to post this today because not enough people have heard Alan Watts speak these words. Whether you agree, disagree, or otherwise remain neutral is not the point. These words are not a means to an end. Rather, they are an end in themselves. That is to say, the questions that arise from listening to Watts speak on “nothingness,” the thoughts produced by one’s engagement with these claims is that which ultimately matters. Whether this turns out to be a philosophy you ascribe to is really a matter of your own concern, but know that there is value in the mere development of your views, a value that, in fact, extends beyond even your own self, and I think that is a good thing.

Also, his voice is lovely and melodic, lulling even. Enjoy the clip if only for that, and for the perfect pairing of voice to audio. Near perfect acoustics.