Nimble fingers that dance on numbers

27 12 2016

Alllla’ these motherfuckers bleating about the white working class, white men, working men, poor poor real white American working class men: shut up, shut the fuck up.

I’ve got nothing against white working class men—my dad was a white working class man! my brother! my brother-in-law! my neighbors and almost everyone I knew growing up! all white! almost all working class!—but I am sorely tried by all of these commentators telling ME that I need to be kinder, gentler, toward those poor poor real white American working class men.

It is fucking condescending.

I totally (well, maybe not totally, totally, but substantially?) understand why black people are tired of being told that they need to set aside their concerns for their own survival and focus on those PPRWAWCM; such counsel is white power in action.

But it’s also more than that: it’s a way for the non-working class white folks—men, let’s be honest, men—to demonstrate once again their superiority over every fuckin’ one.

Barack Obama was scalded for talk of bitter rural folks clinging to guns and religion and Hillary Clinton raked for drop-kicking some portion of the population into the basket of deplorables, but give some white dude a coupla’ column inches in the Times or Wall Street Journal and he’ll be lauded for his perspicacity in writing the exact same goddamned things.

Economic anxiety and fear and opioids and a disintegration of the American Dream and all are wrapped up in the soothing murmurs of I see, I see, as these pundits metaphorically pat their subjects on the head and assure them that It’s completely understandable they would feel this way.

Such horseshit.

This is, in the words of former Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson, the soft bigotry of low expectations.

Y’know all those working class men I mentioned, above? They weren’t all racists. My parents, with their high school educations, somehow managed to teach all three of their children that racism was bad, that it was bad to be racist.

Were/are my parents prejudiced? Sure. But they didn’t and don’t think that indulging that prejudice was anything that decent people did.

They didn’t expect any of us to be perfect, but they did expect us to be better.





Devil was my angel

12 12 2016

Half-listening to Beth Orton and this song comes on so I stop and listen full:

This is the song I listened to as I decided to save my own life, lo those many years ago.





You’re taking one down

17 11 2016

After an extended period of sparse posting, I spurted out a bunch of political posting because, well, it was going to be allllll right and then it allllll went very, very wrong.

But that ain’t the only reason.

My life has gone to shit, and writing about the country going to shit gave me something else to focus on. That there are concrete things that one can do to try to avoid being completely flushed away politically gave me a kind of steadiness.

My life, however, is still shit. I’ve love to blame this on Trump—I look forward every time I miss a train or stub my toe to screaming FUCK TRUMP!—but nope, even had Clinton taken the Electoral College, I’d still be navigating the doldrums.

This is not as bad as it gets, thank christ nowhere near as bad as it gets, but a shitty time is a shitty time. Yeah, I’m working, halfheartedly, on dragging myself up, but it’s tough to really get anything going on half a heart.

Still, I’ll do what I can.





That Colucci, he can bake

3 10 2016

Trying, failing, trying to point myself in some kind of direction.

I think I need music. Yeah, I need my music.

Ach, I don’t know if I need music, but not listening to music hasn’t worked, so why not, why not.

Tonight: 10,000 Maniacs, U2, Mojave 3.

The 10,000 Maniacs cd is, well, first off, I hear it as an album: when “Peace Train” comes on I think, B-side. Anyway, it’s a bit dicey, because of all the music I listened to when I was on the psych ward, I remember this one. Don’t know why.

I’ve listened to it plenty since then—I was in a short time a long time ago—but I hear the first notes of “What’s the Matter Here?” and bam, there I am, in that chair, facing the window.

But I don’t stay there. And tonight, listening to In My Tribe, I think, Jesus Christ, this was a best-seller? Not because it’s not a great pop album—it is!—but what kind of pop album goes double-platinum with songs about child abuse, alcoholism, depression, illiteracy (illiteracy?!), and homelessness. And, oh, yeah, a song ripping on a brother for joining the military.

Man, the late ’80s were weird.

Still, this song makes me grin every time I hear it:





First we take Manhattan

21 09 2016

That was my first Leonard Cohen song, although I didn’t quite know it.

I’d gotten the Jennifer Warnes’s album, Jenny Sings Lenny, and First We Take Manhattan was the first cut on the first side. It’s a great song—probably why I bought the album—but I had no idea who Leonard Cohen was.

Oh, I got that he was a singer—he did his thing in a duet with Warnes—. . .

. . . but I didn’t really know him.

I don’t know when I thought he might be worth knowing—at some point in grad school, I think, relatively late, I think—and I can’t say that I know all there is to know about him. But oh, yes, I think he is worth knowing.

(An aside: of the singers who can’t sing, I’ll take Cohen and Reed over Dylan and Waits every time. They’re all killer songwriters, though, so I’d want ’em all for that.)

Anyway, a coupla’ more, of just him, singing songs I mention often on this blog:

and, for that one beautiful, heartbreaking line:

Happy 82nd birthday, Old Man. May you live to be Ancient.

 





Doctor, my eyes

25 08 2016

I’m a little paranoid about teaching.

No, not the students or the work itself, but the schedule: when do classes start, end, what are the switch-up days (CUNY always has switch-up days, when, say, a Friday becomes a Tuesday, in order to balance out the schedule), what’s the room number, when do classes meet.

Shoulda double-checked on that last one.

I’ve been on a TThF fall schedule for, mm, years. I teach 2 classes TTh, then one on Friday; this works for me.

WELL, today I traveled up to the Bronx for the first day of my 300-level bioethics class, was in the office about to make copies of my syllabus, when one of the work-study students said she was looking forward to my class on Monday.

Whaaaaaaaaaaaaat? Nooooooo.

Yep.

The woman in charge of scheduling this course didn’t switch the days, didn’t know why the days were switched, couldn’t do anything about it. (I didn’t really expect her to do anything—the students have already registered, so there’s little to be done—but I did want to find out what was what.) Make sure you check your schedule, she said, helpfully.

But I diiiiiiiiid, I wailed, when I ordered my books. Coulda sworn I saw TTh!

Nope. Did not see TTh.

Now, this situation isn’t as bad as it could be, i.e., having to spend money and time traversing to the Bronx 5 instead of 3 days a week: my second TTh class is for a program which hasn’t yet registered students (classes start and end later).  The guy who runs it is great, and was willing to request a schedule change; the acting chair of my dept is my friend Jtte, who said she’d sign off on the request as well.

So, while it’s not certain that I’ll get a MWF as opposed to MTWThF schedule, there’s a pretty good chance I will.

Now, that same work-study student also said the course was an online class, which, OH HELL NO it is not; happily, she was wrong about that part.

One last thing, just to make this day super-duper: the water in my building has been turned off all week 8-4ish. This hasn’t been a problem for my new, late-night sched because, well, in the summer I take a shower in the early evening anyway. However, since I [thought I] taught this afternoon, I got up at 7:30am to shower. (Okay, I then went back to bed until 10, but, y’know, that second sleep is never as good as the first one.)

SUCH A FINE DAY.

Ahhhhhhhhhhhhh, well, it actually could have been worse: the semester could have begun on Wednesday, and I’d have missed the first day.

If I get to choose my fuck-ups (which I don’t, but go with me on this one), I’d much rather have a semi-wasted—I had errands in Manhattan planned—trip than a missed class.

But what a fuckin’ way to start the semester.





Do you feel real?

19 08 2016

I am not a successful academic.

I’m a pretty good teacher, but I’ve neither attended a conference nor submitted any papers for publication in over a decade. And yes, while I’m working on this ideologies project (which means I may end up submitting paper proposals to a conference or two), I’d have to say that I have not done the work of a good scholar.

I don’t like admitting it, but there it is.

Which is my way of wandering into this New Yorker profile of Martha Nussbaum. Nussbaum is, of course, a successful—a very successful—academic. She has, per that profile,

published twenty-four books and five hundred and nine papers and received fifty-seven honorary degrees. In 2014, she became the second woman to give the John Locke Lectures, at Oxford, the most eminent lecture series in philosophy. Last year, she received the Inamori Ethics Prize, an award for ethical leaders who improve the condition of mankind. A few weeks ago, she won five hundred thousand dollars as the recipient of the Kyoto Prize, the most prestigious award offered in fields not eligible for a Nobel, joining a small group of philosophers that includes Karl Popper and Jürgen Habermas.

Very, very successful.

Now, it’s true that I don’t like all of her books, but I have a number of them on my bookshelf and have used her work in my classroom. I’d guess that not only does she work harder than me, but that she’s also smarter than me and that if I ever got into an argument with her I’d almost certainly lose.

So, I’m not competing with her because I can’t compete with her: she’s way out of my league.

That said (you knew there’d be a “that said”, or maybe a “but still”), reading that profile made me uneasy: Is she for real?

~~~

“To be a good human being,” she has said, “is to have a kind of openness to the world, the ability to trust uncertain things beyond your own control that can lead you to be shattered.”

This makes a great deal of sense, and Nussbaum certainly does seem open to the world.

Her work includes lovely descriptions of the physical realities of being a person, of having a body “soft and porous, receptive of fluid and sticky, womanlike in its oozy sliminess.” She believes that dread of these phenomena creates a threat to civic life. “What I am calling for,” she writes, is “a society of citizens who admit that they are needy and vulnerable.”

But, as Rachel Aviv observes,

In Nussbaum’s case, I wondered if she approaches her theme of vulnerability with such success because she peers at it from afar, as if it were unfamiliar and exotic. [. . .]

. . . when I first proposed the idea of a Profile . .  [s]he responded skeptically, writing in an e-mail that she’d had a long, varied career, adding, “I’d really like to feel that you had considered various aspects of it and that we had a plan that had a focus.” She typically responded within an hour of my sending an e-mail. “Do you feel that you have such a plan?” she asked me. “I’d like to hear the pros and cons in your view of different emphases.” She wasn’t sure how I could encompass her œuvre, since it covered so many subjects: . . . “The challenge for you would be to give readers a road map through the work that would be illuminating rather than confusing,” she wrote, adding, “It will all fall to bits without a plan.”

I understand that one may seek to control as much as possible about one’s own life in recognition that there’s so much that can’t be controlled, but there’s appears to be little that Nussbaum accepts as out of one’s control.

That philosophers write one prescription and follow another is so common as to be axiomatic. But I find it jarring that a scholar of humanity who, remarking on operatic role she’s rehearsing, says “I feel that this character is basically saying, ‘Life is treating me badly, so I’m going to give up,’ ” she told me. “And I find that totally unintelligible.”

Oh my Hera, Martha, so many of us give up so often, how can you talk of a “society of citizens who admit” being shattered, needy, and vulnerable when you can’t see that humans who are shattered sometimes give up?

As Aviv notes, Nussbaum does give emotions pride of place in her philosophy, as a kind of ur-cognition. And there’s something to that, to the breakdown of the affect-vs-intellect duality. But in assigning emotions a cognitive role, she overlooks that emotions have their own role, as emotions.

This is tough for me, not least because I once aspired to the kind of Stoicism that Nussbaum seems to have achieved (and which may be yet another reason I respond so strongly to her). Yet I’ve spent too many years twisting and then untwisting myself not to see that feelings are more than just thoughts untamed, always to be subordinated to reason. I have difficulty with this still, but I can at least acknowledge that sometimes, sometimes, it is not the worst thing to feel, first.

Nussbaum allows the feeling, but only properly tamed. She feels through her thoughts, which is an accomplishment. And a loss.

~~~

There’s a great deal more in the profile—the discussion of her colonoscopy, her willingness to strip in front of others, her use of Botox and plastic surgery, and more—which, as someone who’d rather not appear in my skivvies in front of colleagues, older or younger (and would prefer they keep their clothes on, as well), only heightened my unease.

But then, on submitting that feeling to reason, I admit that it doesn’t make sense to feel embarrassed on behalf of someone who is matter-of-fact in dealing with her facts of life. And it allowed me to see Nussbaum, in all her determined discipline, as, well, a bit odd.

And thus, all the more real for her oddness.