[For the record, I have no memory of writing this. I'm guessing I did so after they administered something or other. Let that be a lesson to you up-and-coming academic bloggers. I'm not sure what kind of lesson, though. Don't get kidney stones?]
It's 9:14 p.m. and SEK sits in an emergency clinic, worried by the fact that he hasn't kept anything solid down since Friday. He's also impressed by the fact that he can access the internet on his phone--granted, no Gmail or Facebook, though TypePad and Wikipedia work fine--but whatever, he has come to this clinic in search of an answer. After hours of waiting, a YOUNG DOCTOR pushes aside the curtain and begins to "examine" him.
YOUNG DOCTOR: You've been vomiting, it's probably appendicitis.
SEK: I have no abdominal pain.
YOUNG DOCTOR: You've been throwing up. Best get an ultrasound.
SEK: I had juvenile rheumatoid arthritis and suffered all its "irritable" side effects, so I know from abdominal pain and have none.
YOUNG DOCTOR: May just be your pain tolerance means you can't feel it.
SEK: I cry when I see other people stub a toe.
YOUNG DOCTOR: (befuddled)
SEK: (exasperated) My abdomen is fine. (pokes at it like an obnoxious uncle) I'm thinking it's something else.
YOUNG DOCTOR: (intent on covering his ass) Still, best to cover all bases.
SEK: IT'S NOT LUPUS!
From behind the curtain to his right, someone softly chuckles. Someone else behind the curtain to his left follows suit. The YOUNG DOCTOR looks at SEK, scowls, then exits the "room" and tells the nurse to send NEW DOCTOR in to help him.
NEW DOCTOR: What seems to be the problem?
SEK: Past three days. Two o'clock or so. Vomit uncontrollably. Head splits open.
NEW DOCTOR: You're clearly dehydrated. I'm putting you on an IV and we'll reevaluate in an hour.
SEK: Not appendicitis?
NEW DOCTOR: Your abdomen hurt?
NEW DOCTOR: Then not appendicitis. Let's take some blood and see what's what.
SEK would tell you how this story ends, but it's currently 12:02 a.m. and although he feels much better/hydrated, he's still in the emergency clinic waiting for test results. He's amazed that he had the patience to write this on his phone, but given that he's not allowed to turn the ringer on and talk to anyone on it, what the hell else was he going to do? He got tired of staring at the wall hours ago and has to amuse himself somehow.
Via my site stats, the highlight of my weekend:
*To explain: the above means that Turnitin.com caught a student stealing some of my work on visual rhetoric and that his or her teacher clicked through the link on Turnitin.com and spent ten minutes identifying just how much of my prose was stolen. And if a teacher has to spend ten minutes evaluating whether a student has plagiarized ...
Something terrible happened within a ten mile radius of my apartment and I was in no way involved! Because I didn't have to go to campus today, I didn't have to deal with this:
Which led to this:
As you probably noticed, my wife is currently on vacation without me—which is different than a vacation from me, although given how frequently insufferable I am, I could understand the appeal of such—in the le Marche region of Italy, which is immediately south of Tuscany and full of communists. As evidence of how thoroughly corrupt the region is, I present a picture (courtesy of her) of the cabin she'll be staying in free of charge until July:
That's the view she'll be writing her dissertation to the next two months. The region is poor (though not so much as I thought) and poorly serviced by internet and wifi: there's a router up the hill from her which sometimes provides wifi, but only then into a loft too unbearably hot to occupy during the day. So the only opportunity I have to talk to her (via Skype) is that last hour in the late evening when the loft cools enough to be habitable—provided, of course, that the wifi strength that evening is strong enough to establish and maintain a connection. Which it frequently isn't. But this post isn't about how melancholy I become when I haven't heard from her by 3 p.m. (which would be midnight over there), because anyone who follows me on Facebook already knows that and because this post concerns Urbino, not my daily descent into emo.
I've written about Urbino before, but because the wife is providing me with such dazzling photographs of the city, I feel compelled to do so again. As I noted in that post, Urbino is not a "built" city so much as an "evolved" one. (The De Landa seems to have become an unwitting theme of late.) Of course it was built, but it was built vertically within the city walls, meaning that new buildings were constructed atop existing ones like so:
The effect is the sort of architecture one only finds in dreams or representations of them, like the one in the finale of the fourth season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, wherein Joss Whedon took advantage of contiguous three-walled film sets to depict Xander Harris moving seamlessly from the upstairs bathroom at Buffy's house:
That was an ordeal. You would think that having lived in Southern California for a decade, I would be emotionally equipped to handle forest fires. I have, after all, dealt with them before. But those fires were "in my vicinity," and the worst element of each was the effect the resulting air quality had on my wife's lungs. This fire, while not nearly so dangerous as those, was actually "near me." I'm talking consider-the-view-from-my-apartment-near-me:
I took that picture after returning home from the teaching gig that I have to wake up at 5 a.m. in order to commute to. I was informed that I might need to evacuate at a moment's notice at approximately 7:45 p.m. on Thursday. I started packing the car almost immediately, but kept having to sit down and force myself to breathe or I would've had a full-fledged panic attack (just in case you were wondering when I was on Facebook). Part of the panic emanated from your typical what-to-take debate: running around the apartment evaluating the relative worth of Item X versus Item Y.
As the night progressed, however, I became increasingly concerned that my evaluations were too much about me. My wife is currently in Italy, where it was then currently the middle of the night. I became haunted by the possibility that I was selecting items of marginal value to me over items of intense value to her. So I started having to think like her—to look at our life through her eyes—the result of which was that I felt (and still feel) profoundly close to a sleeping woman half the world away.
Nothing makes a person ache for the woman he's loved for over than decade more than an adrenalin-fueled tour of that time. But then another possibility started dogging my thoughts: the potential for there to be something of hers that my forgetting (or remembering but valuing less than this other thing) would appear evidence of a diminished love. Against my will—not to mention knowledge of her character—scenarios arose in which she became distraught upon learning that I had neglected to save her wedding dress but remembered the Kitchen Aid mixer.
So after having been at this for hours I began a desperate attempt to a contact a sleeping woman on the other side of the world with no cell and sketchy internet access. As the night deepened, exhaustion vied with adrenalin in a toxic combat that severely impaired my judgment. I thought it perfectly acceptable to hijack her Facebook account and contact Italian friends I thought could maybe get in touch with the people staying up the road from her. It didn't even seem like a good idea at the time: I was simply that desperate.
What had begun as a feeling of deep reconnection with my wife became, as night turned to morning, a fear of a future condemnation by her so fundamental it would kill the marriage. In my mind there came to exist a singular object so valuable that failure to save it would constitute grounds for divorce—not because of the loss of the object itself, but because of what my failure to save it represented about my love for and of her. Like I said: my judgment was severely impaired.
Sometime around 4 a.m. they informed us that the winds had shifted and we would not have to be evacuated. I had been awake for 24 hours at that point and had spent the last twelve of them trying not to have a panic attack (which is like trying not to think about that elephant on a table). I want to thank everyone who helped me through that night and apologize to all those I sucked into my vortex.
But the most important person I need to apologize to is my wife, not only for actually hijacking her Facebook account and causing no small amount of worry to her friends and family, but for doubting her love (even if only in a panicked hypothetical). No amount of insomniac impairment can account for that.
Not forever, but at least a week. I'm not blaming the internet, but I also don't want to have a nervous breakdown on it. I'm tired of being good-natured fodder for Unfogged, but I don't blame that lot either. I'm just tired. At some point even people who are accustomed to the improbable cease being able to deal with it, and I think I may have reached that point.
I'll see you in a week. Maybe by then I will have a secret chart to get to the heart of this or any other matter.
When someone reports this:
[O]fficials are warning residents nearby to be ready in case they were ordered to evacuate, the Riverside County Fire Department said.
What they actually mean is that someone from your apartment complex knocks on your door and informs you that the fire department might have to evacuate you in less than five minutes, so anything you don't want burned alive (in the case of the cats) or to ashes (in the case of wedding photographs) should be right by the front door ready to run to the car.
When someone reports this:
"The aircraft and the helicopters have been doing a pretty good job about keeping it from coming too close to these homes," said homeowner Warren Gillette.
What they actually mean is that it'll sound like you're in the opening scene of a Vietnam film about to turn gruesome. I'm not sure what you think of when it sounds like air cav has arrived, but rest assured, the relentless buzzing of tankers and copters can unravel your core. I'd go to sleep, but I still need to figure out what my valuables are and find another cat carrier. I'm sure this will amount to nothing, but when it sounds like you're in a war zone, even things that amount to nothing rattle you insomniac.
I noted on Facebook that, from a statistical perspective, what makes baseball such an amazing sport is that you can watch it your entire life and still see, on a daily basis, something you’ve never seen before. (It’s a truism, I know, but it has the benefit of actually being true.) In this case, the something in question was watching the wonderfully named Angel Pagan hit an inside-the-park home run and initiate a triple play in the same game. John Emerson responded with some humbug about it not being an inside-the-park grand slam, which made me remember that I had seen an inside-the-park grand slam at some time in the remote past.
I remember being six or seven years old and watching the Mets play the Cardinals in an afternoon game at Shea Stadium, and thanks to the miracle of the Internet, I can definitively say that at approximately 4:30 p.m. on 9 June 1985, I watched Terry Pendleton hit an inside-the-park grand slam off Joe Sambito in a game the Cardinals would go on to win handily. The fact that I can verify vague memories of events that occurred twenty-five years ago astounds me in a way I sometimes forget the Internet is capable of doing.
This realization is obviously not of world-historical importance, merely a reminder that this thing whose existence we take for granted daily represents a fundamentally weird complement to human memory. The fact that at some point in the future I can know who I rode in an elevator with on 28 December 2005 is less weird because I chose to write about riding in an elevator with Grimace. That I can access detailed information about events I have no right remembering in detail is another matter entirely.
The typical apocalyptic narrative either focuses on the grand events that brought about the end of civilization—nuclear war, global pandemic, sentient machines—or describes life after the shock of those events. The number of narratives in which the global social body declines into the incorporeal slowly, almost without notice, are few and far between. Rarely do you encounter narratives in which, for example, a volcano on an isolated island erupts, deposits a thin layer of ash at 35,000 feet and reminds humanity that evolution didn't intend him to fly. Eyjafjallajökull killed no one—it merely disrupted air travel over a continent for a few weeks. As potentially apocalyptic events go, that barely even registers.
But pair it with another narrative rarely encountered in apocalyptic literature, for example, a broken pipe, and it becomes possible—frighteningly possible—to imagine the ash in the air and the oil in the ocean collaborating to form an apocalyptic accumulation, if you will, with the power to unmake society in the same manner that Manuel DeLanda describes its invention in A Thousand Years of Nonlinear History. I only mention the notion that civilization will come undone by a series of non-apocalyptic incidents because:
Some oil from the Gulf of Mexico spill is "increasingly likely" to be dragged into a strong current that hugs Florida's coasts, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) officials said today.
But other experts say that the oil is already there—satellite images show oil caught up in one of the eddies, or powerful whorls, attached to the Loop Current, a high-speed stream that pulses north into the Gulf of Mexico and travels in a clockwise pattern toward Florida.
Once in the Loop Current, oil can travel south and enter the Gulf Stream, a powerful ocean conveyor belt that carries warm water up the eastern seaboard.
In which case, the oil that will be "flowing robustly" into the Gulf of Mexico for years will be carried approximately here:
One need not share the dyspeptic cynicism of Eliot's hollow men to think that the world might, in truth, end not with a bang but a whimper.
I'm still a few days behind the news cycle, what with volcanoes and not picking up people to take them to the airport, so I just now ran across this item which, for reasons that boggle the mind, has been linked pretty much everywhere. As someone who, unlike Kagan, wrote an actual dissertation on the impact of early 20th Century socialism on American thought—reconciling Jack London's Darwinism and socialism requires discussing his socialism, after all—I wondered how easily I could be branded a traitor to this great nation on the basis of cherry-picked quotations, and as it turns out I'm doomed. Just consider the charges against me.
Of course I believe in change:
[Jack] London wanted to believe that if industrial life could ravage a body in so short a time, social and cultural change could improve a society over a shorter span than the “deep time” geology-influenced evolutionists believed was required. London wanted to believe that a new social order could create a new, superior species in units calculable in years instead of eons.Of course I believe in progress:
Received wisdom had the trajectory of social evolution necessarily moving—progressing—toward increasingly complex forms of collective behavior.Of course I want an undemocratic socialist tyrant in charge:
Telic actions cannot be performed by acephalous organizations; democracy is hamstrung by “by the arrant idiocy of political organization.” Such actions can only be undertaken by undemocratic organizations whose leaders are chosen not because they represent society at large, but because they do not. Such leaders will accelerate the process London believes already at work: namely, that “from the facts of [human] history . . . the trend of [social] development is toward greater and greater collective wisdom.”Of course I believe socialism is the product of natural selection:
As Thomas Huxley wrote in a letter (27 October 1890) to William Ball: Have you considered that State Socialism—for which I have little enough love—may be a product of Natural Selection? The societies of Bees and Ants exhibit socialism in excelsis.Of course I believe that the death of capitalism is the fiat of evolution and the word of God:
You are perishing, and you are doomed to perish utterly from the face of society. This is the fiat of evolution. It is the word of God. Combination is stronger than competition.Of course I believe the Fish-Eaters are the chosen of God:
When the tribe complains of hunger, the Bug “sang a song of how good it was to be a Fish-Eater[, how] the Fish-Eaters were the chosen of God and the finest men God had made[, and] how fine and good it was for the Fish-Eaters to fight and die doing God’s work, which was the killing of the Meat-Eaters.”And if that weren't enough, of course I want to kill puppies:
For a week it appears as if Big-Tooth may indeed bring about the domestication of the dog, but then he returns home one day to find his friend Lop-Ear “had killed the puppy and was just beginning to eat him.”If some patriot doesn't put a stop to me soon, I'm gonna be forced to take action myself.
In the unlikely event that you wondered why I haven't posted anything since Monday, it's not because I'm in trouble for this nonsense, but because I've been grading, grading, grading, and shuttling 1) my wife and 2) the sooner-than-later President of my professional organization around the Los Angeles basin. All of which has been entertaining and edifying in the extreme, but not that good for the blog. However, because I feel compelled to put something up here (and lack the energy to revise any of my drafts into something worth posting), I present to you the absolute worst way I could've told Bérubé that I was in my office and that I'd meet him in front of the library in five minutes:
MICHAEL: I'll be done digging in Richard Rorty's archives and finding incredible items that I reserve the right to inform my readers of myself at my discretion so don't reveal them in this post.
SCOTT: Sounds good! I'm in Murray Krieger, but will finish up in a second and meet you in front of the library.
That being Murray Krieger Hall, whose top floor houses my office, but honestly? I commend Bérubé for thinking highly enough of me not to connect those dots and accuse me of the awful things I sorta admitted to be in the middle of doing.
If you happen to be in the Irvine, California area this Friday and are at all interested in the work of Richard Rorty, feel free to drop by campus and attend any one of these fine talks. The Internet's own Michael Bérubé has the last word—if, that is, he survives the trip from LAX to UCI with me behind the wheel, as between the volcano and even more inappropriate student behavior, I seem to be in one of those improbable ruts that comes karmically standard with having been whatever monster I must've been in a past life.
That said, I can't help but find this bit from the conference's promotional material fascinating:
Included in the UC Irvine collection are electronic word-processing files, created between 1988 and 2003, which were retrieved from Rorty's 3.5" floppy disks during processing of his personal papers.
At some point in the future, "archives" will refer to the drawer in which the flash drives of great thinkers reside. (Or whatever the equivalent of a "flash drive" is in "the future," whenever that may be.)
Scott enters his room in the Physical Sciences Classroom Building. Standing behind his SmartPodium is an unfamiliar person who looks startled by Scott's arrival.
SCOTT: Are you supposed to be in here?
PERSON WHO ISN'T SUPPOSED TO BE HERE: (shrugs)
SCOTT: Did you just finish teaching?
PERSON WHO DIDN'T JUST FINISH TEACHING: (shrugs)
SCOTT: Can I help you with something?
PERSON WHO DOESN'T WANT ME TO HELP HIM WITH SOMETHING: (shrugs)
SCOTT: Do you understand English?
PERSON WHO CLEARLY UNDERSTANDS ENGLISH BUT IS ABOUT TO DART OUT THE DOOR: (darts out the door)
Scott approaches the podium to find dozens of windows open, each and every one of which proves that Rule 34 is correct: there is porn of it. All of it.
Then Scott remembers that you have to log into SmartPodiums with your UCINet ID, and that your UCINet ID is also the first half of your UCI email address. Scott mouses over the toolbar to obtain the stranger's UCINet ID and proceeds to write him an email:
Dear Person Watching Porn on the SmartPodium,
Please don't watch porn on the SmartPodium. People have to teach there, you know?
Five minutes later, Scott receives a reply:
I don't know what you're talking about! Stop starting shit! I've never even been in the Physical Sciences Classroom Building before!
Scott was really tempted to inform the stranger that nobody said he had, but as subsequent denials would only diminish the beauty of the stranger's inadvertent confession, he refrained.
Because I've been grading all damn day and am as tired as a Swearengen of hearing other about the finished semesters of pretty much every other academic blogger, I thought that it might be best to avoid jealously lashing out and scribble a "Best of Acephalous 2009" post. However, when I started looking through my archives, it occurred to me that my output this year defines me much more sharply than in years past. What do I mean?
The posts I consider foundational to my current professional identity all seem to have been composed in 2009. Granted, the likelihood that I'm suffering from the identitarian equivalent of presentism is awfully high, but I honestly thought I'd written some of the posts from early 2009 in 2006 or so. (It may also be that I remember the scene of their writing, which would have been in the old apartment, i.e. the place I barely remember ever having lived in anymore.) If you have absolutely nothing better to do on a Friday night, feel free to scan through my 2009 archives and tell me what you think should be included in the "Best of" post.
If you do have something better to do, though, by all means do it.
The title says "per his insistence," but it would be more accurate to say "per his repeated insistence," as he is incapable of writing a book in which he doesn't distance himself from the poor sods who enjoy genre comics. His dismissal of such readers almost reaches the point of fetish, as if he thrills at the thought of being the comic auteur who produces books that don't belong on the same shelves as Marvel or DC titles. So strong, in fact, is his desire to not be numbered among the lowly readers of genre titles that despite banking his career on sympathetic portrayals of losers and misfits, he lumps anyone who's ever picked up a copy of Detective Comics and enjoyed it in with the Dan Pussey's of the world.
Which is only to say that in Clowes hierarchy of worth, there are reasonably well-adjusted people, self-conscious consumers of indie comic art, losers, pariahs, and loser pariahs who read mainstream comics. The fate of the aforementioned Pussey is, you recall, to have his "silly books" ransacked and mocked by elderly iterations of Ghost World's Enid and Rebecca. How powerful is his desire to distance himself from mainstream titles? His new book, Wilson, contains exactly one reference to comic books period, and it serves to demonstrate that while his titular character may be a felonious asshole whose misogyny dresses the windows of a much more malicious psychosis, at least he knows what's what:
Dennis Prager confuses me. In an attempt to mitigate the overwhelming whiteness of the tea partiers, Prager argues that "the virtual absence of blacks from tea party rallies cannot possibly reflect anything negative on the black and minority absence, only on the white tea partiers." Is he employing "virtual" as an intensifier and admitting that these tea parties are abundantly white affairs? Or is he claiming that there is merely a "virtual absence of blacks," but that in reality tea parties are teeming with blacks? Clearly he means the former, which is quite the confession in itself, but he confuses the issue by blaming minorities for being inherently irrational and not supporting his position:
But in a more rational and morally clear world, where people judge ideas by their legitimacy rather than by the race of those who held them, people would be as likely to ask why blacks and ethnic minorities are virtually absent at tea parties just as they now ask why whites predominate. They would want to know if this racial imbalance said anything about black and minority views or necessarily reflected negatively on the whites attending those rallies.
Note that Prager himself is not asking these questions: the hypothetical rational inhabitants of a morally clear world are. That they happen to agree with Prager is beside the point. The point is that these hypothetical rational people want to know why "blacks and ethnic minorities" are so irrational they refuse to attend events hosted by rational people who just happen to be white. If only minorities would stop thinking for themselves and looking out for their own self-interest long enough to listen to what the hypothetical rational people (and their proxies like Prager) have to say, they would see the error of their ways and choose to attend tea parties.
Which is to say: the tea parties will become more diverse when minorities become rational and decide to defend white interests. I have a feeling this paternalistic insult will be received quite differently than Prager intended, but who knows? Maybe minorities really are irrational. We should monitor the racial composition of tea parties and find out for ourselves.