Sunday, 16 August 2009

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On James Joyce, who is very important, and Jacques Derrida, who is also very important, though more to other people than myself, but nevertheless is still more representative of this blog's content than a picture of two dirty-minded Muppets. As a few people have expressed interest (and because Inside Higher Ed chose to link here on a day in which a picture of Bert and Ernie ogling a young woman has primacy of place), I thought I'd share a bit of the soon-to-be-published essay that will knock the socks off anyone who loves James Joyce or is passionate about newspapers and tramlines. Of particular interest to longtime readers is the deft and not-the-least-bit-overcompensatory inclusion of Derrida halfway through the paragraph, because when I began my graduate career, I could barely write a paragraph without dropping an Important Name; but by its end, I managed to write an entire dissertation without ever mentioning a single theorist. If you think that last bit constitutes evidence of an overcompensation as powerful as the earlier one that drove me to lard every paragraph with one luminary or another, you probably wouldn't be wrong. But enough about that. Here's the excerpt: References to [William Martin] Murphy’s tramlines bookend “Aeolus,” a chapter [in Ulysses] that structurally and thematically criticizes the workings of the Irish press. Although the majority of the chapter occurs in and outside the Freeman’s Journal and not Murphy’s Irish Independent, the coincidence of these two industries is significant. As in “A Painful Case,” a tramcar stoppage is recounted through a narrative structured as a newspaper article: in “A Painful Case” it was an actual article, in “Aeolus” a sequence of headlines. Importantly, the headline that prefaces the first mention of Murphy’s tramlines, and in fact the very first headline, is “IN THE HEART OF THE HIBERNIAN METROPOLIS” (7.1). Immediately below that headline we learn that “[b]efore Nelson’s pillar trams slowed, shunted, changed trolley, started for Blackrock, Kingstown, and Dalkey, Clonskea, Rathgar, and Terenure, Palmerston Park and upper Rathmines, Sandymount Green, Rathmines, Ringsend, and Sandymount Tower, Harold’s Cross. The hoarse Dublin United Tramway Company’s timekeeper bawled them off” (7.3-8). In “Devant la Loi,” Derrida claims “that the power and import of the title have an essential rapport with something like the law” (132), that is, that a title has a determinative effect on the “meaning” of the text that follows it. The title cordons the play of signification in the text below it in such a way that, despite its exclusion from the text proper, it becomes an integral part of the text. In another Joycean anticipation of Derridean thought, the relationship of titles to texts is deconstructed in “Aeolus” (if not in the novel as a whole, as the obsession with the Homeric parallels present in each unofficially named chapter demonstrates). The title of this first section, “IN THE HEART OF THE HIBERNIAN METROPOLIS,” literally cannot contain the text beneath it, which describes the movement of tramcars away from Nelson’s pillar towards the remoter areas of Dublin. (In fact, the tramcars are bound for Kingston, as were those that struck Mrs. Sinico at the Sydney Parade Station, and Sandymount, where Bloom alighted from the Haddington Road line [the so-called “little Sandymount”] and...
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Precisely the disappointment we were prepared to feel. All the noise from the right about Obama being a not-so-crypto-socialist or communist or Marxist has had its desired effect: Obama now seems willing to drop the public option from his health care reform package. But everyone who always saw Obama for what he is—a dogged centrist who knows how to game the system—already knew that the public option would likely be off the table during the initial rounds of reform. Thoughtful folks knews that Obama would play politics—that he would float a plan far more ambitious than he could push through Congress—that his concessions would be scripted from the start, consisting of provisions that he knew to be untenable in the present political climate but which, after becoming familiar through repetition, would sound less extreme the next time they became fodder for public discussion. Such are the dictates of his technocratic fancy. What makes the conservative response to his policies particularly dumbfounding is that he’s flashed his incrementalist credentials numerous times—most saliently in his treatment of the GLBT issues—and yet conservatives respond like he’s always playing for the whole pot when, in fact, all his talk of high stakes is intended to distract them from the fact that he’s penny-anteing them into poorhouse. In short, conservatives are giddy because they’ve “prevented” him from winning as big as he talks even though he’s the only one leaving the table with anything in his wallet. Tempted as I am to expand on all the apt metaphors here—deaths accomplished by a thousand cuts that produce ghosts who proudly crow about not being beheaded, or defeated generals bragging about transitory victories in a long war—but as conservatives have provided me (and Obama) with better material, I can cut to the chase. Consider what the conservative movement currently considers a win: Conservatives lie about the existence of “death panels.” Liberals cave to public outcry and eliminate “death panels” that never existed from an inchoate version of the Senate’s health care reform package. Conservatives declare victory. I remember playing similar games as a child. I would: Pretend there were Imperial Storm Troopers in my closet, who I would Defeat by dint of Force and flashlight, before Declaring victory over the gathering forces of darkness. The difference being, of course, that because there were no actual Storm Troopers in my closet, my imaginary victory entailed nobody else’s actual defeat; whereas those who boast of victory over imaginary “death panels” have, in fact, suffered both tactical and rhetorical losses. Any provision short of a “death panel” that crops up in future iterations of health care reform will fail to rouse the ire of the conservative base to the boil it’s at now. They have, in short, diminished the rhetorical effectiveness of future complaints. Sarah Palin has allowed conservatives to feel the thrill of victory amid their agonizing defeat, and they love her for it. I anticipate the response to this post from those to my right will be that I’m reading Obama’s mind—that I can’t possibly know...

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