I just awoke from a dream where all my intellectual parents knew each other, and my present advisor was part of the discourse but not part of the party.
Let's see: first I went to JH to, for some reason, get him to proofread my classical Chinese translation of Donna Haraway. He locates a particular sentence where my translation is particularly awkward, and we segue into how Hello Kitty is part of the "informatics of domination" and then S, my classmate, comes in. She'd taken a class with JH as well, and had been sending him all sorts of cool toys, one of which was a tiny figurine made from a fusion of plant and human DNA and other biological matter. It looked like gooey plastic. And then JH takes out a mass of these gooey figurines, which S had sent him, and they start putting these nude figures together into its original whole. It involved fitting nipples and limbs and digits and appendages into various orifices, and when the figures were completely assembled, they held a banner that said something like "Love Life." Or something like that.
And then ZS came to meet JH in his office, because ZS was the guest for one of JH's classes. (Which makes no sense because ZS teaches German literature and JH teaches Japanese literature and film... oh wait I guess it does make sense, in a disciplinary kinda way. Oh SHIT! ZS went to school in comp lit and JH now has an appointment teaching in comp lit. Shit shit shit shit shit. The powers of my mind are AMAZING.)
Anyway we find ourselves in the class room; I'm surrounded by other students. ZS takes note of me and asks how I am and I say, "Well you know, art history." And he asks, in front of the whole class, something like, "But don't you feel that art history is an inadequate descriptive model?" And I suddenly stand up and shout—all angry interlocuter-like—"Maybe you think it's not an adequate descriptive model, but I can come up with ten different ways in which you're WRONG!!!" and sit down in a huff. And I think I muttered something like, "And I go to one of the top departments in N. America, to prove it." And bury my head in my arms to fake cry, only I'm half sincere. ZS comes to the back of the classroom and looks at me weird. He asks, "What was that all about?" I'm wavering on the brink of tears and I say, "I'm sorry. It's just..." and ZS replies, "We can talk, after class."
So I talk after class, and all I can says is, "I have a great community of fellow students. Let me e-mail you with some of our plans some time." And this stranger who works at the ROM shows up and says, "Oh yeah, plans are good. You should look at the ROM's plans. They're good. So good that some days I would rather take the subway than walk to work in the sun?" And everyone laughs. In my dream I intuited that it meant the ROM is full of subterranean passages, and through some freak accident of planning, this girl takes the subway to work on sunny days because her work place doesn't get much sun.
Anyway, I ask ZS if he knows that my advisor now teaches here, and he says, "yeah I know. I can't believe she left Chicago." And I say, "She... wasn't happy..." and he shrugs big time, like "How could you be unhappy there? I was happy there."
And then I woke up.
It's weird. This parade of intellectual fathers went back to high school: why did I invoke them now? I guess I'm seeing the basis of my outburst at ZS now: when he had just arrived in grad school he had e-mailed us saying he was taking art history courses, and now he's slagging off the disciplinary project. Maybe that's an allegory for the year-long crush my friend had on him. The crush was brought on by nothing and led to nothing, but it involved art and art history.
But I guess this dream is about me wanting to make myself heard, wanting to say, "Hey, hey, look at me! I'm doing something! I'm an intellectual force to be reckoned with!" [And it's funny I went to JH with classical Chinese, because he went to school in Donna Haraway's department, and his class was the first class in which I read the cyborg manifesto. And oh, his resemblance to the classical Chinese teacher only went as far as close-cropped hair and slightly dopey eyes.]
If it is some wish-fulfillment deal, it makes sense why my advisor was part of the discourse but not part of the dream. Because she's kind enough to acknowledge that I am smart, so I invoke her to back up my claims.
Which is kinda messed up. Why can't I dream of cute Korean boys? You'd think in my DREAMS I would get a respite from my academic anxiety. Clusterfuck indeed.
Lately I've been trawling the Internets for manga, and just started to read NANA. I noticed it was really popular while I was in Japan: the comic book series, serialized in Cookie, has spawned two movies, an anime series, and two (?) theme song singles: Nakashima Mika's hitoiro and Glamorous Sky and Itô Yuna's (God I can't be bothered to look up the name).
The series is about two young women, Komatsu Nana and Ôzaki Nana who meet on a train to Tokyo and live together as room-mates for six months. Komatsu is something of the girl-next-door type: she's cute, not very ambitious, and prone to having crushes on all manner of cute boys—at the drop of a hat. Althought she doesn't have any interests of her own, she is capable of devoting herself to the people she cares for: hence the series of rapidly fired-up and cooled-down romances. In contrast, Ôzaki is determined to make a career as the lead vocal of her punk band, and limits her loved ones to a select few. She's prone to intense possessiveness.
I like the story but hate the characterization: the narrative and character types come together in such a way that valorizes girls who are propelled exclusively by the vicissitudes of love. Sure, Komatsu cries abjectly—movingly—whenever one love ends, but she always waffles about what she wants, and never fights to keep what is precious to her. Komatsu reminds me of my cousin, who hasn't spent a week without a boyfriend since she was sixteen. The cousin explains her ease of movement from one guy to the next with the fact that Venus was in Aquarius when she was born: supposedly people with Venus in Aquarius are always on the search for an ideal lover, so when the present one proves problematic, they don't have problems moving on.
Sure, we could defend the efficacy of a character like Komatsu: she's flawed, she's human, she teaches us what it means to fall and climb up again etc etc etc. But dood: do you truly want to valorize someone who lets go of what she loves without a fight?
These are the things I won't do in a comic series for young girls (shôjo manga, lots of romance):
1) The unwed mother will not decide to keep the child after seeing the ultrasound photo. She will opt for an abortion. Can we STOP inflating the mysterious force of maternal instinct? Puh-leeze: a foetus turns a snivelling, waffly girl into a determined girl?
2) If she decides to keep the child, no one will show up to bail her out: no surprise marriage proposals, no windfalls of cash, no secret admirer who's willing to pick up the slack on living expenses. And no, no sudden miscarriage that causes her to mourn the loss of her unborn child. For once, can we valorize the girl who can resolve to pull herself out of a messy situation?
3) No more love stories that are all beginning and ending, but no in-between. Why are we so fixated with the heart-thumping moments of crushes and new loves, or the hysterical crying that follows a break-up? Can't we show how couples make up after a fight? Can't we show girls who don't get all tokidoki (sound of accelerated heartbeats) and red-faced when their boys say something nice to them?
If I write stories for boys (shônen manga, mostly action):
1) I will stop having normal boys discover immense hidden power and develop their secret powers in mind-staggeringly short times. I am quite over this trope of adolescence as interstice: anxiety-inducing amorphous time that may hide IMMENSE potential. (Woah! Something just occurred to me. Can we apply Franco Moretti's point in The Way of the World, that Bildungsroman was a genre through which to work out the anxiety of youth, which in turn indexed the anxiety about modernity? Because Japan is very modern, but also hung up on tradition and social roles *generalization alert*)
2) I will stop having boys make immense jumps in level of ability just because they went to some super-intensive training camp. Instead, they will be ready to put their lives on the line during training, and will seemingly master new skills, but then totally fail during actual combat and have to be rescued by their female sidekicks.
3) I will stop making the main character someone who's ready to throw his life away to win the battle or the game (e.g. Yûsuke from Yû Yû Hakusho, Naruto from Naruto, Sakuragi from Slam Dunk, Ichigo from Bleach) More tactical fighters, please. All that earnestness is getting tiring.
These are my Nana-specific complaints. If I set up my narrative based on the love-hate relationships (okay, more like lots of loving and unrequited love going around) between two bands, I will make sure that:
1) The punk band is actually punk. (And no, Vivienne Westwood clothing and accessories, piercings, and chain-smoking do not make it punk—see hitoiro and Glamorous Sky).
2) The rock band does something other than simpering ballads (See Truth and Endless Story). WTF do you need a band for if you're just going to use some lame guitar and keyboard samples from a synth?
3) Singers with more character than Nakashima Mika and Ito Yuna would play the lead vocals in the rival bands. Nakashima is not a strong enough singer to take on the role of Nana, since Nana's voice is characterized as low, husky, MAGNETIC. And I guess Ito can sing, but she lacks intensity; or maybe the songs lack intensity. Punk Nana should have a voice like Garbage's Shirley Manson, while Ito just needs something harder to sing against.
Thanks to J's influence, I've become a more reflexive music listener (I like to think). I'm not being a music purist, and I am not holding these theme songs up to Western rock or punk. But I'm also leery when a fashion designer like Westwood becomes shorthand for punk, and the pop sensation of the singing princess is dressed up and gets a band appended to it—should that make it cool?
I secretly wish that authors, creators, musicians, film-makers would stop using shorthand or code in their work, because then I'd stop feeling compelled to go decode them.
It's fun to decode, and I'd give up my right leg before I'd give up my pop consumption. But occasionally I'd like to look at stuff that can sustain a longer, more thoughtful critique.
I don't quite remember how we broached the topic. My advisor and I were talking about a recent candidate's job talk and segued from his ahistorical theoretical paintbrush to how men (in our field, at least) are able to maintain a more public profile despite putting out work that sometimes have serious gaps in them. She described their self-identity as "Bright Boy in a Bubble" and it made me very jealous; I reiterated that sentiment throughout our long conversation.
I was jealous because my fall term ended with a presentation that got its rug pulled from under its feet: I had to go back to the drawing board and retool my theoretical framework, and this retooling was done with generous assistance from Homi Bhabha's The Location of Culture and a dissertation with a more theoretical evaluation of one of the artists I worked on. The bad taste lasted for a good week before I could approach the project with equanimity instead of defensiveness (God I hope I'm not someone who CAN'T take feedback, or who takes feedback ungraciously). The writing was, as usual, torturous: a handwritten draft that of course didn't really flow, and a final version that was torturously extracted and distilled from the handwritten draft. And these two versions succeeded three drafts before.
This is a horrible process, and I don't ever want to write more than one draft again. I say this because the things I have to say from one draft to the next don't change. The only new ideas come when I decide on the theoretical lens to use, which leads to another anxiety: that I can't think without theory (cry).
I was urged to try drafting because "ideas that you didn't know you had in you will pop up while you write your draft." No. My drafts are the most banal, sophomoric things this side of the higher education divide, and I get no insights from them. The insights only seem to pop out when I set out to write what I think is the final version.
Woah, how did we get from Boyz Klub to my writing process?
I was jealous to hear about bright boys in bubbles because of stories of how one made up "facts" to give an associate dean the answer she was looking for, of how they give job talks without fleshing out the pros and cons of their chosen framework.
I am jealous because suddenly (or maybe not so suddenly) I've become this taciturn writer: time was when I could toot out twenty pages in two nights, and now it takes me four days of agonizing to make nineteen. And yeah, some of my older prose was superfluous, if not florid, but I never got castigated for floweriness.
I used to be the bright girl in the bubble. I used to be able to say, "Well if you don't agree with me, then you're just stupid." Maybe age and discretion has tempered that, but I want some of my old obstinacy back. I want to be able to say, "Well I think you can look at it from my angle and it's stil compellingly valid."
But I'm not a boy. I'm confident that my advisor will try to instill that confidence in me, but I can't guarantee that it wouldn't get beaten out of me in class here, even though I think my fellow students are some of the nicest people around.
I read Michel Foucault's Discipline and Punish in my first year of college for a course that would count towards my gen ed requirements. In the book, Foucault meticulously documents the shift from public, spectacular "rituals" of discipline to semi-public, less visible "schedules" of discipline in schools and hospitals. I don't remember his argument exactly, but I think this shift from visible to less visible regimes of discipline corresponded with a shift in the mode of government, i.e. from monarchy to democracy.
I've been thinking a lot about my relationship to scheduling, and I don't want to say this definitively, but it seems like I really suck at sticking to a schedule. This makes me sad.
I meant to make a habit once again of writing something everyday, because I have become a truly repressed writer. But that wish soon gave up the ghost, because the internet and socializing intervened. I meant to spend about four hours a day reading, since I only have coursework right now, but sitting down to read for four hours really translates into six hours (thirty minutes of twiddling around for every hour of reading), and I can't seem to find that chunk of time.
I've never been one to overschedule: as a kid my only extracurricular time commitment was piano, and my parents discouraged me from school activities. Because I had homework everyday back then, and there was neither internet nor video games, it was easier to commit to sitting down with the assignments until they were completed. I was also a pretty exacting child: not exactly one to skim through homework and be done with it before time.
In high school, the daily homework stopped, and that's when the waffling began. Oh sure, I had some activities then, but I also got really good at pissing away the weekends, which was probably the cause of my academic downfall.
If Foucault could see the number of blog posts by academics castigating themselves for not getting work done, and the number of writing guides that urge their audience to commit to a certain period of time or a certain number of words per day, he might surmise that academia has become the best example of an invisible but pervasive disciplinary regime. Sure, dissertation deadlines and the tenure clock are rather concrete, unfudgeable things, and the consequences of not meeting these deadlines are far-reaching indeed, but the ways in which we internalize workaholism, and structure our (theoretically unstructured) time with the looming specter of READ READ READ THINK THINK THINK WRITE WRITE WRITE surely delineate the contours of the disciplinary framework of academia.
The demands of teaching (if we care enough about teaching to let it affect us) add another dimension to the discipline of academics. I find that my "game" face is cheery, chirpy, and a little wacky, while my grading voice is one of moderated harshness, that comes out in the form of terse one-liners, "Competently organized and researched; I would have liked to see a more thoughtful engagement with the material, and a clearer explication of why you chose the objects that you chose." Nobody but my advisor demands that I be approachable, so I think my classroom persona has nearly everything to do with the persona I assume when I need to socialize. I ratchet up my eccentricities when I meet people and when I am in awkward, anxiety-inducing situations, and I tend to disclose a lot of things about myself on the first meeting. I suppose this is a litmus test of people I can become friends with readily, but this behavior is also motivated by some sort of "Whee whee! Look at me! Look at meee!" So I guess this anxiety of attention and acceptance feeds into my classroom behavior as well: I believe (probably mistakenly) that students who like me will also find the material interesting, and will hence work hard for me. This behavior (on my part at least) feeds back into the issue of discipline: using popularity in the hopes of instructing. How's that for lacking backbone?
If research is the internalized daemon of discipline, then teaching is the space where internal and external constraints collide. Because all teachers have public faces, they inevitably have to learn to calibrate the material they transmit to the mode of transmission, and this constant negotiation of the mode of transmission is where discipline comes into play.
Now, how to conclude... I guess this is all a roundabout way of saying that I wish I had better self-discipline. I don't see discipline as repressive (because even without self-discipline I am an extremely repressed writer); rather, I hope that better self-discipline will help me shake loose a hidden aspect of myself as reader, thinker, and writer.