Monday, October 31, 2011

Mom's Kitsch

Twice in recent days I've had the uncanny experience of seeing my Mom's kitsch objects playing significant roles in television programs.

Watching the episode "Remedial Chaos Theory" of Community, a Norwegian troll doll is Pierce's vengeance "gift" to Troy. I am pretty certain this is exactly the same wooden troll figure we used to have on our fireplace mantel.

Then, a trailer for the new program Grimm comes on, and a woman stoops to pick up the "Keeping Time" Hummel figurine from a path in the woods, and suddenly she's whisked away by a beast of some sort.

Emerson State of Mind, Cont'd

Today's American Lit to 1860 class was one of those days seared into the memory, especially for use when things go pear-shaped.
Things were already looking up when I came into the classroom and several students were already talking up how much Emerson had energized them.
Then I started us out with a condensed lecture on Transcendentalism, in particular its origins tied to debates over Locke and Kant.

But then I just sat down and opened the discussion to whichever currents formed around the pushes and pulls of what caught students' attention. And this class always has excellent questions!

They wanted to talk about Emerson in relation to metaphysics, his notion of Nature and how humans are integrated into it, and a passage that reads, "The shows of day, the dewy morning, the rainbow, mountains, orchards in blossom, stars, moonlight, shadows in still water, and the like, if too eagerly hunted, become shows merely, and mock us with their unreality."

That last one especially launched us into a great discussion about attitudes towards "being in nature." Together, we imagined what Emerson would say if we took him on a class field trip to REI. Considering if he is suggesting that when you treat "nature" directly as a commodity, it becomes commodity, unreality. Emerson's a slippery one--sometimes I think he looks like a libertarian narcissist and then all of a sudden he looks like he's an ecological thinker of the highest order, but only when read against the grain of his usual eco-characterizations by the myriad of plastic stuff with his quotes embossed upon them.

We talked about Aldo Leopold's injunction to "think like a mountain," and how Emerson never gives this sort of injunction because it is in his philosophical paradigm absurd. Empathy is not the point for Emerson, not because of narcissism, but because of its patent impossibility--it's disrespect for other material.

I hope the same fires burn as we get into Walden the rest of this week!

Saturday, October 29, 2011

The Matter with Mao

Within the last 7 days there were 3 Mao matters in my life:

1st. Just before flying to California, I finished reading Chan Koonchung's amazing novel, The Fat Years, now available in English translation in the UK (and therefore in the US via and in the US in January. One of the characters makes a remark of Chinese-style self-criticism as encouragement: "Just think what Mao had done by age 30..." While the character who utters this sentiment is being mocked, I find it a powerful statement on revolution and on attitudes to self-criticism. After all, I worked this novel into my hectic life because I felt compelled to read a contemporary Chinese fiction that was NOT simply an indictment of the Cultural Revolution. The deplorable impact on intellectuals of the Cultural Revolution is undeniable and inexcusable in itself. Yet, this narrative vector seems to take all precedence, neglecting the impact of Mao on millions of people whom he and the Party liberated from feudalism. That is not nothing. That is a matter too.

2nd. "The United States cannot annihilate the Chinese nation with its small stack of atom bombs. Even if the U.S. atom bombs were so powerful that, when dropped on China, they would make a hole right through the earth, or even blow it up, that would hardly mean anything to the universe as a whole, though it might be a major event for the solar system." Just imagine Mao's philosophy of matter and nation underlying this statement. His notion of materialism and being were a challenge not to the American "way of life" but to the fundamental notions of matter, objects, and being that must remain for the capital machine to stand and to run.

3rd. In Davis, I played all day every day with my 10-month old daughter, Sofia. In our bedroom, one of the only objects my wife, Min, has from her childhood home, and they barely had any object to begin with, is a porcelain disk with a painting on one side of Mao in a straw peasant hat and on the other side a sample of his calligraphy. When I carry Sofia around, one of her favorite places to explore is the bookshelf, and Mao sits on this shelf. No less than a dozen times during just a few days did she point at Mao's smiling face. This little girl only sees a smiling, friendly face, at least for now.

Emerson State of Mind

I'm preparing for my Monday class on Ralph Waldo Emerson, re-reading for the howmanyteenth time Nature. In a fashion that Emerson himself prescribes, I realize that the text contains endless possibilities according to what I as reader bring into the journey. [bracketed for now a tendril of thought on Emerson's infinity in the finite juxtaposed with the Borges story "The Library of Babel"]

Unbracketed, now, I was reading the passage, "Whenever a true theory appears, it will be its own evidence. Its test is, that it will explain all phenomena. Now many are thought not only unexplained but inexplicable; as language, sleep, dreams, beasts, sex." Emerson's list of things at the outermost frontiers of the human imaginative abilities to construct a grand unifying theory is a striking catalogue of psycho-analysis to come. Given my recent Derrida jag--The Beast and the Sovereign as well as a re-reading of "Structure, Sign, and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences," I am intrigued by Emerson's assemblage of language, animals, and dreams. For Emerson, the center of this assemblage is its very assembler: the human. He makes these powerful mysteries, but always mysteries to the human, perhaps even mysteries for the human--these are the things here to give us pleasure, particularly by signifying that within the human that transcends all of these things.

But what also catches my attention is the omission in Emerson's list of the machine, especially given his persistent, consistent attention to the machine in much of his writing. For Emerson the machine was totally under control, if at times misused. Not that many years later, Marx would posit the machine as one of the great mysteries, or at least the material instantiation symptomatic of the mystery of capital, in particular of industrial capitalist production.

Animals, dreams, language, and machines.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Cogs lately, 9: Scorsese Edition

Jude Law, children, and machines: there's an A.I. vibe about Hugo...but even more than that, this film is a cog-riddled steampunk story with Borat!

Cogs lately, 8: Criminal Minds Edition

I was just in Davis with my family over the fall break and Min and I put on the television one night. Having never watched, and never even felt a twinge of interest in watching, an episode of Criminal Minds, I was still pulled into their latest promo ad. Peppered throughout from the very opening are myriad cogwheels, though at times from their small size and the juxtaposition with scenes of apparent torture, it can be difficult to determine if they are cogwheels or saw blades on the screen. Only the final image of a human face outline populated by numerous cogwheels turning determines in favor of the cog. These visual cog codings of a criminal mind, and of minds in general, is provocative. The show feeds on the contemporary fantasy of total social control--total social security, a fantasy that is predominantly cyber-tech in terms of actual surveillance and manipulation. And yet, the underlying logic of human subjectivity as fully accountable/predictable within statistical probability mapping of psychic profiles is imaged as a cogwheel machine. The brain is not depicted as a computer but as a set of tightly assembled cogwheels turning upon and by themselves apparently. The image is like the one Leibniz uses in The Monadology, yet Leibniz was focused on what existed but could not be found in the brain-cogs-machine while this show's promo image implies that all is there and that we must have the people with the good machines apply their mental engines to stopping the mental engines of the bad machines...

Thursday, October 20, 2011

how much paper do you save annually?

Way to go, sticker! You should get a sticker for your efforts!!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

2 Open Apologies: Drive-texting and "Local"CoffeeRoasting

‎1st. To the woman driving the minivan away from Nisse Preschool. You were right to give me that death glare and for 2 reasons. First, I took my right of way despite the fact that I was bicycling, which is just eco-hipster presumptuous of me, and, second, because you were clearly sending an emergency text whilst pulling into heavy oncoming traffic--I mean, clearly, because otherwise only a criminally negligent parent would be texting with an infant in the car under those circumstances.

‎2nd. To the Co-Op employee whose smile turned upside down upon overhearing my review of Kickapoo coffee when asked by a fellow customer. I was buying Egyptian Licorice Tea. My review: "Well, if you don't care about quality of beans, roast, aroma, or flavor, it's actually still pretty ho-hum. I mean it has 'poo' in the name, so the caliber is unsurprising, and I guess there's merit in them being up front on that score." As an ex-barista who now practices detournement against the very corporate bean dealers who trained him, I cannot lie just because it's a "local" roaster.

The "Buy Local" fascist tone is too eerily reminiscent at times of the discourse of partnership, etc, with which Starbucks inducted those of us who learned to make a proper cappuccino with them.


Ironically, when I switched to the digital zoom capability, the image blurred too much to make out the micro-scale Tessier-Ashpool corporate logo near the nest opening.

3 distracting lines

Somewhat like John Ballantyne, I keep seeing lines and they are distracting me. Unlike, Ballantyne, the lines I see are not on tablecloths or the landscape. Rather, they are lines from two Woody Allen movies and an episode of Bored to Death. I put these lines out here to clear my mind of them.

"Tradition is just the illusion of permanence."
Deconstructing Harry

"There's only one kind of love that lasts--unrequited love. It stays with you forever."
Shadows and Fog

“You know, I never thought I’d be in a graveyard in a spa robe talking to a beautiful transvestite in the moonlight.”
Bored to Death, "Escape from the Castle"

As I drink mate on this 40-degree morning and write out these quotes, I see in their constellation lines of connection: lines of transience; lines of transformation; lines of friendship; lines of romance.

The latter two lines in particular align humor and warm romance constructed by people who determine to face the world as unfeeling and totally contingent. In freeing themselves from a dependence upon transcendence, the characters can delight in the unexpected, even if they also must endure the discomfort of life's vicissitudes.

I am particularly fond of Bored to Death because what at first appeared to be a show trading on hip Brooklyn, turned out to be narratives featuring strong (yes, often to the point of absurdity) social bonds between friends and stirring dialogue when characters are confronted with their own mortality and how love works in their lives.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Cogs lately, 7

So, last Wednesday night I was watching Modern Family on television. Min and I have watched a number of this show's episodes because the actress playing Lily looks a lot like our daughter, Chofi.

At least the original actress playing Lily did. Apparently this new season there's a new actress (Is this a television show standard, or an isolated suggestion that Asians look so much alike no one would notice?). Whoa, hold on a minute, it turns out that they are interchangeable, at least to the extent that Lily was formerly played by two identical twin actresses! [As a sidenote, I know from a number of Chinese friends who've come to study and work in the U.S. that interchangeability is an issue, but an issue that some turn to benefit in terms of buying one membership to Costco and everyone using the same ID without ever encountering a hassle.]

All of which is a way to circulate back to the initial pic of this blog: I was watching Modern Family and there in the background as decor objects in the office of a ruthless up-and-coming real estate development mogul were cogwheels. Peripheral but signifying, cogwheels.

Sunday, October 16, 2011


Yesterday I bicycled through gusty winds to Luther for a Homecoming Weekend department coffee. Before hanging out with colleagues and meeting English major alumni and savoring lemon bar after lemon bar after lemon bar, I wandered into the edible landscape garden next to Valders Hall of Science. Three monarch butterflies were flitting around, plunging their dark proboscides into every wide open blossom, like Ben Franklin in a Parisian brothel. Most enjoyable was how little notice they paid to the presence of me and my photo-making-machine.

Reading Althusser

On this day, in 1918, Louis Althusser came into the world. And on this day, today, in 2011, I will finish reading his last book, The Future Lasts Forever. It’s hard out there for Althusserians, because others seem to find it nearly impossible to focus on what you are working rigorously to articulate, concentrating instead on when they will get their opening to make a remark about his strangling his wife to death. Thus, a petty posturing as insider, only slightly less sad than those who insist on announcing out loud “There’s Hitch’s cameo” when they see Hitchcock enter the screen, as if he were trying to slip it past the audience (Thanks to D.A. Miller for this point—he’s got a fantastic piece in the Autumn 2010 Critical Inquiry on this…).

Having encountered this mechanism in response to the very name Althusser, I decided a week ago to read this last book, written after that devastating day. There are certain charms within these pages: memories of youth and beautiful girls who caught his eye; anecdotes of his personal interactions with Lacan; his encounter with Jacques-Allain Miller’s possessiveness of theoretical concepts and the tradition of science and literature intersecting with intellectual property, etc. But the book also disturbs me, to the point I’ve had to put it down several times, thus not finishing it in any less than a week.

What makes The Future Lasts Forever so disturbing is that it’s like reading a co-authored production of Fyodor Dostoevski and Bret Easton Ellis. Althusser writes with the structural precision of Crime and Punishment, and, like American Psycho, he writes the mind of a man who mostly appears sane because he is so oblivious to the madness. But today I press on to the finish further to fill in my picture of Althusser as the person who developed structural causality, what is still the most sophisticated and operational notion of ideology, and who, with a work like Reading Capital, provided a nearly insurmountable example of close reading in general and close reading in the Marxist tradition. The close reading is especially dear to me because whenever I hear "theory" being disparaged, I feel compelled to bring up the astonishing close reading capacities that comprise much of what is considered among the most "abstract" and/or "theoretical" of theory. Really, who does better, more rigorous, more intense close reading than Althusser or Derrida? Resistance to theory is a form of resistance to doing close reading where that close reading means actual intimacy with the text and all that has been drawn into it. Resistance to theory close reading ends up being a Romantic sublime brand of close reading, in which the text is best encountered at some proper remove, safe from danger.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

the beast and the sovereign

For a week or more I've been reading Jacques Derrida's The Beast & the Sovereign, Volume I, a collection of his 2001-2002 seminar lectures. One reason is I was simply missing him. My dissertation work was, surprisingly to me, not deeply influenced by Derrida, at least not in text-specific ways resembling the influences of Fredric Jameson, Louis Althusser, Franco Moretti, and Harold Bloom [I know, a strange foursome...]. So, it has been a couple of years or more since reading any Derrida.

Another reason to pick up this text was that I'd read how Derrida labeled the seminar a wolf-hunt because he tracks the figures of the wolf, wolf-man, wolf-as-man, and man-as-wolf through the history of political philosophy among other texts too. As a close and distant researcher of the cog and its myriad print peregrinations, I wanted to see how Derrida assembled them into a sustained project as a way of thinking through my own project of bookifying dissertation materials.

While reading last night, it occurred to me just how biocentric Derrida's thought was. For all of the theorization of ethics and meconnaissable or the unrecognizable, the frontier holds consistent for Derrida at the world of the living. The machine is too other, in a very significant sense of alterity. It resides beyond the imaginable of life and therefore, for Derrida, of ethics.

The other tidbit as I am early in these lectures is Derrida's focus on depictions of the sovereign in relation to the lupefication of the other in terms of not-human humans and non-human living beings. He points out that universal human rights are grounded in Cartesian or Kantian philosophy, either way the non-human animal is already reduced to a machine without reason or personhood. This I had in mind this morning when I was reading the program notes for King Harald V and Queen Sonja of Norway--I was waiting in the Center for Faith and Life at Luther College for their entry to help celebrate the College's Sesquicentennial. The last paragraph on King Harald begins: "An active hunter and fisherman, King Harald is concerned with environmental issues and for many years was president of the Norwegian chapter of the World Wildlife Fund." No wolves, to be sure, but here in my hands was something Derrida and I talked about last night. Here was the sovereign and his concern for environmental issues was being presented, represented through an introductory frame of an ethical positing of human rights to kill to eat.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Mechanics of the Deconcealing Machine

Thinking today of Heidegge(a)r's passage, "What has the essence of technology to do with revealing? The answer: everything...The possibility of all productive manufacturing lies in revealing. Technology is therefore no mere means. Technology is a way of revealing."

What do we see when we see the machine?
The machine as component of machine, as symptom that deconceals, as a coggy synecdoche of a larger machine or machines, machines within machines.

The machine produces and the machine points. The machine takes in force, motion, dynamism or has these put into it, circulates them, and releases them.

The machine of belief...
From Section IV of Blaise Pascal's Pensees:

247. Order.--A letter of exhortation to a friend to induce him to seek. And he will reply, "But what is the use of seeking? Nothing is seen." Then to reply to him, "Do not despair." And he will answer that he would be glad to find some light, but that, according to this very religion, if he believed in it, it will be of no use to him, and that therefore he prefers not to seek. And to answer to that: The machine.

From Lacan's Seminar II:

"The machine is the structure detached from the activity of the subject. The symbolic world is the world of the machine."

"Between Hegel and Freud, there's the advent of the world of the machine."

"There are no examples of energy calculations in the use of slaves. There is not the hint of an equation as to their output. Cato never did it. It took machines for us to realise they had to be fed...And later on, it dawned on people, something which was never thought f before, that living things look after themselves all on their own, in other words, they represent homeostats."

The Poetics of Spice

The Taylorist element of my morning today was waking early to get production underway and maximize the day. My principles of scientifically managing my breakfast were, however, unrefined. In the pre-coffee haze of 6:30am, I took the pan of soy milk oatmeal from the stove, poured it over the sliced banana in the bowl, and proceeded to vigorously season it--not with the intended cinnamon, but with cumin. The flavor surprise, had it been captured on video, would have looked like the opposite of the 1980s tv ad for Reese's peanut butter cups! (If nothing else, that ad was a valuable public service announcement against strolling casually with a Sony Walkman and an open jar of peanut butter. I mean, is there not something far too intimate about that to do it in public?)

And, at the tail end of this Baroque curlicue, before returning to cumin, there are those Reese's cogs:

To torque a phrase from another vintage tv candy ad: "Whatever it is I think I see, becomes a proliferation of cogs to me."

Now the cinnamon and cumin reside in different sectors of the kitchen.

But this poetics of spice got me thinking of cumin and an encounter during my first year living in Shanghai. Out of the back gate of East China Normal University, there are all kinds of street food vendors, especially from evening till late. I became a regular of these two Uighur chaps and their portable mutton kebap grill. One night I asked them about the spices they added near the end of the grilling, and they kept insisting it was "Ziran Fen," which translates literally as "Natural Powder." I was, at the time, convinced that this was some fantastic euphemism for a Poppy-based spice blend that offers a Thomas DeQuincey dining experience. Only later, with a dictionary, and this is certainly not to exclude the likely prospect that there was something Paul Bolwesy mixed into the spices they tapped out of a modified LongJing Green Tea tin, did I learn that "Ziran Fen" is cumin powder.

All of which makes me hungry right now and wish I had a copy of DeQuincey to read because the last time I looked at it, in Tim Morton's Romanticism seminar, I remember being surprised again and again.

Cogs lately, 6

Walking around downtown Decorah at dusk, I came across this flier for an art show. As ever, the cogs...

Sunday, October 9, 2011

"Look at you, surrounded by 'Nature'," part II

Later in my grading session at Twin Springs Park:

The "sublime"
What the reader is left with...

"Look at you, surrounded by 'Nature'"

On what promises to be one of the last tastes of summery, sunshiny days in Decorah, I took my "American Literature to 1860" students' essays, a thermos of hot water, and my mate on a bicycle ride along the Upper Iowa River and out to Twin Springs Park. A picnic table smeared with juniper berries sat in the middle of a leaf-strewn area next to the stream, where I could enjoy the watersonics and grade.
Several people walked past during my work, but one couple stopped, turns out they were from Atlanta and just driving around the country to visit different relatives. As they approached, one of them greeted me by saying, "Look at you, surrounded by nature, everything you need and just doing your thing." For a fleeting moment my memory spun up a sample of Paul Simon's "Boy in the Bubble" and I saw myself enclosed in a hermetic yet invisible container, sealing me off from the "Nature" in which I had apparently trans/planted myself.
Next, she asked what was that thing on the table. I explained about mate and invited them to try it, so I took about 20 minutes off from grading to enjoy a little spontaneous community and shared infusions. During their visit, I referred back to her greeting to inquire where I could identify the line between me and the "nature" surrounding me and the conversation morphed from concern over boundaries to identification of ash, maple, and other trees, which turned out to be an apt dissipation of bifurcations.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Poetry Power

Decorah is witnessing one of the worst Box Elder Bug invasions in recent memory. When the soybean harvest gets rolling, these bugs, along with the Asian beetles, come to town and go to town.

I can stop counting at 30 from my turret workspace and have several on the walls, floor, and ceiling to spare. It's a disconcerting feeling, like being in an even lamer version of George McCowan's absurd 1972 film, Frogs. Tiny black and red things crawling all around me, catching my peripheral vision as I'm revising and submitting job market applications.

But just when compassion gets strained, I think of William Blake's poem and stay my hand from going Obama on these insects:

Little fly,
Thy summer's play
My thoughtless hand
Has brushed away.

Am not I
A fly like thee?
Or art not thou
A man like me?

For I dance
And drink and sing,
Till some blind hand
Shall brush my wing.

If thought is life
And strength and breath,
And the want
Of thought is death,

Then am I
A happy fly,
If I live,
Or if I die.

Register to win a free cremation. It just makes sense.

Recently I had a phone conversation with an old friend. It was his 38th birthday. At 38, a male in the U.S. has truly statistically started dying (75.6 avg life expectancy). While we were talking, he checked his mailbox and discovered a postcard inviting him to register for the chance to win a free cremation. The arguments in favor of signing up now moved fluidly, seamlessly between consideration for family grief and tax exemption.
I warned him to read the small print, lest this turn into a "Twilight Zone" episode in which he sends in the card, wins, but failed to notice that signing the card also grants the crematorium the right to deliver the service on the date of its choosing and by means of force if necessary.


After a recent illuminating lecture by Shannon Mattern (here's her blog: Words in Space), I have added to my visual attuning catalog the exposures of urban layering, in particular where media structures have been erected, poured, or otherwise placed atop older media structures running the same routes.
Bicycling home from work at Luther, I have tried to take slightly different routes to map the city bit by bit daily. I saw this piece of road work underway and was surprised that the brickwork cobblestone street remained underneath the layers of paving. Stop to look closely, and you can see the texture struck into the bricks of horseshoes and wagon wheels.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Cogs lately, 5: China Edition

The cogs keep manifesting...Here's a pic of my friend, the extremely talented and discerning actor, 黄璐 (Huang Lu), at a promotional event coated and coded in cogs.

I see these and am reminded of Chairman Mao's "Talks at the Yenan Forum on Literature and Art" of May 1942:

"In the world today all culture, all literature and art belong to definite classes and are geared to definite political lines. There is in fact no such thing as art for art's sake, art that stands above classes or art that is detached from or independent of politics. Proletarian literature and art are part of the whole proletarian revolutionary cause; they are, as Lenin said, cogs and wheels in the whole revolutionary machine. Therefore, Party work in literature and art occupies a definite and assigned position in Party revolutionary work as a whole and is subordinated to the revolutionary tasks set by the Party in a given revolutionary period. Opposition to this arrangement is certain to lead to dualism or pluralism, and in essence amounts to "politics--Marxist, art--bourgeois", as with Trotsky. We do not favor overstressing the importance of literature and art, but neither do we favor underestimating their importance. Literature and art are subordinate to politics, but in their turn exert a great influence on politics. Revolutionary literature and art are part of the whole revolutionary cause, they are cogs and wheels in it, and though in comparison with certain other and more important parts they may be less significant and less urgent and may occupy a secondary position, nevertheless, they are indispensable cogs and wheels in the whole machine, an indispensable part of the entire revolutionary cause."

Chinese cinema today both is and is not worlds away from Mao's vision of art in the social imaginary. Certainly LuLu's films are revolutionary in certain senses of the term. And, whether or not contemporary Chinese cinema people see their work as social cogs or not, there those cogs are, up on the wall, in plain, yet background, sight. The irrepressible cog and the social imaginary!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Sustainability made Perplexing

Some days ago I wrote about Environmental Studies being located on the 3rd and therefore Super-Ego floor of Valders Hall of Science. Well, today, thanks to my good friend Eric, I saw these signs as signs of Super-Ego styled demands, particularly the first one. Just what am I being called upon to do or notice or help someone else to notice or do?
The second sign marks the first time I've seen recycling sorted by brands, and in such a way that to recycle according to these Super-Ego demands, one must know whether or not the Dr. Pepper or Sprite one has jut finished belongs to the Pepsi or Coke product family.
On the one hand, I appreciate the ways these signs hail me as a recycling consumer, not simply making it an easy part of the process. On the other hand, how to go about living deliberately to use one of Thoreau's expressions when one cannot quite access what the aim of deliberation is?

Monday, October 3, 2011


I just placed my order for desk copies and with the Luther College Bookstore for my J-Term (January 3.5 week intensive) Eco-Media Seminar. We're going to read Joel Bakan's The Corporation, paired with the documentary film of the same name; As the World Burns: 50 Simple Things You Can Do to Stay in Denial alongside Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth and the 2008 remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still (in which the key discussion over human beings' eco track record is discussed by aliens in Mandarin Chinese at McDonald's); Timothy Corrigan's A Short Guide to Writing About Film (one of the best uni writing books, end stop); and Ernest Callenbach's (the Ecotopia and Film Studies Journal guy) Ecology: A Pocket Guide, Revised and Expanded. Plus selections from Ingram, Cubitt, Morton, and others.

I'm also collating varied eco-media bits for the lectures, and this Russell Brand performance is outstanding, coming out at nearly the same time as Miley Cyrus's global warming anthem.

Cogs lately, 4: The Cog of Minerva at the falling of dusk

Nearly tripped over this cog-art on an evening stroll in downtown Decorah today. Sometimes it feels like I'm becoming the John Nash of cog-vision.

Autumn Foliage, 3: Sonnet edition

A perk of teaching at a Liberal Arts college is the prevalence of things like English Professor Mark Muggli's Shakespeare Sonnet project this fall. Monday to Friday each week he gives a brief introduction to and then performs two of Shakespeare's sonnets. I go most days and meet all sorts of English and other majors there who just want to listen to Shakespeare out loud as a rejuvenation midday.
I look forward to the November blizzard days to see who will brave sleet and sub-zero wind chills for these tastes of the Bard.

Autumn Foliage, 2

One of the challenges to teaching Environmental Studies in Decorah is that one must work against the grain of the lovely limestone bluffs, the Karst topography, and the fall foliage.

Too readily can students walk away from a seminar or a talk and declare that ecological crises might be real, but not here. I recall noticing the same response in myself at the 2008 ASLE conference in Victoria, B.C. After a day of panels on emergency, I would stroll with old and newfound friends to the micro-beach, sit on the sand, enjoy the sea-sounds, and feel like everything we'd just been doing wasn't really real.

What I aim to cultivate in my students then is active work within the aesthetic dimension to always keep the trash can in the frame when imaging the golden hues.

Autumn Foliage, 1

After living away from the Midwest for the past 20 years, I return with fresh eyes, and in late September---early October they are soaking up the gorgeous golds, nuclear apricot oranges, and raunchy reds of the maple tree foliage. For the past 6 years, I lived in Davis, CA without very much autumnal coloring, save trips to the Napa or Sonoma Valleys.

This Midwest foliage fireworks display is not merely transient, however, but it is the final flourish before we move into winter--the 6-month-long night in which all cows are gray, to quote Jameson's misquote of Hegel. Thus, this flora fantasy is a vibrant watercolor of melancholy. A Rorschach plate that touches upon that part of one which savors late Keats poetry all the more for knowing he that he knows he's tubercular and dying young.

We are geared like little cogwheels to the giant cogwheels of seasons as Thoreau put it in his journals: the seasons turn and in turning turn us, and now I find myself taken out of the Davis, CA eco-machine in which new flora is in bloom year-round and inserted into an assemblage of an ice and blizzard machine in which the only flora for most of the year is the angular dark silhouettes of leafless trees against the streetlamps.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

,Sunday punctuation, ?

In the chapter "On Reading and Writing" in Thus Spake Zarathustra, Nietzsche writes, "Ich würde nur an einen Gott glauben, der zu tanzen verstünde." (I would only believe in a God that knows how to dance.)

I think that Nietzsche the philologist, and I am confident that, when living, my Grandmother Eleanor, would join me in adding the qualification that this God must also have excellent grammar.

Preus Library Zen Rock Energy

One of my favorite places on the Luther College campus is the stairwell in Preus Library.

In this bone-dry building,
one can stand next to the railing, slowly
sliding shoes over thick red rug, building
static energy.

Enjoy the stone waves and islands of the mind at the bottom floor. And when
someone you know
unleash that static energy upon them in a friendly
shock--like a Zen master with a stick!

A Proustian Touch: The Pampas

In the last week alone I've heard three people refer to Proust's madeleine--the biscuit whose taste unfolds the ever-expanding memories in In Search of Lost Time: Swann's Way.
How wonderful to be Proust! To own the concept of encountering an object that sends one off into labyrinths of memory!
Yet funny that the sensation is taste more than smell as the olfactory functions are the human sensations most closely linked in the brain to memory.
But my own recent memory sensation-trigger is tactile. Little patches of Pampas grass are cultivated here and there around Decorah, tiny microcosms of prairie--and I'll be writing soon on William Cullen Bryant's "The Prairies"--but by name they allude more to Argentina than to the U.S. Midwest or Great Plains. Walking down the gravel alley near my home here I reached out to grasp gently a cluster of the grains and was transported madeleine-style to my pre-5-year-old days when I was told this was Pampas grass and stalks were bent low by an adult for me to touch.

But rather than unfold a novel or novels here, I savor the sensation, like the first touch of another's calf, and I recall a line Mario Ben Plotkin wrote, using a Pampas grass appropriate metaphor, in the Introduction to his book, Freud in the Pampas: The Emergence and Development of a Psycho-analytic Culture in Argentina:
"The history of ideas is also the history of their implantation, appropriation, and elaboration by different cultures."