Thursday, February 11, 2016

Nebraska, Midwest: The Flyover Zone

So here I am, on another bus, caught between the chemical smell of the bathroom and the jerks who got on in Des Moines at 5:00 am and talked all the way to Omaha – for 3 hours—and played their too-loud-for-that-hour-in-that-small-space music. And I realize that the problem with my accursed novel that I have been writing one year out of every ten for the last 30 years is that it isn’t what I had assumed it was about. It is about buses. All of the best, most interesting parts of it, are about buses.

And as I travel through Nebraska, another new state for me, as will be North and South Dakota, I realize why the coasters East and West think of this as the flyover zone. Because it all looks alike. Indiana bleeds into Illinois bleeds into Iowa into Nebraska and Kansas, as well it should, because the geography, the land, doesn’t recognize borders as they are drawn. It has its own natural borders and so part of Iowa bleeds into part of Minnesota. Pat of Missouri bleeds into part of Illinois. All the towns look virtually the same, from the red and brown brick buildings, the run down and dilapidated buildings, once manufacturing now left for dead in the “new economy” and in that way, even the man-made part of the landscapes seem to be linked, connected, even natural. This is how it is in this part of the country. Settlers, immigrants, whatever you think of them, built these towns and now that they have outworn their usefulness, the ones that can, leave. The bus depot in Lincoln is both garage and warehouse, put up with a large square multi-use aluminum building, one built not for any specific purpose. Generic. The area around the bus station looks just like Tomah, Wisconsin, with it’s one- and two-story generic motor lodges.

The bus depot in Omaha looks like the “new” bus station in Chicago, only smaller and slightly more dilapidated, but with the same metal seats and the same lockers. The Chicago station was built 20 years ago, and so is not really new anymore. But it replaced a much larger and more distinctive one, one that had Burger King and other restaurants inside and was actually pleasant to sit in. And so this bus station will always be the “new one” to me. The one that looks out of place amid all of the new condos built out of the old warehouses, and that will probably be driven out yet again within the next 10 years. People who can afford condos don’t want bus riff-raff wandering around their neighborhoods.

I remember when my parents sold their business and bought a half-acre of land in Florida, on which they put a double-wide mobile home. My mom used to say sarcastically, jokingly, and not without pride, “we’re trailer trash now.” People who can afford condos just off of downtown Chicago do not wait trailer trash or bus trash going through their trash.

I take a swig of soda as we get back onto interstate 80 westbound for Grand Island, Nebraska toward my ultimate destination, Albuquerque.

Thursday, February 04, 2016

Postmodernism inside Modernism: Dada and the Postmodern

If one of the great projects of political modernism was nation-building, including building empires, one of the great projects of postmodernism, in which the literary, artistic, and political are conterminous, is fragmentation. The sun has set on the British Empire, and the French and the Belgian and the Dutch Empires. The nations of Africa and Asia are politically independent of the West. Their artists and writers no longer reflect on the glory of those empires, but write about their own experiences, about their experiences as subjects – of an empire, of a newly-formed country, as a woman in a male-dominated culture, as an artist trying to find their way in the world, etc. Their audience is not exclusively those of us in the West anymore. They write and make art for themselves, for their own country, for their own historical moment. This is partly why the postmodern is considered fragmentary—because we recognize our subjectivity as different depending on which group we are a part of at the moment. The opposite of fragmentary is unitary—and modern: assuming a unitary self that assumes its place in a unitary empire under a united flag.

Many of the early avant-gardes were accused of co-opting African and Asian styles of art, but many of those movements were also anti-colonialist. While the most “modern” avant-garde was Futurism, which did glorify war and fascism, which did glorify the Italian state, others, such as Surrealism, were actively involved in the politics of the day. The Surrealists supported the Rift War for Moroccan independence and Andre Breton was present in Haiti as revolution broke out in the 1960s, a revolution some say was in part spurred by surrealism and his presence in Haiti at that time. Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo who were considered Surrealists were involved with revolutionary politics in Mexico, an anti-colonial, if still nation-building project, straddling the line between modern and post-modern politics.

The first postmodern art movement was Dada, with its international cadre of artists, with its rejection of specific nationalities, and most of all, with its fragmentary styles of art, literature, and performances that at first confounded and incensed their audiences. Cabaret Voltaire itself was a mishmash of politics and art, most of it unintelligible to the art-sophisticated audiences of its day. Dada was already post-modern while aspects that we associate with literary modernism was still in its infancy, learning how to stand on wobbly legs and take a step. Dada, with its assault on all styles of writing, on very meaning itself, took on such quintessentially modern behemoths as Soviet style communism, with its empire, uniting the countries of northern Eurasia in the teens and twenties. Dadaist writers were distinguishable from modernists such as Joyce and Pound because there was not a search for new meaning but for no meaning, for circumventing meaning and therefore finding something outside of meaning, to communicate through bypassing conscious understanding altogether. Not that this was a feeling-based art form full of sentimentalism, either. So without feeling or language, what is left? DADA is left. That is why it is so misunderstood, why it is so easy to write about and so hard to practice and why its trajectory led straight into post-modern literature while other avant-gardes of the day were still experimenting and struggling with the modern. The Dadaist revolution was incomplete and there is still a project there that we can engage with as artists and writers moving through this postmodern world.

Saturday, January 02, 2016

Performing the Unperformable

Reading the first Chapter of Craig Dworkin’s No Medium, about the blank page and how many artists and writers have published and displayed blank pages of varying length, width, dimensions, and what each of them means and now I am wondering if there is a performance piece in here.

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What would a refusal to paint and to write signify in capitalism, in the time of war, in a time of oppression? It doesn’t have to be an apolitical gesture. It could be an extremely political gesture. Which political gesture, though, do I want to make?

I am thinking, as always, about Anne Bogart's statement/assertion that every choice is an act of violence, foreclosing every other choice. Thus, blankness is also a way of avoiding the violence inherent in choices.

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I think about Yoko Ono's all-white chess pieces. They are not blank -- are not a blank page or a blank canvas, and yet they are both white like the blank page and the blank canvas, and they do represent a refusal.

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Again, and always, I come back to this. What would it mean to not write a paper?

The question of "Can the subaltern speak?" Of course they can. But will they be heard? Understood? Outside of their own context? But can any of us speak and be heard outside of our own communities anymore?

How can that be communicated through this performance? How do you perform refusal – particularly in solo performance? And why am I always trying to write the unwriteable, perform the unperformable? Is this also what this performance is about and why these types of works are so interesting to me? How do you perform ambiguity without telling the audience through programs and statements that this is your point?

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This reminds me of the book I was just reading, Love and Math, about very advanced problems in math that are so unsolvable that they are virtually (or actually) theoretical. This performance, these questions, are unperformable, unsolvable, and therefore on the edge of performance theory, technically speaking. Unless someone has already found a way to do this and I am just not aware of it.

Days of the Last Straw

Found this in some journals I had written a few years ago.


I.

I am tired of being sad. Tired of being mad. Tired of being fearful, afraid of the phone, afraid of conflict, afraid to talk to anyone because they might recriminate me—is that the right word? Tired. Tired of being offensive, defensive, unacknowledged, overly noticed, of coming out with my hands up, with my dukes up, with my fists in front of my face ready to strike, protect. I just want to be in love with two people, the 2 out of 9 billion – is it 9 billion yet, or still only a puny little 8 billion? We’re not special anymore, being 1 out of 9 billion, and anyone who you can love out of 8 billion – or nine – that makes two less lonely billionaires. But I’m too sad to love anyone right now, to show affection or love and I really just want to be alone among 8 or 9 billion people, but I am also afraid. I am afraid to leave and afraid to go, like so many other people, maybe most people, maybe at least 6 billion other people are afraid of this right now, or maybe only 5. I am . . . I am. Period. I am. Tired. And I want. To be happy. It is all I have ever wanted. I don’t want to fight with my landlord my student loan officers bill collectors my father my friends my lovers. I want no argument no last straws no ultimatums no broken dishes no hurt looks no pride injured.

II.

The Days of the Last Straw are both followed and preceded by a seemingly endless but imperceptibly elliptical cycle known as the Days of the (Temporary) Peace, also known to many, women in particular, as the Days of Danger. These are the days when things appear to be normal. When you joke and laugh without incident, without argument, and you lull yourself into believing that everything can be alright, that it can be normal, that you can go on like this and that this time it will be different, the way you have always wanted it to be. It will take many many repetitions to remove yourself from this vortex.

III.


These are the Days of the Last Straw, when the weight of the world, our destinies, rest upon every single repetition of every fight over the years Every bottle, every wrapper left open, every toilet seat left up, one wrong move could set the whole thing off, trigger the end of the world. An exaggeration, but definitely the end of worlds that we know, the end of a way of life, sending each of us off in a different direction, paths potentially parallel for a while, only to wildly diverge, to wildly wander, to deviate at some future unnamed point in time.

IV.

I lack
time
distance
the will

to walk away. I don’t want to walk away. I can’t make it better and I can’t walk away. I will say something that I cannot take back

V.

The Days of the Last Straw are both followed and preceded by a seemingly endless but imperceptibly elliptical cycle known as the Days of the (Temporary) Peace, also known to many, women in particular, as the Days of Danger. These are the days when things appear to be normal. When you joke and laugh without incident, without argument, and you lull yourself into believing that everything can be alright, that it can be normal, that you can go on like this and that this time it will be different, the way you have always wanted it to be. It will take many many repetitions to remove yourself from this vortex.

Is there a mechanism to have this break and not repeat every break that every one else has ever had through time? Is it possible to have a break that is not the same as every other break that I have had? Is it possible to do it all originally, without the use of a thesaurus to try to avoid the break up clichés? Can one stay with someone long enough to discover the originality in breakups, or are we doomed to repeat them, performatively, performing the exact same phrases that came before us, as in a ritual, as in an un-marriage.

And so in our grief, even then, we are modern, worried about how to have an original thought, an original feeling. Perhaps this is what gets us through the process, distracts us from what matters or makes us see that in our clichés, this is what happens to everyone and it isn’t as tragic as we had originally thought.

VI.

After a fight, the need to connect with someone else, the desperate need to prove that someone can still love you. That you are still worthy., The fear of losing others, of losing everyone. I want to break up with the whole world at once.

VII.

Don't read anything into this. Just read it.

Monday, December 28, 2015

“I Must Be Boring Someone: Women in Warhol’s Films” from Sex Objects by Jennifer Doyle

This is a review/summary of Chapter 4, on the Films of Andy Warhol, from Jennifer Doyle's Sex Objects.


The Queer, the Pornographic, and the Boring

In Sex Objects, Jennifer Doyle asks us to rethink several things, including queer theory, feminism, the relationship of pornography to art, and what it means to be bored by a work of art or literature. She relies on many of the seminal figures in each field, including Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, Jose Munoz, Wayne Koestenbaum, and Douglas Crimp from queer theory. She also turns to a variety of critical and academic sources including art critic Michael Fried, performance theorist Amelia Jones and literary theorist Roland Barthes for examples of how the various media are received and created as visual art, performance and literature.

Using several artists as points of study, including Herman Melville’s epic work Moby Dick, artist Thomas Eakins’ The Gross Clinic, the visual art and films of Andy Warhol, the drawings of Tracy Emin, and the performances of Vaginal Davis as Vanessa Beecroft, killing two birds with one stone, she explores the way that queer theory and feminism can work together to, if not erase, lessen the impact of the “male gaze” in art by decentering women in the picture as well as the way that claims of “pornography” can be mitigated by boredom in “art” and “literature,” those “highbrow” terms that are used to defend texts of all kinds against the charge of pornography. In fact, Andy Warhol a seminal figure in this regard, is so queer, so pornographic, and so boring, that he merits two chapters: one for his painting and visual art and one for his films.

Chapter Four of Doyle’s work, “I Must Be Boring Someone: Women in Warhol’s Films” is the second of her chapters on Warhol. In it, she talks about such Factory staples as Edie Sedgwick, Brigid Berlin, Nico, Ingrid Superstar, and Valerie Solanas, whose main claims to fame are that she published the SCUM Manifesto and that she shot Andy Warhol around the same time. Solanas had also given a copy of her own play, Up Your Ass¸ to Warhol and also appeared in Andy Warhol’s film I, a Man (73). Warhol’s films were “frequently shut down by the police for obscenity” and Solanas’ play was even shocking in the Factory context, leading Warhol to suspect that her play might have been a form of police entrapment. Warhol did, however, give Solanas a role in his film I, a Man.

I, a Man, according to Doyle, “was loosely inspired by a Swedish sexploitation film, I, a Woman.” Solanas plays a woman who is sexually aggressive towards the male character, played by Tom Baker, and one who has total control. In fact, she reminds Baker of this when she says “Look, I got the upper hand, let’s not forget that.” To which Baker responds, “I haven’t forgotten it for a moment” (77). She is the sexual aggressor in the film, grabbing Baker in an elevator, but refusing to take it any further than that, despite his assumption that they are going to go home together. There is a good Later on in the dialogue, Solanas and Baker have an exchange about instinct, with Solanas asking what Baker’s instincts tell him to do. “Your instincts tell you to chase chicks, right? My instincts tell me to do the same thing [so] why should my standards be any lower than yours” (qtd. in Doyle 79). What makes scenes like this feminist or at least pro-feminist in Doyle’s view, is not the overt way that Solanas takes control of the situation. In fact, Doyle recognizes that to some, “there is no place for feminism in Warhol’s films because their dominant erotic economy is gay (authored by gay men, aimed at largely gay male audiences” (72). However, in her queer feminist analysis, Doyle points out that in many of these films, it is precisely “because she is framed by a gay male context, she gets to be something other than the straight sex object” (72).

Doyle compares Solanas’ performance in I, a Man to that of Katherine Hepburn, “whose quick tongue could turn Spencer Tracy or Cary Grant inside out, bringing him to the limit of frustration and desire” but, as Doyle further points out, Solanas is an out lesbian with no interest in Baker, and without any of the glamour of Hollywood (80). There is no danger that she will be taken for a sexual object in this film, despite the sexual situation and despite Baker’s assumptions within the film. Solanas is in fact, framed as a sexual predator in I, a Man, saying that she is “a sucker for a squishy ass” (qtd. in Doyle 80). She and other women in Warhol’s films are able to “literalize, halt, and sabotage the heterosexual imperative” (80).
Doyle takes on Wayne Koestenbaum’s reading of Valerie Solanas and her attack on Andy Warhol. Koestenbaum “equates a feminist reading of Solanas with an attack on [Warhol]” (74). She goes on to describe Koestenbaum as implying “that to think as a feminist is not to think at all but to emotionally and uncritically identify with whatever female counterpart is on the screen” (74). Doyle describes this as indicative of the “anxieties raised by the specter of women (lesbian or not, crazy or not) in gay places” (75). Here she is able to talk about some of the points of abjection and negation between queer theory and feminist theory and about how, despite the homophobia inherent in it, many gay men still participate in a patriarchal culture as well that “might make women crazy” (75).

Koestenbaum’s critical lens notwithstanding, Doyle notes the number of women in work by gay male artists, citing Jack Smith, Gus Van Sant, and Werner Fassbinder and the way in which women represent “crucial allies” in the struggle to make a meaningful and “livable life out of a world organized against the minority sexual subject” (75). The women in these films are not incidental to the subject matter, but have an inherent place in them, a place where they don’t share in mainstream representations of gender and sexuality. In this way, Warhol’s films that include women “reveals that the sexual radicalism of Warhol’s work is pinned to the troubling presence” of women (75). The women are not merely fag hags or overbearing mothers, and they do not merely represent campy versions of women. Despite the fact that they are “unnecessary” to gay men sexually, that excess allows women like Solanas to stay outside the center of the frame and to consequently be decentered as sexual subjects.

In Bike Boy we encounter the idea of boredom in Warhol’s films. The title of this chapter as well as the book’s cover photo come from a potentially erotic but ultimately boring encounter between Joe Spencer and Ingrid Superstar. This scene comes in the middle of the film, after nearly an hour of homo (and it would seem possibly auto)erotic encounters with a naked Spencer stepping out of the shower and drying off, taking an extended look at the camera, and then going out to try on skimpy bathing suits “while two queeny shop clerks prattle on about their customers” (87). Doyle describes Spencer’s encounter with Ingrid Superstar as “sandwiched in between the happy homoerotics of the first half and the disastrous heterodynamics of the second . . . the first of the (failed) heterosexual seduction scenes” (90). Superstar sits topless, having slipped out of her bra and the top half of her dress, on a kitchen counter while Spencer stands looking away and leaning against the wall. In the middle of logorrhea, an excess of speech that does not amount to any kind of conversation, Superstar announces “I must be boring someone” (qtd. in Doyle 91). She does ask him once, “What do I have to do to get your attention? What are you, a faggot or something” (qtd. in Doyle 90). Then, unable to get his attention, she prattles on with recipes, some of them nonsensical, killing time “emptying out her speech until the viewer can hardly stand it because the dynamics of the scene have become so perverse” (91). Superstar asks Spencer if he likes roast beef and then receiving no answer, she continues. “Well, I don’t care if you like roast beef, because I like roast beef” (qtd. in Doyle 91). Both Spencer and Superstar have become superfluous in this scene. She is of no interest to him as a sex object and his presence as an interlocutor is not necessary to any of her dialogue. His indifference to her allows her attention and her speech to drift, to wander wherever it will without worrying about its effect on another. This, according to Doyle, is where “the postmodern readings of Warhol’s films converge with their potential as feminist texts” (93). Boredom here functions against the imperative to be interesting, as well as a refusal of the capitalist imperative to be productive.

Spencer’s lack of attention toward Superstar also decenters her as a sexual object and therefore, like Solanas and other women in Warhol’s films, she is free to be something else entirely. She sits outside of the frame of male desire, a frame which women usually occupy in films. According to Doyle, “the juxtaposition of Superstar’s nudity with her pointless speech traces the ludicrousness of the woman’s position on film—that she hold our interest without becoming narrative’s agent” (95). By not responding to the demand to be interesting, Superstar takes a subject, rather than an object position. She has to “entertain” only herself with her speech. If the audience takes a voyeuristic position to Spencer in the first half of the film, watching him step out of the shower and following him while he shops, they are also mere voyeurs to this scene, to Superstar’s unexcitable speech, as well.

Doyle’s take on Warhol and the other artists in this book seems to be a unique one, one that makes us rethink feminist and queer theory, which in art sometimes seem diametrically opposed and rethinking the very notion of boredom – both in life and in art. Warhol himself once said that they would figure out how much they thought the audience could take and then would go about 10 minutes beyond that. “Leave ‘em wanting less was always our motto.” Doyle seems to not only understand that, but in an odd twist, to make that interesting. 

Work Cited


Doyle, Jennifer. Sex Objects: Art and the Dialectics of Desire. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2006.

Notes

Solanas' play was lost in Warhol’s factory, only to be found decades later among Warhol’s personal belongings. It was never performed in Valerie Solanas’ lifetime.

Having done much work on Solanas, including a recent conference paper, I know that in fact, many people do react negatively to reading Solanas’ work through a feminist lens, as if doing so weakens the movement or is an affront to “real” and “non-crazy” feminists. Solanas is a divisive figure for feminists.

Review of Digital Poetries by Loss Pequeno Glazier

This is a review that I did for my class on digital literature. The book is from 2003, but it is still quite relevant. I have been trying to locate the avant-garde in poetry and it turns out is in digital lit.

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Where are the newest poetic and literary avant-gardes? Where will the newest, most innovative poetries come from? You may or may not realize it from the title, but Loss Pequeno Glazier’s Digital Poetics: The Making of E-Poetries makes it clear that some of the most avant-garde poetry to come in the foreseeable future will in fact be from online/digital poetry sources. It would seem that Glazier would know, since one of his dissertation advisers was Charles Bernstein, co-founder of the Electronic Poetry Center (EPC) at SUNY-Buffalo (with Glazier himself) and a prominent member of the LANGUAGE Poets. His other two dissertation advisers, Susan Howe and Robert Duncan, are also well-known avant-garde poets, thus solidifying Glazier’s own credentials. If you further look at the Works Cited list and the index, which I almost always do before I actually sit down to read the book, it reads like a who’s who of the past 30-40 years of experimental poetry, with a special emphasis on the LANGUAGE poets with a little Beatnik and New York School mixed in as well as some leading scholars and theorists, including Ted Berrigan, Bernstein, Christian Bok, Caroline Bergvall, Johanna Drucker, Kenneth Goldsmith, Jackson MacLow, Charles Olson, Marjorie Perloff, etc. Glazier uses epigrams and quotes from these and other poets and theorists, particularly from the late 19th century and beyond, to put them in conversation with each other as much as simply using them for references to support his own points.

Right away, in the first end note to the entire book, Glazier makes his bias known and provides the basis for why he is dealing only with “innovative poetry.”

“In general, the term ‘poetry’ is used in this volume to refer to practices of innovative poetry rather than to what might be called academic, formal, or traditional forms of poetry.” (181)

One aspect of this book that makes it recognizable as avant-garde is the language of manifestos and treatises, the former which are intimately associated with avant-gardes. In Chapter One, “Jumping to Occlusions, a Manifesto for Digital Poetics,” Glazier continues to explain why “innovative poetry” should be the basis for comparison with digital poetry. “Numerous poets working within innovative practice,” he explains, “have explored language as a procedure to reveal the working of writing” (32). Already going deep underneath the mere tricks and decorations of poetry to reveal how we think within writing, poets coming from these kinds of structuralist and even post-structuralist positions have already been looking at the architecture of poetry and thought and have already been theorizing the way that poetry is received and processed. They are the perfect writers to take poetry deep into hyperspace, responding to the ways that readers, particularly those raised with computers, can and do interact with digital text.

Later on in the text, Glazier cites digital theorist N. Kathryn Hayles and writer Robert Coover, who to refer to print as “first wave hypertext,” and “graphical” poetry as “second wave hypertext” (173), making it clear that this refers not to text-heavy webpages, but to books, referring to such writers as Gertrude Stein, Louis Zukofsky, and others as having created “hypertexts that predate the microchip” (173).

Glazier also introduces the reader to new terms, a new language, with words like grep and chmod , computer lingo, which sound like words of the futuristic cartoon world of the Jetsons or to be more literary, the past literary world of Dadaism. If you follow some links online from chapter one, you will get some of Glazier’s own poetry which will remind you of the huge debt that digital poetry owes to Dadaistic collage and to visual poetry. In this way, digital poetry, particularly “early” digital poetry, is really just built on a new platform, but may or may not be all that “new.” He reminds the reader throughout the book that there are other platforms that have drawn attention to the materiality of language and changed the way we create and write poetry, including the typewriter (which eventually led to the “mimeograph revolution” in the 1960s and 70s), the computer (which brought about the desktop publishing or “Pagemaker revolution” as he calls it), and even the original printing press itself.

Chapter four is entitled “The Intermedial: A Treatise.” Intermedia was a term coined by Fluxus artist Dick Higgins in his “Intermedia Chart,” which describes and visually represents many avant-garde artistic and literary movements and the ways in which they overlap. While Glazier’s treatise deals more with the actual ways in which media mesh “between page and code” (70), he does also give credit to Higgins and his Fluxus “cohort” in chapter seven, “E-poetries: a Lab Book of Digital Practices, 1970-2001.” He talks about Emmett Williams, who worked in concrete poetry and was himself linked with Fluxus “with its emphasis on the merging of art and life and on intermedia” which makes it a “significant predecessor to web writing, especially in its concerns with multiple media,” (Rothenberg and Joris, qtd in Glazier 127).

Glazier also establishes his credentials not only through poetry, but by using nitty gritty computer language to describe how digital poetry is created. This is not only talking the talk, but he walks the walk by having extensive sections about the basic programming language: how hypertext works, discussions of UNIX as the underlying computer language of digital poetry, and much more. In this way, the book functions as a how-to manual as well as a scholarly examination of the field. The book represents poetry, particularly digital poetry, as both a form and a doing, between a noun and a verb, between the thing written and the transmission. There are footnotes directing readers to electronic versions of certain chapters as well, such as in “Jumping to Occlusions, a Manifesto for Digital Poetics.” That webpage looks like an ordinary Wikipedia page, with pictures and hyperlinks, but it lacks any of the jumps or moving text that are so common in digital poetry.

In fact, while I appreciated the dual nature of this book, visually it is a bit uneven. There are frequently huge blocks of text that are broken up by font, to indicate that now he’s talking about poetry and now he’s talking about computers. With the intensely visual nature and promise of digital work, and with so many new forms of layout available to publishers than there were 50 years ago, it seems that this book could have done better in distinguishing the text for both—possibly having the two parts of chapters laid out vertically or horizontally, having some of the text offset in boxes and sidebars, which textbook publishers have been doing for a long time, having one text in black and the other in gray, etc. Poetry has always been a visual medium and it seems that a book about digital and avant-garde poetry could have embodied that ethos a little better. Chapters that do integrate text and image or visual layout well to some degree are “Home, Haunt, Page,” “The Intermedial,” and “Coding Writing, Reading Code.”

All in all, this is a deceptively dense book, full of poetic as well as technological information and bridging the divide that can exist between techies and poets. There is a belief that those are two ends of a spectrum that cannot meet up, technology (science) and poetry (rampant creativity). The fact that Glazier is well-versed, so to speak, in both, proving that the two can be complimentary. If, as Wittgenstein said, “the limits of my language are the limits of my world,” then it is important that our world, as poets, be expanded to include the digital.

Works Cited

Glazier, Loss Pequeno. Digital Poetics: The Making of E-Poetries. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2002. Print.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Same Shit, Different Decade: Heterotopia and The Disruption of “Ladylike Speech” in the SCUM Manifesto and Hothead Paisan



I will be presenting this at the SW/TX Popular Culture Association this February. I also presented it at the EGO (English Graduate Organization) at Western University this past November.



ABSTRACT

A great deal has been written about woman as the abject subject, about woman’s ability or inability to speak, to speak truth to power, etc. In this presentation, I am going to discuss Foucault’s idea of heterotopia, as a space outside of social control, offering a place that is both liminal and carnivalesque, not merely as a “safe space” for women’s speech, but for women to be truly transgressive. I will look at Valerie Solanas’s SCUM Manifesto and Diane DiMassa’s Hothead Paisan as two sites for not only women’s unpopular speech, but moreover, for “unladylike speech,” for cursing and scatological references as well. Finally, I will use Foucault’s heterotopia to talk about the resistance of the two authors and their work by not only patriarchal culture, but also from lesbian culture, and therefore the resistance to culture norms on all sides. My research will draw not upon the “usual” feminist scholars like Julia Kristeva and Judith Butler, but upon theories of comics, cursing, and upon the notion of heterotopia and the disruptions of carnival. In this way, it fits with the panel’s theme of both “Sequential Art,” providing a history of women’s comics in particular through the highly influential Hothead Paisan, but also the tie of Hothead to feminist history through her obvious connections to Solanas.


Background

In 1968, a treatise called the SCUM Manifesto was published by a radical young feminist named Valerie Solanas, whose primarily claim to fame at that time was that she had shot the artist Andy Warhol. The shooting was in no way related to the manifesto, but her publisher jumped on her sudden “fame” in order to sell more copies of the manifesto. The manifesto was all about her belief that the male was the inferior of the human species and had projected all of their own inadequacies onto women and then convinced women, through ideology, that all of this was true about the genders.

In 1991, there appeared a comic book named Hothead Paisan. Hothead travelled through the world as an angry dyke, fed up with most men as well as what she called “spritzheads,” those women who were inimically tied to their husbands or boyfriends, who did and considered only what they wanted. She went around killing and maiming men who were considered a threat to her and her fellow women. Her main target: white men in glasses and ties. Diane DiMassa, creator of Hothead Paisan describes her avenger in the first issue like this:

Her brain just totally shit the bed one day and she starts believing everything she sees on t.v. . . . She’s going about her daily queer routine and all this t.v. crap is seeping in and she’s getting psychotic, and like she needs therapy really bad, but she doesn’t know it. I bet her boundaries would be really fuzzy. I bet she’d be a lot of fun to be around. I bet she’d be a real . . . HOTHEAD PAISAN. (1)

Thus, we are brought into the world of Hothead Paisan: Homicidal Lesbian Terrorist, an avenging fantasy. Cartoonist/author DiMassa, in a way, gets to play Diana Prince to her own Wonder Dyke alter ego.

With the SCUM Manifesto, on the other hand there is some ambiguity about whether Solanas meant the manifesto as a call to action or simply a critique of patriarchy, DiMassa makes it very clear that this is a fantasy world, for herself and her readers, a place where you can vent your feelings safely and fantasize about those who hurt you, who disempower you, and who stand in the way of full personhood. Compare the opening of Hothead Paisan with the opening paragraph of the SCUM Manifesto:

Life in this society being, at best, an utter bore and no aspect of society being at all relevant to women, there reminds to civic- minded. Responsible, thrill-seeking females only to overthrow the government, eliminate the money system, institute complete automation, and destroy the male sex. (1)

This is a call for revolution in a revolutionary time. The nineteenth and twentieth centuries had seen a number of similar manifestos, including the Communist Manifesto, the Futurist Manifesto, which was ostensibly an art manifesto but also had fascist leanings and political content, and most frightening to white men in power in the 1960’s, a number of writings by the Black Panthers talking about self-defense. They had heard Malcolm X talking about the “chickens coming home to roost.” To have these kinds of writings by women and blacks at a time of social upheaval, it would have been difficult for many not to take this as a literal call to action.

In “Shooting Solanas: Radical Feminist History and the Technology of Failure,” Dana Heller gives details of Solanas’s past that might read straight out of Hothead Paisan:

“A childhood friend recalled that she frequently played by the boardwalk where, once, she beat a boy severely for harassing a younger girl. On another occasion, she was expelled from Holy Cross Academy for striking a nun. And in high school, where she was often mocked and made fun of by other students, she once hauled off and punched a boy whom she believed had placed a tack on a chair. It turned out to be the wrong boy.” (173)

In fact, Hothead Paisan owes a huge debt to the SCUM Manifesto, for without it, there would likely not even be a Hothead Paisan, nor would there be such a large audience for Hothead. In issue #21 of Hothead, published in 1999, there is an excerpt from the SCUM Manifesto reprinted on the back inside cover along with pictures of middle fingers (22).

Heterotopia


Foucault describes the concept of a heterotopia as a “sort of simultaneously mythic and real contestation of the space in which we live” (24). They may be linked to the mode of festivals and to the Bakhtinian notion of carnival, a time that allows for inversion of social roles for a short period of time, allowing the “marginalized” a brief taste of power. Heterotopias are always separate from the usual spaces of society. One of the more uncomfortable aspects of heterotopias include not ever having the feeling of being at home. They can disrupt the history of yourself, of your identity; they may shake things up in a way that you might not be prepared for. There is also a sense of transgressing space, going where you are not allowed to go. They are often associated with the liminal state of ritual, the process of becoming, of transformation. There may at the very least, then, a stage of disorientation as you are between states of being. There are any number of women, for example, like authors Dana Heller and Diane DiMassa, who have stated that the SCUM Manifesto changed their lives. To encounter something which makes you question everything around you, however exhilarating, often comes with a state of severe disorientation that can make you “shit the bed,” as DiMassa says.

Comics as Heterotopic

Kristi Lynn Abrecht’s master’s thesis, Illustrating Identity: Feminist Resistance in Webcomics talks about heterotopic space as occurring online. But with the mimeograph “revolution” of the 1960s and the “desktop publishing revolution” in the 1990s, making mass copies of your manifesto, zine, or comic became possible for the masses and it became very feasible to make and distribute your own artwork, which meant that commerce, and hence censorship, need not be a part of getting your art and your message out to the public.

The heterotopia of a comic strip is, in my mind, more complete than that of a manifesto, or a text, which can represent in words and typography, the layout and placement on the page but does not have the added representation. Scott McCloud calls the cartoon “a vacuum, in which our identity and awareness are pulled . . . an empty shell” (36). No matter how realistic or unrealistic, just drawing a simple smiley face in a cartoon box, McCloud tells us, is enough to represent someone. It doesn’t matter how good the representation is, just that there is a more or less human figure that the reader can identify with. This is not to say that text cannot also offer a heterotopic space. In fact, anything that tells a story can involve people in a very distinct way. Thus, either normative or non-normative fiction has a great deal of potential. In the “The Science of Storytelling: How Narrative Cuts Through Distraction Like Nothing Else,” Jonathan Gottschall says that “While the brain watches a story, you’ll find something interesting—the brain doesn’t look like a spectator, it looks more like a participant in the action.

So while text can do a great deal to involve the reader, or spectator, in the action, when you combine the identification of the reader in a text with the identification of representation in a comic, you have something very powerful that can add up to a “space” where the reader becomes a participant, and actor in what is going on, and when you add a place of the unthinkable, a denaturalized space in which things like language and power are not taken for granted, then you have what Foucault describes as a heterotopic space, one where the author and the reader are free to try on other identities and to operate outside of social control.

Hothead Paisan and the SCUM Manifesto

For Valerie Solanas and Diane DiMassa’s Hothead Paisan alike, this heterotopia allows them to speak outside of the normal rules of decorum. To have a space where women can say what they want, including shit, fuck, scum, without having to care about being seen as vulgar, unladylike, particularly in 1960s America, let alone 1990s America, to be outside of social control, was a very liberating thing. Even in the 1990s, Hothead herself is still reacting against feminist and lesbian norms.

“The last thing I need is some lesbian Rambo . . .” comments a character in comic #5 (6). “I find Hothead disgustingly violent! She acts just like the men she’s bashing! We, as women, must set an example and act in a peaceful, NON-VIOLENT WAY, GODAMMIT!” She then adds that she “doesn’t like seeing male genitals and blood and gore!” (7). This allows DiMassa the chance, as cartoonist, to intervene and explain that this comic book is satire. In issue 2, Hothead gets lectured by her blind lesbian friend Roz for eating meat. Roz says “Do you know what they do to cows?” to which Hothead replies, “DON’T. I can’t bear it” (7). We see that hothead cannot deal with anyone’s ideas, men or women’s, about who she is supposed to be and how she is supposed to behave. Hothead cannot cater to this expectation of being a caring nurturing person who would not harm any living being, which was perpetuated both inside of the lesbian movement, as well as within the culture at large. She says to Roz that she should come with a warning:

Caution: Socially bizarre dyke, not quite up to political snuff; eats meat likes sex toys, has never protested in D.C., prone to raving and episodical behavior, including vicious mood-swings! Into ambushing, farting, and hanging upside down! Consider carefully before befriending! (7)

There is, here, not only a disdain for heteronormativity, but homonormativity as well. Hothead longs for a space in which she can be herself, outside of any norms at all. And in fact, like the liminal or ritual space often associated with heterotopias, she often has private spiritual moments as well where she has alternatingly affirming and let us say “curative” moments with elements of the universe, including the moon and the mother goddess, the latter of which is represented by a common lamp.

Possibly the most telling commentary on Valeria Solanas’ work comes from reviews of the film about her, I Shot Andy Warhol. Heller brings up the review in Ms. Magazine in which Jennifer Baumgardner “insist[ed] that Solanas's writings and actions were by no means the work of a committed activist but of an abused crackpot who was never a part of any legitimate feminist community” (qtd in Heller: 171). She writes of Baumgardner’s “handwringing expression of angst over Solanas's newfound celebrity status as misunderstood lesbian avenger du jour. Baumgardner” she explains, did “elaborate back flips to discount the film's closing claim that the SCUM Manifesto has become "a feminist classic.(171)" Rita Kempley, a writer for the Washington Post referred to Solanas as an “obstreperous, male-bashing, pain in the patoot” (qtd in Heller:169).

Rejecting Feminine Language

One of the ways in which both Solanas and Hothead transgress against society in general and against feminism is in their use of language. Both are completely unabashed in their use of scatological and sexual terms, which are completely taboo for women. It is one thing for women to talk about penises and vaginas in clinical ways. But to talk about dicks and pussies and shit in those very words, to refer to women as whores and sluts, is to subject yourself to censorship and censure. The SCUM Manifesto, for example, states:

“To call a man an animal is to flatter him: he’s a . . . .walking dildo. . . . he’ll swim a river of snot, wade in nostril-deep through a pile of vomit, if he thinks there’ll be a friendly pussy awaiting him.” (2)

Even an anarchist bookstore currently selling the SCUM Manifesto in 2015 says “It’s a bit of weird one. I’m not sure why we’re selling it. I find it quite offensive. But maybe you want to buy it as a horrible birthday present for some you don’t like” (http://freedompress.org.uk/store/products/scum-manifesto/). Solanas is not afraid to use the vernacular, vulgar words to get the point across and that, especially in the 1960s, could have great impact or could be incredibly shocking for readers. Or both. For Solanas, words were her weapons and these words were not chosen by accident. They were chosen exactly to shock people into awareness, even revolution. For Solanas, the written word, the space of the text, was her heterotopia.

The culture of the 1990s may have been somewhat different, but for Diane DiMassa to show severed penises, which she did routinely, or to show a “cross-section of the penile brain” as she does in issue #5 (4) and #6 (8) adds another element to women’s censored speech acts. In issue #10, we see Hothead talking Fig. 9 or thinking to herself (the balloons are not 100% clear on this) “Holee shit! It’s like eight feet long. Chicken [her cat] will never believe it!!” (8).

Shortly thereafter, in issue #10, a man says to Hothead, “I know I can make you come” (14) and after a few more choice words, she puts a stick of dynamite in his mouth saying “I’m just gonna shove this foreign object into this hole where it’s not wanted . . “ (14). Later, in issue #17, Hothead herself gets schooled by a group of crudely drawn “liddle girls” (sic), drawn as if they themselves had been drawn by little girls. Hothead says “You’re so cute, but where did you come from?” to which the girls respond “not cute! not a toy! don’t trust no one. Daddy ruined everything men are pus rockets . . . .useless pieces a shit (sic) . . .” (6). Thus, all women, young and old, need a space in which to speak and to be able to speak in language that is not sanctioned or pleasing.

The Poetics of Cursing

In “The Poetics of Cursing,” Brown and Kushner assert that “the scandal of cursing stems perhaps less from its obscenity than from the way that the obscene refutes notions of linguistic and bodily self-possession,” two things that have been traditionally required of women in “polite society,” ie, regulated space. Remember that the space of heterotopia also includes the space of rituals and of carnival. In “The Derelict Playground: A Bakhtinian Analysis of the Graphic Novel Medium,” Rick Hudson says that “The carnival revels and delights in ‘the language of the marketplace’: oaths, curses, and obscenities; their appeal lies in the fact that they are ‘forbidden’ and themselves highlight the grotesque body – referring to defecation of sexual acts – or the willfully profane” (36). This is particularly applicable to women, who are not supposed to have grotesque bodies, let alone talk about them, which makes it all the funnier when in issue #8, Hothead, in “spritzhead disguise,” takes aim (literally) at the “feminine hygiene” aisle of the grocery store, shooting at products like “Yeast Garde,” “Borne Blonde,” “Daisy Razors,” and , “I Live to Scrub” (4). Hothead is eliminating all products that do not allow women to be themselves, but impose patriarchal ideas of how women should look and smell. Think about the continued proliferation of these products and you will see that this is as much an issue now as it was in 1994 or in 1968, when both Diane DiMassa and Valerie Solanas were creating. Regulating the “grotesque body” of women never goes out of style, it seems. The ability of women to talk about such things, particularly in “mixed company” is also regulated. If you don’t believe me, walk into a room full of men and talk about “that not so fresh feeling.”

Conclusion

Much scholarship exists on women’s speech, but it is useful to think of writing, comics, and the self-publishing revolutions of the past 40 years as helping to create not merely “safe space,” but an alternative space, sometimes liminal and ritualistic, and at other times, carnivalesque, a heterotopia where women are not only able to talk about difficult subjects, but also to transgress normative functions of all kinds and to talk about bodies in vernacular, vulgar, and grotesque ways, as both Valerie Solanas and Diane DiMassa have done, each transgressing social values in their own ways.


Works Cited


Abrect, Kristi Lynn. Illustrating Identity: Feminist Resistance in Webcomics. Thesis. San Diego State University, 2012. Web. 3 September 2015.

Brown, Kate E. and Howard I. Kushner. “Eruptive Voices: Coprolalia, Malediction, and the Poetics of Cursing.” New Literary History. 32. (2001): 537–562. Web. 24 Mar. 2009.

Cross Yr. Stitches. Blog. 30 July 2008. Web. 19 September 2015.

DiMassa, Diane. Hothead Paisan: Homicidal Lesbian Terrorist. New Haven: Giant Ass Publishing. Issue 1, 1991, 1992, 1993. Print.

-----. Hothead Paisan: Homicidal Lesbian Terrorist. New Haven: Giant Ass Publishing. Issue 2, 1991. Print.

-----. Hothead Paisan: Homicidal Lesbian Terrorist. New Haven: Giant Ass Publishing. Issue 5, 1992. Print.

-----. Hothead Paisan: Homicidal Lesbian Terrorist. New Haven: Giant Ass Publishing. Issue 6, 1992. Print.

-----. Hothead Paisan: Homicidal Lesbian Terrorist. New Haven: Giant Ass Publishing. Issue 8, 1992. Print.

-----. Hothead Paisan: Homicidal Lesbian Terrorist. New Haven: Giant Ass Publishing. Issue 10, 1993. Print.

-----. Hothead Paisan: Homicidal Lesbian Terrorist. New Haven: Giant Ass Publishing. Issue 15, 1994. Print.

-----. Hothead Paisan: Homicidal Lesbian Terrorist. New Haven: Giant Ass Publishing. Issue 17, 1995. Print.

-----. Hothead Paisan: Homicidal Lesbian Terrorist. New Haven: Giant Ass Publishing. Issue 18, 1995. Print.

-----. Hothead Paisan: Homicidal Lesbian Terrorist. New Haven: Giant Ass Publishing. Issue 21, 1998. Print.

Foucault, Michel and Jay Miskowiec. “Of Other Spaces,” Diacritics. 16:1 (Spring 1986): 22-27. JSTOR. Web. 29 Nov. 2005.

Gottschall, Jonathan. “The Science of Storytelling: How Narrative Cuts Through Distraction Like Nothing Else.” Fast Company. 16 October 2013. Web. 9 Sept. 2014.

Heller, Dana. “Shooting Solanas: Radical Feminist History and the Technology of Failure.” Feminist Studies, 27: 1 (Spring, 2001): 167-189. Web. 5 Sept. 2015.

Hudson, Rick. “The Derelict Playground: A Bakhtinian Analysis of the Graphic Novel Medium.” The CEA Critic.72:3. (Spring-Summer 2010): 35-49. Western Online. Web. 3 September 2015.

“Karaj: Feminist Leisure Series.” Tumblr. 8 Apr. Web. 19 September 2015.

LesPress. “Wonderful World of Lesbian Pop Culture: Fe MUH- NIST & Vampires- lesbians in the US Independent Comic: Hothead Paisan, Homicidal Lesbian Terrorist.” Popkultr. Bonn. 2002. Web. 21 Sept. 2105

McCloud, Scott. Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art. New York: Harper Collins. 1994.

Pinterest. Web. Date and original source no longer available. 20 September 2015

“SCUM Manifesto.” Freedom Anarchist Media Publishing and Bookshop. Adam Lawrence Bar, ed. Web. 19 Sept. 2015.

Solanas, Valerie. SCUM Manifesto. London: Phoenix Press. 1983. Print.

Solanas, Valerie. SCUM Manifesto. Pat Earl, Reprint from the Matriarchy Study Group, UK and Phoenix Press. 1983. Print.

The Unknown History of MISANDRY. Blog. 20 July 2011. Web. 20 September 2015.

Friday, December 25, 2015

On Goldsmith, Perloff and Race

I am hopelessly behind on many things. I teach and am currently attending yet another graduate school, this time to get my second Master’s degree – in English. This means that I am working or in class 14 hours some days and the days I do not spend in that way I spend my time grading or writing papers. So apparently there has been a whirlwind blowing up about Marjorie Perloff, Kenneth Goldsmith, and race that I am behind on. Having been out of the loop on this, I nonetheless had a few thoughts as I read Jen Hofer’s account as well as the portion of the transcript that she had published. I don't know that I have anything shockingly new to add to the conversation, but since when did that stop anyone, especially me, from commenting?

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I just read Marjorie Perloff’s statements about Michael Brown, made at an art festival ¬¬in Demark At that festival, in a Q&A, she talked about Michael Brown as “scary” and she started saying that we shouldn’t always equate victimhood with innocence. According to a transcript from Hofer and published in this online article, Perloff then went on to talk about victims of the holocaust as not so innocent and if you look into their backgrounds, many were (probably) really terrible people.

All this would be fine if the Michael Brown incident were isolated and not a product of persistent racism stemming not just from a history of slavery, or segregation and discrimination that were all part of our past, now that we are “post-racial,” and not part of persistent racism that occurs on a daily basis in the 1990s and 2000s in America. If there were not a report released on 14 US cities where only black Americans were killed by the police this year. The comments would be fine if what happened in WWII Germany had not been the result of persistent anti-Semitism for centuries and had reared its ugly head again in the recent decade(s) leading up to WWII. If these things were not a part of an ongoing pattern and were simply things that happened to a few morally ambiguous individuals.

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In both of these comments, Perloff comes off as sounding like Kenneth Goldsmith himself, being intentionally provocative while maintaining an Alfred E. Neuman-like “What, Me?” stance. While I admire much about Goldsmith’s work, I can also see the flaws in his approach and the “radical artifice” in his attitudes. I find much of Goldsmith’s work to be said with a wink designed to get people’s hackles up and there really are no limits, as he has shown by his use of “found materials,” repurposing non-poetic materials to his non-poetic (wink wink, nudge nudge) ends.

I think the thing that unites all of this work, Perloff’s statements that many perceive as racist, her continued advocacy of “white male” poets and a while male avant-garde, and Goldsmith’s appropriation of Michael Brown’s autopsy report is not necessarily an inherent racism, but moreover, the belief that the “canon” of literature can and should somehow be a-historical. That somehow it shouldn’t comment on our times, but should rise above the specific historical context is something that only a privileged few – mostly white men and some privileged white women – have the luxury to do. The rest of us are struggling with our historical moment as women and non-white males.

For many of us, we do not have the luxury of being a-historical, and frankly, neither did many of the best previous avant-gardists of any era. Andre Breton and Louis Aragon were deeply embroiled in the politics of their era. Tristan Tzara worked for the French Resistance and Robert Desnos died in a concentration camp. Breton was in Haiti as the Haitian revolution broke out and it has been suggested that his presence hastened that revolution. Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera were involved in revolutionary politics and harbored Trotsky. Yoko Ono’s Cut Piece brought unapologetic attention to the politics around women’s bodies. There are countless examples of artists and poets in the avant-garde who did not hide behind their art, even if they were white males, but used their art, their free speech, to push their politics and the art was enriched by their politics, rather than being impoverished by it.

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Does being a victim of an atrocity erase any previous misdeeds? Does being a respected and at times revered literary theorist or poet insulate you from social criticism of your work and your comments? It seems to be that these two situations may be equivocal.

In Hofer's transcript, Perloff gives us the usual critique of the younger generation: “Back in my day, we didn’t do that.” Abe Simpson’s voice rings clearly in my head.

“When I went to school I was taught you say “Ah, this is good, but might he have not done this, or there could be more of that,” or you know, you attacked politely” when I went to school I was taught you say “Ah, this is good, but might he have not done this, or there could be more of that,” or you know, you attacked politely (Perloff qtd in Hofer). Perloff blames this on internet culture and incivility. And certainly there are uncivil things being said on the internet. But this emphasis on “being attacked politely” is also part of the assumption that academia should be a nice place where people don’t discuss things that they feel strongly about or that involve strong passions? Where does the line between outrage and incivility get drawn?

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I have not seen Kenneth Goldsmith’s piece, but I do know a lot about his work and his detached persona. That is not an inherent part of the avant-garde. He could have used the autopsy to bring attention to the injustice that is being done to African-Americans throughout the country. Baltimore, Ferguson, New York, Minneapolis, etc. etc. Perhaps that is what he intended to do in his “objective” hipster way. I tend to give him the benefit of the doubt on some of this. But Perloff is on dangerous ground not only with her comments about Michael Brown and of victimhood vs. innocence, but in her insistence that the work of anyone that is not white, privileged, and male is not worthy of her notice.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Art and writing: box logic




This is my video blog for my teaching class on the use of visual art in teaching composition.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Thoughts on teaching: my first video blog

Ok, so I am in the MA program at Western Illinois University and this is my first video blog on teaching with some metacommentary on how the process is going. I will post some of these, as well as a little bit of my coursework here, which is being done on Tumblr, as you can see if you follow the link.

I am currently working at Scott Community College, Brown Mackie College, and also doing some test scoring for Pearson while I am taking this class at WIU. You would think I would be wealthy, but a) adjunct instructors don't make shit for money and b) money, like matter, expands to fill the space it occupies. As soon as you start making money, bill collectors appear from out of nowhere!

Enjoy. This and the next one are pretty funny.