I don’t have much to say other than I loved reading this selection from the new Norton Anthology. G and G perform what they preach in “Introduction: Rhizome” from A Thousand Plateaus, a book I feel I must read now.

The challenge the conventional ideas of ideas, of thinking, of books and philosophy: “We will never ask what a book means, as signified and signifier; we will not look for anything to understand in it. We will ask what it functions with…” (1455). This is the direction I see myself going towards more and more; that is, not looking for meanins but rather trying to understand how things mean. How does a book create meaning? How does society impose its meanings?

G and G challenge the notion of the book in the Western tradition. The book is like a root (the image of logos as a root)– and to go off on an aside here for a minute– I wonder (and I’m sure this is out there somewhere) what G and G would think of Heidegger’s conception of philosophy since he wanted to rethink philosophy not from the tree of logos or the roots but from the very ground from which the logos tree springs. In that sense, I’m sure the would like how Heidegger was challenging accepted modes of thought in philosophy; although, I’m sure they would have qualms with how he reordered philosophy and still found a center from which to spring. However, Heidegger is concerned with Be-coming– Dasien is, after all, the movement of Be-ing. In that sense, I believe that Heidegger can be seen as rhizomic writing. Yet again, though, G and G don’t want a beginning; they want “…neither beginning nor end, but always a middle…” (1458).

Mostly, I like their prose; the way they play with language and with the structure of logical thought: “We are writing this book as a rhizome. It is composed of plateaus. We have given it a circular form, but only for laughs” (1459).

This “logic” outlined in G and G, I believe can be seen in the works of early Palahiuk, in Joyce, in Danielewski, and with philosophers that perform in their text, such as Derrida or Ciouxous.


On Zizek’s “Courtly Love, or, Woman as Thing”

Zizek sets out to explore the notion of “courtly love” and claims that it is only in the last century, with the emergence of masochism and the masochistic couples that we can begin to “grasp the libidinal economy of courtly love” (2407).

Zizek outlines the first problem of looking at courtly love, which is that the Lady is idealized; the woman is rasied to a sublime, radical Otherness, which makes her Freud’s uncanny ‘Das Ding’ (the Thing) and which he suggest is an example of Lacan’s Real—that is a thing which resist articulation and being placed in the symbolic order (it is unknowable). Furthermore, the Lady-Thing is just a mirror reflecting the narcissistic ideal projection of the subject.

The second problem with looking at courtly love is that courtly love has nothing to do with passion; it is just a “fictional formula” where the man pretends “as if” the Lady is inaccessible (2409). Zizek links this idea with a masochistic relationship, where the couple where the couple pretends “as if” the masochist has no power; although, it is the masochist who dictates the contract of the relationship. This relationship is a busness exchange (not psychological).

The principle mistake to avoid, Zizek posits, is reducing this inaccessibility to a mere “dialectic of desire and prohibition” (2412). Zizek describes how in courtly love the man creates obstacles and barriers around the Lady; as the Real, the only way to approach the Lady is at an angle, indirectly. This is Lacanian sublimation, where an everyday object is raised to impossible Thing. To reduce the rest of the argument into a concise summary: the subject claims to want to sleep with the womean, but in reality, he is scared and so creates barriers of postponement. The Lady, like the phallus, becomes a symbol for both enjoyment and for castration (2415).

Then by looking at a number of examples (most prominently The Crying Game), Zizek elucidates how true love is ‘the stretching out of the hand, “towards the loving one and to ‘return love’” (2421).

Zizek uses these examples to make his argument: that courtly love (and any conception of “love”) only reinforces this imbalance in the sexes, and it is only in the masochist relationship that a true symmetry in a relationship can be achieved.

Looking at Lacan, I am fascinated by just how much of his ideas can be implemented in every day life (as Zizek constantly points out). It is frustrating, though, as Dr. Price-Herndl’s handout points out, that Lacan posits that coming into language is a journey, and “[Lacan] sees this journey as painful and difficult, and claims that he wants the entrance into his discourse to likewise be painful.”

In trying to understand Lacan, I began Jane Gallop’s intorduction Reading Lacan, which also attests to the difficulty in understanding Lacan. Gallop describes John Muller and William Richards encounter with writing about Lacan: “They [Muller and Richards] describe the experience of reading Lacan as ‘infuriating’ and ‘extraordinarily painful'” (Gallop 32). This has been my experience with Lacan as well, but this was Lacan’s point, I think.

From the outset of reading Lacan, I am castrated. I am never complete in my knowledge and never will be. From what I understand, once the subject enters language, he/she is castrated. The complete image that is mis-recognized as a complete whole is broken in language. Lacan says he is led to regard “…the function of the mirror-stage as a particular case of the function of the imago, which is to establish a relation between the organism and its reality…between the [inner world] and the [outer world]” (1166), but there will always remain a gap between the psychological projection I create (the outer world) and reality (the fragmented inner world) because as Lacan goes on to say, the subject is always marked by fragmentation. As the subject enters the social symbolic (through language), the subject will lose the wholeness acquired in the beginning of the mirror stage and will spend the rest of its life trying to find wholeness again (1166-67).

Lacan’s idea of lack interest me because I believe Lacan can begin to voice the experience of heartbreak. The subject is always radically fragmented; it can never be present to itself and never be present to anyone else (which is what postmodernism will say as well: Eagleton points out that if language holds not fully present meaning, and if we can only know ourselves through language, then we can never fully know ourselves). As the handout and Lacan (1188) points out, our desire is always the desire of the other, what others desire of us. In a relationship, a subject takes up the identity of that desiring thing the subject thinks the other wants. When the other rejects the subject, though, the subject is radically castrated. In heartbreak, Lacan’s fragmentation, as well as subjectivity constituted as lack, is manifest in the subject’s statements of “why doesn’t he/she want me?”

What is being said in these statements (especially in cases of a lover leaving the subject for someone else: “what does he/she have that I don’t have”) is a breakdown in the symbolic order that keeps the subject stable. Since the sense of self is always predicated on the other, what happens when the other rejects me? If the subject is already marked by lack, what happens when that lack is highlighted by being rejected by an other? Heartbreak, just as its opposite love, is a temporary insanity. That is, the heartbroken identifies itself as a whole that can be fully-present. This is illustrated in statements that hold claim to whole-ness: “he/she will never find someone like me;” that is to say, someone as whole and complete as I.

I think– which leaves us back at my opening statements and the frustration of reading Lacan.

Gallop, Jane. Reading Lacan. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1985. Print.

I first read Virginia Woolf’s “A Room of One’s Own” as an undergrad during a Woolf class in which we read To the Lighthouse. It was my first ever introduction to feminism, and the idea that Woolf is analyzing here, fascinated me back then and still does today.While this idea is confined here to a feminist perspective, I think the implications are the same ones that apply to the second half of readings as well as to a certain Marxist perspective of material culture.

It is the culture, after all, that denies Shakespeare’s sister a chance to express her artistic talents, simply for being a woman. It is scary to think how accurate Woolf is in claiming that,

“When […] one reads of a witch being ducked, of a woman possessed by devils, of a wise woman selling herbs, or even of a very remarkable man who had a mother, then I think we are on the track of a lost novelist, a suppressed poet, of some mute and inglorious Jane Austen” (898).

The world has surely lost a number of talented artist for their gender or race or color or location or socio-economic situation. Hurston and Gilman are two examples of writers that were almost lost to society because they were not WASPY males.

Woolf’s second piece anticipates some of the arguments that De Beauvoir’s will make. Woolf asserts that women in literature have only been shown in relation to men and rarely does one see two women as good friends. Woolf goes on to say that relationships between woman in literature have been “too simple.” This is a point that De Beauvior takes up with her analysis of woman: “To pose Woman is to pose the absolute Other.” De Beauvior does an excellent job of pointing out the contradictions in how woman have been portrayed throughout, not just literature, but history. This analysis points out Sartre’s limitations. Sartre says that one can only know himself through the other, but then says that woman are mysterious.

DeBeauviour looks at this myth of woman as mysterious, as virgin, as demon, as idealized, and as always absolute other of man. Her claim, which I believe is more astute than Sartre’s, is that woman is no more mysterious than man is mysterious to woman, and that to make these outrageous claims is just lazy and to promote the patriarchy. Making claims such as this goes against the first tenet of existentialism, in which “existence precedes essence.” That is that woman (nor men) have any essence outside of their actions. These idealized and categorical claims men make on women puts women in an absolute, deny women the ability to make themselves and totalizing them. The point should be, rather, that the relations between men and women are reciprocal, a give and take of subjectivity. In the views of men, the Hegelian dialectic of relations between men and women, women are always the slaves to men.

It is this mystification that Woolf is looking at in literature in “Chloe likes Olivia.” Additionally, I feel that in “Androgyny,” Woolf is calling for this reciprocity that De Beoavior wants. For the dialectic not to be dominated by the male perspective, but rather, that there has to be a true dialectic. One in which a synthesis of “male” and “female” is balanced.

I think I will stop here before I go on too long. My problem is that I am reading a Zizek essay in which he looks at the idea of sexualization. He looks at the idea of “femininity” vs. “masculinity” to show how this are constructed categories– which leads back to the idea I started off with: how much of all we are, of all our identity, and of everything we think of as “us” is really just a social construct that we have been duped into believing?

I have recently been completely fascinated by Roland Barthes. I was reading his biography during winter break before I had my gallbladder removed and spent the next few weeks in pain and trying to figure out what to eat. Though I think a hospital is a nice introduction to Barthes and Mythologies. Why do we trust a doctor in scrubs and a white lab coat? Barthes and Saussure have the answer. It is this relevancy, as well as Barthes being one of the first thinkers to make the leap from structuralism to poststructuralism (as is better illustrated, I believe in “Death of the Author” which we will read later), that fascinates me so much.

In this selection, Barthes takes political photography for his analysis. He outlines the manner in which photography captures a signification; it is through photographs that a candidate can, not show his audience his plans for office, but show the audience who he is,

“What is transmitted through the photograph of the candidate are not his plans, but his deep motives[…] all this style of life of which he is at once the product, the example and the bait” (1320).

Barthes is explaining how photography manipulates the sign system that Saussure outlines. Saussure points out how signifiers (the sound image, specifically, let’s say– the letters) are arbitrarily assigned to signifieds (the actual concept out in the world). The way that we know what a signifier means is only through society. There is no inherent value, there is nothing concrete that says the letters c.a.t. have any actual relation to the furry little domesticated animal out in the world, other than society’s agreement that it does; hence, “The relation between the signifier and the signified is “arbitrary,” not “motivated” (by natural resemblance)” then later, “the sign is a convention that has to be learned and is not subject to individual will.”

What is wonderful about Barthes is the way he explores these concepts and takes them further. Barthes, more than being a semiologist that makes the move to postmodernism, is an acute analyzer of society. In Barthes there is the beginning of the move from hermeneutics (what does something mean) to semiology (how does something mean).

The way things mean has to do with the cultural context, and photography has the ability to capture cultures attitudes (this still goes on in political campaigns today; all we have to do is remember how much press Obama got for not wearing his flag pin). Photography offers not just the cultural context that the candidate is trying to capture, photography offers this context in a “pure” way, “a photograph is a mirror, what we are asked to read is the familiar, the known; it offers to the voter his own likeness, but clarified, exalted, superbly elevated into a type” (1320). The photograph offers up a mirror of ourselves as we wish to be, and shows us the candidate to us as ourselves–how many times do we hear during an election, “He is the sort of person you can sit and have a beer with” ?

Furthermore, there is an underlying Marxist critique going on in this analysis. The audience exposed to these pictures (we can extend this today to FoxNews) relate to them in some way: “Photography constitutes here a veritable blackmail by means of moral values,” so society votes for posters that promise change, but don’t really know what the change is, and hence Marx’s definition of ideology, “They do not know, but they are doing it.” Photography also becomes a fetish object in that it holds a power that we assign it “magically.” This is why Barthes is so great; because we should all be aware of the ideology around us everyday, and the best way to be aware of it is to realize how it means by way of Barthes’s analysis. By realizing that all these things we take as natural are really just mythologies.

This week’s reading is something that I always struggle with when teaching new students how to write better. With so much to cover in class, it is hard to focus on sentence level issues sometimes, so like my colleague Phillip, I also have to ask “what is an important mistake?”

I try to impress on my students that good sentences have their strength in active verbs, and I also try to tell them that most times the less words a sentence uses the better, and then I show them a list of redundant redundancies and we go over my pet peeves, for example: “Due to the fact that” which can be replaced, simply with “because”– some other ones, just to give an example are: • (absolutely) necessary • connect (together) • during (the course of) • separated (apart from each other) • (unexpected) surprise • write (down)

Basically, I don’t know how to teach my students to be better writers, and sometimes I feel that ideology gets in the way of true pedagogy, so I try to mix in all the different methods I can.

I found the Lundsford article on errors very interesting. It is interesting to note that essays have grown in length. In our composition world where we ask students to write 3,000 words is this because a study has shown that writing more improves writing? Are we sacrificing quality for quantity? Would it be easier to grade 3 page papers (rather than 5 page papers?), but take a closer, more involved look at the shorter paper? Maybe this way we could avoid reading the redundant redundancies?

I wonder how much “computer speak” is influencing student writing on a basic sentence level, which makes me wonder if maybe we shouldn’t go back to teaching basic sentence structure, and while the errors have changed, I wonder just how much the writing itself has changed? Where do we see if the actual writing, in terms of quality, has changed over time? And if so what has changed, how has it changed, and what methods were used to teach the better essays? I constantly hear that student’s today aren’t as smart as students of the past, but I wonder how much of that is true? Is it that technology has made students lazy?

While I couldn’t find the original article, here are some possible reasons why students are studying less:

Also, as the Lundsford article mentions, the mistakes have changed, and while there are less “spelling” mistakes, there are more wrong word mistakes, so I always show my students this fun reminder of the importance of proofreading: