Archive for University

Library books

Hey dumbass, guess what: Other people need to take out books from the library, too.

No, it’s true. They’ve proven this empirically. I saw it in a book I took out from the library. I noticed that fact because you happened to underline it. Along with everything else on that page. Which, apparently, was important to you. Thank you, also, for writing down in the margins several key words that you noticed in the paragraphs. That they were of no significance to the argument or the book in general explains something. You also happened to underline and highlight most of Chapters 3 and 4. I wonder why you ignored the rest of the book.

Maybe because you’re an idiot?

Remember, signing out a book from the library is a privilege. The act does not confer ownership of the book to you. So don’t write in it. This isn’t socialism you punk ass bitch.

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Four hours of research, writing and work. None of it for instrumental (read, coursework/degree-work) reasons.

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On Marxism and Eurocentrism

Well. I’m not going to apologize for being a Marxist.

But it seems that there are some people for whom I have become a caricature of myself, a caricature of a Marxist. No, I’ve never tried to sell papers to you, and though I may have suggested reading a piece or two by Marx, I certainly don’t think I’ve hit you over the head with anything. Oh, I return to Marxist perspectives and ideas in our conversations, sometimes explicitly referring to them as Marxist and other times not, but you can tell — right? — you can tell that that’s Marxist.

And for you, of course, that’s a problem. Because, I guess, Marx is white? Or Marx is European? Marx was Eurocentric? Okay.

And of course, I’ve lost my way. We — those of us who aren’t white — must, by all and every means reject everything that is Western. And, I suppose you imagine that I’ve never had to wrestle with this sense of being detached from my own reality, of being detached and disgusted and even insulted because when I go into a library and stare at a shelf of books on a topic the only thing I can find from the general direction from where I came is some Orientalist’s rendering of an 11th century scholar anyway. So we must reject all of the Western shit because it is Western. No, we must. We must have a visceral distaste for the West and Eurocentrism and look for “alternative epistemologies” and ways of looking at things. Just because.

Which is fine. I don’t envy you your alternative epistemologies. And perhaps you’ve read a couple of Marx’s works yourselves, though I doubt it, and more likely you’ve read a critique of Marx written by some scholar who is far out of his field of expertise. Maybe not even that.

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Poli Sci

I was trained for over three years in political science. I spent half of it doing conservative political theory, the other half focusing largely on the politics of development and certain developing regions.

I still don’t know what it means to be a political scientist.

Why is this paper not writing itself?

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Being introduced to Marxism; or, a brief history of courses I’ve taken

In my last academic year (2006-2007), I took a course on aesthetics and politics at UofT, Marxism and Form (VIC401, based on the book of the same title by Fredric Jameson), taught by Eric Cazdyn. Taking the course was one of the more intelligent moves I made while at UofT. It was a graduate seminar and I had absolutely no idea what I was in for: it was probably only long after the full-year course had been completed, when I read Aesthetics & Politics cover-to-cover that I became relatively comfortable with the concepts discussed in the course.

Literature & Theory

I’d taken a course on English literature in the 20th century (ENG140). The emphasis of that course, as I recall (which I don’t recall well because I took it in the summer of 2004 while I was working full-time and taking another course on comparative politics) was not so much on the political or social implications of the texts (and we read some very good texts) as the moves within aesthetics, almost devoid of context — from romanticism to naturalism to … I don’t even remember. I do recall the professor’s analysis of the purple triangle in Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse, a recurring motif, the significance of which flew over my head and probably still would (unless it was related to the politics of queer liberation, which, I can assure you, it wasn’t). I’m probably being unfair to the course, we did read In the Skin of a Lion, as well as Waiting for Godot, and I remember something about postmodernism being discussed (so maybe the course was moving through the major trends of literature?). Though, at the time, in the class I was taking on comparative politics, I learned about the concept of post-materialism which made a lot more sense to me. I should go back to my notes and see if I can actually give a fair and balanced account of the course content. Suffice it to say it bored me, very much.

My next experience with literature was a course on graphic novels (The ‘New Comics’, VIC300) with Luca Somigli. I enjoyed the content of the course, I’d already read most of the comics covered before starting the course anyway; and, judging from the mark I got on my final paper, Prof. Somigli enjoyed my paper very much. I wrote about Joe Sacco’s Safe Area Gorazde and his use of stereotypes to advance his political and moral agenda. Still, the discussions of literary theory and aesthetic theory, most of which I don’t recall anyway, probably went flying over my head. From these, and other experiences, I’d reckon that the most difficult thing in taking courses that are entirely outside of one’s academic purview is to acquire and maintain the vocabulary. By vocabulary, I don’t mean just the meanings of new words, but the significances and usages thereof. It took me, for instance, two whole years to wrap my head around the idea of postmodernism.

I suspect a lot of this had to do with the fact that I didn’t really think such terms and courses would be of much use to me — I was focusing on getting into medical school, not graduate school — and no one in life science or the kind of political science I was taking at UofT really cared about such things. That makes me wonder, as an aside, do Straussians bother to acknowledge postmodernism or think it worthy of being addressed? I don’t know of anyone like Harvey Mansfield — whose translations of The Prince and Discourses on Livy are superb — having written on Postmodernism, or, the Cultural Logic of Unmanly Liberal Academics.

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While it’s not officially over (I’m not sure when that happens), I’m done with my undergraduate “education.” I’m sure I could write a long piece (or a few long pieces) about the this and the that throughout my years at UofT — and perhaps later I will — but right now I’m in no mood to do anything but document the fact that I’m done.

And that I hate UofT.


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Children’s Cartoons & Utopia

From a paper I just finished:

Maggie is a five-year old cartoon character who imagines a space called Nowhere Land. At one point she organizes her imaginary friends and they collectively dig a big hole; even Rudy the Mouse (whose hat doesn’t come off) is given a spoon so as to help. When they’ve finished digging the hole, her friends inquire as to its purpose. Maggie is temporarily perplexed, but responds by asking if her friends had fun digging the hole, to which they respond in the affirmative. The point of digging the hole, Maggie explains, was to have fun.

We see that Nowhere Land is a utopia, it is the space from which Maggie articulates and imagines her desires, and the content of her utopia is a critique of capitalist society: the idea that labour should be undertaken for personal fulfillment echoes Marx’s critique of the alienation of the labourer from his or her labour, and offers a critique of a capitalist society where labour is a means to an “end” as a perpetually unfulfilled consumer.

In the next vignette of that episode, Maggie and her friends go to rebuild the home of Sidestep (the crab) whose sand house has been washed away by a wave. After they build the house they put a red star(fish?) above the entrance.

Whoever wrote that episode was clearly a socialist.

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Har ek baat pe kehte ho tum ke tu kya hai
Tum hi kaho ke yeh andaaz-e-guftgoo kya hai

Everything gets lost in translation.

To every statement you say, “What are you?” [“Who are you to say?”]
You tell me what manner of speech this is

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Ph.D. & Eating Apes

An African-American associate professor at a liberal arts college in the 1960s points to his own appointment as an example of progress. Malcolm X asks him:

“Do you know what white racists call black Ph.D’s?”

He said something like, “I believe that I happen not to be aware of that”—you know, one of those ultra-proper-talking Negroes.

And I laid the word down on him, loud: “Nigger!

The Autobiography of Malcolm X, p. 290.

By explaining that white racists (and if we loosen the definition of racist, we can assume that’s the majority of Americans) still consider him a nigger, Malcolm brings into sharp relief the fact that such “progress” is literally skin deep. As long as you have white racists, as long as the system that creates disparities and allows racists to continue to be racist exists, there is no real progress; all there is is window dressing.

We have to consider, then, how far such “progress” has come.

Eating Apes is a book by Dale Peterson, a journalist (or writer or something) about how people in certain parts of Africa eat apes. (I’m reading the book for a History course on how people in the West view subjectivity in sub-Saharan Africa.) For Peterson, this is unconscionable and — because (among other things) it is so much like eating humans — even immoral:

In the big cities of Central Africa, middle-class people pay a premium for bushmeat, including the meat of apes. […] Thus, we see that the problem [of eating apes] is deeper than material history and that cultural values are clearly as much a root cause as poverty.

– Dale Peterson, Eating Apes, pp. 200-201.

Here, I see Peterson saying the same thing Malcolm pointed out white racists say: It doesn’t matter how rich black people get, they’re still niggers. (In this case, because eating apes is part of their “cultural values”.)

When Peterson refers to material history, it appears that his scope quite narrowly refers to the history of poverty in Africa (or parts of Africa). It doesn’t refer to the material conditions through which many of the people in Africa live — the material conditions that give birth to cultural values. (Where else do cultural values come from? Primordial backwardness?) One of these material conditions is, or was, the kinds of animal meat available for consumption. This differs remarkably from the kind of meat available to those in the West.

But wait, Peterson goes on to explain that:

Recent advances in Western scientific disciplines tell us that the great apes are far closer to human than anyone had previously imagined. […] Killing and eating [apes] amounts to killing and eating animals shockingly close to human. Such is the thinking, one of the several reasons for deep concern about the extent of the slaughter of apes in Central Africa [….]

Peterson, p. 205.

So the reason people in the West don’t eat apes is because they are shockingly close to humans. That’s it. This brilliant logic also explains why most people in the West don’t eat frogs, horses, donkeys, rats, grasshoppers, cockroaches and beluga whales. They are all shockingly close to humans — as revealed by advances in Western science.

Peterson also refers to hunted animal meat as “bushmeat”. But is that what he calls deer? or quail? No, he doesn’t even bring those things up. If we disregard conservation statuses, what’s the moral difference between someone in Canada shooting a deer for consumption and someone in Africa shooting an elephant for consumption? The very use of that term, bushmeat, is remarkably patronizing and contributes to the process of othering in which Peterson indulges.

Not that I advocate eating apes. I just don’t really see the problem with eating apes if there’s no problem with, say, eating chickens (whose DNA is shockingly close to that of humans).

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Mere Geet

Mere sarkash taraane sun ke duniya ye samajhti hai
Ke shaayad mere dil ko ishq ke naghmon se nafrat hai
Mujhe hungaama-e-jang-o-jadal se kaif milta hai
Meri fitrat ko khoon-rezi ke afsaanon se raghbat hai

Magar ai kaash dekhen voh meri pursoz raaton ko
Main jab taaron pe nazrein gaad kar aansoo bahaata hoon
Tasavvur ban ke bhooli vaardaatein yaad aati hain
To soz-o-dard ki shuddat se pahron tilmilaata hoon

Main shaayar hoon, mujhe fitrat ke nazaaron se ulfat hai
Mera dil dushman-e-naghma saraai ho nahin sakta
Javaan hoon main, javaani naazishon ka ek toofan hai
Meri baaton mein rang-e-paarsaai ho nahin sakta

Mere sarkash taraanon ki haqeeqat hai to itni hai
Ke jab main dekta hoon bhook ke maare kisaanon ko
Ghareebon ko, muflison ko, bekason ko, besahaaron ko
To dil taab-e-nishaat-e-bazm-e-ishrat nahin sakta
Main chaahon bhi to khwaabaavar taraane ga nahin sakta

– Sahir Ludhianvi

Sahir was one of the greats of modern Urdu poetry; a Leftist, he made his comfortable living writing songs for Hindi films (e.g., Pal do pal ka shaayar).

When the world hears my angry songs, it assumes
That perhaps my heart abhors songs of love
That I derive pleasure from the turmoil of war and conflict
That by nature, I get pleasure from stories of bloodshed

Would that they could witness those anguished nights
When I cast my eyes on the stars and weep
When forgotten encounters become remembered imaginations
When for hours, I tremble with the intensity of my grief

I am a poet, I have great love for the sights of nature
My heart can never be the enemy of song writing
I am young, youth is a storm of passion
My words can never be coloured by temperance

If there is a reason for my angry songs, it is this
That when I see the farmers dying of hunger
The poor, the oppressed, the helpless
My heart cannot bear the celebration of high culture
Even if I wish, I cannot give voice to dreamy songs

– Translated by Ali Husain Mir & Raza Mir*

* But I made some modifications.

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