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the mess, the shame

I have this issue. Now, my colleague here is not a fan of meta-navel-gazing-self-absorbed wank about writing and process and fuck knows what else. Fair enough, I suppose. Certainly my milling things over in my head for weeks and months and days on end as opposed to, you know, hammering something out and letting it be good enough. It’s a blog, not Das Capital.(1)

(1) You know that bit of Marx where he described primitive communism as the capacity to live life as one wishes, fishing in the morning, writing of an afternoon? If that were really true, I would have quite genuinely starved to death by now. The other day I had to bribe myself to go down the hall for something with the promise of ice cream at the other end. I would try to fish for ten minutes and then collapse weakly on the riverbank and probably allow myself to get rained on. What I mean to say is that I am phenomenally lazy and yet some kind of OCD-perfectionist. This means that Bernard Black would feel right at home in my beyond-messy house.

nabokov's advice to a young writer

1. If possible, be Russian. And live in another country. Play chess. Be an active trader between languages. Carry precious metals from one to the other. Remind us of Stravinsky. Know the names of plants and flying creatures. Hunt gauzy wings with snares of gauze. Make science pay tribute. Have a butterfly known by your name.

2. Do not be awed by giant predecessors. Be ill-tempered with their renown. Point out flaws. Frighten interviewers from Time. Appear in Playboy. Sell to the movies.

3. Use unlikely materials. Who would choose Pnin as hero, but how did we live before Pnin?

4. Delight in perversity. Put a noun into the dictionary. Now we recognize the Lolita at every corner, see her sucking sweetened milk through straws at every soda fountain, dream her through all our fantasies.

5. Burn pedants in pale fire. Accept no fashions. Be your own fashion. Do not rely on earlier triumphs. Be new at each appearance.

6. Age indomitably, in the European manner. Do not finish your labours young. Be a planet, not a meteor. Honor the working day. Sit at your desk.

Vladimir Nabokov (1899 – 1977)

what excel is good for

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Back in Kentucky for the holiday weekend. My mom’s condo association is just mental*, as evidenced by the following letter outlining the rules and regulations for using the pool. Seriously, folks. This shit just writes itself.

I’m not sure what I like more: the injunction against hanging your wet towels and swimsuits up on your own enclosed patio (Looks like someone’s been using the facilities. Whoops!), the ban on booze (The hell?) or the reminder not to “smoke inside the pool.”

It begs to be answered– how do you get inside the pool, since it’s not actually a physically enclosed space? But I think the real questions are a)what is wrong with these people b)when did they last have sex, and c) is this pedantic nosy bullshit all I have to look forward to in my old age?

*Like the time she had a decorative holiday flag hanging outside our house, and received a very pointed letter telling her to take it down, since only the American flag could be flown. It was a fucking happy winter snowman, though they acted like she had just declared her undying allegiance to the Khmer Rouge.

on the life of the mind

This is a repost from The Chronicle of Higher Education. It’s quite heartbreaking. The themes call to mind Louis Menand’s latest book, The Marketplace of Ideas.

For those of us clawing our way through doctoral programs, it certainly gives pause. His comments about how we are socialized to accept menial wages, insane hours, and untold amounts of stress and anxiety point to the tremendous paradox that lies at the heart of much (most?) upper-level education in this country.

If you’re well off– enough that you can live off a trust fund or stock margins while you pursue a doctorate, or marry someone who can support you during that decade-long process, you’re better off. If your folks will buy you a house, condo, apartment, and subsidize your cost of living, you’re good. If you don’t have to sling coffee or get a part-time job swiping meal cards at the dining hall, so much the better. And if you can eat out all the time or order in, with no fears of overdrawing your checking account for some mediocre Thai food, then you’ve saved a ton of time.*

So, in a frightening and deeply ironic way, the “life of the mind” is really only open to those who have the mental energy and economic resources to pursue it, without the impediments of physical life slowing down their time to degree.

I would definitely pass this article along to any students who were contemplating pursuing higher-higher education.

Thomas H. Benton

The Big Lie about the Life of the Mind

*Yes, I know that this is how life, in general, works. People with capital and resources always have an easier go of it than the proles and bourgeois classes. I’ve read enough Marx and Engels to know that’s pretty much an incontrovertible fact.But that doesn’t make it any less sad.

**Bourdieu said something similar, I think, about the dominant and dominated classes. Pretty sure that was Bourdieu.