Thursday, December 11, 2008

We've Only Just Begun

So Critical Theory class is just about over.

I don't know if I'm happy or sad about that.

I do know (except for the fact, though it can't be a fact as the rest of this paranthetical statement will momentarily require, that I know nothing) that, as we've mentioned in class several times, my experience with theory will now never be over. Once the propeller got moving, it wasn't going to stop. I think I was always a little bit analytical, but throwing terminology and history of theory into that weird thing that may at some level operate me (but what is me anyway?...bahahaha...) has had a relatively profound effect on the way I look at the world. I am taking a break from writing my final based on The Onion article found here: , and to be quite honest, it frightens me. Immensely. I do not want to lose myself (oh the theoretical opportunities that sentence allows...however my desire [and that term for that matter] NOT to lose myself, whatever that means, will, for the time being, prevent me from exploring them right here and right now) to that extent but I think that it might be ineveitable. The deeper and deeper I go in studying this stuff, the more and more I feel like I am doomed, and the less and less I care.

Is this a good thing?

There is no good.

Is that a good thing?

Oh goddammit.

I don't know if it is or isn't. And whether or not that's a good thing is also up in the air, probably because, as I already asserted, there is no good.

It's been a good semester.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008


Thank you, Dr. Krouse, for providing a very clear summary of the development of feminist theory. It has helped me to understand the theory further.

I found it strange over the summer to repeatedly hear the 'Sex and the City' movie hailed as empowering for women, as the television show had been for most of the last decade. I immediately grant that I did not see the film and have seen only an episode or two in pieces of the show. However, my understanding of the 'Sex and the City' effect is that large quantities of women have adopted a new idea of being a woman as put forth by the franchise (I assume that once it exists in multiple forms of media that the term franchise can be applied) of the new-age woman, who is more keen to rely on her best friends rather than men (if reliant at all) and, as a professional, has the money to sip on cosmos and dress fashionably. This ideal certainly is representative of a shift away from a male-dominated hegemony, but I found it odd that not just women but all who subscribe to the aforementioned new ideal for women would so willingly. This imposition and acceptance of a new ideology is, to me, quite ironic. It still bestows from the top down an idea of what it is to be a woman that therefore necessarily runs along a gender line. If all feminists were in agreement historically that the end-game for women was to arrive at the position HBO published weekly for six seasons, then I suppose this wouldn't be much of an issue. However, the idea was not to establish a new position for women. In fact, it is that idea that can give feminism such an ugly connotation. If the goal is to find equality for women, then any ideology of what a woman should be is anti-feminist. Equality means that a woman or a man can be whatever he or she wants to be and neither has to conform to anything, empowering though it may seem.

Feminism is strongly integrated with all other theory. In fact, there has certainly been a recurring theme in our studies this semester: a repressed voice fighting against its oppressor. We see this based on a class binary in Marxism, a cultural one in post-colonialism, the struggle of the conscious and subconscious in psychoanalytical thought, the very idea of meaning and nothing as exhibited by post-structuralism, and now along gender lines in feminism. The very concept of theory would appear to be based on struggle or conflict. The very act of questioning the world requires this. This is not meant in any way to demean theory; in fact, I find it highly necessary that we do question, and I realize that the very act of questioning is reliant on a conflict of what is and what could or might be. I do, however, find it interesting that all theory is dependent on a structure of some sort. Feminism is no different. If the goal of the feminist is to change what it is to be a woman, then a subscription to ideas of a new woman work just fine. However, if the goal is to revolt against the male-created and enforced oppression that no doubt still exists today, then blurring the line of male-female structure needs to be the goal. I don't think many think that women need to be placed in a position wherein they control the system and men become their subjects. Rather, for feminism to realize its goal, women and men need to exist on an even footing wherein the system itself is rebuilt, not by both genders but by all people.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Humans Are Strange

I'd like to thank Ashley Shelden for helping our class out in understanding Lacan, theories of self, and sexuality's role in understanding of self.

OK, so this all makes sense. A whole lot of it in fact. I really like how Lacan's ideas of language become ideas of people, creating a constant search for meaning manifested by desire. It explains a lot: Why the grass is always greener, why people seem to strive for that which they can't have, why we're such consumers, why capitalism came to dominance perhaps even. It also helps explain a line I recently heard in a rap song, "Why write a song if you can't f[I don't know how censored this blog needs to be]ck to it." If we're constantly searching for a meaning that doesn't exist, the meaning we seek will necessarily manifest itself into something that does not have any meaning at all. It's only logical.

I do have one small problem with these ideas, though. That is the thought that jouissance, or ejaculation, is where we lose our sense of identity. This seems like a big claim and is presented without much evidence. I can see how it would make a decent amount of sense in that you lose focus on all else but the orgasm. In fact, even in the statement's boldness, it makes a whole lot of sense. I think that my problem, then, is that at least sexual desire runs with this "death drive." Given that we tend to love love so much, I assume that desire in the psychoanalytical approach tends to mean sexual desire, and this same desire (that which is supposed to make us find ourselves) is that which leads us to losing our sense of self. I am not enough of an optimist to deny that we probably are very self-destructive creatures (examine college students on Friday nights) and, further, that we are self-deceptively self-destructive. So yeah, I think this all checks out and makes a lot of sense as a theory. We are a strange, strange race of organisms.

*As an aside, I find it interesting that this theory tries to apply something to everybody, which almost seems to go against its basic idea, that there is no meaning to be found. Its meaninglessness almost makes the meaning it creates valid, ironically (paradoxically?).

Friday, October 31, 2008

Big Bo

I offer many thanks to guest lecturer Ken Rufo both for providing the lecture and for putting what appears to be some very complicated material into easily understandable terms.

Baudrillard's ideas, or what I've gotten out of them from Rufo's lecture, are, frankly, crazy, though in a good way. In exploring simulation, simulacra, and integral reality, Bo (if I may be so crass) puts out the idea that all things, even the artificial, become "realized," which is to say that to those experiencing simulation, they do become real. This is interesting to me, especially when put against some ideas of media theory I've seen that say that the news media actually makes reality seem artificial due both to the presentation of reality in images and the way it is handled by the authoritative figures at our screen. However, I don't think Bo's ideas contradict this to heavily; his 'real' is that which we perceive, regardless of its basis in the real world. Therefore, to him, regardless of an entity's basis in true reality, if it is artificially placed within our perception, it is real. Therefore, the real artificiality that we might see on the 5:00 News still qualifies as Bo's 'realization' because it's presented in front of us as a simulation. So he may agree with certain schools of media theory but state that the artificiality we see on our couch is still being 'realized' because we're experiencing it.

More interesting to me, though, was Baudrillard's belief in critical theory as simulation, trying to ascribe meaning to ideas that the theory itself developed. My first thought regarding this was that it was essentially a deconstruction of theory itself, but it's not so much that because it doesn't look like he is interested in creating any meaning anywhere. Bo wants illusion to at least be a strong possibility - he wants to at least have the option that there is no and never was any meaning. It is for this reason that he examines simulation and acknowledges that it makes all simulated 'realized' - he doesn't want everything to have a degree of reality because he doesn't want there to be definite meaning, created by anything. I don't know if Bo was a nihilist or if he just wanted the possibility of nihilism to exist (and real quick I'm just going to jot this down so I don't forget it later --- does the linguist look at language as God? the Marxist, economics as God? the feminist, gender as God? the nihilist nothing as God? eh...) but I do know that he wanted nothing to be a possibility. It's interesting stuff and I do intend to actually read some of his work when my schedule allows. Until then, Big Bo, it's been real.

Friday, October 24, 2008

If No Author, Anarchy?

Of the points discussed in Barthes's "The Death of the Author," I am most interested in the religious ideas that permeate the essay. The ideas of the Author-God and theological meaning create a strong image by which to contrast Barthes's thoughts, which become in this context atheistic. For most of literary history, the writer of a text has been regarded as a strong intellectual being with total control over said text, hence the title author. It is Barthes's rejection of this idea of a God-like authority presiding over a text, that leads to many questions regarding the source of meaning within the text.

This blog entry discusses the authority of the blogger. It discusses that people tend to perceive the writer as the authority. This is interesting because it reiterates the idea of a natural and/or cultural tendency to look at writer as authority. The post also examines ways for a blogger to increase authority, which gets at an idea of authority as a commodity for which the writer should strive rather than a concept that should be assigned (as Barthes assigns authority to text).

The blog post taken into consideration along with "The Death of the Author" seems to present a power struggle wherein Barthes presents truly revolutionary ideas by denouncing the authority that the writer is both given and fights for. The author attempts to create order while Barthes, as a post-structuralist, looks to collapse this order and find new sources of meaning. In ways, Barthes is arguing for textual anarchy or chaos, from which new order can emerge.

Because I do a decent amount of creative writing myself, the concept of a writer sans authority is interesting and, in some ways, crucial to me. Am I to understand that what I wish to accomplish in a work is without merit and that the text itself overshadows me? That the text I create denies me? It is perhaps a tough pill to swallow, but it's tough for me not to acknowledge this given the amount of times I have read a book or seen a movie and gotten a different, but just as logical, meaning out of it than a peer. With regards to obtaining meaning from my own text, maybe I'm just another reader and my only responsibility is to put the words together and come up with a story with legs. The meaning behind it is not my responsibility (as much as I'd like it to be), because that can only come from the text itself. If the order I've assigned as Author-God is to be denied, then anybody's order is as relevant as mine. I suppose that for the development of ideas and theory, this is good. However, the blog entry referenced above makes one correct assumption, at least about me, and that is that I want that authority, and I wish I lived in a period in which I could have it, no questions asked.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Loving Love

Because of something, be it an imposed ideology or something biological or something spiritual, humans believe in love as something they must have. Love has for millenia been, in the heavy majority of cultures, been regarded as amongst the ultimate achievements in a person's life. Derrida says that love is narcissistic. As we discussed in class, narcissism is an individual's needs and the desire for these needs to be filled, to the point of ignorance of the needs of others. Derrida believes that love is narcissistic because it is a projection of one's needs on another. So in preschool when I asked Hannah to be my wife in preschool, I was assuming that she was as strongly in need of the fulfillment of her needs as I was, and that we would ride off on a horse to Minnesota or something along those lines. She was hesitant to answer, and when she broke her arm the next week, I no longer found her attractive and moved along to Play-Do and toy trucks as the only love I really needed. I never did confront her for an answer, so it stands to logic that perhaps Hannah did have the same needs I did, and perhaps I would have successfully fulfilled her needs as projected by my needs upon her and she with hers upon me. I believe that sentence makes sense.

Fact of the matter as I see it is that love is narcissism because our world depends on this idea of love as something that we all must attain. Love is consumerism, and in this case, consumer culture refers to that of the entire globe. This isn't to say that love cannot be good and fulfilling. It is not to say that people are into love simply because they want to achieve love as something in its own right, either. Maybe love refers to the fulfillment of another's needs, and the consumerist desire to arrive at love is indicative of something in people - again, it could be biological, ideological or cultural, or through a greater power - that strives to fulfill the needs of an other. Perhaps the narcissism in love is realized by totally fulfilling the needs of the lover. In this light, narcissism doesn't seem so bad.

As a complete aside, I think the score in the documentary was very strong.

Hannah, if you read this, and your arm is healed, the question still stands.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

It's All Relative

Behold: Now I will blog about structuralism without understanding it all that well.

One idea that I can somewhat get my mind around is Saussure's statement, "signs function not through their intrinsic value but through their relative position." The signs we're interested in here are those of language, of course. Saussure opines that, because signs are comprised of an arbitrary relationship between signifier (the image or the sound) and signified (the concept or idea), we can only know one sign as it relates to another. Opposites and binaries are important in structuralism and this is because, according to the theory, we can only know a sign by clashing it against another. Man is not woman. Cat is not dog. Joker is not Batman. Etc. So, we arrive at the belief that signs are only interprettable as what we perceive them to be relative to other signs. We don't get meaning from a sign based on what it "essentially" is but what it is relative to its opposite and to everything else. Because Batman becomes justice and order, Joker manifests chance and chaos. And there can't be justice without chance and there can't be order without chaos, etc. It's all relative.

Starting on Post-structuralism made me understand these ideas a little bit better, mostly because Post-structuralism (apparently?/seemingly?) wishes to revel in a place where we can look past these oppositions and liberally assign meaning to each independent sign. I have a long way to go before I can speak particularly coherently about Post-structuralism, but at least starting on it has helped me really recognize how this binary system works and, as a result, how all signs we can know we know relatively. <---I think you're not supposed to end a sentence with an adverb, but I did it anyway.