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John Holbo - Editor
Scott Eric Kaufman - Editor
Aaron Bady
Adam Roberts
Amardeep Singh
Andrew Seal
Bill Benzon
Daniel Green
Jonathan Goodwin
Joseph Kugelmass
Lawrence LaRiviere White
Marc Bousquet
Matt Greenfield
Miriam Burstein
Ray Davis
Rohan Maitzen
Sean McCann
Guest Authors

Laura Carroll
Mark Bauerlein
Miriam Jones

Past Valve Book Events

cover of the book Theory's Empire

Event Archive

cover of the book The Literary Wittgenstein

Event Archive

cover of the book Graphs, Maps, Trees

Event Archive

cover of the book How Novels Think

Event Archive

cover of the book The Trouble With Diversity

Event Archive

cover of the book What's Liberal About the Liberal Arts?

Event Archive

cover of the book The Novel of Purpose

Event Archive

The Valve - Closed For Renovation

Happy Trails to You

What’s an Encyclopedia These Days?

Encyclopedia Britannica to Shut Down Print Operations

Intimate Enemies: What’s Opera, Doc?

Alphonso Lingis talks of various things, cameras and photos among them

Feynmann, John von Neumann, and Mental Models

Support Michael Sporn’s Film about Edgar Allen Poe

Philosophy, Ontics or Toothpaste for the Mind

Nazi Rules for Regulating Funk ‘n Freedom

The Early History of Modern Computing: A Brief Chronology

Computing Encounters Being, an Addendum

On the Origin of Objects (towards a philosophy of computation)

Symposium on Graeber’s Debt

The Nightmare of Digital Film Preservation

Richard Petti on Occupy Wall Street: America HAS a Ruling Class

Bill Benzon on Whatwhatwhatwhatwhatwhatwhat?

Nick J. on The Valve - Closed For Renovation

Bill Benzon on Encyclopedia Britannica to Shut Down Print Operations

Norma on Encyclopedia Britannica to Shut Down Print Operations

Bill Benzon on What’s an Object, Metaphysically Speaking?

john balwit on What’s an Object, Metaphysically Speaking?

William Ray on That Shakespeare Thing

Bill Benzon on That Shakespeare Thing

William Ray on That Shakespeare Thing

JoseAngel on That Shakespeare Thing

Bill Benzon on Objects and Graeber's Debt

Bill Benzon on A Dirty Dozen Sneaking up on the Apocalypse

JoseAngel on A Dirty Dozen Sneaking up on the Apocalypse

JoseAngel on Objects and Graeber's Debt

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About Last Night
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About Joseph Kugelmass

Joseph Kugelmass blogs at The Kugelmass Episodes. He is a graduate student at the University of California, Irvine. He joined the Valve in September, 2006.

Email Address: kugelmass@me.com
Website: http://kugelmass.wordpress.com/


Posts by Joseph Kugelmass

Saturday, November 03, 2007

(Radio Interview) These Cats Aren’t Laughing Out Loud

Posted by Joseph Kugelmass on 11/03/07 at 05:18 PM

(x-posted to The Kugelmass Episodes)

(The following are excerpts from a recorded interview between Terri Gross and Lion-O, the young lord of the Thundercats. It was originally aired on National Public Radio and its member affiliates. Lion-O’s essays on culture and feline subjectivity are collected in his first book, The “I” of Thundara.)

Continue reading "(Radio Interview) These Cats Aren’t Laughing Out Loud"

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Academic Blogging Revisited

Posted by Joseph Kugelmass on 11/01/07 at 07:27 PM

(x-posted to The Kugelmass Episodes)

It’s been a little more than a year since I began blogging under my own name, began contributing to The Valve, and generally took my first steps towards noticeably academic blogging. It’s a new school year, and the topic of academic blogging is in the air again. Here at UC Irvine, The School of Humanities convened a panel with Scott Kaufman and five faculty members, which Scott announced here. Simultaneously, at Inside Higher Ed, both Scott and Adam Kotsko have written new articles on academic blogging: “An Enthusiast’s View of Academic Blogging“ and “A Skeptic’s Take on Academic Blogging,” respectively. Scott’s article is very kind, by which I mean full of tall tales and outright lies written in the best Americanist tradition. It has a number of salient points; so does Adam’s piece. N. Pepperell, who blogs at Rough Theory, has just been asked to join a blog syndicator managed and promoted by her university; her wonderful, ambivalent response is here.

I also recommend a couple of earlier artifacts: the panel presentation on academic blogging at UC Davis (podcast), and Bitch Ph.D’s article on academic blogging. When I wrote my own earlier piece on academic blogging, entitled “The Ivory Webpage,” I argued that intellectual blogging was a more important genre than academic blogging, and that the former could (and should) subsume the latter.

I still hold that view, and yet it seems to me that academic blogging—done by students and faculty at institutions of higher learning, noticeably overlapping with scholarly work carried out by other means—has had a great impact on blogging as a whole, and may become more influential still. The fact is that academics in the humanities have a lot in common with bloggers: the list of the 25 most frequently used tags for Wordpress blog posts includes “art,” “culture,” “books,” “writing,” and “poetry.” I might refine my earlier term, “intellectual blogging,” into “humanistic blogging.”

Continue reading "Academic Blogging Revisited"

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The Haunting Wordsworth: Romantic Poets and Monkeys With Typewriters

Posted by Joseph Kugelmass on 10/23/07 at 01:51 AM

(x-posted to The Kugelmass Episodes)

You might go on extending the list of explanations indefinitely, but you would find, we think, that all the explanations fall into two categories. You will either be ascribing these marks to some being capable of intentions (the living sea, the haunting Wordsworth, etc.), or you will count them as nonintentional effects of mechanical processes (erosion, percolation, etc.). But in the second case—where the marks now seem to be accidents—will they still seem to be words? Clearly not. They will merely seem to resemble words.
-Steven Knapp and Walter Benn Michaels, “Against Theory” (JSTOR link)

Suppose you confront a fallen pudding, or a toaster that would toast, but for that frayed power cord. It would be absurd to say, ‘I have no notion whatsoever what this...thing...is for.’ The fact that you call it a fallen pudding registers your awareness of what it was supposed to be for: eating.
-John Holbo, “Form, Function & Intention: Drafty Thoughts” (announcement and link here)

Under the fold: Thinking through the problem of intentionality with John Cage, Douglas Hofstadter, Percy Shelley, and Immanuel Kant, among others.

Continue reading "The Haunting Wordsworth: Romantic Poets and Monkeys With Typewriters"

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Cormac McCarthy: “God Is A Little Boy, And Also Trout”

Posted by Joseph Kugelmass on 10/16/07 at 03:29 AM

(x-posted to The Kugelmass Episodes)

I’ve just finished reading Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, which set everyone’s hair on fire.

As an example of style, it works; the book is criss-crossed by references to ash and the aftermath of fire, and despite the single-mindedness of the landscape, and the microscopic focus on the father and the son, the minimalism is a triumph. Literally, there is less to do in the postapocalyptic world than there was in the world of cowboys, and this is a help to McCarthy, who otherwise tends to spend a long time on the insignificant everydayness of craft. For example, he will describe how a horse is saddled, or how a cowboy will secure a gate.

The Road is a Christian parable; that is its most important quality, and its downfall.

Continue reading "Cormac McCarthy: “God Is A Little Boy, And Also Trout”"

Saturday, October 06, 2007

The University and the Specter of Horowitz

Posted by Joseph Kugelmass on 10/06/07 at 05:37 PM

(x-posted to The Kugelmass Episodes)

They say in Harlan County
There are no neutrals there
You’ll either be a union man
Or a thug for J. H. Blair
-Florence Reese (lyrics), “Which Side Are You On?”

In an ongoing series of posts at Acephalous, Scott Kaufman has been linking to and collating instances of the ongoing war against progressive thought in the academy. First, as some of you probably know, Scott took up the subject of Until Proven Innocent, a book co-written by KC Johnson, who teaches at Brooklyn College and CUNY. Until Proven Innocent attempts to pin the scandal surrounding the Duke lacrosse rape case on the politically correct culture of liberal academia. While Scott was napping, Smurov linked to a piece by Mark Bauerlein, who is an English professor at Emory and who titled his essay “Indoctrination in the Classroom.” Finally, Scott and Smurov both linked to this reaction, via the National Review’s blog Phi Beta Cons, against those professors whose reading assignments make students feel “spoiled or privileged.”

I use the phrase “ongoing war” advisedly: this is a war, albeit one being conducted discursively through periodicals, campus organizations, and websites and blogs. At some point, the leader of the anti-intellectual, anti-academic crusade was David Horowitz, founder of Students for Academic Freedom, a “student” organization created with the express goal of sabotaging university teaching by mounting pressure campaigns against left-wing professors. The most affable representative of mainstream academic opposition to Horowitz was Michael Bérubé; with incredible patience and argumentative cunning, Bérubé defended academia and tore hole after hole in Horowitz’s shoddy research. He debated Horowitz live, and wrote a book (What’s Liberal About The Liberal Arts?) that was the subject of several vibrant conversations at the Valve (book event archive). Although Bérubé was incredibly successful at mimizing Horowitz’s efficacy, the movement against the liberal arts has taken on a life of its own, falling back on the same rhetorical tactics that the American right-wing employed against welfare and in support of the Iraq war.

It is time that we examined where the logic of these attacks on the academy leads, and how the right-wing doublespeak of “academic freedom” is structured.

Continue reading "The University and the Specter of Horowitz"

Friday, September 14, 2007

I’m McLovin It: Sexuality in the Age of Advertising

Posted by Joseph Kugelmass on 09/14/07 at 09:36 PM

(x-posted to The Kugelmass Episodes)

The setting is a mojitos-and-burgers place in the Lower East Side: shaded, pricey, with outdoor seating and fresh guacamole. I’m there with two friends, two other women I’ve just met, and a guy who isn’t quite place-able: he may be on a date with one of the two women. The guy, who we’ll call Roger (courtesy of Roger Dodger), sees our waitress arrive, throws one arm around her waist, and says, “If I wasn’t gay, you’d be so mine.” Roger is not gay.

Continue reading "I’m McLovin It: Sexuality in the Age of Advertising"

Monday, August 27, 2007

Gee, Officer Krupke: Disillusionment with Reflexivity

Posted by Joseph Kugelmass on 08/27/07 at 01:14 AM

(x-posted to The Kugelmass Episodes)

Throughout this summer, there has been a wonderful, sprawling discussion between N. Pepperell and a host of other blogs about NP’s great theme, that of reflexivity (or, as NP calls it, self-reflexivity). A good road map for the discussion is here, at the Rough Theory site. From my point of view, reflexive critiques are not capable of doing what we want them to do; to understand what, exactly, it is we do want, we must turn to Stephen Sondheim and Slavoj Zizek.

The following two quotes go together so well that it’s surprising they haven’t been previously paired. They also get right to the heart of the trouble with reflexive analysis:

Dear kindly Judge, your Honor,
my parents treat me rough.
With all their marijuana,
they won’t give me a puff!
They didn’t want to have me,
But somehow I was had.
Leapin’ lizards! That’s why I’m so bad!
-West Side Story

This “excessive” and “groundless” violence involves its own mode of knowledge, that of impotent cynical reflection - back to our example of Id-Evil, of a skinhead beating up foreigners: when really pressed for the reasons for his violence, and if capable of minimal theoretical reflection, he will suddenly start to talk like social workers, sociologists and social psychologists, quoting diminished social mobility, rising insecurity, the disintegration of paternal authority, the lack of maternal love in his early childhood… in short, he will provide a more or less precise psycho-sociological account of his acts so dear to enlightened liberals eager to “understand” the violent youth as a tragic victim of their social and familial conditions. The standard enlightened formula of the efficiency of the “critique of ideology” from Plato onwards ("they are doing it, because they do not know what they are doing,” i.e. knowledge is in itself liberating, when the erring subject reflects upon what he is doing, he will no longer be doing it) is here turned around: the violent skinhead “knows very well what he is doing, but he is nonetheless doing it.” The symbolically efficient knowledge embedded in the subject’s effective social praxis disintegrates into, on the one hand, excessive “irrational” violence with no ideologico-political foundation and, on the other hand, impotent external reflection that leaves the subject’s acts intact. In the guise of this cynicallly-impotent reflecting skinhead who, with an ironic smile, explains to the perplexed journalist the roots of his senselessly violent behavior, the enlightened tolerant multiculturalist bent on “understanding” forms of excessive violence gets his own message in its inverted, true form.
--Slavoj Zizek, “Some Politically Incorrect Reflections on Violence in France and Related Matters” (link here)

Continue reading "Gee, Officer Krupke: Disillusionment with Reflexivity"

Friday, August 24, 2007

tomemos on Everything Studies and Jonathan Lethem’s The Fortress of Solitude

Posted by Joseph Kugelmass on 08/24/07 at 05:19 PM

For those of you interested in our ongoing discussion about criticism and popular culture, I recommend you check out tomemo’s outstanding new post. It responds to my last one and more significantly to Tim Burke by way of a complex and rewarding examination of Jonathan Lethem’s novel The Fortress of Solitude and John Leonard’s review of the same.

A sample:

The key to this dispute, I think—or more accurately, the key to Leonard’s misreading of Lethem’s book—is his use of the word “ephemera” to describe the kind of pop culture Lethem writes about. My take: of course it is. You would have to be extremely wide-eyed to claim that the song “Play That Funky Music, White Boy” (predictably used to torment Dylan in school) had some sort of lasting, vital effect on the larger world, and the same goes for all but a handful of the comics that Dylan, Mingus and Arthur collect, store in plastic sleeves, and eventually discard. But all of this is no more ephemeral—in fact, it’s a good deal less so—than the detail of what horse won the Gold Cup on June 16, 1904. Ephemera—cultural and otherwise—are the bulk of what make up ordinary life, particularly that of young people, and any modern novelist who tried to omit the ephemeral would be creating … something else.

The only way Leonard’s epithet would carry any sting would be if Lethem lost sight of this ephemerality, like people who talk about their role-playing characters as if they were real people. In fact, he is eminently aware of it. One example: two girls who live near Dylan are always singing lines from whatever song is popular at that part of the novel: a device that measures the passage of time by the brief, beautiful lives of radio hits.

Leonard’s misapprehension—that Lethem’s invocation of pop culture means he is convinced of its lasting importance—also manifests itself in his use of the term “New Dork” (bravo!) to describe Lethem and his contemporaries, the implication being that Lethem simply hasn’t been able to find anything to divert him but comics and thus is being hindered by them. Again, though, Lethem is aware of the difference between those who use popular culture to supplement and enrich their lives and personalities, and those who use popular culture as their personalities—who have, talk about, and think about nothing besides their pop culture interests.

Tomemos includes a brief but elegant discussion of graffiti, written in sympathy with Lethem, with implications for our other current discussion on the aesthetics of graffiti. In general, his calls for closer and more disciplined readings make a valuable contribution. His attack (again via smart readings of Lethem) on “nerd” self-fashioning is something I hope to eventually and successfully challenge.

As Smurov put it recently, what say ye?

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Culture, Interpretation, and the Humanities

Posted by Joseph Kugelmass on 08/22/07 at 11:45 PM

(x-posted to The Kugelmass Episodes)

Timothy Burke, at his blog Easily Distracted, wrote a post some time ago arguing for a Department of Everything Studies. Scott Eric Kaufman at Acephalous responded, and so did Smurov (at the Valve) in turn.

One of the key paragraphs from Burke’s eminently readable post is as follows:

I want to go in the opposite direction: I want to collapse all departments concerned with the interpretation and practice of expressive culture into a single large departmental unit. I’d call it Cultural Studies, but I don’t want it to be Cultural Studies as that term is now understood in the American academy. Call it Department of the Humanities, or of Interpretation, or something more elegant and self-explanatory if you can think of it. I want English, Modern Languages, Dance, Theater, Art History, Music, the hermeneutical portions of philosophy, cultural and media studies, some strands of anthropology, history and sociology, and even a smattering of cognitive science all under one roof. I want what [John Holbo at the Valve] is calling Everything Studies, except that I want its domain limited to expressive culture.

I agree with Burke so much that I disagree with him. That may sound odd, but what I mean is that so far in the blogosphere (which is already a Department of Everything Studies) there has been a regrettable conflation of two distinct viewpoints. One the one hand, the blogosphere has enabled serious discussions about a new academic interdisciplinarity within the humanities, one capable of working with mixed media and synthesizing imaginative (e.g. literary) and analytical (e.g. philosophical) materials. On the other, people working in literary studies have in both surrendered to and indulged in the desire to downsize literary studies in favor of criticism of television shows, blockbuster films, comic books, pop songs, and other media. You can see both strains in what Burke has written.

Continue reading "Culture, Interpretation, and the Humanities"

Sunday, July 29, 2007

The Syllabic Fallacy and the Question of Etiquette

Posted by Joseph Kugelmass on 07/29/07 at 01:40 PM

Given the recent interest, here at the Valve and elsewhere, in the transformative nature of course syllabi themselves (prior to any question about presentation), I thought I would leave a note about how the omnipresence of the syllabus can lead to what I call the “syllabic fallacy” in academic debates.

The syllabic fallacy is the assumption that a given interlocutor must read more of someone, often Jacques Derrida or Slavoj Zizek, in order to understand both the thinker and the issues in play. In other words, the real debate must be deferred until the opponent is sufficiently educated.

The corollaries are as follows:

1. If the interlocutor has read enough, they have done so only superficially: a closer or more serious reading is called for.

2. If the works in question do contain flaws, they can be easily supplemented by another work by the same thinker; if the whole corpus contains a flaw, it can and should be supplemented by another associated text. So, for example, everybody knows that if you want to understand (especially criticize) Judith Butler’s Gender Trouble, you have to read her Bodies That Matter, and if you want to properly appreciate Edmund Husserl, you should be aware of the helpful clarifications and revisions in Martin Heidegger’s work, and so on.

Why is this a fallacy? What does it have to do with the question of etiquette?

Continue reading "The Syllabic Fallacy and the Question of Etiquette"

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Thought Is A Labyrinth: Rousseau, Starobinski, Kenner, Barthes, Freud

Posted by Joseph Kugelmass on 06/20/07 at 11:41 PM

The generative contradiction in Jean Starobinski’s study of Jean-Jacques Rousseau involves the antagonism between transparency and obstruction. It was not merely that Rousseau wanted the one, and found himself impeded by the other. Rather, his desire for transparency created his world dialectically, in terms of obstruction, and he was left with the task of appropriating that fallen condition in order to overcome it. His solution was to use obstruction for his own ends, in order to accomplish the transition from the personal to the universal, from the unity and honesty of his own self to the successful achievement of communication between persons and the beginnings of a new Utopia. This methodology makes him an early prophet of the kind of self-fashioning that would predominate in the Anglo-American and Continental modernisms of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Just as, in my essay on performed selves, I suggested that the theater of death is a means of sustaining life, here the deliberately fragmentary or self-undermining “systems” of modernist literature confronted readers with the problem of authorship; that is, with the author fashioned in the form of a riddle. Hugh Kenner ends his great study, The Pound Era, with the solemn pronouncement that “Thought is a labyrinth” (561). What is true of thought, here is also true of its thinker.

Continue reading "Thought Is A Labyrinth: Rousseau, Starobinski, Kenner, Barthes, Freud"

Friday, June 15, 2007

There Is No Such Thing As Intelligence

Posted by Joseph Kugelmass on 06/15/07 at 08:37 PM

(x-posted to The Kugelmass Episodes)

The abstract personal definition of “intelligence,” reified in our minds thanks to IQ tests and their derivatives, is a source of social ills and should be abandoned. It impedes and confuses pedagogy, underwrites racism and sexism, inhibits culture, and trivializes political debate.

We’ll have to start out by getting a bit technical. The adjectival form, “intelligent” (or “brilliant” or “smart” or etc.), has its uses. Intelligence, as we use the word, refers to the ability to do a good job at complex tasks that require a high degree of abstraction. Thus, a given piece of work can be intelligent if it successfully addresses a complex problem.

To claim that intelligence exists as a phenomenon, but not as an inherent personal quality, is the same as arguing that race or gender exist as social phenomena but not as simple, natural facts. For a long time now, intellectuals have been chipping away at the mythology of race and gender, while leaving the mythical quality of intelligence relatively untouched because they have too much invested in the hierarchies it produces.

Continue reading "There Is No Such Thing As Intelligence"

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Theaters of Comity and Cruelty: The Ethics of Performing Selves

Posted by Joseph Kugelmass on 06/14/07 at 05:02 PM

(x-posted to The Kugelmass Episodes)

In his Introduction to the Reading of Hegel, Alexandre Kojeve gives a succinct and compelling account of the irony of the “fight to the death” which occurs (in G. W. F. Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit) when two subjects risk their lives in a confrontation. For each combatant, this fight is for recognition of the uniqueness of their subjectivity, what Hegel calls their “personality.” Kojeve writes:

Death….continues to lack the significance required for recognition….And if one of the adversaries remains alive but kills the other, he can no longer be recognized by the other….Therefore, the victor’s certainty of his being and of his value remains subjective, and thus has no “truth.” (14)

Thus, for thinkers of subjectivity after Hegel and Kojeve, a critical problem emerges: how to stage the battle to the death without, on the one hand, actually producing death, and, on the other, the battle becoming merely feigned. Theorists who have taken up the metaphors of the stage have done so because the ironies of performance correspond to the irony of the struggle “to the death” for recognition. Through the play of performance, there is symbolic death, and symbolic victory, undertaken consciously with the fundamental goal of synthesizing the initially contrary ethical goals of mutual preservation and subjective recognition. The most important consideration here is that the tragic violence finally be transferred to the drama itself, rather than to any of the participating subjects, and thus drama (and dramaturgic representation) undergoes a constant process of dissolution and reconstitution, death and resurrection.

Continue reading "Theaters of Comity and Cruelty: The Ethics of Performing Selves"

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Getting Lincoln Wrong: Ann Althouse, The New York Times, and the American Student

Posted by Joseph Kugelmass on 05/22/07 at 02:05 AM

(x-posted to The Kugelmass Episodes)

Law professor and conservative blogger Ann Althouse, in a post (and follow-up post) in which she advocates discontinuing the study of fiction in schools, has drawn my attention to a report by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), which claims that American students are increasingly well-informed about American history. You may have read the optimistic New York Times article here.

The claim is based on a 2006 assessment test for students in the 4th, 8th, and 12th grades. The most politically significant results were gains by 4th graders, who entered school only slightly prior to the 2002 passage of George Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act. Althouse concludes, “quit bitching about No Child Left Behind.” What you may not know is that the answer to the showcase question from the 4th grade test—about Abraham Lincoln’s 1858 speech on slavery, and quoted by both Althouse and the Times—is completely wrong.

This is more than a matter of oversight. It is a matter of the fundamental relationship between ideology and practices of reading. Althouse’s real target is the kind of reading that calls ideology into question, including the study of fiction. She missed the flaw in a question designed for fourth graders for the same reason Sam Dillon missed it, at The New York Times: because the mistake was grounded in ideology, and that ideology is a comfort.

(thanks to tomemos for the link; he has responded to Althouse insightfully here)

Continue reading "Getting Lincoln Wrong: Ann Althouse, The New York Times, and the American Student"

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Nietzsche’s Unexpected Feminisms: Iphigenia, Helen, and Penthesilea in Derrida’s Spurs

Posted by Joseph Kugelmass on 05/17/07 at 01:35 AM

(x-posted to The Kugelmass Episodes)

If you’re into this sort of thing, what follows is a close reading of Trojan allusions in Jacques Derrida’s study of Nietzsche, Spurs. There is a pay-off: Derrida discovers, through Nietzsche, the account of sexual violence underlying the philosophical quest for truth, the feminine mystique, and the masculine cult of battle. For Gayatri Spivak’s current seminar on the double bind in Derrida.

Continue reading "Nietzsche’s Unexpected Feminisms: Iphigenia, Helen, and Penthesilea in Derrida’s Spurs"
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