The Politics of Footnotes

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One of the earliest literacy skills we learn after formal reading is reading for context. It’s something we all do — it simply means that when we come across a word or phrase with which we’re unfamiliar, we pick up context clues from the text that help us work out what the unknown part likely means.

Recently, I was considering the interesting ways in which the presentation of such contexts operate while I was working through various parts of the Norton Anthology of Short Fiction for a class I’m teaching. If you’ve seen it, you know that the Norton features many footnotes, presumably designed to accomplish its stated aim, which is to “help college level teaching of the short story.” We are often taught that the purpose of a footnote is to share additional important information or thoughts in a separate space in the text so that it doesn’t otherwise thwart the presentation of the main text’s primary point or readability. In the case of the Norton, most of the footnotes are devoted to defining phrases or terms, presumably to make the process of reading flow more smoothly. The editors of the Norton don’t offer a discussion about the logic behind what terms they selected for footnoting in the volume,  but common sense might indicate that the editors believe that the footnoted terms are less contextually legible for a college-level population today. Continue reading

On Insiders and Outsiders

insideroutsiderSeen Ron Howard’s new Hulu documentary on the Beatles?

Watch the interview here.

Critical Thinking Applications #47

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There’s a new commercial playing in these parts, in which a toothpaste company tangentially links their product to enhanced school performance.

Take a look. Continue reading

Mystifying and Making Farmers

In “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses” — an essay excerpted from a longer work only recently available in English, On the Reproduction of Capitalism — Althusser offers a definition of ideology: “Ideology represents the imaginary relationship of individuals to their real conditions of existence.” On this definition — and contrary to classic Marxist approaches — ideology is not an imaginary (i.e., false) depiction of our real conditions of existence. Rather, ideology is the set of processes by which we imagine ourselves into our real conditions of existence.

Consider, for instance, the depiction of farms in children’s toys in the images below.

Image result for farm puzzle Continue reading

It’s a Miracle

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Mother Teresa has been in the news again — she’s a saint now. And amid reporting on the process used by the Roman Catholic Church to determine whether that status was warranted, I heard a story that identified the doctor used to help determine if any of the things attributed to her counted as miracles. Continue reading

Miss Japan and the Structures We Inhabit

dig13623-230The recent selection of Miss World Japan has created a stir. The BBC headline “Miss Japan Won By Half-Indian Priyanka Yoshikawa” forefronted only the aspect of her heritage that some found problematic because they do not see Yoshikawa as “pure” Japanese. Last year’s crowning of Ariana Miyamoto as Miss Japan (in the Miss Universe franchise) faced similar responses, as Miyamoto’s parents are Japanese and African-American. While it is easy to see these controversies as signs of the insularity and even xenophobia of some Japanese (which ironically reinforces particular stereotypes of Japan as foreign), that designation is unfair in two ways. First, these two Japanese women and their supporters have challenged such attitudes in Japan, thus refuting the generalizability of the stereotype. Second, such preferences for ethnic purity among some in Japan are not as different from common attitudes in the United States. Continue reading

“… but it is us.”

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Today is the 15th anniversary of the September 11 attacks here in the US — in which tens of thousands of people lost someone directly near and intimately dear to them. Those interested in identity studies might see in such annual commemorations something to consider more closely, especially if interested how a sense of absence/Other is crucial for the development of a sense of presence/Self.

That’s why this interview, from earlier today, caught my ear — listen to it via the embed below — especially Howard Lutnick‘s closing, seemingly contradictory, but revealing words:

it’s a part of us, but it doesn’t define us…, but it is us.

Standing in Line at Chipotle (or, the Hefty Politics of Naming)

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Several years ago, at Chipotle, I realized that one of the workers behind the counter was a student of mine, one to whom I’d spoken the week before about his poor performance and a particularly compulsive (and, for me, wildly distracting) propensity to text during class. As we were suspended in an awkward moment where he was asking me what kind of salsa I wanted, another question came out of his mouth as well: Did he still have to call me “Dr. Smith” when he was at work?

My answer, as I remember it, was stumbling and incoherent, comprised of “uh” and the general surprise of not knowing what to say. On the one hand I didn’t really care what he called me, for plenty of my students call me by my first name. On the other hand, though, Dr. Smith was not mentally in the building, so to speak; I was not expecting anyone to call me by my professional title, so I was caught off guard when it came up in a weekend conversation about tacos and corn salsa.   But before I could think much more about the significance of what he had asked and how I had responded, the chatter devolved into guacamole and credit cards, and the exchange was over just as fast as it happened. Continue reading

Mythical Liberations

When talking with students about how certain social demands or restrictive classification schemes are experienced as oppressive, I often find that their proposed solution is to remove as many social constraints as possible. Of course, this makes sense according to the liberal theory of subjectivity: social demands are seen as nothing more than constraining, and consequently subjects are most free when they are liberated from the most number of social demands. Unfortunately this view completely misses the positive or constructive role of social constraints.

Recently, my go-to example to challenge this liberal theory of subjectivity is feral children. Arguably, the individuals least constrained by human social norms are those feral children whose earliest childhood is experienced without human contact, such as the two Indian children — Kamala and Amala — who were famously raised by wolves as infants but later found and adopted by Christian missionaries in the early 20th century. Continue reading

Extraordinarily Effective Ways

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I was listening to weekend radio, the other morning, sipping coffee and before walking my dog, and heard the following story on how ISIS is increasingly using children in its war — such as child suicide bombers. Continue reading