On Experiences and Institutions

A demonstrator raises his hands in front of police in riot gear during protests in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, U.S., July 10, 2016. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

“From the outset, people’s experiences of desire and rage, memory and power, community and revolt are inflected and mediated by the institutions through which they find their meaning—and which they, in turn, transform.”

—Anne McClintock, Imperial Leather: Race, Gender, and Sexuality in the Colonial Contest

Can’t Fight This Feeling Anymore

On Sunday’s episode of Last Week Tonight, John Oliver delivered a really entertaining bit on the duel between–or conflation of–facts and feelings that played out during the Republican National Convention:

https://youtu.be/U-l3IV_XN3c?t=3m12s

We talk a lot on this blog about the vested interests present in any interpretation or identification. Appeals to facts and empiricism all too often present them as implicitly neutral or self-evident. Vaia Touna calls our attention to the sticky wicket of interpretive acts in this post, for example, on the hermeneutical quicksand that attends reading maps and recording history. Continue reading “Can’t Fight This Feeling Anymore”

On Science


“From this point of view, science…is rhetoric, a series of efforts to donna harawaypersuade relevant social actors that one’s manufactured knowledge is a route to a desired form of very objective power.”

Donna Haraway, “Situated Knowledges: The Science Question in Feminism and the Privilege of Partial Perspective” in Feminist Theory Reader: Local and Global Perspectives (2013)

 

ICYMI: Emojis and Dubious Authorship FTW

emoji bible

Maybe you saw the news that there’s a new version of the Bible out? It’s one catered specifically to millennials, the news outlets say, and it makes heavy use of… yep, emojis.

Fun fact before I go on: my computer is drawing red squiggly lines beneath both “millennials” (at least in its plural/collective form) and “emojis.” Not “squiggly” though—who knew…

At any rate, this new Emoji Bible for the social media savvy millennial is making some waves. Some find it a great way to make the Bible accessible to a new generation of readers/users. Others find it disrespectful at best. Continue reading “ICYMI: Emojis and Dubious Authorship FTW”

Catching Archive Fever

archive fever

I’m headed to California tomorrow for a few weeks and, while there, will be doing a little archival work. As a theorist, my relationship to archives has always been something of an ambivalent one. On one hand, I am a trivia geek and a total sucker for troves of old things. I like thumbing through letters and thinking about changes in penmanship and syntax over the years. I really dig the time capsule aspect of the process that creates enough distance for everything to appear strange and special to me. On the other hand, I am wary of the temptation to identify a clear or linear narrative about (and, in so doing, romanticize) the past. The archival project that I often assign to students in my Religion in the American South seminar, for example, asks them to focus on the rhetoric and contextual politics of the archival sources they examine in UA’s special collections library. In that sense, my students are looking reading historical texts from a perspective akin to what Hayden White outlines in his now-classic Metahistory: The Historical Imagination in Nineteenth-Century Europe (1973), keeping in mind the manifold narrative devices present in the presentation of an artifact. Continue reading “Catching Archive Fever”

On Criticism and Commencement

As tends to happen near the end of every Spring semester, I find myself returning to my favorite commencement speech, offered to Kenyon College’s 2005 graduating class by the late great David Foster Wallace. I refer it to students for whom thoughts of graduation and of what their next professional or academic move(s) will be loom large. I even play it for my classes sometimes.

It’s still useful outside the context of graduation, though, so I thought I’d share it here at Culture on the Edge. Wallace talks about how we make meaning in quotidian contexts and about the utility of some critical self-awareness in the process. Thinking through what we assume to be obvious and what we so often take for granted, he suggests, makes up the hard work of cognitive creativity — the work for which a liberal arts education provides some useful tools.

So let’s talk about the single most pervasive cliché in the commencement speech genre, which is that a liberal arts education is not so much about filling you up with knowledge as it is about ‘teaching you how to think’. If you’re like me as a student, you’ve never liked hearing this, and you tend to feel a bit insulted by the claim that you needed anybody to teach you how to think, since the fact that you even got admitted to a college this good seems like proof that you already know how to think. But I’m going to posit to you that the liberal arts cliché turns out not to be insulting at all, because the really significant education in thinking that we’re supposed to get in a place like this isn’t really about the capacity to think, but rather about the choice of what to think about. If your total freedom of choice regarding what to think about seems too obvious to waste time discussing, I’d ask you to think about fish and water, and to bracket for just a few minutes your skepticism about the value of the totally obvious.

Give it a listen. Among other things, it will help you take a second look at this afternoon’s grocery run.

“You Will Get Nervous When You Learn…”

I recently watched Ethan Hawke’s foray into documentary filmmaking, Seymour: An Introduction, about the great pianist Seymour Bernstein. While it’s characteristically Ethan Hawke-y in a way that made me think Julie Delphy would show up at any minute to play sounding board to Hawke’s musings, and while there’s a bit with a career-mystic that I could do without, I was charmed by Bernstein’s soft-spoken enthusiasm. There are also a few terrific stories along the way. Like this one:

This idea of getting more nervous as one grows in sophistication and talent got me thinking about the respective confidence or jitters with which we approach our profession as scholars. Continue reading ““You Will Get Nervous When You Learn…””

Liberty, Equality, Fraternity, Ideology

In the midst of the current presidential race here in the U.S., with all the rhetoric about who’s out and who’s in (whether the framework in question regards presidential contenders or who has access to the citizenship that would allow a person to vote for them), I thought it might be time to share one of my favorite clips from A Pervert’s Guide to Ideology, one that I use in my classes quite a bit, in which Slavoj Žižek discusses the seeming universality of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony and, in particular, the “Ode to Joy”. “Unity” is always manufactured by exercising certain exclusions. A good thing to keep in mind during this presidential cycle as more candidates start dropping out and more political ads keep rolling in.