“… but it is us.”

screen-shot-2016-09-11-at-9-15-25-am

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.

“Smile for the Camera”

factoryworkersI was browsing through the late Raymond Williams’s Marxism and Literature (1977) the other day and came across a passage in the chapter entitled “Signs and Notations” that read as follows:

For the ‘sign’ is ‘arbitrary’ only from the position of conscious or unconscious alienation. Its apparent arbitrariness is a form of social distance, itself a form of relationship…. The formal quality of words as ‘signs,’ which was correctly perceived, was rendered as ‘arbitrary’ by a privileged withdrawal from the lived and living relationships which, within any native language … make all formal meanings significant and substantial, in a world of reciprocal reference which moves, as it must, beyond the signs.

There’s a few important points here, I think, worth mulling over — perhaps with regard to the garment workers in the above photo. Continue reading ““Smile for the Camera””

Border Wars: The Fight for Nothing at All

Border Wars

I often muse about what it would be like to have relocated to a city without a strong and divisive college rivalry. Don’t get me wrong – I like living in Kansas City (quite a lot, actually). But when I moved here, I was unaware of how significantly one’s alma mater could be translated into a marker of one’s social worth. For those unaware, Kansas City is an urban hub in the Midwest that, despite the name, straddles two states: Kansas and Missouri. While there are a number of colleges and universities within the city itself, Kansas City is populated by very large numbers of people who been schooled at either the University of Missouri, Columbia (“Mizzou” or “MU”), or the University of Kansas (better known as “KU”) in the nearby town of Lawrence. Continue reading “Border Wars: The Fight for Nothing at All”

Korean on the Outside Only

Korean Flag

Photo Credit: flags.net

I was at a dinner party the other night with a longtime friend. Although his parents are first generation immigrants from South Korea, he and his siblings were never taught to speak Korean, as their parents thought it important that they assimilate to American culture as much as possible. As our conversation evolved to talk about the stereotypical markers of Korean culture with which he has little personal affiliation, his wife laughingly remarked that he’s “Korean on the outside only.” His cunning retort was quick: “So couldn’t I say the same thing about you – that you’re German on the outside only, too?” Continue reading “Korean on the Outside Only”

Lost in the Übersetzung

authenticchineseAuthentic Chinese food just doesn’t seem so authentic
when it’s
written in languages other than English, right?

(Thanks to Steffen Führding for the pic)

Oh, the Humanity…

edgedailyshowAs I tried to suggest in a post last week, concern over dehumanizing the people we study has long struck me as a pseudo-problem, i.e., a problem of scholars’ own making, inasmuch as I think that we worry about this only for those with whom we already agree, with whom we already share some affinity. In a word, the fact of the concern is an example of our own identification practice/interests up and running. For all others, we, as scholars, are likely in tacit agreement that we are not trying to convey or conserve their self-perceived meanings or some ethereal quality that they apparently share with us but, instead, trying to figure out how in the world they could even think or act in the way that they do (i.e., in such cases the people we study are a puzzle to be solved and not a pristine human value to be protected from the prying eyes of outsiders), given that their actions or beliefs are so patently odd or curious or wrong or unethical or illegal or immoral.

To us, that is…. Continue reading “Oh, the Humanity…”

“The Same…, But Different”

aristotleIn 2008 I took a small group of undergraduate students from our Department at the University of Alabama to Thessaloniki, Greece (that’s us above, with a famous philosopher, who has a shiny toe, likely from tourists rubbing it), where I had been for a conference a couple years before, and at which I first met my Culture on the Edge colleague, Vaia Touna. I’ve returned several times since that first trip, sometimes with other students and sometimes to help further my own school’s initiative to establish a long term relationship with Aristotle University — a school whose namesake was from a village about an hour’s drive east of the city. Continue reading ““The Same…, But Different””