Sunday, December 17, 2006

It's the end of the quarter. Do I feel fine?

Whew. It's over. The Fall Quarter is finally over and, now that Fosco has slept for a week, it's time for the recap. Ergo, we have Fosco's post-quarter wrap-up...

1. Fosco was warned that the quarter system is noticeably different from the semester system and it's true. The problem is that 12-14 weeks of work are condensed into 10 weeks of class. This isn't a major issue with lecture; however, it is extremely problematic for writing a paper--it turns out those missing weeks are necessary.

2. I spent most of the quarter writing what turned out to be a thirty page paper on the Slovenian theorist Slavoj Žižek and his Hegelian-Lacanian rehabilitation of the Cartesian Cogito.

I spent most of the quarter reading almost all of his oeuvre, vacillating between repulsion and ambivalence. I think I ended up somewhere near ambivalence.

Following Ted's admirable example, I will excerpt a couple of paragraphs from my paper here. These paragraphs occur near the end of my argument as I transition to my conclusion:

Žižek’s third objection to Heidegger contrasts with the first two in that it lacks sustained development in his work: in fact, it appears only in an endnote. However, I want to claim that this criticism of Heidegger is the most telling in that it exemplifies most clearly Žižek’s project and reveals him at his most strangely hermeneutic. In an (endnote) discussion of the differences between Heidegger’s early and late phases, Žižek notes that both phases share a similar style: “they are both ‘deadly serious’ […]. What is missing in both cases is joyful irony, the very fundamental feature of Nietzsche’s style” (Ticklish 67 n.16, emphasis in original). As Žižek never elaborates on this apparently meaningful feature of Heidegger’s style, I do not want to develop an argument here to justify this criticism (although it is certainly easy enough to imagine one). On the contrary, I prefer to read this criticism as a symptom of a preoccupation of Žižek’s own project. While this endnote functions as a denigration of Heidegger’s style, it also serves as a celebration of a philosophical style of “joyful irony” and “playfulness” (as one possible opposition to the “deadly serious”)—a style that Žižek ascribes (rightly) to Nietzsche. However, at the same time, there is another practitioner of joyful irony present in this endnote: Žižek himself. After all, it is Žižek who conducts interviews with himself (Metastases 167-217), discusses cultural differences in toilet design (Plague 4-5), who begins his most philosophically-accomplished work with a discussion of film noir (Tarrying 9-12), and who, even at the height of pure philosophical seriousness, interrupts his explication to recount a dirty joke (too many examples to cite). It is Žižek who titles chapter divisions things like “It’s the Political Economy, Stupid!” or “Toward the Theory of the Stalinist Musical.” And it is Žižek who (unfortunately) in the first paragraph of the introduction to Enjoy Your Symptom! exclaims (in an homage to Thomas de Quincey) “How many people have entered the way of perdition with some innocent gangbang, which at the time was of no great importance to them, and ended by sharing the main dishes in a Chinese restaurant!” (ix). How many, indeed.

Why is Žižek trying so hard? At the beginning of this essay, I quoted Denise Gigante’s characterization of Žižek: “rather than importing interdisciplinary texts and events to his own theoretical perspective, he functions as a ‘vanishing mediator,’ mediating between various theoretical points of view” (153). While I agree with Gigante that Žižek does function as a mediator between theoretical points of view (while refusing to provide an identifiable “Žižekian” theoretical conclusion), I would insist that there is nothing “vanishing” about Žižek’s performance of mediation. Rather, Žižek’s style is calculated to prevent his vanishing—when you are reading Žižek, it is impossible to forget that you are reading Žižek. Žižek’s pose here is interesting in that it seems to gesture toward what Foucault identifies as one of the fundamental characteristics of hermeneutics: “one does not interpret what is in the signified, but one interprets after all: who posed the interpretation. The basis of interpretation is nothing but the interpreter, and this is perhaps the meaning that Nietzsche gave to the word ‘psychology’” (278). In a very real sense, Žižek is offering this possibility to us, his readers. By mediating, yet refusing to vanish, is the ultimate activity in interpreting Žižek actually literally interpreting Žižek?

Yeah, I know: it's hard to believe this is what I get "paid" to do.

3. I think my first experience as a TA for an English class was successful. My students were pretty amazing, actually. I was particularly thrilled by the student who approached me after our final section and said "Thank you for not being an asshole." I'm thinking about making this the primary tenet of my pedagogy: don't be an asshole. It's not bad advice, actually.

Of course, it has been five days since I turned in final grades and I've already gotten one student complaint... Does that make me an asshole?

4. Next quarter, most of the faculty in the Literature department will be located in the new Humanities building. As far as I can tell, this is the UC's devious plan to ghettoize the humanities. After all, the new building has no ceilings (it was over budget by that point...) and no sound-proofing in the walls (true!). Even more interesting, the story making the rounds has it that History of Consciousness Professor Angela Davis has likened the new building's concrete interior to that of a prison. And she should know. For some reason, I don't think the sciences have to deal with facilities like this.

Watch this space for some non-academic updates in the next few days...


ted said...

Oddly, we do get paid to do this stuff. Of course, we get paid less than the scissor monsters at SuperCuts. But we get to use umlauts!

FOSCO said...

Yeah, I'm not complaining too much. After all, it keeps me away from the business world. And I've never been very good with scissors (unless they have the rounded points). It's just that from a social-organization point of view it seems strange to pay people anything to do most of what I do.