Monday, September 29, 2014
The habitus dies hard!

Maud Gleason, in Making Men: Sophists and Self-Presentation in Ancient Rome, p. 166

The more things change the more they stay the same.


Perhaps the taut suspension required of the ideal man’s physical carriage is emblematic of the constant strain involved in maintaining a truly masculine profile in the face of such exacting standards, where an appropriate level of masculine tension in gaze, walk, and gesture must be cultivated by continuous exertion but must never be allowed to appear put on. The failures, which made the effort behind the act appear too obvious, were stigmatized as the clumsy efforts of overcompensating imposters—perhaps because they threatened to reveal the deportment of masculinity for the construct of conventions that it really was.

Maud Gleason, in Making Men: Sophists and Self-Presentation in Ancient Rome, 80

According to Gleason, masculinity in ancient Rome was constructed by repetition, by being proved over and over again, but masculinity was also in danger of undermining itself through overexertion. Effeminacy could be revealed through either a lack or an excess of masculine performance. Overcompensating, she argues, threatens to expose the whole project as a project.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Rhetoric as gender

Looking at rhetoric as part of the process of male socialization enables us to explore rhetorical praxis and gender identity as parts of an interconnected whole, rather than as entirely separate fields of inquiry.

Maud Gleason, in Making Men: Sophists and Self-Presentation in Ancient Romexxvi

Monday, September 22, 2014

Gender becomes a language for power

The rivalry of these two star performers [Polemo and Favorinus] became a notorious dispute about gender correctness for two reasons: first, in a culture where accusations of gender deviance were a traditional component of invective, Favorinus’ effeminate appearance invited comment; and second, their contest for supremacy, on behalf of themselves and the cities they represented, was a struggle for power, and gender, as we now are well aware, readily becomes a language for signifying relationships of power.

Maud Gleason, in Making Men: Sophists and Self-Presentation in Ancient Rome, p. 27

Saturday, September 20, 2014
Polemo’s privileged access to special sources of power extended beyond his intimacy with Hadrian. He also received advice from Demosthenes in his dreams.

Maud Gleason in Making Men: Sophists and Self-Presentation in Ancient Rome, p. 25.

During the second sophistic, hypermasculine and hypercompetitive Polemo claimed to receive tips from Demosthenes in his dreams.

Why isn’t this a thing we do more now?

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Possessed by dispossession

All of Levinas’s thought gravitates toward this obsessive relation that refracts all actual relations, holding each in relation to that immemorial relation which each cannot but betray. His ethics, in short, is essentially ambiguous.

From Radical Passivity: Levinas, Blanchot, and Agamben by Thomas Carl Wall, p. 32

I’ve found this text pretty difficult to follow. I don’t know if it’s because I’m not that familiar with Blanchot or Agamben, or if it’s because of genuine problems/disagreements I would have with the way Wall is characterizing Levinas’s work. But there are plenty of passages to dig:

The new ethical subject would remain offstage, in the shadows, en deçà du temps, and would suffer affectively all that ego would contract in all its adventures in the world. Ethical subjectivity is infinite vulnerability.

p. 40. I love this alignment of “the shadows” with vulnerability, and the casting of the “ethical subject” as having to bear the burden of ego “in all its adventures.” Patient and long-suffering.

Dispossessed of self, outside oneself, the other person is, if we may say this, possessed by dispossession, or by anonymity. In the grips of pain or passion the other person, no longer him- or herself, is no longer self-possessed and something irreparable happens.

p. 53, and here Wall goes on to compare this (non)experience of depropriation to, I guess, drag realness in the “passing” of “one of the glamorous people from the film Paris is Burning" (53). It’s an analogy I don’t really know what to do with it: it doesn’t match up to my "experience" of dispossession in the grip of pain (which I have a fresh memory of, smashing my thumb against the steel of bicycle frame when my wrench slipped, first drawing a breath then literally howling in pain).

I can’t help but read the mention of Paris is Burning as a weird straight/cis thing to say. As in like it takes a straight/cis imagination to not already go through life already feeling dispossessed, and as if something both irreparable and (crucially) immemorial has taken place, taken your place, and left you outside yourself.

The extreme phallicism that had brought Athens to glory and defeat in less than a century had spent itself, and its most prominent symbol died with it.

Eva Keuls, The Reign of the Phallus, p. 403

Almost left this gem to languish in my tumblr drafts!

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Rhetoric was a calisthenics of manhood.

[I]n accordance with the way gender roles were constituted by their society, manhood was not a state to be definitively and irrefutably achieved, but something always under construction and constantly open to scrutiny, adults needed to keep practicing the arts that made them men. Rhetoric was a calisthenics of manhood. This is easier for us to grasp if we remember that the art of self-presentation through rhetoric entailed much more than mastery of words: physical control of one’s voice, carriage, facial expression, and gesture, control of one’s emotions under conditions of competitive stress—in a word, all the arts of deportment necessary in a face-to-face society where one’s adequacy as a man was always under suspicion and one’s performance was constantly being judged.

Maud Gleason in Making Men: Sophists and Self-Presentation in Ancient Rome, p. xxii

Writing that cannot end

It is writing that cannot end itself and is continually outside itself like a thing among things. An enormity without proportion, it is the very scratching sound we hear, from somewhere, when we write these things.

From Radical Passivity: Levinas, Blanchot, and Agamben by Thomas Carl Wall, p. 28

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

As if one’s power to read had become defective

We would merely want to note that in the image, in the narrative, in the other person—as it were, “in parenthesis” (or in quotation marks) or, if you prefer, under erasure (because the parentheses are invisible and cannot be admitted into the narrative proper, yet introduce into the story an element that is felt without being acknowledged, like an aphonic voice that says “keep me in mind but do not think about me”)—one enters a maze of rumor and innuendo as if one’s power to read, to see, and to tell had become defective, aorist, metamorphosed, and supererogatory.

From Radical Passivity: Levinas, Blanchot, and Agamben by Thomas Carl Wall, p. 12

This is a pretty weird book: which means I’m interested.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014
I believe that undergraduate students can benefit intellectually and personally from reading theory. Theory need not be an end in itself. Rather, a practically oriented critique allows theory and practice to mutually clarify and enliven one another.

In Defense of Theory – by Julia H. Chang - The Chronicle of Higher Education

I think we have a common cause here, but I also think theory can be an end in itself. There is value in reading even difficult writing for its own sake, and in asking students to read together. Difficult writing not only invites teaching about the context that has made it so difficult (i.e. gender performativity, the jargon of philosophy, and how credibility accrues in academic disciplines), but it also invites readers to experience struggle, failure, and reading without the comfort of identification/relatability. For some students (yes, even undergraduates), such an encounter with theory can be life-altering. I wouldn’t reduce the sounding of that call to enhancing whatever we ultimately mean when we distinguish theory from “practice.”

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Yes, I am listening

One knows not where one is going, where each step of each written word will take one, but one writes, one takes the step beyond, in an attitude, one might say, of gratitude, friendship, and ultimate hospitality. That is, writing is basically, originarily even, just a response: a “yes.” A “yes, I am listening.” A double yes, indeed. “Yes, yes.” It is a welcoming gesture, even if nothing is said. 

From what I’m reading: Michelle Ballif’s “Writing the Event: The Impossible Possibility for Historiography” in RSQ's special issue on Untimely Historiographies, 254.

Union of Theoretical Grammarians in Cambridge. B.S. Meniscus Films, Ltd. Documentary cast; 35 mm.; 26 minutes; color; silent w/ heavy use of computerized distortion in facial close-ups. Documentary and closed-caption interviews with participants in the public Steven Pinker—Avril Incandenza debate on the political implications of prescriptive grammar during the infamous Militant Grammarians of Massachusetts convention credited with helping incite the M.I.T. language riots of B.S. 1997. UNRELEASED DUE TO LITIGATION

Chipotle put a Steven Pinker quote on my lunch bag. Never forget that even Steven Pinker is Infinite Jest.

Monday, September 8, 2014
It is one thing to speak of Nietzsche’s famous paradoxes, which have been baked into the cake of our postmodern intellectual life, and it is quite another to think of how history and historians proceed.

From “Is History Ever Timely?” by Hans Kellner in RSQ's special issue on “Untimely Historiographies.”

baked into the cake of our postmodern intellectual life

In digital spaces, trigger warnings exist in order to facilitate deep discussions about conflict, allowing writers to write very openly about experiences of mental illness, violence, rape, and other topics for both broad and narrow audiences. They are a fairly simple form of metadata that Melanie Yergeau has compared to tagging; perhaps that is why TWs are so common on blogging platforms. They don’t work to allow or encourage readers to avoid specific content–only to know ahead of time what they will be reading. Yergeau has also pointed out that as academics we “tag” our work in lots of ways for both students and colleagues, both in the classroom and out. Trigger warnings ask us to imagine what might be triggering and tag that work accordingly, and not in order for those works to be avoided.

Responding to “On Trigger Warnings and the Halberstam Affair: a Panel Discussion” | Neil F. Simpkins

Trigger warnings as metadata. Love this.