Category Archives: Society

Another cool (stylishly, meteorologically) July 4th in Western New York

Another year in Western NY, and another 4th of July has come and gone. Despite some hot weather, into the 90ºs, in the days preceding the 4th, Independence Day managed to be quite cool and sunny all day, even rather chilly that night — into the low 60ºs. We attended what’s become our usual venue for viewing fireworks, where this sloping hill overlooking some baseball diamonds…

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…spectacularly serves up this luminous sight after darkness sets in and “You’re a Grand Old Flag” commences:

IMG_8880The colorful explosions in the sky go on for a while, maybe 30mins. Here’s a 2min30sec video from the display last Friday night. We’ll have more fireworks at the end of the summer, shot over the Erie Canal, a picturesque setting if there ever was one. Perhaps I’ll cover that blast, too. So there you have it, a solid reason to stay tuned to EMP for more, er, bombast!

Street Art & Commentaire Social

La artiste Invader a de nombreux des pièces de «street art» à travers la ville de Paris. La plupart d’entre eux sont des images éponymes: c’est, ses œuvres sont images qui reflètent l’origine de son nom, qui lui-même est basé sur le jeu vidéo de 1978, «Space Invaders». Donc, vous voyez les petites créatures extraterrestres de ce jeu collées dans tout Paris, ainsi que d’autres villes, comme celui-ci au-dessus du pub à quelques portes de là où nous vivons.

InvaderContrairement à beaucoup de street art de nos jours, qui sont préfabriqués «paste-ups» qui ne durent que si long selon la météo et le vandalisme, les œuvres d’Invader sont des mosaïques. Ils sont faits de tuiles. Donc ils résistent aux éléments bien. Et ils sont souvent placés à des hauteurs bien au-delà de la portée des fêtards ivres typiques. Donc, à Paris au moins, on peut trouver un nombre de pièces d’Invader, qui semblent être relativement ancienne (par exemple, la collecte de la poussière, de la suie et la saleté de l’échappement des véhicules de la ville). J’ai vu ce que je présume sont les œuvres de Invader dans d’autres villes aussi, y compris New York, Londres, Amsterdam, Bonn, San Diego, et Manchester (je suppose que certaines de ces pourraient être copie-cat interprétations du style de Invader). Néanmoins, Invader est très prolifique.

À travers l’allée de la porte d’entrée de notre bâtiment à Paris, cette image est apparue il ya environ quatre semaines.

IMG_3573C’est une mosaïque de tuiles, avec le genre de couleurs qui évoquent immédiatement le travail de Invader. Mais il est très bas à la terre – en fait, Ronald McDonald est dépeint comme debout sur le trottoir entre les piétons. La pièce est aussi ouvertement politique, que beaucoup (sinon la plupart) de ses œuvres sont pas (ils pourraient être d’ordre politique, par exemple, par rapport à l’endroit où ils sont placés, mais comme «critique sociale» la plupart de ses oeuvres me semblent plus ludique que politique — quelqu’un de plus compétent que moi peut me corriger sur ce point). Il ya eu beaucoup de presse dans les quotidiens de Paris ces derniers temps sur l’évolution de la consommation alimentaire des Français, et comment fast food a des effets négatifs sur les jeunes hommes et femmes françaises, à la fois physiquement et culturellement.

Notre quartier se trouve également être un cœur de vie nocturne parisienne pour 18-35 ans, et du jeudi au samedi, il ya consommation d’alcool beaucoup ici, par conséquent, les matins des vendredi, samedi et dimanche, il ya de nombreux «pièges vomissent» (vomit traps) nous, les résidents de cette quartier, doivent esquiver.

L’image montre clairement le sentiment de l’artiste apropos la qualité de la nourriture McDonalds et ses effets sur les personnes qui la consomment (qui mieux que Ronnie McDo pour illustrer que nous sommes ce que nous mangeons, après tout!). J’aime à penser que la pièce fustige aussi les buveurs dans ce quartier comme des amateurs, qui sont dans un égarement évident concernant le pouvoir et les seuils de leur consommation d’alcool.

P.S. Pardon my French.

NEWSFLASH: “Professor Deeply Hurt by Student’s Evaluation”

As another academic year winds down across the US at colleges and universities, this classic piece from The Onion merits a full reprint (rather than, say, just a tweet). There’s so much material in this and countless other satires in the The Onion that rings incredibly true to real life. This one especially has a lot to unpack. The position titles, book and award names alone are hilarious and priceless for pointing out the often hollow tendency in academia to name drop and for academics to garner prestige based on associations and networking. Reading this I wonder if Professor Rotherberg’s self-assessment isn’t spot on: “Chad’s right. I am totally boring.” Funny stuff.

Professor Deeply Hurt by Student’s Evaluation

Leon Rothberg, Ph.D., a 58-year-old professor of English Literature at Ohio State University, was shocked and saddened Monday after receiving a sub-par mid-semester evaluation from freshman student Chad Berner. The circles labeled 4 and 5 on the Scan-Tron form were predominantly filled in, placing Rothberg’s teaching skill in the “below average” to “poor” range.

Leon Rothberg

Rothberg, though hurt by evaluations that pointed out the little globule of spit that sometimes forms between his lips, was most upset at being called “totally lame” in one freshman’s write-in comments.

Although the evaluation has deeply hurt Rothberg’s feelings, Berner defended his judgment at a press conference yesterday.

“That class is totally boring,” said Berner, one of 342 students in Rothberg’s introductory English 161 class. “When I go, I have to read the school paper to keep from falling asleep. One of my brothers does a comic strip called ‘The Booze Brothers.’ It’s awesome.”

The poor rating has left Rothberg, a Rhodes Scholar, distraught and doubting his ability to teach effectively at the university level.

“Maybe I’m just no good at this job,” said Rothberg, recipient of the 1993 Jean-Foucault Lacan award from the University of Chicago for his paper on public/private feminist deconstructive discourse in the early narratives of Catherine of Siena. “Chad’s right. I am totally boring.”

In the wake of the evaluation, Rothberg is considering canceling his fall sabbatical to the University of Geneva, where he is slated to serve as a Henri Bynum-Derridas Visiting Scholar. Instead, Rothberg may take a rudimentary public speaking course as well as offer his services to students like Berner, should they desire personal tutoring.

“The needs of my first-year students come well before any prestigious personal awards offered to me by international academic assemblies,” Rothberg said. “After all, I have dedicated my life to the pursuit of knowledge, and to imparting it to those who are coming after me. I know that’s why these students are here, so I owe it to them.”

Though Rothberg, noted author of The Violent Body: Marxist Roots of Postmodern Homoerotic Mysticism and the Feminine Form in St. Augustine’s Confessions, has attempted to contact Berner numerous times by telephone, Berner has not returned his calls, leading Rothberg to believe that Berner is serious in his condemnation of the professor.

“I’m always stoned when he calls, so I let the answering machine pick it up,” said Berner, who maintains a steady 2.3 GPA. “My roommate just got this new bong that totally kicks ass. We call it Sky Lab.”

Those close to Rothberg agree that the negative evaluation is difficult to overcome.

“Richard is trying to keep a stiff upper lip around his colleagues, but I know he’s taking it very hard,” said Susan Feinstein-Rothberg, a fellow English professor and Rothberg’s wife of 29 years. “He knows that students like Chad deserve better.”

When told of Rothberg’s thoughts of quitting, Berner became angry.

“He’d better finish up the class,” Berner said. “I need those three humanities credits to be eligible to apply to the business school next year.”

The English Department administration at Ohio State is taking a hard look at Rothberg’s performance in the wake of Berner’s poor evaluation.

“Students and the enormous revenue they bring in to our institution are a more valued commodity to us than faculty,” Dean James Hewitt said. “Although Rothberg is a distinguished, tenured professor with countless academic credentials and knowledge of 21 modern and ancient languages, there is absolutely no excuse for his boring Chad with his lectures. Chad must be entertained at all costs.”

Eye on Connaught Circus

I’ve been here many times. No idea how many. And yet, just as in previous visits, my first day back in Connaught Place is marked by a couple hours of hurried, aimless walking around and around CP’s circular blocks. This visit things look pretty much the same as always. Most of the retail shops and restaurants are the same as they were ten years ago. There appears to be as much pedestrian, rickshaw, and car traffic as I remember a decade ago (despite a relatively new and efficient underground metro shuttling countless people throughout the city each day). The familiar sounds are all still here: endless car and autorickshaw horns, squealing brakes, bicycle bells, hawkers’ chatter, scraping of iron spades mixing wet concrete, the occasional growling mutt, among others. Curiously, I’m seeing more cats around the area than I recall seeing in the past. To give you an idea of what I’m talking about, here’s a three-minute clip of what’s been a mesmerizing scene outside my hotel window on the outer ring, Connaught Circus, the past three days.

Walking in the City

In 1980 Michel de Certeau published L’invention du quotidien. Vol. 1, Arts de faire (English translation by Steven Rendall, 1984, The Practice of Everyday Life, Berkeley: Univ. California Press)

For many students who encounter Certeau, it’s this text of his that they read, and within it, the essay “Marches dans la ville,” or “Walking in the City,” is no doubt the most widely assigned section of the book. The Practice of Everyday Life, and especially this essay, struck me mightily when I first read it. For me, Certeau’s work is helpful to make sense of the ways in which people are exposed to, consume, and reproduce “narratives” and “texts” in their everyday activities and speech acts. His ideas are rich and provocative, and deeply interdisciplinary, if also a bit dense and at times abstruse. But he’s remained with me over the years. And I’ve been walking lots and lots lately. So I thought I’d revisit him this morning!

For Certeau the essays in The Practice of Everyday Life form an extended exercise in understanding human “ways of operating,” stylistically and functionally. That is, this book tackles the thorny issue of being, by asking what enables people to exist in the world, and social formation and conditioning, by asking how social experience (re)produces various forms of communication. In sketching out nuanced social theories that draw upon psychoanalysis, sociology, and phenomenology, Certeau writes about what he famously called the day-to-day “strategies” and “tactics” of people in the negotiation of power relationships inherent to human environments. For most people tactics are dependent upon the space they inhabit; tactics of all sorts represent individual opportunities to manipulate cultural associations within given places in an effort to loosen the totalizing order of the dominant society.

The most vital and defining characteristic of an everyday practice, such as walking, is its tactical mobility. As societies are evermore inculcated by totalizing socioeconomic orders, the ways in which people resist disciplines and “governmentalities” are the foci of Certeau’s essay “Walking in the City.” It’s interesting to note that the people about whom he writes, and indeed those to whom he dedicated the book, were ordinary folk: the common and omnipresent characters, the walkers, who blaze an incalculable grid of paths through city streets.

Why does Certeau study these people (to varying degrees each one of us is included) in this essay? By writing about walking as a tactical modality, Certeau attempts to identify creativity and intelligence among the oft-presumed powerless people in the historically lopsided social relationships between governments and their subjects, between big business and consumers. To walk in the city is to carve out, if only momentarily, one’s own “space” in the “place” otherwise designated by civic architects and institutions.

A walker can alter the architectural intention of a street, which, for instance, might be to lead a person past certain things rather than others:

“On the one hand he actualizes only a few of the possibilities fixed by the constructed order (he goes here and not there), on the other he increases the number of possibilities (for example, by creating shortcuts and detours) and prohibitions (for example, he forbids himself to take paths generally considered accessible or even obligatory). He thus makes a selection” (98).

The selections the ordinary person, the walker, makes thus tactically subvert the panoptic, totalizing authority that for the most part determine what happens in the lives of ordinary people.

Certeau is calling us to arms, however, to recognize the manipulation of our everyday lives and to revolt. His is a more subtle appeal, perhaps best illustrated by what he calls la perruque (“the wig”) – the act of a worker who steals company time – i.e., fleeting moments – and turns them into “circumstances” for his/her own entertainment and/or benefit. An example he gives is when a man or a woman writes a love letter while technically, and outwardly appearing to be, on the job. Only the employer’s time is stolen, but in the end corporate profit is undercut. For the employee, stealing this time while at work is a sort of “micro-resistance” within a normally overpowering and unequal relationship. Moreover, an opportunity has thus been created which brings into being a sort of “micro-freedom” for the ordinary person. This isolated freedom (it’s actually an ongoing process of seizing “opportunities,” whether through walking, reading, etc.) exemplifies the type of fracture that can be created in the panoptical superstructures within which we live.

“Walking in the City,” then, offers a glimmer of hope for humanity amid an often-overwhelming and dominating system of operations. Certeau’s report is indeed even playful and communicates a localized vision of ambition and invention. It is his “phatic” attempt to infuse into our (university students and scholars, especially) quotidian thinking that, as he says elsewhere in The Practice of Everyday Life, “it is always good to remind ourselves that we mustn’t take people for fools” (176). This reminder seems especially pertinent nowadays when political campaigning and punditry bent on spinning information in obviously erroneous ways seem to occupy enormous amounts of the airwaves and internet.

In the end, it’s through our walking in the city, or traveling generally and wherever and to whatever extent, thereby negotiating our own space within the superstructured places of our societies that we create memories, give meaning to our experiences, and fashion history at micro and macro levels (and every inch in between). On this important association between “space” and “place”, Certeau offered a quite vivid and concise account:

“A memory is only a Prince Charming who stays just long enough to awaken the Sleeping Beauties of our wordless stories. ‘here, there used to be bakery.’ ‘That’s where old lady Dupuis used to live.’ It is striking here that the places people live in are like the presences of diverse absences. What can be seen designates what can no longer be seen. Demonstratives indicate the invisible identities of the visible: it is the very definition of a place, in fact, that it is composed by these series of displacements and effects among the fragmented strata that form it and that it plays on these moving layers.” (108)

A takeaway for me in all of this, minor though it may be, is the basic differentiation of spaces and places in my life. Can I perceive them? How do I create my own spaces? How do I negotiate the places in which I travel, those settings that have been created by others into which I enter? I see space (espace) in Certeau’s work as composed of intersections of mobile elements; it is produced by the operations that “orient it, situate it, temporalize it, and make it function” (117). Place (lieu), on the hand, is a register within which objects are distributed in “relationships of coexistence”; elements therein are defined by their location, i.e., adjoining relation to other elements.