Sunday, April 13, 2014

Thursday, March 6, 2014

The Crimean Tense: When Past Is Present

Referencing the past is a weak form of analysis and one that offers little insight to the current situation in Ukraine. The Russian occupation of Crimea is distinctly not like the Soviet invasion of Hungary or Czechoslovakia. In the current situation, the Russian invaders and occupiers of Crimea altogether deny being Russian in the first place. These soldiers wear no insignia that would undeniably link them to Russia, although everyone knows that they are indeed members of the Russian military. No other nation has announced it is missing an army or claimed them as its own. It was not until a few days ago that one of the soldiers slipped and confessed his nationality. Can we really imagine a Hungarian in 1956 or Czechoslovak in 1968—or even a Georgian in 2008—wondering, Now who could this invading army be?

This ruse seems to be Putin’s attempt toward plausible deniability, except that from the very beginning of the occupation, everyone already either knew or assumed that it was indeed the Russian military coming ashore. Can it be a masquerade if nobody is really fooled? Isn’t a masquerade precisely when a person pretends to be someone else instead of pretending to be no one at all? Camouflage only works on the surface. In fact, there seems to have been some concern on the part of the Crimean Tartars that these Russians might indeed try to impersonate them in order to incite to action the other ethnic groups (Russians, Ukrainians) who call the peninsula home. Such potential impersonations and incitements invite comparisons to the Boston Tea Party, when, as the story goes, the Sons of Liberty, disguised as Native Americans, dumped tea in Boston Harbor.

The Russian claim that Russians (and Russian speakers) are being targeted by the new government in Kyiv also invites allusions to the Sudetenland. Nevertheless, there is no evidence to suggest that Ukrainians (that is, specifically, the new government in Kyiv but also more generally the citizens of Ukraine who are and have always been speakers of Ukrainian and/or Russian) are seeking to outlaw the Russian language or otherwise diminish the role of Russian speakers in Ukraine. There is no question that the upheavals and revolutions of the past several years might be cause for alarm or suspicion within minority communities. There does indeed seem to be a concerted push to repeal a recent law that asserted the legal status of minority languages, including Russian, within certain levels of government, mostly municipal or regional jurisdictions. However, the law is still on the books. And Crimea continues to enjoy its particular state of autonomy granted it since Khrushchev handed it over to the Ukrainian SSR in 1954. The peninsula’s autonomy, too, was enshrined in the Ukrainian constitution of 1996. 

It is truly unfortunate that we do not get to wallow in our nostalgia for long, celebrating our always anachronistic misunderstanding of the Cold War, when a sharp division between us and them seemed to exist. Whether it be the Berlin Wall or the 38th parallel north, exact borders are always a myth. Ask anyone, for example, who lives on the 37th or 39th parallels. It should be no surprise to us, then, that a land literally called “the border” should occupy such a contested space geographically as well as such a liminal space in history or in the Western mind. Nor, I suppose, should we be surprised that so many journalists and pundits keep referring to “the Ukraine”—a country that hasn’t existed in twenty-three years!

Just as precise borders are a fiction, so, too, is the past. We always already misunderstand the stories our predecessors told themselves in order to make sense of their world. Resorting to the past, then, especially in a time of crisis, will never offer any new insight into the present, which already recedes into the historical.

The past is past. However, Putin’s worldview is not necessarily in the past. Sure, in the West we have been celebrating the end of history since 1989 or 1991 or whenever Fukuyama published his insipid book. But while we were partying in the time after time, history, as far as Moscow was concerned, continued marching forward. The hegemonic West, specifically the US, is suspended in amber for Putin and his co-oligarchs. We are the same depraved, neocolonial world power we always were accused of being by Russia. If we in the West are living in the past, however, then it’s fair to say that the past itself is living in Putin.

One thing that has changed over the past few decades is Russia’s standing in the world. As the Soviet Union, Russia had a vast empire consolidated under a red banner that offered an altogether different ideology from the West. But now, today, Russia’s security and stability are becoming more and more unhinged. By overtaking and occupying Crimea, Putin hopes to maintain a firm grasp on a place and time that will necessarily continue to slip from his hands.

In the same way that “Balkanize” became a sexy term to describe how nations violently fracture and fragment along ethnic and ideological lines, I propose we adopt the unwieldy adjective “Crimeanize” to denote that aspect of nostalgic longing for a past that never existed that ends up destroying all hopes for a realistic understanding of the present. Admittedly, this is not a good way to understand the current situation in Ukraine, but unfortunately it is a good way to understand much of the so-called expert opinion on the matter flowing from the mouths of politicians, pundits, journalists, and historians alike.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

The Adjunct: Confessions and Manifesto of a Benefits-Deprived Professor

First, we need to create honest and accurate language. Adjunct designates an inessential supplement, yet adjunct professors are just as permanent a fixture at colleges and universities trying to save a buck—that is, all colleges and universities—as "temporary buildings" are at American elementary and secondary schools. We are permanent, regardless of our expendability.

Contingent implies that there is some inherent logic to a system that completely disregards ethical responsibility for the working conditions of the working poor, that our positions somehow hinge on availability of classes and depends on our performance. Nothing is further from the truth of the situation. All other terms are equally unsuitable: part-time, temporary, non-tenure-track, provisional, ad hoc, etc.

I propose benefits-deprived.

So-called adjunct professors are simply deprived of everything associated with a professional position: a livable wage, institutional support, retirement benefits, health insurance, job security, peer respect, library privileges, and oftentimes an office.

Fuck them. Fail their students. Burn down their campuses. Smear shit on their library books. Let the  blood of the administrative class and para-academic sector drench the manicured quads and green spaces across campus.

Or at the very least, teach your students about the evils of the system that seeks to perpetuate its own power at the expense—both literally and figuratively—of those it relentlessly exploits, which includes those very students of yours.

Or at the very least, organize and unionize in order to force the administrative class to take seriously the demands and deplorable plight of its benefits-deprived faculty.

Why should anyone care about such things?

Education is a basic human right. As administrative—not educational—costs skyrocket, money is siphoned from the budget to attract CEO-style administrators who contribute nothing to the educational quality of an institution, thus necessitating the hiring of benefits-deprived faculty.

No worker should be deprived of benefits. This is fucking America in the goddamned 21st century. If you want this country to be shit, then keep everything as is. But a revolution will come, and it will sweep aside the rabble standing in the way. You are either for progress or you are against it, against us.*

Every institution and organization—not just academic ones—needs to fix this problem. Why? Because benefits-deprived professors don't pay dues to professional organizations that don't support them. Because benefits-deprived professors don't spend money to attend conferences. Because benefits-deprived professors don't even buy books when a public library is nearby. Because benefits-deprived professors don't have the means to afford a decent standard of living and therefore will rely on public assistance when it comes to that. Society will pay, one way or another.

After spending ten years deprived of benefits and respect, I finally walked out. Granted, most of those years I was happily supplementing my graduate assistantship as I completed the requirements for the PhD. The last straw, however, was having to ask the department chair about the spring semester long after the schedule had been created. He didn't even have the professionalism or decency to tell me weeks—if not months—earlier. Fuck him. Fuck that university. Fuck the fucking system.

I would rather be completely unemployed than to be miserably underemployed while contributing to society and serving my community and nation as an educator. My next professional experience, however, will include community and union organizing and activism. Because you've done pissed off the wrong person.

Revolution comin', and it's gonna come quick. Revolution comin' and it's got a big dick.

* False binaries neither satisfy nor convince me, so forgive my hyperbolic rhetorical register here.

Friday, January 10, 2014

On the Prosthetic

After spending a few hours this past week trying on new frames and ordering new lenses for distance vision, now seems like a suitable time to think and write about prosthesis, that is, to think through writing as prosthetic, perhaps even to consider that thought itself might be the original prosthesis.

As an application or attachment to that which has come about on its own (namely, my body qua physis), prosthesis shows itself as supplement, that which, in being secondary and optional, nevertheless fulfills and completes what, upon further investigation, was always already unfulfilled and incomplete, making supplementation primordial and necessary.

I find myself inordinately and increasingly relying on technology (qua tekhne). Artifice has become natural for me: clothes, shoes, jewelry, eyeglasses, acupuncture needles, automobiles, vitamins, cellular phone, computer, writing, language, thought, the very idea of something that would or ever could be natural. (This is why I always provoked my students with the question, "What is natural? What do you mean by this word?") I eat when I am not hungry. I drink when I am not thirsty. When I run, I use a GPS-enabled watch and heart rate monitor with special running gear (shorts, shirts, etc.). In this way, even the satellites in orbit around the earth serve as prosthetic devices that enable a new (re-)/connection with my body.

Yet even when I am completely nude, the thought of myself and of my body disrupts any ease I may have had regarding such nudity as natural, original, ideal. The winter dryness makes me aware of my skin in a new and disturbing way. The reflection in the mirror disrupts any interior monologue with the murmuring voice of an other, which may or may not be the double or non-double of my self. Sitting quietly in meditation, I am still privy to this dialog and to the unsettling alterity of others.

The word my keeps getting affixed to everything here. Maybe such notions of "mineness" and "property" are prosthetic as well. Do I really need to employ this usage when I speak about that which is most "my own"? Do I really need to keep saying "I"? (And why does this "I" keep asserting itself even in the interior dialogs I have with myself? Couldn't I somehow forgo this convention and speak with a pure language that would accurately reflect myself in such a way as to make all self-references superfluous? Could such an I ever exist?)

A new thought: civilization arises when humankind begins to rely more on prosthesis than on physis. (There are no new thoughts.) The human being: προσθετική ζώων [the prosthetic animal].