When grammatical purism meets politics

I'm teaching a class on feminist theory this fall and have been giving a lot of thought to feminist pedagogy. So, I have been thinking about the way I try to teach the essentialism vs. social constructionism debates, including the later incarnation of essentialism in the weird French feminist opposition to gay marriage (because marriage between a man and a woman symbolically enshrines sexual difference, which is the job of feminists--in their argument--to insist upon). I've asked students to think about what it would mean to think about gender as something not symbolically central to everyone's existence. This doesn't necessarily mean obliterating gender altogether, as some conservatives might claim. But what might gender be other than a central organizing category of human existence? The ruse I usually use with students is this: why is the first question we ask about a baby what "sex" it is? Why don't we ask other things first? Of course, it's a grammatical question. To talk about a human in English you almost necessarily need a gendered pronoun. Which leads me to my dilemma. I am something of a grammatical purist, as some loyal readers may be aware. But is grammar the Law?

Thinking about pronouns I find myself thinking a lot about they (as opposed to he or she) and, somewhat secondarily, that (as opposed to who, as a relative pronoun). Now, I spend a lot of time correcting inappropriate uses of gender-specific language in student papers (presumably students in a feminist theory class will be a little more thoughtful than most). One of the options I suspect my students would be more comfortable with than I is "they." "They," as a "singular" pronoun. It's common in colloquial English as a gender-neutral solution. It fits, after all, with my mad scheme to collude in the decentering of the "individual" as the central organizing principle of both historical and theoretical inquiry. (Or rather, to keep re-decentering something that has been decentered to so little effect many times over the past 40 years.)

Monique Wittig used her novel Les Guerrillieres to point out how rare the French feminine plural pronoun "Elles" is. It is also untranslatable into English.

But maybe that's a good thing: no gender-specificity for the plural pronoun. A plural form of humanness, or post-humanness. The gender-neutral "they" instead of "he or she." Should I just embrace it?



rustic plastic, or, back to technotopia...

Back to the land of the technologically living, by which I mean my computer came back, and cafes in Maine have fast wireless these days. The computer is bright and shiny new--came back with a new bottom casing and display housing (the back of the display, on which I had put my NARAL sticker) and new keyboard as well as new optical drive. I am for the time being going to assume that the customer service rep I spoke with on the phone, who said there was no charge for the repair (but that if it hadn't been covered it would have been $629), is correct. And that the packing slip, which says the repair is not covered, is not correct.

Also, I lost my wallet, but found it again. It would help if certain businesses would answer their phones after finding lost wallets, so that I could be spared certain nights of worry. But all's well that ends well, at least for the time being...



technology blues

So, it may really be a while before I can regularly blog, because my computer is "in the shop" (just got an email letting me know that the repairs are not covered by AppleCare--ugh--I hope it's not, as the guys at the genius bar at the Apple Store intimated might happen, that the Tennessee repair guys are taking umbrage at my NARAL sticker!), and on islands in Maine you don't get high-speed internet, so my internet usage is only for absolute necessities. So, no stories of my good airport karma, or my adventures in optometry...



going out of town

I will be away for five weeks and am hoping not to be online every day, so my blog posting may get a little thin until late September. (On the other hand, I may accumulate material in the time between posting and have lots to say. Who knows?) I am hoping to read a bunch of novels, along with getting my classes ready for fall.

My university email seems to have been having problems, so if anyone needs to reach me and has any trouble with that, try the yahoo one that appears in my profile.



OK, what???

The white guy who tried to board a plane with a pipe bomb that was rigged to be detonated by his cell phone has been released on $10,000 bail.

Zero tolerance, indeed.



Internet as wish fulfillment

Bush indictment search on Technorati.


capitalist dissolution of traditional community: not all bad?

When I used to live in a certain neighborhood of the city, I was delighted to find that there was a bakery nearby. I went there one day, and the selection was thin, the employees were speaking Polish with each other, and they wouldn't talk to me. As far as I could tell, and maybe I was wrong, it was because I didn't speak Polish. I didn't go back.

Now, this neighborhood (not where I live anymore) has gentrified, and the Polish bakery sells a wider and more diverse selection of treats, is staffed by hip youngsters and has a comfy free wifi lounge where I am now typing this entry. I have been here twice in one week since rediscovering it. I think it's the closest free wifi cafe in the city to where I live -- that is, a one-hour ride on public transportation. For these cupcakes I am happy to make it. I have to say I prefer the new version. I'm not sure I feel guilty about it, either.



I am once again licensed to drive, after three days of being a non-entity. Right in time for the car, at long last, to be fixed.

Why did I postpone this simple operation for four years? I have to say, the whole time I was in the DMV my heart was racing. Would I have the proper documentation? What weight would I tell them? Would I pass the eye exam? Would they let me pay the $10 fee with a $20 bill? Would I pass the test? (Would my picture be shitty? Actually it's not so bad.) Would I be revealed as fraudulent? (A fraudulent what, though? Driver? Citizen? Person? Patriot?)

If a basic encounter with the state apparatus reduces me (a white woman in her 30s with fluent English and a lot of educational and cultural capital, whose job does not depend on her being able to drive) to a quivery mass of fear, how does it feel to be in there if you're not sure you'll be able to read everything on the test?

(Don't tell me it makes me more nervous because I'm supposed to get it. Maybe that's true, but don't tell me that.)



We used to call it false consciousness

Blogger wants me to learn about how to "mobile blog." I guess that means using my mobile handheld device. Which would be my cell phone. Are we going to reach a state in which every action must immediately be logged on one's blog, no event or experience without its corresponding commentary? (Even if calls coming through the White House switchboard still don't get logged.)

In other news, researchers have done a study to show that people who work at stigmatized jobs ("dirty work" like embalming, bull semen collecting, and septic tank cleaning) find ways to cope with the work they do. Well, what else are they going to do? They need a study to tell us this?

Strangely, news of the study, recently featured prominently on the website of ASU (the institutional home of one of the researchers) has now been thoroughly wiped from the website. Not only is it not on the front page any more, but you can't find it through a search of the site. Or you can, but it just links you back to the front page, which doesn't have it.





I don't mean to be coy about my forthcoming book, by the way...I tend to assume that anyone reading this either 1) knows me or 2) probably wouldn't be interested in it because it is a highly specialized academic tome. I also tend (in light of all the recent talk of people being fired or not hired for blogging) not to want colleagues or people who might be evaluating my work to be able to find this blog by googling my name or book title. HOWEVER, I have no problem letting anyone reading this know what the title is via email, so please do drop me a line (email address is in the profile) if you're interested.

Another possibility, I suppose, is to put the book cover up as an image...


So much for getting along

Mini just stalked and wailed at Birdie, causing Slim to get interested enough to pounce on Birdie viciously. Ah well.


Happy birthday to me

If it is my birthday, it is also the one-year anniversary of the date from which, for site traffic purposes, I count the founding of this blog--though I actually started posting at the very end of July, 2004.

I'm still not sure what I think about this whole blogging thing.

I'm also not sure what I think of this whole getting older thing. I've been feeling "old" each birthday for the past ten years or so, so that's not such a big deal. But the past couple years I did not feel especially unhappy with where I was in my life, and right now I do. Maybe it's just the aforementioned book not being out, but it's also how very anticlimactic I expect it to be when it does come out. Four people are going to read it, and two of them are in my immediate family!

Hm. Sorta like this blog.



Breakthrough in diplomacy

In the continuing saga of cat politics, Mini has for some time been making overtures toward Birdie, which, until today, had not been reciprocated. Mini's overtures at first consisted of head-butting, which in her language means "please groom me." (Because Slim first knew Mini when Mini was still a kitten, and despite Slim's aggressive tendencies, Slim is often inclined to respond appropriately. So are humans.) Lately, though, Mini has actually begun grooming Birdie, with some encouragement from us. Today there was a major breakthrough: Birdie, who in her whole long life has never been known to groom other cats, groomed Mini! (I say "groom," because a certain person, for some reason, does not like me to say "lick.") They also cuddled together. It was very satisfying for the hominids of the household. I hope it was as satisfying for the felines.



bureaucracy will make you crazy

My out-of-state driver's license, onto which I have held like a security blanket, is due to expire on my birthday. Meanwhile, when my wallet was stolen last fall my social security card was in it, and I've been postponing dealing with that.

Unfortunately by the time I realized that the State of Illinois now requires proof of social security number in order to get a driver's license, I only had three weeks to go before my other license was going to expire. Further, from what I read on the website, it seemed that Social Security would hold onto my passport when I brought it in to get a new card, and that it would take two to four weeks to get the card -- and I needed the passport too to get the driver's license. So I thought -- well, I have plenty of pay stubs and tax forms that have my social security number on them. Why not try that? On the secretary of state's list of necessary documents, some of the categories seem flexible -- like in the proof of address column where they list three things and then say that some other unspecified things are OK and some other unspecified things are not. I emailed the state to ask if a pay stub was OK as proof of SSN; they didn't write back. So I went in. Well, no go. You have to have an actual social security card with you in order to get a license. So I trekked down to the social security office and as it turned out they only needed to look at my passport, not to actually keep it, and they claim I'll get the card within two weeks. If I had only done this first, I might have the license in time to drive by the time my car is actually working. Maybe my colleague is right--I would have saved myself 80 IQ points by not getting a PhD. I had a hell of a time keeping track of all those documents.

So, in the social security office there was a man keeping up a steady stream of loud, unintelligible mumbling. Everyone in the waiting area was avoiding looking at him or each other. I caught a few words that included "get a job" and "two fingers" and "knees" and "money." When the security officer came in to check on things, the mumbling suddenly got a lot quieter. At the window, he was positively lucid--he gave his name and address, said his check hadn't come, asked if he could get a new check, asked if he could get a copy of a document. Well, um, mostly lucid--what he wanted was a carbon copy. Apparently he was not fully satisfied with the outcome of his request, because he then wouldn't leave the window and had to be escorted out by the same security guard.

Sometimes it seems like if you could skip the misery and poverty and illness and bureaucratic craziness that seem to have frayed away his sanity, it wouldn't be such a bad thing to feel so uninhibited.



Very Bad News

For anyone waiting with bated breath for my book, due Feb. 2005, to come out, it won't be out until October. I may see advance copies in late September, but not before. Which only adds to a generally very bad week. Why didn't anyone tell me that it's the birthday AFTER the big milestone birthday that makes you feel crappy? I would have just skipped all the way to the next decade...


Maa Thanon Grungthep, or something like that

Bangkok street dogs now have their own blog.

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