Zeitgeist c. 1990

I was born in 1978. That put me in middle school (6th grade) when 1990 hit. That was about the time I started watching MTV, back when MTV played a lot of music videos and hadn't yet hit on the idea of show after show of masturbatory consumer culture schlock. I was pleasantly surprised yesterday to discover that, apparently because they're tired of people watching ripped music videos on Youtube, MTV has put up a free video site.

This, of course, forced to me to look for shit I remembered from my early adolescence. The elements of the 1990 musical zeitgeist were as follows: treble, a certain kind of electronica, and the beginnings of the intersection of hip hop and pop/rock:

The KLF, 3am Eternal

Snap, The Power

There's this beautiful aesthetic in some of the videos from this era, the whole projection of what the future would look like when everything was computerized, before everything being computerized really served any useful purpose:

Information Society, Think

And it was also just the era in which some 80s bands successfully matured into something else. This was my favorite song all through middle school; Violater was the first tape (yep, tape) I bought for myself:

Depeche Mode, Enjoy the Silence


A Thousand Words is Worth a Picture

...I've been pretty bad about taking pictures since my mom and stepdad visited at the start of the month. I've been very tired and avoiding the exploratory hikes, for one, and the one place I do go to consistently is the BNF, which doesn't allow cameras, for two. I'll try to take some interesting pictures as the weather changes in the next week or so. In the meantime, apologies for lack of illustrations for a handful of things I've seen in the last few days around Paris:
  1. Two grown men on those little razor-scooter things, using them as normal transportation. They were spotted on separate days and in different neighborhoods, but may still be in cahoots.
  2. A group of five wild swans happily swimming around in the Seine. I have never seen a swan outside of a city park before.
  3. Various hobos drinking what looked to me to be entirely decent bottles of red wine. It looks as miserable being homeless here as anywhere, but at least they're not reduced to Thunderbird or Old E in Paris.
  4. A kid really, seriously throwing up a lot (the lack of a picture on that one is probably for the best.)
  5. The worst buskers in France and, possibly, in the entire world: two old farts with a boombox that was playing some kind of horn music, kind of like Herb Alpbert and the Tijuana Brass. Old fart number one was playing along with about 1/4 of the music with a trumpet, and old fart number two was playing along with at most 1/10 with a baritone horn. In essence, they were playing a CD on the street and holding out a hat. The bar is set pretty low in the Ile St. Louis.
We've entered into a new phase in the KFR-in-Paris saga: I'm not depressed anymore, just stupefied. Things don't really seem "foreign" as much as just "really inconvenient." The weather really broke over the last few days, with temps plunging toward freezing and a big week-long front supposedly moving in, so maybe it's just as well that all I really want to do for the next month is hide and watch Sopranos, Trailer Park Boys, and clips from Def Comedy Jam in my apartment. (Thanks, internet thieves, for doing all of the dirty work for me.)


Stockholm Syndrome: A Research Update

It's almost November: my favorite month (for the weather, of course.) This coming week is the first of the many school holidays kids get in France. The UC decided it would be a good idea to do as the natives, so our students are scattering across Europe for a week while we broke-ass TAs stay right where we are.

So, a research update is due. The thing is, if I were ever apprehended by a gang of bank-robbing cultist psychopaths, chances are they'd barely have to use the old sleep-dep / malnutrition torture routine before I'd sign up to help out. My whole bright-eyed eager-to-please personality defect would translate into the strongest case of Stockholm Syndrome anyone's ever seen.

I bring this up because of how I feel about the Bibliothèque Nationale. When I came here, I couldn't have been more terrified about the prospect of getting access to the research library and dealing with the people there. Now that I've settled into a routine, showing up a couple of times a week and plugging away deep in its missile-silo-esque subterranean heart for three or four hours before my brain gives out, I love it. I can't get enough of that place. The happiest I am in Paris is walking to and from the BNF, across the Pont Sully, down through the Jardin des Sculptures en plein air, past the Gare d'Austerlitz, and along the Quai F. Mauriac. To get in to the BNF from the west, you have to climb up these enormous steps that surround it like an Aztec pyramid. Even without the blood sacrifices, it feels sort of...sacred. The Stockholm Syndrome manifests in how grateful I feel that no one has yet come up to me while I'm reading, screamed "you HACK!", zapped me with a taser, and tossed me out on my ear. Again, that's "yet."

Other stuff: Gorz died in 2007. He and his wife committed suicide together so that they would never be separated - she was dying of cancer. Per his request, his personal papers were shipped to an institute in northern France that organizes and archives the effects of writers to make them available to scholars. It having been over a year, however, said institute hasn't even started sorting through them because they're underfunded and understaffed. This is a point of contention not just for me, but for a wonderful French scholar I interviewed the other week who had known Gorz well and considered herself one of his "disciples." She's been commissioned by a French publisher to write "the" book on Gorz in French, but she's stuck being unable to get at the papers.

This isn't such a huge deal for me. I wouldn't be financially able to leave Paris and go up north for weeks anyway, nor would I be able to get away from the program for that long. I can write grants to return some time next year, albeit for 3 or 4 weeks MAXIMUM (I am never, ever being away from B for this long again.) And, frankly, I can write my shit without looking at his drafts, I'd just want to look at them for historian street cred. I guess we'll see how it goes.

So, yeah. Did some interviews. I've read a lot of books and I'm reading more. In November I'll finish reading all of his books except for the 600-page philosophical treatise, which is going to be an ongoing thing. Also, I'm going to start writing while I'm still reading. I am a one-man rock n' roll party machine.

P.S. Internet co-blogger extraordinaire Count Fosco is back in effect, much to my unholy delight.


Tiny Beers in Paris: An Epic Poem

I'm just kidding about the epic poem part.

I've long been a fan of nice, clean continental lagers (those "crispy Stellas", for instance). Some of B + my earliest shenanigans revolved around getting a 12-pack of Beck's and a large pizza (for six bucks, fool!) from the now-defunct Pizza Answer in Eugene for pizza + beer date nights when we were 22/21, respectively. As I recall, we'd wind up trashed by 8pm.

In Paris, the default size of beers is 25 Centileters (=8.4 oz.). They are simply adorable. The novelty, however, ran out after the first six-pack, when it occurred to me that I am getting less beer for more money, which is shitty math. That said, some of my better alone-evenings (read: 6/7 nights a week, generally) have revolved around my fondness for golden lagers from the little market down the street.
  • Carlsberg is just delicious.
  • Kronenbourg is kind of mediocre...but it's really cheap.
  • Stella Artois is great.
Right now, for instance, I'm listening to Elvis Costello and mixing up a batch of my pasta-sauce-from-scratch that has made me the toast of the Ile de France,* accompanied by some tiny beers and a backup bottle of 2-euro wine.

Being alone is just fucked. I'm not complaining this time, just commenting. I have to hand it to my single friends: I've been paired up for so long (since I was 16, essentially) that I have no sense of how hallucinatorily weird it is to spend lots of time by yourself. In a way, it's surprising that more people don't routinely smoke a huge load of opium and paint their walls with the blood of captured pigeons, or the equivalent. I mean...I watched four hours of Trailer Park Boys the other night.

In my more lucid moments, I wonder how just being in Paris could make this less like living alone in...Norwich. I go on walks, I admire the unique cast of the light, I gaze appreciatively at the Seine, but I still end up in my apartment drinking tiny beers sooner than later.

Research update next time.

* I'm also making that part up.


I Would Like some Cheese with my Whine

Feeling tired, cold, and a bit beat-up today. It is possible that this has something to do with staying up till past 1am the other night drinking wine w/ other grad students, and it is also possible that it has something to do with the weather finally shifting toward actual autumnal patterns. Either way, today I'm feeling especially nostalgic for the states. Above and beyond missing B and my friends, there are many insignificant things that I find myself missing more than I should. Here are some of them, featuring bullet-point format:
  • Being able to keep a week's worth of food in my kitchen (i.e. having enough room.)
  • How I dress, there vs. here. I feel like I'm always dressed up just enough that if Interpol happens to detain me, I won't look like a sloppy American.* In a word, I miss being a pretentiously attired post-punk grad hipster.
  • TV. I really, really miss Deadliest Catch, Tony Bourdain, Iron Chef, etc. I can watch some of it online, but there's something depressing about hunching over a laptop to see a show.
  • Having access to a washer and dryer that only cost 2.25 American, total, per load.
  • Having enough clothes on-hand that I don't have to wash them every 9 days, because that's when I run out of socks.
  • Space. And for those of you who know how big our apartment is in SC, that should give you some perspective on apartments in Paris.
  • Access to (my) music.
  • Pints of beer for only (!) 4-something bucks.
  • People who are hesitant to honk at people, because those people might turn around and shoot them. It is clear that no one in Paris is afraid of the consequences of an uncalled-for honking fit.
  • COFFEE. This one-cup-a-day routine is horseshit.
It's funny, B and I have been talking about upgrading to a 2-bedroom apartment at some point in 2009, but for now even our tiny-ass 1-bedroom sounds like the Taj Mahal to me. On the short-list of good things to come of my Parisian sojourn, perspective on what is great about living in SC is right there in the top 3.

* Interpol the International police organization, not Interpol the kind of mediocre NY-based indie rock band. Although either way, proper attire would be a must.


KFR Movie Reviews: Tropic Thunder

I went out last night with C + K to see Tonnerre sous les Tropiques, AKA Tropic Thunder. It was awesome, you guys. The jokes revolved around:
  1. An ongoing retard joke.
  2. Robert Downey Jr. in blackface.
  3. Jack Black's character being addicted to heroin.
  4. Lots of hilarious people-being-blown-up scenes.
Even the creepy Tom Cruise character couldn't derail it.*

The movie struck me as one of those serendipitous moments in pop culture in which a comedian (Stiller) was able to sneak past the gatekeepers of media mediocrity and put together a project based on jokes he actually found funny.

My official verdict: two Parisians up.

* I'm not sure why Ben Stiller decided to cast Tom Cruise. Maybe they're friends. The thing is, we all know better...at this point you just can't drain the creepy out of the Cruise.



This is a dissertating post.

In his life, André Gorz published 19 books, by my current count.* His longest one is over 600 pages of dense phenomenology and his shortest is really just a pamphlet. He went through three phases: his Marxist philosophy and labor-movement strategy theories from the 50s and 60s, his writings on political ecology and kinda-sorta post-Marxist stuff in the 70s and 80s, and his work on new forms of labor and contradictions within postmodern capitalism in the 90s and 2000s. I like to read all of it. I've been making good progress over here and I'm confident that I'll be finished with the books and able to move on to reading his journalism when I get back to the states.

But! The problem is that the next book on the to-do list is the first book he ever published, his autobiographical Le Traître (The Traitor.) It's a very complex piece of writing, shifting between first, second, and third-person narratives, exploring the inner workings of Gorz's mind, and generally making itself a nuisance to someone who has no business dealing with "real" literature (not to mention reading it in his second language.) I feel way out of my element trying to make sense of something that wasn't meant to be a straightforward narrative or an argumentative essay.

This got me to thinking about the disciplinary status of history again. We're the worst poachers in the business. Not only do we raid other disciplines (mostly philosophy and anthro) for theories to explain things, but we invite ourselves in and use the kinds of materials that other disciplines would like to keep as their own whenever we feel like it (especially literature.) It can be uncomfortable, because we don't always know what we're doing and we usually lack the kind of training to keep from saying really naive things about these kind of sources.

For me, the most iconic examples of this are with art. Historians suck at using art. The only person I know who has any business using images as sources is K, because she's spent years working with art historians and learning their game.** I've always been amazed seeing professional historians who use art in their presentations, because as often as not the analysis is incredibly shallow and totally under-theorized.

I worry that I'll end up doing the same thing with Gorz's autobiographical stuff. Pray for me.

(That all said, I will add that other disciplines are just as bad about using history. All of us have had the experience of reading some lit or anthro person's use of history and talked a load of smack about how they don't know what they're doing. I guess it's all just part of the charm of academia.)

P.S. On a completely unrelated note, check out pictures of Robocop on a Unicorn. Brought to my attention by the lovely and talented NinjaHQ, who needs to update her blog.

* I read in an obituary that he also wrote fiction, but I haven't seen any evidence of that or come across any more pseudonyms. The guy already had too many pseudonyms.
** I think I'm allowed to use philosophy and social / political theory stuff for the same reason: several years of bothering people who study it full-time.


The Only Reasonable Response to Heidegger

Rob Wright, from legendary Canadian punk golems No Means No, reading from Heidegger's seminal Sein und Seit. I feel pretty much the same way about Heidegger.

I should add that probably the only really cool thing about me is that I have loved No Means No since I was 14 years old, which was, incidentally, when they were also 14 years old as a band.


Told Ya So

Just a few notes on the financial collapse (fuck "crisis": the dow is hovering around 8000 after only falling under 10,000 for the first time since 2004 last week.) Everyone, I think, ought to read and listen to the following:
  1. This blog post and its attendant quotes and links. The short version: even if you're gung-ho pro-capitalism, favoring the rich undermines the prosperity of a consumer society, because everyone who isn't in the top echelon is forced to borrow A LOT to maintain their lifestyle, which is in turn unsustainable in the long run. As we're seeing right now.
  2. The This American Life episode The Giant Pool of Money: a very concise and entertaining explanation of how the collapse happened.
  3. The This American Life episode Another Frightening Show about the Economy, an update on the collapse as of last week.
  4. A recent article by Francis Fukuyama, formerly one of the great visionaries of the neo-cons, who has been back-peddling ever since the Iraq War proved to be an utter disaster.
  5. Finally, a recent article by Immanuel Wallerstein, the great Marxist macro-economic history guy, with a very calm, measured account of the shift that all of this will probably bring about in global capitalism. He's old enough not to get too worked up, I think...
And it makes me think of my guy, André Gorz. Some of his last writing before he died was about precisely this phenomenon, a capitalism that was originally based on physical labor producing tangible products now being based mostly on information and speculation, things that fundamentally don't fit the system because you can never determine how much an idea is "really" worth, and hence you can't buy it and sell it in any kind of stable way...as we're seeing right now.

So, yeah, the lefties have the right to say "told ya so" now, but I don't think there's much call for schadenfreude, because we're all taking it on the chin as a result of the financial policies of Reagan, Bush 1, Clinton, and, especially, Bush 2.

(I admit, however, at least a little schadenfreude knowing that thousands of hedge-fund vampires are now broke and desperate...I'd love to see a little more 1929 action with assholes in suits jumping off of buildings on Wall St.)


A Word From Our Sponsor of Monsters

I expect you all know that my wife makes adorable beasties. This weekend she'll be in Seattle with her middle-big brother at Plush You, promotin' her stuff and meeting some of the other left coast masters of plush-making. This is my official plug for her and for the event; if you're anywhere near Seattle, you should go, and if not, you should take a gander at her stuff online if you haven't already.

The thing that amazes me about B is the same thing that always amazed me when I was getting tattoos from our main guy in Eugene: artistic intelligence operates at its own level of brilliance. B does everything by herself; the designs, the patterns, the armatures, the wire-wrapping, the stuffing, the sewing, the more sewing, and the more sewing. She doesn't even sketch much; she just thinks really hard, gets some fabric, and goes to work. It was the same way with Julien at Black Lotus; he could just look at an arm or a leg or a back and know what he was going to tattoo. Most of us don't think like that.

So, anyway, it sucks every single day being away from her, but I'm glad B will be kicking it with a whole posse of her fellow artistes this weekend.

Also, I still have high hopes that we'll be able to retire on the revenue from plush beasty sales.


New Notes on Paris

So the moms and the stepdad took off this morning from the Gare de Lyon for Provence with their friends C + R. They've rented a little house down there and plan to spend a lot of time basking in the 70-something degree weather and, I suspect, partaking of the local beverages.

Their visit was great, not least of which because it prompted me to do the museum thing, the eating-at-cafés thing, and the other touristy things that I feel ridiculous doing by myself (and, hence, haven't done since I came here in August.)

Our touristic exploits resulted in several surprises as well as a handful of unsurprising confirmations of suppositions already supposed:
  1. The Musée D'Orsay is easily the best museum in Paris. It's large but not overwhelming, packed with famous art but also equipped with a host of lesser-known works of equal quality, and the café there is really good.
  2. The Eiffel Tower is, in fact, really fun. The views are amazing and the crowds (at least when we went, mid-afternoon on a Tuesday) were totally manageable.
  3. It's really hard to go wrong with any café in or near central Paris, especially if you're wise enough to get a croque madame for lunch (that's kind of a grilled-cheese sandwich with ham inside and an egg on top.)
  4. Versailles, on the other hand, is a load of bullshit. It's so crowded you'll wish you were dead and the chateau is kind of "meh" after seeing everything in Paris proper. The gardens, however, are really neat, so if you go there, just get the 13.50 ticket for them and skip the gilded crap inside.
  5. The trick with the Louvre is going to the Sully or Richelieu wings; all of the most famous stuff is in the Denon wing and the crowds are easily twice as big there. It's like being on a bus to campus in Santa Cruz at the start of the term.
  6. You have to use your RER ticket to get out of the stations as well as in, so don't throw it away once you're on the train.
  7. Beef tartare is goooooooooood.
That's all I've got for the moment. Far too many pictures on my flickr site.


Highlights of the Louvre

Yesterday, my mom, stepdad and I went to the Louvre. There, we kicked our way through the crowd and looked at paintings and sculptures. Here are a few favorites.

I mean...it's nipple-tweaking at the preeminent fine arts museum of the entire world. That is so awesome I can't handle it.

The official court dwarf of some pope or another. Popes have dwarves. They, the dwarves, mine gemstones and fight orcs for them, the popes.

A Dutch artist's seventeenth-century painting "paying taxes." Just click on it and look at the guy on the right's expression. Also: what are they wearing on their heads?! I will visit and bring hugs and kisses to whoever can figure it out.

Me and a 3000-year old Egyptian cat sculpture. I also like kitties.


Disco Stampede

I don't mean to be horrible and callous (too late!), but using the term disco stampede in an article pushes it toward comedy and away from tragedy. And I quote:

"The stampede was caused by (a) commotion in the disco."


Complaints about France, part deux (following the exact-change bitch-fest from a few weeks ago): it is too hard to stay fed in Paris. Crazy bullshit, right? "Shut UP, kungfuramone! Paris is the world capital of cuisine!"

Well. If you're rich, maybe. Normally, places don't open until 8pm and everything is so expensive, you are forced to kill yourself with a hatchet. I'm not kidding.

Today, happily, there was a nice café in the Musée D'Orsay that provided us with food, then later we found another café in the Marais (that's "the swamp" in English) that was grudgingly willing to exchange food for money at 6pm.

Here's the thing. Let's say that it costs X dollars/euros to buy some stuff from the grocery store and make dinner. If it cost, say, 2X dollars/euros to get dinner at a restaurant, we'd all do it all the time. 4X euros, sure, fine. 5x...uh, ok. But it's something like 8 - 10X at most places in Paris, certainly at proper restaurants. The food is good...caramelized onions, meat falling off the bone, nice salads with homemade dressing, the works. But, uh, dude. The world economy is collapsing. Who among us can honestly afford 30 euros for a plate that has some food on it? I can make all kinds of pasta and scrambled eggs and stuff, and it's only going to set us back 5 euros.

Anyway, my mom and stepdad are visiting. Go look at my flickr pics of museums and related man-about-town activities.