Karl Ove Knausgaard and writing and the city

So irritating. I picked up My Struggle, volume 1 out of 5 of Karl One Knausgaard “autobiographical novel”–whatever that really means–and expected to find it god-awful. I didn’t. There was a point, when he took us step-by-step through an awful, tedious, boring teenage party scene, when I thought eh, this I can put down. But I stuck with it because the language is, simply, remarkable.

I’ve been rewarded with new ways of thinking about things, like writing.

From page 192:

Writing is drawing the essence of what we know out of the shadows. That is what writing is about. Not what happens there, not what actions are played out there, but the there itself. There, that is writing’s location and aim. But how to get there?

If there is a good description of writing, it’s this. That shadowy feeling you know something, followed the struggle to write that something down, to really find out what it is you think you know and can communicate to others.

And a good description of the city, in this case, Stockholm, on pages 194-195:

Chaos and unpredictability represent both the conditions of life and its decline, one impossible without the other, and even though almost all our efforts are directed toward keeping decline at bay, it does not take more than one brief moment of resignation to be thrust into its light, and not, as now, in shadow. Chaos is a kind of gravity, and the rhythm you can sense in history, of the rise and fall of civilizations, is perhaps caused by this. It is remarkable that the extremes resemble each other, in one sense at any rate, for in both immense chaos and a strictly regulated, demarcated world the individual is nothing, life is everything. In the same way that the heart does not care which life it beats for, the city does not care who fulfills its various functions. When everyone who moves around the city is dead, in a hundred and fifty years, the sound of people’s coming and goings, following the same old patterns, will still ring out. The only new thing will the faces of those who perform these functions, although that new because they will resemble us.

And another priceless bit about writing:

Writing is more about destroying then creating.

This is in reference to one of my favorites, too, Rimbaud.

And now, crap, I’m hooked and I’ll probably spend the rest of this year reading the whole thing. Damn you, Karl Ove!!

No clue on how to read Norwegian…but Don Bartlett surely deserves a shout-out as translator. The English prose is really worth reading.

This week’s visualization: policy chronology and mass incarceration in the US

I’m not 100 percent convinced I have the right events stuck to the timeline, but my justice class has been interested in mass incarceration, and I’ve been scrambling to try to understand it myself. Suggestions are welcome here. I just threw this together with Keynote.

It’s the deadline to submit an abstract for ACSP! I got nothing, folks I just don’t know what I should be presenting on.

On sketching, however badly, instead of smoking

When I did give up smoking, it was in deference to my beloved husband’s request that I not. I really, truly enjoyed smoking. It is bad for one, no doubt, but I found that what I missed most about smoking was the reason it gave me to stop and just hang around outside for a bit.How many excuses are there, now, simply to sit quietly by yourself and watch the world go by. Now we must stand. At our desks, no less. If we are outside, we must be walking, hiking, going, getting that exercise, being well. OR ELSE WE DIEEEEEEEEEEEE.

Nobody expects all of that one of when one is smoker. Nope. When one is smoking, everybody assumes you are a self-destructive fool and leaves you be, free to idle away a few minutes with your cigarette, before you extinguish and they all rush up to you how mussssssssssst change. It’s all so marchy-marchy and productive that it is exhausting.

Not that smoking is good, because it isn’t, but it did create a nice armor around me from conversation. Go away. Let me sit here and be.

Sketching for me became a way of creating a reason to sit, outside, by myself. Sketching is not a social exercise, either, except for the people who ask you what you are doing and, now, the security guards who push you around in the name of “security.” Me and my little sketchbook might bring down the USA Bank building. It could happen. Hey, some of those pencils are *sharp*.

I am not a particularly adroit sketcher, but I do it, nonetheless, as a means to steal time and energy away from the relenting do-do-do and go-go-go pace of life in most cities.

Of particular interest: fanciful gates, cats, flowers, and transit–anything that rewards the act of spending time, and looking, looking again, and looking again.

FullSizeRender

FullSizeRender

FullSizeRender

Go stand at your own desk.

Cicero on the ideal statesman

Doo die doo…I wonder why this is resonating so hard today, from the Republic:

And indeed there is no more degenerate state than that in which the richest are supposed to be the best. *clears throat loudly* But what can be more splendid when a man gives orders to a state governed by worth, where the man who gives orders to others is not the servant of greed, where the leader himself has embraced all the values which he preaches and recommends to his citizens, where he imposes no laws on the people which he does obey himself, but rather presents his own life to his fellows as a code of conduct.

Preview of “Going to the Bathroom” Book Chapter 7

So yesterday I spent the day coding interviews but I decided to put together a quick graphic for my students to see since they did some web surfing to find me news stories.

Bathroom bills have cropped up around the US, in part in response to former President Obama’s executive order that told schools that they should let transgender students use whatever bathroom they chose. Houston’s Bill–the reason I refused to go ACSP when it was on the ballot–failed. In North Carolina, they seem to be struggling with how to make it look like they have repealed HB2 without really letting transgender folks use the restrooms of their choice, with the rural folks in the state trying to make sure Charlotte and Chapel Hill people live the way rural folks think they oughta to live.

The North Carolina case and the Houston cases are interesting; Houston voters seemed to knew full well that these bills were inappropriate to urban contexts. In a high school, where all the labels have assigned you somewhere in the pecking order, people know who is struggling with bathrooms and bullies. In small towns, people know who is who; they can even (often) make exceptions based on the quid pro quo of everyday life for their gay or transgender residents, the ones they cherish at the same time they are worried about the ones “out there” and what they are doing.

In cities, we don’t know who has what equipment in their pants, and enforcing bathroom bills would mean we have to get up into each others’ business–and that is utterly antithetical to urban contexts. We don’t know who is in the stall next to us, and we don’t want to. And who wants to be the cop who has to check? Staying out of each others’ business keeps the social life of cities manageable, and bills like these make it hard to stay out of each other’s lives.

I did some media analysis of those who reacted negatively against Obama’s executive order and some of the writing that has appeared in favor. I do not have the material on the legislative debates yet, but those should be analyzed separately. This was a good exercise because it showed some pretty interesting themes.

I used a grounded theory approach of around 270 news stories to find the following frequencies. I do not have the concurrence chart yet, as I need to diddle with the coding some more:

Pomona

Several themes emerge: first, people in favor of bathroom restrictions didn’t like President Obama and are mad at “the Left.” No surprise there, the sort of stuff you would expect to come up in any partisan discussion.

NewImage

I coded just about all the security mentions according to gender: security in most of these stories have to do with the safety and security of women and, in particular, girls. But I coded out separately themes relating to privacy and freedom of association, and I think I may need to go over that coding again because I may have been too likely to code as “privacy” comments more related to security. That is, in general, security should be here in my top mentions, and it is not, and the reason it is not is that I broke up with the coding method. There are insights to be gained this way, such as what people are thinking of when they think “security”, but I think security needs to be understood here somewhat differently than what I was able to do with my first-run coding. I also think I may be on shaky ground with separating claims about perversion from claims about mental illness. The latter are tweets or blogs or comments that specifically mention mental illness in tandem with transgender individuals.

Either way, the theme I really want to get at is the idea of freedom of association. The problem among those proposing these bills is the idea that women and girls might have to associated with people they do not want to. It’s hard to argue with freedom of association; it’s a pretty fundamental right, even when you are talking about the civil and human rights of transgender people. Cities alter what association means; cities require spatial association at the same time that spatial proximity of association does not carry social proximity per se–the social proximity that implies a full association of being together. Cities require us to be together physically but not necessarily socially, and that condition befuddles those who would argue that freedom of association should trump other concerns here. We can’t feasibly legislate who can be where in cities because we do not know enough about people to decide, ethically, whether we want to associate with them or not.

Reading for myself, by myself

Amazon reviews, Goodreads, etc. I have dabbled in both, and I wound up hating them. I have never read a review on either of those sites that I found helpful in understanding a book the way I routinely find reviews on LARB, LRB and NYRB useful. Am I a snob? Merely not hitting the right reviewers on Amazon and Goodreads? Who knows.

I used Goodreads for a bit as a means of sharing what I was reading with other people. And to start conversations with others about that reading.

I never stuck with either Goodreads or Amazon, simply because I just do not care about writing reviews for big audiences, with thumb’s up, thumb’s down opinions on my opinions. There is so much pressure to be smart, everywhere, and yet not so smart that one might seem to be putting oneself above other readers. It’s exhausting rather than fun.

I of course review scholarly books for journals. Those are always anguished; it takes me weeks and weeks, and planners do not value book reviews the way I think they should. That said, most do not seem to value books the way I think they should. I have been told more than once that I should do fewer book reviews for journals, usually by people who want me to use my human capital for their ends. So.

The world is most noncompliant towards my wishes.

About a month or so ago I bought a small book review journal and tucked it into my notebook. I thought it was cheesy, but it was a cute, $5 thing, and… I love it. Unreasonably and passionately.

I love writing little reflections and questions just for me. My reflections are way more honest than anything I post anywhere. Without the perforative aspect of explaining my views to other people, my journaling about the book creates a more intimate bond between me and the book. Perhaps the worst thing about public reviewing is simply that I have to have reasons for not liking a book if I didn’t. In my little journal, I have entries that I just do not fill in if I abandon a book. If I didn’t like something about it, I will probably remember what I didn’t like and not go back; if I just drifted away from the book, well, perhaps right then wasn’t the right time for it and I will return, with no shame, someday when I am ready for it and the book is ready for me.

I feel like I have to be a public reader in some ways, to embody the life of the mind, as a professor on social media. But I have to admit, I have enjoyed my secret relationships with books never really discussed with anybody else. I am also jazzed at how journaling has enhanced the public, performative aspects to my reading-thinking in such venues as this blog and the Bedrosian Book Club Podcast.