Saturday, January 10, 2015

Hashtagging Solidarity

The printing press, the telephone, the automobile, the airplane: each in their own way radically shrunk the world, diminished the power of mere distance to maintain our strangeness to one another.  Yet, arguably, no human innovation has served as a greater tool for transcending Nature's most seemingly impregnable boundaries, space and time, than the World Wide Web. The Internet, that curious and most favored tool of our particular variety of talking ape, also has facilitated the trespassing of infinitely more complex human-constructed borders, those of nation, culture, even language.  It quite literally translates, deciphers and transmits the foreign, the distant and the strange in an instant, on command.

Alas, the one remaining boundary the Internet has not yet broken, because (as some philosophers have argued) it cannot be broken, is the one that delimits the space of idiosyncratic subjective experience, if not also the idiosyncratic relations of that subject to the purlieu and milieu in which its experiences are experienced.  During the last several months, we've seen several noble efforts at border-crossing the empathy/sympathy divide, efforts that more or less amount to digitally establishing communities, both in the positive sense of solidarity (#BlackLivesMatter, #JeSuisCharlie, #ICantBreathe, #YesAllWomen) and in its negative sense (#NotAllMen, #NotAllCops, #NotAllMuslims, #IamNotCharlie).  There is an interesting existential symmetry to both these negative and positive labors-- "I am x, like you" and "I am, like you, not-x"-- as they likewise attempt to articulate, express and encode what are in effect shibboleths.  Because their codes are meant to be deciphered, because they are intended not to be secrets but rather passwords, they both reinforce and threaten the borders of the very communites they mean to establish each time they are uttered in public.

Monday, January 05, 2015

It's the Exploited Labor, Stupid

Despite much well-earned Sturm und Drang in the last few years surrounding the so-called crisis in the humanities, the regrettably pernicious corporatization of higher education, the imminent death of American universities, the (at turns, but more often in conjunction) sexist, racist, homophobic, classist and just garden-variety asshole-ish paucity of civility/collegiality in academia-- especially in the discipline of Philosophy--  I sometimes fear we may have lost sight of the really important, in fact, core malady that continues to plague, sicken and weaken the the quality of higher education in the United States. If I may, allow me to channel for a moment my inner James Carville-- to my mind, one of the most brilliant American political strategists of the 20thC who is not also a war criminal (see here and here for his less illustrious competitors)-- and say what is already painfully, desperately, economically and existentially OBVIOUS to more than 50% of faculty working in higher education today:

It's the exploited labor, stupid.

Saturday, January 03, 2015

We'll Get By With A Little Help From Our Friends: Dr. J's 2015 Signal-Boosts

Just a few months ago, in September, I somewhat unceremoniously celebrated my 8th year at the helm of this still-imperfect, though incrementally improving, work-in-progress blog.  My first couple of years were an experiment, to be sure, but I found my stride here at RMWMTMBM around 2008 or so, and it's been mostly gravy since. I'm actually proud to say that the tagline I initially chose for this blog-- "where philosophy, music, politics and pop culture get equal deconstruction"-- has remained descriptively accurate and even has become more so over the years.  For what it's worth,  if I were given it all to do over again, I still would have chosen the title of this blog to be "Read More, Write More, Think More, Be More," despite its being a mouthful and, as far as I can tell, mostly guessed-at by any and everyone who searches for it on Google.  (Keep faith, grasshoppers, you can still get here even if your rendition is mangled!)  This blog's title has been, and remains, the very FIRST rule on my list of "Dr. J's Rules," which I have included on every one of my course syllabi since 2007.  It may also be the one thing I've said publicly and repeatedly that other people quote back to me most often.  Should I die today with no other legacy, I'll be happy to have that one.

Today, as RMWMTMBM inches ever closer to 400K "unique" hits-- which is pretty impressive given how irregular (for personal and professional reasons) my attention to this blog has been for the past couple of years-- I figured it's long past time for me to utilize whatever internet-traffic power I have for the good.  So, let me hand out a few signal-boosts to those who deserve it.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Philosophy 2014 Year in Review: The M&M Report

Each December since 2010, I've dedicated a few posts to subject-specific "Year in Review" lists. (You can view my previous years' lists here.)  In the past, these lists have customarily appraised the highs and lows of politics, music, film, literature or pop culture for whatever year was drawing to its end.  That is to say, I've tended in the past to cover ALL of the main topics regularly treated on this blog except "philosophy."  I think we'd all concede that it's a rare year when Philosophy's truly, incredibly, even microscopically small corner of the Universe manages to generate enough news to warrant its own year-end list.

Not so for 2014.  We made the news. Would that it weren't so.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014


We did it!  From start to finish, the #JoyfulJoyfulOdetoMemphis project was completed in less than a week. In fact, the studio recording and video editing were done in less than 48 hours!  To get some idea of what an undertaking this was, read the backstory here.  One of my favorite quotes about Memphis (from Robert Gordon's excellent book It Came From Memphis) has always been this:

"Memphis is a place where nothing ever happens, but the impossible always does."

This definitely seemed like an impossible project. It taught me once again, though, to never underestimate the talent, ingenuity and generosity of spirit in the 901.  I'll write more about how we got it all done in a few days when I recover from sleep deprivation, but let me take this moment to express my deepest and heartfelt thanks to all those who participated: Arean Alston, Carla Barnes, Chris McDaniel, Brandon Tolson, James Rigney, Coleman Garrett, Matt Isbell, Vince Johnson, Suavo Jones, Preston McEwan, Robbie Randall and Jeremy Powell.  Also thanks to Ardent Studios for helping make this a reality.

Here it is, a gift of holiday love from Memphis musicians to the city:

The video is also posted on YouTube here and you can download an mp3 of the song PUT ALL THAT JOY ON YOUR PHONE/IPOD by clicking here.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

#JoyfulJoyfulOdetoMemphis Project (The Backstory)

I've never before posted about one of my rando (and, if you happen to be keeping score at home, only inconsistently successful) projects in advance of it actually being finished, *unless* I was relatively positive that said project would see itself to some non-embarrassing completion. (See: American Values Project and/or WORKING IN MEMPHIS: The Documentary for evidence of my better work).  Today's post is an exception.

I'm currently engaged in a project that I've (executively) dubbed #JoyfulJoyfulOdetoMemphis.  We're less than 24hrs now from it coming to fruition, and I'd put the odds at about 70/30 on whether or not it will be a monumental success or a complete disaster. Fwiw, I'm dispositionally inclined to be optimistic, especially with regard to my own endeavors, so if you're betting, you should adjust the odds with those extra details in mind.  But seriously, on average, I'm a pretty solid bet.

Here's the short backstory of my #JoyfulJyfulOdetoMemphis project:
Basically, I just came up with this idea last week (on Tuesday) when I was taking a muc-needed break from grading, sitting at home, messing around on the guitar and thinking that "Ode to Joy" could be rearranged into a really cool Memphis-themed holiday song. So, on Wednesday afternoon, I put up a post on my fb page asking if anyone would be interested in working on something like that. Then, in the way that only the Fount of Memphis Talent overflows with generosity... well, it just sort of became a *real* project. The next day, I called up one of my former students, James Rigney (who is a composer) and we collaborated to put together the (AWESOME) arrangement we have now. I rewrote the lyrics, my friend Preston McEwan (drummer for Ghost Town Blues Band) got us some time at Ardent Studios to record, I started reaching out to other music people around town to fill out what we were missing, and that's about the whole backstory.

Grading War Letters to Home, Winter 2014 (Day Four)

These are the letters from the second day of the 2014 Grading War.  If you landed here by accident and don't know what you're reading, click here for the backstory.

Day Four, 11:22am
Dear Charles, 

I post this report on my station during a brief tho welcome respite. Forgive my wretched penmanship. I write quickly & without doubt I shall be summoned back to the front ere long. 

You may recall Josiah, that feckless and Thick-headed mail-boy of whom I spoke during the last Grading War campaign. I regret to report that Josiah is enlisted among our ranks now, where his inborn vices of Gossip, Drunkenness & Scandalmongering have found fertile soil. But to the point. Josiah spreads Rumor in our camp that several nearby Divisions just yesterday declared victory (God bless them if so!) and are at this very moment returning home. 

Could this be true, dear Charles? Our Company does observe ever shrinking numbers among the Opposition day by day in fact. But still they continue to appear each morn, ready for battle. I cannot help myself but to count them again each battle—such Torture those counts! why do I still count?—and my own records confirm they ARE diminishing, a number of Souls fewer each time we meet them. 

Woe to me if I am indulging false hope! If it is so and I am tangled in a web of Lies woven by Josiah’s forked tongue once again, I shall surely die of humiliation before I die of despair, for in my Soul I know that he is not to be trusted. 

Send a True report, post haste, dear Charles. I await such in solidarity, in Friendship and as ever
Yours in Cautious Hope,
 Leigh M. Johnson

Friday, December 19, 2014

Grading War Letters to Home, Winter 2014 (Day Three)

These are the letters from the second day of the 2014 Grading War.  If you landed here by accident and don't know what you're reading, click here for the backstory.

Day Three, 9:33am
My Dear Friend Charles, 

Your letter from yesterday was rec’d in due time, and would have been answered ere now, but for the extra duties that have occupied me. It appears our Quartermaster broke ranks and departed to home—a long & lonesome expedition, I suspect, not to mention a slow one. Imagine the extra weight of Cowardice he must be carrying! Alas, as consequence, the principal duties of that Turncoat’s department have now fallen to me, and to one not regularly brought up a Quartermaster, I’ve found the acquisition & distribution of Supplies & Provisions no trifling set of responsibilities. Our troops’ tastes are simple—they subsist for days at a time on salted Pork, skillygallee, hardtack, beans and Bully Soup—but their appetites are ferocious. 

Grading War Letters to Home, Winter 2014 (Day Two)

These are the letters from the second day of the 2014 Grading War.  If you landed here by accident and don't know what you're reading, click here for the backstory.

Day Two, 3:05am
My Dearest Leigh,

You cannot imagine my joy upon receiving your letter! I worked ceaselessly to fend off any and all of the dark scenarios that encroached upon my thoughts with regard to your welfare. It does my heart well to know that you were, at least for a moment, comforted – by Rabbit and Potatoes no less! You are quite right – a favored dish of mine. I shared a similar fate when the dreadful call came down to rejoin the ranks for this latest campaign. I was enjoying the company of our good friend Paul Taylor (who sends his greetings). We were licking our wounds and telling lies about earlier battles. Foolishly, I had grown comfortable in my home, with friends and family. I knew The Call to Battle would come; it always does – it is Relentless in that way. And yet, while I knew it would come, some small part of me resisted its inevitability. But, that is all irrelevant now. Here we are, once again, at The Ready, facing a foe that, at times, seems to know no fatigue, and is unremitting in its dubious determinations.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Grading War Letters to Home, Winter 2014 (Day One)

These are the letters from the first day of the 2014 Grading War.  If you landed here by accident and don't know what you're reading, click here for the backstory.

Day One, 12:40am
My Dear Leigh,
It has been far too long since I’ve written to you. For this transgression, I can only hope you can find it in your heart to forgive me. Due to the current campaign, I haven’t had a dog’s chance of putting pen to paper. And it has been far too long since I’ve heard from you. It is my sincere hope that my letter finds you well, and in good spirits. I pray that this cursed Grading War has not gotten the best of you. From my vantage point, the casualties mount with a grim regularity that sickens and saddens me. It is Loss that will haunt me for the rest of my days. If the War has claimed you as well, my Despair will know no bounds.
This cursed Grading War – it deforms the soul and corrupts the most noble of intentions. None of us have escaped its Wrath. With each passing day, my uncertainty grows. I know not whether I will see the other side of the execrable conflict. I am distant from my comrades. Food has no taste. Even the weather has turned against us – the ceaseless grey skies mock us at every turn. The Dead March of Time offers me no comfort, no sanctuary. However, I truly fear for many of the young people in my charge. I fear that I’ve not been able to protect them, and give them the guidance they so desperately need in order to survive this monstrous ordeal. Many of them are irreparably harmed by this War. They cower in the face of firm instruction. They feign understanding and claim comprehension, yet many of them utter balderdash when asked to produce simple reports. I’ve tasked many of them with producing reports containing primary source materials – the very stuff of History. And yet, after months of instruction, I’ll have to acknowledge the corn and admit that much of their performance has been less than desirable. I know what awaits many of them. They will get my assessments back, and their eyes will dim. Their backs will curve and the air will leave their sails. Many of them will eventually absquatulate, in a vain attempt to make their way home. It is a sad and awful thing to see, and my heart sinks in the wake of their collapse. But, I must hold firm. While I know I can always improve my instruction, it is incumbent upon those under my command to steel themselves for the journey that lies ahead of them. I fear many who claimed to be fully prepared for this torturous odyssey have only now found out that they were sadly mistaken.