Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Leggo my Lego

I grew up playing with Legos, and now I'm a professor of media and cultural studies. What better way to join my two interests than with Lego Theorists, the latest "release" from The sets feature such luminaries as Judith Butler, Anthony Giddens, Stuart Hall (at left), and Angela McRobbie, among others, and each comes equipped with a Lego scene appropriate to her or his work.

Before you get too excited (or put off) by the prospect of Lego Theorists, I gather that the sets don't really exist--though I suppose, if you're innovative enough with some off-the-shelf Legos, that you could build one yourself. Nevertheless, there is a growing body of academic/celebrity/activist paraphernalia out there, such as the Karl Marx and Michel Foucault finger puppets I have in my campus office. (I bought them at a local novelty store here in Bloomington, Indiana.) Part of me has always been bothered with my having purchased them, since, at some level, they represent making a commodity of individuals who had grave misgivings about a commodity-driven life. Yet, there is a certain, well, novelty about them, and if nothing else there's an odd kind of thrill in knowing that scholarly work can produce some kind of public recognition and impact. In part that's why I do what I do, although I'd be hard-pressed to imagine what I'd look like as a finger puppet, much less as a Lego character.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Deleuze conference

Deleuze: Texts and Images

The 9th Annual University of South Carolina Comparative Literature Conference

5th - 8th April, 2007

Over the past two decades, readers of the works of Gilles Deleuze have had several opportunities to participate in international conferences held at Trent University and organized by Constantin V. Boundas. In that tradition, we announce the organization of a conference to take place on the campus of the University of South Carolina (Columbia, SC, USA), between April 5 and 8, 2007, sponsored by the Program in Comparative Literature, the English Department, and the College of Arts and Sciences.

The conference theme, "Gilles Deleuze: texts and images," is meant to be understood inclusively rather than exclusively. That is, while recognizing theconference's focus on the work of Gilles Deleuze, the organizers encourage broad and comparative interpretations and commentaries from Deleuzian perspectives on subjects such as literature, philosophy, painting and film, as well as exegeses of Deleuze's body of work that engage with ontological and epistemological concepts and problems. Presentations by the invited plenary speakers--Eric Alliez, Ronald Bogue, Constantin V. Boundas, and Elizabeth Grosz--will be supplemented by speakers in parallel sessions.

The conference will be held on the historic campus of the University of South Carolina ( The weather in April will be mild, and the campus will be in bloom. Columbia is mid-sized city with a major airport and is easily accessible. It is the capital of South Carolina and has many fine restaurants. Conference participants will be lodged on campus at the new Inn at USC (; rooms have been reserved at a special conference rate of $116.00 for those making their reservations by February 20, 2007. There are also other hotels nearby.

Those interested in speaking at the conference should send a title, a 750-word abstract, and a 250-word bibliographical biography to as a Word or RTF attachment no later than October 1, 2006. Additional details will be available at

Organizing Committee:

Eugene W. Holland, Ohio State University
Paul Allen Miller, University of South Carolina
Daniel W. Smith, Purdue University
Charles J. Stivale, Wayne State University

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Reality television: the lonely crowd

I had the good fortune of visiting my teaching assistants' Introduction to Media classes this week and was fascinated by the discussions I was privy to on reality television. I'll confess that I'm hooked--especially on shows like Top Chef, Project Runway, Blow Out, and American Choppers, all of which give you a behind-the-scenes look at how people do things. I now wish I were a better cook, learned to sew, cut hair, and took metal shop, but that's another story.

Anyway, one of the instructors whose class I visited asked his students to reflect on the characteristics that might define reality television as a genre. One of them provocatively suggested, "isolation." Now, of course, not every show isolates its cast, but many of them--Survivor, Big Brother, Unan1mous, and to some extent programs like America's Next Top Model and The Real World--do. Indeed, in the case of Top Model, I recall seeing a behind-the-scenes show in which past cast members reflected on their not having had access to a telephone other than the one provided by the producers, been allowed to go out, read a paper, pick up a book, or, ironically, watch television. I don't mean to suggest that isolation is an absolutely necessary, generic condition of reality television, but I'd argue (following my teaching assistant's insightful student) that it certainly represents a dominant tendency within the genre. The question then becomes, what are the larger implications of this paradoxically public form of social isolation?

I'll need to ruminate on that question a bit, and perhaps I'll return to it at a later time. For now, I'd say there's an interesting connection to be made here between reality TV and the horror genre.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

...and philosophy?

It had to happen one of these days....

"It" is my having purchased one of those ...and Philosophy books--Harry Potter and Philosophy: If Aristotle Ran Hogwarts, to be exact. I did so reluctantly. One of the chapters of my forthcoming book on book culture, Equipment for Living, concerns the global proliferation/circulation of Harry Potter volumes and, in part, attempts to think through the philosophy of reproducibility in light of them. Given the subject matter, I figured I ought to own what's probably the only publication currently out there to lay claim to "Harry Potter" and "philosophy."

It's clear that the book, and I assume the ...and Philosophy series as a whole, is intended for an introductory undergraduate audience. That's not a criticism. In fact, the idea behind the series seems to me consonant with cultural studies' commitment to "meeting people where they are." In this case, the "where" clearly is the terrain of the popular; the Potter book joins volumes on The Matrix, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Woody Allen, The Simpsons, Star Wars, Seinfeld, and a whole host of other ...and Philosophy titles. The book is pretty boiled down, however, and to my mind tends to underestimate its audience more often than not. What's peculiar about the volume, moreover, is that some of the chapters read to me much more like run-of-the-mill cultural criticism (which is not to say cultural studies) than philosophy per se. Chapter 8, on discrimination, indifference, and social justice in Harry Potter, is a standout in that regard.

I don't know to what extent the Harry Potter volume is representative of the ...and Philosophy series, so I'm reluctant to make generalizations about the books and their intentions. I guess I'm inclined to say that I appreciate the spirit of the series, though I'm unsure of the depth of its content. I'd be curious to hear what D&R readers think about the series and/or specific volumes. I assume many of you, like me, have an interest in philosophy, cultural studies, and the popular and have been intrigued at some level by these books--books which seem to be taking up more and more of the scant shelf space in the philosophy section of my local bookstore.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

On "communication"

Years ago I had something to say about this topic at the National Communication Association convention, and I find myself returning to it again. "It" is communication and what Deleuze and Guattari have had to say on the subject.

Anyone who's read A Thousand Plateaus, What is Philosophy? or pretty much any of their other individual or collaborative writings knows that D+G have little complimentary to say about communication, at least as the idea's tended to be conceived within modern Western thought. They get impatient when interminable conversation becomes the sum-total of philosophy or politics, and while there may be grounds for disputing their reduction of communication to talk (or signification or...), they nonetheless have a point: "communication" tends to be both an overworked and a poorly-theorized concept.

I mentioned the work of Harold Innis in my previous post, and here I want to do so again. What's fascinating about Innis' understanding of communication is that he uses it to encompass not only modern communication apparatuses and infrastructure (e.g., phones, radio, TV, etc.), but also such things are roadways, sea ways, canals, rivers, and more. There is, in other words, a remarkable materiality in his vision of communication that's linked solidly with the earth and the environment.

Now, it would be ludicrous to suggest that Innis and D+G offer anything approaching a similar perspective as each understands (and criticizes) the idea of communication. They do share a common interest, however, in the material facticity of communicative events, as well as a grounding relationship in the geos--the Earth. Like Innis, in other words, D+G are among the very few who to take seriously the communicativity (if that's even a word) of the natural world. That focus seems to me vital if "communication" is to remain a serviceable concept in contemporary political and intellectual life, especially if we take seriously the charge of de-centering North Atlantic modernity.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

The Anti-Oedipus Papers

Yes, I's been awhile. I've been plodding away on my book, feverishly trying to finish my chapter on Oprah's Book Club. I'm near to wrapping it up, thankfully, and so now seems like as good a time as any to write. Thanks for bearing with me. I know it seemed as though D&R had gone dark.

A few weeks ago, I was thrilled to receive Felix Guattari's The Anti-Oedipus Papers (Semiotext[e], 2006). Admittedly, I haven't yet found the time to give it a thorough read. My own book's just taken too much of my energy. I have managed to read some of it, however, and I've given all of it at least a thorough skim for now. The book's brilliant--but not for the reasons you might think.

What's striking to me about the book is the look it affords into both Deleuze and Guattari and Guattari's own process. What's also striking is the welcome, vulnerable portrait of Guattari that emerges in The Anti-Oedipus Papers. Anti-Oedipus, and indeed most of Guattari's individual and collaborative work is so forthright, declarative, and argumentative. I don't fault him for that; indeed, part of what makes that body of work so compelling is precisely its tone, not to mention the way in which tone helps convey the creativity of D+G's ideas. At the same time, though, I'm pleased to see here Guattari's more tentative, perhaps even insecure side, in addition to the experiments-in-action of such an experimental thinker. The book that I think most closely resembles this one is Harold Innis' Idea File, which likewise consists of half-baked ideas, thoughts, quotations, random stream-of-consciousness, and other such things that lend insight into how a voracious thinker works. You really have to be pretty bold to put your "process" out there like that.

I'm also pleased to see how both the introduction and Guattari himself draw attention to the work of Fanny Deleuze, Gilles Deleuze's partner. Too often, the significant contributions women have made to the production of landmark texts have gotten systematically erased. I'm glad to see at least a palimpsest beginning to form here.

I'd be curious to hear how others are responding to the book, as well as to Deleuze's latest release, Two Regimes of Madness.