On “the position of being human”

I am spending most of my days at the Library of Congress and I recently worked my way through the Lynd papers from the Middletown studies of the 1920s and 30s. The correspondence is fascinating and there are lots of great excerpts. The image below is a response to a query from Robert Lynd about the royalty structure for the book. I don’t know if a publisher or a sponsoring organization would be so snide today, but the expectations of the book were probably comparably low. Here is the best part:

It is, of course, understood that the authors have actually no claim of any kind on royalties covering this publication: however the Institute does recognise that it’s [sic] share with the authors of the book the position of being human, and that if the book is a success the terms of publication would likely lead to thoughts of the authors participating in royalties.

Five thousand copies is set as the minimum for discussing changing this scheme. By 1959, Middletown had sold 59 000 copies.

Bowen to Lynd

If only

An article on Saturday about “Otherwise: Queer Scholarship Into Song,” at the Dixon Place performance space in Manhattan, quoted incorrectly from a comment by Ann Pellegrini, an associate professor at New York University, while she was impersonating the gender theorist Judith Butler and deconstructing the lyrics of “The Girl From Ipanema.” She said that the lyrics reflect “the ocularcentrism of the Western episteme,” not the “oracular-centrism.”


This video is making the rounds today and I wanted to preserve it here.

There’s so much to say. There’s the way we hear virtually nothing form JP2 (he lets his custom batting gloves do the talking), but instead see him connect on pitch after pitch, just Skrimshandering while his Pope buddies engage in a conversation about batting cage franchising. The practiced way his handlers respond to the question “What position does his Holiness like to play?” with, “Any position he wants.” The slap singles. The owner’s insistence that the Pope’s time is almost up. Oh, he hit a triple.

It’s the kind of treasure that surfaces regularly on the internet but for me it’s like the perfect Frederick Wiseman documentary: the leaders of creaky institutions caught in totally banal situations, brought into relief by the movement of the camera. Pope–moustache guy. Moustache guy–Pope. Perfect.

Interview with Mara Mills

I am very happy to announce that the newest issue of the McGill journal Seachange is now available. This year’s theme is “talk.”

The issue features an interview I conducted with Mara Mills from NYU. Mara is a historian of technology and a brilliant theorist of disability studies and communication. The PDF is here. Mara’s expertise on the intersections of communication and disability is superlative.

I’ve taken quite a liking to the interview format for these things–and this issue’s theme gave me an excuse to do another one. You can read my interview from last year with Carrie Rentschler about her Kitty Genovese project here.

Many congratulations to Caroline Bem and Rafico Ruiz, who continue the thankless task of organizing the journal from beginning to end.

The Original Taste Shamer

There are already terms for this practice, actually there are many. The practice being that of making people feel bad for having not heard, seen, or read some specific cultural text. I call it taste shaming. It might seem more accurate to call it canon shaming or “just being kind of dickish” but I think that the stronger link is with a distinct sense of taste and how a cluster of texts come to comprise a particular social grouping’s cultural field (I am not linking to the Amazon store for Distinction because: part of the problem).

Taste shaming, despite its negative connotations, is often good natured–an expressed desire that the people we keep close enjoy the things we enjoy–but it can also look a lot like bullying when it becomes a gatekeeping mechanism. When we talk about taste shaming today we have to talk about the availability of texts: the online repository of accesible music, video, and reading material exaggerates the feeling that there is no excuse for unfamiliarity. This is bogus for any number reasons (time, money, technical facility, fears of legal action) not the least of which is that the works that get taste shamed about often look a lot like the objects of canonization of past eras: the works of so-called great artists, authors, and creators, often concerned with large scale social critique and grand portraits of (male) angst.

Here is the part where this semi-serious post is actually the set-up for a joke. In the contemporary period there is no greater object of taste shaming than a five-season television program made by David Simon. In recently watching Kathryn Bigelow’s 1995 film Strange Days, I found evidence that Ralph Fiennes is the OG Taste Shamer and almost certainly a time traveller. Behold how he manipulates Angela Bassett (character name “Mace” [!!]) into finally watching his favourite TV show.

Taste Shame from Dylan on Vimeo.