Wednesday

Feb. 24, 2010

Travel Directions

by Joan I. Siegel

There ought to be a word
for the way you know how to get some place
but don't remember the names of streets
the number of turns and blinking yellow lights
so that if someone asked
you really couldn't say
except you know the road starts out straight
and when it's sunny the branches blink across
the windshield making you want to rub your eyes
then the road turns sharply uphill past a red barn
where a black dog jumps out to race you for a quarter mile
and finally recedes in the mirror like a disappointment
and you remember the road dips downhill
into the shadows of the morning
where you hear Bach's unaccompanied 'cello
and understand what a good fit the 'cello makes
in the hollow of the body
where grief begins and for an indeterminate time
the road winds vaguely past
houses    people    road signs
while time hums in your ear and you remember
the dream you left behind that morning
which had nothing
to do with where
you are going

"Travel Directions" by Joan I. Siegel, from Hyacinth for the Soul. © Deerbrook Editions, 2009. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of Steve Jobs, born in San Francisco (1955), who dropped out of college after a semester, went to India in search of spiritual enlightenment, returned a devout Buddhist, experimented with LSD, and then got a job with a video game maker, where he was in charge of designing circuit board for one of the company's games.

He co-founded Apple Computers, and in a commercial during the Super Bowl in January 1984 he unveiled the Macintosh. The commercial was filled with allusions to George Orwell's 1984. The Macintosh was the first small computer to catch on with the public that used a graphical user interface, or GUI (sometimes pronounced "gooey"). In the past, computers were run by text-based interfaces, which meant that a person had to type in textual commands or text labels to navigate their computers. But with a graphical user interface, people could simply click on icons instead of typing in hard-to-remember, precise text commands.

The graphic user interface revolutionized computers, and it's on almost all computers today. It's on a whole lot of other devices as well, like fancy vending machines and digital household appliances and photocopying machines and airport check-in kiosks. And graphical user interface is what's used with iPods, another of Apple's wildly successful products.

Jobs once said, "I would trade all of my technology for an afternoon with Socrates."

It's the birthday of a woman who has been called "one of the superstars of '90s academia" and "the most famous feminist philosopher in the United States" and "the most brilliantly eclectic theorist of sexuality in recent years." It's a name well known to grad students in the humanities across the English-speaking world: Judith Butler, (books by this author) born in Cleveland, Ohio (1956).

She's best known for a book published 20 years ago, called Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity (1990). It's used in gender studies classes all over the world now, and it helped provide the foundation for the academic discipline of queer theory. The argument she makes draws, she says, "upon Simone de Beauvoir's claim that 'one is not born, but rather becomes a woman.'" In the book, she critiques the works of theorists like Foucault and Freud and Derrida, and she "deconstructs" gender and sex.

She argues, among other things, that the feminist movement had been wrong to try to classify "women" all together as a group of people sharing similar traits, that doing this just reinforced a binary approach to gender that limited people's options — when a person could choose from a spectrum of gender identifications. Ultimately, she argues that we "perform" our gender.

She currently teaches Rhetoric and Comparative Literature at Berkeley. Her work is known for being really hard to understand. She once wrote this sentence: "The move from a structuralist account in which capital is understood to structure social relations in relatively homologous ways to a view of hegemony in which power relations are subject to repetition, convergence, and rearticulation brought the question of temporality into the thinking of structure, and marked a shift from a form of Althusserian theory that takes structural totalities as theoretical objects to one in which the insights into the contingent possibility of structure inaugurate a renewed conception of hegemony as bound up with the contingent sites and strategies of the rearticulation of power."

But she's also composed sentences like: "Let's face it. We're undone by each other. And if we're not, we're missing something. If this seems so clearly the case with grief, it is only because it was already the case with desire. One does not always stay intact."

And, "I think that every sexual position is fundamentally comic."

It's the birthday of Wilhelm Karl Grimm, (books by this author) born in Hanau, Germany (1786). He and Jacob, his older brother, published Grimm's Fairy Tales (1812), the first collection of folklore in modern publishing history. The Grimms enlisted the help of acquaintances to find stories, and one of their best collectors was a pretty young woman named Dorothea Wild, and she and Wilhelm got married.

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®

 









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