Rough Theory

Theory In The Rough

Category Archives: Procrastination

Intensification of Labour

intensification of labourApologies for the quiet around here lately: I seem to be caught in the shifting sands of a chapter that reconfigures itself every time I look at it. I have hopes that the most recent redraft will settle all but the transitional moments between this chapter and the next… We’ll see how I feel about this when I wake up in the morning…

I’ve been trying to get the thesis out of my thoughts so that I can sleep (without some sort of transition to make myself think about something else – something I can finish thinking about before going to sleep ;-P – I find myself bolting awake every few minutes with some reconfigured sentence structure or organisational improvement for whatever I’m trying to write), I ran across Hugo Gellert’s Karl Marx’s ‘Capital’ in Lithographs (hat tip Unemployed Negativity). One could argue that, strictly speaking, this isn’t terribly far removed from the thesis. ;-P And, I have to admit, I found myself glancing down periodically at the text, rather than the images, and thinking, “Shit! I have to write something on this passage!” Still, it was at least a different way to associate to Capital.

[Note: image from the online text at Graphic Witness]

Coming Unshelved

I’ve been to my university library three times today. It’s about to close for a week for the holidays, and I’m finding myself having panicky, pre-withdrawal, symptoms. I keep anxiously associating to books I’ve been meaning to read, and running down there to check them out. This impulse is generating new, flow-on anxieties. As it happens, several of the books I’ve attempted to check out, aren’t held at this campus, and so have to be recalled from other places: they won’t get here before the break. Some irrational part of myself – evidently certain that, over the next week, I’ll read through the seven books that I’m in the middle of right now, the dozens of other books I’ve had littering my office, untouched, for months, plus all the books I’ve just checked out today – is somehow finding energy for anxiety that I won’t have immediate access to these recalled materials. It’s like part of me is going, but, if you don’t have these exact books, a major breakthrough in your research will, will, er… um… be delayed a week!

The reality is, what I need most to do in the coming months isn’t really to read (although I’ll certainly be doing a fair amount of that, as well), but write – and write – and write. My theory is the absurd anxiety over lack of access to reading material, has more to do with the recognition that now, finally, is that “quiet time” I’ve been asking for – away from meetings and everyday distractions – so that I can finally revise a whole pile of material into some sort of coherent and linear shape. Wish me luck… 🙂

So My Laptop Died…

exploded Dell laptop Well, it didn’t die quite this dramatically – it’s been more a process of slow decline, which reached a certain point of perfection the evening before we presented in Tassie, where the machine simply refused to recharge any more. It adds an interesting, examination-like intensity to conference presentations, knowing that the only tweaks you can make to your talk, must be made within the remaining 90 minutes of your current battery life. It’s entirely possible the laptop gremlins had my best interests in mind – certainly my dead laptop ensured that I got far more sleep, the evening before the presentation, than I think L Magee was able to rationalise with a fully-functional laptop at his disposal.

In any event, traveling back to Melbourne, I had high hopes that the problem would be something simple and inexpensive – maybe the power supply or battery. But no, it’s major – of the sort that it makes more sense to purchase something new, and thus of the sort that causes one to spend an entire evening researching what new toys have come on the market in the intervening years since one has last shopped for a laptop. I think I’ve found what I’m after, and will of course now spend the morning calling around to various places, clarifying ambiguities in specs and such and, if this is successful, no doubt spend the better part of the next couple of days configuring the new machine so that it’s ritualistically prepared for this summer of intensive dissertation writing. I lost no data in the demise of the old laptop, so this is more an opportunity to prune: what from that old machine really needs to be reincarnated in the new?

All of this is by way of saying that my online time has been and will continue to be somewhat limited over the next few days. My backup desktop at the university – a default machine that I inherited with my current office – is bolted to a desk in a position that sits very far back from where I have to sit to type on it, placing the screen an uncomfortable distance from my near-sighted self. And anyone who tried to read along with my response to Andrew Montin’s question yesterday, will also realise that the desktop’s keyboard is prone (at least, when confronting my laptop-conditioned typing reflexes) to duplicating some letters, while omitting others (trust me, I caught far more of these than made their way through to the published comment).

I’d like to write something following up on Andrew’s questions, looking into Brandom’s critique of “I-we” conceptions of the social, his references to history, his appeals to “the theorist” at key points in his argument – and, basically, open up the question of how immanent and reflexive Brandom can actually be seen to be. These were originally the sorts of points with which I had thought of concluding the ASCP presentation, and which, rightly or wrongly, I cut for purposes of time, but which I’d like to raise for discussion here. Andrew has opened these questions himself [er… perhaps I should say: Andrew has asked questions which have reminded me of these questions – perhaps not quite the same thing – certainly from Andrew’s point of view… ;-P], which hopefully suggests we were on the right track, in at least a rough sense, in wanting to raise these issues, in tandem with the vexed question of how Brandom understands “objectivity” and the notion of how our discursive practice opens the space for our “accountability” to dimensions of the world that do not depend on our perception or acknowledgment for their existence. I may wait, though, to write on these things, until I have a keyboard that doesn’t make me feel like I’m stuttering. (Of course, the new laptop keyboard may have its own issues – I therefore hereby blame all errors in my posts for the next several months – the conceptual, as well as the typographical – on whatever machine I happen to be purchasing to replace my sadly-defunct Dell…)

[Note: Image @2006 The Age, URL:,0.jpg%5D

Mostly Harmless

From the same folks who previously promised to send a “Delegate Survival Kit” for an upcoming conference, I received this today:

In the next 14 days we’ll be sending all delegates our “Delegate Survival Kit.” This should answer a lot of mysterious questions about the Conference.

So I suppose now we must all come up with some mysterious questions for the Delegate Survival Kit to address… (I must admit, I will now find it disappointing if this is not some kind of marketing via shaggy dog story…)

Your Future Is Our Future

I’ve been seeing this Westpac ad recently on billboards along my tram route. I gather the intention is to express that Westpac has made commitments to environmentally and socially responsible lending practices. This isn’t, though, my immediate association on seeing the ad… In many ways, in fact, this might make an excellent model for one of the demotivational posters at

Westpac ad showing penguin on melting ice shelf, captioned Your Future Is Our Future

Carded (Updated)

Since I clearly have nothing substantive to read and write about…

Adorno Theory CardI seem to remember L Magee having an idea like this some months backtheorycards:

The Trading Cards are a pack of 32 online cards featuring theorists and concepts close to the hearts of people interested in social and cultural theory, gender and identity, and media studies.

It’s very funny – I was just telling someone yesterday that Adorno is most widely known as “that guy who wrote elitist things on popular culture”. What timely confirmation! ;-P

My favourite description, though, has to be of Luhmann, whose answer to the question “what are your research plans” I might consider borrowing…

Hat tip Wildly Parenthetical – whose post also preserves a priceless reflection on the theoretical symptomology of styles of baldness.

Updated to add: Andrew over at Union Street seems to think these trading cards are “tokens to true nerdiness” – but hasn’t he seen the game that goes along with them? Doesn’t he believe most people would want to spend their evenings doing something like this?

1. Divide cards between players.

2. Decide who will go first.

3. The player whose turn it is, studies the card on top of their pile and selects either ‘Strengths‘, ‘Weaknesses / Risks‘ or ‘Special Skills‘.

4. All players then look at their own top card, and discuss who has got the best characteristic in this category.

For example:

— The Giddens risk, “Misguided postmodernists may attack”, is preferable to the Butler weakness, “Increasingly impenetrable writing style”. (It doesn’t matter if some postmodernists misunderstand your argument and slag you off. But if no-one can understand your argument in the first place, that’s bad). So here, when comparing ‘Weaknesses / Risks‘ , the player with the Giddens card wins (unless someone else’s card beats theirs).

— The Foucault strength, “Model of power innovative and realistic” is better than the Psychologists strength, “Resistance to postmodern self-doubt”. (Self-belief isn’t much of a contribution to the world, but good ideas are). So here, when comparing ‘Strengths‘ , the player with the Foucault card wins (unless someone else’s card beats theirs).

5. The winning player takes one card — the card which just lost that battle — from each other player.

6. If several players are involved, the discussions about who has the superior characteristic on their card will inevitably be more complex. In case of dispute, a majority vote decides the outcome. If this still does not decide it, then for God’s sake, go and watch TV instead or something.

7. The player with all (or most) of the cards at the end, wins.

Actually, my reading group sessions sort of work like this already… (Hmm… I wonder what sorts of cards could be written about the reading group members… ;-P)

Tracking Conversations?

I just wanted to draw attention to Adam’s technical question, posted in a comment below:

Great discussions like this one make me think there is a gap in our technology.

What I want is a metasite that only tracks conversations. It would represent the posts (including comments) relevant for any conversation sorted by time posted and post responded to, much like a threaded forum or mailing list. Does this exist? Can anyone make it?

Does anyone have a good workaround they’ve been using to keep track of this sort of thing?

To be honest, I tend to follow conversations via RSS readers and via wandering off to check out incoming links, and have therefore never looked into conversation tracking tools. On a very quick glance around (it’s amazing how motivating marking can be… ;-P), something like blogpulse’s Conversation Tracker looks designed to do something like what Adam is after.

When I entered the URL for the theoretical pessimism post at this blog, for example, it generated this. For Sinthome’s Problems of Self-Reflexivity, which was the more proximate epicentre of this discussion, it produces this. Some moments of the broader conversation drop out of these searches, perhaps because of the specific URLs with which I started – the discussions at Nate’s what in the hell… and Gabriel’s Self and World are two that come to mind…

Other ideas? How do people tend to track these things, once they start unfolding? This strikes me as the kind of thing that Kerim over at Keywords might have some thoughts on, perhaps… Or maybe GGollings or LMagee?

A Friend in Need

Naive netiquette question. I have a Facebook account, which I don’t use (I created it some months back for some specific reason I have now forgotten, but which didn’t involve an intention of using the account actively for the near future). I occasionally glance in to look at some of the discussions about my university, but have generally avoided learning much about the whole thing because, frankly, I have well and truly exceeded my personal quota of opportunities for online distraction for the foreseeable future. (I need something like a carbon trading scheme for units of online procrastination: disciplined people could fund their dissertations by trading their unused procrastination credits – they’d probably finish sooner and live more comfortably during their write-up – and so would the procrastinators!, having been appropriately incentivised to ration their procrastinatory impulses. Can everyone tell I’ve been sick and am still slightly delirious?)

At any rate, one consequence of not having paid any particular attention to Facebook is that I have no real idea of the internal norms and etiquette within the system. This morning, I got an email letting me know that a student has added me as a “friend”. Since I have hitherto remained friendless in Facebook, and am therefore actually reading the boilerplate text on notification mails, I noted with some amusement that Facebook: “need[s] you to confirm that you are, in fact, friends with [x].”

My question is this: is it normal for students to add faculty to their “friends”? Is it normal for faculty to confirm that they are, in fact, “friends”? I normally follow an expansive “when in Rome” policy on such things – in this case, though, I haven’t read the travel guide. Perhaps more Facebook-active folks can give me a sense of their experiences?

There Are Many Copies. And They Have a Plan.

There’s no reason for me to post this, other than that I keep laughing at it every time I glance at the newspaper. I’ve noticed the link URL and accompanying photo have gotten more amusing, and the article has climbed to a more prominent place on the news website, over the course of the day – probably because folks like me were emailing it to various people they knew. This is Australian Federal Police Commissioner Mick Keelty discussing… er… the brave new world of policing:

A cylonMr Keelty said it was hard to estimate how much money the AFP would need to combat technology-based crime.

But he identified the use of robotics and cloning as future challenges.

“Our environmental scanning tells us that even with some of the cloning of human beings – not necessarily in Australia but in those countries that are going to allow it – you could have potentially a cloned part-person, part-robot,” he said.

My suggestion: the first budget request should be dedicated to an overhaul of whatever “environmental scanning” is. ‘Cause somehow I’m not convinced that it’s giving them the best intelligence.

Notes to Self

I recently received an urgent request from a reader for a copy of an article I had discussed on the blog some months ago. The article is in fact quite difficult to find – the reading group had trouble sourcing it – and so I was happy to help out. I offered to scan and email the article the next time I was in the office.

Now that I’m here, and having rediscovered the hiding place of this particular document – conveniently filed in a pile of completely unrelated reading materials – I see that my only copy of the text is covered with my own marginal comments. Anyone who has seen my handwriting knows that it is beyond illegible, so any substantive remarks I’ve made on the document are probably quite safe from being deciphered. What is legible, unfortunately, is an embarrassing number of impatient and exasperated ventings, including the occasional “No!”, the periodic melodramatic “sigh”, and one off-kilter smiley face… While this text admittedly contains nothing as bizarre as the marginalia for my copy of Hegel’s Phenomenology, I nevertheless find myself blushing at the thought that I have committed to passing on to someone else a text annotated with my own temperamental outbursts, interspersed with illegible “substantive” scrawlings that read to me now rather like I’ve been caught in the act of pacing around like a mad person, ranting at the absent author…

The things we assume no one will see…