Friday, November 26, 2010

Cooking for one, Thanksgiving for two, and other impossibilities

I've discussed before how hard it is to cook for one. But then I solved that problem by getting married and doubling the audience for my dishes. This was going really well until Thanksgiving came around and I discovered that a Thanksgiving for two is like cooking for one, squared. And I didn't even cook most of it. (Ahem, thanks, Whole Foods turkey roasters.) There is no way that two people can eat all the requisite Thanksgiving dishes in one, or two, or seven sittings, even when we made sure to buy/make small portions.

Small portions:

I've come up with the best solution I can imagine to this problem. I am imagining that Thanksgiving is a seven-day holiday. Every day for seven days, a new Thanksgiving. This might not seem like a departure from the usual view of Thanksgiving leftovers, nor does it seem to resolve the problem of getting tired of eating the same food every night. BUT, an important part of Thanksgiving is not eating much else but dinner that day. So, if you don't eat any other food for seven days, dinner will always be appetizing, even if it's Day 7 of Turkey.

Unless it goes bad first.

The other solution is to combine efforts with others next year.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Signs of the onset of finals

Sitting in the library with my dutiful pile of JSTOR printouts and half-written paper, watching episodes of Buffy. Even the undergrads express scorn.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

A call for returning to antisocial media

The proliferation of social media options underneath web text is beginning to drive me insane. Why do I have to "digg", "twitter," "stumbleupon," "like," "subscribe," "delicious," or "connect via Meebo" (also, Meebo???) to an article? Can't I just "read" it?

Sunday, November 14, 2010

9th District Doom

In the past, it was possible to attribute the terrible performance of Republican nominees for the 9th District House race to their craziness or questionable literacy. The 9th District isn't actually competitive even though Jan Schakowsky's husband is a convicted felon and she's been involved in many sketchy ethics conflicts, but Miss Self-Important has long seen it as an opportunity if played right, and she even had a plan to play it right. But then Joel Pollak played about three-fourths of her plan, and got 33 percent of the vote. Miss Self-Important is forced to conclude that the 9th District is one of those places so deeply entrenched in its habits that it will keep re-electing its incumbent even after the incumbent's death.

Onwards to my other political ambitions, then: the illustrious District 219 school board.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

The future of political theory, or mopes about paper-writing

When people around me want to talk about "the future of the discipline"--and not just political theory but any discipline--I respond with an immediate and pressing urge to discuss television and eat cookies instead. However, Emily Hale has two interesting posts summarizing recent talks at Georgetown on this question (the question being the future, not cookies).

I often wish I could "focus on something besides disciplinary debates" when I write papers, and I try to conceive of papers that will be more than that initially. But disciplinary debates have proven to be a centrifugal force that sucks in all thought that hovers in its proximity. In the first place, there is a disciplinary obligation to "engage with the literature" on whatever subject you're working on. And when you start the process of engaging, not only do your own thoughts start falling into the well-worn grooves cut by years of previous work on the same topic, but you get caught up in debating these people, often on their own terms. The deliberative democrats are wrong, for example, and you must show them the error of their ways! This is very urgent and requires many pages, because Amy Gutmann is sure to read your grad student term paper and be cowed! This is as true of work on political issues as work on political thinkers, although of course one's enemies change. But dangers lurk at the other end of the spectrum as well, where political theory relies on no precedent from past work, but instead advances arguments grounded in some kind of internal or assumed logic of the world in general (for example, "justice requires that..."). Here, by avoiding "the literature" and any grounding in reality, political theory becomes vague, confusing, bizarre, and finally floats off into the clouds somewhere, never to be read or cited again.

What Strauss, Arendt, and Shklar did is unusual and exemplary in this sense, but also extremely hard to imitate. (Actually, I know very little about what Shklar did outside of writing a book on Rousseau, so let's just leave her out of this example although she's in Emily Hale's.) This is why they're awesome, and I'm just a mediocre grad student. But it's also not clear that what they did can really be re-created now in academic departments, since, surely if the canon itself has been exhausted, the subfield of explaining in sweeping, unified ways the decline of the West in the past century is spent, too.

Still, political thought doesn't actually end. I feel a kind of strange hope every time I am "engaging with the literature" and suddenly realize that it has colonized my mind and patterned all my thoughts after its insipid little template. At that point, my paper is usually doomed to petty disciplinary debate status, but I think maybe someday, someone else will use this epiphany to do something bigger than bicker with deliberative democrats, like show why such patterns of political thinking are based on grave errors and will imminently destroy us. That person will be the more direct descendant of Strauss and Arendt than we quibblers and scribblers are.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Worlds collide

Two of my favorite things--UChicago and YA novels--meet. Some may recall the author of this book as the writer of the only actually funny humor column ever to be published in the Maroon. (I think maybe some other of her columns were funny, but this one stands out in my memory and I'm not about to pore over the archives.)

In the past, I have worried over the decline of YA novels into melodramatic mush, and I should update that concern to include the new danger of stupid vampire sex mush. Hopefully, a Chicago alum will have done better. I'll find out when I have time to read this book by buying and then returning it to the Coop (life is hard when the university library isn't into the YA genre), like maybe over winter break.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

An open letter to the students at HKS

Dear students,

Do you really entertain thoughts like, "I really like how you contribute a different perspective to our discussions" and "I'm so sorry for disagreeing with you, but I want to reassure you my disagreements are respectful"? Please tell me no, and that this is just an HKS-specific form of cruelty you have chosen to inflict on yourselves in order to "network" with one another. If that is the case, you should recognize that I will never be running the State Department or the UN, and as a result I will never be in a position to employ you or otherwise determine your fate, so you do not need to placate me or include me in your Circle of Warm Fuzzies. While I'm sure you're all nice enough, we travel in different worlds, HKS peeps. Let's keep it that way.

No love,
Miss Self-Important