“So as to give them courage we must teach people to be shocked by themselves.”

Ignore the Vapid Headline… (HUM415)

… and read the interview. We’re going to be reading Graeber in a couple of weeks.

She is Wow! (HUM415)


Above: an ad for a recent South Korean television series the title of which, it seems, translates to She is Wow! Obviously, Pelevin comes to mind (“Wow!Wow!Wow!”) but there’s also a Kpop connection here. A-Ra (Oh Hyun-Kyung)– an actress reaching middle age– has a blandly androgynous son named Min-Kyu (Jin Young, a member of B1A4) who has been expelled from school in the United States. This crisis adds to A-Ra’s existing difficulties: her career is suffering because of her age (she’s 43, which is, like, 89 in actress years) and she hasn’t had sex with her self-absorbed husband in a decade or more. Such professional and sexual frustration, then, is the main ingredient for a moderately amusing farce rife with visual and verbal innuendo, one which also showcases the instrumentalization of human relations and the rapacity of the pop culture industry. Watch the first episode and you’ll see what I mean.

Prairie Fire

“After long struggle, power will be in the hands of the people. Society will have to be reorganized, toward the integration of each with the whole, where people can realize themselves in peace and freedom. There will be rebuilding to do, but the tremendous power of creative human energy– revealed now in flashes of liberated space and in struggle– will be freed to fulfill its potential. Freed from the constrictions, prejudices and fearful anxieties of imperialist society, people can be better. Our values are collective and communal. Birth and death will be celebrated with dignity: old people will have respect, children will have rights. With the elimination of waste from our society, all the people can eat healthy food. The cities can be real human gardens. We will have to rebuild them, reclaim the rivers and forests, and the dying species. Wielded in the interest of everyone, technology can serve us; no labor need be unproductive. Our art, music, poetry, theater will interpret and awaken the relationship of ourselves to the world forces, acting on each other. Our culture will be insurgent, celebrate people’s victories and record the history of the struggle. We will support those who are still fighting and continue fighting ourselves. We will awaken our sense of being part of a world community.”

– Weather Underground, Prairie Fire.

Shevek to Keng (HUM415)

“You don’t understand what time is…. You say the past is gone, the future is not real, there is no change, no hope. you think Anarres is a future that cannot be reached, as your past cannot be changed. So there is nothing but the present, this Urras, the rich, real, stable present, the moment now. And you think that is something which can be possessed! You envy it a little. You think it’s something you would like to have. But it is not real, you know. It is not stable, not solid– nothing is. Things change, change. You cannot have anything…. And least of all can you have the present, unless you accept with it the past and the future. Not only the past but also the future, not only the future but also the past! Because they are real: only their reality makes the present real. You will not achieve or even understand Urras unless you accept the reality, the enduring reality, of Anarres. You are right, we are the key. But when you said that, you did not really believe it. You don’t believe in Anarres. You don’t believe in me, though I stand with you, in this room, in this moment…. My people were right, and I was wrong, in this: We cannot come to you. You will not let us. You do not believe in change, in chance, in evolution. You would destroy us rather than admit our reality, rather than admit that there is hope! We cannot come to you. We can only wait for you to come to us” (Le Guin 349-350).

Measuring Inequality


Dialectics in Exile

The village of Hollywood was planned according to the


People in these parts have of heaven. In these parts

They have come to the conclusion that God

Requiring a heaven and a hell, didn’t need to

Plan two establishments but

Just the one: heaven. It

Serves the unprosperous, unsuccessful

As hell.

– Bertolt Brecht, “Hollywood Elegies”

Homo Zapiens (HUM415)

It’s not entirely clear to me what happened at the end of class. That was a sales pitch, right? In any case, it seemed suited to the material that we covered. The “choice” (demand) to consume permeates every environment.

As I said in class, in order to understand the present we must acknowledge not only the social totality’s falsities and coercions, but its seductions. This trailer for The Paradise– based on Zola’s 19th century novel Au Bonheur des Dames– emphasizes the romantic entanglements of its characters, but in a way that focus functions as a kind of metaphor for consumer desire.

It’s pretty obvious that the power point format reduces complex ideas to the intellectual equivalent of rabbit droppings. One of the purposes of philosophy/theory is to keep thought in motion. When our thinking stops it hardens, concretizes, becomes “positive.”

Working through the concept of reification by reading Hawkes is an activity that is categorically different from copying down truncated phrases from a slideshow. So this slideshow might be useful to you as a supplement to your reading but I don’t think it’ll work as a substitute for that work. Here it is:

Questions to focus your reading:

What is a type one (T1) subject? Type two (T2) subject? (hint: T2 is HZ)

How does T1 become T2? (short answer: “technomodification”)

What are the various “wow impulses”? How are they distinct? What role do they play in the formation of HZ?

What is ORANUS? (“moutharse”)

What is HZ’s response to the question “What am I?” (hint: red slippers)

What do the following phrases mean in relation to one another:

1. Homo homini lupus est

2. Man is wow to man

3. Wow Wow Wow!

What is another way of saying “money has long since been reduced to nothing but itself”? (cf Hawkes)






Magic (HUM415)

Standards vs. Standardization


Consider some of the recent evidence for the decline in academic standards.  In the early 1960s, full-time college students spent 40 hours per week on their academic activities – including class attendance, homework, studying, and writing.  By the 2000s, the number had declined to 27 hours for full-time students – a reduction of 33 percent.  Similarly, the time spent studying decreased from 25 hours in 1961 to 13 hours in 2003, a reduction of nearly 50 percent.  Today, many students expect classes with little reading, as a third of social science students who are surveyed avoid classes with more than 40 pages of reading per week.

The decline of standards is accompanied by incredible grade inflation.  Recent research on American grades found that a massive easing of standards took place across hundreds of colleges and universities in the last 50 years.  About 15 percent of all grades were “A”s in the 1940s and 1950s, while about a third of grades were “B”s, a third were “C”s, and about 20 percent were “D”s of “F”s.  By the late 2000s, the percentage of “A”s was nearly 45 percent, “B”s were 30 percent, and “Cs” were 15 percent.  Just 10 percent of grades were “D”s or “F”s.

In their book, Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses, Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa discuss the “logic” driving the neoliberalization and gutting of higher ed standards.  “A market-based logic,” they argue, “encourages students to focus on its [education’s] instrumental value – that is, as a credential – and to ignore its academic meaning and moral character.”  I wholeheartedly agree.  The neoliberal model treats teachers and students as automatons – as nothing more than “customers” and “sellers” in a “transaction” aimed at conferring “a degree.”  Teachers mechanistically grant this degree, and students pay for that benefit to procure a job, and what they hope is a ticket into the middle class.




Quickly (HUM415)

Today in class we screened ten minutes of the documentary film The Shock Doctrine in order to gain a very rough sense of the socio-historical context of Homo Zapiens. (Click the hyperlink to see the clip. It begins at the 38:00 mark.) If you would like a deeper introduction to the immediate post-Soviet moment, you can consult Naomi Klein’s book of the same name which is located on the Free Books page.

We also wandered through the first three chapters of Pelevin’s novel. On Thursday we will focus primarily on chapters 6 and 7. Chapter 7, “Homo Zapiens,” is, you’ll note, demanding. You may need to read it twice. As always, underline passages and take notes. Keep Hawkes’s Ideology in mind as you read. Make connections. As I said in class, the “Post-Marxism” and “Postmodernism” chapters of Hawkes’s book are easily the most useful for our present purposes. Zizek and Adorno in particular offer us a way of analyzing the present and a kind of point of entry to Pelevin’s novel.

We very quickly reviewed some of the basic concepts pertaining to ideology. A few questions you should be able to answer at this point are as follows: What is the difference between use value and exchange value? What is the relationship between exchange value, the commodity fetish, and reification? How do these last three relate to ideology-as-false-consciousness?

I will ask you these questions in the form of a “pop” quiz on Thursday.


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