Mostly disconnected thoughts
young faye
  1. Running is a solitary activity, and when I say this I don't mean simply that one tends to run alone. One also practices the violin alone; but it is possible to share music with others in a way which is more difficult with running. I don't expect someone else to appreciate my running a marathon as they might appreciate my playing Kreisler or Bach. You have to be a fairly unusual person to really enjoy watching other people run--probably, you have to be a runner yourself. I don't ask friends to come see me race because I hate the idea of them being bored by it. And generally what reservations I have about running have to do with the sense in which it is solipsistic. Not that there's anything wrong with a little solipsism: I understand that one of the things about running that appeals to many people is precisely that it provides much-needed "alone time." But time spent alone is the last thing I need more of these days, so I wonder if other more interpersonal activities might prove more nourishing.
  2. The best way I can describe the way K. intimidated and bewitched me is to say that she seemed at once more desirous and more desired (than me). A few years ago we talked about the boy who came after me, Z., and K. said that she had been subject to a kind of inferiority complex in his regard. She called him a "neo-human," and his seeming perfection struck her as uncanny. After that conversation, I wondered if the way that K. felt about Z. was similar to the way I had felt about K. myself. In that vein, I wondered: does feeling intensely about someone always involve the belief that they are somehow superior to oneself? 
  3. While looking through my Amherst yearbook, my sister Katie remarked that it contained many pictures of Asians. In the past, it has struck me that whereas my friends have always been predominantly Asian, Katie's friends have been predominantly white. (I don't think that this discrepancy is attributable to mere contingency, either. Relative to other schools, Amherst does not have an outsize Asian population; and anyway, the trend in question began long before I left Minnesota.) The thing is, I don't think of myself as authentically Asian in any strong sense--I don't speak Vietnamese, for instance, something which caused me a lot of anxiety in high school. Moreover, I never take myself to be consciously seeking out other Asians, and I generally don't think of the fact that my friends are Asian as providing an explanation for why we get along. Comparing my personal history to my sister's, though, I think that there must be an implicit sense in which I do identify as Asian (and which Katie does not share).
  4. I loved An Education. I thought it was a little weird, though, because the film never actually gives a reply to Jenny's (very credible) complaint that academics are useless and boring. 

(no subject)
young faye
One thing I like about Camille Paglia, Slavoj Zizek, Chuck Klosterman, and David Foster Wallace is that they don't distinguish between high and low culture. (To a large extent I also think of Barb this way, since her aesthetic judgments are very often unconventional.) What's to like in low-brow? Well, one answer is simply that there is something novel and illuminating in being shown something interesting or beautiful in places where we are not accustomed to look. Everyday life seems a little richer when we can see as intelligent or illustrative music, movies and books which we would ordinarily write off as noise.

Speaking on a more personal level, though, I think that I experience a certain thrill when reading the aforementioned authors because of the way I relate to the idea of canon. Partly as a result of my education, I feel the pull of what Barb once called "academic materalism," or a preoccupation with the prestige and vain trappings of erudition (as opposed to a genuine, sincere intellectual engagement). I think that anyone who has at some point taken it upon herself to read predominantly "classic" books can appreciate this mindset, according to which there is a firm division between substantive art and literature on the one hand, and pop-culture detritus on the other.

I've heard that people who have had a puritanical upbringing often turn out, ironically enough, to be the kinkiest ones around. The idea is that when someones tries to repress what are in fact healthy, natural impulses, she may actually reproduce them in a more intense, perverse or otherwise maladjusted form; she may respond more strongly to sex precisely because it has been forbidden. In some ways I think that this phenomenon is analogous to my experience of high and low culture. That is, I find it exciting when cerebral, agile thinkers are able to give an analysis of Michael Jackson lyrics or the importance of "Twilight" precisely because I have internalized the notion that this is not done. There is something titillating in the fact that Paglia treats Madonna with the same intellectual seriousness (reverence, even) which she reserves also for Sophocles, Shakespeare and Dante. It seems at once subversive and liberating.

Monkey see
young faye
Here is an excerpt from a lecture by Stanford psychologist Jennifer Eberhardt:

Broadly speaking, the subject of this excerpt is what psychologists call "implicit bias." (Think of the difference between someone who unabashedly claims that blacks are dangerous, and one who insists that this is untrue but crosses the street whenever a black man approaches.) In Eberhardt's study, subjects who claimed ignorance of stereotypical, racist comparisons of blacks to apes seemed nonetheless to respond to such comparisons, as seen in the degraded objects test. So, the idea is that these individuals have some subconscious appreciation of racist attitudes, even as they explicitly disavow them.

Isn't there an obvious alternative hypothesis here? That is, mightn't the reaction of the study participants be explained by the fact that blacks really do, quite simply, look more like apes than do whites?

What do you call a bunch of Mexicans running down a hill?
I like off-color jokes. I think they're funny, but I also think they're healthy, even important, and I'm impatient with people who insist on constant political correctness. At the same time, I've found that most of the people whom I admire are not at all the sort to enjoy (or to tell) off-color jokes. There are times when I'll crack up at a particularly crude joke and then think, "Geez, would I want to be around someone who thinks this is funny?" It's a strange position to be in. On the one hand, I absolutely do not think that there's anything shameful about an off-color sense of humor, or even that more wholesome sensibilities are somehow preferable; and yet when I consider those who have my fondest affection, or whom I find really charismatic, they always seem to fall on the other side of the spectrum.

This happens to me fairly often. For a more significant example (it seems more significant to me, anyway), I've noticed that the people whose passions and intelligence I most respect are students of poetry and literature. This despite the fact that I'm a philosophy student without a literary bone in my body. I read a student essay this past week which I thought was incredible, and I was a little unsettled by the difficulty I had in imagining a philosophy paper which might have the same effect. This case is analogous to that of humor. That is, I don't think any of this means that I should actually be studying English and not philosophy--and I definitely don't take this as evidence that literature is somehow superior to philosophy. But what I find compelling in other people often seems to be totally different from the things which (1) I rationally think are valuable, and which (2) apply to me personally.

It's on like Donkey Kong
young faye
I always thought it was kind of funny that the word "highfalutin" is itself highfalutin, with the result that you can never criticize any speech or writing as such without falling into self-parody.

I thought that the love scenes in Wall-E were really affecting. The green angle--it wasn't entirely too heavy, but it came close, and when the film snuck in a  George Bush reference ("Stay the course"), I had flashbacks of George Lucas' ham-fisted attempt to inject political overtones into Star Wars ("Only a Sith deals in absolutes"). I really like Eve, from the OST.

C. Pham channels Ichiro
When I was a sophomore in high school, Ms. Desai had one of her classes create self-identity projects (I don't know what they were actually called). I wasn't in that class, but the projects were exhibited in the library, and the idea seemed to be to create displays or presentations or works of art which symbolized aspects of the creator's personality. (For instance, I remember one project which consisted of a model house in which photographs from throughout the student's life were placed.)

Chi's project was fairly elaborate. From a starting point marked on the floor, you would follow a series of paths marked by yellow arrows. Along the way were various signs which built anticipation of the final destination of whichever path you happened to be on ("Almost there!"). And when you'd reached the end of one path, you'd go back and set out on the next path in the sequence.

Now, Chi was known as a tennis star at Blake, and the first path lead to a pile of tennis paraphenalia (tennis balls, medals won at tennis tournaments, etc.). The second path led to a similar but larger pile of tennis stuff, and the third path led to a pile yet larger. By the time I set out on the fourth and final path, I was pretty curious as to what I would find at the end. It was ... a really huge pile of tennis stuff. Much larger than the other piles, centered around an impressive trophy and arranged in the loose form of a pyramid, but otherwise not unlike the others.

I was really confused by this. What was Chi trying to say? My assumption had been that the final pile would reveal Chi's life outside of tennis. It would show us that our narrow assumptions about his personality and interests did not do him justice. "Look!" he might have said. "To you I'm just a tennis jock, but see I also enjoy crocheting and fanfiction and stand-up comedy! I have a rich inner life!!"

Instead, I found more of the same. What's the explanation? Was Chi's project meant to be tongue-in-cheek? Was it his intention to confound my expectations? Or is it really possible that the culmination of his passions, fears and dreams really is just more tennis stuff?

Summer Reading Update
Diary of a Bad Year J.M. Coetzee
Coetzee has the makings of a fine blogger.
Disgrace J.M. Coetzee
Really, really lovely.
Ball Four Jim Bouton
Take home message: (1) Ball players constantly fear for their livelihood, and (2) nearly everyone in the sport is parochial and/or stupid.
After Dark Haruki Murakami
Kind of underwhelming. There's just not much here--"thin gruel," as one reviewer put it.
American Psycho Bret Easton Ellis
This wasn't as sharp as I had expected. The book reads as though Ellis wrote it in one effusive sitting and never revised. 

One of the things I love best about Amherst is the way the birds begin chirping around 3:30 or 4:00 am. They're very regular about this: When you hear them, you can see that the sky has begun to turn from black to deep blue, and you know that the sun is about to come up. If you're like me, and tend to work late, this can be as alarming as it is lovely, because the birds let you know (1) that you don't have much time left to finish your paper (2) that you've been awake for so long that your writing is probably incoherent without your knowing it, anyway. I live in the suburbs, and the birds chirp in the morning here as well, but they are much less numerous (probably because we don't have any thickly wooded areas around here), and the effect is much less impressive.

My knees are killing me
I really need to learn to pace myself: Running 10mi on a first workout only to be sidelined for the next week is counter-productive. That's my comeuppance. But when you're actually out there, running, it's so easy to say "one more mile, one more bend." I have no idea why it is that running is so bothersome now; if i ever had pains like this running cross country in high school, I don't remember them, and I can't imagine what might've changed since then.

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