Friday, September 22, 2006

7' 9 1/4''

The distance that titles this post is the official distance between the "ockey" or toeline as it is more generally called and a dartboard on the wall. 68 inches is the height said dartboard should be on that wall.


When I first heard this distance it struck me as really and frustratingly unusual. This distance isn't easy to measure, it certainly isn't a round number, and there is no reason a priori
that it should be set at this distance. I cannot imagine that if the dartboard was 7' 10'' that suddenly the game would become impossible, or crazier still that at 7' 9'' the act of throwing darts would become child's play. And yet here we are in North America locked into this distance, if we wish to maintain legitimacy in our dart-throwing exploits. Of course in the rest of the world the distance is a no less stifling 2.37 meteres. Which really isn't any better other than the fact that it is slightly easier to type.

In a seemingly unrelated revelation, on the way to a restaurant, Thai to be exact, in Channelside we were walking through a zone of significant construction. The slightly unsettling process of gentrification was wholly evident as multiple high-rise condominiums were being built simultaneously. Walking through this zone a colleague and friend commented that his summer job gave him new insight into the all the various spray-painted lines that were marking the ground in all their multi-colored glory. He informed the group that each color line represented a various utility such as electricity, water or sewer - and he could also tell something of how much of each utility was needed based on the positioning and length.

In a third incident, I purchased a couch off craigslist, I was eager to acquire this couch because of its relative pristine condition, color and low low price. Of course, after picking up the couch from this very nice young couple who were busy moving into an ostensibly smaller home; it occurred to me that this couch even though its lovely green and red plaid design was quite alluring that it may not fit at all underneath my lofted bed. As I drew closer to home this fear multiplied and realized that I would have invested a great deal of time and effort in interiorly designing my room such that I could have this couch in this place and in the final calculation it would not work. After unloading the couch and bringing it into the room the moment of truth had arrived. Much to my pleasant surprise the couch fit. I cannot emphasize how perfectly this couch fits. A centimeter longer and I would have been screwed entirely.

The connection, between a dartboard distance, a spray-painted sidewalk marking, and a fortuitously fitting couch-codes and a deep structure of conformity. In retrospect I had no business believing that this random couch I bought off the Internet would just magically fit underneath my bed. The more I think about it, the more ridiculous my reasoning behind the purchase was. I had earlier found another couch that was a bit shorter and decided that it looked a bit off and decided to look for another. The eventual couch I purchased certainly looked longer and I decided based on one badly taken picture scanned into an ad, which gave no real perspective on the size, even though it was longer it wasn't "too long." Yet it did fit, and fit like a glove I tell you.


Because part and parcel with a socially constructed world is a physically constructed world in which couches are made to certain lengths that match the length of lofted beds. That the lines on the cement are invisible to most, and by invisible I mean something like irrelevant, and yet those who have access to the codes like my friend are able to decipher a richly descriptive narrative of the construction zone. And yet like the distance between a toeline and a dartboard these numbers, the numbers and symbols involved are totally arbitrary. I am positive at some point that at some bar someone decided to place some type of proto-dartboard on a wall and decided to draw a line so everyone would throw from the same place and figured that the distance wouldn't get in the way of his servers, bartenders or patrons walking around, and still make the game interesting enough, then a rival establishment decided that they wanted to have this new and fun game as well, copied the distance and height, and voile...the absolutely random distance of 7 feet 9 and quarter inches becomes the standard for all time. I am also equally self-assured that some home furnishing expert could inform me that couches and beds are made to preset lengths and there is a complicated set of rules that decides what these lengths are. However, not having access to this deep structure I am given to this sort of mystical bewilderment and sense of enchanted wonder when a random couch I find online magically fits under my bed. I am left to wonder how many code systems daily affect me without the slightest cognizance of it all happening and how I am constantly at the mercy of this structure to conform.

I have considered to some degree that this all has been brought to my attention through a number of my recent purchases. Self-admittedly in recent weeks I have gone on a sort of spending spree, and I wonder if the less one submits to consumer culture one is less likely to be exposed to these deep conformity structures. Moreover, to the degree that one submits to this culture of conspicuous consumption is to the degree one is controlled by these structures. I find that since I have invested in particular electronic equipment, which previously I had never allowed myself to invest in, that I spend more time looking at advertisements for similar and of course superior products, which engenders the desired result of jealously and desire. This feedback loop further pushes me deeper into the grasp of the deep structures of conformity, destined to further invest in toys that I do not need in order to make the toys I already own more functional...and of course there is a cable for everything.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Philosophy in the Time of Zizek!

and a one and a two....

Slavoj Zizek, (now with exclamation mark) Slovenian intellectual (rolls off the tongue, right?), so-called "wild man of theory," and rock-star of the academic circuit. His work, if you dare, can be exceptionally rewarding not because of his ability to sustain a Lacanian-Marxist critique of post-9/11 cultural politics, or dazzle us with a theological reconstruction of an economy of sign in a "post-secular" world, in fact it might be the case that his philosophical rigor is that which is most lacking. If you are to be rewarded it is in recognizing his whimsical, adolescent approach to a philosophical discourse dominated by very serious adults. The term 'adolescent' is not meant to imply that his work is simplistic, unfocused, or unsophisticated. Quite the contrary, his work is on the "bleeding edge" of cultural analysis-what is adolescent is his zeal and his commitment to bring philosophy out of the narrow halls of the ivory tower into the bright public light and to have it experienced as a public project. Let me quickly add that his work is not directed towards "the common man or woman" one must bring to the table a prodigious vocabulary, a deep and roaming knowledge of the history of philosophical inquiry, which can be made present-at-hand and a stomach for postmodern psychoanalytic jargon and analytical strategies.

Also, he watches a lot of movies.

The latest non-traditional step into the limelight is a documentary created by one of his students/admirers/lovers called
Zizek! In this movie (which is next on my Netflix Queue), we are introduced to the personality of this eminent Slovenian philosopher as he gallivants around the globe giving lectures, dropping knowledge, and leaving swooning twenty-somethings longing to be filled with hot neo-Lacanian analysis. No doubt with sexy results. I am intrigued by this phenomena of Zizek, not because I find his philosophical oeuvre entirely palatable or am I eager to debunk/invalidate his claims (the few he actually makes from time to time), but this notion of popular intellectual is one that I find life-affirming. It is comforting to believe, though I recognize the tenuous nature of this belief, that an individual can be valorized for his scholarship (despite its unorthodoxy) in a public sphere that slavishly fawns over such items as: glamour, physical titillation, raucous ridiculous behavior and obscenely envelope-pushing spectacles.

[Kool-Aid action="drink"]
That Somehow the media and the world are not so intellectually bereft and so evidently juvenile Zizek! can be experienced in a world where Jackass 2 can be "filmed", and shown in public to audiences for money!

That the economy of culture does not always find room at the bottom to consistently underwhelm.

Unfortunately, I was watching the MTV VMAs last night, and in a moment of head-shaking consternation that only comes with an arrogant and elitist self-appraisal of one's own acumen and cultural literacy, I heard 50 Cent claim, in all seriousness, (or at least serious as he is likely to be in that situation) that the nominees for a particular award come from such diverse places as Michigan and Detroit. Now perhaps it is possible that "Fiddy" (that's what the kids are calling him these days) is making a subtle and insightful political comment about the cultural, and social differance between the state of Michigan and the city of Detroit and thereby implying a political distance if not a geographic one (alright...such a comment even if meant in this way is at best marginally insightful and mostly cliche), but I doubt it.

Is Zizek! necessarily a better option for society than MTV, no I will not openly and unreflectively submit to such a conclusion, though perhaps in my heart of hearts I think this is the case, but I am only glad that such options still exist, even if it is mediated through this ethos of the rock-star academic as the only type of academic which gains legitimacy in "celebreality."