Monday, December 3, 2007

Philosophy in a can

Alright, home now. Classes over. I've retreated into cruising for Christmas songs mode. But in the meantime I always come across other things

When I was a teenager I started a small collection of bookmarks with self-esteem poetry on them--I've probably blogged about that before. I used to read them like affirmations, or if I was feeling crappy, or nervous about something etc.

Those poems are corny, they're not Great Art, but they do the work, ya know? And once in awhile someone manages a new one and people go crazy for it, like the Wear Sunscreen editorial, or REM's Everybody Hurts, or Lee Ann Womack's "I Hope You Dance." People go crazy for these things either because it helps them through a suckitudinous time, or because they recognize the ideas being expressed and know they're true. And they're better when put to music, because Voltaire was right when he said "Anything that's too stupid to be spoken, is sung." (Lucas' horrible love scene writing would work great in a musical.)

Wear Sunscreen has yielded a lot of Advice for me. When I walk around McGill looking at the 18 year olds, I know that part from Wear Sunscreen is totally right: "Enjoy the power and beauty of your youth. Never mind. You will not understand the power and beauty of your youth until they have faded. But trust me, in 20 years you'll look back at photos of yourself and recall in a way you can't grasp now how much possibility lay before you and how fabulous you really looked."

EVERYONE is gorgeous at 18, they really are. No joking. The other one I quote at people ALL the time is: Don't be reckless with other people's hearts, and don't put up with anyone whose reckless with yours." Sheesh that's good advice that people need to remember more often. And the one I tell myself: "Do one thing every day that scares you." Okay, I don't follow it, but you know... I try.

Now, I'm not crazy about "I Hope You Dance" from a tune perspective--it's just ok. But lyrically, it's a bookmark classic. I gotta give it my nod of approval. It's the chick version of all those "get in the game of life!" sports analogies.

Lee Ann Womack - I Hope You Dance lyrics

I hope you never lose your sense of wonder
You get your fill to eat
But always keep that hunger
May you never take one single breath for granted
God forbid love ever leave you empty handed
I hope you still feel small
When you stand by the ocean
Whenever one door closes, I hope one more opens
Promise me you'll give faith a fighting chance

And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance
I hope you dance

I hope you never fear those mountains in the distance
Never settle for the path of least resistance
Living might mean taking chances
But they're worth taking
Lovin' might be a mistake
But it's worth making
Don't let some hell bent heart
Leave you bitter
When you come close to selling out
Give the heavens above
More than just a passing glance

And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance
I hope you dance

The Thrill of Karl

The other thing on my mind concerns the books we read for this same class. This year the prof assigned a lot of "great works" so to speak--we read a lot of the classics of social science: Popper, Kuhn, Skinner, Foucault, Marx are those that come to mind (and I had to write short papers for all of those weeks). These books were a joy to read. You don't have to agree with what they're saying, but there is something so fabulous about reading an author who has really gone to the table and given it their all.

This came up in the meeting I organized on methods, where one prof said (and all agreed) that you have to do what you're passionate about, because that's what, in the end, makes for potentially great work--as well as making you happy. And I thought--that's exactly the same in the land of fiction; they warn you to stop trying to catch trends, and just do what you love. And I assume that rings true for most professions.

I read (ahem sped-red) Das Kapital for the first time this weekend, and it was incredible. I loved it! One minute he's all dry and logical and slowly, meticulously laying out this argument to the point of making you shout "enough! I get it!" and then he has a passionate outburst about the evils of capitalism. And no wonder, because then in another section he'll give you this minute description of the terrible working conditions of the time--of a man carrying his 7 year old son to work a 16 hour day in a factory, and he has to feed the child while he works because he's not allowed to take a break.

On the flip side, that's why I love to read Ayn Rand too. And I loved Imagined Communities. And Thoreau. All these people can be critiqued, they're loved and hated--but the thing is, this is great writing, great research. These are the Mozarts, while most of us will be Salieris. But there's something nice about being Salieri too--watching genius from the sidelines. Reading these works is like listening to great music, there's an intellectual exhilaration to it.

In reference to writing good social science, the best way my prof could come up with to express it was--you gotta give'r. I'd never heard this before seeing FUBAR, so I guess it's an Anglo-Quebec thing. But it's the perfect expression. Marx knows how to give'r.

So all this to say. Enjoyed some good books this year. And the next time I'm at work and I see a new scheme for increasing sales per hour, I'll just be thinking: Hmmm increasing the surplus value from the labour commodity... I see I see... Puts me in the mood to read Dickens.


Rant 1: The horror, the horror (of grading papers, that is)

I'm in the Islamic Studies library - it's one of the prettiest, and one of the quietest. I'm supposed to be grading papers, but my mind keeps wandering off to a couple things.

First--our prof is the Director of Grad Studies, and very active in the department (improving it, etc.) So he was asking our feedback on the course, and then on the department. I brought up the whole TA problem, where we have this agreement to work 180 hours, but a lot of profs don't know how to manage that properly etc. Bla bla bla. We were talking about how long it takes to grade papers, and the prof was saying you shouldn't put any comments in the paper, just give summary comments at the end. And I noted that at the 200 level the writing is really, really bad and they need enough feedback to improve for the next level.

He disagreed, in the sense that we're not here to teach writing, we aren't qualified to teach writing - we're qualified to teach political social sciences. Point taken. I, of course, consider myself qualified to teach writing ;-) but in principle I agree that once you get to university, you should already know how to write.

There are two problems, though. One is--clearly there's a problem at the level of either Cegeps or high schools or whatever. Two--there aren't good enough resources for students at this institution, and that's even been recognized. The writing center gives courses, not tutoring; and you can go for tutoring, but I don't know how much that pays--plus, apparently they're often short on people to do copy-editing etc. Anyway, I only learned about the tutoring option last week, so it's something I would suggest to students in future.

There are some other problems, but I'll leave it at that. I still feel the need to give some feedback at the 200 level, in the papers themselves, so that anyone who cares to improve (and that's not everyone) can... but within 30 minutes per paper. But really. The writing is so, so poor at this point... I think a lot of professors who haven't graded a 200 class in a long time would be shocked.

The other thing on my mind is a different topic, so I'll start a new entry.

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