Iuli on “cybernetic aesthetics” in CoL49

Transatlantic Sixties (2013):

“In his first novel, The Crying of Lot 49 (1966), trope of entropy, a crucial concept in Shannon’s Mathematical Theory of Communication and in Second Order cybernetics, provides the ground for questioning theories of communication, meaning production and actualization, and technologies of memory” (Iuli 246)

Ehem…The Crying of Lot 49 was not Pynchon’s first novel (that would be V.), and this book proves literary critics often don’t know what the hell they’re talking about…Surprise!

Adam Shatz on Orientalism in NYRB

“Since the book’s first publication in 1978, “Orientalism” has become one of those words that shuts down conversation on liberal campuses, where no one wants to be accused of being “Orientalist” any more than they want to be called racist, sexist, homophobic, or transphobic. That “Orientalist” is now a commonly applied epithet is a tribute to the power of Said’s account, but also to its vulgarization. With Orientalism, Said wanted to open a discussion about the way the Arab-Islamic world had been imagined by the West—not to prevent a clear-eyed reckoning with the region’s problems, of which he was all too painfully aware.”
“Orientalism,” Then and Now – May 20, 2019

October trip to “Beijing October Academic Forum”

Just a very ex post facto post about my conference trip to Beijing last October. The conference was co-organized by my old prof, Dr. M, and Beijing Transnational Studies University on the topic of “Philosophy as World Lit.”

So I arrived in Beijing somewhat late, a little after 9pm, and there was no one there to pick me up, despite assurances that there would be. That was a hassle because I kept walking back and forth trying to find my hosts and wondering why my roaming wasn’t working for domestic calls. It was getting near around midnight and the last buses were leaving so I decided, fuck it, I’ll just go to the area around the university and find a hotel there. This was a bad, bad idea.

I should have led by saying it was bitterly cold in Beijing that night and it seemed some kind of Siberian cold front was sweeping in. The bus let me off at the end of one of those giant, 6 lane thoroughfares you see all over the city. Stepped off the bus into one of the most frigid and unwelcoming winds I’ve ever felt and it was past midnight, so everything was closed and abandoned-looking. Spotting a convenience store I dashed across the giant thoroughfare (with almost no traffic on it) and scooted my ass into that thankfully well-heated oasis.

My Taiwan-in-China internet was working sluggishly but I was able to send off an email to the organizers at BTSU, and to discover that there were no hotels to be found anywhere in that area…That’s when I called the wife who, god bless her soul, helped me find one in less than half an hour. (Outbound calls to Taiwan were working, but not domestic ones to my friend at Renmin Univ. for some reason). The place she found for me, the Five Pine Trees Hotel, felt less like a hotel than a state post-office: the woman at the counter eyeing me suspiciously even though my wife had already called her to book the room, the gate with a guard booth, the slightly military-looking decor…I’d stayed at a place like this in Vietnam, but this one was about 10 times less comfortable and far more government dormitory-like. Paid about $100 for the room but it turned out to be a suite with wood paneling, a sofa and chairs in one room and a decent-sized bedroom + bath.

Slept quite well under the heavy down blankets and went out roaming early the next day. About half an hour into my walk I got a call from a woman from the Uni telling me to stay put, they would come pick me. I went back to the hotel, sat in the lobby, tried to read my still incomplete paper on “Thumos and the Post-Truth Humanities,” and waited. The guy who showed up was a friend of Dr. M’s, a nice enough guy in charge of Beijing-side organizing, explained that he’d sent me an email saying my flight was coming too late for someone to pick me up…(Discovered later it was true, I didn’t receive that email because it was blocked by my school’s server). Anyway, this ZHANG H guy took me and a female professor (from Shanghai I think) to the university, where I finally met up with Dr. M and Dr. S (my MA thesis advisor from Carolina). That’s when I discovered we’d be boarding a bus to go to a resort hotel far, far from Beijing. I forget how long it took to get there but it was nightfall by the time we arrived.

The conference was an extremely unremarkable, slapdash affair, and Dr M almost lost his patience when they told him his keynote (along with the keynotes of 5 or 6 other professors!) would have to be limited to 10 minutes. I gave my talk the next day to a group of about 10 people huddled in a small but comfortable conference room. No one asked any questions or made a comment, which was weird considering the grad students there seem a lot smarter and more outgoing than ours (in Taiwan). Maybe it just sucked, but oh well. Later that night I hopped a bus with some grad students and went to see K., an actual friend, at Renmin University. Next day it was still bitterly cold but we walked around the area near his school (where he bought a teddybear for Meredith) and saw Bei-da at length–very scenic school actually, with a large park that we walked around.

All in all it was a pretty sloppy conference but a good chance to see some old acquaintances and check out some of the capital. And have to say I wouldn’t want to live there: a huge bureaucratic, cold city with bad air? The clincher was that there were no street vendors, local food, or signs of “old Beijing” to be found near universities–just bland shopping malls and government buildings all over. Asked K to take me to a used bookstore but he reacted- “uh, see, we buy those online now…” Granted he’s the worst person on earth to act as a guide because he’s half hermit, even though he actually worked as a travel guide for years back in St Petersburg, but it would have been very nice to see more of the real city…And will there be a next time?

The Minoans: The Labyrinth


“The first temples were built through the 20th century BCE lasted til around 1,700 BCE, when an earthquake destroyed most everything on the island, ending the Old Temple period. Minoans would stand resilient in the face of such devastation, as each city rebuilt their temple and life went on. Thus the New Temple period began and temples increased in their structural complexity. Ambitious planners took advantage of their opportunity to re-envision old traditions, and to re-solidify old power structures…” 

The Minoans: The Labyrinth

Cigarettes and Coffee

Yes, could I quit just one considering I seem to have wired both together in my brain? Not because of the PTA movie by that name surely, but probably because we once indulged in these vices simultaneously…As a kid, coffee just meant my grandma’s percolated brew, a dark scalding hot liquid she’d consume in her own unique style, first pouring it from the cup into the saucer and back into the cup while drinking it very fast as it cooled in this way. Despite the way it invigorated that dear old octogenarian lady, percolated coffee never really appealed to me, and it wasn’t until college that I became a serious caffeine and nicotine addict.

Dave, my college roommate, and I had a large pot of Mr. Coffee on most of the time and sometimes drank 5 pots a day, smoking constantly and discussing the latestX-Files episode or getting high on left-handed cigarettes and listening to Bach (because D. owned the stereo). This drop coffee taught me that it’s really only the first cup or two of the day that tastes good, after that it’s just poor man’s cocaine.

Later, during my first Taiwan stint, studying Mandarin at NCCU, coffee meant siphon-made coffee from a little café my classmates and I went to after our Chinese lessons let out. It was a soulless kind of place inside a supermarket, but, along with my Korean and Japanese friends, I actually learned Chinese there, chain-smoking and drinking Mandheling ‘vacuum coffee’.

Afterwards, in grad school, things became very intense, and cigs and coffee meant a productive day at Adriana’s, the café that served my shots-in-the-dark, while I smoked one Merit after another, while I corrected one essay after another trying not to listen to the philosophy students jabbering on about Heidegger at the next table.

After that, in Munich, coffee was Segafredo cafés in the u-bahn, a powerful lungo or espresso served with one of those Lotus cookies that are just big enough to make you hungry, and a glass of water. Cigs on hand were usually blue Gauloises blondes because the American brands were owned by Japan Tobacco and didn’t taste nearly as good…They also meant standing in the night cold on a Kobaldstrasse sidewalk, puffing away while watching the snow come down.

After going back to the US and then coming here, to Taiwan, I reverted to American drip coffee and Marlboros, former being easiest to acquire in this land of tea-drinkers and latter because you can only find American and Japanese brands (thanks Taiwan Cigarette and Alcohol Monopoly). However, in 2006 (or ’07) I went to Vietnam, where the coffee is both stunningly strong and stunningly sweet — like, you can “stand a spoon up in it” as my grandmother would have said.

These days I smoke less and have an espresso machine at home, but what really has changed? I’m nearly 50 for one thing, but not sure where I was going with this highly unhealthy post, just another rabbit hole of memory I guess; toxic nostalgia…