Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Man can not live on barbeque and burritos alone

I've been back in the US for just over a month and this would be a good time to restart blogging. The time I spent in DC was well spent and a net negative for my desire to continue to slim down, but who's getting out the scale anyway.

Returning to Atlanta was like returning to a foreign city. The town itself has changed so dramatically in the intervening nine years that I have been away as to be almost unrecognizable. Change, as one would expect, occurs on dual, linear paths arcing in opposite directions, which is to say, that the "new" downtown is much better than the old downtown, but the "new" Buckhead is a giant nightmare that I continue to avoid as much as possible.

Changes or not, Atlanta is a city that perfectly illustrates my sense of cultural dislocation: the city is engineered, designed to get people in during the day and out during the night. For reasons that are not entirely clear to me, we tend to value living outside of the city in gated communities that resemble defensible fortresses of private security. It's odd really, the rest of the world tends to value living in cities. Johannesburg real estate, for example, is much pricier in the city than out (although there are specific racial issues that explain that case). My point being, that our culture, and specifically that which dominates in Atlanta, is not a culture that values public space and that makes me rather uncomfortable.

Good news, barbeque and burritos haven't gotten worse over the last five years. Atlanta has seen a proliferation of burrito joints, most of them rather plain, but Chipotle continues to shine. In terms of barbeque, the South has to be famous for something and being famous for generational knowledge for slow cooking delicious pork isn't bad. Fat Mat's continues to reign although I have yet to find a place that has great beef brisket.

The graduate program is a mixed bag. On the one hand, I feel quite comfortable to be back in the walls of academia, but on the other, I'm not entirely comfortable with the department. That should come in time but there are certain things that I'll just never get over. Smart people sound stupid when they have thick southern accents, for one. (Imagine, "Remember Cicero, y'all!")

And the discipline I have selected has a tendency, like most disciplines, to appeal to notions of sophistication in unpleasant and unnecessary ways. There is a particular jargon, for example, that is almost used as an entry barrier, or, to put more succinctly, one needs to become familiar with an advanced and rarely understood typology that is divorced from one's ontological disposition to be able to re-remember the things that we have forgotten from our ahistorical discursive space. (Note: Previous sentence was not intended to make sense or be intelligible.)

I'll put it this way, earlier today I watched another graduate student from the Moving Images program (essentially Film Studies) and I quite literally understood nothing. The presenter used a series of vocabulary that was progressively less understandable. Now, I'm not needing to actually understand what she was talking about. It's not part of my field, but it is illustrative of the phenomenon that I'm dealing with on a daily basis. This discipline has a tendency to use language that essentially doesn't exist. The most mind blasting word that the presenter used that I can remember was "indexology". No, you will not find that in any dictionary.

That being said, I do feel that I shall be able to do what I want to do and carve out my little niche. The university has been extremely supportive and encouraging and the professors for the most part appear to be willing to help in whatever way that they can. I also can't really complain about my deal, the work part is good and it gives me the flexibility I need.

What does concern me is that I am not entirely convinced that I have put myself in place to be successful, or, as successful as I would like to be. I have entered a world that is almost entirely unfamiliar and while I am doing the work, there is much more that I don't understand than I do. It's rather disconcerting, for example, to read the assigned articles and not be able to clearly identify the main arguments afterwards. To some extent that is because I'm used to reading extremely straight forward arguments. I also think that the authors we have been reading have a rather opaque writing style that is not particularly conducive to being understood. I'm trying not to worry about it too much at the moment (and have been told to, essentially, chill the f*ck out) but it is concerning that the major ongoing debate about a central tenet of the discipline seems to be not only entirely irrelevant but also utterly incomprehensible. Maybe it's just me.

In my master's program, every participant had a distinct character. In this space, I well documented the trials and tribulations. That will not be repeated this time around for two reasons. One, there is a certain politics of academia that must be respected. That is to say, I'm not really interested in insulting people that are likely to be colleagues in the long run. I'd rather learn how to interact with them in positive ways and then use those relationships when the time comes. The other reason I won't be repeating London's storytelling is that I'm mixed in with a crowd of a mostly higher caliber. Pretty much anyone can get into a master's program and manage to do reasonably well. The admission filters just aren't that strong. At the doctorate level, the quality of the applicant goes up and those who make it through generally can contribute and hold their own.

That being said, I'm taking a political science class on Latin America that at least promises to provide a bit of humor. This class is a graduate level course with a mixed population - half the class are political science PhD students, the other half are either masters or PhD students from various fields. So, there are some people who are rather lacking in context, shall we say. The best example, and someone I'm fairly sure will be making a repeat appearance on this blog, is a rather young lad who claims he has travelled extensively in Latin America. I can only imagine when he travels, he goes 5-stars for in the first class session he argued that Latin America doesn't have much income inequality. Best not to open up the stupid at your first class.

In his second class, he argued that uneducated people shouldn't be allowed to vote. Best not to continue the stupid in your second class. Both times the professor dealt with the issue rather diplomatically but I can't express to you just how awful something sounds when it's not only utterly stupid (and an argument derived from the racist, sexist past) and it's spoken with a pronounced southern accent. I'll try to record exact quotes from now on.

I'll end this little missive in a moment but I wanted to make a comment about what I have seen to be university-wide technophobia. I am, unapologetically, a child of the high tech revolution. I like having my tech and, all things being even, I much prefer to take notes on a laptop, email in assignments, and at least attempt to be all digital. Unfortunately, the professors are a bit behind in the times. Not only will they generally not receive assignments by email, they also tend to look at you funny if you crack open a laptop and use that instead of an actual notebook. I'm wondering if they just suspect we are doing other things or if they don't understand the vast benefits of being able to search and find through every note you take during your doctorate program. Either way, they just need to get over it. I'm not putting the laptop away. In fact, the extended MacBook Pro battery has proved terribly awesome.

Finally, I have to say, District 9 was so utterly awesome that if you haven't seen it, you should immediately go see it. As in right now. Unless you have an aversion to violence, because it gets rather sizzling in the second half. I haven't seen any other movies of late, but District 9 will hold me over for another couple weeks.

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2 Comments:

Blogger Joe said...

re: Brisket:
http://www.foxbrosbbq.com/

7:09 AM  
Blogger SJH said...

I'm on it!

7:26 AM  

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