Wednesday, February 4, 2009

A Very Dorky Entry from a Big ole Nerd

We're all nerds for some thing. If you have ever dated/hung out with/been forced to coexist with a Fantasy Sports fan, you know this. Even if it is considered "cool" some enthusiasms, like sports, can take a turn to the nerdy quite easily.

Some things, however, are nerdier than others, and treating a post-structuralist feminist author, Judith Butler, like a rock star definitely falls into the category of ueber nerd.

You know you're a nerd when you schedule "showering and relaxing" into your day
(taken from a friend's electronic events planner)

This is, however, exactly what happened at the Free University's Hegel lecture series. I had managed to get a ticket reservation, but it turned out that these reservations were not for seats but rather for the organizers to figure out how many were going, so we were all a bit irked that we would have to stand in line, but that we did by the hundreds to cram into a lecture hall, Delhi style or something. I was actually pretty amused to see the crowd, all fuzzily dressed college types (if your college is/was in Maine, they were demographically basically the same), some of whom were in need of bras, shoving to get through one tiny door and fill the auditorium. No one was trampled, which was a relief to me, since having to have "was trampled at a Judith Butler lecture" in your obituary would be...outlandishly pathetic. I sat with Stephan, Michael, and Mathew, all polisci majors, in the sixth row from the front

Our view

They were good seats. After an hour of waiting around, watching the place fill to capacity and hearing people sent off to a satellite viewing room

The Crowd

the intros started. First came the university's vice president, and apparently she's not a very loved figure. She and the administration are doing something that American universities by and large got out of their systems by the 80s, fighting to turn a hippy-filled institution into a serious research university, and ticking off quite a few in the process. Usually this would garner grumblings, but at FU Berlin it called for outright hostility, to the point that when she pointed out FU's new rank in the 9 elite universities in Germany, loud booing ensued. "She's an evil neoliberal agent" explained Stephan. I was moderately scandalized.

The worst was yet to come when the coordinating professor got up to give the academic intro. They were running behind, and he was rather pedantic, and this was met 5 minutes in by a VERY LOUD heckler yelling "AUFHOEREN!" meaning "STOP!" and then "free academic discourse [after reunification]" being outright laughed at. These nerds were OUT OF CONTROL! Michael and Mat were embarrassed for their school, and I would have been too to be honest. I mean, what must Judy have thought!?

We found out moments later when she took the podium. It was actually a bit of a Judith Butler's Greatest Hits, in which she was supposed to be talking about "Frames of War" but in which she actually reiterated her work on narratives, replacing "I" with a deployed "life" and "precariousness" instead of "narrative" with a splash of Foucault's theories on discipline and punishment (performativity in other words) and anthropocentric theory thrown in to keep things spicey. I actually devised a drinking game for it:

Judy's Drinking Game
"narrative" - 1 shot
stealing Lacan/Derrida - 2 shots
anti-Zionist rhetoric (she's FAMOUS for that) - 2 shots
quotes out of Excitable Speech more than 3 lines long - 1 shot
fuzzy and abstract "alternative" analyses - 1 shot
antiquated second wave feminist rhetoric - 2 shots
taking a word like "frame" or "life" and counterintuitively redefining it to mean something else- 1 shot

It actually was more involved than that since we came up with the rules in the over-crowded subway on our way back from the lecture (last time I saw a crowd this big on a train was New Years joke...and they were all coming from the lecture), but you get the point.

Skip ahead if you don't care to hear nerdly gushing

Now please don't judge me too harshly in my reactions to her. It's all from a place of love. I was really into her sophmore year in high school, in which we had to quote excerpts from both Excitable Speech and Gender Trouble for debate, so I became VERY familiar with the use of her arguments then. I'd actually sort of grown out of her (and poststructuralism in general) by last year, but when I heard she was speaking here, I couldn't resist checking it out. This woman has been very influential in how I view gender in general, and she's largely to blame for a good deal of my weekends that year being sucked away at debate tournaments. I am a nerd for her work even if I'm more critical of it now (I have before been known to say "deconstruct my a$$" in certain company). This was a great lecture, it didn't run too long, and she did the intro in German (though I doubt she could have sustained it very long, though she did spend a year at Heidelberg studying Hegel, she is an American professor), and she treated the topic well.
It was clear from the short haircuts and odd clothing choices that many of the people there had shown up expecting a lecture about gender and feminism, and she was speaking on a more meta level, applying feminist perspectives to conflict theories and referencing some of her works that those following just her work on gender would not have read. She therefore spent quite a lot of the speech defining and explaining things that were familiar to me and the polisci people, but she knew her audience well, and she communicated to them the information that they needed for understanding her perspective.

very short excerpt, just so you can hear her voice


Ok, so that's all for today, kiddos, but a little programming note: I have a week off from school this week and as a result I'm heading off to Switzerland in a few hours to spend some quality time on the slopes with boyfriend-o (get it? Like in No Country for Old Men...friend-o? UEBER NERD MOMENT) so I won't be on or very responsive for a while. Sorry, but I'm enjoying a vacation. Have a great week!

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