Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Referencing gender

I guess whenever a post starts off with a description of what I don't want to do, it is a sure sign that I am about to do it. Still, I must just say that I hate harping on "women's issues" because I don't like the idea that women need some sort of special treatment in order to "make it happen", and the idea of women's issues suggests that we do. On the other hand, sometimes the only way of dealing with a problematic situation is to draw attention to it.
What is it with cinematic representations of female professors as old maids?
I hired Something's Gotta Give over the weekend for my non-exam-writing family, and got completely engrosed, not only because I think Diane Keaton is great, but because I was fascinated by the character of Zoe, played by Frances Mc Dormand (who is also super, by the way). I kept waiting for Zoe to do something more self-affirming than just commenting on the implications of Harry (Jack Nicholson)'s lifestyle. The character, like too many other female professors in Hollywood (think Barbra Streisand in The Mirror Has Two Faces, and Emma Thompson in Junior) is fairly plain, single, and spinsterish. So I ask, what is it about women in the academy that they are so often portrayed like this? And why is it that so many female academics seem to fit this profile? Is there something about the academic life that makes it difficult for women to hold down families and careers in the academy together? Certainly a brief survey of the faculty at my present university would suggest that something along those lines is the case, and when things were getting rough for me in the department in which I was working earlier this year, a faculty member said that she suspects that the only way to survive this lifestyle is to be single and family free. So why is that?
It is certainly a long way from the whole story, but I suspect that the continued male-dominance of the profession, in conjunction with the continued existence of stereotypes around women's roles in marriages, makes it really difficult for women to perform productively in both areas without compromising one or both identities. We have to become ultra-competitive, and effectively androgenous in order to be taken seriously as academics, or you are relegated to the realm of the "soft" arts, or education theory.
Perhaps its a silly thing to focus on, but I have long felt that referencing practices in the academy are just one of the many ways in which dominant (masculine) paradigms are maintained. Surnames first, and only surnames when referencing a person in the text, reinforce patrilineal constructs in society, and expand them into the professional world. You are identified on the basis of whose daughter you are, and not in terms of your gendered individuality. And all for the sake of convention.
Question is, what will it take to change this particular convention....

By the way, The Little Professor has a great post on professor stereotypes in film.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

"So Dark the Con of Man..."

A Delicate Boy...: "So Dark the Con of Man..." This is a terrible cheat, but the author of the post linked to above mentioned that his traffic had gone up hugely with this title. I just had to give it a try...

Ok, so it hasn't had much effect. or any, in fact. Perhaps I'll take it down in a day or two. Or not. Lets see how it goes.

Global Voices Online - Blog Archive - Argentina: Music and Misinformation

Global Voices Online Blog Archive Argentina: Music and Misinformation

Global Voices Online (who also linked to my post on film and music piracy in South Africa), have commented on blogging on a case in which Argentinian internet users are reported to have agreed to pay money in compensation for downloading music. Jorge Gobbi writes
"The intention of some media outlest is, clearly, not to inform, but to frighten users and make them stop downloading music. This way, they promote “legal music download” businesses, that attempt to sell us songs that we can only listen to - because of a “digital rights” management - on certain devices. We have to deal with the fact that the value of things are defined in a supply and demand dynamic. And many people in Argentina don’t believe an album is worth 35 pesos (about 12 US dollars) or more. There’s simply not much they can do about that. Why don’t they try a new, renovated business model instead of criminalizing their own consumers? "

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Film and Music Piracy in South Africa

The program linked to above aired on local television last night. It dealt with film and music piracy in South Africa. So, ok, point made. Piracy takes money from the original owners of an artistic work. Thing is, the arguments given were so moralistic, it wasn't very convincing, and at no point was the question "why is this happening?" really asked. Quite frankly, the answer is that original CDs and DVDs are so expensive that the vast majority of South Africans can't afford them. I certainly can't afford to go to the cinema very often, when it costs over R30 a time, and it is a rare treat for me to splash out on a R120 CD. Especially when I don't know what to expect from it. I am very rarely willing to buy a whole album for a single track. And I am one of the lucky ones. I can afford to eat, I have a roof over my head, and all the amenities I need (plus a few extra). What about the vast majority of South Africans with none of that? Sure, it's tempting to buy a whole DVD for R30, if you can. It feels like better value for money than attending the cinema, and it is dramatically more affordable than purchasing the DVD at four times that price in an outlet. I guess the question is, if some people can produce pirated CDs and DVDs at such low prices, why can't the originators of these products. I get that it costs more than that to produce the films, etc. And people need to make the money, but what about reducing costs by avoiding big distributors, and letting advertising pay for the product. What about producing some low cost CDs and DVDs for the general market. You can still produce "premium" versions, with extra footage, glossy cover books, and photographs, but fill the gap in the market at present being filled by pirates with basic versions of the actual material. Put lots of advertising with it. I know that can be annoying, but if people want the advert free versions, they can pay more for them. Get your work out there, make it accessible to the people who want it, and stop complaining, why don't you!

Monday, May 22, 2006

Radio Lab: musical language

While I haven't listened to the broadcast linked to above (my cheaper internet connection isn't fast enough for streaming audio, and the more expensive one will bankrupt me if I try it!), I did encounter Diana Deutsch's fascinating site through the page summarizing the show. The idea of musical predisposition has always fascinated me. I have difficulties with the notion of talent, because I feel that it encourages people to discriminate against those they consider less talented, and gives those people labeled as less talented an excuse for not doing their best, but I suspect that there is some sort of predisposition built into people, not by their genes, but perhaps by their very early life experiences. If that is the case, then at least to some degree, people's ability is governed by matters beyond their control. Diana's work on perfect pitch and tone language suggests that, at least as far as musical ability goes, circumstances play a role in the skills we develop, and those skills play a role in the development of our ability as musicians. The study does mention, however, that the ability to acquire perfect pitch is universal at birth, so at least to some degree there is evidence that anyone is capable of developing this skill.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

After graduation moments

After graduation moments....

I spilled champagne all over my mother's carpet!

Friday, May 12, 2006

Call for Papers, South African Musicology Congress, 2006

What bad timing! I will have just arrived in New York when this happens. Too soon for me to fly back for it, I guess. And really, who would want to delay starting at NYU?!?

Wednesday, May 10, 2006


I am graduating tomorrow.
I got my gown on Friday, and am spending this afternoon and tomorrow getting all the feminine things that I never seem to have time for, done, so that I will look my best by tomorrow. At least, that's what I hope will happen. I hate getting my hair cut because it always takes so long to get used to it afterwards, and while I love getting a facial, because of the indulgent hour of doing nothing I should be, I always seem to break out afterwards. And then there are thing like leg waxes and eyebrow shaping. I guess it's obvious why I never do those. But today (if I can finish ghosting this machine at the graduate school where I work), and tomorrow (if I complete just one more term paper tonight), I am getting those things done. And then I'm going to get some sleep so that I don't look like the workaholic zombie I feel like, and so that I don't fall on the stairs on my way up to the stage.
And somewhere in amongst all that, I'm graduating!
I have waited so long for this. And it has been such an incredible, life-changing, mind-changing experience. Not always easy. In fact, disgustingly difficult at some points, but worth pushing through all that stuff. And of course, without it, I wouldn't be going to New York in September. Talk about life changing! I decided when I was still in primary school that I was going to get a Rhodes scholarship and go to Oxford. I had no idea what I was going to do once I got there, but that wasn't really the point. Things change, though. I did apply for a Rhodes scholarship, and got one of those depressing single sheets in return that is written by someone's secretary, and tells you that you suck. The fact that I was in Sweden at the time softened the blow somewhat. And then quite abruptly I got a whole set of acceptances in the USA, and only had to attend one of those harrowing interviews in the process. And in September I'm off to New York.
But tomorrow, I'm graduating.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Post-colonial moments

I was sitting in an English class on post-colonialism when someone screamed outside. We all knew what had happened. Moments later we could hear helicopters flying over our building, and Braamfontein in general, and vuvuzelas being blown in the streets. We avoided eye contact. The discussion turned to resistance processes in a postcolonial moment. "play", "subversion", "inversion". "But what are we resisting?" someone asked.

Zuma trial

I watched the lead-up to the Jacob Zuma trial verdict this morning while I was preparing for work, and it occurred to me quite abruptly how similar the aerial shots of this vehicle on the way to the court looked to those of OJ Simpson's vehicle around the time of his trial. In that instance, of course, the big question was RACE. But what is it here? Gender? Culture? Aids activism? Ethnicity? I am really interested in what the impact of the verdict, which ever direction it goes, will be, though I feel rather vulnerable in Braamfontein, so close to the action...

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Mbeki wants next SA president to be a woman : Mail & Guardian Online

Mbeki wants next SA president to be a woman : Mail & Guardian Online This is a great sentiment, and I am glad that he is so firm on the matter, but I wonder how he will go about reconciling this with the little matter of ability. Our present deputy president is certainly a step up from the previous one, but president material? Surely it is more important that someone, regardless of gender, be found, who can continue to hold things together in this country. Our president's brother, for one thing, seems to have some interesting ideas about the future of this country....

Friday, May 05, 2006

Difficult people

I thought the unpleasantness at work was over. I was wrong. I had underestimated how tenatious some people are. The main source of my frustration has sent me some horribly catty emails over the last few days, and is now threatening other work that I do because she happens to be friendly with my boss. I hate petty people! I do, however, trust my boss. She is sensible. I doubt she will let this affect our circumstances. Still, it is frustrating that some people can be so set on making others lives difficult!

Wednesday, May 03, 2006


Ok, so here is a rather rough draft of the paper mentioned in the post below....

What is the Function of the Post- in Postmodernism and Post-colonialism? a deconstructive reading of Kwame Anthony Appiah’s “Is the Post- In Postmodernism the Post- in Postcolonial?”

Nicol Hammond

While the title of Appiah’s essay, “Is the Post- in Postmodernism the Post- in Postcolonial?” (1991) suggests an inquiry into the relationship between postmodernism and postcolonialism, it in fact appears as more of a critique of the position of cultural production from the ‘periphery’ in the west, most specifically, North America. Nonetheless, Appiah does make an attempt to answer the question he poses in the title near the end of the paper, when he writes that “Postcoloniality is after all this [Postreal writing, postnativist politics, a transnational rather than a national solidarity … optimism]: and its post-, like that of postmodernism, is also a post- that challenges earlier legitimating narratives” (1991: 353) (italics are the author’s). In this answer, then, Appiah suggests an agreement with Rice and Waugh, who write that “Postmodernism is … expressed theoretically across a diverse range of theoretical discourses and involving: a focus on the collapse of grand narratives into local incommensurable language games or ‘little narratives’; a Foucauldian emphasis on the discontinuity and plurality of history as discursively produced and formulated, and a tendency to view the discourses of Enlightenment reason as complicit with the instrumental rationalization of modern life” (2001: 325). In general, then, Appiah suggests that postmodernism and post-colonialism are characterized by a challenge to, even rejection of, metanarratives, a definition commonly accepted by adherents and critics of the theoretical movement (see, for example: Butler, 2002; Lyotard, 1986; Said, 1993; hooks, 1991).
Given this definition, then, it would stand to reason that the catalogue of the Perspectives: Angles on African Art exhibition, which Appiah quotes as claiming that
field aesthetics studies … have shown that African informants will criticize sculptures from other ethnic groups in terms of their own traditional criteria, often assuming that such works are simply inept carvings of their own aesthetic tradition” (exhibition catalogue, Center for African Art, New York, 1987: 9. Quoted in Appiah, 1991: 337)
stands outside of the postmodern critical tradition in that it suggests both that the aesthetic judgments of certain contributors to the catalogue stand outside of the contextualizing perspectives of their familiar culture, and that a western aesthetic idiom can be applied universally to artworks produced in Africa, as Appiah suggests. On the other hand, however, Appiah claims that in the contributions of David Rockefeller to the catalogue are “surely a microcosm of the site of the African in contemporary – which is, then, surely to say, postmodern – America” (338). How these apparently contradictory perspectives are reconciled is unclear if one is only to consider Appiah’s suggestion that the post- in postmodernism, like the post- in post-colonialism, is “after [Postreal writing, postnativist politics, a transnational rather than a national solidarity … optimism]”. The problem with this construction lies in the little word “after” which suggests, in a standard teleological interpretation, that postmodernism exists only once modernism, with its constructs of objectivity and universalist metanarratives, has passed. Appiah’s example of the exhibition, however, suggests that modernist metanarratives and postmodern conceptions of art coexist in American society. It is apparently irreconcilable conflicts of this nature which have led to the denial by critics of postmodernism of the possibility of the existence of a postmodern condition.
Appiah’s construction of postmodernism is in direct conflict with his example of the place of African cultural production in postmodern American society. He claims that “‘postmodernism’ is a name for the rejection of that claim to exclusivity [which characterizes modernism]” (342), a state of affairs that, were it in force, would make the co-existence of modernist and postmodernist concepts impossible. Appiah’s construction is not, however, entirely concurrent with other theorists’ constructions of postmodernism; a set of definitions that allow such contradictions to co-exist. Barth wrote in 1980 that postmodernism was essentially a “continuation but modification of cultural modernism” ( Barth, 1980, quoted in Rice and Waugh, 2001). The benefit of this definition lies in its suggestion that the post- in postmodernism does not suggest “after”, but rather “a modification of”, modernism.
In light of this construction, then, a return to the topic of Appiah’s essay raises the question ‘is postcolonialism a “continuation but modification of” colonialism?’ Appiah suggests that James Baldwin, a black author who draws attention through his writing to the conditions of black Americans, was also the only co-curator whose choice did not treat Africa as primitive. Appiah points out that Baldwin’s choice is postmodern in the sense that it addresses the work “in terms of [his] own … criteria” (339), thus “torpedo[ing] Vogel’s argument for her notion that the only ‘authentically traditional’ African … unlike the rest of the cocurators … will use his ‘own … criteria’”. He suggests, however, that Vogel’s idea that an African artist is unable to objectively judge the work in question, while the other curators are, is a symptom of postmodernism which excludes those not educated in postmodern theory. He does not recognize her oversight as part of a modernist condition that regards a western aesthetic sensibility as universally applicable. And he does not appear to recognize that this state of affairs, in which one black curator’s opinion is taken as more objective than another’s, is possible only in a post-colonial situation, in which a limited recognition of the racism that made colonialism possible encourages the serious inclusion of a black contributor, while that same racism is apparent in the primary curator’s interpretation of another black curator’s contribution. post-colonialism, in this context, is proven to be fundamentally a continuation of colonialism, but with some modification.
Appiah suggests that post-colonialism is characterized by a “clear[ing] of space” (342), a response to the comodification of culture. He connects this to constructions of postmodernism which operate around the construction of difference. While it is understandable that the postmodern condition, which functions around a decentering, a shift from metanarratives to a vindication of multiple narratives, functions around constructs of difference, it is also justified by its vindication and celebration of difference. Chaterjee has suggested that the colonial project functioned as "...the normalizing rule of colonial difference” (quoted in DeHay 2006), or in other words, the construction and entrenchment of notions of difference. This differs from the postmodern recognition of difference, however, in that colonialism uses difference to entrench power inequalities, and the domination of one group over another. The distinction between postmodern difference and colonial difference is the use of the latter for purposes of subjugation, and the former, for the opening of possibilities. Postmodernism makes the possibility of variation, difference, change, and hence ‘play’ both valid and desirable. Similarly, post-colonialism broadens the possibilities for cultural production by validating multiple cultural modes and markers in contexts in which they would not previously have been possible.
Rather than critiquing Vogel’s use of the word neo-traditional in terms of post-colonialism and postmodernism, Appiah suggests that neo-traditional, in the sense in which it is used in the exhibition catalogue in question, is in fact no different from notions of the ‘traditional’, a construct which he justifiably connects with modernism. I would suggest, however, that the notion of ‘play’, as characterized by Derrida (1966), makes the incorporation of a bicycle and western dress in the Yoruba statue included in the exhibition a justifiable inclusion in an exhibit of African perspectives. While other pieces in the exhibit are selected for their resonance with western styles of design and architecture (Appiah, 337 and 338), the man with the bicycle suggests the extent to which western culture has been incorporated into African culture in an era after the advent of colonialism. This incorporation and reinscription subverts notions of difference between the west and its other, while simultaneously questioning the validity of the exhibition of primitivist representations of Africa in an era after the intermingling of culture, an era of post-colonialism. While the colonial project inscribed difference, and delegitimated culture that was not that of the colonizer, modernism delegitimated non-western culture by constructing it as primitive. Postcolonialism, on the other hand, equalizes different cultures by providing the opportunity for western culture to be exhibited on an equal footing with African culture. The man with the bicycle can be viewed as a sort of tongue-in-cheek response to primitivist constructs of African art. The artist, and the curator, play with the notion of Africa, the west, and traditional culture.
While Appiah suggests that “Postcoloniality has become … a condition of pessimism,” (353), I would suggest that it is rather a condition of possibility. Postcoloniality may exist in a space after “postreal writing, postnativist politics, a transnational rather than a national solidarity”, but it does not necessarily exist in a space in which these things are possible. Postcolonial theorists may react against realism, nativism and nationalism, but the fact that such resistance is necessary suggests that these states still exhist. the postmodern condition, however, makes these practices essentially less sinister in that it destroys their ability to function as metanarratives. If nationalism and transnationalism, realism and post-realism, nativism and post-nativism can co-exist, neither can claim the state of transcendent, or objective, truth. Despite his conviction that post-colonialism is a condition of pessimism, a conviction that is disproved by the proximity of the concept to the fundamentally playful concept of postmodernism, I would concede that he is correct in his suggestion that the post- in both concepts functions as a challenge to earlier legitimating narratives. It is, however, possible for this challenge to exist only because the conditions being challenged continue to exist. The battle is over when the enemy is gone.


Appiah, Kwame Anthony. 1991. “Is the Post- in Postmodernism the Post- in Postcolonial?” in Criticl Inquiry 17. Chicago: The University of Chicago.

Butler, Christopher. 2002. Postmodernism: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

DeHay, Terry. 2006. A Post-colonial Perspective. http://www.sou.edu/English/IDTC/Issues/postcol/postcol.htm

Derrida, Jaques. 1966. Writing and Difference. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

hooks, bell. 1991. Yearning: Race, Gender and Cultural Politics Turnaround. Boston: South End Press.

Lyotard, Jean-Francois. 1986. The Postmodern Condition. Manchester: Manchester University Press.

Rice, Philip and Patricia Waugh (eds). 2001. Modern Literary Theory: A Reader, Fourth Edition. London: Arnold.

Said, Edward. 1993. Culture and Imperialism. Chatto & Windus.

Sarup, Madan. 1993. An Introductory Guide to Post-Structuralism and Postmodernism. Atlanta: University of Georgia Press.


I have a paper for an anthropology course due at the end of the week that deals with the relationship between concepts of Postmodernism and Post-colonialism. I have started by reading through and considering the wikipedia entry on Postmodernism:

The way I understand it, Postmodernism is about dealing with the dislocation caused by contemporary society. Place, history and identity are all much more flexible and less influential than before, because technology has allowed people to exist in multiple spaces, including virtual spaces, like the internet. Postmodernism allows one to engage with history, society, technology, or whatever, without becoming defined by any of them. Postmodernism also places more value in the judgments and interpretations of the audience, thereby diminishing artistic and scholarly privilege.

Ok, but later in the entry, under the introduction, they suddenly begin discussing how postmodernism sees knowledge as closely linked to context and place, and yet less fixed. Is the less fixed part simply less bound to metanarratives, or does more closely bound to context etc. Mean that knowledge is determined by interpretation, which can change according to who is doing the interpretation, and there own context?
Perhaps its a combination of both.

Or perhaps the real issue is that because knowledge is so contingent on subjectivity, postmodernism is not about gaining knowledge at all, but purely about deconstructing perceptions of knowledge. Great, That leaves the way open for endless possibilities, but also endless deconstruction. If you constantly break down knowledge systems, what do you replace them with?

Hyperreality: Is that simulated reality, as in a reality created by mass media, or is it a reality which incorporates physical reality, but allows for alternatives?

Ok, so postmodernism is all about the negotiation and construction of individual realities which exist only for a specific set of circumstances. Localization.

Postmodernism and critical theory. I need to look this up separately.

If Postmodernism has its origins in anti-establishment thought, then where do universities, as one major proponent of postmodern theory fit into the theories framework. Are postmodern academics incapable of legitimate postmodern practice?

The idea of play in language: if the reader's associations and assumptions are more important than those of the author, than surely the audiences reactions to and associations with music are more important than what the composer intended. Therefore, if a piece doesn't gain an audience, is it meaningless? What does that say about some of the thoroughly inaccessible music composed in the name of postmodernism?

Postmodern conceptions of art are rather liberating. The whole concept of Postmodernism seemed a little nihilistic and distressing when I started this, but it is starting to seem more like an opening up of ideas and possibilities. Perhaps my dislike for the idea before came from its association with Dadaism, and my negative experiences of it.

Under the heading "Deconstruction" is the suggestion that the purpose of deconstruction is to "undermine the frame of reference and assumptions that underpin the text or the artifact". Perhaps it is pedantic, but I have a problem with the word "undermine". Deconstruction is about suggesting alternatives, not bashing the given. The idea that deconstruction undermines a set of assumptions is what has given it a bad name. In certain circumstances, the end result of a deconstructive reading may be the undermining of less legitimate universalisms, but the point is not overtly to create such a situation.

I like the idea of "play", which is mentioned under the sub-heading "postmodernism in language", but I don't really agree with the way that the "obscuritanism" argument is addressed. Quite frankly, I think that play in writing that obscures meaning rather than reveals alternatives or contingencies is simply poor writing. And it does happen all too frequently, usually in the context of self-consciously post-modern writing. Perhaps the best examples I have seen of an effective "play" occur in the writings of John and Jean Comaroff. They write clearly and explicitly, but suggest contingency by using clever puns that make one think twice about the real meaning of their words. It keeps the reader one step away while still remaining engaging.

Ok, so that is it for now. Perhaps not desperately helpful to my present project, but it's a start. Will update as I progress