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by Bill Gibron

5 Dec 2008

He’s traveled around the world in 79 days (besting literary adventurer Phileas Fogg by a mere 24 hours), went pole to pole, traversed the entire Pacific Rim “full circle”, hit both the Sahara and the Himalayas, and walked in the footsteps of favorite author Ernest Hemingway. Now, all of these ex-Python’s extraordinary travelogues are available in a whopping 19-DVD boxset. While he tends to follow the Lonely Planet philosophy of sightseeing, Palin provides enough warmth, wit, and wisdom to make these various trips around the globe well worth revisiting again and again. And you can’t beat the BBC cinematography. Simply breathtaking!


by Karen Zarker

5 Dec 2008

This book is a gentle, humorous corrective to the lefty in your life’s assumptions about America’s puritanical past—and that America was ever so ‘straight’ and ‘narrow’ at all.  With one foot in the well-researched past, the other tapping to the rhythms of the present, with one ear tuned toward reverence and one eyebrow raised in irreverence, Sarah Vowel shows Americans that from sea to shining sea, we’re not so different from one another, the ideological divide between us is not so wide as we thought.  Nor are we so different from those seemingly uptight pilgrims of the past—after all. Perfect for the hipster who’s got a pat answer for everything that’s wrong with America.  Put a ribbon on it and present it with an ironic smile.


by PopMatters Staff

5 Dec 2008

The Space in Hamden, Connecticut is a very intimate venue and Kristín Björk Kristjánsdóttir, otherwise known as Kira Kira, told the crowd of about thirty people that her songs took on new meaning when heard in such a cozy place. After checking if anyone was falling asleep, Kristjánsdóttir told one spectator that it would be okay if he did because “we won’t make fun of you if you snore.”

With Alex Somers on the piano and glockenspiel and Kippi Kaninus behind a laptop, Kristjánsdóttir sang and played her guitar as well as some unique inventions of her own making, creating music that other instruments could not. Shining a flashlight into a telephone handset, pressing what looked like a thumb piano, and singing into a tin can equipped with a microphone (all processed through her laptop and other gear), Kira Kira performed songs primarily from the 2008 release Our Map to the Monster Olympics including “Bless”, “Agustskot”, and “One Eyed Waltz”.

In comparison to her fellow Icelanders, Kira Kira’s subtle songs might sound similar to the dreamy amiina—a string quartet often found playing alongside Sigur Rós—while other songs convey a more ominous tone like Jóhann Jóhannsson’s ambient electronic works. Perhaps it is Iceland’s belief in magical beings, like gnomes, elves, and fairies, or its stark terrain that inspires such ethereal music. After playing a new song, Kristjánsdóttir simply told everyone she was finished because she did not want us to wake up from our reverie.

by William Gatevackes

5 Dec 2008

The latest collection of her syndicated Slowpoke strip, has bite, but doesn’t draw blood. That’s only because Sorenson’s arguments are presented with too much intelligence and logic to ever be totally mean. The collection covers cartoons from before the 2004 US Presidential election right up to the primaries for the 2008 election. This is a heady time for political cartoonists. It was the era of George W. Bush’s freefall in popularity, the rise in social networking sites, and an upturn of conspicuous consumer consumption. And Sorenson has something to say about all of it. Yes, the Bush White House, and the neo-con America it represents, provides fodder for many of the cartoons in the book, but Sorenson also aims at targets such as big business, the lack of environmental awareness, the American pursuit of the latest fad, and a wide range of other topics.


by Rob Horning

5 Dec 2008

Anyone at all familiar with Žižek’s work would be able to see through Adam Kirsch’s hit piece in the New Republic, which basically seeks to argue that Žižek is a totalitarian anti-Semite who uses jokes as a cloak to mask his hateful agenda. Kirsch employs the usual hit-piece tactics, selectively quoting and failing to fill in the necessary context in order to interpret what is quoted, remaining willfully tone-deaf to irony (and claiming that one must do so to understand the “real” message of the work), and using tautological ad hominem attacks to bolster the argumentative claims when necessary. In all likelihood, Žižek would probably welcome this kind of attack, as it tends to reinforce his claims about leftism and liberalism while raising his profile even further. His intent is to make readers uncomfortable; Kirsch’s piece makes it clear that he has somehow managed to get under Marty Peretz’s skin.

Josh Strawn posts a useful correction to the piece here, (via Larval Subjects) though his eagerness to gesture toward Lacanian exceptionalism is troubling.

When I picked up ‘Welcome to the Desert of the Real’ so many years ago, I gave up on reading it because I was quite certain that anyone that wanted to understand what Žižek was talking about probably needed to understand something about Lacan. What I subsequently discovered was that one does not cursorily educate oneself on Lacan, nor is it possible to do so (even after six years of immersion, it’s quite hard to feel like you ‘get’ Lacan). This is by Lacan’s design. He famously said that the way in should be difficult. It is willful obfuscation, not plain-spokenness in the vein of Orwell’s ‘Politics and the English Language.’ Then again, Lacan wasn’t teaching politics. He was the most bizarre pedagogue. One learned from him not by way of traditional study, but through experiencing him. The teacher was not to be the disseminator of knowledge so much as the figure who provoked the unquenchable desire for knowledge.

This attitude—performative discourse as opposed to expository discourse—is something that lay readers invariably doubt, if not resent—that social theorists like Lacan must use a method that justifies opacity, inscrutability, and poor expression to convey otherwise inexpressible truths. It requires a leap of faith to immerse yourself in this tortuous material in order to derive the insights, but by the time you start to understand you’ve committed so much effort and time to understanding that you’re biased toward believing. You can no longer evaluate the insights objectively. (But then the possibility of an objective perspective on such insights is often what is being called into question by the theories.) Often the end result is the true believers become a cult that’s more comfortable with dismissing those who fail to climb the mountain and make the total commitment than with spreading the important ideas the cult leader is supposed to have discovered in a persuasive way. The jargon becomes insular and convoluted; the stakes in discussing the theory begin to revolve around which disciple has the true gospel rather than whatever the substance of the gospel was originally. Nothing in the “real world” is affected, because no one in a position to effect change has any idea what the cultists are talking about.

It seems to me that by telling jokes and referencing popular culture and fashioning himself as a theoretical rock star, Žižek is trying to bring Lacanian ideas to a broader audience outside the cult and restore their relevance. His books are nonetheless difficult to understand, but they try to bait lay readers into making the effort with accessible examples and comedic hyperbole. Strawn’s point, that Žižek “can’t shut it off”—can’t stop theorizing and derailing himself and interrupting interlocutors—makes it seem as though he should have a blog, where a heterogeneous, inconsistent approach to events as they unfold are generally tolerated and excusable.

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