Now that’s how you start a book review

And if you’re jabbing your own organization a little?  So much the better!

“The New York Times Book Review’s advice and miscellaneous best-seller list — the place where self-help books go to eyeball one another — is a boisterous rolling carnival of hustlers and hacks and optimists and jokers, with the occasional naked lady, tent preacher, dog trainer or television chef thrown in for good measure. Serious books do appear there, but they’re like guests who’ve wandered into the wrong party.”

The NYT’s review of Timothy Ferriss’s “4 Hour Body” is full of barely-restrained, glorious zing.  How could it not be?  Books like this, characters like this can only be karmic payback for critics.   Dwight Garner, you did something right in your past lives to get this assignment.

“If a movie were to be made of Mr. Ferriss’s life, it would star Matthew McConaughey in little rectangular eyeglasses…”

No, I imagine that if a movie were to be made of Mr. Ferriss’s life (heaven only knows, the script is being shopped somewhere), it would be a two hour version of the Aleksey Vayner video.

I’ll let you wander down to the best lines – invoking Klaus Kinski and Snooki, the New England Journal of Medicine and the Skymall catalog – yourself.

Utopia v. the possible

I’ve been reading my Bateson, as well as a couple festschrifts and essay collections devoted to him, and meditating on this lately.

‘Corollary to the pragmatic perspective is what may be termed a premise of possibility. This is articulated in Watzlawick’s exposition of the “utopia syndrome” as a problem-engendering pattern resulting when the ideal is mistaken for the possible.  (Watzlawick, Weakland & Fisch, 1974: 47-61)  This position is based upon the belief that life, at best, is fraught with difficulties and challenges.  Even the most joyous events – marriage, childbirth, milestones of professional achievement – carry with them stressful changes.  In courting accomplishment of any sort, one is often inclined to overlook the heightened pressure, expectations, and complexity that accomplish successful attainment.  The darker side of “self-actualization” has been little explored.  The myths of Horatio Alger, Hollywood and the human potential movement still prevail in middle-class American culture, promoting the belief that anything less than a life which moves from peak experience to peak experience is somehow lacking.  While it might be unreasonable to suggest working for less than the best life, more brutal to the human spirit is the relentless pursuit of chimerical bliss.  In situations where change in the realities of circumstance is all but impossible, Watzlawick writes, “it is the premise that things should be a certain way which is the problem and which requires change, not the way things are. Without the utopian premise, the actuality of the situation might be quite bearable.”  (Watzlawick, Weakland & Fisch, 1974: 61)

It is likely that Watlzawick and his colleagues in affluent Palo Alto see more than their share of utopian clients in therapy, but whatever the case the premise of possibility guides their problem-oriented, behaviorally-focused, goal-directed approach to interactional therapy.  In contrast to many contemporary humanistic therapies which lead one to believe that by focusing upon life’s miracles its problems will vanish (when in fact it is often the miracles which vanish under scrutiny), the message here is more like “attend sensibly to life’s difficulties, and the miracles will take care of themselves.”

The premise of possibility does not compel one to abandon hopes, dreams, ideals or visions of the best human condition; rather it directs one simply to consider the difference between what is possible to achieve within a given set of constraints and what is not, and to act accordingly.’

“Rigor and Imagination” by Carol Wilder-Mott, from Rigor & Imagination: Essays From the Legacy of Gregory Bateson, ed. C. Wilder-Mott & John H. Weakland. Praeger, New York, 1981.

Thoughts on it a little later.

Open, but how open?

Thinking out loud here, about just how much I should think and write out loud here.

I’m making this into a place for the things I’ve written and done over the years, and to talk about and develop the things I’m working on right now.  A little bit of everything, then – oaken barrel of creative-intellectual fermentation, nerdy words-repository, time capsule, place for my own bit of  integrated multimedia personal brandin..gagagaga, gag.

Part of my thinking behind it is simply practical and professional.  Here’s one more thing I can point to when I go job-hunting, something deeper and broader than a CV and a cover letter.  My work and my interests tend to cross disciplines, then go sauntering casually in and out of academia in general; here’s a way to put that across and press my ideas on further, into some new territory.  I’d like to imagine that as it grows and as I grow into it, some interesting conversations and opportunities might just emerge someday.

But how much should I really open up and say?

I’m an open person, for better or worse.  Ask me what I’m thinking about, and I’m likely to tell you.  If I don’t know something, I’ll tell you that, too.  It’s not that I don’t see or understand the value of artifice and front, of social correctness and being politic.  I’m just not into it when it gets in the way of honesty and reality.  My feelings go right there on my sleeve.

There’s no point in even starting this if I can’t be honest and real about things.

Employment’s one of the contexts and a driving force behind this thing.  Being on the market affects everything about me these days, from my future plans to the way I look at the world.  It’s an uncertain time for just about everyone.  Join the club?  I’m in it.

Does it drop you down a peg or three if you come right out and say “look – I’m looking for work”?  Should you really never let them see you sweat?

If I’m thinking about it, I’m probably going to write about it at some point.  Just how open can I be about that here, or anywhere else with my name on it, before I cross an invisible line?  I could just keep safely schtum about it – but what if to hold back is to hinder myself?   Social networks and efforts like this are supposedly the new wave of job searching.  Does it work that way in academic circles?  I’d like to wish it were so, yet I’m skeptical – we’re talking about a group of people that (if you believe the hype and hearsay) is quasi-paralyzed by fear and inhibition until tenure, like Shangri-La, is mercifully reached.   Given that kind of institutional culture, do I want my prospective future employers really reading the site that I’m sending my prospective future employers on to?

Do I even want them reading this tendentious little piece?

I really don’t know. I hardly know where the line is here.  Academics ruminate about these things in places like the Chronicle, when they do, under fake names…but I’m not the pseudonymous type; when I write something, dammit I want you to know I did.  So I guess I’ll find out where that line is when I trip over it.  In full view, right here.

One of the conversations I’ve had with students is on the nature of boundaries in an internet world – that as the world gets faster, more networked and searchable and as we learn to play and live with all these new applications, we’ve got to work out a whole new set of social and cultural boundaries for them.

Twitter’s a good example of this.  Most college students I’ve talked to just aren’t buying it.  There’s a lot of reasons for that, most having to do with the banality they perceive in ‘what are you doing?’  (“I don’t care what someone else is doing!”)  But in seeing only the negative, and thinking by old rules and standards, they may be missing out on some fascinating new possibilities – new ways to get info, new ways to make new kinds of personal and professional relationships, new ways to express oneself.

Communications scholars, of all people, ought to be tolerant of various new kinds of creative, intellectual, and yes personal explorations in new media, even if they’re not all into doing the exploration themselves (and many probably aren’t, and won’t.)  Are they?