Cone of cold

January 16, 2009

When a similar cold spell hit before the holidays, CBC Radio’s weather folks kept referring to it as a “cone of cold.” Another such cone descended a few days ago, and apparently intends to stick around for another few.  And it’s really cold this time.  When trodden upon, the hard-packed snow sounds like styrofoam.  My left eye (the more watery of the two in the cold) has frozen shut twice, a mildly panic-inducing sensation. I actually put a coat on the dog when we go outside*.  Everyone walks with their head down, the parks are deserted all day, cars make dispirited death-rattles in the morning.  Most of my windows are frosted over, which is actually quite pretty if you don’t think too much about what’s causing it.

I watched an episode of the ridiculous Man vs. Wild last weekend in which our hero descended upon Siberia.  As he leapt from the plane, he warned the audience that temperatures were so cold that you could die within minutes: -20C.  Perhaps he should parachute onto the Main or Crescent Street this weekend and get some tips from the clubbers who want to wear their favourite cute shoes and not pay for coat check.  He could show them his secret of using a dead deer’s leg as a walking stick, and they could… well, buy him a drink at least.

And to clarify: this is not what I like about winter.

*I hate pets in clothes, but she has such short hair, nearly died from pneumonia before I adopted her, and is clearly struggling to breathe comfortably when it’s -36C in the morning.  I can’t get her to wear boots though, which it unfortunate as salty sidewalks dry out her feet to the point where they sometimes crack and bleed.  But she tears the boots off the minute I’m not looking, and I have limited patience for dog-dressing.


On confession

January 16, 2009

I have a habit of writing things through, particularly questions I’d rather not answer, or answered with the sensation that I left something dangling.  I’m a ruminator (oh how I wish that sounded ominous).  Ideas percolate while I’m on the metro, idly trolling through grocery store aisles, walking the dog.  This isn’t like that Seinfeld episode in which George only comes up with the perfect comeback days later – those are always at the ready.  But the meaningful responses to genuine questions have to actually be thought out, and usually away from the questioner.

I’ve gone so far as to create a separate file in which all of my ruminated and thought-out and scripted responses are kept.  They can be written, and revised, and edited, and re-written, so long as they get saved under the innocuous filename of “emails” (and thus, according to Speech Act Theory, making them emails). They rarely go anywhere, but I keep them because it’s good to know that at some (past the tipping) point I figured out the perfect thing to say, came up with a searing elucidation on what exactly it is that I mean.

I’m now ruminating upon this rumination – in working through Chapter Four I’m messing around with Foucault’s interpretations and uses of ‘confession.’ He talks about confession as a means of producing ‘truth’ (specifically in relation to sexuality; while central to my chapter, that’s not the part I’m interested in here).

…seeking the fundamental relation to the true, not simply in oneself – in some forgotten knowledge or in a certain primal trace – but in the self-examination that yields, through a multitude of fleeting impressions, the basic certainties of consciousness.  The obligation to confess is now relayed through so many different points is so deeply ingrained in us, that we no longer perceive it as the effect of a power that constrains us; on the contrary, it seems to us that truth, lodged in our most secret nature, ‘demands’ only to surface.

Foucault talks about how this act, this ritual, is bound up in and enacts arrangements of power; even if you are just dragging confessions out of yourself into unsent emails there is a virtual or presumed arbiter and a mechanism of forgiveness – an internalized sense not of social propriety so much as an injunction toward individualization (which is, however, bound up in and judged by external shoulds and oughts).  We cannot pinpoint something as a ‘sin’ worth recounting without a sense of what norms we have transgressed.  Confession is recognized not only by its degree of difficulty but also by its implicit potential for exacting change:

…a ritual in which the truth is corroborated by the obstacles and resistances it has had to surmount in order to be formulated . . . a ritual in which the expression alone, independently of its external consequences, produces intrinsic modification in the person who articulates it: it exonerates, redeems, and purifies him; it unburdens him of his wrongs, liberates him, and promises him salvation.

To a certain degree this is a matter of pattern recognition, that one of these things is not like the other.  What I confess, the truths of self I produce, are through the act of confession marked as different, through this process identified as somehow noteworthy, having bearing on how the ‘me’ they narrate fits – or doesn’t, or could, or needs to – into larger structures or forms of social control.  And along the way they’re ideally to tweak this ‘me,’ so that I become fitter, happier, more productive, not drinking too much…

Which isn’t to say I’m going to stop writing faux emails.  Or that I don’t believe something personally valuable can be gained through such reflection (which would invalidate this whole blogging thing).  Just another instance of life imitating theory, that’s all.

So. 2009.

January 7, 2009

I have resolutions this year, unlike last year.  Simple ones, like flossing and washing my face before going to bed, rather than just haphazardly swiping with toner.  “Completing the diss” isn’t a resolution, though, as that has to happen regardless, and if it comes to it, I’d prefer to look back and think “Yeah, I still didn’t floss.”  But since 2009 is now in full swing (i.e. I’ve already finished grading and gone back to writing), not much more needs to be said about the new year.  Or about the holidays for that matter – spent some time with R.’s family, he spent some with mine, everybody liked everyone, I ate a ton of shortbread in defiance of the gift certificate I received for The Running Room.

About the grading: my students’ take-home exam was to pitch their own Canadian film or television series, and to justify their creative decisions by referencing relevant class material.  This made things much more interesting for them, they said, and definitely more so for me.  My favourite line was from a pitch for a zombies-in-Montreal thriller, in which the student was discussing the use of hand-held cameras and linking it to Canadian film’s roots in the realist/documentary tradition: “In keeping with this realism, the zombies will be of the ‘sprinter’ variety . . . ”  Excellent.

It’s been snowing continuously all day, which pleases me more than others.  Each time I pop Alice out for a pee she spins herself in excited circles then dashes headlong into the nearest drift.  I’ve kept a pot of coffee warm for hours, decreasing in inverse proportion to the snow delicately building on my porch railing.  I think both are now nearly done, but as this is January in Montreal and as I’m writing my last major chapter, there will be more tomorrow.