samedi, mars 21, 2009

Homo-something and Workshop Night @ Le Rex

Well, I don’t know how it happened, but I managed to get very, very behind on blogging. So here begins the blog-plosion as I try to get back on track.

I decided to head into downtown and work on my dissertation in a café on one of the islands, but I had the craziest time finding an empty space at one of the Vélib stations. In the end, I had to park the bike at the Institut du Monde Arabe and walk all the way over to Notre-Dame from there. Anyway, I sat down in this café just next to the cathedral, which my Dad and I had visited back when he was in town for Christmas. The place was pleasant enough and I managed to spend a good 2 hours without being bothered (mind you, I made a point of coming between the lunch and dinner hours), but my cappuccino cost me €6.20, so maybe next time I’ll have a coffee in my neighborhood and forgo the ambience. Besides, the place was packed with tourists.

Fast-forward to tonight: I was at Le Rex for a night featuring Berlin-based minimal DJs on the Workshop label, including Move D live (OK, but a bit flat), and Lowtec and Even Tuell doing a back-to-back set (spotty performance, especially with regards to mixing/beatmatching). So I’ve got two amusing stories from tonight, both involving guys, gayness and intimacy (seriously, am I just a magnet for these things?):

Shortly after a few friends joined me on the dancefloor at around 3h30, I notice two relatively cute guys making out near me. Although people will describe the Rex’s crowd as mixed (sexually), in truth it’s still majority-heterosexual, even if gay-friendly, so same-sex necking is still something of a rare sight. Anyway, they both started making significant eye contact with me (which is generally quite sexually-charged in France), and one of them started dancing close to me, making even more conspicuous eye contact, and even managing to adjust his dancing style so that his hand would brush against my crotch from time to time. “Neat!” I thought, “Cute guys are hitting on me!” Even if it came to nothing, it’s always nice to see that someone finds you desirable. But then, one of my friends tapped my shoulder to talk to me and the other guy had disappeared. A few minutes later, he was hitting on some other guy; then, another guy; then another. As it turned out, it was just this one guy who was throwing himself at every male who returned his gaze. So I have sort of mixed feelings about the whole episode: on the one hand, it’s not much of an ego stroke to be hit on by some desperate horndog with no apparent standards, but on the other hand it’s reassuring that this guy could make advances on everything with a penis at this generally-hetero club and not get into trouble.

Right, so speaking of this generally-hetero thing, maybe “vaguely hetero” is a better term. Consider my second anecdote:

It’s nearly the end of the night (5h30) and I head up to the bar to buy a final round of drinks for me and my friends. My bank card doesn’t seem to work at the bar, so I end up having to use my last bit of cash to buy the drinks. This, as it turns out, would be my saving grace. A guy appears at the bar next to me, looking a bit dandy-ish with a white shirt and a white scarf tied around his neck (indoors, at 5h30 in the morning).

He taps my shoulder and says, “Tu me trouves bogosse?” “Bogosse” can mean “pretty boy” in a pejorative sense, but it’s also used in French banlieusard jargon to mean “hottie.” Either way, he was asking if I found him good-looking.

He was a bit too precious for my tastes, but he was certainly a pretty boy, so I said, “Yeah, sure.”

“So, buy me a drink.”

“Um, what?”

“If you think I’m hot, why don’t you buy me a drink.”

“Yeah, well look; I just spent my last dime on drinks for my friends, so you’re outta luck.”

“But wait, I must turn you on at least on a technical basis.”

“Uh, OK, I’m game. What do you mean?”

“I’m a faux-mo [he actually uses this term in the original French conversation. –lmgm]. You see, I’m hetero, but maybe I’m convertible.”

“Oh, I see where this is going.”

“So maybe I just need a drink, you know. I’ve already got the mannerisms…” and at this he makes a stylized clawing motion with one hand, as if he were doing an impression of Eartha Kitt.

“Um, yeah, I’m sorry but my drinks are ready and I’ve got to find my friends. Happy hunting.”

So there you go. The amusing thing about this episode was that this guy was engaging in the kind of economic trade of veiled sexual promises that is the (negative) stereotype of heterosexual courtship; i.e., complaints about “golddigging” and manipulation. But what’s also interesting is that, while this heterosexual narrative depends on the supposition that women don’t “naturally” want sex with men and require gifts/drinks/etc to be enticed, this guy was playing on a similar supposition regarding straight men and gay sex.

vendredi, mars 20, 2009

Surprise Birthday Parties and other fun things

After getting up and heading off to the market to get some veggies and the fixings for an upcoming meat curry, I did something that I almost never do: played video games. Much like reading fiction, video games are sort of thing from which I derive great pleasure, but in which I don’t engage when I have work on the horizon (which is almost always, and most likely forever). I guess that, since there’s no direct relation to my productivity and it’s clearly fun, I see it as an indulgence that I should somehow restrict, in relation to the endless list of non-fiction books I could be reading or the dissertation I should be writing. Anyway, I fired up a version of Tropico 2 and amused myself for a good long while.

As I was playing, I also had a chicken soup slowly simmering away on the stove, and by the late afternoon the chicken bones had become pliable and hollow, so the soup was ready. I removed the solids and passed the whole thing through a sieve, and by the time everything was done, it was nearly 20h00 and it was time to head out.

The plan for tonight was to meet at a friend’s place for a surprise birthday party for Fantômette, who had her birthday earlier in the week. Everybody showed up early and got started drinking and eating (we weren’t going to wait for her, obviously) and, when Fantô finally arrived, we hid in the salon and surprised her with a raucous rendition of the happy birthday song (© some litigious old lady). From there, the evening descended into a lot of champagne and wine, somewhat foolishly rounded off with vodka once we had finished the wine. By the time we were done and heading out to continue our evening (2h30), we were all feeling pretty…um…happy.

We were five people in total, which was one too much for a regular taxi. In our state, we had some trouble figuring this out, but thankfully a patient taxi driver explained the mathematics to us. Once we found a second taxi, we were well on our way. All but one of us was heading to La Scène Bastille to check out the soirée Crocodile, which was apparently going to be an electro night featuring Matias Aguayo. I had been interested in seeing him spin, since I had met him last summer in Berlin, BUT, it turns out that I had confused him for Carlos Valdes (I know, I know; not even similar). So I ended up being rather disappointed by his set, which was pretty lackluster. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not a big electro fan these days (if you had asked me in 2002 I might’ve had a different opinion), but even within the electro style, I found the set to lack coherence and energy (and, at times, even reasonable transitions between tracks). When he threw in a soca track on top of a distortion-heavy electro track, I lost patience and left.

Despite the disappointing music, though, I can at least say that the crowd had a pretty good feel to it. Everyone seemed to be having fun, there were enough people to fill the room without making it unbearable, and the crowd felt rather friendly. Nonetheless, that only goes so far in saving bad music, and eventually I decided to just go home and save my energies for the next night.

jeudi, mars 19, 2009

Strikes are like Gay Pride, minus the glitter.

Well, seeing the length of yesterday’s impromptu blog-treatise, here’s my short observation for today:

France is on strike, again. I’ve come to the conclusion that strike marches in Paris are like gay pride marches—without the bears and twinks and glitter, but not without camp value.

mercredi, mars 18, 2009

Wherein the ethics of pedagogy are unexpectedly discussed

So today I took a day off work, since this is technically spring break for the U of C kids, which means nobody is around at work right now. I slept in, ran some errands, walked around in the surpringly-warm and sunny weather, sketched out a new outline for the revisions to my first chapter, and prepared an elaborate dinner. It was awesome. Mind you, I did have to go over to l’Ecole des Chartes and teach, so that detracted a bit from my day.

Speaking of which, on the way home I saw this sticker on a doorjamb close to my place: “Un élève n’est pas un client” (A student isn’t a client). Something about that statement rings quite true. Having learned and taught in at least three different university systems now, I can definitely say that a lot of friction between teachers and students (and administrators) comes from the conflation of student/teacher and client/server relationships.

But it’s not immediately clear how these relationships are different, and at least some of this opacity comes arises from the exchange of capital. As soon as money changes hands—even if it’s between a student’s parents and the teacher’s university—this inaugurates a relationship that everyone in a consumer-capitalist society is familiar with: if I’ve just given you money, you owe me either goods or services. In some cases, the expected service is to transfer knowledge, in other cases, the expected good is a diploma. Regardless, the fact of payment by the student (or on his/her behalf) gives the sense that the learning and degree-recognition are now assured. In fact, you could say that students feel entitled to the grades, exam performance, and diplomas they have purchased.

Those who’ve worked at expensive private schools or universities are probably very familiar with the term “entitled.” And there’s a reason for that: the larger the tuition expenses, the stronger students and their parents will feel that they’ve purchased a service around which they can make demands and complaints in the same genre as those they would make to their domestic servants (who don’t get enough respect, either, but that’s another blogpost). In places where tuition is largely subsidized by the state, this seems to be much less of a problem; sure, their taxes go toward supporting the educational institutions, but at least the routing of the money through the state seems to make education feel like a civic or cultural responsibility, rather than a private good (and, in some countries, luxury item). Ironically, it is in the countries where education is most conceptualized as a right that the students are the least entitled in their relations with their institutions.

So what? If there’s a financial transaction going on, isn’t is just being realistic, pragmatic, and un-romantic to treat it as a purchase rather than enrollment or registration? Is the difference between teacher and housemaid just one of class pretensions? Well, here’s the thing: pedagogy isn’t the same as service. I’m not quite sure what it is, but it has some important differences.

The first major difference is that, unlike most services, pedagogy requires action and effort on the part of the person receiving it. If you’re paying me to clean your house, you don’t have to be involved in any way with the cleaning; I wouldn’t expect you to contribute to my efforts to clean, and—most importantly—I wouldn’t fail to do my job due to negligence on your part. In the context of pedagogy, however, the teacher provide the materials and the guidance for learning, but the student’s efforts are to some minimal degree indispensible to the success of the outcome.

Furthermore, the goal of pedagogy isn’t just to give something to the student, but to cause the student to change in some way. There’s an expectation that the student not only make the effort to learn, but to develop him/herself and become a somehow different person. In French, for example, the common term for “education” is “formation,” which makes the underlying metaphor of pedagogy clearer: the goal is to shape the student into a particular form. And so, the demand of pedagogy on the student is not only to try, but to progress; this is why the protestation, “But I tried so hard!” cannot earn extra marks.

In this sense, the pedagogical relationship is a lot closer to the therapeutic relationship of therapists, fitness coaches, physiotherapists and doctors: you pay to submit to transformative practice that you hope will make you better in some way. And, much like in these other relationships, the teacher-student relationship is one where the relations of dominance and control are ambivalent at best. It’s one of the few relationships where you pay to obey.

Which is, perhaps, why these relationships are a lot less tense in contexts where the student/patient/athlete hasn’t paid directly for the pedagogy. But even in the context of completely free, subsidized education, there needs to be some way to articulate the responsibilities, rights, and powers of teachers and students (and administrators, too).

lundi, mars 16, 2009

Weekend post-mortem, 1

Phew! Paper (or at least the draft required) is done. It was a pretty intense weekend of work, but I did manage to have a bit of fun as well. On Friday night, I rewarded a solid day of writing by going to the Akufen-Cabanne [LINK] back-to-back all-night-long mega-set at La Scène Bastille. It was actually a bit disappointing, although there were some high points to the set. What was memorable to the evening, however, was when a bouncer caught a girl trying to light up a joint on the dancefloor (not a good idea now that there’s no smoking in clubs). She was obviously already a big drunk/high, and her reaction to him grabbing her arm was to flail frantically, sending other people’s drinks crashing to the floor, and yell loudly, “Let me go! Let me go!!” What you didn’t hear unless you were standing closer to her was an additional phrase just as the bouncer finally secured both her arms: “I’ll suck you off.”

Really?? Does that work? And—to be ruthlessly pragmatic—if it might work, how likely is it now that you’ve started the negotiations in public?

The scene elicits a whole series of conflicting reactions in me. At first, incredulous laughter. It’s not like there’s no precedent for people trading sexual favours for other kinds of favours, but the business is usually conducted in the more indirect registers of flirting, innuendo, and knowing glances. At the same time, there’s something profoundly saddening about the fact that, as this woman saw the rest of her night evaporating before her, she reached for this as her next resort. But not her last resort. That’s what’s saddening: whatever her logic, she came to the conclusion that offering her mouth to the bouncer’s cock (and presumably his subsequent jizz) was the best of available options at that moment. And, like most bouncers in Paris, her interlocutor was black, and the intersection of racial sexual stereotypes and this (white) woman’s decision to offer sex as a bribe made the whole situation all the more fucked up.

So there ya go, my odd moment from the weekend. I’ve got another story from Sunday night, but I’ll save that for tomorrow’s post.

dimanche, mars 15, 2009

Coco Feel and Love Shonk by Shonky

Continuing yesterday's post on the top 50 charted tracks for February (on Resident Advisor), I noticed that Paris-based Shonky's recent release on the Contexterrior label was listed at about halfway on the list. The track that was listed from the release was the title track, "Coco Feel and Love Shonk," which I find to be the weaker track on the release; it comes out as somewhat clichéd, overdone house. However, the second track on the release, "Donkey Kong," is way better. It has a certain old-school, Aux88, thumpy feel to it that I quite like.

Alas, I couldn't find a YouTube clip with the Donkey Kong track, so here's "Coco Feel and Shonk Love" for now, and you can click here to go to Beatport and hear an excerpt of "Donkey Kong."