Monday, March 25, 2013

March Meeting (Hotel Theory)

Hotel Theory
by Wayne Koestenbaum



A Telecom Meeting

It's conference season! In accordance with the travel of many MATCH members, this month's meeting will be held via telecommute on "Hotel Theory" by Wayne Koestenbaum.

Readings have been sent out and available on the Facebook group, and a few key passages have been provided below for consideration. Attendants are invited to post replies to the thread for the next week, noting if or where they are/have/will be traveling.

The passages and questions below are meant primarily to provide a primer for discussion. As our talks often delve into personal experience and hover around the premise of the text as well as on the text itself, responses are welcome that share anecdotes from traveling as well as thoughts about the experience and theoretical position of hotels.


Hotel as Movement to Nowhere

"'Hotel is a method of not staying'...
we enter the euphoric state of 'never-dwelling anywhere.'
Hotel existence, because socially unattached, 
is silent, even amid noise" (4)

A communication from a hotel comes from nowhere.
The letterhead deceives, masks a lack of location" (7)

Nothing gets accomplished in a hotel room

The hotel room is unthinkable though I am trying to think of it.
I ponder the problem of the hotel room 
because I want to escape a closed system (10)

Question for Discussion: 
  1. What do we gain by imagining a hotel not as a static place but as a way of motion?
  2. What experiences of anonymity or placelessness have you experienced?



Hotel as Site of Exchange

The title of Frank O'Hara's poem 'Hotel Transylvanie'
suggests that transfusions and transfigurations occur in hotels:
Dracula, blood-mingling, identity swap.
In such hotels, guests share needles, bareback, and refuse 
all activities except for respiration and fornication" (6)

Hotel represents a failed relation to space.
In a hotel, we do not..."stay with things"
We depart from objects, they fall off us (17)

Anglophone writers take on frenchness 

when they post hotel as a locale of loss.
Hotel is where a french leaning poet can perform availability---
the provisional comfort a prostitute offers. (18)

Question for Discussion: 

  1. How does the invitation to imagine hotel-being as a state of perpetual exchange open us up to new ways of thinking and what dangers might come from this?
  2. What things have you given, taken, or changed while in a hotel-state?



Hotel as Assembled Body

A hotel is an arbitrary collection of human beings.
Like other city structures (stores, arcades)
hotels throw strangers together in chance arrangements....
a hotel's cast changes, but slower and with greater ceremony.
A hotel is a temporary finite set-- hence, a laboratory." (9)

Clearly I am afraid to check into Hotel Theory
I am hovering, nervous, at its threshold (12)

Literary form is a hotel room
sometimes opulent, more often austere (15)

Question for Discussion: 

  1. What might Hotel as a literary, social, or philosophical form help us to do or express differently than what the author opposes as "homeness?"
  2. How does the experience of reading the book perform  Hotel Theory (i.e. the audience, the philosophers cited, the split in the text left/right, etc)?

Monday, March 11, 2013

Attitudes, Affects & Alliances in Scholarship (Part 4): Rust


Patrick Henry


The below is a textual restoration and revision of thoughts first delivered during the “Attitudes, Affects, and Alliances in Scholarship” roundtable at the EGSA Symposium at the George Washington University on Friday, 15 February 2013.


During eight years of my life—four years of undergrad, then two master’s degrees—I kept a rusted spike, meant to secure railroad ties to the earth, on my desk as a paperweight. Perhaps, it was an unconscious effort to subjugate my past, my private history, to my goal of becoming a writer and a literary critic. 

 Or, the spike was an artifact, sheathed in russet flakes that shed red-brown particles on papers and books, that functioned as a reliquary of experiences past: developmental years passed in Bellwood, a small borough tethered by railroads to the nearby city of Altoona, the city and its railyards and its engine workshops and the Altoona Rail Roaders Memorial Museum final testaments to Pennsylvania’s bygone stature as the keystone of American, industrialist infrastructure.

Forget Pennsylvania’s history, its myths of progress and the visionary lieutenants of such captains of industry as Andrew Carnegie; all these lines of iron and steel long ago became the Rust Belt. And the rail lines, its cinctures, extend from one buckling town to another, spreading economic free fall’s corroding touch. 

 In villages and boroughs and cities across Pennsylvania, houses shed their siding as decrepit cars hunker on blocks in front yards, roads are chocked with potholes, and communities are shrinking as the opportunities vanish.


This is, we are told, the fate of this place: rust freezes gears in place, causes machines and progress to fail. When rust makes a cameo in Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio, the “Man of Ideas” Joe Welling rants that rust is only an inevitable form of decay: “Decay you see is always going on. It doesn’t stop. Water and paint can’t stop it. If a thing is iron, then what? It rusts, you see.” 

This teleology of rust is not unlike a sinister mystery of faith: a thing’s newness fades; it corrodes, surrenders to rust; it crumbles into dust. But I refuse to accept the nihilistic, tarnished historicism of Anderson’s Joe Welling. 

 After all, rust also indicates a chance for restoration; through refurbishing anything literally or metaphorically rusted (even something as simple as the rusted railroad spike that once served as my desktop paperweight), we discover the possibility to recover past narratives and experiences that are lost in what Welling suggests is the telos of rust, the stagnant state of decay.

Instead, those rusted machines that lurk throughout a place like Pennsylvania should be sites that allow us to remodel our thoughts about every mode of history, from those private stories that we keep close to our hearts to the sweeping panoramas of documentary accounts. Our memories can render rust, then, as a complex metaphor for the multiple ties to our pasts and the histories of others, to the conditions of life today, and to potential futures. 

 After all, we carry those histories guised with so many flecks of rust with us as we propel toward the future or ruminate on the past; they are parts of our work whether we will it or not, like the railroad spike leaving its patina of dust on my old manuscripts. 


 If we keep this perspective in mind—that rust represents how intricately entwined the past, present, and future are—we can, as Walter Benjamin writes in “Theses on the Philosophy of History,” “brush history against the grain.” 

So, memory and recollection are the tools we use to restore the rusted object and the multiple histories that it contains. This is at work in T.S. Eliot’s “Rhapsody on a Windy Night,” when remembrances stir stillness into a frenzy:

The memory throws up high and dry 
A crowd of twisted things; 
A twisted branch upon the beach 
Eaten smooth, and polished 
As if the world gave up 
The secret of its skeleton, 
Stiff and white. 
A broken spring in a factory yard, 
Rust that clings to the form that the strength has left 
Hard and curled and ready to snap.

Here, the memory of Eliot’s poetic persona, akin to my essayist’s voice in this reflection, has set rigid rust into subtle movement. So, these are my thoughts, assembled from so many pieces of literary rust, made into a textual artifact for you. I’ll leave the restoration in your hands.

Listen via Podcast to
the M.A.T.C.H. Round-Table 
"Attitudes, Affects & Alliances 
in Scholarship"
15 February 2013

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Attitudes, Affects & Alliances in Scholarship (Part 3): Silence


Sukshma Vedere


Silence is my zone of comfort. Having grown up in a conservative family, where talking to the opposite sex made elders shake their heads in disapproval, going to parties was denied with a firm “NO”, and watching the television was considered “a waste of time”, I grew up to be an anti-social geek with books as friends and silence as companion. 

I hated drawing attention and always preferred to remain in the background of any social events/gathering. I loved to be unnoticed! The back bench in class was always mine, from where I tried to evade the teacher’s questioning eyes. Maintaining distance from people made me feel secure. Few ever knew what was on my mind, I was either considered mysterious or dull by peers.


However, from the moment that I decided that I wanted to focus on academics and saw the need to acquire teaching skills to improve my chances of employment, my silent bubble burst. It took me a lot of effort to face the classroom, becoming the object of attention as a teacher. 

I often wondered why academics was always associated with rhetoric and wished it had been otherwise. Why is vocal language the normative means of communication? Can’t people communicate in silence? -were some of the questions which intrigued me at that time. Some of my friends used to joke saying that I ought to become a teacher for the vocally challenged/dumb/muted.

In retrospect, I find it ironical that I have gained proficiency in several languages/ means of communication and prefer silence to rhetoric. I believe that meaning is fluid in a space of silence and that orality shatters the “subjunctive possibilities” of meaning by making things explicit. Speech is a selective device that overlooks subtle experiences to highlight a dominant experience and validate it as reality.


In silence, my identity is fluid, no one knows me or judges me, not even myself. I like it that way. 

In The History of Sexuality Foucault explains:

"Silence itself—the things one declines to say, or is forbidden to name, the discretion that is required between different speakers—is less the absolute limit of discourse, the other side from which it is separated by a strict boundary, than an element that functions alongside the things said, with them and in relation to them within over-all strategies.... There is not one but many silences, and they are an integral part of the strategies that underlie and permeate discourses."

In my research, I am interested in discourses of silence, and unhistorical narratives which reveal experiences which have gone unrecorded in the span of history. It is time to take a look at how silences shape reality and construct experiences, how silences contain fluid identities and affects which get trapped in the rhetoric of language when made explicit. 


Listen via Podcast to
the M.A.T.C.H. Round-Table 
"Attitudes, Affects & Alliances 
in Scholarship"
15 February 2013