The objects we won’t put down

Casio Guts.

Yesterday I read Anna McCarthy’s (very short) essay in the current issue of Social Text (subscription required). It’s called “Casio” and it’s a personal essay about a Casio calculator she bought at a garage sale when she was twenty-three. McCarthy doesn’t use the calculator but can’t bear to part with it and the essay is a really beautiful reflection on the objects we attach to and what they mean to us across a great span of time. It’s also about moving, and the all the reckoning with objects and our attachments that this upheaval brings. This is the aspect of the essay that I attached to.

McCarthy describes an argument with her husband over the calculator during “what was a particularly grueling apartment move”:

“It was three in the morning, and he walked into my study with a look of desperation and a trash bag. I was sitting amid piles of books, assembling boxes. Can I pitch this, he asked, gesturing to the Casio on the desk. No, I said, growing shrill. No way. Absolutely not. He looked at me and suggested I take an Ativan.

But a talisman is better than an Ativan, especially when it works through the preemptive properties of forethought. By letting me fantasize about a disaster, the Casio reduced the probability that a real one would actually happen. The coincidence would be too great. Over the years, this fetish value has proven far greater than the thing’s value as a calculator.”

There are those who hold on to objects when they move in case they want to feel something for those objects again one day. This holding on happens under the guise of “I might need this later.” Then there are those who use a move to purge, often with abandon for future attachments, wanting to lighten their life in whatever way they can.

The weight of attachment is a bit different when it comes to the objects we share. When you end a relationship and divide your things in preparation to move, practically, and symbolically, away from the other, there are all kinds of half-truths you tell each other through objects. “You can have it, I never liked it anyway” can be a way of refusing to continue to share the same attachments to a thing; a gesture that wards off more hurt. “I have nice memories of that and I’d really like to keep it” marks a shared history that you won’t begin to deny. And then once you move and you’re still sorting through the detritus, the choices made about what to keep and what to throw away are always loaded with dead or far-too-present thoughts about what your attachment to an object meant in the past, and what it means right now, balanced with the suspicion that you might feel differently about it in the future.


Comprehensive Exam Reading Lists

Always be annotating

I’ve finally posted my comprehensive exam readings lists. I’m putting these up because I’ve found other people’s lists enormously helpful in forming my own and I hope this will provide a resource for other students in the Communication and Culture program, and for other students putting together readings lists on cultural studies, communication studies, feminism, queer theory or online media. Assembling a list is a collaborative process, one with other students in your field, in your program, with your committee, and with the authors of the texts you’re reading who have followed citations of their own. In my program we write our formal questions toward the end of the reading process, so I’ll update with those once I’m finished with them.

In addition to my own lists, here are a couple of links to other lists that I’ve found helpful. If you have others, please add links in the comments.

Pamela Ingleton, PhD candidate at McMaster:
Cultural studies, social media, public sphere, the everyday, authorship

Fenwick McKelvey, PhD candidate at Ryerson:
Communication studies, code politics, digital research methods, political economy of information

Simon Fraser University Graduate Program in Women’s Studies:
Very comprehensive on feminist theory and cultural studies.

Writing Comps Lists as Collaborative Process

I haven’t updated in a while because I was at CACS in Montreal over the weekend and because I’ve fallen into a dark citational abyss that is preparing my comps readings lists. In my program, there is no set canon of texts from which you are expected to choose; rather you put together your own lists with your supervisor. I’ve been doing a lot of reading of other people’s cultural studies lists online, and talking to as many people as possible about their experiences with this process. It strikes me that, as a process of citation, preparing a comps list is actually a super collaborative process that extends way beyond the student-committee relationship, but for some reason, there aren’t many social or technological mechanisms in place to make this collaboration happen. Sometimes asking people about their comps lists, or to share their comps lists, feels like asking them to do something deeply risky and revelatory, like singing Karaoke in public. One thing that I plan to do other than blog about this process is add a section to this site with links to online comps resources that I’ve found helpful, as well as my own lists (once they’re finished).

My Comps Areas:
Major General: Media and Culture (program defined): culture, identity, politics and social life (my addendum)
Major Specific: Feminist and Queer Theory (I got to pick this)
Minor: Digital and Online Technologies (I sort of got to pick this)

Things I’ve learned in the process so far:

  • This is much more a process of de-selection than of assemblage.
  • If you want to stay sane, you can only work on this for two hours a day, max

Advice other people have offered:

  • Follow the citations to make sure you really cover your field
  • Don’t follow the citations because you’ll get stuck in a comps hole. Break off key debates instead.
  • This is going to be the best part of your PhD
  • This is going to be the worst part of your PhD
  • Set it up so the finished written product is useful to you
  • Stay focused by reading to your questions
  • Think of it as an exercise in relating your own position to a broader field
  • The most important quality of a good list is that it’s manageable as a project with a specific timeline


Other People’s Lists that I’ve found helpful so far:

Pamela Ingleton, PhD candidate at McMaster
Cultural studies, social media, public sphere, the everyday, authorship

Fenwick McKelvey, PhD candidate at Ryerson
Communication studies, code politics, digital research methods, political economy of information

Simon Fraser University Graduate Program in Women’s Studies
Very comprehensive on feminist theory and cultural studies