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General Board / Re: law school relationships/love?
« on: January 24, 2009, 01:58:51 PM »
You don't need a map to find your rat park

I often invite clients to play the dead-simple game You're Getting Warmer, You're Getting Colder. The client leaves the room, and I hide a simple object -- say, a key -- in a tricky place, such as the inside of a cake. (Not that I would have done this with someone locked up. Like Sheila. Absolutely not.) When the client returns to the room, he almost invariably stands still, and asks, "What am I looking for?" Obviously, I don't answer him. The only feedback I'll give is "You're getting warmer" or "You're getting colder." Eventually clients will start moving. Guided by the words warmer and colder, they quickly identify the general hiding area. Then there's a period of confusion, fueled by assumptions like "Well, she certainly wouldn't hide it in the cake." They go back and forth for a bit, then stop and demand, "Where is it?" Again, this gets them nothing. Peeved, they revert to following the "warmer/colder" feedback until they arrive at the object. I've never had a client who didn't ultimately succeed. Not one. My point: Life has installed within you powerful "getting warmer, getting colder" signals. When Sheila thought of leaving the treatment center, her tension, anxiety, and drug cravings soared. The time she had to serve was "warmer"; her outside life, "colder." Certain activities were freezing cold -- dealing with her mother, working, paying bills.

As we examined each of these, we found that her guidance system was giving her beautifully clear messages. For instance, being around sane noncriminals, even officials at the treatment center, felt "warmer" than Sheila's crazy dope-dealing mother. Working in the cafeteria, with its institutional predictability, was "warmer" than her old cocktail waitress job, where she'd flashed her flesh to elicit unpredictable tips from drunken customers. Living within her economic means felt "warmer" than credit card shopping sprees she couldn't afford. True, Sheila was a long way from her own Rat Park. But with the knowledge that her navigation system was functioning perfectly, all she had to do was play her life as a game of You're Getting Warmer, You're Getting Colder. The same is true for you. It isn't necessary to know exactly how your ideal life will look; you only have to know what feels better and what feels worse. If something feels both good and bad, break it down into its components to see which are warm, which cold. Begin making choices based on what makes you feel freer and happier, rather than how you think an ideal life should look. It's the process of feeling our way toward happiness, not the realization of some Platonic ideal that creates our best lives. "My life is so far from perfect," Sheila says as we end our session. "I don't know if it's fixable." She's ready to hear my third and last piece of commonsense advice.

You don't have to make big changes to get there

This step is something I stole from philosopher and engineer Buckminster Fuller. Bucky, as his friends knew him, chose for his epitaph just three words: call me trimtab. Trim tabs are tiny rudders attached to the back of larger rudders that steer huge ships. The big rudders would snap off if turned directly, but, as Fuller famously said, "just moving the little trim tab builds a low pressure that pulls the rudder around. Takes almost no effort at all. can just put your foot out like that and the whole big ship of state is going to go." Every life is a series of trim-tab decisions. Should you read tonight or watch TV? Choose what feels warmer. Self-help or thriller? Choose what feels warmer. Cuddle with the dog or banish him from the bed? Choose what feels (psychologically) warmer. If you make mistakes, no problem; you'll soon feel colder and correct your course. Making consistent trim-tab choices toward happiness is what steers the mighty ship of your life into exotic ports, safe havens -- in short, into every Rat Park you can imagine, and then some. I say goodbye to Sheila not knowing whether she'll set her trim tabs toward happiness or back to her drug-abusing cage of a life. I've learned not to get my hopes up with humans, who aren't nearly as clear-sighted and authentic as rats. But our session reminds me to keep following my own tiny feelings and impulses to their distant and amazing destinations. So instead of worrying about Sheila -- or me, or you -- I'll choose to trust our powerful instincts, our desire to be happy, our amazing human capacity for invention. You may choose cynical despair instead -- it's all the rage in intellectual circles -- but if you care to join me, I think you'll find it's a whole lot warmer over here in Rat Park.

By Martha Beck from "O, The Oprah Magazine," January 2009

General Board / How to escape your rat race
« on: January 24, 2009, 01:57:30 PM »
Always try to find a balance between law school and your social life. Here it is an interesting article from Oprah:

By Martha Beck

( -- Sheila and I are conversing at a drug treatment center, where she's been remanded. Counselors are listening, so we can't plan a way to break her out. As it happens, escape is the last thing on Sheila's mind. I'm not coaching her through the woes of being institutionalized for drug use but prepping her for her upcoming release. "In here everything's simple," Sheila says. "Outside I'll have to deal with my crazy mom, get a job, pay the bills. I don't know how to handle that without drugs." When I ask her to picture a peaceful, happy life, Sheila draws a blank. "I can't imagine anything except what I've already seen," she says. The despair in her voice is so heavy it makes me want to huff a little glue myself, but two things give me hope: a fabled land known in the annals of psychology as Rat Park, and a montage of other clients, once as hopeless as Sheila, who went on to live happy, meaningful lives. The concepts I learned from Rat Park, channeled through the behaviors I've seen in those courageous clients, just may transform Sheila's future.

Many people never make the decision to escape the rat race.

But first, what is this mythic Rat Park? And how might it relate to you? The term comes from a study conducted in 1981 by psychologist Bruce Alexander and colleagues. He noted that many addiction studies had something in common: The lab rats they used were locked in uncomfortable, isolating cages. Testing a hunch, Alexander gathered two groups of rats. For the first, he built a 200-square-foot rodent paradise called Rat Park. There a colony of white Wister rats found luxurious accommodations for all their favorite pastimes -- mingling, mating, raising pups, writing articles for newspaper tabloids. The second group was housed in the traditional cages. Alexander offered both groups a choice of plain water or sugar water laced with morphine. Like rats in other studies, the traditionally caged animals became instant addicts. However, the residents of Rat Park tended to "just say no," avoiding the drug-treated sugar water. Even rats that were already addicted to morphine tended to lay off the hard stuff when in Rat Park. Put them back in their cages, however, and they'd stay stoned as Deadheads. Alexander saw many parallels between these junkie rats and human addicts. He has talked of one patient who worked as a shopping mall Santa. "He couldn't do his job unless he was high on heroin," Alexander remembered. "He would shoot up, climb into that red Santa Claus costume, put on those black plastic boots, and smile for six hours straight." This story jingles bells for many of my clients. Like Smack Santa, they spend many hours playing roles that don't match their innate personalities and preferences, dulling the pain with mood-altering substances. Miserable with their jobs, relationships, or daily routines, they gulp down a fifth of Scotch, buy 46 commemorative Elvis plates on QVC, superglue phony smiles to their faces, and head on out to whatever rat race is gradually destroying them.

Sheila was actually a step ahead of most of my clients, in that she knew she was locked up. Most people are trapped in prisons made of mind stuff -- attitudes and beliefs such as "I have to look successful" or "I can't disappoint my dad." Ideas like these -- being deeply entrenched and invisible -- are often more powerful than physical prisons. When we're trapped in mind cages, gulping happy pills by the handful and fantasizing about lethally stapling co-workers, we rarely even consider that our unhappiness comes from living in captivity. And if we ever come close to recognizing the truth, we're stopped by a barrage of terrifying questions: "What if there's nothing better than this?" "What if I quit my job, lose my seniority, and end up somewhere even worse?" "What if I break off this relationship and end up alone forever?" "What if I get my hopes up and the big break never comes?" When the alternatives are staying in the familiar cage or facing the unknown, trust me, most people choose the cage -- over and over and over again. It's painful to watch, especially knowing that liberation is only a few simple steps away. If you suspect that you might need to engineer your own prison break, the following pieces of commonsense advice can set you free forever.

You don't have to know what rat park looks like

"I just don't think I'll ever find the right life for me," Sheila frets. "Of course you won't!" I say. "How strange to think you would!" It amazes me how often people use that phrase: "Find the right life." Would you walk into your kitchen hoping to find the right fried egg, the right cup of coffee, the right toast? Such things don't simply appear before you; they arrive because you rummage around, figure out what's available, and make what you want. (If you're rich, you can hire a chef and place your order, but you're still creating the result.) Bruce Alexander's rats were hand-delivered into paradise. Lucky critters, indeed -- but not nearly as lucky as Alexander himself, or the rest of us humans, who have the astonishing ability to envision and build Rat Parks. All animals are shaped by their environment, but we, more than any other species, can shape our environment right back. We can cook the egg, brew the coffee, paint the room, change the space. We can fabricate our Rat Parks, and we must, if we want them built to spec. "But I don't know what I'm trying to build," Sheila protests when I tell her this. "How can I create something when I don't have a clue what it looks like?" Time for commonsense suggestion number two.

General Board / Re: The Biography of a Dangerous Idea
« on: January 24, 2009, 01:34:08 PM »
For Derrida dissemination occurs even at the most basic level of the sign. For Derrida, it lies at the very core of language and so must be thought of to originate at the level of the sign. As Culler points out: "Linkings that stress the etymology or morphology of a word, bringing out the rift or gap at the heart of draft, outline, plan, are ways of applying torque to a concept and affecting its force." In other words, the sign itself carries within it already the seeds that will eventually deconstruct it. For Derrida, then, there is no difference between textuality and intertextuality it is the same process. Truth, or meaning, in a given text becomes naturally suspect in such an environment, as Leitch points out:

The lesson of textuality as intertextuality is that truth in (of) literature is an illusion: there is only always the deracinating play of myriad differences. Infinite meanings are broadcast across textual surfaces. In deconstructive theory, such dissemination takes the place of truth.

This may sound as the ultimate in textual nihilism where any hope of unity or stability is forever lost and the text is utterly shattered and in the worst case completely redundant and useless, since we can never decide irrevocably which meaning is the most appropriate. The text has lost all meaning since it has an infinite number of meanings; the text is hollow. It is evident that there is a degree of semantic indeterminacy in Derrida's proposition of dissemination and it is here that we may tie back into postmodernism. Indeterminacy is one of the most vital aspects of postmodern culture (though it existed prior to postmodernism, of course) and Ihab Hassan describes indeterminacy as the tendency to "delay closures, frustrate expectations, promote abstractions, sustain a playful plurality of perspectives, and generally shift the grounds of meaning on their audiences.” (Hassan 1987:73). Meaning is not something definite in postmodern culture, there is no single truth which may stabilise meaning, instead meaning becomes a object which may be playfully examined and reexamined constantly. Clearly Derrida's project is not to eradicate all meaning but instead to investigate how meaning is produced, and he insists that dissemination is thus always also insemination and that this insemination creates what he terms the graft. As Culler states "Meaning is produced by a process of grafting..." and as Derrida asserts:

To write means to graft. It’s the same word. The saying of the thing is restored to its being-grafted. The graft is not something that happens to the properness of the thing. There is no more any thing than there is any original text.

Leitch argues: "The Derridian operation of grafting is a postmodern tactic designed to cross traditional boundaries in order to promote fruitful intersections among isolated disciplines and textual traditions." As we can see from Leitch's quote grafting is not only part of the very process of writing, but can also be used as a specific strategy. Grafting is thus a way of making sense or meaning from a text, what is grafted onto the present text may differ but it will always alter the text. For Derrida, this is how meaning arises, whether we know of the imposing discourse. Michel Foucault makes the same point when he in "The Archeology of Knowledge" states that a text "is caught up in a system of references to other books, other texts, other sentences: it is a node within a network." Such a network, then, must be seen as what frames a text and makes meaning possible. Indeed, in "Signature Event Context" Derrida argues how context is one way of controlling aspects of a text, but also that in the end, "[e]ventually, one may recognize other such possibilities in it by inscribing or grafting it into other chains. No context can enclose it. Nor can any code..." It is not possible to restrict the text to only one meaning, just as it is not possible to claim that a text belongs to only one network or field of discourse; a text is composed of many different elements from many different networks. A text is thus always contaminated by other texts from disparate fields.

It is this realization which carries us into Derrida's concept of contamination. He discusses contamination primarily in relation to genre, though it does crop up briefly in Dissemination. Significantly, in relation to genre contamination works similar to dissemination in the way it overflow and breaks boundaries. In Derrida's conception, genre instates a line which must not be crossed, a certain norm whatever it may specifically be. This norm, as we have seen, is never natural but always constructed by certain standards. This is the law of genre. It is precisely this law which enables us to interpret texts, which indicates not just the necessary existence of genre but also the impossibility of genreless texts: "a text cannot belong to no genre, it cannot be without or less a genre. Every text participates in one or several genres, there is no genreless text; there is always genre and genres." The trait that marks membership comes to form what Derrida terms an internal pocket by the process of invagination and this pocket is larger than the whole. I will argue that invagination is the same process as grafting, since what we find is that another discourse imposes upon a text and inseminates it with meaning. The confluence of the sexual metaphors here are not to be mistaken for it is clear that meaning is given birth by this process of insemination and invagination.

Trace or graft, the movement is the same; just as the generic mark does not belong to the text because it is a trace, so too does the graft not truly belong in the text. The use of the word "contamination" makes the process sound negative since it implies impurity, which must be a conscious decision to fly in the face of a desire for purity of genre. We may instead choose the phrasing "participation without belonging” since this does not carry the same negative connotations, and Derrida also the terms interchangeably: “Here now, very quickly, is the law of abounding, of excess, the law of participation without membership, of contamination, etc."

As we can see, this is exactly what the very concept of dissemination indicates; the graft does not truly belong in the text, since it comes from the outside, yet it remains a necessary part of the text and is indeed constitutive of the text: “What interests me is that this re-mark - ever possible for every text, for every corpus of traces - is absolutely necessary for and constitutive of what we call art, poetry, or literature." We can see here again how texts are viewed as being forever framed by other texts and discourses outside itself. As Leitch puts it: "What are texts? Strings of differential traces. Sequences of floating signifiers. Sets of infiltrated signs dragging along ultimately indecipherable intertextual elements." Must these traces or grafts necessarily remain indecipherable? To be sure, such traces may be very difficult to follow and it will be by their very nature be impossible to locate any specific origin since that is by definition impossible, but that does not mean that the textual graft may not still be described and analyzed. Indeed, Derrida suggests as much when he writes that "one must elaborate a systematic treatise on the textual graft." Derrida himself mentions footnotes, epigraphs and titles, in essence much of what Gerard Genette describes in "Paratexts," but there seems to be no particular limit specifically what type of graft may be studied.

Jonathan Culler is very excited about a study of grafts, pointing out that one of deconstruction’s primary aims is to identify grafts; points of juncture and stress occur where texts have been spliced together. He states that "a treatise on textual grafting would attempt to classify various ways of inserting one discourse in another or intervening in the discourse one is interpreting" and would do so by treating "discourse as the product of various sorts of combinations or insertions" and exploring "its ability to function in new contexts with new force." It is just such as treatise that I wish to embark on, examining instances where metaphors from the sf genre has become dislodged from its traditional field and exploded outward into other, seemingly incompatible, fields. As such, this dissertation can be seen as the process of a ‘double reading’ of the science fiction genre ‘against’ literature, theory, culture; in essence textuality. The junctures where sf has been spliced with other texts would thus grant these metaphors new force in their ability to function in new contexts. Such a project remains valid because of Derrida's point that: “Each grafted text continues to radiate back toward the site of its removal, transforming that, too, as it affects the new territory."  and so we realise that the number of different texts which contain within them textual samples from the sf genre are affected by this generic participation or contamination, which is both dissemination (from the genre) and insemination (into the text in question). Because every sign, or genre for that matter, can be cited, it can also break from its ‘original’ context and so "engender infinitely new contexts in an absolutely nonsaturable fashion."

General Board / Dissemination and Contamination
« on: January 24, 2009, 01:16:32 PM »

A poststructualist theorist to the core, Derrida bases much of the theory explicated in Dissemination on the process of infinite semiosis -- the endless reproduction of signs. The concept of difference is quite useful in drawing out this process, which explains how scission leads to both dissemination and trace. It is no coincidence that infinite semiosis resembles biological mitosis in cell organisms, particularly viruses (even by the name). This is precisely the metaphor that Derrida shoots for in Dissemination. The way by which a virus reproduces itself is eerily comparable to differance. In order to procreate, a virus must first invade a normal cell. After that, the cell replicates with the virus inside it, and every cell generated thereafter will continue to contain the infection. The important lines of correspondence in this scenario are drawn between,

1) the mitotic split and "scission," which results in the propagation of more distinct, autonomous signs
2) and the persistence of the virus, which is analogous to the enduring trace that unveils the filial relationships between signs.

Much like with the virus, both these functions, bound together in differance, are necessary circumstances for meaning to exist and proliferate.

At its most basic "[d]issemination generalizes the theory and practice of the graft without a body proper" thereby focussing on the concept of the graft which is a concept related to Derrida's notion of the trace and the mark. It is not originary in any sense; while it may have an origin the graft always,

produces (itself) and advances only in the plural. It is a singular plural, which no single origin will ever have preceded. Germination, dissemination. There is no first insemination. The semen is already swarming. The “primal” insemination is dissemination. A trace, a graft whose traces have been lost.

This is why the graft has no body proper, since it is part of a process which is inevitable in any text, according to Derrida. It is this process which is so significant for Derrida, not just here but in all of his dealings with text and meaning. One of the theses of dissemination is "the impossibility of reducing a text as such to its effects of meaning, content, thesis, or theme." For Derrida, it is always the marginal and the liminal which exerts a peculiar influence on the text; radically absent yet very real in its effects. Meaning, therefore, is not fixed for Derrida but rather something which is in a constant process, always writing and rewriting itself, always multiplying and rushing outwards.

Dissemination is the division of meaning; the tendency of textual meaning to move out in all directions and so resist closure. Or as Vincent B. Leitch puts it, "[t]he 'work,' now called text, explodes beyond stable meaning and truth toward the radical and ceaseless play of infinite meanings spread across textual surfaces - dissemination." Dissemination, then, becomes the endless play of meaning both as divided and doubled; because words have too many meanings there will be an indefinite number of meanings, meanings proliferate. In discussing dissemination Derrida plays on the double meanings of seed/term/germ and semantics, all of which constitute the effect of dissemination. Dissemination is therefore not a negative process which must be contained; but rather it is the necessary precondition for writing to exist at all: "The heterogeneity of different writings is writing itself, the graft. It is numerous from the first or it is not." Such an understanding of textuality is intertextuality in the way that Julia Kristeva and Roland Barthes both use it. In Roland Barthes' words, the author becomes the scriptor and any understanding of a text which does not to some extent quote, cite, or reproduce another text is questioned. Instead, texts are understood as the always 'already-written.' Derrida agrees with this notion, when he argues that textual samples,

can only be read within the operation of their reinscription, within the graft. It is the sustained, discrete violence of an incision that is not apparent in the thickness of the text, a calculated insemination of the proliferating allogene through which the two texts are transformed, deform each other, contaminate each other’s content, tend at times to reject each other, or pass elliptically into the other and become regenerated in the repetition, along the edges of an overcast seam.

Let us for now turn instead to polysemy and its connection with dissemination. Derrida is insists that dissemination is different from polysemy; being multiple and indefinite. "In diverging from polysemy, comprising both more and less than the latter, dissemination interrupts the circulation that transforms into an origin what is actually an after-effect of meaning." Dissemination, in its affinity with the trace, points out that there is no originating moment, and this is its opposition to polysemy, since:

Polysemy always puts out its multiplicities and variations with the horizon, at least, of some integral reading which contains no absolute rift, no senseless derivation - the horizon of the final parousia of a meaning at last deciphered, revealed, made present in the rich collections of its determinations. [...] All the moments of polysemy are, as the world implies, moments of meaning. [...] The concept of polysemy thus belongs within the confines of explanation, within the explication or enumeration, in the present, of meaning. it belongs to the attending discourse. Its style is that of the representative surface. It forgets that its horizon is framed. The difference between discursive polysemy and textual dissemination is precisely difference itself, "an implacable difference." This difference is of course indispensable to the production of meaning (and that is why between polysemy and dissemination the difference is very slight).

The difference between polysemy and dissemination may thus be very slight, but it remains significant. While polysemy generates meaning from within the text, on premises accepted by the text, dissemination generates meaning from without; it imports meaning into the text and not always accepted meanings, if we briefly speak of the intentions of the text. Dissemination, as opposed to polysemy, turns the work into text, opening it for the larger movement of textuality and intertextuality. Even while it keeps the text it culls alive, this play of insemination - or grafting - destroys their hegemonic center, subverts their authority and their uniqueness. This echoes Barthes notion of the always 'already-written' and allows us to realize that texts are no longer as unique as once thought, but must instead continually defer their meanings to previous texts, as well as later texts which will in turn also transform them. The movement of texts and their meanings are not locked in a strictly forward-moving motion; later texts are anticipated by earlier ones and Derrida states that "[e]ach grafted text continues to radiate back toward the site of its removal, transforming that, too, as it affects the new territory." Arguing further for the intertextual origins of every text, Leitch writes:

The disorienting effect of the invading predecessors resembles the disruptive functions at work in the sign: a play of differences operates, bringing about, not fullness of meaning, but generic disturbances and discontinuities - random flights of signifiers. In place of pure signifiers, though, we have here contaminating pieces of various intertexts. The sign, as such, is constituted as originarily intertextual.

This is the deconstructive move of reversing and displacing the typical conceptual order: text and sign are no longer whole and original, they are instead always already composites of earlier texts and signs. The process of dissemination and grafting, that is, pointing out the inherently interdependent nature of the text amounts to an overturning of the typical conceptual order, or, as Jonathan Culler succinctly puts it: "The graft is the very figure of intervention." While the graft may be the site of the intersection between multiple texts, let us for now rather look at the further implications of dissemination. I mentioned earlier that dissemination is intertextuality. It is telling to compare their writings on intertextuality, since it provides us with a broader spectrum for Derrida's term. Earlier texts thus impose something on the present text, and it is this imposition which not only makes texts what they are but also why intertextuality as a concept destroys authority and uniqueness; no longer does meaning originate with the author but is imposed from the outside by earlier texts, themselves imposed on by even earlier texts. This chain is never-ending. The author becoming a scriptor, since author implies a unique individual creating original material. Rather, the author must be conceived off as piecing together already existing texts in new ways, hence the reference to the 'already-written.' This process is inevitable and not necessarily conscious.

General Board / Re: Epidurals - Dura Mater Tearing
« on: January 24, 2009, 12:55:21 PM »

I got epidural (to relieve pain during labor/delivery) and the doctors were negligent, with the procedure having complications in my case. To initiate epidural anesthesia a local anesthetic, an opioid (or a combination of both) is delivered into the epidural space via a special needle. The medication diffuses through the dura mater, the arachnoid, and the pia mater to the spine. Bathing the spinal cord and nerve roots, the local anesthetic and opioid block pain impulses before they reach the brain.

Because the epidural needle and catheter are large, a sudden tear of the dura mater during epidural insertion can result in CSF (cerebrospinal fluid) leaking into the epidural space. You got a "wet tap" if you have sudden severe headaches when upright. I took the hospital to court for not being careful when tearing the dura mater and the hospital was dishonest enough to falsify all documentation to evade liability.

Hospitals have an army of lawyers to protect them. The best you can do with them is to settle in advance.

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