The Little Golden Book of Local Culture|
[Most Recent Entries]
Below are the 19 most recent journal entries recorded in
|Friday, December 17th, 2004|
|There There, Der Derian
Through Der Derian we are given a look at the world of military simulation. The cumputational machine comes full circle as the one time ballistics calculator has transformed into a possibility generator, emulating a digitally simulated world of combat strategy and tactics. Der Derian pokes around the interior of the industry with his best d’idunno hat on, speaking to generals and tech moguls as if he was just one of the fellers, then turns his back and winks as he gives us an unending string of puns and glib prods. His smugness is sometimes so overbearing its hard to remember to sift through the horefeathers and actually measure the weight of his message.
The least progressive part of Der Derian’s argument is the fact that really nothing he says is all that new. People have always distanced themselves from war. Children have always played wargames. At least as far as I know. So when he talks about simulation games making it to the shelves almost as soon as the military can pump them out, we have to realize that these kinds of things have always been going on(91).
But, one might argue, are we not desensitizing ourselves even further by making it all simulacra? I argue no, not anymore than has already been done for thousands of years. At least as far as I know. Why is playing Doom any more frightening than training soldiers to call them “enemy” and not “human being”?
There have always been generals in the bunk house just off the field. This kind of distance is essential. It is a necessary element in the so-called art of war.
It’s risky for me to say all these things because it makes me look like some kind of death monhering hawk. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. I see the kind of massive death that Der Derian is pointing out as being an unbelievable human liability. I find it at least as disturbing as anyone. But I don’t have ready answers for it, and I certainly don’t see the value in just smugly writing it off as if its all being controlled by a bunch of morons. Don’t mistake what I’m saying as a general trust in the good intentions of humanity, I’m not that credulous, but I do believe that a view of problems like war and security are more complex than any token liberal jeering can solve.
|Yee and Castronova
With Nick Yee and Eduard Castronova we are introduced to the idea that the “virtual world” (and we can now consider that a misnomer in one sense) is indeed a function part of our society.
Yee takes on where Turkle left off. The internet, specifically the MMORPG, has become a space not only of dynamic personal interaction, but of significant social importance. It becomes a venue of pleasure and addiciction as much as it has become a venue of work and exchange.
The Avatar itself has taken the McLuhanesque form of the medium to an entire new dimension. No longer is the extension of the body limited to the physical world. It is now an abstracted member of a new, hpperreal, space. “These experiences empower individuals in a way that might be difficult to achieve in real life, because oftentimes our real lives and peer group force force personas upon us” (7).
A question arises from this: what exactly is being extended? I don’t think there is a specific answer to that. What we are seeing here is the virtuality of the human form. Media is not sufficiently explained as being as simple as the old man’s cane. It now must be considered as the relational element of a dynamic, flowing contiuum.
This extension of reality (not just selves or man) provides feedback for our system as well, in its mixed virtual/”real” form. Castronova demonstrates, for example, that the rules of economics are different within the Multi-User Domain. When the presumable opposed, balancing elements of cost and benefit becomes entities that are not mutually exclusive, the game outside of the MUD space must be re-examined. “The basket of produced goods is simply changing. A proper accounting would show, in fact, that the actual production of well-being per capita is rising.” (Castronova)
This idea needs to be placed directly on the desktops of the current throng of crying marxists like David Harvey. The treatment of virtualized space as “unreal” is an economic bullet in the foot. The old regime is seeing a depleted storehouse simply because they have refused to acknowledge the digital one that they stare into every single day.
|Manuel Castells and Life of the Location
I want to connect Castels back with Maturana and the elements of an autopoiec system. Castells says “My Hopethesis is that the coming of the space of flows is blurring the menaingful relationship between architeture and society.”(418) Again we see the semiotic permeation of our semiotic forms: words lose strength as autonomous isolated entities, yet gain stregth as members of a funtioning relationship.
Here, of course, the words are analogies to things we treat as real. Architecture and Society are hardly disputed as phenomena we humans have to deal with, but as a communicating species, we still can’t get around dealing with them in a way that escapes analogical representation. So, if we go back to Baudrillard and Barthes for a moment, we can understand their crisis, their loss of the real from semiotic disconnection. But now we can put things back into a useful view.
Castells brings postmodernity’s supposed loss of meaning back into the context of a real living system. Architecture in Society is the vehicle he uses to do it. Instead of attempting to solve the problem of disconnection by chastising the direction our society has taken, or bemoaning the capitalist destruction of the human value, he has actually embraced the representational dissociation that Harvey and the like were so worried about. He says “A place is a locale whose form, function and meaning are self-contained within the boundaries of physical contiguity”(423). By zooming out and providing as a central part of the definition of a physical area the function of a moving dynamic, the once static fragment of location has now gained real life. He has provided the old word “place” with a viality, or, more cogently, an ontology.
And that is ther reason so much of this resonates with Maturana. Now the place, like the broken automobile, has its own purpose. It is a purpose that is independent of its creators as well. In other words, Castells has taken the once flat and graph of the city and transformed into a new semiotically ennervated life form.
|MAssumi and the end of PoMo
Brian Massumi writes of virtuality with similar connotations of Levy and Deleuze. It is not a reference to a ‘fake’ world or object, or even a simulated one, as the word is used in common language. It is not substantive like the software objects or predictable, predetermined variables of simulated computer realities. On the contrary, the virtual, in the Deleuzian sense, is an insubstantive entity that can only be implicated through difference: as a retrospective assessment of that which binds an older form to a newer form. In accordance with Greg Lynn’s “Animate Form”, it is this relationship of statics in confluence with one another that creates a motion only with the incorporation of perspective and time, wherein its motion becomes its purpose. Referring to Deleuze and Guattari, Massumi says “the virtual is the mode of reality implicated in the emergence of the new potentials.” (16) If a pole once was straight, and now it is bent, we can see that there was a potential for the new bent pole within the old pole. In retrospect, the bent pole becomes a virtuality of the straight pole before the bending has happened. This is how “the potential of the situation exceeds its actuality.” (16)
This retrospective necessity becomes a key to understanding the significance of the virtual. The significance is that, in light of Massumi’s article, we have entered a world in which the modern and the post-modern are no longer the either/or of our current cultural existence. Their opposition has become irrelevant. It is the time-angle from which our artist/engines view themselves that has become the critical player in breaking up these inhibitive 20th century polarities.
Massumi presents the theoretical work of the arch-typically modernist architect Le Corbusier in the position of the “antithetical”. Le Corbusier speaks of the “creator” (the artist) as a person who first envisions the work, then sets into the play the process of the work’s realization.
Modernists and post-modernists alike all stand in an antithetical position relative to one another. While modernist creationism, to coin an ugly phrase, is linked to the impossible universalities of a teleological set that cannot materialize, pomo theories suffer the same reactive doom, struggling to work from a denial of form. “The opposition between the formal or structural and the accidental is disabled.” (23) It is safe to say that Massumi here is referring to indexes which fairly represent the modern and the pomo respectively.
In short, I want to say that the idea of virtuality, as it has been presented in the last few weeks is a very exciting one. I am anxious to more of this.
|Saturday, November 20th, 2004|
For Eugene Thacker, Donna Haroway's description of a current cyborg reality where the distinctions of body and machine are being blurred and challenged is passe. Things have already gone even farther than that. In Biomedia, those blurry lines are not only something to come to terms with, they are reality and the implications are even greater than Haroway imagined. The distinctions are no longer just blurry, the categories themselves have had to become recontextualized. Soon, the old categories may become so de-contextualized, people will wonder what Haroway was talking about. (yeah, right.)
For Thacker, the body is no longer the old centralized starting point that McLuhan saw as the purpose informing the invention and usage of tools. As with Haroway's vision, those tools, once seen as externalized aids or facilitators of bodily functions, no longer have a clearly defined beginning and end point. In fact, there may be little use in defining them. Instead, the body itself has become more of a throughput device. It is a medium unto itself. And "medium" as a concept also gets redefined, or at least refined. To make his clearer his use of the "medium", he quotes Bolter and Grusin by saying "a medium is that which remediates".(8) In other words, it acts on pre-existing information, and then re-creates that information into new forms.
By way of demonstrating how this has happened, he discusses bioMEMS, bio-medical or bio-technological microelectronic mechanical systems. As an example of, a bioMEMS device could be an in vivo transmitter that isolates sequences as it searches for a particular DNA strand that may index a disease propensity in an individual patient.
While most of the book seems to deal directly with descriptive passage about how the biomediated world is coming to be, he spends some time as well dwelling on the cultural implication of this recent transformation of the definitions of our natural selves. In the biomediated universe, data becomes "transcoded", so not only the physical properties of the world are transformed, but the very distinction between information and the mechanical world is also being blurred. Transcoding involves "the transmission of the metaphors, concepts, and catefgories of thought from one medium to another." (73)
These ideas make my head spin so much I don't know where to begin.
First of all, there is Rich Doyle. What Doyle was theorizing is acutalized in Thacker's history. He refers to bioMEMS as "transcoding protocols". (74) With that in mind, it is a simple step to get back to Doyle and the idea that the new experimentation, new forms of self understanding are losing their old teleologies. The body is disappearing along with history itself. Or perhaps not disappearing, but being washed into other bodies, "shot through" as Thurtle says, bleeding signs like a wet watercolor.
But the modern dream doesn't leave these passages, nor the postmodern. Transcoding is easily connected to Barthes and Baudrillard, as the signs are systemetized, detached from some unreachable, ephemeral, "real" origin, now made into new meta-bodies: augmented, hyperstasized, open. Power and the supposedly modern dream of unlimited physical, kinetic, consumed self passage is being facilitated in ways that were largely unpredictable.
"the metaorganism is the body beyond itself; it is a mode of materiality producing a discourse around the human body, through which the body may be "elevated" technically, as well as conceptually and ethically." (83)
A mode of materiality... recontextualized biology... I love it.
|Friday, November 19th, 2004|
|Rich Doyle and LSDNA
Rich Doyle eplores the relationship between DNA research and the culture of LSD experimentation. For him, there are core elements of both ventures which can be correlated. He describes the two ostensibly different realms as "ecologies", and says they are "twin or replicated domains where an informatic desire distributes both consciousnes and life into inhuman, inorganic, and extraterrestrial realms."(9)
Doyle highlights self-inclusion and self-experimentation as key elements of both ecologies. LSD experimentatin began with Hoffman and could only be executed by self-inclusion of the experiments. Hoffman noticed that the goats that had ingested the drug were acting strangely, but there were no real physical side effects. It was only by taking the drug himself that anything relevent was determined. the only way the effect of the drug could be described was in terms of difference: difference from the self.
With DNA testing, he weighs a great deal on Kary Mullis' bridging of the two domains with his story behind the invention of PCR (automated DNA replication). Mullis had been tripping on LSD, "getting down there with the molecules", when he the basic functions of the PCR came to him. (22) Doyle seems to identify with Mullis personally realized connection of the two ecologies was one of contingency. (21)
Doyle implicity proposes a universal platform, or protocol. By extension, this protocol extends into a potential description of human experience itself. In the beginning of the article, his "informatic desire" is history not simply of a biologically determined body function, but of something that transcends time and culture.
I hasten to add, these are not statements that Doyle makes explicitly in his text, but they seem to be the direction he is heading.
It reminds me of Bush and Englebart. Both dreamed of moving down in the molecules, if you'll allow a bit of semiotic slippage. If 'molecules' are translated into signs, or even myths, then we have no problem placing Mullis' vision into that of our cybernetic forefathers. What is this postmodern dream of translating oneself into a self-feeding continuum of information processing? Of travelling through spaces of signed data, through landscapes dotted with molecules of mutation? I must admit, there is an exhilarating power-thirst that I personally associate with it. the implications are tempting indeed. At one moment I want to go there, and I am eager to say "Yes, this is what we are," but at the same time, I feel a certain hesitation, wondering what theory lies behind this one and what will become of those that jump head first into the pool of biomediated discourse.
OK, this last pararaph is weird, but I'm going to leave it as it is. It'll probably get weirder as the quarter comes to a close. I am starting to revert to my old poetic fetishes, and somehow this class is making me want to entertain them.
|Tuesday, November 16th, 2004|
Alison Adam’s piece problematizes the value of the Artificial Intelligence industry for its male oversaturation. Her argument is rooted in constructionism, and weighs heavily on the notion that textual/lingual institutions create limited and limiting orders of power by virtue of the epistemologies of the people that contribute to them. The effect in this context is what boils down to simulation of male epistemology. The progenitors of this AI institution that she is of course referring to is the old computer “priesthood”, and the way that AI has come to refer to any process that can play chess well or solve other more ‘relevant’ problems of war.
Of course there is every reason to wonder if this is really all that we should expect from our cybernetic counterparts (comnputers, that is). Adam posits the possibility that there may indeed be other ways of representing and emulating the idea of intelligence, however elusive that may be.
She is almost apologetic at times for her critique because she uses examples that might appear innocuous. She refers to qualifying threads of belief in the system of epistemological AI called Cyc. These beliefs are strings of textual/referrential information that are part of the AI’s ‘perspective’, from which it draws to form statements and make actions. An example of one of the bits is the notion that driving more than 5 mph over the speed limit will not procure a ticket. She says, “Surely only a member of the prejudice-propagating co-believing community of academic feminism would query examples about speeding tickets” (88) She is referring to the “nonweirdness” of these belief-tagged bits of knowledge that are used to form the Cyc system’s database of beliefs. But she is in another sense quite serious about the possibility that such a thread of logic, although often widely accepted, generally reflect a male position. “Do more men than women get stopped?” (89) Of course, it’s a pertinent question.
The pertinence lies in the very thin line that gets crossed by relying on belief tags to proscribe mandatory actions. We use our epistemologies to order things. “What happens if other untagged and therefore unquestioned knowledge…saying how people ought to be—is put into the system?” (89)
It’s an easy step to take, really. All you have to do is believe that media and technologies are extensions of the self, and this theory snaps into place. It is foolish to believe that AI is a reflection of anything other than its creators, at least in the sense that it is certainly not a universal emulation of the old, genderless, classless, timeless, locationless view of divinely granted Intelligence (with a capital “I”).
Of course, her argument relies on a couple of things that I neither agree nor disagree with, but do raise my eyebrows a bit.
One potential bother is the need for the male in her argument. By institutionalizing the problems she is proposing, we are, in effect, forced to move away from the progressive ideas that were presented us by Donna Haroway. Briefly, that insisting that AI is more male, how are we not inadvertently reinforcing what exactly male means, particularly if you want to argue that the programmers were biologically male, and were not affording their programs any female/feminine characteristics or epistemological trajectories. Has not the biological argument been thoroughly scrutinized? At least Adam has a sense of humor about it by referring to her own field as “prejudice-propagating”. She does propose a progressive shift away from these fixed identities, but does not substantially untangle this paradox. If Haroway were to be put in conversation with Adam, I think the results might be interesting. I also think both of them might have to concede at least something in their respective arguments, if both of their thrusts are to be taken seriously and simultaneously.
The other potential problem I see is the belief in the possiblility there could be another kind of AI that isn’t somehow power enforcing. This isn't an argument she explicitly makes, but it is one that seems to stem inferrentially from her writing. I don’t see the problem of institutional power disappearing, only shifting locations. I have referred to this in the preceding entry, and don’t wish to belabor it much further. But I do want to point out that in the light of shifting ideologies, old problems may be accounted for, but Progress still remains and elusive concept.
Maybe we all just need to be Buddhist monks or something. (Just kidding.) Current Mood: why vote?
|Sunday, November 14th, 2004|
|Haroway, Nakamura, Turkle
This week we read three authors, each of which wrote loosely on the subject of cultural identity correlated with the computer age. Turkle spoke of the way social interaction is changing via Multi User Domains, Haroway speaks of the changes in the way the very categories of identity are defined, and Nakamura wrote of the way people integrate old identities into the new mediums.
I would like to concetrate primarily on Haroway's piece, only for the reasons that there is not time to go into all three, and Haroway's was the one that got the brain clicking the most.
Haroway's Simian, Cyborgs, and Women offers an emulation of the old notion of cultural progression by suggesting that barriers are being challenged and broken by the advent of the postmodern age, that we have become cyborgs. Her substantiation of this is a bit abstract, as she speaks in relatively few specific examples of how the human is becoming more cyborg over the years. She asserts that it is being promulgated by medial extension and signal manipulation, an argument that resonates of the plague of semiotic transformation and subsumption Barthes and Baudriallard were harping about. (Pardon my poetics.) For her, the world has been translated into "a problem in coding".(164) Recall the emptying out of the referrent with Barthes, or the reduction of the world to a series of signs and links with Baudrillard.
It's not that I disagree with her about this change, Nor would I claim that the world is indeed not emptying out into the precarious status of a function of Functions, but it does bear scrutiny because these descriptions of the world are by no means cut and dried. To claim that we have all lost our sense of meaningful proximity with the world (As I interpret Baudrillard and Barthes to have done), then we must be extremely cautious about what kind of actions we base upon these apocalyptic cynicisms.
I will quickly answer the rebuttal that Haroway is hardly an apocalyptic. Indeed, she seems to want to trumpet the possible shapes she beieves may come from our metamorphosing world. I have no qualm with that.
For Haroway, there is a breakdown of three important categorical distinctions: that of man-woman, man-machine, man-animal. Semiotic systems are being challenged while we learn to cope with our new cyborg existences (that's pre-identitified existences). For her, the new blurring of old distinctions is an opportunity to level the playing fields that are and have been semiotically reified male-dominated institutions of power. The idea behind a lot of this is that these gender and machine and animal distinctions are basically tools to keep certain groups in power or certain other groups out of power. Of course, that means men.
I am hesitant to overtly dispute these claims, but I do have questions about the results of these distinction breakdowns. Perhaps I am not so hopeful that, as such, the playing field will necessarily be equalized. To say that through the autopoietic nature of culture these subsumptions fuel the changes of the betterized future seems a but unfounded. I like the idea, but it gives me some of the same willies that Adam Smith's "hand of God" gives me.
For one thing, if the categories disappear, and we know they do (read Bravmann and Wallach Scott on some insight on how this may work), there is nothing to measure our purported progress by. This reminds me of the reincarnation problem. Ask yourself, "why do I care if I am reincarnated if I can't remember who I was?" Is there a way to keep a mark on what once was in order to assure ourselves that indeed this all really was worth the pain? Or will this be one of those unique moments in history where tremendous cultural instability will not have produced tremendous frustration fear and pain? Sure, the bar changes, but it's just in a new location. Current Mood: like balls
|Sunday, November 7th, 2004|
|Roland Barthes, Myth Today
I think of the video game Age of Empires as a good analogy to the postmodern condition. The first principle of the game is economy. The second, and it's a close second, is time. We watch the little people run around on a landsape and tell them to perform the functions necessary to build our empire and keep it from being destroyed by the enemy empires. We time go by in an accelerated progression; technologies are developed and our coy little workers farm or fight or chop wood, live and die to no avail except for the cause of the empire. It may be an obvious point to make, and I don't want to take away from the enjoyment of the game (after all, what's more enjoyable than deific power?), but I think it serves as an interesting index of the view we harbor of ourselves. In a sense, the world has been emptied of its origins, of its physicalities.
But there are two things about this as they relate both to Barthes and to Baudrillard. One is that physicalities may only be a function of distance, perhaps of internalization versus exteriorization. By physicality here, I am referring to the original subjects that both Barthes and Baudrillard refer to with their different systems of analysis, although they use these physicalties in different contexts.
The video game serves as a tangible example of how substance becomes mythic throught the emptying of signs. If you have sympathy for the little guys cutting wood, and just send them out wandering, you lose the game. You get wiped out by the enemy. I don't want to spend too much time on it, but there is a clue here about what loss of original substance really implies. I don't think "reality" has changed much, just our positioning, a stance that, yes includes us within its view, but also includes us from a vantage point that at times seems a stellar distance.
Regarding distance and substance, I think that Barthes might accuse Baudrillard of lacking poetry. Sure, they are both cynic; but they are both embittered by different kinds of losses. Barthes is embittered by the loss of joie de vivre he sees disappearing from his grasp, Baudrillard sees the world disappearing from everyone else's grasp.
But Baudrillard fails to observe something that I think brings an almost salvationary light to Barthes writing: the concept of poetry and the autopoiec nature of language. On page 134 of Mythologies (Myth Today chpt.) he says that poets "are the only ones who believe that the meaning of the words is only a form". This forgiveness for a lack of signal stability is a monumentous redemption, although I don't get the impression Barthes realizes the implications of it.
And I think the implications are very encouraging. Because it demonstrates, even if inadvertently, that there is a potential aesthetic to this systemic treatment of value and meaning. Perhaps this is a way of giving back to the poets this old romantic idea of a prophetic gift. Perhaps this is where the resonance between the psychic and the drug user and the sci-fi writer was positioned for philip k dick. Perhaps the autopoiesis of lingual systems is the very way in which prophecy or psychic possibility can operate.
Kooky? sure. You won't be getting this past the editor's desktops of many academic journals. But that's not long-lived. Remember, a common problem with intellectual property and patent rights is checking those notary dates: so many inventors (geniuses if you want to hold on to that idea) trying to get their desserts before the other inventors (geniuses) do, and with the same invention! Current Mood: evacuated
|Tuesday, November 2nd, 2004|
Well, I just wrote an entire entry and then pressed "update" above and lost the whole thing. So now I'm going to give you a shitty recap of it because I'm so pissed off. to the brilliant person who designed this trick webpage: fuck you.
Basically, my argument is that McLuhan couldn't possibly have been that pessimistic because there is no way to have written and constructed the book without a certain amount of hope and a certain amount of affection for the type of work that was being done. Yes, it's true he does issue a series of serious caveats. His idea about the global village is not one of pure optimism. for example, he sees the impending loss of privacy as a major potential problem. But to understand the implications of his global village, you have to understand the way that he sees the "primitive", which is in lolling sanctity, unfortunately. He says the primitive eskimo draws a picture of a hunter on an ice floe with the contents of the water beneath it. Well, there are two implications I would like to point out abou this. One is that it is a romantic view of the primitive, which is an idea that no longer resonates. He compares this view with that of Picasso's brand of modern art. In fact, he uses modern art as a way of demonstrated the reality of this new/old dichotomy. It is an admiration, or at least an acknowledgment with a possibly positive inflection. We don't have to get carried away with the idea that McLuhan is a technophile, just that he is not all negative and in some ways definitely enthusiastic. So when you posit neo-primitivism with a simultaneous loss and gain of privacy and world view, respectively, you don't get the same brand of pessimism that you find in Harvey or Baudrillard.
With those two, you get something that is clearly a woe for the loss of the great stuffy academic past. Both of them adhere to linear and stodgy forms of academic discourse and make really no effort whatever to address the mass public. In this sense their work is primarily targeted to the inhabitants of the ivory tower. McLuhan has taken another approach: his work is directed toward everyone, and in that sense, the book becomes a hopeful guide for everyone in the new world. Of course, in this global sense, we haven't lost most of the traditional forms of modernism, but we are seeing an autopoiec sense of social progression. The world is advancing, or at least changing and modifying itself, but it is doing so in a way that is definitely not in line with what the old school guard had in mind. Alas, the members of utopia aren't wearing togas and carrying scrolls.
Sorry about the disorganized entry.
Anyway, point is this: You can't produce a work like Medium is Massage without a certain hopefulness and love of craft. It takes too much work and the imaginative inspirations that comprise so much of the formatting and layout ideas are just too loose and energetic to be the dour work of the over-worried. Baudrillard and Harvey can mire in the agony of oblivious humanity, but McLuhan has a much more humanistic vision about what things can be. Current Mood: occasionally
|Friday, October 29th, 2004|
|Licklider and Baudrillard
Although the claim was already made in class, I have to chintz a little bit and reiterate it because the relation occured to me while I was reading, and I think it bears the most relevance to the Baudrillard reading: what we are seeing with Baudrillard is a socio-literary resonance of systems theory.
Baudrillard's claim is that we have lost the real. Immediately we are reminded of Marx, Lacan, and Freud. A shift in categories is going to make a sense of loss inevitable, is it not? As the world goes through changes, the apocalysts will be decrying the move to oblivion. But, as society can be described from one angle as the perfect example of an autopoiec system, the categories (identities)which were being used to build it at one point will lose their effectiveness over time. Baudrillard is just not trusting the wisdom of the change. (And sometimes I have to ask who could blame him?)
To his credit, Baudrillard does not explicitly argue a current state of "unreality", rather one of "hyperreality". The difference for him is crucially important, because he does not argue that somehow we are in an unreal state, just that we have lost touch with our products. In other words we have, as a society, moved away from the relationship we once had with the products which drove our economies by separting them syntactically from their referrants. We are not living with phycial products, but rather in a miasma of serialized images and signs that have replaced our original world. "Referential value is annihilated, giving the structural play of value the upper hand." (438) For him, this results definitively in the death of the referrant. The soul is indeed taken from the photographed subject. (The difference between this and the argument Harvey was making seems subtle at best.)
Again, I would like bring up Foucault, who was writing at the same time as Baudrillard, and remark on the similarities in both of their writings. These writer's theories is where the term "post-structual" comes from. Although in many ways a misnomer, because so-called poststructural theory employs the use of syntactic structure in an even more elevated and elegant way than Levi-Strauss or Levy-Bruhl could ever have hoped, this new trend in thought helps form the backbone of cultural studies and interdisciplinary efforts within the walls of our venerable academy. By being able to see the similarities of not only different cultures that include our own, but of different forms of science and art through sign level comparisons, the way was paved for things like our own beloved CHID and the possibility of (or at least the hope for)non-top-down pedagogies and for people to have to read material (like Derrida, Foucalut, and Baudrillard)that would be wierder and more cerebral than had yet been seen. I might go so far as to argue that Critical Theory has been enabled entirely by the advent of sybernetic and systems theory. (The causal links are hard to nail down, though.)
The advent of the PC, as opposed to the apple was arguably of much greater consequence than the impact of the latter. Ceruzzi points out that it was the IBM machine's susceptibility to replication that allowed the the machines to find their way into so many households in the mid eighties. He mentions specifically Altair "bringing down the mighty houses"(304) in the nineties by introducing a $400 machine built from a kit. This is an interesting bit because I seem to remember personally the IBM 486 series as also having knockoffs, and that was definitely the late eighties. He also fails to mention the hype that surrounded the introduction of the "pentium" processor, which, as we all know, is a CPU chip that could compute at a frequency of 1000 herz.
That was 1991 and I very clearly remember some of the magazines at the time prolaiming this unbelievable feat. What is important about that in regards to computing history was that the computing industry had figured out a way into people's homes for new reasons. Now, the friendliness of it was losing its weight as a commercial signpost to the attractiveness of personal computing power. The pentium and the PC upgradability would take the nineties into a unbelievably fast rising market that was arguably propelled by the fact that normal people had started getting into their computers and had started talking tech numbers (Megs, Gigs, Pixels, etc.) and had started "needing" these machines to be as up to date as possible.
This is where apple really failed. Apple had to start using a different market strategy because none of its users could "get into the case". By the mid-nineties you see apple trying to appeal to the artists and the political left. They had the super=popularity of microsoft to villainize (and sometimes rightly so) and they had discovered that they could stay afloat by marketing "art machines". Soon they had developers designing programs that were specific to macs and they began investing in graphics development as an alternative strategy to battle the unstoppable PC market.
Later in the game Apple finally did catch on by marketing upgrades, but their success still depended on their niche market strategies: convincing people that using their machines was an ideological choice, and then training them on arguments like "graphics are better", or "easier to use", which are debatable, sometimes erroneous, and actually, in my opinion, irrelevant because people generally learn one system or the other these days and leave the loser for someone else. Graphics ability and ease of use become immaterial.
|Wednesday, October 20th, 2004|
|Maturana and Hayles
This is where things have started going ballistic. Get it...?
OK. Maturana is concerned with a concept he calls Autopoiesis. Unsurprisngly, MS Word does not include this in its spell check parameters. (As a CHIDdie, that becomes a frequent occurance. (Also might be a good avenue to keep people's spelling skills in check.))
Brief definition of AP as I understand it. It is a systems analysis approach to the explanation of Life (with a capital L). He uses the relationship of components within a system as the building blocks for these systems. That is important because the components themselves are not the building blocks of living systems, it is the non-physical area (space) between their interaction that becoes the focus of inquiry. For Maturana, life itself is defined by organization, which is a specific kind of relationship of component parts that produce a specific kind of synergy predicated by their interaction. It's difficult not to get wordy when trying to explain this phenomena, but it's definitely worth the concetration required to apsorb it. Here's a quote to chew on: "An autopoietic machine is a machine organized as a network of processes of production of components that produces the components which (1)...regenerate and realize the network which produced them ...and (2)constitute it as a concrete unity in the space in which they exist..." That's not event the whole quote, its just a brave paraphrase from his work Autopoiesis and Cognition: the Realization of the Living.
He uses economic terms, highly Marxian, to describe these relationships. This provides a number of possible questions, including the same kinds of scrutiny that has been leveled against Hegel and Marx. Of these, there are two that strike as particularly relevant. The first is the incorporation of causal linkage between the identities formed in the process of describing the systems and the processes themselves. Maturana acknowledges the importance of this causal link and spends considerable time mapping it out. He says that the functions (processes represented through observed description) are not to be considered in linkage to their object (the 'other' which is in question), but are extremely important as they provide the information which is consumed by the autopoietic human that is ingesting it in a search for modification (understanding). These function descriptors will be under constant permutation as the system is continuously feeding and modifying itself. The second question is the question of how this theory excapes its own modernistic foundation. It is still an effort to centralize via systems theory. The only difference is that it lets go of its grasp somewhat by zooming out at least one layer and allowing system within the "Grand System" to operate with a little bit more freedom.
I think the implication of the second question are worth investigating. Take for example the writing of Foucault. His theories tend to rely on a sort of autpoiesis of language. Instead of trying to understand elements of culture based on structural universalisms, he proposes that the cultures be viewed in a more zoomed out way, and are thusly "Archologized". But this is a problem because the contents of the arheologist's work, the artifacts, still have to have a museum or a university within which to be preserved. And by preservation I mean destroyed and placed in a jar of formaldehyde.
|Tuesday, October 19th, 2004|
|Ceruzzi and Englebart
Slight correction from previous entry: Augmenting Human Intellect was actually written in 1962, not 1968, as was claimed before. I got that from another paper I was looking at by Englebart that concerned later developments for projects that would lead to the mouse. But-- 1968 is still an amazing year. In '68 Englebart also staged his "Augmenting Knowledge Workshop", which Ceruzzi gets into. See above (or below, or whatever is previous material on this blog) for more wierdness about 1968.
This reading section has addressed the relationship between systems theory and examinations of the self, particularly with a historical look at how certain people have taken notions of intelligence (actually, Douglas Englebart uses the term "intellect", but I interpret that as a more functional sounding word than intelligence; the former implies an ideal, the latter implies a process) a look at how certain people have taken notions of intelligence or intellect and attempted not only to describe it as a system, but to develop accompanying systems that would enable intellectual "augmentation".
The advances Englebart proposed relied on the accuracy of his description of intellect. For him, the human intellect is a process which operates through organizational synergy. In fact, organization itself IS intelligence, and the "synergistic structuring" (his words) would be amplified by contributing to people's organizational facilities by ergonomically extending them. The way to do this was through his H-LAM/T "(Human using Language, Artifacts, Methodology, in which he is Trained)." (Note the "he".) The H-LAM/T used symbology as its interface. In other words, and this might sound kooky but it's really worth dwelling on, he was proposing the mechanization (robot-ization) of semiotic functioning.
To me, the implications of this are mind-blowing. Never mind the part of this that strikes me as so audacious. How did this slip past us, but not stem-cell research and cloning and bioethics? Never mind all that...
To me, the implications of this are mind-blowing.
This may sound rather random, but consider the following notion. "Genius is the secular ghost." In a sense, the individual is kind of the last call before total human obliteration. Bring in Englebart, and that obliteration is set in motion because his proposition means to publicize, to project outward and make available to all that which once was in us as our most prized possession. I will leave on this thought because I think it goes well with what's coming in our next reading. It will be nice to compare Hayles' idea that Cybernetics is scary because it threatens Liberal Humanism and my own fleeting thoughts that our fear of Cybernetics (and other related technophobias) is actual a control/possession issue. I think Hayles is giving her subjects too much positive credit... More next. Current Mood: busy
|Friday, October 15th, 2004|
|Rock and Roll in New Zealand
So here's my paper. Like I said, it's a bit on the rushed side, but the ideas are mostly there. I have opted not to revise it, so if you are some strange masochist witht the disposition to take the time to read this, be nice.
Hosted by Tyler Fox
Rock and Roll in New Zealand:
The Building Blocks of a Rebel Identity
How can culture cross an ocean? At first I’m sure this question must seem childish or at least simplistic, but I think it bears some thought. After all, understanding the answer to a question like that may well give some crucial insight into the makeup of whatever it is that we are calling ‘culture’, and how it can be transmitted and subsequently adopted. Perhaps we can garner an understanding of whether or not it is a thing at all. It is a strange question, but from my visit to New Zealand recently I think I may have garnered a few insights into how the elements of something like ‘culture’ can actually change location (after a fashion, at least).
Like any great job, I was able to conduct a large portion of my research in places that didn’t really seem like a conventional work environment: nightclubs, concerts, bars, outdoor festivals, and house parties. (If only I was getting paid…) My subject of study was independent rock music in New Zealand. In the spirit of Clifford Geertz, I would like to present an anecdote that I think in so many ways presents a certain aspect of New Zealand rock music such that it is at once a very typical episode one might encounter in the Auckland urban nightlife (particularly in summer of 2004), and at the same time a prime example of what we may think of as ‘culture’ being a simultaneous channeling of transmission and absorption.
Our story begins on a cool night in January of 2004 at Eden’s Bar, an arch-typically dive-ish club on Karangahape Road (K Road, to the locals). The setting is lighted low and the band is on a short riser in the corner. People are packing in elbow to elbow, despite the humidity, trying to stay out of the way of the billiards players on the opposite side.
Meet Hexed, a mop-topped group of four whose age couldn’t possibly have averaged over 19, hesitantly thrumming their way through their set. Aside from the music being well within the grounds of definitive rock and roll (bass, drums guitar/vocals, keyboard, 4-beat, standard song structure, electric, young, lots of attitude in the lyrics and in the actions of the singer ), the music is melodic and minor keyed. The guitar-playing singer’s eyes are closed as he goes through his lyrics, swaying at times and shyly responding to the calls of a couple of girlfriend/fans at the front of the stage. The tunes remind me of another NZ band out of Dunedin that I used to follow in the 1990s, the Straightjacket Fits.
About halfway through the set, Hexed plays a cover of Jimi Hendrix’s “Manic Depression”. Here’s where things start to get curious for me. At once, the personality of the singer is transformed. The singer begins to cycle through a series of emulations and gyrations, kneeling on the ground while playing, using the mic stand as an impromptu slide, throwing his head back in drug-crazed ecstasy, shaking his body with the movements of his solo. There is something very strange about this, and I’m sure if you’re reading this and are familiar with American rock music, you have an idea about the peculiarity of it: They were all uncanny reminiscences of the gestures and attitudes from popular film and video footage of the late Hendrix.
The band afterward, another foursome who called themselves ‘the Chicks’, took an approach that was in some crucial ways very different, although many elements remained consistent. Their general attitude was much less melancholy, a strictly executed variant of what members of the r n’ r community on any side of the ocean have deemed ‘the garage sound’. The attitude is more charged, the chords are limited to two or three (maybe an extra in the break), and the general atmosphere is affrontive and decisively fuck-offish. By this time the bar is packed and the girls are yelling and the beer is flying out of the coolers while ‘gold coins’(one and two dollar pieces) are flying into the tills. The singer, all of maybe 18, jumps and arches in his bulging tight white jeans, his hair is over his eyes. He is spitting between vocal phrases, and doing his worst to give us all something like a modified reincarnation of Iggy Pop. The songs are short and the comments between them are abrupt and cocky.
Of about forty bands I had the opportunity to observe in my two months in Auckland, I saw nearly a dozen bands that fit this description of the Chicks. Not to downplay what originality there was, it must be said that each of this type of band was strikingly mimetic of one another, with only the slightest modifications: more or fewer band members, some different amps, maybe the singer played guitar, maybe slightly more ‘riff’ oriented than chord oriented in song structure. Hexed emulated a less affrontive, milder sound, and did not fit directly into this milieu in that it also had elements that were not as much an American emulation as they were perhaps a UK variant. We might say Hexed was more ‘chanson’ than ‘blues’. For the sake of time, I won’t go any further into why I think these two bands should suffice, despite what may be identified as heavily influenced from abroad, as otherwise characteristic of Auckland independent rock bands. I will simply hope that by saying that there is something definitively unsurprising about the way these bands operated, a general feeling for music in this time and place might be partially grasped.
For the sake of analysis, let’s back up to the Jimi cover. In my description of the singer’s on-stage activity, I struggled with whether or not I should use the word “reminiscences” or just go ahead and make the accusation that the movements that so reminded me of Hendrix were outright lifted. In other words, I could have suggested that the actions were borrowed or imitated, and might have implicitly attempted to take away from both the originality and the sincerity of the act. The reasons I chose not to suggest the singers actions were heisted thusly are at least twofold. One is that I don’t actually know whether or not the singer has ever seen footage of Jimi Hendrix on stage. I will say that it is almost impossible to imagine how someone could have escaped it, considering what a staple Hendrix is on local radio and television now. It’s not a great stretch to suggest that his popularity in New Zealand shares close magnitude to the way he shines in the States.
The other, more serious reason I did not make these accusations, is that there is no necessary line of intent that is visible to the observer, and an attempt to draw one could be potentially dangerous, possessive, and at least arrogant.
What does that mean? Well here is a problemitization of the accusation of ‘lifted’ when it comes to things like influences in music and other arts. As far as anyone can safely say, playing Jimi’s music in exactly the right way, meaning that you have a ‘true’ understanding of how that music is supposed to be played because you have a ‘true’ intuition about what it means, necessarily means that you will have to move and sway the way Jimi did. This is because his music is not a simply a succession of thick and chaotic, electric soundwaves. With the possibility of other things, it is also a body of highly suggestive inference. For some more than others. To be within the identity of Jimi Hendrix you would act the way Jimi Hendrix acted when you played what Jimi Hendrix played. You would understand what Jimi understood.
In this sense I propose that there is no necessary cart or horse. The action can produce the music or the music can produce the action. Either way it is a composite of physical and mental interaction that ultimately conveys something that a lot of other people have wanted to identify with. Some famous examples include Prince, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Paul Allen, and they have each emulated Jimi according their own respective best judgement (which may have included the acknowledgement somewhere that they were not in fact Jimi Hendrix).
So what is the relevance of all this? I think the relevant catch here is that to be Jimi one has to know what Jimi is, to possess his identity. And how is that accomplished? Well, that’s him there on the TV and the radio. What he does there is what he is. (This makes me want to quote Forrest Gump). What people are, what groups of people are is assessed by the structures, or, for the CHID trophy, the narratives we are able to abstract (extract) as their meaningful substance. We view snippets of activity and paint a world, including the behaviors necessary to realize that world. The experience of Jimi is not just the notes that a young boy might read on a tablature grid in Guitar Player magazine, it’s also the closing of the eyes and swaying and the drinking and drugs and the hot women and the early death. Each of these little items are what makes a Jimi Hendrix, and to play a Jimi cover correctly, in other words, to play a Jimi cover with an understanding of what is behind the music is to be the things that we know comprise the identity of Jimi Hendrix. It is to move away from the exteriorized meaning of Jimi, in any verbal, speakable sense, and move into the oneness of the function of Jimi. Hence blurring the line between the borrowed and the being, regardless of whatever rights or appropriateness we may determine for that situation.
And we can think of a swaying of the body or a closing of the eyes as a building block of these kinds of behaviors/perpectives. Small, often untextualized or verbalized traditions of behavior constitute the appropriate behavior of people who have appropriated for themselves the role of a rock and roll star.
This kind of narrative trade has been going on since Adam has been in contact with Eve (sic). For my purposes here, we should go back briefly to the preceding 20th century decades and look at a few examples of how people incorporate these building blocks of identity into their understanding of their own history. Of course we’ll stay close to rock and roll to keep things interesting. I promise to keep it brief though, so hang on.
New Zealand in the fifties witnessed what were called Bodgies and Widgies. That’s Enzed for ‘rockers’ or ‘greasers’ and their female counter-types. Arthur Manning, a respected research psychologist of the era, wrote an oft-cited epitaph in 1958 called “The Bodgie—A Study in Psychological Abnormality”. Teen rebellion had not yet been normalized to the extent that we see it today. People were really scared. He cites “The Problem: criminality and delinquency”, he says that Rock and Roll is somehow inextricably connected to this plague of misbehavior (there were actually some muggings and a murder, in which a nineteen year old boy was hung). He says, “Of 30 youth surveyed, 30 were enthusiastic about dancing, especially of the Rock and Roll type. It was felt that type of dancing made them feel happier.” (7-17)
Let that sit for a moment, and we’ll move to a different type of document altogether. For the 60s, I want to use a nostalgic bit by NZ author Jane Tolerton. In her light hearted retrospect 60s Chicks hit the 90s, we see a perfect list of these building blocks used to construct for us an entire decade. Check it out:
The sixties of popular memory resonates in phrases and words: suburban, neurosis, Zephyr Six, women’s lib, sexual revolution, psychedelic, ban the bomb, Swinging London, Carnaby St., pop culture, the underground, mini-skirts, maxi-skirts, hot pants, youth culture, far out, the Twist, pop music, pop art, Beatlemania, Happen Inn, yippies, the Hippy trail, peace and love, youthquake,…[and so on] (9)
After that, there is little need to belabor the point. Each phrase is a heavily charged point of inference. Sadly they have all gotten the bad rap of being clichés. But actually there are useful in this case as the bricks of a world construction. In this case it is an historical world, one that is removed in time from the one we consider to be our own, but that is incidental.
I think the treatise by Arthur Manning is interesting because it illustrates not only that the media imagery of Rock and Roll had permeated the homes and influenced the behavior of the children of New Zealand almost as soon as it was happening in the States and in Britain, but also that the reactions to it are in many ways a part of the act itself. There is hardly a known feasible way of drawing the line of intent (what were ‘his own thoughts’ and what was informed or appropriated) on the part of Manning or his sympathizers. Where did his reaction come from? How could it have been so similar to the reactions in the US without being a simple emulation of reactions in the US?
This is not to say that there are certain actions and reactions that are simply going to make sense, even in the proverbial vacuum. It is quite conceivable that R n’R would have been blamed for this stuff no matter what. It is also somehow conceivable that listening to Tuti-Fruti would make you want to murder an old man.
So how does culture cross an ocean? Well, it doesn’t, of course. There is no such thing as culture. But there are narratives and identities, the little building blocks that people extract from their exteriors, the building material of their perspectives, the cedar of their behavioral guideposts. And these narratives can move as fast as light in the form of the transmissions that are pushed into the lives of any that have the ability to receive them.
Of course this article is much too short to really get at the meat of the nut I’ve chosen to crack. To suggest something as provocative as there being no such thing as culture is truly a hit and run effort. Mary Louise Pratt does string together some of the bones of this idea by making problematic the vaporous, almost magical way people tend to use the concept of culture. In attempting to unravel the changes that occur when people start using “other” people’s techiniques and ideas. Her work was focused on the literature that started coming from Aztec documents as they appeared after colonial conquest, particularly a piece by one Guaman Poma who had adopted western writing and illustration technique in an effort to use it as a way of ‘writing back’ to the conquistadors. She offers that, “If one thinks of cultures, or literatures, as discrete, coherently structured, monolingual edifices, Guaman Poma’s text, and indeed any autoethnographic work, appears anomalous or chaotic. […] If one does not think of cultures this way, then Poma’s text is simply heterogeneous.” Here we see that she feels quite comfortable in drawing the line of intent. In this case, that is something that is much less dangerous, given the documents involved. But what is more important is that we are seeing the destabilization of a concept whose usefulness in its older, Weberian (Web of Life, the supernatural cloud that binds) sense, has required transformation. The magic, lifeless edificial cloud of culture is dissipated into actionable tools: hand- and head-holdable identity bricks.
So when we of the US go to places like NZ and we say, “Wow, American culture has really taken hold here!” What are we saying? I don’t portend to answer that question totally, I just want to suggest that ‘culture’ itself isn’t actually coming over at all. What is coming across the Pacific are little digestible bits that people in other places are for whatever reason attracted to. And its important to note that the same process happens here, stateside. They/we absorb these bits in some way, the meaning of the bits becomes a part of who they/we are in the sense that they/we decide to emulate it or react against it (which is a form of emulation), and the behavior that results starts the cycle (albeit permutated) all over again for the new observers.
Manning, Arthur. The Bodgie: A Study in Psychological Abnormality. 1958, Reed Press.
Tolerton, Jane. 60s Chicks Hit the 90s. 1994, Penguin Books, NZ.
Pratt, Mary Louise. Arts of the Contact Zone. Taken from the CHID 498 Course Reader, Winter, 2004.
Not cited, but still useful:
Yska, Redmer, All Shook Up: The Flash Bodgie and the Rise of the New Zealand Teenager in the Fifties, Auckland, 1993.
Bannister, Mathew. Positively George Street: Sneaky Feelings and the Dunedin Sound. 1999, Reed Books.
Churton, Wayde Ronald. Have you Checked the Children Lately?: Punk and Post-Punk in New Zealand, 77-81. Put Your Foot Down Publishing, 1999
|Bertalanffy and Hayles (Wed Wk 3)
This week's readings are focused on two readings which serve as a kind of call and response. The first is Bertalanffy's "The meaning of General System Theory". the other is Katherine Hayles' interpretation of Norbert Wiener's treatises on Cybernetics, primarily a critical reading of his Human Use of Human Beings. While Bertalanffy's work is primarily an older order scientific proposition, in the sense that it is not intended to be seen as its own historical evidence, it is an analysis of some of the implications of Wiener's work. Hayles' work is a critical overview, and consequently self-conscious at least in the sense that it is literary criticism (of a sort) and it includes itself as an observer eye in the macrouniversal feedback loop of information consumption, interpretation, modification, and dissemination. (sorry, that was a little on the cerebral side. I'll try to be a little more clear.)
Because of the positioning of these two works, we can see a distinction between them that places Bertalanffy in a surprisingly modernist perspective, despite the fact that he is describing events that will inevitably contribute to the postmodern gestalt. In fact, I would go so far as to attribut his way of thinking as containing some semblance of classic Fordism. For him, his work is simply its own hallmark of good old fashioned progress: "General System Theory will go a long way towards avoiding such unessecary duplication of labor." (34) I can call it Fordism, in the sense that he is equating the functions of science with the functions of labor, but we might even trace it back to older, more "traditional" enlightenment thinking like Smith or Rousseau. The elegance of this statement should also be noted because his idea is thematically succinct with his work. To extract the functions of labor and production as useful descriptors of the functions of science is sytem theory at work. It's an example of principle #4
: it is the development of "unifying principles running 'vertically' through the universe of the individual sciences".(38)
Hayles takes a definedly postmodern approach to the work of Wiener (and Bertalanffy implicitly) by using their work as the grist for her own mill. (I index her postmodernity by equating her bread/product with information/memory.)Hers is an examination of where Wiener and Bertalanffy leave off, that is, of the social and ideological implications of their work which they both effectively run away from. Although Hayles spends most of her time on Wiener, who was an indespensible influence on Bert., they both end their respective treatises in a retreat. Hayles aregues that this retreat is the reult of a fear of the loss of the individual, something which would directly threaten their "liberal humanism". Although she doesn't argue in the case Bertalanffy directly, she does claim that Wiener was immanently concerned with his own humanistic implications, and she uses his refusal to do research under military grants after his ballistics reasearch. But, Hayles argues, the ballistics reasearch sealed the deal, so to speak. Once the pilot had been reduced to a functional feedback loop, and cybernetics had firmed its place in the realm of scientific inquiry, the damage was irrevocably done. (not to blame Wiener for anything negative. Not only do I not see his work as implicitly negative, I also would again suggest that there is an inexplicable inevitability to all this. RE: why is the most common patenting problem the timing of the proposed patents(because so many people are all of a sudden trying to patent the same thing at the same time)?)
So on a cultural level, I think what we are seeing here is the foundation for something that I have for years described as "existential terror". first, notice the popularity of horror, particularly the popularity of gore, the splaying and disfiguring of bodies. Once again, look at the dates. First, there's that really creepy recurrance of the year 1968: the birth of software, Bertalanffy's piece, also, Englebert's date of proposal for mouse research, circa Harvey's great decline, etc. I would also introduce the work of Phil K Dick as an interesting addition to these problems of identity and the terror of the loss of the self. 1968 was the year Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep was published. 1969 would bring Ubik. These are both hallmark novels for him, novels which typify what Brian Harvey call the terror of the post modern.
Other things are traceable in this thread. If we go back to WWII, it should be noted that Korzysky's Institute of General Semantics is founded in 1943, same time that Wiener is doing his ballistics research. This is interesting because they are already talking about analogy. With writers like Hayakawa, Berman, and Russell Meyers, we start seeing articles in their journal with titles like "The Is of Identity and definitions", "The significance of being unique", "Another look at individualism"... The problems of identity loss and the source of what may be the largest spread fear of the last half of the twentieth century may arguably be rooted in the fear of the loss of self.
In a quick, final aside, if anyone who reads this hasn't seen The Ring yet, (not LOTR, leave me alone) based on the Japanese Ringu, then see it. It is the ultimate post modern horror movie. It is also one of the scariest movies to emerge in recent years, I humbly claim.
Below is a posting of a paper I wrote earlier this year. Its kind of a piece of shit because I had to write it really hastily, but I think its interesting how all this stuff was saturating my thinking even before I took the class. Its about people and their rock and roll gods, which is a lot more accessible than ballistics to most people. I strongly doubt anyone will take the time to read it, but here it is. Current Mood: calm
|Monday, October 11th, 2004|
|Ceruzzi, Harvey, and Bush
Today’s reading in Ceruzzi’s History of Modern Computing serves as an interesting segue away from Harvey and more directly into the issue of technological issue surrounding the purported condition of postmodernity. The book, told in perhaps too small a nutshell, is so far the rise first of the physical computer itself, with particular regards to the UNIVAC, EDVAC, and IBM’s first “main frame” computers in the sixties. It is easy to relegate the times which impacted these inventions as Modern, as well as to relegate the thinking behind the major industrial events as Modernist and particularly Fordist.
Not only are we seeing the movement of products undergo an exponential increase in volume via mass production, we are seeing the ideas and calculations which will promote and sustain this movement grow at an equally exponential rate. Enter the need for a computing machine, even though it was something that was originally intended only to be what we would now call a scientific calculator: an algebra and calculus machine. It was a pusher of numbers, not of ‘ideas’ in the loftier sense that we now have of these extensions of memory.
What makes all this very interesting is the way that the growth of the computer industry is going to emulate and facilitate dynamics of Harvey’s historical demography not only through the sweeping strokes of a modern world transformed into a postmodern world, but we see Ceruzzi actually mapping 1968 as the year in which software broke(Ceruzzu, 108), unwittingly centered within Harvey’s map of the western demise through flexible accumulation transitioning from 1965-73 (Harvey, 141)
Software becomes the vehicle of flexible accumulation. It is also a profound instance of vertical marketing, one of Harvey’s PoMo indexes.
But I also want to offer a tie, again in broad strokes, of these two works in connection with Vannevar Bush’s amazing speculative essay. Here’s a picture:
damn, this shitty blog won't let me post a picture.
well, here's where I stole it from:http://www.kerryr.net/pioneers/bush.htm
(Totally aside: Bush recreated Babbage's Difference Engine, a calculation machine totally unlike electro-circuit computers. His student, Claude Shannon, helped invent Boolean Circuitry, which would instantly make Bush's machine useless and obsolete. Bush was defeated (in a purely market-based sense)by the very machines he prophecied.
Claude Shannon is hilarious. In an Omni magazine article in 1987, he said "I visualize a time when people are to robots what dogs are to humans. And I'm rooting for the machines." Not only do I agree, but I think that time is now. We do not make machines, we are made by them. More later.)
I just wanted to show you a Life magazine illustration for the Memex.
What I really want to focus on is the inevitability of all of this. Bush’s essay is profoundly accurate on a number of levels. It is no great stretch to say that what he is describing is the desktop computer and the internet, far in advance of their physical realization (not to mention forehead cameras). While what he describes is to some a nearly supernatural prophecy, it also smacks of something bound to happen, seemingly hard-wired into the modern landscape. What if I said that what Bush is describing is really just Fordism of the mind, or Fordism of memory?
Another important aspect of Bush’s essay is how well it serves as grounds for a sound refutation of Harvey’s disdain of postmodernity, an attitude rooted in an unfounded mistrust of the flexibly accumulated world’s supposed lack of reality-based value systems. The bread we supposedly don’t have (see previous entry) is ideas and memory; two very real substances. Bush simply projects a more or less Fordist economy of memory storage and use, which utilizes association as its intracontinental highway system (an abstracted model of what we call search engines).
I want to present this as a further refutation of ideas that the internet is “nowhere”. Simply untrue. It is physical, and it is in part right here, the only thing that has happened is that the notion of physicality itself, including within it notions of “physical space”, has been challenged.
I am a person who believes that there may have been a “Postmodern turn”, but that moniker is useful only in a very limited sense. For the most part, current life is business as usual, except, instead of pushing mud up a hill, or carts around a big warehouse, we are pushing physical projections of memory around within a space we don’t have the same kind of old-school contact with. Just keep surfing, computerheads, you’re serving the old machine just fine. Good job learning all those programs at an early age, your assimilation is nearly complete.
|Tuesday, October 5th, 2004|
|Harvey part 2(Wednesday, Week 2)
In part II of Harvey's book, we see what has happened historically in the last two hundred years, particularly the last century, as described through an entirely different framework than in Part I. This section is primarily concerned with an economic description of modern life. To set the stage, he uses the industrial design of Henry Ford and the advent of mass production as one of the most significant changes in the western lifestyle. Although Ford was not the only person to implement the theories of conveyor based product assembly, he was notable for his efforts of constructing a market to support his products; he is credited for having pioneered the construction of social need.(125) For Harvey, this is a significant turning point. Product became the purpose and the content of life itself, particularly for the workers who found themselves under the wings of employment. His workforce was built to be able to buy. It doesn’t take long before technology based industries are growing at exponential rates, running on the steam of other technologies. After WWII, this process of technology based growth maintained a steady rise until the mid-sixties, wherein business in general underwent a major transformation. He postulates the need for capitalist growth as a force which will transform and even generate market spaces which are able to operate and survive on their own self-feeding functions, effectively dislocating not only an industry, but an entire class of people along with it. Through flexible accumulation, which is the ability of value as a commodity to be shifted around from account to account without ever actually representing a literal mass of dollars, the majors movers in the economy become the “paper entrepreneurs”.(163) The effect is that the “financial system has achieved a degree of autonomy from real production unprecedented in capitalism’s history”.(194)
Once all this is established it is impossible not to compare part II to part I. The dislocation, invisible spheres of heterogeneity, self-service, self-refection emulate each other. The economic structures emulate the structures of art. There is a direct interdependence, particularly of the latter on the former, but arguably vice verse. (I would definitely argue it.)
Although there are many parallels to be made once both parts of the book are viewed together, I would particularly like to focus on this more structural element of his setting up both “worlds” and then relying on the reader to glue them together in a sense. I suspect there may be a pedagogical reason behind not reading the third section of the book. Thurtle may be trying to introduce the idea of “montaging” the two parts together as an act of performative postmodernity. Imagining the two chapters together is a process we might call “intertextuality”, and it is markedly PoMo. I want to use this as a good starting point for illustrating what may prove to be some seriously contradictory themes in Harvey’s work.
Although he does not say so explicitly, Harvey can, by deconstruction, be categorized as not only a person with a Marxist monocle, but one with a considerable mistrust and probable disdain for the cause of capitalism. He does little, however, to contextualize his own role within the scheme of things. While, ironically, to do so would be total PoMo, the purpose of which is to self-monitor(some say ), it is also typical of academics who don’t want to have to play the games of the modern business world. (My dad, for example, who teaches in a private university, has said on many occasions, “I’m lucky to be here, because there is no place for me in the real world.”) I argue the act of performing critical theory is one definitively dependent on the condition of postmodernity. Critical theory anachronizes cultural phenomena for their subsequent exploitation. Cultural identities are the buildings blocks of the academic industrial machine. It is important to remember that Parts I and II of Harvey’s book are tight little encapsulations of a worldview. It is no small task to manufacture these little capsules, either. Reflect for a moment on the scope of his agenda: to recreate with sufficient suspension of disbelief the workings of the entire western world over the course of two centuries in the space of 120 pages per part of the book. What are the “real” commodities this venture is based in? Don’t these Foucauldian archeologizations insure that the academic is not extraneous to the capitalist growth machine (as so many wish and pray that they are), but an intrinsic and perhaps necessary part of it?
|Sunday, October 3rd, 2004|
|David Harvey and PoMo (Monday)
On a structural level, David Harvey's book uses a call and response technique to exposit his notion that Postmodernism is less its own revolution than it is a more fully realized version of the artistic sentiments and theories that we regard as traditional modernism. His argumentation is at times elliptical, leading us in one direction and then back to another as he first demonstrates conventions that we regularly categorize as PoMo, particularly fragmentation, but also notions of the 'unreal' and the self-serving or self-reflexive, and then gives a series of examples of how those ideas were, for the most part, already employed in the service of Modernism.
For Harvey, the cultural artifacts that people leave behind can be interpreted as evidence of a general, society-wide gestalt that is substantially linked to the intents and dreams of the people who constructed them. Another important link for him is the cultural environments which would have a certain impact on the thoughts and actions of these "Modern" and "Postmodern" people. Under Harvey's umbrella, the arts which have appeared in western society over the last twenty years are intrisically related to, have great impact on, and are impacted by the cause of capitalism. Likewise, at least as far as an underlying theme is concerned, he believes that Pomo and regular old Modernism are essentially emulations of the same core sentiments, whether the people who 'perform' them think they are or not. I was struck by the use of American avant-garde artists like Rothko and Pollock as vehicles of "violent fragmentation" and "creative destruction"(37), characteristics so often given to Postmodern artists. "Post modernism swims, even wallows, in the fragmentary and the chaotic currents of change as if that is all there is."(44) He uses the examination of architecture and urban planning to show how these sentiments that we usually confine to coffee table books and museums has actually permeated our own living spaces. He cites "Britain is rapidly turning from the manufacture of goods to the manufacturing of heritage."(86)
While Harvey argues that Modernism and Pomo are intimately connected, he does acknowledge their differences as well. It seems post-modernism seems to emulate a more developed and complete (totalizing) brand of self-circulaiton.
By the end of the first part Harvey finally confesses his starting point as a follower of Marxism. (My girlfriend said of him, "of course, he's a geographer".) For him, post modernism "takes matters too far".(115) The basic premise for this, is that as a society we have departed from our contact with the "real". Alienation, or creation of otherness has transformed the purpose of work from the obtaining of bread to the strict obtaining of money: "All traces of exploitation are obliterated in the object."(101)
But this assertion has its problems. Potentially, the most important of these problems is the way that Harvey tends to place humanity along a timeline wherin the people of the past were somehow closer to "the real" than we, the people of the present, are now. This is a point of view that has recieved tremendous scrutiny in the field of anthropology, which has all but anihilated itself as a field and which looks with a scorning eye at the poor sods who founded the discipline for having made the same mistake: by treating the people of the past as "the sacred other", somehow fundamentally different from the anthropologist. In some ways, I get the impression Harvey is placing a golden halo over pre-industrial (that is, premodern) society. This isn't to suggest Harvey doesn't have his point: it would be difficult to convince anyone that there haven't been significant cultural changes in the west (if we accept that there is such thing as the West) since the late 60s, or since the beginning of the 19th century. It is the Lacanian notion that there has been a semiotic departure from the needs of the infantile body (mutated Freud) that makes me uneasy.
It is an assumption that claims people have changed as a whole in recent years. The reason it makes me uneasy is that it is terribly chronocentric, or coeval. Why would it all of a sudden have just happened that things suddenly went down the shitter? I don't want to ride this horse for too long, because I don't want to place myself as being adversarial toward Harvey. On the contrary, the book is a remarkable piece of research and scopel. I just feel the need to illustrate potential imperfections in his theoretical armor; I want to point out the linchpins of his reasoning that I believe might invite debate.