Wednesday, September 30, 2009
The idea of a global village (2) that includes many locations while ignoring their specificity all the same relates to the Lucy Liu character. Her Chinese-American status is only slightly contested in her dank Japanese underworld but nonetheless, she is accepted based solely on skin color. Her legitimacy is expounded upon in the extended anime sequence that shows the murder of her parents. The Yakuza bosses say she is different but still, her swanky, animated back-story legitimizes her existence to them and the audience. There is also something antiquated about the showdown with the Crazy 88’s. We see O-Ren Ishii arrive (facilitated by fabulous slow-mo) in a traditional Japanese kimono and shoes. She is in a building modeled after “old” Japanese restaurants even though the clothing of its patrons and its glass dance floor refute the timeliness of the restaurant’s aesthetic. This instance of globalization (a Chinese-American in Japanese clothing) refers to Jameson’s “nostalgia for the present” (3). The cross-cultural affinity for American-ness is displayed as well. In Kill Bill we see a Japanese band play American songs in an almost American fetishistic locale—a “geisha” themed restaurant replete with cool pools of water and sliding paper doors. At the same time Tarantino’s film supports the idea that “the United States is no longer the puppeteer of a world system of images, but is only one node of a complex transnational construction of imaginary landscapes” (4). The imaginary is realized here. The place where O-Ren Ishii wants to eat isn’t just an American idea--it’s an idea perpetuated by the Japanese people who are dancing to the music. The restaurant supports the idea of an imagined world “that is, the multiple worlds which are constituted by the historically situated imaginations of persons… spread around the globe” (7). I’ve been to the actual restaurant in Tokyo. It very much exists. It’s a tourist trap and sparsely attended by Japanese people. People visiting from afar can find themselves at a restaurant of their own deterritorialized creation (11).
Tarantino’s power lies in his assumed artistic integrity. While I doubt he claims his movies are the gospel on any culture, many avid film watchers interpret his movies as truthful to the Asian experience. Tarantino fails to dissuade consumers from this mindset by appropriating imaging like the anime or producing little-known Asian cinema in America (as if he has the “right” to). “Produced by Quentin Tarantino” has a nice ring to it that, once situated above a foreign-sounding movie, seems to suggest Tarantino sped across an ocean to bring you back the best and most legitimate cinema you would not have watched otherwise. Tarantino’s participation in Asian cinema and aesthetics dilutes the purity and effect of authentic cinema but also reflects a growing transnational and globalizing modern cinema landscape.
Oldboy can beautifully illustrate Appadurai's discussion of disjunctures and flows through his various '-scapes'. But first, it must be understood as a work of the imagination. To align the two discussions--those of imagination and those of flows--one could define a film as a flow of images. These images are scraped from cultural memory, that "synchronic warehouse of cultural scenarios" (4).
Oh Dae-Su had no choice but to construct himself (or his character?) out of these sorts of imaginary flows. Fed on television and loneliness, what else was he supposed to do?
If we follow Appadurai further, he tells us flows occur "in and through the growing disjunctures between ethnoscapes, technoscapes, finanscapes, mediascapes and ideoscapes" (11). What sort of disjuncture created this initial flow? It is probably impossible to give a complete answer, but some disjuncture between the ethnoscape depicted in the original Japanese manga and that experienced by Park Chan-wook may have been the start. It also took the push of capital to create the film, and from there, to broaden its flow--to spread it to America, to Japan, to England. Appadurai's disjunctures are places of vitality and creation.
What sort of sin could Oh Dae-Su have committed in the past to deserve imprisonment? He grows bitter, trapped in that cell. He grows stronger. It is absolutely inexplicable, yet there must be an explanation, an origin.
These disjunctures are also places of deterritorialization. It is through these disjunctures that a Korean movie can be based on a Japanese comic book and sell on DVD for $25 in America. Who could've imagined. It is no wonder that Appadurai writes "imagination is now central to all forms of agency, is itself a social fact, and is the key component of the new global order" (5). Vitality is a will to deterritorialize, to see the basic building blocks of the world in whole new ways. It takes imagination to market an unsettling Korean film to Americans.
And it would take equal imagination to let Oh Dae-Su free. And to plan out so many days of his life, so far in advance, and keep him stumbling along, as if he is actually free. The prisoner is deterritorialized--he is no longer bound to his cell, and to his television--but he is instantly reterritorialized. A prisoner in a larger cell, with even more surveillance.
"An important fact of the world we live in today is that many persons on the globe live in such imagined worlds (and not just in imagined communities) and thus are able to contest and sometimes even subvert the imagined worlds of the official mind and of the entrepreneurial mentality that surround them" (7).
Oh Dae-Su has rebuilt his body well. The flows of television that make the average man weak made him quite strong. And he destroys his captor.
But one must question just how much of Oh Dae-Su's world is his own. How much is prearranged, chosen for him by the very man he kills?
I would like to focus on the final paragraph of Appadurai's 2nd page and the 1st paragraph of the 3rd.
His notion of "cultural traffic" -- the steady onslaught of automobiles of newspapers, novels, of western-bound trains and the airplane, of data recovery services and the depth of google -- paints a somewhat terrifying and dismal picture for the "schizophrenic" world we inhabit. Drawing on the contrast between theories of "rootlessness, alienation and psychological distance between individuals and groups" and "fantasies (or nightmares) of electronic propinquity...", he closes in on the "central problematic of cultural processes in today's world".
Similar in this academic description to multiple other media giants' opinions (ie. Cortazar's Autopista del sur, Goddard's Weekend traffic scene, or even Snow Crash'sdystopic, viral community, I find myself questioning the negative outlook Appadurai presents.
Granted, our communities (local or global or glocal or lobal) are increasingly interwoven and complex, increasingly frustrating, I believe that the onset of every new -scape, for example technoscape, requires not a rolling of the eyes and a feeling of defeat but rather a new excitement for the every-changing world in which we live. What Appadurai seems to miss is the ability our generation has to adapt to and change with (most of) life's cultural mishaps.
Perhaps this is simply the voice of a 20-year old student, part of a new generation well-versed in the schizophrenic styles of Facebook (click to see my ex-boyfriend, click onwards to read what max- you've heard his name ! - is saying), of climate change (it's here, it's not, it's worse, it's surrounding us, it's surrounding them) , of politics (Bush to Obama, any greater change would have killed us all but it's what we want.), of language (your mom jokes used to be cool right?, Dane Cook's humour was the way to go, bootylicious wasn't in the dictionary, AIM language was acceptable). But what seems to be to be characteristic of this new cultural age is precisely this always moving, gotta keep up energy that the author finds chaotic.
In a way, this growing cultural traffic jam and overstimulation means always looking forward (no longer living in the present?, which naturally has it's problems...), always having one's Blackberry nearby to receive texts and emails (gotta get me one), always being ready to head to the hills when the floods come (literally.), but hey, we'll do it. Right?
“Everything about being indie is tied to not being Black”—says Micah (Wyatt Cenac), the central character in “Medicine for Melancholy,” a 2008 film produced by indie director, Berry Jenkins. Micah makes a keen, yet tattered observation. Yes, the ideology of the ‘hipster’ nation—an “imagined network” of aesthetically daring youth—disavows mainstream Black culture (i.e. rap music, slang, stereotypical garb, etc.), commonly addressing the issue of race in ironic jest, stylish appropriation, or the naive assumption that we live in a “post-racial society.” These factors, however, should not require an African American to expunge his heritage in-exchange for the opportunity to test the limits of his wardrobe. Such an argument would be inherently flawed: how can a universal aesthetic object be distinctly ascribed to one race or another? The origin of the term ‘hipster’ itself is at the heart of this very debate.
In “The White Negro: Superficial Reflections on the Hipster,” Norman Mailer discusses the burgeoning society of white men during the 1920s, 30s, and 40s, that for all extensive purposes adhered to African American culture—dress, music, and slang included. This fixation with Black culture by White Americans speaks to the appropriation and re-appropriation that continues to epitomize pop culture— a cycle has only been accelerated by the introduction of new media forms such as the Internet. For instance, “voguing,” the dance style made iconic by Madonna, was actually pioneered by young African American homosexuals in Brooklyn years prior. They, however, received no attention following the style’s integration into the media scape—a boundless apparatus capable of erasing the creator, inserting a new one, and enlisting countless consumers.
During the act of appropriation, the target is stripped of his agency, while the subject incorporates the ‘other’ into his imagined network. The victim of appropriation has no say in this process, as the scape functions in the intangible realm of the visual. Your eyes are drawn to aesthetically pleasing objects, catalyzing consumption irrespective of the commodity’s origin. But appropriation is not a one-way process simply harping on the ‘exotification’ and subsequent ‘commodification’ of minorities, as African Americans and non-whites—both inside and outside the of the borders of the U.S.A.—often adopt aspects of White culture that the mainstream media has demarcated from them. Many of today’s rappers can often be seen spewing vulgar lyrics while decked out in country club apparel.
And so arises the binary between freedom and imprisonment—forged by the assumption of free choice within a market of empty commodities, whose inherent cultural essence has been distorted by the modern nature of capitalist circulation. But if the appropriated too have the agency to appropriate, is it an endless cycle for revenge? Or perhaps it is a competition: who can extend the borders of their “imagined network” the furthest via the consumption of foreign commodities and estranged identities?
Appropriation blurs the lines between originator, tailor, and consumer. Aspects of various cultures are constantly exchanged in an ongoing process of cultural diffusion, yet the pervasive mainstream media attempts to blind us from this fact by often equating culture to race. In this manner, Black youths are informed that what they see on BET is exclusively Black, while hipster happenings are targeted primarily to a White audience. Consequently, Black hipster culture is widely disapproved of by those who adhere to illusory notions of ‘blackness,’ which are reinforced by the abundance of stereotypical black images (from past and present) that are disseminated by the media scape.
Counter-ideologies—such as the modern day ‘hipster’— “are composed of elements of the Enlightenment world-view, which consists of a concatenation of ideas, terms, and images, including ‘freedom,’ ‘welfare,’ ‘rights,’ ‘sovereignty,’ ‘representation,’ and the master-term ‘democracy’” (Appadurai, 9-10). However, because of the media scape’s ability to turn basically anything visual into a commodity, representation cancels out any real stab at freedom. As Appadurai points out, our so-called ‘democratic freedom’ is synonymous with our consumer-choice. But if the apparel we buy at Urban Outfitters or avant-garde international boutiques like Opening Ceremony is already detached from its origin and obscured from the social relations responsible for its production, we really have no choice at all. Each purchase is a blind purchase, facilitated by the fetishism of both the consumer and the producer. Whether or not we legitimately believe that a mini-kimono selling for $500 at Opening Ceremony is a genuine American product, we buy it and flaunt it, as though we had ourselves created it.
Tuesday, September 29, 2009
I wanted to examine a point that Prof. Groening brought up in his lecture: Appadurai states that consumers do not derive political agency from their purchases. To quote Appadurai, the consumer “only asymptomatically approaches the form of a real social agent,” as he or she is constantly exposed to global advertising, “the key technology for the worldwide dissemination of a plethora of creative, and culturally well-chosen, ideas of consumer agency. These images of agency are increasingly distortions of a world of merchandising so subtle that the consumer is consistently helped to believe that he or she is an actor, where in fact he or she is in best a consumer” (16). Appadurai wrote this almost twenty years ago. Today, the internet and its numerous product rating sites (ex: Yelp, Epinions, Goodguide…) put unprecedented knowledge in the hands of the consumer – so much so that, in the case of Goodguide, the consumer is able to access a seemingly all-encompassing rating system of production practices and impacts.
Goodguide defines its mission to “help you find better products that represent your values, avoid products that are harmful to your health, the environment, or society – and enable you to take actions to help improve the world.” They go on to highlight the novelty of such information, saying “unless you’ve got a Ph.D, it is almost impossible to find out the impacts of the products you buy. Until now” (http://www.goodguide.com/about). Goodguide creates a hierarchy of products and, in order to accurately do so, they consider all openly available information including: the company website, recalls listed by the FDA and USDA, EPA/DOL fines, penalties, or rewards, emissions data, union press, and other news sources from the last three years. They finalize a product’s health, environment and society score to create a hierarchy of consumer options.
Could one say that, in 2009, the consumer is, in fact, more than a simple chooser? Yes, he or she is still subject to brand and advertising. Nonetheless, could sites like goodguide be a step closer to consumer agency?
Oldboy is subtitled--even though we can still hear the inflections of the original Korean dialogue, we must trust that the written translations of the dialogue are accurate. In this sense, even though we may feel that this film is more 'authentically Korean' than if it were dubbed, we can't understand the nuances of language that a Korean viewer might be able to appreciate. Appadurai points to the culturally-loaded meanings of words--how it's problematic to expect the word "freedom", for example, to have the same connotations for an Iraqi as for an American. This makes me wonder about the connotations of "oldboy" in its original Korean form. In its English translation, "oldboy" is both familiar and strange--familiar because "old boy" evokes British slang definitions (a familiar way of addressing a grown male, or a fellow alum, but also the "old boy network," a system of male nepotism), but these two words are combined into one word, making it newly unfamiliar. Does the original title, 올드보이, hold the same web of meanings? Also, the film is based on a Japanese manga that shares this name--is the Japanese meaning of "oldboy" the same as the Korean one?
- The partial sums (the Taylor polynomials) of the series can be used as approximations of the entire function. These approximations are good if sufficiently many terms are included.
- The series representation simplifies many mathematical proofs.
Which has an error of about 0.000003. So it's essentially right.
But why exactly would you need it? What's the use in disintegrating a function and letting it dissolve off into infinity? A good number of things, actually. The case above can be used to prove various corollaries of wave theory, often using the Taylor series of cos(x) (which just fills in the missing elements of sin(x)). Other such examples abound.
In a certain sense, this is the very problem Appadurai is attempting to grapple with; since (following Derrida) meaning is infinitely vanishing, infinitely deferred (differentiable?), Appadurai must throw out the concrete notions of space and identity propagated by Anthropology and attempt to factor in movement (which is possibly not even movement at all?). Whatever new function he derives is ineffable, infinite, so it must be broken into parts (an approximation) to be made sense of, to feed in to other theoretical processes and actions. Leading to the -scapes. However, at this point we encounter a new problem: all of these -scapes contain the same origin function. Delineating them as clearly different spaces/fields, as the naming/encapsulating process usually does, quickly becomes a problem when one attempts to locate the intersection of two -scapes. Yes, the mediascape is powerful, but it wouldn't exist without the technoscape providing the dissemination technology, the finanscape providing the means for such production/dissemination, the ethnoscape similarly allows media to transport across national and physical boundaries (either because someone's got to transport those papers or because a story/foundational-narrative propagated by media is carried across borders by immigrants), and the ideoscape (if taken in conjunction with Althusser's definition of ideology as the way in which one sees oneself in the world) allows them to identify with these stories, contextualize them (as Lee and LiPuma write, "The circulation of such forms . . . always presupposes the existence of their respective interpretive communities, with their own forms of interpretation and evaluation"). This exercise can be done with any -scape.
So what exactly are -scapes good for? Approximations. The -scapes that have held the most power in Anthropological study inspired by Appardurai have been the ones tracking concrete objects, either commodities or people, across space, connecting them along the way to both the people/systems surrounding them and the Anthropologist's own experience. While the media/techno/ideo-scapes all deal with ideas, things with permeable boundaries always under pressure and threat of de/reconstruction, the corporeal bodies of a human or raw commodity provide some sense of stability (even in the case of cyborgs, which one could argue we all have become, the basic equality of self=body and rules governing the system of human functioning remain constant) provide a basis for exploring these more incorporeal elements creating movement (or, to be more specific and far more dense, the performative combination of movement in time with signification) around these objects and affecting the Anthropologist's own view/discussion of the body. This kind of situationalism/relativism is completely lacking in Appadurai's theory, however, limiting its potential.
Thus ends this week's performance. Sorry for the late start.
Monday, September 28, 2009
I found it very interesting that throughout the film, Dae-Su was forced to use such tools as the internet, or cellphones in order to re-associate himself with the real world. As if these technologies and tools were creating his community. As if Dae-Su is involved with cultures of circulation, as tools such as the chat-rooms, or blogs are the cultural forms that bring the cultures to life. I feel like Oldboy simply reinforced the statements in the article, "Cultures of Circulation", if you imagine the internet community as a interpretive community, in the way that it has its limitations (i.e., anonymity), because of its own internal dynamics.
The community that Oldboy, slowly started becoming apart of again, was simply imagined through the modern tools of the internet, cellphones and television. It is really interesting how the television became his only connection to the world, his only community... For the main character, Dae-Su, he almost, quite literally at times, imagined the community he is beginning to participate in.
Mainly I would like to further discuss the circulation of information, which lead to the development of his own community...
The unpegging of US currency from a gold standard resulted in the emergence of a new way to evaluate its worth: in relation to other currencies, through trade. Capital is in this way defined through the system of circulation in which it operates, as if merging with it; capital becomes a sheer exchange system. I can't help but draw parallels between this form of capital and language; it is unhinged, has no positive value but instead draws meaning from its temporal and syntactical context (particularly in finance capital forms such as derivatives)-- a meaning which, arguably as in langage, is infinitely deferred. How can studying language help us to understand the current properties and mechanisms of capital/exchange?
Appadurai's text is one that I believe more directly applicable to Old Boy in that the production of its main character, Oh Dae-Su, is formed in part by one of Apparudai's proposed "dimensions of global cultural flow[:]" "the mediascape" (6). This is a part of "an elemetary framework for exploring [cultural/global] disjunctures," which consists of the flows of "(a) ethnoscapes; (b) mediascapes; (c) thechnoscapes; (d) finanscapes; and (e) ideoscapes" (6-7). He later posits that these are "building blocks of...imagined worlds" (7). The mediascape is identified as structured by images, and the networks that "[distribute]...produce and disseminate information..and to the images of the world created by these media" (9). Apparudai identifies that,
What is most important about these mediascapes is that they provide (especially in their television, film and cassette forms) large and complex repertoires of images, narratives and ethnoscapes to viewers throughout the world, in which the world of commodities and the world of news and politics are profoundly mixed.
The force of such a landscape on subjects that live and participate in an imagined world(s) is explosive, if not partially productive of the subjects themselves. For Oh Dae-Su, who is completely removed from the social and imprisoned for 15 years, the world is nothing beyond a repertoire of images and associated sounds. Left with only a television, this device that seems to merely be an agent of disseminating information becomes the entirety of his existence and conception of the world. The television acts as his "clock and calender," but beyond that it can even serve as his "lover." The performativity which Lee and LiPuma identify as inherrent to media forms is taken to the extreme here as the television can act as an agent in the exchange of sexual passion.
The importance of television as structuring for Oh Dae-Su is forgrounded towards the end of the narrative flashback which culminates a dual montage/collage of his development over fifteen years versus cultural and political events of both Korea and globe. Oh Dae-Su can be seen as a figure who under the force of the mediascape is submitted to a process of media-fication, like the laborer experiences commodification in the capitalist system. His identity is from this point inseparable from the media which structured it, which structures even his ability to speak. Oh Dae-Su studies or receives this disseminated information, while his antagonist Lee Woo-Jin, studies him creating a metamediated mess that I do not think I could hash out here.
One important aspect of the film is that is structured around one man's revenge. Revenge in many ways is a violent form of equivalence, if not exchange. The infamous "teeth-torture" shows the process in which 15 years of imprisonment are abstracted to a value of 15 teeth. Whereas, Oh Dae-Su's removal of his tongue is abstracted to a value of his crime of slander. These violent motifs of equivalence and exchange show in many ways how violent exchange is, especially in an era where violence as identified by Lee and LiPuma can be committed on currencies themselves.
Thus, I claim that finanscapes and capital are deterritorialized in at least three senses: capital flows more easily and more rapidly between national markets (geographic deterritorialization); capital can be produced from speculation upon stocks and currencies, not from their sale (deterritorialized from its 'grounding' in production/consumption); and derivative financial products such as call options generate capital because of their expiration dates and financial equations of risk over time, not because of abstract labor-time (deterritorialization from its grounding in worker's time).
And while Appadurai focuses on deterritorialization and disjuncture, D&G's work stresses that when deterritorializations occur, so do reterritorializations. Lee's article is again instructive—flows of commodities are not simply more geographically mobile, but rather capital's basis in traditional forms has been displaced onto new forms that reterritorialize value on a different plane. Thus, along with value based on the laborer's effort over a duration of time we now have value that is based on a metatemporal scale, fundamentally predicated on economic modeling of the future and realized depending on the value, not as time (as in the commodity), but value (of a stock) at a point in time (Lee & LiPaum, 205). Lee's article, with its emphasis on circulation, shows how circulation does not merely deterritorialize commodities and labor (products made in China are shipped to the U.S., traditional modes of value are elided by financial products), but instantiates a new form of value that is reterritorialized in circulation (that is, reterritorializes them in a territory that is not one).
All this is not to criticize Appadurai unduly, but to point out where his own notion of deterritorialization goes further than the examples he chooses to illustrate it. In fact, speculative finance underscores the role of mediascapes (in publicizing economic disaster, producing further crises of faith) and economic modeling (whose –scape I'm having difficulty pinning down) in the production of financial capital. It seems that Appadurai has a bias towards the landscape, proving the deterritorialization of different –scapes in terms of geographical disjuncture. Yet the concept of deterritorialization allows us to examine not only the dispersion and disjuncture of different scapes in space, but also to point out how different scapes are de- and re-territorialized in themselves. The convoluted space of financial capital, in which values generate other values, is indeed the kind of fractal space generated by feedback loops of speculation.
Moreover, according to one source at least, fractals are actually already used "to make predictions as to the risks involved in particular stocks." Fractals, as mathematically abstract representations, may be useful in mapping different scapes, but for the finanscape at least, fractals constitute at least part of this space. Fractal economic modeling is involved in the calculation of risk, which determines the prices of derivative products, which in turn generate both value and risk.
Worlding" and "-scapes" represent broad ideas of the glob(c)alized world on a macro scale, while Clifford, in line with his training as an anthropologist, emphasizes the study of the local. To simplify, the former can be be viewed as "top-down" methods of studying cosmopolitanism, and the latter as "bottom-up". One can choose either to extrapolate the global from the local, or vice versa, to perceive the local from the global.
Taking Clifford a step further, editors Diane Singerman and Paul Amar propose a bottom-up approach to cosmopolitanism in their book "Cairo Cosmopolitanism", a collection of articles describing different facets of Cairo and debating whether it is "cosmopolitan". Thematically, several deal with the urban geography of the city (urban core, suburbs, and peripheral industrial satellites) and tools of exclusivity and inclusivity (via malls and gated communities). In particular, one article explores how the lower classes reclaim public space at the Giza Zoo, The Giza Zoo represents a public space that has been re-appropriated by the popular classes, thus usurping the traditional role of enclosed garden spaces as the realm of the rich. As Mona Abaza noted in her article, public space is increasingly scarce as society is increasingly segregated; the Giza Zoo is a rare patch of green in a concrete jungle – an affordable, accessible place for families to gather on weekends and during festivals. What was once supposed to be a global space, housing animals from all over the world, catered towards the upper classes, has become the playground of the popular class. Singerman and Amar claim this as a type of cosmopolitanism, as it exemplifies the tensions between public and private, lower and upper classes as they attempt to negotiate space within an urban, globalized context. They argue that in order to comprehend cosmopolitanism, one must not only look at transnational flows, but intranational ones as well. Is the local a microcosm of the global? Is looking at the local enough to explain cosmopolitanism? After all, cosmopolitanism is a term grounded in a macroscopic view of the entire world.
In “Disjunction and difference in the Global Cultural Economy,” Arjun Appadurai gives shape to the “five dimensions of global flow” in his examinations of what he terms ethnoscapes, mediascapes, technoscapes, finanscapes, and ideoscapes. I find the use of the suffix “-scape”, and the consequential imagined physicalization of the systems, interesting in the context of examining actual, physical occurances. For example, he calls the “ethnoscape” the “landscape of persons who constitute the shifting world in which we live” (7). There is an inherent contradiction, a tension between the real and the imaginary, that Appadurai addresses in pulling together the physical, “shifting world” full of globe-trotting “tourists, immigrants, refuges, exiles…and other moving groups” into a single, unified “scape”. Is this the exact point that Appadurai is trying to make when he calls his “landscapes… the building blocks of what (extending Benedict Anderson) [he] would like to call imagined worlds?” (7)
Global flows, Appadurai states, “occur in and through the growing disjunctures between ethnoscapes, technoscapes, finanscapes, mediascapes, and ideoscapes” (11). This statement conjures up for me a very physical image of tectonic plates moving and creating chasms within which cultures flow.
My interest in this articles lies in the question or how Appardurai unpacks this established relationship between his own conception of virtual “scapes” and the real-world patterns to which they refer. If the scapes are panaoramic view of the imagined world, then what does that say about the organization of said world? In other words, how is space reorganized in the imagined world and how does that reorganization map flows in the real world (or vice-versa)? How do these worlds related to Bruce Robbins’ rule that “everyone belongs somewhere”? Can his question of what it means to belong be answered with respect to Appadurai’s “scapes” or only to the “real” world to which they refer? Or does the notion of ‘belonging’ have to be rooted somehow in both? Is five questions in a row too many?
Sunday, September 27, 2009
In characterizing the chaos of the protests and riots, a CrimethInc article argued that the inability of the mass of protesters to control itself effectively as a whole was "simply a fast-paced microcosm of the way individuals struggle to make their own history as infinitesimal components of a much larger society," shifting the idea of the mob to one rooted not in a lack of leadership, but one rooted in the inheritance of a world of leadership, and the inability of one to control oneself in the type of capitalist society Lee and LiPuma define, necessitating a regimentation of social interactions and preventing one from following its own course. In this way, one could criticize the march, a mass action, for a lack of authentic anarchist expression despite its lack of oversight, in that physical processes of yelling and momentum dictated rulers whose physical axioms must be obeyed, rather than a consensus reached and acted upon by a consenting body, operating fully under their own volition rather than the sway of a crowd.
This operation, as a part of society rather than a member of social group, as above or below another, rather than with another, alters the behavior of the group in a pathological way. When considering Lee and LiPuma and their statements on the fundamental sense of society a capitalist system will form from any social interactions, and the social contract, and therefor sovereign state, it makes necessary.
Luigi Fabbri's recently translated World War I era essay "Bourgeois Influences on Anarchism" discusses the relationship between the popular literatures arising with widespread print capitalism in the late nineteenth century and political violence carried out by anarchists. Fabbri argues that literary intellectuals, particularly those who are not authentically dedicated to anarchism, are more likely to respond positively to, even laud, anarchist violence, considering its aesthetic appeal, primarily, less than its practical morality or impact. The romantic, poetic gesture of being willing to kill and die for a belief impacts the writer, who is caught up in the symbolic beauty, and has according to Fabbri, "glimpsed nothing [of anarchist thought] beyond individual emancipation," and, in doing so, "neglected the social problem, that is, the humanitarian side of anarchism." He notes that many of these authors later become militantly nationalist, or otherwise abandon anarchist principals, on the whole. The CrimethInc article finds itself in an awkward position, under this judgment, at once decrying individualist lifestylism in favour of social anarchism, while excusing to glorifying admitedly minour instances of violent behavior.
Specifically, the author of the CrimethInc piece uses a dumpster, a symbol of oft-derided freegan "lifestyle" anarchy, showing how it is used by the more idealized social anarchism of the protesters when it is pushed down a hill towards a pair of police officers. Property destruction, as is common among many anarchists who do not consider attacks on inanimate objects legitimate "violence," was treated generally ambivalently, except in one instance, where stones were thrown at windows which had people by them, termed "unfortunate" in the article. The dumpster hurled at the police being given a positive image, the exact sort of cheap literary concession Fabbri lambastes within the petulant politics of temporary anarchists, where an action which would normally not be condoned is lionized for its use as a symbol of something better.
In explaining violence, Fabbri states "anarchists aren't Tolstoyans - they recognize that violence (which is always an ugly thing, be it individual or collective) is frequently necessary," which seems to imply that violence is a statist construct, or at least a construct necessitated by a statist system, which is fundamentally a capitalist system, according to the analysis of LiPuma and Lee. One could argue from this, that real violence is created by a capitalist system, and attacks on the inanimate trappings and symbols of that system, become construed as violent within the system and undermine the reputation of anarchy through the bourgeois propaganda Fabbri mentions, creating an idea of the anarchist as a crazed, petty criminal. Destructive action is, in general, a symptom (the word having been chosen for its implicit pathology) of a capitalist, statist society, eating away at the anarchist movement from the inside as it loses sight of goals in favour of continued, divided acts of rebellion. The mainstream cultural conception of anarchism is its greatest enemy, and one ensuing almost directly from print capitalism, and imbedding itself rapidly within new media, to a degree. (However, one should note that CrimethInc was a print media source prior to any existence on the internet.) The existence of an outside, almost supernatural state that LiPuma and Lee argue for in “Cultures of Circulation: The Imaginations of Modernity,”is typified as the Hobbesian "war of every man against every man," which further ties capitalism and statism to violence. It is only in the social, before it is transformed into the organized, regimented society, that anarchism can triumph or achieve any of its goals.
Friday, September 25, 2009
The process of self-hosting self-description/creation that Lee and LiPuma describe is additionally iterative: When 'idealized' microcosms form within macrocosmic social structures (e.g., coronations within kingdoms, acts of reading nationalist works within nations), the details of their particular instantiation inevitably reflect the biases of their constructors and the limitations and idiosyncrasies of the technology and materials with which they are constructed in addition to the pre-existing structure they attempt to reflect. As Lee and LiPuma argue, these microcosms are often, in aggregate, the origin of that very structure, so as they become more and more distorted through the biases described above, those biases feed back in to the perpetual recreation of the structure itself.
This feedback loop helps put the transformative agency of new technologies and the social groups they empower into its proper place in the cycle of social development.
I often find that complex social phenomena are remarkably accurately described through technical linguistic analysis of the language that arises around them. I thus found the following passage particularly illuminating:
Members of capitalist economies almost invariably think of “the market” as a third-person collective agent, to which first-person agents, such as “We the investors,” respond but do not necessarily identify with. The covert asymmetries of agentive verbal ascriptions reflect this relationship.Thus, “the market” can act, indicate, warn, hesitate, climb, and fall, but is usually not able to take second-order verbs such as reflect, assume guilt, or take responsibility in the ways that a national people might.
Not having read Hobbes recently, I am unsure as to the mechanism described in the following passage:
In Hobbes’s case, the exchange of promises creates a transcendent authority, the sovereign or sovereign state, which subsumes the individuals within it. The sovereign is a third-person authority that transcends the “I-You” exchanges of promises thatIn light of Kula example, maybe "sovereign" above is referring more to something imagined than to government?
constitute it; the sovereign is not one of the parties of the contract that creates him as sovereign.
The circumstances of the translation from labor into time were made very clear for me by this passage:
The infinitely divisible continuum of price (money as a measure of value) mediates exchange (money as the medium of exchange) and becomes analogically projected onto productive labor itself, thus allowing labor time to be measured and given a price, that is, allowing the calculation of the value of labor power. Unlike concrete labor time, abstract labor time is infinitely divisible and denumerable and presupposes the existence of formal modes of calculation and measurement.
"a distant cry" - seriously?
I'm guessing this video was seen by every single person at the Center for American Progress by its second day online. It ended up in my mailbox then, although the Econ-interns had tipped me off the day before. We all thought it was pretty funny. As Matt Yglesias pointed out on his blog (which, of course, disseminated into the web and back into the "intern storage room" on the first floor), the whole conceit was pretty stupid. These bloggers run a vast conspiracy. By posting stuff on the internet. Right.
More awkward was the "George Soros" connection. Over the weekend (over alcohol, in true D.C. fashion), we rather awkwardly tried to deal with the shaky nature of our shared response (our common sense):
"But seriously guys, George Soros only funds 13% of our budget."
It's a strange problem, resting in the space between being and non-being; George Soros AND others equally contribute to our think-tank (and measly stipends, the subject of much complaint). But neither statistics nor internship-slavery are the topics of this blog post.
Perhaps another example drawn from my summer spent interning in Washington D.C. at the Center for American Progress might help in establishing the limits of this blog post's subject:
Remember Mark Sanford? That one dude who disappeared for a week while hiking the Appalachian Trail and suddenly reappeared in Argentina, having an affair?
The news he had disappeared hit D.C. immediately, and betting pools were established (I know of at least one). The high odds were on extra-martial affair, with bonus points if gay. The after-math was, again, weird; interns and staff alike debated if an extramartial affair was really reason to destroy a man's (assumed male, of course, because stats tend to skew on that side of things) political career… but of course, he did disappear from all American contact, leaving his State unattended, so it's totally fine to laugh at another Republican burning in the dust.
There are a couple of problems here: first of all, the bizarre interplay of "event" and "news." The "Mark Sanford" affair could perhaps be collapse into a single event, a single story, and yet newspapers, attempting to cover every possible angle of a "hot story," leave behind a flood of "stories" all breaking down the events (note: I am aware of my use of the plural), focusing in on characters, searching out people fleetingly related to the 'event' and interviewing them on their thoughts, while bloggers simultaneously link together these stories and provide interpretation (all interpretation except the interpretation of their own interpretation, which is the role I'm playing right now as you read this) and argue, usually turning into Jonah Goldberg leaping into action to slander someone (without linking to them, as is the conservative-blogosphere policy) causing the left to get upset over 'ignorance of logic,' which kind of just dodges a 'true' critical dialog.
Which is where the second problem emerges (the one I'm using as an excuse to post the video America-needs-to-see): all these people call themselves "Americans" rather easily, but may can and have killed one another over political differences. And it's the media that's enabling this. Remember the Anti-Federalist Papers? Remember that letter whose publishing lead to the death of Alexander Hamilton? There are plenty more examples, radio in Rwanda being one of them.
Which (which which which) leads us to perhaps (provisionally) conclude that Anderson is wrong. The media drives apart nations as much as it constructs them, revealing the arbitrary nature of the imagined community through their desperate drive to create "stories" and "narratives" out of pure (?- for more explanation of why I'm including this question mark here, read "The Image: A Guide to Pseudo-Events in America") events, stories that… um.
Stories that require groups in opposition. The Democrats and Republicans, the right and left, farmers and lawyers, context. Which are, of course, mere imagined communities: has every 'farmer' (all farmers, of course, being included by the indirect referentiality of the term) met every other 'farmer'? What do Republicans really have in common (a problem becoming more and more evident as a bizarre array of racists, libertarians (which can be broken down into anarchic Nozikians, Ron Paul-ites, and LaRouchers), old people, lame conspiracy theorists (really birthers? A missing birth certificate is the best conspiracy you can come up with?), Glenn Beck, 9/12ers, nostalgic Bostonians, timecubers, drug addicts, anti-communist/fascist/dictatorship protestors (because really, they're all the same thing), and angry white people of all shapes and sizes gather to teabag the White House lawn)? Are all lawyers really evil?
One of the problems we encountered in Tuesday's section was distinguishing between religion and nationalism. Some were baffled when Anderson, seemingly contradicting himself, identified elements of nationalism that directly paralleled religion. Even though religion is dead and was replaced by nationalism. This approach, however, ignores the functions of time at play within this shift: the set of structures comprising nationalism arose out of the set of structures comprising religion, synthesizing and deconstructing to create itself. This approach is built off a different conception of time than either the messianic time or empty homogeneous time mentioned by Anderson. Namely, discrete time; time as existing of identifiable and discrete/essential objects, whose all operate discretely and independent of one another. Nationalism (as an object) arose after religion died, replacing it.
Already the paradoxes manifest themselves. Replace it? That suggests Nationalism (despite being discrete) is filling a similar role in the lives of men. It carries out similar functions through similar methods.
I think the point I've been dancing around all post long is rather clear by now. But, I'll provide one last example. When protests first "broke out" in Iran in the aftermath of a probably-fraudulent election, Nico Pitney (the Iranian-American news editor of the Huffington Post) began working connections and sifting through the masses of videos, blogs, and tweets being generated out of the chaos. His blog posts, which consisted of time-stamped lists, became well known across the net for their comprehensiveness (issues of reliability, of course, being acknowledged in the blog itself), and soon Iranians began sending emails directly to him, hoping to use the broad reach of Pitney to appeal to other Iranians and organize. When HuffPo decided to send him off to a White House presser, he sent an email to his Iranian contacts, asking for possible questions to ask Obama. The White House, receiving word of this, directly asked Pitney to make sure he had a question, as they may ask him for it. Pitney, at this point, posts a request on his blog. The next day, Obama throws him the first question, stating "…I understand Nico Pitney has a question from an Iranian for me…" (don't quote me on that, that's written purely from memory). The 'media' proceeds to erupt in an orgasm of superiority, declaring the White House to be "in cahoots" with HuffPo, in very much the same relation that Bush and Fox News had. All you need to know is that the whole thing ended in Dana Milbank calling Nico Pitney a "dick" on Fox News.
Wednesday, September 23, 2009
“Red lips are not so red
As the stained stones kissed by the English dead.
Kindness of wooer and wooed
Seems shame to their love pure.”
From the poem “Greater Love” by Wilfred Owen
I wanted to look more at the point Monica brought up in her post. As she mentioned, in Chapter Eight, Anderson cites the singing of national anthems as a means by which the community can achieve a moment of simultaneity. I agree with her in that the performance of an anthem must be constantly reproduced and re-performed to achieve its value. Nonetheless, I wonder how relevant the performance is in the case of poetry, another cultural product cited by Anderson as means by which individuals can cultivate and express “profoundly self-sacrificing love” for the nation (141). Perhaps it is not ideal, but poetry, unlike a national anthem, can oftentimes have as much meaning when experienced alone.
Take, for example, another example of WWI poetry by Edward Thomas:
“If I should die, think only this of me:
That there's some corner of a foreign field
That is for ever England. There shall be
In that rich earth a richer dust concealed;
A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware,
Gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam,
A body of England's, breathing English air,
Washed by the rivers, blest by suns of home.”
From “This is No Case of Petty Wrong or Right” by Edward Thomas
No matter if one hears these lines or reads them alone, they pack a powerful punch. They also illustrate Anderson’s argument that “political love can be deciphered from the ways in which languages describe its object: either in the vocabulary of kinship (motherland, Vaterland, patria) or that of home (heimat or tanah air [earth and water, the phrase for the Indonesians’ native archipelago]). Both idioms denote something to which one is naturally tied” (143). Thomas believes himself one with England: the nation is both the source of his body and his home.
In the chapter, “Patriotism and Racism,” Anderson argues that nationalism is produced through language, a structure “rooted beyond anything else in contemporary societies” (145). Anderson’s reading of nationalism in this chapter is interesting when thinking of the production of national identity in terms of the performative versus pedagogical. If we can think of a subject in-between the two discourses, the pedagogical being the ‘image’ of the nation and its fixed identity and boundaries of that identity and the idea of a performative identity through the signification of the self, it would seem that Anderson’s analysis falls under the pedagogical. For example, Anderson seems to ascribe language and identity as pre-given and continuist to the national subject:
“what the eye is to the lover – that particular, ordinary eye he or she is born with – language – whatever language history has made his or her mother-tongue – is to the patriot. Through that language, encountered at mother’s knee and parted with only at the grave, pasts are restored, fellowships are imagined, and futures dreamed” (154).
However, it is the very act of imagining a community that requires a constant re-imagining or reproducing of that signification. It is this fixity that I find to be too reductive and problematic in Anderson’s argument. I would argue that if we think in terms of the performative, there lies a potentiality for the subject. If national identity and consciousness must always be reproduced and performed, then each (re)production continually erases that previous presence. I would like to emphasize the moment when Anderson discusses the role of songs and poetry and their importance in creating community, through language, as pointing to a performative potentiality:
“Take national anthems, for example, sung on national holidays. No matter how banal the words and mediocre the tunes, there is in this singing an experience of simultaneity... The image: unisonance…the echoed realization of the imagined community”(145).
Although Anderson comments on the unison of voices as realizing community, it is important to emphasize that it is not merely the songs that creates nationalism, but rather the utterance of the anthem, it’s continual reproduction through the act of singing. To go even further, at each enunciation, as it reaffirms the nation, does it not also create a sort of Derridean différance (if we think of each enunciation as caught up in a deference of meaning through a chain of signifiers)? What potential does that unlock and how does that play into or critique Anderson’s argument? How does this performative identity reproduce the nation and to what extent can this potential be used for subversion or even resistance? Can this vision of the nation-state as flowing in an out of pedagogy and performance be seen as somewhat fundamental to the imagining of communities?
I find that if you compare Anderson’s theory of the nation and Kant’s theory of aesthetic judgment, interesting results emerge. Anderson describes the nation as an imagined and inexplicable link between people within a limited social space. A link that arises from an “immemorial past” and seemingly leads to a “limitless future” (Anderson, 11). Similarly, Kant identifies an imagined link between people, forged by the irrefutable beauty of fine art and subsequent subjective universal validity.
According to Kant, when one gazes at a masterpiece—a true piece of “beautiful” fine art—he is compelled to admit its beauty, irrespective of his personal tastes. He argues that this is due to fine art’s ability to incite cognition through “purposive purposelessness.” Unlike with agreeable or sensational art, fine art allows its spectator to be “conscious that it is art while yet it looks to us like nature.” In other words, cognition and imagination are at “play” (Kant).
So how does this phenomenon relate to Anderson’s theory of the nation? In a similar manner to how the “Beautiful” relies on a collective understanding of the irrefutable nature of beauty, the nation is facilitated by the notion of a community—both of which rely on the intermingling of history, time, and imagination to bypass their lack of a stable referent. In terms of history, mimesis plays a key role in both Kant and Anderson’s theories. Fine art can only incite the effects of the “Beautiful” if it appears to its subject as a new-concept, or rather a non-concept. The viewer, however, is ignorant of this—he lacks interest as to whether or not the object exists or has use-value. Analogously, a member of a nation is spurred by the indeterminate concept of nationalism; he feels imagined communal ties, yet disregards their roots. He, like the spectator, is “free of interest,” as Kant would say. He reaps the benefits of nationalism—a sense of community and the prospect of continuity—without ever delving deeper and dissecting the “nation” itself. He resigns himself to the “mass ceremony”: believing that the fellow inhabitants are linked through simultaneous actions such as newspaper reading, even though “An American will never meet, or even know the names of more than a handful of his 240,000,000-odd fellow-Americans” (Anderson, 26).
History and time play an even greater role in these two theories. Kant argues that one is born into this idea of “beauty”—it is the “supersubstrate of humanity.” Similarly, nationalism emerged as a model, one that was pirated and spread throughout history; yet in each instance of a new nation, it emerges as seemingly original. Oddly enough, while capitalism facilitated the almost viral spread of nationalism, it seems to contest Kant’s ideal of “beauty.” In a capitalist environment, print is manufactured and spread in the vernacular, allowing the non-intelligentsia to encode political information from both past and present and act accordingly. Conversely, capitalism promotes what Kant identifies as “objective universal validity,” eliminating the role of the imagination through the production of “Good” aesthetic objects, or objects with irrefutable use-values.
The Sticky Note of the Angel of History as quoted on page 165 (woah, I now see why RISD didn't give me a call back).
N.B.: I was absent Tuesday due to the flu, so please excuse anything in this post that was made completely obvious or obsolete by Prof. Chun's lecture.
Prof. Anderson's ideas on nation-ness allow us to answer some difficult questions regarding the nation, namely, why do people die for a nation? Andersen notes these "colossal sacrifices" are on account of our "shrunken imagining of recent history" (7).
This shrunken history allows us to see the nation as "interestless" (144). In this scenario, we assume that nation-ness is related to "skin-colour, gender, parentage and birth-era- all those things one can not help" (143). Although Anderson notes that nations are created by the bonds of a shared language, we as citizens don't think we die for our country that we chose, but rather, we die for a country we were naturally bonded to at birth. A nation is biological here, it is like having a blood relation in a family, and thus you have to die for what is a part of your self-identity. In summary, we forget that nations are not natural.
We can use this idea to interpret Raven from Snow Crash, a character that troubled me last week. One sees the "Aleut" as a native of the Alaskan Islands that are a part of the USA. Thus, we can try to think of Raven as a part of Prof. Anderson's second wave nationalists, when Russification occurs in the African and Asian continents and the colonies assert their nationhood using the same modular nationalism that their metropole's implemented back home in the previous generation. Raven is just trying to get back at the USA for nuking his home that they invaded in the first place, he is asserting his communities independence.
Once we apply Prof. Anderson's theory to this fictional realm, we encounter a few problems, namely, Raven now lives in a world where nations are no longer the source of power. Thus, we are unsure of why Raven spreads Snow Crash to the hackers in the MetaVerse as revenge for what the USA did to his parents and community.
While one can try to understand Raven's actions as an illogical assertion that globalization is Americanization (i.e., the MetaVerse is now America), this doesn't add up. What is the MetaVerse then? It is a rigid, global time, and Anderson can describe it perfectly as a "a sociological organism moving calendrically through homogeneous, empty time" (26). In it's essence, it is a new way to link "fraternity, power and time" together (36), where the world's elite meet in a simulated community 24hrs a day- literally an imagined community where all events are related through the network. Does that make the MetaVerse a nation? Does the organization of society go religion -> nation -> MetaVerse?
But nobody is born in the MetaVerse, right? Do we have people who are "irredeemably" a MetaVerse creole, biologically/naturally part of the MetaVerse like I am "biologically" an American? By being a member of the MetaVerse, you aren't revoked of any other status. For Prof. Anderson, the creole, "born in the Americas, could not be a true Spaniard; ergo, born in Span... could not be a true American" (58). This does not seem to apply to the MetaVerse, thus it can't be a new America- they share a language but their sovereign territory has no limits. Attacking the MetaVerse is like Raven attacking a Pepsi-Cola employee to avenge his family; the Pepsi-Cola worker chose to work for Pepsi-Cola, she wasn't forced.
Then again, we do have this idea of pilgrimage within the MetaVerse. Like the Indonesian school children who traveled to Batavia/Jakarta from all over, the hackers of the MetaVerse made their way like "tender pilgrims made their inward, upward way, meeting fellow-pilgrims" (121). Thus a community is formed here, where the new vernacular is code, where the outsiders are those who don't have access. The hackers = citizens? the MetaVerse = nation?
Perhaps the problem of who Raven wants to kill deals with this universalized time within virtual space (he's just as confused as the rest of us!); maybe he's doing his cognitive mapping this way, by destroying the MetaVerse?
Ok, enough, we're done with Snow Crash.
I found the pages on 135-136 provocative in terms of multilingual nationalism:
Prof. Anderson firmly states that nations comes from imagined communities that share a common language, regardless of whatever language the community uses:
"If radical Mozambique speaks Portuguese, the significance of this is that Portuguese is the medium through which Mozambique is imagined (and at the same time limits its stretch into Tanzania and Zambia)" (134).
This even allows for polylingual imagined communities, as long as the bureaucrats know all the languages:
"The only question-mark standing over languages like Portuguese in Mozambique...is whether the administrative and educational systems, particularly the latter, can generate a politically sufficient diffusion of bilingualism" (134).
He goes on to further say that anybody can join this community by learning the language:
"Language is not an instrument of exclusion: in principle, anyone can learn any language. On the contrary, it is fundamentally inclusive, limited only by the fatality of Babel: no one lives long enough to learn all languages" (134).
And finally, with modern tech/communications, the people of the same community don't even have to share the same language:
"In a world in which the national state is the overwhelming norm, all of this means that nations can now be imagined without linguistic communality - not in the native spirit of nosotros los Americanos, but out of a general awareness of what modern history has demonstrated to be possible" (135).
"Language" is a malleable term in the above quotes. While Prof. Anderson is obsessed with the nation that shares a common linguistic imagined community (via the print-capitalism of books, newspapers), language doesn't matter in some of these scenarios, but is superseded by the imaginations of the community. Let us suppose we have two case in points: the U.S. citizen that does not speak English and the non-US citizen living on the opposite side of the globe that watches every single U.S. network TV show and believes they are an "American." Are they both part of the same imagined community of U.S.A. nation-ness? These aren't necessarily the best examples, but these two examples do raise questions in terms of how important language is in regards to nationalism today.
I understand Prof. Anderson writes these two pages to show that nations are constructed rather than natural entities, but just what would construct a new nation in our present day?