Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Hey Girl- go get that glam! A final paper.

Sorority life - its a presence and an ideal for many college women. Like the male-centered Fraternities, they promise communities that run deep with ritual, promise, and bonds that break the social fabric, a re-inscription of a new familial order. Within their 'houses' these spaces call upon 'sisters' to actively imagine a new family. There are even 'house mothers.'

In the age of postmodernity culture has pushed on the limits of these college campus groups rendering them an object to be adapted, transmitted, and represented in united states culture. Whether in film or television these 'real' houses are now haunted by the postmodern accumulation and projection of their media double. Yet media doubles never allow for the participation that a new double promises. This is Facebook and Myspace application/game Sorority Life.

Sorority Life is a game but also seeks to be more than that. Multiple blogs have popped up surrounding this participatory network of 'sisters' and their 'glam.' Beyond these blogs we find Facebook groups devoted towards extra-textual 'houses' where sisters imagine beyond the limitations of the game. These are simulated sororities of simulated sororities. More importantly these imagined sororities call for participatory political action of using apparel colors to designate the recognition of particular causes. For example, on certain wednesdays members of these extra-textual 'houses' wear pink for breast cancer awareness.

How can this application be understood. This paper will look at this application for its potential to conjure new groups and engagements beyond the game itself. What are the stakes of the imagined 'recognition' of causes? What history does such action have? How is this game a network? In what ways does it deconstruct and form new networks within the Facebook network itself?

The paper will turn to Fredric Jameson's “The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism,” Lee and Lipuma's “Cultures of Circulation,” Granovetter's “The Strength of Weak Ties,” and Terranova's “Network Culture.” These texts will act as tools for deconstructing the politics of this network/game.


Final Thoughts...

Race as a social construct that as manifested itself as a biological definition (preset definition) and how it's so integrated within our system there is an neverending circulation. [Wald, "Contagious" and Anderson, "Imagined Communities"]


Analysis of Oldboy, and how technology generates an identity, and the assimilation of that identity into an imagined community. [Rafael, "Cellphone" and Lee & LiPuma, "Cultures"]

Final paper

- BLOCKING (designated movement in a theatrical production, film, possibly dance, etc) as a set PATH

performativity of movement, spontaneity of walking, the production of a physical link between two distanced entitites

Michael de Certeau, Lee and LiPuma, Snow Crash, Network Culture, Friction

Final Paper Proposal

I plan to look at mass transportation in cities, specifically subway systems, to see how this form of travel affects residents' imagined and realized experiences of the city. I want to challenge De Certeau's rigid distinction between rail travel and walking through the city--I feel like mass transportation in some ways fills the gap between this binary. In what ways do the subways allow one to "map" the city, but through motion, not through vision, since the movement occurs for the most part underground (the antithesis of De Certeau's bird's eye view). How does the idea of walking-as-speaking become changed when the act of walking is transposed onto an underground transportation system in which the individuals that make up the crowd have many choices but their paths are notheless constrained by preexisting routes of travel. How does constant repetition of this movement (twice daily for most commuters) affect this experience, and does this simultaneous circulation of people parallel Anderson's notion of the newspaper as mass ceremony? I will look at De Certau, Anderson, Lynch, and possibly Jameson's "Cognitive Mapping."

Storytelling -- Nic Mooney

Primarily drawing upon Anna Tsing's Friction, Jon Kleinberg's The Structure of the Web, and Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash, I'm interested in exploring how the virtual world not only projects popular (il)literacy on a mass scale, but also contributes to a culture of storytelling, not only in the more classic style of blog posts, but also in Facebook and Twitter updates, a lens that many peers freely admit they have begun to think of their days through. The awareness of an audience causes a narrativization of the everyday, a way of the virtual leaking into the physical. I want to tie this into the allegorical Bre-X story, namely the establishment of mythos as a form of self-promotion, thus relating back to websites' (and in Snow Crash, rafts') constant need to re-link and re-connect to stay afloat -- a perpetual need to assert identity. If one's storytelling is subpar, they receive little attention, and if their storytelling is sporadic or totally absent, they cease to exist in the virtual world -- Facebook even helpfully suggests you write on the walls of the inactive or unpopular, to see how they're doing. To stay alive in the virtual world, one cannot ever put both feet in the physical world.
I plan on showing that the Community/Network, Map/Flow, and de Certaeu's strategy/tactic distinctions can be viewed can be viewed as the same binary opposition. At this point I feel it would be productive to problematize de Certaeu's move to classify the performative utterance of walking as both subversive as well as an arbitrary instance of parole. Can walking be subversive if it is simply a speech act chose within from the sea of referents that the elite delineate as space? I hope it will shed light on how communities and networks are related.

Another issue which could shape my paper concerns what de Certeau terms a mistaken simulacra, a god's eye view of a city, is this perspective, and more important the ideological functions which make the perspective possible, truly a 'fiction'?

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Target: Map -> Action (Proposal)

"…In time, those Unconscionable Maps no longer satisfied, and the Cartographers Guilds struck a Map of the Empire whose size was that of the Empire, and which coincided point for point with it. The following Generations, who were not so fond of the Study of Cartography as their Forebears had been, saw that that vast Map was Useless… In the Deserts of the West, still today, there are Tattered Ruins of that Map, inhabited by Animals and Beggars…"

Human Rights activism has a narrative problem that is two-fold. First, as Thomas Keenan writes, "there is more than enough light [shining on human rights violators], and yet its subjects exhibit themselves shamelessly, brazenly, and openly." This failure to "mobilize shame" can be attributed to several things; the failure to create a universal rational subject, the existence of different systems of logic (one that reaches the conclusion that one should not be ashamed of violence and destruction), the assumption that human rights is in fact a correct logical conclusion; all of which seem unsatisfying and far too totalizing. The second issue is that, in attempting to shine light on the dark spaces created by violence and rights violations, NGOs can shock the viewer into a state of paralysis; such is Lisa Parks' complaint concerning the Crisis in Darfur layer in Google Earth, whose method of providing data and dates transforms the genocide into something that has happened as opposed to is happening. An addition (yet closely related) issue concerns the location of the U.S. in all of this (and not just the U.S. of the Bush years); "There a serious defect in the soul of Americans where we can’t rise to something new. Every nation has its peccadilloes, faults, and guilt. But that is in the past. Can’t we say that this is a new age, and the United States, especially after the collapse of Communism, has a whole new moral role?" (Robert Drinan, quoted from The use of "guilt" in this quote is rather remarkable, as is his assumption that, for American, these faults (evident in such acts as the overthrowing of El Salvador's Democratic government in the name of business interests, or the participation in Operation Ajax) can be overcome by the promise of the new. But what shape can that "new" take, especially when it seems as if the sorts of "shaming" the U.S. tries to accomplish in the international arena often serve as justification for military actions (Somali and Iraq being the two most obvious examples)?

The question outlined by these issues is this: how can abstract notions of human rights be actualized globally and justly? What sort of agency do we (the citizens/persons so important to the language of human rights) have to act for justice across the globe, or, if this global scope is impossible, locally? My attempt at outlining a method for solving these questions will examine the map, and the ways in which the totalizing map of Google Earth, whose use for matching, point for point, those injustices which have occurred (and, implicitly, have ended), has proved Useless, can be used to create a clear space, a need, for action. This involves both a bit of graph theory and the idea of a map that contains its own actualization, whose metadata (the geometry etched across the surface of the "natural" portion of the map) is continually updating and, instead of presenting a target that has already been "hit," presents a delineated field which can be acted upon through the insertion of the viewing subject. The ExtrACT project will provide impetus for the theory, serving as a test case whose various successes and failings can provide inspiration.

I will, of course, be drawing from Keenan, Parks, de Certeau, and Jameson; Appadurai, Tsing and LiPuma might make brief appearances, but will not play central roles, nor will their appearances entail exact mapping of their theories onto my project.


Jordan Carter


Are Lady Gaga’s postmodern hyper consumerist lyrics and videos—waxing pastiche and commodity culture—characteristic of Jameson’s pessimistic terminal stage of capitalism? Is artistic expression dead? Or, is Gaga a conductor of the masses? Does her music pack ration intensities of affect that compel free labor? If Gaga’s music is indeed a milieu of the masses, what sort of potential for social mutation lies within the turbulent flows of her media productions?


Although Lady Gaga thrives on consumer culture, commodification, and the surplus of surface, her art’s ability to manipulate the masses and divvy out free labor and ample affect suggests the possibility of a productive flow, and the potential for social mutation, namely through the valorization of the stigmatized homosexual community.


Jameson's "Culture Logic of Late Capitalism"

Terranova's Network Culture

Wald's Contagious

“Lady Gaga the lady is as far-ranging as her music. She’s everywhere and always en route. One night at close to 12:30 she calls from somewhere in Europe -- even she doesn’t know where exactly -- and, after a few minutes, apologizes for having to hang up because her tour bus is about to enter a border crossing. She jets from London to Paris to Tokyo so quickly you think there must be more than one of her. There isn’t. And that’s probably a good thing too, for the world can only handle one Gaga at a time. To behold Lady Gaga is to withstand a sensory onslaught. “My whole life is a performance,” she proclaims, “I have to up the ante every day.”” (Excerpt from 2009 Out Magazine article, “The Lady is a Vamp”)

Indeed, Lady Gaga is a walking simulacra, an unending performance, a décollage of images, fashion, and and unabridged 'fame.' To Gaga, to be famous is not to be prestigious or high-class, but rather, to be 'glamorous.' ""I believe in living a glamorous life and I believe in a glamorous lifestyle,” says Gaga. “What that means is not money or fame or prestige. It’s a sense of vanity and glamour and subculture that is rooted in a sense of self. I am completely 100,000% devoted to a life of glamour."" Gaga's life of 'glamor' is characterized by consumption. In accordance with Jameson's postmodern diagnosis, Gaga is obsessed with the material--not in the Kantian sense of formal representation--but in the "schizophrenic dialect" of postmodernism: signifier forever detached from referent. Referent becomes empty. It becomes p[en to any and every interpretation—allowing commodity and art to be synonymous. Gaga has commodified herself, as well as her artistic production. "The Haus of Gaga ensures there are no loose ends to Gaga, just a lot of her. Every appearance and every utterance is a tightly choreographed performance. "I'm a method actress," she says proudly" ("The Lady is a Vamp").

Gaga is an image, and a pervasive one. She represents the "flatness" characteristic of Jameson's postmodern dilemma. Art has become mechanical reproduction, an onslaught of images of our commodity culture. People chase history by consuming its ever-fleeting images and accumulating reproductions and mass-produced mementos at museum gift shops. As Jameson notes, “we are condemned to seek history by way of our own pop images” (Jameson, 23). Not through “a priori” sources. New media such as TV, Radio, and the Internet facilitate this postmodern disavowal of the historical narrative. With the destruction of the narrative comes “the end…of style, in the sense of the unique and the personal, the end of the distinctive individual brushstroke (as symbolized by the emergent primacy of mechanical reproduction)” (Jameson, 15).

But perhaps there is more potential within this “mechanical reproduction” than Jameson cedes. Postmodern artists such as Warhol may mimic automated cameras, relying on the objective, on our collective “pop history” to present the spectator with an image of an image. They may crudely entertain laymen museum patrons with their sensational artwork, allowing them to feel the instant gratification of relating to a piece of art—however superficial that connection may be. Nonetheless, Warhol’s prints are fine art. They are overwhelmingly sensational, and yet, have the potential to incite cognition. Perhaps its because works like Warhol’s Diamond Dust Shoes, Duchamp’s Bottle Rack, and Lady Gaga's "Paparazzi" posit the spectator in a curious, yet familiar, setting. The viewer confronts stereoscopic images of reified culture. He recognizes aesthetic nuances of everyday commodities that he would have overlooked outside the boundaries of museum or online media galleries.

The pervasive shadows of materialism and pop culture “radical[ly] eclipse…Nature” (Jameson, 34). Culture subsumes nature. The two become one, as postmodernism flattens social reality: surface prevails, and various fragmented images of cultures circulate through the Internet and other forms of new media. Consumers are so obsessed and intertwined with the material—and the commodities they consume—that the two become inextricable. Consumer. Culture. Consumer culture. Nature.

Gaga is a freak of nature. She feeds on the masses by harnessing the intensities of pastiche and commercialism. She breaks from the limiting postmodern dialect of Jameson by inciting the affect and 'free labor' characteristic of Terranova's discourse in Network Culture. Indeed, there appears to be a mass “fascination” with Lady Gage—varying from love to hate—everyone feels some intensity towards the media object. People log onto youtube and give their free labor willingly, uploading her videos, commenting on her videos; altering, remixing, or imitating her cultural productions in a ‘performative’ manner that continuously alters her pop narrative by bridging the micro with the macro and contributing to the flow of her sporadic and turbulent image. In this manner, Gaga’s art carries a potential for mutation. "Lady Gaga is more like a collection of quotes than a singular performer,” Los Angeles Times music critic Ann Powers recently wrote. "She’s a human mash-up, a sample bank, recycled and reused.” Gaga boasts: “You’re only as great as your best references,” as her mini-movie video “Paparazzi” conveys, as she satirizes film noir, robots, and sheer opulence. She represents the turbulent flow of collaboration discussed by Terranova, and the connection between micro and macro facilitated by the "affect of the masses."

Gaga represents everyone and noone, everything and nothing. Her image is one of overexposure and hyper-inclusion--reality, or true 'representation' has been sacrificed. Although Gaga prides herself on her eclectic wardrobe, she has been spotted donning costumes made of glass and disco ball shards on numerous occasions. Wearing one such dress on stage at the Glastonbury Festival in England in June, the angular mirrored dress refracted the fervent faces of her fans, happily bouncing up and down. Each one sees in Gaga a reflection of him or herself, picking from her array of looks and melodies and messages those that appeal to them. Gay, straight, misfit, mall rat, teen, tween, or twink, look at Gaga and you’ll see yourself" ("The Lady is a Vamp").

Shot From Gaga's Out Magazine Photoshoot:

The potential within Gaga's network-reliant mass productions are most visible through their valorization of the gay community; through their valorization of the stigmatic, of the abnormal, of the diseased. No longer is the healthy population formed in resistance to the diseased or disease prone, as outlined in Contagious. In the case of Gaga, the abnormal, the anti-mainstream has become essential to the mainstream. Challenging Wald's negative dialectic of contagion, Gaga's music and the digital media that gardens it function as a positive enzyme, fueled by affect--catalyzing the formation of the masses.

"A life of glamour is an ethos to which every gay -- from the 17-year-old Dominican tranny voguing in his bedroom to the tanorexic middle-aged Miami circuit queen -- can relate. It’s one reason we (the gay community) love Gaga. Another, of course, is that Gaga loves us back. Gayness is in Gaga’s DNA...She did Ellen before Leno, performed in gay clubs before straight ones, and plugs the gays constantly in interviews, even those with straight publications" ("The Lady is a Vamp," Out Magazine).

final paper: fashion blogs

For my final paper, I want to examine the imagined community of fashion bloggers, specifically the 13-year old blogger phenomenon Tavi Williams and her blog “style rookie”, and how this inherently networked community reconfigures the individual subject. My driving question, in essence, is: What is the role of the individual subject in the network of independent fashion bloggers? In one specific case, how does the transcendence of the blog of a 13-year old “style rookie” from network-fame to industry-fame position the network community with the real-life community? In other words, what happens when the fan rises to fame and how does that reconfigure the role of the network and the role of the individual within it?
I will tackle this question by first engaging the blog itself and how the individual functions within its postmodern construction. I will work with Jameson’s text on Postmodernism to analyze the specificities of the blog and how it relates to subjectivity and affect. One passage I have found relevant is:

“What replaces these various depth models is for the most part a conception of
practices, discourses, and textual play, whose new syntagmatic structures we
will examine later on; let it suffice now to observe that here too depth is
replaced by surface, or by multiple surfaces (what if often called
intertextuality is in that sense no longer a matter of depth” (Postmodernism 12)

Fashion blogs, as epitomized by the much-adored Style Rookie prototype, engage in a simultaneous replacement of depth by surface and a necessarily deep passion for the material that drives the process of free labor How does the passion and free labor of the blogger fit into affect’s supposedly waning state?

Therefore, I must connect Jameson to Tiziana Terranova and her analysis of the dynamics of network culture and free labor. I want to look at Terranova’s notion of the priviledging of process over structure and nonlinear flows of information.

In addition to engaging the specific blog (, I would like to examine the impact of her blog on both the blogger/fan community and the fashion community itself. Both are inextricably linked because her facilitation and augmentation of a networked community of individual fans (all under the mass of “fashion bloggers” who share a love for web-surfing and Comme des Garcons yet perform the act of posting regular assertions of individuality) led to her rise to fame and enabled her to re-influence the very community she worships. For example, Tavi has been featured on the cover of fashion magazines, interviewed for others, and one of her favorite lines, Rodarte, sites her has the influence for their new collaboration with Target. How does this actualization both limit and expand the reach of the imagined community?

A further question this will lead me to examine is: How does this interaction between bloggers and “actual” producers in/members of the fashion industry maintain or break down a performative hierarchy?

final paper

The path of media through the internet is often created by the alteration of an original by a series of individuals who create interweaving paths and formations for the text. An original video, song, image etc is posted, assigned some kind of meaning and then made into countless alterations and reformations on its journey around the world wide web. As these texts are circulated, they are also being archived. This ‘path’ could be mapped in the same way the great garbage patch could – as a copy of something that never actually existed.

I would like to focus on perhaps one of these memes and focus on its ability to be mapped, and what can be gathered from its path and alterations.

What is lost or gained in the alterations and meaning formations that the meme takes on its path? (Can these changes/paths be seen in the same way as Tsing’s points of friction?)

What can be said about personal agency on a glocal scale? (ie what are the implications of an individual who creates an alteration to a global text and then re circulates that new copy on a global scale)

Is this another form of decentralized action? (as Keenan says about the use of blogs in Kosovo)

Could a meme be seen as a type of allegorical package that brings universals to the local through points of friction and misunderstanding? (Tsing)

Is this focus on circulating production and reproductions a productive or destructive force? (Lee and LiPuma, Tsing)

The Promise of... What?

I was in conversation with a good friend who happens to run a prestigious student group on campus. We got to talking about publicity measures for our mutual groups (I run the theater board of Brown). His group deals with political activism, debate, and conversation and it often hosts important speakers in a packed Solomon.

I find his work in publicity and branding boffo, to say the least. The aesthetic is instantly recognizable and with that comes a certain aura of legitimacy. It got me thinking about how I contribute to a "promise" to my clients like the feeling I get when I see his posters.

Recently, I helped produce (with fellow MCM participant, Jamie) a video promoting a theater production, entitled "Doris to Darlene". My roommate, the director, was also responsible for crafting the show's poster (above). In what ways did we "promise" something and either deliver it, fail to produce, actively dissuade guests or fully confused others?

There is intention in sublimation. For example, the video promotes a silly, girl-group, lovey-dovey story. In fact, the play was very much the opposite. The story was full of abject heart break. The girl-group do-wop sound was also only 1/3rd of the piece. We intentionally dumbed-down the product. We even ironically added the tagline "Fall in love" when the characters slowly fall out of love with each other. Not that there was not an angle of selling the heartbreak but the "spectacle" (Tsing, 57) of the expected was too overpowering to ignore. By this I mean, by staging the incorrect, clients see what they want to see--a sappy story with singing, dancing, and love-making. There is spectacle in the cliche. We know what we want and we know what it looks like.

With regards to the poster, the pink record promises something different. The director commits to a sense of sincerity (the imposing needle has a seriousness about it). It also portends to twist expectations. Who has ever seen a pink record, before? "Who ever saw a black girl turn pink?" asks the script.

The "promise" has implicit lies to it. But aren't the lies expected to "perform" themselves? The act of a promise has the threat of falsity. At the same time, the promise has to be legitimate enough to distract from second guessing. I disagreed in section but now I see that "dramatic performance" as a prerequisite to economic performance (57) is necessary.

Is theater a product that utilizes tricky publicity tactics? Is there more implied subversion because of the art form? Why is it harder to just evaluate a work instead of spending hours abstracting it for consumption? In fact, my friend's group is moving away from abstraction in images. Their product does not entice more by obfuscating while mine obviously does.

Here's a more flagrant plug than this blog post. For more theater news click here.

Final paper: Santa Claus

This idea was inspired by a conversation I had with my younger brother when he began to doubt the existence of Santa Claus. He told me that he couldn't believe that magical elves made complicated electronics like video game systems or computer games. I want to talk about the potential "death" of the imagined Santa Claus.

The general question that I will be answering is the following: How has the imagined Santa Claus myth become deconstructed by network culture/the post-modern condition/or capitalism?
I know that this question will have to be narrowed down much more from here.

The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism by Jameson-push back on canonizations of classics, aesthetic production as means of capitalist production
Tsing-Allegorical packages?

It seem as though the first half of the course might be more helpful for this paper. Please feel free to post suggestions!

final paper sketch and making art in the information culture.

-Claude Shannon’s Mathematical Theory of Communication:
-communication process: an information source
-the message
-the channel of communication
-the receiver

-Information cultures challenge the coincidence of the real with the possible.
-Network dynamics
-Free labor


Lee and Lipuma:
-Performative identity
-Non-Capitalist circulation

Other resources:
Hal Foster The Artist as Ethnographer?
Claire Bishop Antagonism and Relational Aestheics
Allan McCollum Harrell Fletcher
Shelly Willis Teaching Public Art in the Twenty-first Century: An interview with Harrell Fletcher

Paper Topic: The Spam of Sam (w/ Interview)

I plan to focus on my dear friend, Sam Yam. He is affectionately known as "S(p)am Yam" due to the amount of "spam" he sends his friends.

At this point in time, Sam is away from us at school. He still utilizes his discretion in sending messages (usually with a fantastical, titillating, or intriguing angle). But why does he spam? What is chosen to be sent and to which people?

Over the summer, Sam was subject to a project, entitled "S(p)am Sam Yam". It was envisioned by fellow MCM participant, and close S(p)am friend, Laurenneal. The conceit was to spam Sam with as much inane content as possible for 7 days straight. After this experiment failed (or succeeded?), Sam's cognizance about the performance of his role grew. How does "S(p)am" (an adopted name) become a performance of itself? How does he use technology to reach across physical and temporal boundaries? Is it spam, at all if he knows exactly who will receive and, subsequently read it?

As every message contains hidden recipients (through liberal use of the "bcc-" function), what is the community he has fostered? Who is hidden from the rest? Who is "imagined" to be included?

This paper will be in video conversation with Sam as his online presence increasingly grows. His recent acquisition of an iPhone keeps him in constant contact with those he wishes to be in communication with.

The paper will also examine how the writer (one of few who receives the most spam) has counteracted the excess with personalized emails of his own.

Inspiration will come from
1. Rafael -- How the individual can be a broadcaster
2. Terranova -- Free labor, knowledge as power/commodity
3. Kleinberg -- chains

-Nick White


Why do you spam?
I S(p)am to share. I value every piece of knowledge I encounter in life and feel the responsibility to share with others. If it matters to me, there is a great chance it will matter to someone else. The question is how often I have a hit with each individual of the contacts I keep. I S(p)am for the greater good, for the enlightenment of the majority over the minor inconvenience of the few.

How do you choose your material?
I never deliberately seek to S(p)am, nor do I intentionally hunt out data to flood your inboxes. I go about online as always, and it is only when I come across a fact, picture, quote, article, audio or video that has an impact on me that I consider sharing it with others. That is always the test. If it affects a change in me, I then save it as a draft of potential S(p)am. From there I usually let the material sit for one or more days, reconsidering it until I decide how to package it and deliver it to whom, or discard it forever.

Why and how do you choose people to receive it?
Each S(p)am is delivered through blind carbon copy to a unique set of recipients based on its content. There has only been one instance so far of revealing email addresses.
I personalize the actual list for each message from my inventory of contacts, one hundred and fifty and counting, selecting only the recipients that I feel will benefit, appreciate, share, laugh and learn from the information I am presenting. Am I forcing unwanted content or abusing the privilege of possessing someone's contact information? When it only takes a click to delete a message, I feel S(p)am is no worse than the constant advertisement we are subjected to throughout our lives, for example, though mine is tailored to individual characters from a personal connection.

Do you use it to reconnect with your friends?
When away from the people I care most about and whose company I enjoy, I feel that frequent, personal efforts of communication are more memorable and lasting than a single phone call or email every few months. Email allows us to be a part of each other's daily lives on our own time. People know that I am thinking about them when I take the time to send them something I feel they would enjoy or learn from, and they appreciate it even more when they can experience these communications at a time convenient to them. Though certainly meant to maintain a presence in the lives of others despite physical separation, I also garner a selfless pleasure from it all, which is especially true when sharing music.

Do you find your internet scouring (described hereafter as "free labor") selfless? Are you fulfilled by your work? How does your work (or "production") require/compel consumption?
Do I find my free labor selfless? Yes, to an extent. I do not have to spend my time compiling and delivering S(p)am, but I choose to because I like to receive personalized messages and also like sharing what I find. Yet is an email personalized if there are more than ten recipients? Twenty? One hundred? Not to the degree that an individual correspondence is, but certainly more so than breaking news alerts and eBay deals.
I am very much fulfilled by my work when it introduces a thought or creation to others that they had not experienced before or that they then reconsider in a new light. Yet I am also driven by a selfish desire to be associated with this dissemination, so that when they revisit this song or quote or image they think of me, in whatever fashion, and thus I enter their lives more often than I ever could only with my physical presence.
In most cases, the presence of media compels consumption more so than text alone ever could, a fact I capitalize on in S(p)am. At this point, an email without pictures, color or $(p)@m §ρeeκ looks naked to me. Yet by infusing each correspondence with media content, am I changing the recipient's perception of the text? Will this association carry on beyond the S(p)am? By default my work requires consumption. Text will flash before your eyes no matter how quickly you delete a message. Should you choose to open it, any enclosed media will appear and further impel you to read, click and view, as it should. If I did not want you to consume, I would never send you S(p)am in the first place.

What is the "value" of reading your emails? Interpret value as you will.
There is no inherent value in S(p)am with one exception: there is monetary value in correspondence that include a link to download music, since in most cases this is music I have purchased and that you are able to consume and share without paying. That said, if you value knowledge, as I do, and classify knowledge as any information regardless of merit, as I do, then you might be inclined to view S(p)am as possessing value. Acquisition of knowledge leads to understanding, and hopefully compassion, that which I value above all else.

Is your work a form of resistance?
Very much so. I resist banality. I resist systems, in particular the way we write. Meticulously structured and necessarily so, our writing system constricts us in ways we hardly ever consider. Perhaps the most lasting result of my experience with Chinese, I miss the imagery of our written word. The pictogram is gone. Part of my work is to infuse text with pictures, to address what cannot be addressed through words. Yet doing so changes the perception of the text, a point of obsession for me. The alphabet allows for abstraction. Words elicit different images from different people. Yet when I insert an actual image, I introduce a direct visual into your mind, generating resultant images that modify or perhaps block entirely what you might have otherwise seen.
I seek to provoke, to promote the vulgar, to combat the pristine. We are flawed, we are single, we are finite.

Do you find a "cultural exchange" in your s(p)amming?
Not very often, especially with my generation and younger. The courtesy and expectation of response has been lost with the advent of email. Only very strong reactions lead to a S(p)am reply from friends. What I do find is that frequent recipients are more likely to reciprocate and send articles, music and videos they think I will enjoy. However, this overall one-sided relationship has never deterred me from continuing to S(p)am. When I do hear reactions, they are overwhelmingly positive, and there have only been three requests to discontinue correspondence, two of which were a response to multiple text messages.
I will always encourage responses and value criticism of the form. We all love attention.

Do you ever want your work to incite action?
As I said, I want to incite knowledge and compassion. These in turn may lead to action, a desirable effect particularly with the political. I feel very strongly about issues I deem moral and care about my fellow man. If a piece of information causes you to speak up and fight back, I consider that a great victory, not so much for me but for the merits of communication. Although the Internet allows for vast amount of refuse, it also allows for the circulation of the truth. It allows the few to coalesce and combat greater tides of destruction. I care about openness, about candor. I am inspired by so much and feel a responsibility to share that inspiration. It does not die with me. It is magnified by the community.

Interview composed by Nick White on December 13th, 2009

Proposal bw

Question: The phenomenon I want to investigate is amateur porn pictures on the internet, specifically the website As a quick background, the website is a random collection of amateur pictures found on the internet by the two founders, who met on the internet before ever meeting in real life. The descryption of the website reads as follows: "most of the time [the pictures] are not really sexy. they're fun cause they show people's life and what erotic means to them."On another page, the two founders describe what they are doing as filtering or archiving, specifically looking for the "beautiful." The site does not seek to make any money and it does not accept submissions. They link to only one other collection and one other blog, which is also their own. lastly, the image library is organized into categories that are alphabetically listed. Some categories are straightforward for example Christmas Elves) others are more poetic (Little Death). They also have a literature category.
After this lengthy explanation, let me explain why this has attracted my attention.

For me this brings up a host of questions: Why does this site exist and who is it for? What does it archive and for whom? Is this something new or is a productive rephrasing of something already there? Are there issues of ownership and intention that have to be discussed? What is at stake in taking private photos of people in sexual photos found on public internet sites and then organizing and showing them in a new way and in a new environment?

Literature used:
Tsing: Gaps as "conceptual spaces and real spaces into which powerful demarcations do not travel well" (p. 175). This is obviously interesting when looking at the wild 'frontier" of the internet, which is limitless and oftentimes escapes straightforward labeling.
Foucault: Secrets and Power. "Relations of power are not in a position of exteriority with respect to other types of relationships (…), but are immanent in the latter; they are immediate effects of the divisions, inequalities, and disequilibriums which occur in the latter, and conversely they are the internal conditions of these differentiations; relations of power are not in the superstructural positions, with merely a role of prohibition or accompaniment; they have a directly productive role; where they come into play."
Lee and LePuma about performance. This is interesting, since these pictures in a new order are not reproducing something, but by adding a new context actually creating something it.
Keenan on the visual and affect.
Granovetter on weak ties since the site is not connected with the rest of the internet. Can't really be found through other sites; however has a twitter feed and facebook site)
Potentially something about viruses, since the vocabulary about sexuality is filled with words that are also used to describe sickness.
More to hopefully emerge from the discussion.

Thesis: The site manages to exhibit an unmapped space between public and private sexuality in reality and on the internet, and in the associated discourse. While its pictures are inherently private and through their aesthetic linked with the everyday life of "normal" people, they have all been found using the internet and are being redisplayed through it and thus available to all. The way that power works in real life, i.e. repressing non-heteronormative expressions of sexuality, does not transfer to the internet, where these pictures are now being reassembled and grouped together. In this grouping, they also create new meanings, since here sexuality and taboos are renegotiated and in this negotiation also created.

Final Paper

For my final paper, I wanted to explore the tensions between the idea of an aesthetic (politics?) of cognitive mapping proposed by Jameson, and ideas of networks/masses/multitudes discussed by Terranova. If, as discussed by Terranova, masses are "the place of... dismediation," could any idea of "cognitive mapping" be possible? Could Jameson's concepts be reconciled with Terranova's conceptualizations, or possibly be adapted to them? And then, what's at stake (politically) in a discussion of Jameson and (versus?) Terranova?
Obviously I would plan on engaging Jameson's article and Terranova's text, possibly (depending on how things develop) Tsing and/or Appadurai (my ideas about my topic/paper are not fully formed yet, so there's still room for changes/developments.) Hopefully I'll have more fleshed-out thoughts to discuss tomorrow.

Final Paper

  • What is at stake in the debates surround net neutrality?
  • de Certeau, Lynch, Terranova and Tsing.
  • Something to do with understanding how one's activities function within the network and how they intersect with the concept of net neutrality. I will attempt to explore ideas of what the internet is/has been, what it is not/has not been, and what it ought to be.

FINAL PAPER PROPOSAL: Transborder Immigrant Tool

For my final paper I wanted to focus on a GPS tool recently developed by the Electronic Disturbance Theater aptly named the Transborder Immigrant Tool. Offered as an application that the developers are hoping to make available for free on the internet, the tool uses global-positioning technology to chart the best route for dangerous desert crossings in a hope to save those hundreds of those who die crossing the border each year, many lost or abandoned by guides.

What are the potentials and limitations of such a device in terms of what networks or community it makes possible? How can begin to think of these technologies (Google Earth, GPS, etc) differently in terms of their ability to be appropriated in counter-hegemonic activism?

I really wanted to explore the relation between flows and mapping in the context of border politics. How is each functioning? For example, technological advances and flows of capital and products have enabled the crossing of borders and like Kalau’s project, even illegal products like drugs are able to cross the border with relative ease. However, there are still both real and symbolic borders when it comes to ‘immigrants’. How is this tension functioning in relation to the local and what perceived ‘threats’ does the nation face? More specifically, what kinds of discourses emerge about such a technologies? For example, an Orange county local paper’s headline read, “Poll: 56% say border-crossing tool threatens national security.”

There are obviously a lot of readings that are relevant to this discussion. The theorists that I am considering focusing on are Rafael (technology as a means to navigate and the relationship between technology and political action), Terranova (particularly the discussion of the potential of tactical media and its influence in migrant media pg. 147-50).

Terranova – chapter Communication biopower

“The virtual movements of this early twenty-first century have offered a challenging glimpse of the political field opened up by communication biopower. A network micropolitcs able to traverse the global space of communication is not some kind of easy utopia, wher differences are allowed to coexist or go their separate ways – the domain of a blissfully unproblematic self-organization. On the contrary, it is the ways in which the global communication matric allows suck connections and organizations to take place that reveals the hard work implied. This scattering, this tendency to diverge and separate, coupled with that of converging and joining, presents different possible lines of actualization: it can reproduce the rigid segments of the social and hence its ghettos, solipsisms and rigid territorialities. And it also offers the potential for a political experimentation, where the overall dynamics of a capillary communication milieu can be used productively as a kind of common ground – allowing relations of compossibility as well as concerted actions” (156).

Still trying to work out my thesis. Will hopefully figure out more fully where I ultimately want to go with this. (areas that I am also thinking of exploring: visuality as a tool of biopower and the role of the map). Any questions, comments or suggestions would be much appreciated.

more information about the application found here.


Final Paper Ideas, Isabel

Reconciling the National and the Cosmopolitan: Museums Then and Now

Museums have long been “identified as sites for classification and ordering of knowledge, the producing of ideology and the disciplining of the public” (Henning). Historically, museums served first as tools for exclusive nation building, erected as monuments to one nation’s wealth and superiority over another. Since their beginnings they have displayed a tension between the more democratic ideal of ‘art for all’ and the more selective power to distinguish high art from low, worthy from worthless. Yet they have also been valued as houses of multiculturalism, storing diverse histories and memory; each “room” of culture residing within a greater cosmopolitan unity, the “house” that is the museum. In this sense, they have networked peoples at a national scale as well as a multinational one, proving both vital and antithetical to nationhood. Indeed, today museums continue to mediate these national and multinational ideals, standing as testaments to their specific nation’s dedication to multiculturalism while also reinforcing the nation’s particular cultural values. In this sense their universal appeal to culture continues to both unify and disrupt public imaginings of community – a paradox that many museums still battle despite the ever-widening networks of our global economy.

These are my basic beginnings -- the ideas that combine elements from our course (nationlism, nation-builing and multi-national networks, imperialism?, cosmopolitanism). I look to explore their tensions at a historically vital site: the museum.

The sources I use will be as follows:

In Imagined Communities, Benedict Anderson establishes a precedent for the theory of nationalism by connecting the rise of print-capitalism (ie. the spread of newspapers) to the subsequent imaginings of nations during the 19th century. One can compare these rapidly circulating newspapers with museums: both sources of organized knowledge that produced ideology and both which disciplined as well as expanded the European public. So might we thus understand the trajectory of newspapers and their communities as we do museums? Might we look at museums as another form of media with the cultural strength to engage and disempower people as Anderson reveals, and most importantly, to embolden cosmopolitanism as Bruce Robbins understands it? Certainly with both the newspaper’s and the museum’s western beginnings each is limited and has proven dangerous. However antithetical nationalism may seem to cosmopolitanism, might museums serve as a site of the two ideals’ reconciliation?

This paper will seek to explore museums’ institutional roles as nation builders as well as how this network-forming role has changed with globalization, reaping cultural analysis from both critics.

My further questions / meeting tomorrow will hopefully help me think through this tension more complexly, delving for problems with the texts of Anderson and Robbins.

Final Paper Prospectus

Questions: What are the possibilities and limitations of different modes of valuing network-based free labor? How do these kinds of free labor relate to capital, and how is this relationship imagined or managed by different forms of coding?

I'm building upon this blog post.

Expanding upon these questions, I'd like to examine up to 4 different ways of valuing free labor: User Labor Markup Language, which quantifies individual users' contributions through embedding code in social networks and produces metrics in this same code; MetaMarkets, which allows people to trade shares in their activity on social networking sites (for example, creating and selling shares of one's flickr account) for a fictive currency; Viral Loop, which purports to tell facebook users how much their profile and activities on the site are worth in US dollars; and Ramesh Srinivasan's Tribal Peace project, which places a qualitative value on its users' free labor in constituting a locally valid, ontologically fluid network and in accessing, sharing, or not sharing certain user-generated information with others (e.g. anthropologists, museum curators). Srinivasan also explores a quantitative method for creating an ontologically fluid network that relies upon the free labor in the form of responses to hundreds of questions about how similar certain categories (i.e. basket-weaving and culture) are.

My tentative hypothesis: I think that I will try to expand on my argument as I have it in the blog post, going into greater detail and limning the implications of the different forms of coding in each project. Opposed to the projects I discussed in my blog post, Ramesh Srinivasan's ontologically fluid networks take advantage of free labor outside the ontologically rigid formats of social networking sites. Tribal peace also allows participants to decide what information is and is not shared. The political value of openness is put into question by locating it within a history of anthropological and curatorial profit from their informants. Thus, the capitalization of free labor (or offering such labor to institutions who may capitalize upon it) is managed by human networks, imagined as geographically proximate human communities sharing a culture. 

I'd like to further explore how human networks are imagined in Srinivasan's project, and I think that Monica's incisive question about the role of narratives in imagining the local will be tremendously helpful; I may examine the construction of culture in his project along the lines of my critique of Priscilla Wald's notion of culture.

Other issues that are or may become relevant:

-the relationship between different forms of coding and making free labor visible or legible, and how this relationship entails an epistemology or ontology.


Terranova, Network Culture 

"The power of communication and the media is not only the power of . . . forming a consensus . . . but also a biopolitical power, that is, a power of inducing perceptions and organizing the imagination, of establishing a subjective correspondence between images, percepts, affects and beliefs" (152)

-Terranova's use of Deleuze and Guattari's "percepts" and "affects" is interesting here, especially since I've encountered these terms previously in an essay of theirs on art. The slippage between perception and percept, affects and feelings, beliefs and becoming is interesting in light of D&G's strict separation of these coupled terms.

-This passage also highlights that communication is not a matter of merely rendering transparent, but of engaging with affect, the body, and epistemology or ontology ("organizing the imagination" and "establishing correspondences" – categories that are crucial to Srinivasan's project in particular)

Soft control as a "mode of capture of value produced by an increasingly interconnected and interdependent culture in as much as the latter is also an industry -- and hence a mode of labour" (128-9)

-This claim is fundamental for Terranova: forms of networked culture are also modes of labor—the society-factory. Her analysis of this phenomenon is certainly compelling, but I'd be interested in what a more fine-grained, locally attuned approach to the relationship between culture and labor might discover. (however, this may be a paper in itself)

Terranova claims that the "excessive value" of affective labor  "can never be really reabsorbed in a logic of exchange and equivalence." (129) Understood in its fullest sense, the power of affective labor is "a power of making and remaking the world through the reinvention of life" (129). 

-Inventing worlds has an important place for Srinivasan, and I'm interested in how this affectively motivated making of worlds links up with Anderson's nationalism based on love.

Tsing, Friction 

I like that Tsing troubles Terranova's claim about common passions, opening space for frictive collaborations to produce political change (even if that change doesn't mean the same thing to everyone). I'm not exactly sure where this point will fit into my analysis, but perhaps it would lend viability to Srinivasan's project, since he is so engaged with the incommensurability of different forms of knowledge.

Tsing's point about scale-making projects may also be a useful way to read how subjectification comes into play in something like Viral Loop, and how community comes into play in Srinivasan.

Spectacular accumulation is another point worthy of analysis, and I would think it comes into play in something like Google's purchase of YouTube for $1.65B. It also seems to be fundamental to the logic of advertising on social networking sites.

This proposal is already terrifyingly long, but hopefully we'll be able to focus the project a little bit more in our meeting.

Flash Mob?

SciLi 10pm

High Visual Capital and the Immodest Eye

In my final paper, I will focus on google earth, and the pleasure and power derived from a panoptic, subjectifying gaze. The first text I will use is Spatial Practices, in which de Certeau describes how 'totalizing and immoderate human texts' allow for a 'disciplinary space'. I want to next apply de Certeau's voyeuristic fantasy to Google Earth, and specifically Lisa Parks', "An Analysis of 'Crisis In Darfur,'" as the project "deputize[s] the user/citizen as a monitor on global patrol situated at a strategic interface" (Parks, 5). According to Parks, it also "demonstrates a preoccupation with the power to visualize rather than to develop coherent policies that may lead to peace in the region" (5).

With this in mind, I pose the following question: Beyond voyeuristic pleasures, what power do we give the unequal gaze in the quest for order, discipline and peace? The rationale behind "Crisis in Darfur" was that "expanding the use of remote imagery might help convince potential perpetrators that their actions against civilians will not go unnoticed by the international community" (Parks, 4). This is where I will evoke Keenan's "Mobilizing Shame."

The idea of weight of 'actions unnoticed' echoes Bentham's 1785 design for panoptic prisons, in which, at any moment, the prisoner could be watched and would therefore alter thier behavior accordingly. These structures will serve as a physical metaphor for the unannounced eye of Google Earth somewhere in the paper.

Anonymous is the final boss of the internet. Anonymous works as one, because none of us are as cruel as all of us. Anonymous is the enemy of Anonymous. Anonymous is your family and friends. Anonymous is not your friend. Anonymous has no identity.

Encyclopedia Dramatica explains that "Anonymous is not a person, nor is a group, movement, or cause: Anonymous is a collective of people with too much time on their hands, a commune of human thought and useless imagery." It refers, in this usage, to a vague community of the frequenters (most often posting anonymously) of various internet message boards (especially imageboards) and a few other websites. In many aspects, the culture associated with Anonymous is wholly unique, and its relationship to the ideas of Imagined Communities and Imagined Networks are interesting to examine. Its very nature, and self-defined traits, put it at odds with many traditional ideas of community, network, and, to some degree, many schema for human interactions.

I intend to examine what is central to the idea and, if such a thing exists, definition of Anonymous and, by extension, examine the phenomenon of the "Cancer" that many members feel is "killing" the culture. By considering some of the central traits and common threads of Anonymous through Anderson's Imagined Communities, while also drawing from Terranova, Stephenson, and Gibson on can, perhaps, come to an understanding of exactly what Anonymous means. Then, one must analyze the self-described "Cancer" through the lens of Wald's writing on outbreak narratives, to come to an understanding of the pathologies that are "killing" Anonymous. This all leads to the question "How does the 'Cancer' of Anonymous relate to its unique relationship with the concept of a community?" The differences between the outbreak narrative of "Cancer" among Anonymous and more traditional outbreaks in the physical world, viewed through the tropes Wald observes in Contagious, can lead to a better understanding of Anonymous in relation to other communities by elucidating the aspects in which it diverges from most other communities and those in which it does not.

The Drug War

For my final paper, I plan to take on the Drug War. I plan to use Tsing's Friction, specifically the chapter "The Economy of Appearances" and Lee and LiPuma's "Cultures of Circulation." The question: How can we use these theories of performativity to illuminate the great harm the drug war causes? My thesis: The war on drugs is a great specter. In the face of countless statistics which say it is a failure, it continues. This war illustrates the extensiveness of the American police state both at home and abroad.

repositioning of maps

Lisa Parks’ talks presented some very provocative concepts on the repositioning of maps and satellite images in terms of power structures. What I found interesting about her paper was her call for the change in direction of the look at maps and at satellite images. She is accepting the inevitable saturation and utility of satellite imagery in our society, and stressing the subsequent need for questioning it. Her idea to change the symbol of the pinpointing (zero-ing in) arrow addresses the need to reposition the act of searching through satellite in the power dynamics of control and domination through imagery. This is an aesthetic object that both carries physical and ideological weight in its un-questioned state.

On a practical level, I just have trouble understanding how she sees this change from acceptance to interrogation being done outside an academic setting, if she sees that at all. Redirecting the look is a large task, especially as google maps/earth seems to become ubiquitous and naturalized as a form of truth. But on a smaller level, her talk has changed the way I personally (a blindly avid user of Google maps) will approach satellite imagery—with a question as to how the image reflects back on my perceptions of location and power.

Paglen similarly repositioned maps and imagery—to space. I found myself questioning how his geographic “blank spots on the map” related to spacecrafts that can only really be seen by 70 year old satellite trackers and large state apparatuses. Additionally, how do the MiTex spacecrafts that are specifically designed to be invisible relate to the geographic positioning of secrecy? Is there a difference between a government blackening out pieces of land that by definition exist and creating “invisible, undetectable” mechanisms of destruction? both really circle the same notion of “blank spots”, yet the notion of a blank spot in space seems much mores frightening to me because space is much harder to map and conceive in the first place.

I'll Show You

I had to think about performativity when listening to the talks on archives. Especially the ones about archiving music where pertinent, as it was clearly shown how these archives, by collecting things without use that would have been thrown away, in the action of collecting were creating a community of sorts. This was also true for the artwork that collected stories from female prisoners and drug users, which by exhibiting the stories was creating the voices. However, what was interesting is the boundaries that these examples showed, since these actions of archiving always seemed to focus on the underprivileged or obsolete. In these examples, what is actually done is that the archivists voice is detached from the things archived and he or she seems to be speaking for people or communities. This is most clear in the prisoner example, but even with the LPs, meaning is assigned to an object that the collectors felt very differently about than the original users.
The question is, what is actually being archived? In these cases I think it was not what was originally there but a interpretation phrased differently what was perceived to be originally there. However, I do not want to criticize this, since i think it is the only way to approach the subject and it manages to challenge our assumptions of archives and especially museums. By showing the position occupied by the collector and by the archive (in these cases a record label to enable consumption and an activist piece of art), these position are not assumed. Whereas a museum often in its definition has some kind of defining authority over its archives even when it allows its visitors to read the objects in different ways, these archives also reveal that was s archived is an act of choice.
The records collected did not aim to show the most popular LPs or even the ones most worth saving fro aesthetic reasons. They were the most eclectic and the ones most interesting to the collector. They were saved since they could find a niche and be marketed to a certain audience. What is preserved is not the original intention of the author, the original community they were made for or the context they were created in. What is being preserved is how they are read today.
Similarly, the voices exhibited in the artwork, were always shown to be deeply connected to the artist. She narrates the introduction and the conclusion and treats herself in the same way she treats her subjects, i.e. viewers can jump over her voice or jump to certain sections of her introduction that seem pertinent.
So what I think these examples managed to show is how performativity can be done for certain people as well and the limits and dangers in this.

Animating Archives

I was not able to attend as many sessions of the conference as I would have liked but one notion that I unfortunately did not see but was recounted during the closing round table was the idea of "save" versus "save as." Rather than simply engage at a level of the loss of materiality of the thing that is digitally archived this dynamic presents new and interesting ways to conceive of data. The act of "save" versus "save as" seems to reconstitute a materiality in the digital. It also plays an important role in suggesting that the archive remains at the center of politics of choice. The archive as "saved" represents an update, an addition or subtraction of elements that cover the preceding archive. As "saved as" this allows for a constitution of multiple archives in favor of a singular destructive process. It calls to question the ways in which copies with even miniscule differences result in a new archiving. This constitutes almost an archiving of archives. Perhaps more can be elaborated on the original talk that gave way to this notion.

Capitalism is a SERIOUS joke.

Anna Tsing's Friction: An Ethnography of Global Connection presents an interesting account of the problems that arise due to the 'friction' surrounding the rainforests of Indonesia. One of the most fascinating annectdotes in her work is the narrative and history Bre-X, the Canadian mining company who conjured spectacular amounts of capital on just a promise. This promise, a spectacle engaged on the scale of the globe resulted in a process that Tsing Defines as Spectacular Accumulation. Tsing exposes the terrifying notion of this mode capitalism. She states, "Spectacular accumulation occurs when investors speculate on a product that may or may not exist. Investors are looking for the appearance of success. They cannot afford to find out if the product is solid; by then their chances for profit will be gone...economic performance is conjured dramatically" (75).
While this model is extremely helpful in addressing the task of reconstituting the terms of the global and globalization away from a "conflict" or "clash" of cultures towards "friction" her diagrams do not. These serious but joking diagrams make this reconstitution nothing more than a serious joke. In attempting to play away from some absolute declaration, this step causes the argument to be opened to unnecessary weakness. I am not entirely sure if we are to take her work seriously. But who am I even joking...


From "social projects" to "universal projects," I am extremely intrigued in what we mean when we say "project." Inherent in the word itself is a notion that some universal not only exists, but must be localized to become effective (i.e. the 'direct' and/or 'immediate' implications of the "project"). Also potentially valid is the consideration that in imagining/inventing/executing a "project," we also send, or project or deploy a conception, a potential universal or ideology on an extended, global scale.

Is it possible to commit to and/or execute an action on a private level without a public resonance? Is the personal (or small) always inherently political (or indicative of a greater 'universal' and/or have ideological implications)?

Where might the body, the physical, be situated here?

Vertical Realities

Lisa Parks pointed out in her talk that Google Earth participated in "patchwork censorship", whereby, at the behest of governments and organizations, satellite images of Google Earth are replaced by older images in order to conceal certain developments such a black sites and secret facilities. Besides the obvious fear that regular viewers using Google Earth are not informed of this fact and thus assume the images they view are real, it also points out an important point brought up by Michel de Certeau's "Walking in the City" - sometimes, looking down from above, one cannot make sense of what is happening "on the ground". What one assumes to be reality, as viewed from our computer screens, may look very different when seen from below.

Trevor Paglen knows this well; in his talk, he mentions photographing secret CIA facilities, made invisible on any map by the US government in the interest of "national security". It is only by walking the streets that Paglen is able to find out what is actually present; as Lisa Parks shows us, Google Earth can misrepresent actual geographies for political reasons. Mapping has traditionally been a process involving much back and forth between the macro and the micro - explorers traverse new territories, then combine their piecemeal knowledge to form a larger map. However, with the advent of satellite imagery, it is no longer necessary to actually visit the location in order to map it. Paglen and Parks both call for a return to more traditional methods of cartography as a means of verifying what is produced by satellite imaging. However, the problem lies not with the technology itself, but the censorship it undergoes. Reality is obscured by the changes that Google Earth makes to its images in order to protect certain locations, and because of this, the only method of finding whether the macro-scale image we are given is real is to traverse into the micro, and then project the micro back onto the macro, in what Lisa Parks describes as something like a reverse shot.

Additionally, I am intrigued by her argument for vertical, rather than horizontal histories, but not entirely sure if I understand what exactly a vertical history entails.



Tara McPherson's contribution to the ending discussion really grabbed my attention. I was mostly interested in her assertion that, in paraphrase, "academics tend to privilege their side of the binary" She further states that we must move beyond that using the tools critical theory has given us. I am curious as to how such an act might affect academic discourse, in this "good" progression do we risk a simple and reductive narritivization of the polysemic flow that she seeks to preserve? Furthermore, would this be achieved by merely stating the existence of the opposition? Would/Could there be an attempt to step away from the binary mode of thought?

Through the discussion of how to expand what can be academic research I thought of De Certeau's analysis of how those subscribing to the dominant ideology often fear catastrophe if their modes of understanding are threatened by emerging perspectives. The task of changing what can be viewed as academic research is perhaps a meta-interdisciplinary revision of "theories of misfortune [to the ruling class]"

Friction creepy crawl catch-up

In partial response to Patrick's essay "The Ethics of Overreaching: Metaphor and Encounter" --


I too found the notion of metaphor compelling.

"Gaps develop in the seams of universal projects; they are found where universals have not been successful in setting all the terms"(202).

Tsing goes on to note that "whenever we want to trace the limits of hegemony, we need to look for gaps," as "an ethnography of global connection is impossible without this tool."

I consider here her use of the word 'connection' and find it indicative of the encounters (as opposed to representation) of which you write. I agree that misreading Tsing's work as being focused primarily on representation (or even the limits of representation) has destructive and retroproductive potential; as I believe we often situate our examination of global/local/glo(c)al interactions ourselves too rigidly in the two entities set apart from one another rather than setting our investigation in the distance between them.

For there is distance even in friction, as two entities wrenched across one anothers' surfaces do so because they cannot fully consume, erase, or surrogate the other. Of course, their interaction (or encounter) produces another thing all together: a sort of dialectical explosion at the stitches of an ambivalent event.

So, what is productive about hegemony? What is productive about the universal, or, rather, conceptions of universals?

Tsing notes that "the concept of freedom is much abused, and yet the idea of freedom is still as important a tool as any for the disenfranchised"(203). It seems that an empty, useless 'universal concept' / 'universal human right' called freedom is made palpable by the very thing which complicates it: plurality, its myriad meanings in a single moment (thanks to a multiplicitous human population) and its myriad meanings across time (thanks to an evolving human population and the environment(s) working to (re)produce the species).

Monday, December 7, 2009

"White People Stole My Car"

I'm not sure how many have heard of this phrase, but it has become one the most popular searched phrases on Google, due to a controversial picture that surfaced not too long ago.

This past Summer, when one searched for the phrase "white people stole my car", it appeared that Google would ask "Did you mean: black people stole my car". There was the misconception that Google was actually racist. Even if the picture was genuine the blame would lie with Google users themselves. Google, as Tanmay mentioned, keeps track of the most popular phrases used for searches, thus search results would only reflect what your peers have done.

Although it has been argued that the original picture, which created such heated debates between internet users, is actually a fake it has been enough to manipulate Google users to generate a "spammination" of the phrase. The phrase has become so popular and searched so many times on Google, it has even forced Google to actually make it impossible recreate the picture posted above.

Images can so easily trigger a chain of reactions.

Not Just Open / Source

During the Session 2 lecture, there was a lot of discussion of ownership and authorship. Where does ownership lie, when authorship is disputed due to collaborative efforts? When it comes to open code and source, there are so many contributions made and authorship belongs to no singular person, thus ownership belongs to no particular. This allows for growth and collective development among a community.

Lawrence Liang lectured on the Alternative Law Forum, which deals with a lot of things, one focus being on intellectual property. For example, they oppose the Indian Copyright act, because it could hinder creative innovation.

Open source allows collaborative efforts to one work that could positively affect a group. The old saying, "Two heads are better than one", has yet to be inaccurate, even in this sense. Collaborative efforts bring communities closer, possibly the global into a local realm and bring about a overall growth within the community. The internet makes these things very possible; fostering a community where information is accessible, but also allows redistribution of said information.

Although such communities and information can be manipulated by larger corporations. Considering the issue of authorship and ownership that is always brought into question, due to the vast amount of collaboration it is easy for larger outside power to manipulate accordingly. Once an idea can be seen as profitable, it would become easy for a larger company to claim such an idea, if ownership cannot be assigned.

I'm not entirely sure where I was going with this... but open source sounds great for cultural development, but a risk for those involved to be manipulated by an outside force.

targeting google earth

In her talk on ‘Targeting Google Earth,’ Lisa Parks explained how the study of satellite photographs and the terrain of Google Earth must be expanded to include a vertical, sort of off the page, historical reading that incorporate what and whose satellite took the picture, who paid for it, what was erased and the players involved in its production. She also said that it was vital for more media literacy as the expanse and use of virtual media grows. I feel like these two points from her lecture highlight imagined spatial implications for virtual media. First, the path or network that leads to the creation of virtual images. Second, the community that is excluded from the political discourse because of the new emphasis on virtual media due to lack of access/education to the technology. Given these two spaces/communities/networks that Parks notes are created in virtual images like Google Earth, issues of power, subjectivity and access are all called into questions. It seems like positions of text and producer are blurred into a reading where a text can be seen more as a process (with specific temporal and spatial paths).

How does this vertical and more historical definition of satellite images merge the identity of the people behind a text with the text itself? Do they become inseparable? Or is this notion of blending community and text itself just an element of all the imagined communities we have been investigating?

caught up: Reading on Product Capital based on Tsing's Investment Capital Theory

Although, Tsing’s assessment of the global economy is most concerned with investment capital, some of the theory can be applied to product based capital.

In order to gain investors, start up companies and potential tourist locations use performance as “a necessary aid to gathering investment funds” (57). “Profit must be imagined before it can be extracted; the possibility of economic performance must be conjured like a spirit to draw an audience of potential investors” (57). Performance of economic potential is integral to investment capital.

Ciroc, Sean Comb’s vodka brand, is heavily advertised to an audience that is both supposedly hip and urban or would desire a hip and urban lifestyle. The product is a package deal; a lifestyle is included with buying a bottle of Ciroc vodka. This concept is relates directly to Terranova’s discussion of microsegmentation. She states that in network culture difference has been packaged and sold as part of the capitalist system.

A similar exchange is made when investing capital. The instant return is the promise of capital (a promise that is dependent on performance through advertising). The long-term investment is hopefully more capital. An imagined promised is packaged with the actually capital.

An imagined lifestyle accompanies a bottle of Ciroc vodka. Imagined capital accompanies actual capital. In product capitalism, the imagined return of the product (the Ciroc Urban lifestyle) can never be measured while the promise of investment capital can be realized.


Re: Frontiers

I want to continue to examine Tsing's concept of the frontier, or the 'space that embodies its own impossibility,' first by comparing it to the section in de Certeau's Spactial Practices, "Marking out Boundaries," and then looking at the frontier's implication for Prof. Srinivasan's lecture this weekend.

I was interested to see that both de Certeau and Tsing imagine space, marked boundaries, and frontiers with the vocabulary of performance. Accroding to de Certeau, the process of marking out boundaries, "has a distributive power and performative force. [...] It founds spaces" (dC 123). This process creates 'a theatre of action' in which, according to Tsing, landscape becomes a 'lively actor'. At the same time, it "authorize[s] the establishment, displacement, or transcendence of limits, and as a consequence, set[s] in opposition, within a closed field of discourse, two movements that intersect" (dC 123). With this view of the frontier, de Certeau reiterates Tsing's concept of friction and opposing movement.

I found Prof. Srinivasan's presentation at Animating Archives to be very interesting and provocative. In fact, while I was thinking about the concept of frontier, I started questioning whether spatial demarcations and the subsequent friction produced could serve as a metaphor for the conflicting ontologies he presented. Tsing describes how "roads are a good image for conceptualizing how friction works: Roads create pathways that make motion easier and more efficient, but in doing so, they limit where we go. The ease of travel they facilitate is also a structure of confinement. Friction inflicts historical trajectories, enabling, excluding, and particularizing." (Tsing 6). Like both frontiers and roads, limited ontologies offer to one a structure of power, and to another, a dead end, or structure of confinement.

Like Aaron mentioned earlier on the blog, the collaboration between the Cambridge University's Museum of Anthropology and Archaeology and Prof. Srinivasan challenged the distinct and privileged ontological systems used to achive Zuni cultural products. Aaron said in his post, "The implication was that using rigid definitions separated certain narratives from the objects in display leading to pictures that... skewed things a little." A system that uses rigid definitions not only stifles diversity, but also invents a cultural product separate from its story, in the same fashion that the frontier invents separate spaces.

Embracing incommensurability can be likened to end of a frontier, or the common point of separation. In this scenario, there no longer exists a 'mouthpiece of the limit' (dC) who holds a position of power. Such a revolutionary shift could be likened to another spatial metaphor: that of the bridge, which according to de Certeau, 'distinguishes and threatens insularities' and finally represents the 'betrayal of an order'. The "legitimate space and and its (alien) exteriority" (dC 126) does not become the same, but rather re-imagined, this time in the context of Tsing's 'technofrontier, the endless frontier' (31), that makes revolutionary new forms of dynamic achives possible.