Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Global, Cultural Disjuncture and its Alienation or Liberation

“The imagination has become an organized field of social practices, a form of work (labor, culturally organized practice) and a form of negotiation between sites of agency (‘individuals’) and globally defined fields of possibility” – Appadurai

Selves and identities are now characterized by an instability of a new kind. Ordinary people have access to a barrage of images, text, commodities, ideas etc. that imaginatively rearrange into a web of global meaning and identity. With migration, media, production, and technology all operating within a highly connected global economy, imaginations may no longer be framed by a teological “imagined community” such as a nation, state or ethnic group, but be guided towards something beyond; perhaps an “imagined concatenation of scapes”, which by nature of its global force, can liberate individuals from their culturally-specific sense of locality. Here Appadurai seems to suggest that individuals can participate in complex, global flows by deriving imaginative power from the instability, moving freely among many flows, transcending beyond what is local, intimate, and immediately accessible. If imagined identity is “spread over vast and irregular spaces,” but still linked to groups by primordial sentiments or technological capabilities, what type of liberating power does this give over to the individual? Certainly, as diaspora and diffusion become standards of a global, cultural disjuncture, culture and individual belonging does not have to be limited by nationhood or geographic territory. But in terms of the human essence, is there anything gained/lost in this new order?

To be here and there simultaneously—to inhabit a world that is “rhyzomic, even schizophrenic”—calls into question the relationship between “rootlessness, alienation, and psychological distance” versus “fantasies of electronic propinquity.” Sleep Dealer, with its virtual labor, closed borders, and global network of memories and experiences, presents the tension between these two poles—how cybernetics can extend bodies beyond normal human limitations for both escapist and exploitative purposes, from connected sexual experiences to virtual labor from faraway lands. On one hand, it seems that the traffic of people and identities can be liberating with new conditions of neighborliness and connectedness, but on the other hand, it can be debasing (like treating the sleep dealers as mechanical objects). Does a global, cultural disjuncture liberate individuals through imaginative power or suspend them in an alienating vortex or global flows without a sense of time, place, or distance? And is imaginative “power” even the correct word here? Appadurai avoids the relationship between power and global flows and how privileged groups might control flows to manipulate others. Is the word truly in a state of total disjuncture or are their architects behind global flows that may reveal a less disorganized quality about them? From Hollywood dominating global mediascapes to elite “priest programmers” setting the standard for global technoscapes to the militarized US/Mexico border in Sleep Dealer erecting limits to ethnoscapes, what is the nature of power and control in the global economy and its relation to individual imagination? 

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