Monday, December 24, 2012

12/6: heat

.. what happens when friction doesn't move or rather tries to force one to move OUT (gun lobbyists have petitioned the US gov to deport Piers Morgan after this interview was deemed a hostile attack of the constitution -- it has reached 49,000 signatures, only 25,000 was needed for the government to respond)

(Joyce channeling Ahmed)

11/22: MERIP

I cant believe I didn't know about the Middle East Research and Information Project before. The shift from a efficiently coercive autocratic government to a triangulated politicization of the streets -  delineated in the material from MERIP - was a fascinating take on achilles heel of any and all absolutism. I recalled a the French historian Tocqueville recalling a letter the politician Mirabeau wrote to king louis xvi reassuring him that the modern idea of a single class of equal citizens would help provide a smoother surface on which royal power might more easily apply itself (as you can tell from my paper as well I've been obsessed with the french revolution's implications for modernity). SO how much can an autocratic government adapt to incorporate the motions and semblances of democratic rule? And on the other side, wouldn't any inkling of paranoia set a citizen into a dizzy spiral of logic that figures the ruling power as abuser? - since there is no arkhe that legitimate ruling of one over another (Ranciere). 

"Doing politics outdoors brought citizens face-to-face with the caste that rules the streets: Egypt’s ubiquitous police. Mubarak’s was not a police state because the coercive apparatus routinely beat and detained people. It was a police state because the coercive apparatus had become the chief administrative arm of the state, aggregating the functions of several agencies."

This line shocked me most: "Our preparations for January 25 were as per usual, and the instructions were not to molest demonstrators." There is this interesting trade off of the police as a necessary force of threat and fear, of the brute force of suppression (no limits except on the books try not to molest), which allows the autocratic government's self-preservation and then its the naturally target that surrounds the police as the visible and thus representative body of corruption and coercion. Not to try my hand at autocratic strategizing but there's a flaw in placing the object of fear in the streets, its too accessible. 

"The fears are diffusion and linkage. Indeed, the diffusion of collective action in time and space emboldened Egyptians, signaling the unwillingness or incapacity of the coercive apparatus to suppress demonstrations. The simultaneity of protests across very different locations, especially the filling of streets in neighborhoods entirely unused to such processions, revised citizens’ calculations of what was possible and reduced uncertainty about the consequences of action. The second fear is the coordination between the three organizational infrastructures of protest. Indeed, the state security directorate existed to frustrate precisely this bridge building. It had done so quite successfully with the April 6, 2008 general strike, and had a stellar track record in branding each sector of dissent with a different label: Associational protest was “political,” but workplace and neighborhood protest was “economic.”"

Differentiate the root causes of various protesting communities - now THATS coercive. Its interesting to compare the impetus for or strategy of revolution (Egypt) versus reform (Ai Weiwei). Reform seems to be rooted in an optimism for the boundaries of absolutism to be pushed by working through the system - which seems to call for just a more strategic absolutism/soft control. In an interview on the Colbert Report, the director of Weiwei's documentary (Alison Klayman) said "Its in China's interest to not be doing this - not just that it doesn't look good, but its not good for Chinese society". I think this sums up the mirror image: chinese society will benefit from a more adapted autocratic government - are there true and real freedoms in a semblance of democracy? Lets take free speech and the ability to express dissent - which Mubarak allowed for to some extent. Is it free speech if its being monitored? Is it free speech if it is only being quelled because of riot technicalities? 

11/8: one love

"If only we were closer we would be as one"(138).

Ahmed's turn to multiculturalism through the nationalist rhetoric of love and integration as wound up in the use of the other as an assimilated difference to maintain an ideal of a tolerance and moral government. This evokes the deferment of 'a democracy to come' through an openness to otherness (Derrida) that is used to situate the current lack as not as a failure to recognize the other's face(Levinas) but blame the newcomer's inability to love properly, enmesh properly, disappear properly. To be here you must give your difference back. Give it up.

The transformation of pluralism into a consensus is telling. Others must agree to value difference: difference is now what we would have in common. In other words, difference becomes an elevated or sublimated form of likeness: you must like us - and be like us - by valuing or even loving differences (though clearly this is only about the differences that can be taken on and in by the nation, those that will not breach the ideal image of the nation). The narrative hence demands that migrant communities and working-class white communities must give up their love for each other - a love that gets coded as love-of-themselves, that is, as a perverse form of self-love or narcissism -and love those who are different, if they are to fulfil the image of the nation promised by the ideal and hence if they are to be loved by the nation. (138)

The nation is not only a physical container but must contain the other's subjectivity. The condition for hospitality is that you perform the free labor of love, of reassuring the imagined ideal nation = democracy. This shared love of ruler and ruled reminds me of the supplement needed for political grounding (Ranciere). This is a measure of self-preservation. So how would Ahmed suggest the nation recognizes its egotism? Is there any other way to cohere? If love is forced what comes of the resentment?

10/18: the death benefit

Risk has been a topic of my day. My kitten was diagnosed with cancer yesterday and my mother almost automatically replied that she was the runt of her litter and there was always been a higher risk for illness.. as if to supply me with some reasoning and reassure me that this was not a gross unexplainable injustice  .. as if to comfort me with this blanket root cause (her birth).. and it kind of worked. I said death doesn't have to be bad. I almost have come to believe its as fair and timely a death as any. We later turned to the topic of my birth. My mother had been late to have me and my brother (age of 37) and when she found out she was pregnant she was told to get an ultrasound because of the increased risk of developmental disorders. She said it was the worst anxiety she's every experienced. She was lucky. I am lucky. That was the affective manipulation of that risk narrative. The risk value for both instances was used to make me feel better. A risk had already existed, in the past, and had either been fulfilled or eluded. In the first, it was the risk of an early death due to a troubled birth (no agency there) and the second a risk my mother could have controlled but by the time of the pregnancy it was too late (we are the lucky ones). Although these risks are not globally shared, I found the comparison fruitful because it allowed me to conceptualize the affective power of risks after the fact, after its too late, and the inability for this futurity of affective release to be a factor when the risk is bare life and the affective anxiety just builds and builds and is repressed and repressed and where does it go? Probably into more risk analysis. Grasping for control. 

The category error of risk analysis that Beck highlights - a loss of social thinking within the binary of technology/industrialization and nature - reminds me of a ill-conceived attempt by Phillip Morris to respond to the Czech Republic's tax raise on cigarettes due to claims of increased health costs.  

from this american life transcript (07/16/2010)...

"Because people die early, you also pay less out in pensions and other social benefits to the elderly. People die early, you don't have to pay health care costs for all their non-smoking-related illnesses that they would get later in life, all of which in this study are seen on that kind of positive side of the ledger.// On the negative side, you have the costs of fires started by people smoking, falling asleep in bed smoking, doing other things with cigarettes. The financial implications of people who stop working earlier, either because they die or they get too sick to work, so the state then loses the income tax that they might charge those people. Also on the cost side is, the cost of treating people for smoking-related diseases and for secondhand smoke.// So the way these consultants tote that all up is people smoking is a net benefit, a net financial benefit to the Czech state of that CZK 5.8 billion."
That was the argument the cigarette company used. And it was true. Early deaths due to cigarette use did save the government a considerable amount of money. Now again, I recognize this is not the type of risk Beck was referring to (an economic rather than safety concern/ and cigarette risks are more than speculative) but I found it an interesting albeit extreme failure of argument craftsman in the face of a threatened market...a mounting frenzy of self-defense and spin-doctors. No smoke-stack is safe.
It is the erasure of the human in our multiplicity of social variables through averaging and then this appeal to the affective response of modeling or logic (which Phillip Morris somehow lost sight of) that really interests me. The human out to determine the future. The human in to determine the present. Isn't that a bit foreboding? 

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Make up post, Berlant

I benefited greatly from Berlant’s discussion of the concept of sovereignty in relation to the wearing out of community populations due to the fact that I make a similar statement in my paper about the reasons why people turn against the government of a nation-state. She writes that Achille Mbembe’s definition of sovereignty separates the government’s power over death and their manifestations of power. Berlant writes “Additionally, in casting death as a fact separate from the administration of life processes, this version of sovereignty concept has provided an alibi for normative ways of keeping separate the productive procedures of governmentality and the violence of the state, when, as I argue, the procedures of managing collective life include a variety of inducements for managing life’s wearing out, which sometimes amalgamates death to an act or event” (96). Similarly, Berlant engages Foucault’s definition of sovereignty: “the power to permit any given life to endure, or not” (97). I really found these definitions to be useful in regards to the reasoning behind mass uprising. Anger against the state, or more precisely, anger at the nation-state for not using its sovereignty in the ways it often proclaims it does, leads people, in particular those claiming strong association with the nation-state, to feel personally betrayed. Thus the communal (and by communal, here I think of communities formed by the various social classes of a state) unravelings of the ways to make a living should not be associated with personal responsibility, or lack thereof. They should be associated with the state’s misuse of its sovereignty, which does not always come in the form of mass genocide, concentration camps, or the like. It may be viewed in rising food prices that make it impossible for people to simply maintain a basic standard of living, or to be let to live. Particularly interesting to me was this concept of food management (or resource management in general) as a Foucaltdian form of biopower that literally, viscerally, betrays the body’s ability to abate slow death through the proper consumption of food.

Make up post, imagined communities

“The arrival of nationalism in a distinctively modern sense was tied to the political baptism of the lower classes. Although sometimes hostile to democracy, nationalist movements have been invariably populist in outlook and sought to induct lower classes into political life.” (The Breakup of States, p.41), Anderson 47.

Today, I think about how much of this idea that Anderson highlights has changed, and how much of it still describes the core of political involvement by the lower classes in the nation-state. In the Dominican Republic, involving the lower classes in politics, at least in the mass rallies and events that take place before voting, seems to be a symbolic act from which politicians derive unquestionable mass appeal that spreads to other social classes. When citizens of the lower class claim allegiance to a political party, they are also claiming allegiance, or buying, the vision of the nation-state that is put forth by certain political parties.  It seems as though this relationship mimics the buyer-seller relationship that is characteristic of societies under neo-liberal ways of being. Maybe it is possible that the same economic models and processes that drive the monetary formation of the nation-state also drive the political relationship of people to particular visions of the nation-state, as proposed by particular political parties. The extraordinary mass ceremony of voting has, at its foundation, a buyer-seller relationship in which supposedly the buyer has leverage. The problem that I noticed during my interviews is that many people in the Dominican Republic neither buy the visions for the nation-state that are proposed every four years, nor can accept that their vote has no currency, no value. During my interview with Marleny and Anyi, both accepted the impasse that came from the question: Should the masses simply not vote since the government does not truly include them? In retrospect, I realize that the masses had found other rituals of political baptism in the political rallies that have sparked throughout the globe (the latest occurred in the Bronx, New York this past weekend). It is not a question of how the nation-state and nationalist movements can induct lower classes into appropriate political participation. The challenge arises when these forms of political baptism no longer yield the same power that they used to.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

"organic" "forms"

Making up a post (or two)

Throughout Friction, I kept coming back to the formal moves of the text and how they related to Tsing's discussion of the universal as an undertheorized issue. Tsing's text is not on face theoretical. It is emotive and site-specific; Tsing makes herself a character within it rather than an observer with some degree of critical distance--the criticism comes from within as much as it comes from without. The emotionality and rhetorical beauty of her words are placed on the same register as their argument. In section, I talked about the connections I saw between this approach and Tsing's discussion of biodiversity. A monoculture approach to nature--all one sort of acacia tree, say, or dipterocarp, or more broadly an approach either wholly global or wholly particular, nothing in between--fails to account for the interactivity of ecosystems. In replanting places that have been burned or cut or fallen fallow, approximating nature rather than utility, biodiversity becomes a relevant value. Replanting the things that once were, as they once were, a scientific and approximate approach of Nature; it is "one way of encompassing the local within the globe," Tsing writes, but "It also can be criticized for its imperial gaze. Might it be possible to attend to Nature's collaborative origins without los­ing the advantages of its global reach?" I'm interested in the formal moves forward she takes from this wall, this impasse, and at this particular moment she turns to a long quasi-biographical description of John Muir and his preservation ethic, the religious universalism that belied the Park System and its head-butting with Pinchot's Forest Service. I've worked for both agencies quite extensively all over the country and I've written about the contention between the two branches of government but this was the most articulate positing of the issue in terms of logistics and politics that I've seen. Mind you, this comes in the same narrative text as her descriptions of being assaulted while hitchhiking, the lushness of her prose about the landscape, etc. The tonal register varies so widely. She moves to climate change as an alternate sort of model--a way to navigate the glocal and move inside it. The question here, of course, becomes the risk problem we discussed w/r/t climate change predictive models earlier this semester… There's no upside. They rely on their unfulfillment--if we change our action, and crisis is evaded, then it never shows itself to be true. And if it's correct… then it's too late. I wonder, then, what the analogous mimetic or textual move towards this point might be, if we see Tsing's style as an attempt at linguistic organicism, one she knows will fail but, as Spivak so poignantly puts it, cannot not want.

my sister went kony

I watched KONY 2012 last year, all 27 minutes or so of it, when I was procrastinating. It became clear around the moment that the sickeningly fresh-faced and fresh-voiced Jason Russell showed his son who the "bad guy" was that this was going to be something easy to hate. It also became clear that it was going to be compelling. I read reports of people booing it at screenings in Uganda, of how Joseph Kony was no longer relevant, this was the white man's burden of some secretly-bigoted Christian, all backwards. It was so easy, to feel the outrage not only at the content of the video but also at the attention, good and bad, that it was garnering. So much of it was good--had I been so warped by a liberal arts bubble to be immediately offended by the film? Was my moral code and sense of propriety so self-involved and politically correct that I'd become blind to the underlying issues? Was a PC reaction, a critique of presentation, a way of eliding the actual problem? Was the actual problem--Joseph Kony--actually, you know, a problem? Then they found Russell naked on the street and I stopped reading about the issue. He'd done himself in, I thought, and I could rinse my hands of it--not that they were ever particularly involved, of course.

So what amazed me was when my sister informed me that she was going to the Invisible Children rally in DC a few weeks ago. My sister is no activist. She spends a lot of time on Tumblr. She is not involved in charity work or particularly cognizant of global issues with dictators and militants. She is sixteen. I was confused. Then I learned about the ways that the rally had been promulgated. Invisible Children had hired the sort of star that appeals to the Myspace and post-Myspace genre of teen--Pete Wentz, some characters from Glee, that sort of thing--to document their "road trip" to the nation's capital to be part of the Invisible Children rally. Their photos were Instagram-filtered and fun. Tongues sticking out, mooning, drawing on people's faces when they fell asleep... Sort of like a music video or high school photo montage, but famous, and disseminated on an equalizing platform, Twitter, so that "regular teens" might try and approximate the sort of fun that their "peers" were having. This is, to me, the most interesting capacity of slactivism... not the fact that it doesn't take much to show up at a rally or sign an online petition but the degree to which aesthetics, a solid understanding of a targeted subculture, and logistical planning are crucial to making your cause appealing to "the young." It's not that I think "the young" aren't activists or are a generation of apathy--what a boring point. I'm just amazed that "charities," even the ones with decent financials and a relatively well-intentioned, if colonial and problematic, outlooks are so quickly and impressively approaching brand status. Invisible Children, the overdesgined triangular logo of KONY, it all has an aesthetic component that something like UNICEF never could. What are the ethics of such a tactical approach--are charities required to disregard cheap tricks like that, or is it just the name of the game? Why does it leave such an awful taste in my mouth?

Cruel Optimism Close to Home

In this last reading response I'm posting, I'm revisiting Cruel Optimism; it's a work I feel I know pretty intimately by now, having made it one of the cornerstones of both of my essays for this course, and yet I still feel as though complete understanding of the topic eludes me. Or perhaps, rather, something indistinct plays at the edges of my understanding; for I feel as though I understand cruel optimism, as a concept, pretty well by now: it is a situation in which the giving up of an object or desire is too painful to bear, and yet the possession of that object/desire/artifact/argument contains within it the seeds of its own destruction. Success will never come from it, and yet, one cannot let it go because it simply means too much.

So, I get it.

I keep coming back to the idea of labor, though, the concept of employment. It is not the theory itself that bothers me, I don't think; and it's not that the examples bother me, or rather, they don't bother me because I don't feel that they exemplify the theory itself; they do, that much is for certain.

Perhaps what disquiets me is the sad knowledge that I know, even as Berlant refrained from using empirical examples, electing to use poetry and films to make her point for her (and this is fair enough, as the idealized version of cruel optimism, as it is captured by the page or by film, is probably easier and less contentious to recognize than the realities of life under capitalism for so many), that these are true events.

I am reminded, offhandedly, of the film El Norte, one of the sadder movies I've seen recently (although many criticize it for its low production qualities, I'm a bit of a sucker, coming from a family of Hispanic immigrants myself). The struggles those main characters faced; the reality of their sacrifices coming to the United States, and the crushing poverty they faced in the United States, a poverty that was every bit as oppressive and deadly as the conflict the main characters fled in their native land …

With most theory, it is easy to separate the reality from the theory; to assume abstractions and create hypothetical people engaging in the activities theorized. But with cruel optimism (perhaps because of its cruel nature) … everything stings just a little bit closer to home.

Weak Ties, Phantom Ties

Mark Granovetter's piece on “The Strength of Weak Ties” occupies something of a special place in my heart, and not only because I had already read the piece before taking this course (although for a course that dealt primarily with economic globalization and thus, really had some trouble tying the reading back in with the course).

It's a very interesting piece, though, and not just because it validates all the shallow, mercenary, “I'm only talking to you because my parents told me networking was important” acquaintances anyone has ever made at university. Or rather, it is interesting precisely because of that, but that hasty wording makes it sound like a bad thing.

It's interesting to consider the idea of weak ties, though, in a purely digital setting. I did so already in my midterm paper on Brown culture on Facebook – but the argument itself was somewhat lacking and deserves a bit of expansion. These weak ties, I believe, have become even more important in the so-called “Information Age” simply because of the fact that they are so visible now.

Yes, in the factory there were a number of people who you knew you probably weren't as close to as you could be; and yes, their acquaintance status meant that their ideas were more likely to be completely different from those being fostered in your own group. These things were true. But Facebook allows for acquaintances from years ago – people you may have seen twice in your life are now part of your group of Facebook friends unless you are one of the sorts of people who ritually purges their Facebook friends lists (perhaps for this exact reason).

In my paper, I coined the phrase “phantom ties” without properly defining it. But here goes: weak ties are important because they introduce you to viewpoints from people who inhabit similar spaces from you but still, because of those they associate with, have radically different ideas. A phantom tie is like a weak tie from the past blipping momentarily into the future; a person who has developed in a completely different space from you, along completely different lines and for completely different reasons forced into your consciousness because of the vagaries of Facebook's news feed; a chance to see something you might have never known existed, for a brief moment, a shadow in time.

Denying Soft Control

Talking about soft control is fun because it's such a unique concept that, nevertheless, feels intuitively right; and there are, sadly, so few of those that when one comes around it is difficult to not seize upon it. It just makes sense that those who develop our tools, create our structures, decide what is and is not allowed on computers and the Internet (where more and more of us increasingly spend more and more of our time) alter our behavior in real, discernible ways; and yet, they are so invisible to us. When one learns how to use a new operating system or a new piece of software, when one starts thinking in terms of “Likes” and “retweets”, that changes one's behavior patterns, but rarely if ever does anyone sit down and think, “Man, using Facebook has really changed by behavior; thanks/screw you, Mark Zuckerberg”.

(At this point it is worth noting that some people do buck this sort of controlling behavior, by refusing to sign up for Facebook or canceling their accounts after the fact; needless to say, however, those that opt out of using Facebook after having already created an account are few and far between.)

Terranova's own look at this phenomenon is pretty interesting, however, from the way that soft control has permeated the real world – or perhaps more accurately, the way that our own understanding of soft control as a phenomenon has let us recognize it when it exists in the real world – in the layout of offices to encourage “interactivity, lack of hierarchy, modularity” (119). This is of course silly, because hierarchy does still exist in these corporations and no one would claim otherwise; except that by enforcing these themes in the everyday, could these themes ever be truly called “silly”? If they changed the way that workers did their work, could they ever be called irrelevant?

When someone claims that “the Net interprets censorship as damage and routes around it” (120) they are using clever technological wordplay to describe a “behavior” of the Internet; but even this is a euphemism. The truth of the matter is that the construction of peer-to-peer networks and open-source software (such as the program this post is being composed on currently, LibreOffice) were not intrinsic parts of the Internet or computer culture, but created by individuals with the ability to do so. The value of these constructs, for good or ill, is not at question here; but the way they are presented is. The Internet is not, after all, a “techno-utopian” culture; but the Internet does not have a “centralized government”, either. It is what it is because of the efforts of a few with the knowledge and willpower to make it such, and the shape it has taken is due to their own personal desires and goals for the project: it is not a lifelike organism that has evolved independently, but something that could be radically changed with a view shifts in ideology from those that support it.

The Futility/Creation of Identity

Although I had read excerpts from Benedict Anderson's “Imagined Communities” before, I had never focused so intently on the questions he poses in the book; his definition of nationalism as an “imagined political community – and imagined as both inherently limited and sovereign” serves well enough for discussions of national politics and the ethics surrounding those issues in other courses. But of course a course on Imagined Networks would take this piece more seriously; and with good reason.

Nevertheless, it is difficult to move away from concepts and conceits that we've carried with us for years, and so it was the discussion on patriotism and racism that interested me the most; I had, for instance, already read the (now commonly quoted) truth that dying “for one's country, which usually one does not choose, assumes a moral grandeur which dying for the Labour Party, the American Medical Association, or perhaps even Amnesty International cannot rival” (144), but it was rewarding to consider the problem anew.

For it is, most might agree, a problem; why should an involuntary association with a body, even one so powerful in the imagination as the nation, be seen as morally superior to an association with a body that one chose? Most might say that there is nothing more moral about being an American, say, or a Swede than there is about being an employee of Amnesty International or the Peace Corps; but dying for Sweden or America is constructed as so much more meaningful than dying in a civil war in Latin America.

Which leads nicely into the question of racism – because as proud as any person might be of their racial and ethnic heritage (and the majority of most people are), racial identity is hardly any more voluntary than national identity, being thrust upon oneself not just by the accident of birth but by the perceptions of other people (for that perception is important, and undergirds such occurrences as “white-passing privilege” and the endless questions of, “What race are you? I could have sworn you were [x]” that any mixed-race or questionable-heritage people might face).

One of the most interesting points that Anderson reaches at the end of his discussion on race is the fact that “Spanish-speaking mestizo Mexicans trace their ancestries, not to Castilian conquistadors, but to half-obliterated Aztecs, Mayans, Toltecs and Zapotecs” (154) – and they are not alone. Latinos up and down the Americas often emphasize their native roots when discussing their heritage. On the face of it, it might seem odd; both their native ancestors and their Castilian ancestors performed the same function in terms of producing the individual that stands here today. And yet occur it does, still, according to Anderson because of misplaced class sentiments; a conscious laying down of the claims to pseudo-aristocracy, remembering the ancestors one never chose but who suffered, lived and died under oppression to bring you here today. It is futile to deny one's ancestry; one's genetic makeup cannot be changed by fierce desire. And yet, the way that ancestry is interpreted, by others and by oneself, is so important.

Snow Crash and the Art of Making a Digital World

It's hard not to be excited by the world presented in Snow Crash – although perhaps that requires a bit more clarification.

It's hard not to be excited by the Metaverse, a digital world (literally) presented via the wonder that is the Internet. Now, although the Metaverse is something of a unique take on the concept of a virtual world/life-simulator (at least until one remembers Second Life, which, while not extant when Snow Crash was written, has the distinct advantage of existing now even as the Metaverse does not), the notion of a digital world that human beings can interact with, virtually, is not unique. From Neuromancer to Ghost in the Shell to the .hack// games, there is a very large body of work dedicated to exploring this concept.

Nevertheless, the way that Snow Crash goes about doing it is memorable because of the equal emphasis placed on the real world. Granted, a number of other works like this consider real-world consequences as well (the conceit of the .hack// series of games/books/tv shows is a virtual MMORPG in which the main characters are trapped; the new anime Sword Art Online discusses a world in which characters are trapped in a different MMORPG, but their death in-game would result in their death out-of-game, too).

But Snow Crash gives character to its world; the Metaverse is unlike anything you've ever seen, but so are the burbclaves and the CosaNostra Pizza, Inc., which couldn't even be called a “front” for the American mob. It is interesting to note the parallels between these two worlds. Both focus on real estate (prime real estate in the Metaverse means being an early adopter and getting in at the ground floor; in the real world, every suburb is its own sovereign state), and both emphasize a certain libertarian ethic: although the corporatization of America has been taken to an absurd extreme, inside the Metaverse money can still be used to establish one's status as someone who takes the Metaverse seriously; and if one is an extremely talented and skilled programmer, like Hiro, one can use those talents to increase one's status as well.

It is an interesting divide; the poor and the idealistic Hiro in the real world works as the lackey for Uncle Enzo, self-made man of influence, head of the mafia, essentially the “king of the world”. But in the Metaverse, he finds not an “escape” from that life; he becomes a king himself, and others are insignificant before his sword fighting skills, his intimate knowledge of the world and his own programs which help him, for instance, dispose of troublesome body parts left over from said sword fights.

As the lines between reality and the Metaverse blur (as a piece of code in-game has direct effects out-of-game) it asks us to think; what makes the Metaverse any less real, just because one can turn it off? Hiro's status symbols exist and have meaning to thousands when he is in the Metaverse; this is not just an identity he puts on and off at will, however. It is a fundamental part of who he is.

Postscript? On Visiting Mumu in New York

Writing and thinking about Slactivism; at the end of the semester---

I have decided, in posting this post that I missed, not to try and reorient myself back to that week, but to post a retrospective.  After writing my paper, I have become very interested in the idea of embedding the past and the future into the contemporary narrative.  Let's say trauma as past, desire as future.  Berlant, Ahmed, hat's off to you.

So this idea of embedding -- perhaps, conflation, or a reappropriated reconstruction.  This, as contrasted by an idea of juxtaposition.

The past event, the Slactivism lab, was (to be frank) slightly traumatic as it occurred in tandem with the opening of my Grandmother's hit Broadway musical.  I had to miss this opening. 

I will, however, (to look toward the future) be seeing the show in New York on Wednesday.  Now to analyze this in the context of desire:  why do I want to see this show so badly?  Perhaps some idea of feeling "cosmopolitan" ; the agency I have in travelling to New York City for a brief period of time, as an individual, apparently freely acting according to my wishes.  And this has to be combined in some manner with the idea that I should make my Grandmother happy and also proud.  I call this grandmother Mumu.  Visiting Mumu is always a performance of sorts, more so than another engagement as she often performs me.  I am her granddaughter, young and fresh, a senior at Brown University.  I offer some notion of potential which I like to play.  I want to play.  I hope that I will successfully play, successfully enact in an effort to promote its fruition.  I want to have had potential and to represent the manifestation of such -- some notion of a future success.

SO:  the current narrative; this blog post.  Slactivism.  Is Slacktivism ever a manifestation of success?  What is success, how will I one day feel morally sound, with a heart that is happy and full.  There was an article I remember a few years ago about the obsession with "happiness" in American culture.  Perhaps the American Dream has now been translated to some desire to be happy.  A state of being as the number one desire, one degree further from manifestations of fantasies of what might make one happy.  Is this progress, this distillation of meconaissance into emotion?

The lab itself was a success -- we caused patrons and employees of Brown's Rockafeller Library to question our actions in the context of revolt.  Is this success?  We had no intentions of actual revolt.  However, to spark thought and dialogue seems like it must be a success.

Here I find the success and failure of Kony all tied together.
Kony sparked dialogue.  Kony also incited action -- but perhaps not either a sustainable or even a useful form of action.  And yet, here I am writing about Slactivism and happiness and what I want for my future and I  think to reference Kony.  So, it provides an outlet, or better yet-- a base, from which to talk about  activism on the internet. 

Its an interesting time, again, to talk about success and failure in terms of the internet now that Egypt has AGAIN witnessed revolt.  And there was a shooting in Connecticut which made President Obama cry on national news.  There was this question about engagement in political thought in tandem with these shootings-- too early? too late?  What is respectful in terms of channelling a tragedy so quickly into motivation for political discourse...?  My thoughts run wild all over the place when thinking about such issues. 

And maybe that's okay... thoughts all over the place, all inhabiting this present space of what is now.  A spatio-temporal space that is infinitely deep, infinitely related, impossible to navigate but always necessarily reorienting itself inwardly to channel the myriad possibilities that may or may not manifest in full. 


Act of Slacktivism:  I watched Kony Pt. II

   Because I was studying abroad when Kony hit it big, I did not watch the first Kony video that went viral in real time, and only heard bits and pieces of the viral response and ultimate self-destruction of the founder. However, the video is called Kony 2012, and threatens to expire at the end of this year, so revisiting it and the the follow-up, with tactical planning for the rest of the calendar year, seemed timely.
 The Kony campaign has made a resurgence in the news, but it is for the amount of views generated, not the impact of the effort. In the Google Zeitgeist results, it is a top viewed documentary, but its exceptional-ness is currently outshined by the similarly inexplicable rise of Gangnam Style. How can the disconnect between awareness and action be further proved than this?

Mapping and Visualizing

    I have continued to think about Professor Muhanna's closing statement, about how in an age of increasingly sophisticated arguments, one must not need to argue an accurate, but rather a sophisticated argument, in order to be correct. Given the high volume of information and possible explanations to any situation, decision making and power will continue to lie in the lo-fo power of charisma and other affective persuasion.
     After Professor Muhanna's lecture, we were forwarded a link to the map of the Arabic blogosphere in 2009, which I believe was trying to say something about the density, frequency, or prevalence of certain factors in that community. It's really not clear to me now what I should have gotten out of that chart, or even why the image exists.
  Ultimately,  I think the simplicity and simultaneous complexity of this image is attempting to tell me that the information in it is important - without anything districting in the details, the ur-relationships of the blogosphere must become apparent. Just as Muhanna had referenced the volume of video footage with confusing meaning, this exercise in restraint does the same thing. It is persuasuve without informing. It is also so ambiguous that it could be describing anything: like renewable energy genes (image 1) or data viz subgroups themselves (image 2).  I think Muhanna reinforced in practice that the desire for mapping, as described by Jameson in the first weeks of our course, is still very much an unanswered need. How can we understand the world without reducing it down to circles?


Thursday, December 13, 2012

Paper on Product RED

--> Intro/thesis paragraph:

Humanitarian work has undoubtedly surpassed the realm of NGO’s and international institutions like Oxfam or UNICEF. In fact, Didier Fassin writes that since the late 20th century, a growing number of private groups have emerged to head humanitarian work and fundraising efforts (Fassin 6). The private sphere has increasingly concerned itself with issues of poverty, disease, and the act of helping those less fortunate; in part due to the increasing number of celebrities that are dedicating themselves to causes in order to cast humanitarian work into a different, more attractive light. In particular, U2 front man Bono’s venture, Product (RED), was created in 2006 in order to raise money for The Global Fund, a financer of programs fighting AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis (Pont 711).  This paper will aim to use (RED) as a case study to explore the use of celebrity and elite brands in advertising for humanitarian organizations, and how the goal of driving consumption skews not only the consumer’s perception of the issue and their contribution towards it, but also the altruistic objective of humanitarian aid. Using both Sarah Ahmed’s language of pain and love and Fassin’s discussion of the appropriation of ‘suffering’ in the new humanitarian world order as a framework reveals that private organizations like (RED) use celebrities to glorify humanitarian aid organizations and work. In the course of promoting cause-driven consumption, (RED) perpetuates relations of inequality with the alluring promise to consumers of the attainment of an ideal, thereby largely negating any true acts of morality or altruism.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Guys, this is crazy.

This video is about Gulf War Syndrome.
If you don't know anything about it, please watch this.

Monday, December 10, 2012

the erotic agency of a national anthem

I noticed recently that when I googled "National Anthem Lyrics" the top results were divided, fairly evenly, between results relating to the "real" National Anthem ("The Star Spangled Banner") and Lana del Rey's 2012 pop song "National Anthem." 

Below is Lana Del Rey's 2012 Official Music Video "National Anthem." The music video
depicts del Rey in a contemporary reinterpretation of the John F. Kennedy era, particularly focused on the tragedy of 1963.  I am interested in the reproduction of the national tragedy of the mid-twentieth century, as it exists within the lexicon of twenty-first century desire.

 In "National Anthem" Lana del Rey begins with a rendition of Marylyn Monroe's iconic "Happy Birthday Mr. President" performance.

Within the seven minute film, Lana del Rey plays the role of both Jackie Kennedy and also Maryln Monroe, interacting with the figure of "JKF" in a somewhat interchangable manner.  The final scenes of the film depict a reproduction of the presidential assasination.  (Below the images of the Lana del Rey version I have included still from the Zapruder film of the actual assasination).


My focus on Lana del Rey's contemporary reinterpretation of the JFK scandle is driven by four main points of interest: the actual national tragedy of 1963, along with the public response it provoked; the public interest in the personal relations caused by the triad of President Kennedy, Jackie Kennedy, and Maryln Monroe; the function of a contemporary reinterpretation of the respective issues in a pop-culture setting; and the implicit narrative of titling this interpretation "National Anthem."
My final paper will look at these points as the relate to Lauren Berlant's "Critical Optimism," Sarah Ahmed's "The Politics of Emotion," and Benedict Anderson's "Imagined Networks."
Within the scope of these three authors, I hope to explore the relationship between desire and identity, translated from the political body to the indivual.  I am curious how the wound of a nation translates to the sorrow of an individual, and vice-versa.  Furthermore, I am interested in the fascination with the romanticism of the mid-twentieth century national wound, as it exists in a discoure of nastalgia apart from such a wound today.  I believe this nastalgia is related to the idea of an "American Dream," as discussed by Berlant -- as it exists within a national identity (Anderson).  This romantic nastalgia suggests that similar crises today could not offer the same affective logic to a viewer-- for example, the Monica Lewinski scandle with President Clinton, or otherwise the the national tragedy of September 11, 2001.  Moreover, what is at stake in linking lust (by way of the JFK-Monroe scandle; with desire, perhaps even fantasy) and pain (the national wound; a scar, perhaps as a disruption to the habitual)?  Ahmed writes about the power of the scar, as it marks the existence of history in the quotidinal present; however, aside from the gun shot and the concern on del Rey's face, the music video "National Anthem" is devoid of the violece inherent in the reference to the assasination.  Furthermore, in synthesizing the characters of Monroe and Kennedy into a single person, an individual within the historical narrative, the music video similarly eradicated the pain inherent in the duplicity of these relationships to JFK. 
My paper thus demands an answer regarding the function-- perhaps the utitlity (or its inverse)-- of the over 10.5 million views of the official youtube video of Lana del Rey since it was posted five months ago, 27 June 2012.               
The structure of the paper, as I envision it, should go as follows:
Presentation of the main idea:
Earlier this year, Lana Del Rey produced a widely received single titled "National Anthem," with a music video that depicts a representation of the Kennedy presidency through the eyes of a single woman (Del Rey), here designed to embody both Jackie Kennedy and Maryln Monroe.

The prominent themes to be discussed:
(answering the general question-- why this, why now?)
-violence & a national wound -- why JFK's assasination, and not 9/11
-nastalgia & the american dream -- why has this national obsession held up through the test of time
-fantasy & desire -- what is at stake in Del Rey's embodiement of these two women; what is the meaning of their conflation to the identity of the contemporary woman

Main question(s):
Does the re-presentation of the Kennedy era in "National Anthem," devoid of pain or trauma, function as an incorporation of the memory of pain in the body politic, as a "scar" to mark the memory of a wound; or conversely, does the apathetic incorporation of  trauma into the pop-culture dialectic further divorce the event from its place in the political consciousness, thereby allowing the original disruption to flow more smoothly into the neoliberal capitalist agenda that determines the contemporary democratic body?  
Working Thesis:
an answer to the question or perahaps simply the question itself.

In MTV's interview with Anthony Mandler, the director of "National Anthem," Mandler is described as feeling that, "the video is less about reinterpreting history and as it is about examining loss, historical or otherwise."  Mandler says,"The whole movie kind of hedges on the gunshot, it hedges on that close-up of the hand when the gunshot happens, and you don't see anything violent. What you're used to seeing with the Zapruder film, is this very kind of violent, destructive act; I didn't want to go anywhere near that."

What is at stake in the reappropriation of a national anthem within the context of contemporary popular culture's dialectic of erotic desire? In a recent article in Artforum titled "This Year in Pop," Christopher Glazek ends by saying:

"Del Rey is not a political singer, whatever that could mean in 2012, but her songs and videos trade on, or perhaps consume, the great issues of our day. Del Rey is a fantasist, too, but her fantasies are worldly and ambitious. Her vision, while affirmative, is also unblinkered; through it, she brings a rare candor to an escapist enterprise. She allows us to escape, but to escape into reality, and thereby perhaps to remake it."

Glazek's article focuses primarily on Lana Del Rey's 2012 hit song "National Anthem" (Born to Die, Interscope), as the song, and its accompanying video, reinterpret the scandle and tragedy of the John F. Kennedy presidency in the context of the contemporary post-modern dialectic of desire.  Lana del Rey's contemporary reinterpretation of the Kennedy era enacts the relationship between desire and identity, translated from the political body to the indivual.  There is a certain gravity to the video re-presentation of the Kennedy assasination, as it manifests devoid of any of the violence of the murder.  In an MTV interview with Anthony Mandler, the director of "National Anthem," Mandler is described as feeling that, "the video is less about reinterpreting history and as it is about examining loss, historical or otherwise."  Mandler goes on to say:
"The whole movie kind of hedges on the gunshot, it hedges on that close-up of the hand when the gunshot happens, and you don't see anything violent. What you're used to seeing with the Zapruder film, is this very kind of violent, destructive act; I didn't want to go anywhere near that."  
This interest in loss apart from violence also seems to manifest in the decision to renarrativise the history of the triadic relations between President Kennedy, Jackie Kennedy, and Maryln Monroe.  The depiction of the Kennedy presidency through the eyes of a single woman (Del Rey), here designed to embody both Jackie Kennedy and Maryln Monroe.  This synthesis of the sovergneity of Monroe and Jackie Kennedy into a single person, an individual within the historical narrative, eradicates the inherent pain present in the duplicity of these relationships to the president.  Here there is, on the one hand, a confusion of lust (by way of the JFK-Monroe scandle) and pain (the national wound); while simultaneously a conflation of the lust and pain that manifests on a more general register, in the relation of the reinterpretation to the original events.  It finally seems relevent that this reappropriation of historical events exists under the title "National Anthem."  The title itself thereby presents an argument regarding the content of the music video as it relates to the production of national identity.  The function of this production, however, is less clear: does the re-presentation of the Kennedy era in "National Anthem," devoid of pain or trauma, function as an incorporation of the memory of pain in the body politic, as a "scar" to mark the memory of a wound?; or conversely, does the apathetic incorporation of trauma into the pop-culture dialectic further divorce the event from its place in the political consciousness, thereby allowing the original disruption to flow more smoothly into the neoliberal capitalist agenda that determines the contemporary democratic body? 
  Ahmed writes about the power of the scar, as it marks the existence of history in the quotidinal present; however, aside from the gun shot and the concern on del Rey's face, the music video "National Anthem" is devoid of the violece inherent in the reference to the assasination. Furthermore, in
; a scar, perhaps as a disruption to the habitual
the function of a contemporary reinterpretation of the respective issues in a pop-culture setting; and the implicit narrative of titling this interpretation "National Anthem."

My final paper will look at these points as the relate to Lauren Berlant's "Critical Optimism," Sarah Ahmed's "The Politics of Emotion," and Benedict Anderson's "Imagined Networks."

Within the scope of these three authors, I hope to explore I am curious how the wound of a nation translates to the sorrow of an individual, and vice-versa. Furthermore, I am interested in the fascination with the romanticism of the mid-twentieth century national wound, as it exists in a discoure of nastalgia apart from such a wound today. I believe this nastalgia is related to the idea of an "American Dream," as discussed by Berlant -- as it exists within a national identity (Anderson). This romantic nastalgia suggests that similar crises today could not offer the same affective logic to a viewer-- for example, the Monica Lewinski scandle with President Clinton, or otherwise the the national tragedy of September 11, 2001. Moreover,