Posts Tagged ‘other’

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“Museum of Me”: Architecting Identity and Walter Benjamin’s Historical Materialism

June 13, 2011

A museum is defined as a building in which objects of historical, scientific, artistic, or cultural interest are stored and displayed. Already known for being the architects of what is inside your computer, Intel is now branching out to what is inside of you. Specifically, this is being achieved through an application that filters your Facebook activity and regurgitates it into a virtual “Museum of Me” (or you, depending). On the cool side of the spectrum, it is pretty fascinating to see the lineage of relationships, portraits, and taste. Aesthetically, the “Museum of Me” paints a pretty picture of who you are, or who you would like to think you are.

The Intel App creates a video tour of your Museum. Featuring your name, photos, friends, likes, and networks, the video is a visual summary of everything you have ever clicked on while logged into Facebook. If the information were to be presented outside of a “museum” context, such as for corporation research or consumer profiling, the shear amount of information available would be overwhelming. Not to mention the horror if the “Museum of Me” were being used as a visual introduction to potential employers. In short, the “Museum of Me” project articulates just how impossible it now is to filter which parts of your identity your friends, family, businesses, and employers have the ability to access.

But does this breaking down of filters mean that we are able to more consistently be who we are? For some it is enough, but for others the “Museum of Me” fails to fit. And here are the reasons why:

If history is a narrative constructed from selected cultural artifacts, the question is who, or what, is to decide what is significant? In “On the Concept of History” Walter Benjamin asserts the importance of blasting historic structures and reveling in the pieces, separate from an architected structure. In this regard, he states the following:

The historical materialist cannot do without the concept of a present which is not transition, in which time originates and has come to a standstill. For this concept defines precisely the present in which he writes history for his person. Historicism depicts the ‘eternal’ picture of the past; the historical materialist, an experience with it, which stands alone. He leaves it to others to give themselves to the whore called ‘Once upon a time’ in the bordello of historicism. He remains master of his powers: man enough, to explode the continuum of history.”

Central to the concept of historical materialism is the paradox of the transition of time, where time is simultaneously beginning and ending. If time is constantly narrowing and expanding, then the experience of the present cannot be roped into a single narrative (there must be at least two for the beginning and end of time, if not an infinite amount of other possible twists and turns!). In contrast, Historicism argues for the limitation of historical perspective and an authoritarianism to interpretation. More crassly, Benjamin likens the historian who writes an objective history from a set perspective to a whore who gives up the goods for capitalist interests. In contrast, the historical materialist blasts the narrative of history and through this action ascends his power.

Now, how does this relate to Intel’s “Museum of Me”? Intel has created an App to reflect the activities, faces, friends, and likes that are logged into the Facebook world. This is a historical narrative of your life, and on a literal level is accurate. Intel is not lying and the narrative has been built on tangible evidence. However, when a blast of historical materialism is applied, there is no more Museum, simply refuse from the explosion. A discarded photo, or shard of familiarity no longer represents the set narrative. However, the potential for meaning has been exponentially expanded. Because authentic significance is simultaneously a beginning and an end of time, the encounter with historic artifacts is unlimited once the form of Historicism has been dissolved.

In terms of identity, one of the joys of Facebook is that it allows the individual to create a public face. To make photo portraits, post relevant articles, network, search, and comment to our hearts delight. However, is this the entire picture? One narrative says yes, but for some this is not enough. The narrative deconstructs, the spiral toward Self shifts, and suddenly we are once again left with the Other—unknown possibilities abound.

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My Half Orange is Kind of Blue

June 9, 2011

What can’t be said about this album? Iconic and brilliant it has single handedly made generations of musicians and listeners fall in love—to fall in love with music, with Miles, Jazz, each other, it is all unavoidable. While the musicology of the album, the history of the musicians, and the it’s evolution within the genre are fascinating topics, what this article is going to focus on is the question: why the love?

This review is not going to have anything to do with chords, improvisation, technique or rifts. Rather, it is just a look and a listen of one song “So What,” simply as if it were a person. It is THE person; the half orange; the blue heart; the love and the life.

All music exists in and out of time. We’re either together, or a part. Wanting more or wanting less. Longing, holding, leaving, and silence. So much of love takes place in the silent, lonely moments apart. Even when things are close, intimate, and continuous, the silence works it’s clever way into conversations, mornings, and late nights.

And that is just it, the silence and space that defines “So What” mirrors the rhythms of love. The times when you need to listen, when themes over lap and octaves rise in response. They are all there: the breath that comes from listening, the synchronization that comes from nearness, the familiarity of the notes is shared.

But it isn’t just the sharing, it is the perfection that comes from listening. The rewards of looking at a person, not as a reflection of yourself, but as a being who is sharing a grand experience simply because that is what they want. The being-ness of life, not the spontaneity, but the depths and long moments all packed together.

How incredible it is to wake up in the morning and know that the person there has made that choice. Not for how you look. Not for how you feel or what you do. But because of all of it, and nothing. Because there is space and time to listen. That is the choice that Kind of Blue makes. There is pain, sadness, and longing. But there is love and there is choice. Kind of Blue wants you, and only you. It calls to you for love, and love knows how to listen.

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Joan Didion: Exercising Narrative Rights

June 5, 2011

joan Didion

C-Span Interview with Joan Didion

In a 1996 C-SPAN Book TV interview, Joan Didion speaks about her body of written work. Incredibly the interview lasts for three hours and includes a huge space for viewers to call in and ask her questions. (As a side note, it is incredible to see such a large amount of time, audience participation, and interest in writing being dedicated by a network. What does this say about the change in audience participation and attention spans?) In this clip, Didion speaks specifically about her first experience of being published and her first encounter with the American political process.

Publishing her first novel at the age of 28, Didion is asked about her first experiences with writing, publishing and rejection. Considering the continuity of her writing career, the interviewer is surprised that Didion had ever been rejected at all. Didion’s response is to articulate that the experience of being rejected is inseparable from the experience of writing, and that somehow the writer gets through it. At the end of the clip, Didion is asked if she likes speaking about her writing. She responds that she does not mind speaking about what she has already written, however she does not talk about what she is currently working on, or thinking about.

Though this is only a brief clip, two points about Didion’s writing process are made clear. Firstly, that the experience of rejection (whether literally or psychologically) is apart of writing. Rejection is an active part of presenting creative work to an audience. Secondly, the process of actively writing is private and that there is a clear boundary between what will be shared and what be kept private. Clearly, a boundary is being established to protect her writing process from being overwhelmed by the projected expectations of others. The line between the individual and the group enables the potential for new perspective.

The second theme of the discussion focuses on the American political process. Having not encountered this process until being assigned a reporting job, Didion reminisces that the experience was jarring. Why? Because “the narrative is already in place.” The dialogue that takes place within conventions, tours, debates, and candidate speeches has a known goal, effect, and script. There are no surprises, which in itself, is the surprise.

Who is the author of the American political process? Is it a narrative defined by the needs of the people? An institution?  In an additional interview taken earlier in Didion’s career, she states that one of the reasons she likes to write is that she is “in control of this tiny, tiny world.” Does the predictability of the American political narrative provide a sense of control through its consistency? The issues vary little, and the polarity between the Democrats and Republicans is only becoming more streamlined. The narrative is less and less a debate and more and more a binary divide, yes or no.

The challenge of the writer is to establish engagement with his or her audience. Engagement may come from new content, different forms, or extraordinary craft. The goal is to create an experience that the reader can interact with, feel, or find new perspective from. Conversely, the narrative structure of American politics does not change either form or content. Which leads us to question if engagement is part of the plan. And if not, then what purpose is being met?

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Le Livre de Visage: Philistine, Bohemian, and Eligere

June 4, 2011

Le Livre de Visage, or Le Facebook, is a unique cultural phenomenon. Not only does it remind us of the ancient social hierarchy of the Philistine, Bohemian, and Eligere, but so does it articulate the hierarchy of social needs closeted within. Undeniably attractive, the rough beast of cyber globalization slouches toward the Bethlehem of our intellectual heritage.

Philistinism:
likeWhile the term Philistine has historical roots straight back to the Bronze Age and the Canaanites, the use of Philistine has become a social moniker. According to the Urban Dictionary a Philistine is:

A conformist in everything they do. A person who is obsessed with sports, sex, and Motor vehicles. They listen to whatever everyone else is listening to, wear whatever everyone else is wearing, and avoid anything that is in the least bit unusual, unique, or eccentric (06/04/2011, http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=philistine&defid=2046655).

While Philistine might be equated with a modern concept of social conservativism, it may be adder that the Philistine favors materialism and the unthinking conventional forms of life, art that has a cheap and easy appeal.

Bohemianism:

gypsyIn contrast to the Philistine, Bohemianism is the practice of the unconventional life. Intentionally, or unintentionally, the Bohemian lacks permanent ties and is often described as being wanderers, or adventurers. Bohemia is a counter-culture group that has inspired the evolution of art, literature, and music by existing outside of what is predictable, or the established norm.

Originating in the Gypsy culture stemming from Bohemia, the romanticized life of the Gitano vagabond has been applied to the avant-garde thinkers throughout western society. Bohemianism exists as both an organic and constructed reaction to the values of Philistinism.

Eligere:

Directly related to the commonly used elite, the Latin eligere is translated as “to elect.” The Eligere exist in a status above the proletariat classes (including both Philistine and Bohemian). An exceptional, privileged group that wields considerable power within a community. Power being defined as including physical, spiritual, intellectual, and financial factors.

The views, opinions, and desires of the Eligere should be taken more seriously than that of the under classes. Conventional life is directly influenced by their behavior. However, the lifestyle of the Eligere remains allusive and unattainable by the majority. A good example of this phenomenon is fashion—unaffordable and inaccessible fashion trends reach the masses when they are passé to the Eligere. In commerce, the Eligere are the most successful bourgeoisie. Intellectually, popular culture is vulgar.

Le Facebook:

Originating from the exclusivism of the Harvard Eligere, Facebook is founded on the concept of being either in or out. Evolving to include all that have obtained a .edu email address it was not long before the distinction of education was eliminated and the Facebook world was opened to the world. Now, it carries the reputation of being a tool to organize revolutions in third world countries and is developing online commute technology for the everyday worker.

Clearly used for the boorish pursuit and dissemination of sex, drugs, gossip, popular culture, and the like, Facebook indulges the user in the simplicity of primal purpose. No longer the epic, a post is founded on the verb “to be” which is not much more complicated than the grunt of a Neanderthal. The obvious use of Facebook as a channel for managing, communicating, and reinforcing philistine desires has clearly been accepted by both individuals and corporations.

However, the news bite synthesis of information linked to larger expository writing, the mixed media capabilities, and the instantaneous exposure to the perspectives of a global community allow for creativity and the breaking down of what is known or expected behavior. As a new tool and forum of exploration, the creative potentials for Facebook are incredible. Whether one is dealing with digital media or merely looking for rare, likeminded collaborators, there is great potential for a person to travel far beyond the ordinary. While it is unclear what the path of bohemia looks on Facebook, it is also clear that there is still a space for unconventionality.

Amongst the Eligere, the original purpose of Facebook was for networking and defining social circles. The limited access of Facebook is over, and so is the private, elected party. The concept of “friend” has been deconstructed into the ambiguity of shared popular culture fetishes. Instead of developing more intimacy through written conversation, approval is asserted by the eloquent “like” or “poke.” The Eligere now exist outside of Facebook. To participate is to reveal your true philistine roots. The Eligere have others to manage their online identity, if they choose to participate at all.

Dislocating Identity and Mad Narcissus:

Just as Narcissus became enchanted and doomed by the reflection of his own image, so has Facebook raised questions of how one’s identity is comprehended when observed separate from the Self. The postmodern concerns of authorship have returned: who (or what) is the author, text, and audience? On Facebook, intertextuality, or the boundaries between what is Other and Self are broken. Imagine a mirror. The mirror is broken into a hundred pieces. When one is able to meet the eyes of your reflection in one fragment of mirror, a hundred eyes of the other you look on from the sideline. They are all you, but the filter of choice in how you represent yourself is not stable. Unconsciously, consciously, or compulsively, Facebook reveals your identity from angles that are quickly becoming more and more difficult to self regulate.

While the triumvirate of  social classes (Philistine, Bohemian, and Eligere) exist as the sign posts of cultural identity, they also reflect the internal struggle of identity that is being carried out by the individual: when to conform, how to create, and what to keep exclusive.

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Book Review: Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger

April 11, 2010

This is a book that reminds us of what the function of literature is: the weaving of narrative into questions that relate the reader to the nature of being in the world.

Rather than succumb to the temptation to underwrite the complexities of love and death, Niffenegger is able to create a composition that may hold both reader and reality. The duality of symmetry and chaotic emotion is essential to this balance. The repetition of physical doubling does not imply neatness or psychological symmetry. Instead, we find that where death should bring peace, discord resonates.

A typical trope in literature that is graphically explored in the film noir genre is that doubling foretells death. It is as if the act of the individual witnessing itself is too much and the Self cannot handle so much actuality and must retire. Doubling is a process where the Self becomes the Other, who in turn returns to the Self.

The desire for the Self to be merged with the Other, or a love object, is familiar to all cultures across time. To become one, to be completed by love, to fully be consumed is the root of sex, but on in a larger sense directly related to our drive toward death. Death is that ultimate consumption, le petit mort of sex becomes a metaphor for the ultimate union that is all of our fates.

Niffenegger presents these topics in the relationship of the twins. At once the twins have what we all desire, to know another completely. But through their union, so are they destroyed by their desire for sex and love. The overshadowing of death is made uncomfortably clear when Valentina sees death and reincarnation as the solution to their dilemma.

In addition, something that is interesting to note and might not be commonly known is that while Niffenegger thoroughly researched Victorian burial rituals, she also put in her time learning about the afterlife. Her concept of death, and understanding of spiritual impetus are educated by scholars, channelers, and shaman who make it their business to perceive these realms. While I naturally cannot validate the authenticity of these perspectives, I can say that Niffenegger’s concept of the afterlife is grounded in a collective concept and not solely based on her own imagination. Having had my own studies lead me through many of these texts, it was fascinating to see Niffenegger navigate the concepts in a new, creative context.

This book was fabulously written, provocative and continues to resonate within my mind. Niffenegger’s balance of structure and content is true craftsmanship and I look forward to future endeavors. If you are looking for a more complete review of the literature you can check out the New York Times Book Review at the link listed below. A funny coincidence to the NYT review is that it is written by Susann Cokal, who taught at Cal Poly, SLO while I studied there:

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/27/books/review/Cokal-t.html?pagewanted=1&_r=1