Friday, August 29, 2008

Up the Yangtze: Cliches as archetypes?

Saw the documentary Up the Yangtze tonight; predictably disturbing to see the Yangtze rising, disrupting the lives of the poorest and most disenfranchised, American tourists oblivious to the realities beyond the simulacra created by the journey into "old China," the simulacra of the "farewell tour." Nothing very surprising, but a compelling film none the less: cliches as archetypes? The family tension created by the 16 year old protagonist who wants to go to high school, her family's inability to pay for it, requiring her to work on the cruise boat, provides the emotional punch.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Images of peace and the post-human presidency

I'm starting to get my head into my fall seminar titled "War and Peace in the Global Village: Rhetorical Acts Post 9/11." The first assignment asks students to remake McLuhan's WPGV for 2008 (40 years later). The topic / issue / theme (whatever you want to call it) obviously has not gone away. The text itself is a bear, but I found a few gems the last time through it, and now I am trying to imagine how I might write with the text, and not about it.

I've been reading a lot about the images of 9/11 and our post 9/11 world, but those are always images of war. What are the images of peace? Does peace have an image problem?

McLuhan lambasts the political leaders of his day for not understanding the weapons and technologies they were deploying, not understanding that the mechanical world of hardware was being replaced by a world of software, and that because these leaders did not understand the changing world, they kept lashing out in new conflicts, new wars. Violence, according to McLuhan is a quest for identity.

To the extent that I am following the campaign circus, I am disappointed by the up-swing in Obama's tough-guy talk. I much preferred the "give peace a chance" Obama, the Darfur Dharma. Got me thinking about the post-human presidency. I don't think people, real human beings, want war. The war refugees I know sure as hell didn't want war. To accept the presidency is undoubtedly to accept a post-human subjectivity, despite the equally powerful importance / demand of being a "real guy" (and it is still "guy"--but that's another story).

Anyway, this is getting longer than I wanted it to, but it seems to me that the post-human / cyborg identity needs to be run through the McLuhan laws of media, because we'd get something like Haraway arguing for some valuable enhancements and some equally valuable obsolescences; we'd also see this post-human presidency as a reversal, perhaps: post-humanism as "inhuman, as in-humane".

If we can imagine a positive, life-affirming, audaciously hopeful cyborg president, what would s/he look like?

Has anything in the world of computers and composition changed since 2001?

I just came across Jeff Rice's comments from a "Town Hall Meeting" at the 2001 Computers and Writing conference. This meeting would have been in the summer of 2001, before 9/11, but I am not sure that much has changed in the world of computers and writing since then. Jeff's final point in the talk is this:

I could suggest that in the future we will all have wireless hand held computers, use holograms to communicate with students (no classrooms – we beam ourselves out to their private homes), or something else that appears grand and promising. But I don't think that we are yet prepared to work with what exists now – to teach HTML, Flash, Photoshop, Premiere, etc. not merely to create web designers and graphic artists, but to teach innovation and invention principles as well critique – the basis of composition. I would instead call upon future computers and writing scholarship to explore new writing practices, to not be afraid to critique itself and its current usage of technology, and to search out new models for electronic writing, models that I think come from various areas like literature, theory, science, music, and art.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Writing After Derrida After McLuhan After Joyce

Leverette, Marc. “Writing (After Derrdia [After McLuhan] After Joyce).” Communication and Critical / Cultural Studies.” 4.4 (2007): 343-62.

Leverette’s article is the most sustained comparison of McLuhan and Derrida that I have read, and he quite reasonably sees Joyce as the lynch-pin for the two. Leverette does a nice job of framing them both as medium theorists, although working from Joyce in very different directions.

As has been shown, while seemingly structural opposites of one another, in McLuhan and Derrida (and medium theory and deconstruction in general), we find formal, material, and philosophical similarities, thus questioning how two seemingly disparate approaches to mediation can be said to “supplement” one another without being swallowed by the other in aporetic, systemic, and logical negations. McLuhan’s “medium theory,” being materially open to historical interpretation from a phenomenological non-technologically deterministic and formally closed in its interpretation of communication form, and Derrida’s deconstruction, formally open and embracing undecidability and materially closed in its ontological underpinnings of media privileging, each to the other, embrace and deny the grave contradictions and similarities between them in the same breath. (356-57)

I generally agree with Leverette’s analysis, but I was surprised that he did not approach a comparison through “the medium is the massage” and “enframement.” Maybe that is the next step in his work, or maybe I can finally get around to exploring that topic in more detail. I do need to puzzle through some of Leverette’s analysis more to understand the nuances of his comparison.

His conclusion is enticing, and comes back to the question of what is “writing.”

It is an act of experiment, introspection, and invention. It is not simply about mimetic objectivity, linearity, rationality. It is about producing, desiring, images, flows, lines, tangles, “thithaways” and “hithaways,” effects, and affects. It is becoming. It is of course a kind of production of the I. But it is always a production of the Other. As Derrida writes, “. . . the image that is reflecting in me in the water is deformed, deforming: I am an other.”
And (in this case at least) the Other is always already a proximal and specific someone. (357-58)

Friday, August 15, 2008

Hanging with Zizek the wild man

Wow, not exactly what I expected when I went looking for Zizek on YouTube--he is a wild man! In this clip, he comes to the conclusion that love is violent, love is evil, which isn't so different from McLuhan's argument that education is violent, education is war and war is education.

I did some database searching today, and very few scholars are making a McLuhan-Zizek connection, which may or may not be significant. Both are a little to hot (by which I mean cool) to handle, so they don't seem to get a lot of application. McLuhan far outstripped Zizek on my database quests--how did the guy get to be such a name if so few people use him?

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Zizek, the New McLuhan?

Douglas Kellner has an essay, "Baudrillard: A New McLuhan?" I'm reading Zizek's Desert of the Real and hearing echoes of McLuhan everywhere, from Zizek's approving use of G. K. Chesterton to his use of Laws of Media like language (the obsolescing of the soldier) to a Medium is the Massage kind of phrasing about the real impact of the 9/11 attacks.

I see that others have tred this path before me, at least in the blogosphere:

Will have to see what the scholars say.

Following the path of "affordances."

I looked up "affordances" on Wikipedia because I want to ask a student an exam question about "affordances;" Kress isn't mention, but James Gibson is identified as the psychologist who coined the term. Started digging around for info on Gibson, who wrote books like An Ecological Approach to Visual Perception and I started to think that Gibson must have been reading McLuhan, or vice versa. I've always thought "affordances" is just a million dollar academic word for "the medium is the massage." Couldn't find any clear and conclusive connections between the two, but ended up back at Wikipedia's entry on "Sensorium" which credits McLuhan, Ong, and anthropologist Ted Carpenter with stimulating interest in "sense ratios;" the article eventually comes around to Gibson. Kress does not yet have a node in THE Wikipedia. Take that! McLuhanites are populating Wikipedia while the New London Group snoozes and loses.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Darfur Olympics

Mia Farrow and others have organized an alternative olympics, a darfur olympics, encouraging people to pay as much attention, and give as much time, money, and energy to stopping genocide as "we" people tend to give to the olympics and sports more generally.

Farrow is delivering a daily video cast from Darfur; other videos can be found here.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Navigation of a Rainmaker: Sudanese novel

Navigation of a Rainmaker (African Writers Series) Navigation of a Rainmaker by Jamal Mahjoub

My review

rating: 4 of 5 stars
This book was written just as the second civil war was breaking out in Sudan, mid to late 1980s. The main character is a lost soul who finally finds himself by killing a mercenary-type American who has come to Sudan to stimulate the instability, rather than work towards peace. The American's moment of revelation is an interesting statement of neo-colonial goals in Africa; the main character's challenge--to act or not to act--is a question that carries over from the most famous Sudanese novel, Season of Migration to the North. A good novel, but I'm pretty interested in Sudanese material so somebody looking for a "great book" might be a bit disappointed.

View all my reviews.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Sudan and the Olympics

The US flag bearer at the Olympics is a Lost Boy of Sudan. The story gives a lot of the general history of Lost Boys--not much about the runner himself.

The Sudanese track team got coverage in the NY Times. They train in a half-built facility in Khartoum, they lift paint cans full of rocks instead of weights, but the team is made up members from different tribes who eat and train together. Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in baseball; maybe sports can break some old tensions in Sudan.