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Archive for May, 2012|Monthly archive page

“Scarers in Print”

In books, humanities, languages, media, universities on May 30, 2012 at 09:27

 

“Scarers in Print”: Media Literacy and Media Practice from Our Mutual Friend to Friend Me On Facebook. Part 2 – Jim Mussell – http://jimmussell.com

The materiality of media must become disciplined so they can function, in a particular instance as a particular type of object. Bill Brown’s distinction between ‘object’ and ‘thing’, where objects become socialized through discourse while things remain obliquely out of view, is useful here. As Brown notes, ‘we begin to confront the thingness of objects when they stop working for us’.5 But what if rather than positing a binary we rethink thingness as a repository or resource, something that can be drawn upon to recast objects from one form to another? In her book, Writing Machines, N. Katherine Hayles posits a materiality that is emergent and shifting, linking together representation and the physicality of the object that allows representation to operate. If, as Hayles suggests, ‘the physical attributes constituting any artefact are potentially infinite’, then objects – standing on the threshold of a generative, unknowable, thingness – are repositories of materiality.6 The object world marks the boundary between the socialized properties of things and the vast repository of the unknown that constitutes their thingness. As use is social practice, the form of this threshold constantly changes: objects manifest different properties and, in turn, recast the social relations in which they are embedded. As Brown suggests, the ‘thing really names less an object than a particular subject-object relation.’7 In a very real way, then, objects are interfaces because they make things happen.

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Announcement: Off-line for a week

In Announcements on May 24, 2012 at 05:17

 

I will be away for about a week. The ANAGNORI posts will resume next Wednesday. Stay tuned.

Thank you to all those who have subscribed and read the blog.

 

ANAGNORI

“On Madness” by Leon Tolstoy, 1910

In philosophy, psychology, society on May 22, 2012 at 06:56

 

“On Madness” by Leon Tolstoy, 1910 – APHELIS

On one hand, communication is destruction: this has been the case from the first use of a biface stone all the way to Georges Bataille. On the other hand, communication is helpful. This aspect appears in Tolstoy’s quote: together, we’re working very hard to forget our “own madness”. This property of the communication process is very clearly identify in this quote from Vilém Flusser:

The purpose of human communication is to make us forget the meaningless context in which we are completely alone and incommunicado, that is, the world in which we are condemned to solitary confinement and death: the world of “nature.”

Human communication is an artistic technique whose intention it is to make us forget the brutal meaninglessness of a life condemned to death. By “nature,” man is a solitary animal, because he knows that he will die and that his community will not matter in the hour of his death: everyone must die alone. Moreover, every hour is potentially the hour of death. Certainly, no one can live with the knowledge of this fundamen- tal solitude and meaninglessness. Human communication spins a veil around us in the form of the codified world. This veil is made from sci- ence and art, philosophy and religion, and it is spun increasingly denser, so that we forget our solitude and death, including the deaths of others whom we love. In short, man communicates with others. He is a “politi- cal animal,” not because he is a social animal, but because he is a solitary animal who cannot live in solitude.

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Who owns your genes?

In ethics, medicine, philosophy, society on May 21, 2012 at 05:30

 

Who owns your genes? – Justin Oakley & Alan Saunders – The Philosopher’s Zone, Radio National

Alan Saunders: Now, when it comes to confidentiality, we have to ask, don’t we, whether genetic counsellors can breach patient confidentiality to disclose the results of genetic tests, say to, in the case of genetic disorder, to relatives who are likely to be affected by the same genetic disorder.

Justin Oakley: Well, that’s right, and this is interesting because I guess we often assume that genetic information is our own personal information, that we kind of own it and that we as individuals should be able to have control over who gets access to that information, but of course in a lot of these conditions, say in the case of an inherited predisposition for bowel cancer, it can also be an indication that perhaps a relative, like a parent, might also have a gene for that condition, and so in the kinds of cases where it’s particularly difficult for genetic counsellors to know what to do, they’re the cases where perhaps an adult, perhaps a young adult in their twenties, has obtained a test for perhaps bowel cancer and the test results have come back and indicated that they do have the gene that predisposes them for that, but that that adult’s relationship with, say, their father has broken down and so perhaps the patient is not keen for the information to be passed on. It’s in that kind of situation where the genetic counsellor faces an ethical dilemma about whether or not to pass on the information to the father perhaps early enough so that the father can obtain some kind of treatment for it.

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Denise Gigante on John Keats

In audio, literature, poetry, writers on May 20, 2012 at 10:19

 

Denise Gigante on John Keats – Entitled Opinions, Stanford University

Listen to the show

Denise Gigante is a professor in the English Department at Stanford University and teaches eighteenth and nineteenth-century British literature with a focus on Romanticism. Her books include “The Keats Brothers: The Life of John and George” (Harvard UP, 2011), “Life: Organic Form and Romanticism” (Yale UP, 2009), “The Great Age of the English Essay: An Anthology” (Yale UP, 2008),  “Taste: A Literary History” (Yale UP, 2005), and “Gusto: Essential Writings in Nineteenth-Century Gastronomy” (Routledge, 2005). She has published several essays, notably on Milton (Diacritics), Blake (Nineteenth-Century Literature), Coleridge (European Romantic Review), Keats (PMLA), Sartre and Beckett (Romanticism and Victorianism on the Net), Tennyson (NCL), Mary Shelley (ELH), and the philosopher Slavoj Zizek (New Literary History). She is currently working on a new book entitled The Book Madness: Charles Lamb’s Midnight Darlings in New York, which is forthcoming from Harvard University Press.

Dan Ariely on the “Irrationality” of American inequality

In economics, political science, politics on May 20, 2012 at 09:49

 

Dan Ariely on the “Irrationality” of American inequality – radioopensource.org

Dan Ariely of Predictably Irrational fame, makes the arresting point that from the standpoint of fairness and equity in the distribution of wealth and power, the vast majority of Americans (90-plus percent) would prefer to be living in Sweden. Which is to say: Mitt Romney’s scariest nightmare, “a European-style welfare state,” may be just the briar patch that most of us Bre’r Rabbits long for.

Main roots of Judt’s and our own unease seem to pop right out of Dan Ariely’s experimental surveys — typically clever in their simplicity. First, when he asks his thousands of respondents to estimate the real division of wealth in the US, and then to propose an ideal distribution, we Americans confirm our sentimental attachment to a polite tilt of privilege. We cherish our mythic legacy of quasi-egalitarian social democracy, with no extreme concentrations of wealth or poverty. But what our answers really confirm is our delusion about the economy we live in now. The top 20 percent of the people in fact own 84 percent of the goods, and the bottom 40 percent of us, barely floating on a sea of debt, own less than half of one percent of the wealth of the nation. We live across roughly double the rich-poor gap measured in Germany, Japan and Denmark. By the standard “Gini coefficient” of wealth inequality, the US ranks with Turkestan and Tunisia, just a tad more equal than Chad and Sri Lanka.

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The hijab or the bikini: the shaping of young girls’ sexuality

In culture, gender, society, sociology on May 17, 2012 at 11:05

 

The hijab or the bikini: the shaping of young girls’ sexuality – Rahila Gupta – opendemocracy.net

Dr Anat Scolnicov, a law academic, demonstrates that ‘parents have a presumptive right to determine their offspring’s religious identity’ by analysing legal approaches to adoption, an extreme case scenario when the child loses its connection with the birth family, and yet attempts are made to retain its original religious identity. In Britain, social workers are obliged to take into account ethnic, cultural, linguistic and religious factors. Scolnicov argues that ‘Protection of religious identity is rarely protection of the exercise of individual choice.’  It is about protection of group rights over individual rights. In some rare cases such as the children of the Australian aboriginal community or Native Americans, who have been decimated by genocide, the community might cease to exist if their children were consistently adopted by outsiders. But these are ethnic and cultural questions rather than religious ones. However, the argument that the community will be decimated is used by some Muslims in support of their right to veil their children. A Muslim mother fears that, “Our enemies understand only too well that our children represent the future of Islam in the West, a future they wish to extinguish. So it’s not surprising, that in this war on Islam our enemies attack our children and their right to Islam”.

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Sociologists Take the Times – Alex Casey

In society, sociology on May 16, 2012 at 00:08

 

Sociologists Take the Times – Alex Casey – The Society Pages

This increasing tendency to hire professionals to take on personal tasks, Hochschild writes, has some unexpected consequences. She describes our ever-increasing relationship with the free market as a self-perpetuating cycle:

The more anxious, isolated and time-deprived we are, the more likely we are to turn to paid personal services. To finance these extra services, we work longer hours. This leaves less time to spend with family, friends and neighbors; we become less likely to call on them for help, and they on us. And, the more we rely on the market, the more hooked we become on its promises.

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Lions in Winter – Charles Petersen

In academia, books, information science, politics on May 14, 2012 at 08:04

 

Lions in Winter – Charles Petersen – n + 1 Magazine

In March 2008, the New York Public Library announced a $100 million gift from private equity billionaire Stephen Schwarzman and a sweeping plan to radically remake its landmark main building on 42nd Street. Six months later, Lehman Brothers collapsed; the plan, to no one’s surprise, was put on hold. Now, the administration has announced that the renovation, its budget increased from $250 to $350 million, is back on track. The proposed designs developed by British architect Norman Foster have not yet been made public, but the basic scheme remains the same: to tear out the steel stacks that occupy almost half of the main building—and that literally hold up the famed Rose Reading Room on the top floor—and replace them with a new circulating library.

That, however, is in the future. What the present will bring is the removal of the majority of the library’s outstanding collection of research-level books, which for most of the past century have rarely if ever been allowed out of the building. These books will be moved to a storage facility in Princeton, New Jersey. Some will remain in the stacks beneath Bryant Park, but the rest of the books in the library’s core collection will be available only by putting in a request and waiting for them to be brought back to New York.

Read part 1 here

Read part 2 here

 

Do Facebook and Twitter help spread Democracy and Human Rights?

In politics, society, sociology on May 12, 2012 at 21:10

 

Do Facebook and Twitter help spread Democracy and Human Rights? – Zygmunt Bauman – Social Europe Journal

We live in a confessional society, promoting public self-exposure to the rank of the prime and easiest available, as well as arguably most potent and the sole truly proficient, proof of social existence. Millions of Facebook users vie with each other to disclose and put on public record the most intimate and otherwise inaccessible aspects of their identity, social connections, thoughts, feelings and activities. Social websites are fields of a voluntary, do-it-yourself form of surveillance, beating hands down (both volume-wise and expenditure-wise) the specialist agencies manned by professionals of spying and detection. A true windfall, a genuinely pennies-from-heaven-style, for every dictator and his secret services – and a superb complement to the numerous “banoptical” institutions of democratic society concerned with preventing the unwanted and undeserving (that is all those who behave or are likely to behave comme il n’est faut pas) from being mistakenly admitted or worming themselves surreptitiously into our decent self-selected democratic company. One of The Net Delusion chapters is titled “Why the KGB wants you to join Facebook”.

It is an old, very old story told all over again: one can use axes to hew wood or to cut heads. The choice does not belong to axes but to those who hold them. Whatever the holders’ choices, the axes won’t mind. And however sharp the edges which it may be currently cutting, technology would not “advance democracy and human rights” for (and instead of) you.

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Deep Intellect: Inside the mind of the octopus

In biology, philosophy, science on May 12, 2012 at 20:45

 

Deep Intellect: Inside the mind of the octopus – Sy Montgomery – Orion Magazine

The moment the lid was off, we reached for each other. She had already oozed from the far corner of her lair, where she had been hiding, to the top of the tank to investigate her visitor. Her eight arms boiled up, twisting, slippery, to meet mine. I plunged both my arms elbow deep into the fifty-seven-degree water. Athena’s melon-sized head bobbed to the surface. Her left eye (octopuses have one dominant eye like humans have a dominant hand) swiveled in its socket to meet mine. “She’s looking at you,” Dowd said.

The American philosopher Thomas Nagel once wrote a famous paper titled “What Is It Like to Be a Bat?” Bats can see with sound. Like dolphins, they can locate their prey using echoes. Nagel concluded it was impossible to know what it’s like to be a bat. And a bat is a fellow mammal like us—not someone who tastes with its suckers, sees with its skin, and whose severed arms can wander about, each with a mind of its own. Nevertheless, there are researchers still working diligently to understand what it’s like to be an octopus.

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Losing Your Religion: Analytic Thinking Can Undermine Belief

In psychology, religion, science on May 10, 2012 at 22:33

 

Losing Your Religion: Analytic Thinking Can Undermine Belief – Marina Krakovsky – Scientific American

People who are intuitive thinkers are more likely to be religious, but getting them to think analytically even in subtle ways decreases the strength of their belief, according to a new study in Science.

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Ingestion / Planet in a Bottle – Christopher Turner

In ecology, science, sociology on May 9, 2012 at 04:40

 

Ingestion / Planet in a Bottle – Christopher Turner – cabinetmagazine.org

At 8:15 am on 26 September 1991, eight “bionauts,” as they called themselves, wearing identical red Star Trek–like jumpsuits (made for them by Marilyn Monroe’s former dressmaker) waved to the assembled crowd and climbed through an airlock door in the Arizona desert. They shut it behind them and opened another that led into a series of hermetically sealed greenhouses in which they would live for the next two years. The three-acre complex of interconnected glass Mesoamerican pyramids, geodesic domes, and vaulted structures contained a tropical rain forest, a grassland savannah, a mangrove wetland, a farm, and a salt-water ocean with a wave machine and gravelly beach. This was Biosphere 2—the first biosphere being Earth—a $150 million experiment designed to see if, in a climate of nuclear and ecological fear, the colonization of space might be possible. The project was described in the press as a “planet in a bottle,” “Eden revisited,” and “Greenhouse Ark.”

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Tomgram: Noam Chomsky, A Rebellious World or a New Dark Age?

In economics, political science, society on May 9, 2012 at 03:50

 

A Rebellious World or a New Dark Age? – Noam Chomsky – TomDispatch.com

The fact is that, in a country whose security forces are up-armored to the teeth from the Mexican border to Union Square, just behind any set of marchers, you can feel the unease of those in power, edging up to fear.  And no wonder.  We remain in a “recovery” that’s spinning on a dime.  Let the Eurozone falter and begin to fall, the Chinese housing bubble pop, or the Persian Gulf go up in flames, and hold onto your signs.  Like Bloomberg in the Big Apple, many mayors sent in their paramilitaries (with a helping hand from the Department of Homeland Security) to get rid of the “troublemakers.”  Only problem: their real problems run so much deeper and when the next “moment” comes, Occupy could look like a march in the park (which, in many inspirational ways, it largely was).  In the meantime, the streets increasingly belong to the weaponized.  Americans who protest blur into the “terrorists” who, since 9/11, have been the obsession of what passes for law enforcement.

So the world is now indeed splitting into a plutonomy and a precariat — in the imagery of the Occupy movement, the 1% and the 99%. Not literal numbers, but the right picture. Now, the plutonomy is where the action is and it could continue like this.

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The Origin and Cultural Evolution of Silence – Maria Popova

In books, philosophy, society on May 6, 2012 at 03:26

 

The Origin and Cultural Evolution of Silence – Maria Popova – Brain Pickings

A recent New York Times Magazine piece on the extinction of silence prompted me to revisit George Prochnik’s excellent In Pursuit of Silence: Listening for Meaning in a World of Noise. As a lover of marginalia, I went straight for my notes on the book, which included this highlighted passage on the origin and cultural appropriation of silence:

The roots of our English term ‘silence’ sink down through the language in multiple directions. Among the word’s antecedents is the Gothic verb anasilan, a word that denotes the wind dying down, and the Latin desinere, a word meaning ‘stop.’ Both of these etymologies suggest the way that silence is bound up with the idea of interrupted action. The pursuit of silence, likewise, is dissimilar from most other pursuits in that it generally begins with a surrender of the chase, the abandonment of efforts to impose our will and vision on the world.

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Transitional Humanity – Gilbert Meilaender

In philosophy, science, sociology on May 4, 2012 at 01:00

 

Transitional Humanity – Gilbert Meilaender – The New Atlantis

The idea is to survive long enough to be around when hoped-for technological advances will make possible indefinite extension of life. Bailey reports that Ray Kurzweil, one of the visionary thinkers committed to this goal, stated at the summit that within roughly fifteen years we may have advanced to a point where we can add “more than one year of longevity per year to remaining life expectancy” — thereby getting out in front of time’s relentless arrow.

We are the creature that hopes,” the political scientist Hugh Heclo writes. The importance — perhaps the necessity — of hope for human life has long been known. The Victorian painter G. F. Watts’s Hope depicts a blindfolded woman holding a broken lyre on which only one string remains; yet that one string is evidently intended to evoke hope in those who view the painting, hope that there is music still to be made. Watts is drawing on classical mythology’s depiction of Pandora’s jar, in which only hope remained after she had released into the world the evils inside it. Whatever precisely the myth means — and it may mean many things — hope can help us to flourish only if it is something other than mere expectation, optimism, or confidence. What we hope for tells us a good bit about who we are.

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Notes on Anarchism – Noam Chomsky

In philosophy, political science, writers on May 3, 2012 at 06:00

 

Notes on Anarchism – Noam Chomsky – chomsky.info

Humboldt’s vision of a society in which social fetters are replaced by social bonds and labor is freely undertaken suggests the early Marx., with his discussion of the “alienation of labor when work is external to the worker…not part of his nature…[so that] he does not fulfill himself in his work but denies himself…[and is] physically exhausted and mentally debased,” alienated labor that “casts some of the workers back into a barbarous kind of work and turns others into machines,” thus depriving man of his “species character” of “free conscious activity” and “productive life.”

Rudolf Rocker describes modern anarchism as “the confluence of the two great currents which during and since the French revolution have found such characteristic expression in the intellectual life of Europe: Socialism and Liberalism.” The classical liberal ideals, he argues, were wrecked on the realities of capitalist economic forms. Anarchism is necessarily anticapitalist in that it “opposes the exploitation of man by man.” But anarchism also opposes “the dominion of man over man.” It insists that “socialism will be free or it will not be at all. In its recognition of this lies the genuine and profound justification for the existence of anarchism.” From this point of view, anarchism may be regarded as the libertarian wing of socialism. It is in this spirit that Daniel Guérin has approached the study of anarchism in Anarchism and other works.Guérin quotes Adolph Fischer, who said that “every anarchist is a socialist but not every socialist is necessarily an anarchist.” Similarly Bakunin, in his “anarchist manifesto” of 1865, the program of his projected international revolutionary fraternity, laid down the principle that each member must be, to begin with, a socialist.

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Death and the Skeptic – Hiram Crespo

In philosophy, religion on May 2, 2012 at 03:28

 

Death and the Skeptic – Hiram Crespo – the Humanist

Epicurus also said:

So death, the most frightening of bad things, is nothing to us; since when we exist death is not yet present, and when death is present, we do not exist. Therefore it is relevant neither to the living nor the dead, since it does not affect the former, and the latter do not exist. Most people flee death as the greatest of bad things and sometimes choose it as a relief from the bad things of life. But the wise man neither rejects life nor fears death.

Some critics of Epicurus claim that he doesn’t factor in the complex reaction to the finality of human life, particularly when such strong bonds exist between us. But this, again, is not unique to humanity. Apes, whales, dolphins, and elephants form bonds and the death of loved ones is extremely painful and traumatic. Elephants are known to visit the graves of their family members and observe in what appears to be a solemn state when in the presence of the bones of their ancestors.

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Race and Violence, the European Way – Russell A. Berman

In political science, sociology on May 1, 2012 at 03:19

 

Race and Violence, the European Way – Russell A. Berman – A Hoover Institution Journal

As American as the Martin shooting was, it is worthwhile to look across the Atlantic and to consider the growing frequency and virulence of parallel events there. Race and violence—and their politicization—are by no means exclusively U.S. phenomena. On the contrary, contemporary European societies display similar troubling tendencies, marked by the fragmentation of ethnically-mixed populations, the spread of extremist ideologies, a growing willingness among radicals to engage in violence, and the propensity of politicians to instrumentalize racial and ethnic anxieties for electoral purposes.

Eriksen and Stjernfelt trace the history of the idea of “culturalism.” It began with particular schools of anthropology, eventually influenced policies by the United Nations, and led to divisive consequences for contemporary Europe. They suggest that current policies facilitate the segregation of immigrant populations. As a result, immigrant ghettos can incubate radicalism among disaffected youth, like Bouyeri, while the structural separation of majority and minority populations feeds the potential for populist resentment or even violent extremism, such as Breivik’s. Consider two recent cases in Germany and France.

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