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Archive for September, 2013|Monthly archive page

Poetics of Wonder by Alberto Ruy Sänchez

In Africa, Europe, literature, writers on September 30, 2013 at 21:40

From: Poetics of Wonder: Passage to Mogador by Alberto Ruy Sänchez, The Literal Magazine, http://www.literalmagazine.com

In 1975, the Mexican writer Alberto Ruy Sánchez was a graduate student living in Paris, where he and his wife Margarita de Orellana were pursuing doctoral studies. The fall semester ended, and with time on their hands but little money to spare, they decided to take a trip to Morocco, a place that fit their budget and offered a warm escape from the cold winter in France. At that time, Ruy Sánchez had no way of knowing that the journey to Morocco would become a rite of passage, an initiation into a culture that would forever change his life and his future literary career. Upon seeing the Sahara for the first time, his childhood memories of the Sonoran Desert came rushing back to him, and in his imagination he began to erect un puente de arena, a bridge of sand that united Morocco and his native Mexico. In the souk, the colorful ceramic plates and tiles reminded him of the Mexican Talavera pottery, and the Berber rugs and tapestries evoked the intricate textiles of the Chiapas. But of all the intense moments he experienced in Morocco, the one that would have the most profound impact on him was his visit to Essaouira, a walled city on the Atlantic coast whose ancient name was Mogador. From the moment he first laid eyes on Essouira, this city has continued to obsess and seduce him like an inaccessible woman who extends with her gaze the invitation to explore her labyrinthine streets and enter her secret gardens.

Soon after that first journey to Morocco, he began to construct a quintet of novels that take place in Mogador and explore the many facets of desire: Los nombres del aire (1987, The Names of the Air), En los labios del agua (1996), Los jardines secretos de Mogador: Voces de tierra (2001, The Secret Gardens of Mogador: Voices of the Earth, 2009), and La mano del fuego: Un Kama Sutra involuntario (2007, The Hand of Fire: An Involuntary Kama Sutra). Like the last finger of the Jamsa, a fifth book, Nueve veces el asombro: Nueve veces nueve las cosas que dicen de Mogador (2005), serves as a companion to the other four novels and offers the reader a “Poetics of Wonder,” or a primer for approaching the inaccessible “city of desire.”

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Reposted with permission from: The Literal Magazine

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China’s Facelift by Hamid Elyassi

In Asia, economics, economy, politics, society on September 30, 2013 at 21:30

From: China’s Facelift: Economic Development and Political Transition by Hamid Elyassi , The Montreal Review, http://www.themontrealreview.com

In March this year, the moulting of the political structure of the People’s Republic of China was completed at the annual plenary session of the National People’s Congress and the old faces at the top politely offered their seats to their younger colleagues. The facelift, taking place after the set interval of ten years, certainly helped dispel the received notion that leaders of communist regimes, having survived an often perilous road to power, tend to cling to it until death. What it did not do was to counter the uneasy feeling that the intended rejuvenation was only skin deep.

The routine endorsement of the new leadership by the People’s Congress was the second phase of the rejuvenation procedure. The rather ritualistic exercise had begun in November last year when the Communist Party of China (CPC) held its less frequent National Congress to announce new party leaders. The Party, which at one time used to pawn its impressive revolutionary credentials to lend legitimacy to an oppressive, totalitarian state, has for some time been clutching at the success of the Chinese economy to justify its endurance and avoid the inescapable question of its relevance in a country well-versed in the ways of capitalism. Of course, the way the Congress was managed gave no indication of a once bright star on the wane. Indeed, in a perfectly choreographed exercise in form, the new Party leaders presented to the Party Congress in November were later transplanted to the top of the state apparatus. The operation took place before the delegates to the National People’s Congress who played the rather convincing part of parliamentarians empowered to give, and presumably withhold, their votes of confidence in people set to run China for the coming ten years.

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Reposted with permission from: The Montreal Review

Information, Knowledge & Intelligence by Alistair MacFarlane

In information, information science, internet, philosophy on September 30, 2013 at 21:20

From: Information, Knowledge & Intelligence by Alistair MacFarlane, Philosophy Now, http://philosophynow.org

Anybody reading this will have interacted with a computer. These exchanges can hardly be called conversations. One no more converses with current computers than a soldier on parade converses with a drill sergeant. However, when working on the Internet using your personal computer as an intermediary, things are rather better. Searching for a book, inspecting its contents online, then ordering it, can be a much more satisfying form of interaction. You are never, however, under any illusion that you are dealing with a fellow human: you don’t ask the Internet, “What’s the weather like down there?… Have you read it yourself?” Computer-driven machines can now carry out a huge range of very highly skilled tasks, from navigating and landing aircraft, to manufacturing and assembling a wide range of products. How feasible is it that, in a few decades, one might have great difficulty in knowing whether or not one was talking to a computer? And if unable to finally evade all your attempts to engage it in stimulating conversation (“I’m sorry, but I’m too busy to chat with you right now, what was it you wanted?”), it could answer virtually any general knowledge question, provide detailed guidance over the whole range of literature and science, do seriously advanced mathematics, and play a mean game of poker, should you call it intelligent? After all, it knows the capital, population and main exports of every country in the world, and you don’t. Furthermore, are there serious implications for society if computers linked to machines and communication systems could run all the railroads, fly all the aircraft, manage all the traffic, make all the cars and other products, act as vast reservoirs of factual knowledge, and perform almost any other activity requiring great skill? These are not merely interesting philosophical questions. Should machines reach the requisite levels of knowledge and skill, their integration into society could pose very severe problems.

To address these questions we need to define carefully three basic concepts – information, knowledge and intelligence – and explore the relationships between them. A good way to begin to distinguish between them, is to note how they reflect our relationship to present, past, and future. Information describes: it tells us how the world is now. Knowledge prescribes: it tells us what to do on the basis of accumulated past experience. Intelligence decides: it guides, predicts and advises, telling us what may be done in circumstances not previously encountered, and what the outcome is likely to be.

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Reposted with permission from: Philosophy Now

On Water Scarcity and the Right to Life: Bolivia by Emma Strother

In business, community, ethics, human rights, society, South America on September 24, 2013 at 00:39

From: On Water Scarcity and the Right to Life: Bolivia by Emma Strother, Council on Hemispheric Affairs, http://www.coha.org

Water is arguably the substance most important to maintaining life on earth. At the mountainous center of South America, Bolivia’s complex struggles with the scarcity and commodification of water captured worldwide attention at the turn of the twenty-first century. Symbolizing the denial of a basic human right, privatization of water provoked mass mobilization and dramatic social reform throughout the country. Today, Bolivia’s lingering water scarcity reveals instability in the wake of the ‘Water Wars,’ and the ongoing challenge of resource allocation that the Morales Administration currently faces.

Rising water prices precipitated the conflict by denying basic human rights protection to vulnerable communities. In 1997, the World Bank refused to renew $600 million USD of debt relief to Bolivia unless the country agreed to privatize water. World Bank decision-makers reasoned that putting water in the private sector would help to broadly stimulate the Bolivian economy. [1] Shortly thereafter, officials in the city of Cochabamba sold its municipal water company SEMAPA to the transnational consortium Aguas del Tunari, controlled by U.S. company Bechtel. Bechtel increased water rates for SEMAPA customers to $20 USD monthly, a 35 to 50 percent increase. The new rates were exorbitant to many Cochabambans, who made an average of only $100 per month. [2] Tensions rose even higher when a local law extended Bechtel’s control of water resources to the city’s southern expansion and surrounding rural communities, regions outside of SEMAPA jurisdiction.

A diverse group of civilian protestors coordinated their response to these unjust policies in a historic movement that framed water privatization as a violation of basic human rights. Citizens of Cochabamba and surrounding communities formed an “alliance of farmers, factory workers, rural and urban water committees, neighborhood organizations, students, and middleclass professionals in opposition to water privatization.” [3] Early leaders of the movement included activist and writer Oscar Olivera who earned the 2001 Goldman Environmental Prize for his role in the protests. [4] Evo Morales, then an organizer of rural workers in Chapare, traveled to Cochabamba with a coalition of activists to support civic strikes, roadblocks, and vast popular assemblies. These protests expanded to include issues of unemployment and the economy, causing President Hugo Banzer to declare a “state of emergency” on April 8, 2000. [5] At the height of civil unrest, a citywide strike disrupted transportation, news media, and industry for four days. The Bolivian government offered La Paz police officers a 50 percent pay raise to encourage speedy and aggressive crackdowns on the demonstrations. Throughout the protest period, 110 protestors and 51 policemen were injured, and 200 demonstrators were arrested. Nine violent deaths were attributed to the social unrest. [6] The privatization of water in Bolivia incited these protests by making access to water, and therefore to life, conditional on wealth in a district overwhelmingly known for its poverty.

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Reposted with permission from: COHA

Archive Fever by Lorena Allam

In audio, Australia & Oceania, books, history, humanities, information, interview, research, theory on September 24, 2013 at 00:29

From: Archive Fever by Lorena Allam, Hindsight, ABC Radio National, http://www.abc.net.au

Australia is leading the world in a new approach to archives. It is challenging traditional archivists to embrace a more multilateral approach, one which suggests many versions of the past. But what does this mean archives are about become? Do they describe our past or our future? If we are to believe in Archive Fever then we might find our archives produce our history as much as they record it.

Listen to the broadcast

Archive Fever is the title of a book by Jacques Derrida that has caused much debate around the world. Years later archivists and researchers are still disseminating its meaning. It came at a time when archives were just beginning to face the challenge of the digital age and so were ripe for an new definition. This new definition is still being debated, but so far it looks like it will involve archivists being more open about their practises, and institutions being more open about the gaps in their collections.

Modern archival theory and practise is based on organisational and government records. So the rules for archiving personal papers, oral histories, pictures, ephemera etc, are all adaptations from this dominant model. This is one reason why there are gaps. The histories of minority groups, indigenous communities, women, children and even sports stars, are all underrepresented in our national collections. These are big gaps, but there are also small gaps for instance when a correspondence suddenly breaks into a phone call. Even today archives are essentially about paper, and if the correspondents speak to each other then, the chances are, there’ll be a gap in the record, and a gap in our knowing, and a gap in the conclusions we draw from that knowing.

Reposted with permission from: ABC Radio National

On Incest by Avi Garelick

In biology, philosophy, psychology, religion, sexuality, society on September 24, 2013 at 00:17

From: On Incest: Its Whys and Why Nots by Avi Garelick, The Hypocrite Reader, http://www.hypocritereader.com

Academically, we are obviously all morally opposed to incest and rightfully so. At the same time, there is an argument to be made in the Swiss case to let go what goes on privately in bedrooms. (Matthew Galluzzo)

Is it wrong to wonder what’s wrong with incest? Will it sit still as an object of reasoned inquiry? If you offer an explanation for the rational underpinning of the taboo, will that satisfy the deep feeling of disgust that surrounds it? There is something about the question what is wrong with incest that suggests the more transgressive question is something wrong with incest. Aren’t we naturally averse to incest, anyway? If so, the pertinent question is not so much why is incest wrong as why is it prohibited?

For Freud, incestuous urges are at the beginning of human experience. This is famously expressed in his concept of the Oedipus Complex—love your mother, kill your father. The basic Freudian notion of sex and incest is this: A human being’s sexual character is as old as he or she is. Sexual character does not arrive unprecedented at the onset of puberty, ready to attach itself to a previously non-sexual subject. Rather, the formation of adult sexuality patterns itself on the circuits of pleasures and prohibitions established in the subject’s early years. This is an immanent account. If you begin your life suckling at your mother’s breast, achieving pleasure and nourishment simultaneously, that is your first erotic enjoyment. All later enjoyments are in some sense a variation on that first one. Pleasure is fundamentally incestuous, and without a denial of these initial pleasures it might remain so. This denial is provided by the exclusive daddy-mommy pairing; the child is pushed away from the parent he loves by the other’s rights. This prohibition is the point of departure for all prohibition; it is internalized in the subject’s development of a sense of shame and repression around sex. The incest taboo thus has its origin in the strength of paternal prohibition. It is this prohibitive character that motivates the displacement of sexuality into an arena of strangers. But in Freud, the original incestuous urge never dissolves. It is merely redirected towards an acceptable object.

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Reposted with permission from: The Hypocrite Reader

Between Žižek and Wagner by Tere Vadén

In history, philosophy, political science, society, sociology on September 12, 2013 at 14:47

From: Between Žižek and Wagner: Retrieving the Revolutionary Potential of Music by Tere Vadén, International Journal of Žižek Studies, http://zizekstudies.org/index.php/ijzs

In his foreword to Adorno’s In Search of Wagner Slavoj Žižek intimates that Wagner contains a revolutionary potential that has not been spotted or fully brought out yet and that now, “after the exhaustion of the critical-historicist and aestheticist paradigms” (Žižek 2009a: xxvii), is the right, decisive time. Žižek sees the new phase as ideologico-critical, or, better yet, political. While Žižek’s determination to enlist even Wagnerian opera in revolutionary struggle is laudable, there are some reasons to suspect the grounds on which his view is based. Žižek’s conception of music inherits a tension that characterises his view on the subject, including that of the revolutionary subject, and this tension is, in fact, intensified when it is transposed to the description of music. The underlying question is, can music ever bear the revolutionary role envisaged for it by Žižek? The conception seems to lead to an unhappy choice (correlative to a more general double-bind in the notion of the subject). On one hand, if music is a symbolic form, can it find experiential purchase to move people into revolution? On the other hand, if it is has a direct lifeline to pre-individual experience, can it
point towards a revolution that is emancipatory in the Enlightenment sense?

In order to move closer to these questions, let us begin by noticing how Žižek approaches music in general and Wagner in particular. A recurring theme in the philosophy of music has been the polarization of musical sound either to a pure and direct non-symbolic part of life or experience itself (as in Schopenhauer’s notion of Wille) or to a corrupt twin of symbolic language introducing a tragic gap between experience and its expression. At the same time, it is precisely this symbolic function that makes possible the psychoanalytic and critical analysis of musical meaning. For Žižek, subjectivity is formed by the violent introduction of a person into a symbolic universe, which functions as the playground of psychological and ideological tensions. Consequently, the expressivity of musical drama, such as a Wagner opera, is dependent on the (inter-)subjective existence of the symbolic.

In order to emphasise his analytical approach, Žižek claims that in understanding Wagner, rather than consider the work in its historical environment, we should decontextualize it in order to grasp its universal potential. It is clear that this kind of decontextualization and abstraction needs access to a universal medium in order to work and to be intelligible. For Žižek, this universal dimension is formed by the symbolic and subjectual structures, which are strictly correlative: the subject is a structural feature of the symbolic universe and the symbolic is the structure created and upheld by subjects. Consequently, by identifying and analysing these structures it is possible to locate the
symbolic tendencies in a musical work in a process that is essentially critique of ideology, that is, a revelation of the unexpressed conditions of expression in the work. This is not to say that while talking about opera Žižek would focus exclusively on the libretti and disregard the music (even though he does argue against the absolutisation of music while interpreting opera). He does analyse the music itself, and that is precisely the point: in order for music to
be analysable, to be symptomatic of ideological dead-ends and emancipatory paths, music itself has to have a symbolic structure. Music has to have elements that correspond to the structures of subjects, whether symbolic, psychological, philosophical, ideological or whatever.

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Reposted with permission from: International Journal of Žižek Studies

The Marvelous Marie Curie by Algis Valiunas

In biography, Europe, history of science, research, science, sociology on September 12, 2013 at 14:34

From: The Marvelous Marie Curie by Algis Valiunas, The New Atlantis, http://www.thenewatlantis.com

Marie Curie (1867–1934) is not only the most important woman scientist ever; she is arguably the most important scientist all told since Darwin. Einstein? In theoretical brilliance he outshone her — but her breakthroughs, by Einstein’s own account, made his possible. She took part in the discovery of radioactivity, a term she coined; she identified it as an atomic property of certain elements. When scoffers challenged these discoveries, she meticulously determined the atomic weight of the radioactive element she had revealed to the world, radium, and thereby placed her work beyond serious doubt. Yet many male scientists of her day belittled her achievement, even denied her competence. Her husband, Pierre Curie, did the real work, they insisted, while she just went along for the wifely ride. Chauvinist condescension of this order would seem to qualify Marie Curie as belle idéale of women’s studies, icon for the perennially aggrieved. But such distinction better suits an Aphra Behn or Artemisia Gentileschi than it does a Jane Austen or Marie Curie. Genuine greatness deserves only the most gracious estate, not an academic ghetto, however fashionable and well-appointed.

Yet the fact remains: much of the interest in Madame Curie stems from her having been a woman in the man’s world of physics and chemistry. The interest naturally increases as women claim their place in that world; with this interest comes anger, sometimes righteous, sometimes self-righteous, that difficulties should still stand in the way. A president of Harvard can get it in the neck for suggesting that women don’t have the almost maniacal resolve it takes to become first-rate scientific researchers — that they are prone to distraction by such career-killers as motherhood. So Marie Curie’s singularity cannot but be enveloped in the sociology of science, which is to say these days, feminist politics.

The sociology is important, as long as one remembers the singularity. For Marie Curie did have the almost maniacal resolve to do great scientific work. The work mattered as much to her as it does to most any outstanding scientist; yet can one really say it was everything? She passionately loved her husband and, after his premature death, loved another scientist of immense talent, perhaps of genius; she had the highest patriotic feeling for her native Poland and her adopted France, and risked her life in wartime; she raised two daughters, one, Irène, a Nobel Prize laureate in chemistry, the other, Ève, an accomplished writer, most notably as her mother’s biographer.

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Reposted with permission from: The New Atlantis

Dr. Gabor Maté on the Stress-Disease Connection with Amy Goodman

In interview, medicine, North America, philosophy, politics, psychology, research, video on September 12, 2013 at 14:19

From: Dr. Gabor Maté on the Stress-Disease Connection, Addiction and the Destruction of American Childhood with Amy Goodman, Democracy Now!, http://www.democracynow.org

DR. GABOR MATÉ: The hardcore drug addicts that I treat, but according to all studies in the States, as well, are, without exception, people who have had extraordinarily difficult lives. And the commonality is childhood abuse. In other words, these people all enter life under extremely adverse circumstances. Not only did they not get what they need for healthy development, they actually got negative circumstances of neglect. I don’t have a single female patient in the Downtown Eastside who wasn’t sexually abused, for example, as were many of the men, or abused, neglected and abandoned serially, over and over again.
And that’s what sets up the brain biology of addiction. In other words, the addiction is related both psychologically, in terms of emotional pain relief, and neurobiological development to early adversity.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about this whole approach of criminalization versus harm reduction, how you think addicts should be treated, and how they are, in the United States and Canada?

DR. GABOR MATÉ: Well, the first point to get there is that if people who become severe addicts, as shown by all the studies, were for the most part abused children, then we realize that the war on drugs is actually waged against people that were abused from the moment they were born, or from an early age on. In other words, we’re punishing people for having been abused. That’s the first point.

The second point is, is that the research clearly shows that the biggest driver of addictive relapse and addictive behavior is actually stress. In North America right now, because of the economic crisis, a lot of people are eating junk food, because junk foods release endorphins and dopamine in the brain. So that stress drives addiction.

Now imagine a situation where we’re trying to figure out how to help addicts. Would we come up with a system that stresses them to the max? Who would design a system that ostracizes, marginalizes, impoverishes and ensures the disease of the addict, and hope, through that system, to rehabilitate large numbers? It can’t be done. In other words, the so-called “war on drugs,” which, as the new drug czar points out, is a war on people, actually entrenches addiction deeply. Furthermore, it institutionalizes people in facilities where the care is very — there’s no care. We call it a “correctional” system, but it doesn’t correct anything. It’s a punitive system. So people suffer more, and then they come out, and of course they’re more entrenched in their addiction than they were when they went in.

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Reposted according to copyright notice from: Democracy Now! website

Burning Man is the New Capitalism by PJ Rey

In community, economy, North America, politics, society, sociology on September 9, 2013 at 16:12

From: Burning Man is the New Capitalism by PJ Rey, The Society Pages, http://thesocietypages.org

While there is much to discuss regarding the significant place that Burning Man occupies in the lives of its participants, I’d like to focus on the complex social and economic relationship Burning Man has with the default world and how this relationship reflects the changing nature of capitalism in the 21st Century. Let’s start by examining two key principals:

Gifting
Burning Man is devoted to acts of gift giving. The value of a gift is unconditional. Gifting does not contemplate a return or an exchange for something of equal value.

Decommodification
In order to preserve the spirit of gifting, our community seeks to create social environments that are unmediated by commercial sponsorships, transactions, or advertising. We stand ready to protect our culture from such exploitation. We resist the substitution of consumption for participatory experience.

By elevating gifting as a virtue, Burning Man distinguishes itself from the default world which is dominated by transactional relationships between people who have no personal connection to one another. (For example, the bagger at the grocery store sees customers as largely interchangeable and the customer also sees baggers as largely interchangeable. To each the other is just a means to an ends.) Gifting is, ostensibly, about putting the needs of the other above oneself.

The principle of decommodification attempts to further separate human interaction at Burning Man from market logic. In fact, the description of the principle of decommodification even employs a Marxist concept: exploitation. (Though in the strict Marxist sense, culture cannot be exploited, only labor.)

Because no money is exchanged at Burning Man* and because gifting and decommodification are key principles of the community, Burning Man is often described as “outside the system” or anti-capitalist. However, the notion that Burning Man opposes capitalism is misguided, if not naive. In a recent interview with TechCrunch’s Gregory Ferenstein, Burning Man founder Larry Harvey spoke to this point, insisting, “We’re not building a Marxist society.” While Ferenstein’s interview highlights the comfortable relationship that Burning Man has with capitalism (particularly Silicon Valley-based enterprises), Ferenstein oddly concludes that what it opposes, instead, is consumerism.

Were Burning Man’s goal to get people to consume less, it would be failing miserably. Anyone who has traveled the Reno Airport to Black Rock Desert circuit knows that an enormous consumer economy has evolved around the event. From the second you step off the plane through the very last Native American reservation before Black Rock City, advertisements suffuse the landscape, offering a wide array of commodities (bikes, tents, glowing el wire, “Indian tacos,” water, etc.) and services (e.g., rides to the Playa). And, all this pales in comparison to the vast amounts of consumer spending done in advance of the events. Camps from every major US city fill shipping containers with supplies and haul them to the desert on 18-wheelers. Many of the gifts given at Burning Man were first bought via the market economy. Burning Man’s principle of “radical self-reliance” often feeds a “get the gear” mentality of hyper-preparation, encouraging attendees to purchase supplies for every contingency they may encounter in the (admittedly harsh) desert conditions.

“Participatory experiences” alone will not shield 50,000 people from the sun or protect them from dust. It won’t even produce a fashionable pair of furry leggings or tutu. The Burning Man experience is the product of tens (or even hundreds) of millions of dollars flowing into the consumer economy and is inextricably linked to disposable incomes of Silicon Valley’s digerati. (It is also this requisite spending that keeps Burning Man as an exclusive and relatively privileged event.)

Larry Harvey’s pro-capitalist sentiments are surprising not because people misunderstand Burning Man but because people misunderstand modern capitalism. While there is certainly no causal relationship between the two, it is not entirely coincidence that a Man was first raised in the desert the year that the Berlin Wall fell. The Cold War-era perception of an irresolvable antagonism between capitalism and communism–market and commons–had begun to appear less tenable. The innovation economy that Silicon Valley has come to represent proposes to link sharing (of information) and capitalist production in a mutual reinforcing relationship. Tech companies benefit when the level of common knowledge in the employment pool increases or when innovations in the commons can be commoditized and brought into the market. (See Fred Turner’s excellent work on how Burning Man ties into Silicon Valley’s innovation economy.)

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Reposted with permission from: The Society Pages

After the Social Media Hype: Dealing with Information Overload by Geert Lovink

In information, internet, philosophy, psychology, society, technology on September 9, 2013 at 16:01

From: After the Social Media Hype: Dealing with Information Overload by Geert Lovink, e-flux, http://www.e-flux.com

The question on the table is—following Foucault—how to minimize domination and shape new technologies of the self. Why has the internet industry bred its own monsters of centralization and control (Google, Facebook, Amazon) while promising the opposite? What bothers us is our own survival. Which techniques are effective in reducing the social noise and permanent data floods that scream for attention? What kind of online platforms facilitate lasting forms of organization? We’re not merely talking here about filters that delete spam and “kill” your ex. As the state of internet discourse shows, it is all about training and repetition (as Aristotle already emphasized). There is no ultimate solution. We will need to constantly train ourselves to focus, while remaining open to new currents that question the very foundations of our direction. This is not merely a question of distributing our concentration. When do we welcome the Other, and when should it be jammed? When do we stop searching and start making? There are times when our real-time communication weaponry should be fired up for mobilization and temporary spectre dominance, until the evening sets in and it is time to chill out and open other doors of perception. But when do these times ever arrive?

As Peter Sloterdijk already noticed in his You Must Change Your Life (2009), training is key. The “anthropotechnic approach,” as Sloterdijk calls it, is different from the rational IT world of engineers in that in it is cyclical, not linear. It is not about concepts and debugging. Instead, it is about workouts. Self-improvement will have to come from inside, in the gym. If we want to survive as individuals while maintaining a relationship of sorts with (potentially addictive) gadgets and online platforms, we will have to get into fitness mode—and stay there. In extreme cases, visiting a Social Media Anonymous group might be helpful, but what average users need is merely a minor trigger to instigate the process of forgetting the gadget world.

Some may view the idea of improvement through repetition as conservative and anti-innovative. In an environment where paradigm shifts happen overnight, planned obsolescence—not durability—is the rule. But Sloterdijk’s emphasis on exercises and repetition, combined with Richard Sennett’s argument (in The Craftman [2009]) in favor of skills, help us to focus on tools (such as the diary) that we can use to set goals in the morning and reflect in the evening on the improvements that we made during the day. However, the disruptive nature of real-time news and social media needs to find a place in this model. In the meantime, Sloterdijk remains ambivalent about the use of information technology. It is clearly not on his mind. In his recently published dairy covering the years 2008–2011 (called Zeilen und Tage and running to 637 pages), I counted precisely one entry that deals explicitly with the internet. In this short entry, he describes the internet as a universal bazaar and Hype Park Gemüsekiste. The same could be said of Slavoj Zizek, who admits that he is not the world’s hippest philosopher.2 Even though both use laptops and internet intensely, information technology has not (yet?) been an object of inquiry in their work.

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Reposted with permission from: e-flux

new year: a translation by Caroline Lemak Brickman

In Europe, poetry on September 9, 2013 at 15:45

From: new year: a translation by Caroline Lemak Brickman, Hypocrite Reader, http://hypocritereader.com

Rainer Maria Rilke and Marina Tsvetaeva never met, but they wrote to each other intensely from December 1925 until Rilke’s abrupt death the following December. His death, on the heels of this passionate, short-lived (“impossible,” says Sontag, “glorious”) correspondence, left the Russian poet wrecked. She composed an elegy to him in the form of a New Year’s greeting. A last love letter, a testament, a belated farewell to her newfound mentor, her newlost lover—and perhaps most significantly, her personal poetic deity. “Hence the intensity of Tsvetaeva’s diction in Novogodnee,” remarks Brodsky, “since she is addressing someone who, in contrast to God, has absolute pitch.”

Rilke began the Duino Elegies with the words, “Who, if I cried out, would hear me among the hierarchies of angels?” Tsvetaeva intercepts this cry and takes it further, forcing his hypothetical into her concrete world, uglier than his because it is one where he is lost. As Rilke hoped to be heard, Tsvetaeva hopes to cry out. “When beginning to speak, and—if it ever comes to this—when beginning to speak of oneself,” pronounces Brodsky, “one does so as if confessing, for it is he—not a priest or God but another poet—who hears you.” Tsvetaeva calls on the voice of her poet. She calls on his forms: elegies, letters, prayers. “To hell with the native Russian tongue, with German,” she calls, “I want the tongue of an angel.”

A word on sex. Almost immediately following the most explicitly erotic part of the poem, when an imagined New Year’s toast becomes an orgy of flowing rhymes, drink, and bodies, Tsvetaeva declares:

it’s probably hard for me to see because I’m down in a hole.
it’s probably easier for you because you’re up on high.
you know, nothing ever really happened between us.

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Reposted with permission from: Hypocrite Reader

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