Ghosts and autonomy

Author: joe

Friday, 20 September, 2013 - 08:16

Producing the new depends upon certain kinds of withdrawal - from, for instance, sociality as much as from pre-existing cultural forms – but the currently dominant form of socially networked cyberspace, with its endless opportunities for micro-contact and its deluge of YouTube links, has made withdrawal more difficult than ever before.
Mark Fisher, Ghosts of My Life (extract)

Mark Fisher summarises one of the reasons for a certain kind of malaise in contemporary society, in a recently published extract of his upcoming book, 'Ghosts of my Life'. Fisher calls on the supporting concepts of 'retromania' and 'dyschronia' (Reynolds) whereby popular music is dominated by reproductions of existing forms and styles and culture itself seems to endlessly recycle varieties of historical modes until they lose reference to their foundational context; the 'slow cancellation of the future' (Berardi) which captures the failing sense in which the passage of time is experienced as progress towards new social formations and possibilities; 'nostalgia mode' (Jameson) which is less a yearning for a lost past than a phenomenon established precisely because the past is constantly recreated in pastiche and parody; and 'polar inertia', concomitant with accerelating speeds of communication (Virilio), which describes the bloated immobility that seems to take hold when everything that we might wish to experience and consume is always instantly summonable: the mediated, home-delivery sensory and experiential universe available without effort.

There is little to disagree with here, in particular Fisher's diagnosis of Britain's sky-high property prices as an influence on how people who might otherwise spend some of their lives being temporarily autonomous are forced to become part of the economy which usurps any time they might devote to the sort of self-expressive creativity that fosters the production of music, art and writing, and the freedom for experimentation and discovery. There are two aspects of the argument Fisher makes that arouse if not disagreement then at least further thought, though: does creativity really need withdrawal from sociality and existing cultural forms in order to flourish and generate the newness that Fisher mourns in his piece? and is it is really true that contemporary society suffers a sort of anachronism and unrootedness that is genuinely different from the experience of previous generations?

I can distinguish between two kinds of withdrawal which might clarify the first question. If I do not withdraw from sociality, cultural noise, norms and practices then I am enmeshed in a world of endlessly intricate calls and demands, needs and responses. To withdraw from these things I must unarticulate myself from them, and allow them to lose purchase on me. I do not feel the need to honour every call made on me or to commit myself: I can be autonomous, because I can feel as though I choose my commitments - to people, subcultures, ways of life, social formations and cultural practices. In these circumstances - which are most commonly experienced when young, unemployed, feeling life as a threshold of possibilities as yet undetermined - I can try things out, be one person or another, iterate, fail, simulate, play, and pursue a form of self-discovery and self-invention. Those external pressures which seem to impinge on my ability to experience autonomy and self-determination in these ways, and which inhibit my withdrawal from a world of commitments which limit my freedom to experiment, all curtail and circumscribe the space available to me to move in directions of my own choosing. Whether they are the economic practicalities of the sheer cost of existence in a world of workfare, benefit caps and housing bubbles, or the social pressures associated with being accepted into subcultures and peer groups, from body-image to anti-intellectualism to class-distinction to misogyny, such external pressures are factors in the extent to which anyone might understand themselves as freely choosing who they want to become.

This is a different kind of withdrawal than one which limits exposure to cultural forms and ubiquitous media, which Fisher seems to suggest is also necessary for the production of new music or TV programming which might either be felt as genuinely new or satisfy a hunger for a certain kind of quality. All production is necessarily a form of reproduction: from Plato's allegory of the cave to DJ Spooky's analysis of sampling, the postmodern idea that there is nothing new is nothing new. The very act of communication is achieved because humans learn to speak with the same words rather than each inventing their own language; comedians make us laugh because they blend the familiar with the unexpected and absurd; musical styles, notwithstanding their wildly divergent surface qualities and genres, share structures and scales developed and maintained over millenia. The greek work 'poeisis' from which we derive our word 'poetry', and which we often translate as 'production' might well be better understood as 'transformation' - after Heidegger, the bursting of the blossom into bloom, the slow thaw of a frozen waterfall, the metamorphosis of the chrysalis. The creation of the new is the remaking of what already exists expressed in new forms and making new articulations possible. The use of a concept such as withdrawal here, is as a component of the autonomy necessary for someone to choose to be creative, iterative, experimental and productive: that autonomy then provides the opportunity to engage, rather than withdraw, from the world of influence and affinity that will provide the inspiration and raw materials for making music and art.

Our contemporary world certainly seems to offer dwindling opportunities for this kind of autonomy, despite the prevalent view that we are in a society that enjoys freedom on an unprecedented scale. The prevailing economic situation seeks to colonise every space of life with financial accountability. Idleness must be converted into leisure, the consumption of enjoyment; childhood must be supplemented with the right play products, activities and lessons; schoolyears are assessment bootcamps; gap years must result in transferable skills rather than the experience of being alive. Adolescence ought to be the threshold time of self-discovery, but increasingly it is either consumed by chasing employability criteria or blackened by the sense of unemployable uselessness. There is no corner of life in which the imperative to be an economic resource has not infiltrated. The hard-won gains of a post-war settlement which brought universal welfare, social security and free healthcare have been hollowed out and either marketised or demonised. It is hard not to see the 21st century not as merely dyschronic, but even as a world without time. Days counted in productivity and capital rather than living and being, the temporal counterpart to Auge's non-place, imposing contraints on where and when we can and cannot move, demanding we comply with the economic expectations placed on us.

Faced with this horror it is tempting to escape into nostalgia mode, and immerse ourselves in another, happier time: the good honest hard-working time of post-war Britain's austerity years, the courtly excesses of Tudor palaces, the buttoned-up passion of Georgian gentry in search of wives, or even the time-bending isolation of air-crash survivors or the travels of timelords. It is easy to project our phantasies onto earlier historical periods: times when we lived closer to nature, or had more opportunities for adventure, or could fulfil a pioneering spirit, or be masters of an empire. Even just a few decades ago, Berardi and Fisher seem to say, we could believe in the future in a way we no longer can: the spirit of the times has been crushed under the weight of neo-liberalism, and our reaction to the deluge of hypermassive catastrophe - financial meltdown, unending warfare, ecological devastation and global climate change - can only be paralysed apathy. After all what can we do but carry on watching, reduce the enormity of our calamity to a managed, prepackaged spectacle, narrated with the odd mixture of sincerity and utter alienation that news channels seem to have perfected?

It is therefore difficult to imagine that earlier generations whose circumstances were not like our own could understand us and our predicament, nor we theirs. To read a three thousand year old book is not only to read the stories of the time, but also to encounter the very social conditions in which it could exist: the commitments to which its authors chose to respond. The interpretation of that work entails a meeting of our own horizon with that of the world of the text. We might look to investigate the words historiographically and reconstruct what meanings they would have had to the readers of the time; we might search out the writers and their biographies, in order to better understand the contexts in which they wrote; and to understand those contexts we would have to get to grips with the social realities with which their existence is caught up. At each step we must cross the gap between their world and ours. As Gadamer puts it, we must read the 'great dark book' of the world in order to understand the works that are made within it. The body of culture past and present represents 'the collected work of the human spirit, written in languages of the past, whose texts it is our task to understand'.

Is it the case that our current economic situation and cultural inertia have pushed our own horizon of experience too far from the horizons of past generations? A particular way of thinking about how the self is caught in the structures of society suggests it is: the Foucauldian argument is that we suffer ruptures in history, Kuhn's paradigm shifts, which render the past unintelligible. Just as the death of a loved one marks a watershed boundary between their presence and their senseless absence, so such shifts make the worlds of the past not only foreign, but somehow halcyon - a lost world in which something authentic is left behind. When we encounter the traces of these lost worlds - the writing, the music, the historical records and the social attitudes so far as they can be scryed - we might as well be marvelling at alien civilisations, and any sense we have of familiarity or nostalgia for such times is a form of deception. In this view, the notion that we can ever recreate the felt meaning of their lives, or the texture of their experience, is an illusion: we have been caught up in an epstemic shift, in which the very conditions of our own knowledge have broken with the past.

The alternative to this view must rely on some sense of continuity with the past. Our horizon is constituted not only by our present conditions: our conditions were already there before we found ourselves within them. Certainly dramatic episodes can render it unimaginable that we could return to these worlds as they were, but every horizon we encounter, every world that is recreated for us by artefacts of the past is an ancestor, cousin or sibling to our own, and there is always the chance that we can work our way across to that consciousness. While languages evolve and words change their meaning, they are not unmoored from the world in the way the deconstructionists would have us believe. As Latour put it, only linguists could believe that words only associate with other words, rather than the complex boil of material, social and cultural practices that make up a person, a people and their world. Our cultural lives are haunted by the surviving echoes of the past, with some voices louder than others. Many stories of the past boom loudly, and others are fainter and force us to strain our ears or find ways to tune in. The very faintest might never be restored, but they are not lost: the voices of travellers on an ancient dirt road perturbed the air and left traces in the soil like the voice of Edison on a wax cylinder. Centuries of walkers, soil, stone, concrete and tarmac might have covered over those traces in ways that make it impossible for us to hear them again, but nevertheless they are there in the strata of the ground beneath our own feet and in the very fact that we walk the same routes today.

Reading the 'great dark book' of the past is a way to experience fellow-feeling with the people of worlds which seem to have disappeared - indeed the recycling of the past about which Fisher worries is a way of doing so, however shallowly. Future historians, if they are sufficiently attentive, perhaps to things which we ourselves may not be able to comprehend, will strain to grasp the texture of our world and divine something of our contemporary consciousness from our artefacts, the endless recycling of an immediate past, the re-imaginings of other times. I wonder whether they will detect that our malaise is not that our lack of musical adventure has made us empty, but that our sense of solidarity and fellow-feeling has dwindled as we are ever more persuaded that we are powerless against the tides of state surveillance, global capital, unending warfare and climatic disaster. We are failing to find fellow-feeling with one another as the shallow populism of our politicians and media corporations inculcate enmity for the disadvantaged, intolerance towards migrants, and a bruised entitlement that encourages us to begrudge anyone seen to be in more need than ourselves.

Mainstream entertainment has done everything it can to detach itself from any kind of political consciousness. But it is hard to believe that a generation of burgeoning minds is not confronting the world with 'diamonds in their mouths' and wondering how to make it their own in the face of such exclusion, coercion, financial temptation and artistic banality. A world in which a small group of wealthy power-brokers hoard and squander their riches, demonise the poor, engineer conflict, foster divisiveness and inculcate hopelessness is not a new one! However, to an opening mind I hope it is an offence worth resisting. Perhaps if it is difficult to imagine a musical movement producing a genuine edge of excitement and jeopardy into the establishment in the way that punk or the raves did, maybe that's because what we need is not new musical genres, but new diggers, Jarrow marchers and revolting peasants. We can't demand that young musicians or film-makers provide our glimmer of hope if we ourselves are mean-spirited and supine. How do you encourage people to nurture a strange blend of fellow-feeling, generosity and rage? What ghosts should we invite to haunt us to invoke such shared anger and kindness?

Categories: fisher, ghosts-of-my-life, ghosts, autonomy, creativity,
Comments: 0

The question of identity

Author: joe

Tuesday, 20 November, 2012 - 22:09

One of the concerns that arises in the analysis of the relationship between selfhood and computerised media is a focus on authenticity. There is a tension that arises between the various personae that people are able to adopt in any given situation and the centripetal force that unites them in some supposed inner core. The relative status of these different personae - the extent to which they have fidelity with respect to the "primary source" of the "inner core", or the extent to which they perhaps mislead other inter-actors as to the true nature of that "real person", or even threaten the supposed integrity of the authentic self, is instantiated in the very functionality and interface of the computer screen which permits the same "logged-in, authenticated user" to adopt pseudonymous guises in online environments that can be slipped in and out of, framed as they are by windows one can "cycle through".

The people that Turkle describes, who find in the windowed interface a serendipitous enactment of their sense of their plural selves might, as Zizek puts it, be enabled to "discover new aspects of 'me', a wealth of shifting identities, of masks without a 'real' person behind them". In the postmodern world of simulation, where we as subjects trust in the fantasies presented on the digital screen rather than become modernist masters of the inner workings of the device, (the technics), instead we should "endorse this 'dissemination' of the unique self into a multiplicity of competing agents, into a 'collective mind'" and appropriate the logic of the "'decentred' subject".

Zizek provides a number of analogies for thinking about the efficacy of the production or construction of the decentred self, albeit that it might involve an "immanent violence and arbitrariness" since it has no authentic hinterland to which it must pay some sort of deference. Capra's film "Meet John Doe" portrays a character who adopts a "fake identity" but learns to adopt the subject position that the role demands of its actor. The cultural landscape is awash with imaginative explorations of the consequences of identity play, and in many of those story experiments, the narrative is resolved only when the protagonist learns to accept the identity which was at first mere play or a reluctant contingency. In "Sommersby", the interloper who adopts the identity of Jack demonstrates the fullness of his sincerity by accepting the penalty of death that is its price. The transience of identity necessary for persons to "become someone else" has its corollary in the tradition of fictions in which disguised characters become the object of some lover's affection, only for those affections to switch target as the disguise is revealed or passed along: in Twelfth Knight, Olivia easily accepts Sebastian as a husband despite having fallen in love with his disguised sister Viola, suggesting that accepting someone for who they appear to be is a perfectly adequate strategy.

Such ways of thinking about the self are clearly in contrast to traditional conceptions in which an authentic, continuous self acts as a guarantor of identity. Odysseus' testing of Penelope by adopting a disguise is an early instance of the depiction of a "true" identity which should be immune to the vicissitudes of changing circumstance or outer appearance. Woolf's “Orlando” is another case where a distinct and unitary identity both survives and underpins a shifting collection of personae and genders, adopted in dramatic episodic shifts. The protagonist's picaresque adventures are intertwined with the trope of 'The Oak Tree', the work which Orlando eventually completes, and which acts both as the "spine of the earth" and as the embodiment of change as it "flowered and faded so often", as it had over many years, "put forth its leaves and shaken them to the ground".

Erving Goffman provides useful tools for thinking about the shifting personae that we adopt. Using a dramaturgical model as the context for understanding interpersonal interactions, Goffman suggests that in any given situation we are actors on stage, a context which entails the existence of an audience whose observation of us is a primary structuring factor in our self-awareness. While on such stages, we stick to particular scripts - those we have learned, through normal processes of socialisation, which are appropriate to the context.

Such performances, enacted under the consciousness of observation, occur where Goffman calls front ‘stage’ or ‘region’ – the situation in which ‘act out’ the appropriate sorts of behaviours that we know are expected of us. Distinct from the ‘front’ region is a corresponding ‘back’ region – where alternative modes of performance can occur. Note though that this ‘back-stage’ situation need not be thought of as the refuge of the true or authentic inner self which can express itself away from the gaze of the audience: the back region is rather ambiguous, since it is commonly co-habited by fellow-performers who are also part of our ‘team’, also ‘letting their hair down’; and it is also a place where habituation can result in back-stage scripts becoming every bit as socialised in our behaviour as the formulae we follow front-stage. The back can be though of as just another front.

This dramaturgical metaphor opens the way to anti-essentialist conceptions of selfhood: contrary to traditional notions of the dimensions of our identity that have been considered to be stable, material and inescapable - sexuality, gender, kinship, race – not to mention the tangible common sense that we ‘are who we are’ (‘I am that I am’) – there is no inner core as such, but a constantly evolving and self-monitoring sense of self whose coherence is the subject of constant vigilence – either of ourselves or of circumscribing institutional and social apparatuses and their many ‘techniques’. It is only in the light of such possibilities that Butler could articulate the trouble with gender, and suggest that discursive formations of selfhood are anterior to the traditional material considerations of physiology and instrumental knowledge practices.

Categories: identity, performance, authenticity, front, back, queer theory, Goffman, Turkle, Zizek, Butler, Foucault, selfhood,
Comments: 2


Author: joe

Monday, 05 November, 2012 - 12:42

My friend Fran Biley died on Saturday: his son posted a message on Facebook to say that he was at home surrounded by his family. Fran was a really lovely man, and the number of people posting messages to his family and sharing their memories of him on Facebook shows how many people's lives were touched by his kindness, humour, gentleness, intelligence and care.

I met Fran through the wellbeing and qualitative research groups at Bournemouth Uni, and found his combination of frankness and gentleness both reassuring and provocative. He once gave a short talk on on research methods which was both deeply epistemologically subversive and extremely cool; it made me feel as though I could do it too. I read his papers avidly and hoped I'd be able to write like that myself some day.

He encouraged me when I started doing crazy things like building haunted chests of drawers, and we talked about haunting a dressing table with the spirit of the nurse who had owned it, or doing strange photography projects with his frankly terrifying collection of obsolete medical equipment. I'm sad we never managed to find enough time to do it.

He was wonderful, gentle, amusing company, when we went on field days to Trill Farm, or wandered through the antique and junk shops of Boscombe looking at the trinkets and knick-knacks, or when he invited me to his home to share a meal with his family. I'll miss him very much, and my thoughts are with his wife and his two boys, of whom he spoke with such pride.

Categories: Fran,
Comments: 2

Selves and computers

Author: joe

Saturday, 20 October, 2012 - 22:38

Sherry Turkle's work is amongst the most influential analyses of people's emotional engagement with online environments. Her ethnographic work on computer users in the 90s depicted the encounter of her background in psychoanalysis with the techno-utopianism of the MIT community in "Life on the Screen: Identity on the Age of the Internet". Her analysis of the relationship between selfhood and computer-mediated interaction started with the earlier work, "The Second Self: Computers and the Human Spirit" and has continued most recently in "Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other". Although some have characterised the trajectory of her work (in some ways, Turkle does this herself) as a movement from optimistic embrace of the possibilities that machines offer towards a more problematic view of how machines permit their users to become narcissists, the structure of these tensions can be seen throughout her work: Technically mediated control over human relationships can allow us to replace importantly liminal experiences with less risk-laden interactions. If such substitutions allow us to explore our identities, inhabit imaginative selves and bypass meatspace prejudice, so much the better; if they allow us avoid important coming-of-age rituals or maintain artificially arms-length distances to the people around us, then perhaps something is amiss.

Turkle finds an analogy between the interface of the modern computer GUI and the postmodern condition of the self. She finds that her respondents are able to switch between different selves by switching windows on the screen, and thus they are able to express and perform on their desktop interfaces the fragmented predicament of the self in postmodernity. The way that the enframing logic and style of media technologies reflects the conditions of subjectivity is a theme taken up in the work of Steven Shaviro whose analysis of networked culture (Connected: What It Means to Live in the Network Society, 2003) represents in its form the distributed, decentralised nature of both the network and the "fragmented and multiplied" self. Most recently, Shaviro's work on post-cinematic affect explores how the mirroring between subjectivity and mediation continues as cinematic editing styles demote concerns for continuity in favour of a mode which emphasises not only the non-linearity and glitch aesthetic facilitated by digital technologies but the neo-liberal tropes of precarity and just-in-time production. The artefacts of mediated culture now reflect a world in which not only is the casual employee's labour alienated, but also the specific instance of the self is, just like the media products consumed by the viewer, produced on-demand.

The encircling of media affordances and selfhood within similar frames of reference receives its most contemporary expression in the smartphone. The mobile phone is pervasive not only in the digitally advanced consumer societies of the developed world, but is also the technology of choice in developing countries as its practicality has leapfrogged other more bulky and expensive computing devices. The penetrative capacity of the smartphone ensures that people's lives in all their dimensions are accompanied into every corner of time and space with two-way media. Thus Urry's term "networked mobilities" is applicable equally to the identity of the owner as it is to the media products and interactions that the device enables. The pervasiveness that mobile computing brings about is a genuine shift from the previously separated and distinct experiences that constituted online life. Access to digital spaces is no longer a discretely portioned parcel of life but a continuous augmentation of most everyday activities, leading some commentators such as Nathan Jurgenson to argue that the diagnosis of technically mediated aspects of life as separate and inferior to "real life" in some way is guilty of a "digital dualism" which is at best anachronistic and at worst doesn't appreciate the entwined interlacing of physical and virtual life. Nevertheless to erase the distinction between the digital world and the space of embodied existence is to beg the question that Turkle and others would raise.

Categories: Turkle, Shaviro, Jurgenson, self, digital, media, affect, narcissism, mobile,
Comments: 0

The Great Dark Book

Author: joe

Friday, 13 July, 2012 - 19:53

Some notes on Gadamer's analysis of the history of hermeneutics - 'The Questionableness of Romantic Herneneutics' in Truth and Method (1997 [1960], Continuum: New York).

Categories: Gadamer, hermeneutics, interpretation, dogma,
Comments: 0

Psychosocial approaches to wellbeing

Author: joe

Saturday, 23 June, 2012 - 22:39

Draft - a review of some psychosocial approaches to personal wellbeing including locus of control, self-efficacy, autonomy, identity mobility, locus of origin, socioeconomic status, perceptions of aetiology, relatedness and self-individuation. This draft starts with the issue of the uses of technology in people's lives and develops core concerns into the wider remit of general wellbeing.


One of the core issues around using technology to support people in times of physical and emotional distress is the well-researched and documented need for people to feel that they are in control of the technologies in question, and that they are in charge of what the right responsibilities are: this is the 'locus of control' which, when internal and correctly composed, contributes both to physical health (Kobasa et al, 1982) and to mental wellbeing (Hill & Bale, 1980). Furthermore, seeking out information characterises the development and maintenance of a well-defined sense of internal locus of control and valuation of personal health and wellbeing (Wallston & Wallston, 1976; Klein & Cook, 2010).

Assessments of the perceived locus of control can indicate an individual's sense of self-efficacy, both in terms of their relationship with technology and electronic resources, as well as in the wider psychosocial realm of life. Mastery and control over the technological resources ameliorates associated anxiety and stress (O'Driscoll & O'Driscoll, 2008), while a sense of autonomy and personal competence contributes to more general wellbeing. One component of such wellbeing is "identity mobility" - a formulation which captures the need for individuals to have both a confidence in the self which reinforces personal agency, and the literal and metaphorical room for manoeuvre that allows for responsiveness to new situations and development into new phases of life (Todres & Galvin, 2011).

Alongside the importance of the Mental Health Locus of Control (MHLC) is the Mental Health Locus of Origin (MHLO), which identifies beliefs about the aetiology of psychological problems. The locus of origin is implicated in the way that individuals are likely to attribute causal factors or invoke explanatory models to account for difficult emotional and psychological experiences. Correlations have been shown between socioeconomic status and the propensity to attribute such experiences to either "interactional" causes such as interpersonal relationships in the case of higher socioeconomic status, or "endogenous" factors such as "organic, hereditary and moral" causes in the case of lower socioeconomic status (Hill & Bale, 1980).

Attribution of aetiologies is a key dimension of the process of sense-making that is involved in therapeutic activities such as CBT, narrative therapy and others. The ability to assimilate new or unexpected experiences into an ordered framework in which explanatory factors can be appealed to is a key component in personal wellbeing (McLeod, 1997; Bruner, 1986). Relatedness is what permits individuals to constellate disparate events and processes into a coherent and unified whole. It is also relatedness that expresses the tension between identify formation through the cultivation of self-definition, autonomy and individuation on one hand, and on the other, the development of interpersonal relationships and the cultivation of associated aspects of personality such as dependency, cooperation, collaboration, affection, mutuality, reciprocity and intimacy (Blatt, 2008).

Alongside autonomy, relatedness is one of the universal basic components of personal wellbeing (Deci & Ryan, 2000). For this reason it is one of the characteristics of adolescent development that autonomy is often contested and the sense of belonging often precarious. Autonomy requires effortful control - the ability to voluntarily regulate attention and direct behaviour toward goals, and repeated unsuccessful efforts to achieve goals often leads to fearfulness. Low effortful control is correlated with externalising problems such as aggression and anti-social behaviour while fearfulness is associated with internalising problems such as depression and feelings of inadequacy (Sentse & Ormel, 2011).


Blatt, S. J., 2008. Polarities of experience: Relatedness and self-definition in personality development, psychopathology, and the therapeutic process. Washington, DC US: American Psychological Association
Bruner, J. (1986). Actual Minds, Possible Worlds. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press
Deci, E. L., & Ryan, R. M. (2000). The “what” and “why” of goal pursuits: Human needs and the self-determination of behavior. Psychological Inquiry, 11, 227–268.
Hill D, Bale R. Development of the Mental Health Locus of Control and Mental Health Locus of Origin Scales. Journal Of Personality Assessment. April 1980;44(2):148
Klein B, Cook S. Preferences for e-mental health services amongst an online Australian sample. E-Journal Of Applied Psychology. March 2010;6(1):28-39
Kobasa, S. G., Maddi, S. R., & Kahn, S. 1982. Hardiness and health: A prospective study. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 42: 168-177.
McLeod, J., 1997, Narrative and Psychotherapy, London: Sage
O’Driscoll M. P. and O’Driscoll, E. C., 2008. The Impact of New Technology in the Workplace on Mental Wellbeing, London: Government Office for Science
Sentse, M. & Ormel, J., 2011. Child Temperament Moderates the Impact of Parental Separation on Adolescent Mental Health: The TRAILS Study. Journal of Family Psychology, 25 (1), 97-106
Wallston, K. A., Maides, S. & Wallston, B.S. (1976). Health related information seeking as a function of health related locus of control and health value. Journal of Research in Personality, 10, 215-22.

Categories: wellbeing, locus-of-control, self-efficacy, autonomy, identity mobility, locus-of-origin, socioeconomic status, aetiology, relatedness, self-individuation,
Comments: 1

Database obesity

Author: joe

Friday, 08 June, 2012 - 21:20

Specifying the nature of narrative - that is, the connecting of otherwise unconnected things into a coherent trajectory - is also to thereby define its antithesis - the anti-narrative. For Manovich, this is the database, which refuses to participate in the articulation of one item to another. They have no beginnings or endings, argues Manovich, nor formal or thematic development, no organisation. These items are flat: "every item has the same significance as any other". Of course there are different kinds of database which may well have structures and forms, hierarchical, arborescent or otherwise, such that users may operate on them and traverse those elements. In such traversals narratives may emerge as the members of collections are briefly brought together as the answer to a query - but in this action the distinction is confirmed: what was non-narrative became narrative, in the retrieval against some operation: "the narrative becomes just one method of accessing data among others".

The narrative act is thus one of selection, and in the example of the database as source of the given materials of narrative, quite literally we issue the command to "SELECT" data from stores according to given criteria. The symbolic form of the database is precisely not selecting: its logic is one of indiscriminately gathering and cataloguing, rather than picking out and assigning significance. Manovich notes the "storage mania" that characterises the digital world, in which everything is collected, from biological molecular structures to communication records to household shopping. A form of cultural sousveillance is at work and its production piece is the database. If we have left an age of myth in which stories provided the symbolic resources for scrying life, then we have entered an age of endless acquisition in which the symbolic imperative is to complete the record of everything. It is perhaps ironic that in a milieux that is claimed to be a "therapy culture" we should have become a collective case of compulsive hoarding.

The end point of such an undertaking is an absolute mirror, a digital record of every act, every cultural object, every distinct thing that makes a distinction, such that it be recordable. An archive of everything, a mirror of the world - not merely to have replaced the territory with the map, but to overflow the territory, such that the map outgrows the world it represents, filled as it is with endless possible repetitions of its own contents, infinitely reproducible. The archive is larger than the world it represents. Hence we see another anti-narrative characteristic emerge: where the collection expands arbitrarily, happy to accept all data and heedlessly insert the new or reproduce endless copies of the old, the narrative conversely simplifies by selection, reduces abundant and chaotic elements into something more manageable, digestible - indeed narrative is a kind of digesting of materials into meanings we can absorb, while the database is inflationary and inflammatory. It is unsurprising that contemporary challenges include replication and scaling, information giganticism and overload. We are obese with our refusal of narrative.

Categories: narrative, connection, database, Lev-Manovich, anti-narrative, sousveillance, hoarding,
Comments: 0

Narrative connections

Author: joe

Thursday, 07 June, 2012 - 21:52

In Database as a symbolic form Manovich contrasts databases, which are merely collections of data, with narratives which instead consist of "a series of connected events caused or experienced by actors" (1998). Manovich's aim here is to retrieve something about the database as a form which we had missed. Actually, far from being 'merely' a collection of data, the database is the catalogue of materials from which the artist might then construct a narrative. The database not only precedes the narrative act but also in fact enables it by providing its raw materials. He notes that "a narrative creates a cause-and-effect trajectory of seemingly unordered items (events)", whereas the database "refuses to order this list". Thus it is the connecting of elements that were otherwise without order, the catching up of them into trajectories of cause and effect, which characterises narrative. Great story-tellers – Manovich's example is Dziga Vertov – are able to merge database and narrative into a new form, as in Man with a Movie Camera in which Vertov's encyclopaedic cataloguing of the techniques of the new language of cinematography is transformed into a narrative of discovery and possibility.

The strange partner of the anti-narrative character of the database - its resistance to connecting and articulating, and its priority to narrative - is its incompleteness. The web, which is formally recognisable as a database at the largest scales, is always being added to, and these additions are not appended as though to the last items of a list, but can be inserted anywhere. No narrative could survive such a process without sacrificing its integrity - as Manovich puts it, "how can one keep a coherent narrative or any other development trajectory through the material if it keeps changing?" We should not be fooled, then, by the apparent interconnectedness that gives the web its very name. Notwithstanding the links that carry us from one place to another - whether that place is a site, a page, an element, a node within a collection of nodes - there is no way to pin down those connections into something fixed and finished. Even were we to focus in on just one location in the web, entirely within our control, and to impose our structured navigational system onto a designed pathway through our given materials, we must still concede that our user may at any moment stray off the prescribed route, by switching browser window or alt-tabbing away to glance at messages or to graze on walls, feeds, streams and timelines. Every online link is susceptible to insertions of material which may be earth-moving or inane.

Manovich's analysis, in distinguishing the characteristics of databases, gives us a working definition of narrative which is consonant with dominant interpretations. In Propp's formalism, the 31 functions from which all folk-tales can be derived become a narrative when they are instantiated in a story which must always present the functions in unvarying order, even if they may leave some or others of them out. Even in Levi-Strauss' analysis of myth, in which many narratives are taken as parts of an entire system, the de-temporalised components of those stories are nevertheless structured in ways that reflect the underlying imperatives of human nature. Barthes' transcultural, transhistorical narrative, which is "simply there, like life itself", is a corollary of the sentence, with its syntactical (connecting) arrangements of subjects, verbs, objects, modes. Greimas' even more granular analysis posits such connecting principles as desires or aims, communication, and support or hindrance, as the basic patterns of narrative. Todorov's definition, which consists of different states of equilibrium and disequilibrium, is precisely a narrative because those states are articulated to each other. Genette's understanding of narrative is relational, being a product of the interactions between levels of narrative, perspective and focalisation. Historians such as Hayden White and Louis Mink separate the narrative, with its explanatory agenda, from the chronicle, with its enumerative function. From Aristotle, with his requirements for the high being laid low and the lowly being exalted, to Brecht's desire to rouse the audience to reject the necessity of inevitable endings, narrative is only narrative if it is a discrete series of items, caught up together into a connecting principle, a trajectory, a start, middle and end.

Manovic, Lev, 1998. Database as a Symbolic Form Available online at:

Categories: narrative, connection, database, Lev-Manovich ,
Comments: 1

Telling grief II

Author: joe

Tuesday, 27 March, 2012 - 22:34

From a lounge

Eventually it occurred to me that the problem lay in my attitude to representation. Somehow I was short-circuiting several thoughts: one, that an image of something represents the entire extent of its referent; a second, that an image of something is never an adequation of its referent; and a third thought, that, to the contrary, an image is just a slit in the fabric of reality, allowing the viewer in this world to prise their way into the world of the referent.

I think back and imagine myself looking at a sheet of A4, on which an aunt has printed some old family portraits. There is my father as a boy, amongst his siblings. There he is as a young man, long locks and an art-school waistcoat. Even with his boy-looks and tank-top short-trousers pulled-down socks, I can see the features and lines I know and love so well, the line of the jaw, the direct look, the eyebrows, the ears - the older face that hangs in my memory is all there somehow, unripe and waiting. I can imagine him before and after the still frame, though with an incongruously deep voice, turning to a sister and prodding the soft flesh of their upper arm, tongue grinning between teeth; or scrunching his shoulders up around his ears in a comic villain pose. He was frozen in just that pose in a photo from his wedding day, a jaunty, wry look on his face as though he were stealing a prize.

The images are openings into that world. I can see round the corners, watch movements play out: I can see how he walked on out of that freeze-frame, hear how he talked to the wedding guest with his head cocked on one side, scooped up a thrilled child in his arms; or as boy, see how he wriggled with impatience as the photographer prepared, or jumped up after the deed and ran out of the room chasing his brother. Of course the picture is an artificial and ephemeral fragment, just a flake of a sloughed off skin of time; but it is a metonymic record, connected to a real moment whose veracity I can taste, whose world I can sense, and whose bursting inexhaustibility is tangible. If only I could so fully inhabit the laws of physics, so attune to the workings of time and space, perhaps I could follow the path, molecule by molecule, causal link by causal link, back to that moment in the fullness of its presence.

So much for the photograph as a memento: an opening onto a world, into which I could leap. This is a photograph at which I look, as I can look at any - a snapshot of a stranger is also that much pregnant with a hidden, discoverable universe. I do not need to know the face or recognise the place: my imagination has already worked the details out before I'm even conscious of them, and start to dimly realise the scene out of frame, the events after shot, the state of mind, the ambiguous presence, the great swell of time. But against all this is the photograph I should be able to take. The image I should somehow produce must have the entirety of this world inside it, and placed there by me! It mist be adequate to the task of suggesting to the unknown, non-specific viewer, all the nuance and interconnected wholeness of the world from which it comes. What hope can there be of producing such an image?

I suddenly see that this unbearably heavy pressure is that of the author of the narrative, the one who must trust that the words written are just the right weaving together of threads, just the delicately correct choices of what to write in and what to leave unannounced but suggested by the lacunae, the gaps which themselves are the very spaces into which the narratee is invited, and which provide the room in which the imaginary fleshing out and habitation of the storyworld occurs. Who would want to be that author, the one who must commemorate adequately the life of the one they have lost? Who would ever feel they can articulate the loss? What memorial image or line of words would ever be adequate? Who wouldn't feel that their efforts failed to do justice, and didn't diminish the dead? Nothing I can say will ever be enough - and so perhaps the only thing to say is ... nothing

Categories: memorial, bereavement, narrative, representation, grief, image,
Comments: 0

Telling grief I

Author: joe

Tuesday, 27 March, 2012 - 15:04

From a train

My supervisors asked me a question I had been absent-mindedly anticipating - was there a reason or reference in my personal background for choosing to look specifically at bereavement in my doctoral research into cyberspace, rather than other experiences of mental distress or physical illness? My anticipation had been only brief, not a worry, but rather a cynical lookahead to the predictability of this question and the trivial dismissal I would be able to respond to it with. Perhaps I was not that off-hand about it, but I certain didn't expect the question to linger as an issue after it had been dispensed with.

When the conversation did come around I was surprised by my answer and the way I worded it. Roughly, I remember saying that I had had an experience of loss and bereavement which meant that I felt a sort of insider knowledge about it - I'd be a native rather than an interloper in the world of grief. My father had died several years ago, I said, and understood some of the reasons why people might need to use 'outlets' that were not available in 'the real world'… grieving is something that people are supposed to do in moderation, and in private; it doesn't belong in social environments or workplaces, and bringing it into those worlds makes people feel very uncomfortable, unable to handle you, even annoyed that you've disrupted their normality by bringing death and the pain it has caused you into a sphere where its vocabulary and shifted emphases are alien. You find out who your friends are, who is willing to tolerate and even welcome your bereft one-dimensionality, your inability to put the events of the everyday into any kind of perspective, and who also is not able to cope with the reminder of anguish and finitude that your very existence provides. I could very well see why, when expressions of grief are so excluded from the vernacular worlds we usually inhabit, that mourners might find themselves using the Internet to speak to the immensity of the invisible world, the big other, the amorphous, unindividuated audience of the universal 'you' that listens at the end of the modem, to push out the sounds and shapes of words and images that always fail to capture the extent of the loss. "And did you use any online spaces yourself when you were bereaved?" was the innocent question. And my answer, from which I reeled for some time, came back: "No. I didn't use the Internet to express any aspects of my grief. I felt it would somehow be a diminution of my father. I guess I think that using online spaces is a last resort - something that people do when they have no other support - a poor substitute."

I spent a long time trying to work out exactly what I meant when I said that. My supervisors, both trained clinical psychologists, exchanged glances. I thought, "what did I just say?" The conversation moved on. A thought drifted around - I should clarify that comment, it sounds as though I think that people who look for online support during bereavement are losers, and that I'm not that much of a loser. "That's definitely not what I mean!" Certainly at the time I was trying very strongly to resist a certain pressure I was feel as a practitioner and maker of online artefacts - to build websites that replace functions normally carried out by humans who are physically co-present - teaching and learning, therapeutic situations, dating, collaboration, social interactions, friendship. Every time I developed a project which I felt augmented already-existing practices, I felt the purse-holders wondering if it could supercede those already-existing and expensive practices and eventually replace them with a cheaper alternative. I wanted to fight against the kind of logic that said "create online lectures, pay for fewer professors", or the dismal evidence that points at changing relationships due to the "text more, speak less" culture of the mobile phone. The digital seems to offer a postponement of emotional contact, giving the illusion of control over interpersonal relationships, but actually only facilitating narcissism - the use of others as resources which can be switched on and off at will (Turkle, 2010). This is real tension in the use of technology to mediate our emotional lives - the space for affective experiences that it creates, but also the buffering against or even disconnection from difficult emotional feelings that it tempts us with. But that doesn't get to the kernel of the "tell" I had spoken: why would a use of the web to articulate my grief be somehow a disservice to my father and to the depth of my feeling, or a diminishment of him, his life and the still living memory of him among his loved ones, his mourners?

Categories: phd, bereavement, grief, mourning, emotion, digital, Sherry Turkle,
Comments: 0

Evocative Objects: the case for object elicitation

Author: joe

Friday, 17 February, 2012 - 16:19

Some notes on objects.

Objects and insights

It is possible to think of objects as both catalysts and repositories of meaningful human experiences, and it is the entwinement of objects with our lives, identities, memories and desires that makes them attractive targets for qualitative research. Elicitation is a qualitative method based on the use of visual materials, photography, video, artefacts or other objects, in which participants gather materials which help them to make sense of, or express, experiences and emotions which may be difficult to articulate in purely linguistic or cognitive ways. A broad framework called 'symbolic interactionism' provides a means of understanding elicitations as evidence that provides insight into the meanings that are attached to people's interactions with other people and the object world around them.

Fetish and Phantasy

The significance of objects in the corpus theoretical is clear in the Marxist tradition, in which objects are commodified and then fetishised - that is, according to Marx, we understand the power of acting in the world to be carried within commodities rather than, say the people whose labour made them. Freud later develops the fetishisation of objects into the sexual realm in which objects are the agents of arousal and their absence renders the human subject impotent.

Post-Freudian psychoanalysts working in the tradition of Melanie Klein move the emphasis away from the Freudian school's concentration on ego psychology (or the ability of the conscious individual to manage undesirable unconscious drives) towards the Kleinian investigation of unconscious phantasy (the way that the environment stimulates conceptual capacities).

This shift in emphasis in object-relations from fetish to capacity can be seen in the work of Wilfred Bion, who develops the idea that thinking capacities are provoked by interactions with the object world. Following Bion and Christopher Bollas, we can say that thoughts require a thinker, and it is in our encounters with the environment of people and objects that pre-conceptual impressions and emotions call a thinking consciousness into being. Experiences and emotional responses generate mental phenomena that must be processed, and it is in the act of processing that a reflective self emerges.

As Grotstein puts it, Bion emphasises the primacy of "emotions and the faculties of the mental apparatus that apprehend them, among which are consciousness, attention and reverie, each devised to render us more aware of our emotional life in regard to our relationship with objects as well as ourselves… Emotions, unlike sensuous stimuli, are not visible or tangible and, consequently, must be apprehended by reverie, a waking dream state." (Grotstein, 2009) Note also that the progression from consciousness, through attentiveness, to reverie, here suggest the kinds of activities and states of mind that might be necessary for uncovering the kinds of meaningful understandings that are sought in the object elicitation process.

Play and reverie

Bion's work suggests that the identity of the thinker is bound up with the relationship between the experiential and sensory impressions of the object world and the emerging self's mapping of inner phantasies to the external world. Donald Winnicott's examination of infant play also directs our attention to both the meanings that we attribute to objects and the reverie or waking dream-like states. In imaginative play, the child recruits the environment and object-world into their diegetic world:

"(a) To get to the idea of playing it is helpful to think of the preoccupation that characterizes the playing of a young child. The content does not matter. What matters is the near-withdrawal state, akin to the concentration of older children and adults. The playing child inhabits an area that cannot be easily left, nor can it easily admit intrusions. (b) This area of playing is not inner psychic reality. It is outside the individual but it is not the external world. (c) Into this play area that child gathers objects or phenomena from external reality and uses these in the service of some sample derived from inner or personal reality. Without hallucinating the child puts out a sample of dream potential and lives with this sample in a chosen setting of fragments from external reality. (d) In playing, the child manipulates external phenomena in the service of the dream and invests chosen external phenomena with dream meaning and feeling. (e) There is a direct development from transitional phenomena to playing, and from playing to shared playing, and from this to cultural experiences." (Winnicott, 1971)

The ability of the child to invest dream meaning and feeling into objects is what makes those objects transitional, that is, essential elements in the child's development since they form part of the repertoire with which emotions and meanings can be expressed without resort to the as yet incomplete capacity for cognitive and linguistic articulation.

From cathexis to day-dreams

Such investments of emotional intensity, imaginative play and meaning onto external objects is termed cathexis. In Freudian psychoanalysis, cathexis is libidinal; however we need not limit our understanding of the delegation or transferral of emotional experiences onto objects to sexual or erotic meanings. Parkin (1999) and others show that transitional objects can come into play at any time of life in a variety of emotionally demanding circumstances. Parkin notes that under the severe conditions of sudden flight and displacement, refugees who must take what they can carry before departing don't limit themselves to utilitarian items but also take mementoes such a photographs, letter and other personal effects. Parkin argues that this reflects "a more general process of self-inscription in non-commodity, gift-like objects which, through their association with stories, dreams and the transmission of skills and status, temporarily encapsulate precluded social personhood". (Parkin, 1999)

Following Bion we may also see the work of objects in the life of the mind. Bollas draws on Bion's digestive metaphor to explore how external objects and their experiences exert an influence over our mental activities outside the infant play-world or sudden exile. The world of experience continually unfolds for us, yet only some of those experiences can be 'digested'; when such experiences do provide 'food-for-thought', they provide the very materials that our thinking consists of, and the sustenance that the exercise of thinking requires. Switching back to the metaphor of the dream or reverie, Bollas argues that we are "involved in ordinary dream-work, knitting together experiences in the real that form the tapestry of that day's unconscious meaning. Actual things play a huge role in that dreaming, and this may be due to what they contain (mnemically) or how they function (their structure), or what enduring them will put us through (their processual integrity)." (Bollas, 2009) Or in a more peripatetic mode: "When moving in the real, the manifest contents of my meanderings are constituted out of the actual things I encounter. Any latent content will emerge from the aleatory vector as this thinking involves me in encountering the unexpected, out of which a type of thinking arises." (Bollas, 2009)

Selves layered within objects

Building on the insight into how objects are interlaced with meanings and self-inscription, Anthony Elliott and John Urry provide an analysis of how people's lives are changing with the increasing prevalence of mobile digital technologies and their associated objects. We carry around with us objects into which we literally deposit meanings and experiences for storage and later retrieval. We store in them such crucial social tools as our contact lists, the musical and audible bubbles we can enclose ourselves within, and the messages we send to each other. These objects increasingly merge otherwise compartmentalised sections of our lives, such that we address work issues while with loved ones, and communicate with our loved ones while at the workplace. Their presence with us at all times means that those traditional moments of reverie - the delayed train, the unexpected pause between locations - have been invaded by the routines of the digital device, with its seductive invitation to check our emails, to stay on top of work and home life, to graze the latest information. Such a deep implication of the object into life implies a new intimacy between devices and what designers understatedly call their 'users':

"The individual self does not just 'use', or activate, digital technologies in day-to-day life. On the contrary, the self - in conditions of intensive mobilities - becomes deeply 'layered' within technological net works, as well as reshaped by their influence." (Elliott & Urry, 2010)

Objects as emotional companions

Sherry Turkle in her study of evocative objects considered how objects are the things we think with. Her anthology collects together autobiographical accounts of how specific objects have inspired or stimulated the people who have encountered them and provide a model for the sorts of qualitative insights the meditation on objects can invoke. Turkle draws on Levi-Strauss' account of bricolage to begin an exploration of objects as emotional companions.

"Material things, for Levi-Strauss, were goods-to-think-with and, following the pun in French, they were good-to-think-with as well… We find it familiar to consider objects as useful or aesthetic, as necessities or vain indulgences. We are on less familiar ground when we consider objects as companions to our emotional lives or as provocations to thought. The notion of evocative objects brings together these two less familiar ideas, underscoring the inseparability of thought and feeling in our relationship to things. We think with the objects we love; we love the objects we think with." (Turkle, 2007, pp4-5)

Object elicitation

Object elicitation can provide insights into the functional relationships between people, objects and attitudes, providing a window onto singular or shared understandings of particular issues and how people interpret and signify the realm of social action and meaning. It is based on the view that interactions with other people and the object world form meaningful experiences for, and emotional responses in, people's lives. Furthermore, our development as individual selves is bound up with our experiences with objects and the pattern of their correspondence with our phantasies. Objects can be thought of as storage mechanisms for emotional content, from their role in imaginative play, through their significance at times of distress, to their ever-increasing intertwining with our technologised selfhood. As well as providing proxies for our emotional lives, objects become necessary components of our meaningful experiences.

1694 words


Bion, W., 1962, Learning From Experience, London: Heinemann

Elliott, A. & Urry, J., 2010, Mobile Lives, London: Routledge

Bollas, C., 2009, The Evocative Object World, London: Routledge

Grotstein, J., in De Cortinas, L. P., 2009, Aesthetic Dimension of the Mind: Variations on a Theme of Bion, London: Karnac

Parkin, D. J., 'Mementoes as Transitional Objects in Human Displacement' in Journal of Material Culture,1999 4: 303 - 320

Turkle, S., 2007, Evocative Objects: Things we Think With, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press

Winnicott, D. W., 1971, Playing and Reality, London: Routledge

Categories: objects, elicitation, qualitative, research, cathexis, psychoanalysis, Bion, Bollas, Elliott, Klein, Parkin, Turkle, Urry, Winnicott,
Comments: 0

World / Text

Author: joe

Thursday, 16 February, 2012 - 22:18

One objection to world-as-narrative (even before we get to what we mean by narrative exactly) is that it leads us to the world-as-text, and that the world clearly cannot be a text, since a text is nothing and the world is not nothing. We dismiss the idea of world-as-text, or there being nothing outside the text, because textuality, like other appearances constructed from amorphous things such as sociality or the imagination, doesn't account for the irreducible heterogeneity and difference of real things in the world. The text is somehow unreal because manufactured, or too finite in its human contingency.

But look, there it is: the text is there, see it with all its words, its syntax and its endlessly concatenating generative grammar. The words are there in your mouth, and though the action of the muscles slip around it, and the phosphorescent images that glitter in its wake seem to disappear, nevertheless there is something under and behind it - in fact it is the very split nature of the word, with its surface shape and graspability, always divorced from its object which we nevertheless feel resisting us, hunted and vague, that allows us to see in its surface the evidence of what withdraws behind it. Moving behind a veil, yet giving the veil its very form and movement, like the wind through the opening pushing at the hangings which present a shimmering masque of surging and crashing forms.

Much as they may be arbitrary and conventional signs divorced from their referents, nevertheless there is something indexical in the relation of words the objects they symbolise. Bachelard talks about the beautiful and disturbing moments when a native of a gender-inflected language encounters, as it were, cross-gender transformations in other gendered tongues, as in the French speaker whose masculine sun (le soleil) becomes feminine in German (die Sonne), or the reverse gender-bending switch of the moon (la lune and der Mond). The shock or uncanniness, the delight and conquest, in such encounters points at the allusive and affective pairings - alluding to the same suns and moons with their many faces and adumbrations, affecting us as the world of things remind us of their irreducibility, repaying the transferred emotions we invest in them, turning us around. For all that language can be a buffer or a space between us and the world, nevertheless it is not supernatural, and cannot always keep reality from insisting on its way.

Categories: world, text, Lacan, Bachelard, narrative, story, reality,
Comments: 0


Author: joe

Monday, 13 February, 2012 - 14:13

Every world is a sort of disclosing, a way of rendering itself intelligible. What is intelligibility but something that can be read into, read between, picked out and gathered together, what can be thought and made into word, spoken and accounted for. Any world, being finite and contingent, is the condition of our thinking and being thinkable, speaking and being spoken, gathering and being gathered.

The disclosure of this or that world is what emerges out of the background into the light, what things become intelligible in such light. The lightening itself, the clearing in which the world emerges from its ground, the earth, is the mystery. What storyteller is shedding this light on the world that has appeared? In what story have I become intelligible myself, such that I too am here, in this clearing of the world?

Categories: clearing, world, disclosure, being, story, Heidegger,
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World / Nowhere

Author: joe

Wednesday, 08 February, 2012 - 21:46

The world is a whole one, continuous if uneven. This wholeness can't very well be broken into parts without the kind of effort that pushes the parts out of joint, like cracking a rock to expose the fossil: what wonder to see the shell that has lurked for a million years bound up in the bonds of the rock! But also something is now over and done in that hammer blow, a deliberate stroke, over and above the everyday effort that allows us to pick our way through the rock-strewn shore. The petrified shape exposed in the rock is now left in the open, to be worn away by the familiarity created by its accessibility. No longer a constant furrow buried in a stone, silently ploughing its line in the thick of the world, it is now here, expressed from its bed, worn under light and water and foot, under a gaze, which is nowhere.

Categories: world, Heidegger, Vorhandenheit,
Comments: 0


Author: joe

Tuesday, 07 February, 2012 - 22:13

The world I mean is the one which allows me to say of myself or others, that we are worldly, or that we are men of the world, or that we know something of the way of the world. It is a world that has mood and colour, it has a certain underlying sort of flavour - a complexity below the many notes which is nevertheless its own. It is the sort of world that one could imagine being otherwise, if one wanted, in a daydream or moment of wishing.

I know too that the world has been otherwise, or at least that it evolves, and unevenly: I suspect it has always been a world in which dark air has brooded over rivers as the cities of civilisations have come and gone from their shores; but the world in which genetic structures are unlocked is a different one from the world in which humours are put into a different balance, or the world in which burnt entrails appease the angry gods. There are even worlds within worlds - the specific worlds of peoples, cultures, crafts, enterprises, knowledge, language, projects - each is an opening, intervening in the wider unfolding world.

We see the world and its long slow changeability when we put our minds to it. When we do not, though, it disappears - in fact it is always disappearing, or at least sublimating somehow so that it becomes transparent. Its invisibility and concealment is what allows me to rely on it silently. There is something imperturbable about the inaccessible depths that constantly burgeon in the world. The flavour and ethos recede into that background, but nevertheless continue to give their tones to my absorption in living a life.

The life I'm living is also a world - my world - but it comes after the outer world. That larger world is a shared one, and the commons of that wider world are the heritage that nurture my own. Far from being alone and locked in a single lonely realm, never to join or merge with the spaces of others, my own world is a borrowed one which pays its debt in kind. Only in the effort of putting the mind to the task, do I find myself in my own individual cosmos: soon enough, as I reabsorb myself into the business of being alive, the worlds of my self, and those around me, the worlds of commerce and pleasure, the world encompassing them all, merge back within one seamless horizon - changed somehow.

Categories: world, Heidegger,
Comments: 0


Author: joe

Wednesday, 01 February, 2012 - 23:22

The fear lies in the elimination of meaning. There are eliminitavists out there. They stalk the land like stilt-walkers crossing fens, hunting, herding and eradicating fauna, extirpating significance, annihilating secrets, exterminating superstitions, banishing all magic, colour and purpose.

These terrorists are bent on banishing the inner world. So, the shaking hand is hormonal - an cortisone signal that mobilises a mammal response, while the living awareness of the hurt is nothing more than a ghost. The blush is merely information in a closed system - the system that catches pheromones and peacocks into a framework of fertility messages and reproductive imperatives, whose illusory reflections appear to take the form of ardour or devotion. The ongoing flourishing of life itself, with its the menagerie of species and phyla, is no more than the medium of information - a quaternary code whose successful transmission is sufficient cause. This emptied world is not just one that has been hollowed out - it has been flattened, expressed and desiccated.

The eliminativists have it the wrong way round, though. The cybernetic manoeuvre of putting humans and machines onto the same ontological plane works both ways: just as the human becomes a servo-mechanism, so the machine becomes an aesthetic organism. The same perceptive life that constitutes the world of human meaning is at work in the mechanical operations of detection and processing, judging and adjusting. The machine world is awash with sensation, interaction and appreciation. The adrenaline feeling in the stomach and the voltage generated in a photovoltaic cell; the tingle of excitement and the charge in an electrostatic field; the whole emotional-somatic range of how our senses are stimulated, how our heartbeat increases, our hackles raise, our toes curl or our eyes water - and the racing current, the humming circuit, the scattered electrons or the negative charge.

Categories: eliminativism, cybernetics, meaning, aesthetics,
Comments: 1

Inner and Outer

Author: joe

Wednesday, 01 February, 2012 - 15:04

The quantified self is a kind of nightmare. The self is not just what can be measured, transcribed and translated onto other substrates - tables, graphs, algorithms and numbers. Surely we are more than what can be summarised about us - our movements or our galvanic skin response; our imaged neuronal activity or our observable behaviour? Even were there a method for recording every outward event, each unit of information emitted from the system, it would surely be nothing more than the shell of a life, rather than the life itself? The sloughed skin rather than the being who cast it off? 'My inner world cannot be accounted for', objects the inner voice.

What is the character of the fear that haunts the rationalisation of human beings? What is the resistance to scientific accounts of human action - the behaviourist category itself, which casts the individual as a set of instinctual responses which can be conditioned; or the cybernetic vision of the human as servo-mechanism; the sociobiological thought which see cultures as mere derivatives of hunter-gatherer origins; the neurological system which turns our autonomy into something that emerges from statistical phenomena; the cosmological view which traces every event back to an origin which plays out deterministically according to unchanging laws; or the materialist explanation of the world as the extended evolution of the behaviour of atoms and particles?

In a conversation, two people speak past each other: the one is monosyllabic and reluctant, elsewhere; the other is insistent, 'listen to me, I'm trying to talk to you', unrelenting. The conversation is broken, it malfunctions, since communication is fraught and meanings are cut off. The reluctant, distracted absentee conversationalist is hurting, the injuries flood into her consciousness washing out all other intentions. The pain blushes in the solar plexus and shakes in the fingers. It stiffens in the neck. The voice of the other speaker is intermittent and confusing, it feels like an insect in the air that darts in and then away, and with each invasion it brings a sensation of being pushed and stirred, knocked back and forth.

The one talking barely notices the silent one's slight shiver, or the darkened brow. The lack of response is infuriating. With each occasion that the expected acknowledging nods and murmurs do not come, a creeping sense of futility is drowned by a exploding heat below and behind each ear. The voice starts to be uncontrollable, as the mid-point of every spoken breath becomes raised and petulant. 'I am uncared for, why do you not care?' The silent response is the click of a ratchet each time it intervenes where the contact should occur, and each winding moment is a slip further down the abyss, a further strain on the line attaching the voice to the world, until the snap happens, the teeth whirr back and the voice shouts incoherently 'LISTEN TO ME'.

Categories: cybernetics, feedback, information, measurement, inner experience,
Comments: 0

Life balance

Author: joe

Tuesday, 31 January, 2012 - 22:24

Bat, Bean, Beam recently wrote about the various parking, dismantling and deaths of blogs ‑ and I thought, hmmm, have I got a dead blog? Well I have several actually, but menticulture has always been where I've gone to Write Something In Blog Format, and where, recently, months have intervened without a whisper. Anyway, in true speech act style, this very clacking of keys on the bodywork and thin‑film transistors dancing on the light canvas exactly are the decision not to let the old menticulture blog sip away just yet.

In the autumn of 2010 I set myself the task of writing something every working day, in the hope (correct as it turned out) that a little writing leads to a lot of writing. I should try to be so disciplined again, though perhaps not with such stringent constraints. Lately the not‑writing has not been a symptom of gazing at the wall vacantly wondering what to do with myself ‑ quite the opposite: a family, a baby girl, a new county and other homely busy‑keeping has kept the small hours full, while I'm increasingly finding it impossible to squeeze as much out of working life as I used to. No longer willing to work moonlight hours for an increasingly demanding university, I have little time beyond what has become a grind of teaching to pursue the different strands of personal work ‑ research projects, PhD progress, digital practice ‑ not to mention the necessity of the freelance work which complements my part‑time position at the university.

All this has lately led me to wonder whether it isn't time to rethink the academic part of my life. A few years ago I had a brief conversation with a mentor who had taken a career‑path not very dissimilar to my own, bridging a primary role as a practitioner with subsequent work as a researcher and teacher. My mind blew out slightly when he suggested I should perhaps put the teaching on hold for a while and concentrate on the other things ‑ complete your research, focus on your professional work. I had gone to him hoping to find strategies for maintaining the different components in some vertically aligned way, and failed to see how jettisoning my main source of (admittedly small) income could possibly help.

Now however, I am starting to see the attraction of this option. Part of me is utterly aghast that it has come to this. For so long I've seen teaching as the most important aspect of my work ‑ teaching as the primary function of a university system which can then harness the intelligence of its community to conduct research. To be sure, I felt it would be a sort of charlatanism to 'just' teach a practical discipline which you do not also practice: if you daren't live by the wits of your practice, why should any student expect to learn anything from you? But what at the end of the day is the value of work that you don't want to share with others, to uncover the apparent mysteries of craft and invite people to experience the pleasure that attends learning how to make things?

The pressures in the institution have long been such that to achieve this balance of personal integrity and educational efficacy you have to sacrifice many other parts of your life. When I was a kidult single bachelor hedonist I could choose to subsidise the HE institution by working 70 hours a week in term time and recuperating other parts of my life in the breaks. That option is no longer open to me, and more than a decade of working in HE has shown me how people who dedicate their lives to a project like teaching, treating it as a vocation that invites devotion and commitment, often end up feeling betrayed by their institution's tendency to undergo changes of management, policy, funding imperatives and the blunt churn of turnover. When the line‑managers in your department are replaced by new suits with new executive orders and with the new odours of the political wind in their noses, those years of effort don't seem to count for as much as you hoped.

Categories: teaching, work-life balance, decisions,
Comments: 2

Genes and inter-disciplinarity

Author: joe

Friday, 11 November, 2011 - 00:13

The 'gene' is an example of a concept which means something to everyone, but different things to different interests. To mainstream geneticists it is supposed to be the 'molecular unit of heredity'; to lay people the gene is the brute fact that makes us what we are; some sociologists argue that the gene is a social construct; meanwhile a few molecular biologists might also argue that the gene is a convenient shorthand which is otherwise inadequate for the functions we expect it to fulfil.

Each of these different domains brings different conceptions of the gene, often based on disciplinary ontologies which are incompatible, using criteria for factual legitimacy which conflict with each other. The shared use of vocabulary only serves as a mask for the competing accounts of the gene's form, provenance and function. The various morphologies of the gene as they appear in the respective disciplinary approaches often reflect those domains' practices, values and self-preserving interests.

The pursuit of the basic unit of heredity during the 20th century inflected the gene with the pervasive attitudes of the times. As part of the effort to find an explanatory mechanism for heredity as articulated by Gregor Mendel, Wilhem Johannsen's coining of the word in 1909 formed part of the search for a unitary, invariant, material, autonomous and causal 'master molecule' which directed inherited characteristics, phenotypic development and evolutionary variation, which could play the same role in biology that the atom played in physics. As more was understood about the action and dynamism of DNA encoding, the scientific emphasis moved onto 'programming', in which the metaphor of contemporary technological and cultural forms were drafted in to provide a model for the gene's function. By the end of the century, even as the first sketch of the human genome was published, the very notion of a sequence of DNA which had discoverable boundaries, independent causal properties and sufficient reach to account for inheritance, development and variation, was approaching collapse.

At the same time that scientific disciplines intimately concerned with governing the definition and analysis of the gene were gradually developing their ever evolving and nuanced conceptions of its formal properties, the dominant model of genetic determinism was leaking out of the laboratories and journals and into common public understanding. Even if the scientific establishment were to publicly pronounce on the dissolution of the gene in favour of more complex, non-linear, pan-genomic and epigenetic biological development in which a dynamic network of distributed causal processes intertwine with environmental factors to influence individual morphology and heritability, such an epistemic break would be unlikely to reverse the folk-wisdom that can be mobilised to play nature against nurture, account for idiosyncratic behaviour, or even justify dogma and prejudice, by a simple explanatory abstraction which at best appeals to fate and the hand which we are dealt, and at worst ascribes contingent and malleable factors to apparently blind and deterministic forces.

What would it look like to develop shared or non-exclusive ontologies between these competing domains? How might people from each discipline negotiate models that can include different worldviews through accommodation, rather than exclude them through competition? Evelyn Fox Keller's work both as scientist and as a historian of science is instructive. Following her experiences as a woman working within the male-dominated field of science, she contributed to the analysis of the gender-related cultural and social relations that were encoded in scientific approaches that valorised 'master molecules', 'founder cells' and other causal agents in molecular biology, and thus brought into view the way that sciences, because they are caught up in the social order, often discover 'in nature' what they have already put there. However, once her work was championed in the critical field of science and technology studies, she nevertheless maintained that the choice to be either a scientist, or a historian of science, was a false one: it is not necessary to reject all of the accomplishments and affordances of a particular discipline in order to provide a constructive critique of its blind spots or weaknesses. Fox Keller's contribution is salient precisely because she engages with her discipline both as a practitioner and as an observer and critic, rather than merely as an apostate.

The lesson here then is that the bridging between different disciplinary perspectives can't depend on critique alone but must also work by engagement. For example, the partisanship that exists between scientific communities and sociologists of science has little effect on the practice of science as such by its proponents, nor on the engagement with social scientists with empirical problems. Even in multi-disciplinary approaches, such as scientists and artists collaborating in specific research fields, the participants often work in parallel isolation, with non-overlapping methods and dissemination, remaining hermetically sealed from each other's worlds. The challenge of genuine inter-disciplinarity is to bypass 'either/or' choices, and to consider 'both/and' possibilities. How does - or how could - a folk-psychology worldview map onto a scientistic worldview; how might a phenomenological and a positivist approach accommodate each other? What are the consequences for ontology and epistemology in such cases if pursued faithfully?

Categories: inter-disciplinarity, genes, science, ontology, epistemology, Evelyn Fox Keller,
Comments: 0

Fruit and flowers

Author: joe

Wednesday, 03 August, 2011 - 23:37

Perry Bard is the artist behind Man with a Movie Camera: The Global Remake, a participatory reproduction of Vertov's 1929 original. We are invited to upload video clips of our own which match or interpret, shot for shot, the sequence of the original. The remake allows us to therefore see one, two, three - and more, an infinite number of films called Man with a Movie Camera, the first, the original, placed next to the second, the shot-by-shot crowd-sourced substitute, creates a third film composed of the two engaged in a concurrent dialogue, side by side. The act of montage is no longer only a diachronic suture, stitching two fragments into a meaningful utterance, but also a synchronic relation of each fragment to its reinterpreted counterpart. But a further fragment is always implied: the one you wonder might be waiting on your phone or hard drive, the one you might go out and make now. This putative fragment is just the first of an endless number of presumptive shots you now know are hovering at the edges of possibility, stretching the polygenetic, tesselated sequences out through both dimensions of now and next. If meaning is created through articulation, that is, the joining of pieces, tokens, words, or images moving and still - the basic fact of montage - then the possible expressions of meaning generated by the intertextual adjacency of source, reproduction, reinterpretation and imaginary addition are endless. The myriad thinkable paths all occur somewhere, dispersed in the matrix. The most familiar occurrences are merely those that float in the shallows.

In On the Internet, nobody knows you're a constructivist: Perry Bard's The Man With the Movie Camera: The Global Remake, Seth Feldman examines the interplay between Vertov's original and the participatory remake, and notes that the first significant aspect is the generative promise which Vertov makes for his film, which promise Bard's project fulfills. Seth writes that his thesis is that "Vertov's writing and The Man With the Movie Camera in particular are less historical texts than they are generative forces or perhaps, more accurately, generative grammars for the pure language of cinema that Vertov envisioned." What is the generative grammar that Vertov envisioned? Vertov writes of it in his notebooks, published in 1984.

When The Man with a Movie Camera was made, we looked upon the project this way: in our Michurin garden we raise different kinds of fruit, different kinds of film; why don't we make a film on film-language, the first film without words, which does not require translation into other languages, an international film? And why, on the other hand, don't we try, using that language, to speak of the behaviour of the "living person", the actions, in various situations, of a man with a movie camera? We felt that in so doing we would kill two birds with one stone: we would raise the film-alphabet to the level of an international film-language and also show a person, an ordinary person, not just in snatches, but keep him on the screen throughout the entire film [...]
An experiment's an experiment. There are all kinds of flowers. And each new breed of flower, each newly produced fruit is the result of a series of complex experiments.
We felt that we had an obligation not just to make films for wide consumption but, from time to time, films that beget films as well. Films of this sort do not pass without leaving a trace, for one's self, or for others. They are as essential as a pledge of future victories. [...]
If, in The Man with a Movie Camera it's not the goal but the means that stand out, that is obviously because one of the film's objectives was to acquaint people with those means and not to hide them, as was usually considered mandatory in other films. If one of the film's goals was to acquaint people with the grammar of cinematic means, then to hide that grammar would have been strange.
Dziga Vertov, 1984, Kino-eye: the writings of Dziga Vertov, UCP: Berkeley, pp153-155

The film does not hold up a mirror to the world, but it generates the world. It begets, leaves traces, and pledges future victories. Cinema reveals its grammar to us in order that we may learn it. Fruit and flowers. "Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb yielding seed, and the fruit tree yielding fruit after his kind, whose seed is in itself, upon the earth" (Genesis, 1:11)

Categories: dziga-vertov, perry-bard, man-with-a-movie-camera, generative, film, grammar, montage, meaning, fruit, flowers,
Comments: 0

The eye of the mannequin

Author: joe

Tuesday, 02 August, 2011 - 22:41

Dziga Vertov's Man with a Movie Camera is, according to the first title frame's final parenthesised subtitle, an "excerpt from a camera operator's diary". It is a re-presentation of the records of the man with his camera, an excavation of an naively created archive - authentic and unspun. The film unfolds reflexively in its very name and subtitle, its title sequence, and its opening scenes which present a cinema theatre filling with spectators, gathering to watch the moving images on the screen.

An orchestra is frozen in time, the camera cutting between individual musicians poised and waiting, in tension with their instruments. Vertov stretches the sequence in time, pausing on the horns and the fingers resting on the valves, the double-bass straightening its player through the bow, the timpani, violin and trombone holding their humans taut as they anticipate the still conductor's movement at the prompt of the rolling of the film. The elongated duration in which the inert players remain motionless, braced for the introductory notes, outlasts the sense of natural time elapsing: life is fixed fast and rigid.

The projector's shutter is shown slowly to open and to begin beaming light, whereupon the conductor brings his orchestra to life: the once motionless musicians now burst and flail over their charges. Although when released the film was accompanied by live music in theatres, and subsequent audiences have enjoyed the film with a variety of audio interpretations as its soundtrack, the film artefact itself is silent, and has an extraordinary effect when viewed without sound. In silence, the orchestra works wildly, and the projector swallows its reel of film noiselessly, before finally the cinematic vision appears: a single numeral '1' is erected into view and we begin moving through a window of a house. The eerie silence augments the distances we travel: we are watching a film-maker watching a film-show. The camera watches the audience watching what the camera has seen.

Some minutes into the film within the film, we see the eyes of a mannequin, peering from a store-window, gazing out on the world. Eyes, windows, camera. The lifeless figures in the windows and the dressed busts, the posed dummies at the sewing-machine or astride a bicycle - even a stuffed dog articulated so as to seem expectant and watchful: all look out at the world, whose alienated form reflects on the inanimate almond shaped bumps painted to look like the organs of sight in a facsimile human face. The camera sees for them: their own images, their view of the streets, the paraphernalia of commerce which surrounds them, the sleeping bodies of the otherwise absent human race.

It is a puppet show in a world of matter with a transcendent intervening cinematic machinery providing an occasionalist vision and sense. An outside force runs through the world, causing actions and events, permitting sense to be made, prompting beings into life: mediating. The world's continued existence is brought about by machinery with a roving eye.

Categories: dziga-vertov, man-with-a-movie-camera, film, time, eye, window, mediation, cinema, puppet, mannequin, occasionalism,
Comments: 0

Selfhood and blind-spots

Author: joe

Monday, 01 August, 2011 - 23:46

On the subject of identity, and who we should declare ourselves to be: Every time I sit down to write something I am fumbling in the dark, striving to establish where and who I am - what is my subject-position. In writing I work out where I am writing from, and who it is that is writing. No-one has the right to demand I mark out my position before I have spoken. If we all knew our assumptions and blind-spots before we opened our gobs, we would all be wasting our breath.

Giovanni Tiso at Bat Bean Beam puts it very well:

Are you gay, disabled, kinky or an anarchist? You need to find yourself a nice little community of like-minded or like-bodied people with whom to discuss your marginal concerns. For everything else, you must sign your real name and constrain your personality and opinions to suit – in other words, be the kind of person who can speak their mind without the slightest fear of repercussion or unintended consequence.
In other-other words: keep the most distasteful bits of who you are the hell out of my feed.
Giovanni Tiso, 1 August 2011, True Names, []

Giovanni reminds me becoming myself is more than merely about me - a personal freedom; but in fact, becoming myself is a political act, which reverberates through the world around me. It greets, challenges, insults and comforts other people, also becoming themselves. Where would we be without the cushion of ambiguity, the ability to be reflexive enough to reassess, to shift our position?

A human being is a synthesis of the infinite and the finite, of the temporal and the eternal, of freedom and necessity. In short a synthesis. A synthesis is a relation between to terms. Looked at this way, a human being is not yet a self [...] Despair is not a result of imbalance, but of the relation which relates to itself. And the relaiton to himself is something a human being cannot be rid of, just as little as he can be rid of himself, which for that matter is one and the same thing, since the self is indeed, the relation to oneself.
Søren Kierkegaard, The Sickness Unto Death

Since my writing is my communicative action, it produces me, and is one of the means whereby I relate to myself - which is Kierkegaard's description of selfhood - the relating of the self to itself: hence the self is not a permanent essential thing, but something constantly achieved, in the jaws of despair.

Bora Zivkovic, 1 August 2011, Identity – what is it really? []
Alex Hudson, 28 July 2011, Why does Google+ insist on having your real name? []
Chester Wisniewski, 27 July 2011, Google+ misses an opportunity - Privacy is an important part of openness, []
Tim Carmody, 26 July 2011, Google+ Identity Crisis: What’s at Stake With Real Names and Privacy, []
Dave Winer, 25 July 2011, Why Google cares if you use your real name, []

Categories: selfhood, identity, google, kierkegaard,
Comments: 0

The Deep

Author: joe

Saturday, 30 July, 2011 - 21:39

The web has been described as The Shallows, a perspective whose subject position is firm-footed on the far-side of the Styx. The web is deep, The Deep. The early pioneers also mourned the loss of the low-lying fens of the embryonic web as a few inches of idiocy washed over man-made territory.

... every year in September, a large number of new university freshmen acquired access to Usenet for the first time, and took some time to acclimatise to the network's standards of conduct and "netiquette". After a month or so, these new users would theoretically learn to comport themselves according to its conventions, or simply tire of using the service. September thus heralded the peak influx of disruptive newcomers to the network [...]
Since that time, the dramatic rise in the popularity of the Internet has brought a constant stream of new users. Thus, from the point of view of the pre-1993 Usenet user, the regular "September" influx of new users never ended. The term was first used by Dave Fischer in a January 26, 1994, post to alt.folklore.computers:
"It's moot now. September 1993 will go down in net.history as the September that never ended."

Wikipedia, 16 July 2011, Eternal September, []

The strata in the body of the web are veined with magnetic powers - the repulsion of opposites, maintained initially by traditional class-like divides: pioneers vs carpetbaggers, early adopters vs noobs, experts vs laymen, serious cats vs your mum.

Here's one of the secrets they don't tell you when you first whip that modem out of its plastic wrapper and fight your way through arcane commands to log on: cyberspace is full of cliques.
Wendy Grossman, March 1997, The Making of an Underclass: AOL, []

The early, wide incursions into the rarified air of the web were not shallow. They were glacial, carving out abysses of information as they terraformed a new geology of media. The new Stygian divide became that between the commercials and professionals (academies, corporations) and auto-didacts (the amateurs that are you and I).

Another interesting point is that the old quality distinction between "authorities" & "experts" on one side and "dedicated individuals" on the other is nowadays slowly disappearing. We could even state -paradoxically and taking account of all due exceptions- that those that study and publish their take on a given matter for money and career purposes (most of those deep web "authoritative experts" and almost all the young sycophants from minor and/or unknown universities that hover around many proprietary databases) will seldom be able to match the knowledge depth (and width) offered by those that work on a given argument out of sheer love and passion.
fravia+, 12 February 2008, How to access and exploit the shallow deep web, []

Foundational, dialectical mythologies arose: the search engines index the useful web; the search engines get co-opted; the PageRank™ algorithm resists gaming; the indexed web becomes mere unwashed popularity. We must maintain the separate layers at all costs.

On the internet, there is no real underground anymore. So if you wanted to create an underground for yourself, the first thing you might do is generate a sort of lexical darknet by using keyterms search engines can’t parse.
Warren Ellis, 7 June 2010, †‡† (Cross Doublecross Cross?), []

The ongoing conflict between conservatism and progressivism continues inexorably. Emancipatory drives are reified, while solid old steadfasts melt into air: the veins migrate within the rock, metamorphically, changing state, but the strata always remain, somewhere. There are antinomies that will not be mixed.

This is the paradox of the underground: staying small means not being noticed (widely), but will mean being able to exist for probably an extended period of time. Becoming (too) big will mean reaching more people and spreading the texts further into society, however it will also probably mean being noticed as a treat, as a ‘network of text-piracy’. The true strategy is to retain this balance of openly dispersed subversivity.
Janneke Adema, 20 September 2009, Scanners, collectors and aggregators. On the ‘underground movement’ of (pirated) theory text sharing, []

In the metamorphism there are opportunities, Temporary Autonomous Zones which open up in moments of depressurisation, in deterritorialised spaces, but only for as long as the tectonic attention is driven elsewhere - or until the machine is hard-rebooted.

Island2 is a free software artwork by Martin Howse which creates "a semi-permanent, isolated island in the computer's memory". It's a program that firmly establishes its own space in the memory, unnoticed and inviolable. This empty, silent virtual zone, is only temporary autonomous, since it can be removed simply switching off or restarting the machine. But its "hidden territory" is fascinating, an unknown digital land invisibly established under the user's eyes, with no aim to take over any other system part., 12 March 2010, Island2, a squatted computer memory zone, []

The destabilisation always forces immiscible elements back into to their ever-moving homogenous conglomerations, flints in expanses of chalk. The factions shield themselves, striving to make their outer edges crystallise impenetrably, cryptographically. You may trace it, but not interpret.

Freenet is effectively a shadow of the web, with its own sites, forums and email services [...] Since Freenet sites don’t sit on servers, but on data stores spread throughout the network, they can’t be taken down, and because each communication between one computer and another is routed through other nodes, with each one only "knowing" the address of the next node and that of the last, Freenet's users can maintain high levels of anonymity.
On Freenet, nobody knows who you are, or what you’re looking at. Each system also contributes hard disk space, which is occupied by a data cache containing chunks of heavily encrypted data that the program can reassemble into Freenet forums and sites [...]
Freenet was the brainchild of a young Irish computer scientist, Ian Clarke, who came up with the idea during his studies at the University of Edinburgh in the mid-1990s. He wanted to "build a communication tool that would realise the things that a lot of people thought the internet was – a place where you could communicate without being watched, and where people could be anonymous if they wanted to be".
PC Pro, 9 March 2010, The dark side of the web, []

Data form into islands, inhabited but isolated; incommunicable to all but the secret agent, Charon, whose services cost one silver coin.

tar zxvf island2.tar.gz
cd island2
insmod ./island.ko

Martin Howse, 5 April 2010, island2, []

Categories: darknet, deep web, shallows, crytopgraphy, cliques, information,
Comments: 0

Stingless and making no honey

Author: joe

Friday, 29 July, 2011 - 21:50

The drone is a male of the bee species, "stingless and making no honey".

drone (n.)
O.E. dran, dræn "male honeybee," from P.Gmc. *dran- (cf. M.Du. drane; O.H.G. treno; Ger. Drohne, which is from M.L.G. drone), probably imitative; given a figurative sense of "idler, lazy worker" (male bees make no honey) 1520s. Meaning "pilotless aircraft" is from 1946. Meaning "deep, continuous humming sound" is early 16c., apparently imitative (cf. threnody). The verb in the sound sense is early 16c. Related: Droned; droning.
Harper, D., 2010, Drone, in Online Etymological Dictionary, []

The stingless, unproductive bee is an idler, feckless and lazy. What does he do but bumble and buzz, with a deceptive lethargy, the wings beating hundreds of times every second: what an expenditure on inactivity. His bumbling is a monotony, a drone, the long low hum of the sustained repetition of difference, working into the hertz of audibility. The drone is reproduction, mediation, perception, sensation, representation, simulation.

The "sightless gaze" of the unmanned system tends to acquire exceptional power since its bearer cannot be pinned down. The reinforced gaze of the embedded eye acquires its power precisely because it can.
Perhaps it is both that turn out to be equally "unmanned" -- the latter being more insidious because it traffics in the guise of its opposite.
Crandall, J., 9 April 2003, Unmanned - Embedded Reporters, Predator Drones and Armed Perception, []

The drone as idler is adopted to signify the drone as mindless worker: one is unproductive, the other is not. Why the apparent contradiction? The unproductive effort of one points to the futility of existence; the productive effort of the other points to servitude, the mindless repetition of actions controlled by another, a master. The drone is thus pointless through self-indulgence, or powerless through exploitation. The drone is alienated and emasculated.

The singular telescope of Gallileo has evolved into a bug-eyed drone from Northrop-Grumman. It is no longer a research instrument, but an extension of society. Technology is no longer something that can be banned or controlled. Fear of the Swarm is forever joined to love of the Swarm. As Drone Ethnography has liberated our epistemology, from the popular mindset to high level government actors, the drone-mythos captivates our imaginations. The more we use it, the further we leave the point of no return behind us in the slipstream.
Rothstein, A., 20 Jul 2011, Drone Ethnography, []

The drone as unmanned craft is an extension of the mind and body of human beings at war, a distribution of cognition into the framework of equipment. The drone is a delegation of responsibility to the machine, which is at the same time a means of tuning our actions to the agency of technology. The drone is the war of analysis in aerial surveillance, fetishistic transference at 50,000 feet. We watch the machine watching us control the machine controlling us. Drones.

The unmanned system does not eliminate the human so much as redistribute the agencies of warfare. The capacities of sensing, dispatching, analyzing, and alerting -- the intelligence and skill required to interpret and store information and act on the results -- are shared by an affiliation of actors, however algorithmic, organic, or systemic. The focus is on their performative practices within the functional organization of the system. It is a matter of how they are maintained as dynamically stable entities -- sustained, naturalized, and rendered discrete -- and the programs through which this is accomplished.
Crandall, J., 27 Jul 2011, Unmanned, email to nettime-l{AT}, []

Categories: drone, male bee, alienation, powerlessness, mediation, agency, machine, fetishism,
Comments: 0


Author: joe

Thursday, 28 July, 2011 - 20:33

"Self-tracking" is the meeting of lifelogging and self-measurement: to capture and record every moment of existence, and to transform it all into meaningful units of analysis. "Hey, I'm self-tracking, I hope you don't mind", I might say as I paid the cashier, spoke to my co-worker, confessed my ailments to my doctor. I transfer my rushes to the second terabyte network drive, but I don't stop to edit. Do I pause my life to log it?

And what do I quantify? Physiological measurements are the easiest place to start, since the physiological self is that which is already registered, enumerated, quantified and counted. I count! And then the psychological self - my moods come and go in finite quanta, and sustain for certain durations. I live and last! And my lifeworld, my phenomenality? Well there, I am in the service of my archive. I am a devotee of the annals, I am my own traces, now made tangible. The more I am numerable, the more I am remedied by numbers.

Self-tracking: in that peculiar concatenated phrase, marrying selfhood and assessment, is foreshortened an arborescent branching of a myriad canyons, each chasm an ellipsis. From this distance it is beautiful, the fractal of my life. Up close, I merely count the gaps - the irreducible can be reduced in this way. It is the lifeworld equivalent of a "close door" button in the lift: a cosmetic affordance which is sufficient to my requirements for control.

Kelly, K., 26 June 2011, "The Quantified Self", []
Ross, G., 4 November 2010, "Placebo Buttons", []
Silberman, S., 24 August 2009, "Placebos Are Getting More Effective. Drugmakers Are Desperate to Know Why", []
Wolf, G., 22 June 2009, "Know Thyself: Tracking Every Facet of Life, from Sleep to Mood to Pain, 24/7/365", []

Categories: placebo, selfhood, measurement, self-tracking, lifelogging,
Comments: 0