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Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Social Media and the Middle East

Andrew Sullivan compares several views on the role of Social Media in Egypt and Tunisia.

And Evgyny Morozov  on the Net Delusion

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Something Else

It takes hold, grabs the mind, molds it, makes it blush – like a spark plug – in the distance between two disparate objects there is a leap of energy – a formation of futurity – a fig leaf torn away to reveal the nudity of perception – a freely floating feeling of friction – marking the territories of desire – masking tape falters – it cannot contain the forces of things – there is no one way street to truth – the raw motion of thought does not stop for signs of identity and stagnation – it meanders down the paths of its own reckoning – no melody or harmony – but a cacophony – the rhythm does not exist in a vacuous musical scale – but is always in relation – always surging – sending – melting and congealing – a sumptuous sort of sensation – these are the dream worlds of the everyday – the folding over and unraveling into – the sometimes and never – the always and not yet – this is the battle between to be and AND – it happens in the middle of things – on the literal and metaphorical grounds – and in caves within clouds – mimesis and imitatio – the anxiety of influence and the freedom of late style – where will be when the waters come crashing down – what happens when explanation no longer suffices – this is the stammering of the soul

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Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Droppin' Nussbaums

Nussbaum’s analysis of Aristotle is insightful yet ironic. If it is true that “in avoiding emotion, one avoids a part of the truth”(317), why does Nussbaum come off so disembodied and dry in her writing style? Why does she simply present her reading of Aristotle in the typical academic form, yoked by the same enlightened criteria she’s attempting to sublate? Nikidion could very well be a robot with different emotional states which react to various programmed inputs and outputs for all I know based on her description.

If “philosophy is not self-sufficient as a shaper of souls” one can’t simply point to the aporia or gap and acknowledge its existence, rather it must be made manifest. Perhaps, the emotional tone of the excerpt is just the appropriate one given the academic context, or is this simply a rationalization? Nussbaum points to something like ‘structures of feeling’ or what Bourdieu would have referred to as the ‘habitus’ that mold the ways we react to a given stimuli or phenomenon; if her intention is to shift this should she not act in a way that moves beyond it? Changing the conceptual ideals and cognitive interpretation of Aristotle alone falls short according to her own account of the relationship between philosophy and feeling. With all of the work currently being done on affect studies and new materialism you’d think she’d hop on the train, perhaps with William Connolly, Ben Anderson, and Jane Bennett.

In order to break out of the confines of the current theoretical dispotif shouldn’t we experiment with new ways of relating to academic labor itself? Not some new idealism or fantasy of freedom, but rather an embrace of the lived materiality of comporting oneself to their life-activity of knowledge production. If the point of Nussbaum’s criticism is that a representational form of philosophy will not suffice, than the critic should let this feeling flow through their thought itself. To learn to affect and be affected suggests becoming attendant to the subtleties, intensities, and rhythms of thinking. A loosening of the ideological shackles, a withering of conceptual blockages, and a fomenting of forces that seem hardly perceptible to the naked eye. Nussbaum is still stuck within the theoretical methodology of Aristotle that we can truly come to know the nature of emotive impulses. She constantly chides characterizations of emotions as “mindless surges of affect” (311). While it is true that affective reactions are forms of judgment and discernment implying value commitments, it does not follow that the “rich cognitive structure” then becomes completely intelligible. Nor does it follow that we can comprehensively list the way particular emotional feelings arise, as if they were clearly defined states.

She points to the ways in which Aristotle gave a qualitatively different analysis of Anger and Pity based on the use of the Greek prepositions ek and epi, but is there not a larger question at issue here? Beyond Aristotle making a distinction by manipulating grammar, could we not also look to the ways in which our structures of feeling are themselves manipulated by grammar? It could be argued that part of the difference between modern and ancient ideas of anger could be imbedded within the differences in linguistic structures we use. In the ancient example, the preposition ek is used to describe a pain which comes out of a belief of impending evils, rather than epi which is a feeling directed at a pain someone else is experiencing. Today it seems that we direct our anger at structures, people, or a general state of things. Or perhaps the translation is fundamentally just incomplete and unable to grasp the difference.

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Monday, February 21, 2011

Community Is Not A Choice

The web reveals the exteriority of ourselves, the way we exist in and through others, not just in a game of shadows and mirrors but also materially for our subsistence. The way that such a seemingly abstracted and virtual assemblage can be so real exposes us to the finitude of the self and the irreducibility of the other. In a radical gesture of nay-saying to the suspicious scapegoating devices of demystification, Brown’s deconstructive approach to viral Texts opens up spaces of imagining otherwise.

The frustration of reading the article and what a ‘Post-Hermeneutic’ represents is intrinsic to the subject matter itself. The fact that it is difficult to conceive of what community looks like in Brown’s sense evinces the need to problematize the concept itself. Community is “something that happens to us,” not an ideology one chooses to accept or not, it exists as the condition rather than a coherent entity. Brown points to the way in which virtual encounters can be traumatic, uncanny and decentering. Viral texts often occur as a working on the limits, thresholds and aporias of our knowledge. We are unaware of the potential each packet of information sent contains, where are our virtual messages in a bottle will end up, and to whom our creations will impact. We are also forced to confront and come face-to-face, or stand side-by-side, with alterity. Browns writes; “The internet culture forces people to recognize the alien and other forms of culture which make up the planetary culture, the interconnectedness that informs their contemporary beings.”

Brown diagnoses two seemingly disparate yet interrelated symptoms of the hermeneutic impulse. In juxtaposing Poster’s limited tolerance with Asadullah’s fundamentalism Brown is able to show the naïveté of essentialist conceptions of community. The critique of Poster is more complex than at first glance. For Brown “it is not a matter of creating community without exclusion” for that would be the easy option. All one would have to do is tweak Poster’s position slightly to say it accepted fundamentalisms as well. Rather, “it is a matter of recognizing that no created community is universal.” Thus Brown is not making a specifically prescriptive claim about the need to tolerate the intolerant and always accept the other, rather it is a recognition of the traumatic kernel that is pricked in our fleeting moments of contact with the other.

Brown writes, “If we expand our definition of community beyond one of willing contributors and unified goals, we might be able to better formulate a road to peace.” The question is, who will build this road to peace? How will it be produced? What transforms its ideational formulation into a material entity? Perhaps I’m being rather reductive, but does ‘exposedness’ not become either some abstract property everyone possesses, almost akin to a universal human right, or just another floating-signifier without pragmatic import for programmatic politics? Arguably there may be an implicit assumption about the indefinite process of referentiality and the mediation of knowledge through texts; but is there not a danger in abandoning the idea of community founded on “unified goals?” Even if one grants the fact that a universalist conception of community is ultimately fictitious, is there not a very tangible way in which believing in the fantasy foments solidarity?

Brown problematizes the us/them dichotomy; demonstrating how Bert Laden represents the contradictions inherent to cyberculture. I think a point that should be pressed is whether that moment is always “instantaneously lost in the move to interpret the image and massage the trauma.” Why is creating a theoretical apparatus concerned with the idea of “being-in-community” any less totalizing than one centered around class conflict or sexuality? Does Brown not create a normative yardstick to measure his critique of normativity against? Does he not mirror his own critique of Poster by polemically positioning himself as in possession of a superior theoretical world view? Is Brown only open to concepts of community as long as they are the proper rethinking? Only open to hermeneutic approaches as long as they are Post-x, y, z form of instrumentality? To me this exposes what Davis says is the challenge to “compare without completely effacing the incomparableness of the ‘we’”(2005: 208). But what can this comparison entail? How do we know if we have transgressed the prohibition against effacement? Is this not what Mas’ud Zavarzadeh speaks to in his critique of postality when he writes “To be so totally opposed to totalizing is, of course, itself a totalization. But totalizing in opposing totalization does not seem to bother…anti-totalizing pedagogues because the issue, ultimately, is really not epistemological ("totalizing") but economic (class). In contemporary pedagogy "totalizing" is an epistemological cover for the class cleansing of pedagogy.”

On the one hand, Egyptian protesters don’t seem to be appealing to abstracted concepts such as alterity or differance in their resistance, but on the on the other the looming atmosphere of anxiety surrounding the future trajectory of the movement seems to stem from the inability to derive certainty about social or religious issues which constantly exceed ideological demystification. While one can always become more orthodox or materialist to the point of absolute determination, the more important question to be raised is why have the programmatic politics of the left failed in many respects? Is it simply a question of aligning oneself with necessity, or has our thought not yet become adequate to its object of inquiry?

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