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Thursday, March 3, 2011

Flash-Mobs: Future Fantasies of the Everyday

For my written Pathetic Appeal I will present a call to engage in collective flash-mobs in order to protest the working conditions in the textile industry. I will attempt to evoke a desire for recognition and anger at the injustices in the status quo. Secondly, I will romanticize the act in order to provoke a desire for freedom from the monotony of the everyday. It is intended to get people to participate in a collective flash mob, because they will interpret a need to respond to the ethical injunction of others' suffering arising from a sense of guilt in their complicity and a desire for acting in concert with an excited multitude. Collective flash-mobs offer a singular moment of ethical identification and pause to stand in solidarity with our common brethren. They stand as a testament to our universal nudity. The physical stripping of the self symbolically strips our conception of labor from its yoke to servility and exchange-value. It exposes our vulnerability in relation to each other, the fact that we are forced to rely upon a collective flourishing for any individual prosperity. It also points to a new horizon of thought, a different epoch in human activity, and a different form of freedom in which we control the right to our own destiny.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Gazing Into the Infinite Neuroelectronic Void of the Matrix

While at first glance it may appear that Neuromancer is simply a fictional future dreamland that has no bearing in relation to the present, but upon further analysis it seems that Gibson is reacting to anxieties already manifesting themselves in the present. Gibson relates to the already occurring compression of time, place and culture and takes it to its logical extreme. The way that he depicts places, such as BAMA in the U.S. and the relationship between the various cities Case goes to shows the ways in which the world has become flattened. In chapter 7 he writes “Their room might have been the one on in Chiba where he’d first seen Armitage” (88). The differences between cities in an increasingly globalized world become more and more blurred. It’s only when you go outside that you notice differences based on climatic changes. Molly says in the same scene that if you go outside “You get agoraphobic” (88). 

Technological advances are not presented as the saving grace of society, certain traditional hierarchies are exacerbated by society’s transformations. For example the forms of patriarchy endemic to the Middle East are played out in an even more open fashion, “In Turkey there is disapproval of women who sport such modifications” (89). The technological advances can become just as much a tool of oppression and control as they are liberating. The relationship between emotions and rationality are also problematized. The characters that express the least emotion seem to be the least endearing and “tended to submerge their personalities” (96); for example the descriptions of Armitage’s “blankness” and smile “that meant as much as the twitch of some insect’s antenna” (97). Furthermore, the use and regulation of drugs is a constant issue, yet the novel is somewhat ambivalent about their moral status. It is evident however that they are used as an escape vessel in an increasingly complex world.

The novel speaks to the increasing fragmentation of lived experience. The word fragments is repeated to describe both physical/virtual objects and experiences over and over again throughout the book. Stylistically the novel is written in a fragmented form; I continually have to go back to look for the line break to realize that it has cut to a new scene. This is a disconcerting experience yet a more accurate depiction of the way in which people experience the world around them. This effect is also aided by the way in which long descriptions of visual or sensory stimuli are vividly characterized in juxtaposition to short and choppy dialogue. 

 There is an increasingly large gulf between the amount of perceived phenomenon in the world and the ability to relate to it with other people. Yet this aspect of experience is coupled with a world which is becoming increasingly homogeneous. Language barriers are breaking down, for example “he began to whisper to a Sanyo transceiver in a strange salad of Greek, French, Turkish, isolated fragments of English. The transceiver answered in French” (91). Through the aid of technology and the coercion of compression people are forced to assimilate their cultures into one another. Freeside represents a cultural melting pot, 
Freeside is many things, not all of them evident to the tourists who shuttle up and down the well. Freeside is brothel and banking nexus, pleasure dome and free port, border town and spa. Freeside is Las Vegas and the hanging gardens of Babylon, an orbital Geneva and home to a family inbred and most carefully refined, the industrial clan of Tessier and Ashpool (101).
It is the contradictory capital of the world. Everything exists simultaneously in this Rasta Mecca. Yet it also is able to take on a life of its own. While many aspects of what it means to be a human or cyborg are increasingly problematized it’s still possible for each person to retain a sense of self or individuality based on the peculiar or unique assemblage of parts or experiences they contain.

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Monday, February 28, 2011

Damasio the Neurodancer

When reading Damasio I feel guilty if I’m not interested or if I get distracted, especially when he’s giving examples about the way people with brain damage lose the ability to focus. But thinking about thinking itself is conducive to wandering thoughts.

In the first and second part of Descartes’ Error Damasio provides clarity to the oft nuanced and incomprehensible language of neuroscience, spelling out the ways that emotion “provide the bridge between rational and nonrational processes, between cortical and subcortical structures” (129). He dispels the once fictitious divide separating mind and body, thought and feeling through a rigorous analysis of the history of medical studies. Rather than emotion playing a subtle or secondary role in brain processes, “their influence is immense” (160). Thought itself must be reconceived as embodied in the fullest sense of the term. There is both an evolutionary and rational process that occurs in the connection between a representation or object of thought and the feeling it induces in a person. The example of superstition as a sort of “spurious alignment” is however especially interesting (162). 

If our emotions are caught up within extensively complex processes that interact on multiple levels and with various systems of the brain, than the implications of affective states might be larger than they first appeared. It’s intriguing Damasio uses the term ‘dispositions’ in describing the ways in which emotions work, which indicates that in long term processes of evolution as well as in more short-term social processes of becoming emotions can turn into attachments. There are associations which are both conscious and unconscious that can predetermine the way that we relate to an object of knowledge. For example, the current immigration debates are saturated within a frenzied pool of affective linkages and associations. Both sides of the aisle play on entrenched emotionally resonant images to justify their policy arguments more so than on rational policy deliberation. Xenophobia exerts a sort of stranglehold on policy debates that overdetermines the way people perceive the implications of a given policy. Nativists constantly link immigrants to various negative images such as job-loss, security, crime, disease through a metonymic process of association. Jenny Edbauer’s analysis in “The New New: Making the Case for Critical Affect Studies” is especially  illuminating in this context. She analyzes the ways in which affective investments possess a tangible residue that sticks to audiences beyond the given buzzwords of the day. On the other hand, those on the left evoke the sense of the American dream, and the historical story of the way this nation was founded by immigrants. Policymakers have learned that they cannot remain wonks in tanks, but that they must exert the full force of affective investments in order to push their agendas. Simply tweaking conceptual ideals alone seems to fail absent fighting affect with affect.
Since Damasio shows studies in which we can see the same functions of the brain occurring when different people are presented with the same image, it would be interesting to see some quantified studies of patients when presented with different figures yet described in the same way. For example the ways in which fear is evoked in relation to immigrants apropos the way fear is evoked in relation to terrorists. The national security issues typically revolve around the same questions and attempt to evoke the same emotion, I wonder what the actual neuroscience would like? Or if this is something that can be known, I know that Damasio gets hesitant at times to reach complete conclusions, this could be work that could be done to further explore the implications of his research. This seems to be the logical conclusion of his analysis of phobic behavior in which we overassociate objects with negative emotions. Is the only way to change the associations by providing equally extreme overassociations of the opposite sort? Or can we rationally unstick these figures that seem to be held together by some gravitational force?

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