Friday, August 1, 2014

Friday Fotos: Shaky Cam and Free Light


This past week I’ve been experimenting with my “shaky cam” technique: point the camera, start shaking it, and snap the photo. Here’s one of the photos that started it, taken back in 2010:


It took my awhile before I posted that online, two or three years, I believe. Why? Because posting a photo means that I endorse it. And I didn’t know WHAT that photo was.

Sure, I knew what I was shooting: the New York City skyline as seen from Hoboken, NJ, in the evening. But the camera moved during the longish exposure required and so it got badly blurred. Despite the fact that the image looked pretty good as a pattern of color, the photo-as-a-representation-of the skyline was ruined. Compare it with this one, which I took at the same time:


I was able to hold the camera steady and the result was a nice sharp picture.

And yet that other image haunted me. It DID look good. And so I eventually decided to post it: I approve.

Terence Blake on Latour's Modes of Existence

Terence Blake (Agent Swarm) has been following the online progress of Latour's Modes of Existence project, blogging about the ideas and critiquing the process, and he attended the two-day evaluation conference that was just concluded. He's now uploaded his evaluation of the ideas to
by Terence Blake

Abstract: In this article I take a critical look at the origins and sources of Bruno Latour's pluralism as it is expressed in his book AN INQUIRY INTO MODES OF EXISTENCE and compare it to other similar projects (Wittgenstein, Feyerabend) Badiou). I consider the accusations of reductionism and of relativism) and demonstrate that Latour's "empirical metaphysics" is not an ontological reductionism but a pluralist ontology recognising the existence of a plurality of entities and of types of entities. Nor is it an epistemological relativism but an ontological pluralism affirming the existence of a plurality of types of existence. These two strands, pluralist ontology and ontological pluralism, mutually reinforce each other to produce at least the outlines of a robust pluralist realism.
I've taken a quick look through the essay. It is a substantial piece of work. I note only that Blake is conversant with both Continental and analytical philosophical thought and evaluates Latour in that context.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Ceramic Turtle Cuteness


Duality: Norm Holland on Princess Mononoke

 Norm Holland's been watching Miyazaki. Here's his take on Princess Mononoke:
There is no “bad guy” in this anime (unlike the usual Disney scenario). The wolf-god Moro can express a gentle melancholy, “I sit here and listen to the pain of the forest,” but she can also furiously attack the rice convoy and other mortals. Even Jiko, mercenary and greedy as he is, helps Ashitaka in the village and aids his escape from a trio that wants to steal the gold he may have.

The Forest Spirit exists in a day form and a night form. It (or she or he) has an animal’s face and body but human eyes. It can give life and take it away—the flowers and plants that sprout from his footsteps and then wilt. His day form is benign. His Night Walker version is scary. That is to say, life and death—so paired, they are scary. So far as he is concerned, the ending is ambiguous. San says the Forest Spirit is dead, but Ashitaka declares that it will never die. And I suppose we have to accept the duality.

Sometimes there is fighting between the “other” world and “our” world, but we can hope for harmony as in the finale. We are to accept these dualities with love and respect for their very difference. The film leaves us with the separation of the lovers, the forest’s San and the town’s Ishitaka. They will live separated, but at peace with the difference between them. They will lovingly visit from time to time.

Is there a "good Anthropocene"?

Clive Hamilton speaks to the notion of a "good Anthropocene", one where, by doubling down on science and technology, humankind can come through the next centuries with little more than a few cuts and scrapes.
The techno-utopian vision depends on a belief that, with the advent of the new geological epoch, nothing essential has changed. This reimagined Anthropocene rests on a seamless transition from the fact that humans have always modified their environments to a defense of a postmodern “cyber nature” under human supervision, as if there is no qualitative difference between fire-stick farming and spraying sulfate aerosols into the stratosphere to regulate Earth’s temperature.
But the idea of a good Anthropocene is based on a fundamental misreading of science. It arises from a failure to make the cognitive leap from ecological thinking—the science of the relationship between organisms and their local environments—to Earth system thinking, the science of the whole Earth as a complex system beyond the sum of its parts...

The revolutionary meaning of Earth-system science is lost on the ecopragmatists. In reality, the arrival of the new epoch represents not merely the further spread of human influence across the globe but a fundamental shift in the relationship between humans and the Earth system—one in which human activity now accelerates, decelerates and distorts the great cycles that make the planet a dynamic entity. The radical distinctiveness of the Anthropocene lies in the fact that humans have become a novel “force of nature”, one that is shaping the geological evolution of the planet.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Pattern Update, Connections: Brandt & Ramsay, Jockers & Me, and Goertzel

Three brief notes. The first revisits Ramsay’s work on patterns in Shakespeare and suggests that a concept developed by Per Aage Brandt might augment that work in a perspicuous way. Then I look at work that Matt Jockers has done on sentiment analysis and suggest that I would augment some work I’ve done on Heart of Darkness. The last is a note about a mathematical approach to patterns developed by Ben Goertzel, an AI researcher.

Loci and Spaces

Roughly two months ago I put up a post on and article David Ramsay had done on plot structure in Shakespeare. He’d created graphs the depicted the movement of individual plays from one location to another, such as in this graph for Comedy of Errors:


Each node in such a graph represents a physical setting (a locus in my terminology) where action takes place. There are some loci where only one scene is set and other loci where several scenes occur. You can follow the action through a play by starting at the top (in this case) and following the edges in order, where the edges are labeled by act and scene.

Ramsay noted that different plays displayed different patterns, and explained a procedure by which, with the help of a graduate student, Bei Yu, he was able to classify the plays more or less in the traditional four categories – comedies, histories, tragedies, and romances – on the basis of the graphs alone, with no information about what actually happens at the various loci.

What do we make of THAT? Ramsay didn’t know. Nor do I, though I suspect the loci might not be ‘mere’ physical settings, but that they might have specific thematic valences or affordances.

Are We Causing the Sixth Extinction?

Over the past half-billion years, there have been at least twenty mass extinctions, when the diversity of life on earth has suddenly and dramatically contracted. Five of these—the so-called Big Five—were so devastating that they are usually put in their own category. The first took place during the late Ordovician period, nearly four hundred and fifty million years ago, when life was still confined mainly to water. Geological records indicate that more than eighty per cent of marine species died out. The fifth occurred at the end of the Cretaceous period, sixty-five million years ago. The end-Cretaceous event exterminated not just the dinosaurs but seventy-five per cent of all species on earth.

The significance of mass extinctions goes beyond the sheer number of organisms involved. In contrast to ordinary, or so-called background, extinctions, which claim species that, for one reason or another, have become unfit, mass extinctions strike down the fit and the unfit at once. For example, brachiopods, which look like clams but have an entirely different anatomy, dominated the ocean floor for hundreds of millions of years. In the third of the Big Five extinctions—the end-Permian—the hugely successful brachiopods were nearly wiped out, along with trilobites, blastoids, and eurypterids. (In the end-Permian event, more than ninety per cent of marine species and seventy per cent of terrestrial species vanished; the event is sometimes referred to as “the mother of mass extinctions” or “the great dying.”)

Once a mass extinction occurs, it takes millions of years for life to recover, and when it does it generally has a new cast of characters; following the end-Cretaceous event, mammals rose up (or crept out) to replace the departed dinosaurs. In this way, mass extinctions, though missing from the original theory of evolution, have played a determining role in evolution’s course; as Richard Leakey has put it, such events “restructure the biosphere” and so “create the pattern of life.” It is now generally agreed among biologists that another mass extinction is under way. Though it’s difficult to put a precise figure on the losses, it is estimated that, if current trends continue, by the end of this century as many as half of earth’s species will be gone.

Approach to Newark International


Cultural Evolution is Accelerating

Tim Morton has a post on accelerationism. I made the following comment:
From a certain POV the long course of history is accelerating. The time from the emergence of speech to the emergence and rationalization of writing (among the elite and a specialized clerkhood) is measured in tens of thousands of years. The time from routine writing to the scientific revolution (and the printing press and capitalism) is measures in thousands of years. The interval from that to quantum mechanics, relativity and computing (Turing to von Neuman) is down to hundreds of years. What's going on now at the scale of tens of years?
For more see my site on Mind-Culture Coevolution.


Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Five Easy Pieces: Race in the Symbolic Universe

Another working paper: SSRN link: The five pieces have been previously published on New Savanna, but the introduction is new.

Abstract: How did Western culture get from Shakespeare’s Caliban to Bill Cosby’s Dr. Cliff Huxtable? This essay examines that trajectory by consider six imaginative works: Shakespeare's The Tempest, Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Forster's A Passage to India, Faulkner's Light in August, Zemeckis's Who Framed Roger Rabbit, and The Cosby Show. The focus is on the projective dynamics of racisim where the racial Other is made to express feelings and desires that the dominant culture denies.
The concept of freedom did not emerge in a vacuum. Nothing highlighted freedom—if it did not in fact create it—like slavery. . . . For in that construction of blackness and enslavement could be found not only the not-free but also, with the dramatic polarity created by skin color, the projection of the not-me. The result was a playground for the imagination. What rose out of collective needs to allay internal fears and to rationalize external exploitation was an American Africanism—a fabricated brew of darkness, otherness, alarm, and desire that is uniquely American.
– Toni Morrison,
Playing in the Dark

There's a young black boy on my job and those white cats have made him tell them so many lies about what they call his love life that he can't tell whether he's coming or going. They want to believe that we screw like dogs or cats--you know, just go out there and get you a piece, just like they might scratch their backs or get a glass of water. . . Another thing, if we were just like dogs, then all the rotten things they have done and are doing to us would be okay!
– Clifford Yancy, in John Langston Gwaltney,

Introduction: A Universe of Symbols

Each culture has a universe of symbols through which its members understand themselves and one another. We use these symbols to elaborate our mental world and to communicate with one another, for symbolism gives graphic and linguistic form to our feelings and desires. The olive branch and white dove of peace, the blood-red planet Mars betokening war, the serpent of wisdom, or of life and healing, are examples of such symbols. American society is culturally diverse. While all Americans may share some symbols–perhaps the American flag, the Thanksgiving turkey–other symbols belong to specific cultures. Each subculture has its own symbolic universe, with its own symbols.

European-American culture includes a vast network of symbols, a network in which African-Americans have played, and continue to play, an important role. The way whites symbolize blacks has more to do with the hearts and minds of whites than it does with black reality. Thus if we are to understand the role that black culture has played in the development of general American culture, we will need to understand the role that white culture has already assigned to blacks. The subject is vast, but we don’t need to survey it all in order to get the lay of the land. A few examples will serve.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Discussing interesting things...

The following twitteration reminds me of discussions we used to have about The Valve behind the scenes:

The Valve, as some of you know, was a group blog around and about literature. But we had a tough time discussing literary texts, though some of our readers wanted us to and would ask us to. I figured the problem was that, although we were all interested in literature, out specific interests in texts were different. While we could all talk some kind of theory, we weren't generally prepared to talk about one antoher's favorite texts. So, we defaulted to theory.

Reading Hyperobjects at 3QD: A Quake in Being


My latest post is up at 3 Quarks Daily, and it’s a review-essay on Hyperobjects: Sing Me a Song of Hyperobjects: Starting over with Humans and Other Creatures in the 21st Century CE.

In the process of writing that piece I had, of course, to run back through the book. Near the end of the process, too late to take account of it in the article, I was struck by the title of Morton’s introductory chapter, “A Quake in Being.” He introduces the phrase on page 19:
The discovery of hyperobjects and OOO are symptoms of a fundamental shaking of being, a being-quake. The ground of being is shaken. There we were, trolling along in the age of industry, capitalism, and technology, and all of a sudden we received information from aliens, information that wven the most hardheaded could not ignore, because the form in which the information was delivered was precisely the instrumental and mathematical formulas of modernity itself. The Titanic of modernity hits the iceberg of hyperobjects.
Catchy, yes, very.

But what does it mean, this quake in being? The phrase evokes an earthquake, when the ground shakes beneath your feet and the earth opens up and starts swallowing without apparent end. Very dramatic. But what’s that have to do with Being? BTW, what’s this Being anyhow?


Mustart at GV002

Mr. Mustart has a piece at the new Green Villain mural, GV002, on Fairmount in JC. Here's a shot of the piece, and some details. You can see shots of the whole mural at last month's post on 3QD.



Sunday, July 27, 2014

The James Brown Biopic is on the Way to a Theatre Near You

An immense ego strove to mask any insecurity. His drive to succeed was as unrelenting as his dancing. During the civil rights movement, he emerged as a leader capable of preventing a riot in Boston after the assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. But he was also an eccentric, who would give up his processed hair for an Afro during the “Black Is Beautiful” era, only to return to the retro style because he loved having straight hair.

“Get On Up,” directed by Tate Taylor from a clever screenplay by the brothers Jez and John-Henry Butterworth, attempts the difficult task of capturing a driven artist whose career spanned six decades and whose public persona overshadowed his inner life. Just as hip-hop would take break beats from the middle or end of Brown’s records to make new sounds, the Butterworths eschew a linear structure, jumping from 1988 to 1968 to 1938 and so on to put you at important turning points in Brown’s life.
The Obama era in American films:
It’s an interesting cultural phenomenon of the Obama presidency that a surprising number of films focused on black American history have both been financed and successful: “42,” “Django Unchained,” “The Help,” “Lee Daniels’ The Butler” and the 2014 Oscar winner for best picture, “12 Years a Slave.” In addition, two separate films centered on Nelson and Winnie Mandela have been released. A film about Jimi Hendrix is due in September. A biopic of Nina Simone has been filmed; a feature about the 1965 civil rights march that began in Selma just wrapped; one about Miles Davis is shooting now; and projects about the rap group NWA and the rapper Tupac Shakur are in the works.

All instruments are rhythm instruments (Yes indeed!):

No, the web doesn't destroy reading, and here's evidence

Escaping the Shallows: Deep Reading’s Revival in the Digital Age
DHQ: Digital Humanities Quarterly 2014
Volume 8 Number 2

David Dowling , University of Iowa
Abstract: Among the many reactions against the digital revolution is a humanitarian movement toward long form online reading in collective and social networks. This movement — visible in online book clubs such as "Infinite Summer" and 1book140, websites such as, and the trend of blogs-to-books publication — is a reaction against superficial increasingly brief headline-driven Internet news. Called to action by the threat of what critic Jessica Helfand has diagnosed as digital culture’s "narrative depravation," the deep reading revival has reclaimed narrative and returned it to the populace, transforming reading into an act of mass collaboration on an unprecedented scale. Despite studies corroborating Nicholas Carr’s claim in The Shallows (2011) that the distractions of the digital environment are anathema to immersive linear deep reading, online culture has actually enhanced and accelerated the appreciation of longer richer works through its support of "radial reading" as described by Jerome McGann. This essay argues that while the intrinsically distracting virtual geography of the Internet has threatened to diminish the role of textured narrative in our intellectual and social lives, the Web has ironically provided the media for the most salient movements in support of the deep reading it threatens to obliterate.
Final paragraph: