Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Madam Wayquay's resting post for windborne hats


A Review of Rita Felski, The Limits of Criticique

Under review: Rita Felski. The Limits of Critique. University of Chicago Press, 2015.

Dan Weiskopf in ArtsATL, July 5, 2016:
Felski documents extensively how critics in the grip of suspicion cast themselves as detectives, turning over each word with gloved hands and dusting spaces for prints. Every text appears as a crime scene: no matter how placid and controlled it appears on the surface, a transgression must be concealed just beneath. Texts take on a kind of sinister agency, disguising their nature from readers in order to more subtly influence them.

9780226294032Suspicious reading, then, aligns itself with “guardedness rather than openness, aggression rather than submission, irony rather than reverence, exposure rather than tact” (p. 21). And it goes hand-in-hand with a view of language as tacitly coercive, a conduit for unconsciously replicating oppressive social structures. Critique is driven by the need to expose and name the “crime” perpetrated by the text, though here the quarry is “not an anomalous individual — a deranged village vicar, a gardener with a grudge — but some larger entity targeted by the critic as an ultimate cause: Victorian society, imperialism, discourse/power, Western metaphysics” (p. 89).
A false idol?
Felski argues compellingly that despite its many virtues, critique is a false idol. Perhaps its greatest failing is the inability to imagine anything outside of itself. Its totalizing ambitions force it to deny that there could even be any other intellectually rigorous method of engagement with a text. Whatever strays from the aim of demystifying and exposing the limitations of an artwork, or from seeing the work as ultimately an expression of relations of power that need to be opposed, must be a form of unchecked sentiment or complicity.
Critique only knows what it (thinks) it knows:
No, the problem lies with critique that only knows how to probe for the cracks, gaps and fissures in the fabric of a work, that sees debunking as the highest aim of interpretation, and that hollows out texts and artworks into mere arenas for ideological combat. As if rigor and insight had to be coupled with fault-finding and a strident meanness of feeling. This, too, is an effect of suspicious reading: to cast even your own emotions about a work into doubt, so much so that it’s rare that any critical texts contain meditations on our everyday feelings of amusement, pleasure, or surrender in the face of the works we are most passionate about.
But is Latour the way?
Unfortunately, Felski’s own proposals for “postcritical reading” are not always as sharply drawn. She is quick to reassure us — we scholars, at least — that “the antidote to suspicion is thus not a repudiation of theory . . . but an ampler and more diverse range of theoretical vocabularies” (p. 181). Drawing on Bruno Latour’s “Actor-Network Theory”, she proposes that we revise our view of the reader/text/context divides and see texts not as “servile henchmen” (p. 170) for ideology but as akin to agents themselves, enmeshed in our lives in countless ways and capable of compelling in us a far fuller range of emotional responses.

While it’s easy to applaud her call to move beyond the “vulgar sociology” (p. 171) of critique, it’s not clear that Latour’s generalized model of network relations is much of an advance. It’s also a little hard to square this slightly wonky scientism with her call for a renaissance of humanistic values in criticism. To write out one’s responses to a text or an image is to record the shifting interplay between two particulars, oneself and the work. So-called “strong” theories inevitably bleach out the specific nature of what emerges from these encounters. In this way they run counter to the impulse that drives criticism in the first place, which is to record the private, idiosyncratic act of figuring out for oneself what one thinks and feels about an artwork.
As you may know, I've given quite a bit of thought to Latour and even blogged a series of posts on Reassembling the Social, which I then turned into a working paper (downloadable PDF). The great weakness of Latour for literary studies is that, while he gives us a way of thinking about how we negotiate our relationships with one another, he has little to say about the mind and so gives us few to no tools for reaching into literature's interior. I have, however, suggested that his distinction between intermediaries and mediators is a good place to start. Intermediaries are transparent between interacting individuals while mediators require transformation and translation. I suggest, then, that we think of literary form as an intermediary while content must be mediated. That is to say, the literary text is both an intermediary and a mediator.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Hoboken lamp at dusk


The potential of the world's tribes, Big, Small, and New

Sitting in Sri Lanka, recently at war with itself, Ram Manikkalingam contemplates Europe and the rest of the world in 3 Quarks Daily:
Meanwhile, (with perhaps a small degree of schadenfreude) I watch Europe become tense, turn in on itself, exclude communities, become subject to attacks, impose emergency law, and break apart with Brexit. I ask myself what is really going on in Europe. While we may draw a direct line from the invasion of Iraq to the attacks against civilians in Paris and Brussels, that alone is insufficient to explain why young men in Brussels and Paris will travel thousands of miles away to join a movement with which they have little social, cultural or political affinity. And it simply does not even begin to explain Brexit, Scottish nationalism, Marie Le Pen or Vladimir Putin. Maybe, just maybe, it might be more useful to start in Europe and ask how have things changed in the past decade since I have been living there. What do I see now that I did not see before? And how would I describe the politics of Europe to someone who had never been there, not experienced it, and needed to understand it better?

For all its progress and enlightenment, Europe is still a continent of Tribes – Big Tribes, Small Tribes and New Tribes. Big Tribes have their own state. Within this state they feel dominant (or at least feel that they ought to be). These Big Tribes may be as big as the English and French or as small as the Dutch and Danes. What they have in common is they live under their own political roof. Then we have the Small Tribes. These are invariably the Tribes that live within the borders of a state the Big Tribes dominate. These Tribes range from the Scots and the Northern Irish, to the Basques, the Tyroleans and the Corsicans. They yearn for a political roof that is closer to them. Or at least they reject the political roof that has been built on top of them by others who are more powerful then they. And finally you have the New Tribes. These are Tribes related to Europe's colonial project. Some arrived during colonialism, others after colonialism ended, and still others continue to enter today. This Tribe is viewed as foreign by the Big Tribes. But they are, or at least feel they are, as European as the other two Tribes. Let me unpack each of these Tribes a little further.
Well worth reading.

Ralph Nader endorses "We Need a Department of Peace"

Nader and Peace Book 1x1
Photo courtesy of The Lakeville Journal.

Meanwhile, in the Twitterersphere:

Purchase at (paperback, Kindle), or Barnes and Noble (paperback, NOOK Book).

Monday, July 25, 2016

Peace Now! War is Not a Natural Disaster

Department of Peace

Over at 3 Quarks Daily my current post reproduces a section of a slender book I’ve put together with the help of Charlie Keil and Becky Liebman. The book collects some historical materials about efforts to create a department of peace in the federal government, starting with at 1793 essay by Benjamin Rush, one of our Founding Fathers: “A Plan of a Peace-Office for the United States.” It includes accounts of legislative efforts in the 20th century and commentary by Charlie Keil and me. The book is entitled We Need a Department of Peace: Everybody’s Business; Nobody’s Job. It’s available at Amazon and Barnes and Noble in paperback and eBook formats.

Below the peace symbol I’m including the Prologue, which is by Mary Liebman, an important activist from the 1970s. The book include other excerpts from the newsletters Liebman wrote for the Peace Act Advisory Council.

one of them old time good ones

Google in the cloud, is the tethersphere humanity's future?

Amazon is 1st in cloud services, microsoft is second, and Google is playing catch-up ball, according to the NYTimes. So Google is ramping up. How will that go?
Can faster networks, lower prices and lots of artificial intelligence put Google ahead? Amazon’s lead seems to give it an edge for at least the next couple of years, as its cloud branch has perfected a method of developing hundreds of new cloud features annually. Yet while the company appears to have some basic artificial intelligence features, called machine learning, it seems to have little in the way of speech recognition or translation.

Mr. Lovelock, the Gartner analyst, predicted that Google would offer businesses the insights it has gained from years of watching people online. “Amazon views the customer as the person paying the bill, while Google believes the customer is the end user of a service,” he said. And Microsoft is promoting itself as the company that has products customers already know and use.
What will it be like, living your life tethered to AmaGoogSoft?

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Dana Boyd at Davos: We have met the enemy and he R us?

Yet, what I struggled with the most wasn’t the sheer excess of Silicon Valley in showcasing its value but the narrative that underpinned it all. I’m quite used to entrepreneurs talking hype in tech venues, but what happened at Davos was beyond the typical hype, in part because most of the non-tech people couldn’t do a reality check. They could only respond with fear. As a result, unrealistic conversations about artificial intelligence led many non-technical attendees to believe that the biggest threat to national security is humanoid killer robots, or that AI that can do everything humans can is just around the corner, threatening all but the most elite technical jobs. In other words, as I talked to attendees, I kept bumping into a 1970s science fiction narrative.

At first I thought I had just encountered the normal hype/fear dichotomy that I’m faced with on a daily basis. But as I listened to attendees talk, a nervous creeping feeling started to churn my stomach. Watching startups raise downrounds and watching valuation conversations moving from bubbalicious to nervousness, I started to sense that what the tech sector was doing at Davos was putting on the happy smiling blinky story that they’ve been telling for so long, exuding a narrative of progress: everything that is happening, everything that is coming, is good for society, at least in the long run.

Shifting from “big data,” because it’s become code for “big brother,” tech deployed the language of “artificial intelligence” to mean all things tech, knowing full well that decades of Hollywood hype would prompt critics to ask about killer robots. So, weirdly enough, it was usually the tech actors who brought up killer robots, if only to encourage attendees not to think about them. Don’t think of an elephant. Even as the demo robots at the venue revealed the limitations of humanoid robots, the conversation became frothy with concern, enabling many in tech to avoid talking about the complex and messy social dynamics that are underway, except to say that “ethics is important.” What about equality and fairness?
The tech-sector misunderstands itself:
There is a power shift underway and much of the tech sector is ill-equipped to understand its own actions and practices as part of the elite, the powerful. Worse, a collection of unicorns who see themselves as underdogs in a world where instability and inequality are rampant fail to realize that they have a moral responsibility. They fight as though they are insurgents while they operate as though they are kings.

Friday, July 22, 2016

To Russia, with Love

I've just been looking at my stats and notice that, for some reason, I've recently been getting a lot of view from Russia. Here's the breakdown:
             Russia    USA
      Month   3516    6098
      Week    3223    1458 
      Day     1130     242
For the last month, USA is ahead of Russia. But for the last week and the most recent day, Russia is ahead of the USA. I also notice that I've had a big spike of interest in the last two days. That must be from Russia. What gives?

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Empire in the morning haze


Character change in the Hollywood film

Rory Kelly has an interesting guest post at David Bordwell's Observations on film art. It's called "Rethinking the character arc." The opening paragraphs:
Since the 1960s, the character arc has become all but obligatory in Hollywood movies. Genres like sci-fi and horror, once largely unconcerned with character change, now often include it. Compare, for example, the 1953 version of War of the Worlds with Steven Spielberg’s 2005 remake. In the latter the alien invaders are not only defeated, but in the process Tom Cruise’s character, Ray Ferrier, becomes a better father.

Why has character change become so prominent? In The Way Hollywood Tells It (2006), David offered some suggestions. The psychological probing in plays by Arthur Miller, Paddy Chayefsky, and Tennessee Williams became popular models of serious drama. Teachers and writers were persuaded by Lajos Egri’s book, The Art of Dramatic Writing (1946), in which the author advises that characters should grow over the course of a play. There was also the impact of self-actualization movements of the 1960s and 1970s that held out the promise of personal growth and transformation.

It’s also likely that star power has had considerable influence. When trying to raise financing for a low-budget indie script a few years back, my collaborator and I were advised by three different seasoned producers to give our protagonist a more pronounced arc or we would never be able to attract a name actress to the role. Whether they were right or not, I do not know, but their shared assumption about attracting talent is telling.

Given how common the character arc has become, we need to better understand how it is typically handled. I think we can identify and analyze six narrative strategies that create a particular character type: the protagonist who is flawed but is capable of positive psychological change. My primary example will be The Apartment (1960).

I’ll also consider aspects of character change in Casablanca (1942), Jaws (1975), and About a Boy (2002). This list will allow me to consider the character arc over six decades, from the studio era to contemporary Hollywood, and across several genres.

Tequila Sunrise in the Library: Another take on "digital humanities"

As I noted in an earlier post, Who put “The Terminator” in “Digital Humanities”?, it seems to me that in its very construction the phrase digital humanities was destined to become a bright shiny object that attracted some and repelled others almost without regard for its extension in the world. There is a substantial anti-science anti-technology line of thinking in the humanities that goes back at least to the Romantics. Digital humanities proclaims a species of humanities that is conceived on the side of science&technology. It is thus different in its effect from humanities computing, which subordinates computing to humanities. Computing, yes, but computing in service to the humanities; we can live with that. But humanities that is born digital, is that even possible? Maybe it's a miracle that will save us or, or maybe it's an abomination that's a sign of the coming End Times.

Compare lines 35 and 36 of "Kubla Khan":
It was a miracle of rare device,
A sunny pleasure-dome with caves of ice!
Miracles have a very different kind of causal structure from devices, which are human-made, even rare ones. Miracles, in contrast, are divine. Something that partakes of both is strange indeed. The digital humanities lab would hardly seem to be a sunny pleasure-dome with caves of ice, but who knows.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Pokémon Go and the citizen scientist

Millions of people have spent the past week walking around. Ostensibly, they are playing the online game Pokémon Go and hunting for critters in an ‘augmented reality’ world. But as gamers wander with their smartphones — through parks and neighbourhoods, and onto the occasional high-speed railway line — they are spotting other wildlife, too.

Scientists and conservationists have been quick to capitalize on the rare potential to reach a portion of the public usually hunched over consoles in darkened rooms, and have been encouraging Pokémon hunters to snap and share online images of the real-life creatures they find. The question has even been asked: how long before the game prompts the discovery of a new species?

It’s not out of the question: success is 90% perspiration after all, and millions of gamers peering around corners and under bushes across the world can create a very sweaty exercise indeed. By definition, each Pokémon hunter almost certainly holds a high-definition camera in their hands. And there is a precedent: earlier this year, scientists reported Arulenus miae, a new species of pygmy devil grasshopper, identified in the Philippines after a researcher saw an unfamiliar insect in a photo on Facebook (J. Skejo and J. H. S. Caballero Zootaxa 4067, 383–393; 2016).

But Pokémon Go players beware. It is one thing to conquer a world of imaginary magical creatures with names like Eevee and Pidgey, and quite another to tangle with the historical complexity of the Inter­national Code of Zoological Nomenclature. So, say you do manage to snap a picture of something previously unknown to science — what then? Let Nature be your guide.
H/t 3QD.

Miyazaki’s Metaphysics: Some Observations on The Wind Rises


Another working paper. Title above, abstract, TOC and introduction below.

Download at:
Abstract: In The Wind Rises Hayao Miyazaki weaves various modes of experience in depicting the somewhat fictionalized life of Jiro Horikoshi, a Japanese aeronautical engineer who designed fighter planes for World War II. Horikoshi finds his vocation through ‘dreamtime’ encounters with Gianni Caproni and courts his wife with paper airplanes. The film opposes the wind and chance with mechanism and design. Horikoshi’s attachment to his wife, on the one hand, and to his vocation on the other, both bind him to Japan while at the same time allowing him to separate himself, at least mentally, from the imperial state.


Making Sense of It All: Miyazaki’s The Wind Rises 2
Miyazaki’s The Wind Rises, Some Observations on Life 6
Some Thoughts about The Wind Rises 9
The Wind Rises, It Opens with a Dream: What’s in Play? 10
Horikoshi at Work: Miyazaki at Play Among the Modes of Being 23
The Pattern of Miyazaki’s The Wind Rises 31
From Concept to First Flight: The A5M Fighter in Miyazaki’s The Wind Rises 32
Why Miyazaki’s The Wind Rises is Not Morally Repugnant 40
Horikoshi’s Wife: Affective Binding and Grief in The Wind Rises 49
The Wind Rises: A Note About Failure, Human and Natural 57
Problematic Identifications: The Wind Rises as a Japanese Film 59
How Caproni is Staged in The Wind Rises 67
The Wind Rises: Marriage in the Shadow of the State 89
Miyazaki: “Film-making only brings suffering” 99
Counterpoint: Germany and Korea 100
Wind and Chance, Design and Mechanism, in The Wind Rises 103
Appendix: Descriptive Table 112

Making Sense of It All: Miyazaki’s The Wind Rises

I was going great guns writing about The Wind Rises in November and December of last year. And then the energy ran out while I was drafting “Registers of Reality in The Wind Rises.” Here’s the opening paragraph:
The term, “registers of reality”, is not a standard one, and that’s the point. It’s not clear to me just what’s going on here, and so we might as well be upfront. But it has to do with those “dream” scenes, among other things. And it’s also related to what seems to be a common line on The Wind Rises, namely that while all other Miyazaki films have elements of fantasy in them, often strong ones, this does not.
Many of the reviews casually mention those so-called dream sequences. You can’t miss them. They seem, and are in a way, typical of Miyazaki. But if you look closely you’ll see that they’re not all dream sequences, not quite. Without getting to fussy let’s all them dreamtime with the understanding that sleep is only one of the occasions of dreamtime, that one can enter it under various circumstances–a discussion I open in the posts, “The Wind Rises, It Opens with a Dream: What’s in Play?” and “Horikoshi at Work: Miyazaki at Play Among the Modes of Being.” And they happen only in the first half of the film and at the very end. That’s one thing.

But I had more in mind with the phrase “registers of reality.” A couple paragraphs later in that incomplete draft:
That’s one set of questions. What’s the parallel set of questions we must ask about Horikoshi’s relationship with Naoko Satomi? I ask that question out of formal considerations. As I pointed out in an early post in this series, “The Pattern of Miyazaki’s The Wind Rises”, Horikoshi interacts with Caproni in the first half of the film and with Naoko in the second half. His meetings with Caproni didn’t take place in ordinary mundane reality. What about his meetings with Naoko?
All of those meetings DO take place in mundane reality. The first half of the film alternates between mundane reality and dreamtime (whether waking or sleeping). The second half alternates between work-time and Naoko-time. But the two are, of course, symbolically related. The object of the “registers of reality” post was to make sense out of all this, out of how Miyazaki weaves them together–mundane and dreamtime, work and love–into a life.

But it got too hard, just too hard. And so I stopped. I had other posts planned, including one on “Unity of Being in The Wind Rises.” I’ll get back to it one day. I need to. Perhaps it will take more conceptual apparatus than I can work up in a blog post. Who knows?

That was half a year ago and I’ve not yet gotten back to it. I’ve decided to take the work I’ve done and assemble it into a working paper. Before I do that, however, I can at least indicate something of where I was going, of where I hoped to arrive.

Contrast in Gray Scale