General Archive

Donnie Darko and the Eighties

Posted by Mark Sample on Tuesday, November 22nd, 2005

Donnie Darko: Why 1988?

Videogames and War

Posted by Mark Sample on Tuesday, November 8th, 2005

Ada mentioned how videogames are being used by the U.S. military to recruit and train soldiers–the flipside of the machinima phenomenon. A while ago on my own blog I wrote about this very same issue: videogames and war.

Among the games I mention is America’s Army, the Official U.S. Army videogame. Download now and let yourself be interpellated as a hard-core killing machine! 

Machinima (Red vs. Blue)

Posted by Mark Sample on Tuesday, November 8th, 2005

If you’ve read the wikipedia article on machinima and you are still confused, check out Clive Thompson’s article for the New York Times Magazine about the most popular machinima, "Red Vs. Blue," created from the successful Xbox game Halo.

If you don’t want to register for the New York Times online (trying to avoid the super-panopticon, are you?), you can also read the original article on Clive Thompson’s blog, Collision Detection.

Postmodernism and Technology

Posted by Mark Sample on Tuesday, November 8th, 2005

Key links for the discussion on American Postmodernism and technology:

Databases as Discourse

Digital Textuality

Borges’s Fable of the Map

Posted by Mark Sample on Monday, November 7th, 2005

You can find online the short Borges fable that Baudrillard writes about: "On Exactitude in Science".

Happy Halloween

Posted by Mark Sample on Sunday, October 30th, 2005

Apropos of both Halloween and last week’s discussion on photography, simulacra, and Photoshop, check out Worth1000.com, a site that holds photoshopping contests. The latest contest challenges graphic artists to mashup a classic work of art with a monster (usually a Hollywood version of a monster).

So, we get things like Norman Rockwell meets Alien and Monet meets Swamp Thing.

Norman Rockwell Meets Alien

Dream Jungle, History, and Geography

Posted by Mark Sample on Friday, October 28th, 2005

As you work your way through Jessica Hagedorn’s Dream Jungle, you might want to read up on Philippine history, both ancient and contemporary. The novel is deeply invested in history, but also deeply playful, and, like Song of Solomon, deeply intertextual as well. The more of these historical and textual allusions you pick up on, the better appreciation you’ll have for the subtleties of the novel.

Just a sampling to consider: the Lopez de Legazpi name, the discovery of the Tasaday Tribe, Jose Rizal, Antonio Pigafetta and his account of the Magellan expedition, Hollywood Hills, Goya’s The Great He-Goat and Saturn Devouring His Son, the film Apocalypse Now.

See also David Lodge’s interview with Jessica Hagedorn.

Just like a good wine!

Posted by Jakester on Tuesday, October 25th, 2005
 Now, I don’t exactly agree with the idea of things always getting better with time, I do think that this is one of the points that Benjamin seems to ignore about art in general. His argument seems a little high minded for my tastes in that he appears to side with the fact that "high art" is the only acceptable art, even though his definition of such a term is vague. He wavers between film, journalism and art, without ever really stating what he believes to be the best of these. All the while, I got the impression that his belief of maintaining the "Aura" of a work meant that anything that came after the initial creation or performance was a degradation of the original. I am a firm believer of the opposite. 
Of course I am speaking of this from a purely personal perspective, but in this case, I think it counters Benjamin’s argument to say something from the layman’s side of the ring. Taking art to the masses has been one of the better outcomes of the postmodern world. It was one of the same questions that came to mind when I was reading "Lathe of Heaven", who would be better suited to have the power to rearrange reality? Someone like George; a normal, uneducated layman? or The Good Doctor, who represented hierarchy and intellectualism? In the end of novel Le Guinn seems to want to say George was the answer; while I think that Benjamin would have sided with the doctor. Benjamin even complains (and I think most of this article sounded like a complaint) "Literary license is now founded on polytechnic rather than specialized training and thus becomes common property" (232)? Why would training guarantee quality writing or art in any form. His dispute that n number of artists of value are produced in a given time period is ludicrous, in that it ignores all other pieces of art in any genre that have not been proclaimed "masterpieces". 
Every piece of art (in any genre) will have its detractors and supporters. Every piece of art has its own intrinsic value that some will appreciate and others detest. Time will tell. In all things time will tell. As often as something is reproduced, it is given a new opportunity and a new audience. I have never actually seen a Turner Painting in the flesh, only in books, yet his art is some of the most moving and inspiring pieces for me; for me being the operative term. without the expansion of reproductions, many people would never have the chance to appreciate art in all of its form. Television, film, literature, painting, sculpture, there are many things to discover. Just imagine how many things (a highly intellectual term, I know) that were created before Benjamin are being discovered now. To discount what is being created now simply because it is the result of over reproduction or a "destruction of the Aura" is to not give people time to appreciate one work of art. Given time, everyone will find something that they truly enjoy, whether or not it has been dictated to them that "It is art and therefor must be appreciated". 
In our postmodern world, there is now more to offer people that can be enjoyed, often past the first time. to return to the point that Benjamin seemed to discount anything past the first performance or impression, postmodernism offers everything a second and third and fourth chance. In some cases it is through remakes; where something old is done in a new fashion. In other cases, it is referenced in the type of intertextuality that is common of postmodernism and can be referenced in almost any form of art. Lastly, there is the collage, where at times, an older piece of art is added upon with other works to create a whole new point of reference. 
As I said before, I feel that with time, all things have a chance to be appreciated more, like a good bottle of wine. I’m not applying this to everything that has ever been categorized as art, especially since so many "good" bottles of wine are often opened and found to be spoiled, no matter how much they cost. 

A Manifesto of Its Own?

Posted by skjeldaa on Sunday, October 9th, 2005

Wow! I believed I had read feminist literature before, but nothing ever came close to The Female Man in absolutely crushing down on males and the nature of men’s interaction with females!

Reading Donna Haraway’s “A Cyborg Manifesto” alongside TheFemale Man, I find that the latter also reads a bit like a manifesto. When the fourth ‘I’, Alice-Jael, which has been lurking behind the text since Part Two finally emerges, it becomes evident that she is the one who has actively searched for and brought together the three other versions of ‘herself’. Her reason for doing so is to make the other versions of herself aware of what is to her the Ultimate War, and to which purpose they should attempt to unite their efforts.

The text’s gathering of the different selves is explanatory both to the women characters and to the readers, as it reveals how different circumstances and attitudes towards life have shaped these genotypically analogous women. It exposes the extent to which male domination over women has been, are, and will remain constant if not challenged, as well as the rhetoric on which this power structure rests. Together these insights reveal to Jeannine, the ultimate frustrated feminine, the manipulative constructedness of the dream of romantic fulfillment through marriage. To Joanne they confirm her conviction that the only way for her to fully utilize her human potential is to become a ‘female man’. Because being a woman implies being not human, noting that is feminine defines her. As Julie pointed out in her blog, Janet represents a world in which women hold real power and influential positions in society. Inhabited by women only, Whileaway is a world without gender and gender conflict. The female god the inhabitants worship is not a unity, but a “jumble of badly matching planes, a mass of inhuman contradiction” (103). Hence Janet represents the Harawayan cyborg, and the ‘future’ world of Whileaway one in which the new notion of feminitity as partial and contradictory is fully developed. Interestingly, the Whileawayan genderless society is so peaceful and satisfying to its inhabitants that Janet is the only ‘self’ unwilling to join Jael’s mission.

Jael herself is the warrior turned hateful heartless and pitiless as a result of men’s violations. She has lost her outward human shape and become a murderer justified in the fact that as a woman (raped), she is always already guilty. (In fact, she rather resembles Janet’s image of self-hate.) Like her biblical namesake’s, Jael’s violence against men acts to liberate her ‘people’ from suppression. She works to defeat all men, and in her home man is the submissive object of desire that exists merely to provide pleasure. In what I thought was a very funny and significant passage, the rhetoric of gendered language is reversed to describe David as a creature of beauty with a consciousness void of everything “but the permanent possibility of sensation” (199).

Jael has gathered her other selves to awaken them to her call for action. She urges them to unite across the differences that separate them to fight for the liberation of womankind. Like the reader must try to unite all the shattered fragments of the text into an understanding of how its plot works, so women situated at all the different nodes in the network that constitutes feminine experience should try to unite in an understanding of what battles must be fought in order to do away with the limitations on the female experience: the social constructs that separate the female from the human. Because the author’s name is Joanna Russ, this makes it possible to read Joanna’s (the character’s) voice as the voice of the author. One of the ‘I’s whose consciousness pervades the text is also expressed to be the “the spirit of the author” in the process of constructing this deliberately feminist text, which she upon completion will let into the world to influence its readers (166). Through these two narrative techniques the text asserts itself, despite its wildly imaginative plot, as part of a real contemporary feminist discourse. The Female Man is thus a manifesto in the sense that it declares an ultimate goal for which women should apply themselves, and inscribes the text itself as vital agent in achieving this end.

Whu?

Posted by Jakester on Monday, October 3rd, 2005

And with that highly intelligent title, I think I have summed up my reaction to both the novel and the article. while I have often found dense texts in the courses I have been in challenging, rarely have I been so stymied by the complex situations and ideas presented by these two authors. Part of the reason for this in Russ’ text is the sheer lack of anyone with whom I can relate any sentiment. Not only is the story a scream for feminism and a call to rethink ideas of gender roles, but it is so lopsided in its representations and characters that I feel completely blank when trying to assimilate the text into any kind of association with my life. 

With that in mind, I found myself trying to find similarities the novel had with other texts. I found myself recalling "Mulholland Drive" and the scene where Betty and Rita (or whatever their real names were) consummate their relationship. Some have said that this was David Lynch trying to make fun of how almost all sex scenes only include the exposition of female nudity. Others said he was attempting to make a general statement of female empowerment. The hard part is, "Mulholland Drive" is just as dense as "The Female Man". I got the impression that Russ was often just taking general ideas that popped into her mind and then trying to shove them into the story. Parts like The reason why Whileawayans celebrate,  or the great happiness contest felt like they were just cobbled together in the story to fill up space. I found it very hard to get attached to any character and even harder to get involved with any plot the story may or may not have had. 
The only correlating idea from Haraway’s article came in the first paragraph of "Fractured Identities", where she said that naming feminism by one adjective was an impossible task. Haraway says, "There is nothing about being ‘female’ that naturally binds women. There is not even such a state of ‘being’ female, itself a highly complex category constructed in contested sexual scientific discourses and other social practices" (pg 155). In following this idea, there is no way to contextualize this novel. It may be a manifesto, or maybe a postmodern creation of a hopeful world where gender is nonexistent (but in reality is even more focused). I don’t know, my brain is reeling. The only question I would pose to anyone who makes it this far into my meandering is how you would categorize this novel? Is it feminist, or is it just so postmodern that it had created its own category in the realm of fiction?

Nietzsche on “Truth”

Posted by Mark Sample on Wednesday, September 28th, 2005

Here’s a replay of the Nietzsche passages on the nature of truth, all taken from "On Truth and Lying in an Extra-Moral Sense" (1873): 

The arrogance associated with knowledge and sensation lays a blinding fog over man’s eyes and senses and deceives him about the value of existence by instilling in him a most flattering estimation of this faculty of knowledge….

What is truth? A mobile army of metaphors, metonyms, anthropomorphisms…. 

Truths are illusions about which it has been forgotten that they are illusions….

If someone hides an object behind a bush, then seeks and finds it there, that seeking and finding is not very laudable: but that is the way it is with the seeking and finding of "truth" within the rational sphere….

Memory! (and if anyone mentions that stupid somg from “Cats” heads will roll)

Posted by Jakester on Monday, September 26th, 2005

Lenny makes a point while arguing with his wife that the point of reading a book is to find out what happens in the end; that is where the enjoyment of reading is based in Lenny’s world. In a way I think this is Nolan making a little funny about his film. If anything, we, as viewers, already know what has happened. The ending is the first thing we see. But I don’t think the plot of the film is based around the actions of our memory deficient friend. While the noir aspect of the film places much of the emphasis on the detective efforts, memory (history, if you want to link this up to Harvey’s ideas) is what this film focuses on. Why else do all the explanations Lenny gives in the black and white moments focus on how he has disciplined his memory and how others (like Sammy Jankis) are weak. While Lenny has convinced himself that he cannot form new memories, the fact that he has been able to form so many new habits proves otherwise. His memory is fine. The ritual of tattooing is one he can perform almost in passing and while talking on the phone. Taking pictures of people and things is an instinctive reflex almost. Writing his notes is an almost religious experience (while he can remember to do it in time). Most important in this idea of memory is the moment when he decides to make Teddy the focus of his revenge. From the moment of that conscious decision, if you watch the film backwards, Teddy has become the focal point of his memory. Harvey says in his article that "And if it is true that time is always memorialized not as flow, but as memories of experienced places and spaces, then history must indeed give way to poetry, time to space, as the fundamental material of social expression" (Harvey pg 218). Lenny has conditioned himself to recognizing spaces and phrases of power (poetry in his tattoos). In the internal monologues, the unfamiliar hotel room is a routine that he goes through to help him remember. the simple action of opening drawers despite a precognition of "knowing" nothing would be in them is one of Lenny’s conditioned memory triggers. he knows what’s coming even though he tells himself he doesn’t. While his notion of time has disappeared completely, where he is, and what he can see is his history. 

What really makes this postmodern is another example from Harvey. Table 4.1 has lots of contradictions between modern and postmodern. The one I found most relevant was the utopian vs. heterotopia. Lenny’s utopia was ever changing. Whatever happiness he found in the original act of revenge was replicated in who knows how many other acts that teddy arranged. the idea of redemptive art was destroyed in the spectacle of Lenny’s tattoos. They held no help for him, since they often betrayed the plots others had laid. Instead of any concentrated work, the work Lenny did was dispersed among every other character he met, all seemed to have other motives to how they would use him. Instead of being a specialist, Lenny became a psychologist, a detective, judge, jury and executioner. As for the symbolic capital, well, the Jag says it all. 
The interview on the specials menu adds an extra insight into the memory aspect of the film. Nolan said that much of the idea for his direction came from his own memory and how it made him view things. He says he often remembers movies as the ending, and not so much as a whole. How anyone may wish to  interpret that into the execution of the film is something I would like to hear in class. 

Let’s get unconfortable!

Posted by Jakester on Tuesday, September 20th, 2005
There are enough underlying issues to make the point that Colson Whitehead is making much the same point that bell hooks is emphasizing; that many of the issues in african-american discussion are glossed over, forgotten or ignored completely. Worse still, they are misunderstood. Why not bring up the fact that Black power never disappeared but simply faded from the journalists favor? Why not argue that the only real discussion of key points in postmodernism and black culture are fought out in segregated ranks? One could say just about anything to make note of any number of uncomfortable subjects; or Colson Whitehead could make fiction a more forceful means of portraying the issue.
Instead of blasting the reader with that idea and almost certainly alienating people like those at the same dinner table that hooks was at, Whitehead turns the issue into one that exists only in fiction. Instead of standing himself on a soapbox and trying to make a critical argument about it, Whitehead combines Science Fiction, Fiction and Non-fiction to make a valid social argument. What is the separation between what is seen and what is intuited? When do people stop basing their conclusions on established knowledge and begin taking a step into the darkness towards an unseen conclusion?
I don’t believe Whitehead is attempting to make any concrete pronunciations or judgments on the topic. On the contrary, he leaves the reader the task of sifting through the conspiracy theories, the social issues and the fictional plot lines for meaning. In this way, the book is not a modernistic ploy to validate one simple ideal or goal. Instead it is a multifaceted attempt at instigating any number of discussions from the abilities of a African-American middle class, the preconceptions of a colonial culture, and a feminist argument in White or African-American cultures. 
In the name of making things uncomfortable, there is also a bit of a comic book tint to this novel, and Colson Whitehead must be a comic book fan. There are too many little insinuations and hints that shout out that he (and me in the process) a fan. One giveaway is the infatuation with New York (unnamed as it is) and the heights to which it soars. another is in the character aspect of Lila MAe. While the issues that she faces are definitely based in race, there is also an aspect of the lonely hero; following a quest and goal only she understands and betrayed by even those she considers to be friends or closer. Most blatant though is Ben Urich, who appears in almost every Marvel comic as the outside, very human reporter of the meta-human activities of Daredevil, Spiderman, The Avengers, etc. 
I think comics (or graphic novels for the fanatics out there) are a misunderstood social platform. the campy golden age comics of Superman and Batman were pretty much what-you-see-is-what-you-get, but the way in which Whitehead references them proves that they can make a valid point. He never names the city in the novel, but it could easily be New York. The "Imaginary City"; the simulacrum that has come about in the world of comics is one in which the city mirrors the actions of the heroes. Like the high flying caped crusaders, Lila Mae’s thoughts soar, and the city is again recreated; a simulacra recreated of a simulacra. Comics are a constant recreation of the world which they initially mirrored, to the point where they have embellished it beyond recognition. DC comics contain Metropolis and Gotham, both created in the image of New York, but two cities whose names are now part of everyday conversation (they’re not in the OED, but I think they will be soon).
In other words, Colson Whitehead is doing more than making this novel simply another commentary on racial issue; he’s making a novel that is part of a world that mirrors ours in its sensibilities, it detractions and even its own little underground, misunderstood mediums. 
There’s my soapbox for the day.

I like the talking heads Wallbashing

There’s nothing to fear but fear itself!(and that’s okay)

Posted by Jakester on Monday, September 12th, 2005

Fear has always been a factor in most of my decisions. As a family man, I often have to act out of fear of how the outcome will affect them. Yet Orr seems to operate outside of this impulse. The idea that he is dead in the middle of all things seems to imply that his motivation really does seem to fall in the range of affecting the most people in a positive way. Can you imagine a political candidate who appeals to both sides equally? While talking to Orr, Haber mentions that the governing power of fear is a Victorian notion that destroyed the best minds of the nineteenth and twentieth century; that the end result of what he and Orr were doing was to eradicate fear.
But Orr response to the idea of having nothing to fear was, “But there is…”.
The different responses to fear illustrate their different perspectives. When confronted with the greatest moments of fear, Orr’s reaction was one that benefited humanity, even if it were often in miniscule ways. But as an extreme example, when faced with the end of the world (the burning world), he saved humanity while still making the world normal; fearful.
Haber’s idea was to eradicate fear, to change the world into a perfect utopia. Anyone who has ever seen a movie with a genie in it, knows that if you wish for a perfect world, it doesn’t happen. Yet for al his supposed good intentions, Haber’s world s governed by fear as well. When the alien’s were “attacking” his reaction was not to protect Orr, or even humanity, but to throw himself over the Augmentor.
Orr dealt with life as it happened, and towards the end of the book, seemed to realize the inevitability of actions. Orr operated based on his fear; not knowing the outcome. When Haber almost destroyed reality, what drove Orr to succeed was the fear of losing Heather and his chaotic life.
Harvey mentions this idea in his essay when he says, “The boundary between fiction and science-fiction has, as a consequence, effectively dissolved, while postmodernist characters often seem confused as to which world they are in, and how they should act with respect to it. Go with the flow; don’t worry, be happy; cool runnings. Like an abstract or minimalist painting, what is on the outside is not important. Everyone underestimated Orr because on the outside he appeared weak, yet no one ever took the time to delve into the depths of his mind and actions. While he often reacted out of fear, even if it was to take dugs out of fear of hurting others, his actions eventually led to a greater good, even if it were an imperfect world.