Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Guest Post: Grow Heathrow

The following is a guest post from "Eddy," a friend I met while attending my fourth Salzburg Global Seminar. As you’ll shortly see, "Eddy" offers a practical, personal, and thoughtful form of engagement with the sometime overwhelmingly complex realities of global capitalism. When he shared these notes with me, I asked for permission to repost them here. 

Transition Heathrow
I’m currently staying/participating at a squatted site called Grow Heathrow. It is proving to be quite an important time for me. Politically affirming. I came here to learn skills, connect with others who have similar ideas about how we provide for ourselves, and give my support to a cause/project I’m passionate about. The squat originated from a need to confront the proposed plans for a third runway at Heathrow Airport. The government in the UK has been looking at airport expansion for a while now – there’s still talk as to where this expansion will take place. If they opt for Heathrow, they’ll have to remove the squatters from this land and tarmac over the village of Sipson; one of the principal aims of the project is to instill community resistance in Sipson against Heathrow Airport Holdings (formerly British Airports Authority), if they come knocking.

The attitude here is great. People are focused. It's a working squat. People arrive for many reasons. I'm here to work. That’s where my head is at the moment - I want to be productive, to be useful. Other visitors are here to enjoy themselves, relax and talk with others. This is a haven for free thought - a space to breathe for those disillusioned with materialism.

Here there’s no room for the workings of capital - no pressure to work the 9 to 5. It is a kind of political expression that directly challenges labour, the 9 to 5 grind. It is this kind of political expression that interests me at the moment, as opposed to attending the monthly anti-war protest/demonstration. Protest is important, but we must also set the agenda. ‘If all we do is oppose what they are trying to do, then we simply follow in their footsteps’.[1] We need to carry on with our activity that isn’t determined by money. We must dedicate ourselves to what we consider necessary or desirable. We must live the world we want to create.[2] Besides, protesting wipes me out (as I recently experienced at the protest against Fracking at Balcome). Not sure I want to devote my time and energy to protests, where we shout, confront police etc. It's not in my nature to use physical force against other humans. Probably too middle class. It's not in my nature to shout about things, sing chants, etc. Perhaps if it's a cause that really riles me up, then I might reconsider.

At the squat there is a non-hierarchical, anarchistic set up. No one is instructed to work. People work when they feel ready to. There are always tasks to be done. People wake up, a group gets together, starts talking - momentum starts to build and we work on a project. And we work hard. But it doesn't feel like work. Because we’re there at our own will, because it’s a cause we believe in, there’s such camaraderie in our collective work. It’s fun and social. What great conversations emerge during work. Working together on something, where there’s a common goal, an objective, sometimes sparks more interesting conversations than assembling with the intention to socialise. During the summer there seems to be a huge flux of international travellers who have heard about the project. The squat reminds me of travelling in hostels – spaces to socialise, unwind and talk idealistically.

Transition Heathrow
A working mind is a healthy mind. People are happy when they're productive, when they're being useful. Their self-esteem grows, their self-confidence and sense of value to the group benefits. During this first month, I have easily forgiven those who have not managed to work and contribute fully.  There will be a long history of reasons as to why some are able to contribute more than others. Those that don't, we should have sympathy for and try to understand why, rather than resent them. I guess I am just grateful I have this working mind, this motivation. I've only been here for a month, and my feelings on this may change. Without special resolve and grit, I imagine it is easy to lose patience over time.

The experience thus far is fulfilling a personal need to experiment with new forms of social relations outside capitalism. Grow Heathrow is an open project with plenty space for people to join the site. Contrary to other squats, it is the project that brings the inhabitants of the site together, rather than a group of friends. This kind of experiment in communal living has its rewards and challenges. There are those that use this space as some kind of refuge from some torment in their lives outside the squat. Although they are often unable to contribute to the collective in a variety of ways, the space must try to accommodate their distress. The community must do its upmost to prevent looking inwards. One older lady, who was previously in a mental institution, has benefitted immensely from gardening, working outdoors and being with people. She tells me how lonely she gets in the evenings on her own in her flat. Living communally trumps any discomfort from sleeping without a mattress.

The squat relies on solar panels and a wind turbine for its electricity, has no running hot water from the tap (although an impressive warm shower wood burner has been built) and there’s a compost toilet on site, minimising water usage. Almost all the food consumed is either grown on site, taken from bins outside supermarkets, or from food wholesalers giving away waste food. I must say, I do get a sense of gladness as I walk about doing my daily activity without barely any ecological footprint.

After 5 months in Salzburg (or rather a lifetime) of talking about the problems of the world, and what needs to be done, I am finally in a living and working arrangement that satisfies my political need to get to grips with the ‘doing’. When I wake up in the morning I feel as though I’m in the right place. At least for now. We’ll see how it goes this autumn.

The land that the community is occupying is up for eviction. So there is that added insecurity that for some residents makes long term-commitment/planning difficult. Indeed, their innate instability and transitory nature is a key criticism of squatted social centres. I seem to forget that bailiffs could start breaking through the gate any minute. Part of me doesn’t believe it will happen: Who would break-up such a peaceful, well-meaning, environmental project? I come across as naïve to some of the old-time squatters, who tell me I’ll soon understand what we’re fighting against when I see the State use its might to destroy any dissenting activity. Property is king. I wonder where I’ll be, what I’ll do when we’re being evicted. I probably won’t know how I’ll react until it’s happening. Can physical force ever be successful against the State? History shows that violence and aggression is what it often does best. Why play them at their own game? But if someone is evicting you from your home - if I develop some emotional attachment to this place - there’s no knowing how one might react.

Transition Heathrow

[1] Holloway, J. 2010. Crack Capitalism. London: Pluto Press, p.3.

[2] Holloway, J. 2010. Crack Capitalism. London: Pluto Press, pp. 3-4.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Andy Neary

For no particular reason...

Thanks to Jenny's masterful photography help!

Dreaming of Pottersville

Last week Jenny, Vienna, Mike, and I saw It's a Wonderful Life on the big screen in Scotts Valley. Naturally the theater projected the unadulterated black-and-white version, but I must admit a fondness for the colorized version - at least for the scenes in which George Bailey stumbles through the post-apocalyptic hellscape that is Pottersville. To be clear, I'm not referring to eighties-era Night of the Living Dead colorization that transformed human beings into ghoulish pastel mutations; I mean the much more subtle revision engineered by Legend Films in 2007.

OK, I get it: Colorization adds nothing substantial to It's a Wonderful Life. You hardly need techno-fakery to identify with young George's wanderlust ("You know what the three most exciting sounds in the world are? … Anchor chains, plane motors and train whistles"). And you certainly don't need a software solution to celebrate Bailey's appreciation for the fortune he finds in boring old Bedford Falls. When considering the larger themes of Frank Capra's masterpiece, the addition of chromaticity offers nothing more than a clever cheat. But for that gloriously nightmarish sequence in Pottersvillecolor makes a compelling point.

I am reminded of Gary Kamiya's outstanding Salon piece, "All hail Pottersville," which makes a convincing case that monochromatic Bedford Falls, despite its Norman Rockwell charm, is actually a pretty miserable place ("like Bentham’s Panopticon with picket fences"). In colorful contrast, Pottersville, with its hepcat jive music, garish neon, and shoot-first-ask-questions-later cops, could actually be a lot of fun: "Alas, we will never know what delights are hidden behind the door of the Indian Club or the Bamboo Room, the Midnight Club or the Blue Moon." Kamiya is (mostly) kidding, but his point stands. It may be a guilty pleasure, but give me Pottersville in color!

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Be There Now

Since I occasionally quote Ram Dass's phrase "Be Here Now," I was amused - though a bit disheartened - to spot this variant on a poster for a San Jose bike-share rack: "Be There Now." The change is subtle but important.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Labor Omnia Vincit

Panorama composed of nine separate images by Andrew F. Wood
During my recent trip to D.C. (attending the National Communication Association's annual conference), I was drawn to this artwork that dominates the north lobby of the AFL-CIO headquarters: Lumen Martin Winter's Labor Omnia Vincit ("Work Conquers All"). The 15-by-71-foot mosaic mural offers a vivid sense of what the future looked like (at least to some folks) in 1973.

I want to learn more about this piece! 

Friday, November 1, 2013

Halloween 2013: The Return of Dr. Freightmarestein

I finally found a haircut that works for me!
For Halloween this year we returned to a classic neighborhood porch show: Dr. Freightmarestein and his haunted laboratory of horrors! There were two-headed monstrosities, hanging skeletons, howling wind and lightning flashes, and a babbling zombie baby who'd managed to confuse rat poison for candy (an adorably common mistake).

"But it looks just like skinny and sweet!"
Igor: "Your experiment is a success, master!"
Me: "Quiet, you!"
But the absolute star of the show was Jenny who portrayed the monster-run-amuck. Aided by my sycophantic assistant Igor (perfectly played by our lovely daughter Vienna), I gave the monster a 10,000 volt kiss of electricity, granting her life, life, life! - only to watch helplessly as the creature broke through her chains and burst through the caution tape, lunging heedlessly toward our guests!

"Hey! That device looks just like the car battery charger in our garage!"
"Candy for the children. Rawr!"
Only the gift of candy to the terrified children could distract the monster enough to save them. Turns out, the charging beast could only be calmed by the sight of smiling kids. Eventually the creature even learned to hand out candy and contain her desire to crush, kill, destroy! I'm happy to report that our guests survived the onslaught. But what horrors will next year bring?...

"Kids! Don't forget to take some candy!"
Now With Video Goodnesss!

• 2012: Pirate Dungeon II [Pix and Video]

• 2011: Just Buried II [Pix and Video]

• 2010: Alien Autopsy II [Pix and Story] [Video]

• 2009: Zombie Apocalypse [Pix and Story] [Video]

• 2008: Dr. Freightmarestein's Haunted Laboratory of Horrors [Pix] [Video]

• 2007: Psycho Circus [Pix] [Video]

• 2006: Alien Autopsy I [Pix]

• 2005: Just Buried I [Pix]

• 2004: Pirate Dungeon I [Pix]

Monday, October 28, 2013

Shameless Plug: Origami Urbanism

I'm pleased to announce that my latest essay, "Origami Urbanism amid the Flat City: An Omnitopian Analysis of Commercials Depicting Mutability in Urban Life," has been published in Communicative Cities in the 21st Century: The Urban Communication Reader III (Peter Lang).

Here's the abstract: "This chapter analyzes a genre of television commercials recognizable for their invocation of origami urbanism, a process through which viewers are trained to imagine themselves as producers, not mere consumers, of their circumstances by their idealized interactions with editable urban environments. Origami urbanism reflects a broader reification of the modern project, epitomized initially by the Haussmannization of the medieval world into the Victorian flat city and perfected in the 20th century through that era's world's fairs and international expositions, and subsequently through more subtle enclosures of ideology and human interaction, which the author labels omnitopia. Four components of the omnitopian enclave, a structural and perceptual enclave whose apparently distinct locales convey inhabitants to a singular place, are relatively well defined: dislocation, conflation, fragmentation, and mobility. However a fifth, mutability, requires further explication. This chapter, therefore, examines origami urbanism in order to provide a more nuanced analysis of mutability through the analysis of two dyads: thought/action, in which the internal mind appears to act upon the external world, and private/public, by which one may occupy that world with one's solitary concerns. Reading communicative cities as increasingly enclavic, the chapter argues that the modern project is no longer authored in an institutional sense, but is instead reinforced through individual tactics of resistance that affirm our collective alienation from agency and each other."

Want a PDF? Let me know!

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Postcards from the Future

Grinnell Lithography / Exposition Souvenir Corporation 
Anne Marie Todd recently shared a gift she picked up while combing through local antique stores to add some magic to a forthcoming event (the 50th anniversary of Communication Studies at SJSU!) - and I just had to post an image. It's a postcard booklet from the 1939-40 New York World's Fair containing images of various sites and attractions from that glorious paean to technological optimism. As a possible resource for future Rhetoric and Public Life students, I've typed up the descriptive material inside the booklet [below]. What a lovely thing to have good friends who know and appreciate one's idiosyncratic fascinations!
On the theory that the best commemoration is a re-dedication, the New York World's Fair celebrates the 150th anniversary of the inauguration of George Washington as the first President of the United States, by dedicating itself to building a "Better World of Tomorrow." 
The eyes of the Fair are on the future - not in the sense of peering toward the unknown nor attempting to foretell the events of tomorrow and the shape of things to come, but in the sense of presenting a new and clearer view of today in preparation for tomorrow [,] a view of the forces and ideas that prevail as well as the machines.
To its visits the Fair will say: "Here are the materials, ideas, and forces at work in our world. These are the tools with which the World of Tomorrow must be made. They are all interesting and much effort has been expended to lay them before you in an interesting way. Familiarity with today is the best preparation for the future."

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Spotted Next to the Mail Room

Mmmm. A bag of cookies left by the door of the mail room. And it says "eat me." 

What rabbit hole does this gift portend?

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Working on Benjamin in the Age of Internet Distraction

Walter Benjamin image by Cornelie Statius Muller 
Walter Benjamin's (1936) The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction is a famously dense but rich essay. To aid my students' reading (and refresh my own), I've developed this paragraph-by-paragraph summary that details three potentially revolutionary values deployed by twentieth century media forms:

(1) broad distribution over limited access

(2) collective sensibility over individual reflection

(3) direct experience over detached contemplation

I've also summarized Benjamin's concluding reminder that modern media may be used to perpetuate class oppression by encouraging an aesthetic of violence over a politic of struggle.

Somewhat ironically I must emphasize that scanning this "reproduction" cannot replace direct, thoughtful reading of the original text. Even so, I hope that these tentative jots provide a roadmap to help you follow Benjamin's broader chain of reasoning.

  • [NOTE: Page numbers refer to the PDF that I've shared with my students. I've also included the first words of each paragraph to provide further orientation.]

Broad distribution over limited access

p. 1 ("When Marx undertook…"): Karl Marx studied how increasing exploitation of workers would eventually lead to a breakdown of capitalism.

p. 2 ("The transformation of the superstructure…"): While it's important to imagine a post-capitalist world, we should also learn about the ways in which art is used today to support the contemporary consumer society.

pp. 2-3 ("In principle a work of art…"): Mechanical reproduction of artwork has profound social implications.

p. 3 ("Even the most perfect reproduction…"): Mechanical reproduction can never contain the essence of the original.

pp. 3-4 ("The presence of the original…"): Mechanical reproduction allows us to bypass limitations of perception and distance.

p. 4 ("The situations into which…"): Mechanical reproduction reduces our concern for authenticity.

p. 4 ("One might subsume the eliminated…"): A medium like cinema may be viewed negatively and positively. Negatively, cinema detaches us from material reality. Positively, cinema enables mass participation in (potentially revolutionary) public life.

p. 5 ("During long periods of history…"): Material and social circumstances affect human perception; changes in perception in turn produce social transformation.

p. 5 ("The concept of aura…"): Aura refers to the unique quality of a thing, its essence, that can be perceived but not entirely consumed. In modern society, most people prefer the power of the mechanical reproduction, despite its tendency to devalue the original.

"Buy her singles and see all her films/Paste her pictures on my windowsill/But that's not quite the same - It isn't, is it?"
"To pry an object from its shell, to destroy its aura, is the mark of a perception whose 'sense of the universal equality of things' has increased to such a degree that it extracts it even from a unique object by means of reproduction. Thus is manifested in the field of perception what in the theoretical sphere is noticeable in the increasing importance of statistics. The adjustment of reality to the masses and of the masses to reality is a process of unlimited scope, as much for thinking as for perception." - Walter Benjamin
p. 6 ("The uniqueness of a work…"): Historically, aura has been associated with social ritual and order - qualities often used to oppress the mass of working people. In modern society, art became detached from regulatory functions (even from categories themselves).

p. 6 ("An analysis of art…"): Once art becomes detached from ritual, it may become a device for change.

pp. 6-7 ("Works of art are received…"): Art may be valued for its limited accessibility, its "cult value." Conversely it may be valued for the ease by which it can be shown, its "exhibition value."

p. 7 ("With the different methods…"): Modern culture prizes exhibition value over cult value.

Collective sensibility over individual reflection

pp. 7-8 ("In photography…"): Aside from some portraits, most photography (and other media, such as cinema) employ various forms of instruction (eg., captions, sequencing) to ensure exhibition on a broad scale.

Victorian death photo (Huffington Post)
pp. 8-9 ("The nineteenth-century dispute…"): Some folks celebrate the power of photography and cinema to convey revolutionary ideas "with incomparable persuasiveness."

p. 9 ("The artistic performance…"): Dispensing with cult value, photography and cinema dismantle and demystify the process of production, enabling anyone to become an artist, a director, and/or a critic.

pp. 9-10 ("For the film…"): Photography and cinema further reduce aura by detaching actors from audiences.
"For the first time - and this is the effect of the film - man has to operate with his whole living person, yet forgoing its aura." - Walter Benjamin
p. 10 ("It is not surprising…"): The dismantling of production into technical details reduces the value of the "beautiful semblance" (the sense of "being there").

p. 11 ("The feeling of strangeness…"): Modern production causes alienation between the actor and her/his labor (and audience), particularly when that actor becomes a cult item whose mystery is both protected from and consumed by the public. As long as studios use mass production methods to sell actors as cult items ("personalities"), cinema will serve no revolutionary purpose.

p. 11 ("It is inherent…"): Cinema allows all people to imagine themselves as potential heroes.

Andy Warhol image from Off the Grid [blog]
pp. 11-12 ("For centuries a small number of writers…"): In a broader sense, the formerly durable division between producer and consumer of art has broken down.

p. 12 ("All this can easily be applied to the film…"): While Hollywood's fetishization of the cult hero perpetuates class divisions (eg. the one/few vs. the many), Marxist-inspired film can reflect the collective realities of the working class.

p. 12 ("The shooting of a film…"): Cinema production has changed what counts as reality; we now expect some sort of artificiality in everything we see.
"The equipment-­free aspect of reality here has become the height of artifice; the sight of immediate reality has become an orchid in the land of technology." - Walter Benjamin
Direct experience over detached contemplation

pp. 12-13 ("Even more revealing…"): The power of cinema production may be illustrated by the act of a surgeon using a scalpel to cut into a body. The relationship between surgeon and patient is "detached" to a certain degree, but it is nonetheless penetrative.

Franz Ferdinand (2009) Take Me Out
p. 13 ("Magician and surgeon…"): Modern cinema, though its fragmentation and re-articulation of reality, allows for experience that feels "even better than the real thing."

p. 13 ("Mechanical reproduction of art…"): The collective nature of cinema, along with its penetrative capacity and the expert orientation it inspires among audience members, enables a critical sensibility that challenges the power of cult value.

pp. 13-14 ("Painting simply is in no position…"): Mechanical reproduction threatens social hierarchy. Indeed even the most banal pop culture ("a grotesque film") may have more revolutionary potential than supposedly radical artwork (eg., "surrealism"), because the the latter is viewed collectively while the former is viewed in relative isolation.

p. 14 ("The characteristics of the film…"): The ability for cinema to control what is seen and heard - reflecting the merger of artistic and scientific perspectives - encourages audience members to develop keener senses of perception.

pp. 14-15 ("By close-ups of the things around us…"): In a manner similar to psychoanalysis, the camera allows us to peer more precisely into things that previously could not be perceived, revealing heretofore invisible prisons.
"Our taverns and our metropolitan streets, our offices and furnished rooms, our railroad stations and our factories appeared to have us locked up hopelessly. Then came the film and burst this prison-­world asunder by the dynamite of the tenth of a second, so that now, in the midst of its far-­flung ruins and debris, we calmly and adventurously go traveling." - Walter Benjamin
p. 15 ("One of the foremost tasks of art…"): Preliminary forms of creativity that are initially dismissed as barbaric (eg., Dadaism) are necessary stages in more progressive artwork.

pp. 15-16 ("Even fundamentally new…"): Dadaists [proponents of an early twentieth century European art form that mocked dominant conventions] were especially keen to attack the concept of aura by replacing contemplation with distraction.

Marcel Duchamp (1917) "Fountain" - photograph by Andrew F. Wood
p. 16 ("From an alluring…"): Dadaists previewed later cinematic experiences of active immersion rather than passive reflection.
"The spectator’s process of association in view of these images is indeed interrupted by their constant, sudden change. This constitutes the shock effect of the film, which, like all shocks, should be cushioned by heightened presence of mind." - Walter Benjamin
pp. 16-17 ("The mass is a matrix…"): Those who mock cinema as "mere" spectacle invoke an ancient denigration of class.

p. 17 ("The question remains…"): Distraction can actually be a powerful way to raise mass consciousness.
"Architecture has always represented the prototype of a work of art the reception of which is consummated by a collectivity in a state of distraction." - Walter Benjamin
p. 17 ("Buildings have been man’s companions"): Architecture illustrates the ways in which tactile experience can teach more effectively than abstract learning.

pp. 17-18 ("The distracted person…"): Cinema can teach by lulling audience members into a useful sort of mindlessness, freeing them to learn about their collective potential in a visceral way.

Warning: An aesthetic of violence over a politic of struggle

p. 18 ("The growing proletarianization"): Fascism represents a counterpoint to Marxism. Fascism uses art to ennoble the cult of the individual, which enables further oppression of the masses.

pp. 18-19 ("All efforts to render politics aesthetic…"): Fascists use art to justify an aesthetic of war as "beautiful" (eg., Italian Futurism), obscuring how wars are used to displace international workers' solidarity with nationalist fictions.

p. 19 ("Fiat ars – pereat mundus" ["Let art be created. Let the world perish" - Futurist slogan]): While Marxists transform entertainment into politics, fascists transform violence into beauty.
Starship Troopers/Fascism collage by Andrew F. Wood
Would you like to know more?
The question remains, however, whether these two objectives are as different from one another as their partisans might imagine.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Self[ie] Absorbed

Mona Lisa image from InOnIt
Even without a single Marshall McLuhan reference, a semi-recent Associated Press article manages to make some interesting points about our contemporary selfie craze, even quoting a "personal brand consultant" who channels the late media theorist: "In the era of the Kardashians, everyone has become their own paparazzi."

The article offers two perspectives. Carole Lieberman (Beverly Hills psychiatrist) represents the Narcissus Critique: "The rise of the selfie is a perfect metaphor for our increasingly narcissistic culture. We're desperately crying out: Look at me!" Pamela Rutledge (Media Psychology Research Center director) responds with an Historical Parallel Justification: "Albrecht Durer's self-portraiture is these incredible self-reflections and explorations of technique, and then when Rihanna snaps her picture it's just self-aggrandizement, or it's promotion, so you have a fairly interesting double standard based upon who's taking the self-portrait."

The article explains the "ie" at the end of selfie as a diminutive indicator, a "little self" that signifies an intentionally transitory, incomplete articulation of personhood, before concluding with a thoughtful reminder (quoting Rutledge) that while few folks critique school portraits, family snapshots, and other methods of self-presentation, "we don't know how to think about this mass production of self-reflection."

Read the whole piece: Associated Press: What did Narcissus say to Instagram? Selfie Time!

Monday, September 16, 2013

Ready for GTA 5!

Image from Game Informer 
Having read the Guardian review, I'm more excited about GTV 5 than ever. Here's my favorite quote:
"The world drags you in. It begs you to explore – and then it rewards you. You feel every millimetre of the landscape has been thoughtfully handcrafted with the curious gamer in mind. This seems an odd compliment – surely every video game landscape is crafted in this way. But so often, open worlds are built from architectural filler – bland unending landscapes and cardboard box tenements. San Andreas is a state of contrasts and extraordinary detail, there is always some interesting new nook to chance on, some breathtaking previously unexperienced view across the hills toward the capitalist spires of downtown. Designers often talk about rewarding the player for exploration, but usually do so with facile Easter eggs, hidden away in mundane backwaters. From the raging rivers running through the mountain wilderness parks to the beautiful modernist architecture tucked way in the Vinewood hills, Grand Theft Auto V is – like Fallout, Skyrim before it – a form of virtual tourism."

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Lipstick Traces

Reading Lipstick Traces: A Secret History of the 20th Century (recommended by Kathleen McConnell), I am drawn to Greil Marcus's kaleidoscopic collision of paths and passageways, a détournement that conveys the confidence of that mythical cyberpunk author who powers a jet fighter straight toward the ground. Will he pull out in time?

Pregnant pauses, ragged references, and joyful noises sprawl through a narrative that starts with the Sex Pistols' "Anarchy in the UK" and leads to multiple pasts and futures, each unified in the celebration/critique of modernity, "a voice of teeth ground down to points." Some big dots receive requisite name-checks -- Guy Debord, Henri Lefebvre, Hugo Ball and the dadaists, right alongside Johnny Rotten, Jonathan Richman, and Michael Jackson (with surprisingly good cause). Other ideas are more fleeting, like early-morning highway ghosts, but no less potent.

Modern spectacle

"A recurrent Situationist theme: the idea of 'the vacation' as a sort of loop of alienation and domination, a symbol of the false promises of modern life" (p. 21).

"In the spectacle, passivity was simultaneously the means and the end of the great hidden project, a project of social control" (p. 99).

"Capitalism left the essence of the old (hierarchy, separation, alienation) altogether in place, and raised instead a screen of continuous change, a show in which everything that was new was old as soon as it was pictured, and thus could be replaced by something even more falsely new" (p. 128).

"An ideology is dominant to the degree that it falsifies, to the degree that it can float free of all real-world referents… The hallmark of any ideology is its invisibility as such" (pp. 136, 139).

In the era of Haussmannization, "The separations between work, family, and leisure forced by the new map of the city were internalized by the newly atomized, autonomous individuals of the new Paris -- after all, the whole notion of "individualism" was a modernism, a function of one's subjective choice of what to do with free income and free time. The Commune was a comma in Haussmann's sentence; he had won" (p. 138).

According to the Situationists, "Modern capitalism dissuades people from criticizing architecture with the simple argument that people need a roof over their heads, just as television is accepted on the grounds that people need information and entertainment. People are made to overlook the obvious fact that this information, this entertainment, and this kind of dwelling place are not made for them, but without them and against them. The whole of urban planning can be understood only as a society's field of publicity-propaganda -- that is as the organization of participation in something in which it is impossible to participate" (p. 139).

Describing Le Corbusier's Radiant City: "a prison without walls" (p. 370).

Modern lament

"What could be more productive of an atomized, hopeless fatalism than the feeling that one is deadened precisely where one ought to be having fun?" (p. 50)

"Boredom was a haze, a confusion, and finally the ultimate mode of control, self-control, alienation perfected: a bad conscience" (p. 51).

"Here a miracle as strange as that claimed by any religion was repeated again and again, every day. What was, once, yourself, was now presented as an unreachable but irresistibly alluring image of what, in this best of all possible worlds, you could be" (p. 101).

"You are nothing unless you have everything: that was modernity" (p. 129).

"Pop culture is a product -- a show, a spectacle, a channeling of suppressed wishes into marketable form - and it is an impulse -- a production of suppressed wishes that once released can call their own tune" (p. 149).

"To believe that the present-day novel will be read in a hundred years is not to praise the novel but to condemn the world" (p. 247).

[Radically] incomplete pleasures 

In the ashes, "anything would be possible, and permitted: the most profound love, the most casual crime" (p. 18).

Real mysteries cannot be solved, but they can be turned into better mysteries" (p. 24).

"The original scene . . . was made of people who were taking chances and operating on obscure fragments of imagination" (p. 36).

"'Nothing is true; everything is permitted.' So said Nietzsche and Mourre, and numerous punks, and Dubord, quoting Rashid al-Din Sinan, Islamic gnostic, leader of the Levantine Assassins, Sinan as he lay on his deathbed… the words make up the first line in the canon of the secret tradition, a nihilist catchphrase, an entry into negation, a utopianism, a shibboleth" (p. 442).

Dadaist satire

Hugo Ball: "All living art will be irrational, primitive, and complex; it will speak a secret language and leave behind documents not of edification but of paradox" (p. 196).

"Dada was the notion that in the constructed setting of a temporally enclosed space -- in this case, a nightclub -- anything could be negated. It was the notion that, there, anything might happen" (p. 241).

On the post-dada world: "The dadaists never got over it: they saw the transformation of the world for a few days in a Zurich bar, and while they glimpsed fragments of that vision for the rest of their lives, they never again saw it whole" (pp. 240-241).

Dadaist truth: "the invulnerable sentence: one that could be understood but never explained" (p. 243).

Situationist remapping

"Now the city would move like a map you were drawing; now you would begin to live your life like a book you were writing. Called forth by a street or a building, an ensemble of gestures might imply that a different street had to be found, that a building could be redesigned by the gestures performed within it, that new gestures had to be made, even that an unknown city had to be built or an old one overthrown" (p. 166).

Ivan Chtcheglov: "Everyone will live in his own cathedral" (p. 172).

"As one turns the pages, the neighborhood becomes a labyrinth, where every chance encounter with a word, a picture, a building, or a person seethes with legend and possibility, opening into a secret utopia accessible to anyone capable of recognizing it" (p. 253).

"What if one created something that would simply go on creating of its own accord, a set of wishes translated by gestures, an ensemble of desires whose force fields would level all museums, habits, routines, all everyday walk and talk, until every moment had to be a new work of art, or nothing?" (p. 339)

"As a use of time it was the shifting of the city back into the primeval forest, then into a haunted house more modern than anything modern architects ever dreamed of, a game of freedom in which the goal was not to score but to remain on the field, to consciously position oneself between past and future" (p. 361).

Ivan Chtcheglov: "Architecture will be, at least in the beginning, a means of experimenting with a thousand ways of modifying life, with a view toward a synthesis today found only in legends" (p. 372).

"They saw that all cities were imaginary, complexes of desires turned into geography or suppressed by it, and they saw that all cities could be explored" (p. 385).

"During May '68, it had seemed as if the game had begun. If you looked you could see it happen: every gesture was extended, every street redrawn, every building demolished and rebuilt, every word part of a new language" (p. 440).

"I found a tale composed of incomplete sentences, voices cut off or falling silent… - a map made altogether of dead ends, where the only movement possible was not progress, not construction, but ricochet and surprise" (p. 446).

Situationist performance

Lefebvre spoke of "laying aside all mistrust, all ambition, all schemes . . . In an atmosphere of passionate oneness we would talk far into the night . . . We drank, sometimes there were other stimulants, and these nights had an earnestness, an affection -- it was more than communication, it was a communion" (p. 146).

"The SI was a group of critics; tipping back in their cafe chairs as others acted, they did not apologize" (p. 176).

"Spreading the bad paper of détournement until it began to turn up everywhere, the SI would devalue the currency of the spectacle, and the result would be a fatal inflation. Then a penny could be a fortune… [Of course] that bad paper is the only currency in this tale: lost children seek their fathers, and fathers seek their lost children, but nobody really looks like anybody else. So all, fixed on the wrong faces, pass each other by: this is the drift of secret history, a history that remains secret even to those who make it, especially to those who make it" (p. 179, 184-184).

Guy Debord: "Our situations will be ephemeral, without a future: passageways" (p. 182)

"The idea was that, to the degree aesthetic categories could be proven false, social barriers could be revealed as constructed illusions, and the world could be changed" (p. 188).

Norman Cohn's ignored warning: "It is characteristic of this kind of movement that its aims and premises are boundless . . . a true prototype of a modern totalitarian party" (p. 322).

"To be revolutionary is not a matter of degree" (p. 343).

"The construction of situations will be the continuous realization of a great game, a game the players have chosen to play" (p. 347, emphasis in original - see also James P. Carse's Finite and Infinite Games).

Sometimes the situation need be little more than "the right graffiti on the right wall, at the right time, in the right place" (p. 357).

"Leisure would soon be the axis of civilization: a realm of potential happiness so complete that it would test all the mechanisms of alienation to dominate it. A war would be fought over the meaning of life. If leisure was conquered, civilization would turn into a prison disguised as a pleasure dome. But if leisure was not conquered, it would serve as a base for a practice of freedom so explosive that no known social order could ever satisfy it" (p. 369 - see also Herbert Marcuse's The End of Utopia].

Guy Debord: "We need to work toward flooding the market -- even if for the moment only the intellectual market -- with a mass of desires whose realization is not beyond the capacity of man's present means of action on the material world, but only beyond the capacity of social organization as it stands" (p. 390).

"God would be dead, and everything would be sacred" (p. 397).

Punk style

"Because the Sex Pistols had no other weapons, because they were fans in spite of themselves, they played rock 'n' roll, stripping it down to essentials of speed, noise, fury, and manic glee no one had touched before. They used rock 'n' roll as a weapon against itself" (p. 57).

"'New Wave' was a code word not for punk without shock, but for punk without meaning" (p. 82).

Punk "was not history. It was a chance to create ephemeral events that would serve as judgements on whatever came next" (p. 82).

"It was a turning point in history where history refused to turn; as a beacon of the future it revealed nothing so vividly as the past" (p. 431).

Generative criticism

"The spectral connections between people long [are] separated by place and time, but somehow [they speak] the same language" (p. 4).

"If one can stop looking at the past and start listening to it, one might hear echoes of a new conversation; then the task of the critic would be to lead speakers and listeners unaware of each other's existence to talk to one another. The job of the critic would be to maintain the ability to be surprised at how the conversation goes, and to communicate that sense of surprise to other people, because a life infused with surprise is better than a life that is not" (p. 23).

"Theories cannot be kept on paper" (p. 274).

"Unfulfilled desires transmit themselves across the years in unfathomable ways, and all that remain on the surface are bits of symbolic discourse, deaf to their sources and blind to their objects -- but those fragments of language… are a last link to notions that have gone under the ground, into a cultural unconscious. All that remains are wishes without language: all that remains is unmade history, which is to say the possibility of poetry. [Of course] as the poetry is made, language recovers and finds its target: the history that has been made" (p. 308).

"Metaphors are transformative things, proofs of the arbitrary nature of language, grants of mystery to ordinary things -- they are in other words incipient utopias" (p. 397).

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Turkey 2013

Visiting Turkey was the highlight of the summer for Jenny and I. Here are some recollections from our adventures in Istanbul, Ephesus, and Cappadocia:

• Jenny's memories of Turkey

• Videos from our Istanbul adventures and Cappadocia balloon ride

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Book Review: Communicating Environmental Patriotism

Imagine that you live in a pleasant, leafy neighborhood blocks away from the downtown of a major city and you see your neighbor watering his lawn outside the period allowed by local conservation ordinances. How would you react? Maybe you'd talk to the guy, try to convince him that watering restrictions, while a hassle, are necessary to help fight drought. Perhaps you'd share your observations with friends and coworkers, hoping to discover effective strategies for persuading him to consider something beyond self-interest as a guiding principle. Anne Marie Todd pursued these options, and then she wrote a book. 

Professor Todd is a good friend; we teach together in the Communication Studies department at San José State University, and we have co-authored two essays. So I surely bring some bias to this review. Nonetheless I propose that anyone who takes environmental activism seriously, anyone looking for persuasive strategies to help heal our planet, should read Communicating Environmental Patriotism (Routledge).

This book offers a thoughtfully procured assessment of twentieth century milestones of American environmentalism. While Todd's project is historical, her focus is rhetorical. Analyzing campaigns that tackle such seemingly disparate topics as tourism, conservation, smoke abatement, and scrap metal collection, Todd argues that environmentalists must leverage patriotic appeals to connect personal sacrifice with sustainable living. 

To advance this broader narrative, each chapter marshals exhaustive archival research and compelling detail. Thus we learn that the “See America First” movement was launched by men who had never visited Europe, we catch conservationists meeting Teddy Roosevelt in a room adorned with a dozen stuffed game animals, and we are inspired to wonder if Adolf Hitler really did blame his battlefield losses on American housewives who hauled kitchen grease to their neighborhood butchers. Along the way Todd explains the rise and fall of American communitarianism before offering a rhetorical strategy for its return. 

The book is reasoned in its claims but unsparing in its critique of the obstacles to environmental patriotism. Those claiming to be conservatives today would be surprised to learn that Teddy Roosevelt once uttered, “[t]he freedom of the individual should be limited only by the present and future rights, interests, and needs of the other individuals who make up the community." And this is precisely the point of Todd's book, comparing that conservative sensibility to the consumer-society that followed World War II. The struggles to sustain environmental patriotism, as illustrated by presidents who espoused scientism over sacrifice, suffered for ill-fated fashion choices, and responded to national disaster by pitching trips to Disneyworld, are aptly summarized by Todd's appraisal of Americans who have asked “what their country could do for them rather than what they could do for their country.”

Her book is a well-crafted piece of scholarship, bulging with endnotes and references to justify her claims. At the same time Todd’s monograph is succinct, accessible, and surprisingly personal. She augments her prose with a fascinating set of artifacts, including a reproduction of artwork that conveys the American sublime, ghastly photographs of Pittsburgh citizens caught under a pall of smoke, and World War II posters that persuaded farmers to fight fascism with scrap metal. And there is detail piled upon detail. You may learn more about Gifford Pinchot's mother, J.P. Morgan’s nose deformity, and the deadly elevators of Madison Avenue than you ever wanted to know, but you will also learn an effective strategy for confronting our globe's environmental exigencies.

Communicating Environmental Patriotism concludes with a call for today's sustainability advocates to deploy prewar rhetorics of conservation, stewardship, and democracy to promote a new kind of American Exceptionalism, a progressive spirit in which "Americans are exceptional in their ability to heed the call for conservation." Todd's ultimate goal is to propel a grander "planetary patriotism," but she knows that quick action requires us to focus first on the national dimensions of our global problems. Toward that end she reminds us that pithy slogans such as “Think globally, act locally” are insufficient for the crisis at hand. We can no longer disconnect thinking from action. So I certainly encourage you to read Professor Todd’s book, as long as you remember her advice that reading is merely the first step. 

Monday, September 2, 2013

Yo, Tartuffe!

Tartuffe image from Facebook
It’s been too long since I wrote a pseudo-script. Today’s topic: Molière's Tartuffe, a play that scandalized seventeenth-century French society for its ribald depiction of religious hypocrisy. The comedy stems from Orgon's ill-fated choice to bring a charlatan named Tartuffe into his household. Once ensconced, the impostor begins to woo Orgon's wife, Elmire, while working to seize the property through legal chicanery. Goaded by his mother, the holier-than-thou Madame Pernelle, Orgon persists in believing Tartuffe's claims of piety. What's worse, he insists that his daughter, poor, pathetic Mariane, break her engagement with local nice-guy Valère to marry their sleazy houseguest. Orgon's brother-in-law Cléante tries to warn him, as does a wisecracking servant named Dorine, but the foolish patriarch will brook no debate. Is there no hope for reason and romance to escape Tartuffe's web of lies? 

Madame Pernelle: Oh, I'm so glad that my son has invited Monsieur Tartuffe to live in his home. He is such a good man! 

Dorine: You really are an idiot, aren’t you?

Madame Pernelle: And you’re a miserable servant girl, so please shut up! Well, I've got to go now. See you at the end of the play!

Orgon: Hi ho! I'm back from wherever I was. So, Dorine, how's tricks?

Dorine: Tricks aren’t good, sir. Not good at all. You see, Elmire’s has been sick for days and –

Orgon: – The wife’s feeling ill, huh? Bummer! So, how's Tartuffe?

Dorine: Butthead...

Orgon: Shut up!

[Orgon’s brother-in-law drops by…]

Cléante: Say, Orgon, what’s this I hear about you breaking your daughter’s engagement with Valère?

Orgon: Well, I just think that she’d be better off with Tartuffe. He’s such a good fellow. And she needs some religious guidance anyway. She’s been hanging around those free-thinking fops for too long.

Cléante: “It's as if you think you'd never find / Reason and the sacred intertwined.”

Orgon: Huh?

[Mariane drifts into the room…]

Mariane: Welcome back, Dad! Say, I heard the strangest thing. Someone who had clearly tasted too much wine said that you want me to marry that weird old dude living in our house.

Orgon: Of course I do! Don’t you see? By marrying an old man with no personal income, you’re sure to live an awesome life!

Dorine: Sorry, sir, I couldn’t help but eavesdrop. You’re not really going to force your daughter to marry that creeper, are you?

Orgon: That’s exactly what I expect! And not that it’s any concern of yours, but Mariane would be better off with Tartuffe. That Valère fellow’s nice enough, but he’s got no ambition. He's just a poor nobody. But Tartuffe, well, since I’ve been lending him all my cash he’s dressing fine! He’ll make a great husband.


Orgon: Shut up!

[Orgon departs, leaving a cloud of Eau de Cluelessness in his wake…]

Mariane: Oh Dorine, I’ll just kill myself if dad makes me marry that pervy old fart.

Dorine: That’s your plan, to kill yourself?

Mariane: Pretty much. I’m just a girl, you know. Can’t do much else.

Dorine: Maybe it’s just as well then.

Mariane: Well what then?

Dorine: I dunno. Maybe you should speak with your fiancé. Maybe Valère will help you grow a spine.

Mariane: Only if that’s what he wants.

Dorine: Butthead...

Valère: Say, Mariane, what’s this I hear about you marrying Tartuffe?

Mariane: Where the hell did you come from?

Valère: Just off-stage, right over there.

Mariane: Ah, I see. Well, my dad wants me to marry Tartuffe, so there’s nothing else I can do.

Valère: Being just a woman and all…

Mariane: Yeah…

Valère: Well I guess that’s it then…

Mariane: Yeah…

Dorine: Buttheads! You can get married. Just give me some time to get things arranged!

Valère: Um, aren’t you, like, the maid or something?

Dorine: Yeah, but I’m really good.

Valère: I see.

[Time passes. The house grows dingier…]

Damis: I'm so pissed about that cad Tartuffe marrying my sister!

Dorine: Chill, little dude. I have a plan.

Damis: What, to polish the silver?


Damis: Shut up!

[Tartuffe arrives at last, finding Elmire alone in the house…]

Tartuffe: Oh, Elmire, I’m so concerned about your health! I heard that you’ve been quite ill. So, anyway, I’m wondering: Can we have sex?

Elmire: Um, I think I need to talk to my husband about this...

Tartuffe: Uh

Elmire: – But I won't – as long as you tell Orgon that Mariane’s wedding to Valère is back on.

[Suddenly Damis leaps from behind some sort of large object…]

Damis: Aha! I heard everything. And I will tell my dad about you trying to seduce my mom! And then I’m calling Maury Povich. This stuff is messed up!

Orgon: Hiya, folks! Back again. So, what have y'all been talking about?

Damis: Oh nothing. Just Tartuffe trying to do your wife!

Elmire: Jeez. What's your deal, Damis?

Orgon: Tartuffe, my chaste friend. Is this true?

Tartuffe: Yes. Every word. I feel really bad about it though.

Orgon: Of course you do! Your virtue knows no bounds. Chill, Damis!

Damis: Don't you see what a bastard this guy is?

Orgon: That's it. Tartuffe and Mariane are getting married. Tonight! And as for you, Damis, hit the bricks.

Tartuffe: Oh, Orgon, I feel so bad about this!

Orgon: There, there. That little bastard's gone now.

Tartuffe: No, I really should go too. I've caused too much of a ruckus.

Orgon: No, stay!

Tartuffe: Well, OK. But you’ll certainly insist that I stay away from that luscious wife of yours. I wouldn’t want to stir up any rumors.

Orgon: What, with those busybody neighbors of ours? Screw ‘em. I insist that you hang out with my wife – especially when I’m not around.  

Tartuffe: But 

Orgon: – And what’s more: I'll disinherit that good-for-nothing son of mine and make you my heir!

Tartuffe: Well, OK. So... I’d best be going. Time to find a decent suit for the wedding. If only I could find my wallet...

Orgon: Don’t be silly. Take mine!

Tartuffe: Oh, Orgon. You’re the best!

[Tartuffe departs...]

Mariane: Oh, dad. Please don't make me marry that skeezoid.

Orgon: Suck it. That's the plan.

Elmire: Are you crazy?

Orgon: I'm the only sane one around here!

Elmire: Husband, listen to me. Tartuffe is a straight-up super-skank. And I can prove it. Just hide somewhere in the house, and you’ll see what a scoundrel this supposedly pious guru-guy really is.

Orgon: OK, I could hide in the closet!

Elmire: No, this table is just fine. Just hide underneath and we’ll wait for Tartuffe to show up. It won’t be long before he starts trying to have his way with me. I'll make a loud coughing sound to alert you. That’s when you leap out to save me.

Orgon: Or listen for a while…

[Dorine takes a break from eaves-dusting…]


[More time passes. Then Tartuffe returns...]

Tartuffe: Excuse me. I just stopped back a minute to –

Elmire: – “light my fire,” I hope! See, I want you after all! That’s why I told you not to marry my daughter. I want you all for myself!

Tartuffe: Cool! Let's have sex!

Elmire: Definitely. But for now let’s just kiss. [Cough]

Tartuffe: Cool! Then let's have sex!

Elmire: Yes, by all means. But aren't you worried about my husband – or going to hell? [Cough!]

Tartuffe: Surprisingly, no.

Elmire: [COUGH!]

Tartuffe: That's some cough you've got there. Want some Licorice?

Elmire: Um, you know, my husband might be in the house right now. And let me add that if you and I have sex, on this table, where he could be hiding this very instant, well, it’d be his fault! [COUGH! COUGH!]

Tartuffe: Jeez. OK, I'll look around and see if Orgon’s hiding nearby. But I’m not up for any three-way action. The Ménage à-stuff is a sin.

[Tartuffe walks into another room…]

Orgon: That bastard!

Elmire: Oh, dear, did you hear something? Are you sure you don’t want to keep hiding under the table to enjoy the whole show?

[Orgon steps out from under the table…]

Orgon: I told you I should have hid in the closet.

Elmire: Yeah, I see your point.

[Tartuffe returns…]

Tartuffe: No sign of him, Elmire. Say, I’ve got a great idea: Let’s celebrate by having sex!

Orgon: Tartuffe, you bastard, you tried to seduce my wife!

Tartuffe: Was that wrong? Should I not have done that? I tell you, I've gotta plead ignorance on this –

Orgon: – Get out of my house!

Tartuffe: I will. But you'll be sorry…


Cléante: So, things are bad, huh?

Orgon: Worse. Turns out, I gave Tartuffe a box that contain some embarrassing papers – papers that would piss off the King.

Cléante: Strange how you never mentioned those papers before. Oh well. I guess you could say that you’re “royally screwed.”

Orgon [flashes Cléante a double-take]: Yeah, I guess. But at least I’ve learned that Tartuffe is a religious hypocrite. Moreover I now see that all religious people are evil!

Cléante: "Moderation": You should try it sometime.

Damis: Don't listen, Dad. I’d kill the guy!

Madame Pernelle: I'm back, folks! How are things with Tartuffe? Y’all must be real holy rollers by now!

Orgon: Hi, Mom. No, not so much. Tartuffe tried to hook up with my wife. And now he’s taken some secret documents, probably to the King. We’re gonna get tossed onto the street!

Madame Pernelle: Serves you right.

Orgon: Yeah... Wait, what? Aren’t you supposed to be my mother?

Bailiff: Knock, knock!

Orgon: Who the hell are you?

Bailiff: Local bailiff, sir. I'm the guy telling you that Tartuffe owns your house now.

Damis: That magnificent bastard...

Dorine: So boss, you’re learning your lesson now, huh?

Orgon: Oh my God, Dorine, why won't you shut up!

[Valère ambles by, a sweet, stupid look on his face…]

Valère: Hi folks. Say, I heard that Tartuffe stole your money and is taking your house. So, would you like some gold?

Orgon: [Derp]

Valère: Turns out, I’m rich. Yeah, me: the guy you accused of being a "poor nobody."

Orgon: Sorry about that. Um, thanks for the money.

[Tartuffe returns, bringing a servant of King Louis XIV…]

Tartuffe: Hey all! I’m back, and I bought an officer of the King to arrest you.

Officer: Yeah, about that. Actually I'm here to arrest you.

Tartuffe: What?

Officer: Do you think our king is a butthead? He's the freakin' Sun King, yo. He sees all, and he definitely sees through you. So it’s off to jail for you, Tartuffe. Oh, and Orgon, don't stress about that secret box. The King doesn't care about its contents. Just remember: Don’t screw with Louis XIV.

Orgon: Oui!

[Orgon turns a malicious gaze upon Tartuffe…]

OrgonAnd as for you –

Cléante: – Orgon, what did I tell you about moderation?

[Everyone in the family laughs, except for Tartuffe who really is royally screwed…]

Orgon: OK, now that this unpleasantness is behind us, it's time for a wedding!

Everyone: Oh, dad!

More Pseudo Scripts