Sunday, October 31, 2004

Home Territories: Media, Mobility and Identity (Sana)

Sana Haque

Home Territories: Media, Mobility and Identity
• By: David Morley
• Publisher: London ; New York : Routledge, 2000.
• ISBN: 0415157641 041515765X

Author and Text:

David Morley is a professor of Media and Communications at Goldsmiths College at the University of London. He has collaborated with Stuart Hall and worked at the University of Birmingham's Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies in the 1970s. His research interests include audience reception of media messages, cultural constructions of "Home" and "Nation", and the impact of globalizing trends on traditional national and domestic spaces.

This book is an interdisciplinary look at the complex constructions of both "home" territories (or zones of safety) and the "unheimlich" or "uncanny" spaces of the unfamiliar, at the macro (Nation) and micro (Family) level. It examines how these are impacted by the new spaces and routes of communication and forms of community engendered by globalization and new technologies. It also considers the impact of the tenacity of "rootedness" and Home/Nation spaces in the flux of the postmodern era.

Introduction
Challenge of understanding the de-territorializing culture of postmodernity in the context of enduring and resurgent urges towards stability and "rootedness".

Chapter 1: Ideas of Home
Historical background on the meaning of "home" as both physical space and rhetorical territory. Increasing historical trend towards privacy and isolation as components of the ideal home.

Chapter 2: Heimat, Modernity, and Exile
Nation as magnified version of the family. Site for exclusion and boundary-making. Rootlessness as disorder. Exile as physical and temporal dislocation.

Chapter 3: The Gender of Home
Gendered constructions of "home" as sedentary feminine space. Male anxieties surrounding the constrictive space of home. Domesticity and dirt.

Chapter 4: At Home with the Media
Central place of TV in the modern home. Media's construction of domestic routine. Blurring of boundary between inside and outside - cyberspace.

Chapter 5: Broadcasting and the Construction of the National Family
Role of national broadcasting in construction of national iconography. Shows and audiences - symbolic comfort zones. Multiple and fragmented public spheres.

Chapter 6: The Media, the City and the Suburbs: Urban and Virtual Geographies of Exclusion
Suburbs as models for "home" - conflict avoidance and absence of strangers. Suburban space as "privatised, feminine, consumerized". "Ecology of fear”.

Chapter 7: Media, Mobility, and Migrancy
Mobile privatization. Media encounters with alterity - race/immigration. Circulation of both media and viewers. Migrants as scapegoats.

Chapter 8: Postmodern, Virtual and Cybernetic Geographies
Communications technologies - new modes of mobility. Bifocal vision (global and local). Homes with permeable boundaries. Tourists vs. vagabonds.

Chapter 9: Borders and Belongings: Strangers and Foreigners
Question of borders in the contemporary world. Post-modern nomads vs. Modern pilgrims. Breakdown of stable "home" territories. Alien threats at the margins.

Chapter 10: Cosmopolitics: Boundary, Hybridity and Identity
Immigrants as "homeless". Exoticization of travel. The Western/masculine cosmopolitan figure. Cities as sites for forced confrontations.

Chapter 11: Postmodernism, Post-structuralism and the Politics of Difference: at home in Europe?
Revival of ethnocentrism. Xenophobia and cultural difference. Identity politics. Flexible construction of community. Europe and immigration tensions.

Author's Stated Aims: "to open up the analysis of... rootedness, exile, diaspora, displacement, connectedness and/or mobility" as well as "to offer an analysis of the construction of national (or pan-national) identities... grounded in an understanding of the (domestic) micro-processes through which the smaller units" of that community are constituted in turn. He seeks to articulate the different discourses that run through a particular conceptual space (in this case, that of "home") in a multidisciplinary perspective.

Key Words/Terms:

Heimat (symbolic Homeland, emotive territory of belonging)
Fremde (alterity and the foreign)
Heimlich (belonging to the household, familiar) / Unheimlich (uncanny, unfamiliar)
Geographical "monogamy" and "promiscuity"
Mobile privatization (bubble of safety)
Umwelt (populated by "consociates") / Mitwelt (larger world of contemporaries)
Power-geometry (levels of access to mobility/connectedness).

Affiliated Discourses & Historical/Cultural Context:
Interdisciplinary Studies, Birmingham School of Cultural Studies, Media and Communication Studies, Cultural Geography

Applications/Thoughts:
This is an intriguing multidisciplinary text that pulls together various sources of critical thought on how representation and imagery construct the Other and the familiar. It also highlights issues relating to the impact of media on everyday life in both the domestic and national spheres. Due to the breadth of its scope, there are analytical points that could use further study and illustration, including a closer study of the concept of the "foreign" and of "rootlessness" as the oppositional categories to those of "home" and "rootedness" (the central focus here).

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

The Postmodern Condition - (Cherie)

Name: Lyotard, Jean-François
Translator: Bennington, Geoff and Brian Massumi
Date: 1999
Title: The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge
Pub. Date: 1979
Length: 110

Keywords: Postmodernism; Science; Knowledge; Legitimation; Anti-Marxism, Capitalism; Social Reproduction

Hypothesis: "that the status of knowledge is altered as societies enter what is known as the postindustrial age and cultures enter what is known as the postmodern age" (1999: 3).

School/Discourse: Postmodernism, Commercialism, Scientific theory, Academic Studies

Synopsis:
Lyotard's analysis is an interpretation of the status and development of knowledge, science and technology in today’s modern societies.

The Postmodern Condition describes the state of knowledge and the problem of its legitimatization. Lyotard states that the two main principal functions of knowledge are research and the transmission of learning. He demonstrates that this utopian path is inoperative in today’s economy of progress and market production.
Lyotard attempts to place the transformation of knowledge within the context of the crisis of the narrative, making note of the Enlightenment metanarratives concerning meaning and truth. It is a representation in line with what Foucault had described as an “archaeology" in The Order of Things, which sought to discover the relations between the origin of knowledge and how it is represented today. Lyotard states, “a collectivity that takes narrative as its key form of competence has no need to remember its past”(22, 1979).
This search for origins is lost within a collective demand of productivity tied to what he terms as language games. The Charlemagne’s and Alexander’s of the past are no longer recognizable since the order is of importance or better put, the ideal society is complete. There is the individual that makes the society, but the great hero is the society and not the individual. Foucault‘s succession of "progress" or lack there of is the deterioration of Lyotard’s metanarrative. The support for that lies deep within the subconscious of society’s past. Even the leading sciences and technologies are based in language games or theories of linguistics, cybernetics, informatics, computer languages, and mathematics. These are rules that have flexed beyond the status of need or truth. They base themselves in rules subject to the prescriptive auspices of those who control that knowledge. Lyotard negatively presents a modern view that it is irrelevant. One cannot excavate a hidden truth, since this will not add to the collective society; it would elevate the individual to the status of hero.

Knowledge is for production’s sake and not for the sake of learning itself. It has become homogenized and isolated within the Keynesian model of productivity (45, 1979). He acknowledges that the source interpreted through language has already become the principal force of production. It has changed the composition of the workforce in developed countries remaining hidden under the tag of “primitive” (those who remain hidden from technological advance). The commercialization of knowledge and its new forms of media are on the rise, creating problems between the nation-state and the information. He argues that it will continually widen the gap between the so-called developed society and the Third world. They will remain as an other, invisible to the advances of knowledge and language games that continually “progress” the nation-state. Ultimately, the nihilistic “grand narratives of the nineteenth century,” are placed in a positivist’s frame of knowledge of today (38, 1979). The control of the senses, the holder of the image is unknown, and is placed in position of power. Lyotard’s idealistic sense of free data is an unfortunate consequence of looking for what is/was lost and applying it to the unknown frontiers of exploration today.

Applications: All college discourse.

Other Works in Translation:
Phenomenology (Fr. 1954) (Albany: SUNY Press, 1991)
Discours, figure (Fr. 1971) (translation in progress? Harvard?)
Driftworks (NY: Semiotext(e), 1984) (partial translation of Derive et partir de Marx et Freud , 1973)
Libidinal Economy (Fr. 1974) (Bloomington: Indiana University, 1993)
Pacific Wall (Fr. 1975) (Venice, CA: Lapis, 1990)
Duchamp's Transformers (Fr. 1977) (Venice, CA: Lapis, 1990)
Just Gaming (w/Jean-Loup Thebaud) (Fr. 1979) (Minneapolis: U. Minnesota, 1985)
The Differend (Fr. 1982) (Minneapolis: U. Minnesota, 1988)
The Postmodern Explained (Fr. 1986) (Minneapolis: U. Minnesota, 1992)
Heidegger and "the jews" (Fr. 1988) (Minneapolis: U. Minnesota, 1990)
The Inhuman: Reflections on Time (Fr. 1988) (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1991)
Peregrinations: Law, Form, Event (NY: Columbia, 1988)
The Lyotard Reader (Cambridge, MA: Blackwell, 1989)
Lessons on the Analytic of the Sublime (Fr. 1991) (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1994)
Toward the Postmodern (Atlantic Highlands,NJ: Humanities Press, 1993)
Political Writings (Minneapolis: U. Minnesota, 1993)


Monday, October 25, 2004

Ilya Prigogine and Isabelle Stengers: Order Out of Chaos (Matt)

Mathew Gacy
10/25/04
Order out of Chaos: Man's New Dialogue with Nature
Ilya Prigogine and Isabelle Stengers
Bantam, 1984
349 pgs

1. Synopsis:
A significant portion of the text is devoted to an overview of Western scientific development proceeding from Newtonian mechanics to contemporary developments in dynamics, quantum mechanics and thermodynamics. For the most part, this overview assumes a simple form of a basic chronology, though the authors do, at times, frame this timeline in more theoretically complex terms, as when they briefly discuss Joseph Needham's conclusions about the importance of social structures in supporting or undermining the development of specific scientific vectors. The authors posit that the development of classical dynamics lead to the alienation of man from nature as well as the development of the two conflicting cultures of the sciences and humanities.
Classical dynamics is concerned only with reversible processes where time is a relatively insignificant factor. Its understanding of time is problematic in its inability to account for processes of evolution. It is only with the development of thermodynamics and the introduction of the concept of entropy that "the arrow of time" becomes significant and a scientific account of evolution and complexity possible. The authors posit that this scientific recognition of time and randomness permits an account of life and evolution as well as the reintegration of man into scientific discourse as "we can see ourselves as part of the universe we describe" (300). Further, this development permits to to approach "the central problem of Western ontology: the relation between Being and Becoming" (310). Prigogine and Stengers deny any opposition of the two, claiming that they "express two related aspects of reality" (310).

2. Thesis
We are in the midst of reconceptualization of physics leading to a recognition of stochastic, reversible processes that permits a description of life, evolution, and man.

3. Key words
--Entropy
--Far From Equilibrium Thermodynamics
--Linear/Nonlinear Processes
--Reversible/ Irreversible Processes

4. School/ Discourse
The text is primarily situated within scientific discourses (physics, chemistry, and biology), though Prigogine and Stengers do discuss properly philosophical objections to the premises and implications of classical dynamics in the writings of Kant, Hegel, Bergson, and Whitehead.

5. Thoughts Triggered
Though Prigogine and Stengers claim that their "role is not to lament the past," Prigogine and Stengers clearly bemoan the division that resulted in the development and subsequent conflict of the "two cultures" represented by the sciences and humanities (22). They identify their project as an attempt "to discover in the midst of the extraordinary diversity of the sciences some unifying thread" (22) and problematically herald our entrance into "new era in the history of time, an era in which both being and becoming can be incorporated into a single noncontradictory vision" (255). They conclude that a "new unity is emerging: irreversibility is a source of order at all levels. Irreversibility is the mechanism that brings order out of chaos" (292).

6. Context
The text discusses the evolution and implications of dynamics, quantum mechanics, and thermodynamics.

7. Applications
While the theories that Prigogine and Stengers develop and explain are most obviously applicable to traditional scientific fields, they acknowledge the broader significance of the reconceptualization of time implied by irreversible processes and the potential applicability of thermodynamic modelizations of the evolution and increasing complexity of open systems to social and economic problems.

Edge of Empire: Postcolonialism and the City (Aloy)

Edge of Empire: Postcolonialism and the City
By Jane M. Jacobs
Routledge, London and New York, 1996, xiii + 193 pp.


I summarize Jacobs’s project as follows:

1. The view that empires are a thing of the past is inaccurate and flawed. To say this does not mean that there are no centers; there are no peripheries; there are no structures of domination and subordination. This signifies that the line that separates these spatial boundaries is now messier than before. As Jacobs puts it, “the social and spatial demarcation of…uneven politics is no longer as clear as it once was.” The structures of power that constituted the “old” empires have now been challenged in the wake of diasporic settlements, new nationalisms, indigenous land right claims and so on. As the “edge” of the title Edge of Empire suggests “imperialism lives on in the present but it is also always at its ‘edge’ point”—a point that is precariously unstable or, as bell hooks puts it, “unsafe,” marking “not only a space of openness but also the very negotiation of space itself.”

2. Jacobs makes a critical departure from what she describes as “spatial rhetoric of colonial and postcolonial theory” to “real” geographies; she takes us to contemporary conflicts over space in the cities of Britain and Australia. Jacobs argues that space and place are discursive sites that are as much as important in the formation of postcolonialism as they were for colonialism.

3. Two of the four sites involve the long-running planning struggle around the redevelopment of the Bank Junction area in the City of London, and the transformation of neighborhood of Spitalfields, an inner East London neighborhood, in the form of gentrification and mega-scale development.

The contest over the redevelopment of a historic built environment in the City of London reveals that “the idea of empire” does not belong to the past. As Jacobs puts it, “Place plays an important role in the way in which memories of empire remain active” (p.40). This is seen in the efforts to preserve the historic Bank Junction area in the City of London; such efforts are also seen to preserve buildings and city scenes which memorialize the might of empire.

Spitalfields is a place marked by the processes of identity negotiation and destabilization generated by the loss of empire and subsequent migrant settlements. Inhabitants of Spitalfields negotiate their identity in a multicultural terrain where one’s entitlements and claims to a place are high. But it does not mean that with multiculturalism and diasporic landscape Spitalfields is dislodged from the nation defined by its “Englishness.” In the case of the Bengali migrants, this has worked to “domesticate (not assimilate) the Bangali settlers within an embracing Englishness” (p.101).

4. The other two sites, once located at the geographical edge of the British empire, include the city of Perth, a city where the colonial repression of Aboriginal interests in land was apparent only to resurface albeit “uncanny” as Aboriginal sacred in the secularized space of the city, and the city of Brisbane, a city actively reinventing itself through Nature and Aboriginality in the wake of tourist development.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Cinema 1 by Gilles Deleuze (Callen)

Callen Shutters
October 18, 2004
Cinema 1: The Movement-Image by Gilles Deleuze
Translated by Hugh Tomlinson and Barbara Habberjam
London: The Athlone Press, 1983
215 pages

1. In this text, Deleuze analyzes cinema in the first half of the 20th century (from the earliest silent pictures to post-WWII Hitchcock) in terms of the philosophical concepts that are raised in the medium of film. Deleuze aligns directors, auteurs, with great thinkers of the day rather than great painters, architects, musicians, etc. (x). The focus of the text is the ‘Movement-Image,’ which is supported by Bergson’s three theses of movement from his text ‘Matter and Memory’ (1-29). Deleuze discusses the ‘Movement-Image’ in terms of different applications/uses of framing, cutting, and montage (12-20, 29). Furthermore, the ‘Movement-Image’ is divided into three categories: perception-image, action-image, and affection-image, which correlate with a long shot, medium shot, and close-up, respectively (66, 70). Finally, Deleuze sums up the text with a discussion about how the ‘Movement-Image’ began to include the audience as a factor in expressing meaning through the medium of film (197-205). Using Peirce’s notions of ‘firstness’ (affection), ‘secondness’ (action), and ‘thirdness’ (mental) from his ‘Classification of Images and Signs,’ Deleuze makes the argument that cinema has also followed this progression and, by the end of WWII, auteurs like Hitchcock were making films that forced audiences to construct a mental relation about the information they were receiving (197). Within the whole of the text, Deleuze uses the different schools of filmmaking in the first half of the 20th century (the American school, the Soviet school, the pre-war French school, and the German expressionist school) to discuss how film progressed and created a unique language of its own that was capable of introducing and reinterpreting profound philosophical concepts (introduced in 30-51).
2. Cinema is viewed as a direct relation of philosophical concepts and, thus, the text is not a history of film or an interpretation of specific films. Rather, Deleuze attempts to “isolate certain cinematographic concepts” (ix) and present a “taxonomy, an attempt at the classification of images and signs” (xiv).
3. Action-Image: “reaction of the centre to the set [ensemble]” made up of “Synsign,” “Impression,” “Index,” and “Vector” (141-160, 217, 218)
Affection-Image: “that which occupies the gap between an action and a reaction, that which absorbs an external action and reacts on the inside” and is made up of “Icon,” Qualisign,” and “Dividual” (91-117, 217)
Dicisign: “a term created by Peirce in order to designate principally the sign of the proposition in general” or “a perception in the frame of another perception” (217).
Dividual: “that which is neither indivisible or divisible, but is divided (or brought together) by changing qualitatively” (217)
Gramme: “the genetic element of the perception-image, inseparable as such from certain dynamisms (immobilisation, vibration, flickering, sweep, repetition, acceleration, deceleration, etc.)” (217)
Icon: “used by Peirce in order to designate a sign which refers to its object by internal characteristics (resemblance)” (217)
Movement-Image: “the acentered set [ensemble] of variable elements which act and react on each other” (217)
Perception-Image: “set [ensemble] of elements which act on a centre, and which vary in relation to it” and is made up of “Dicisign,” “Reume,” and “Gramme” (71-76, 217)
Qualisign: “term used by Peirce in order to designate a quality which is a sign…the affect as expressed (or exposed) in an any-space-whatever” (217)
Rueme: “the perception of that which crosses the frame or flows out…the liquid status of perception itself” (217)
Synsign: “set of qualities and powers as actualised in a state of things, thus constituting a real milieu around a centre, a situation in relation to a subject: spiral” (218)
4. Deleuze aimed to create a text not of the history of film, nor a typical critique of film, but rather an understanding of the medium of film and the postmodern concepts that are brought about through this medium.
5. This text really helped me understand how the different schools of filmmaking in the first half of the 20th century built upon the ideas and creations of each other to develop a language unique to film that utilizes the strengths specific to the artistic medium. Additionally, by including theses by Bergson and Peirce, Deleuze connects philosophical notions with the expressive medium of film to uncover new ways in which to view movement, images, and subjectivity/objectivity.
6. The text reflects upon the first half of the short history of film to uncover the mechanical reproduction of the ‘Movement-Image. The second volume in the set, ‘Cinema 2,’ deals with the ‘Time-Image,’ which Deleuze felt pervaded cinema post-WWII.
7. The text is invaluable for those who wish to understand how cinema developed a unique language of its own and how this new(er) artistic medium transcends the past modes of artistic expression to uncover new philosophical notions and reflections about the state of our being.

Monday, October 18, 2004

Language and Myth (Cherie)

Author: Ernst Cassirer
Title: Language and Myth
Translater: Susanne K. Langer
Published: 1946
Length: 103

Cassirer uses mythopoeic thought that is that man lives through a mythic state of mind that developed from language as a conceptual system. The argument opens with a critique of theories about the origins of myth. It explains how our understanding of myth is based in unsubstantiated terms created out of deficiencies in language. Cassier’s points out that causes in nature confront the mind and when this happens, man attempts to attach these ideas symbolically to a concept. This concept is derived from a fundamental set of properties that gathered symbolically within the mind and therefore precede language. He draws this conclusion largely upon the ideas of Kant and what he coined the Copernican Revolution. This generation of a world created out of the single moment when the mind attempts to affix language to what it sees is not fixed as in Kant, but is instead conceived out of assigned properties or objects of influence that have been assigned importance to that human utterance. In other words the symbolic forms are not objects for intellectual comprehension that have been made visible to us through the moment, but through language itself they been given meaning and therefore have become real. Therefore looking back upon history through the lens of the modern is most difficult, particularly in the sense of the modern associations to the context of the word or its origin. Even looking at primitive societies fails to complete the sense of value assigned by a particular society. The society itself forms preferences and influences over the individualized thought. It is founded upon the land, culture, and basic needs of a given group. Cassirer uses the examples of agriculture and dancing to demonstrate this concept. In one particular case the word for dancing is not merely a sense of movement, but it is a representation for the primitive execution of some cause and effect. The participant is expressing, not representing. It is the ritual being produced at that moment that defines the word and therefore cannot be applied to our modern sensibilities of the same action.

Cassirer draws upon Usener’s ideas of myth, art, language and science in order to produce a world view of inter-related forms of spirit. He states that, “all theoretical cognition takes its departure from a world already preformed by language.” It is the noticing that constitutes the function of denoting. He delves into the ideas of Genesis and the moment of creation labeling it at one point a "veritable monkey puzzle". He continues to state that the only notable world worth viewing is reflected in language developed from religious myths, the holy, and magical; these conceptions are directly linked to our modern associations. These associations have been formed through primitive cultures’ words that are linked to moments which sought to define the image of god. He argues that the words are permanently dependant upon theological concepts. Therefore, the genesis of human language can be formulated through metaphor, and the nature of linguistic phenomena as it is connected with learning. Ultimately, Cassirer seems to be stating that it is through naming that the world makes sense to man; it is the implication that symbolic mechanisms come automatically within the very act of "naming" and do not occur on an animalistic level. It is the emotional impact of experience that allows a person to formulate their own sense of identity on the experiential level.

Associated Applications: Social Linguistics, Mythology, Religion, Anthropology

Keywords: Mythological, Religion, Language, Word-Magic, Philosophy of Origins, Metaphor, Mode of Thought

Referenced works: Plato, Kant, Max Muller, Usener, Herder, Humboldt, Gabelentz, Eckhardt, Spieth, Eve Tribe

Final thoughts: Cassirer is very approachable, although the text seems to be too general to apply any firm conclusions. It would be interesting to reread this after retuning to Latour’s immutable mobile. Just one more stop in along Foucault’s excavation, although I feel that he would have probably buried some of Cassirer’s concepts of singularity in concept. However I do believe that they share similar ideas power and how it is exercised through language and the teleological perspective that influences a subject’s point of view.

Sunday, October 17, 2004

McLuhan, Understanding Media (Rachel)

Rachel Moe
October 11, 2004
Marshall McLuhan: Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man
Published in1964, 359 pages

Synopsis
Marshall McLuhan explains the psychic and social consequences of the technological media in his book Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man. He believes that after three thousand years of the explosion of mechanical technologies, the Western world is imploding from current “electric technology.” McLuhan states that this electric technology is an extension of people’s central nervous system. Due to this change in technology, people adjust the way they process, store, and speed up experiences which creates a different thought pattern than that of the past. This instant processing of data and knowledge simulates the automatic and natural function of the nervous system, therefore; the technology recreates this function and becomes an extension of man’s body.
McLuhan coined the phrase, “The medium is the message.” In his book, he postulates that in this new age of electric technology the medium from which people receive information is the message and that the content of a medium is always another medium. He explains this concept using electricity and the invention of the light bulb. The electric light is “pure information” and it does not have any content until humans derive meaning. It is not until someone uses the light to read after dark or play baseball at night that meaning is established. The way humans interact with the medium (TV, radio, light bulb, etc.) “shapes and controls the scale and form of human association and action.” Using this concept that the medium is the message, he examines the new technological media and their ability to shape society.
He believes the content of a medium is always another medium. For example, the content of a book is a speech, the content of a movie is a novel, and the content of the press is a literary statement. He refers to “hot” media, which are low in viewer participation and “cool” media, which are high in viewer participation. Hot media are high definition and visually filled with data. Less effort is exerted by the viewer to understand the message. Examples of hot media include books, movies, photographs, and radio. Cool media, on the other hand, are low in definition and are not structured. They require more “filling in” by the audience. Examples include the television, the telephone, cartoons, and speech.
A basic theme of McLuhan’s book is that even if you have an understanding of the medium’s effect and force, it is impossible to stop the “closure” of the senses and the pattern of conformity that occurs. Once the technology becomes an extension of ourselves (occurring on a subconscious level), we lose the ability to function without it. McLuhan believes the media are a powerful controlling agent in society and that Western values have been affected by technology. He thinks people have surrendered their nervous systems to corporations and advertisers, allowing them to take away their rights. Through technology, people have created irritants through the process of accelerating and making things easier, faster, and better. People disassociate from their senses and have become mesmerized by the medium.
McLuhan felt that a positive consequence of the media is the unification of people into what he called the “global village.” His optimistic view was that television and radio had the potential to improve the world and involve people in each other’s lives.

Thesis: Electronic communication has decentralized modern living in the twentieth century.

School/Discourse: Technological Determinism

Thoughts/Context/Application
Since the publication of this book, a great deal of media analysis has occurred and McLuhan’s ideas probably do not seem as radical as they did in the early 1960’s. Even though slightly dated, I find that McLuhan’s ideas and criticisms of the media are thought provoking and rich in cultural analogies. We are all familiar with the various media he presented, but I found his rendition of the invention, history, and context of each medium to be interesting. He frequently compared tribal societies and Western societies when explaining various media and their contexts.
If McLuhan were still alive, it would be interesting to hear his thoughts on more recent technologies such as the Internet, personal computers, and video games. His idea of technology as “extensions of man” still applies to the world in which we live. It is common to see people engaging in conversations on their cell phones, typing on their laptops, or calculating a math problem. If these technologies were suddenly taken away, people would function on a much different level. It is questionable whether they would be able to find new resources to meet the daily challenges of life.
Western society prides itself in its technological advances but after reading this book, I have a deeper respect for cultures that have not been inundated by the mind numbing effects of the media. Tribal societies are able to function and live their lives on a different plane than the technologically based society. If we were to lose all of our technology, we would find survival difficult until learning the skills of the tribal society.
McLuhan’s idea of a “global village” did not turn out the way he foresaw. The United States expanded its mass communication system, but the rest of the world lacked these technological advances. Satellites have since been introduced but language and cultural differences preclude the globalization that he predicted. Overall, McLuhan’s analogies are interesting but are unable to be validated.

Saturday, October 16, 2004

Occam's Razor

name: Bill Jay

title: Occam’s Razor: An Outside-In View of Photogaphy

pub date: 1993

length: 165

The premise of Jay’s text, or Jay’s premise with this text, to be more precise, is to attempt an explanation as to what photography is, and how it should be discussed. While doing so, Jay has taken, as his north star, the basic principle of the argument of Franciscan monk, William of Occam, entitled Occam’s Razor. An argument whose basic principle says “that in all scientific and philosophical enquiry variables should not be multiplied unnecessarily”.

Jay, through the course of this text, rails against the over intellectualization of the study(ies) of photography, albeit it softly. This railing includes, but is not limited to, the separation of personal life and the photograph, that meaning and interpretation are imposed upon photography; photography disturbs, the chasm between artist and commercial (read professional) photographer.

Along this last line of thought, one aspect of photography that Jay grapples with, or attempts a reconciliation with is whether photography is an art or a by-product of technology. Similar to Sontag, Jay addresses the similarities between photography and painting. Whereas the two are similar in that they are representations, one is wholly an “original”, while the other is considered a reproduction, of never having had, or been, an original. Due to this quandary-ous state, photography then, could never be considered an art medium, as art is uniquely original.

And yet, Jay counters that with a personal anecdote, in which he recounts an experience in which he, all the while, ignorant of having done it, plagiarized an article he had once read. The point to this particular anecdote is that photography cannot be original, it owes itself to what has come before, it is subject to patterns. This redeems photography to some extent for not being a wholly original creation.

Keeping in tune with post-structuralist thought, photography, much like individuality, is simply a construct.

This text includes accounts of Jay’s own interviews/times with such notable photographers as Diane Arbus, E. O. Hoppé, and Frank Capa-Smith.

Ironically enough, Jay includes a chapter on the importance of recognizing that the writing of photographic criticism is for the most part, worthless. Which of course, casts into doubt, his own take on photography.

This text is in line with Susan Sontag’s own analysis of photography, of taking it out of an over-intellectualized arena, and placing it in a more photo-friendly locale. In other words, this text does not drown the reader with –izes and –isms, the meat and potatoes of the intellectual trade. However, that is not to say it is a dumbed-down read or lesser than John Tagg’s The Burden of Representation.

This text did offer a new way at looking at my own research. It’s discussion on photography as disturbance offers me with a new angle to approaching the representation of the masculine other, and what that is.

Not an essential read to the study of photography, but an insightful one, nonetheless.

Thursday, October 14, 2004

Re-excavating/Erasing the Self (Cherie)

Name: Peter Weiss
Date: 1964
Title: The Persecution and Assassination of Jean-Paul Marat
as Performed by the Inmates of the Asylum of Charenton under the Direction of the Marquis de Sade.

First of all I cannot possibly touch upon all that I want to say. The comments below represent but one potion of a much broader response.


The play The Persecution and Assassination of Jean-Paul Marat as Performied by the Inmates of the Asylum at Charenton under the Direction of the Marquis de Sade truly reflects how art remains as a means to represent conflict. This play is more than simply the reenactment of the bourgeois society and its reflections of the French Revolution. It concentrates on the possibility of the transcendence of the self; a struggle still present in today’s postmodernistic views of consciousness. This play about a play is soaked in the melee of revolutionary politics. It is both ironic and humorous. The humanistic madness that engulfs the entire proceeding is highlighted by the comedic cartoon-faced choir. Their nursery rhyme songs denote political and historical observation as well as act as a touchstone of familiarity, while remaining untouchable. They invoke a universal voice while speaking to the madness to which they have succumbed. Like Foucault’s history, the play is something which has lost its original meaning, and is in need of re-excavation. The problem arises when one uses the tools of intellect to attempt to discern the haunting images that swim wildly about the stage.
Both Marat and the Marquis proclaim that the Revolution has failed. For the Marquis, a revolution is needed but one which liberates the individual from social and intellectual convention. His failure is a personal one, brought on by spiritual and intellectual defeat. The Marquis’ attempt to erase his own bias is what ultimately leads to the creation of a personal story, like a translator who tries to recreate an original text. This can be thought of as Foucault’s Don Quixote created by the history of that which he intended to embody, but in turn he is merely a refection of that which he originally sought. Even romance is subjected with his relationship with Corday. She is whipping him, by request, in order to erase his own inability to escape his intellectual failings. This failing is all too human, inevitable, and inescapable.
Marat feels that the Revolution is a casual effect of the rich bourgeois looking for profit. His romance is rapt in society; he even emulates an enraptured state with his quaking and passionate cries. He too is unable to escape the delusional desire of his imagined society. The priest is the only one who seems to capture the rapture and support Marat. He rouses a radical upheaval of events, even at one point turning to the audience and inciting them to take up his call to action. He is a vocal radical projection of Marat’s words which remain apart from the audience’s view. It seems a little Marxist in nature supporting Marat’s plan for equality, although individual freedom and creativity break that mold of dependency. Society must be purged of its corruptive classes. The whole idea of punishment both on the level of the personal and societal dictative courses seems to align with Focault’s attitudes. The perverse inmate is constantly beaten, highlighted, and finally castigated as an other throughout the play. All the characters seem to be of Foucault’s subjugated history, described in a way that is constantly rewritten, a tumultuous event that causes a viewer to remain in self doubt about the realty that they are witnessing. This is reinforced when the dates fly from in front of the modern audience. By watching the play about the past, history is turned in on itself. The postmodern view of history ending is blurred, for the comments can apply to today, yesterday, and the past. One loses oneself in analyzing the place and the cause of what the actors speak and beckon us to questioned what we know of history at all. Ultimately, this invokes the audience while imprisoning us in our own opinions. It is a voyeuristic event; we are watching the seen form inside the painting. From the lunatic to the animal, from the bourgeoisie to the common, from the neurotic to the symptomatic, this play has finally encouraged me to want to know more.

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

The Dismemberment of Orpheus (Michael Green)

The Dismemberment of Orpheus (1971)
By Ihab Hassan
Orpheus was a poet and musician in Greek mythology who almost rescues his wife Eurydice from Hades by charming Pluto and Persephone with his lyre.


Ihab Hassan is a prominent critic, scholar, and theorist in the study of literature. While focusing his scholarship on the post-war novel, Hassan was among the first to develop and promulgate the concept of the postmodern. In his best-known works, he theorizes a vision of the postmodern that stresses formal characteristics such as discontinuity, indeterminacy, and irony.
He begins by saying that “Radical questions engage the total quality of our life; they are questions of being. Often, they arouse large hopes: to change consciousness, to banish death from our midst. They have a radical innocence. This work may imply such questions.”
In his book, Hassan is trying to advance some idea of postmodern literature, which moves towards the “vanishing point.” In order to do this he examines modern literature especially in terms of the idea of silence.
Hassan says that we still stand in the “domain of literature” but that literature does not suffice. He says that modern literature writes the future of mankind in an invisible hand and that he tries to evoke this invisible writing.
He says that the Modernists in literature——have come up with something new to explain the human condition. He quotes the literary critic Edmund Wilson who said that the modernist writers “ wake us up to the hope and the exaltation of the untried, unsuspected possibilities of human thought and art.”
But then he says that it is time to make a new construction of literary history. He says that a different line has emerged “within” the tradition of the modern. It leads to a literature to come.
Questions: what is the nature of modernism in that it may be “scattered in the life we imagine for ourselves?” What model of modernism can best serve the avant-garde of the future?
Hassan speaks of a doubleness within the modernists: their respect for life and their unwillingness to mix it up with something so inferior as art and (2) art and language may seek transcendence in a state that can be evoked anagogically, or spiritually.
When Hassan speaks of modern literature he speaks of it in two ways as the early 20th century modernists: Eliot, Proust, Joyce, Gertrude Stein, Hemmingway, etc. And he also speaks of modernist literature as far back as the 18th century and early 19th century: Sade, Blake and Wordsworth, all of whom, in their own ways were looking beyond a medium, in other words, beyond words, which leads to the idea of “silence.”
How the modernists use silence as sort of a revolution in art, language and consciousness is one of the primary ideas advanced by Hassan. He explicates the idea of silence in many ways, but ultimately he means that the traditional methods of literature--language and form—are inadequate to convey meaning or a true idea of the human condition.
He also says that silence refers to an avant-garde tradition of literature (from Sade past Beckett). Silence implies alienation from reason, society and history. Silence betrays separation from nature. Silence demands the self-repudiation of art. Silence requires the periodic subversion of forms. Silence creates anti-languages. Silence fills the extreme states of the mind—void, madness, outrage, ecstasy, mystic trance—when ordinary discourse ceases to carry the burden of meaning
Continuing to draw on the Orpheus myth, he speaks of silence and man’s only recourse in modern literature, as playing a lyre without strings.
One writer who I thought summed it up nicely is Esslin, quoted by Hassan, who says, “The time has passed when an identity was believed to exist between the structure of language, the structure of logic and the structure of reality.”
Hassan also says that the negative, acting through art language and consciousness, shapes the boundary state I call silence.”
The revolution in traditional language takes many forms. Words can appear as gibberish, nonsense. Language has become the language of math, logic and chemistry.
To support his theories, Hassan examines the modernist writing of Sade, Hemingway, Kafka, Genet and Beckett.
A quick summary of what he says of some of the writers:
Of Sade he begins with a short biography and says that the movement in Sade’s works is towards total terror. Everywhere Sade focuses on the energy of evil. Sade rejects conventional morality and focuses on the truth of nature, which is indifferent to what men call vice or virtue. Men have no freedom to choose.
Hassan shows the ways in which Sade can be considered the first modern writer, the first avant-gardist, the first creator of an anti-literature. His literature is silent in several ways, because language can not really communicate the annihilations, the voids that he dreams up. Sade is also further silenced by his solipsistic attitude--with whom can he communicate? He alone is the subject and all others are objects of his pleasure. Hassan says “Without full comprehension of his role in Western thought, Sade may be the first to wrench the imagination free from history, to invert the will of art, and to set language against itself.”

Hassan also says of Sade, “He needs the erotic release of transgression against authority” and this reminded me of the play.

Hemingway is next. Again, Hassan provides a short biography. He is providing these biographies to show what in life might make these writers modernist. With Hemingway, as with Sade, it is Hemingway’s knowledge of death (his father killed himself, Hemingway was almost killed in the war, etc), his familiarity with death, his understanding of the emptiness behind things that makes his writing silent. Hassan says that among the modernist American writers, Hemmingway may prove “closest to our consciousness, our blankness and rage. Familiar now as it may seem, the work engages modernism on the deepest levels. Hemingway minimalism rejects traditional language and “holds the world of Hemingway together against madness.”

Kafka, like Hemingway makes his home “in the void.” Hassan sees Kafka as the key figure in the search for a post-modern literature. He says that Kafka brings the “future into our midst.” He sees Kafka as a visionary and that his importance in culture moves beyond literary history. He plays out a “luminous drama of human consciousness that few of us can attain. For him completion lies on the other side of art, the scrupulous and holy art of ambiguity, on the far side of silence where all is pure meaning.”

I can summarize the conclusions that Hassan comes to in terms of looking out to the vanishing point but he says it so well himself. “I am aware of the difficulties in bringing this work to its necessary incompletion. Yet neither can the imagination abandon its teleological sense: change is also dream come true. I can only hope that after self-parody, self-subversion, self-transcendence, after the pride and revulsion of anti-art have gone their way, art may move towards a redeemed imagination, commensurate with the full mystery of human consciousness.”
















Monday, October 11, 2004

The Condition of Postmodernity (Aloy)

The Condition of Postmodernity
By David Harvey
Blackwell Publishers, Massachusetts, 1990, ix + 378 pp.


This book examines the nature of postmodernism by tracing its discontinuities (and continuities as well) with modernism. The first part of the book explores the differences between modernism and postmodernism (see Table 1.1, p 42), and grapples with the question whether postmodernism represents a radical break with modernism, or simply a reaction against the universalist, totalizing narrative of modernism. But Harvey concedes after a lengthy discussion of the works of Foucault then to Lyotard, to Derrida, to Deleuze and Guttari to Jameson that “there is much more continuity than difference between the broad history of modernism and the movement called postmodernism.” “It seems more sensible to me,” Harvey states, “to see the latter as a particular kind of crisis within the former, one that emphasizes the fragmentary, the ephemeral…while expressing a deep skepticism as to any particular prescriptions as to how the eternal and immutable should be conceived of, represented, or expressed” (p.116).


If part one focuses on distinct cultural forms of postmodernism in relation to modernism, the focal point of part two lies in the way in which social forces have transformed capitalism in the late twentieth century. The basic argument that Harvey wants to make is that the first post-war recession of 1973 marked a shift from “Fordist-Keynesian” condition to what he describes as a “flexible” regime of accumulation. Flexible accumulation is an apt solution to the “rigidity” of Fordism. Harvey describes it as flexibility

with respect to labour processes, labour markets, products, and patterns of consumption. It is characterized by the emergence of entirely new sectors of production, new ways of providing financial services, new markets, and, above all, greatly intensified rates of commercial, technological, and organizational innovation. It has entrained rapid shifts in the patterning of uneven development, both between sectors and between geographical regions, giving rise, for example, to a vast surge in so-called ‘service-sector’ employment as well as to entirely new industrial ensembles in hitherto underdevelopment regions…(p.147)

The shift from Fordism to post-Fordist condition has led to a new round of “time-space compression” (the subject of discussion in Part III) in the capitalist world in which “the time horizon of both private and public decision-making have shrunk, while satellite communication and declining transport costs have made it increasingly possible to spread those decisions immediately over an ever wider and variegated space” (p.147). The intersection of the rise of postmodernist cultural forms and the emergence of more flexible modes of capital accumulation has changed the way which in time and space are experienced. But if set against the basic rules of capitalistic accumulation, it appears that these changes, Harvey argues, are “more as shifts in surface appearance rather than as signs of the emergence of some entirely new post-capitalist or even postindustrial society” (p. vii).


Following a materialist approach to understanding time and space, Harvey, in part three, argues that “objective conceptions of time and space are necessarily created through material practices and processes which serve to reproduce social life” (p.204). Harvey surveys in chapter 13 different ways in which theorists such as de Certeau, Bachelard, Foucault, and Bourdieu have conceptualized space, and how power relations are implicated in spatial and temporal practices. At the heart of part three is a concept that Harvey calls “time-space compression.” The term refers to processes that resulted in a radical change of the qualities of time and space that we are, in Harvey’s words, “forced to alter, sometimes in quite radical ways, how we represent the world to ourselves” (p.240). The book concludes in Part four by turning to social and moral questions surrounding postmodernism and the condition of postmodernity.


Now, I wish to discuss further topics such as “time-space compression” and postmodernism and the city for obvious reasons; such topics are relevant to my dissertation project. Let me begin with postmodernism and the city.


In postmodernism and the city, Harvey makes the following points:

1. Postmodernism signifies “a break with the modernist idea of planning and development,” largely characterized by “large-scale, metropolitan-wide, technologically rational and efficient urban plans” (p.66).

2. The urban fabric is seen by postmodernists as necessarily “fragmented, a ‘palimpsest’ [the term suggests ways in which the traces of earlier ‘inscriptions’ remain as a continual feature of the ‘text’ of culture, giving it its particular density and character] of past forms superimposed upon each other, and a ‘collage’ of current uses, many of which may be ephemeral” (p.66).

3. A distinction can be made here between modernism and postmodernism with respect to the way in which space is conceptualized. Modernists see “space as something to be shaped for social purposes and therefore always subservient to the construction of a social project.” Postmodernists on the other hand see “space as something independent and autonomous, to be shaped according to aesthetics aims and principles which have nothing necessarily to do with any overarching social objective” (p.66). Another way of distinguishing them is simply to say that while modernists work within a certain plan, postmodernists eschew planning in favor of design.

4. How do we account for such a shift? The “built environment” is one; how a city looks and how its spaces are organized? Architecture and urban design are crucial for understanding the city as a discourse the way in which Barthes described it. For example, in the wake of the destruction caused by WW II and its aftermath, there was an emphasis on the reconstruction and renewal of the urban fabric with a strong “adoption of the industrialized construction systems and rational planning procedures that modernist architects had long proposed” (p.69), not to mention the role played by the state in carrying out this project such as the elimination of slums, building schools, hospitals, housing and so on. The underprivileged class “get[s] swept under the rug” by urban planning.

5. Harvey has also described postmodern architecture as an “anti-avant-gardist (unwilling to impose solutions, as the high modernists, the bureaucratic planners, and the authoritarian developers tended—and still tend—to do)” (p.76). The proponents of postmodern architecture privilege the aesthetics of diversity and ways in which “symbolic richness” of urban forms are articulated. However, postmodern architecture and urban design grapples with market-driven demands that “carries with it the danger of pandering to the rich and the private consumer rather than to the poor and to public needs, that is in the end…a situation [in which] the architect is powerless to change” (p.77). For e.g., free-market populism “puts the middle classes into the enclosed and protected spaces of shopping malls and atria, but it does nothing for the poor except to eject them into a new and quite nightmarish postmodern landscape of homelessness” (p.77).

6. Focusing on heterogeneity and difference, po-mo takes “architecture away from the ideal of some unified meta-language and breaks it down into highly differentiated discourses. The end result is one in which fragmentation of urban spatial forms. As Harvey puts it, “The multivalency of architecture…renders it ‘radically schizophrenic by necessity’” (p.83).


In his discussion of time-space compression, Harvey makes the following assertion:

1. This notion refers to the way in which capitalism has changed the way time and space are organized in relation to human activity. Harvey deploys the notion of “speeding-up” in understanding time-space compression. The “speeding-up” of the economic and social processes has led to the way in which we experience time and space; in that space and time do not anymore appear to be an obstacle in terms of how we organize our daily life. The re-configuration of time and space is described by Harvey in the following words, “space appears to shrink to a ‘global village’ of telecommunications and ‘spaceship earth’ of economic and ecological interdependencies…and…time horizons shorten to the point where the present is all there is…” (p.240).

2. The transition to flexible accumulation was marked by a speed-up in production through vertical disintegration characterized by subcontracting, outsourcing and so on, which reversed the Fordist tendency towards vertical intergration.

3. Advertising is crucial in the production of commodity and in an increasingly consumerist culture. But, as Harvey puts it, advertising “is no longer built around the idea of informing or promoting in the ordinary sense, but is increasingly geared to manipulating desires and tastes through images that may or may not have anything to do with the product to be sold…” (p.287), prompting Baudillard to declare Marxist analysis of commodity production irrelevant “because capitalism is now predominantly concerned with the production of signs, images, and sign systems rather than with commodities themselves” (p.287).

4. What does it mean in the context of globalization? For Harvey globalization means the shrinking of space and the shortening of time which resulted in the speeding up of the pace of life in which the time to do things and the experiential distance between disparate locations in space becomes shorter.

Saturday, October 09, 2004

Levy, Cyberculture

The text makes some major assertions:

Far from being a sub-culture of Network fanatics, cyberculture expresses a major mutation in the very essence of culture. Ubiquity of information, interconnected interactive documents, reciprocal and asynchronous telecommunications within the group and between groups: the virtualizing and deterritorializing character of cyberspace makes it the vector of an open "Universal".

Indeed, cyberculture expresses the rise of a new Universal, different from the cultural forms that preceded it insofar as it is being built on the non-determination of any global meaning. The more extensive cyberspace grows, the more "universal" it becomes, the less the world of information is totalizable. The Universal of cyberculture has no centre and no guideline. It is empty, without any particular content, or rather it admits all contents, since all it does is put any one point in contact with any other, regardless of the semantic load of the entities concerned. This does not mean that the universality of cyberspace is "neutral" or without consequence, since its major manifestation, the general interconnection process, is already having and will continue to have immense repercussions in economic, political and cultural life. This fact effectively transforms the conditions of life in society. However, it is an indeterminate Universal, with a tendency to remain indeterminate, since each new node on the constantly expanding Network of networks can become a producer or transmitter of new, unpredictable information, and reorganize part of global connectivity for its own purposes.

Cyberspace is setting itself up as the system of systems, but for that very reason, it is also the system of chaos. Although it is the ultimate incarnation of technical transparency, because of its irrepressible teeming activity, it is open to every opacity of meaning. It traces and retraces the shape of a mobile, expanding labyrinth, without any possible plan, a universal labyrinth unimaginable even to Dedalus himself. This universality devoid of central signification, this system of disorder, this labyrinthine transparency Levy calls the Universal without totality, is the paradoxical essence of cyberculture. It can only be fully understood in the perspective of previous changes in the pragmatics of communication.

In oral societies discursive messages were always received in the same context in which they were emitted. Then writing came on the scene, detaching texts from the living context in which they were produced. You can read a message written five centuries ago, or five thousand miles away, and this can often pose serious problems of reception and interpretation. To overcome these difficulties, certain types of message were then specially designed to preserve the same meaning whatever the context (place or time) of reception: they are the "universal" messages (science, book-based religions, human rights, etc.). This universality is built on a certain "closedness" or fixity of meaning. The Universal based on static writing is therefore of a "totalizing" nature. Levy argues that cyberculture revives the co-presence of these messages with their contexts that existed in the days of oral societies, but on another scale, on a completely different orbit. The new universality is no longer the result of any self-sufficiency of the text, any fixity or independence of meaning, since immersion in the networks has made this less necessary. It is growing and spreading through the interconnection of messages with other messages, through their permanent connection to emerging virtual communities, which infuse them with varied and constantly changing meaning.

Monday, October 04, 2004

The Alphabet Versus the Goddess: The Conflict Between Word and Image (Elle)

Major Ideas: Shlain's thesis is that “Writing of any kind, but especially in its alphabetic form, diminishes feminine values and with them, women's power in culture”. Shlain goes on to suggest that characteristics of a feminine outlook would include holistic, simultaneous, synthetic and concrete views of the world while masculine characteristics would include linear, sequential, reductionist and abstract. He does, of course, recognize that both men and women have both sets of these characteristics, but that feminine characteristics are more prevalent in women, etc. Shlain goes on to suggest that while literacy created major changes and benefits in society, it also had negative effects. He reviews the Hunter/Gatherer societies looking at the value men and women were given for their roles (pretty equal) and moves into a discussion of right brain/left brain to give the reader understanding of the differences and how the brain works together. From here, Shlain explains the correlation between Males & Death, and Female & Life, and how Greek mythology held women in high esteem. Comparing the Greek mythology, mythology in Mesopotamia and among other primitive civilizations, he concludes that with the creation of a monotheistic faith and Western civilization, Goddesses and the role of women faced certain demise. Shlian reviews this demise and relates how the alphabet and the role of literacy promoted masculine ideals and demoted any suggestion of power, sexuality and women. In addition, the idea that the value of the image has decreased with the growing value of the word is fascinating.

Application Value: As I am only halfway through the book, I am not necessarily sure that I am able to apply the ideas yet however the discussion of women and their role of equal and demotion throughout history-I am not yet convinced that the demotion directly correlates with literacy-is fascinating. I am interested in women, gender roles and society and so this fits in well with my interests. Also because the text comments a great deal on history, philosophy and religion I am able to more clearly understand the roles of women during these times and how gender roles have changed throughout history. I've been discussing ideas from the book quite a bit so I think that must have some application value- it is definitely promoting me to think about my beliefs, ideas and understanding. As well, the correlation between image and word is fascinating and may be useful later in my studies. Unfortunately I am not yet sure of a direct application of my reading but clearly it will be useful in my future studies.

2nd Half:

Shlain continues to make his case that the alphabet has, in fact, been a detriment to women. Looking at Israelite culture, politics, Greek gods and goddesses, and the evolution of Indian culture moving from Mohenjo-Daro to the ritual of Sati (a widow being expected to take her place on her husbands' funeral pyre with his corpse). Shlain also addresses time periods, religions and ideas such as Chinese history, Jesus, Buddhism, slavery, Christianity and philosophy (particularly existentialism) in regards to the role that introducing the written word and the subsequent results for women, which were often degrading and demoralizing.

The book concludes that we are moving back into a time of compromise between the right and left brains. Shlain suggests that with the advent of computer (focused on images), television and the great use of images within current culture, the divisions between men and women are closing and that we will, again, see the benefits of a goddess. He does not, of course, mean this literally (that people will start worshiping goddesses again). What he is saying is that we are moving back towards right brained thinking which will have profound changes in personality, including a focus on compassion, with holistic, simultaneous, synthetic and concrete worldviews making a return in the global society.

Shlain states (p.431), “I have tended to characterize the right-hemispheric attributes as purely positive. But it is no less true that relying on them without the ordering balance which is the forte of the left hemisphere leads to a different kind of disarray and can result in mindless anarchy and sensuous excess. Emphasis on one hemispheric mode at the expense of the other is noxious. The human community should strive for a state of complementarity and harmony.”

Overall, I think this book is excellent because it covers such a vast amount of information about historical periods, including discussions of literature, image, culture, and philosophy. The thesis that Shlain presents, that the alphabet and written word have hurt women, is not proven, but I felt his argument is strong. Everything that benefits us also has consequences, and I am not sure if this has been considered before. I even found, in the conclusion, a section that relates to my own research. Shlain suggests that computers are furthering the image (over the written word) which promotes (in his opinion) women and the ideals of the right-brain. This is interesting in light of my interests which focus on college women and their success and persistence in computer science programs which is typically quite low. If the computer is promulgating the image, right-brained ideals and equality between the two hemispheres of the brains, why aren't women drawn to computers naturally?

In any case, overall I thought the book was really interesting. As I mentioned in class, I ordered a bunch of books that sounded interesting but had no central theme, but even in this book I was able to find information that is applicable to my thesis, so I see this as a good choice. I also think this book was beneficial because I have a hard time choosing one area to be interested in and this book covered so much information that I feel I've learned quite a bit from it. I've been discussing different things I read in some of the classes I teach, with coworkers, and have been boring anyone else who will listen with different ideas that came from the book.