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Seeing as how one of the authors of the books I had commented on here about just left me a comment, I decided that it was high time that my previous post no longer sat at the top. In any case, I’m far too busy to write much at the moment, but I do want to comment on something that has been happening this summer that I don’t see enough of in academia.

I helped a few folks write Master’s Theses this summer and one thing that struck me about the whole thing was just how much their experience was like mine. They were frustrated with the form, cryptic comments left by committee members leading to rewrite after rewrite, and they were even more frustrated by other students, “Oh this is easy! Don’t worry about it!”

At the same time, I’ve been studying for QE’s, and honestly am pretty freaked out about it. Is 85/140 books read cover to cover really enough? Can I skim the rest? What sorts of questions can I really expect? Do I have to memorize the 5 canons? And what do I do about all the words I’ve only READ but never HEARD when I have to say them out loud and consequently sound like an idiot? Or hell, maybe I’m just going to freeze up and not be able to answer at all. Is it okay to go “off list” to answer? What about those books (2) that I’ve run into that I think would really help but aren’t on my list? Should I read them anyway?

Thing is, there’s not much anyone (off my committee anyway) can say or do to answer those questions, and my chair hasn’t answered my e-mail in about a month. It’s summer, I don’t expect much really.

What I really need, is somebody like who I’ve been to those Master’s candidates. I sat down with them, pulled out Creswell, and said, “Yeah, me too. Parts of writing my thesis really sucked. But the form isn’t all that hard  if you have a good example,” I hold up Creswell–thanks Gwen,  “And if you do it this way you’ll be okay. I promise. Don’t quit. Here’s exactly what you need to do.”

And coming from another grad student they listened. Heck, I think I’d listen to another grad student too. Having faculty members tell me it’s “not a hard test” when they already can quote half the books on my list blindfolded and drunk (well, maybe they’re not that good) doesn’t do anything to quell the fear that maybe I shouldn’t even be trying this to begin with.

There are plenty of signs that I’m doing okay–acceptance to the C’s, an excellent outside reader saying my project is good, and so on–and I’m sure that just about everybody feels like this just about now, but I wish academia benefited the “me too” a little more highly than it does.

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Will somebody remind me to update this soon so that this doesn’t sit here for the next couple months as my first post? Thanks.

So anyway, I’m in a class and we’re reading Zizek and thus, there is talk of fisting (Plague of Fantasies, if you must know). See Exhibit A:

“What precise form did sexual activity assume in Eden? In this practice of homosexual fist-fucking, the man (usually associated with active penetration) must open himself up passively; he is penetrated in the regiion in which ‘closure’, resistance to penetration, is the natural reaction (one knows that the difciculty of fist-fucking is more psycbnhological than physical: the difficulty lies in relaxing the anal muscles enough to allow the partner’s fist to penetrate–the position of the fisted one in fist-fucking is perhaps the most intense experience of passive opening available to human experience); on top of this opening oneself up to the other, whose organ literally enters my body and explores it from within ; the other crucial feature is that this organ, precisely, is not the phallus (as in ‘normal’ anal intercourse) but the fist (hand), the organ par excellence not of spontaneous pleasure but of instrumental activity, of work and exploration” (16).

Now, there are many interesting places we could go here. Obviously, we could discuss Leroi-Gourhan (gesture, the hand, how important freeing the hand is to the development of speech) and how that might make “fist-fucking” so much more meaningful, or heck, we could even talk about Hannah Arendt–but I like her too much to drag her right into the middle of A Hand in the Bush.

And so, because I’m taking a break from writing a freaking dissertation chapter that I shouldn’t HAVE to write until next fall (that’s due Wednesday), and because I nearly just got killed on John R., I’m going to go ahead and tell my favorite fisting tale and tie it into Zizek somehow–I promise.

So, it was late at night in the middle of October. I was camping out with some SCAdians, because I wanted to score some website design money. I was already making one website for a jewelry seller, and was macking up on several other clothing and garb makers in hopes of getting some more moolah before the weekend was over. The moon was full, the fire was raging because guys kept on throwing Everclear on it, and the person whose website I was making decided to tell us her favorite story.

Several years before, at that same camp, at the same event, a couple had gotten busy in their tent. Unlike Zizek, they were heterosexual (mostly) and decided to get down and busy with the fisting. Other people were around in their consecutive tents, and just like that night, many were still awake around the fire.

And then it happened–she orgasmed, and she broke his wrist.

Now this is the point at which that I think that the story must be false, fake, an urban legend. Why? Well, females have been known to orgasm while giving birth, and I never heard of a baby getting squished to death as a result. I can only imagine that something strong enough to break a man’s wrist (unless he was really a nancy boy) would have somehow managed to also break a baby–just saying.

Regardless, the story goes that the couple got stuck that way, with him in too much pain to withdraw, and her too freaked out to “let go.” (Needless to say my friends tell really classy stories late at night.)

 Now, if homosexual “fist-fucking” is Edenic–a perfect letting go–what does it say about our culture as a whole that heterosexual “fist-fucking” is seen as something that is its exact opposite? Is this possibly because of this same Eden-tale, that the woman ruined perfect fist-fucking for us all (by daring to have an orgasm?) How much do our sexual urban myths really say about us?

In any case, if I have time post-diss-chapter-writing, I promise to come back and write about that new media bit at the end–really.

An Ode To Galloway

In Protocol, Alexander R. Galloway describes a system of power online (based around Foucault’s biopower) that is based in a more or less solid understanding of the technology itself. That is, unlike a lot of technological theorists, Galloway has a pretty good idea of how computers and the internet work and starts from there–and thus I say Hallelujah.Why does that excite me? Well, to be honest, I’m a bit miffed when I read people theorizing the Internet or computers that really don’t know how they work. Especially when said people are then used in pedagogy to suggest why we should use certain technologies in our classrooms (no, I’m not going to name names here!). I don’t think you need to know how to build a computer to teach with them (though it doesn’t hurt when they crash and burn in the middle of your course, of course) but I think a certain working knowledge should be required to make statements of “This is how it is.”

Thus, Galloway’s abillity to tie together “this is how it is” with “this is why that is” is a breath of fresh air. No more general statements about how this seems to be the case, tons of statements of “this is how the internet is actually ran, and it does make a difference.”

 Furthermore, a study of the protocols of how the internet is held together (formed, designed, redesigned, and controlled) admits that there is a system of control on networks. Too many theories suggest that there is no such thing, that hooking a bunch of computers together will magically form a network where everybody has the same power. That’s simply not true.

Galloway says that resistance to control has to change from discipline to biopower to protocol. Hence, hackers are different from the people who have previously resisted power. He cites some hackers that claim that they don’t really work in groups, that they are nomadic, that most of the truly famous ones have worked alone. They tend to be anti-corporate, and so on.

Maybe it’s only in the past couple of years, but I’m not so sure that hacking is still exactly what Galloway and even others describe. There was a time when there was some valor to hacking into somebody else’s system, these days it’s hard to say if there’s an valor to it at all. Why? Well, for one thing, the proliferation of online “tools” for hacking have made it pretty simple to launch broad scale campaigns without truly having to have the ability to write these tools oneself. And that’s not to say that it isn’t still considered cool or funny to be anti-corporate, but these tools are also often turned on private individuals as well.

While there might be a certain amount of valor (and yes, lulz) in attacking Walmart’s website or the church of scientology, is there any valor in other attacks? Is there anything redeemable (except technological prowess) in attacking an epileptic website?

Yes, the latest medium scale hacking attack was reported by Wired. Over Easter weekend, an epileptic support message board was attacked by a group using tactics similar to Anonymous. They posted javascripted messages that would flash and cause seizures in members of the group that viewed them. Clearly, this isn’t cool (yeah that’s a pretty big understatement).

While it would definitely represent a breakdown of protocol and control, Anonymous themselves are saying the attack wasn’t them (and they do a pretty good job of claiming things they’ve done, despite all the blame it on Ebaum’s stuff). They’re blaming it on the Scientologists, and meanwhile, the message board itself is trying to stop discussion of it and move on.

In any case, it was very refreshing to find a theorist who not only believes that control exists online, but that it is very rigid and created in such a way that decisions were made about the way things were going to be (rather than them just somehow magically coming into being). I believe that one of the ways technology studies is bound to develop in the future is going to be more theory like this–based in reality, contextualized, and real.

After all, what academic uses the word snarky in an academic publication? (I may get to quote such words in my diss, but in a published academic text, as regards other academics?) Yeah, this dude is totally and completely my hero.

*Anyway.*

Quotes + responses (because I’m feeling rushed and lazy, I may finally get a cell phone that doesn’t short out when people call me today, yay!):

“…the mode of disciplinary power is much more ‘intense” precisely because of its ubiquity–which isn’t necessarily to say that that discipline hurts more or that each individual feels its oppressive presence much more sharply. Quite the opposite: Power’s increasing inetnsity suggests a kind of abstraction from the wounded boyd, from the stultifying and oppressive presence of physical compulsion. One might say that as power becomes more virtual, it also becomes more intense….” (35).

Biopower vs. discipline is a very interesting topic for me, one that should send me scurrying back to Foucault, because it gives me some theory with which to think about internet power structures with. For example, it might be easy to assume that the folks behind the Chanology project would primarily be employing biopower to achieve their goals (silence cyberfeminists, drown the church of scientology) I’m not so sure. After all, they asked a few feminists to appear naked from the waist up with signs saying how sorry they were on the main page of their site “or else”–that sounds an awful lot like discipline to me. However, the way they wield power (despite their panopticonic pretense of being “everywhere”) seems to be a lot more biopower-optical. (Yes, now I’m officially making up words.)

“And so the dominant modes of power shift, extend, and abstract their targets and tactics: from force oming to bear on the subject primarily through a series of discontinuous (but linked) institutional training exercises, (birth, school, work, death) to force coming to bear primarily on that subject more ubiquituously through her very lifestyle; from policing the act to policing the norm; from discipline to biopower” (49).

So, Anonymous functions somewhere between these two realms. They are lifestyle police, attacking those that use the Internet for serious purposes, attacking lifestyle choices like feminism, and enforcing a “norm” online. However, their attacks themselves sometimes speak more of discipline. A biopower style attack might include hacking and DDoS. But by following this up with public humiliation and in person surveillance and harassment? That doesn’t seem very much like wielding biopower to me.

This might be one way to break down the affects of such groups–if we can recognize that their enforcement of “status quo” power structures is stretched between two different systems of power, then perhaps that split can be used to break those systems apart.

On the other hand, Nealon later points out (on page 68) that “societies of control extend and intensify the tactics of discipline and biopower”… in other words, it is not at all unusual for these two to work in accordance with one another. However, he still believes that discipline has been stretched to its limit.

Despite this, I wonder if this combination of using discipline in addition to biopower (in the way that Anonymous and other similar groups of hackers function) adds something back to discipline that was previously absent. Any thoughts?

When I wrote last I got into a little Stiegler by accident, because I was reading it at the time…. hrm, maybe I should have written more then. Regardless, before getting into some specific responses I have some general thoughts about Technics and Time.

A student came into the Writing Center last week ranting and raving (consequently at a couple of my students) about how her teacher, a good friend of mine, was “obsessed” with technology and thought that robots were going to take over the world. I doubt that, a lot, in fact I’m pretty sure the teacher/friend was probably trying to teach her students about the idea of exteriorilization–that stuff that Stiegler and Leroi-Gourhan are pretty obsessive about. We store bits of ourselves and our memories outside ourselves in the exterior milieu–we publish, we make stuff. It lives longer than us. Furthermore, it is *more* than each of us.

Even if we, as a species, begin to exteriorilize (darn I can’t spell that word) and remember less, I don’t think that–as the student was ranting away about–that we become less human. It might be a philosophical sticky point, but we define what it is to be human. In fact, unlike all other animals, our ability to define what is human for ourself is one thing that sets us apart.

Our development of tools since the stop of “formal evolution” of our bodies, then, is the one thing that I think may make us human. Huh (qua? hah, sorry, I was getting sick of that word)? At the point we began to make tools, we enabled the eventual equality of sexes/races/etc. Have we gotten there? Well, no. But if we can externalize all of the things that we would have to rely upon certain parts of our naturally faulty anatomy for, if we can create prosthesises, we can eventually hope for some sort of human equality as well.

Furthermore, as long as we exist, we continue to create for ourselves what it means to be human. Therefore, we will probably never say to ourselves, “Hey there selves, we’re no longer human. We should probably call ourselves ‘homo somethingerotherelse’ now.” Nope, that one is never going to happen. Instead, unlike all the other animals, we are given the choice to give ourselves a name (and do) and are likely to hold onto it.

Therefore, unlike the student that thought her teacher was crazy because “robots are never going to take over the world” I’d like to take a slightly sleep deprived and family-encrazed moment to suggest that instead humans will continue to take over the world.)

And now for some quotes:

____________

“New technical systems are born with the appearance of the limits of the preceding systems, owing to which progress is essentially discontinuous” (33).
I once heard, though I cannot remember where, an argument against this point that stated that when new technological systems are discovered there is often a renaissance eventually (ala steampunk) of older technology, a romanticizing of it, if you will, that proves that people always had the same degree of technological sensibility and knowledge that they do today. I believe the example given was that old machine (see here)  that seems to many to be an ancient computer. In response to this counterargument I believe one could back up Stiegler here by suggesting that it is only within the new technological system that we can recognize the significance of some objects of the old.

“Technical discovery cannot be typified by the mere development and implementation of a scientific discovery. Such an ‘implementation,’ when it occurs, is itself autonomously inventive, following a logic that is not the logic of science” (34).
Every time I read the words “discovery” or “invention” I can’t help but be dragged back into the old discovery vs. invention in the classroom arguments that were repeated ad nauseum the first term I was a student here.
So I ask my audience, which is more important for students to learn–invention or discovery? Which would Stiegler claim is more important?

Sometimes it seemed as though composition is afraid of discovery…. at least, in the discussions I’ve participated in it seems that way. Do we want invention? Or are we ready to settle in and wait for discovery? Hrm….

Blackboard selling security camera systems kinda freaks me out. Maybe it’s just because I *already* work at one school where I can’t go anywhere but a bathroom stall to pick my wedgie in private.

http://chronicle.com/wiredcampus/article/2804/blackboard-gets-into-video-surveillance

Don’t know what I’m talking about in my title? Go here: Leroy Jenkins. And for that, I suspect I am going to academic hell.

Quotes taken from Gesture and Speech:

“One essential point that we can establish, however, is that as soon as there are prehistoric tools, there is a possibility of a prehistoric language, for tools and language are neurologically linked and cannot be dissociated within the social structure of humankind….in the case of the earliest anthropoids, to separate the level of language from that of toolmaking: Throughout history up to the present time, technical progress has gone hand in hand with progress in the development of technical language symbols. It is possible, in the abstract, to conceive of a purely gestural technical education; in practice, even completely silent instruction will actuate a reflective symbolism in both teacher and pupil ” (114).

In any conversation I’ve participated in about “What is technology” (mainly in graduate seminars) people always start with computers and work their way back to pencils, hammers, and so on. I can only think of one conversation (in a course of Anne Wysocki’s) where that connection was made and, even then, probably only after prompting from her. Language as a technology (or techne, if you prefer) shouldn’t be that uncommon of an idea to us, however. After all, I think we do see some languages as a sort of technology, especially those like American Sign Language that aren’t as “natural” to most people as speech because we aren’t as exposed to them. A lot of Western domination is built on this idea as well, that our language is “natural” while others are not (and either this text or the next actually outright states something about Western things being more natural, technical, and precise than Eastern, though I can’t find the citation right now). Clearly, I don’t agree with that idea–languages, like tools, are context specific. Despite the fact that languages grew from the same need, cultural and geographical differences will naturally lead to differences in systems of speaking and writing. None is naturally more correct than any other.

The other idea I feel that is drawn from this passage is this: if tools and language grow together, where does our language go next? Some people would undoubtedly think that computer “languages” would be one natural outgrowth, but I don’t think they are the direct answer to this question. Perhaps some sort of techno-logic will find its way into our rhetoric and speech (such as for or while loops becoming a sort of syllogism) but I don’t think we’re going to start talking in code more than we already do in text messages and IMs. After all, technological advancement will make those acronyms eventually defunct. Nobody wants to type in acronyms when you could do so in full words. (And just think, today’s teenager who texts in class will be the next generations grandma who is “uncool” for still using “lol” and “u” all the time, the English teachers will have their revenge after all!)

“The development of the urbanized organism (a civilized organism in the etymological sense) leads ineveitably to all the negative features of present-day society. Indeed the artificial organism cannot function effectively without accentuated social segregation, its particular form of the cellular specialization common to all animate beings: the landlord, the peasant, the prisoner, are social categories whose effectiveness is directly proportional to the distance society sets between their functions. In agricultural societies, social justice and human triumph over nature are two sides of the same coin” (178).

To be honest, I don’t have much to say in response to this, other than the fact that I flagged it and found it interesting. Is it possible to imagine an un-segregated city? Some science fiction authors seem to believe that technology can provide us with one, don’t they? They seem to be the only ones, however, that believe true social equality would be possible, even if machines were to take over all of the menial labor of society. After all, if capitalism were to continue beyond that point (and whose to say it would?) people would still be free to gamble or spend away their earnings, even if they didn’t work a low-paying job.

“Thus the reason why art is so closely connected with religion is that graphic expression restores to language the dimension of the inexpressible–the possibility of multiplying the dimensions of a fact in instantly accessible visual symbols. the basic link between art and religion is emotional, yet not in a vague sense, It has to do with mastering a mode of expression that restores humans to their true place in a cosmos whose center they occupy without trying to pierce it by an intellectual process which letters have strung out in a needle-sharp, but also needle-thin, line” (200).

And so may the best new media art–just minus the religion. In the place of God comes the worship of techne.

“To the speaker, tien-ch’i-teng means “flashlight” and nothing else. But to the attentive reader, the juxtaposition of the three characters for “lightning,” “steam,” and “lamp” opens a whole world of symbols that form a halo round the banal image of the flashlight: lightning issuing forth from a rain cloud, for the first; team rising over a pan of rice, for the second; and fire and a receptacle, or fire and the action of rising, for the third. Parasitic images, no doubt, and likely to cause the reader’s thoughts to stray in a manner irrelevant to the real object of notation, worthless images, indeed, in the context of a modern object–yet even an example as commonplace as this gives us an inkling of a mode of thought based on diffuse multidimensional configurations rather than on a system that has gradually imprisoned language within linear phoneticism” (205).

Of course, juxtaposition of images, text, and even ideas within text is somewhat of a hot topic right now, isn’t it? Ulmer suggests such juxtapositions in MyStories and the assignments that follow it in his texts for many of the reasons that Leroi-Gourhan notes here. After all, juxtapositions of this type open up our language into multidimentionsalisms that aren’t normally available to us.

“Writing thus tends toward the constriction of images, toward a stricter linearization of symbols. For classical as well as modern thinking, the alphabet is more than just a means of committing to memory the progressive acquisitions of the human mind; it is a tool whereby a mental symbol can be noted in both word and gesture by a single process” (212).

Again, our language and writing system changes the way we think and record our thoughts. New technology (such as, but not particularly, new media) may give us a way to break out of that cycle. “Audiovisual language tends to concentrate image making entirely in the minds of a minority of specialists who purvey a completely figurative substance to the individual. Image makers–painters, poets, or technical narrators–have always, as far back as in the Paleolithic, been a social exceptions, but their work always remained incomplete because it called for the participation of the iamge users, whatever their cultural levels” (214).  Leroi-Gourhan goes on to note that photography is causing a change in this, a separation of sorts, but it’s difficult to say how he would feel about a nice hacked version of Photoshop being available to so many teenagers who make images online.

I have more pages marked, of course, but I think I’m off to read some Steigler. This needed to be noted before my Steigler-reading got into more of it though.