Monday, April 14, 2014

Love Your Monsters: A Worser Apocalypse (A Discussion of Spike Jonze's Her)

My English in the World talk at Saint Louis University addressing the intersections of technology, science fiction, and monsters.

A key question in science fiction specifically and, I think, in our culture at large, concerns the human relationship with the nonhuman. We are concerned about the shapes of these relationships as well as the possibilities of these relationships as such. Buried within these concerns is a more general anxiety about the very boundaries between the human and the nonhuman. Such concerns manifest an ongoing anxiety about the place of the human in the world. Monsters of all shapes and sizes are thus symbols and stand ins for this general anxiety. The human/not-quite-human intersection that forever threatens the very limits of what makes a human a human.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

FALL 2014: Public Rhetoric: Write the World

We build our world around the things we love—food, films, books, beer, motors, music—and the people with whom we share them. And we build these worlds by sharing the things we love through all means of communication: we take pictures of our food, write reviews of books online, and endlessly debate our favorite songs in dorm rooms and at bars. And in this course, that is exactly what you will do: write about the stuff you love. But there is catch, of course. You must write about the things you love in ways that will help others to love them as well—no mere diary entries or talk among aficionados, you must produce public texts for unfamiliar audiences who might not yet share your love of cheese, craft beer, Carmen Sandiego, or Death Cab for Cutie. To engage such audiences, you’ll need to write persuasively and in media that grab that audience’s attention. Some students might produce podcasts, some might maintain a blog, and still others might film a series of video shorts. The goal of this course is for you to write in public so that your loves might become someone else’s loves—so that your world can be shared with others. Students in the course will produce a series of texts (loosely defined) devoted to a thing they love. The texts will be composed for a particular public and will be released on a regular basis (think in terms of a podcast episodes, magazine issues, or a television series). Students have complete creative control over their productions in terms of medium, style, and content. The only requirement is that these texts be public and for an audience that needs to be persuaded.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Re-Post: Curling TIme

In honor of the start of curling at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi Russia, I dug into the archives for this gem from four years ago:

To explain why, over the last couple of Games, curling seems to attract some attention I would argue that it is because it is very much unlike the other Olympic sports, which are, we must admit, largely like each other. A majority of the sports from skiing to bobsled to speed skating are go-fast-and-be-timed-on-a-sheet-of-the-cold-stuff sports. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy the Super G as much as the next casual viewer, but after awhile even I get bored watching the clock. This is not say that doing the sport is boring or that skiing isn't in many many important ways not the same as bobsled (or that I am always "bored" watching them). Again, I am talking about spectators.

Curling, in large part (there is a clock even here), takes place out of time, or, better said, in a different sort of time. There is no rush. A lot of it is, to be honest, four men or women standing around staring at and talking about a rock. And this is precisely what makes it interesting. Some have explained that fans like curling because it looks like something we could do. While there is merit to this argument, it seems far more likely that we like a lot of Olympic sports, particularly the go-fast-and-be-timed-on-a-sheet-of-the-cold-stuff sports, because they look precisely like things we would never ever do unless we were dared or otherwise tricked. The Winter Olympics, which have been very popular this time around, have a much higher percentage of utterly "insane" sports relative the Summer Games. So I don't see curling as the Everyman sport because we like the rest that surely are not for us.

Curling is attractive because it offers a rhythm different from the rest of the Games. We get to see the athletes' think about what they are doing because their thinking happens out loud and in public. For the opposite reason, however, I like things like speeding skating and skeleton because you watch the athletes' think through their bodies. For the casual viewer, as well, curling does not require constant engagement. I can miss a rock or an end (I may miss something cool, but I am not out of it completely). This level of commitment makes curling the Olympic sport designed for the long haul. I feel engaged in the games, interested in the spirit of competition, and the engagement, because of comprehensive television coverage, is nearly constant. It is the sport I know and love between and behind the sports that excite me through terror and time. In this way, the go-fast-and-be-timed-on-a-sheet-of-the-cold-stuff sports are not boring (or do not become boring) precisely because I have curling to watch in between them.

Curling, the sport that should be the "boring" one, serves the important function of keeping all the other sports from becoming so. Curling is evidence that "excitement," like "boredom," is relative, and that all kinds of things have value if only we find a way to experience them as valuable.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Kids These Days

I'm starting a little side project today, and I'd love for you all to contribute. The Tumblr site will collect content that challenges both nostalgia for a past the never was and anxiety about a present that isn’t. Please submit pictures/quotes/videos that capture the ways life is and has always been mediated.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Critique Grinder

It recently struck me how critique often functions like an intellectual sausage grinder. It takes up a mass of heterogenous materials, forces, and relations, squeezes them through one nozzle, and creates homogenous, discrete, and easily predicable packets. Now, I am a big fan of machines to think with, but a little adventure every now and then is necessary.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

On Having Been Had

I recently contributed a "Big Ideas" video over at Itineration. Here it is if you want to give it a watch. Skip it if you like.

In brief, I attempted to articulate what is sometimes called the post-critical moment. For me, the way into this moment (or movement) is the work Bruno Latour, in particular his widely read and debated "Why Has Critique Run Out of Steam." In short, post-criticism, if we can or should call it that, is interested in modes of intellectual engagement other than a kind of ideological unmasking, where every act or action or thing is simply the manifestation of some deeper, realer underlying cause (e.g., ideology, neoliberalism). Here is Latour on the danger of this critical project to which post-criticism responds:

In which case the danger would no longer be coming from an excessive confidence in ideological arguments posturing as matters of fact—as we have learned to combat so efficiently in the past—but from an excessive distrust of good matters of fact disguised as bad ideological biases! (227)
Now, there is lots to unpack there, but hopefully it suffices for now.

At one point in the above video, during a litany of synonyms for the critical project (or the project of critical thinking), I mentioned the time I once heard a colleague describe critical thinking as "how not to be a sucker." This, for me, has never sat easy: it has always been the kind of attitude that makes critical thinking troubling. It is not that I am interesting in seeing people mislead or duped; it's that as someone in rhetoric I am much more invested in the operation, the work, of assent. And so I am necessarily interested in engagement, exposure, and vulnerability. Trying not to be a sucker is a terrible way to live.

Okay, back to why I am here. I have been slowly making my way through Latour's most recent work, An Inquiry into Modes of Existence (AIME for short). It is a tome that moves quickly and slowly in several directions at once. He has so far written quite a bit on BEING-AS-OTHER.

To obtain being, otherness is required. Sameness is purchased, as it were, at the price of ALTERITY. (110)
He later asks if there is
A single moment when we don't benefit from the formidable energy of what seems to transit in us? (192)
While the itinerary of this transit moves through "the flux of fears and terrors" (192),
it goes toward what allows it to be, to come, and to reproduce. (193)
This is a state, for Latour,
designated by a happy conjunction of the verbs "to be" and "to have": "We've been 'had'"—that's it: "We've been possessed; carried away; taken over; inhabited." (193)
To be is also to be had. And this, of course, is its own happy conjunction for me as the idiom "to be had" is rather synonymous with the designation of "sucker": one who is easily had.

Again, I am not opposed to the skepticism, doing your homework, or any other work associated with avoiding the primrose path. No one wants to be taken for a ride. Except, of course, that our lives are lived with, through, and because of others; we are because others have us. Making a chief intellectual virtue out of avoiding being a sucker too quickly forecloses on the value of seeking out different, unique ways of being had. There are worse things to be than a sucker; not being at all is one of them.