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March 30, 2006

The Empire Strikes Back - French version

As both Ron and Casey were presenting today, their comments on the immigration issues facing Great Britain as its former colonial 'subjects' started arriving on British soil created parallels to the immigration issues that France has encountered over the past forty or so years. For many years after World War I, France had virtually no immigration policy or quotas. The loss of millions of men on the battlefields meant that there weren't enough left to 'go around', and the birth rate plummeted. So France opened its borders. After the Algerian conflict in the early 60s, many Algerians fled to France. They were already citizens, since Algeria was considered a départment (province) of France, rather than a colony. But now France was faced with new residents who were 'officially' French, but not culturally so. Long story short, though many of the immigrants either came to France already as citizens or became citizens, they were (and in many cases still are) marginalized in French society. We have all seen the pictures in recent months of the banlieues, the suburbs and the housing projects where many, many immigrant families live. The violence, both last fall and in recent weeks, is a frightening reminder about how stratified French society really is.

March 23, 2006

More thoughts on "Watching Babylon"

Just a few thoughts I jotted down. Could be something, or maybe nothing.

Thoughts on Mirzeoff’s argument

The SUV and Superstore encourages the act of moving along—in the car, we are constantly moving, and in the Superstore, we are encouraged to get in, get the lowest prices and get out, assembling the products bought there at home. We are moving along—constantly circulating. This is an important movement for Mirzeoff. Once inside the home, we are encouraged to look but keep moving because we no longer feel safe in our homes owing to the permeability of the screen. We know something is going on over there, but we don’t know what it is for we are inclined to constantly “keep moving?

Perhaps the initial movement associated with vernacular watching can be found in the space of the SUV and Superstore. What’s important for Mirzeoff is the next step regarding how we no longer feel safe within our own homes. Rather than focus on what we see before the screen regarding the war, we turn away, because the view makes us anxious about how insecure we really are.

March 10, 2006

Michael Warner, "

Michael Warner
"The Cultural Mediation of the Print Medium"

“The Cultural Mediation of the Print Medium,? Michael Warner
Michael Warner begins his project with a look at John Adams retrospect on political and legal history of West. For Adams, the history of power is a history of knowledge (1). Writing America’s history becomes a history of letters—this helps man achieve reflection—with its telos one of emanicipation (1). Warner states that these reflections create a history of self-reflection apart from religious hermeneutics and divine truth. It is a history about the accumulation of private libraries fostering self-reflection that eventually led to emancipation. More than a history of religious oppression, Adams’ history becomes one of a national history of emancipation. Warner claims, “Between Puritans’ and Adams’ history of Puritanism, the cultural meaning of letters has begun to change, as has their relation to power. No longer a technology of privacy underwritten by divine authority, letters have become a technology of publicity whose meaning in the last analysis is civic and emanicipatory? (3).
“war of letters? –transnational/global—supported by capitalization (4) “new forms of print discourse sutured emergent forms of political and social organization? (4).

Warner claims that the cultural constitution of a medium is a set of political conditions of discourse. Conditions include practices and structured labor we call technology. To understand implications of print, we must always consider how it is a product of and producer of culture.
Printers products—capitalization
Printers agents—“participants in creation of West’s self-identification, producing universalizing discourses of the Enlightenment and of the democratic revolutions? (4).

For Adams, “printing’s purposes, uses, and meaning do not themselves undergo change. The press is a powerful instrument for enlightenment precisely because its nature is not contingent? (4). Warner says when viewing the nature of print as static it becomes difficult to explain how this technology creates and sustains democracy while at the same time supporting despotism. The claim is backed by the specific example of how Chinese and Uighur Turks used print for the latter purpose during the enlightenment; therefore, Warner argues that we must “assume that the purposes, uses, and meaning of print do change? (4). They change as a result of the creation of “newspapers, the rise of empiricism, capitalism, the Enlightenment, the novel, the democratic revolutions, the rise of a bureaucratic state? (5).
Other literature assessing the value of print comes to us via print historians who view print as a non-symbolic form of reality. They claim it is mere technology, an unmediated medium. The consequences of this claim include: a guarantee that there will be a single object of study; and “it allows one to trace the effects of print culture by bracketing cultural history itself? (5).
Warner says that “at the very moment historians draw their conclusions about the historical effects of printing, they bracket the political and symbolic constitution of print? (6). This approach ignores the fact that print is politically and symbolically constituted.

Those who study the “history of print? grant this technology an ontological status outside of cultural and social formations (Harold Innis, Walter Ong, McLuhan, Elizabeth Eisenstein). These studies only acknowledge “religion, science, capitalism, republicanism, and the like appear insofar as they are affected by printing, not for the way they have entered into the constitution and meaning of print in the first place? (6). Warner contests the ontological status print on logical grounds by arguing that because various forms of printing exist (ink, printing press, laser printing, zerography, etc.), this prevents us from reducing our understanding of it to a single form (7). Thus, Warner says, the history of printing cannot even define its subject properly without asking about the history of the public and other political conditions of discourse. He is interested in the historical constitution of printing, and this goes far beyond simple questions of the effects of printing that lead one to credit print forms for enlightenment. This is too simple, and it ignores relationships of power in the process.
At one time, printed objects made by hand were no different than type-set objects. Over time, however, documents with impressions made by the hand were no longer considered print objects. Warner uses this history to prove his point about how culture determines the form and status of print. “It is because publication is a political condition of utterance that we meaningfully distinguish between books impressed by types and those impressed by pens, where we do not make the same kind of distinction between those impressed by plates and those sprayed by lasers? (8).
A more serious problematic arises when scholars deem print with an ontological status outside of culture, according to Warner, for when “media and technologies receive this kind of transcendental status, their social investments and rhetorical meaning disappear from the field of analysis, only to return in mystified form, disguised as the previously latent logic of technology? (8).
“The assumption that technology is prior to culture results in a kind of retrodetermination whereby the political history of a technology is converted into the unfolding nature of that technology. Everything that has been ascribed to the agency of printing—form formal characteristics such as abstraction, uniformity, and visualization to broad social changes such as rationalization and democratization—has been retrodetermined in this way. What have historically become the characteristics of printing have been projected backward as its natural, essential logic. Meanwhile, its historical determinations have not been analyzed, for historians have learned to consider the realm of politics and culture only as the secondary field of technology’s presumed effects? (9).

After setting up his theoretical argument, Warner’s project continues with examples of analyses regarding the immanent meanings of writing and print in the culture of republican American and the imperial context of the Enlightenment.

Example of what Ron identified as “recursivity?
“Just as the white community would not have been the same community without its opposition to other groups and its constitution through writing and printing, so also written media would not have entailed the same dispositions of character-would not have had the same identity-had participation in them not entailed membership in that community? (13).

March 5, 2006

Grossberg's "Articulation and Agency" Notes

I. Cultural Studies hold a particular model of agency, of how history is made, but it has oppositional theories:
a. Cultural Studies model of agency
• Articulations made by real people
• People try to make best of situations, are NOT passive
• Continuous struggle to manage relations
• Field of historical relations is never entirely open to any re-articulation
o Humans are subject to constraints
• Practices have histories: “traces w/o an inventory?-“bringing their story into new relations? (115) – don’t carry logic of history w/ them
• History not just waiting for re-articulation – has “tendential forces? (115) (having a movement or direction of own: capitalism, technology)
• People located in overdetermined historical realities in which things are done to them – partly anonymous
• “HISTORY IS PARTLY CONSTRUCTED THROUGH UNEQUAL AND ANTAGONISTIC RESOURCES AND CONTIGENT EFFECTS?
b. Two opposing sides to Cultural Studies model of agency
i. Substitutes structural descriptions for causal explanations: events of a particular time w/ no historical context to events that change over time
1. cultural studies sees history as articulated - continuous and active causal relationships
ii. product of agency/forces transcending the structure of history itself - History made according to human subjectivity; “knowing subject? / objective bystander
1. “humanity? is product of social forces/life – no universal human nature making people the same; depends on circumstance – different social formations/historical periods

II. Paradox: individuals as subjects must serve as both the cause and effect of social structures and of history itself
a. Theory of “interpellation? - Louis Althousser- “HEY YOU!?
• Subject is culturally and linguistically determined
• “Subjectivity is the product of ideology’s power to interpellate – to place – individuals at particular sites within the field of meanings which it constitutes? (117-118)
• Subject now has the experience, the “truth?: “passive occupant of a particular position w/in a linguistic universe? (118)
• Subordination occurs
• Even the most subordinate, while becoming an object, still preserves a sense of subjectivity b/c they still “experience? the world
b. Grossberg: Too much power on language and discourse – interpellation – not enough room for individuals to act to challenge history (ideology and history hold winning hand – deny the possibility of agency)

III. Ways to respond to dilemma of agency being denied
a. Interpellation never entirely successful – no one is ever perfectly positioned.
i. Explanation
• Individual subject is always overdetermined by contradictory interpellations which construct his/her subjectivity
• The result is a fragmented subject which can act against and single instance of its own subjection
• Fragments, in a sense, become autonomous and are not a coherent whole
ii. Problem: Doesn’t explain how individuals can make history/how they can be source of historical agency
b. Solve the problematic relationship between subject and agent
i. Explanation: places agent in another ontological realm – independent and transcendent
ii. Problems:
• Ignore social construction of the sites of agency
• Emphasizes the agency of resistance; ignores that of domination
• Agency is too individualized
c. Interpellation is an incomplete account of subjectivity and identity – identity produced only when subject-positions are articulated to ideologically produced systems of meaning
i. Explanation:
• Subject is located within ideological systems of social difference
• cannot be reduced to subjectivity b/c they are determined by a number of social forces that operate differently in different situations
• ideology constructs a set of “cultural identities? which determine subject positions
ii. Cultural Studies carries (c) a bit further: paradox of subjectivity results from mistaken identification of individuals with both subjects and agents of history – history is “made behind our backs?
1. History complex set of relations
• Subjectivity: the site of experience and of the attribution of responsibility
• Agency: the active forces struggling within and over history
• Agent-hood: actors operating, whether knowingly or unknowingly, on behalf of particular agencies
2. Critics try to identify specific planes on which individuals operate in history
• Must, rather, be separated: disarticulated so they can be re-articulated.
• Without the detour: identification of relations is a reduction of possibilities – all politics is of identity and subjection
3. Need to realize the living – what people do: action. Not what they know or what they are.
4. May be irrelevant that people act from ideologically interpellated and articulated positions
5. How act is articulated historically and politically is an matter of agency and agent-hood

IV. Agency
a. Never merely a matter of individual’s power to act
b. Actual historical affectivity – actual specific forces at work in the context of a struggle – is what matters
c. Agency only can be described in its contextual enactments – never transcendent – exists in historical forces at play
d. History has “tendential forces? – create spaces in which people can experience and act – map out “long-term directions and investments? (123)
e. Forces act through agents – control destiny of society
f. Agent: group coming together at particular moment; need not have shared social identity
i. Relationship between agents and agencies NOT simple nor direct; agents have own agenda – might not be in service of a particular historical force
ii. As “players?, agents ability to play the game depends on their access to apparatuses and institutions of agency – within sites, agents do NOT need to act as subjects

V. “What does it mean to talk about a position of subordination in relations of agent-hood and agency??
a. Some individuals and nominal groups are denied specific sites of agency
b. Subordination constructs relations to “historically effective forces?/ “positions of activity? (125)

VI. “What are the links that connect ideological subjects to agents??
a. “Affective individuality?: subject, not of identities, but of affective states
i. Moves through terrains, power depends on its place in specific maps, location, how it is moving
ii. NOT random or subjective: it carries historical maps; course determined by social cultural and historical knowledge ~ specifics not determined
iii. Individual is both an articulated site and one of ongoing articulation w/ history
iv. Unlike subjects, the discourse is “empowering signposts? (126); not just a system of differences
v. Need to establish “not an identity so much as a place, not a subjectivity so much as an affective individuality? (126)
vi. Most important: who is acting and from where
vii. “nomadic, affective life of the individual which empowers the articulation of the individual into structures of agent-hood and agency, which enables it to move between specific identities and nominal groups? (127)

VII. No necessary correspondences between various elements – no “guarantees which subjectivities or identities form nominal groups which are then able to become historical agents? (127)
a. Affectivity depends upon access to specific apparatuses

March 2, 2006

Thoughts on Paper and Technology

This is my third posting to the blog. Thought I knew what I was doing on the second try, but I had to have Matt May, with Amy's moral support, walk me through the process of doing this the correct way. First I posted to the "welcome" page, then I posted as a comment to Amy's most recent blog. My blog didn't seem to be occupying the appropriate space. So, this is my third, and final attempt. As they say, third luck's the charm, dammit!!

My thoughts about "Paper Machine" is that there seems to be more agency afforded to those who use technology in the circulation of texts via the internet. What I thought was important regarding his discussion of the word processor is how censorship is exercised not only by the person composing the text, but also by the programmer writing the computer program. On page 28 he discusses the fact that the program includes a spell check and dictionary and simply by the fact that some words are recognized as "normal"/standardized, this is a form of censorship. I think Sam's discussion touched on this implicitly, but I felt an explicit reference should be noted. He says, "It's instructive, too: what are the words that are not regarded as normal or acceptable in French usage, and so remain censored, these days by the contemporary dictionary incorporated in the machine, as they would be by some other media power for instance?" This quote seems to suggest that computer technology imposes censorship on language. At the same time, he proposes a possibility for more agency than I think we've encountered up to this point. Indeed, by the end of chapter 3, he's talking about possibility for resisting formal/institutionalized forms of censorship (such as the explicit forms Butler notes can be found in the law, or such as exercised by publishing houses and word processing programs). For him, circulation of signifiers on the internet opens up strong possibilities for re-signification. At least, that's how I read it.

Though we all aspire to see our names linked up with articles and books that we've published, the reality is that we may or may not be published, and/or maybe in venues that may or may not accept the ideas we promote (remember when Ron said QJS would not publish his article on "debating both sides). However, the internet is one space where re-signification is possible. He says, "A new freeing up of the flow can both let through anything at all, and also give air to critical possibilities that used to be limited or inhibited by the old mechanisms of legitimation--which are also, in their own way, word-processing mechanisms."

In chapter 5 I also get the sense that there's more flexibility for re-signification when using newer forms of technology. He says on page 60, "writing with ink is more fluid, and thus 'easier,' than on stone tablets, but less ethereal or liguid, less wavering in its characters, and also less labile, than electronic writing. Which offers, from another points of view, capacities for resistance, reproduction, circulation, multiplication, and thus survival that are ruled out for paper culture." This called to my mind the news I heard recently on Democracy Now about bloggers circulating a memo regarding Dubbyah and Tony Blair's decision to bomb the Al-jazeera television station back at the beginning of the War in Iraq. Perhaps this isn't what Derrida means by resistance, but maybe it is. I'm interested in knowing what others think. Democracy and freedom of expression and deliberation becomes an exercise one can participate in on the internet. It is also an example of people engaged in re-signifying what George Bush represents/signifies regarding spreading democracy around the world.

Additionally, I had the same feeling that Ron did about Butler's theory offering a limited possibility for resistance, at least when gender is concerned. For example, everything I know about queer theory suggests that there's only so much one can do when performing gender in ways that attempt to resignify male and female. Cross dressers will always resist the essence of femininity by wearing lipstick and high heels while at the same time reinforcing those binary oppositions of what it means to be woman or man. Jessica's example certainly suggests there is room for resistance, but the transgendered example is limited because that person remains on the margins. Doesn't really seem that the potential for shaking up gender binaries packs much punch, to be honest.

Derrida brings an excitement to the discussion, especially when one considers the amount of independent media and blogging that goes on these days. I don't keep up with it myself, but my spouse does a fine job of keeping me informed, and it seems there are pockets of resignifying and resistance going on out there every minute of every day.


As for my final thoughts, I wondered what it would feel like to flirt on the blog. I'm going to give it a try. Wink, wink!!!

Intellectuals, Books, and Gitlin

Here is just some thoughts I have been playing with after reading Derrida, hearing Gitlin, and reflecting on our week with publics: starting with this initial question: Can we have public intellectuals without books?

OK, now let me trace this out. Intellectuals have, in general, been part of social movements and have been actors in the public in the public’s function of constituting democracy. Warner articulates that intellectuals in the public are for giving reasons, are for articulating a world that could be and that frames things for movements to strive towards. They also legitimize movements and actions in the public through their writings and even through movement members using theory and philosophy intellectuals provide. Now I do not mean to suggest that intellectuals are face-to-face with other movement participants or always on the front lines so to speak—their writings and books could be the way that the movement uses or has intellectuals involved. It is through the circulation of works of C. Wright Mills and Marcuse (for example) in the public (of students especially) that helped to constitute movements or action in the public. So let us hold that the writings of intellectuals in the public are an important feature of being a public intellectual and the role of intellectuals for movements.

Which brings me back to books or at least the “paper? currency that might be necessarily for “public intellectuals? to really exist. We talked about with Warner that his idea of publics being constituted through the circulation of discourse is rooted in an idea of published/paper texts. Given some of Derrida’s musings, paper does in some ways grant legitimacy in its own right. We have an idea that what is in a book or printed article carries more weight, is more of the “truth? than some musings on a blog or something we found on the internet. We haven’t moved away from this yet. So, given this, the power of a public intellectual is still for an intellectual to write—to have books—that are carried around by the movement/by citizens. Can we really have public intellectuals if we don’t have books? Are intellectuals important if they do not help constitute publics in some way through paper writings?

And back to Gitlin: the one striking thing about his book and his lecture was that being a public intellectual is all about being able to reason, to teach argument and reason. He indicated that it is also in writing and publishing things for general and academic audiences and that public intellectuals should be more “generalists? with theories of society at large and certainly not specialists, but at the same time he indicated that the reality is that not many academics can or will publish in the way to make them true public intellectuals. Legitimacy is constrained by the place which we publish.

In summary: 1) if we move to a fully electronic world, does the technology preclude the ability for there to be public intellectuals at all? And 2) In Gitlin’s world where intellectuals are just based in writing and teaching reason, should we be satisfied that is ONLY what public intellectuals have the power to do (all, essentially on the page or in the walls of the university?).