Philosophy as object

“…actor-networks, unit operations, alien phenomenology, agentic drift, onticology, guerrilla metaphysics, carnal phenomenology, ontography, agential realism, cosmopolitics, panpsychism, insect media, posthumanism, flat ontology, dark vitalism, prosthetics, territorial assemblage, vibrant materialism, dorsality, distributed intelligence, dark ecology, hyperobjects, realist magic, post-continuity, and other paradigms…”

From O-Zone a new journal about Object-Oriented Studies.

The expressive, persuasive power of lists is well known to the practitioners of OOO/SR so it should come as no surprise to see the list of approaches and paradigms applicable to O-Zone presented in such a list. But Philosophy as an object itself? If we buy into OOO/SR then yes, nothing can avoid the steamroller crush of Being An Object, I suppose.

But there’s something weird here…  how does a philosophy/ideology/methodology/etc  maintain object status and still operate like we expect philosophy to? It can’t make any claims to being “meta” and above the realm of cheese and mice and vineyards, and so the OOO “object” should (ideally) behave according to it’s own rules for objects. I guess the practitioners are aware of this, given that they’ve mentioned on a number of occasions that SR/OOO owes a lot to other “things” like the internet. So not so much of a problem after all, I guess, just something to always remember…

Presented without comment #24

Andrew Bolt and the making of an opportunist‘ by Anne Summers at The Monthly.

These incidents illustrate how readily readers of the blog can be revved up without Bolt explicitly directing them. “He was influenced by Howard’s nod and a wink,” says Jonathan Green, editor of the ABC online journal The Drum and a colleague of Bolt’s at the Herald in the late 1980s. “That’s why the blogosphere works so well. You don’t have to say much; you keep your hands clean but it comes out in the comments. You are setting up the discussion.” By claiming not to read the comments, Bolt was able to absolve himself of responsibility for what was said, apologise and remove posts if a complaint was made. But always after the event.

The Book as a Way To Think‘ by Gabriel Sistare at GabrielSistare.com

“The precise thing that makes idea-driven books so valuable to readers — their immersive qualities, the intimate, one-on-one relationship they facilitate between authors and readers — also make them pretty lousy as actual sharers of ideas.”

It is the intimacy to which Garber refers, between an author and reader, that enables sharing the ideas within a text. No feature of an object makes it more or less viral. The resonance of a certain book, article, video, &c, with even one person predisposes it to virality. Human beings make things viral, not the things themselves.

Jeff Jarvis: the game is up‘ by Milo Yiannopoulos at Yiannopoulos.com

…drawing attention to intellectual fatuousness is not the same as “trolling”: this is one debunking Jarvis cannot explain away as someone “disagreeing” with him. And his supercilious dismissals on Twitter do nothing to mitigate the damage done by such a devastating appraisal. Many of us had privately thought of Jeff Jarvis as a bit of a frivolous lightweight. We’ll be less reluctant to say so in his beloved public sphere from now on.

Ada Lovelace Day 2011: Talking ’bout Ms Morrison

So it’s Ada Lovelace day again, and I thought I’d talk briefly about the impact that Ms Morrison, my year 11 & 12 maths teacher had on me.

She was the first (and only) maths teacher to succeed at making me face up to the importance of laying down foundations for higher order mathematical thinking. In my case, it was learning the times tables properly, which I’d never done in all my years of prior schooling. Amazing, I know – I got through about 10 years of school and high school without properly memorising my times tables.

Somehow, from the ages of about seven to seventeen I’d gotten through by relying on my ability to recollect some easy ones, and extrapolating from those I knew (5×5=25!) by doing some quick arithmetic to get the ones I couldn’t ever remember for the life of me. The unappealing practice of classical ‘rote learning’ was something I tried my very hardest to avoid, both in and outside of school, preferring to rely on the rule that the interesting things are more memorable anyway.

It’s an approach that’s held me in reasonable stead, as it comes with an uncanny ability to recall contextual memories. Hey, remember that time we carried a railway sleeper all the way up a 500m escarpment track in 40degree heat because you wanted to build a tree-house in your backyard and I got sticky sap on my transformers t-shirt? Then we could barely fit the huge thing into the tiny Suzuki swift and I had to sit in the front seat with it half crushing me, all the way home! Yeah, good times.

There’s something about the essence of the fact floating unconnected from the reasons why it’s a fact that seems to make it particularly hard for me to remember. Why, after all, do seven bunches of six total forty two? What rhyme or reason is there for it, it just purely is. It’s a product of the base-10 system, but that really doesn’t explain all that much.

So Ms Morrison helped me realise that times tables were worth the trouble of rote learning. But she didn’t just make me do it (no teacher can make any student do anything) she convinced me. How? Through a number of things that add up to her being a god damn amazing high school teacher: she treated her class as adults, she was brilliant and creative in her explanations and demonstrations, and she was a real human being. When she was annoyed with the highly authoritarian, aspirational waffle our principal like to recite at assembly (“Teachers teach! Learners learn!” was a favourite) she’d agree with us when we grumbled about it in class afterwards. When we couldn’t understand how exactly calculus worked, she’d come up with another demonstration of how the semantic language of maths performs the crazy conceptual work of slicing the area under a curve into infinitely small sections and measuring them. And when we didn’t come to class she’d hassle us for missing actual things we had learnt rather than for being simply “missing classes”.

See that’s the thing – when you’re teaching your students important and useful things, you actually get the right to harass them for not coming and learning. That’s the key point that many of the stricter teachers missed: you have to have something worth learning to get the right to be annoyed, angry, upset, &tc. when students skip your classes to go to the shops and get some lunch from The Professors’ Charcoal Chicken. Ms Morrison quite reasonably got that.

And the devotion she showed to her work, while supremely evident each day, didn’t just end at 3:30. She is literally the only teacher that ever gave out her email address to us with the offer of answering questions we didn’t understand so we wouldn’t have to wait a full week to get the answers in class. And ask we did! In her answers she’d scan whole pages of working out to show us where we were going wrong, what we should be doing and explain why, sending them to us via email.

She was savvy too. She didn’t just teach us the interesting or worthwhile parts – she taught us what we needed to know for the exams, and made reasonably prescient predictions as to what, generally, would be in them based on past papers, trends, and what kinds of questions the papers have asked lately. She played the examination game, essentially, and played it on our behalf.

Our diminishing cadre of 3-unit maths students went from being a full class, to about 8 students as the two years went on, and several people dropped out. Ms Morrison never took it personally or viewed it as a failure though – she was quite tactical about it. If changing to 2unit even the month before the exams is going to get you your best results, with scaling taken into account, and if you’re going to use those two months to get marks elsewhere, then go for it.

She encouraged our class’ sense of camaraderie, celebrating birthdays with cakes and other occasional rewards and encouragements, and she stirred our competitive sides to our collective benefit. After occasional topic tests a list of the ‘Top 5’ students would be placed in a prominent position in the room, and I still remember fondly the one time I beat my friend Lachlan at a test – such victory! Such a sense of achievement! Fuck badges and points and all the rest of that shit; the payoff from working your ass off at something and finally beating your friends, beating someone who has in the past always been better than you, is worth more than money.

Ms Morrison of Blaxland High invested in her students. We felt like we let her down when we didn’t find the time (or make the time) to do the exercises and homework she knew we needed to really comprehend a mathematical approach. When we did well in exams, I felt like she did well too. We were, after all, the culmination of two years of her hard mental and emotional work – it took far more than just opening the book and explaining it to ‘teach’ our class, and it was just our luck that we had a teacher as brilliant and dedicates as her to do it.

Addendum: An interesting point of note – 3 of the 7 or 8 students of Ms Morrison’s who went on to finish 3unit maths in 2004 have gone on to PhD level study. Not a bad success rate.

Presented without comment #23

Uncreative Writing‘ by Kenneth Goldsmith at The Chronicle of Higher Education.

The prominent literary critic Marjorie Perloff has recently begun using the term “unoriginal genius” to describe this tendency emerging in literature. Her idea is that, because of changes brought on by technology and the Internet, our notion of the genius—a romantic, isolated figure—is outdated. An updated notion of genius would have to center around one’s mastery of information and its dissemination. Perloff has coined another term, “moving information,” to signify both the act of pushing language around as well as the act of being emotionally moved by that process. She posits that today’s writer resembles more a programmer than a tortured genius, brilliantly conceptualizing, constructing, executing, and maintaining a writing machine.

Perloff’s notion of unoriginal genius should not be seen merely as a theoretical conceit but rather as a realized writing practice, one that dates back to the early part of the 20th century, embodying an ethos in which the construction or conception of a text is as important as what the text says or does. Think, for example, of the collated, note-taking practice of Walter Benjamin’sArcades Project or the mathematically driven constraint-based works by Oulipo, a group of writers and mathematicians.

Avoiding the blogger trap‘ by Marco Arment at Marco dot org.

I’m not just about technology, just as John Gruber’s not just about Apple products and Merlin Mann isn’t just about index cards and Steve Yegge can speak briefly and Jeff Atwood enjoys Rock Band and Paul Graham is a great cook and Ted Dziuba likes stuff and pretty people take shits and maybe, just maybe, there’s an area of Michael Arrington’s life in which he isn’t a dick.

People aren’t so one-sided. Everyone has a life that goes much deeper than the topics on their blogs.

You Are Not Facebook’s Customer‘ by Douglas Rushkoff at CNN (reposted).

Of course, if they stopped and thought about it, they would realize that Facebook is work. We are not Facebook’s customers at all. The boardroom discussions at Facebook are not about how to help little Johnny make more and better friendships online; they are about how Facebook can monetize Johnny’s “social graph” — the accumulated data about how Johnny makes friends, shares links and makes consumer decisions. Facebook’s real customers are the companies who actually pay them for this data, and for access to our eyeballs in the form of advertisements. The hours Facebook users put into their profiles and lists and updates is the labor that Facebook then sells to the market researchers and advertisers it serves.

Deep down, most users sense this, which is why every time Facebook makes a change they are awakened from the net trance for long enough to be reminded of what is really going on. They see that their “news feeds” are going to be prioritized by an algorithm they will never understand. They begin to suspect that Facebook is about to become more useful to the companies who want to keep “important” stories from getting lost in the churn — and less useful for the humans.

Goatse as Industrial Sobotage‘ by the Deterritorial Support Grouppppp.

The ability for this “in-joke” representation to appear within mainstream advertising and commercial image production relies upon two developments within postfordist capitalism: technological development and the proletarianisation of the creative industries. The first point is obvious– the development of cyberspace as a territory of virtual community, and the development of digital imaging hardware/software, has created a means of recording and disseminating chance observations of advertising hoardings, online and offline material and chance observations. It has also created a relatively lawless, anonymous environment where pornographic and extreme material can be circulated without fear of embarrassment.

Within this environment the “in-joke” differs markedly to workplace in-jokes of the past. Today, you might be the only person in your office who gets the joke. But worldwide you’re connecting to thousands of others in a form of exploded solidarity. It’s a dynamic form, a vivid social relationship the marketeers can – for the time being – only dream of invoking with their cosy stock images of friends-coming-together, sharing a joke over a glass of chardonnay. The proletarian – especially within the present conditions, the info-prole – is a force who pushes forward innovation through her resistance to capital, and it is capital who exists on the back-foot, damming the flow of proletarian innovation, demanding enlarged logos in order to harness its power.

On the unintended consequences of anti-snark internet culture IRL

In our era of the Internet – an era in which memes and chain emails alike cross from screen to the world and back again  – has the encroachment of snark from the internet undermined our ability to properly mock those deserving of mockery in so-called meatspace?

Compare and contrast two entirely unrelated pieces – the first by John Birmingham at The Sydney Morning Herald suggesting the correct punishment for (convicted racist) Andrew Bolt should not be the imposition of legal punitives, but rather mockery:

People like Bolt do not need to be suppressed. They need – they desperately need – to be mocked. Mocked for their ignorance. Mocked for their paranoia. Mocked for their delusions of adequacy.

And I think there’s something very right and true about it – the law does not persuade opinion, powerful opinion persuades opinion. And so I was left wondering, why isn’t the mockery more forthcoming? I doubt it’s for fear of defamation and reprisals – there’s always a way around such laws in any case, viz. satire, legitimate criticism, etc.

And so it wasn’t until I read the next piece that I began to wonder if our resistance to mockery is actually a cultural one. See how Mel Campbell  reviewing this week’s Q&A episode  for Crikey describes the twitter ‘snark’ culture arrayed around that program:

The Twitter commentariat is possibly the worst thing about Q&A. What began as a well-meant gesture of inclusiveness has deteriorated into a scramble to be zingy enough for one’s tweet to be displayed onscreen. Snark is the enemy of intellectual rigour because it refuses to engage with an idea, preferring to reject it through mockery. It’s quite possible to watch Q&A without properly listening to it, concentrating instead on collecting retweets for your asinine gags about the panellists and questioners.

Which is a relatively common sentiment to see expressed about anything of the internet. When we consider that the net is getting more ‘real’ with every passing day, and that the barrier between ‘the internet’ and ‘the real’ is an increasing permeable one, we’re left with some pretty significant questions about the internet’s cultural effects. When “haters gonna hate” becomes a truth universally acknowledged, whither the ability to mock those like Andrew Bolt? How do we make the mockery stick to those that truly deserve it? Or is the answer that only the truly deserving, accurate criticism and mockery will endure in the wash? But if that’s the case then we might as well throw around whatever we like and see what sticks, which is clearly only going to lead us back into the “haters gonna hate” meme.

So is there a place for tactical mockery? Political mockery? The judicious application of scorn? Does the “haters gonna hate” meme need retiring? We’re steering remarkably close to something like a rhetoric of memes.

Post-script: Look!!!

László Moholy-Nagy

“The reality of our century is technology: the invention, construction and maintenance of machines. To be a user of machines is to be of the spirit of this century. Machines have replaced the transcendental spiritualism of past eras.”  –László Moholy-Nagy

I don’t really have much to add to the quote above except to say that I adore and cherish the sentiment. Spotted at the Art Gallery of NSW’s “The Mad Square: Modernity in German Art 1910-37” which is a fantastically full exhibition featuring some incredible camera-less photographs by Moholy-Nagy, as well as some Bauhaus original furniture and a glass jug and glass set that neatly slots together into one whole translucent cube of glinting glass. Stunning. There’s heaps more than that on offer – some incredible Dada works; anti-fascist/nazi propaganda posters as well as leftist propaganda posters (“To the lantern!”); Some incredible early photographs of industrial machinery, architecture and engineering (which I love with the kind of affection a child reserves for a safety blanket); and a whole bunch of strange modernist paintings, prints, posters, drawings, inkings, lithograms, wood-block prints, and goodness knows what else. It’s a full day’s worth of gallery for only $20. If you have any interest in 20th Century art/politics/design history then you probably need to get along to it before it closes on the 6th of November.