30 Jun

EFF: Breaking News

Grokster took a dump this week in the high court.  The cultural forces are indeed clashing.  While corporations are capitalizing on the "free flow" of information and selling it back to us as liberatory, they are making every effort to control that flow for their best interests.  Free navigation through the labyrinth makes money; interactivity is key.  But only if the content industry has sole jurisdiction over decorating the walls of the corridors.

Link: EFF: Breaking News.

30 Jun

Moby Dick

On page 48 of Moby Dick, Ishmael is describing his new "savage" friend Queequeg: "Queequeg was a native of Rokovoko, an island far away to the West and South.  It is not down in any map; true places never are."

It this simple description, Melville seems to get at what one of the most important distinctions between space and place.  Place, once documented, becomes space.  Place is personal.  We can never really tell someone else how to get there.

20 Jun

Virtuality and the Arcades

M. Christine Boyer, in her essay "Labyrinths of the Mind and City – Real and Virtual" makes the connection between the spaces of Walter Benjamin’s arcades and the spaces of virtual reality, claiming that each determines the outside through the combination of interior elements.  Benjamin imagined the arcades to represent all of Paris; Boyer imagines virtual space (specifically hypertext) to function as an internal combination of signifiers that are directed outward towards the world.  She also draws some interesting parallels to cyberpunk, citing Scott Bukatman’s Terminal Identity.  Cyberpunk draws attention to the instability of virtual culture and how easily the culture can terminate.  It seems as though this punk sentiment has been replaced by the stablizing technology of cartography. 

13 Jun


M. Christine Boyer’s essay "The Imaginary Real World of CyberCities" in her collection CyberCities is a wonderful polemic against the threats of a thoughtless postmodernism.  While she claims that cities have experienced a shift form the mechanical city to the cybercity that corresponds with a shift from modernism to postmodernism, she also warns against too easily following the trends of contemporary theory. 

As we war against totalities, afraid of their prescriptions and over-determinations, and believing that winning will liberate us from tryanny and oppression, we are driven on and on by negativity, by standing against, by not being for, until we reach a state of abjection. (38)

It occured to me in reading this essay that postmodernism both fights against the center in the form of universalizing discourses and guarantees the center in directing spectatorship towards the individual. 

01 Jun

Culture and Technology

Friedrich Kittler argues that "culture cannot be had without technology, and technology cannot be had without culture" ("The Perspective of Print").  This seems like a fairly simply idea, but Kittler makes it complex.  What he’s trying to get at here is that they these two discourses (technology and culture) are always already the same thing.  Technology doesn’t emerge from culture (as a response to cultural needs and desires), nor does culture emerge from technology (as Internet culture or gaming culture that corrupts the minds of youth); rather, culture is a kind of technology (or system) and it is simply manifested through machines.

In Geoffrey Winthrop-Young’s article called "Silicon Sociology, or, Two Kings on Hegel’s Throne? Kittler, Luhmann, and the Posthuman Merger of German Media Theory", he explains Kittler’s position this way:

“This does not mean that computers are artificial human brains, or that they digitally ape specifically human ways of thinking.  Rather, they optimize certain patterns of information processing that were also imposed on human beings but subsequently were mistaken to be innately human qualities.  Where subjects were, there programs shall be – because programs were there in the first place.”

This gets to the crux of the matter: programs were there in the first place.  We mourn the loss of some pre-technical reality, or what Kittler calls the "ecologically sound Stone Age," but it is just a myth.  Human beings have always been engaged in systems, and with each technological change the preceding system has been seen as natural.   Kittler is trying to tell the history of media as a history of systems, both human and machine.