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Archive for June 2006


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From Georg Simmel:

Someone who sees without hearing is much more uneasy than someone who hears without seeing. In this there is something characteristic of the sociology of the big city. Interpersonal relationships in big cities are distinguished by a marked preponderance of the activity of the eye over the ear. The main reason for this is the public means of transportation. Before the development of buses, railroads, and trams in the nineteenth century, people had never been in a position of having to look at one another for long minutes or even hours without speaking to one another.

Except when they do…

I’m sure you’ve seen this already, but what the hell…

With the arrival of the cell phone, we move from Simmel’s public sphere of self-enclosed silent individuals toward something more complex: a public sphere of private individuals conducting and exposing their relatively private but nonetheless social relationships to one another. A gesellschaft that turns gemeinschaft of exposed gesellschafts (or are they gemeinschafts? It depends who’s on the other end of the line – the broker, the boss, or the spouse, the child, the lover,, etc…)

And then, of course, there’s the internet, the blog, the confessional post…

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June 20, 2006 at 1:15 am

an unfair war

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An interesting bit of machanime via boingboing today:

An Unfair War is a moving 5 minute short film made using the video game The Sims 2. It’s an anti-war short, in the form of a monologue by a writer in a city that’s being demolished by foreign “liberators” who are bombing it to hell. It’s his farewell to the world, and while the action doesn’t move very fast, the animation is surprisingly emotive. Link

It’s not that there aren’t problems with the film. A bit cliché, yes, and why does the guy need candles when his desktop boots?

But what is interesting, following up on this post, is the very idea of using the Sims 2 in order to make a point about the relationship between “ordinary” life and violence.

The Sims has alternately been read as either a game with enthusiastically embraces mindless commodity culture or one that contains a subtle critique of it. You wander around your house, head off to work for blindly invisible hours, only to get back to “real life” which consists of making dinner with your kitchen toys and watching tv. Sometimes, there’s a member of the opposite (or same, I suppose) sex around to flirt or argue with. Eventually – and I owned the first edition, so this is something that I’ve experienced – the whole affair because so tedious and empty that you stop playing the damn game. *

But here, that banality – the hermetically sealed room (is there a door), the old fashioned looking pc, the candles, and the crib – the reduction of life to a set of consumer objects marks the obverse not of some mode of lived authenticity, but of the war itself, the gunshots and bombs and fighter jets whose sounds seem to be borrowed from another sort of game – from war simulations, first-person shooters, and the like.

In short, while this movie is not perfect, it remains deeply suggestive – hints even at the critical resistance that might well lie dormant in the ad without products described by Agamben and cited above in my banner…

* I understand that there are those who don’t stop, and that Maxis has released an online version and modules that are more interesting than “making dinner at home,” but the basic point holds, I think…

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June 20, 2006 at 12:13 am

Posted in everyday

round the world

The Financial Times this weekend had a nice guide to summer reading, fiction and non, broken up by nation of origin.

I ordered:

by Yiyun Li
Fourth Estate ₤14.99

Yiyun Li grew up in Beijing but emigrated to the US in 1996. This short story collection – providing a poignant glimpse into people’s lives in post-Marxist China – won the prestigious Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award last autumn.

and preordered:

by Paulo Lins
Bloomsbury ₤8.99

Published for the first time in English, this is the original novel on which the 2002 Oscar-nominated film of the same name is based. Awash with violence, guns and drugs it depicts gang life in Rio de Janeiro’s most notorious slum during the 1970s and 1980s.

and I’m tempted by these two:

by Pierre Merot
translated by Frank Wynne
Canongate ₤9.99 (July 6)

A bitterly funny novel about a dissolute, alcoholic loser who wanders between dead-end jobs and therapists. This is the first of Parisian Merot’s novels to be translated into English.

by Andrew Hussey
Viking ₤25 (July 6)

An enthralling new look at Paris from the perspective of its outcasts – immigrants, sexual outsiders, criminals and revolutionaries. Starting with the origins of the city as the home of the nomadic Parisii tribe and culminating with the riots of disaffected suburban immigrant youth last autumn, it provides a fresh take on the world’s most romanticised city.

A helpful list. Lot’s of stuff I hadn’t seen before…

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June 19, 2006 at 12:19 pm

Posted in literature


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I was just now looking at, and as I was at the site the red banner at the top of the page changed from this –

– to this:

in the space of a clicked link. Sorry about the bad crop on the second – the the time I returned to grab a new shot, both banners were gone.

Tweaking the meds, I guess. Panicked, perpetually if slightly, gravely aware of our imminent destruction, but not so much as to, say, interrupt your needtoknow in realtime about banged up football stars…

It is a real feat, what they’ve managed. Beyond all precedent. Total mobilization for total war seems child’s play in comparison. This tantrically interminable prolongation of the tensions, the infinite deferral of the jouissance is a tiger’s leap beyond any backseat quickie, all desire unburied, manipulated into exposure, and then over…

UPDATE: Just got a CNN Breaking News email in the box. Which will it be?

— Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to be cited for failure to wear a helmet, not having a proper license at time of his June 12 accident.

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June 19, 2006 at 11:02 am

Posted in distraction, teevee


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Just got back from a weekend trip to Ithaca, NY. Lovely weekend…

But my wife and I did re-learn a lesson that we should have learned a long time ago – the summer of 1996 in fact – when we were in Zurich, wanted to go see Joyce’s grave, and poo-pooed the person at the train station who, in broken English, told us to take a taxi or a bus, not to try walking it. We made it, somehow, but we were only 18 and 19 at the time. We weren’t pushing a stroller, either, back in those days.

But it looked so close on the map! And it was close, two-dimensionally speaking.

Flash-forward to yesterday, when we asked the desk clerk at our hotel the direction to walk to Cornell’s campus. She warned us, in no uncertain terms, that we weren’t going to be up for it. But we’re such avid walkers… And the baby needs a stroller nap… And she hates the car… And so she told us; and so we tried…

We made it a third of the way, and then rolled back down the hill to take a swim in the hotel pool. Didn’t make it up to the campus until this morning… This time in the car.

Anyway, wow, for the first time in forever I spent 24 hours without checking feeds. We actually had internet access in the hotel, and the powerbook came with, but traveling with a 12 month old, it’s lights out when it’s lights out. I even had to turn off the Carolina – Edmonton game after the first period. I didn’t even think about blogs, mine or others’, until the very end, when a lovely lesbian couple with their adopted son gave up the one baby swing at Taughannock Falls State Park so that we could use it, and I couldn’t help but be reminded of this. For the record, my wife agrees, there are certain things – “groups,” even – we just can’t sell out.

My pseudonymous kid not only agreed to a photo at this point, she even humored her dad’s request (it was father’s day, after all) that she strike a pose appropriate to his celebrity academic blogger status.

And yes, that’s my pseudonymous hand in the frame…

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June 19, 2006 at 12:08 am

Posted in Uncategorized

beauty and politics

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Isobel Armstrong, on Eagleton’s The Ideology of the Aesthetic:

Eagleton’s is a worst-case reading, and has to be attended to. But the best answer to this case might well be to retheorize a flagrantly emancipatory, unapologetically radical aesthetic. This would refuse the conservative reading of the aesthetic as that which stands over and against the political as disinterested Beauty, called in nevertheless to assuage the violence of a system it leaves untouched, and retrieve the radical traditions and possibilities with which the idea of the aesthetic has always been associated. I would regard with dismay a politics with subtracts the aesthetic and refuses it cultural meaning and possibility.

I’m not entirely satisfied with the “flagrantly emancipatory” aesthetic that Armstrong proposes in the chapter on Eagleton, which takes a somewhat predictable shape defined by experimentally contradictory betweenness and ambiguous play, but I am sure that she’s asking the right question in the paragraph above.

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June 18, 2006 at 11:49 pm

Posted in aesthetics, theory


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According to wikipedia, the famous distinction in Barthes’s Camera Lucida goes something like this:

The book develops the twin concepts of studium and punctum: studium denoting the cultural, linguistic, and political interpretation of a photograph, punctum denoting the wounding, personally touching detail which establishes a direct relationship with the object or person within it.

Wounding, yes.

(From here…)

Not much older than my daughter, and there’s that, what is it on his overalls? An elephant? A chicken? The head of a cartoon dog or bear? Can’t stop imagining the scene of the purchase of these overalls, for some reason. Was it after the start of the war? Or mightn’t they be handmedowns from the older brother? Purchasing clothes for children: a ceremony of innocence so pure that it leaves “ceremony” behind altogether.

(Do you have the same feeling as me about this sort of post? Have you been here before? The stupidity of it, the hypocrisy of it? Big fucking deal, you and your tears in your office when nobody’s there! You and your goddamned blogpost! But, behind it all, what? Some sort of, what is it, faith that the sheer weight of images might one day, what?, smother all of this out? But you know that it is unlikely, maybe even impossible. Believe you me, I understand the uselessness of this post. No need to let me know.)

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June 16, 2006 at 2:07 pm

Posted in america

the telescopic sublime / criticism in 3D

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As I work on my “real” writing, I increasingly find myself looking to embed images within my text, just like when I’m tapping away at adswithoutproducts. (Obviously, I could insert images – like, I know how to do that in Word – but I work in a field, literature, that doesn’t let you get away with gratuitous illustration.

And then there’s the burgeoning world of video. No one gets to put that in their book…

For instance, I am working today on this famous passage from A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man:

He turned to the flyleaf of the geography and read what he had written there: himself, his name and where he was.

Stephen Dedalus

Class of Elements

Clongwoes Wood College


County Kildare



The World

The Universe

That was in his writing: and Fleming one night for a cod had written on the opposite page:

Stephen Dedalus is my name,

Ireland is my nation.

Clongwoes is my dwellingplace

And heaven my expectation.

He read the verses backwards but then they were not poetry.

And at one point as I worked on it, I found myself momentarily thinking that I would embed this into my text ((Via here):

But of course I did not, I could not. I will have to make do with a footnote and a link that will assuredly look strange to anyone who is not a blogreader. Blogreaders, I think, would get the not quite non-sequitur-ness of the gesture.

Now see, if was writing for an appropriately electronic medium, a freeform one that’s not, say, just a repository of print-type articles, the stub of a new book might have grown out of this right-angle point of contact with my first. The Joyce material might have proceeded along down the page while a new line of thought, taking up the topic of these particularly modern anti-narrative narratives like Stephen’s list, like the Eames’s film, these synchronic stories which gesture at a new fictionality both impossible and absolutely necessary, dictated by changing world conditions, the erosion of forms, technological emergences, etc…

Perhaps I would have dropped what I’ve been doing with the work that includes the Joyce chapter and taken up this new line. Or maybe both at once. Working in this fashion – a fashion that’s a bit closer to blogging than the academic mongraph, or perhaps would be a hybrid of both, would give a whole new meaning to the notion of scholarly oeuvre. One work per life time, branching 2 dimensionally, and then 3, and so on. And it would end up – or start out – looking something like this:

(which is a visualization of adswithoutproducts, from here, via here)

So while this might sound like a circa mid-1990s paean to the radical new possibilities of HTML for criticism and imaginative works, it’s not. That has all been said before, many, many times. Rather for me this youtube epiphany makes me realize that the technology is already getting old – we are getting used to it, it’s becoming second nature. And it’s starting to show, as is bound to happen, in the way that I work, but more importantly the way that I think.

UPDATE: It dawned on me only after posting this that the issue I’m working through with the Joyce quote above actually has quite a lot to do with the issues I’m working through in this post. The subtle registration of the important question very young Stephen has asked about the “poem,” the experiment that he has conducted, and what his author’s ultimate answer to that question will be… Stephen’s question is about the limits of conventional form and the conventional temporalities that these forms drag along with them…

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June 15, 2006 at 11:12 pm

Posted in blogs, design, joyce, meta

a total perspective on life

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A young Tony Blair on Marxism, Socialism, Michael Foot’s Debts of Honour. From the New Statesman:

The young Blair continues: “In this I can’t help feeling the continual association of Marxism with Socialism is in part to blame. Like many middle-class people I came to Socialism through Marxism (to be more specific through Deutscher’s biography of Trotsky). The trouble with Marxism is that it is fine if you make it your political servant but terrible if it becomes your political master. I actually did trouble to read Marx first hand. I found it illuminating in so many ways; in particular, my perception of the relationship between people and the society in which they live was irreversibly altered. But ultimately it was stifling because it sought to embrace in its philosophy every facet of existence. That, of course, is its attraction to many. It gives them a total perspective on life. But that can simply become an excuse to stop searching for the truth. Political thought didn’t begin nor should it end with Marx. Yet it is impossible to understand the 20-40 age group in today’s Labour Party without understanding the pervasiveness of Marxist teaching. For me at university, left-wing politics was Marx and the liberal tradition was either scorned or analysed only in terms of its influence on Marx. It is so abundantly plain to me when I read D of H that there is a treasure trove of ideas that I never imagined existed. We need to recover the searching radicalism of these people.”

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June 15, 2006 at 9:05 am

Posted in socialism

à une passante

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What began as a shocking development, as unsettling as it was enlivening –

La rue assourdissante autour de moi hurlait.

Longue, mince, en grand deuil, douleur majestueuse,

Une femme passa, d’une main fastueuse

Soulevant, balançant le feston et l’ourlet;

Agile et noble, avec sa jambe de statue.

Moi, je buvais, crispé comme un extravagant,

Dans son oeil, ciel livide où germe l’ouragan,

La douceur qui fascine et le plaisir qui tue.

Un éclair… puis la nuit! — Fugitive beauté

Dont le regard m’a fait soudainement renaître,

Ne te verrai-je plus que dans l’éternité?

Ailleurs, bien loin d’ici! trop tard! jamais peut-être!

Car j’ignore où tu fuis, tu ne sais où je vais,

Ô toi que j’eusse aimée, ô toi qui le savais! (translations)

– becomes the fix that we missed, what we’ll move mountains and monuments to have again. We’ll pay handsomely for it, this love at last sight. We will, we say, plan contingency into our plans.

Diventity: Identity, Density and Diversity

I propose one simple caveat urban design should strive to implement:

“Good urban space optimises Diventity” *.

Diventity is a concept that links diversity, density, and identity, and I define it as such:

Diventity allows identity to recursively emerge from the density of diversity, when that density reaches a critical mass.

A city is much more than its stones, a city is memories and relationships and friendships and fears and ambitions; it is stories and histories interacting in the society-space-time continuum.

We form these subjectivities only if the city provides us the right opportunities, because a city is first and foremost our memory-forming medium. We remember our first kiss through who we kissed and when and where we were when we kissed.


A place with enough differentiated identities (spatial, social, etc), distributed in the right proximity (or density) to allow them to interact without obliterating one another, might create enough such moments to allow for identity-shaping memories to emerge. We can say that such a place has Diventity.

It is worth remembering that Les fleurs du mal was published during the early years of Haussmann’s transformation of Paris. An anti-“diventity” plan if there ever was one…

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June 15, 2006 at 12:04 am

eerie modernity

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Eerie paragraph in a nifty piece by Geoff Dyer in today’s FT. He’s talking about the model of Shanghai 2020 at the Urban Planning Exhibition Hall (which I was lucky enough to visit when I was there 2 years ago. The picture above is mine…) :

Government is a top-down process in China, which the city models also reflect. It is part of the folklore of the Shanghai museum that when it opened in 2000, many local visitors discovered for the first time that their neighbourhood was to be razed to make way for some new high-rise.

In a similar vein

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June 14, 2006 at 11:21 pm

Posted in architecture, china

summer reading list

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Happens every summer, when I’m granted a smidgen more reading time than during the academic season, and I use that freedom to start umpteen books, until I can no longer figure out which to take up again at night, when I have a chance, and thus decide to start yet another one. Or, even worse, to just read blogs until it’s time for bed.

Make me think of this, a list of “Books on Tony Kushner’s Bedside Table,” which appeared in the NYT in 2003. I remember taking this “bedside table” thing quite literally at the time, wondering “seriously, is he reading all of these at once?” Maybe he was!

“Getting Mother’s Body” by Suzan-Lori Parks

“Following Hadrian: A Second-Century Journey Through the Roman Empire” by Elizabeth Speller

“The Best American Short Stories of the Century” edited by John Updike and Katrina Kenison

“Selected Poems” by Conrad Aiken

“Motherless Brooklyn” by Jonathan Lethem

“The Book of Salt: A Novel” by Monique Truong

“Elective Affinities” by Goethe

“Dry: A Memoir” by Augusten Burroughs

“Horace: A Life” by Peter Levi

“The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” by Mark Twain

“Wintering: A Novel of Sylvia Plath” by Kate Moses

“The Charterhouse of Parma” by Stendhal

Classy list! Anyway, I’m hoping if I list all the stuff that I’ve started but not finished since the end of the semester, maybe it will help me to figure out how to actually finish a book or two. And I’m sure this list is only partial – there’s inevitably stuff hiding, that I’ve given up on, that I’ve repressed, etc…

“Le Corbusier,” Kenneth Frampton

“The Basic Writings of Kant”

“Selected Stories,” E.M. Forster

“We Have Never Been Modern,” Bruno Latour

“The Radical Aesthetic,” Isobel Armstrong

“Cultural Capital,” John Guillory

“Our Hidden Lives: The Remarkable Diaries of Post-War Britain,” Simon Garfield

“Consciousness Explained,” Daniel Dennett

“The Thinking Fan’s Guide to the World Cup,” Weiland and Wilsey

“The Future of Nostalgia,” Svetlana Boym

“Slow Man,” J.M. Coetzee

“Neuromancer,” William Gibson

“Modernism and Time,” Ronald Schleifer

“Imagine No Possessions,” Christiana Kiaer

Which would be impressive, no, if it weren’t for the fact that I’ve read like the first 20 pages of each.

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June 12, 2006 at 12:59 am

Posted in literature

lorem ipsum

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Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipisicing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

According to Wikipedia, the Lorem Ipsum dummy text may have been “composed” as early as the 1500s or as late as the 1960s. We do know that Richard McClintock, a Latin professor at Hampden-Sydney College in Virginia, discovered the source text of which it is a mutilation: Cicero’s De finibus bonorum et malorum (On the Ends of Goods and Evils).

How strange is it that this text which we use as a placeholder to fill formats and containers with marks without meaning – which we use when we write but do not wish to be read – is drawn from a Roman treatise on, well, the work ethic and its discontents?

From the Wikipedia entry:

Cicero’s original text: “…neque porro quisquam est, qui dolorem ipsum quia dolor sit amet, consectetur, adipisci velit, sed quia non numquam eius modi tempora incidunt ut labore et dolore magnam aliquam quaerat voluptatem. Ut enim ad minima veniam, quis nostrum exercitationem ullam corporis suscipit laboriosam, nisi ut aliquid ex ea commodi consequatur? Quis autem vel eum iure reprehenderit qui in ea voluptate velit esse quam nihil molestiae consequatur, vel illum qui dolorem eum fugiat quo voluptas nulla pariatur?”

H. Rackham’s 1914 translation: “Nor again is there anyone who loves or pursues or desires to obtain pain of itself, because it is pain, but because occasionally circumstances occur in which toil and pain can procure him some great pleasure. To take a trivial example, which of us ever undertakes laborious physical exercise, except to obtain some advantage from it? But who has any right to find fault with a man who chooses to enjoy a pleasure that has no annoying consequences, or one who avoids a pain that produces no resultant pleasure?”

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June 10, 2006 at 12:22 am

what’s left

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Via 3quarksdaily:


Frederic Jameson, “What’s Left of Theory”

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June 9, 2006 at 10:58 pm

Posted in theory


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Strange, though not really, to see the headoffice of Democratic Enlightenment Inc, the exporters of Law and Order, right, smearing the screens with an unbagged corpse. Public execution at a distance.

Remember the break described by Foucault in Discipline and Punish? Drawing and quartering in the central square gives way to the panopticon, training, the internalization that characterizes efficient modernity. Extrinsic control of the body gives way to intrinsic organization of the mind.

We oscillate dizzily now between Disappearing, the open cells of Guantanamo, our vigilant awareness of Total Information Awareness, and the CNN version of the public execution, the dismemberment of the body by the blood-hungry crowd of not citizens but subjects.

The question, of course, is why? Why slide back out of the lubricating sheen of the sunglassed replicants of the Matrix, the sanitary and unfilmed cruise missile strikes of the Clinton administration, and the protean untouchability of the rising tide which will, very soon, lift all boats?

Of course I’m sure there are practical reasons for dragging the corpse around the briefing room. But, underneath the immediately practical, is there not a supplementary message, one aimed both higher and lower than at the restless Iraqi youth looking for trouble and the voting annex of the brains of the US electorate? Are they trying to tell us something else, via this anachronistic leap into pre-modernity?

Did you notice the frame? Who do you think framed it? Why?

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June 8, 2006 at 11:47 am

Posted in aesthetics, teevee, war