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sukey

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Back at the occupation I’d joke sometimes with the students running the “media table” that so successful were their efforts that there would undoubtedly be recruiters from the marketing firms running down from Charlotte Street to sign them up – thus enabling them to complete the maneuver from protest to advertising that their “elders and betters” made back in the 1960s. I’m pretty sure, thank christ, that hasn’t happened yet. Rather, incredibly cheeringly, it looks like the reverse is going on. Students with undoubtedly marketable skills are putting them to ever better uses. Check out Sukey, from the folks at the IT table. From their press release:

The group who gave you pictures of Godzilla in the Thames from the protests against the student fees increase are back with a new website and mobile phone application to help keep peaceful protesters safe.

Every week, more and more people of all ages and from all walks of life are taking to the streets to show their unease at the depth, speed and savagery of coalition cuts to social services, education, library closures, restructuring of the NHS and the proposed sell-off of Britain’s forests. These are the largest series of demonstrations in the UK since the ‘Stop the War’ protests in 2003.

In order to keep peaceful protesters informed with live information that will assist them in keeping clear of trouble spots, avoid injury and from being unnecessarily detained a group of talented young computer experts has developed a free product called Sukey.

Sukey is both a website and an application for mobile phones. Even those with older handsets can take part through free SMS messages.

Sukey lets people taking part have all the information they need to make informed decisions while letting their friends and family keep an eye on what is happening from home so they can be assured that their loved ones are safe.

Sukey invites people taking part to share their experience via social media and combines this with information from traditional news sources to hand it straight back to the crowd and let them see what is going on around them as it happens.

Sukey is easy to use and will help keep people safe and informed of the official demonstration route together with any en-route amenities they may need like wifi points, public toilets, tube stations, first aid points, coffee shops and payphones.

Those not at the demonstration can follow along with live movies, photos and accounts straight from the protest getting all the news as it breaks.

All information shared by those at the event is anonymised and the privacy of all users is respected at all times.

Everyone has the right to peaceful protest. Sukey makes sure that the experience can be a safe and effective way for people to make their voices heard.

 

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January 28, 2011 at 11:30 am

false economy

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Haven’t really had a chance to look at this site since I spent some time at one of the occupations with one of its founders, but False Economy is truly excellent. Neurathian clarity translated into the flash-embedded informational age. And the ad above is very very good.

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January 21, 2011 at 1:35 pm

china, chips, seeds, scale, scales

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1. According to Bloomsberg Businessweek, “In 2010, the U.S. added 937,000 jobs; Foxconn, the Taiwan-based maker of nearly every consumer product you wanted this year, added 300,000.” But on the other hand, from another article in the same magazine,

Ah Wei has an explanation for Foxconn Technology Group Chairman Terry Gou as to why some of his workers are committing suicide at the company’s factory near the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen.

“Life is meaningless,” said Ah Wei, his fingernails stained black with the dust from the hundreds of mobile phones he has burnished over the course of a 12-hour overnight shift. “Everyday, I repeat the same thing I did yesterday. We get yelled at all the time. It’s very tough around here.”

Among other things, Foxconn manufactures the iPhone and the iPad for Apple.

Further, China moved at the end of 2010 to limit its exports of the “rare earth metals” whose supply it almost entirely controls and which are necessary for the production of most electronic devices so as, it seems, to protect its share of the manufacturing market as its workforce begins to expect ever higher wages. In other words, if there’s fancy strange rocks hiding in the engine room of your Device, they’re likely going to have to be made in China for the foreseeable future.

2. On the other hand, the guy who made the art installation pictured above – which seems to me about the most sublimely appropriate artistic representation of the global economy imaginable – had his studio demolished in Shanghai last week.

Chinese demolition workers have torn down the Shanghai studio of the artist Ai Weiwei – a move he says is linked to his political activism.

Mr Ai said the demolition crews arrived without warning on Tuesday and flattened the building within a day.

He originally had permission to build the studio, but later officials ordered it to be destroyed, saying he had failed to follow planning procedures.

Mr Ai has been increasingly vocal in his criticism of China’s leaders.

The work pictured above is “Sunflower Seeds,” which was recently on display in the Turbine Hall of the Tate Modern. Here’s the description from the Tate’s website:

Sunflower Seeds is made up of millions of small works, each apparently identical, but actually unique. However realistic they may seem, these life-sized sunflower seed husks are in fact intricately hand-crafted in porcelain.

Each seed has been individually sculpted and painted by specialists working in small-scale workshops in the Chinese city of Jingdezhen. Far from being industrially produced, they are the effort of hundreds of skilled hands. Poured into the interior of the Turbine Hall’s vast industrial space, the 100 million seeds form a seemingly infinite landscape.

Porcelain is almost synonymous with China and, to make this work, Ai Weiwei has manipulated traditional methods of crafting what has historically been one of China’s most prized exports. Sunflower Seeds invites us to look more closely at the ‘Made in China’ phenomenon and the geo-politics of cultural and economic exchange today.

Without getting all Pater-before-La-Gioconda on you, I hope that you can even vaguely imagine the overwhelming power – at once critical and, well, crushingly aesthetic in some sort of very old fashioned sort of sense – of seeing this work. When the visual titanicness of the display meets your recognition that each of the 100,000,000 seeds was painstakingly handpainted by human beings working for a wage, one comes as close as one can – as I ever have – to a painfully concrete yet at the same time marvellously abstract sense of the absurd scales, absurdly tipped scales, that orchestrate our world today.

3. Francis Fukuyama, Sisyphusianly obligated to revise forever his early call of time at the pub of history (how’s that for a mixed metaphor?), has recently written a piece for the FT titled “US democracy has little to teach China.” Here’s an extract:

The most important strength of the Chinese political system is its ability to make large, complex decisions quickly, and to make them relatively well, at least in economic policy. This is most evident in the area of infrastructure, where China has put into place airports, dams, high-speed rail, water and electricity systems to feed its growing industrial base. Contrast this with India, where every new investment is subject to blockage by trade unions, lobby groups, peasant associations and courts. India is a law-governed democracy, in which ordinary people can object to government plans; China’s rulers can move more than a million people out of the Three Gorges Dam flood plain with little recourse on their part.

Nonetheless, the quality of Chinese government is higher than in Russia, Iran, or the other authoritarian regimes with which it is often lumped – precisely because Chinese rulers feel some degree of accountability towards their population. That accountability is not, of course, procedural; the authority of the Chinese Communist party is limited neither by a rule of law nor by democratic elections. But while its leaders limit public criticism, they do try to stay on top of popular discontents, and shift policy in response. They are most attentive to the urban middle class and powerful business interests that generate employment, but they respond to outrage over egregious cases of corruption or incompetence among lower-level party cadres too.

Fukuyama focuses, as he would, on autocratic China’s ability to force infrastructral development and to please it’s new and growing – yet still demographically insignificant – urban middle classes. The infrastructure is important sure, and the middle classes may well be happy with the fruits of upward mobility, but we all know that the real competitive advantage – and human cost – of China’s “democracy deficit” is the fact that it is able to manipulate its internal labour market and keep its currency artificially weak, thus keeping standards of living artificially depressed.

Despite the fact that Fukuyama stages his piece as a question begging affair –

During the 1989 Tiananmen protests, student demonstrators erected a model of the Statue of Liberty to symbolise their aspirations. Whether anyone in China would do the same at some future date will depend on how Americans address their problems in the present.

– the title gives the game away. Fukuyama hasn’t really described a question so much as yet another equipoised situation, a roadmap of the configuration that, whatever the grumbling of our leaders, is basically the baserock foundation of our current and miserable status quo.

4. What causes Foxconn workers to kill themselves is that which permits Foxconn alone to add a third of the number of jobs as the entire US economy in 2010 is that which depresses wages around the world, and is that which renders Ai Weiwei obnoxious to the PRC, and is that which sanctions the race to the bottom that we’re all suffering through, the rise in in what the BBC was chirping away this morning about as the “misery index.”

We are suffering separately, and somewhat differently now. The ebb tide of the economic cycle is rapidly lowering all of our boats – our separate little skiffs that float on the sea of production. Would that we could figure out how to suffer, and thus perhaps to alleviate the suffering, together.

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January 19, 2011 at 1:56 pm

isotypes have trouble sleeping too

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Appreciate this excellent Neurathian post on sleep troubles by Christoph Niemann at the NYT. Been having a lot of trouble in this department lately – not so much of the universal can’t get to sleep at night type but rather, and ominously, of the Old Guy wake up way too early in the morning and can’t get back type. Frustrating.

Sorry about the light blogging and even light comment returning. Of the course of a week or so, I’ve had exactly 9800 words due, split into three separate pieces. All excellent, exciting things to do. But they suck up even the reserve tank of writing juice, as well as repeated refills of my new and totally beloved french press. More to come I’m so sure.

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September 16, 2009 at 10:32 am

notes on the aggregate 1: letraset mirror-stage

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1. Unexpectedly ended up spending the day in the hospital Wednesday – my wife needed some more surgery four weeks after all of this. She’s OK, or she will be eventually… But a frustrating way to spend a day for all involved, especially her. So it was a busy day, fraught with anxieties large and small – what do we do with the three-year-old while we’re there? What happens if the little one needs to be bottlefed? What will they find when they examine? How safe is general anaesthesia? Another day thick with dramatic tension following upon several years of the same sort of thing.

But hospitals have a strange effect upon the individual in the throes of the dramatic day. The hospital in question today had some 16 floors, some of which were populated by perhaps 30 patients, others more like 200 patients. A couple thousand cases of people (patients, loved ones, health workers) all in the middle of dramatic occurances – pain, morbidity, despair, elation, amputation, diagnosis, last rites. When in a large hospital in the middle of your busy day, the elevator cars becomes chapels of impersonalization. Your plight, your anxiety, is nothing compared to the people getting off on the eleventh floor – the young peoples in-patient area. Or wherever. There are several thousand of you. A hundred of you will experience mortality, tragedy. It doesn’t quite take the edge off, but it does put things in perspective, the aggregation of trauma.

2. The major moment of my involvement the day’s affairs came when (just like four weeks ago) I had to keep an unweaned and generally quite hungry baby girl asleep during the duration of the surgery lest she, as she of course would if she awoke, start screaming for a breast that ten floors down on an operating table. So I paced the room while holding her, back and forth, half of the time looking at the door of the room and the other half looking at this.

It’s a lovely view from up there. For those unfamiliar with Bloomsbury, that’s  the Wellcome Trust dead ahead, the Euston bus terminal and a smidgen of Euston station in the middle left, and in the distance the reddish one is the British Library. St. Pancras and Kings Cross Stations are a bit hard to see, but they’re there, smudgily. For someone more familiar with New York, it is somewhat astounding to think that you can get a more or less full panorma of the city from the thirteenth floor of a building more or less in the middle of the city. Here’s the other side, taken from an elevator bank, looking towards Tottenham Court Road right below, past Fitzroy Square in the middle on the left, and toward Marylebone and Paddington and everything else to the west.

I spend a good amount of my weekday life on the streets in the foreground of these two shots. In buildings and open spaces clearly visible from where I was pacing, I have purchased books, been interviewed for a job, received a phone call to say that I had a job, lectured students, tutored tutees, greeted long absent friends, drank in pubs alone and with friends and with students and with colleagues, eaten lunch, spent several nights in shitty hotel rooms because I’d been a drunken fool, attended communism conferences, gotten my hair cut, had heartfelt conversations late at night with my wife, had heartfelt conversations with others, purchased endless cafe lattes and copies of The Guardian, stumbled home drunk, received free of charge countless copies of the londonpaper, made angry and apolegetic phone calls while pacing in the parks, worked on articles and monographs and talks, picked someone up when they drunkenly fell on the pavement, taken books out of two libraries, wrote half of one novel and a third of another as well as countless poems, tried to find free internet access, smoked thousands of cigarettes, and lots else. Lots else both boring and sublime. I’ve had an impossibly busy year and a half in London. And almost everything down on the street, these things that I’ve done, felt so incredibly vivid. Often, the vividness of the events seemed to border on legibility or even scriptability – especially the obvious ones, you can pick them out of the list for yourself.

But from up here, thirteen floors up, everything seems different, doesn’t it? My wife and I watched window-washers scaling the building opposite, but aside from them, everyone else is antlike and thus a bit robotic-looking. People walk from work to the Underground. People carry objects from a store back to their office or towards home. Cars circle blocks – you can’t tell if it’s the same cab endlessly circling or different ones each time around. From up high, mankind goes about the motions, in aggregate. The follow scent trails from hive to food source and back again. There is no interiority, hideous or beatific, to deal with from up here. From up here, in short, the world is unnovelistic, and it’s an odd experience to look down panoptically at the places where your life is ordinarily lived and lived densely.

3. I am fascinated by, have long be taken with, the doubleness (the duplicity?) of modernism. When we talk about, say, modernist architecture, we generally mean planning and rationalisation, efficiency and redistribution. We mean the anti-aesthetic, the anti-ornamental, the flatly utopian. On the other hand, when we think about modernism in the sense that I am paid to think about it, that is to say in a literary sense, we generally mean something quite different. Modernist novels, famously, take up the issue of the interior regions, the unheard but somehow overheard subverbal chatter. Dalloway or Ulysses seem, at least on first and many subsequent glances, to herald a new, and newly intense, emphasis on psychology, the gears working in the individual as the individual navigates her or his everyday life.

My academic work tries to square the circle a bit, bridge the gap, and wonder what is frilless and impersonal about personality, what is objective and anti-individualistic about something like style indirect libre, and what is suggestively collectivist about dispersal, introspection, and hyperbolic selfhood.

4. I don’t have the books that I need at home with me, so the theoretical interlude might be a bit scattershot and from memory. But if I am right, and I might be, there is some major rethinking ahead of us on the question of the relationship between the bird’s eye view and the secret history. (Left-oriented) cultural, literary, and political theory has for decades and decades been incoherent on this point. We fantasize about post-individuality, yet we still privilege the literature of the flaneur. We sanctify dispersed, individualized resistance, and we withhold from ourselves the thought of the structure or state, even as we at the same moment would have no time for the neurotic, bumbling avatar of bourgeois modernity, the autonomous individual.

We take up, reflexively, the cause of Michel de Certeau’s tactical against the strategic. Just think of contemporary forms of protest and the response to protest and our responses to their responses. But we do this despite the fact that the entire tide of history has washed toward the man of the street and his whims as the only arbiters of truth and efficiency worth banking on, as it were. As with so many other left concepts and approaches, we meet the opposition on their own ground, not ours. We even might say we allow ourselves to get kettled – willingly jump into the pot that they have long since set to boil.

5. There is a much, much wider question about the relationship of literature and quasi-literary products and politics that we would do well to if not answer at least preoccupy ourselves with, keep very much open. It is at once a simple and extremely complex question, and it goes something like this. Do we take literary and quasi-literary representation to be first and foremost a critical approach to social representation, one that shows how things are so that we might know how things are and thus find ourselves activitated to change them? This is the standard approach to the problem, and has been for a long, long time. If one writes seriously about the atomized self, one inevitably (following the natural gradients of literary production) will end up displaying the perils of atomized selfhood. It is hard to find literature that is meant to celebrate that which it represents.

But despite the fact that we have long since been preoccupied with the critical use value of literary representation, there is another answer – a murky one that we’re all familiar with, one that will seem obvious and true as soon as I say it, even if we have a much harder time formally acknowledging it. That is, literary representation, at times or perhaps always, also serves as an advertisement – a positive advertisement – for certain ways of being, acting, seeing or thinking. Again, this is probably at once too simple and too complex to go into fully here, but it is clear that for all the critical energies brought to bear by, say, modernist literature on the plight of the prewritten self in all its abyssal reflexivity and determination, modernist literature also performed a sort of advocacy – we might say, hesitantly, aestheticisation – of the selfsame situation. Literature holds up for emulation just what it is in the process of tearing down. It shows the world to be changed, unbearably changed, and in doing so accustoms us to the same change that it is otherwise resisting. Such is the conservative modernism (modernism this time with a small m, or something with a large one) of the literary endeavor itself.

So it does two things, two contradictory things, at once. Sometimes it works in oscillating phases, other times an intensive simultaneity. But there is no possible movement forward on a rethinking of literary aesthetics that doesn’t come to grips with this question in all it’s complexity.

6. Narrative works have always, but especially since the advent of modernity, been preoccupied with the individual and her or his actions, reasons, feelings, and outcomes. There is a boy and he meets a girl, and they feel X about each other but Y about the world and then…. something happens. Of course, though, despite their dependency upon the story of the individual or individuals, novels and stories always stage their people playing out their lives against a backdrop, a backdrop which includes things and places but also people – large or small numbers of people sketched in great or less great detail.

Other forms – those privileged by the media and disciplines that tend toward the topographic rather than individual, the strategic rather than the tactical per Michel de Certeau – reverse these poles. The surroundings (things, places, groups) move to the fore, and the individual is left to be represented only abstractly, as a type – metaphorically or literally a cut-out.

We might even want to take up a somewhat complex (between it relies on a twist) chiastic analogy like this: the background welter of fiction is to the individual as the letraset figure is to the architectural plan.

Once letraset goes CAD, humans even grow pixelated shadows and depending on the processing power that generated them, even start to see their own reflections in the mirrored glass. (Image courtesy of IT).

We can anticipate – it has been anticipated, actually – that the letraset people will one day soon have little digitized minds of their own. They will head our into the planned cities in which they live to do all of things that we do in the cities where we live, all the things that I described above and more. They will shop for food and vintage clothes, they will conduct their love affairs in pubs and flats and streamlined hotels in city centres, they will make tough decisions about their jobs, birth children in hospitals and watch their loved ones die.

7. I am starting, but only just starting to be able to imagine a meeting point between the architectural plan and the psychological fiction, between the sentient letraset people and the background materials of the realist novel. This meeting point is something that I am getting used to calling aggregate fiction. It is important to note that it already exists, perhaps has existed right from the start, in half-forms and hybrids, false starts and imperfect versions. The trick would be to pull it forward and make it stand on its own.

In the next post in this series, I’ll discuss among other things, the difference between the mass and the aggregate, the complicated politics of this potential form, and start to build out (hesitantly) a literary genealogy of what I’m talking about and/or looking for.

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May 25, 2009 at 8:31 pm

lorem ipsumism: ballard and ads

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Rick McGrath is very good today at Ballardian on JGB and advertising. I especially like the bits about the lorem ipsumy dummy text. Here’s Ballard as quoted by McGrath:

The pages from the ‘Project For A New Novel’ were made at a time when I was working on a chemical society journal in London, and the lettering was taken from the US magazine Chemical and Engineering News — I liked the stylish typography. I also like the scientific content, and used stories from Chem. Eng. News to provide the text of my novel. Curiously enough, far from being meaningless, the science news stories somehow become fictionalized by the headings around them.

Dummy text – full-dummy or semi-dummy – is such a tantalizing concept and resource. Bouvard and Pécuchet’s copybook, automatic writing, collage, madmen cutting up letters to send to the coppers, flarf, the porn novels that come out of the machines that Julia works in 1984, even in a sense FID when taken to some sort of logical extreme all partake of the vertiginous promise of the lorem ipsum. It’s something like Barthes’s reality effect, that barometer (“Flaubert’s barometer, Michelet’s little door finally say nothing but this: we are the real; it is the category of ‘the real’ [and not its contingent contents] which is then signified”) sublated to the level of text itself, while at the same time resisting this sublation as it never feels banally real in the manner of the fictional detail.

As Rick McGrath says elsewhere in his piece:

Designed to be viewed from moving cars (Ballardian in itself), billboards offer the advertiser the benefits of a very large message, but the disadvantage of greatly reduced viewing time. Three to five seconds is the average length of time an individual has to scan a billboard, and this feat has to be accomplished in moving traffic. In order to compensate, successful billboard ads rely on strong, simple visuals and to-the-point messages. No one is going to drive around the block for a second view. It immediately becomes apparent that ‘Project For A New Novel’ breaks these rules by its sheer volume of words and complex, unbalanced layout — as well as the fact it seems to make no sense, offers no brand, no benefits, and no indication of how to respond. But that may be the point, as ‘Project’ is a quasi-surreal piece vaguely reminiscent of the ‘cut-up’ technique used by W.S. Burroughs. This same technical problem was identified by Ballard’s friend and Ambit editor, Dr. Martin Bax, ‘Most of the text you can’t read because when you see things on billboards you don’t read the small print, so the text is deliberately blurred — you can only read the headlines and some remarks.’

But of course that’s cheating, making it too small to be read at speed. It’s cheating because it makes the text into a mere image. The true lorem ipsumist aim is to actually get someone to read the stuff, to convince ourselves to read it, not out of sadism or masochism, but because one has a sense that something’s there if you could just figure out the right way to read it. And we’re not talking divination here. We’re talking in fact the exact opposite of divination.

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May 4, 2009 at 9:36 pm

photoessay in aggregate: crisis visible

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A really good collection of reader-generated images of the “recession” available here at the NYT.

What’s nice about these images is that amidst a flood of mediatrope – the smashed window of the RBS, the laid off junior exec with his golf club, etc – a lot of these images reach out to show a different side, a more everyday side of the situation. One that is a lot more chilling than the dystopian cliche-mongering of the image I’ve clipped in at the top.

The deprivation or cancellation of public utilities and services, whether that means having the water shut off to an individual family home for non-payment of bills or the disruption of mass-transit routes due to “budget cuts,” renders the crisis in small scale, becomes a matter of the residential street rather than the Grand Avenue or Financial District. The socialization of banks coincides with the cancellation of the small scale socialism of the city or town.

busstop

The pictures render all of this very clear. What is happening (and what, I’m starting to guess, is about to reinflate the bubble for yet another last ditch run at two or three years of less than total collapse, leading to an all the more total collapse a little bit later on – you start to get a feeling for the rhythm of these things, the way you developed a feeling about the weather an the changing seasons in the place where you grew up) and is going to continue to happen is the transfer of wealth from the local and national public sphere and public infrastructure to  formerly or currently private enterprises. It’s like global Yeltsinism, this… Just watch…

carabbas

For the reference of my non-USA readership, Carabba’s is a fucking chain of bad Italian restaurants. Everyone’s talking about what to do to turn the nascent, confused, blocked, aspirational protest movements into something more. I think quick but hard meditation on the simplification of slogans, the ellision of 68er double-entendrism and in-humor, and the adoption of something along the lines of No 4th Grade Teachers Working Second Jobs at Fucking Carabbas, Ever would be a first step on a path towards something.

And the very best part about all this is that it prompts us to take up another axiom, perhaps not as a slogan but as a rule for our work and thinking about all of this. That would be: Nothing new about this crisis. Because, of course, it didn’t take the bursting of the bubble to have 4th grade teachers waiting tables at shitty roadside restaurants, for utilities to get turned off, for perfectly good houses to be abandoned, or for mass-transit budgets to be cut, now did it?

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April 3, 2009 at 9:12 am

people with signs

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IHT is full of these lately:

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March 2, 2009 at 4:59 am

macroeconomic microfictions

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picture-12

From a piece in the IHT about the effects of the crisis to Dubai:

With Dubai’s economy in free fall, newspapers have reported that more than 3,000 cars sit abandoned in the parking lot at the Dubai Airport, left by fleeing, debt-ridden foreigners (who could in fact be imprisoned if they failed to pay their bills). Some are said to have maxed-out credit cards inside and notes of apology taped to the windshield.

I’ve done a bit of digging around, and it looks like that number may be a wee bit high. (The total capacity of the lots at the airport is only 6,000 cars so, um, IHT wtf with the reporting?) Still, cars are being abandoned, and probably for the reasons mentioned in the article.

I’m wondering tonight why stories like this are so appealling to me. My attention is captured by events and circumstances that render macroeconomic events, trends, and circumstances visible. The cars serve as self-organizing isotypes, with the airport parking lot as a sort of living Gesellschafts- und Wirtschafts-Museum.

But there’s more to it than just that. The other thing that I love about articles like this one in the IHT has to do with the relationship between the aggregated image of the abandoned cars and the little journalistically-mandatory emblematic story about an individual caught up in the gears in her own generic but personal way. Here’s the start of the article I’ve linked to:

Sofia, a 34-year-old Frenchwoman, moved here a year ago to take a job in advertising, so confident about Dubai’s fast-growing economy that she bought an apartment for almost $300,000 with a 15-year mortgage.

Now, like many of the foreign workers who make up 90 percent of the population here, she has been laid off and faces the prospect of being forced to leave this Gulf city — or worse.

“I’m really scared of what could happen, because I bought property here,” said Sofia, who asked that her last name be withheld because she is still hunting for a new job. “If I can’t pay it off, I was told I could end up in debtors’ prison.”

Now, the gut stirring (not saying in an emotional sense, god, in a literarily appreciative sense, dare I even say secularly epiphanic sense) thing that happens is the wafting sense of there being a Sofia-story, almost the same, just a tiny bit different in each case, behind every one of these 3,000 (or however many, really) abandoned cars.

Someone told me recently that I shouldn’t write fiction about myself, people like myself, or even project myself in to characters based on people similar enough to me, like my father or my grandfather. They are right, totally right. What I want to do instead is to write something that approximates the macro / micro crosscut that I’ve just described. You might well want to say, “Sure Ads, that’s just realism!” But it’s not really. Realism, classically conceived and actualized, does no such thing, as it’s too wedded to the character, her/his individuality, and later his/her interiority to really achieve the effect I am talking about.

Perhaps I’ll make a post soon that talks about a few attempts at aggregated fiction. If you have suggestions for me to read, I’d love to hear them obviously.

I love / hate it when there’s a word that I want that doesn’t quite exist. (For instance, was thinking the other day that I want a word for “possession” or “possessiveness” from which the economic register has been surgically excised… But there is no such word…) I’d like a word that stands for something like the uncanny, except instead of the stuck dialectic of the familiar and the unfamiliar, my new word handle the stuck dialectic of the single and the aggregate. (Agamben’s whatever doesn’t quite cut it, though it’s close… Maybe it’s better in Italian, but in English it has that stupid Valley shrug and eyeroll to it… And that’s not the only problem…)

But basically the effect that I’d like to get to would be a smooth and subtle version of something like this: I’d like to tell the story of Sofia’s last day in Dubai, packing her suitcase and stuffing it into the back of her 3 series Beemer, dropping the keys to her overly-expensive flat in the mail slot of the building’s superintendent, driving to the airport and abandonning her car in the parking lot but then, through the magic of form, somehow push the story though some sort of calculator that converts it all to TIMES 3000, NOT QUITE BUT MORE OR LESS THE SAME.

In other words, and sure, in a continuation of many modernist narrative projects with which I am intimately, oh so intimately familiar, I’d like to work out a subtle, non-ostentatious form for the embodied generic, the lived aggregatation, the soft-spread typical.

Think after critical project X and critical project Y, and any actual fiction in between, the next one will be on just this.

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February 13, 2009 at 11:48 pm

wtf? where’s my gmail?

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So there seems to be some sort of massive gmail outage going on. Tomorrow we’ll perhaps hear about the billions and trillions of dollars worth of damage this has done. But of course, the financial figures miss so much, as they always do. All the bitchy gossip that will go unsaid. Lovers aiming to chat across oceans will have to take the night off or find another way. Baby pictures will rest on hard drives, unable to travel for another night. Think of the lost hours of trying and trying to open the millions of accounts.

I’ve been meaning to write a post for awhile about the increasingly significant role played by entities that we might call quasi-utilities. Mostly web-based, these free or almost free services come to seem like a kind of human right, an automatic endowment that we receive simply for being alive. We feel entitled to decent email access (once we’re on the web in the first place of course), free chat, free books (albeit not in paper form). We feels ourselves to possess the right to look at the photographs of friends and family. Maps, likewise, guide us from place to place without apparent cost. Of late, even scaled down versions of expensive programs like Microsoft Word have been added to Google’s pseudo-public empire.

We don’t notice the advertisements, though we do see them. We are familiar with the model from television which was perhaps the first of the quasi-utilities.

In a sense – and much to their dismay, from a profit-making angle, newspapers have evolved in this direction as well. I pay for a subscription to the IHT, because I like newsprint and it’s page for page probably one of the better papers in the world, but I don’t really need it to keep up with the NYT, which is right there waiting for me anytime I like and for free. Reading the papers for anyone who came of age just after I did has perhaps always seemed like something that you ought to be able to do for free, if you want to do it in the first place. When you scroll through the news on your computer or your phone it is easy to have the sense that you live in a world in which content is below and beyond value at once, something there for the taking. And of course the entire sector of media capitalists have never been panicked by anything like they have been by the dawning sense that music and tv programs and films too exist as non-commodities, items to be freely shared rather than bought and sold.

Now, there’s lots to be said about this. It is important to remind ourselves at the getgo that the publicness of the services and information provided by google and similar corporations only appears to be a public utility rather than a private business. Administrators at some libraries, thankfully, are beginning to catch on to the fact that google’s book scanning business is in fact a business – is not a frictionless gift to the world in the utopian form of “every book, every page, any time or way you like.”

That said, that said – what is perhaps the point to take away from these for-profit services is that they bring to the public a taste of the free and easy that comes of efficient public provisioning. They are, that is to say, advertisements in and of themselves for a healthy public sphere. Learning to get something for nothing (even if it’s not nothing, in the end, for now) is exactly the mentality that we’d be best served to foster. The web makes it easy, but perhaps it might best be visualized as what they called a “gateway drug” when I was a kid. (I don’t know if the phrase is still current – but the idea was that the true danger of pot, in its happy non-dangerousness, was that it readied kids to try more dangerous, destructive “hard” drugs.) It’s not a long leap from free and well-designed email to free and smoothly working public wifi. And from public wifi, it’s a longer leap, though not all that long, to nationalized health care. A bit further yet to media, housing stock, and all the rest. After all, who today would pay for an email account?

Two points to be addressed in future posts. One: the pernicious lies that are told about GDP destruction through the market dominance of public, not-for-profit entities. (The BBC comes to mind on this point… All those ads that could be run but aren’t – the international page views that the fucking Guardian could be garnering if not for the BBC’s site….) Yes, public entities do in fact reduce GDP – the takeaway from this fact is that there is something wrong with GDP as a yardstick of civic health, not that cash should be sliced away from the “public monopoly.” Two: It wouldn’t take much effort for us to offer the argument that any sort of user tax on ISP customers for downloads would, sure, be a fine idea but only if the proceeds were pooled into some sort of state support for artists rather than bottom-line fattener for media companies. We download free; the artists are paid by the state; Sony finds a way to fuck itself for trying. Nuff said. Three: and this is more complicated. I’d like to take a long look at the functionalist design aesthetic of google and its many sites as an impersonation of the aesthetic practices of an as-yet-impossible regime of use-value centered provisioning. The design of the google sites, despite the occassional burst of disneyland coloring, is rather amazing… The blandest thing there is on the internet is also the most popular thing. Something there to think about, don’t you think?

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August 11, 2008 at 11:13 pm

“unlike the sociology of the past, [this] is informed by modern economic theory”

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You don’t say… Any guesses on the unmodern economic theory that informed said sociology of the past?

Sisphyus just pointed out this NYT review/article of Gregory Clark’s A Farewell to Alms in the comments to a previous post.

Here’s where it really gets frightening:

Dr. Clark says the middle-class values needed for productivity could
have been transmitted either culturally or genetically. But in some
passages, he seems to lean toward evolution as the explanation.
“Through the long agrarian passage leading up to the Industrial
Revolution, man was becoming biologically more adapted to the modern
economic world,” he writes. And, “The triumph of capitalism in the
modern world thus may lie as much in our genes as in ideology or
rationality.”

Boy is that ever a heavily thudding "our" in the last sentence. You have to love it, really, and the way that it echoes the hard science cum totally asswild speculation stuff that cropped up everywhere toward the end of the nineteenth century. Thermodynamics and entropy, therefore heat death (well sure, a long, long way off), therefore a universe and its maker that agree on one point: economic equality leads to dissolute catastrophe. At least via this article, and of course we should wait for the book, it doesn’t sound like there’s going to be much to back up the genetic turn aside from a hunch and some handwaving in the genome-decoded direction.

A genetic predisposition to low interest rates, huh? Then again, maybe he’s on to something.

So yuck, yes. But I’m actually more upset at the Times than Clark himself, for an ideosyncractic reason. They have, their information design department anyway, taken Neurath’s Isotype in vain.

You can click through to see a big version of the infographic, but do you see those little guys in the middle, the second graph? Not cool – this is exactly the opposite sort of argument than the one they were, ahem, born to serve.

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August 9, 2007 at 12:01 am

photographic literalism

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I was just thinking about this series of photos, which I saw in Le Monde when I was in France, but couldn’t find on-line for saving, and lo and behold here they are via kottke.

Food Nutrition Eating Health Diet [BOLD

Food Nutrition Eating Health Diet [BOLD

Powered by ScribeFire.

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June 5, 2007 at 3:04 pm

funkytown

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I’ve loved this ad – even though it was for an energy company – for quite a long time. Always seemed to me to be potentially open for repurposing and.. I really love modularity, just in general. (We see an English version here, of course…)

But lo and behold, the other day when I thought to go to youtube to check if it was available for me to suck down into my archive, I found this:

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May 3, 2007 at 11:01 pm

lucky me

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I am so lucky that exactly three weeks from today, I am going to be in Amsterdam, just a short train ride away from this. (If I need you to, would you be willing to write my wife to explain exactly why it is so absolutely necessary for us to pack up the kiddo and leave gorgeous Amsterdam – where we’ll only be as of now for two full days – to head to Den Haag?)

I learned of it via an excellent article today on metamute by Marina Vishmidt, which gets quite a lot succinctly right about Neurath:

Although the classical logitical positivist statement remains Wittgenstein’s ‘the world is everything which is the case’ , the Vienna Circle was not always confined to the ideological quietism that could be deduced from that statement. Neurath’s work combined pragmatism with a utopian orientation, a drive to represent ‘things as they are’ in the hope that revolutionary progress would make out of them things of the past. The Marxist ethics behind the ISOTYPE project complemented the kinds of formal innovations – images built of numbers, standard templates, seriality – that structure the internet, another vision of universal information, albeit one without a clear ideological mission. The disambiguation of social contradictions as a premise for a materialist design practice is one of the questions that After Neurath: Like Sailors on the Open Sea tries to address in the format of an exhibition but also of a year and a half-long programme of research, symposia, and smaller exhibitions. The allure and shortcomings of a universal grammar is another, with the connotation that it is both a dream of reason and a bold proposition for engineering social change.

UPDATE: Oh for christ’s sake. The exhibition is off – ended in April. Whatever. Glad I figured this out before I got on the train to Den Haag….

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May 3, 2007 at 1:32 am

“a fair share for all of us”

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Another brilliant post at Sit down man, you’re a bloody tragedy one that happens to be indirectly apropos of so much that I’ve been saying on here. Go read it. Here’s the start:

Perhaps the most irksome element of ideology as currently practised is the belief that in the face of climate change the individual can make a difference. Hence the moronic plaint of various charities in sundry adverts that by not overfilling the kettle, or by not leaving your telly on standby, you can help avert the holocaust that rising temperatures will cause in the global south. What this serves to occlude is that the only measure that could really avert this is massive cutbacks in private cars, Rationing and some form of Central Planning: by curbing the individual, in other words.

(This lovely poster I’ve brought over… Interesting to think about the way that the relationship between the photo-hands and the abstract infographic image actually enacts the relationship between the individual and the state under planning….)

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March 27, 2007 at 11:30 am