Saturday, May 20, 2006

Oil's Well That Ends Well

Quoting Allen Ginsberg, “[t]he soul should not die ungodly in an armed madhouse”:
"The snooping into your phone bill is just the snout of the pig of a strange, lucrative link-up between the Administration’s Homeland Security spy network and private companies operating beyond the reach of the laws meant to protect us from our government. You can call it the privatization of the FBI -- though it is better described as the creation of a private KGB."
That's a quote from Greg Palast's new book, Who's Afraid of Osama Wolf?, China Floats, Bush Sinks, the Scheme to Steal ‘08, No Child’s Behind Left and Other Dispatches from the Frontlines of the Class War. [seriously, that's the title].

The End Is Nearing...

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Friday, May 19, 2006

They Live [We Sleep]

Boulder's own Free Speech TV features a link to a new video called "The Death of the Internet?" that investigates the issue of Net Neutrality and the big power grab now being executed by the same large phone companies that are illegally giving our private information away to the National Security Agency.

The Vector Class of Robber Barons is going for broke, and perhaps most of us find the debate too abtsract to focus on, even though in our gut, we know that something terribly wrong is going on. In Ken Wark's "Hacker Manifesto" there is a section called "Abstraction" where the author writes:
As the abstraction of private property was extended to information, it produced the hacker class as a class. Hackers must sell their capacity for abstraction to a class that owns the means of production, the vectoralist class - the emergent ruling class of our time. The vectorialist class is waging an intensive struggle to dispossess hackers of their intellectual property. Patents and copyrights all end up in the hands, not of their creators, but of the vectoralist class that owns the means of realising the value of these abstractions. The vectoralist class struggles to monopolise abstraction. Hackers find themselves dispossessed both individually, and as a class. Hackers come piecemeal to struggle against the particular forms in which abstraction is commodified and made into the private property of the vectoralist class. Hackers come to struggle collectively against the usurious charges the vectoralists extort for access to the information that hackers collectively produce, but that vectoralists collectively come to own.
Now, match that up with the old adage "[f]reedom of the press belongs to the man who owns one" and think about how this big power grab by the phone companies, who are complicitly working with the current administration in making the Fourth Amendment to the US Constitution meaningless, widens the class warfare exploding in the media space.

Is democracy really that quaint?

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Thursday, May 18, 2006

Wild Blue Flowers

Every May, the open space surrounding my home explodes with a small patch of wild blue iris flowers. I always look forward to it and make sure to go and see them a few times a week no matter what I have to do because they only peak for a very short period of time. The last few days they have been waiting to blossom. Now the budding beauties are shining their creative light, and it's good timing too, because as of today I'm reconnecting with the post-production of my upcoming feature film entitled My Autoerotic Muse.

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Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Pamela Anderson's School of Thought

It may be purely speculative, and does not directly deal with the issue of taste à la Kant's Critique of Aesthetic Judgment, but is she on to something here?

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Tuesday, May 16, 2006

More Questions for Professor VJ

Every now and then I get questions, oftentimes from students, asking me to elaborate on a post or two here at Professor VJ. Although I write these posts in wild blogstyle (i.e. sort of off-the-cuff and with more unedited typos and/or screwy syntax than I would care to admit), they usually do represent my thinking at the time of writing, and responding to the incoming Qs gives me a chance to keep improvising on a particular riff. So here goes...

A reader writes in a comment in response to my entry on the New York Times recent article that tries to locate "the single best work of American fiction published in the last 25 years."

Cat asks:
Why can't fiction be great on its own without "innovation" as you explain...hypertext, ebooks, etc. It should be the quality of the work not just how it looks on the page (or web page). Do you feel that if fiction is printed by these "multi national media companies" that it discounts the possibility of greatness? That it somehow just contributes to the evil publishers? How is it an elistist conformist exercise when it is an opinion submitted by that of a journalist? It is the opinion of those at the NY Times, just as you could make your own list of the top 25. And what do you mean by there is only not-fiction and no longer fiction? Are you discounting all of us writers out here who identify ourselves as fiction writers, and that we must now commit to hypertext in order to "prove" our work to you? And even if someone can get a book and put it on the ipod, how is it not fiction at all?
Thanks for your questions.To start off, check out "Scan This Book!," the New York Times Sunday Magazine article by Kevin Kelly, where he says:
This is a very big library. But because of digital technology, you'll be able to reach inside it from almost any device that sports a screen. From the days of Sumerian clay tablets till now, humans have "published" at least 32 million books, 750 million articles and essays, 25 million songs, 500 million images, 500,000 movies, 3 million videos, TV shows and short films and 100 billion public Web pages. All this material is currently contained in all the libraries and archives of the world. When fully digitized, the whole lot could be compressed (at current technological rates) onto 50 petabyte hard disks. Today you need a building about the size of a small-town library to house 50 petabytes. With tomorrow's technology, it will all fit onto your iPod. When that happens, the library of all libraries will ride in your purse or wallet — if it doesn't plug directly into your brain with thin white cords. Some people alive today are surely hoping that they die before such things happen, and others, mostly the young, want to know what's taking so long. (Could we get it up and running by next week? They have a history project due.)
Having this much data at our fingertips will probably change the way we read and what we read. In fact, it will be less about reading and contemplating, and more about scanning, sampling, and manipulating that data for our own writerly uses (and as I have said in the past, this means that more and more we will be getting away from this outmoded model of always having to "be inspired").

But back to the questions. There is no question that the NYTimes has the right to their own opinion. But I find it rather elitist-conformist that the books listed in their Top 25 all come from the corporate-driven Publishing Industry and that these books are from writers whose reputations were built during a time when books of fiction and other forms of literature per se still had considerable value in the culture business. My feeling is that this is no longer the case and that the Cinderella-myth that so many young writers buy into, that is, the one that suggests there is a Great American Novelist hiding behind the scenes writing their fictional masterpiece so that the mainstream book world can anoint them the next literary star, is a total fiction fueled by hype and what the old garde used to call "false consciousness." Of course, there are still valiant attempts by many writers to keep the spirit of fiction alive, even as it butts heads with what comic-writer Stephen Colbert has called an all-pervsaive environment of "Truthiness." Take, for example, the most illuminating narrative our day, the one that is being written in the tradition of George Orwell's supposed fiction "1984" - that is to say, the story of Big Brother. In this most contemporary of narratives, the President of the United States, who in an earlier chapter, went on record saying that any wiretapping requires a court order, is now authorizing, indeed paying (via secret government contracts) a few corporate phone companies to invade our privacy as citizens of the USA by collecting information on every phone call we make, and in so doing is flagrantly breaking the law, and yet no one seems to be in any position to call him on it. He says he has every right to do what he is doing. He believes this is a fact. Others may say he is deluded, making up fictions. Well, is it fact or fiction? Not-fiction? Truthiness? The same questions came up with the so-called memoirs of James Frey. And what about Henry Miller? When I read his book The Tropic of Cancer, I assume I am reading the pseudo-autobiography of a writer who is convinced that what he is writing is anything but fiction, although how can the lyrical poetry that infests his descriptions of Paris be contextualized as being written in a memoir style?

My point is: fiction itself is an unstable signifier. For example, what if you were to take "fiction" as your starting point, that is, you are born a blob of nothingness waiting to write yourself into being, which you then construct over the course of your life. In this case, the writer becomes an instrument that creates their own pseudo-autobiographical narrative through the writing process itself. It's pseudo-autobiographical because you make it up as you go along. This is the only way to tap into your unconscious (readiness) potential as you turn to your instincts to perform the narrative momentum you are creating for yourself. In this regard, writing becomes no less than surviving. But even if you get to the point where you are able to succcessfully write your story into being so that you can then simultaneously become what you are writing, who is to say that you yourself are the author? Is it really You? Or is it the "not-you"? My research suspects that it is the "not-you," that is, the Unconscious Player inside you who you have no control over and who you must become in order to write your story. If you are having difficulties tapping into or processing this "not-you" when you write, then you may be having difficulties locating your readiness-potential as an instinctive artist-medium trying to survive as a writer.

But then, if as I suggest above, "you are born a blob of nothingness waiting to write yourself into being," how do you differentiate between fiction and not-fiction, or is it all a big blur? In my experience, it's all about training yourself to play with your unconscious power to create, that is, to locate a space of creative action where you can live up to your potential as an artist-medium capable of using the writing instrument itself to prophesize your future tense.

Celine said the same thing but from a totally different angle. His phrase was "[l]ife itself is a fiction, and biography is something we invent afterwards." I actually think that what he is talking about here is "not-fiction" which is different from non-fiction. You may want to consider "not-fiction" a particular style of fiction if you can't let go of the term (at times I have trouble doing that too). In this taxonomy, the "not-fiction" variety of fiction is one that improvises a Life Style Practice out of the writing process itself, one that prophesizes a future tense experience that prioritizes the invention of knowledge as opposed to the reproduction of knowledge (which is what bores me about 95% of the so-called "fiction" I read).

Since we are in a transitional period, this can happen in new media formats just as well as in books, and for now, the most interesting developments in publishing involve hybrid projects that, for the moment, show writerly movement from hypertext-blog space to book space and back to (though they never really left) hypertext-blog space. In Kelly's article, he goes so far as to call blogs "the ephemeral literature of our time." My guess is that the print book space will eventually be less important, but that the writing instrument itself will stay alive and well and manifest itself in what we call hypertext-blog space, video blog space, ebooks, and podcasting (but that really just means multi-media writerly performance and some of these trendy terms will no doubt disappear). It's just that if you want be relevant in the future tense, then you will need to be able to laterally transfer your talents across media platforms, that is, to write and read in and with new media.

Having said all of that, and because you are writing to me as a student who is looking to bring this dialogue into their classroom, a couple of final thoughts: first, I think that having a background in literature per se, rhetoric, performance, as well as an openmindedness to experimenting with the formal structure of what we still call "fiction," can be totally valuable for you. I remember when I was an undergraduate that this kind of liberal arts background was considered ideal for a future in Law (where your job then becomes to create a "not-fiction" that convinces the jury to believe your side of the story - talk about "truthiness"!) . That is still the case today, but now this kind of liberal arts background, coupled with coursework in the digital humanities, can be a great foundation for you if and when you decide to take your talents into the networked media space, especially if you can get to that point in your multi-media writerly performance where your Unconscious Player is totally "clicking" and what you write somehow comes true.

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Monday, May 15, 2006


Tactical new media meets Flash-embedded narrative mash-up practicing the art of "surf-sample-manipulate":
This multi-media news-reel re-mixes news clips, protest footage, phone conversations, our President explaining his respect for the Constitution, an interview with blogger/author Glenn Greenwald and a 1946 school documentary concerning the dangers and warning signs of despotism--all set to an incessant rock-and-roll beat.
But how many new media art symposiums and festivals, especially in the US (where it now most needed), are programming events that will address the potential uses of new media technologies to create politically-charged art projects that actively engage with the constitutional crisis now at hand? None that I know of.

As is often the case in America, provocative art and progressive politics don't really mix in real-world terms. Although the vast majority of my colleagues in the new media art and theory fields would tend to agree with me that the foundations of our democracy are being undermined by the governing oligarchy (oil-garchy), and the vast majority of my colleagues who are active in progressive politics would agree that we need to find creative uses of the technology at our disposal to both intervene in the traditional media environment as well as challenge the corporate news industry, these two worlds rarely if ever meet to strategize a formal assault on the way we aestheticize information to disrupt the flow of technocapitalism that continues to dominate our networked media spaces. Instead, we (and I have been guilty of this too) latch on to the trendy apparatus of the day and "make like fun" with it. Oooo, phones with video capability? Let's create a new form of Distributed Mobile Performance Art. Great. Actually, that was my idea about four years ago. But what exactly is happening on the screen during this "emergent" (favorite term of 89% of new media artists/theorists) performance? Usually not that much. Most of the new media work being celebrated today lacks a parallel political poetics. Instead, what we tend to get, is same-old same-old techno-theory dressed up in fashionably jargon-laden packaging.

It's funny, but whenever I start talking about digital narrative and the use of new media technologies, most colleagues in the field immediately want to start talking about the available technologies that are being experimented with and then, once they have their tech-jargon credibility established, they inevitably drift into mimicking the by-now canned theory that has been established around the tech-jargon. And yet, when it comes to discussing the actual formal innovation of the narrative, the meaning-making apparatus that defamiliarizes the story being told, or the way a work constructs identity or digital persona, most of the time the interlocutor's eyes get that "glazed over" look of "I have no idea what you're talking about" and an attempt is made to get back on track -- and in this case, on track means referring to the by now established techno-theory that somehow informs the development of weak new media art created for the express purpose of justifying that techno-theory's existence. Of course, this approach is back asswards and just like most of That 80's Show gender and identity politics killed the potential of art in the worst of possible ways, now new media art is quickly beginning to show its structurally insecure spots as well. This essential weakness in the international new media scene has made it less palatable to a lot of artists I know who first got their start in this field, myself included. How to break away from this institutionalization, academicization, and "scientificating" [scientific-pontificating] that is now suffocating so much of the new media arts?

The first thing you have to do is break the cycle of co-dependency. This means that you may have to diss the academy, diss the scientific community, and even diss a good portion of the curatorial apparatus and/or festival directors who are busy building their sand castles so that they can attract funds to pay for the mega-events they are coordinating. That's not easy, especially when networking is such an essential element of the new media art scene. And when there is a lot less pie to go around than in the mid-to-late 90s, and the pie that is being made is oftentimes only possible thanks to the largess of mainstream academic, scientific, and governmental organizations (and in the US, there's very little of that to go around), the cycle of co-dependency creates lots of competition to become even trendier so that you and your work will stand out as the newest of the new media artist-trendsetter crowd. I know, because I was caught up in that cycle myself for almost 10 years. But at what cost? By cost, I mean creative cost, opportunity cost, and political cost.

In previous posts, I have suggested employing more improvisational methods to defamiliarize everything that is making much of the new media scene seem so complacent in the face of our current political upheaval. In my seminar this semester at CU-Boulder, we developed a strategy of "making things" that went against the grain of most studio art courses, especially the kind that I associate with the elite universities like Yale, which I wrote about here. Our objective was to collaborate on projects that were so bad, they were -- well, bad. But not weak. Bad in the sense that a lot of the work at is bad, but that somehow still rings true to the amateur's love of all things D-I-Y. Yes, there are always exceptions to the rule, in fact, the rule is to have no rule and I may change my mind at given (or taken) moment. For now, though, our aim is to diss this worn-out effort by the overwhelming number of hungry new media "professionals" in the art world today whose sole mission it seems is to legitimize their creative work process so that they can slop up whatever remaining pieces of the pie are still left on the table. Give it up!

This is not to say that there are not new media artists who use the Internet space for largely political purposes. Think of the work of The Yes Men or even a straightforward comix artist like Tom Tomorrow. I use my forthcoming book META/DATA (MIT Press, 2007) to suggest alternative approaches to working in and with new media that will enable us to break out of the academic, scientific, and commercial molds that are debilitating the formerly refreshing and fruitful potential of this networked media art scene. Basically, my premise is that a great deal of the work being created in the new media art and theory fields is being wrapped up in an institutional straitjacket that is neutering our ability to have any real effect on the world we live in and that a great many new media artist-theorists are falling into this trap by willingly buying into the same forms of co-dependency that the predominantly academic-scientific communities have bought into long ago. In META/DATA, I don't address this issue dogmatically, wagging my finger at those who buy into the Big Lie, but by doing an end-run, mixing spontaneous theories with avant-pop fictions and self-effacing pseudo-academic essays that read more like poetry remixes than argumentative papers.

To my mind, this is all connected to ones political agenda. What does it say about your professional network, especially one so tied to the First Amendment like the artistic and academic communities are, when the huge symposiums and conferences that bring them all together, collectively ignore the big elephant in the room. And I mean ELEPHANT. The question is: How To Be A First Amendment Patriot while maintaining a healthy anarchic attitude toward organized politics in general? In the past, what made America unique among nations, was its practical implementation of the Bill of Rights. But now it looks as though we're giving it all up to those who would rather dictate a patriarchal Bill of Far Rights.

Except for the occasional sideshow, don't expect to find this as the primary point of discussion at any new media conferences or festivals.

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