Thursday, July 16, 2009

Philosophy as Cinema / Pedagogy as Performance

Slow mantra misunderstanding:

I'm thinking, I'm thinking again.

I'm thinking, I'm thinking again.

I'm cleaning, I'm cleaning again.

I'm cleaning, I'm cleaning my brain.

These words, a bastardized remix of an old Talking Heads song, floating inside my head, but then I realize, as I roam the sun-infused city streets, that I am actually speaking these words aloud as I project my voice into my all-purpose mobile appendage sounding not very different, grain-of-of-voice-wise, from the vocal microparticulars of John Cage and wondering if I am impersonating him and why:

I'm thinking with my iPhone ...

I'm thinking with my iPhone as I navigate the circumstance of my next virtual becoming ...

I'm thinking with my iPhone as I navigate the circumstance of my next virtual becoming while recording and editing (sampling and manipulating) the experiential metadata of my peripatetic journey in what feels like asynchronous realtime ...

Simultaneously wondering what these nomadically produced voice-memos will morph into ... a remixable vocal track for my next work of new media / cinematic / video art?

Maybe they can stand on their own as conceptual roadmaps to the distant lands of Dharmagone ...

Simultaneously wandering through urban landscapes and lush green neighborhoods in Portland creates a beautiful tension that earmarks certain aesthetic applications for pet projects always already in the pipeline ...

Walking the trails and hypertextually digressing into deep philosophical thoughts have always been part of the same stream for me ...

Communing with nature often manifests the most innovative dreams I could ever hope to remix in my fertile body and so it's no wonder that in my pleasantly agitated state of mind, walking itself is somehow equated with some of my best go-to ca-ching moments ...

Money in the bank while erotically discharging the next deposit into even greener pastures.

The danger is in becoming-pasteurized.

Or even worse: irradiated.

In a way, it doesn't even matter how these sentences read or if the blog format does them justice. They are scripts for future voice-memos that will be adapted for mobile films in the next millennium. What's key is that they will continually morph into something else and have only become manifest as a result of having morphed the voice-memos that came before them.

Maybe I could postproduce these conceptual personae into scenes of pedagogical performance. The bastardized remix lines from the Talking Heads that start off this blog post could be further remixed into a strangely composed hip-hop track, part Woody Allen / Ingmar Bergman, part David Byrne, part Eric B. / Rakim. That would be easy for me.

This new hip-hop track could then be used as the opening segment of my (always) soon-to-be released Professor VJ YouTube show that will eventually fill in for me as professor. Yes, my network avatar will perform in the seminar room for or as me while I, a shape-shifting body that instantaneously teleports to other exotic locales, am far away consuming the desserts of the unreal.

This is not about escapism. It's not the higher-ed version of iPhoning it in (although if I were to teach a virtual workshop in the "Aspects of Aesthetics in Telecommunications Performance Art" using Moholy-Nagy's "telephone pictures" as tutor-verks, then why not?). It's about the future of higher education (I should write Higher since it really feels like a capital moment). Think multi-media pedagogical performance art. Think distributed audience / student body. Think "long tail" revenue streams ...

Besides, in the context of the contemporary higher education experience, isn't FTF contact highly overrated? Who needs professors in the flesh anyway? (According to an older, emeritus colleague of mine who says that she is glad to be out of the university system and had no idea how oppressive it was to her artistic development until after her retirement, "there was a time in the 60s, 70s, and even 80s when 'professors in the flesh' could make out like bandits since the commodification system of the time would accommodate such exchange, but nowadays most universities are run more like corporations stuck in a bankrupt credit system and it's no secret that many believe that they may have outlived their usefulness." What, universities have outlived their usefulness? Already? But the digital revolution is barely ten years old!)

Can't we just Googlize everything and keep the paychecks coming? What I need is a customized content management and delivery system that will make my networked avatar performance even more valuable than my regularly scheduled ftf encounters. This is not to suggest that I am anti-social or looking for an easy way out of performing my "pedagogical artwork" before groups of students. Rather, it should signal my open-mindedness to becoming more distributed in my social networking presence and, if successful, could create a few new jobs to help keep the production flowing.

What I am calling the postproduction of (pedagogical) presence challenges the old footprint of disciplinary regimes in by-now outmoded academic institutions. Whether I am performing online, in class, or inside a club space, I never wear a particular (disciplinary-revealing) hat. I could be a novelist, a net artist, a web publisher, a live A/V performer, a professor, a cultural entrepreneur, etc. Today I feel like an iPhone voice artist remixologically inhabiting the space of "process philosophy" as I compose my next feature-length foreign film.

Who needs English or philosophy departments when you have iPhones, Flips, netbooks, Kindles, Google, and the WWW? For that matter, who needs film studies programs as they presently constitute themselves given the ease with which one can record and edit image-data to express themselves in online social networking environments? That is to say, who needs a college education when we have each other?

Perhaps we need to reinvent the way we design the interactive learning environment so that everyone who is present can work together while a) maintaining their solo spirit of creativity and b) collectively contributing to the intersubjective and interdisciplinary meta-tag team adventure of the moment.

We have to break away from this "Artists Only" mentality as best captured in the Talking Heads song of the same name:
I'm painting, I'm painting again.
I'm painting, I'm painting again.
I'm cleaning, I'm cleaning again.
I'm cleaning, I'm cleaning my brain.
Pretty soon now, I will be bitter.
Pretty soon now, will be a quitter.
Pretty soon now, I will be bitter.
You can't see it 'til it's finished
I don't have to prove...that I am creative!
I dont' have to prove...that I am creative!
All my pictures are confused
And now I'm going to take me to you.
It almost sounds artist-professorial ...

But it's not:

Or maybe it is ...

(Is the above song by the RISD graduates an intentional provocation deriding the whole art school experience? Imagine four concurrent grad students at any art school or art department today producing the contemporary equivalent of "More Songs About Buildings and Food" -- you might-could become the #1 art program in the US News and World Report rankings ...)

How can the university recalibrate its pedagogical function so that students who were born-digital can participate in the learning process by rethinking their relationship with all of the technology they already feel so comfortable integrating into their creative lifestyles? I was always told that you can't "teach creative writing" and hear much the same about visual art too. Something about natural or innate talent. But that's a very individual-centered reading of where talent is to be found and, besides, most students today have already used new media technologies to teach themselves how to collaboratively participate in innovative networks of action, purpose, and even artistically generated meaning-making. How would this apply to developing a new philosophy for new media that turns not to literature per se but cinema as a model of collaborative and creative discovery?
So, just as Plato dominated semblance with allegory, saving the image in the very place of Truth with his immortal "myths," we can in the same way hope that cinema will be overcome by cinema itself.

After the philosophy of cinema must come -- is already coming -- philosophy as cinema, which consequently has the opportunity of being a mass philosophy. -- Alain Badiou
But do the mass iPhone philosophers with their customized cinematic language already in hand really stand a chance? Won't the expert elitists guard the fortresses of knowledge and blockade incoming amateur infiltration with all of their exceptional might? Seriously, does anyone really think we are witnessing the inevitable demise of the university?

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Tuesday, July 14, 2009

An Aesthetic Singularity

As he always does, Pinocchio Blog goes deeper than most into the tragic life and death of Michael Jackson:
The point of a successful aesthetic singularity is that it crosses over directly into the form of the universal, without all those mediations that usually come between. Something is so absolutely unique (even when we can trace all the sources from which it arose) and so absolutely, achingly, joyously or heart-wrenchingly right, or just itself, that it becomes a kind of universal value. (In philosophical terms, this is what Kant was getting at with his insistence upon the universal communicability of an aesthetic judgment devoid of cognitive principles and rules; or what Badiou is getting at when he speaks of an event; or what Deleuze was getting in his account of what he called “counter-actualization”). There was a kind of crack or a rupture, something absolutely inimitable in the way it was inscribed in Michael Jackson’s own body, and proliferated throughout that body’s performance. But balanced on the edge in this way, always just short of collapse, it was something that resonated with “everybody” (and in Michael Jackson’s case, the empirical extent of this "everybody" was larger than it had ever been before, and larger, probably, than it will ever be again, at least in any future continuous with our present).
It was good to read this a couple of weeks after the fact, now that the post-death media spectacle itself has died down. When the death came into public view, I was living in a place with no Internet or cable TV which was a kind of Godsend.

One thing about Michael that Pinocchio Blog also points out is that the kind of aesthetic singularity that he represented and the way he located a global "everybody" as his audience (in the same way that, say, The Beatles, did) can never really happen again in Internet culture with its niche marketing and fragmented yet still semi-linkable communities of interest. No matter what you may have thought of his talent or monstrously physical transformation over the latter years of his life, there will never again be a superstar like Michael Jackson in any of our lifetimes.

Where were you in 82?

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