I've written the sentence that I'm quite sure I'll spend the next two years revising:
"It is my hope that downloading feminist critical materialism as a utility to re-toggle media archaeology could produce relational methods better able to adjust for all the ways that media means and does—a deep material dynamism that has the capacity to fixate or “hold still” an object under analysis so to better disclose how it functions through practical, observable enactment, but that also has the charity to let an object go, to let it recede into the complex imbrication of material life so that one may observe—and be touched by—the agency of things."
There's all sorts of words in this I feel ill at ease about--"functions" being a huge one (since it seems to imply that things can "function on their own"), enactment another (perhaps a misuse of this terms as I employ it from Annmarie Mol's The Body Multiple--it's too soon to tell), and of course all the sensory terms, "observe", "touched", etc. There's a struggle in language to articulate something which I haven't even fully mentally conceptualized yet. But I'm somehow closer--there's something in this notion of "holding still" and "letting recede" that feels powerfully apt for my project (I especially like the implication that "holding still" nonetheless permits us the think of the object as still in movement, with borders undefined).
I'm excited to wonder at how working through this project will shift my lived relations to the world (to things and to people, to use a convenient, strategic shorthand). Whenever I struggle to write about critical materialism, I've discovered I hold out my hand over my keyboard (horizontal, flat, palm down) and bend and flex my fingers outward, and sort of wobble my hand--as if I'm thinking with my hand about how something might both "hold still" and "recede" through these micro-movements. It's a world of wonder...
If you live around NYC, mark your calendars for the NOW! Visual Culture Conference
, being held May 31 - June 2 at New York University. This is the biennial conference of the International Association for Visual Culture. At the end of the 2010 Visual Studies Conference held in London two years ago, a proposition was put forth to inaugurate an international association for visual culture studies (it was a blast of a conference I was very lucky to be at, as the Editorial Assistant of the Journal of Visual Culture). Two years later...taadaa: Visual Culture Association in bloom.
It's going be a rad three days, and nothing quite beats New York at spring time--so come on down (or up or over!). There's no concurrent sessions, just one, long major event, so no stress of panel-hopping or missing "the good stuff". Check out the schedule here
I must give a nod to my good friend and outstanding illustration history scholar, Jaleen Grove
, who will be presenting on the panel "Locating the Object in Visual Culture Studies" I'm excited to see her take to the stage!
I just received an eagerly awaited package...a vintage, unopened Women's Ware software program from 1984.Yes, the hanger comes with the software. It's styled into the packaging. The title is "Women's Ware", subtitled "(for modern men too!)". This software was distributed by Neon Software Company, which was founded (I believe) by a husband and wife team. The wife, Marie Norwood, allegedly came up with the idea of Women's Ware. She writes on the back:"The only part of a computer program that should overwhelm you is the end result. That's why Women's Ware offers you the most sophisticated personal and home management programs in a unique format that's refreshingly uncomplicated. So pick a program. They're exciting, they're easy, and what's more, once you've learned one, you've mastered them all!"This was just one of a suite
of software packages that were part of the Women's Ware offered by Neon Software Company, including: Budget, Calendar, Checkbook, Directory, Filebox, Freefile, and Recipe (shown here). I owe MAJOR thanks (and dissertation acknowledgements) to Maureen Ryan
for pointing me toward these artifacts. I don't know where to begin, but I know I can't wait to try.
I'm currently cross reading Jussi Parikka and Erkki Huhtamo's Media Archaeology reader with Diane Coole and Samantha Frost's New Materialisms reader. This is necessary action.
With the rising prominence of Ernstian "cold gazes", claims about "getting away from our subjectivity" hinged on early-mid writing by Foucault (I'm wondering how the "ethical Foucault" would respond to such provocations), and an insistent depth-probe of the media archaeological object that isolates it from content and meaning--well, I'm concerned about where this takes media archaeology, the troubling terms on which media archaeology engages concepts of "emotion" and "affect" as distractions from the primacy of the technological substrate (and how regularly, suspiciously, they are figured as "feminine"). There's something concerning that I just don't like happening here, but I can't quite put my finger on it.
I'm hoping that reading Grosz, Ahmed, Bennet and others against the grain of media archaeology will help me jack open the black box media archaeologists seem so keen on putting around us.
I've been reading Peter Lunenfeld's "The Secret War Between Uploading and Downloading" hard on the heels of finishing Mass Effect 3. For a game that made me cry in pure affective overload at the end of Mass Effect 2, the end of ME3 made my cry out, in complete disappointment. I'm filtering some of my thoughts on ME3 through the Lunenfeld's interest in pushing for "meaningful downloading" and a "mindful uploading" culture.
The Mass Effect franchise—if played for reasons other than just killing aliens—is an exercise in scenario visualization. Faced with the possible extinction of the entire galaxy, Commander Shepard is called upon to act in an apocalyptic circumstance the proportions of which cannot be visualized--even the imagination strains to conceptualize all organic life winking out. The game toggles deftly between the various heartstrings that must be pulled to wed you to this effort—from the individual to the social, the game excels at presenting different scales of attachment that help you stretch your empathy outward, unfurl a hope for a future that motivates your action.
Closest to the level of the individual, you have your lover who provides an emotional foil for Shepard's inner thoughts. Yet your investments unfold beyond your romantic dyad, from the crew, each with their private demons, to the people of the Citadel who need your aid in both personal requests and species-based dilemmas, to whole planets, fleets, and biological ecosystems. You understand that your actions are consequential, always moving outward, and you are asked to consider the potential consequences of those decisions, how those choices alter the fragile scenario that you are trying to stabilize. Who will help you, and who will turn into an Achilles heel? How can you always work toward the best possible outcome for the largest possible beings? What guides your ethics—self-preservation, a rigid code of honor, case-by-case pragmatics? A good gamer, a mindful gamer, is thoughtful about these decisions, and recons with them.
The grand failure of ME3's ending is that the power of what the platform was able to do ceased to matter. Suddenly Shepard is dropped into a situation over which he/she has no ability to foresee. The grand universe scenario that you've been visualizing, managing and calibrating doesn't matter. All your careful planning, all your thoughtful choices, bottom out to a numbers game, a hollow stand-in for the intellectual and ethical work and exploration we filled Shepard up with for 90+ hours over the course of the trilogy. The game works powerfully as a simulation of leadership development, a playground for trying out responses on how to treat others, a way of thinking from the micro to the macro, and how these scales of behavior are latched into each other--how this thing over here effects that thing over there. That's the reality of living in our world—that our actions have consequences that are always spreading out beyond us, slipping away from us, operating in systems of power we can't totally comprehend. Complexity. That's some of what Mass Effect got at. That's why it felt particularly alive. When that complexity is removed, when suddenly the whole world is just the machination of a never-before-seen godchild/deus ex machina, we've traded a complex systems model for a top-down hierarchy model. It's this flip, wherein we are removed from meaningful choice--which was in no way keeping with the structure of the game--that feels most insulting, saddening, and disingenuous to a game that helped me imagine what I might want from a future I could cooperate in.