Hi, I’m Emma, welcome to my website. I’m an instructor and PhD student at Virginia Tech, where my research exists at the intersection of continental philosophy and critical data studies. I also write fiction, poetry and music.

Disclaimer: there’s not much rhyme or reason to what I post about on o-culus.

Here’s a page where I’ve indexed a lot of recent writings, some published.
My academia.edu homepage has other content, including lecture slides and papers.
Music: http://stamm.bandcamp.com
Twitter: @turing_tests
I dig it when people put things here
New for 2018, this site has a blogroll! Yes, like it’s 2003. Check it
And you can contact me via email: stamm[at]vt.edu.

Thanks for visiting!

— Emma Stamm

writing warnings

[1] Fact: writing is made of words, not ideas.
[2] “Nothing is like an idea so much as an idea” — Bishop Berkeley
[3] Fact: writing and ideas and content all refer to ontologically separate entities.
[4] “I myself prefer an Argentine fantasy. God did not create a Book of Nature of the old sorts Europeans imagined. He wrote a Borgesian library, each book of which is as brief as possible, yet each book of which is inconsistent with every other. For each book, there is some humanly accessible bit of Nature [“the natural”] such that that book, and no other, makes possible the comprehension, prediction and influencing of what’s going on” — Ian Hacking on Borges and Berkeley

“Writing is made of words…” means that to write is to write. Thinking about writing isn’t the same thing as doing it. It’s something to put on a post-it note and keep over your computer, it’s a reminder that thinking about working isn’t the same thing as working.

It also means that writing done right self-contextualizes and self-legitimates.

Good writing cuts through the hell of sameness that is the digital space (and capitalism! Capital writ large). It doesn’t produce anything new, of course, but it reveals.

And writers have to be very careful as they pick through Pandora’s box. Some spells are stronger unsaid.

new publication

Retooling “The Human:” A Review of Ashley’s Shew’s Animal Constructions and Technological Knowledge. Link here: https://social-epistemology.com/2018/01/18/retooling-the-human-emma-stamm/

I was a bit out of my comfort zone reviewing this book, since it leans toward analytic philosophy and positive knowledge. But I’m glad I did — going too far down the continental hole doesn’t help us talk about the nonhuman.

In this essay: http://www.glass-bead.org/research-platform/three-nightmares-inductive-mind/ Reza Negarestani argues that taking an entirely inductive or deductive approach to nonhuman knowledge can miss some crucial points. He’s specifically addressing artificial intelligence, but I think this applies whenever we talk about any nonhuman minds/knowledge (including animal and plant minds). Basically, if you’re going to do nonhuman philosophy, you have to get comfortable making inferences about the Other.

Of course, the trend is toward the opposite, too many analytic philosophers and positivists departing from under-scrutinized assumptions, building arguments on spurious connections. Most of the time when I do this work I’m okay repping the other side. Staying negative! (Dialectically).

Popol Vuh — Ja, Deine Liebe Ist Süßer Als Wein

That last thing was really dark. Fwiw, for all its creative liberties, it is nonfiction and it was not easy to write. Falls into the category of art you make not because you want to, but because you have to.

Not as an apology — but for parity, something light. Music.

affect overload

A piece about “affect overload” as the psychic counterpart to information overload. Finally!


Yes, I came across it among other quotidian debris … I mean it’s on my Twitter feed … after something about the latest big hack, the “meltdown scare.” I began my research career studying this stuff. Now I hope there’s someone out there always thinks about me when they hear of an exploit.

I read about affect overload, take to the same site to neatly opine that this is nice for those of us who dispensed with any semblance of unstudied enthusiasm online years ago, well, it’s too fucking hard I’ve been writing about myself online since I was ten years old and it never ever felt any way I thought it should.

Read read read about feelings, but I write to coolly mystify, like Brian Eno or Kenneth Goldsmith instruct us, like a trickster, the demon from which cultural hackers take their archetypal identity, like Netochka Nezvanova, like walking alone at night, write the anaesthecene where rational feeling and symbolism surrender to a play of infinite possibility structurally premised on numbness.

People I know keep killing themselves and each other. My gradeschool friend’s mom. A few years later, my neighbor from the same era of my youth, a boy whose house I half came of age in, my own mother’s best friend’s kid. In a different past life a college friend jumps off the Brooklyn Bridge. He left a note telling loved ones to donate to mental health research in his memory, that wasn’t long after a student two year my junior who I photographed in front of the dining hall with a scarlet poppy tucked behind her left ear. From the class of ’11, whispers of  a girl who did it in front of her friend while talking on Skype (or maybe they werent’t talking at all). Last fall a friend from the same college, a poet, is murdered by her roommate, also an alum, and this also occurs in New York City. When I was a senior a young man appears at a show I hosted, refused to put out his indoors cigarette (or just step the hell onto the patio, gosh!) though I ask him nicely twice. Months later I’m told that sometime between then and now he stabbed his comatose girlfriend to death while she was lying in her hospital bed (but the story was covered up because family wealth, because public image and I haven’t followed up on it) (also what is it with my college). Oh, yeah these timelines are out of order. There are others happening in recombinant chronologies, rapes and suicide threats, psychoses and institutional intakes, familial bloodlust, by the way,

the most startling thing I’ve ever seen more than twice is obvious self-injury. Let’s say a few inches south of the sternum, browned crimson parallel marks, equal in length and distance from one another, committed with uniform depth into the skin — signs of calculation, rational measurement.

It’s said to release pressure. They think it’s medicine for the mirror universe, bodily phenomena regarded as a lower register of simulation than the digital-social, our faces flatly leering back at us from every liquid crystal corner. Mirrors, mirrors everywhere. Borges wrote that mirrors and copulation are abominable, since they both multiply the numbers of men. The next morning the first thing on my Twitter feed says “Algorithms are mirrors;” it’s a post on Medium by a civic tech researcher at MIT.

Self-loathing, depression, self-immolation, bane for the personal spectacle. Richard Doyle says the drugged narrator writes in the Nth person plural — a propitious cognitive transfer that starts in a level-up from first person to third, then beyond, full exit from singular personal enclosure, ego immolation. It starts when you notice how often you use I in your writing, how references to you and your problems punctuate everything you say and do, the hell of the self, the effusive suffocating I, me, I, I, the crime some people charge social media with: crowding oneself in with oneself, filter bubbles, “the daily me, We Are Data.

In this moment suicidality is not as an infection, a malignant actor from the outside like bacteria or virus or spouse abuse, but an infarction, endogenous — it’s cancer.  Too much self growing inside the self. I’m living all over me.

Recently I read that masochism as a kink is deep down more purely evil than its nominal Other. That masochists are more self-interested, less compassionate, that their libidinal energies well up and attract predators like mosquitoes circling to stagnant water.

Now I think about what it would be like to dominate someone else, to conjure blood to a young girl’s cheekbones, train my fingers to pinch and beat and hypnotize, read my eros into her translucent surfaces, to bring a blush to the back of her neck that is so pretty like the stem of a young plant, to find out if it’s as easy to snap in half. I imagine this complete alien who exists in time but not space, who takes up no weight in the world, the woman of time but not even time because you can only adopt her postures in quantum lightshows that flicker somewhere between your fantasy and another’s.

I think about my former classmate who now is so famous he gets a blurb from Lauren Berlant, who always said the smartest things in LIT3002: Sympathy And Its Discontents, where we read De Sade and Bataille and exchanged fine high-minded remarks on what it means to get off on beating the fucking shit out of someone. Whose parents — New York City poets — made a documentary about his older sister Emma, following her suicide. Emma’s Dilemma.

I think about a strain of continental philosophy that categorically rejects psychology as a science. That remakes heart medicine in the image of a collective awareness, a translatable jargon, a realpolitik. According to which the question what does pain mean? makes sense. That accepts the self as a construct, an interpellation, whose devotees are so sparklingly sure of it they feel justified in observing that psychic penumbra can be warded off with a dash of Althusser or Deleuze and Guattari, who can trade silly jokes about human excrement and incest because they never had to worry about performing tastefulness. And how far all this is from what I’ve seen, I mean, like, what people actually do to themselves and each other.

An ex who like my twin is definitely on the autism spectrum but unlike my twin never had it authoritatively confirmed texts me always after midnight with the hyperassociative poetics seemingly only capable of spontaneous production by a schizo-something or other. I think he is schizotypal.

At 2AM a Mos Def video comes to me. Watch this he says now you’ll understand me. It wakes me from a badly needed sleep. Usually I have compassion for the certifiable but I gotta tell him now, stop texting me illogical things after hours. I watch it anyway. Life Is Real. It makes me want to go for a walk.

Affect overload… so what if I’ve got my head in the clouds? Where else would it be? In what time, Should I spin back in grim resignation, down to earth to disbelief and private peals of laughter at my friends who still get so disturbed and broken, I guess their nerves aren’t twice reinforced by experience, yeah, maybe they are the infinitely innocent. So sad at what people really do to themselves. Not me, though, constitutionally incapable as I am of shock, or maybe trauma has left a permanent mark. Affect deficit.

I think about wishing for miracles, you can’t make them because they come from a dimension where normal laws of causality don’t apply. The best you can do is wish, invoke those gods of the higher order.

When I moved to New York City I would walk for hours and hours. After sunset I’d begin seeing patterns in concrete, figures that symbolized nothing but themselves. As an insomniac that was my way of dreaming. It was my stargazing, too, because light occluded the night sky. I think about astronomy, how it defies the normal practices of science since you can’t conduct direct experiments on stars. How bodies mirrored or under observation are always changed by it.

I’ve never brought life or death into this world I feel so exterior to mortal coils it sometimes hits me as a perversion, but pain does visit me from time to time, yes when I rest, that’s at least when I have memories of pain — thin minutes of stillness — and now I think of something written by the poet Sparrow: nothing can stop a miracle. I’m walking, walking, walking all the time.

one soft taboo

Magic, and grownups inclined to take pleasure in its ambiguous status, its relationship to artifice and sympathy, rather than feeling burdened by the whole thing. Wondering how long you can practice magic before it becomes an anvil between your ribs. Like how many minutes a chill can creep around your spine before it presages nerve damage. The average timespan of a trance.

Same thing with loving a God, any God. Loving God more than art. Loving art that comes from a spiritual rather than aesthetic regime.

“Magic and also an open faith in God have seemed far more taboo than a total commitment to art.” — Ariana Reines

you’re living all over me

For a long time I thought the term “nuclear family” had something to do with nuclear energy, a phrase of Atomic Age vintage, and Wikipedia says I’m not alone in this misunderstanding. The metaphor of molecular nuclei to describe family units has got to be a stretch for a lot of us. Nothing I’ve ever called “family” exists as/at the center of anything.

I’m writing this from my former bedroom at my parents’ house in upstate New York. Having not spent Thanksgiving or Christmas with my own nuclear family. It is January and I am home for the holidays.

Two summers ago I adopted a cat. She is the only other resident of my apartment in Virginia. Still it doesn’t feel like living alone. I have nonnuclear families in the mid-Atlantic region, really up and down the whole Eastern seaboard.

In 2015 I had two roommates in a walk-up apartment in a suburb of Hoboken New Jersey. To get to school in lower Manhattan every morning took two hours. First a mile walk to the Light Rail station, clocking in at about twenty minutes, then a wait — hanging out on the platform for God knows how long. The Light Rail could take up to forty minutes if you didn’t make the express. Then the PATH train which runs across state lines, which liked to get stuck halfway through its subterranean trans-Hudson crossing, a ritual reminder of infrastructure fragility and human mortality that I failed to adjust to and suffered greatly from.

My two roommates and I shared a bathroom and bedroom walls, which was fine by all of us. Probably I cleaned the most but I don’t recall doing so very often. None of us did much more than sleep and drink in that place. I was the only woman.

One day a few months into my New Jersey residence an ex told me someone told him They Hate New York Women to which I replied “me too” knowing well the wit would bite harder than any bitterness I disclosed. I had no idea how to be a woman in the big city, no idea where to look for guidance in that department except in caricatures of gender drawn a little differently in every neighborhood. I still don’t.

Despite the close quarters I shared with my roommates at the time, and the zillions of humans I bumped against on public transit, I felt isolated, and happily so. Moving alone across state borders twice a day or more, I recognized that my proximity to others could be as real or unreal as I wanted it to. I was young and female. So I could observe others without threatening them and disarm male strangers with a cartoonishly blunt return of their gaze (wide, inviting eyes; lifted brows) or by clearly deliberate aversions with my face and figure.

Sometimes I think I should have more to say about gender. When I do the thoughts are meek. Sometimes I think that Women’s Writing is a set of uniquely ill-conceived criteria for a genre. Not a radical hypothesis. But it’s only with some notion of Women’s Writing that we can charge Men’s Writing with the crime of imposing clear lines between realism and everything else. God, damnit.

I think of all flowerings of gender troubles 2017 marked on our psychic social ticker-tape. I think of a gentle world where rape is only the unalloyed expression of desire because

those who restrain their desires do so because theirs is weak enough to be restrained.

— William Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell

An observation straight out of a poet’s world, a world where wishes really do come true, the somewhere-over-the-rainbow where appetites have no natural kinship with shame. I think of Anaïs Nin who felt real compassion for men and their self-identified sexual deviances, who took pity on them for their shame. The writer who stepped nimbly from across position of superiority and advisement and took deep shuddering pleasure in feeding hungry specters of maleness. While so many other writers iterate on the theme of just how bad it can get. And neither one resonates with me. What I want with gender, principally, doesn’t exist. There’s no parsimonious explanation for “woman.”

Feeling alien and out of my dimension in a global city, realizing too late that no one wants to become familiar with an extradimensional alien, an animal or an angel, but something coded human and proximal, that’s when I left New York.

And the infrastructure got to me too. I mean, it got to me. Freaked out doesn’t even begin to describe it. Visions of mass annihilation via subpar maintenance.  It wasn’t enough to make me a shut-in. I just put up with it until I left.

Now I miss the isolation and threat. Something happens when you’re in the temporary state of new familiarity with a person (a lover or friend) or group (of friends or colleagues or neighbors); at some point you notices the sounds in your head dialed down, those voices whose harmonious registers and dissonances at one time lifted and lulled you alone, all the personal music. You cash in yours for theirs. Change for cold comfort.

And in my sourest Christmas reflections (I’m not a holiday person) I thought that’s the meaning of family: a series of realistic and grave compromises. And when gravity overrides mass we call it an implosion. However you call it, kin or nuclear, roommates or blood brothers or girlfriends or wives, I get uneasy whenever I think about this living-with thing, the family thing.