about

Hi, I’m Emma, welcome to my website.

I’m an instructor and PhD student at Virginia Tech. My dissertation is a critique of the epistemic premises of a datafied society (i.e. the “Big Data Weltanschauung“) through an exploration of methodologies in psychedelic psychotherapy . A web-based version of my curriculum vitae is at this link, and this one gives you a downloadable PDF.

Generally, there’s no consistent logic to what I post about here. I sometimes share original fiction, poetry and music on this site. 2018 has seen a lot of experimental creative writing and music YouTube. The earliest content is from 2014.

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Behind this link is a page where I’ve indexed a lot of recent work, some published.
My academia.edu homepage has other content, including teaching materials.
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@vt.edu.

Thanks for visiting!

— Emma Stamm

writing warnings

[0] Fact: writing is made of words, not ideas.

[1] “Nothing is like an idea so much as an idea” — Bishop Berkeley

[2] Fact: writingideas, and content all refer to different entities.

[3] “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

[4] The writing I like cuts through the hell of sameness that is the digital space (and capitalism! Capital writ large)

[5] Sometimes it says nothing. That’s from John Cage’s book Silence, which inspired the title of my first website

[6] “All great writers are great deceivers” — Vladimir Nabokov

[7] Magic is stronger when it remains in the occult, and writers have to be careful as they pick from their spellbook. Like the joke about jazz, it’s what you don’t hear that counts.

 

story time

New publication and I’m so happy it’s fiction!!! A tale of unrequited eros, drowning, stargazer lilies, body doubles, video games in Nairobi, whiskey, mania and machine learning. “Dimensionality Curses”.

This was published by Oasis Journal, a project of Holum Press, in a beautiful little volume:

 

They may do an online version, which would be great… the other pieces are also mean, classy and freaky, worth a read 😉

solstice incomings

Tomorrow I return to New York to visit family and see two lectures, “Uncomputable,” by Taeyoon Choi and Alexander Galloway. I like Galloway’s thoughts about data-

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Data comes from the Latin dare, meaning to give. But it’s the form that’s most interesting. First of all, it’s in the neuter plural, so it refers to “things.” Second, data is a participle in the perfect passive form. Thus the word means literally “the things having been given.” Or, for short, I like to think of data as “the givens.”

…as data are defined in terms of their givenness, their non-immanence with the one, they also display a relation with themselves. Through their own self-similarity or relation with themselves, they tend back toward the one (as the most generic instance of the same). The logic of data is therefore a logic of existence and identity: on the one hand, the facticity of data means that they exist, that they ex-sistere, meaning to stand out of or from; on the other hand, the givenness of data as something means that they assume a relationship of identity, as the self-similar “whatever entity” that was given.

The true definition of data, therefore, is not simply “the things having been given.” The definition must conjoin givenness and relation. For this reason, data often go by another name, a name that more suitably describes the implicit imbrication of givenness and relation. The name is information.

Information combines both aspects of data: the root form refers to a relationship (here a relationship of identity as same), while the prefix in refers to the entering into existence of form, the actual givenness of abstract form into real concrete formation.

Heidegger sums it up well with the following observation about the idea: “All metaphysics including its opponent positivism speaks the language of Plato. The basic word of its thinking, that is, of his presentation of the Being of beings, is eidos, idea: the outward appearance in which beings as such show themselves. Outward appearance, however, is a manner of presence.” In other words, outward appearance or idea is not a deviation from presence, or some precondition that produces presence. Idea is precisely coterminous with presence. To understand data as information means to understand data as idea, but not just idea, also a host of related terms: form, class, concept, thought, image, outward appearance, shape, presence, or form-of-appearance.

As Lisa Gitelman has reminded us, there is no such thing as “raw” data, because to enter into presence means to enter into form. An entity “in-form” is not a substantive entity, nor is it an objective one. The in-form is the negentropic transcendental of the situation, be it “material” like the givens or “ideal” like the encoded event. Hence an idea is just as much subject to in-formation as are material objects. An oak tree is in-formation, just as much as a computer file is in-formation.

All of this is simply another way to understand Parmenides’s claim about the primary identity of philosophy: “Thought and being are the same.”

Alexander Galloway, “From Data To Information”

:):)

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Other stuff: My colleague Robert Flahive and I are stepping up as editors-elect for SPECTRA, the official peer-reviewed journal of our doctoral program. SPECTRA features interdisciplinary scholarship from the social sciences and humanities, with a strong bent toward the critical & theoretical. We’ll be posting a new call for papers some time this summer.

Work on SPECTRA will occupy a lot of my time over the next two years, although I have a devilish desire to convene a small conference on psychedelics and technology in late 2019 or 2020. This is kinda selfish, I mean, it’s at least half-motivated by my interest in being the same room as a lot of scholars working on the same topics (including smart friends, but also those whose research I’ve been following and admiring from a distance). It’s a nascent dream for now, but I like the idea so much I may have to make it reality — not that throwing conferences is easy, but I think I’m up to the task —

From 7/9-7/19 I’ll be taking my doctoral preliminary exams. Writing ~75 pages in ten days. Here I am with a dog I babysat for two weeks, who offered me moral support in the early days of my studying.

(By the way, this is the tannest I’ll be all year. Spending the autumn months in Northern Europe won’t help). Happy solstice, yall!

 

unknowing

These days I keep thinking that the goal of psychiatry shouldn’t be to know the mind, but to nurture it. About how important that distinction is.

Despite the seeming connection to my research, I don’t use the work of N. Katherine Hayles, most because I think there’s immanent humanism in her “posthuman.”This is the same reason I’m not fond of Donna Haraway: you can’t reconcile differences between machines, humans and animals without reinforcing the a priori givenness of those divisions. The project of Hayles’ latest book, Unthought, positions neuroscience as a justification for the possibility of an inaccessible element of cognition. She says new findings from neuroscience prove there are mystery dimensions of the mind — something psychologists have been saying for decades, philosophers much longer. I read Unthought as suggesting a sort of epistemic humility towards our own psyche, an acknowledgment that where minds are concerned, healing doesn’t always rely on understanding. I don’t think we should need neuroscience to be that humble.

I did briefly mention Hayles in my talk at the Human Futures and Intelligent Machines summit last week. See, some strange bedfellows made up the audience — computer scientists and humanities scholars trained in critiquing technoscientific methods. In a bit of a meta- move, I said that Unthought was a serviceable example for them, since the text allows our faith in science to maintain intact as it makes the claim that unchartable territory deserves a place in our map of the mind. This remark was a little gratuitous, I admit. I just wanted to make it clear that since giving lectures is self-marketing for grad students, you have to pander a bit. (This is especially true for those of us whose research and audiences are inter- and non-disciplinary). And at any rate, some people there, my friends, were already aware that I don’t care much for posthumanism/New Materialism(s)/cyborg theory.

Positive knowledge used to speak about the unspeakable. Even though Hayles’ “unthought” is defined by elusiveness, it gives us evidentiary data — data that must assemble at the horizon of the unknowable, at the antipodes of the mind.

It’s a bit too easy to spatialize knowledge like that, in terms of limits, centers and zeniths. I think it’s more daring and more useful to begin by problematizing the foundations of what we call “knowledge:” what it is and whether technology has structurally shifted the terms on which we distinguish the known from the unknown. This is the work of some contemporary scholars, like Sun-Ha Hong, whose first book (forthcoming) argues that “the rapid expansion of data-driven surveillance in early twenty-first century America entails a wider transformation of collective norms governing what counts as known, probable, certain.” It’s also a very old philosophical project, more timeless than anything neuroscience can be used to explain. I’ve put this here before and I will again — “for those of us whose vision is ineluctably drawn to the mystery dimensions, life requires not explanation, but attention.” (Some psychologist... I actually know this guy… he does neuroscience too!)

 

Screenshots via this interview with Andrei Tarkovsky.

Also, halfway through writing this, I read this TL;DR version of Jonathan Basile’s latest academic publication — I appreciate his critique of speculative realism and new materialism a whole lot. Finishing his new book is high on my to-do list after I complete my comprehensive exams next month. A lot’s on hold until then.

 

 

Sights and sounds a little mystical,

Sensoria, tactile apparatuses for the brain. If the verses for the second aren’t proof of a psychedelic protocol in literature — see the second paragraph  — I don’t know what is.

“Only a palace with interior doors / well painted well gargoyled with multiple floors / two windows let free this projector machine and the magical world here appears on the screen / my servants attend me with tricks of the senses / the past and the future and similar tenses and on platters of air they convey me my measure both gladness and sorrow, I lack not for treasure  / the lord and his lady are seated within / in the court of the mind where the song does begin / the song is as fine is as fine is as follows  / the song does continue through measureless hollows that sink from the level of personal being through caverns of darkness where dragons are dwelling  /the mountains above them are raised at my calling /  there the apples are ripe or the rain is a-falling / in ships of white vision I sail the horizon / where three spinners stand beyond the horizon / under the tree of the apples of beauty / I watch them arranging my days and tomorrows / The song is as fine is as fine as it follows / I stood on the beach where the moon was a-curling / Laughed on the wings of the sea birds calling / I loved when sweet Venus a lover did bring me / I cried when sweet Saturn and Jupiter moved us and all of my servants were fighting their brothers / And the lord and the lady they hated each other / Till the spinners arose with their work on their fingers / Commanding the presence of Heavenly singers / That spoke of the silence so soon to be coming / When all would be still in the wonderful palace / The peace is not stillness but peacefully changing / This hope is the hope of the man on the gallows / The song is as fine is as fine is as follows / The infant I was in the womb of my mother White sperm I was in the loins of my father / Before that I swam in the oceans of nowhere / Where the fish are as fine as the colour of colours / Where waves are the message of centuries rolling / Where wind is the breath of the Holy Creator / Where no ship sails but only the ocean / Where all the rivers grow mighty with showing / And crowned with the gifts of the myriad valleys / Return with a sigh to the sea of the coming / Forever and ever and ever and ever / be glad O be Glad for the song has no ending.” The Incredible String Band, The Head

 

unthinking

Tomorrow I’ll be giving a talk at the Human Futures and Intelligent Machines summit at Virginia Tech. Some slides, in progress, below:

Check out the program: http://o-culus.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/Human-Futures-and-Intelligent-Machines-Agenda1.pdf and a link to the livestream: https://virginiatech.zoom.us/my/tech4humanity

Here’s an excerpt from an essay I worked on last summer (currently still in an embryonic stage..) which includes some of the ideas I’ll share in the talk. It calls for queer theory as a remedy for positivism in Internet studies. Although I will not be discussing queer theory tomorrow,  the ideas about the Deleuzian ‘dividual, data as an agent of sameness-making, and reification through digital processes will be central.

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As a scholar, I am less interested in the Internet than I am in emerging cultural and ethical
problems presented by data at scale. However, Internet studies is an important stage for my
research, as data and the Internet are mutually constitutive. Because critical perspectives on data are welcomed within its scope, I am invested in this field.

An important accomplice to my scholarship is queer theory; specifically, the growing movement toward a “queer Internet studies.” I maintain that queer Internet studies can be used to challenge digital positivism, and that queer theory’s treatment of gender identity in particular is a highly useful tool for scrutinizing the epistemic ground of digital positivism. As the name suggests, “queer Internet studies” deploys queer theory and methodologies in its investigations of the Internet. Per the work of one of its founding figures, Michel Foucault, a major function of queer theory is to reveal the lack of determinacy in the emergence of dominant power structures — in other words, to demonstrate that events which have appeared natural or inevitable were as historically contingent as “unnatural” or “queer” phenomena. A queer perspective on the Internet gives traction to research that subverts or “makes strange” given precepts of digital modernity. Thus queer internet studies can significantly decenter digital positivism.

Of course, “queer” is not just a name applied antecedently to outcomes prescribed by Foucault. Historically, queer studies has focused on subjects relating to gender, sexuality, affect, identity, and related topics. Of these, “identity” is among the more difficult to define: whereas there is some consensus that “sexuality” guides specific desires, what identity means in function and principle is a more intractable riddle. In fact, the persistence of this conflict has itself proven to be a rich site for investigation. Gender and sexuality may partially constitute personal identity, but the difficulty of the project of isolating an essence to identity itself has frequently been both a beginning and terminal point for inquiry.

In the digital world, however, “identity” has at least one unambiguous meaning: it refers to the external markers by which expressed online selfhood is confirmed to be the real you. These are the markers that are “stolen” when identity theft occurs: your name, date of birth, social security number and so on. Put together, they form an image of a human being that has financial value across various platforms, which is why identity theft is a lucrative crime. According to this usage, identity is always and only data. But less instrumental conceptions of “identity” are also finding increasingly greater expression in data. With the rise of personal quantification tools and positivist self-reflections produced by our networked habits, selfhood has never before been understood quite so much a function of metric as it is today. Social media theorist Rob Horning paints an unsettling picture of this in his essay “Sick of Myself:”

As more information about ourselves is captured within Big Data systems by phones,
social media platforms, fitness trackers, facial recognition software, and other forms of
surveillance, algorithms assign identity markers to us, place us in categories based on
correlations to patterns drawn from massive data sets, regardless of whether these
correspond to how we think of ourselves. We become, to an extent, what other people do,
as their data contributes to how ours is interpreted. The system will infer our identity,
according to categories it defines or invents, and use these to shape our environments and
further guide our behavior, sharpen the way we have been classified, and make the data
about us denser, deeper. As these positivist systems saturate social existence, they nullify
the idea that there is something about identity that can’t be captured as data. (Horning,
2017)

Here, Horning points out that the ineffable parts of identity are not only under siege by information, but that the information which assaults human beings on an individual basis is not actually native to each individual. Rather, a great deal of it issues from statistical means: the data-individual is in part an average derived from varyingly-sourced information that is algorithmically grouped and blended into opaque homogeneity. Here, selfhood is understood as a triangulation from demographic factors that apply to humans en masse. The person reflected is not so much themselves as a representative sample, stripped of the quirks and rough edges that would disturb the smoothness of a statistical normal curve.

For this human simulacrum, philosopher Gilles Deleuze coined the term “dividual.” In his essay “Postscript on Societies of Control,” he writes: “the numerical language of control is made of codes that mark access to information, or reject it. We no longer find ourselves dealing with the mass/individual pair. Individuals have become ‘dividuals,’ and masses, samples, data, markets, or ‘banks’” (Deleuze, 1992). None of the data the compose the Deleuzian dividual exist beyond a network that gives them meaning, a network that averages the information of millions to make of each one a picture with least enough structural coherence to render it cogible to others. Here, the question of identity is answered by equivocation and resemblance-making rather than the proclamation of unique character.

By certain accounts of what is meant by the term “queer,” then, the Deleuzian dividual is already not-queer. In her essay “A Declaration of Psychedelic Studies” — which, like this one, sees in queer theory a possible ally to a developing interdisciplinary field — psychedelic researcher Neşe Devenot interprets a formulation promoted by queer theorist David Halperin to reflect queerness as defined by deviance:

Unlike gay identity, which, though deliberately proclaimed in an act of affirmation, is
nonetheless rooted in the positive fact of homosexual object-choice, queer identity need
not be grounded in any positive truth or in any stable reality. As the very word implies,
“queer” does not name some natural kind or refer to some determinate object; it acquires
its meaning from its oppositional relation to the norm. Queer is by definition whatever is
at odds with the normal, the legitimate, the dominant. There is nothing in particular to
which it necessarily refers. It is an identity without an essence. “Queer,” then, demarcates
not a positivity but a positionality vis-à-vis the normative…it describes a horizon of
possibility whose precise extent and heterogeneous scope cannot in principle be delimited
in advance. (Devenot, 2012)

If “queer” demarcates a positionality as opposed to a positivity, it is always beyond the reach of the reifying operations of data production. Horning’s “Sick of Myself” draws attention to the economic logic that underscores these procedures: the ineffable self as ever-more occluded by data is a product of the capitalist injunction to transform all phenomena into profit. This process begins with reification, or the concrete representation of a transcendent or ineffable entity. Reification may distort or misrepresent its subject, but in this case, faithful representation is beside the point: if an entity cannot take form and shape — if it demonstrates no positive core or essence — it cannot be mobilized as a vehicle for capital. As such, capitalism has no need to acknowledge it.

Following this, if there is indeed an aspect of identity that cannot be expressed in data, drawing attention to this is not in the interest of the largest financial stakeholders of the Web. Amazon, Alphabet, Facebook, Netflix, and similar companies depend on a constant stream of user engagement, out which is derived more potentially profitable information about them. A positivist perspective suggests that this picture is capable of wholly encapsulating its subject, or at least every profitable angle of it. This representable self is the data-self, the self as a function of algorithmic reconstruction. Because the data-self, the dividual, is a useful figure for intervening in data positivism, in/dividual identity is the main conceptual lens through which I mobilize queer Internet studies against digital positivism. This is not to imply that queer identity is the only intellectual antidote to digital positivism. But it is productive for this insofar as identity is both a foundation of Internet business models and a primary concern for queer theory.

Christian Fuchs, Vincent Mosco, Rob Horning and a growing number of like-minded contemporary thinkers question the assumption that more information leads to more truth. This is a bold line of reasoning, and it is necessary to foreground it in Internet studies. Internet research that is founded on the same precepts by which Internet stakeholders conduct business can only hope to make a small amount of room for surface-level cultural and social analyses. In his essay “From digital positivism and administrative big data analytics towards critical digital and social media research!” — exclamation point included in the original title — Fuchs offers a clarion call to scholars who would hope for something more:

We need a paradigm shift from administrative digital positivist big data analytics towards
critical social media research. Critical social media research combines critical social media theory, critical digital methods and critical-realist social media research ethics.
Challenging big data analytics as the mainstream of digital media studies requires us to
think about theoretical (ontological), methodological (epistemological) and ethical
dimensions of an alternative paradigm. (Fuchs, 2017)

As he notes, this critical turn must unfold on many fronts, furnishing dynamic opportunities for reflection, inquiry, and transgression. Such scholarship can reveal the current state of the Internet for its precise lack of inevitability, for the fact that Web infrastructure has been appropriated to serve normative ends, and that this was not determined in advance but rather a function of the capitalist telos.

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more jazz listening than usual these days

I took this video about seven years ago on a very very cold night. There were so many people in the audience I couldn’t maintain a decent shot for ten minutes.

A little easier on the ears/brain.

mood antipodes

 

Polar ends of a strange and specific but very familiar (to me) emotional spectrum.

Excerpt from Betty Grover Eisner’s “The Importance Of The Nonverbal In Psychedelic States”

In this highly logical and verbal society-where semantics appear to be the trafficway of human relationship-it may be disconcerting to find that words often complicate interaction rather than Simplify it. This is particularly evident in relationships where neurotic elements are present. In our culture ego defenses most commonly use verbalization as a method of manipulation and control. Words are also used, consciously or unconsciously, to deny basic motivation and intent. As our western civilization has grown toward the logical, the rational, and the scientific, attention has been diverted (sometimes forcibly) from the intuitive, the spontaneous, and the so-called irrational. This split between rational and irrational-between conscious and unconscious-makes an individual feel pulled apart. In order to operate efficiently with other people he must close off his deeper levels. The price of effective closure is a feeling of emptiness and loneliness; as a by-product creativity shrivels and dies. The use of psychedelics has made excruciatingly but excitingly clear the extent to which adults have been conditioned away from access to the unconscious during the process of growing up. The psychedelic experience gives glimpses that life is intended to be full of brilliant color, stereophonic sound, flowing dimensionality on the sensory level, and unitive and ecstatic experience in relationship to the one-or to the many.

During the past nine years of work with mind-changing drugs, the focus of our interest has turned increasingly toward the removal of barriers which stand in the way of the individual’s fulfillment of his creative potential. In the language of psychotherapy, this means concern with change of character-change of lifelong habit patterns of perception and action. Most of the patients seen and worked with have been from the hard-core residual of individuals who have not been helped by any form of ordinary psychotherapy. ‘Ne have watched the psychedelics emerge not only as the fastest potentiators of character analysis but in many cases as the only possible tools able to create conditions wherein change can occur-tools, so to speak, for opening doors closed by heavy locks and bolts of long disuse. It has been of interest and importance to discover that with knowledge and experimental experience, smaller doses can be substituted for larger ones, and less potent, less esoteric drugs can be as useful as LSD and mescaline. The techniques that make this possible also speed the process of psychotherapy. One factor is the increasing use of individuals trained in drug work and in group processes. (By “drug” is meant treatment with LSD, mescaline, Ritalin or amphetamines, used alone or in various combinations, and also experimental work by the research group with other psychedelics such as ibogaine and ololiuqui). The other is the development of a whole new series of therapeutic techniques-mostly non-verbal.

Betty Grover Eisner’s Erowid page

indignities

Writing tweets; thinking in pull quotes; drunk brocialists; disappointment, faintly suggested but fully registered; hangovers; Puerto Rico; superhero movies; Elon Musk; Bitcoin boosters; union busters; the treacly-precious task of recuperating “dignity;” being a good sport; tawny blonde highlights; forgetting how to offend; being forgotten; forgetting faces but not conversations; losing your religion; enjoying yourself more when you realize you’re enjoying yourself; bug bites; the tradeoff between pure erotic fantasy and spontaneous honesty; stuttering; politically incorrect lucid dreams; the jokes that don’t land; the jokes that land too much; the agora of protein bars; New York, NY.

I’ll think of more later.

picture update

Since I sometimes think I should post more images here: some screenshots I’ve taken recently, plus a photo of a gorgeous copy of Avital Ronell’s CRACK WARS.

 

I like that it has three ribbons, presumably to mark three different places in the text. It’s useful.