about

I’m a freelance writer, PhD student and instructor at Virginia Tech. I also make music and build websites. You’re on one of them right now. This site is a placeholder for stuff I think is cool, bits of work in progress and (I guess) a blog.

Some of my published writings and digital creative ephemera live here: www.realyou.me
Music: http://stamm.bandcamp.com
Linkedin: www.linkedin.com/in/emmastamm
Twitter: @turing_tests
And you can contact me via email: stamm[at]vt.edu.

-emma stamm

GEDI Post III: The Buddhist And The Hot Dog Vendor

[course assignment]

One of my favorite songs by one of my favorite bands has this lyric as a refrain:

“Change is the thing that is what we do, change is the change that’s changing you…”

It’s surreal, not really logical, but that’s why I like it — it emphasizes the disorienting quality of change. Theorizing the causes and nature of change has been a big project for contemporary philosophers, and there’s no reason why educators shouldn’t incorporate some deep reflection on change as part of their teaching. I approached the Douglas Thomas and John Seely Brown reading from this perspective.

Okay, some of their musings on contemporary change struck me as glib, and my first reaction was to fall back on the same basic critique I’ve had with many of our readings: in their embrace of the new, they fail to acknowledge the unique character of older teaching methods that can’t simply be updated and made more accessible through the, uhhhh, magic of technology. (Although I hated it at the time, I’m actually glad my sophomore year Medieval Literature professor made me memorize the opening to Canterbury Tales in the original Middle English). But the project of rendering change visible can not only equip students to deal with the world beyond the classroom (which is, for better or worse, in a state of constantly-accelerating flux), it can offer a good philosophical message about the status of knowledge: facts are constructed. That doesn’t mean they can’t be true, but they are the result of methods and inquiry which are themselves a product of human innovation. Bodies of knowledge change, presumptions are overhauled — and if you’ve read Thomas Kuhn, you know that sometimes entire scientific paradigms shift so dramatically that we can speak of qualitative breaks in our shared understanding of the world.

Focusing learning programs on this notion of change and inherent instability could (and maybe they should) represent a break in pedagogy where students come to a deep awareness of their own agency in producing knowledge. Wikipedia is a great example of transparent knowledge production, and using Wikipedia edit records as a way to emphasize the constantly-changing, actively-generated nature of knowledge is an interesting idea. This awareness shouldn’t be limited to philosophy students with a focus on epistemology, the study of knowledge itself. The tenuous status of knowledge and informational authority is too present in the real world right now, and I suspect that this ambiguity is only on the rise. (Unfortunately, I’m thinking of fake news).

Meanwhile, I have no problems at all with Ellen J. Langer’s article — except that, maybe, its emphasis on presence and focus seems to challenge a lot of the technology-happy work we’ve done so far! I insist that my students put away their internet-connected devices at the beginning of class, not because I inherently dislike smartphones and laptops (that’s another issue), but because I want to create the conditions for mindfulness. Her observations on mindfulness and adaptability to change really hit home for me. Doing coursework in an interdisciplinary PhD program means constantly adapting not only to new content, but new ways of thinking about things. I didn’t major in any of the departments that I take ASPECT courses in, so I often find myself sitting in history, political science or cultural studies classes, attempting to grasp the methodological / epistemological assumptions of historians, political scientists, and so on. (Stuff that some people picked up as undergrads and master’s students, to be sure). The only way I’ve accomplished this while maintaining a sense of clarity and consistency is by paying very close attention to context. I adopt the idea that I’m coming into new disciplines not just to learn the explicit content, but to grok the assumptions that professors and long-term students of a discipline take for granted. This has been completely necessary whenever I’ve encountered quantitative methods… I’ve learned that those who see themselves as math and numbers people somehow appear to intuitively grasp contextual frameworks in ways that I don’t. That’s a bit unfair, but math becomes much easier for me when I try to explain those frameworks to myself before learning a new equation or concept. (It means I spend less time thinking about “why” we use a certain equation, who came up with these methods anyway, and how, and so on…). Hopefully that makes sense. The project of becoming aware of context is so, so important when trying to make sense of content in environments subject to rapid change. Mindfulness is a key component of this.

By the way, all this thinking about change and mindfulness reminds me of a dumb joke about a Buddhist monk and a hot dog vendor. It starts with a cheesy one-liner and then gets even worse:

A Buddhist goes up to a hot dog vendor and says “make me one with everything.” 

When he asks for change, the vendor replies: “change comes from within.”

And I’ll end this post here!

***

For anyone reading this not in GEDI class, here is the first article I’m responding to: http://www.newcultureoflearning.com/newcultureoflearning.pdf , pp. 39-49. The second is only available through the Virginia Tech network.

 

GEDI Post II: Infrastructures, Mental and Digital

 

[this is a course assignment]

In A New Culture of Learning: Cultivating the Imagination for A World of Constant Change, Douglas Thomas and John Seely Brown write: “the relentless pace of change that is responsible for our disequilibrium is also our greatest hope.” They move on from there to embrace fundamentally the same mindset that underscored last week’s readings. Even though I want to engage this material with as much sincerity as my teaching practice deserves, it’s a bit frustrating to have read this.

I say that  after a lot of consideration… really, I don’t come at this from nowhere. My Master’s capstone project was on an organization devoted to independent video gaming; I’ve designed and coded video games; I’ve showed my students TED talks on the power of gaming, and pretty much all of my good friends are internet / game nerds. The phenomenon of gaming — and, more broadly, play and creative in a networked environment — is cultivated by a technologizing society. Manifestoes like this one tend to position themselves as coming from outside the mainstream. Often they begin with a reference to “traditional” education or societal conventions, the framework which would mark texts like this as ideological outliers — but this is not unconventional by any means.

A more radical move is to indicate that the unscrutinized acceptance of these technologies necessarily precludes critical discourse about them. Facebook (which Thomas and Brown reference right at the beginning, lumping it in with the very different technology that is Wikipedia) has become a significant part of many peoples’ lives in the last decade. The sheer magnitude of its role in society means it needs as much constructive skepticism as social sciences and humanities thinkers have accorded to phenomena whose impact took centuries to work toward. But the newness of digital phenomena does not mean that their embrace is in any way unusual. That understanding of them, which is sort of intuitive, is wrong — it just conveniently fits the authors’ ethos. The truth is that in the twenty-first century, with the rate of technological change quickly accelerating, accepting what is new is much easier than thinking critically about it. That’s opening a can of worms that education of all sorts is unprepared to deal with, especially as “digital education” receives a lot of outside attention and funding. “Digital humanities” is more attractive for venture capitalism than non-digital humanities, but I digress…

Right…

I don’t want to keep on this angle for too long. Really this is a recapitulation of last week’s blog. My soapbox isn’t strong enough to hold me up that long.

My favorite article from this week’s batch was Robert Talbert’s “Four Things Lecture Is Good For.” As a humanities instructor with under forty students in my class, I have the luxury of being able to deliver lectures where I encourage students to raise hands, ask questions, and (if they’re excited enough) even interrupt me as I speak. Nobody has to wait until the end of a twenty-minute diatribe about Virginia Woolf to make a remark about a very specific bit of information mentioned at the beginning. That sort of thing bothered me a lot in high school and during my undergrad years.

Lectures can be awfully boring and pointless, and I think Talbert hits the nail on the head when he notes that they’re bad at transferring information. If I want my students to absorb facts about a writer — and, although I tend to de-emphasize informational learning in general, sometimes I want them to know where Woolf  lived when she wrote “A Room Of One’s Own” — I’ll assign them to read certain pages and refer to slides I upload to Canvas. Lectures should contextualize and make lessons “come alive” (if I can use a cheesy cliché). The speaking style of an instructor can convey a sense of purpose and excitement around the course material that’s impossible to give through homework assignments alone.

Having said that, what he meant by “mental models” and “internal cognitive frameworks” was a bit confusing to me.  I guess I’ll just assume that my hunches about them are accurate. “Internal cognitive framework” just sounds like one’s way of making sense of information. I agree that it’s important to share this with students. In fact I wish my own instructors had been more transparent about how they as students had made sense of the same content they then went on to teach. The thing is — this requires a fair amount of self-knowledge and self reflection. Most people (including professors) can’t articulate how they learn, at least not in a way that can easily be modeled by others.

Some of my own best learning has come from talking with fellow students. I’ll never forget when my best friend in college, a philosophy major, described to me how she made sense of some of the most notoriously abstruse writers (Derrida, Heidegger and Kant — oh my!). That advice has stayed with me for years. I think about it as I work on the earliest stages of a philosophical dissertation project today.

And — one of my favorite things about programmer culture (and hacker culture in particular) is the bootstrap, DIY approach to learning code. Despite my critique, something from techno-culture I can usually support is the moxie it takes to learn a new programming language. The fact that there are still few established conventions for teaching programming, at least outside academia (most of what I’ve learned about code is self- or friends-taught), means that learning how to learn is always part of the deal. Thus you can’t help but explicate “internal cognitive frameworks.” I’ve come up with my own way of practicing coding skills that would be pretty easy to teach someone else, because I know exactly how they work.

Actually, I’d be interested to hear what folks with a more of a traditional academic background in computer science think about that.

***

Here are the readings I’m responding to:

Douglas Thomas and John Seely Brown, A New Culture of Learning (2011), pp. 17-38 (“Arc of Life Learning” and “A Tale of Two Cultures”)

Robert Talbert, “Four Things Lecture is Good For

Mark C. Carnes, “Setting Students’ Minds on Fire

 

 

 

 

opaque, fragile and performative selfhoods

Recently I’ve discovered some overlaps between various works of contemporary psychedelic scholarship. Over the summer I started reading Nicolas Langlitz’s book Neuropsychedelia and came across the work of Chris Letheby not long after (when he himself reached out to me after an introduction I made on a grad student listserv… +1 for email networking).

Letheby co-authored a philosophical paper where he argues that selfhood is a fiction vis-à-vis the well-documented psychedelic phenomenon of ego dissolution:

As Metzinger points out, our ‘phenomenal avatar’ (conscious selfmodel)
is ‘transparent’: one does not feel like an avatar encoded in a ‘biological data format’, one feels like a unitary, persisting substance, or entity. The prevalence of this Cartesian intuition in philosophical discussions of selfhood supports this psychosemantic claim. Some may find this claim introspectively dubitable. But it is precisely the ubiquity of this sense of ‘I’ that makes it difficult to isolate phenomenologically—and this is the reason why phenomena
such as ego dissolution are theoretically valuable.

As Savage says in his discussion of LSD phenomenology, ‘By and large the individual is not aware of the ego boundaries of his mind and body and becomes aware of them only when a change has occurred in them’. Psychedelics, by deconstructing the avatar, render it opaque and acquaint subjects directly with its representational nature (cf. Letheby 2015, 2016). Alterations in feelings of ‘mineness’ or ownership, the sense of bodily boundaries, and so forth put pressure on the predictive hypothesis of a unitary entity underlying and persisting throughout experiences. The subsequent diminution in the sense of solid selfhood shows subjects that this sense is ultimately just one more conscious experience, rather than a transcendental precondition of all such experiences. The transformative existential shock which often attends this discovery testifies to the fact that a mere avatar is not what we, in the ordinary and sober course of things, deeply feel and take ourselves to be.

Chris Letheby and Philip Gerrans, “Self Unbound: Ego Dissolution In Psychedelic Experience.” (I removed some citations for readability; the paper is freely available online here: https://academic.oup.com/nc/article/3/1/nix016/3916730/Self-unbound-ego-dissolution-in-psychedelic)

Meanwhile, in Neuropsychedelia — which is an ethnography of psychedelic research since the 1990’s — Langlitz recounts the story of a man who, having just undergone an experimental ketamine treatment, was spooked by the theatrical tone he detected in the voice of a clinician:

Samotar’s voice, he said, had reminded him of the way the East German playwright and stage director Heiner Müller used to read texts, especially his own or those of Bertolt Brecht. Later on, Wetzel [the trial subject] provided a more detailed explanation:

…”if you described a speech as performative in Austin’s sense, then it would be a speech emphasizing its textuality. With every word, even with every syllable, it stressed the elaborateness, the official character marking the sentences from the questionnaire. Far off from any spontaneous communication. A certain gesture of abstraction, a depersonalized speech, which you could often hear in Müller’s productions in direct continuation of Brecht’s aesthetics and theory of theater. There, the text was supposed to become audible as a completely independent parameter, cut off from techniques of empathy and the actor’s desire for identification. For this purpose, it had to be depsychologized, formalized, and spoken on the basis of a structure contrary to the psychological (bourgeois) semantics. In the experiment, the researcher sounded similar to that, making an exaggerated effort to provide expressions for my state of mind (‘I had a religious feeling’) far beyond any empathy.”

By looking at the performative dimension of the experiment, Wetzel read one of the leitmotifs of modernist art, the break with representation, into the scientific setting. It was one of Heiner Müller’s credos that on stage the text had to be worked with, not as a mere representation of reality, but as a reality of its own. Any understanding had to be preceded by a sensual perception of the text’s materiality. In the attempt to objectify his subjective experience with the help of an itemized self-rating scale, Wetzel found a distant echo of the Brechtian alienation effects in twentieth-century theater that prevented the audience from losing itself in the character created by the actor. By calling attention to the theatrical practice of representation, Brecht had wanted to break its illusionism.

Neuropsychedelia, pp. 136-137 (boldface added for emphasis)

These writings are both concerned with selfhood as a phenomenological entity with no intrinsic reality. That is to say, our feeling of being the same person over time is a lived momentary experience, without the dignity (the ontological authority) we give to the “real.” There is no metaphysics of selfhood, no God-given reality of individual existence.  Letheby and Gerrans use their analyses to argue that selfhood is a fiction. Bertolt Brecht — and the person who takes psychedelic drugs — may be inclined to agree.

If selfhood is a fiction, certainly it’s a useful fiction, a state of “epistemic innocence” (to borrow a concept developed by philosopher Lisa Bortolotti, used by Letheby in another paper) that can lead to positive outcomes. We’re supposed to believe that we really do, in fact, exist. If you don’t, you’re either Buddhist or insane.

Bertolt Brecht wanted to route attention to the fiction of representation, to cut short the audience identification with theatrical pathos and narrative. Meanwhile a psychedelic experience can reveal the fictive quality of selfhood, illuminating the fact that our sense of being comes from a theater of consciousness: an unreal stage that facilitates play, imagination and creativity as part of the way we experience ourselves.

And, indeed, exploring psychedelics or one’s creativity via theater can help individuals surprise themselves with insight into their own imaginative depth — the possibility that the source of this imagination is something other than themselves (if the self is an illusion, see…).

And, you know, it’s possible that social norms built on the supposedly real and fixed nature of the self rely on denying these Brechtian / psychedelic inuitions. But I don’t want to read politics into this right now.

GEDI Post I: Skepticism

[course assignment]

I don’t want to begin my GEDI blogging journey on a negative note, but I couldn’t help but be critical of this week’s readings. In general, they smacked of techno-utopianism — hype that disguises as much truth about the networked world as it reveals. Here I have to disclose some bias — my PhD research is on the philosophical implications of technology. In particular, I spend a lot of time thinking about why end-users have so uncritically embraced digital networks and social norms that multiply and are amplified in a networked context. As an instructor, my research interests are echoed in the way I treat the use of tech in my classroom. As a student of pedagogy, it’s only honest to connect my views on these topics to my (admittedly very-much-in-development) teaching practice.

Despite my overarching critique, however, there’s interesting stuff to be explored here. All of this week’s thinkers have a sincere interest in leveraging innovation toward the best end possible. That’s great. Unfortunately, these pieces all demonstrated a very specific ideology: the ethos of Web 2.0. They would have been more interesting to me if they revealed their bias. Or at least the social trajectory by which this bias has come to support an ever-more popular perspective on networked learning. Here are a few examples:

In Gardner Campbell’s article, he emphasizes the need for students to understand the Internet from a more practical perspective. I completely agree with this: at this point in history, many of us live cyborg livss — part machine, part human — and it helps us to know a thing or two about how the web actually works. But “how the web actually works” includes more than just technical expertise on URLs, packet routing, HTTP and data infrastructures. There is an economic ideology at the core of Web 2.0. The constant clicking and “sharing” that facilitates the business model of the Internet, which makes a profit from all of this online activity in ways that are generally unknown to users. The networked self, including the networked student, generates a profit for the platforms they use. Although Seth Godin states that “blogging is free,” it is only free in the sense that we do not have to pay directly for certain blogging services. In these cases, user data is extracted that is highly valuable to all sorts of entities, include surveillants and social media sites fine-tuning algorithms to serve more profitable ads to their users. The networked student becomes a source of income. No explanation of the Internet should fail to include observations like these, which are not political interpretations — they’re just facts.

But my problems with this ideology aren’t entirely related to economic exploitation. They also have to do with the spirit of what it means to learn and produce intellectual and creative work.

Campbell tells us:

By forcing students to write ‘publicly’, their writing rapidly improves. 

This can be true in many cases. But it also reinforces the idea that the only meaningful behavior is that which we can display and promote. In research she did with teenage students, social critic Sarah Leonard indicated that a staggering amount of millennial writers aspire to become marketers. Marketing is a safe job option for budding writers, at least in comparison to journalism, editorial work or (God help us) fiction writing. Public writing can be extraordinarily helpful insofar as it forces writers to emphasize clarity and conceptual legibility. But we also need to affirm the value of creative work  for its own sake, not for its profit margin or the number of hits it garners (two metrics now deeply intertwined).

This issue is separate from the related concern addressed by Tim Hitchcock. In his piece, Hitchcock says  “a lot of early career scholars, in particular, worry that exposing their research too early, in too public a manner, will either open them to ridicule, or allow someone else to ‘steal’ their ideas.” Those are fair concerns and should be left to the consideration of each individual scholar, particularly based on their field (although Hitchcock perfunctorily dismisses them with a vague reference to his own life). He does not consider the deeper process by which scholars come to feel ready and comfortable to share their work. Incessant self-publication and self-publicization may lead to more Twitter followers and a “constant conversation,” but often one needs to work in isolation to hit on a truly singular finding. The short-term reward of “growing your network” and being marginally recognized with Internet fame is a foil to what might be achieved when time spent on social media is rerouted solely to one’s own paper.

I mention this, of course, in the context of graduate work. But I think we also need to share this viewpoint with undergraduates, because it’s becoming increasingly understood to be old-hat. To demonstrate that it’s possible to be both tech-savvy and critical of the Internet is sometimes interesting to students, I guess because they don’t get that perspective very often. In the Digital Culture unit of the course I teach, I try to offer this to students.

Meanwhile, the “Working Openly On The Web Manifesto” has its roots in free and open software culture, which (again) is not inherently bad, but may have problematic implications for scholarship. The notion that work is primarily meaningful for its sharing value seems like a quick route to short-circuiting educational processes that take gestation, painstaking attention to detail, and long stretches of time to come to fruition. Academic work is not the same as crowdsourced coding projects. That is, until over-embrace of the Internet forces us to lose sight of the reasons why scholarly practice is distinguished from other types of work. (Also known as: why, for the most part, grad students don’t publish drafts of their dissertation until it’s been through extensive review).

Okay, I think that’s all I have. Despite my polemic, my mind is still open, and I wouldn’t mind being challenged on this. (Hey, it’s good for my research).

***

For those who aren’t part of GEDI class, here are the articles to which this post is responding:

Gardner Campbell, “Networked Learning as Experiential Learning” (2016)

Doug Belshaw “Working Openly On the Web” (2014)

Tim Hitchcock “Twitter and Blogs are Not Just Add-ons To Academic Research” (2014)

Seth Godin and Tom Peters on Blogging (2009)

GEDI posts

I’m taking a course in pedagogy and part of our assignments include weekly blog posts. For these we’re required to either set up a blog or use one we already have, and since o-culus is already set up for syndication, I’m just going to use this. These posts will be tagged “GEDI” (the tag appears at the bottom). Happy Fall ’17 semester to my fellow pedagogues!

 

problem children

In November, I’m presenting a paper tentatively titled “The Electric Kool-Aid Turing Test” at this conference  in Brighton, England. My argument is that emerging paradigms in research on the use of psychedelic drugs as psychotherapeutic tools problematize machine learning.

To be more specific: the recent resurgence of psychedelic drug research has, generally, privileged quantitative and empirical methods over qualitative and interpretive methods. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this. My suspicion, though, is that quantitative methods may not be sufficient to understand trip reports in a way that contributes to workable medical knowledge — that the data gathered from the profoundly subjective experience of a psychedelic trip requires as much theorization, sensitivity to context and (quite frankly) creativity to parse in order to draw meaningful conclusions from them. This disturbs the capacity for them to be operationalized in an algorithm, especially a machine-learning algorithm that relies on inference and prediction to extrapolate beyond finite training data.

This is pulled from my abstract:

The paper draws from interdisciplinary scholarship that uses qualitative methods to interpret research on psychedelics as psychotherapeutic tools. I combine precepts of machine learning with developments in psychedelic research to explore the complexities of generalizing findings, which includes accounts from those undergoing “ineffable” and difficult- to-predict experiences — for data modeling. In doing so, I demonstrate that the use of qualitative methods in psychedelic drug research may offer useful insights to the field of machine learning… [later]  I explore axioms of machine learning that emphasize the ways in which  generalization and inductive reasoning are used to build algorithms that effectively “predict” the  future. Here I partially draw on the work of Pedro Domingos, whose research explores how  machine learning generalizes “beyond” finite data sets. Joining emerging paradigms from  psychedelic research and machine learning, I offer that the former can help the latter a) account for difficult-to- predict phenomena and b) understand its possible limitations.

The turn toward interpretation and qualitative approaches is the “emerging paradigm” in psychedelic research to which I refer. Scholarly work has been published very recently that foregrounds qualia and subjectivity in clinical trials with psychedelics. Furthermore, some scholars emphasize that philosophy is implicated in the outcome of these trials, and that the answer to why psychedelics are effective at treating mental illness may be entangled with traditionally philosophical concerns.

I’m not unique in connecting psychedelics to machine learning / machine consciousness. Andrew Smart’s book Beyond Zero and One attempts to theorize machine consciousness with the question: could a robot [an artificially intelligent mind] trip on acid [some sort of digitally modeled version of LSD]? Beyond Zero and One came out in 2015 and I suppose I could be accused of stealing some of Smart’s ideas, at least on the surface. Yoinks, a connection between machine consciousness and psychedelic drugs!

Actually there’s a funny story here: I was working at the publishing company behind Beyond Zero and One in the months leading up to its publication — I helped with the publicity for it. Despite a long-standing interest in psychedelic studies and computer science, the book seemed too much like a pop-science head trip to me to bother reading it and I basically forgot it existed until I started doing this work. (I could have even snagged a free copy, but I didn’t … sorry to Andrew Smart and my former employers at O/R Books…).  At any rate, not accounting for the possibility that it somehow got lodged in my unconscious mind, I can say that Andrew Smart and I arrived at the same connection independent of one another. With questions about the mind, consciousness, associative thinking, and so on central to both psychedelic studies and machine learning, this seems fairly plausible.

At any rate, I’m fully in the throes of this project now. It may become part of my dissertation — I hope it does, but as folks in higher ed know, some of that is beyond my control. Honestly, the fact that psychedelic research is so controversial will make this already complicated work all the more difficult. For the most part, I’ve been fairly quiet about this interest to avoid raising eyebrows. But since I’ll be “outing” myself by giving a psychedelic conference talk anyway, a possible new way of confronting the controversy is to own it — to be open about it, stand behind what I’m doing. To that end, I’ve been tweeting a lot more about psychedelic stuff, testing the waters I suppose, and talking to some sympathetic colleagues.

There’s a lot more to say, interesting connections between books and papers I’ve consulted. I’ll write it all down somewhere. One day.

The Virginia Tech library doesn’t have an extensive amount of material on psychedelic science, but they do have a copy of Albert Hoffman’s LSD: My Problem Child that I’m going to check out before I leave here today…

 

 

 

not digging political art

Re-reading Walter Benjamin’s “The Work Of Art In The Age Of Mechanical Reproduction” — good to remember this, from the epilogue, as fascist tendencies are again on the rise:

“The growing proletarianization of modern man and the increasing
formation of masses are two aspects of the same process. Fascism attempts to
organize the newly created proletarian masses without affecting the property
structure which the masses strive to eliminate. Fascism sees its salvation in
giving these masses not their right, but instead a chance to express
themselves.21 The masses have a right to change property relations; Fascism
seeks to give them an expression while preserving property. The logical result
of Fascism is the introduction of aesthetics into political life. The violation of the masses, whom Fascism, with its Führer cult, forces to their knees, has its
counterpart in the violation of an apparatus which is pressed into the production of ritual values. All efforts to render politics aesthetic culminate in one thing: war.”

Also I’m not sure what the conventions are, but I don’t want to capitalize “fascism.”

excerpted fiction

So we talked about armageddon. We sat and talked in the tawny glow of the night light until the sadness that had cast us in the same shadow for months got too big. You should go, I said. Get some sleep. I wanted to return to the warehouse with fractal geometries that wrapped themselves across the corners of the walls, teasing dancers with purples and pinks.

He talked about a neoprene vest he bought in Nairobi and I never felt so miserable in my life. He talked about sculpting with vectors in high dimensions, city kids and the smarts required to build gaming machines from local trasg. Not a monologue for my taste, I thought and protested with an empty-eyed nod. I wanted to descend the length of the rope ladder that dangled from the neon heights, flex my ankles through the trap door announced by electric bells and LED buzzers. The party dungeon whose real contours are unknowable, see, it’s a lightless basement. And there to find the magic layers that had peeled off him over time had been reconstituted and made flesh. A new man.

I wanted to walk up behind him, push up his hair and speak into the back of his head. What did you see? Tell me what sight so bad it fixed your mind on the endtimes. What line of reasoning so determinate it made you flee to the domestic. My home where you so coolly remark on this state of affairs, where hours congeal in strict complicity with my desires. Unlike the enchanted warehouse-time that would press me into oblivion at the whims of men.

In the tamed world platitudes are enough to tell the truth. So I asked for a lie. Because he said no future is true, but I had something else up my sleeve, a sense that things were more simple than they seemed. So I parted with my psychic indulgence, restored my attention to our sadness and the one pulsing light. He would dream in my lap and I’d stay awake to observe a new day breaking.

digital culture: articles assigned on my syllabus

Putting the finishing touches on my Fall 2017 syllabus. I teach an overview of twentieth century comparative literature, with brief forays into art history and media theory. The overarching theme of the course is the impact of technology and notions of modernity on the arts.

Our third and final unit specifically focuses on digital culture. Here are the readings, in order, with links attached if the content is free and available online:

***

Week 1: Jorge Luis Borges, “Tlön Uqbar Orbis Tertius” (short story) (1940) / watching: The Matrix (1999)

Week 2: Nathan Jurgenson, “View From Nowhere” (op-ed) (2014) link” https://thenewinquiry.com/view-from-nowhere/

Kate Crawford, Kate Miltner and Mary L Gray: “Critiquing Big Data: Ethics, Politics, Epistemology” (article) (2014) http://eds.a.ebscohost.com/eds/detail/detail?vid=0&sid=feb17cef-e0f1-46c0-a0a1-e721ab417793%40sessionmgr4006&bdata=JnNjb3BlPXNpdGU%3d#AN=97249722&db=ufh

Week 3: Donna Haraway, “A Manifesto For Cyborgs” (excerpt from book) (1984)

Alyssa Battistoni “Monstrous, Duplicated, Potent: On Donna Haraway” (op-ed) (2017) https://nplusonemag.com/issue-28/reviews/monstrous-duplicated-potent/

Week 4: Jorge Luis Borges, “Funes The Memorious” (short story) (1942) / watching Black Mirror, “The Entire History Of You” (2011)

Week 5: Rob Horning, “Social Media Is Not Self Expression” (op-ed) (2014) https://thenewinquiry.com/blog/social-media-is-not-self-expression/

and final lecture on Internet concept art.

And here’s what I would assign if I had more time:

Gabriella Coleman, Coding Freedom (book): http://gabriellacoleman.org/Coleman-Coding-Freedom.pdf

Richard Stallman, “On Hacking” (personal thoughts): https://stallman.org/articles/on-hacking.html

Paul Ford, “What Is Code?” (editorial): https://www.bloomberg.com/graphics/2015-paul-ford-what-is-code/

Gilles Deleuze, Postscript On Societies of Control (scholarly article): https://cidadeinseguranca.files.wordpress.com/2012/02/deleuze_control.pdf

Shoshanna Zuboff, “Secrets of Surveillance Capitalism” (op-ed): http://www.faz.net/aktuell/feuilleton/debatten/the-digital-debate/shoshana-zuboff-secrets-of-surveillance-capitalism-14103616.html

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