Blog Archives

New Blog: Exchange Value

In a scintillating bricolage of Žižek, Marx, The Economist, and Bloomberg (the latter two of which he critiques mercilessly), the author of Exchange Value dissects the recent trendiness of quasi-socialist sympathy in prominent business magazines. This excellent blog just started on September 10, as of now having only one post, with more promised in the near future to continue the author’s aforementioned analysis, though in the trend’s more subtle manifestations. Credit to A Grub Street Hack for the link.

On a side note, there seem to be a great deal of very well-done blogs on Tumblr, including Weltende (by a law student cum theoretician), Mattermorphosis (on media & virtual reality), The Last Mutations (a gorgeous microblog by the author of Archive Fire), and The Infinite Conversation, though there are many more to be discovered.  I particularly like how Tumblr is so much more amenable to simple posts, e.g. a picture with a short comment, letting the reader use the materials at hand to construct (or at least approximate) for themselves the author’s thought.  In Lyotard’s terminology, it tends more toward figure than discourse, the former being a more fluid passage of thought than the rigid conceptual thinking Lyotard feels has striated the space of philosophy throughout its history.  An entirely different crowd is attracted to such figural media, and indeed an entirely different intellectual, many of whom, for better or for worse, stray away from academia (even if they are impeccably well-read), not to mention modernist lebensprojekten & the divorce of affect and rigor.

Perhaps in the future, lengthy tomes will be passé, and ‘microtheory‘ (books of maxims & pithy quotations) shall be all the rage.  Currently, however, the literati still retain their hegemony in academia, for which they will fight viciously until the last ivory tower intellectual is strangled with the entrails of the last advertiser.  (In other words, microtheory, if it ever becomes popular, will always be ‘vulgar’ in comparison with scholarly theory, since the latter is here to stay.) ‘Electric thinking’, as I term McLuhan’s audial-tactile paradigm, is pervading theoretical systems in a seemingly inexorable manner.  (I can think of no other explanation for Bourdieu’s popularity; for example, I believe McLuhan specifically uses the word ‘field’ to describe how audial-tactile thinkers perceive the world.)  There will always be a place for the intellectual who can navigate at will among paradigms, however.  But of course, this is a matter of theoretical praxis; neither can suffice alone.

McLuhan on Structuralism

Before looking at the English evidence for the same concern with regularity and uniformity among printers and print users alike, it is well to remind ourselves of the rise of structural linguistics in our day. Structuralism in art and criticism stemmed, like non-Euclidean geometrics, from Russia. Structuralism as a term does not much convey its idea of inclusive synesthesia, an interplay of many levels and factors in a two-dimensional mosaic. But it is a mode of awareness in art language and literature which the West took great pains to eliminate by means of Gutenberg technology. It has returned in out time, for good or ill, as this opening paragraph of a recent book84 indicates:

Language gives evidence of its reality through three categories of human experience. The first may be considered as the meaning of words; the second, as those meanings enshrined in grammatical forms; and the third and, in the view of this author, the most significant, as those meanings which lies beyond grammatical forms, with those meanings mysteriously and miraculously revealed to man. It is with this last category that this chapter will endeavor to deal, for its thesis is that thought itself must be accompanied by a critical understanding of the relations of linguistic expression to the deepest and most persistent intuitions of man. An effort will further will further be made to show that language becomes imperfect and inadequate when it depends exclusively upon mere words & forms and when there is an uncritical trust in the adequacy of these words and forms as constituting the ultimate content and extent of language. For man is that being on earth who does not have language. Man is language.

McLuhan, The Gutenberg Galaxy, pg. 230-1.

84: R.N. Anshen, Language: An Enquiry into its Meaning & Function, Science of Culture series, vol. VIII, p. 3.

(Anti)Intellectualizing Andy Warhol

I have lately, on a whim, been reading The Andy Warhol Diaries, and have been wanting to write a philosophical/psychoanalytic analysis of Andy Warhol, but it turns out that another fellow, Christopher Schmidt, has written it for me, and titled it From A to B and Back Again: Warhol, Recycling, Writing. From his references to numerous theoreticians (Austin, Barthes, Bataille, Kittler, Lacan, Wilde, Wittgenstein, even tacit traces of Bourdieu), the essay is gorgeous, and extremely well-thought out. It’s uncanny how Schmidt’s theoretical foci are so similar to my own (e.g. resisting intellectualist doxa; the way Warhol’s favored medium―the tape recorder―affected his thought; Warhol’s libidinal economy & fetishisms), similar enough that I’m obliged to shelve my hopes to analyze Warhol, at least for the time being.

My one major complaint about Schmidt’s essay is his conjecture that Warhol was illiterate; this is groundless speculation, and is flatly contradicted numerous times in The Andy Warhol Diaries, particularly when the editor points out that Warhol often (along with his autograph) wrote inscriptions dictated to him by fans; the editor’s inclusion of this fact likely was explicitly aimed at refuting accusations of Warhol’s illiteracy. From this mistaken conjecture it is clear that Schmidt has no extensive knowledge of McLuhan, who provides a much simpler explanation: Warhol was simply more attuned to the audial paradigm, and was uncomfortable with intense literariness. Besides the latter complaint, my only others are that there is an odd disjuncture between the initial part of the essay (a typical review) and the latter part (an intense theoretical analysis of Warhol), and that Schmidt’s ‘wild’ psychoanalysis gravitates toward ‘pop’ interpretations, seen acutely in his two-dimensional, cliché versions of the ‘anal’ personality and of narcissism.

To any theoretician even vaguely intrigued by Warhol, I highly recommend this essay. Schmidt does a magnificent job tying together seemingly disparate conceptual threads (particularly the bottom paragraph of pg. [13] with an earlier quotation by Warhol, which is not made explicit, but left for the reader to make on his/her own) and diverse theoretical perspectives.  Schmidt has written a wonderfully ‘writerly’ text, the open-ended tangents of which provoke intellectual excitement and sparks of creativity in its readers.

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Some of Christopher Schmidt’s Writings:
From A to B and Back Again: Warhol, Recycling, Writing
The Waste-Management Poetics of Kenneth Goldsmith
The Raw & The Cooked [a review of several books of poetry]
“Baby, I am the garbage”: James Schuyler’s Taste for Waste

Biographical Information for Christopher Schmidt:
Short bio for a conference paper
Author’s bio for his poetry book The Next In Line
Interview

**Note: Just in brief to explain why I think Warhol is worth taking seriously as a thinker: he exposes & sidesteps the proclivities of literary intellectualism, he foresees the vast implications of consumer society, and he deftly utilizes a quasi-narcissist ethos to countervalorize his working class habitus.

P.S.  Happy birthday, Andy.  You would have been 83 today.

Rick Mercer: The Greatest Canadian


[I wrote this 300-word piece for a writing contest a couple of years ago. Its theme was who you (the writer) thought was the greatest Canadian. It wasn't officially submitted due to paperwork problems. I doubt I would have won anyway, since such détournements by adolescents are rarely greeted with enthusiasm by judges.]

In medieval times, the opinion of the court jester was sought by royalty for his view on their decision and was listened to in an open and respectful manner. This may seem odd to some, but consider: very often the royal advisors were parasitic profiteers, disregarding the greater good in favour of their own ends. The jester was given permission to parody any royal proposals made, revealing their absurdities and disadvantages―in effect, expounding a disinterested point of view.[1] The jester was an invaluable asset to the royal courts, and we Canadians have a fitting equivalent.

Rick Mercer may be looked down upon by some as being superfluous to society, yet his impact on the scope of Canadian culture must not be underestimated. As he himself has said, more Canadians receive their information regarding Canadian politics from his show than from CBC News[2]. Now of course, some may view this statistic as shameful, as evidence of the deteriorating intellectual fabric of our generation. When considering the hectic lives of Canada’s citizens, however, can one really point a finger? After a day of work, caring for children, and the vast array of obligatory duties which each Canadian must inevitably endure, must society also expect them to submit to the operose dronings of bleak, one-dimensional propaganda?[3] Rick Mercer provides a genuinely entertaining self and societal deprecation as well as informative news outlet; an effective multitasking for a stressed population which might otherwise be tempted to tune in to one of the surfeit of inane alternatives. Mr. Mercer provides accommodation for the vast demographic which might otherwise remain uninformed of Canada’s perspective of world events as well as its own political ineptitudes.

Indeed, Rick Mercer is one of the great Canadian social critics, and is an invaluable blessing to Canadian culture.

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[1]: My source for this information is Oech, R. (1983). A Whack on the Side of the Head. New York: Warner Books.
[2]: I’m not sure of the specific episode on which Mercer says this, but I saw it myself.
[3]: This is extreme, of course, to the point of being bombastic, but at the time of writing this I had recently watched an appalling documentary on Fox News which seemed to justify such sentiments.

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Since writing this, my thoughts related to Mercer have become more sophisticated, but even if I had been able to articulate these ideas when I first wrote the tiny essay above, I would not have been able to sufficiently compress them into 300 words. Read the rest of this entry

Why The French Treat Their Intellectuals Like Americans Treat Their Rock Stars

It will strike the average person as fairly odd that such different valorizations have occurred in the two nations France and America, that seemingly opposite values can prevail among youth of different cultures at the same point in history. Though I am not a historian of French or American culture, I can, through McLuhan, offer a satisfactory answer based solely on formal concerns, since the content of a medium (as McLuhan expertly shows) is auxiliary to the true reason for its popularity, i.e. its purely formal attributes.

Around roughly the same time period (around the 1950s, give or take a decade), the youth culture of both France and America took a drastic turn from what preceded it. McLuhan explains that American culture since its formation was traditionally literate (i.e. raised on newspapers, literature, etc., and concomitant linearity & compartmentalization of thought), as opposed to the culture of France, which was traditionally oral. From this basic description is the key to understanding this divergence. For whatever reason, the younger generation decided to rebel against the predominant media in their cultures. In doing so, these two cultures exchanged media forms, so to speak. While rock stars exemplified the nonlinear, erratic thinking of electric culture to the Americans, intellectuals (Sartre, say, or Camus) exemplify literate thinking by their sustained themes (angst, absurdity), their emphasis on lebensprojekt* (or better yet, whatever the inverse of this would be, but retaining its lifelong, linear manner), and their general abstruseness (i.e. one must read their work closely, whereas in oral transmission of information clarity & ease are essential).

Desmond Morris, in his book The Naked Ape (pg. 105), explains that the sociobiological reason for young women to scream and go into hysterics at music concerts (“They not only scream, they also grip their own and one another’s bodies, they writhe, they moan, they cover their faces and they pull at their hair”) is that they (unconsciously) desire to show their peers how they have matured to the point of being able to process complex emotions. As evidence of this thesis, he notes that if a teenage girl were to confront a rock star while on her own, it would never occur to her to scream at him. It is not at all difficult to switch the medium around in this case, and to see that reading (mainly literature, and perhaps some philosophy) could justly serve this end, provided that enough conspicuous consumption (or discourse about what each youth has been reading lately) occurs that one’s choice of reading material can be adequately broadcast to one’s peers.

Thus we see that youth possess a sociobiological need to display to their peers their developing emotional maturity, which must be satisfied one way or another.  Looking at American and French culture from a purely formal perspective, then, we see that their situation is the same.  Each culture merely had a different historical situation (in America, mass literacy, in France, oral culture) to rebel against.

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*[German] Work to which one has devoted one’s whole life.

TL;DR

  • It may seem strange that the youth of these two cultures could have such different interests, but actually they’re not as different as they first seem.
  • As Marshall McLuhan shows, exposure to different types of media motivates different types of thought.  People raised on books will think in a linear, compartmentalized, and mechanistic manner.  People raised on television and music will think in a more nonlinear, transdisciplinary, and ‘organic’ manner.
  • Traditionally, America was characterized by its ‘print culture’, whereas France was characterized by its ‘oral culture’.
  • Around the mid-20th century, the youth of both cultures rebelled against the traditional mindsets of their respective cultures. 
  • Music in America and literature/philosophy in France fulfill the same need (i.e. to display to one’s peers one’s ability to process complex emotions).
**Note: For more information about McLuhan, see here.

Proletarian Science, part III; The Enneagram, A Constellation of the Real

The Enneagram is another fascinating heuristic system of proletarian science which has unjustly not received mainstream acceptance. The Enneagram, as its name implies, states that every person fits into one of nine categories, which are simply denoted by numbers. Everyone also has a secondary type, which is the number either before or after that of one’s primary type (e.g. a 5-4, a 6-7). Of course, such a simple schema hardly does justice to the complexity of the human psyche, so there’s an extra twist. Types, when their mental health deteriorates, display the characteristics of another type: the order is 1-4-2-8-5-7-1 and 9-6-3-9, so an 8 will deteriorate to a 5, etc. Also, when each type reaches a height of mental health, they will exhibit characteristics of the other adjacent type in the aforementioned list, ascending in the reverse order, so a 5 would become an 8, etc. Don Richard Riso in his book Personality Types describes each type in terms of stages of mental health, and the results are remarkable. Read the rest of this entry

The Paradigms of Pedagogy: Hidden Assets of North American Students (And Hidden Liabilities of Asian Students)

Efei Wang has recently published an excellent article concisely summarizing the differences between the Asian and North American schooling systems. The difficulty level of Chinese schooling has risen dramatically: Chinese elementary school students are taught algebra, science, and literature; calculus is an opening high school math course in China, whereas in North America calculus is not taught until grade twelve; in short, North American education is quite obviously inferior to that of Asia. The disparities between the two continents are eerily dramatic, and undoubtedly fuel the paranoia of those who suspect that the era of American world supremacy is drawing to a close. The following is a brief summary of how North American students’ seeming inferiority may disguise significant assets of North American habitus which will likely contribute to the persistence of American hegemony. Read the rest of this entry

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