A Different Temporal Politics ?

Lightly pressed, zig-zagging, and non-confident is the line I want to ever so cautiously draw to distinguish the sort of informatizing that 1) engluts the “inforg” from the sort that 2) revitalizes familial, cultural, and community shards, enshrouding them with metadata and re-siting them for a while maybe longer (if max-accessibly, or openly, all the better). In Non-Things, Han writes “This terrestrial order is today being replaced by the digital order. The digital order de-reifies the world by informatizing it” (1). The short book goes on to deliver on this premise. “Inforg”, according to Han, comes off the bench, subbing in for Dasein. And we humans are changed; for me, Han’s language—his theory made as art—pointilates felt senses, impressions, and hunches that have visited. I want to scrawl that line between 1) and 2) above because the informatizing, as much as it fuels estrangement from the terrestrial realm (Are those kids outside playing soccer I hear? No.), we still have rhetorical non-things (e.g., memories) that may be informatizing while at once mediating many of the human effects Han also values: community, sited culture, and old things. Thus, I am making sense of Non-Things with full acknowledgement that, yes, for the most part, material culture is losing the hold it once held; but, with this, there do seem to be at least a few exceptions (archives, languages, artifacts, recipes, etc.). Perhaps informatizing is nevertheless a seductive postponement, or a kind of rain delay; gones still go gone, but at a slower clip. Not tooooodaaaaay, inforg. Not today.

Time again! On page 7, Han writes, “Everything that stabilizes human life is time-consuming. Faithfulness, bonding, and commitment are time-consuming practices. The decay of stabilizing temporal architectures, including rituals, makes life unstable. The stabilization of life would require a different temporal politics” (7).

I have not yet read Adrian Little’s book, Temporal Politics, though the table of contents has me nodding with curiosity. And that I was re-reading Han for class while Jenni Odell’s Saving Time sat on the couch next to me—a book I’ve only just begun—suggests I have more work to do with fanning out this idea of temporal politics, reading more on the heels of others who have built upon or with this idea. In consideration of first principles, I associate it with a cosmological tension we discussed in ENGL6344: Rhetoric in Digital Environments a couple of weeks ago: Do you conceive of time as a line? A circle? Or both? And it reminds me, too, of the U.S. voter suppression efforts that have shifted from redistricting and gerrymandering as a spatial phenomenon to, in recent years, a temporal phenomenon (i.e., gerrymandering time as yet another push to discourage certain kinds of voting). As a third arrow, I considered who do we know whose temporal politics is already different. Besides yogis and ghosts and chickens, I don’t feel especially sure. Cicadas, black walnuts, crows, earthworms1I pose this casually and playfully but don’t mean for it to be flippant. Here I am not wanting to take nematode politics far, but celebrate these kin whose living burials, growth layers, and durative patterns are refreshingly mysterious.. There are plenty of examples of time figuring into politics (the deeply gray prospect of octogenarian presidential candidates, lifetime appointments for supreme court justices, the dinky leadership terms in low-level orgs like condo associations, boards of supervisors, and higher ed admins, and so on). I mention this not to plant a flag in the matter but instead to wonder aloud, to write, an intransitive verb.

Recast with discplinary prefixtures, the passage from Han also surprises with a dismount of a different, potentially also-heavy, gravity: “Everything that stabilizes [disciplinary] life is time-consuming. Faithfulness, bonding, and commitment are time-consuming practices. The decay of stabilizing temporal [disciplinary] architectures, including rituals, makes [disciplinary] life unstable. The stabilization of [disciplinary] life would require a different temporal politics” (7). List decays. Note gones. This is [disciplinary] living.

I set out, above all, to underscore just how personally appealing is this different temporal politics. I like the idea. I’m already learning how, listening to the seasons, senses halved, senses doubled, groundward and skyward.

Notes

  • 1
    I pose this casually and playfully but don’t mean for it to be flippant. Here I am not wanting to take nematode politics far, but celebrate these kin whose living burials, growth layers, and durative patterns are refreshingly mysterious.

Lessig’s #wireside Chat

I watched Larry Lessig’s “#Wireside Chat” live last Thursday evening, viewing it from Halle Library at EMU along with Steve and a few graduate students in his winter C&W course. I took a few notes during the talk; thought I’d translate them into something more coherent.

Lessig opened with an allegory: an extended narrative linking a dilemma facing cigarette smokers of yesteryear with a dilemma facing users of mobile devices and wireless internet, an allegory inspired by Christopher Ketcham’s recent article in GQ. Just as early reports on the cancerous effects of smoking tobacco were speculative and contested, so are today’s investigations into the insidious effects of wireless signals murky and tentative. Lessig cited Henry Lai, whose research on non-ionizing radiation has clarified a troubling pattern of self-interest: industry-funded research finds wireless to be harmless, while non-industry-funded research finds wireless to be harmful. The basic idea here is that research of this sort reflects the bias of its funding source. And this builds toward a crisis because 1) everyday people cannot know which research to trust and 2) the binaristic “debate” creates doubt such that reasonable people can think either way about the issue, rendering it undecidable.

From this, Lessig shifted to Part Two, a different debate concerning free culture. He credited a graduate student who “fed him” ideas from Aldous Huxley and John Philip Sousa about technologies threatening creative culture. Huxley worried about the ways broadcast media cemented audiences in read-only passivity. Sousa lamented similarly that the phonograph would hobble music creation. He expected that read-only (or listen-only) would thwart production and result in conditioned passive consumption. In the free culture debate, Lessig locates 2004 as a key shift: read-write culture was revived that year, with Wikipedia as its poster child. Lessig says “remix” is the best name to describe this shift.

In 2006, via YouTube, we witnessed another key shift, this time tied to video: the remix technique is further democratized. In numerous examples, we can see read-write in action. According to Lessig, “This begins to be precisely what Sousa romantisized.” At this point in his talk, Lessig rehearsed the legal developments around copyright, albeit in fairly sweeping terms (Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act to courts more recently “getting it right”). Lessig was obviously quite wrapped up in efforts to persuade the Supreme Court to the merits of free culture, but he described the results as an utter defeat. Lessig went on in his talk to discuss the way Disney invokes copyright law and uses their copyright extension lobby to block efforts by others to do as they did to Brothers Grimm. His discussion of Disney included a thoughtful aside about the remix premise of Little Einsteins–a program I’ve gotten to know well in the last 18 months. Finally, Lessig tried to create some fusion between his work on free culture and his interests, more recently, in congressional reform. He explained that the read/write movement does not have in Congress a receptive audience, but that we must continue to imagine YouTube as a powerful platform for forcing these issues. Emphasizing repeatedly the value in fair and free codecs and fair and free use, Lessig concluded his talk, urging his audience to “Continue the work to build the tools to make this culture free.”

I want to mention two things I was thinking of as the talk wrapped up and during the Q&A. The first is that this talk had all the markings of Lessig-in-intellectual-transition. It was abundantly clear that he is in a cross-over period, moving from his many years of hard work on free culture and Creative Commons, to something more directly concerned with Washington D.C. lobbying practices and corrupt politics. The appearance of this transition is not necessarily bad, but I think it created a muddle for a couple of key points, which brings me to the second thing I was thinking about. Lessig argued for the cultural force of YouTube, but it almost sounded like he envisioned in remixing practices a great political force, as well. In a fairly abstract way, I buy the premise that remixing can effect change, but I didn’t find in Lessig’s examples anything impressive enough to make an impact on the scale he seemed more genuinely interested in reaching (national government). I guess the question of impact circles back around to this: What are the most impressive or memorable examples of remix, and for whom are they impactful? Or else these: What exactly is the difference they are making in, say, political processes? How are they consequential? Other than something like a YouTube presidential debate (which isn’t exactly remix), what is an example of YouTube impacting a political process? Then again, maybe I am looking for consequences too much in the remixes themselves and not enough in the slow rise of cultural creation by these means. In other words, perhaps their impact lies in their collective affirmation of free speech.

There’s much more to say about the Wireside Chat, but these notes will do for now. I will be interested in revisiting this periodically to rethink the power of remix and whether we have in the months and years to come realized a different degree of impact in it than we have seen in YouTube’s first five years.

Program Investment

With the weekend after my graduate program’s visiting days trailing to
a close, I’ve been thinking a lot about program ownership and investment.
Wednesday night through Saturday morning, we hosted a group of prospective
students, much like we do every year in late February or early March.
Because I was on the graduate committee last year, I was heavily involved in the
process, and two years ago, as a first-year student, I made every effort I could
to welcome the prospective students, to spend time with them, answer their
questions, and chat about the culture of our program, the styles of various
faculty members, the challenges that come along with teaching undergraduates at
SU, and so on. This year, however, I missed meeting any of the students on the
first day because they were scheduled for various meetings throughout the day
and the more casual evening events conflicted with an indoor soccer match on
Ph.’s schedule. The second day, Friday, was loaded up with my preparations for
the pre-CCCC talk. Finally, at the evening get-together and again at a
breakfast on Saturday morning, I had the chance to get to know each of them a
bit better. A terrific group, really. We’d be fortunate to have them
here.

Continue reading →