Monthly Archives: February 2008

One thing I was trying to say

On Exactitude in Science . . . In that Empire, the Art of Cartography attained such Perfection that the map of a single Province occupied the entirety of a City, and the map of the Empire, the entirety of a Province. In time, those Unconscionable Maps no longer satisfied, and the Cartographers Guilds struck a Map of the Empire whose size was that of the Empire, and which coincided point for point with it. The following Generations, who were not so fond of the Study of Cartography as their Forebears had been, saw that that vast Map was Useless, and not without some Pitilessness was it, that they delivered it up to the Inclemencies of Sun and Winters. In the Deserts of the West, still today, there are Tattered Ruins of that Map, inhabited by Animals and Beggars; in all the Land there is no other Relic of the Disciplines of Geography.

Suarez Miranda,Viajes de varones prudentes, Libro IV,Cap. XLV, Lerida, 1658From Jorge Luis Borges, Collected Fictions, Translated by Andrew Hurley Copyright Penguin 1999 .


Severe Weather Borges

beware the inclement weather.

Simple Solutions

Synecdoche and Binary Race

Nakamura’s arguments seem to be large, bulky. They allude to grand claims; representations of race in The Matrix and Minority Report are interesting and her analysis seems accurate. I am left wondering, however, what or how these claims might relate to other texts and digitality in general.

She does discuss some of the implications of the racial structures of these two films, but her connections to a larger context do seem based upon claims and assumptions, rather than a nuanced assessment. For instance, her claims on “white” user interface being more apt to be represented as integrated to the body through gesture/sight interaction and “black” users able to connect via outmoded keyboards read as making few general assumptions.

What is “white” and “black”? Is it simply a visual characteristic? Where do these categories end or intersect? I didn’t feel that she necessarily addressed these definitional concerns, which are important, I think to the discussion of race (ie what constitutes “race”). I admit that I have no experience in critical race theory (and little experience anywhere else, mind you), nor do I have a definition to “white” or “black”. It could be argued that these terms are essential to the discussion, but I don’t usually buy the argument of essential when there is an evident spectrum of categories.

My point here is that this line of reasoning in “The Social Optics of Race” often relies on this binary notion of race. (Again, perhaps this is rhetorical ground that is commonplace in this line of critical inquiry, a discourse with which I am not familiar.) The title of the chapter reveals a clear intent to assess the visual; Nakamura largely bases her categories on visuality: dark skin, dirty appearance, and keyboarding as “black” and light skin, clean appearance, increased intuitive interactivity (jacked-in, gestural computing) as “white”. Based on this reading, Nakamura places “white” as privileged to interactivity, which her writing supports for The Matrix and Minority Report.  I also think that this binarism potentially contradicts Nakamura’s selective use of Haraway, especially with regard to hybridization of the mechanical and organic.  (Now, I’m being vague.)

My critique is based on Nakamura’s methodology. Her references border on synecdochal binarisms, in my view. I think this is seen in her discussion of Apple’s iPod advertising and Trek Kelly’s “iPod Ghraib” visual artwork. Nakamura seems to project her own definitions of race on the silhouetted figures, which lead to such claims as dreadlocks = black people. Again, I see this as eliding a more complex reading of race, one that might involve an actual discussion of how race is being defined within the internal logic of her own work. As mentioned in class last week, I see a lot of Nakamura-the-writer in this book, but see no explicit self-reflexivity.

Along similar lines, Nakamura deploys terms like “cool” and “hipster”, which seem loaded with unacknowledged connotations. She does attempt to define “cool”, which is responsible as she introduces the term as part of her critical analysis, and I have no problem with subjectivity, so long as it is acknowledged. Which it isn’t here.

Nakamura does make a fairly convincing argument for the system of power/control and its relation to the interactivity implied by visual racial cues – in these films. Perhaps, I’m asking too much, or not asking the correct questions, or am simply wanting a different type of aesthetic or social critique based on my own academic interests, but it seems Nakamura does a lot of work on these specific objects and alludes to general social conditions, but fails to connect them for me. I don’t think I’m asking for a unified, tidy connection to social conditions, but Nakamura seems to approach this type of discussion, but then stops a few steps short. Which makes it seem a bit vague at times. (“These shocking images critique consumer culture and the military industrial complex with thich consumer culture is imbricated” for instance (115).  I can see the point here, but wouldn’t mind traveling down that road with Nakamura.  I don’t know who that makes lazy: me or Nakamura.)

To Nakamura’s credit, she does give the relationship between black/white and digitality an interest analysis near the end of this chapter. Throughout, white seems to be presented as privileged and qualitatively beneficial (ie white can more easily manipulate interfaces/technology). Nakamura’s reading of Agent Smith in The Matrix, however, does an interesting job of problematizing this notion. Nakamura notes that “the fantasy of fusion with, or total control of, the machine carries dangers along with it” (107). This is exactly the type of nuanced reading I can appreciate. I just wish there was more of it.

A Happy Failure

bio34.jpgnot quite the result i had in my mind. i was hoping to overlay my face with text cut from book covers, then somehow subtract the non-text background, but maintain the dual layer (my face and book covers) and play with the transparencies until you could make out my face and the book covers.  my knowledge proved unequal to the task, however, so i went with some noise and fade for a revelatory effect.   

Response Race 1

Some early and ongoing thoughts on Digitizing Race as I navigate this text…I’m interested by the notion that color blindness is a symptom of racism (3).  Perhaps this has to do with my sociohistoric coming of age during the neoliberalism of the 1990’s.  It seems that Nakamura readily accepts this notion (thus far, anyway) and I find it potentially at odds with her acceptance of the hybridization of visual culture production and consumption, race and gender, and knowledge/power.  Most of the time, Nakamura espouses the destruction of binarisms, which I applaud and subscribe to on a regular basis.  My question, then, is how one could envision a spectrum of race/racism, whilst “color blindness is a symptom of racism”?  One answer could be in the qualification of symptom; it seems to me, however, that the symptom qualification is more Oliver-iam than Nakamura-n, as Nakamura equates this neoliberal color blindness as ignorance of the reality.  And, I agree – to an extent.  I just wonder if there is a more complex sociohistoric argument for color blindness not inhabiting a solely negatively connoted position in race.  Certainly, an erasure of identity is a scary “solution” to the problem of racism or the question of race – one I don’t advocate.  The tone in this portion of the introduction just seems a bit too absolute to me, at this point.  I look forward to exploring the possibe ways in which “new media can look to an increasingly vital digital cultural margin or counterculture for resistance” imposed conditions (18). 

Semiological analysis of 3

I must confess that my initial desire was to attempt an analysis of this picture using discourse analysis 1.  Alas, the intertextuality requirement would have proved particularly taxing to my own time and resource constraints.  Perhaps, the spirit of my Foucauldian photoplay will allow me to better dream of the day I attempt the discourse analysis.

Sorting through the other methods that intrigued me,  I slipped into a fit between semiology and the third image.  I was intrigued by this image in particular because of its#3 complex relation to the idea of mirroring. Using the language of stated approach, each of the two signs (I’ll assume the woman on the left and the woman on the right) could be related ot each other in a number of ways.

For instance, the woman on the left (note I’ll read this image from left to write, like language – also an interesting organizational component of this image) could inhabit a range of the concepts: motion, blindness, reaching out/openness/feeling, two-dimensionality, artifice.  Conversely, the woman on the right could be said to embody the concepts of stasis, seeing/observation, three-dimensionality, and reality.

Now, I’m clearly cheating here, as I am creating their potential individual signified meanings through a relational process.  The relation I’m utilizing here is a syntagmatic one, in that each of the signs’ meanings are based on the other image.

My specific interest in this image is the notions of creation that I find within.  I assume that the woman on the right has created the woman on the left and has done so in her own image (to what degree we shall see).  Each symbol is like in approximate physical characteristics: hair, gender (it appears), body proportion, profile.  These signs are different, however, in the ways I have listed above.  With the assumption of the three-dimensional sign (Right) having created the 2D sign, this relationship leads me to a conclusion about the relationship between object and sign itself and the problematization of defining what is created once it is created.

(Give me a moment, but no promises on this one.)

I arrive at this point through Barthes’s notion of mythology (and perhaps a few leaps of faith/logic).  On the denotive level, the icon on the left is easily decoded as an image of the 3D model on the right.  When taking into account the contradictory (even binary) nature of the conceptually signified elements in each of the two signs, the relationship is complicated, perhaps reversed.  The left (icon) does not behave in the same manner as the object (creator of icon).  The signification of the entire image, then, reads something like the artist can create an icon in their own image, but this icon is never completely their own image.  The icon is unlikely to behave in the exact manner they behave or they intended for it to behave.  I am further intrigued by this line of exploration by the relationship between the 3D artist viewing her blind 2D creation, and me (the audience) viewing a 2D representation of the unseeing artist observing her 2D creation.