(con)juncture was lawson fletcher's thought pile. Now blogging at soundofruins.net
"stay critical or die!" | email | (con)temporary


The transition from web 1.0 to web 2.0 is one of the shift from creation to aggregation.


the continuing grip of the lost pastoral

I love how the backyard has become some kind of piss-weak stand-in for the pastoral, a kind of last ditch attempt to recover utopianism in the midst of development and (post)modernity for children. Cf. Adbusters:
In our education-obsessed culture, elite kids play piano and speak three languages by the age of four, but just about every North American kid is deprived. In one of the greatest retreats ever, children are vanishing from a critical piece of territory: their own backyards.

It references the infamous quote from some early twentieth century dictat (good to know childhood 'experts' have been around a few centuries):
Every child ... should have mud pies, grasshoppers, tadpoles, frogs, mud turtles, elderberries, wild strawberries, acorns, chestnuts, trees to climb. Brooks to wade, woodchucks, bats, bees, butterflies, various animals to pet, hayfields, pinecones, rocks to roll, snakes, huckleberries and hornets. And any child who has been deprived of these has been deprived of the best part of education.

Nitsuh Abebe dragged out a great quote from Robert Benchley in 1928 regarding the matter:

I remember once a mother whose three children were being brought up in the country (and very disagreeable and dishonest children they were, too) saying, with infinite pity of the children of a city acquaintance, “Just think, those kiddies have probably never seen a cow!” Just what sanctity or earnest of nobility was supposed to attach itself to the presence of a cow in a child’s life I could never figure out. … Among the major inquiries that will one day have to be made is one into the foundation for the belief that intimacy with cows, horses, and hens or the contemplation, day in and day out, of great stretches of crops exerts a purifying influence on the souls of those lucky enough to be subjected to it.

However, so ingrained is this faith in the efficacy of livestock and open spaces in the elevation of the race, that even to question it is to place oneself under suspicion of being a character who will bear watching by the authorities.

That sums it up perfectly - this notion that the environment has some kind of unmediated influence upon our subjectivity and perhaps even our intelligence is flatly ridiculous. Experiences of the natural and the sublime, if anything, are so significant and seemingly pure because we start from the position of the industrialised, modern subject, looking back to some imagined country from the twelth floor. It reminds me of the continued success of the agricultural pavillion at the Royal Melbourne Show, and an exasperated parent I overhead once talking about why the Show was so necessary for city kids, "because some of them think milk comes from a supermarket!" - lady, I don't know about you, but I certainly don't get my milk from the tits of a bovine.



A scholar I know used this word when giving a critique of a paper, asking whether the paper was all some 'pataphysical joke' and I finally had a chance to ask him what the fuck pataphysics is. Pataphysics, essentially, is the 'science of imaginary solutions', invented in novelistic and theatrical form by 1890s Frenchman Alfred Jarry, who himself was particularly interested in and well-versed in the science of his day, in physics and machines, all that long nineteenth century stuff that academics froth over. Pataphysics inverts social and scientific norms, and Jarry was in many ways the forefather of Absurdist theatre and Surrealism.

I note it here because one could draw (perhaps intentionally prepostrous, in the vein of historiography/archaeology) a connection between pataphysics and science fiction, or sci-fi, which most certainly writes of imaginary solutions to scientific and social problematics. Then there's the famous notion from subcultural studies that young people invent magical or imaginary solutions to political problems, symbolically resolving society's disjunctures, tensions and contradictions. Much to think about.


media revenge

Copy of the mX I came across on the train carriage tonight. I guess everyone is very careless about the actual copy of this paper itself once they've finished extracting what miniscule utility out of it they can, and I always love how like the mX feels like really dirty and shit as soon as you take it with you off the train at your home stop (making it a truly parasitic medium), but this to me was evidence of an especially committed and amplified expression of the disdain that we all have for this publication in general. It suggested to me agreeable and maniacal visions of mass-scale commuter rage, everyone meticulously and maliciously cutting up their copy of the mX, paper train graveyard. Keep the dream alive.


flying over the city

Seeing Manhattan from the 110th floor of the World Trade Center ... the urban island ... a wave of verticals. Its agitation is momentarily arrested by vision. The gigantic mass is immobilized before the eyes. It is transformed into a texturology in which extremes coincide ... I wonder what is the source of this pleasure of 'seeing the whole', of looking down on, totalizing the most immoderate of human texts. To be lifted to the summit of the World Trade Center is to be lifted out of the city's grasp ... It transforms the bewitching world by which one was 'possessed' into a text that lies before one's eyes. It allows one to read it, to be a solar Eye, looking down like a god.
-- de Certeau, 'Walking in the City'.
We experience the inversion of this process, too, as de Certeau admits - "Must one finally fall back into the dark space where crowds move back and forth, crowds that, though visible from on high, are themselves unable to see down below?"

We (or most of us) have all experienced this fall in the experience of planeflight - as the wheels leave the tarmac we indeed feel the relief and wonder of being "lifted out of the city's grasp", even out of ground's grasp as we cut above the cloudline. But one must come back down, from above the inchoate, flat, blue-black mass of the sea, to a gradually more perceptible ground - first just the bare outlines of a state-sized map, then gradually the picture is filled in, there's a car moving, people's backyards, a tennis court with players, until finally we come back to earth.

The experience of landing is thus as much a physiological shock registered in jet lag, popping ears and so on, as it is a perceptual shock or at least transition - from the scopic freedom of planeflight to the unshakeable and somewhat dirty feeling of being back in the world, in the grip of the city. We must always cross the tarmac into the terminal, and from there things descend even further.


leisure networked


In disciplinary societies, leisure was itself commodified and ordered, and yet it remained socially and temporally distinct to work, even as its mirror.

In control societies, leisure and work effectively collapse on another, both temporally and socio-spatially. I only ever see my best friend at work; the girl in the Tic Tac ad bounces candy off the cubicle wall into her mouth; I line up to get into the movie.


We do not need to wait for Children of Men's near-future to arrive to see this transformation of culture into museum pieces. The power of capitalist realism derives in part from the way that capitalism subsumes and consumes all of previous history: one effect of its 'system of equivalence' which can assign all cultural objects, whether they are religious iconography, pornography, or Das Kapital, a monetary value. Walk around the British Museum, where you see objects torn from their lifeworlds and assembled as if on the deck of some Predator spacecraft, and you have a powerful image of this process at work -- Mark Fisher, Capitalist Realism.
After my own trip to this place, I have to say I thoroughly agree - this passage from Fisher illuminates that nagging feeling I had the whole time. However, I still think hierarchies persist even within this system of equivalences:

Thus, whilst I'm inclined to agree, I'm not sure if Fisher repeats the same kind of blunt logic (mirroring the bluntness of the logic he is critiquing, in fact) that McKenzie Wark's essentialism of the digital also evinces - i.e., the notion that the binary nature of the digital, and these bits' indifference to what it is they carry, creates a similar situation of flattened, endless exchangeability.

On that note, I think there's conceptual similarity between Fisher's 'capitalist realism' (the current condition in which no social system alternative to capitalism seems even a potential) and Wark's 'atopia' of gamespace, something like the dystopia of the now.

Also up for consideration here is the very question of the artefact, and its politics: "In the conversion of practices and rituals into merely aesthetic objects, the beliefs of previous cultures are objectively ironized, transformed into artifacts" (Fisher). And yet Benjamin saw something redemptive in the collector.

the racial draft

In each season of Chappelle's Show, one can see moments where the mobilization of stereotypes arguably confront and conform to popularly, if silently, held racial stereotypes -- Bambi Haggins.

You know what's cool about being in America? We all mixed up. I'm talking about genetically, we all got a little something in us, right? -- Dave Chappelle.
The sonics of race is key to Dave Chappelle's comedy, especially in his vocal modulations during standup - the way he impersonates a typical WASP tone and then lapses slowly back into his over-emphasised black voice, but there's a confusion or duality in that interim that's very interesting, a space that opens up for understanding the performativity of whiteness and blackness, and their potential deconstruction even whilst they are stereotypically hardened on either end.



there is an ironic yet devastating demand being placed on the labourer:
while work never ends (as one is never out of touch, and always e...xpected
to be available, with no claims to a private life or other demands),
you as a worker are nonetheless completely expendable (and thus a member
of the precariat: and so one must sacrifice all autonomy from work so
as to keep one’s job).
This contemporary condition of on-call ontology or on-demand da-sein
produces an emotional economy of stress. To live under such
instant-demand duress is stress-inducing indeed. Life becomes a series
of panic attacks in the face of never being able to live up to such
workplace demands without completely dismantling ‘life’ itself as
distinct from ‘work’. The managerial class uses techniques of
guilt/loyalty to enforce workers to labour at a moment’s notice,
scheduling with less than a few hours or days time, without hope of a
raise, without benefits or reward, and all for a minimum wage.

Fugitive Philosophy
on why casualisation is the new archetype of capitalist exploitation.


gamer theory

Reading Wark's Gamer Theory (print version, 'original' online version GAM3R 7H3ORY is here) and finding it entirely abstruse. Thus this is very much a preparatory sketch for ideas that might be filled in at a later stage:

- Allegorithm as 'allegory' and 'algorithm'; the possibilities encased withing the arbitrariness of algorithm as Benjamin theorised it are nullified by the digital, which presents a parade of superficial differences with an underlying uniform binary code. All the skins in The Sims are just that. What comes next is the articulation of this logic to experience 'outside' the game (attached to that, what is the inside/outside here? Clearly, Wark isn't just arguing that games 'represent' or are a 'metaphor' for how society now operates (or vice versa), but that there is something more dynamic going on - what?)

- The shift to the 'topographical' and it's couching within a certain kind of media theory of space. Very interesting; needs teasing out.

And bringing these two points together, this quote, from card/page 59:
If the novel, cinema or television can reveal through their particulars an allegory of the world that makes them possible, the game reveals something else. For the reader, the novel produces allegory as something textual. The world of possibility is the play of the linguistic sign. For the cineaste, the world of possibility is a play of light and shade. For the gamer, the game produces allegory as something algorithmic. The world of possibility is the world internal to the algorithm...
- What the fuck is 'atopia'? Seems to be a kind of key.

That's it for the book itself, what I've found quite productive is approaching it through secondary and commentary texts and reviews. A few interesting points from that:

- This testy 'non-review' of the book by Julian Kücklich- raises interesting points regarding the book's production as a mirror for how it doesn't actually gesture towards ways 'out' of the game. Wark himself responds to this in comments and argues that we may need to "abandon" the notion of play as critical response - where that leaves reading against the grain and critical 'transgression' etc. is interesting, and connects with wider concerns I have with the 'genre' of cultural studies and critical theory writing, in which often a kind of utopian gesture is made after a generally depressing or revealing critique; embeddedness and disembededness (with perhaps a lack of respect to these terms existing academic application?) - e.g. "this is a product of capitalism, but it complicates and problematises these conditions of production in particular ways". A pitiful kind of 'way out' of a totalised system. But then this seems to be just how criticism operates. Yet Wark seems to argue in his comments on this review that gamespace is precisely universal and there is no way out - thus what becomes the new goal of criticism?

-Just a great comment on World of Warcraft that sums up my thoughts on the new digital political economy, as a game where "where gamers pay for the privilege of their own labor".

-Psycholudology and affect - Christian McCrea's entry into the discussion. Needs far more teasing out.
Sticking with McCrea's review above (and also another review he wrote here), we return to the problems of the 'performativity' of Wark's text - what it's actually doing and whether or not it is operating as a 'strategy guide' not for playing but escaping 'gamespace' (by which Wark means the way in which the wider social morphology is made over as game). I think the key here is McCrea's comment:
There is a ongoing sense that Wark is fearful what the encroachment of gamespaces may mean for potential ways of working against capitalism. Namely, that games offer escape but deliver us into the hands of the enemy.
That last sentence is crucial, and is the motivating drive of Gamer Theory in a way. The difficulty for me is parsing out the trajectory and causality, even if Wark would probably be unwilling to map his ideas onto something as crude as 'causality'.

And again, to drive home this question of how Wark offers a way out (or is it maybe just a map? A map with no real routes, however...), Wark himself again commenting on the initial snarky review says:
Making totality go away is not a task for thought. It doesn’t yield to a merely conceptual labor. Its an historical task. A remaking of the world.

Continuing with Wark through McCrea, we have this massive idea of the relations between (and collapse of) labour and leisure in gaming, and arguably in 'creative economies' more generally. McCrea notes that clearly this dialectic is something that theorists have been chipping away at for decades, and the Marxist idea of leisure as the necessary form of consumption that necessitates labour is not just one - but even say work on collecting, which emerged in the 19th (?) century as a quintessential bourgeois pastime, and which many scholars have argued is basically training for 'proper' forms of work, social organisation and taste.

Nevertheless, what seems qualitatively different in the new configuration of leisure/labour is that leisure itself is contemporaneously commodified or made into labour (distinct processes, I know, but bare with) - we actually perform productive (i.e. profitable) work whilst leisuring on the net on blogs, social networks, etc. - crowdsourcing etc. - but single-player / non-networked games seem to me to fit back into that non-contemporaneous and not directly profitable realm of leisurely labour - where there is still a kind of training going on but only implicitly.

In this regard, of course, World of Warcraft stands out as operating on both levels of games so described (literally pay to go on there and 'have fun', whilst this fun basically consists of remembering how to labour), but even far more obviously so with something like Pokémon - a point that Buckingham and Sefton-Green debate in their article 'Gotta catch 'em all: structure, agency and pedagogy in children's media culture', referencing the way in which the game basically trains children into being good consumers, 'collecting the whole set', etc.

- McCrea's post/review also discusses this idea of whether Wark's book makes for good 'games theory', and of course it doesn't - it has little traffic with the concerns over design, aesthetics, remediation and modalities of games that traditional (is it a tradition already? Seems so) games studies does, in its constant harping on about narratology and ludology. Having said that though, a more fruitful approach might be a combination of the two - rather than simply using each game as a cipher, as Wark seems to me to be guilty of, how can we cross his philosophy with articulation of the material realities (materialities) of games? This to me is a question that should confront all forms of critical/theoretical media studies, and one I am beginning to grapple with in terms of music media. And here I think I am only really echoing McCrea's point that he makes much more vividly, of the possibility of a 'theory-through-games'.

Finally, then, to try to give these notes a sense of closure or recall, I guess this idea of a 'game-aware' theory (of games) might be contradictory with Wark's larger point I referenced earlier - that to play the game in any way (even 'resistant') is, to be blunt, to lock oneself into playing the game.


Lovink on Peer-Review

Geert Lovink has called for an end to anonymous peer-review practices for journals and so on, arguing that it is a shady, backroom style of review that no longer fits the 'open' realm of web cultures where opinions are shared openly and freely.

I guess two immediate problems present themselves: 1) that Lovink has put the technology before culture a little too explicitly, as if the emergence of net forms of review simply warrant the restructuring of prior ones, and 2) that these very forms themselves might not actually be conducive to the sorts of considered, detailed review journal article reviews call for - who would want to read the equivalent of 50 snarky, off-the-cuff blog comments when receiving a paper back from a journal?

Then again, I'm highly ignorant about actual processes of peer-review, and whether they're as deceitful as Lovink claims they are.


text/paratext and materiality

A comment I made on marathonpack's discussion of musical paratexts and web 2.0:

I think the distinction between text and paratext is best approached in terms of that between text as ‘meaning/form’ and paratext as ‘materiality’ – or any form in which a text is instantiated. If you think of this way, it becomes clearer what the text is (the ’song’ itself as a kind of autonomous entity) but that doesn’t preclude the fact that a text is never actually realised until made by its various paratexts, therefore it is always clouded by them as Jenkins and yourself mention. Not just ‘no text without context’, but ‘no text without paratext’.


dissolving digital dichotomies

Transcoding is often held up as an inherent and unique feature of the digital; the notion that because everything is encoded as 1s and 0s, then anything can be output as anything else:

"Digital discreteness, its exactness, its pure formality mean that digital data are indifferent to their content, so that a digital representation of a sound can be seen as well as heard" (Evans 2005: 72).

"The Voyager Golden Record is a phonograph record included in the two Voyager spacecraft launched in 1977. It contains sounds and images selected to portray the diversity of life and culture on Earth ... The 115 images are encoded in analogue form" (Wikipedia)


transduction of data

"The ID3v1 tag occupies 128 bytes, beginning with the string TAG. The tag was placed at the end of the file to maintain compatibility with older media players. Some players would play a small burst of static when they read the tag, but most ignored it, and almost all modern players will correctly skip it."
(ID3, Wikipedia)