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Bodyminds, Self-Transformations, and Situated Selfhood

Back in the spring, I read and did a critical comparative analysis on both Cressida J. Heyes’ Self-Transformations: Foucault, Ethics, and Normalized Bodies, and Dr. Sami Schalk’s BODYMINDS REIMAGINED: (Dis)ability, Race, and Gender in Black Women’s Speculative Fiction. Each of these texts aims to explore conceptions of modes of embodied being, and the ways the exterior pressure of societal norms impacts what are seen as “normal” or “acceptable” bodies.

For Heyes, that exploration takes the form of three case studies: The hermeneutics of transgender individuals, especially trans women; the “Askeses” (self-discipline practices) of organized weight loss dieting programs; and “Attempts to represent the subjectivity of cosmetic surgery patients.” Schalk’s site of interrogation is Black women speculative fiction authors and the ways in which their writing illuminates new understandings of race, gender, and what Schalk terms “(dis)ability.

Both Heyes and Schalk focus on popular culture and they both center gender as a valence of investigation because the embodied experience of women in western society is the crux point for multiple intersecting pressures.

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Colonialism and the Technologized Other

One of the things I’m did this past spring was an independent study—a vehicle by which to move through my dissertation’s tentative bibliography, at a pace of around two books at time, every two weeks, and to write short comparative analyses of the texts. These books covered intersections of philosophy, psychology, theology, machine consciousness, and Afro-Atlantic magico-religious traditions, I thought my reviews might be of interest, here.

My first two books in this process were Frantz Fanon’s Black Skin, White Masks and David J. Gunkel’s The Machine Question, and while I didn’t initially have plans for the texts to thematically link, the first foray made it pretty clear that patterns would emerge whether I consciously intended or not.

[Image of a careworn copy of Frantz Fanon’s BLACK SKIN, WHITE MASKS, showing a full-on image of a Black man’s face wearing a white anonymizing eye-mask.]

In choosing both Fanon’s Black Skin, White Masks and Gunkel’s The Machine Question, I was initially worried that they would have very little to say to each other; however, on reading the texts, I instead found myself struck by how firmly the notions of otherness and alterity were entrenched throughout both. Each author, for very different reasons and from within very different contexts, explores the preconditions, the ethical implications, and a course of necessary actions to rectify the coming to be of otherness.

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Review of Nick Harkaway’s GNOMON

Last year, I was given and read Nick Harkaway’s GNOMON, and I’ve wanted to take a little time to describe to you why you should read it, if you haven’t already.

GNOMON starts with an investigator in London looking into the death of someone in the course of what should have been a routine investigation. A woman was strapped into a chair and her mind was probed with drugs and machines to learn the truth of who she was and whether she posed a threat to the city. Mielikki Neith works for The Witness—an automated algorithmic learning and surveillance system tied into a systema dn series of networked devices across London’s populace, creating and enabling the ultimate democracy. Citizens are engaged and connected to the laws, status, and operations of their country, in real time, and it is through this system that Neith is assigned to the task of investigating Diana Hunter’s death.

From there, things get very strange, very fast. As the real-time recording of Hunter’s mind under interrogation unfolds in Neith’s consciousness—a tool used by Witness service to maximize transparency and understanding—Neith finds more than just Hunter’s mind: she also the life story of another. As the story unfolds, it actually doesn’t. It refolds, mountain folds, and valley folds through time and space and placeness, and that gets, ultimately, to what I want to say to you about what Nick Harkaway has done here.


[Cover of Nick Harkaway’s GNOMON]

Here are some things that are true about GNOMON:

This book is and is about magic, machine consciousness, and communities of resistance, in the weirdest ways possible.

It is exactly 666 pages long.

This book has four or five or six main threads, and it weaves all of them around and through all of them, each enveloping and enfolding each, wrapping around the outside only to then traverse it and find that you are inside of and beneath the next layer in the line.

The entire book resonates with Borges, Hofstadter, Danielewski, Butler, and LeGuin, without imitation.

Each one of these personages appears or seems to appear, but just when you think you’re sure how they’ll be seen, they are not there, like a shark fin in the ocean that becomes and always was the wave of the sea you’re swimming in and then, again, or maybe never, churns and is the shark: No less deeply and immediately important for the reminder of what is in there with you, and quietly unsettling for upending what you think you know…

GNOMON is the kind of thing that you know is behaving as intended when one of the metaphors/similes/analogies you’ve decided to use to describe it shows up in it the day after you think of it.

It is almost impossible to spoil this book without telling you literally all of the events of this book, but I also don’t want to colour your intake, too much, other than to say that this book is important. There is mystery in it, and there’s art. It is a masterful thing, and if all you see is the surface plot of it, then you’ve missed the central conceit of the thing.

If you have not already done so, definitely get it, when you get a chance.


Nick Harkaway’s GNOMON is available from Penguin Books.

Why prostitutes?

Susannah Breslin reviews the material she’s received for Letters from Johns and Letters From Working Girls:

Often these guys aren’t just looking for sex. Many are depressed or stressed, lonely or bored, looking for intimacy or a connection, no matter how transient, no matter the cost. One john who was rejected on a regular basis in the dating scene wrote that, in contrast to the women he met at bars, prostitutes saw him as “a normal and charming guy.” Other men recalled youthful sexcapades in the military while deployed overseas, from a German brothel called Crazy Sexy to a barbershop in Asia where women performed oral sex on men getting haircuts. An “overeducated” 28-year-old went through a bad breakup, a death in the family, and the loss of his job. Online he found a “courtesan” who taught him what he wanted in a relationship and gave him his confidence back. “I’m really grateful to her,” he reported.

Full Story: Newsweek.

The Tarots of Precariomancy

the intern tarot card

I. The Intern: He set his foot on the beginning of the path. He is the one of the he-doesn’t-work-here-he’s-just-an-intern. Formation and harsh exploitation merge in the same hour for the Intern. He is known for being the weakest and the one under the most uncertain condition, as well as for his optimism: unpaid jobs, petty cash, and three euros an hour of untaxable wages do not frighten him. The Manager asks him to wash his car during his coffee break, and his Estate is his parents. The Intern stands for the skill to learn the secrets of the companies and of his bosses while he is being abused for free. If matched with the Justice (very rarely!) this implies an unexpected lucky shot. If opening the game, the Intern stands for availability, innocence and bad luck. If closing the game, it stands for bad luck and nothing more.
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Full Deck: Almanac of Precariomancy

(via Robot Wisdom)

This is one of the best “modern tarot” interpretations I’ve ever seen. Funny, well drawn, and heartbreakingly apt.

Demon Summoning for Dummies

"Um… Ia? Ia? F’thagan?" by Harris O’Malley (or on deviantART). Brings a smile to me face.

Tibet, pawn of the CIA?

Behind the powerful din created by the popular and celebrity-embraced “Save Tibet,” campaign is the fact that the CIA is behind the Tibet independence movement.

According to many reports, the Dalai Lama himself may be a long-time CIA asset. See The Role of the CIA behind the Dalai Lama’s holy cloak and The Tibet Card.

In addition to being geostrategically situated, Tibet is also rich with oil and gas, and minerals — and this is just part of the larger superpower warfare between the US and China. See Tibet, the "great game", and the CIA.

The legions of pro-Tibet activists also seem largely unaware of the historical fact that the “holy land of compassion” has been a CIA pawn since the end of World War II. The infamous Tolstoi Mission sent CIA operatives into Tibet, with plans to establish it as a US military base, from which the US could control the entire Asian region. This activity flourished under the US-supported, opium-banked Nationalist Kuomintang regime of Chiang Kai-Shek.

When the Communists rose to power, the CIA trained Tibetans in guerrilla tactics to use against the regime in Peking, and thousands of Tibetans lost their lives in these battles. Who benefited? Who really gave the orders then — and who is driving the agenda now?

There is little doubt that Anglo-American interests continue to use Tibet, exploit the image of Tibet as a holy place under siege, and bamboozle naïve (and well-heeled) outside activists with slick marketing, in order to undermine Beijing.

Denunciations of Beijing’s brutal crackdowns do not take into account the covert operations and outside infiltrations that triggered the crackdowns in the first place.

Read the whole article via Online Journal

Scientists on their “life-changing” books

via David Pescovitz at Boing Boing

New Scientist has a feature package where seventeen big name scientists recommend books that they considered "life-changing." Here is the list of the scientists and the books they suggest, with each title linking to Amazon. Follow the link at the bottom of the post to the New Scientist article where you can read the scientists’ thoughts on their picks. From New Scientist:

  1. Farthest North – Steve Jones, geneticist
  2. The Art of the Soluble – V. S. Ramachandran, neuroscientist
  3. Animal Liberation – Jane Goodall, primatologist
  4. The Foundation trilogy – Michio Kaku, theoretical physicist
  5. Alice in Wonderland – Alison Gopnik, developmental psychologist
  6. One, Two, Three… Infinity – Sean Carroll, theoretical physicist
  7. The Idea of a Social Science – Harry Collins, sociologist of science
  8. Handbook of Mathematical Functions – Peter Atkins, chemist
  9. The Mind of a Mnemonist – Oliver Sacks, neurologist
  10. A Mathematician’s Apology – Marcus du Sautoy, mathematician
  11. The Leopard – Susan Greenfield, neurophysiologist
  12. Darwin and the Emergence of Evolutionary Theories of Mind and Behavior – Frans de Waal, psychologist and ethologist
  13. Catch-22 / The First Three Minutes – Lawrence Krauss, physicist
  14. William James, Writings 1878-1910 – Daniel Everett, linguist
  15. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep – Chris Frith, neuroscientist
  16. The Naked Ape – Elaine Morgan, author of The Aquatic Ape Hypothesis
  17. King Solomon’s Ring – Marion Stamp Dawkins, Zoologist

A few familiar titles, and I always like to recommend the writings of William James. I look forward to checking into the others!

More awesome American skool awesumness

Arizona bill would permit confiscation of books opposed to American values like capitalism:—

Measure backs ‘American values’ in state schools

Arizona schools whose courses "denigrate American values and the teachings of Western civilization" could lose state funding under the terms of legislation approved Wednesday by a House panel.

SB1108 also would bar teaching practices that "overtly encourage dissent" from those values, including democracy, capitalism, pluralism and religious tolerance. Schools would have to surrender teaching materials to the state superintendent of public instruction, who could withhold state aid from districts that broke the law.

Another section of the bill would bar public schools, community colleges and universities from allowing organizations to operate on campus if it is "based in whole or in part on race-based criteria," a provision Rep. Russell Pearce, R-Mesa, said is aimed at MEChA, the Moviemiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlan, a student group.

The 9-6 vote by the Appropriations Committee sends the measure to the full House.

The legislation appears aimed largely at the Tucson Unified School District, whose "Raza Studies" program has annoyed some people. Tucson resident Laura Leighton read lawmakers sections of some books used in classrooms which she said promote hatred.

If the proposal becomes law, however, it would have a statewide reach. And that concerned even some lawmakers who voted for it, saying the language of what would and would not be prohibited is "vague."

Article continued via the East Valley Tribune

Evolution: 24 myths and misconceptions

Shared misconceptions:

Everything is an adaptation produced by natural selection
Natural selection is the only means of evolution
Natural selection leads to ever-greater complexity
Evolution produces creatures perfectly adapted to their environment
Evolution always promotes the survival of species
It doesn’t matter if people do not understand evolution
“Survival of the fittest” justifies “everyone for themselves”
Evolution is limitlessly creative
Evolution cannot explain traits such as homosexuality
Creationism provides a coherent alternative to evolution

Creationist myths:

Evolution must be wrong because the Bible is inerrant
Accepting evolution undermines morality
Evolutionary theory leads to racism and genocide
Religion and evolution are incompatible
Half a wing is no use to anyone
Evolutionary science is not predictive
Evolution cannot be disproved so is not science
Evolution is just so unlikely to produce complex life forms
Evolution is an entirely random process
Mutations can only destroy information, not create it
Darwin is the ultimate authority on evolution
The bacterial flagellum is irreducibly complex
Yet more creationist misconceptions
Evolution violates the second law of thermodynamics

Full Story: New Scientist.

(via Daily Grail)

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