Taganthropogy

Affect and Artificial Intelligence and The Fetish Revisited

Elizabeth A Wilson’s Affect and Artificial Intelligence traces the history and development of the field of artificial intelligence (AI) in the West, from the 1950’s to the 1990’s and early 2000’s to argue that the key thing missing from all attempts to develop machine minds is a recognition of the role that affect plays in social and individual development. She directly engages many of the creators of the field of AI within their own lived historical context and uses Bruno Latour, Freudian Psychoanalysis, Alan Turning’s AI and computational theory, gender studies,cybernetics, Silvan Tomkins’ affect theory, and tools from STS to make her point. Using historical examples of embodied robots and programs, as well as some key instances in which social interactions caused rifts in the field,Wilson argues that crucial among all missing affects is shame, which functions from the social to the individual, and vice versa.

[Cover to Elizabeth A Wilson’s Affect and Artificial Intelligence]

J.Lorand Matory’s The Fetish Revisited looks at a particular section of the history of European-Atlantic and Afro-Atlantic conceptual engagement, namely the place where Afro-Atlantic religious and spiritual practices were taken up and repackaged by white German men. Matory demonstrates that Marx and Freud took the notion of the Fetish and repurposed its meaning and intent, further arguing that this is a product of the both of the positionality of both of these men in their historical and social contexts. Both Marx and Freud, Matory says, Jewish men of potentially-indeterminate ethnicity who could have been read as “mulatto,” and whose work was designed to place them in the good graces of the white supremacist, or at least dominantly hierarchical power structure in which they lived.

Matory combines historiography,anthropology, ethnography, oral history, critical engagement Marxist and Freudian theory and, religious studies, and personal memoir to show that the Fetish is mutually a constituting category, one rendered out of the intersection of individuals, groups, places, needs, and objects. Further, he argues, by trying to use the fetish to mark out a category of “primitive savagery,” both Freud and Marx actually succeeded in making fetishes of their own theoretical frameworks, both in the original sense, and their own pejorative senses.
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Selfhood, Coloniality, African-Atlantic Religion, and Interrelational Cutlure

In Ras Michael Brown’s African-Atlantic Cultures and the South Carolina Lowcountry Brown wants to talk about the history of the cultural and spiritual practices of African descendants in the American south. To do this, he traces discusses the transport of central, western, and west-central African captives to South Carolina in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries,finally, lightly touching on the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Brown explores how these African peoples brought, maintained, and transmitted their understandings of spiritual relationships between the physical land of the living and the spiritual land of the dead, and from there how the notions of the African simbi spirits translated through a particular region of South Carolina.

In Kelly Oliver’s The Colonization of Psychic Space­, she constructs and argues for a new theory of subjectivity and individuation—one predicated on a radical forgiveness born of interrelationality and reconciliation between self and culture. Oliver argues that we have neglected to fully explore exactly how sublimation functions in the creation of the self,saying that oppression leads to a unique form of alienation which never fully allows the oppressed to learn to sublimate—to translate their bodily impulses into articulated modes of communication—and so they cannot become a full individual, only ever struggling against their place in society, never fully reconciling with it.

These works are very different, so obviously, to achieve their goals, Brown and Oliver lean on distinct tools,methodologies, and sources. Brown focuses on the techniques of religious studies as he examines a religious history: historiography, anthropology, sociology, and linguistic and narrative analysis. He explores the written records and first person accounts of enslaved peoples and their captors, as well as the contextualizing historical documents of Black liberation theorists who were contemporary to the time frame he discusses. Oliver’s project is one of social psychology, and she explores it through the lenses of Freudian and Lacanian psychoanalysis,social construction theory, Hegelian dialectic, and the works of Franz Fanon. She is looking to build psycho-social analysis that takes both the social and the individual into account, fundamentally asking the question “How do we belong to the social as singular?”
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Cyborg Theology and An Anthropology of Robots and AI

Scott Midson’s Cyborg Theology and Kathleen Richardson’s An Anthropology of Robots and AI both trace histories of technology and human-machine interactions, and both make use of fictional narratives as well as other theoretical techniques. The goal of Midson’s book is to put forward a new understanding of what it means to be human, an understanding to supplant the myth of a perfect “Edenic” state and the various disciplines’ dichotomous oppositions of “human” and “other.” This new understanding, Midson says, exists at the intersection of technological, theological, and ecological contexts,and he argues that an understanding of the conceptual category of the cyborg can allow us to understand this assemblage in a new way.

That is, all of the categories of “human,” “animal,” “technological,” “natural,” and more are far more porous than people tend to admit and their boundaries should be challenged; this understanding of the cyborg gives us the tools to do so. Richardson, on the other hand, seeks to argue that what it means to be human has been devalued by the drive to render human capacities and likenesses into machines, and that this drive arises from the male-dominated and otherwise socialized spaces in which these systems are created. The more we elide the distinction between the human and the machine, the more we will harm human beings and human relationships.

Midson’s training is in theology and religious studies, and so it’s no real surprise that he primarily uses theological exegesis (and specifically an exegesis of Genesis creation stories), but he also deploys the tools of cyborg anthropology (specifically Donna Haraway’s 1991 work on cyborgs), sociology, anthropology, and comparative religious studies. He engages in interdisciplinary narrative analysis and comparison,exploring the themes from several pieces of speculative fiction media and the writings of multiple theorists from several disciplines.

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Evolution Of Fashion As A Signifier

Evolution of Men's Fashion

Numidas Prasarn wrote:

We have images of masculine attire through the ages as being playful at some points, and completely dour and boring at others, with it ultimately landing on the latter. English psychologist John Carl Flugel coined the term for this phenomenon as “The Great Masculine Renunciation”. He writes, “modern man’s clothing abounds in features which symbolize his devotion to the principles of duty, of renunciation, and of self control.”[2] Changes in political attitudes and values pinned masculinity into this mode of restraint starting with 17th century France. And not to beat a dead french horse, but the death of the aristocracy was just the first nail in the coffin. After the French Revolution, specific signs of nobility and class distinction were shunned and in some cases outright outlawed. Which isn’t to say that in their push for liberty and equality in the Napoleonic era class distinction and social hierarchy did NOT exist, only that showing specific signs of flamboyance or excess, characteristics of the bourgeoisie, was unacceptable. And so we reach a period of uniformity and reserve in masculine dress, as Flugel puts it “Man abandoned his claim to be considered beautiful. He henceforth aimed at being only useful.”

Interestingly Prasarn cites the emergence of the dandy as part of this trend away from “play” in men’s dress towards minimalism, though I’d always had the impression of the dandy as a rather fanciful figure:

On the flipside, in the English Regency, there are two major factors that contributed to this change – the Age of Enlightenment and the quintessential dandy, Beau Brummell. England at this point is engaged in constant war between Napoleon, its own efforts at expansion, and itself (Hey, America!) and the French Revolution along with the philosophical writings of the time jump start this trend of neoclassicism. For men, this means a “sleeker” silhouette, to highlight the male body and echo the idealized physique in greek sculpture. Suddenly elaborate trims and ornamentation is left out and the quality of tailoring and cut of cloth is emphasized in such a way that implied the fitness and virility of the wearer (important also in a growing military culture). Beau Brummell takes this silhouette and runs with it, becoming the poster boy for men’s fashion. He is so influential as a style icon that it is often credited to him that we see the modern suit form, the dark colors and precise tailoring, starched crisp collar and a well placed necktie all from his cue (which he took from the french idealization of working class aesthetics).

Full Story: Coilhouse: The Evolution of Fashion as a Signifier

Previously: Fashion Is A Feminist Issue

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