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I really enjoy reading Manovich. It is interesting that I have never thought about why those computer interfaces were designed like what they look like, such as folders, overlapping windows, desktop. Before that I had a vague idea that they may be representations (or metaphors) of something in our offline world, but I never concentrated on the “why” behind them. Manovich indeed reminds me of those old days when I used DOS, which basically followed the so called tradition of “printed word”.

I agree with Manovich that we are not interfacing to a computer but to culture encoded in digital form. Cultural interface, or “human-computer-culture” interface seems a digitalization and embodiment of cultural objects. Although the world is undergoing a trend of economic and technological globalization, diverse forms of participation, values and interests still shape Internet technologies, which is called as a “culturally specific kind of modernity” by Lo (2009). The interfaces are usually designed in accordance to social norms, social frames, and expectations in the offline societies; otherwise they may not be applicable or understandable. In this sense, “cultural interface” can be considered as a changing “social entity”, thus contributing to the reinforcement and development of nation power.

As a closing remark, I would like to cite my favorite text from Manovich: “The language of cultural interfaces is a hybrid. It is a strange, often awkward mix between the conventions of traditional cultural forms and the conventions of HCI—between an immersive environment and a set of controls, between standardization and originality. … One wants the computer screen to be a dense and flat information surface, whereas the other insists that it become a window into a virtual space” (pp. 92-93). I cannot agree more and now I know why I get so confused by some interfaces – They tried to balance these two traditions but they failed, unfortunately.

Before reading Lamarque’s work, I had read Foucault’s work “What is an author” in my department. Since scholar communication and collaboration (e.g. coauthorship, hyperauthorship, and  subauthorship, etc.) is an important topic in the field of library and information science. After reading Lamarque’s work using Jeff’s approach, here are some ideas in my mind:

1. On p. 85, Lamarque mentioned two conceptions about the very nature of literature: the romantic conception which sees literature as a vehicle for personal expression and the “autonomy” conception which sees literature as pure linguistic artifact. This reminds me (again) of the conduit metaphor of language (whether meaning is embedded in words or meaning is injected into words by people? Whether language is as the tool/carrier of meaning (or, author’s intention?) or as meaning itself?). I think this is a long time debate for all text-based work (even nontexual works)?

2. Based on 1, I noticed Lamarque’s discussion and examples are mainly based on textual works (poets, literatures, Shakespeare, T.S. Eliot). I was thinking if understanding authorship can be different in terms of non-texual works. For example, can the biographical approach be more important than others when dealing with painting? Especially considering the two directions(the works might be used to illuminate the lives, the lives to illuminate the works)? As for the following paintings by Christine Rosamond, audience may have a better understanding of the authorship if they know when “creating” these two paintings, the “author” got divorced and one of her good friends committed suicide. I am interested in this question because in the field of library science, it is the cataloger that needs to provide a description for all the works. This task can be very difficult if he/she knows nothing about authors’ lives (especially authors of non-textual collections).

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The first thought came to my mind when I read Carroll’s statement “it is a philosophy of criticism…It is an attempt to excavate the foundations of any critical practice, whether theory driven or otherwise”. So what’s the “foundations”? It seems evaluation is the foundation in his book.

He proposes that evaluation is central to the criticism of art, but he also says it does not mean that criticism only has (or must have?) evaluation, instead it has description, contextualization, classification, elucidation, interpretation, and analysis as “hierarchical subservient to the purposes of evaluation”. I was wondering what a criticism (if any, perhaps not) which only has description looks like. It sounds like an abstract, a summary, or a synoptic. Well, I just try to think about what he exactly means when using these terms. Also why are these six intellectual activities “hierarchical”? I feel they can be intertwined and overlapped under some situations. For example, when I describe, contextualize and classify, amn’t I “analyzing” the intellectual content in mind?

Another question is when he describes artistic evaluation-evluation in light of artistic categories and political evaluation. It may be difficult to completely separate these two, as this example. It may be inevitable to touch”politics” when “evaluating” this work. Of course later he mentions differences between “interpreting” creator’s intention and “evaluating” the work’s value. But he also has said interpretation serves the purposes of evaluation.

obama-hope

Last question about the productivity of criticism, he says criticism is productive, even negative criticism can lead to improvement. Should we regard criticism as deconstructive, constructive, reconstructive, or all of the three, or none of the three?

In 2002 an Icelandic band, Sigur Ros, recorded an album that became known as The Brackets Album. The album was purposefully untitled, and the artwork for the album revealed a pair of brackets. Subsequently, each of the songs were also untitled. Jonsi, the vocalist, sang the songs in a made-up language called Hopelandic, which was based off the phonetic sounds of the Icelandic language (source). The pages of the album booklet were blank, encouraging listeners to create their own meaning of the songs. The album is often described as a post-modern masterpiece.

As is common with Sigur Ros albums, The Brackets Album, is emotionally evocative, with most songs slowly building to a crescendo of intensity. The album received critical acclaim, drawing praise from critics around the globe.

Considering that the artists were intentionally creating art that would be received in subjectivity, I find it interesting that we can still critique the album objectively.

While the album invites us to establish our own subjective meaning to the songs, it is through an objective critique that we can judge the aesthetic qualities of this album. We judge it according to how the listener receives the album, paying special attention to the depth of the emotions that are evoked (this gives us insight in the songwriting quality). We also judge it according the time and place that the album was recorded (we can’t judge it according the albums recorded in the 1960s, for example). And we judge it according to the quality of the audio recording and mix of each song.

So, this is something that I am arguing has a value above its form. Here the form is NSFW, very racy, and has all of the subtlety and tact of an Adam Sandler album. Put more simply, if things of a base, crass, or unrefined nature offend you, then you will get the gist of it from just reading this post. Alternately, I link it because the nature of the video will be an important factor later.

http://www.cracked.com/video_18311_4-terrifying-psychology-lessons-behind-famous-movie-monsters.html?wa_user1=1&wa_user2=Movies+%26+TV&wa_user3=video&wa_user4=cracked_shows

So, focusing solely on the content of the arguments, this is an analysis of horror films based on 4 perspectives:

The first perspective is the internal, fear of the unknown, perspective. As H. P. Lovecraft put it: “The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.” It hinges on that psychological perspective, and then draws an analogy between films of one type (horror movies) and films of another type (hardcore pornography – like I said, racy). Okay, moderately interesting.

The second perspective. This is about Alien (or actually Aliens, given the description). It posits the theory that fear arises from a combination of sexual inadequacy and fear of rape. Again, a psychological perspective. It continues to give a list of formal and narrative qualities of the films that support that idea.

The third perspective is that zombies are frightening because they are a debased version of ourselves. The fear is a self-fear, which then turns into hatred through the narcissism of small differences (Freud) in that they are just similar enough to make them all the more loathsome. Again, a focus on psychology with the addition of aspects of zombies as a concept.

The fourth, and final perspective is a counter-argument to the third. It poses that zombies are the “other” and that is why they are frightening / repulsive. It goes on to draw an analogy between political alignment and the most popular monsters. It does so by siting historical examples of popular movies, the political alignment of the presidents when those movies were released, and cultural ideas that were associated with those presidencies.

Okay, to sum up this analysis  – this is a conversation between adults dressed like Count Chocula, Malcolm Reynolds, Dr. Manhattan, and Taranga Leela. Maybe not precisely what you are thinking, but some aspect of the absurdity of the situation or the base level of its presentation was probably lingering in your mind. At the very least, while I would argue that these perspectives are defensible, the absence of authoritative positioning in presentation (with the exception of Sartre and Hegel at the end) might have undermined their efforts. Whatever the case, their is a certain mismatch between form an content. Albeit far less severe, this same phenomena is part of Devereaux’s analysis of Triumph of the Will, but reversed. In Triumph, the form is held in high regard, but the content is deemed “evil.” In this, the content argues some valid points, but the form is absurd, base, and flip.

Also, beyond the obvious Alien connection to class, the final argument is ended with a declaration that it has made horror movies boring. Could this be a small part of the concern over expertise reducing enjoyment – a fear that removing visceral immediacy will render films boring?

Etsy recently launched “Gift Ideas for Facebook Friends

http://www.etsy.com/gifts

Etsy.com describes the feature as follows:

“The Gift Ideas for Facebook Friends tool gives shopping for friends and family a new twist by connecting with Facebook to find gift ideas based on their public profile information. When you connect to Facebook using Gift Ideas, Etsy can suggest items to you related to the likes and interests of your Facebook friends.”

Great! I don’t have to work quite as hard coming up with Christmas gift ideas for Jeff! Let’s see what Etsy and Facebook suggested I get him:

etsy.com/gifts

Interesting, we have some nice accessories that relate to some class novels and embroidered toilet paper. Would I give any of these things to Jeff as a gift? Most likely not. This has not accomplished the task of making my Christmas shopping list easier to figure out.

Etsy Gifts, Netflix recommendations, Amazon recommendations, or other similar search and recommendation sites, all have a major issue. These features don’t have lifeworlds and can never have the context that we has humans have. These sites are built in a very structuralist way: does the key phrase “Barack Obama” appear in the title of an item on sale? Yes, put it in the results. No, don’t put it in the results. However, building search and recommendation results based on this binary opposition misses a lot of the key contexts. Someone who likes Barack Obama most likely won’t use toilet paper with his face on it — the connotations of that just don’t quite match up to real feelings about Mr. President.

Now as a shopper, I can look at these results and know that I’ve never seen Jeff in dangly earrings and he most likely won’t hang a crocheted Obama tapestry in his office as it would clash with his current decor. Because of my lifeworld and my interpretation of Jeff’s lifeworld, I can make a judgment on the appropriateness of a gift. This falls in line with the phenomenological perspective.

I want to take this one step further: how do we construct the identity of a person through applications like this? Jeff did his part by making a publicly available list of things he likes or is interests him:

This isn’t a holistic view of Jeff, but it is one that he constructed as a way to represent himself. This profile screen shot is only a fragment of Jeff. Etsy.com/gifts takes a fraction of this fragment by only displaying 11 of his many interests listed.

In modernism, the self is seen as static and unified where as in post-modernism the self is fragmented and is continually being constructed through remediation, appropriation, and construction of fragments. Initially, computers were designed for efficiency, and unity but as they become more ubiquitous, they have become “universal media machines” (Manovich) where information is fragmented and we must use them and our knowledge of culture to construct our understandings.

When one constructs an online profile, they pick fragments of who they are and post them online. There is a disconnect between who they are in a profile and who they are in real life. What I see on Etsy.com/gifts for Jeff does not do an accurate job of portraying the Jeff Bardzell that I know. Sharon Turkle wrote :

As we stand on the boundary between the real and the virtual, our experience recalls what the anthropologist Victor Turner termed a liminal moment, a moment of passage when new cultural symbols and meanings can emerge. Liminal moment are times of tension, extreme reactions, and great opportunity.

I don’t feel like etsy.com/gifts is using this liminal moment of self-identify as an opportunity. It isn’t exploiting the possibilities because it is stuck in its code, where ones identity, although initially constructed by themselves on facebook, has been distorted and reduced to a point where it doesn’t really grasp who a person is, what their interests are, or how to shop for them. Etsy.com/gifts doesn’t know that I am Jeff’s student, that I’ve never seen him with dangle earrings, and doesn’t know the connotations of toilet paper with someones face on it. It doesn’t know who Jeff is as a whole, or who I am as a whole, or any of that. Sure, it’s fun to play around with, but it doesn’t accomplish its intended  goal of finding gifts for someone.

Special thanks to Christian Briggs and his i310 material from Fall 2008, I hope I didn’t butcher it too much 🙂

I just posted this in response to Sean’s post on Postmodernism earlier this week, but I thought I’d promote it to make sure everyone had a chance to see it.

In previous versions of this class, I have done a lecture on postmodernism. It is a vital concept in all of cultural studies, and it increasingly has cropped up in HCI. Phoebe Sengers recently observed that much of HCI has traditionally had a modernist rhetoric–optimization, transparency, form follows function, etc. (Jakob Nielsen is an unrepentant modernist). But increasingly, HCI is starting to push back and question the field’s modernist heritage. (Note that Sherry Turkle, whose seminal Life on the Screen was published in 1996, made a similar point.)

Postmodernism can be seen in positive and negative terms. Its basic idea is that science and media have sought for centuries to represent the real world truthfully, but that nowadays our representations (e.g., media) never reach back to the “real world” but instead just point to other representations: we’re in a media (or representational) hall of mirrors.

The negative version of that can be seen in American politics, where politicians make claims about reality not because they have (scientific) evidence of their truth, but because the voting population believes them. The voting population believes these claims, because they hear them on the news–which is reporting what the politicians are saying and doing, using partisan talking heads (or, in Fox’s case, entire networks) who spin events to fit their partisan narrative. This is a simplistic version, but you get the idea: there is a circularity of representations that can’t seem to connect to any “hard” reality.

The positive version can be found in Roland Barthes and others, who celebrate the freedom extended to us when we are no longer chained to a single version of the Truth. Postmodernism enables “play,” that is, an emergent exploration of ways to construct and reconstruct reality. It has been postmodern philosophy that underscores much recent feminism and queer theory, both of which attack dichotomies (male/female, black/white, straight/gay) and try to open up a non-binary space in which we form our gendered, sexual, and racial identities.

One common feature of postmodernism is the notion of pastiche, which is the idea that when we make new things, we fabricate out of existing (and meaningful) objects, rather than out of pure or neutral materials. Thus, my espresso machine is a pastiche, because its designers chose a visual language and set of materials from the 1950s.

Steampunk is a much more robust example of postmodern pastiche. It blends different eras’ visual languages, design materials, and meanings to generate novel visual worlds and artifacts, which again (because it is postmodern), do not point back to any historical reality. So the film City of Lost Children is an example of this.

Here is Wikipedia’s take on postmodernism.

On a more provocative note, I sometimes wonder whether one difference between science fiction and fantasy is their respective tendencies to align themselves with modernism and postmodernism.