Weekend Reading

Here are a handful of links in case you have some time do a little reading this weekend with a few brief comments to let you know what you’re getting with each. Who knows, maybe I’ll be disciplined enough to make this a weekly feature.

“The Elusive Big Idea” by Neil Gabler in the NY Times: Too much information, too few ideas. Digital media environments are inhospitable to substantive thought. Intellectuals absent from popular culture. We’ve become “information narcissists” and the media feed our folly.

“Digital Humanities Spotlight” by Maria Popova at Brain Pickings: Links to seven high quality digital humanities projects.

“Postmodernism is Dead” by Edward Docx in Prospect: Post-mortem on postmodernism. What was it? still a live question. Conclusion: Now entering “Age of Authenticism.”  From the comments: “Age of Commodified Authenticism, rather.” Comments are many and at times lively. Dead or not, postmodernism still seems to raise hackles.

“GPS and the End of the Road” by Ari Schulman in The New Atlantis:  An excellent piece ostensibly about GPS technology, but really about the human experience of place drawing on Mark Twain, Jack Kerouac, and Walker Percy. Sprawling, but frequently insightful. Enthusiastically recommended.

“The Personal Impact of the Web” from On the Media: This a link to an audio file, although you will find a transcript somewhere on there if you care to read rather than listen. It includes comments from Sherry Turkle, Nicholas Carr, N. Katherine Hayles, Lee Rainie, and more.

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Disclaimer: Unless it’s clear from my brief comments, passing on these links should not necessarily be taken as an endorsement.

10 thoughts on “Weekend Reading

  1. Oh, good. I was wondering what to do this weekend… :-).

    Actually, makes me wonder. There was a time when one could only be expected to read articles delivered to his door, or, in the case of academics, articles in the institutional library. Now that EVERYTHING from EVERYWHERE is available, my ADHD brain cracks under the options and can tend to make no choices at all, which is a choice to flee.

    Just an observation. Thanks for the links, enthusiastic and otherwise!

  2. Oh dear! How is one supposed to get any of one’s own writing done when such tantalizing distractions turn up in one’s email? I, too,caught the Docx article and found it fascinating — dovetailing as it does with one of my favourite chew-bones — the need for literary academics to reconnect with their public. But now, The Elusive Big Idea would seem to be required reading, and on another track, the GPS article looks fascinating. As well, the digital humanities projects article seems irresistable! I may have more to say once I’ve digested everything!

  3. That Docx article is really interesting. I do think you can see a push for authenticity (certainly, Facebook and its owner Mark Zuckerberg seem terribly concerned with people presenting a single, unified, authentic self), and it would make sense as a response to and rebellion against the logical conclusion of postmodern free play and constructedness. Also, the pervasiveness of social media may be contributing to this movement, as there is far less room for free play of the subject if everyone you know can know what you’re doing and saying (Twitter, blogging, Facebook, etc.).

    I find it ironic (but certainly not in a postmodern way) that the academia Docx ridicules as having succumbed to the nonsensical is actually where this whole “post-postmodern as authenticity” idea came from. Academics have been theorizing and publishing about this since the late 1990s. I’m glad to see that their ideas have finally trickled out of academia and into the “real” world (but of course, not the Real world,,,sorry, bad Lacan pun, I couldn’t stop myself).

    I wonder, though, how much of this push for authenticity could be seen as just another instance of anti-intellectualism rearing its head. The postmodern movement was a very intellectual one (at least it ended up that way, with writers like Derrida), as Docx gestures to when he derides the theorization as nonsense. Postmodernism says that we don’t have a core self, that we are socially constructed, which most people who I know meet with a very visceral reaction: an angry “no, I do have a real, authentic core self. I know that I do because that is my experience of the world, and my experience is reality.” The problem with that response is that postmodernism says that reality is constructed as well, so even as we yell that its theorization doesn’t match our concept of reality, our opposition is in vain, because that is sort of the point. I’m all for phenomenology, to a point, but some part of this authenticity-centered reaction to postmodernism seems…over-simplified and reactionary.

    A very interesting article! Thanks for posting.

    1. First off, thanks for including the Lacan pun. Nice.

      Second, your comment reminded me of an essay I just read on David Foster Wallace and his efforts to achieve a post-ironic earnestness (or authenticity perhaps): “Another Thing to Sort of Pin on David Foster Wallace.”

      Also, your last paragraph gives me a good deal to think on. My impulse is toward something like a phenomenology of experience against which we measure theory. But that takes a good deal of work to anchor. Not sure I’m there yet. Thanks for presenting that point though, it needs to be taken seriously.

      1. The opportunity for Lacan punning occurs so seldom, I feel obligated to take the opportunities that do present themselves. I think phenomenology is important and something that much high Theory is lacking (epistemology requires ontology and all that). I’m not saying this new authenticity movement is necessarily anti-intellectual – it was just a possible connection that occurred to me, particularly since the US cultural climate has been so openly anti-intellectual since the 1980s.

        I think my main reason for hesitation about this whole authenticity movement is that, historically, it seems that artists so often rebel against what came before, but do so to such an extreme that they throw out what was useful about the older movement and adopt an equally extreme and perhaps less than “realistic” view of the world. Modernism was a valid response to what went before it, just as postmodernism was a valid response to modernism. But neither is satisfying as a totalizing worldview that accurately represents reality, or even just as an artistic viewpoint. I know that isn’t the objective of either, but that seems too often what these movements and trends are used as in theorization. Just as you can’t have epistemology without ontology, I don’t think theorization can be evaluated only (or even mainly) based on its correspondence to what is considered reality (after all, what is reality? whose reality are we using and why? what realities are being implicitly rejected based on the chosen conception of reality?). It’s an issue I’m running up against in my own work theorizing feminism. Which is why I’m so glad I stumbled across your blog last year – your posts always have a very different perspective from the dominant perspective in my department, so it’s nice to see things from a different angle.

      2. Just to clarify, in my above comment, I’m not trying to imply that you would only want to evaluate theory based on phenomenology, as you seem to advocate a balanced approach. I also advocate a balanced approach, but it seems to be a road less taken.

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