body without organs's blog

Depiction of Goto Dengo

Okay, I have more coherently formulated my thoughts from class. What I find problematic (which is not the same thing as "inexcusable" or "should have been omitted") in Stephenson's depiction of Goto is that this individual representations too easily stands in for an entire group of disparate people. This is the function that representations serve; they are thus, in some sense, always violent. The decision to be made for individual authors, filmakers, theorists, etc., is not so much "should I produce representations?," because of course (it seems to me) Stephenson should be writing, as "How can I counteract the tendency of this representation to violently stand-in for a much larger whole." The way we read Goto Dengo and his relationship to the prototypical Japanese person of course depends on where we are coming from as readers; but that is not to say that the matter is completely out of Stephenson's hands.

Personal responsibility

I wanted to continue a thread of discussion from I think Monday's class regarding personal responsibility in the WWII and contemporary contexts in Cryptonomicon. Someone mentioned that whereas Bobby and Lawrence's responsibility is simply to take orders that aid an obviously morally justified cause (the war), Randy's responsibility and complicity in 1990's geopolitics is much more intricate and, furthermore, individualistic. It seems that Randy's worldy engagement often comes down to his whim, especially as someone of the professional class: he gets in and of romantic relationships, he starts business ventures, he picks and flies accross the world whenever the situation calls for it.

Reminiscent of Underworld

I ran accross this quote in an article I was reading called "Aesthetics and Post-Politics" and it reminded me of the highway killer scenes from Underworld, as well as the general topic of techo-media culture in all the books: "Like the video game, a clip completely constructs its reference; it does not produce its estrangment form the concrete particular by abstraction but rather through recourse to fragmentation and to what could be called simulated narrative. This refers to syntax of fragments that operates as if they were narration without really being it, not because they openly negate narrative diegesis but because they present an action that lackds both progession and repetition, overall structure and indivudal characters, spatial-temporal relationships or the negation of these, and a hypotactic system or any other kind of subordination.

Making fun of business

I love the moments when Stephenson ridicules the silly formalities of the business world. This particular moment made me laugh out loud (sorry I have the other edition of the book, so I don't know which page number it is): in his opening speech, the sultan contends that "nothing is more natural than that the present-day Kinakutans should run big fat optical fiber cable in every direction parth into every major national telco within reach, and become a sort of digital bazaar. All of the guests nod soberly at the sultan's insight, his masterful ability to meld the ancient ways of his country with modern technology.

Information Flows and Reading

I'm really fascinated by the idea of information flow becoming inadvertantly bi-directional when observation becomes too obvious. Everything turns on the question of praxis. The Allies have to be careful not with how much information they collect via codebreaking, but rather how much of that information they put to use. Information is a funny thing because it relies on the interface between pattern and randomness to be communicative, which is another way to say that data is only meaningful/useful if it can be differentiating from other data. Finding pattern in the noise; it's basically an extremely large-scale sifting process.

Drugs and Capitalism

Okay so this was going to be in response to GrumpyMutt's post from below, but it got too long. Although they are indeed not for the faint of heart, the commercials from that post are fascinating (http://www.montanameth.org/View_Ads/index.php), especially in the context of Infinite Jest, and I would recommend everyone watch them. Okay so here's my reaction: first of all, these advertisements reminded me immediately of Requiem For a Dream. Like the film, they were effective not so much in staving off drug use (I didn't plan to start using meth or heroin anyway) but rather in burning an incredibly disturbing imprint into my mind.

Playing by the rules

I'm really interested in socially construction rules and limitations, and the various effects of transgression. The overarching dichotomic structure of drugs v. tennis in the novel can be read as an exploration of this theme: American culture encourages discipline, focus, and specialization, and tennis is an acceptable venue, whereas drugs are not. Why is this? The commonsensical answer - something along the lines of "well drugs are bad" - I think requires further interrogation. Why has drug use been devalorized to such an extreme degree? Answers will vary depending on one's analytic framework, but I'm inclined to say it's because drug addicts do not serve the interests of capital, or, more rigorously, stigmatizing drug use and relegating to marginalized sectors of society (which is a deeply racialized process) serves the interests of capital by legimitizing oppression - the diagnosis of drug problems within a community tends to justify cutting funding for social programs and what not.

Eschaton / Lord of the Flies

I've been having a lot of trouble getting through long segments on this book in one sitting, but I found myself rapt during the Eschaton scene in the same way I remember being transfixed when I first read Lord of the Flies. Both depict ostensible reversions into baseline atavism, but in so doing also raise the provocative question: has atavism actually become normtive in contemporary society (or 1940's society, in the case of Lord of the Flies)? How much difference is there, as far as alienation and dehumanization are concerned, between an unrestrained fist fight and this violent game the children are playing, not to mention their insane, routinized leaves at Enfield?

Selected Transcripts

I loved the whole "selected transcripts of the resident interface drop-in hours" section and found the transcript of the lawyer's rhetorical refusal to deny or affirm his alcoholism for lack of a sufficiently fleshed out definition absolutely hysterical: "Im not denying anything. I'm symply asking you to define "alcoholic." How can you ask me to attribute to myself a given term if you refuse to define the term's meaning?...Am I having pancreas problems? Yes. Do I have trouble recalling certain intervals in the Kemp and Limbaugh administration? No contest. Is there a spot of domestic turbulence surrounding my intake? Why yes there is. Did I experience yes some formication in detox? I did...But what is this you demand I admit? Is it denial to delay signature until the vocabulary of the contract is clear to all parties so bound? Yes, yes, you don't follow what I mean here, good! And you're reluctant to proceed without clarification. I rest. I cannot deny waht I don't understand. This is my position" (177).

Drugs without pleasure, drugs as their own anti-drug

I think the initial "Year of the Depend Adult Undergarment" segment depicting the torturous wait for drugs in the midst of addiction is fascinating when taken in the context of the role drug use played in the other two novels, especially because his mental state comes off as somehow desperately paranoiac, though in a very different way from what we've seen thus far in the course. The idea that something like drug use becomes compulsory, something "he would force himself to do...even if he didn't want it. Even if it started to make him sizzy and ill. He would use discipline and persistence and will and make the whole experience so unpleasant, so debased and debauched and unpleasant, that...he'd never want to do it again" (22). I think this comes off as pathologically alienating because it's so teleological: I'll smoke now so I won't want to / have to smoke later. This mindset undermines the present moment completely, to the extent that we want to say, Look if you're going to smoke, you might as well enjoy it. It's like an activity that was once a guilty pleasure - pleasure now and maybe some guilt later - now induces the accompanying feeling guilt instantaneously, always-already right now, like the whole experience has been compressed into the present moment, but thereby cheapens it. Something like: overstimulated simultaneity in the present overwhelms and effectively eradicates the present. The drugs have lost their meaning as a mode of escapism, too, because the esacpe has become so routinized: "marijuana breaks" every few weeks have become a dependable part of his life. Smoking doesn't offer anything in the way of calling his subjectivity into question; it is constitutive part of that subjectivity. This reflects a larger trend that I observe in contemporary society: resistance to / disillusionment with the system is built into the system itself. Why is The Office such an hysterical show, or Office Space an hysterical movie? Because ultimately, jobs are "supposed" to be alienating. We've come to expect (and maybe even desire?) menial work as the status quo, and opposition is systemically built-in - the fact that workers or students will waste time is assumed and therefore preempted by stretching out the work day. Habits of all kinds, drugs and alcohol among them, are now just ways of coping (some more acceptable than others). Such is the production of the conditions of re-production of late capitalism. I'm not sure quite how, but I feel like this relates deeply to the idea of the action as its own antithesis or cure. The idea of taking drugs to kick the habit follows curious logic indeed. Maybe its a question of biopolitics, that is to say, how the system maintains, regulates, and distributes, bodies: if something like taking drugs is now somewhat of a requisite, or at least not a surprise, then the ultimate tool of biopolitical control would be to make the use of drugs themselves coincide always immediately with its own negation (lack of pleasure, breaking the habit, etc.). That way we offer a highly controled and ritualized, but ultimately vacuous way of dissipating behavior that threaten (are are perceived to threaten) society at large.

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