I see

I’m inside-out. The inside has turned into the outside, and it is more real than what is in front of my eyes. My computer, my desk, the solid object worth of everything around me ripples like an oasis. Words, it is the words which have pulled me through their narrow white portals. I feel exposed. I feel naked as Karen’s body when she pulled herself out from her shirt straddling Bill’s legs. Is it DeLillo’s words which have effected this transformation? Have his words drawn me out like Karen’s arms so that the baggy clothes of my everyday life no longer hide me? I am astonished by how so few pages could cause such a reaction. Like the “Master” DeLillo has lifted me: “out of ordinary strips of space and time” (9).  I am involved “in this mysterious exchange” – and I ask myself, (of the writer), “How are you changing me?” (43).

Bill tells Brita, “I only know what I see. Or what I don’t see” (47). And yet it is Brita that is seeing. She is seeing Bill. Her gaze is single-minded, relentless in its penetration. Bill is exposed under her lens. I remember Karen’s father with his binoculars in the stands. He is at once distant and separated, with the perspective which sees the mass as a whole although he seeks for the individual. And in this view he can distinguish the insides of the living body of many and read its future in the position of the parts. Brita is seeing the individual and instead of the separation, she is connected and joined to him. Her camera (literally and figuratively) captures him, his essence, and in doing so, his inside is pulled outside through the medium of her lens. Just as the medium of the writer’s words pull me inside-out.

In the culmination of a desire for loss: “Everything is seamless and transparent” (46). My walls are undone.

Exit Through the Gift Shop

After class I was telling my boyfriend about some of our class discussions, and he brought up a great example of questionable “authorship” that had totally slipped my mind. Many of you may be familiar with the street artist Banksy (if you’re not–familiarize yourself, NOW!). Banksy recently released a documentary titled “Exit Through the Gift Shop” that presents an interesting take on the timeless question “what is art?” which inevitably turns in “who should be considered an artist?” If you want to be broad and say that anyone who ‘creates’ is an artist, it can become problematic. If you try to make a tighter definition, you begin to exclude creations and creators who seem validated in their craft. It is a tricky territory to navigate.

I won’t go into great detail about the documentary here, because I think it most effectively presented in its form. I strongly urge any of you who are interested in this topic to add it to your Netflix queue though (I think you can instant-stream it). In a nutshell, it tells the story of a self-proclaimed avant-garde artist nicknamed “Mr. Brainwash.” Mr. Brainwash hires freelance designers and sculptors to hang out in a warehouse with him all day, while he gives them orders about what to paint and what to build. Then, he has the nerve to take credit for it in his own art gallery (which turns out to be an ironically huge success). The guy is a little crazy, but it’s important to keep in mind that this is a documentary so it is presumably real…and quite terrifying. I just thought that the “morals” of the story can be applied to what we’ve been studying–to what extent is someone an author if they’re simply assembling someone else’s words and presenting them for the world to see? If you’d consider Jonathan Harris to be an author, shouldn’t you consider Mr. Brainwash an artist?

If anyone has already seen this documentary, please comment and discuss! If you haven’t–get to it! I think all of you will be able to appreciate/enjoy it.

We Feel Fine: The Book?!

I am so unbelievably glad that we’re finally looking at We Feel Fine in this class, because it has been bugging me since Sample introduced it in my ENGL 325 recitation 2 years ago. Like everyone else, my first reaction to the website–text?–story?–was “wow, this is really cool,” but the more I thought about it, the more I kept coming back to that age-old question that professors continually drill into your head: “why does any of this matter?” I’ll admit that my first idea for this blogpost was to analyze Whale Hunt, just because it presents a more traditional narrative (i.e. it has a beginning and an ending, with a definite story in between). Looking at We Feel Fine for an English class made me want it to tell a story, but I just couldn’t wrap my head around that, which led to my frustration.

Lev Manovich’s article The Database quelled many of my confusions. In one particular quote from page 228, Manovich directly addresses the root of my discomforts:

“…if the user simply accesses different elements, one after another, in a usually random order, there is no reason to assume that these elements will form a narrative at all. Indeed, why should an arbitrary sequence of database records, constructed by the user, result in “a series of connected events caused or expanded by actors”?

But hold on a minute. As an English major, I’ve been hard-wired to find narratives in everything. Even Manovich’s insistence that “not all cultural objects are narratives” seemed problematic to me. Doesn’t everything have a story? As a human, processing data and observing your surroundings, aren’t you registering a particular narrative (albeit a subjective one) to make sense of the world? Even if I concede to Manovich’s suggestion that not everything is a narrative, certainly everything fits in to a narrative, to some capacity…right?

I’m both excited and hesitant (in the way that those two often go hand-in-hand) to unlearn the process of “narrative-izing” texts, documents, and databases. Clearly, my frustration upon seeing We Feel Fine in an English colloquium was that I was unable to discern why a student of English literature could be concerned with anti-narratives. However, to the extent that databases do present a way of understanding and experiencing the world, in the same way that novels and films do, they illicit my curiosity and interest.

However, as I explored the We Feel Fine website, reveling in its randomness, I came across another troubling feature that only compounded my confusion: We Feel Fine, the book. After going through so much trouble to accept that We Feel Fine isn’t supposed to be read like a book, I find out that the creators of the database have now cataloged their data into the most traditional narrative medium that exists. While I understand that the book version is an altogether different project than the website database, how is it possibly interesting without the database interface?

In The Database Manovich insists that one of the characteristic features of a database, and the internet at large, is that it can always be edited, added to, rearranged–it is never complete. We Feel Fine fits nicely into this mold, maybe more-so than Whale Hunt which presumably is a completed database with no room for editing, additions or deletions. We Feel Fine, the Book no longer has access to the stream of incoming data (via the internet) necessary to make it an interesting project. I’d be interested in looking at the book to see what data the authors felt was important enough to include–and this also violates Manovich’s assertion in the very first paragraph of the article that database logic treats every piece of data equally (“they are a collection of individual items, with every item possessing the same significance as any other.”) We Feel Fine the Website doesn’t discriminate against incoming data–everything is received, organized, and stored, and can be accessed through any of the site’s multiple viewing interfaces (madness, murmers, montage, or any combination of the three).

Manovich would argue that the way We Feel Fine is organized indicates the way humans perceive cultural artifacts in the age of new media. As we become a more and more web-based society, the ability to archive and organize data based on its most important and relevant characteristics has become probably the primary way we perceive our existence. For example, I’ll go ahead and assume that everyone in our class is active on either Facebook, Twitter, tumblr, or flickr, all of which can be considered databases. As our world–and ourselves–become more and more ‘databased,’ it is critical to understand how this medium functions and also how it can be criticized from an artistic or rhetorical standpoint.

To see the online version of the We Feel Fine book, click here.

Books have become “increasingly pointless.”

Hey everyone, spend some time this weekend looking over this article just released by the Economist. The author addresses the popularity of e-books, and ways the publishing industry should change in order address the way books are transforming with new technology. Somewhere they mention that publishing houses are still important, but personally I don’t think they make a strong case. However, it’s interesting to consider the implications that Amazon has taken over the digital book publishing industry much in the same way Apple took over music downloading and Netflix seems to have a lockdown on streaming movies.

What does it mean for there to be this sort of monopoly on e-book distribution? It reminds me of the scene in If on a winter’s night a traveler when Calvino (or Marana? or you?) describes the “great fabricator of assembly-line novels” (130) and “novels and variants of novels as they are turned out by the computer” (128). Kind of eerie how Calvino was able to predict such a drastic change in the book industry as we are seeing now. Personally I think e-books are pretty genius, but as we’ve discussed, some books don’t translate well into this form…what is their fate? And most importantly, what is the fate of the Reader?