Archive for the ‘Text Reflection’ Category

Interpretive Aging

August 13, 2013 Leave a comment

When a piece of art is created, it stands as a document of its time. Inside a novel we enter a world constructed by an author. Moral concepts become instilled inside its pages along with details of everyday life: what type pf technology did they use and how did they exist? Seemingly mundane details become a record of “how things were” and function to provide a reader in the future with a sense of history.

One interprets art from this “future looking backwards” perspective. The art exist as a relic of the past, but in our interpretation we apply contemporary perspectives to historical documents. Whether we do so objectively remains unclear, but each reader evaluates the ideas of a novel with his or her perspectives. Standards of morality become tools to evaluate the morality of the characters in this works of art.

In evaluating works of art we garnish value on the basis of an unfair standard. Are the characters interesting to our contemporary ideas? Are their actions ethical or do they disgust us with their ideas. Many works of art fall victim to their contents: characters are racist or sexist or display behaviors that seem downright absurd. Time has the ability of making serious art into farce and farce into profound documents of record.

For some works of art, times functions to nominate material to the canon. What work deserves to be passed on to future generations? What is worth our reading time now in this “busy world of now.” For the great works we find time to give our time and attention. While some work lasts forever, it is a rare gift bestowed on works of art. Often we grow distant from works of old but only on the basis of their ideas. To no fault of their makers, some works of art grow stale with time. All art must evolve with the audience but does so with the curse of textual permanence. The greatest works of generations past often become drivel or, worst of all, documents of shame wherein times of old seem offensive and ignorant.

Modern Tellings: Detachment In Differential Time

December 25, 2012 Leave a comment

One wonders whether certain pieces of fiction are so far beyond contemporary society that they’ve long been rendered fantastic. Even realistic fiction suffers this loss in time, Dickens and Shakespeare become more confusing with each passing decade as cultural touchstones change and points of audience relation disappear.

In those stories people “act differently” or “say things in some other way”. One might even hear of how “the way they see the world is different.” Students experience the texts in different ways than the author originally intended: “Things just aren’t the same.”

But when do stories suffer this detachment via time differential? When does a story become so far off that it is unrelated to our world? Oddly culture decides this.

We have a system where culture reclassifies culture, existing as some swarming, swashing body of material that varies in popularity and relevancy. Certain works never catch while others take decades to find an audience. Some texts lose favor with the culture only to return later to become touchstones. Yet more never connect: bursting into the world only to sink.

This is a fascinating change and on Christmas I consider one story with an existence one wonders is quickly becoming unrelateable: A Christmas Carol.

What would Bob Cratchit do in today’s workplace? Tasked with an abusive employer on top of his life’s stresses how might he react? Given our headlines one wonders whether we can trust Cratchit to suffer silently? In today’s society how do individuals experiencing these forms of stress react? Certainly fiction works to present a popular version of a common reaction and, if possible, the most exciting rendering of the situation in dramatic form? Where might one “modern Bob Cratchit” appear in our story? Consider popular news stories and consider just how some suffer through stress in today’s world. Humility for modern Bob or something different- something much more different with renderings in fiction suggestive of what we read in the news. One fears such modern Bobs.

Text Reflection: Riccardo Orizio’s ‘Talk of the Devil: Encounters with Seven Dictators’

September 11, 2011 Leave a comment

Riccardo Orizio’s ‘Talk of the Devil: Encounters with Seven Dictators’ is a collection of interviews with individuals closely related to seven deposed dictators. Often spouses or family friends, these relations provide unique glimpses into the psyche of despotic leaders and those who choose to support their questionable behavior. As with all texts, one can read from different perspectives with varied levels of reward. Yes, a historical perspective provides a glimpse into the psyches of critical figures from significant points in history, but a more rewarding read comes in reading this text as a seven part study of human psychology. Though charged with historical details, these seven interviews are more valuable as perspectives into the ways in which human beings can distort their own behavior and the reactions that come from powerful decisions.

One can find many similarities among the seven figures profiled in Orizio’s text. Each seems obsessed with personal glory and distorting the historical events that gave way to his or her removal. Each figure views history from a subjective lens whereby misfortune and failure are mere temporary hiccups on the path to eternal glory. Eternity and time is likewise a major factor with each of these figures: each perceives his or her existence as an eternal journey whereby greatness is achieved through arduous battle and sacrifice.

Pain surrounds each of the seven figures. Each disposed of those who choose to disagree with policy or who openly challenged his or her established power. There is blood all over these figure’s hands: death via darkness and mystery is a constant companion and the concern for maintaining power is a major talisman for each. Once established each figure functioned less as an advocate for the nation and more as a personal advocate whose grip on power only grew stronger with time and vanquished challenges.

Reading Orizio’s text, one perceives the inherent weakness in human psychology. One may consider the text as a revelation that human beings are inherently incapable of being sole leaders of major countries. Is the text a document explaining the benefits of a shared (democratic) system? The text does not suggest such notions; though, present in each story is a narrative of personal struggle and slaughter focused largely on maintaining personal power. Absolute power may not corrupt all, but Orizio shows us seven figures whose destruction came largely with the provision of power. Are these figures any different than the rest of the population?

100 Posts/ The Limits of Human Interpretation

July 7, 2011 Leave a comment

This being my one hundredth post, its appropriate that I’m thinking on the limits of human interpretation. After watching part one of Larry Lessig’s “Good Soul Corruption” presentation and dealing with the endless barrage of “Trial Coverage”, I’m sensing the huge impact that our limited perspectives have on making decisions and acting rationally. I suppose that this is an obvious point, that the limitations of human abilities are famously denied, but to a certain extent these limitations have a level of “meta” that interests me- paradoxically our limited perspectives play a game of multi-layered denial in which we both accept our limited perspectives but move forward and act with limited awareness of these limitations. In short, our imperfections become distortions in themselves and justify our errors with greater leaps of judgment.

This is, it seems, another venture into the world of absolute truth. One wonders whether the denial of “absolute truth” is neither optimistic or pessimistic, as some would argue, and more a realistic awareness of the futile desire for such certainties to exist. We want rock solid knowledge upon which to hang our reasoning on; though, despite immense power of influence, intelligence and interest we are minor actors in a game beyond our control.

If one accepts the fact that human awareness is inherently limited and subjectivity rules all human function, how do we act. Accepting this there is no objectivity in the world- all human work is tainted with the personal needs and perspectives of those involved. Involved parties will always insert their own perspective. Only raw data exists in the objective state but such data exists in an ethereal place beyond human influence. As soon as the data is gathered, considered or even known to exist by humans it is distorted. There is nothing wrong with this, we need only recognize this state as reality and employ a filter when considering all messages. As some say, “trust, but verify.”

Text Reflection: The Master Switch by Tim Wu

January 3, 2011 Leave a comment

Tim Wu’s The Master Switch has a lot of ideas running through it. Its a wonderful book, no doubt an important educational one with broad connections to the historical, cultural and government events that delivered us to where we are. At its core, the text traces the evolution of communication technologies through Wu’s contextual “cycle” in which each new technology evolves from discovery to societal use. The text makes clear the battles fought for these lines and traces the common players whose swords are seemingly ever drawn and sharpened for a battle. Herein lies the sad part because, as Wu’s text makes painstakingly clear, with ever development there comes a period of denial and protectionism that disregards social benefit and focuses instead on protectionism for corporate power figures.

Our communication lines are fraught with constant battle. These highways for our brains on which a significant portion of our world view is dependent is less a public good and more a corporate commodity sought out and smudged at the whim of major players.

Wu reminds us of the danger of private control. He doesn’t suggest a complete private turn over of the communication lines to government control; instead, his text works to argue that historical record points to a common form of behavior. We always see the denial of innovation. We’ve always seen a government less interested in competition when a cleaner, more efficient process when expansion is possible. Just like our most efficient corporations, when our government perceives the opportunity to avoid a major cost there is an attraction to a bending of the law. Major tasks like communication line expansion is a tricky task- long and expensive and better left to major corporations who have more to gain and far less to lose in the face of political factors.

The Master Switch urges caution in light of these trends. Wu reminds us that with each communication evolution we grow more dependent on our technology to connect with fellow human beings. With innovation comes comfort and a slow dependence on the conveniences that technology provides. Eventually the effort we used to invest to meet people is divided for some other task and slowly we surround ourselves with less social interaction and grow all the more dependent on our techno toys and goodies. There’s a risk here and Wu reminds us that if history provides any insight into the future we’ll see a monopolization of technology. Major hazards lurk ahead as we reveal more and more about ourselves and further bury ourselves in our gadgets.

Let The Master Switch be a warning: our communication lines are crucial to our social well-being and as we grow more and more dependent on these artificial means of connection we must also strengthen our gaze on those who manage these lines. Dependence on another for these means of communication leave major areas of vulnerability. Trust but verify these figures and let history be our guide: there will be greed and denial of innovation but as long as human genius maintains its constant battle forward we can stay just a few paces ahead of greed and stagnation. If technology is a savior then its better left to the outside world- just as all great innovations come from an outsider the escape from corporate control and hazard will come in the form of the newest great idea that comes beyond the boardroom walls.

Text Reflection: The Paradox of Choice by Barry Schwartz

December 23, 2010 Leave a comment

In 1890 William James gifted us with an equation from which to understand and predict our amount of self-esteem. For James, our evaluation ourselves boils down to an evaluation of personal success in light of pretensions. In short, what did we want and how much of it did we get? The equation works well to remind us that lower standards are easier to achieve and, if possible, a far happier life will blossom for individuals whose aspirations are more humble or at least easier to achieve. For the “pie in the sky” dreamers whose aspirations for greatness knowingly require constant dedication, luck and effort there exists the higher chance of low-self esteem and the daunting notion that failure is the highest possible outcome.

In The Paradox of Choice, Barry Schwartz urges readers to keep a realistic perspective on personal aspirations. We are better served by a humble perspective towards life: avoid perfection, disregard regret, and recognize that our information obsessed society works against our need for control and focus. For Schwartz a world of endless choices and possibility is a nightmare, his text suggests that humans need their limitations and if placed into a world without boundaries, the majority of the population will wither in indecision. He cites a study by Richard Eckersley that connects increased rates of suicide with high rates of independence and personal choice. For Schwartz, our world of choice is literally driving some to mental illness and, in the worst cases, the act of suicide.

Choice can be a dangerous thing. If one is a perfectionist than no decision will bring happiness; because, after all, we may have bought an item that fulfills our every need and gives us pleasure, but are we sure it is the best? In the end the potential for something better will forever haunt the perfectionist even when such an item’s existence is unknown. Schwartz warns against this pattern of thinking, referring to those who engage in this behavior as “Maximizers” and showing that these individuals have more regret, are less happy and are even more prone to depression and suicide. Herein James’ theory applies: the Maximizer’s standards are too high.

The best attack plan towards life is to be realistic. Don’t aim too high and strive for balance. There’s a power in figures from our culture who urge us in this direction. As we leap further into a society where everything can be known at anytime and any place, we risk disconnecting ourselves from our community and sense of rational pace. Schwartz reminds us that the community is the most important thing in life, pointing to studies that reveal community membership to be the most likely indicator for happiness. We may have everything but if left all alone and unable to share the things we’ve learned, what is the point? In the end we’re better held in the company of friends and family with whom we can share the bounties of our world and revel in the power of our culture

Text Reflection: Cass Sunstein’s

December 12, 2010 Leave a comment

In, a 2002 book written by Cass Sunstein, the author considers our ironic state of flux in which more tech and communication leads to a less informed citizenry. Sunstein urges recognition of these dangers and suggests (gently) that society re-tool the internet to provide users with easier access and awareness of differing views. Sunstein fears fragmentation and a cloistered population whose difficulty of access, lack of interest or general inability lead to a society in which pragmatism is discarded in favor of stronger, more emotionally driven ideas.

Sunstein presents a dual existence of human kind hinging on two mentalities: the consumer and the democratic citizen. He cautions on confusing these two roles and suggests that popular media appeals largely to the consumer mentality and distracts the population from more “large-group” focused thinking of democratic perspectives towards a more individually centered, consumer perspective.

The author seems nervous at the suggestion of greater government intervention. At the core of the text is the presentation of a problem and the provision of possible solutions. Sunstein’s major problem is an uneducated population who he fears will grow only more unaware as an internet appealing to individual perspectives continues to grow and crowd out other media forms. Sunstein wants a “public forum” on the internet and cautions that without it we’ll only lose touch with the rational opinions need to compromise and create a republic functioning not for the individual but for the entire population.

Curiously, Sunstein has some caution in suggesting his solution. He wants government intervention but concedes this is not ideal. Instead, he urges a more comfortable solution in the form of website owners who in placing links to opposing sites or material to better educate their readers would provide the audience with a more diverse access point for learning. This is a dated text and reveals much about the initial perspectives of the internet world. Sunstein falls victim to the “mistaken paradigm” in which an old model of media is used to explain a newer form of media. The internet is not like newspapers or televisions for numerous reasons- the most powerful relating to the interaction between creator and audience.

Despite Sunstein’s fears, a cloistered audience is created by all forms of media. In an environment where a multitude of stimuli exist we can only focus on a select cluster of sources. We cannot be aware of all perspectives or resources and are ultimately drawn to those that meet our subscribed-to perspectives. The confirmation bias works to establish this perspective. Additional links would be helpful but an internet page is prime real estate for content that a creator would be foolish to sacrifice to a competitor’s link. Democracy on the internet comes in the form of an experienced user whose critical thinking can recognize the bias of a source and the importance of a diverse exploration of material.

One great idea presented in the text is a government created site to function as a “public forum.” Sunstein moves away from policing already created sites and shifts to the creation of new material in this arena. According to Sunstein this public arena site would be created by a government entity and would provide an index of material and a forum for public discussion on issues. This centralized location would be beneficial to a political system in desperate need of windows to the populace. This additional resource is a great idea but any moves to control or re-tool the material on the internet is misguided and largely out of touch with the reality of this new form of media.

Unfortunate Reality Notes

November 22, 2010 Leave a comment

Humility hurts. In The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work, Alain de Botton observes “in the meritocratic, socially mobile modern world, one’s status might now well be determined by one’s confidence, imagination and ability to convince others of one’s due.” He goes on to suggest that a failure to achieve personal life goals might be tied to a “pessimistic pride.” We all have to be Machiavellian; each of us must transform ourselves into swashbuckling professionals whose elbows whether digital or physical must always be locked in the abdomens of the competition.

How sad but true.

Re: “Teaching for America” by Tom Friedman

November 21, 2010 Leave a comment

In his November 20, 2010 article, Tom Friedman makes the case for a new paradigm of teacher recruiting. Among his suggestions are a trio of critical student skills deemed essential by Tony Wagner of Harvard University.

  1. The ability to think critically and problem solve.
  2. The ability to communicate effectively
  3. The ability to work in collaboration.

As a core trio these are truly essential skills. How great is the challenge to acquire these skills? Friedman’s article gradually asserts the importance of better teachers and vigilant parents to guide their children to a better education. In light of these suggestions and the challenges associated with their inspiration, it is helpful to drill deeper and consider the root cause for these issues. In other words, I agree with Friedman’s suggestions but feel he has failed to properly consider the cause of these issues. Friedman notes the problem but let’s root out the causes.

Cause One: The need for better teachers.

How do we define a quality teacher? Herein lies the inherent confusion of locating quality teachers- we simply don’t have a rubric to define the concept. The use of test scores unfairly punishes teachers who work with less-skilled students. Evaluation on the quality or production (ie student learning) is ideal, but too often we compare Student A in the classroom with Students B to Z in the nation.Until we understand the definition of a quality teacher we cannot recruit better teachers.

In my mind a quality teacher is one who advances the individual student’s comprehension at the individual level. In my definition, each student exists in a bubble and is measured from year to year on the level of growth. The educator’s job is to advance that student’s level of interest in learning, understanding of material, or life functioning. Note the critical factor here: academic advancement is not the single measure of success. In my system, if an educator increases a student’s passion for knowledge or ability to function in society then a success has occurred and the teacher is a success.

Cause Two: The need for more vigilant parents

We exist in a society in which parents expect public education to craft a functioning member of society. While this is a function of the education system, the burden of responsibility is a shared one between government and parent. Both entities need the individual to function correctly and are charged with the task of crafting an ideal citizen. As a culture we need to recognize this shared burden and respond accordingly.

Culture change is hard, if not impossible. If as a society we shift our responsibilities from the individual to the government we launch our proverbial crafts on a burning river of disaster. We cannot function in a system and it is the responsibility of our elected leaders to establish these boundaries. A failure to lead establishes this system. Here again we find a lack of clear distinction. What is leadership?

Leadership is not the provision of supplies and support. Leadership is keen awareness and guidance. Modeled on our cultural archetypes, our ideal politician is more military general than charitable CEO. We are in need of support, but if we fail to recognize the realistic factors of our world we lose connection and distort our perspectives on the real. Fantasy land is fun but leads only to a tragic end.

Text Reflection: Empire of Illusion by Chris Hedges

October 17, 2010 Leave a comment

How accurate are perspectives on culture if such ideas stem solely from the items that culture creates? Can we look to what’s popular in a culture as an accurate symbol of the psyche of a culture? In Empire of Illusion, Chris Hedges suggests that the contents of our popular culture and symbols of the dirth of intellectual existence and ominous suggestions of a looming disaster.

Hedges uses the term “pseudo-events” to refer to the manufactured news items or events that serve to distract the populace from reality. These narratives are distributed by powerful figures to maintain order and wealth. Hedges uses multiple examples to illustrate this point, most effectively through his in-depth exploration of pornography and the network of products and figures which create a global porn culture.

Speaking to this pornography section, I found his suggestion that absolute power is almost always expressed via sexual sadism to be compelling. He cites the Abu Ghraib torture photos as primary evidence. Another comment likens porn to necrophilia and argues that the females featured in the films to be lifeless receptacles of desire and bodily fluids. Perspectives like this make the section on pornography among the best passages in the text.

Hedges uses the section on porn to establish a foundation of evidence to argue that our society is falling apart. He argues that popular culture is revelatory of both the disaster we approach and the indifference with which we greet such changes. He argues that a return to critical literary is the only corrective pathway. He points to our movement away from a production-culture, where thrift and focus were the major paradigms, and movement into a consumer-culture serves only to support and encourage the “pseudo-events” which serve to wash away value in society.

I agree with Hedges perspective, but wonder whether popular culture is a red herring when critiquing culture. Is our media not intended to provide a sense of escapism? Through their use of laugh tracks, we know the producers of sitcoms recognize the foreign worlds in which their characters function. Afterall, why trigger our laughter if the plot was accurate and stemming from our own existence? We need the laugh track to tell us when to laugh- it serves as trigger and reminder that the events are farce and fancy.

The constant development of critical thinking is always a great idea. We will never have enough critical thinking members of society and any writer who argues this and points to our low-brow points in culture will have an easy argument to frame. In Empire of Illusion, Hedges points to these grimy items of culture as signs of our destruction. He looks to Jerry Springer, WWE wrestling and a swath of trash TV as evidence. Though somewhat dated, his point is largely made. Though I argue that his convictions fail to consider the depth and variety of our culture. To simplify, Hedges’ argument is shallow and doesn’t consider the expansive nature of our culture.

One needs to look beyond our cultural creation. There is a depth for exploration and in looking to these zones a far different perspective can be developed. Yes, our society faces significant challenges and the content of popular culture is largely trash. Porn is disgusting, but aren’t all animal instincts and the items that appeal to it just as nasty? The human race is a dirty, nasty force, but in functioning in the world we have a dual existence of pleasure and production. We are not 100% critical thinkers, but I argue that when faced with signs of tyranny and when truly pushed against the wall we will truly feel compelled to act and make corrections.

Pseud0-events are certainly at play in society. We see our politicians crafting conclusions on the basis of popular perspective and not on personal conviction. Our world is lead by populists, figures who function not as clarified establishments but as slippery abstractions that can easily adjust to meet the changing perspectives of society. Such a system poses challenges to those who aim to evaluate a culture on the basis of its creations. One who does aims for specificity but fails to recognize the wishy-washy nature of the culture in which he or she exists.

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