Author Archives: Jillian Williams

Blog Post 12: Second Thoughts and/or Equivocation

The Chto Delat short entitled, “Museum Songspiel: The Netherlands 20XX,” reminded me of a few things we did this semester, specifically the “Transborder Immigrant Tool,” as well as the Coco Fusco & Guillermo Gómez –Peña piece, “The Couple in the Cage.”

To provide some background, the premise of the short film is that there is a group of illegal immigrants that take refuge in an art museum. Of course, this isn’t just any museum, rather the museum seems to be known for its rather…well, provocative exhibits. So, when the immigrants appear in the space, the director of the museum is faced with a problem, a problem that is complicated by the moral compass of the artist in residence, the director and like.

There seems to be a recurring theme in this class of art as a refuge, well, the short embodies this in two ways: first, the museum is physically a place of refuge for the immigrant family, and second, and second their performance acts as refuge, at least for some time. What struck me as different about the film was the equivocation—in all of the other works we’ve seen this semester, the artists are vehement about their ideals, their goals, etc. In “Museum Songspiel,” we as an audience at least seem some hesitation. Comments such as “what are you crazy?” The woman reminding the director that she has kids at home suggests a worry about future employment. All of these things are suppressed in the works that we’ve discussed, but it is not as if they weren’t there. What artist, what extremist, what revolutionary doesn’t have second thoughts about what it is they’re doing and its effect on those around them?

What’s more is that was even more interesting in terms of equivocation was the viewers featured in the film. Having just seen or heard about the immigrant performance, the couple at the end is intrigued, and outraged by the fact that the immigrants were arrested. They resolve to do something about it—to protest, or to make a stand against it. Upon realizing that who arrested them, they begin to shrink back from the idea. They begin to have doubts, and feel it is not their duty to go against the grain. It’s funny, earlier in the film the following line is sung:

“It’s not allowed but it happens…”

Is it? Does it—I mean, can it happen if there is doubt—if there is too much doubt, too much equivocation, too many second thoughts? Can it still happen then? Not always?

“Any regime needs art.” But how strong does the artist need to be, to push back against the regime—in pushing against the regime for this sort of revolutionary, avant-garde art to come (back) into existence?

Blog Post 11: “I AM WHAT I AM.”

In “The Coming Insurrection,” the authoring collective known as The Invisible Committee writes the following: “The injunction, everywhere, to “be someone” maintains the pathological state that makes this society necessary…”

Upon reading it, I couldn’t help but question if it was true or not.

Is it not society that authors the need for the pathological state? Is it not the bustle of our city highways, our streets and our intersections—to work, from work, to school—that so desperately calls for the need to “be someone,” to be anyone, in fact. To be anything at all, and prove that you are—that you even exist, and are worth something.

Consider the hard-at-work employee: the mailroom clerk in an office full of businessmen, with no time-off, but a family to get home to. That same clerk that gets shuffled in the day-to-day denigration, that was late one morning and worried he might be fired before the next, of putting in time, and effort without feeling worth. Now, When he wants to “be someone,” is that aspiration so pathological?

“’I AM WHAT I AM.’ My body belongs to me. I am me[;] you are you, and something’s wrong. Mass personalization. Individualization of all conditions – life, work and misery. Diffuse schizophrenia. Rampant depression. Atomization into fine paranoiac particles. Hysterization of contact.”

“I AM WHAT I AM.” We say. Well sometimes we have to. Think of our children. What do we tell them? We them it is okay to be them, and not to let anyone tell them otherwise. Why do you think we do that? Because personalization acts as an antidote, and what have we done with it? We’ve seen an increase in self-confidence in the face of depression, to hopelessness. We’ve seen empowerment, whole movements of it. That sounds like a building up of individuals, not a break down.

…Do we think we’re so broken? As a society, have we traded in our self-conviction for schizophrenia? Are we so lost? Have we drifted so far that we’re terrified, so paranoid of contact?

The same paragraph reads,

“The more I want to be me, the more I feel an emptiness. The more I express myself, the more I am drained. The more I run after myself, the more tired I get. We cling to our self like a coveted job title.”

Do we?

To be honest, I don’t know if its possible to respond to that. I know that personally the more I try to be more the more self-conscious I become. I worry if others are as aware of myself as I am. It’s taxing, but isn’t worrying a small fee to pay for authenticity? It’s not so taxing I would stop.

“We’ve become our own representatives in a strange commerce, guarantors of a personalization that feels, in the end, a lot more like an amputation. We insure our selves to the point of bankruptcy, with a more or less disguised clumsiness.”

I cling to myself because my identity is thing I feel I I truly own, and that doesn’t sound like bankruptcy to me.

Blog Post 10: Social Deaths and (Im)maturity

When Achille Mbembe said, “[p]olitics is death that lives a human life,” who could have known that “politics” would eventually come to encompass academe..?

On that same point, Anti-Capitol Project’s “The Necrosocial: Civil Life, Social Death and the University of California” describes civil life as something clearly similar to Mbembe’s thoughts of politics. They write,

“[w]ho knew that behind so much civic life, (electoral campaigns, student body representatives, bureaucratic administrators, public relations officials, Peace and Conflict Studies, ad nauseam) [there] was so much social death?  (Anti-Capitol Projects).

Of the list there, the term “student body representatives” begins the chain of university related entities. In fact, of that list there seems to be a direct shift from real-world politics (not to suggest that university politics are not real) to all things college-esque.

They then go on to ask, “[w]hat postures we maintain to claim representation, what limits we assume, what desires we dismiss?” (Anti-Capitol Projects).

This is what I want to focus on: the exhaustion of postures, of representation, that dismissal of desires—the death of ideals or values. Social death then is not solely in reference to the individuals but also everything they begin to work for—it is the deaths of all movement.

Also in “The Necrosocial,” the authors write that

“…He manages movement, he kills movement by funneling it into the electoral process.  He manages our social death.  He looks forward to these battles on his terrain, to eulogize a proposition, to win this or that—he and his look forward to exhausting us” (Anti-Capitol).

It took me a whole minute to remember who the “he” they kept referring to was. My best guess, is that is the chancellor specifically, but that same he also has the potential to be more than that. The “he” has the power to signify a male-dominated administration, a male board of trustees…is this beginning to sound familiar? I would guess that for the Sue Wasioleks of the world, there are an even larger number Richard Brodheads, Peter Langes, Larry Monetas, et al., and they all have that same murderous authority. I don’t mean to say that they use it maliciously, but rather that (for student affairs in particular that), their decisions (to listen to us or nor, to side with us or not) directly affect our happiness on campus.

All of this brings us right here to Duke University. Connor Southland, a Trinity columnist for The Chronicle, writes a great article on that subject here: http://dukechronicle.com/article/larry-moneta-loves-haters and at least begins to illustrate the moralization of administrative decisions by the administration. He writes, that administrators often say things like:

“‘[T]his is good for you; it’s better for you than what we had before.’” Notice the moralizing—it’s about what’s “good” for us. [We] students tend to respond with “we like/don’t like it; it’s more/less fun than what we had before.” Instead of pontificating in the distinct way administrators do, we talk about what we like, what’s fun…”

Southland actually furthers the Anti-Capitol literature. In essence, we students exhaust ourselves. We waste our energy on the wrong things. We occupy the wrong types of spaces—short-term hedonistic types of spaces rather than a mature, moral high ground.

Is our social death in growing up or giving up? At which are we supposed to live?

_______________________________________________________

Jillian Williams

Blog Post 9: Not-So Simulated Violence..?

Sometime in either sixth or eighth grade, Mrs. McLaughlin, our public speaking teacher, required us to bring in articles once a week for class. She didn’t care what they were about, so long as we read them, could articulate what was in them, and explain why we brought them to class.

One of those weeks, I brought an article from GameInformer Magazine on Rockstar Games’ Bully: Scholarship Edition. The console game had been repackaged, but the premise was exactly the same. In fact, it was (and is) exactly what the title suggests. According to the website, the Scholarship Edition contains:

“All the mayhem, pranks, nerds, jocks, crushes, clueless professors and despotic administration that made the original release great — now with added education!” (Rockstar).

I own the game, but I bought it several years later. What I remember about class was the dispute that occurred. Mrs. McLaughlin wanted to know what we thought of it. She wanted to know what we thought of video game violence, particularly in an academic setting, when the market is for kids—kids that are bullies, kids that have seen bullying, kids that are bullied. Most members of my class were in agreement that the violence was wrong, but there was a variance in whether or not the simulation was the problem. Even at that age, we were getting into discussions about the dangers of representation, of imitation.

For some reason, I didn’t expect Wafaa Bilal’s DOMESTIC TENSION to have those same undertones. To describe it briefly, through “DOMESTIC TENSION, viewers can log onto the internet to contact or “shoot” Bilal with paintball guns… During the course of the exhibition, Bilal will confine himself to the gallery space” (Bilal).

Bilal’s objective is be to raise awareness of virtual war, or of privacy—lack of privacy, whatever in the digital age. He certainly does a good job of it. I didn’t expect to draw parallels from my childhood, but I read the short piece on the website and immediately began thinking of the very games that I own—that idea of the virtual first-person shooter and how real it gets.

Have you ever played Xbox Live, particularly, first-person shooters i.e. Call of Duty anything, Battlefield anything, et al? Are you aware of the kinds of slurs that occur? Being a woman, opening your mouth identifies you. Some players already refer to others as b-tches…the last thing you want is for them to realize it offends you personally. For a game, Call of Duty is very real: the graphics are pristine regardless of console, the sound effects…but what’s more is that the competition is as heavy as the plots are dense.

Think about it. When you mix all of those things together: pride, patriotism, and competition, with simulated video game violence. Don’t all of the aforementioned feelings and emotions make it real? Doesn’t that make it personal? You may not actually want to kill another soul, but in that moment, online, don’t you. Isn’t that the same thing? If not, isn’t that just as a close? Isn’t that just as frightening?

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Jillian Williams

Blog Post 8: Untitled

After reading Brian Holmes’ chapter “Drifting Through the Grid: Psychogeography & Imperial Infrastructure” I was struck by this concept of us walking the line.

I was struck by what appeared to be hopelessness in humanity.

I don’t blame him. In fact, I don’t disagree with him. Holmes, considers us to be wavering, digitized versions of ourselves, lesser versions of what we once were, and I am perhaps the last person who should be commenting on hope. I consider myself to be one of the students on this campus dissatisfied with others’ curiosity, with others’ work ethic. I hope for change, but am too afraid to believe in it for fear that I will be let down. I am both exhilarated by and afraid of hope. So, naturally, when the question of  “[w]hat kind of life can be lived in the media architecture?” (Holmes 29) was posed, my original response was “Nothing,” at least, nothing real, or realized.

This seems to be the general consensus. For example, Lev Manovich wrote that “[in] the longer term every object may become a screen connected to the Net, with the whole of built space becoming a set of display surfaces” (29). For Manovich, the Internet is the end of personalization. It is the advent the “display,” connected only through synapses of our computers rather than in the gaps in conversation. For Guy Debord, we are separated, isolated through technology, representational. Debord’s “representation” is the same as Manovich’s “display,” which is the same as Holmes’ “ crisscrossing footsteps.” They are nothing more than what came after, and they are nothing in comparison to what we are as a whole.

Holmes puts forth Althussers’ comment that “‘[i]deology represents the imaginary relationship of individuals to their real conditions of existence…it’s what makes you walk the line…’” (34).

Holmes then asks whether “the ideology of our time has not become an erratic, wavering pattern of crisscrossing footsteps, traced in secure metric points on an abstract field?” (34).

Yes.

But there is something missing, say, the reason I am so willing to be complacent. The reason, I  am able to give up, even though I care so much. Perhaps, one can consider it sacrifice, and at least it is rational…it is mature, adult-like…that is what is wrong. We are adults. We have been hurt, scolded, disappointed; we have been broken-in to adulthood.

Is it possible the reason for our hopelessness is because we grew up? That our ideology is nothing more than a wavering, crisscross pattern on an abstract field, only because we can comprehend the phrase “secure metric points on an abstract field?”

Is it possible that if we treated things with a childlike air, if we laughed, if we sang, if we saw the world with vibrant color, that we could be more than high-definition displays in a shop window? Is it possible we could undo the limits of our imagine–of our hope?

…could we then imagine doing more?

_______________________________________________________

Jillian Williams

Blog Post 7: Leviathan

“Every tool is a weapon if you hold it right.”
—Ani DiFranco

…Come to think of it, every tool is a weapon if you hold it right. In fact, any tool is a weapon. Period. Upon first glance, DiFranco’s quotation seems rather out of place. It is interesting no doubt, and as a reader exploring the world of tactical media it was relevant to other, outside material, but it still seemed inappropriate in Empire. Empire is full of philosophical, socio-economic constructs. What do tools have to do with it? What do they have anything to do with Hobbes, Locke, Livy (also known as Titus), Machiavelli..?

As a slight aside, author Greil Marcus in “The Long Walk of the Situationist International” notes that “the cover of Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan ‘presented the manifestation of a nascent bourgeois domination: a picture of a gigantic sovereign being, whose body—the body politic—was made up of countless faceless citizens. This was presented as an entirely positive image, as a utopia’” (Marcus 8).  Hardt and Negri may not be putting forth the same utopia in Empire, but the mere reference of Hobbes is all a reader needs to think of ‘that’ being. That frightening, omnipotent being, comprised of you and everyone else you know, that being that strips you of power and name and identity. The more I thought about this, the more agonizing it seemed, and then it dawned on me: A tool becomes a weapon when it gives one power over another, either because it is blunt, sharp, heavy. Money is just as much a tool as any other appliance. The monster then, the Leviathan, is money.

Nothing escapes the Leviathan. Nothing escapes the Spectacle. In fact, none of the dystopian concepts from class are escapable. Hardt and Negri write that

The most complete figure of this world is presented from the monetary perspective. From here we can see a horizon of values and a machine of distribution, a mechanism of accumulation and a means of circulation, a power and a language. There is nothing, no ‘‘naked life,’’ no external standpoint, that can be posed outside this field permeated by money; nothing escapes money. Production and reproduction are dressed in monetary clothing. In fact, on the global stage, every biopolitical figure appears dressed in monetary garb. ‘‘Accumulate, accumulate! This is Moses and the Prophets!’’ (Hardt and Negri 32).

All of this to say that money is both a power and a language. The two of those together mean that money is everything—it has the potential to be anything, and then blanket, and isolate us accordingly. “Accumulate, Accumulate[?]” All it does is increase in size, and prestige. It has its own prophets, worshippers, followers. It is at once both the order and the crisis of the empire. It is the empire itself. It is everything capable of inducing harm.

But the empire is not brute force, and the empire cannot call itself into being, so when did the transformation occur? When did money begin causing conflicts instead of solving them?

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Jillian Williams

Blog Post 6: “Paper Planes”

A/N: I probably should mention the difficulties I had in writing this blog. Originally, I had contributed it to sleep—the direct consequence of getting too much sleep, followed by not getting any at all during the latter days of my break—but regardless of my sleep habits, I still couldn’t seem to start a blog post on simulation. In fact, I am still having trouble with it.

The incessant thought in my head was, “How do you write a blog post on simulation?”I don’t have an answer to this. I suppose, the only way I know how to begin is with paper airplanes.

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One of the more comical lines of Jill Lane’s “Digital Zapatistas” is her question on page one thirty. It reads, “[d]id you say Zapatista Air Force? The Zapatistas have airplanes? (Lane 130).

She responds with the following:

“Well, yes: paper airplanes. The Zapatista Air Force attacked the Federal soldiers with paper airplanes, which flew through and over the barbed wire of the military encampment, each carrying a discursive missile: messages and poems for the soldiers themselves” (130).

Yes, the Zapatistas have airplanes. They fly like planes, land like planes, but require none of the maintenance of planes. They hold cargo but not passengers. They’re branded without ever becoming product. The planes themselves are no more harmful than a box of children’s toys, but are as sharp as barbed wire, poignant, and devastating nonetheless.

Of course, I doubt the Zapatistas would ever call them that. According to Dominquez in Mark Tribe’s article on the Electronic Disturbance Theatre.

 “The idea…is not to destroy or disrupt…[i]t’s to disturb, in the same way that paper airplanes coming through your window are going to annoy you.” (Tribe).

The idea may not be to destroy or disrupt, but isn’t the very notion of a nuisance disruptive? Just because it is non-violent doesn’t make it destructive, but that’s an oversimplification. It’s more complex than that, in the way that it is deliberate, and barbed, but also innocent, and peaceable.

It is no longer physical.

Also according to Dominguez, but in Jill Lane’s article entitled “Digital Zapatistas,”

“Resistance…can take one of three forms: physical, which would engage and possibly harm the hard- ware itself; syntactical (a favorite of hackers), which would involve changing the codes by which the machine functions—programming, software, design; and finally, semantic, which involves engaging and undermining the discursive norms and realities of the system as a whole. (Lane 136).

I’m confused. Paper planes are physical things, but are not physically resistant. Or are they? They still fly, still land, still invade physical space, but paper planes are also semantic. The concept of the planes, or rather the idea behind the planes, the symbol of disturbance—that symbol is semantic. And that level of “semantic disturbance” is where simulation operates.

“[It] will have no effect on the federal government’s physical fleet of planes or their server, nor will it affect the syntactical structure of command or the software that organizes their use; rather, the simulated airplanes disturb a semantic code, making visible the underlying and hidden relations of power on which the smooth operation of government repression depends…” (136).

Dear Reader,

Perhaps I am complicating things. Is it really as simple as that? That all of simulation can be boiled down into the concept of paper planes instead of the real thing? If semantic resistance is in fact the most viable, best functioning option, then where does that leave simulation? Is simulation a denial or a disregard of the present? Is it a resistance in itself? An escape? Tell me, how is it a resistance in itself? If it could even be called that…It seems as if the lines are blurring. What does real resistance mean anymore?

Sincerely,

Jillian Williams