Artifice and Agency

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

arendt and company

I was re-reading the last chapter of The Human Condition and this particular passage struck me:

"Under modern conditions, not destruction but conservation spells ruin because the very durability of conserved objects is the greatest impediment to the turnover process, whose constant gain in speed is the only constancy left wherever it has taken hold."

I think it struck me not only because it was such a resonant description of the modern experience of reality and the "turnover process", but also because it seemed so much to echo the somewhat famous reading that Walter Benjamin (who was apparently Arendt's buddy?) did of the "angel of history" in Paul Klee's Angelus Novus (see above):

An angel is presented in it who looks as if he were about to move away from something at which he is staring. His eyes are wide open, mouth agape, wings spread. The angel of history must look like that. His face is turned toward the past. Where a chain of events appears to us, he sees one single catastrophe which relentlessly piles wreckage upon wreckage, and hurls them before his feet ... The storm [from Paradise] drives him irresistibly into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows toward the sky. That which we call progress is this storm.

It also brought to mind, more literally, an image of the constant and exhausting demolition and reinvention of Las Vegas hotels, described so well by James Howard Kunstler in The City in Mind that the image has always stuck with me:

The hotel buildings themselves could be described as relatively worthless throwaway containers for the décor. Therefore, the logic has gone, why not just demolish the whole package, along with the stinking carpets and tired box-springs, take the tax loss, get more rooms with new stuff in a bigger building to bring more players into a larger casino with more slot machines for ever-greater profits? Plus, get the cachet of having a brand=new establishment in a town where newness and bigness are the biggest draw?  … Up to this point, then, the cycle of putting up and casually tearing down relatively large buildings after a short period of use has been economically rational—consistent with a particular period of American economic history: the age of national economy as Ponzi scheme. And that is how, over the last fifty years, a collection of fairly ordinary low-rise highway strip motels with attached casinos mutated into towering multithousand-room giants with attached theme parks.

In this case, where even the demolition of huge buildings to make way for bigger ones becomes part of the overall (profitable) spectacle, the ridiculous turnover rate and voracious use of building materials and water supply seems like an architectural manifestation of Arendt's idea of metabolism, and of natural forces unleashed into the human world of artifice.

p.s. I just want to take the opportunity to shamelessly plug my own blog that I just started: It's about an epic road trip that I never took, so I'm taking it on Google Maps instead! 

Monday, March 30, 2009

Trouble with Twitters

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Spime Alert!

Flashback to Bruce Sterling...
I came across this blog today on Techcrunch which discusses the newish website in relation to Sterling's discussion of "spimes" in Shaping Things. More about site below...

Send Me Home provides stickers with unique codes on them for users to apply to any objects (e.g. cell phones, ipods, frying pans). The user then uploads information about the object onto the Send Me Home website. If the object is ever lost, the finder can (presumably) enter the unique code into the website and find the owner. And there is more...

Each object that the user uploads gets its own "profile"-like page with a comment, picture, video and map functions built-in. The founders of the site included this dynamic feature to encourage a perpetuation of uploaded stories about participatory objects - objects that are deliberately passed to other people in an effort to get each person to upload a story/images/videos about their experience with the object to the site. But the latter idea isn't new, it's the ideological godchild of the Where's George? project begun in 1998. Which inlcines me to tangentially connect these notions to our discussion about The Human Condition...Perhaps Arendt's discussion about objects and the production of meaning (circa page 154-155, from last weeks reading) coherent thoughts there yet.


Friday, March 27, 2009

Visual communication for advocacy

Like Adam, I was trying to think about how to apply what we're learning in this class about design and at SFAI for the purpose of agitation, education, organization. Several possibilities that I came across from following the links on our class blog and other sites such as RAN's.

Communication design for advocacy

. Web design for nonprofits e.g. Adam Chew who worked at RAN.

. Visualizing information or information design (6.8mb PDF) to provide NGO's with visuals for advocacy and research (followed link from Adam Chew's web site). This is created by Tactical Technology Collective, an organization which uses technology to provide advocates with guides, tools, training and consultancy to help them develop the skills and tactics they need to increase the impact of their campaigning.

Media activism

. Spin Project -- helps social justice organizations to use strategic communications to shape debates and shift public policy in the crowded media environment (followed link from RAN).

. Berkeley Media Studies Group (followed link from our class blog)

Communication for advocacy seems to be directly relevant to what we're studying at SFAI. In our critiques and in art history, e.g. Krista's photography class, we're looking at how images shape media (e.g. Allan Sekula's article relates the use of photos to Foucault's panopticon, and Cornelia Brink's article examines iconic photos which served to obscure the reality of what happened, while other iconic photos such as Stephen Biko's are used to mobilize the public). In critical theory, what we're learning is directly relevant for how to/not to communicate for advocacy (e.g. IDA's blog on Carol Adams, IDA protested Abdessemed's Don't Trust Me exhibition at SFAI).

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Zizek (OT)



Author serialises book through Twitter
17.03.09 Catherine Neilan

Faber author R.N. Morris is serialising a slightly abridged version of his 2007 crime novel A Gentle Axe in bite-sized chunks via regular updates on Twitter.

Morris recently began work on the “Twitterisation” of his book, and his Twitter has around 200 followers.

Alex Holroyd, press officer at Faber, said: “His intention is to do the whole thing online, although it will depend on feedback and interest. It’s a bit of an experiment – he is already a keen blogger and has quite a presence on the net, so we are hoping it will transfer over.”

Morris updates his Twitter account “a few times a day” and followers can send him questions about the book, which he then responds to. Twitter allows followers to receive updates either online or on their mobile phone.

Holroyd said it was a useful method of “keeping his fans happy” until the next book in the series, entitled A Razor Wrapped in Silk, comes out in March 2010. “Hopefully he’ll get some new [fans] in the process,” she added.

Although there is no target number of followers, Holroyd said Faber was keeping an eye on the experiment, and would consider using Twitter to build pre-publication word-of-mouth interest in future books.

“It very much depends on the author’s time and willingness, but I don’t see why not,” she added.

Faber Catherine Neilan

and the P2P special (COMMENTS)

Following a book on twitter is not easy. My late wife had always wanted to finish / publish her book, but life got in the way. I posted it on twitter at It took 3501 entries. I had some comments about readability and needed to put a forward reading version. I did that at If someone could only write a book that started with its end, and therefore readable on twitter, it would be great.
18 Mar 09 00:21
By eddieoliver

Congratulations to R.N. Morris on using Twitter, just as a reminder Paulo Coelho Author of The Alchemist is a savvy Twitter user and recently serialised his new Book with his twitter followers. His twitter handle is @PauloCoelho the best way to use twitter is to link within the 140 character limit to your wordpress blog, your website or twitwall. You can also visit which is a twitter directory showing profiles of Authors using Twitter ~ I hope this has been helpful ~ thanks to Angela of Writers Weekly for pointing me to this blog ~ regards @eddieoliver
18 Mar 09 21:03

By Linda Randall

Is there an application to put more then two sentences at a time on Twitter? I've written a fiction novel that hasn't been published and I think it would be fun to be more interactive with mine as well. I started it on Squidoo. You can Twitter Me Or view my novel at
23 Mar 09 05:24

So I followed Linda Randall's link above... So I was totally ready to start mercilessly mocking this 'novel' however there was something touching in her notes, process, and interactive questions. Her writing is terrible, and the novel isn't worth literature, but I would recommend looking at the site, it is strange.

"In doing research for this book, I skimmed through two-hundred books or more. I'm hoping it pays off.

I developed my characters as I saw them in my mind. However I did not give them french accents or have them speaking french. When I first wrote the story it was all in my imagination.
It was later when I Googled the name, "Place Royale" that I found out it actually exists!
I apologize if my characters are not speaking French, however, I do plan to translate the book into French (using Word 2007 - if it will work).

I am sharing the novel as I write it. I first posted my final drafts for Part One then I revised them, to show you the work involved in writing a novel.

Parts two and three are final drafts, that still will need to be revised.
I found out that during my proofreading, Microsoft Word changed my character names to the letter I? I'm still learning how to use this program and again I apologize. This is my first novel and it's far from perfect, as I am currently relearning spelling and grammar.

I wasn't very good in English years ago, and since the car accident in 2006, I've had problems with words and speaking. My thoughts tend to jumble and I speak gibberish at times. It's rather frustrating, I am getting better though."\


Tuesday, March 24, 2009


So, we're spending a couple of weeks (at least) on Arendt. As a rough approximation, I would think we might get up to the halfway point in The Human Condition, right up to say section 22 in Part IV Work. Sections 23/24, straddling "Work" and "Action" are the precise heart of the book, and it will matter for us as a community to think of it that way, but we can begin *next* week talking about that. Things to think about: Connection of "Work" with what we've been calling "Design" (obviously), connection of Arendt's worries about re-metabolization of artifice in the social with Cradle to Cradle, connection of the themes of the Prologue (earth as prison, instrumental rationality as at once an exaggeration of human power and a reduction of humans to material objects) to themes we talked about in our last meeting from Barthes. I'm a bit of a fanatic on Arendt and there's a real danger of me just blabbing incoherently for three hours, so in order to give some shape and responsiveness to our discussion I want to insist that everybody come to class prepared with at least one question from *each* of the sections we're talking about (Prologue, The Human Condition, The Public and the Private, Labor, and Work), some confusion you want clarified, some point you want to connect to something that happens elsewhere, or something that connects up to other things we've talked about, some passage that seems to you especially problematic or provocative or whatever. That means everybody should come prepared to contribute five points or problems to the discussion. I reserve the right to call on people at random, but prefer people to appear on the public scene as prompted by their own opinionated passions, like any good Arendtian should. See you all tomorrow!

Monday, March 23, 2009


Hello all,

I hope everyone had a productive and relaxing spring break. I just wanted to post the link to the wiki site that I will be using for my final paper. No content yet, but that should change soon enough!

ps. I must say, being my first wiki install, this thing was a pain in the ass (pity points)...

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Objectified Documentary

Objectified is a feature-length documentary from the director of Helvetica, about our complex relationship with manufactured objects and, by extension, the people who design them. It’s a look at the creativity at work behind everything from toothbrushes to tech gadgets. It’s about the designers who re-examine, re-evaluate and re-invent our manufactured environment on a daily basis. It’s about personal expression, identity, consumerism, and sustainability.
It is screening in San Francisco on April 21 & 22. (also note the charming green color they use...)

Monday, March 16, 2009

New Yorker article on Arendt

My boyfriend recommended an article on Arendt from the New Yorker a couple months ago, called, "Beware of Pity: Hannah Arendt and the Power of the Impersonal." It's useful in that it describes some of the experiences in Arendt's life that may have contributed to her emphasis on the impersonal and the public sphere.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Spring Break

I'd like to see posts -- including references to end-of-term projects in process -- over the week. I don't want us to get out of the rhythm and spirit and rapport of the course over our separation. How are people feeling about Arendt?

Monday, March 09, 2009

the intersections of ethics, aesthetics, and environmentalism

This sounds fascinating! Art, economy, technology, activism!

Obama and p2p

We were talking a couple of weeks ago about the ways in which the Obama campaign depended on p2p formations for many of its successes, but also the ways in which the Obama Administration is taking up p2p to implement its agenda as well now that it is in power. Even if you agree with Obama's agenda, or at any rate agree that fighting for his agenda is the best way we can apply our energies now to open up possibilities for even more radical changes, there are real questions about what it means for the Executive branch to appropriate the energies of Netroots organizing in this way. Is this a democratization of the Executive, does this render the Executive more beholden and accountable to the people, more directly expressive of popular will? Is this a domestication of insurgent and critical force of p2p democratization?

Take a look at this page from Organizing for America: Take the Pledge. Notice that signing the pledge provokes a series of ever more specific solicitations of effort, weaves you ever more deeply into a distributed organizational effort to facilitate the Administration's agenda. It's fairly breathtaking, actually, not only in its sophistication but as a diversion of Netroots energy and intelligence directly into the Obama apparatus.

Consider the ways in which Organizing for America differs from Accountability Now, a conspicuously familiar Netroots campaign, conjoining figures from Daily Kos, Firedoglake, OpenLeft, ColorOfChange, Blog PAC and together with figures from Netroots congenial forces like SEIU and the United Steelworkers to recruit and support progressive leaders and candidates for primary challenges to those Democratic and other incumbents who fail to reflect the progressive aspirations of their constituencies.

To what extent are these two formations complementary and to what extent competitive? Do they represent different faces for ongoing p2p democratization (in the United States at any rate)?

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Examined Life, a lively and moving documentary with theorists such as Judith Butler, Peter Singer, Slavoj Zizek, Michael Hardt, and others, is playing at the Kabuki theater. Highly recommended. It's directed by Astra Taylor, who had directed Zizek! and is currently developing Megapolis, a new documentary inspired by Mike Davis's Planet of Slums.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

30 min. Clay Shirky NPR interview

Clay Shirky on NPR

*Unrelated (unless through many paragraphs of explanatory text) NPR interview with my pick but Top Chef's runner up, Carla Hall.

Monday, March 02, 2009

To infinity and beyond

I am not sure how this has escaped my attention thus far. I am also not really sure that I care. Whatever the case may be, brace yourself and-- BEHOLD-- The Interplanetary Internet!

PS, If you make your way down to the comments, there is some amazing internet nerd humor going on. Good stuff!

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Michel Bauwens and Clay Shirky Readings for Wednesday's Seminar

The Political Economy of Peer to Peer Production

Peer to Peer and Human Evolution

Here Comes Everybody

Fame Versus Fortune

Peers Not Pareto

Communities, Audiences, and Scale

TPM Book Club: Clay Shirky's Here Comes Everybody