The Texas Institute for Literary and Textual Studies (TILTS) kicks off the 2012-2013 season tomorrow night with a lecture by Nicholson Baker, to be held in Blanton Auditorium at 5:30 PM. It’s open to the public, and all within the Austin area are encouraged to attend. TILTS is an initiative supported by the Office of the President, the Vice-Provost, the College of Liberal Arts, and the Department of English of The University of Texas at Austin. Each year the symposium brings a group of scholars to campus with the goal of enriching intellectual life in the community, and I can’t say how much I appreciate the program and the extent to which I think it’s an absolute success. Each year the symposium takes on a different theme (“The Digital Human[ities]”, 2010-2011; “Poets & Scholars”, 2011-2012), and this academic year we’ll be hearing about “The Fate of the Book”. Auspiciously titled, no doubt, but certainly relevant. And though advance copy of Nicholson Baker’s speech isn’t circulating (surely this is as important as major politicians’ speeches?), my familiarity with his books suggests that he’s going to be rather optimistic about the fate of print.
Submitted by Todd Battistelli on Sun, 2012-09-23 14:44
Image Credit: Center for Inquiry's Women in Secularism 2 Conference Website
Controversies over sexism have recently embroiled the online and in-real-life spaces of the gaming, fandom, and atheist communities. The sexist behavior that has sparked controversy and the backlash facing those speaking out against harassment are too hateful and ugly to discuss at any length here. I'll link to two examples with trigger warnings for threats of sexual violence: Rebecca Watson and Anita Sarkeesian. The controversy in the organized atheist community, however, has also seen an act of resistance and some levity in the face of abject misogyny by repurposing a visual trope well known to the community.
Hollywood, you are going about action movies all wrong, then, because you have taken for granted what is the opposite of the actual case. You believe we viewers take pleasure from grandiosity of visual effect, but in fact your viewers are suffering from a spiritual condition of nullity brought on by over-exposure to the visually incomprehensible. How to make us feel anything: that is your challenge! Two recent treatments of the action movie hero provide a neat case in point and will serve for a conclusion to these remarks on the importance of psychological realism to compelling action cinema.
The photograph above was featured this week in The L.A. Times' coverage of the Occupy Wall Steet movement's one-year anniversary. The caption provided beneath the photo states, "A man wanting to join the Occupy protesters on Monday is told to leave Wall Street." The image gives pause, not because a policeman is pictured confronting a protester, but because the man's ethos seems incongruous with that of the anarchist-inspired OWS movement. My recollection of the "Occupied" zone in downtown Austin last winter calls to mind the image of a different kind of a protester, one who looks as committed to battling the elements as he is to changing the status quo. This unidentified man, however, does not look prepared for the scene of mayhem he is allegedly trying to enter. With a cigarette balanced precariously atop his coffee cup, he looks like he's just popped down from the 20th floor to grab some more uppers. It's amusing (or disheartening, depending on your outlook) to imagine him scrawling "99%>1%" on a scrap of paper before venturing into the mob that separates him from the nearest Starbucks. But this is pure speculation. It's equally likely that the man in the photograph is an overworked reporter, or an analyst who has thousands of dollars of debt from student loans. Perhaps he was walking by the OWS demonstration, got inspired, and decided to join on a whim. Either way, the photographer caught him looking weary, unimpassioned, and in a moment of half-hearted negotiation with the police, which is why this photo provides a useful illustration of the phenomenon known as slacktivism.
I’ve been following the webcomic xkcd for the better part of my adult life, despite its warning that it may contain “strong language (which may be unsuitable for children), unusual humor (which may be unsuitable for adults), and advanced mathematics (which may be unsuitable for liberal-arts majors).” (Clearly, I was always already a liberal arts major, any way you slice it.) Randall Munroe’s bare-bones aesthetic consistently privileges an idea above the attached illustration; each entry thrives on an invented ethos of the supremacy of text to convey this idea, rather than the illustration itself. This ethos is also heavily grounded in an empirical interest in physics, mathematics, and programming culture, and this empiricism translates quite cleanly into any comment the comic makes on the condition of being human; that is, that it is always based in lived experience, but that this experience is best crystallized in the juxtaposition of concrete, minimalist illustration and sparse but highly suggestive prose. Its only flourish is that each comic contains a “hidden” joke in the roll-over text—often one that works to undo the rhetoric of the initial panel.
With last week’s tempestuous events in the middle east, the subsequent chaos on the U.S. presidential campaign trail, and news of a professional peeping Tom in the south of France, much was lost on the American public concerning the strange and unexplained absence of Xi Jinping, the man in line to be the next president of China. Mr. Xi disappeared completely from public view on September 1st, leaving only wanting pundits to explain what they thought might be reality. Think about it. Imagine if we lived in an ascendant country and our leader-in-waiting suddenly vanished from the public eye for longer than two weeks. Furthermore, imagine if we lived under a government that lacked any sense of transparency, and under which a freethinking blog post such as this one might warrant imprisonment, all the while the ruling elite might not proffer any explanation concerning our presumptive leader’s whereabouts. We’d be anxious, and the Chinese were last week. Anyways, the reason I bring this event up isn’t to inform the average American about global events (that’s their own responsibility and their newspaper’s job), but rather, I think the whole circus surrounding Xi’s absence provides a unique insight into the ways that China’s ruling elite attempt to visualize their control.
Only a scant 23 days elapsed after TMZ leaked nude photos of Prince Harry that French tabloid Closer printed images of Kate Middleton sunbathing topless on the balcony of a Provence guesthouse. In addition to the frenzied speculation about the photos themselves (Is the queen upset with her grandson? Was Middleton truly in private, since she was photographed on a terrace? Are there more images that will emerge?) it’s interesting to note that the press itself has been the subject of equal amounts of scrutiny.
Last week I argued that suspense makes for more arresting visual effect than does what passes for “action” in Hollywood these days. My main point was that human frailty creates suspense and that psychological realism will do much to improve action cinema. Bigger visuals are not necessarily better at creating an emotional response in the viewer.
Now, you may say to me: Chris, you are not taking into sufficient account how big real visual events have become.
The religious meaning associated with the above symbol seems hard to miss. Different denominations may favor different variations, but the Latin cross is inextricably associated with Christianity. Yet, in the context of legal arguments over the separation of church and state, some suggest that the cross conveys a meaning other than an identification with the Christian religion. Oddly enough, these arguments for a non-Christian Christian cross often come from those deeply invested in preserving the presence of crosses and other ostensibly religious symbols on government property.
Scrolling through the online list of startups launched this week at Disrupt SF, an annual technology conference hosted by TechCrunch, feels a bit like peering into the future the Web. The catchy slogans and names of companies like Hop.in, Oogababy, and Okdo.it proclaim a new kind of Internet experience, one that is better, faster and more seamless than ever. The only caveat is that many of these startups will not get the chance to impact the Web. Almost half of new businesses fail before they hit their five year mark.