I Wake Up and Everything’s Wrong

Rihanna - Work

Part 1: Work, Work, Work, Work, Work, Work

Running short on money and in desperate need of luxuries like health insurance, food, and booze I scoured the Internet for part time jobs. My primary source of income, as a dissertation fellow, pays a small stipend (nowhere near enough to live on in any city, much less a major one) and affords no benefits. And so, pockets empty, I began my search. My first stop was H-Net, though I wasn’t holding out much hope for a well-paid, part-time, quick-hire. After about 5 minutes I gave up and transitioned to Idealist and Indeed, looking for any jobs that might be intellectually stimulating, somewhat ethical, or at least tangentially related to my interests. Forty-five minutes later I was depressed on Craigslist.

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Clicks Out for Harambe: Death, Race, and Memes

 

harambe

On May 28th, 2016 a three-year-old black boy fell into the gorilla enclosure at the Cincinnati Zoo.  As a result a 17-year-old gorilla inside the pen, Harambe, was shot, as the zoo argued, for the boy’s protection. Nearly three months later, on August 22nd the director of the zoo, Thane Maynard, issued a plea for an end to the ‘memeification’ of Harambe, stating, “We are not amused by the memes, petitions and signs about Harambe…Our zoo family is still healing, and the constant mention of Harambe makes moving forward more difficult for us.” By the end of October, however, despite turgid proclamations to the contrary, the use of Harambe seems to be waning.

The six-month interim marked a significant transition in the media presence of Harambe, from symbol of public uproar and cross-species sympathy to widely memed Internet joke. The death and affective trajectory of Harambe, therefore, represents a unique vector in analyzing intersections of animality, race, and the phenomenon of virality. Harambe, like Cecil the Lion before him, became a widely appropriated Internet cause, one with fraught ethical implications.

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Viral Geographies

screen-shot-2016-10-19-at-2-18-58-pm

In March 2013, at Microsoft’s annual research and development event TechFest, a new project was introduced that aimed to let “users interactively explore the full chain of events whereby individual news stories, videos, images, and petitions spread from one user to the next over a social network.” The program, in effect, aims to understand how content spreads through a social network such as Twitter. By aggregating large amounts of data and tracking how users share things on their Twitter accounts, ViralSearch turns the transmission of content into a visually friendly genealogy of media, which Microsoft terms its “virality.” The more descendants a video has, for example, meaning those who have shared it (which is broken up into generations, or subsets of users that represent one wave of shares) the more viral it is according to ViralSearch’s virality percentage. More than this, it actively differentiates between virality and popularity, by looking precisely at how the information is shared. As researcher Jake Hofman says,

This is what people sort of typically have in their mind when they think about one of these viral videos, but nobody’s really been able to actually look at the structure of these things to date. And so what we’re able to do is going through these billions of events we reconstruct these trees by looking at all the followers of everyone who adopts the content and using a large cluster to reconstruct these things and then a novel scoring method to actually distinguish this tree as being viral from just being popular.

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Reflections..

 

mwa68jo

In the days before November 8th I wrote the following vignette for what was supposed to be a special Cyborgology roundtable, a collection of differing viewpoints on the U.S. presidential election. For a number of reasons that roundtable was never published. Nevertheless, I am now posting what I wrote, unedited. My intent in doing this is twofold. First, it is a time-specific encapsulation of my sentiments before the event itself. It is not a reflection on what I would do given what I know now, but emblematic of the inexact and speculative nature of politics. And second, because I feel as if, regardless of the moment it emerged from, this short essay still carries a lot of weight in this post-election period. In fact, I would probably write very close to the same thing again.

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~

I am become debt
possessed by frailty
I come as weakness
in presence meek
and unimposing
I come a part
a piece
a scrap
unfinished

now I am horizontal
I am under and in-between
things
in the appearance of love
I make their time
entwine in ours
towards a friction that is touch
contagious
contact
now i am all
in sum
many
none

Bathroom Affects: Trans Rights and the Spectacle of Shame

psycho shower scene

On May 13, 2016 the Obama administration issued a letter of guidance concerning the protection of gender identity in school housing, restrooms, and locker room facilities under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. The letter was largely seen as a reaction to a March 2016 law passed in North Carolina, HB 2 – Public Facilities Privacy and Security Act, which limited public restroom use to one’s assigned at birth gender. On August 21, 2016, however, a Texas U.S. District judge blocked the federal government from implementing that directive, instead arguing that Title IX aimed to “protect students’ personal privacy, or discussion of their personal privacy, while in the presence of members of the opposite biological sex.” The district court applied a similar logic to HB 2 in arguing that gender identity was strictly “biological” (e.g., what one’s birth certificate says).

The district court ruling, in line with several others this year, relies on and perpetuates a number of transphobic beliefs which seem apropos to mention here, namely: a normalized definition of biological sex, the notion of trans bodies as illegible, impure, or incomplete, the forced hypervisibility of trans bodies through constant surveillance, the public fixation on genitalia as a ‘true’ indicator of gender identity, and the displacement/occlusion of responsibility for anti-trans violence. It is, in particular, the contemporary mobilization of a politics of shame, manifest through the aforementioned practices, however, that I would like to hone in on.

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On Medial Desire – Or, That Philip K. Dick Title Everyone Uses

Swarm of Birds

It feels good / To know that you really care
It feels good / To know that I can relax when I’m with you
It feels good / To know that I can be by your side
– “Feels Good” – TONY! TONI! TONE! 

Some time ago, absentmindedly tweeting about the woeful state of higher education, I received a notification that one of my tweets was liked. This being somewhat rare, I excitedly went to check out who it was from, only to find that it was one of the institutions I was directly critiquing. If they had actually read the tweets I’m sure they wouldn’t have actually ‘liked’ them, so what gives?

This isn’t the first time something like this has happened to me. Periodically, as I’m sure many of us do, I get likes, follows, and retweets that seem incongruous with the content of my posts. Some are a result of Twitter users actively seeking to aggregate info, gain followers, and increase their social media presence. Others are fully automated Twitter bots.

Twitter bots, for the uninitiated, are pieces of software that use automated scripts to crawl the Twitterverse in search of particular words or phrases, to follow, like, or retweet others. In 2014 Twitter revealed that as many as 8.5% of its active accounts were likely bots. Beyond mere annoyance at the lack of a human interlocutor behind a ‘like’ or ‘follow,’ however, why care about the presence of Twitter bots or the use of algorithms to harness the power of social media?

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Lust for Life

lust-for-life-kirk-douglas-anthony-quinn-1956

Why do people do most of the things they do? Is it because they have arduously thought out the repercussions of each acts and decided rationally on the best course of action? No, of course not. We choose overwhelmingly with feeling. Our partners, our products, our political candidates. We might justify those decisions with logic and evidence, but it does not begin that way. The consumption of life without remorse (or even recognition that it was once life) demonstrates the fallacy of attributing/reducing ethics to mere logic. We are instead mostly governed through affective means, biopolitical and learned nonetheless, but not strict reason. It must feel good to unshed the skin of animal abuse, or more likely it must feel bad to exploit animals. The problem that this poses of course, besides binaristic moral reductionism, is that all too often the means through which we access pleasure is via the mechanisms of capital. Feel good about avoiding meat, dairy, leather by purchasing meat-alternative, dairy-alternative, leather-alternative. Do your part to defeat those evil industries of the past through the assembly of the new, totally different, definitely not evil, progressive industry. It doesn’t care about species-race-sexual identity as long as you purchase it. This would of course not be problematic if the very core tenets of capital didn’t themselves rely on exploitation. Those vegan-commodities are a bit more expensive, but that extra goes to ensure that your product is ethical. Fair trade, organic, local, artisan, each buzzwords of hypermodern capital. But who collects on that surplus? Are the fair trade coffee empires anything but rosy facades that obviate the mechanisms of hierarchy production? Have we transcended work? Have our wages risen in the least? Has our healthcare improved? Do we still breed animals for other purposes?

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Ex/pend

Its warm and the air is acrid.

The usual burst of morning sensoria awaits, announcing the day, prying open still sleeping eyes as I walk from one room to the next.

//

I’m so tired.

//

There is an atmospheric stillness that comes before the trauma. Whether a trick of remembrance or some act of extrasensory perception in anticipation of the event, nevertheless it lingers. Maybe it’s because of the acceleration one feels in the frenzied moments that follow, a harried mélange of shock and action, expanding and compressing time into an unrecognizable state.

//

Where the after is terminal velocity, the before is pregnant stasis.

//

And that’s when I feel her eyes on me from across the room. They are wide and full of frenzied fear. They lock with mine, impossibly, as her neck contorts in wild circular fits.

//

Strictly speaking there isn’t anything I can actually do; no medicine to administer, no magic reprieve from the ongoing violence. And yet still I pick her up gently. I hold her against my body, stroking her back in a futile attempt to assuage her pain; an inoculation as much for me as I desperately hope it is for her; an attempt to reign in the ever-mounting anxiety cascading through both of us in waves. But the violence only becomes more pronounced.

//

This is a trajectory toward death, but it is not.

Nor is it life. It never has been.

It is somewhere in-between.

Abject Masculinities: Animals, Empire, and Boyhood

expression_of_the_emotions_darwin_dog_03Abjections

In Julia Kristeva’s formation, the abject is a magnetic force that troubles the distance between subject and object. As she says, it “draws me toward the place where meaning collapses.” In this intimation of psychic collapse, the abject both represents the threat that meaning is breaking down and structures our reaction to such a possible breakdown. As Kristeva reminds us: “It is…not lack of cleanliness or health that causes abjection but what disturbs identity, system, order, what does not respect borders, positions, rules.” Thus, the corpse, excrement, human defilement, mutation, and animality all mark the abject; to Kristeva they are horrors that highlight the instability of a distinct human totality. I begin with Kristeva’s conception of the abject to access an epistemological tension that drives this paper; the psychic and ontological border constructed between human and animal and Justin Torres’s exploration of an alternative hybrid borderlands. It is not my intent, then, to put forth an analysis in which “the abject” is deviance or pathology, but rather an analytic that espouses difference beyond binary opposition.

“We wanted more.” Justin Torres’s We the Animals begins with the booming requests of a brotherly collective, the opening pages clamoring towards a crescendo of desires, becomings, and identifications. It is the collective “we” that cries out these claims, a three-headed fraternal being. By the end of Torres’s work, however, the seemingly conjoined triplets, “we”, have fragmented, leaving the narrator and youngest of the three alone. What do we make of this opening vignette in Torres’s story? How does Torres from the onset of his work toy with our ideals of identity, subjectivity, and individuality? And lastly, what are the violences Torres highlights that an abject perspective allows us to access?

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