Saturday, December 09, 2006

Conferences, dialectics, nomenclature, and jargon; and then mandarin again

it is high time that i post a follow-up to the 6 december posting re the STAIR conference. but first some general notes/thoughts.

scatter cushions: these are those cushions that one scatters on sofas. they´re usually small, square, get in the way, take up most of the sofa space, etc. but lots of people have them. well, when i first arrived at oxford i remember attending lectures where students would then say and describe which particular school of thought they were focussing on in their legal studies. what struck me was that everybody sounded so súper-confident, throwing about jargonny words, many of which i did not understand, and some of which i´d never heard of before. but what was particularly striking was the confidence with which they spoke. but always when people start to use these incomprehensible-yet-used-so-often-hence-meaningless terms i have this image of scatter cushions being tossed about. one scatter cushion per term. i always sit there and think "i don´t have a clue what you´re saying. i know the words but they are meaningless. if i don´t know, do you know, really? or are these words like crutches that you use to prop yourself up with?" maybe this is the trap we all fall into at some point; or is something we should guard against. well, the latter came to mind during the conference during one particular talk. so.

one other meta-level comment is that i wondered how one-sided my reporting would be here. for, after all, i am interested in the papers based on where i am coming from with my own particular set of research questions and curiosities. my aim, then, in writing the blog is not to provide a comprehensive summary. pah! that to me would be pointless. quite possibly the reader would gain something, but the end-result would be some dry piece of writing, me thinks, with only a modicum of interest/value to me in the end. [and you are probably thinking: look, she has posted so late; probably she has been out drinking... well, no. in fact, my ebullience is due to a combination of cake, tea, some chocolate, and good conversation with friends. an event which ended some time ago.]

i´d already mentioned symptomology, which was Der Derian´s term used that day of the conference. what was striking was his distinction between real vs. artificial life. why "artificial"? i thought to myself. what does he mean to designate? artificial = virtual? if so. why can virtual not just be a different kind of real, instead of its being "artificial"? isn´t that increasingly our experience of online environments? that they become part of one´s reality; are different but still "real"? the latter is also what i felt with the talk on citizen journalism. the speaker spoke like someone outside of this world which was the object of study. maybe this was an academic requirement (some veil for distance which denotes then rigour). but all i was left with was an impression of voyeurism. and that can be friqui in some regard. but really, the talk became interesting only when the speaker, instead of maintaining this academic distance, in fact revealed some things about her personal behaviour and affinities, in the environments under study (that is some funny english for "en el ámbito bajo investigación" it seems to me. )

i enjoyed the talk by Paul A. Taylor. he´s a huge Zizek fan; even disported a t-shirt. well, I like Zizek´s work too. on 29-Mar-2003 i posted Zizek´s essay re the Iraq war on my then web site. it was funny, when listening to Paul A. Taylor, at some point he referred to "courtly love", but with his strong accent i didn´t quite get it the first time around and in my notes i´d written "courtney love (???)", which seemed out of place, but hey, the guy was stringing in a whole host of (post-modern) philosophers, so why not some indie music folks too? he´d said "Baudrillard had spoken of the loss of seduction." unlike in days-of-old the scenario of courtly love is lost. the image of courtly love being the guy waiting/pining underneath the balcony, waiting for his love to appear, and to finally be with her (but seldom is this satisfied, if ever). that the latter scenario entailed (a certain level of) seduction, but that all of this had been lost in the society we live in. i´d wanted to say to him "move to spain; you will think differently. just because courtly love has been lost in the english-speaking world, does not mean that it has been lost globally", since i´d recalled, in my chronicles of life in Madrid (sent via e-mail to friends i.e. not blogged), i had made mention of this tendency, this playfulness in both genders in potential romantic relationships. in, what i then termed "anglosajonia" (the anglo-saxon world), courting (if it exists even) is far more straightforward. anyhow, to not stray too far from the topic...
Taylor characterised the culture industry as pornographic and prudish, and art as being ascetic and unashamed, and that we have "a culture that can no longer think intelligently about symbols". [which reminds me of signifier vs. signified, and that i saw a post recently on the HUMANIST list that it is 100 years since Saussure´s seminal lectures, the Cours de Linguistique].

too many asides = picture of my brain :)

back to STAIR: the afternoon lectures on internet governance i enjoyed. some useful links and leaps made there. we´ll see where i go with that.


about the mandarin: since i wasn´t going home and working diligently on that each evening, i kept getting to the class the next day feeling that i knew a little bit less (cf. fellow classmates) as the course and days progressed. few things are as humbling as learning a new language. and i think this is especially so the more specialised one becomes, since being súper-comfortable in one´s (quite separate) academic domain, it is very humbling (and unfamiliar), this sense of feeling like a complete and utter idiot. yet, all was not lost. i could have given up, but didn´t, despite my knowing that i would progressively each day look like more of a fool whenever the teacher asked me to give answers to the questions she posed. aye, those characters/sinograms!

Claire, the teacher, said "the characters are like people´s faces you recognise, but you don´t always remember their names". yep, that would be a very accurate assessment. and yet, languages are about pattern recognition. so, after a while, being familiar with enough pattern pieces, i could start to see entire patterns. yet, it is difficult (i.e. not very useful) if you recognise the signifier, but forget what it signifies! even so, i think the big leap comes when you start to feel that knowing a language is useful. yes, one can always know this in theory, but the day you experience it, you instantaneously feel more motivated. so, what happens but that someone from Japan visits at the OII on thursday evening, and gives me her business card, where I am able to recognise two or so characters. and thát felt like real progress.


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