Archive for the ‘Digitize this book!’ Category

Review: Digitize This Book

May 22, 2009

The question of access is totally political. Democracy, and to be clear we do not live in a democracy, needs an open environment to be possible. Without access to relevant information, we are incapable of both our highest self-development and informed participation in social questions. Today information is exclusive in its distribution. Decision making is also an exclusive process. In capitalist systems of government, the decisions that affect our lives are not ours to make, and the information on which those decisions are made is not ours to scrutinize.

New media has given the potential of broadcasting to everyone with internet access. This growing access has been revealing the limits of access, as well as the possibility of information distribution. It has called into question notions of authority, and the control of ideas. The lines between the private and communal right to ideas have been blurred. The control of ideas by commercial organizations has become an active question, the situation has become political. In Bolivia when private commercial organizations tried to control the flow of water, the question of the possibility of democracy in a country controlled by private interests erupted in a wave of social organization. And while information is not as important to life as water, the question of who controls the flow of substances necessary for human development in each case, nonetheless, is activating the political.

Digitize This Book!: The Politics of New Media, or Why We Need Open Access Now is a completely frustrating read. What are the politics of new media? And why do we need open access? Those  questions have radical implications. The title, however, with its allusion to Abbie Hoffman’s Steal This Book!, is misleading. I had expectations of a freedom-loving-people-first radical “we” in need of open access, but, unfortunately, the “we” in the title refers to career-building professional academics.

And unfortunately the politics in this book limits itself to the institution. Hall delivers a book on using open access for professional political purposes. The idea of open access as it relates and presents the  possibility of free education and real democracy is the idea I’d have liked to see written out. But Hall didn’t do that. Hall limits himself to an academic discussion in a way that makes the book nearly irrelevant to anyone outside that world. I’ve been putting off writing up the book.  My reaction is to write off the academic world as career-minded, grant-chasing, intellectual conservatives, and while the academic world is definitely heavily populated by this type, of which Hall fits, the academic world is also all we’ve got. The main space left where thinking happens is the academic world. So writing them off isn’t really an option. This book of Hall’s is a disappointment for sure, but in it there are some points on which to get started.

First, there’s the difficult concept of a desire for changing one’s place in the order of things. This concept — and you can correct me if I’m wrong, or out of line – may not be a concept so much as a cognitive disorder; a desire for change without anything changing. Gary Hall seems, and he’s not an activist, to suffer the same affliction as a lot of activists. He wants a better world for himself — and others — without making a change in the world. Sure he calls the institution into question, but finds it necessary, it’s just maybe if he had a little more control over his work. This idea of a little change is something that needs to be thought through. Any change is a leap, a little change is a big change. In the case of institutional legitimation, where an author’s work needs to go through a series of controls, these controls can seem oppressive. Hall has found the process of publishing online can bypass these controls, but without the control, his status as a legitimate academic is at risk. Hall needs the oppressive control to exclude others and maintain his identity.

Hall conceals this return to a desire for oppression and control in the face of the possibility of freedom, in the terminology of Derrida. He uses Derrida as a cover, but also a legitimate currency. He draws on Derrida like one draws on a bank.

This is another starting point, the academic use of the names of our most radical thinkers as coinage. Hall does this on a number of occasions. The issue of legitimacy and authority, through drawing on the value of names. But the name becomes separated from the body of work, legitimating in this case a Cultural Studies critique.

Halls desire to maintain, in the shift toward digital publishing, the authority of print is just not a concern that anyone outside the university would have. It could be seen as similar to the grumbling of journalists, and Hall’s dismissal of the amateur is very similar but the question is New Media. What are the politics? What is happening to whom and how? But can an academic, especially one with an interest in career building, clearly think the university? How does the commercialization, the manipulating market forces on the practice of the university look to an academic? And in Hall’s case an “academic with no preconceived politics”? How much of this thought was forged in the free-market furnace?

On authority, and it’s similarities and difference to worth, an essay of Derrida’s is difficult to follow, and a book like Hall’s which trades on Derrida’s style and terminology is difficult in its counterfeit. The question of worth. It’s something to think about. No one is going to take the time to read anything I write. They might be interested in a quote from Deleuze. But Hall does something less. He drops names, Benjamin, Foucault, Deleuze, he drops these names without a direct reference to their work. Nietzsche  says something about those who use superlatives reaching beyond their grasp. And in this instance, the use of these names to legitimate his book, Hall completely steps out of his depth.

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On Urgency

April 3, 2009

It’s part of our Heritage, some guy, an extra on a movie set, wearing a sandwich board proclaiming “The End Is Nigh!” Am I wrong to imagine I’ve seen him in a lot of movies? That guy, or at least the message he carries is all over the internet. This is our final moment, we’ve got to act now!!

It’s never a good idea to argue, I was going to write, with these maniacs, but unless you enjoy the sport, I mean you get a kick out of the hilarity of a fixed mental position, most argument is pointless. If someone thinks it is ‘over’, you are not going to convince them otherwise. And to complicate things, this sense of urgency, this need to act now, this feeling that the time is now or never is part of our heritage, it’s a social condition.

It’s not just the lunatics who suffer the delusion of now. In Digitize This Book!: The Politics of New Media, or Why We Need Open Access Now, Gary Hall on the issues of new media and open access argues that “this is a chance that very much has to be taken now.” He goes on to say that if corporations figure out a profit model “then the opportunity to set the policy agenda for open-access archiving will very likely be lost.” (I’m currently working on a review of this book. I mention this because the point I’m criticizing here is a very small point in a pretty good attempt at thinking a situation through.) Can you hear Eminem “You only got one shot, do not miss your chance to blow, ’cause opportunity comes once in a lifetime…”? I’m not talking shit, whistling Dixie, this sense of urgency is well documented, but not in a way that makes us aware, these documents are all telling us to “do it” to “just do it” and do it now.

This reactionary thinking, (I just mentioned something similar to this to my four year old daughter today, “You’re not really thinking, you’re just wanting.”), this thinking in, about and for the moment, is socially conditioned. It’s the way of thinking within a capitalist society. We are always capitalizing on moments, trends, the way things are. For revolutionaries, this thinking is a problem. The Communist Manifesto, suffered from this problem. Propaganda tries to quickly, and sloganeeringly, drive the masses to action. Many of the radical ideas Marx and Engels tried to get down before and after the Manifesto was written, were simplified, and dodged to produce a pamphlet for consumption by the masses. And where did this get us! The revolution will be a slow burn, the deep restructuring of a new consciousness. The revolution will not happen overnight. (there you go, I’m a sucker for slogans) A long process of developing a revolutionary consciousness, which is the revolutionary process itself, is not something one can do to an other, and I don’t think it’s something that can be done alone.

In Workers of the World Relax, Conrad Schmidt answers the democratic revolutionary’s question.

How do we lose an election proudly?
Don’t try to win at all. Discuss issues you believe in.

…melts into air

March 13, 2009

Today I read this in Digitize This Book!: The Politics of New Media, or Why We Need Open Access Now :

…the very web-like structure of the Web often makes it difficult to determine where texts end – or begin, for that matter. All the cutting and pasting, grafting and transplanting, internal and external linking involved means that the boundaries between the text and its surroundings, its material support, are blurred and can become almost impossible to determine online – just as the boundaries separating authors, editors, programmers, producers, consumers, users, and commentators/critics are blurred.(p.66)

The blurring of textual boundaries interests me. Especially in academic texts, where citing other texts, other legitimate texts, is the necessary foundation for the building of new texts.

Yesterday I went to an event at UBC.

The MisEducated Imagination: McLuhan’s Creativity The lasting legacy of Marshall McLuhan has everything to do with his creatively disruptive thought: art as an early warning system of major technological change, media theory as culture probes, words moving at light-speed, texts as worm holes to alternative futures, a festival of seductive paradoxes in writing, images, and aphorisms. With McLuhan, technology simultaneously stultifies and mobilizes the imagination, does violence to the human nervous system and creates electronic breakthroughs. Arthur Kroker is Canada Research Chair in Technology, Culture and Theory & Professor of Political Science at the University of Victoria. Author of numerous books on technology and culture, including The Will to Technology, The Possessed Individual, The Postmodern Scene and Technology and the Canadian Mind: Innis, McLuhan and Grant. With Marilouise Kroker, he has edited the field-defining anthology, Critical Digital Studies and the internationally acclaimed electronic journal, CTheory (www.ctheory.net ).

One Code To Rule Them All… When all that has been solid melts into code, how do we rethink and re-make scholarly praxis — theory, research and pedagogy — built from and for a literate universe? Quality becomes quantity, arts and sciences are re-fused, media fluidly converge, and even the ontology of the body, this “too too solid flesh” of Hamlet’s distracted imaginings, becomes molten, as virtuality. This paper is part of a larger project which interweaves three strands of interdisciplinary scholarship: the conceptual work of forging a ‘digital epistemology,’ the technological challenge of developing a multimedia, multimodal research tool capable of taking the measure of the re-mediated subjects and objects of interdisciplinary study, and the pedagogical call for the resuscitation of ‘play’ as inseparable from and indispensable for teaching, learning and the advancement of knowledge under unprecedented conditions of uncertainty.  Suzanne de Castell is Professor and Dean pro-tem of the Faculty of Education at Simon Fraser University( http://www.educ.sfu.ca/research/decaste/). She’s interested in relations between media and epistemology, between ‘knowing’ and ‘tools of intellect’, in relation to print literacy, new media studies, and game-based educational technologies. Books include Literacy Society and Schooling (with Alan Luke and Kieran Egan), Language, Authority and Criticism (with Alan and Carmen Luke) Radical Interventions (with Mary Bryson) and Worlds in Play (with Jen Jenson). Her current work is on the ludic epistemologies of game-based learning, exemplified in several projects co-developed with Jenson: Contagion ( http://contagion.edu.yorku.ca/), a compelling game about public health , Arundo Donax , ( http://contagion.edu.yorku.ca/Tafelmusik/login/login.html), a gripping engagement with Baroque music, and Epidemic, a social networking site where your ‘friends’ are contacts you manage to infect. She co-edits the Canadian Game Studies journal, Loading…(http:// journals.sfu.ca/loading/ )

Dr. Arthur Kroker gave a concealed radical talk. He was saying something under the academic babble, something about a new consciousness that was to come, a change in our miseducation. That the new digital consciousness, new digitized body that we take on. Taken as a whole, if only for a moment, it was worth the two hour bus trip to and from UBC. That ride in itself, and the fact that it was bodies with ears listening to Kroker read from a laser-printed paper, should be enough to dispute what Kroker was saying, of course there was a very radical undertone, to the talk. Suzanne de Castell talk was much more concrete with her explanation of an experiment to expose the social construction of meaning. The need for such thinking in society, the ability to reflect on our constructions, entered the question and answer part of the talk. A question was asked of Kroker, it was more an expression of disapproval than a question. It went something like “You say there is a new digital body, a new digital future, but does this change the way we eat or love?” The answer given by de Castell was great. She said that the confusion between eat and love, that one is a physical need and the other a social, or literary, construction. We’ve been colonized by the word. She told of the creation of romantic love by literature. I don’t think the questioner “got it” but it was a very good point. Our categories, boundaries, the narratives, and meaning attached to our bodies are not solid. These are the necessary errors, the solidity, that with new insights melt into air.