Posts Tagged ‘meaning’

More notes on the basis for change

September 4, 2009

Last night I watched The Devil and Daniel Johnston, there were two things that stayed with me, because I’d just earlier come across very similar things.

I’d referred to a common acquaintance as a sufferer, as in , that person is a sufferer, and the person I was talking with asked if that were a “term”, like if it were something I’d just made up it wasn’t worth coining, as thought the drawing of distinctions, the minting of terms is a practice only for the hands of professional, those entitled (say PhD) to make changes to the language, of course sufferer is a common word with a fairly generally accepted meaning. Anyway, watching the documentary there’s a look at his art, and Johnson has drawn a pun on the silver surfer, as the silver sufferer. So yes, sufferer is a term. The most well known sufferer is Jesus, you may have heard of him, here’s God, the perfect agent. He can raise the dead, turn water into wine, feed a multitude with a few bits of food, walk on water, and is one with the power that created heaven and earth, but His hands are tied (nailed to the cross) when it comes to social change. Jesus suffers the sins of man. For this powerful agency to choose to suffer is a testament to the desire for suffering, the acceptance of the sins of man, the ultimate powerlessness in the face of contemporary action. So yes, sufferer is a term, and a sufferer is the antithesis of Camus’ Sisyphus who we are reminded to imagine as happy in his travails (not suffering them.)

The second was an idea that Daniel Johnson has chosen his story, that his illness may have been an expression of a creative narrative. I’d earlier in the week read an article in the Utne magazine by Lorrie Klosterman, that was an interview with someone who saw narrative and healing as linked. We are all aware of Language as a virus. There are t-shirts. But the physiological affect of the word, the word literally and physically becoming flesh, is a necessary understanding for anyone who desires change.

Walter Benjamin also speaks of the storyteller as  giving as counsel.

…to win the battle of democracy

March 17, 2009

Back when it seemed a possibility that a coalition government would take over parliament, my dad and I started a short conversation about the meaning of our vote. He was angry that the party he’d helped vote into a minority government was about to be reduced to the opposition. “What about my vote?” he asked. I asked him the same question. I was joking. I’d voted for the communist party, so my ‘voice’ was useless. Really, voting has little more use to me than backing a hockey team. But my father asked, “no one wanted your party, why is that?” Yes. Why is it people are not voting communist? I know it wasn’t a real question, I mean, I know he wasn’t looking for a real exploration of the possible reasons why. But I saw it as a baited hook, and bit. I started writing an essay, but it’s way too long, meandering and not really much of a conversation starter.

Before this conversation started, just before the last election, I had written an open letter to my father explaining the reasons why I was voting communist. It wasn’t very persuasive. I sent the letter to every member of my family on facebook, and I am pretty sure it had no effect whatsoever on the votes my family cast. One of my cousins accused me of just fooling around. There’s something to this. Communication needs a hook. Talking about communism is talking about old news, an already decided subject, there’s nothing to connect the talk to. There’s no reason to talk about it. Bringing it up now has a bit of lunacy to it. My cousin knows I’m not crazy, so if I’m talking about communism, I must just be fooling around. Today there is a hook. The news of 1200 jobs lost in Windsor (again this year), gives us a reason to talk about capitalism (masters of industry and wage slaves), the violence of profits before people, and the socialist idea of worker control.

I’ve been thinking and reading about and writing down some of the reasons people aren’t voting communist, but I’ve also been aware of the madness associated with talking such nonsense. There are differences between capitalist values and communist values that require a complex conversation, rethinking how we live on the level of the day-to-day. It requires becoming aware of our condition. I’ve asked my network of friends and family into this conversation, so I should start with something.

Let’s talk about the word ‘communism’…

From the response to my last open letter, it’s clear that ‘communism’ is understood as a dirty word. I just recently read an article about ‘socialism’ being used as a slur. After you accept the fact that corporations produce our culture and meaning, it makes perfect sense that these powers would try to poison the words that will launch a revolution; democratize production; replace capitalist controlled corporate power with worker controlled corporate power. Revolutionaries understand ‘communism’ and ‘socialism’ to mean ‘the creation of something which does not yet exist.’  The words signify new relationships to each other, where radical democratic associations of workers motivated by human development take control of production. The American and French Revolutions replaced monarchy with hierarchy. The coming revolution will replace hierarchy with anarchy. The coming revolution will be the end of profit-for-the-few and representation-by-the-few. The revolution will bring new values of human (species) development and radical democracy.

…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 ( ).

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( 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 (, a compelling game about public health , Arundo Donax , (, 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:// )

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.

Ending the War on Sharing

February 17, 2009

Richard Stallman spoke on the issue of community and copyright law. After Kate Milberry asked if the practice of software development and sharing he’d been talking about can be applied in the wider world. Stallman replied that his whole talk has been about that very question. Stallman refused to make the links between his issue and larger liberatory movements. He is pushing one issue. There are other issues, but he will leave those to the interested parties.

Some ideas Stallman dropped – Don’t use their terms. Once you take on the terms of the status quo you reproduce dominant meaning. The terms themselves contain meaning that limits our freedoms. We need to develop a language of freedom. The concept of an alternative language.

Fighting the war on sharing. Sharing is anti-capitalist. Sharing is socialist. Sharing removes the price fetish of capitalist imaginary.

Vancouver, BC

(Here’s a liveblog of one of Stallman’s talks in Vancouver: humminbird604)

Another software related presentation: Jim Andrews spoke in the New Media Building. The talk is well blogged here. After hearing Stallman, Andrews was a disappointment. (Here’s my cut and pasted review of the presentation, originally from gmail chat)

me: The presentation wasn’t that interesting, in and of itself, but there were a number of moments when the philosophical deficiencies in the room became the interest.
social foundation of intelligence.

me: the fear of AI
is the fear of an asocial intelligence
the development of a psychopath
Capitalism does a very similar thing, when people say “makes sense”
what they mean sometimes is “it makes financial sense”
which is a bit asocial and as a result psychopathic
me: I asked the guy if the software he was developing was open source
he said it wasn’t for financial reasons
he wanted to be the only one… but if you’d have seen how derivative his software was…
I didn’t push it for fear of confrontation, telling an artist his work is derivative…
them’s fighting words

To the kids of the future…

December 25, 2008

I see this shit all over the internet. Stuff like this has been coming across my inbox for as long as I’ve had one, and I’m old enough to remember this kind of thing being faxed around. Who writes this shit? And why the fuck does it continue to circulate? What kind of zombie would agree with this? It’s the type of thing that anyone with any critical sense automatically ignores, but this type of reactionary thinking, the “get used to it” response to critical awareness, can’t be something that anyone would seriously defend. Would any parent consciously squash their children’s dreams of a better world? And when made aware of the dampening effect their pessimism is having on their children, could anyone passionately defend the destructive effect of their unconscious attitude? Who could proudly proclaim the motto “Accept your lot, do as you are told.”?

I feel the need on this snowy day before The Big Day Off, to suggest some possibilities. It doesn’t have to be this way. Here are the suggested possibilities, following the given rules:

Rule 1: Life is not fair – get used to it!

Possibility 1: Life’s not conscious – you be the judge!

Rule 2: The world won’t care about your self-esteem. The world will expect you to accomplish something BEFORE you feel good about yourself.

Possibility 2: Do what makes you feel good. AND Don’t ever let anyone tell your children they’re not worth it. Esteem your children over and above their own self-esteem, build them up, develop their creative powers. Why don’t we support our children in their imagination? If we can imagine a better world we can create a better world.

Rule 3: You will NOT make $60,000 a year right out of high school. You won’t be a vice-president with a car phone until you earn both.

Possibility 3: Make your own goals. How do you want to live? Use your imagination.

Rule 4: If you think your teacher is tough, wait till you get a boss.

Possibility 4: If your teacher is tough, tell him to fuck off. QUIT SCHOOL and follow your dreams.

Rule 5: Flipping burgers is not beneath your dignity. Your Grandparents had a different word for burger flipping: they called it opportunity.

Possibility 5: Find work with friends and people who are passionate about what they are doing. Do the work you want. AND Not all our grandparents called wage-slavery an opportunity. Some fought for shorter work weeks, safer working conditions, and worker control. Those who fought, fought physically. They were beaten by police, jailed, killed for trying to make the world more fair. Why don’t we tell our kids about these grandparents?

Rule 6: If you mess up, it’s not your parents’ fault, so don’t whine about your mistakes, learn from them.

Possibility 6: If you mess up, your parents will be there for you. Mess up, mess around. Finding your way in the world is near impossible if you want to change things. Your parents understand this and will always be there for you.

Rule 7: Before you were born, your parents weren’t as boring as they are now. They got that way from paying your bills, cleaning your clothes and listening to you talk about how cool you thought you were. So before you save the rain forest from the parasites of your parent’s generation, try delousing the closet in your own room.

Possibility 7: If your parents are boring, find some that aren’t. Seriously cool parents will always take on the responsibility of another seriously cool kid. Don’t accept the given. Never accept your lot.

Rule 8: Your school may have done away with winners and losers, but life HAS NOT. In some schools, they have abolished failing grades and they’ll give you as MANY TIMES as you want to get the right answer. This doesn’t bear the slightest resemblance to ANYTHING in real life.

Possibility 8: Who’s making the rules? Who has the right answer? If you can live your out your imagination in your everyday life, who cares what anyone else thinks?

Rule 9: Life is not divided into semesters. You don’t get summers off and very few employers are interested in helping you FIND YOURSELF. Do that on your own time.

Possibility 9: There is no time that is not for you. Why use it making someone who isn’t interested in you money? Life is how you and your friends make it.

Rule 10: Television is NOT real life. In real life people actually have to leave the coffee shop and go to jobs.

Possibility 10: Imagine life as a creative possibility, where real life is what you want to do, not what you have to do.

This was a difficult mental exercise. There are many traps to fall into when dealing with the given or established consciousness. The given categories need to be completely rejected, and alternatives need be created in their place. Then the word count needed to convey alternative conceptions far exceeds the pithy clichés needed for conventional reactions. Plus many of the propositions in the rule list are true, but their extension into the acceptance of “real life” makes the truisms into more than true, maybe fixed, and reality is not fixed. How do you unfix dominant ideas? How do you found an alternative on an unfixed reality?

Some of my possibilities are pretty lame, do you have better suggestions?


May 18, 2008

Tearing down to build up?

Is it really easier to tear down than build up? Isn’t it possible that the frustration edutech advocates are expressing in this conference is an inability to tear down traditional ideas in education? And if talking about what’s going on in this conference without waving pompoms is looked upon unfavourably, there is an outside, but very relevant, example in the science vs. religion debate. While scientists were busy catching atoms, exploring space and working with stem cells, Christians were busy teaching their children about creation.

I am, and have been, proposing strategies for the advocacy of a research agenda. Why advocate for something that isn’t the best it can be? I wrote in the post above that the research agenda should include the need for a strong scientific, philosophical and historical foundation. I gave Stephen Downes as an example of a researcher with this type of foundation. And when I say education researchers lack discipline, I mean that they use terms without being aware of their meaning. Downes has complained of this lack of discipline as well. I pick up the Canadian Education Associations magazine and am frustrated each and every issue by the sloppy use of terms. Writers who’ve clearly never read a single word of Derrida’s throw around “deconstruction” like it can mean whatever they want it to. Educational research needs more discipline, it needs a stronger scientific, philosophical and historical foundation.

Education research needs to be stronger to stand up to the antipathy in the educating workforce. I am a friend of this agenda, and as any reader of Nietzsche can tell you, a good friend is your worst enemy.

The point I am trying to get across is the lack of discipline in education studies. The field of computer assisted distance learning is over 25 years old, yet the general vibe from the discussions here is that it’s a brand new field. Web 2.0 is an essentially meaningless buzzword dreamed up by a sales team, and it’s thrown around like it has weight. Remember Generation X? The marketers went wild with that one too, and then Y and some even went as far as Z. Cell phones in education? That’s a parody writing itself. Web phone 3.0 isn’t a bad research topic in itself, but without a strong scientific/philosophical/historical foundation it amounts to fanboy drivel or marketing spin. You can point to Stephen Downes and say look, ed tech research is rock solid, but for every Stephen Downes, who’s done and continues to do his homework, there are a large number of “researchers” who need to dig a little deeper. The strongest education research would be connected to or at least aware of the relevant work in other disciplines. Elearning needs at the very least a philosophy.
The separation between creating knowledge and reproducing knowledge is not distinct. I’m definitely simplifying. Knowledge reproduction is not necessarily a bad thing or something educators should feel they must move beyond.

When I say critical I mean to take elearning apart and see what it is. Technology is always designed to be used. Research as well is designed to be used. They are also designed to serve interests. I don’t have an answer here. If I did would type it out. A pan-Canadian elearning research agenda needs to be explicit about who it will serve. Is it possible to do research in general? Is it possible to create an agenda open to a variety of interests?


I read elearning as learning with the prefix “e.” Learning I define as the reproduction of knowledge. Learning in this definition takes place in an educational setting. I don’t deny the human potential to create knowledge, but elearning’s potential resides in its use as an effective means of communication between two bodies.

Every teacher knows that if a student didn’t learn it, you didn’t teach it. In an educational setting reproduced knowledge is learned knowledge. Knowledge exists in a body prior to being teachable. When the knowledge comes to exist in a second body it has been reproduced or taught. The example I gave earlier of 8 year-old Canadians who know, at least after school on November 11, that the military secured our rights and freedoms in the wars is reproduced knowledge. It is knowledge communicated from one body to another. These 8 year-olds have this knowledge without any direct experience. This is learned knowledge.

The creation of knowledge is not the same as the reproduction of knowledge. These two meanings in the one term learning will only lead to confusion.