This week my Facebook feed turned red as many of my friends changed their profile pictures in support of gay marriage. This act of online support was prompted by the hearing of arguments about Prop 8 and DOMA before the Supreme Court. Regardless of the result, I think there is a clear shift in the attitudes of many people across the US.
In support of marriage equality, I also changed my profile picture, though with a distinctly librarian touch. Thanks to Shelf Check for the image.
Sometimes I’m skeptical of “Internet activism”. It is easy to think that the simple act of changing your profile picture has no meaning. But in this case I think it does. I’m “standing” with all my friends – gay and straight – to say that I support everyone in their fight for equality. Is it as meaningful as protesting outside the Supreme Court or writing a letter? Maybe not. But it is a statement. And it’s a statement that I want my friends to hear.
This is the third post in an ongoing experiment on blogging as a form of public journal-keeping and self-reflection. Each month I post a recap of the major themes that were of interest to me. Here is March and April.
On Poetry and Blogs: Michale Ondaatje’s novels continue to overflow in my mind. As I mentioned in my March post, his words influence all that I do and see. He combines beautiful sentences, strong imagery, and interesting stories in rare and exciting ways.
Official histories, news stories surround us daily, but the events of art reach us too late, travel languorously like messages in a bottle
Only the best art can order the chaotic tumble of events. Only the best can realign chaos to suggest both the chaos and order it will become.
Within two years of 1066, work began on the Bayeux Tapestry, Constantin the African brought Greek medicine to the world. The chaos and tumble of events. The first sentence of every novel should be: “Trust me, this will take time but there is order here, very faint, very human.” Meander if you want to get to town. – Michael Ondaatje, ‘In the Skin Of a Lion
Reading more of his work, I am becoming aware of just how much his poetry informs and works inside of his prose. The Cinnamon Peeler is one of my favorite Ondaatje poems. Listen to him read it, be swept away by the words, get lost in the story.
It occurs to me that I have never read poetry with the amount of seriousness that I approach fiction or philosophy. The question of beginnings, of essentials, of relatable poets has always been an early stumbling block. I did not take any classes on poetry in school. Very few of my friends read like I do, and if they do, they don’t read poetry either. So, with the exceptions of a few poets, like Yeats or DH Lawrence or Whitman or now Ondaatje, I am incredibly undereducated, which is something that I would like to change.
My quest to find more (quality) poetry gained some momentum when I read this post on a little blog with an awesome name: Books & Bowel Movements. The author writes thoughtfully about the books she is reading or the projects she is working on (I’ve read some older posts but haven’t seen much about bowel movements…). Blogs like this one are the reason that I find so much edification in the platform.
I taught a class on blogging this month and one of my slides read: EVERYONE can be a publisher! Leaving out the nuances, this is generally true today. All it takes is an Internet connection, a bit of intelligence, and something to say. I don’t know the person who writes at Books & Bowel Movements. I’ll never meet her. But we are, in a sense, conversing with each other every time I read her blog. That’s powerful, exciting, democratizing. And endlessly fascinating. It opens new worlds.
On Quitting Facebook: I signed up for Facebook in 2004 when it was still limited to a few universities in the US. The site was a lot simpler and a lot more closed. It was an exciting new way to connect with friends who had scattered around the country to different schools. Since then Facebook has changed more times than I can remember. Some of the changes are good, some of them are bad. When the News Feed launched, there were petitions to have it removed. It felt like an overreaching, a breach in privacy. But can anyone imagine Facebook without it now?
My point is that when I started using Facebook it was a completely different website. I did not worry about privacy or about Facebook selling my information or about advertisers or about being inundated with the boring, mundane details in the lives of my acquaintances. I find that all Facebook offers me today is a way to waste time. All the people who I want to connect with, I do so in more meaningful and important ways. This is why I am no longer on Facebook.
It is a strange thing to be cut off from Facebook so suddenly and completely. It is like leaving the country. I feel a little shut off, which was odd at first but is incredibly enjoyable now. The worst part of this now is how much justification I have to give to people when I tell them that I am no longer on Facebook. To answer this, I am pointing people to Steve Coll’s recent essay in The New Yorker about why he quit Facebook. The important take-away from the essay is this paragraph, which I think needs closer consideration.
Zuckerberg’s business model requires the trust and loyalty of his users so that he can make money from their participation, yet he must simultaneously stretch that trust by driving the site to maximize profits, including by selling users’ personal information. The I.P.O. last week will exacerbate this tension: Facebook’s huge valuation now puts pressure on the company’s strategists to increase its revenue-per-user. That means more ads, more data mining, and more creative thinking about new ways to commercialize the personal, cultural, political, and even revolutionary activity of users.
There’s a wise old saying: don’t become worse than what you’re fighting. I would put a twist on that and say: don’t become less imaginative than what you’re fighting. -Graham Harman ASK/TELL interview
This month Graham Harman, a philosopher from the American University in Cairo, reignited my interest in the discipline with his highly original and thought-provoking books, Circus Philosophicus and Towards Speculative Realism: Essays and Lectures (I read both of these books using the Kindle app on my iPad. Luckily, Harman’s publisher, Zero Books, sees the benefit in making an eBook version available, which is not something I’ve found with many other books of contemporary philosophy)
Harman’s work is interesting because he makes a strong – and I think pretty successful – effort to bridge the analytical and continental divide. Harman thinks that the current fashion in philosophy has runs its course. He says, “The dominant personality type of recent decades has been the precise and assertive arguer who speaks clearly and likes to call people out on “nonsense.” It’s a personality that holds itself not to believe in very much, but to undercut the gullibility of other people’s beliefs.”
It is this thought that drew me to Harman’s work. I felt a similar sentiment during much of my undergrad and it is what ultimately led me away from graduate programs in Philosophy right after I graduated. Well, that and the fact that I wanted to travel.
This is not to say that Harman’s work is not rigorous. It just refuses to work in the confines of much of academic philosophy today. It makes for philosophically interesting and important work that is also a lot of fun to read. Even though I disagree with Harman on a number of things, I finished Circus Philosophicus in a few short hours because it was so enjoyable and different.
Thanks to Harman, I also realized that I need to read deeper into Heidegger, Bruno Latour, and Husserl. More importantly, his work is pushing me towards developing (or feeling the need to develop) a more robust metaphysical framework.
On Lena Dunham’s Girls: This show sparked a lot of debate in Film Club during May. Out of everyone in the group, where opinions ranged from love to meh to hate, I am probably the biggest (or just most vocal?) supporter of the show. Whether or not it shows “authentic representation” of young, educated, white girls in NYC, I’m not sure. But what I do know is that it portrays a certain feeling of unease or confusion that young, educated people have to face when stepping into the “real world” and realizing that their English degree isn’t exactly the great thing they were promised when they plunked down $20,000 for it. The girls in the show are living in this sort of ersatz adulthood that so many (myself included) go through in their early to mid-20′s where things are a bit strange. They can’t quite make it on their own, they don’t yet know what they want to do, etc. This show articulates that strangeness very well. I guess that I am more interested in what the show says about a certain segment of contemporary culture than anything else.
On the 2012 Tour: The weather is warm and the ground is drying up, which means it’s disc golfing season. The first big outing of the summer happened this month and it was a lot of fun – even if my arm was sore the next day and I spent too much time in the sun.
On My Favorite Reads From Around the Web This Month:
- My Walden, My Walmart – A funny and thoughtful musing about Thoreau and Walmart from philosopher Crispen Sartwell
- The Things War Makes You See – A deeply personal and moving piece from former war correspondent Michael Ware
- Philip K. Dick, Sci-Fi Philosopher – An excellent three-part series
- Straight White Male: The Lowest Difficulty Setting - The title says it all. John Scalzi at his most poignant and funny best.
- Pictures and Vision – Robin Sloan argues that the future of Facebook is in pictures and the future of Google is in vision. An interesting piece.
- The Unabomber’s PenPal – Should we take the ideas of a killer seriously?
- The Story of Philosophy - A short meditation on whether the life a philosopher lives has any importance to his professional work. I have always had an interest in this topic, and even wrote a short independent study paper about it as an undergrad.
- Truth, reason & democracy - 3:AM consistently has great interviews with contemporary philosophers. This one with Michael Lynch is particularly good.
- A Generation Hobbled by the Soaring Cost of College - A long and in-depth look at what student loans are doing to young people in the US.
- Some notes on Wilt Stilman, “Damsels in Distress,” and Eric Rohmer - Damsels in Distress was easily my favorite film this month. Hilarious, perspicacious, and uplifting, it’s not to be missed. In this short blog post, Glenn Kenny draws some interesting comparisons between Stillman and another great director, Eric Rohmer.
- Paradise Lost – This is a beautiful essay by Joyce Maynard about her home in Guatemala that is continually being attacked by the forces of nature and climate change. It is a story of how to approach loss from a different perspective.
- Future U: Library 3.0 has more resources, greater challenges – A good discussion of the changing face of libraries and what they should do to stay relevant.
On the Wisdom of Love:
How we present ourselves online is one of the fundamental questions surrounding social media. Do we lie – intentionally or not – about who we are? Can social media really help us create new and meaningful relationships with others who are worlds away? What will this mean for us personally in the ways that we love, trust and empathize with other people?
Catfish is almost impossible to write about without spoiling. The trailer portrays the film as a thriller, but that misses so much. Yet to claim that it is simply about the fundamental human drive to connect seems equally as lacking.
Catfish is an emotional, awkward and deeply affecting documentary about our future dreams and those that we have lost. It holds a mirror up to our digital world – and what we see is not what we expect, but then life rarely is.
I hope that more people will see this documentary because I think that the conversation surrounding it is incredibly important.