Steal This Idea!

Due to the absolutely perfect weather in Albany today (after days of wretched heat and humidity), I found myself walking to school. What to wear when it’s 72 degrees? Why a sleeveless shirt and a hoodie, of course. I dug a blue and white striped sleeveless top out of my pile of t-shirts and it occurred to me that I bought it last summer with a very specific vision in mind: “It’s sooo Jean Seberg in Breathless!” Can’t get the mental image? Let me be of assistance. As I take a quick skim through Google images, I find that I’ve actually conflated two of her blouses. This is the first:

seberg 1

And this is the second:

seberg 2

Now all I need is a motor scooter and Jean Paul Belmondo and I’ll be set to run all over Paris looking fabulous. (For the sake of good aesthetics, given the shape of my skull, I’ll pass on Seberg’s haircut.) Is the power of the shirt such that I can honestly confuse Albany with Paris?! Now that’s a powerful fashion image!

All of this makes me wonder: how is it possible that no one has created an entire clothing line based on iconic costumes? Sure, Michael Kors (and everyone else on the planet) has done a version of Hepburn’s LBD from Breakfast at Tiffany’s. That’s only a half-step. I don’t mean some sort of vague homage, wherein a designer picks a single image of Talitha Getty for inspiration. I mean an entire line of nothing but copies of those instantly recognizable instantiations of sartorial brilliance. Examples? So glad you asked! Fall line 2007: all Edith Head for Hitchcock, including Kim Novak’s gray suit from Vertigo, Grace Kelly in Rear Window, Janet Leigh’s driving outfit from Psycho (alright, this last one is a bit creepy). Spring line 2008: gamines and divas. Audrey’s bohemian turn in Funny Face, any of Joan Crawford’s suits with the linebacker shoulder pads, Ann Margaret in Viva Las Vegas, Faye Dunaway in Bonnie and Clyde. Resort 2008: Rita Hayworth in The Lady from Shanghai.

The power of fashion simulacra is nothing to be scoffed at. As much as many of us would like to forget the desperate, slavering desire for a lace glove circa 1986 as a way of accessing a part of the early Madonna aura, that phenomenon moved thousands of units of a truly hideous accessory. Imagine what could be done with chic little outfits instead. Despite recent efforts by Diane von Furstenberg and the CFDA to create legislation enabling the copyright of designs, no such bill yet exists. The field of phashion phantasy is wide open, enterprising young designers.

*original images to be found here and here.

Breaking the Seal

I went to my lovely new air conditioned office today (hello, Northeastern heat wave!) with the best of intentions: move the hard drive, plug in speakers, and get down to work on an article.  I’m nothing if not ambitious, upon the realization that it’s almost July, for crying out loud.  JULY!!  When did that happen?  Wherefore art thou, June ’07?

All of the above happened, and I had an additional bonus: I did a sound check with my colleague who has the great misfortune to have the office adjacent to mine.  I wanted to see exactly how loud I could turn up the speakers before she could hear the bass in her office.  I almost went so far as to draw a red line on the volume knob (shades of my high school stereo), but I think I can eyeball it.  And with volume set at reasonable levels, I dove into the stack of reading that I’d set aside for the day.

It was a bit of a shock to me to realize how hard it is to read.   I’d set the bar pretty low, to start.  I was working with the classic piece by Gayle Rubin “The Traffic in Women,” which I had read and discussed extensively with my theory class in the spring.  I really just wanted to refresh my memory about her ideas on kinship systems and exchange so that I could begin to think about the role and representation of rape in J.M. Coetzee’s Disgrace.  Rubin is smart, and she’s weaving together ideas and critiques of Marx, Levi-Strauss, and Freud, but she’s not Derrida, for crying out loud.  On a word level, I’m not running for my dictionary.  But despite having taught the piece 2 months ago (where, or where did June go?), I found myself stumbling over her gloss of “capital,” her explication of Mauss’s gift, etc.  Holy crow, I’ve forgotten how to read!

In the end, I turned off the speakers, and sat back in the chair and concentrated really hard.  Eventually, I was able to read a paragraph without having to back up and re-read, and re-re-read.  Whew.

The moral of this story, I think, is that I’ve gone far too long without reading criticism.  Apparently, my steady, summer literary diet of Allure, Blueprint, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer fan fiction  is the equivalent of Twinkies, hot dogs and a box of mixed varieties of Lay’s potato chips—it’s making the workout more like catch-up than marathon training.  Apparently I need the theory equivalent of a multivitamin and fiber.  What would that be, exactly?  Nietzsche and Judith Butler?

So, from now on, I’m paying more attention to my reading diet.  All suggestions can be left in the comments.

Digital Handcrafts?

I think I’m finally figuring out that it’s summer; I’ve spent days working on the house (cleaning, doing laundry, looking at paint chips for the great outdoor painting extravaganza of ought-7), and I’m back to my regular surfing habits. The latter had taken a serious blow during the last month. I’ve been a bad blogger, and a bad blog reader as well. Now that I’m in the midst of catching up, however, I’ve spent the morning marveling at what wanders across my screen.

My latest fascination is the online store Etsy. The store works as a kind of clearinghouse for all kinds of artists selling everything from photographs to jewelry to “geekery” (obviously, my favorite category). There’s a delightful handmade vibe to almost all of the products, and they’re incredibly reasonable. The most expensive piece I ran across was a $65 limited edition print. A bit more research on the Etsy blog reveals how late I am to this party; at about two years old, the site has a rather robust population of 250,000 members, buying and selling their work, rating and tagging each others wares, making suggestions about how the main site can better represent them and help consumers to find their products.

At first glance, there’s a kind of delightful irony present in Etsy: it’s a sophisticated hybrid online shop/social network—a kind of boutique meets MySpace cum Digg, yet its raison d’etre appears to be the charm of an economic community exchanging hand-made products. I have to admit that the juxtaposition works for me. I’ve been delighted browsing through the amateur digital photographs, the handbags, the screen printed tshirts. Even at its most refined and skilled, the work that I’ve seen on Etsy retains a one-off aesthetic. Everything feels individually produced, rather than run off the line by the thousand. [If I were careful, I’d do a visual rhetorical analysis of the site itself: is it actually the products themselves that maintain that aura, or is it their presentation?] Here is where Etsy’s apparent irony really starts to make sense: what better place than the internet to remind consumers of the mass-produced objects that surround them?

Some smart person somewhere must be talking about the relationship between the web and folk culture. Is it the case that our increasing involvement with digital technology is igniting a resurgence of interest in the DIY skills of yore? And what separates the people who are inspired to make the products and those of us (oh so guilty of this myself) who log on only to consume?

Summer=Time for a New Mantra

Someone around here, and we’re not going to mention any names, has been a lazy, lousy blogger. Three guesses about who.

Normally, this is the kind of thing that would send me (who, me?) into paroxysms of guilt, which would spiral out into self-flagellation for all of the various other things that I’ve left unattended or have been tardy about finishing. These things are legion, and my list can stretch as far back as my junior year of college (if you had any doubts about my prodigious memory).

However. Given that I’ve just finished two semesters, an intensive summer session with a new class, and a rewarding-but-brain-busting two weeks at DMAC, I think it’s time to cut myself a little slack. Given that I’m trying to finish up some administrative tasks for American Studies, prepare for a new year of ProVisions, the series of pedagogy sessions, move my office, and am currently covered in hives, it’s definitely time to re-think the way that I work.

Thus, for this summer, I’m going to try something new on for size. Instead of my usual “if you don’t do this you’re an evil person who deserves to go straight to one of Dante’s choice levels of hell,” I’m going to experiment with “be kind to yourself.” I’m not making any claims toward originality here, I’m just saying, it’s time to try something different. Let’s see if I can use compassion, rather than punishment, as a motivating force.

Updates to come. Stay tuned.

One of Many Responses to the Wesch Video

I should probably contextualize this a bit…Here at DMAC, we were assigned a number of multimodal texts to “read” (view? assess?), one of which was the highly popular and controversial Michael Wesch video “The Machine is Us/ing Us” (which I wrote about here, if you’re interested).

What I saw at the time but didn’t ever link to, was one of the more interesting responses to that video, also posted to YouTube. Here it is!

DMAC, Day Two

I’m currently at the end of my second day at the fount of information and innovation in digital media and composition that is DMAC at The Ohio State University. What happened to DMAC Day One, you ask? Lost to the sands of time (or the exhaustion of brain, more likely). In the spirit of sticking to a schedule, I’ll leave off an attempt to reconstruct Day One.  In fact, I’ll abandon the task of reconstructing Day Two as well, even though it’s fertile territory for recording here: we experimented a bit with audio editing and watched parts of two documentaries (Living Proof: HIV and the Pursuit of Happiness and Errol Morris’ Fast, Cheap and Out of Control) on our way to capturing and dumping digital video footage.

Despite the centrality of those tasks to our work today, I find my brain returning to a minute comment made by Cindy Selfe this morning in our discussion of texts about multimodality. Cindy moves from the practical (what do multimodal texts look like and how would they be published?) to the theoretical (in what ways would LaClau suggest strategies with which to address the schism between composition and literature?) with aplomb. In one of these seamless moves, she mentioned the way in which Heidegger might have come at a listener’s attenuation to a sonic text. I think Cindy was on her way to another point, but I couldn’t help but linger with Heidegger for a moment. Once upon a graduate school time, I read a lot of Martin H.—Being and Time, Introduction to Metaphysics, etc., etc. I must have spent three semesters working with his essay “The Question Concerning Technology,” but hadn’t, until this morning, ever considered the ways that Heidegger might bring some interesting insights to the definitions of technology that we’re currently wading through. [In truth, I’m fudging the significant differences between technology and media here.  Cut me some slack.]

If memory serves, Heidegger makes a couple of important moves in his essay. The first is to remind the reader of the etymology of the word “technology,” which springs from the Greek techne. As one of many points he extrapolates, Heidegger reads techne as linked to the artistic practice of bringing something into its true being, or revealing its nature. [The level of oversimplification here is quite stunning; MH is surely spinning in his grave.] The root of technology, then, is in art and philosophy—a far cry from the means to an end that we tend to classify it as today. The second important move, then, is to examine what happens when we recognize something, anything, as solely a means to an end. Here, “technology” becomes a kind of reductive, instrumental thinking—yet another way to complicate our everyday vernacular expression of the term. We might phrase this to resonate with a recurring question here at DMAC, what is lost when we see technology as only technology? Heidegger uses the example of a river, which, under a logic of technology (means/end thinking) is nothing but a continuous source of power when paired with the appropriate machinery. When we see the river as nothing but a power source, we lose everything else that makes a river a river: its aesthetic qualities, its role in an ecological system, its metaphoric value, etc. In essence, we’ve lost the true nature of the river, over and above its productive function.

So, if the logic of technology has hidden the true nature of technology—its potential for artistic and philosophical value—then can we use manifestations of that same technology (computers, video, audio, programs, etc.) to reveal it? And what would that look like?

And to rescue myself from ending with a question I can’t answer, I give you a multimodal approach to Heidegger’s essay itself, via John Zuern at the University of Hawaii.